Fitzwilliam Community Church

Fitzwilliam Community Church is set to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the ordination of the town’s first pastor.

Benjamin Brigham became the first ordained pastor of Monadnock No. 4 (now Fitzwilliam) on March 27, 1771. His ordination was celebrated then and is set to be celebrated again 250 years later in the Fitzwilliam Community Church.

Fitzwilliam was first settled in 1762, and the first public worship began in 1768. At that time there was no meetinghouse and no pastor, so people met in their homes.

The first meeting house in Fitzwilliam was provided by the Masonian proprietors. They were required by their charter to provide a meetinghouse for public worship within five years, and a settled pastor within six years, in order to receive the grant and settle the town. This was one of the conditions for permanent settlement. In 1770 they chose a committee of Fitzwilliam men who were given five acres of land and were to select the location to build the meetinghouse and establish a cemetery.

In 1770 the meetinghouse was raised 100 yards north of the present George S. Emerson School, near the Fitzwilliam Village Cemetery. Most of the proprietors did not live in Fitzwilliam, so the burden of building fell to those already living locally. The tradition was that every man in town was present and aided in the work. Although it took 10 years to completely finish this meetinghouse, it was immediately used and served as the religious home of the entire Fitzwilliam population for 40 years.

Two hundred acres of wooded land were to be provided for a pastor, and another 200 acres for the pastor’s use. In addition to the land, ample provision was made for his support including a generous salary and an inducement gift to accept the call. This “signing bonus” was a common feature in the calling of pastors at that time. Since there was no settled pastor yet, visiting and temporary pastors occasionally provided services. The search for a permanent pastor began and included several months of trial services for a candidate to be considered.

Benjamin Brigham was the first ordained pastor of the new meetinghouse. Born in Marlboro, Mass., March 11, 1742, he was the eldest son of Benjamin and Hannah Brigham. He was a 1764 graduate of Harvard College. In March 1771, Brigham, 29, was ordained at the Inn of James Reed in Fitzwilliam’s first timberframed house. The meetinghouse was not yet ready. Assisting were churches from Marlborough, Westborough, Royalston, Winchendon, Keene and Swanzey.

Rev. Brigham was a young man of industry, energy, acknowledged capacity and worth, and he entered zealously upon his work as the religious teacher and guide of his people. He was frequently called on to settle differences among other churches or to serve on various councils, demonstrating public confidence in his ability. In 1775 he represented Fitzwilliam in the Provincial Congress.

He built a dwelling a short distance from the meetinghouse cemetery, now the Fitzwilliam Village cemetery, and it served as the parsonage for most of his ministry. Since the meetinghouse had no heat and services were long, the parsonage was often used as a place to go and warm up during the day.

Rev. Brigham was a loyal patriot and a firm pacifist. During the Revolutionary War a committee was formed to determine every man’s preparedness for war in terms of arms and ammunition. It was reported that Brigham was “not furnished.”

During Brigham’s ministry the supply of Communion wine was frequently an issue. Wine was imported and expensive, and many communicants were in the habit of taking a large draft, including returning for a refill during the Communion service.

Brigham married Lucy Morse of Shrewsbury, Mass., on June 6, 1771. They had four children. They remained married 22 years until her death in 1793. Brigham then married Puah Mellen on Feb. 11, 1795. They remained married until his death in 1799. She died in 1821. They are buried in the Fitzwilliam Village Cemetery.

Rev. Brigham served the church in Fitzwilliam for 29 years and died on June 11, 1799, at age 58. He was very well thought of, an esteemed and beloved man, righteous and truthful. He was remembered as a humble man. Brigham is the first of 31 pastors who have served The Fitzwilliam Community Church, which is an active part of the Fitzwilliam community. The church is at the foot of the Fitzwilliam Common.

Cates is the Trustee Committee Chairman of Fitzwilliam Community Church with responsibility for the building and grounds. Cates, who has an interest in early history, lives in Fitzwilliam in an old 1780 colonial home.