Friday, August 18, 2023

Traveling preachers sustain faith of early Raymond pioneers

By Ernest H. Knight

Raymondtown, before separation into the sister towns of Raymond and Casco, had religious leaders at times such as Elder Joseph Hutchinson, a Free Will Baptist who instructed and baptized throughout the town and Obadiah Gould who brought his flock of Friends from Windham to settle on Quaker Ridge.

The grave of 18th century
itinerant preacher Jeremiah
Hayden can be found in
the Raymond Village
Cemetery. He was born in
Massachusetts and died in
Raymond in 1847.
A protégé of Hutchinson, Zachariah Leach, functioned as clerk of the group until called upon by them to be ordained as their minister and thereby entitled to the 1/64th of the proprietary lands as the first settled minister in accordance with the 1765 Act of the General Court of Massachusetts which established the township, though he never exercised that right.

Another local product, Jeremiah Hayden, became a preacher but mainly served congregations outside Raymond thereby helping to provide the interchange of ideas and leadership.

While these local divines served the people well, their periods of activity did not provide continuity so that there were times when there was no pastor in residence. Also, with the areas to be covered, the clergy was separated in time as well as distance from those that needed help. Therefore, supplementary religious services were welcomed and the traveling preacher had a ready and waiting circuit of families and communities as long as he had the fortitude to take to the trail in spite of the atrocious traveling conditions and put up with whatever primitive accommodations might be available.

One who made many annual missions through Raymondtown on his all-summer travels was the Rev. Paul Coffin of Buxton in the late 1700s. His journals provide interesting insights into the nature of his listeners such as in Raymondtown on Aug. 20, 1800, on his last mission.

“Most of them prayed as if in the greatest distress and the body of them groaned in time of prayer, and, at its end, at once ceased. Very little knowledge of the word of God and duty appeared,” Coffin wrote.

But he also accepted their criticism, as he noted in his journal on June 16, 1796, in Raymondtown.

“They allowed my doctrine to be good, and me a good man, but not a preacher as I read my sermon,” Coffin wrote.

Rev. Coffin was also an observer of the commercial labors of the people, as he wrote in his journal on Aug. 24, 1799. “Sabbath. Preached at Capt. Dingley’s from Luke 16: 29-31 to an attentive and good number. Shelburne, Bethel, Oxford, Waterford, Bridgton, and Andover carry their produce through Raymondtown to Portland, it being a thoroughfare, especially in winter and sleighing time.”

And on the next Monday, “Rode to Otisfield and put up with brother Robie. By the way called at Hezekiah Cooks and had a horse shoe set. Visited the families of Gray, Mitchel, Mann and the aged Mr. Spur.”

As early as 1791, Elder Nathan Morrill of Gray or New Gloucester was baptizing residents in Raymondtown, but added his converts to his own church membership. Later an elder Randall from Gorham brought with him a covenant when preaching and baptizing, which all signed, and was therefore perhaps the first established church in town.

In the early 1800s the area was covered by a Rev. Thomas Strout from Windham. En route to the Raymond Hill Baptist Church, he once gave a ride to a small girl also proceeding there. As was common habit, he was chewing tobacco with resulting frequent spitting, which prompted the girl to say, “Do the angels up in heaven chew tobacco?”

After giving thought to the question, Strout got off his wagon and not only threw his tobacco cud into the bushes, but removed a plug from his pocket and likewise discarded it. To her he replied, “No little girl, the angels in heaven do not chew tobacco and never again will I.”

The decision to reform must have served him well as with later successes in his ministry, and while baptizing in the River Jordan (an aptly named river for such a ceremony), it is claimed that a white dove alighted and rested on his shoulder.

Through the years many leaders of various local groups expanded their spheres of influence. Rev. Jeremiah Bullock of Limington started preaching locally in the 1810s which developed into a movement called the “Bullockites” which lasted into the 20th century throughout Southern Maine based on informality and temperance.

In one form or another, religion was available to the pioneers through these dedicated purveyors of enlightenment. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.

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