Previous to the organization of the Baptist Church in 1822, there had been but one church in this town, established in 1715. This church, originally a Congregational one, had gradually departed from the Puritan faith and standard of theology, and for some years previous to the time alluded to, had been essentially a Unitarian Church - the Deity and atonement of Jesus Christ; regeneration by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and justification by faith, were truths which were either denied or carefully kept out of sight in the public instructions of the Sabbath. Prayer meetings on weekdays, itinerant preaching, and all efforts for the conversion of the heathen, were stigmatized as the doings of fanatics.
So far as is known, not more than three or four persons in the town at that time held evangelical sentiments. Two of these, in the year 1818, commenced holding weekly prayer meetings. They were permitted by the minister to hold meetings on Sabbath noons, but were forbidden to hold them on weekdays. About this time one of these brethren, who was afterward a deacon of this church, agreed to meet another brother living in Westford, who held like views, once a week on the top of a high hill, called Nashobah Hill, about one-half mile southeast from the present meeting house and on the boundary line between Littleton and Westford. Here on a spot between the two parishes, they erected an altar of stone, and met regularly from the spring of 1819 until late in the fall, their special object being to pray for a revival of religion in both of these adjacent towns. During the winter they continued to hold meetings at their houses, and were occasionally assisted by students from Andover, who, hearing of their circumstances, kindly came over to help them. The three brethren met weekly on the hill for some time with no indications of approaching blessings. But late in the spring a little cloud appeared like a man’s hand; one after another was awakened, and soon the interest became general in both towns so that crowded meetings were held in different houses, attended by large numbers of young converts and inquirers. During this revival, which continued through this year and part of the next, it is thought that about 40 persons were converted in this town, and a large number in Westford.
In the winter of 1819, Mr. Benjamin Willard, then a licentiate of the Baptist Church in Harvard, commenced preaching in this and some adjoining towns. About this time, some of the brethren, on comparing their views of gospel ordinances reached without previous consultation with each other, were mutually surprised to find that, contrary to their previous instructions and prejudices, they had become Baptists by the simple study of the Bible. The rite of Baptism was first administered in this town on June 22, 1819. One of the two candidates on that occasion had been converted under the preaching of Whitefield, many years before. Feeling it his duty and privilege to follow the Savior in Baptism, at the age of eighty, he was carried to the waterside on an ox sled, being unable to go any other way. The administrator of the ordinance was Rev. Abisha Samson of Harvard. Although much opposition was experienced, the word of God grew and multiplied. Much interest was manifested in the truths of vital religion; meetings for prayer and gospel preaching were largely attended; and notwithstanding the great hatred and contempt which they met in certain quarters, Baptist principles became more and more generally recognized as the principles of the New Testament. It is not our purpose to speak reproachfully of any, or to ‘set down aught in malice.’ Much allowance must be made for the laxity of public opinion in regard to religious toleration at the time of which we speak. There has certainly been a great advance since the Baptists of Littleton were subjected to social and civil disabilities and to various petty annoyances, because they honestly differed from their fellow citizens in matters of Christian faith and practice; since a fence was placed around a pond to prevent their having access to its waters, for the purpose of performing the rite of Baptism; and it was only after ‘much debate’ that the town granted this ‘despised sect’ the use of a school house for religious worship.
Previous to the spring of 1822, it appears that 33 persons belonging in Littleton had been Baptized and received to the fellowship of the Baptist Church in Harvard. In the month of March, in this year, a church was organized as the First Baptist Church of Christ in Littleton. Until July, in 1823, the church remained destitute of a pastor. At that date Bro. Amasa Sanderson, who had supplied the pulpit half the time for a year previous, received and accepted a call to become the pastor. He was ordained the 9th of July, 1823. The meeting house, a small brick structure standing about a mile-and-a-half west of the present house, having been completed, was dedicated on the same day. Rev. Charles Train of Framingham, Rev. Dr. Baldwin of Boston, and Rev. John Parkhurst of Chelmsford, were among the administering brethren who participated in the services. Bro. Sanderson continued to serve the church faithfully until March 1831, when he was compelled to resign on account of failing health. During his pastorate 17 were added to the church by Baptism and 28 by letter. In March 1831 Bro. Benjamin Manning was licensed by the Church to preach.
From March to August, 1831, the church was without a pastor. In the latter month an invitation was extended to Rev. Silas Kenney to become their minister. He remained nearly three years, during which time 20 were added by Baptism and four by letter.
For the next three years the church was supplied with preaching chiefly by the students of Newton Theological Institution. During this time 13 were added by Baptism and two by letter.
In June 1837, Bro. Oliver Ayer was ordained pastor of the church. Bro. Ayer continued to perform the duties of his office with much acceptance and success until he resigned in September 1843. In 1840, Rev. William Miller, by invitation of the church, lectured several days on the Second Coming of Christ. Soon Millerism prevailed quite generally in the church and among the people. There were added this year by Baptism 65, and by letter 15. One peculiar feature of this revival is thus alluded to in a communication from Rev. Mr. Ayer: “Men everywhere were studying the Bible. In the barroom, post office, or stores, any man was ready to read or hear the word of God.” Mr. Ayer adds: “It was a fearfully solemn time. God was present in a peculiarly impressive manner.” The majority of those who embraced at this time the Adventist doctrines returned before long to the old landmarks; but some of the members of the church “got so far over the dam,” as one has expressed it, “that they floated off with the flood-wood of Millerism.” It is cheering to find that a large proportion of those who were added to the church during this time of excitement remained steadfast.
In August, 1840, the brick meeting house in which the church had worshipped 17 years was burned. The church was enabled, however, to build immediately the present house, a more commodious structure than the former, and situated in a more desirable position. (1)
Although we have no picture of the first meeting house which was built of brick, we have an interesting description of its appearance by Prof. Laban E. Warren who united with the church as a young man in 1853. “The old brick meeting house which they built the next year after the church was organized was really a wonderful structure for a church so small and so feeble . . . . It stood on a road leading to the westerly part of the town only a few rods across the fields from my early home, and though I was a small boy when it burned in the summer of 1840 I can still recall very distinctly how it looked. The exterior was exceedingly plain. No steeple, or belfry, cross or stained glass windows to indicate it was a meeting house. The inside was most attractive. A gallery extended around three sides of it with an ample space for singers, screened off with yellow curtains. The pulpit was very high, with a large window behind it and a large canopy or sounding board above.”
“My first attendance at the Sunday School was here and I recall the very first lesson that I recited. It was the fourth commandment as paraphrased in the old couplet: “We must not work, we must not play upon the God’s holy Sabbath Day.” (2)
During the period of Bro. Ayer’s labors 89 were added by Baptism and 32 by letter; one was restored.
Rev. Mr. Ayer resigned the pastorate in September 1843. Until the following spring, the church was supplied mostly by Rev. Mr. Powers of Bolton. In April 1844, Rev. Theodore H. Lunt commenced his labors as pastor, but remained only one year. He was afterwards deposed from the ministry and finally excluded from the church. Rev. Aaron Haynes accepted a call to the pastorate in April 1845. He remained about two years during which time 32 were added to the church by Baptism. The latter part of Bro. Haynes term of service was unhappily marked by much difficulty and dissension in the church. In 1846, fifteen members were dismissed to help form the church at West Acton.
From June 1847 to February 1848, Rev. B. H. Clift served the church as pastor. No additions were made this year.
In May 1848, Reverend George Mathews accepted the invitation of the church to become their pastor. He resigned his charge in 1852. The state of religion seems to have been generally low in the church for a number of years after the revival enjoyed in 1845-6, in connection with the labors of Bro. Haynes.
In the summer of 1852, Rev. F. E. Cleaves assumed the pastoral charge and remained until October 1857, when he was compelled by ill health to resign. His labors were very acceptable to the church, and he left behind him an enduring remembrance of his worth and ministerial fidelity. He was permitted to Baptize 15 persons during his pastorate, and to see the church increase in strength and united more firmly in the bonds of brotherly love. (1)
In December 1857, Mr. D. F. Lamson, then of Newton Theological Institution, commenced supplying the church, and continued to preach for most of the time on the Sabbath until the following July, when having accepted the unanimous invitation of the church and society to settle with them, he was ordained as their pastor July 22, 1858, and entered at once upon the discharge of the duties of his office. During Mr. Lamson’s pastorate five were Baptized, 12 added by letter. His pastorate ended in April 1861.
In June 1861, Rev. C. M. Willard entered upon a pastorate with the church, which ended in November 1867. During Mr. Willard’s pastorate, 24 were added to the church by Baptism, 14 by letter, and one by restoration. (3)
The last Charter member of the church died March 26, 1866. He was Deacon Jonathan Peirce, 79 years and 9 months of age. He seems to have been one of the younger men, approximately 36 years of age, who helped organize the church and was held in high respect by all. (2)
Immediately following the pastorate of Rev. C. M. Willard, through the wise and efficient action of Bro. Charles H. Pierce, our present parsonage, attractive and convenient, was secured.
Rev. C. L. Frost followed Mr. Willard in a pastorate beginning in August 1868, and ending in June 1869, during which period one was Baptized, and one received by letter.
In September 1869, Bro. James F. Morton, a recent graduate from Newton Theological Seminary, accepted a call to the pastorate, was ordained on the 28th of the same month, and closed his labors as pastor in September 1872. No Baptisms occurred under his ministry with us. Two joined by letter.
During, and immediately following Rev. J. F. Morton’s pastorate, our meeting house was raised, remodeled, beautified and provided with a vestry, at a cost of about $3000.
Following Mr. Morton, Rev. N. B. Sperry assumed pastoral charge of the church in January 1873, and continued the same until May 1875, during which time Bro. Laban E. Warren was licensed to preach the Gospel, seven were Baptized, six added by letter, and one was restored.
The next pastor was Rev. William Read, who began labors in July 1875, and closed them in May 1878. During this period 15 were Baptized, seven were added by letter, and one was restored. In November 1878, Rev. Paul Gallagher became our pastor and ended his term of service in November 1880. The records show that during Mr. Gallagher’s pastorate five were Baptized and four added by letter.
In December 1880, Rev. W. H. Evans accepted a call to the pastorate and labored with us until July 1883. During his period of service five were Baptized and three added by letter. (3)
In December 1883, Rev. R. G. Johnson began his labors and remained until August 1888. In the fall of 1886, special evangelistic meetings were held with splendid results. In 1887, a baptistry was installed. Previously Baptisms had been performed in Lake Nagog. Twenty were received by Baptism and four by letter during this pastorate.
In September 1888, Rev. William J. Cloues began his pastorate, remaining until July 1899. Up to the present time, 1947, this is the longest pastorate in the history of the church. In January and February 1892, special Union Evangelistic services with the Congregational church were held. There appears to have been a marked spiritual revival as a result. While Mr. Cloues was pastor, 21 were Baptized and 19 received by letter.
(1) Rev. D. F. Lamson
(2) Rev. G. E. Crouse
(3) Rev. R. G. Johnson