First Congregational Church,
West Tisbury, Ma.
Written by Joseph Gibbs Kraetzer
The village of West Tisbury has the feeling, the sense of
family and friends. It has the store where matters are decided,
the Library where matters are discovered, the Town Hall where
matters are handled, the Agricultural Hall where matters are
beribboned, and then there is "the matter of the Church."
The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury has had a
number of titles starting with the Gospel as preached by Thomas
Mayhew Jr. Then reference is made to Church and Congregation;
Congregation Union; Church of Christ; Congregational Society
of West Parish; and First Congregational Society. There were
so many possibilities as to the correct name, one lady when
making a bequest to the Church added the words "or whatever
may be the name."
The early preachers, Thomas Mayhew, Jr. and Senior had no
Meeting House. They preached in their home at Quansoo, in
other homes or in the open. In all probability John Mayhew
had the benefit of the first Meeting House.
A crude drawing or map of the Island, drawn in 1694, includes
area well up the Island and marked Tisbury. A fair number
of homes are indicated and among them is a building listed
as Meeting House. The position of the homes on the map, being
about the middle of the drawing, led Dr. Banks to believe
the location was the present day West Tisbury. He and others
felt the Meeting House could have been near the present Agricultural
Hall. (Now called the old Grange Hall)
In 1666 certain Proprietors land was divided into sixteen
lots and a part of the land description reads "along
the heads of the lots until it come to meet with the highway
at the head of John Manters lot which goeth down to the Meeting
House." This could place the location across Tiasquam
River or it could be a meeting house not further identified
or described. Until additional information comes to light,
the first site seems to be more logical.
The inhabitants of the Town solved the problem very nicely
by voting on June 12, 1701 to build a new Meeting House "after
the manner and dimensions of the meeting house in Chilmark"
and "to build the same meeting house as Cheap as they
Can." There must have been much discussion as to whether
the existing House was large enough and properly located.
Perhaps the House was on land owned by an individual. The
problem was met by James Allen of Chilmark. We find the following
in the proprietors records dated October 2, 1701. "Know
all men by these presence that I, James Allen of Chilmark,
do give and grant unto the Town of Tisbury, and acre of land
lying within Abigail Peas's fence, forever, for a burying
place and to set a meeting house on." On the same date
the Town voted 60 pounds for the Second Meeting House to be
assessed and collected by the selectmen. For some reason they
refused to do so. So in December 1701 the town voted that
Simon Athearn, Robert Cathcart and Experience Luce would assess
the Town. It seems that the first two were to make the arrangements
and the third to do the work. The building must have been
small and stark, for in July it was ready for use.
On July 17, 1702 at a Town meeting it was voted "that
the meeting house should be sould at an outcry also it was
agreed upon that he that bid most at three times going Round
should have it and at the last Time of biding which was the
third time of asking on the third going Round Robert Cathcart
was the bider who bid five pounds six shillings." Perhaps
this gives an idea as to the size and condition of the First
Meeting House. The Chilmark records have been lost so we do
not know the size or design of the Second Meeting House.
The acre of land given by James Allen lies along the south
side of the cemetery. Just inside the entrance the site of
the Meeting House is easily seen both by topography and by
the slate grave markers which come up to it on the westerly
and northerly sides. In the 1920s the foundation was still
visible. The entrance road to the cemetery was the original
road to Holmes Hole and continued through to Scotchman's Bridge
(Lane). The present curving highway did not exist. Building
and maintaining the Meeting House and supplying the pulpit
was rather different from to-day. We saw the Second Meeting
House paid for by a tax. The Ministers were paid much the
same way. A committee would be appointed from Church members
to find a minister and work out with him the best possible
financial arrangement. This done the Commission reported the
results to the Town Selectmen and they simply levied a tax.
Usually the minister received a flat sum for the year. Occasionally
an additional settlement was given, presumably to help with
living quarters. Natnaniel Hancock was to receive extra "in
case he doeth learn ye Indian languege and preach lectures
In everything that happened there was no separation of Church
and State. It was one and the same with the Church given special
It was becoming apparent in 1732 that the Second Meeting
House was not meeting the needs of the peple and a Committee
was directed to bring in plans for a new house. In January
1733 the plans were presented and approved. The Third Meeting
House was to measure 35 feet by 30 feet. The arrangement of
pews was set and each person was to build his own pew within
one year. There were certain locations more desirable than
others and one paid a required sum. The money was turned over
to the Town to help meet the building cost.
The framing of the House must have been completed in June,
for a special town Meeting in May provided for entertainment
at the "raising." It was to consist of "good
wheaten cake, good Beere and Rum and Sugar." Samuel and
Whitten Manter were in charge and the whole affair must have
been a howling success.
Over the years the general care of the House was to do what
was neccessary after it really became neccessary. They were,
however, most careful to have a Doorkeeper who also swept
the floor. Whitten Manter was paid 8 schillings for two years
Although the minister's settlement and allotment was to help
him find a proper place in which to live, the Town recognized
this was difficult. It appointed a Committee to consult as
to "whether or no the Town would purchase an Accomodation
of Lands and buildings for a Parsonage." At a Town Meeting
September 2, 1760 it was voted to buy from Capt. Samuel Cobb
"Land Meadow and buildings on the west side of the old
Mill River." (the property recently sold by the Church);"also
2/3 of all the Divisions of Wood Lots on the Eastside of the
river" (without doubt the land on which the school stands).
Cedar rails and oak posts were to enclose the Parsonage area;
they were to shingle the barn, put glass where needed and
"keep the wooden work of the Dwelling House in repair
and plaster the front rooms and kitchen." All of this
should have pleased the minister George Daman.
While this was happening there was much discussion concerning
the Meeting House with widely different views and feeling
a bit high. So much so the Town voted in January 1768 to seek
outside help through a "Comitty chosen of the Naburing
Town Detarming what should be Don." Two from Edgartown
and one from Chilmark served. The Committee was to decide
if the Meeting House was to be repaired, enlarged, or moved
and where to. The report came in February 1768 and "the
Voters being 32 in number ware equally devided So that their
Could Be no Vote to Accept their Report." They must have
been rather upset for they voted against having another committee
look into what was "Nesseceery."
During the winter the Parishioners decided they could handle
the matter themselves. In April a meeting was called and it
was decided to cut the House in the middle, add 15 feet there,
add two feet in the bakc and move the pulpit back. The windows
were to be diamond glass, the interior to be plastered. Later,
to preserve the shingles, they were colored with "Tarr
and Oker". Not too attractive. This enlargement provided
for additional pews. One was purchased by Thomas Waldron who
paid 10 pounds 15 shillings eight pence for a "new spot
adjoining the pulpit on the east side."
During the next few years the Town, as was the country, was
concerned with events leading up to and during the Revolution.
The Town continued to pay the minister in various amounts
and methods. (money, firewood, beef, corn, wool, flax, etc).
There seemed to be no problems with either the Meeting House
or Parsonage for there were few requests for boards or shingles
Holmes Hole was beginning to grow and their interests obviously
were in that area. The Meeting House was distant and it was
difficult and inconvenient to reach. Some were resisting or
refusing to pay the tax and in June of 1780 a Committee was
sent to "know what the Cause is that they refuse to pay."
Non payment of the tax could have serious consequences as
John Davis discovered when he found himself in "gaol."
A Committee from the Church was asked to look into the propriety
of the General Court in discharging him. He was a Baptist
and objected to supporting the "orthodox" (State
In September 1782 the Town received "a Request of a
Number of Inhabitants of Holmes Hole and Some Adjacent People"
to be exempt from the tax to support a Presbyterian Minister
as they were of the "Baptist Perswasion." Again
they mentioned the "remote Scituation-Attended with Conspiscious
Inconveniences." In November their request was granted.
But things were not all bad. In 1788 six additional pews
were placed in the Meeting House, along with some repair,
and the remaining seats converted into Pews for the Town's
use. Repairs were made to the Parsonage House and Barn.
That two communities had developed is clear with Holmes Hole
requesting to be a separate Precinct. This was agreed to in
1790, provided they support their own school and poor. A year
later a further separation appeared when Ministers taxes were
returned to some people living eastward of Tashmoo Springs.
And a year after that 1792, the Baptists requested exemption
from any ministers tax. Tax disputes were frequent and East
and West appointed arbitrators. Finally, the situation reached
the point where a petition was sent in 1795 to the General
Court requesting that East of Tashmoo be established as a
separate precinct or parish. This line is about the location
of the present boundary between West Tisbury and Tisbury.
Also about this time it appears taxes no longer were collected
to support a minister.
New religious beliefs were coming into the West parish and
a vote was taken "that the assessors have the power to
tolerate the baptists to preach in the Meeting Hosue".
But we're not too sure all went well, for a later vote chose
Ezekiel uce "to keep the key of the Meeting House and
open the door every SUnday for Mr. Hatch or Mr. Lampson and
none other." This in the early 1800s.
There is considerable confusion regarding the Parsonage property.
It was both rented out and used as a Parsonage, a pasture
and meadow sold, even reference to the sale of the Parsonage
itself was made. But in 1822 it was voted to build a barn,
with gardens to be planted and attended to by the Congregation
- this for the minister. Finally in 1825 it was voted to see
if the Town owned the Parsonage anyway. Whatever they learned,
the Parsonage continued to be used as such for another 150
In 1832 the Meeting House was approaching its 100th year
and was either in poor repair or was not meeting the needs,
or both. At any rate in January 1833 it was voted to build
a new Meeting House on the same location and the expense to
be apportioned on the pews. The pews were valued from $56
to $20 each, all depending on location. The $20 pew we know
was almost out the door. During constructon, meetings were
held in the School House of the South east District (West
Parish in Tisbury).
To go along with the new Meeting House we have a new minister,
William Marchant, who requested certain improvements in the
Parsonage; a new front door, a threshold, buttery windows
repaired, West room and kitchen floors painted, and lastly
"the well furnished with a bucket and secured from the
falling in of children." We hope this is not in order
At the Meeting House there also was a problem. A year after
completion it was decided to "make a stone for the East
Front Door" to correspond with that on the West. It would
be a surprise to step through a door on to nothing. However,
one already was in the cemetery.
An interesting note from the diary of Richard L. Pease is
found in the Intelligencer concerning the new Meeting House.
It was in 1839 and again a new minister, Ebenezer Chase. "Went
to Mr. Chase's meeting in the P.M. Heard a little organ-first
ever in a Church on M. Vineyard." We have embarked on
our fine music.
For the next ten years all appeared well with the Meeting
House and the Parsonage. But shortly after, the Parsonage
again was causing concern, for we find a petition to the Legislature
requesting "leave to sell the Parsonage and 40 acres
which causes much trouble and expense".
And ten years after that, in 1861 came the first vote to
move the meeting house. No reason was given so we can only
conjecture. A Committee was appointed to select a site and
three weeks later they brought in the suggestion that it be
the southwest corner of the Parsonage lot. Obviously the request
to th Legislature had not been acted on. Funds were solicited
to meet the cost of moving. Contributions came both in money
and promised labor.
Three years later, June 1864, another vote was taken - "Voted
to move the meeting house on upon the Parsonage Lot and make
the neccessary reparis and additions unless some one will
give a better lot." Obviously the Church was not entirely
happy with the proposed location and they sent out a Committee
to procure a lot. On that committee was James Mayhew. They
had found that to move the Church to the Parsonage lot would
cost $300. It would be difficult to do better. There also
was the problem of making financial adjustments with the pew
holders. The pew arrangement would be different and values
So it was voted "that the pews be appraised and that
the owners give or throw them up and that after the House
is moved and repaired they be allowed the value in a new pew."
This was no easy task for apparently the interior arrangement
was changed from the old pews to settees as well. We do not
have the original pew arrangements at the time of the move.
During the time of moving and placing the Meeting House in
order, the School House of the South East district was again
used for Church purposes.
At last the final obstacle was overcome, for on February
16, 1866 a deed to the present Church lot was received from
James Mayhew and for the sum of $135. For the third time,
in April 1866, it was again boted t move the Church with David
Cottle and Bartlett Mayhew in charge. The trip from the cemetery
to the center of the village was about to begin.
Moving houses or buildings presented no problems in those
days as they were frequently moved from one part of the Island
to another; simply jack it up, then lower it onto huge beams
resting on rolers, set a capstan well out front, attach a
hawser and the worthy horse plods round and round slowly moving
the building forward.
It was probably moved in the Spring but not ready for use.
In November the Church voted "to underpin the meeting
house with stone, to paint it, fix the roof, to build a belfry,
and to amend and fit up the House so as to render it comfortable
and respectable for the worship of Almighty God."
When the bell was installed is not recorded, but later there
were instructions as to when it should be rung on Sundays.
At 9 A.M. 3 minutes; 15 minutes before service, 3 minutes;
and again for 3 minutes leading to the start of service. In
addition the bellringer was to open the House, make the fire
and seat the people. Not quite but almost a Sexton.
The Church settled into its new location with the main concerns
keeping the pulpit supllied and the church itself in condition.
In 1884 the House was reshingled and the cost was assessed
according to the value of the pew. Happily we have a listing
of the values and the assessments to meet the total cost of
$113.37. Just how long this method of paying expenses was
continued was not found.
In 1894 the pew arrangement of the Church again appears to
have been changed. We have a copy of the new floor plan showing
pew assignments. There is no record as to values being set.
Possibly this could be when the practice ceased.
In 1895 the Church acquired its clock. It was inspired by
Hannah Look, who in her will dated December 1, 1875, left
to the Congregational Society or "whatever may be the
name" the sum of $200 "to be used in placing a suitable
clock in the steeple or belfry with face and hands outside."
The bequest was in memory of her husband David Look. David
Look and Hannah had held title to pew #32 when the church
was located in the cemetery. He had served on many of the
Church committees. By 1893 the money had grown to $400 and
there also had grown a real community interest in acquiring
a clock. Specils suppers were given to raise money and one
Gentleman lost interest as he had had "too much chowder
too many times." Chain letters were sent out with sums
received from 10 cents to $5. Althouth the sea Gull, a newspaper
published by the Church ladies, had not been issued for several
years, a special issue was published for the summer of 1895.
The total success was great enough not only to make the clock
possible but a new bell as well which corresponded with the
cock machinery. No wonder it is know as "the Town Clock."
From the annual Church meeting of March 25, 1895 we have the
following - "To see what action the Society will take
in reference to allowing their church building to be so attended
as to admit to a Town Clock being placed in the Belfry of
the Church." (Yes) "The Standing Committee to sell
the old bell and hangings and use the money toward the new
Actually no money was appropriated by the Town for the purchase
of clock or bell. It did and still does provide a sum (for
years $10) to be paid to the individual who winds the clock
- a weekly task. The appendix has a list of those individuals
beginning with 1895.
Music has always played an important part in the Church.
In 1903 it was decided to try the new organ in the Gallery
for six months. If they didn't like it they would take it
downstairs again. Then five years later we learn they carried
the old organ to the Parsonage. Was this the original organ
mentioned in 1839? Were there two organs at the same time?
At any rate the word 'carried' is correct. It must have been
quite a sight as the organ went past the store.
With everything that had happened since the Church was moved
from the cemetery it is no wonder the interior needed renovations.
In 1910 services were held in the Agricultural Hall while
repairs were made. In July when services returned to the Church,
from the pulpit we are told "This being our first service
held in our newly renovated church with steel ceiling, walls
tinted and at a cost of $275 - a new carpet at a cost of $55."
With the building of the Parish House in 1952 a truly great
addition was made to the Church and Community. It is difficult
to believe its cost was only $5,000.
Under the leadership of Elden H. Mills, the next major change
was made in 1961. The interior of the church was completely
restored - the steel ceiling removed and the ceiling replastered,
floors refinished and walls painted and new pews installed.
The interior plan was changed from two aisles dividing the
church into thirds, to a center aisle and one on each side.
The organ loft was enlarged to meet the needs of a choir and
organ. The following year a new organ was given by Jane W.
Newhall in memory of her mother. This was the advent of the
wonderful music we have today. The steel ceiling has gone
but a similar one may be seen in the Lamberts Cove Church.
All through the years the Parsonage had its problems, from
structural to whether it was actually owned or not. We find
deeds showing the property was purchased from two different
people withing two years time. Several times there was discussion
as to selling, once with an offer turned down by a vot of
7 to 8. Finally in 1978 the property was sold but with a conservation
restriction placed on the south pasture.
1982 brought the minister James C. Martin (Jim), with a feeling,
a sense for family and friends.
The year of 1983 brings these notes to an end with the latest
addition to the Parish House making its main hall more suitable
for larger groups and adding small meeting or conference rooms.
Its regular use by many different groups is in itself a great
And so this is "the matter of the Church", or Historical
NOtes, or as Hannah Look wrote "whatever may be the name."
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of the Church ~ Clock
Winders ~ Historical Notes