THE FORMATION OF THE SECOND PARISH
In order that one may understand just how this Church came into being, it is necessary that we go back to colonial days when there was but one established parish and one church in Gloucester.
Previous to 1694, in order to attend church in Gloucester, the West Gloucester inhabitant had two choices. In the summer one could cross the Annisquam River by boat, or travel down the west shore to the harbor, cross the bridge, and walk back along the road paralleling the east shore to the Green. This was a distance of at least six miles. Except for the width of the Annisquam River and the distance from Trynall’s Cove to the Green, one would have to travel in almost a complete circle.
By 1694, the road from Chebacco Village (Essex), which was at that time part of the town of lpswich, had been completed and terminated on Biskie Head (Rust Island). Biskie Head was connected to the west shore by a causeway over the marsh, which is still in existence. In this same year, 1694, the town established a ferry linking the lpswich Road at Biskie Head with Trynall’s Cove; and Samuel Hodgkins was appointed by the town as ferryman. This ferry operated for over one hundred years as the exclusive franchise of the Hodgkins family. While the ferry shortened the distance with comparative safety, for most of the West Gloucester citizens it had one decided disadvantage in that it made them feel they were the victims of geographical discrimination. To cross the river each person had to pay a toll of one penny for themself; or if they were one of the few wealthy enough to own a horse, they had to pay two pennies toll for the horse. This did not suit their frugal souls. The toll added to the church tax was no salve to their resentment since church attendance was compulsory according to Colonial law.
In 1710, the citizens petitioned the Town for relief of their inconveniences and asked to be separated from the First Parish with permission to build their own meetinghouse. A committee of five was appointed to investigate, but the petition was denied. They were, however, granted permission to engage a schoolmaster who could also serve as a preacher for the winter months. Samuel Tompson was engaged by the Town in 1712 for £12 to keep school for three months and to perform the work of a minister during that time. At the end of three years, a further agreement was to be made by which he was to have £40 for a year’s teaching and four month’s ministerial labor.
In 1713, the people asked the Town for land on which to build a meetinghouse, and fifteen acres were granted. They built their meetinghouse on this grant which, at the time, was geographically in the center of the village on the old Ipswich road. Proof of the existence of this road in 1694 may be attested to by the fact that it was mentioned in Deacon Burnham’s will, written in Chebacco village that year. The meetinghouse was built on a plateau near where Bray Street crosses Tompson Street which was the name given to this part of the old roadf after the demise of the first pastor. On the sounding board over the pulpit, they carved the date “1713,” showing that they considered this date as the establishment of the church although the church was not dedicated until three years later in 1716. It operated for three years before a society was established.
The church recently celebrated its Three hundredth Anniversary on September 15th, 2013 and an updated edition of “The Church In The Wilderness” was published for that occasion. It chronicles the complete history of the church from its founding through 2013 and copies are available through the church.