The Methodist Church:
In 1827 the Reverend William French of Sandown, NH felt moved to go forth and preach the gospel. French knelt down and committed the case to God. As he prayed he seemed to hear the command “Go.” He obeyed and mounted his horse and trusted the one who had commissioned him to determine the direction his horse should take. His animal brought him to Byfield, to the house of Mr. Burrill. He asked the woman of the house if she would like to talk on religion. The woman gave an affirmative response, and so began the Methodist Church in Byfield.
French died December 12, In 1830 a little band in Byfield was strong enough to build a humble chapel near the Great Rock. In this the women sat on stones that were brought in from the roadside where such seats were plenty, while the men listened to the word of life at the door and the windows. In 1832 a church was formed and a parish called, “The First Parish of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the towns of West Newbury and Newbury.” In 1853 the chapel was removed to the Mills. The present Methodist Church was dedicated on June 15, 1902.
Lieutenant Governor William Dummer:
Each of the first three pastorates had one preeminent characteristic. The first was distinguished by its close connection with the government of the providence. Lieutenant Governor William Dummer, born in 1677, was of original Byfield stock. On April 26, 1714 he married Katherine Dudley. Dummer built his mansion house shortly afterward. In 1716 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor. His administration was signalized by a fierce war with the eastern Native Americans, who were backed and spurred on by the French, as part of their long struggle with the English for mastery of North America. The war know in history as Dummer’s War. When Governor Dummer died on October 10, 1761, he willed his farm to be an academy.
The Governor Dummer Mansion:
In 1716 Samuel Shute, a soldier of Marlborough, was appointed Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Mr. Dummer was appointed Lieutenant Governor. That same year the new Governor journeyed from Boston and was received with military ceremony in Newbury, probably in the Byfield part of it. Governor Shute was escorted to the Lieutenant Governor’s where, according to the Boston News Letter, he was finely entertained. President Leverett of Harvard College was a fellow-guest. Probably this gathering in the mansion house was the inaugural event in a long series of hospitable receptions for the most eminent men and the fairest ladies of the province. The mansion built between 1712 and 1715 is on the register of historic houses of America and now is home to the Headmaster of Governor Dummer Academy.
The Governor Dummer Academy:
The educational event that eclipses all others in Byfield Parish history was the founding of Dummer Academy. In the Reverend Moses Parsons’ daily record for 1763 we read, “February 28, Monday. Very stormy, March, 1, Tuesday Dummer Charity School begun prayed there in the morning. Dummer Charity School opened February 28. Preached upon the occasion a public lecture from Isaiah 32:8.” The text reads in the version of that day: But the liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand, ‘ Said school began the next day viz. March 1, 1763.”* Governor Dummer’s claim to be the oldest incorporated academy in the United States has never been challenged. Gage says in his history: “Perhaps no country parish within the Commonwealth has educated more young men according to its population than Byfield.”
*The diary of the Reverend Moses Parsons is modernized for readability.
The Mill River Marshes:
Perhaps the most charming contribution of geology to Byfield scenery is afforded by what are technically called the “drowned” valleys of the Parker and the Mill River below the head of tidewater. These are our beautiful marshes or salt meadows. Byfield has many beautiful view. The marshes are at their perfection on a summer day near sunset, when high water occurs at that hour and the wind is east. Few scenes are more beautiful than the full river winding down form inland through broad level marshes bordered by steep, wooded hills alternating with gently sloping fields and rocky pastures with farmhouse here and there.
The First Female Seminary:
In 1805 Benjamin Colman, a deacon of the Byfield Parish Church, bought the Sleigh meetinghouse and moved it beside his house. The Reverend William Sleigh pastored those members of the church who broke away in 1797. When the church reunited, Colman bought the second building and in 1807 opened the first female seminary in America. The first preceptor was the Reverend Joseph Emerson. In 1821 the Byfield Seminary admitted the woman whose life proved to be the most fruitful in the nineteenth century. Mary Lyon came to Byfield and then to faith in Christ. She left Byfield and in 1836 founded Mount Holyoke College for Women. The Seminary structures was substantially altered across the years. In 1963 it opened as the New England Military School and graduated its last student on June 2. 1975. For a time Calvin Seminary was upstairs.
The Longfellow Homestead:
In 1931 a Byfield woman woke up smelling smoke. Believing that the fire fighters did not come to work until eight o’clock in the morning, she waited to sound the alarm. The delay resulted in the burning of the Longfellow homestead. William Longfellow married Anne Sewall in 1676. Anne’s father, Henry Sewall Jr., gave the newlyweds land beside the Parker River as a wedding gift. Lieutenant Stephen Longfellow, their son was the Byfield blacksmith and the subject of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem. Longfellow dedicated “The Village Blacksmith” to his great-great-grandfather’s memory.
The Village Blacksmith
Under a spreading chestnut tree The Village smithy stands; The smith, a mighty man is he, With large and sinewy hands And the muscles of his brawny arms, Are Strong as irons bands. His hair is crisp, and black and long, His face is like the tan, His brow is wet with honest sweat, He earns whate’er he can, And looks the whole world in the face, For he owes not any man…
_Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Mehetable Moody Homestead
Colonial Chief Justice Samuel Sewall entered in his diary, “August 8, 1702. My dear sister Moody dies a little before sunrise.” Mrs. Moody was thirty-eight years old. It is interesting to notice that the one act of her life which was selected for record on her gravestone was the aid in the establishment of infant parish, and the term employed is also “settling the worship of God.” The inscription on Mrs. Moody’s stone is as follows:
Dater of Mr. Henry & Jane Sewall,
wife of Mr. William Moody,
Promoted settling the worship of God here, and then went to her glorified son William, leaving her son William, leaving her son Samuel & four Daters with their Father, August ye 8th, 1702, At 38 was the first interred in this place.
Here on December 23, 1853 William Moody was born. Moody was appointed Secretary of the Navy and Supreme Court Justice.
The Glen Mills:
One of the oldest gristmills in the country, the Glen Mills were flattened by fire in 1916. The four buildings were on land originally given to Richard Dummer. Here for the first time cereals were packaged.
The Mills at the Falls:
Richard Dummer built the first mill at Newbury Falls. After Dummer, a variety of mills were powered by the falls. At the falls operated the second water-powered gristmill in the colony. Here too was the first cotton mill in the country where the first broadcloth was manufactured. At the falls a machine stamped out a nail for the first time in world history. It was 1797, only twenty-one years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when Jacob Perkins made nails by machine. Before Perkins cut nails in Byfield those who purposed to build a house needed to contract for nails with the local blacksmith. At the time when the mills were destroyed by fire on August 12, 1932, the “Woolen Mills”, as the Byfield Felt Mills were popularly called, comprised (left to right) the store house, a small office building, the blanket factory, and felt processing factory.
The Abraham Adams House:
This house, built in 1705, is one of the few remaining garrison houses in Byfield. From this house Abraham Adams and three sons went to fight for freedom in the Revolutionary War. Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, spent two years studying law with Theophilus Parson of Byfield. Adams has relatives in and around the parish. Perhaps on occasion the future president visited the Abraham Adams house.
The Benjamin Pearson Homestead:
John Pearson came to Rowley in 1643 and built the first fulling mill in the English speaking colonies. Pearson’s mill did not supersede the wheel and loom at home. It was simply a mill to which the homespun cloth was brought to be rudely finished. The mill added compactness to the cloth, making it warmer, more durable, and finer in appearance. Johnson’s “Wonder-Working Providence” says of Mr. Pearson and his neighbor: “These….were the first people that set upon making of cloth in this western world.” This mill remained in Mr. Pearson’s family and name for six generations, and his son Benjamin became a miller on the main stream of the Parker, where his descendants of the same surname and given name have continued to the final decade of the twentieth century.
The Fatherland Farm:
The Revered Moses Parsons’ son Eben left his father’s house to seek his fortune, with his worldly good in a bundle in one hand and his shoes in the other to save wear. Upon leaving Byfield he said, “When I get money enough I am coming back to buy that Dummer pasture and live there.” In 1802 he did, indeed, buy the “Dummer pasture.” In 1802 Parsons erected the noble mansion that was the pride of the old parish for more than a century and a half. A checkbook revealed that the massive stonewalls alone cost him $85,000.00, his profit form one shipment from the Orient. In honor of his father, Moses, the estate was called “Fatherland Farm.” His enthusiasm in agriculture made Eben a great benefactor of Byfield and the country at large. He imported choice breeds of cattle, sheep, and swine, also improved varieties of grain and grasses, and scions of foreign fruit, and ornamental trees and shrubs. The beautiful mantelpiece of Italian marble with its exquisite agricultural relief in the Fatherland Farm parlor was a gift of Massachusetts Agricultural Society given in grateful recognition of his services to agriculture.
Separating the governmental powers made the United States Constitution great. The credit for the balance of powers goes to Theophilus Parson of Byfield Parish. Theophilus was born in the Byfield Parish parsonage, the fourth son of the second pastor. While asleep in his crib a neighbor lady predicted that the boy would become a great judge. In 1788 when the new national constitution was under consideration in the Massachusetts convention, and the question whether it should be accepted or rejected trembled in the balance, Mr. Parson moved it ratification, and Chief-Justice Parker pronounced him “the master spirit of that assembly.” The prophecy of the neighbor regarding Theophilus was fulfilled in 1806 when he was elevated to Chief Justice of Massachusetts.
The Lull House:
Although our fathers had little to dread from home Native Americans, those from without their borders kept them constantly under arms and forced them to build garrison houses for protection. On the Lord’s Day evening, late in the autumn of 1692, Byfield experienced tragedy. Mr. Benjamin Goodrich, his wife, and daughters were at family prayers when Native Americans stormed the house. Goodrich, his wife and two of his daughters were killed. The seven-year-old was carried captive. The attackers set the house afire but it only partially burned. It stood on a lane off North Street until the end of the 19th century. The Native Americans who slaughtered the Goodrich family may have been among those that swarmed out of the vast forest to the north and east, stirred up and backed by the French in their long contest with the English for the mastery of North America.
The Thurlow Bridge:
By 1654 Thurlow’s Bridge was built. This was a great step forward in the lines of communication. This bridge stands third in the list of bridges in continuous use in New England. Even after the bridge was built, it was no easy matter to make a good road from Thurlow’s Bridge across the marsh to Rowley. Until 1758, when the Parker River Bridge was built, the great highway from Boston to Portsmouth ran through Byfield. Almost from the beginning Byfield felt the pulse-beat of the outside world. It was neither the work of a year nor even of a generation to bridge the streams, fill the swamps and marshes, blast out the rocks, shave off the crests of the hills, and put on gravel, so as to provide our present roads.
Dr. and Mrs. William E. Boylan:
Miriam and Bill, as their flock has know them for the past third of a century, compiled these pictures and collected these anecdotes for the final tercentenary banquet., December 28, 2002. Many of the words are take verbatim from the “Story of Byfield” written in 1904 by John Lewis Ewell. This book is dedicated to the memory of all the Byfield Parish Church parishioners who have found faith in Jesus Christ in this place.