The information below provides additional history about one of the sixteen points of interest along the tour. Visit Essex, Massachusetts and enjoy our self-guided tour to learn more about each historic Essex location on the interpretive signs.
FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH OF ESSEX, MASSACHUSETTS
REVEREND JOHN CLEAVELAND of CHEBACCO PARISH
Chebacco Parish of Ipswich, MA is now the First Congregational Church of Essex. The following first person narrative was written by Essex resident, Alan Budreau:
I am the ghost of Reverend John Cleaveland. I was born in 1722 into a farmer’s family in Canterbury, Connecticut. You will soon understand why I am wearing these soldier’s clothes, even though I spent most of my life s a minister and farmer. As a child, I thoroughly expected to continue on the family farm. But, at age 17, I injured myself lifting a heavy load, and thought better of a farmer’s life. I decided to become a minister, which meant two years of studying languages and grammar to qualify for Yale. I was accepted in 1741, at a time when a Revivalist movement, based on religious experience rather than training and authority, was to be followed. This brought me, and many of my classmates, including my brother, into conflict with Yale, and we were thrown out. As Connecticut churches only would accept divinity school graduates as ministers, I went to Massachusetts, where my grandparents had lived. Read more >
Click the photo for a larger view
INSIGNIA ON THE PAUL REVERE BELL
Cast in 1797
This 827 lb. bell hangs in the church belfry and until recently, it was rung to call people to worship.
REVEREND JOHN CLEAVELAND'S LIFE
After searching unsuccessfully in 1745-6 for a church position in Boston, I settled here in Chebacco Parish of Ipswich. At first I was involved with the Revivalists, called separatists. We had a separate church from the Congregationalists. After some bitter strife in the local religious community, in 1747, I became the minister of the Chebacco Parish church known as the Second Parish Church of Ipswich (now the First Congregational Church of Essex) and brought the 2 groups together. The same year I married Mary Dodge, who had excellent family connections and wealth. We had four sons and three daughters.
I continued my ministry until my death in 1799. My duties included preaching twice each Sunday and a midweek lecture. And I continued, like most residents, to farm to help feed my growing family. We lived right over here on Spring Street, with our seven children and a slave. Our household, over the years, grew from two to as many as ten. We included a poor farmer’s daughter who became part of our family.
But my ministry was interrupted twice by war. Other ministers filled in for me when I was away. In 1758, the Royal Governor Thomas Pownall commissioned me as a chaplain and I went to Albany with the redcoat troops – about eighty from here went, to fight against the French. Even though we were allies, I found the redcoats behavior morally unacceptable – drinking, swearing, stealing, and keeping bad company. And our attack on the French at Fort Ticonderoga was nearly successful, but failed due to the incompetence of the royal officers and their unwillingness to give our colonial officers the authority they should have had.
Beginning in 1767 I started praising the Sons of Liberty who were protesting our mistreatment by the royal authorities, and a year later I started a series of writings in the Essex Gazette along the same lines. I used the pseudonym “John in the Wilderness”. And in 1775 I preached to the young men to join the revolution. Many did, including my four sons, and I went myself, again as chaplain, to Bunker Hill, but this time we were chasing the redcoats out of Boston. And, with the help of my preaching, nearly three quarters of the eligible men - those between age 16 and 50 – served during the revolution. Actually, Jesse Story, who was only 15, was killed at Bunker Hill. In the fall of 1776 I had my final tour of duty as Chaplain with Jonathan Cogswell’s regiment in a battle on Long Island. My son Nehamiah went with me as my aide. My wife, Mary Dodge Cleaveland, had died in 1768. A year and a half later I married the widow Mary Foster.
In 1797 I had the privilege of receiving a bell for the church made, partly with silver and gold donated by the town residents, from the shop of Paul Revere. I understand that it still rings out on Sunday mornings. I died suddenly and quietly in 1799. I lie in the old graveyard, just beyond the hearse house, next to my two wives.