Raynham, Massachusetts was incorporated April 2, 1731, having been taken from the eastern precinct of Taunton, Massachusetts in Bristol County. Taunton was first settled by English emigrants in about 1637-39. Settlements in the area that was to become Raynham were made about 1652 by James and Henry Leonard and Ralph Russell, who had come from Wales, and established in Raynham the first iron forge on the continent. By a free town vote they were given the liberty to “build and set up this work, and that they shall have the woods on the other side of the Two-Mile river, wheresoever it is common on that side of the river, to cut for their cord-wood to make coals; and also to dig and take mine or ore at Two-Mile Meadows, or in any of the commons appertaining to the town where it is not proprietary.” The iron forge was held by the Leonard family and their descendants for a century, during which time the iron works were enlarged by adding more furnaces and eventually being converted into an anchor forge, and providing a livelihood for the inhabitants of the area for about 200 years.
Abraham Jones, who was born about 1659 in Hull, Massachusetts and died March 18, 1734/35 in Raynham, appears to have been the major voice in petitioning for separation from Taunton; his name appears first on each of the petition’s. The separation does not seem to have been from any political difference but rather from a convenience of the people as most of the inhabitants were too far from Taunton to attend public worship. Three petitions to separate were presented to the Massachusetts General Court before the Court declared that it was “competently filled with inhabitants” to be set off into a distinct township. The first petition, dated December 8, 1726, sought exemption from charges for the new meeting house in Taunton, and to be set off as a separate town from Taunton; the second petition dated October 17, 1728 asked that Taunton be erected into three separate and distinct districts; the third petition dated April 16, 1729 made the request to be set into a separate precinct from Taunton. The General Court, on the third petition, set off Raynham as a distinct township. There were 30 families living in Raynham at the time that it was incorporated on April 2, 1731.
The inhabitants of Raynham, in anticipation of separation from Taunton had already erected and partially finished a meeting house two years before incorporation. This first meeting house, according to “The History of Raynham, Mass.” stood a fourth of a mile east of the forge, on the north side of the road leading to Squawbetty. On the website for the First Congregational Church of Raynham UCC, it is more clearly defined that the first meeting house was located along Richmond Street, not far from the Iron Forge.
The first town meeting for selecting officers was held April 22, 1731. Samuel Leonard, Jr., was chosen town clerk, and John Staples, Samuel Leonard and Ebenezer Robinson, selectman. In 1732 John White was chosen as clerk of the market and Elijah Dean and Thomas Baker were elected tithing-men. At a meeting on May 10, 1731, Mr. John Wales, who had already been preaching in Raynham for a year and a half, was chosen minister. The church was officially established on October 19, 1731 and the Rev. Mr. Wales was ordained as the pastor the following day. Mr. Wales continued as the minster of the Raynham church for another 34 years. He died February 23, 1765. About two years after the death of Mr. Wales, Perez Fobes, of Bridgewater. was chosen pastor of the church, and served for 45 years.
On October 7, 1731 at a church meeting at the public meeting house in Taunton, 15 men and 17 women, all living in Raynham, and all brethren and sisters in full communion with the Taunton church, requested to be dismissed from the church in order to enter into a church state by themselves, and have the ordinances of the gospel administered among them. The church voted that they be dismissed accordingly.
It is every family historian’s desire to obtain primary source documents. The following is the list of original members of the Church in Raynham, taken from page 129 of the Raynham Church Records, Vol. 1 (Old Colony Historical Society, Taunton, Massachusetts).
|Men (15)||Women (17)|
|Abraham Jones||Hannah White|
|John Staple||Mary Hacket|
|John Leonard||Kathrine Leonard|
|Samuel Hacket||Hannah Campbell|
|Joseph Jones||Susannah White|
|Samuel Leonard||Hannah Staple|
|Seth Leonard||Mehetable White|
|Samuel White||Ruth Crane|
|Ebenezer Campbell||Elizabeth Shaw|
|John White||Mary Jones|
|Gabriel Crossman||Joanna Leonard|
|Jonathan Hall||Abigail Hall|
|Thomas Baker||Lydia Brettun|
|Samuel Hacket 2d||Patience Hacket|
|Henry Crane||Sarah Hall|
Three Halls appear on the list of original members of the church: Jonathan, Abigail and Sarah Hall. Abigail Hall was the widow of Samuel Hall, he being the first of this family to settle in this area; Jonathan was the son of Abigail [and Samuel], and Sarah was Jonathan’s second wife, Sarah Smith.
The second meeting house was built sometime during the 1760’s to early 1770’s by Israel Washburn, on the present lot of the church today, in Raynham Center. The land upon which it was erected belonged to Amariah Hall (nephew of Jonathan Hall). A steeple was added later as a tower attached to the side of the house. When the church decided to replace this building, the town expressed an interest in it as they had been using it for town meetings and had no place else to meet. Some of the church people were not fond of this idea and one night the tower was severed from the building. In the morning the tower lay upon the ground, extending across the street with the spire projecting into the orchard of Amos Hall (son of Jonathan Hall). Subsequently, no serious objection was made by the town to remove the dismembered building.
The third meeting house was built on the corner in Raynham Center. It stood until July 22, 1913 when a fire in a shed belonging to a nearby blacksmith spread and the church was completely destroyed. When the church members rebuilt their house of worship, they decided to use a stone exterior for better fire protection. The Stone Church, as it is commonly known, was dedicated on April 1, 1915 and remains active today.
1. Raynham Church Records, Vol. 1, Old Colony Historical Society, Taunton, Massachusetts.
2. History of Raynham, Mass. From its First Settlement to the Present time, by Rev. Enoch Sanford, A.M., Providence, 1870.
3. First Congregational Church of Raynham UCC, (web site).
4. A Brief History of Raynham, Massachusetts, Town of Raynham (web site).
5. Descendants of Thomas Jones of Hingham, Hull, and Manchester, Mass., compiled by Claude W. Barlow, NEHGR, vol. 113, 47-48, 1959.