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A FAITHFUL NARRATIVE.
LETTER TO REV. DR. COLMAN.
Reverend and Honored Sir,
Having seen your letter to my honored uncle Williams of Hatfield, of July 20, wherein you inform him of the notice that has been taken of the late wonderful work of God, in this, and some other towns in this county, by the Rev. Dr. Watts, and Dr. Guyse of London, and the congregation to which the last of these preached on a monthly day of solemn prayer; as also, of your desire to be more perfectly acquainted with it, by some of us on the spot; and having been since informed by my uncle Williams, that you desire me to undertake it, I would now do it, in as just and faithful a manner as in me lies.
The people of the county, in general, I suppose, are as sober, and orderly, and good sort of people, as in any part of New England; and I believe they have been preserved the freest by far, of any part of the country, from error, and variety of sects and opinions. Our being so far within the land, at a distance from sea-ports, and in a corner of the country, has doubtless been one reason why we have not been so much corrupted with vice, as most other parts. But without question, the religion and good order of the county, and their purity in doctrine, has, under God, been very much owing to the great abilities and eminent piety of my venerable and honored grandfather Stoddard. I suppose we have been the freest of any part of the land from unhappy divisions, and quarrels in our ecclesiastical and religious affairs, till the late lamentable Springfield contention.*
We being much separated from other parts of the province, and having comparatively but little intercourse with them, have from the beginning, till now, always managed our ecclesiastical affairs within ourselves: it is the
in which the county, from its infancy, has gone on, by the practical agreement of all, and the way in which our peace and good order has hitherto been maintained..
The town of Northampton is of about eighty-two years standing, and has now about two hundred families; which mostly dwell more compactly together than any town of such a bigness in these parts of the country; which probably has been an occasion that both our corruptions, and reformations have been, from time to time, the more swiftly propagated, from one to another, through the town. Take the town in general, and so far as I can judge, they are as rational and understanding a people as most I have been acquainted with: Many of them have been noted for religion, and particularly, have been remarkable for their distinct knowledge in things that relate to heart religion, and Christian experience, and their great regards thereto.
I am the third minister that has been settled in the town : the Rev. Mr. Eleazer Mather, who was the first, was ordained in July, 1669. He was one whose heart was much infhis work, abundant in labors for the good of precious souls: he had the high esteem and great love of his people, and was blest with no small success. The Rev. Mr. Stoddard, who succeeded him, came first to the town the November after his death, but was not ordained till September Ilth, 1672, and died February 11th, 1728-9. So that he continued in the work of the ministry here, from his first coming to town, near sixty years. And as he was eminent and renowned for his gifts and graces so he was blest, from the beginning, with extraordinary success in his ministry, in the conversion of many souls. He had five harvests, as he called them: The first was about fifty-seven years ago, the second about fifty-three years; the third about forty; and the fourth about twentyfour; the fifth and last about eighteen years ago. Some of these times were much more remarkable than others, and the ingathering of souls more plentiful. Those that are about fifty-three and forty, and twenty-four years ago, were much greater than either the first or the last : but in each of them, I have heard my grandfather say, the larger part of the young people in the town seemed to be mainly concerned for their eternal salvation.
* The Springfield contention relates to the settlement of a minister there, which occasioned too waim debates between some, both pastors and people, that were for it, and others that were against it, on acconnt of their different apprehensions about his principles, and about some steps that were taken to procure his ordination.
After the last of these came a far more degenerate time, (at least among the young people,) I suppose, than ever before. Mr. Stoddard, indeed, had the comfort before he died, of seeing a time where there were no small appearances of a divine work among some, and a considerable ingathering of souls even after I was settled with him in the ministry, which about two years before his death; and I have reason to bless God for the great advantage I had by it. In these two years there were nearly twenty that Mr. Stoddard hoped to be savingly converted; but there was nothing of any general awakening. The greater part seemed to be at that time very insensible of the things of religion, and engaged in other cares and pursuits. Just after my grandfather's death, it seeined to be a time of extraordinary dullness in religion : licentiousness for some years greatly prevailed among the youth of the town; they were many of them very much ad
dicted to night-walking, and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices, wherein some by theirexampleexceedingly corrupted others. It was their manner very frequently to get together, in conventions of both sexes, for mirth and jollity, which they called frolicks; and they would often spend a greater part of the night in them, without regard to any order in the families they belonged to: and indeed family government did too much fail in the town. It was become very customary with many of our young people to be indecent in their carriage at meeting, which doubtless would not have prevailed to such a degree, had it not been that my grandfather through his great age (though he retained his powers surprisingly to the last) was not so able to observe thein. There had also long prevailed in the town, a spirit of contention between two parties, into which they had for many years been divided, by which was maintained a jealousy one of the other, and they were prepared to oppose one another in all public affairs.
But in two or three years after Mr. Stoddard's death, there began to be a sensible amendment of these evils; the young people showed more of a disposition to hearken to counsel, and by degrees left off their frolicking, and grew observedly more decent in their attendance on the public worship, and there were more that manifested a religious concern than there used to be.
At the latter end of the year 1733, there appeared a very unusual flexibleness, and yielding to advice in our young people. It had been too long their manner to make the evening after the sabbath,* and after our public lecture, to be especially the times of their mirth and company keeping. But a sermon was now preached on the sabbath before the lecture, to show the evil tendency of the practice, and to persuade them to reform it; and it was argued on heads of families, that it should be a thing agreed upon among them to govern their families, and keep their children at hoine at these times; and withal it was more privately moved that they should meet together the next day, in their several neighborhoods, to know each other's minds, which was accordingly done, and the motion complied with throughout the town. But parents, found little or no occasion for the exercise of government in the case; the young people declared themselves convinced by what they had heard from the pulpit, and were willing of themselves to comply with the counsel that had been given; and it was immediately, and I suppose almost universally, complied with ; and there was a thorough reformation of these disorders thenceforward, which has continued ever since.
* It must be noted, that it has never been our manner to observe the evening that follows the sabbath; but that which precedes it, as a part of the holy time.
Presently after this, there began to appear a remarkable religious concern at a little village, belonging to the congrega* tion, called Pascommuck, where a few families were settled, at about three miles distance from the main body of the town. At this place, a number of persons seemed to be savingly wrought upon. In the April following, A. D. 1734, there happened a very sudden and awful death of a young man, in the bloom of his youth ; who being violently seized with a pleurisy, and taken immediately very delirious, died in about two days; which (together with what was preached publicly on that occasion) much affected many young people. This was followed with another death of a young
married woman, who had been considerably exercised in mind about the salvation of her soul before she was ill, and was in great distress in the beginning of her illness; but seemed to have satisfying evidences of God's saving mercy to her, before her death; so that she died very full of comfort, in a most earnest and moving manner warning and counseling others. This seemed much to contribute to the solemnizing of the spirits of many young persons: and there began evidently to appear more of a religious concern on people's minds.
In the fall of the year I proposed to the young people, that they should agree among themselves to spend the evenings after lectures in social religion, and to that end divide themselves into several companies, to meet in various parts of the