Deacon Jacob and the Congregational Church (1635-1710)

Jacob Foster, son of Reginald, was the first of many Deacons in the New England family. The role of a Deacon and the importance of the Congregational Church in New England cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately, much of this is obscured today by the modern depiction of the ragtag Pilgrims arriving in Plymouth just in time to starve through their first winter. In reality, the Pilgrims were “separating” Puritans who wished to separate from the Church of England. They were given special treatment as a result of their non-conformance and suffered persecution and difficulty in making it to the New World. The other Puritans to whom the Fosters belonged were called that because of their desire to reform the Anglican Church. Because of the chaos of the English Civil War, the New England Puritans were without much interference from the Church of England during their formative early years. What is described as “The New England Way” was pretty much defined by Cotten Mather in sermons that he gave in Salem in 1636.

Mather described the basic elements as people self-governing themselves and their church through a shared covenant. This voluntary covenant committed the members to obedience for the good of the religious and political governance. In short, they were on their own and to be sure there was no concept of separation of church and state. In order to vote on community rules and laws, a man needed to be in good standing with the church. No tithe, no vote. Non-members of the church could not own property and if they left the church any title to land was forfeited. To become a member one needed to convince the church that they were part of the “elect” and had a personal experience with God. These were usually in the form of autobiographical “conversion narratives”. Unlike Anglican and Catholic churches of the time, the Puritans did not require community members to be in the church. However, residents without church membership were non-property holding, non-voting and definitely second class citizens.  Within the church, the Pastor gave the sermons but the Elders and the Deacon ran the show. In reality, the Deacon gave the message when there was no Pastor which was frequently the case. The Deacon also was responsible for managing church finance and the distribution of aide to the poor in the community. It was not the role of the town council to assist the poor; it was the role of the Deacon. Jacob will be the first Deacon many in the family. His gravestone as crudely inscribed with Deacon.

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Unlike the starving Pilgrims, the Puritans who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were much better prepared. They made it their practice to arrive in the spring in order to have the summer for building adequate shelter and growing garden crops while clearing the 50 acres they were granted as members of the colony. They also were required to bring sufficient food stuffs to not be a burden on the rest of the community. Ipswich itself was named in 1634 in thanks for the kindness of the English Ipswich townspeople from whose port many of the settlers left. The Indian name of Agawam was quickly forgotten. On March 13, 1638 the  Indian Masconnomet sells the land upon which Ipswich will be founded to John Winthrop, Jr. for 20 Pounds (or around $2,000 today). By 1644 Masconnomet and the rest of the Sagamore tribe places itself under the protection of government of Massachusetts and agree to be instructed in Christianity. By 1726 there are no more Agawames on Wigwam Hill.

While the records indicate that Reginald and family arrive in 1638, it will take until 1641 for them to receive title to their land. The delay was caused in part by the efforts to weed out potential paupers, idlers, contentious and immoral people prior to their being accepted as members of the community and church. They also needed to take the Freeman’s Oath as loyal member of the Commonwealth and “bind myself in the sight of God…”. Since Reginald evidently paid his own way for his family, he was entitled to 50 acres but the allotment of the specific parcels would take some time. Therefor the delay was not because of any perceived moral weakness. We can assume. By 1645, common pasture for cows was set aside for citizens. Reginald will bequeath his portion to his children and wife. A similar interest in the common lands located on Hog and Plumb Islands were acquired by 1665.

The use of Goodman and Goodwife were substituted for the use of Mr. and Mrs. You could be fined for improper use of names. This went out of practice by 1700 as the commonwealth grew. Their homes were normally two stories with one central fireplace. They commonly used 20 to 30 cords of firewood each year for heating and cooking (at the Ridge we use less than two during our harsh California winters). Their homes were either lit by burning wood splinters full of pitch or by using oil obtained from fish livers. The use of tallow or wax for candles had to wait until the 1700’s for common use. Probably, the limited somewhat fragrant lighting helped when it came time to sup. Pea and bean porridge, broth made from salt beef or pork with some addition of flour or meal was the daily fare. Beverages were limited to milk and water, some beer, were frowned upon and wine almost non-existent. If there was bread and it was uncommon until 1720, it was made from corn meal and rye. Wheat flour was rare and expensive. Several generations of Fosters will participate in this simple life-style as the colony grew.

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The Highland Cemetery in Ipswich. The final resting place of many Fosters

Jacob immigrated at the age of 3 after his birth in Exeter in 1635. Jacob will marry Martha Kinsman in 1658 who was 19 at the time. She will bear Jacob 8 children before expiring in 1666 at the age of 27. Poor Martha will die on January 12 and Jacob will marry Abigail Lord on February 26 after a month of mourning. Actually, rapid marriages after a death were quite common. It must have been tough feeding that fireplace to keep warm in those houses insulated with clay and straw. She will bear Jacob an additional 7 children but will outlast him and pass away at the age of 83 in 1729. Jacob is 75 when he dies in the ancestral home in 1710.

Abigail Lord was the daughter of Robert Lord who arrived at Ipswich in 1637 aboard the Tristram and Ann. Unlike so many others of the past, we have a surviving account about Robert that requires recounting. Robert is credited with some 20 years of Indian fighting. It is had to believe that there were that many left after the small pox and peaceful land purchases. Anyway, it is said that he was so hardy a soldier that he could not lie on a feather bed. And while short and stout, he was also one of the most athletic. During one of the Indian wars it was decided to settle the matter with single combat. Short Robert was selected to do the “Indian hug” with their champion who was said to be seven feet tall. In the David and Goliath battle that ensued, Robert managed to throw the big guy a rod or some 16 feet. The Indian suffered a bust vein and conceded. Robert was thereafter known as the White Devil. Into this colorful family, Jacob married with his second wife. His town job “searcher of coin”, Town Clerk and Clerk of the Court must have been helpful for his Deacon son-in-law who needed to monitor tithing. He left an estate of some $65,000 as was a “useful, upwright, and worthy man.”

The Lord family home built in 1658

The Lord family home built in 1658

In choosing Abigail as his wife, Jacob was more fortunate than Joseph Wilson who married Abigail’s sister Sarah. Sarah will be tried in Salem for witchcraft in 1692. She failed the “touch test” and brought about uncontrollable twitching when her hands touched a sufferer. She was fortunate to be released after 15 weeks imprisonment. Others were not so lucky.

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