Milton’s Christian Church Elders – 1827-1845

By Muriel Bristol | January 30, 2019

The Christians, or Christ-ians, or Christian Baptists, were a variety of Baptists distinct from the original Calvinistic Baptists and from that other off-shoot, the Free-Will Baptists.

Of BAPTIST CHURCHES. The Regular or Calvinistic Baptists became established in New-Hampshire in 1755, since which time the Free-Will Baptists and Christians have arisen; but between these and the Calvinistic Baptists there is considerable difference of sentiment, excepting on the subjects and mode of Baptism, in which they agree (Claremont, 1830). 

This Christian congregation did not have its own church building – the Union Chapel – until 1841. Early circuit preachers, such as Elder Mark Fernald, met with small groups in private homes or barns, and, in season, held larger “general meetings” in the open. There are sizable gaps in the sequence of resident elders. The congregations must have been much on their own between visits by one Christian circuit preacher or another.

Whether they were allowed to use the Milton town meeting-house at any time prior to 1841 is not clear in the records seen to date.

Elder Mark Fernald

Elder Mark Fernald (1784-1851) was born in the Sir William Pepperell mansion house in Kittery, ME, March 9, 1784, son of Joshua and Elizabeth (White) Fernald.

fernald, mark
Elder Mark Fernald

He became pastor, or elder, of the Christian Church at Kittery Point, ME, in 1815, a position he held for the remainder of his life. He has been described as “an energetic itinerant and church organizer.” He is famous too for his diary of his activities, which he published as an autobiography (see References below).

Elder Fernald traveled on a two-month winter circuit that included Milton, which he regarded as a part of the “hill country.” This trip took place in January 1818, some nine years prior to the establishment of a Christian, or Christian Baptist, church in Milton.

Remained at home a few days preaching in Kittery, York, and Portsmouth, and then started again for the hill country. Stopped at Elliot, South Berwick, and Milton, by the way, and reached Wolfborough on the 31st (Fernald, 1852).

Elder Fernald’s chilly route included stops at Eliot and South Berwick, ME; Milton and Wolfeborough, NH; Newfield, Standish, Gray Corner, Gray, New Gloucester, Portland, Scarborough, Windham, and Newfield, ME; Ossipee, Wolfeborough, Tuftonborough, and Brookfield, NH, Berwick, Eliot, and back to Kittery, ME. He traveled by sleigh and mentioned several times having been blocked by deep snow.

Elder Mark Fernald would visit Milton, and the surrounding towns, many times over the ensuing years. He considered them as the “hill country” part of his circuit. He died in Kittery, ME, December 29, 1851. Former Milton Elder Simeon Swett was present at his death.

Christian Church Organized in Milton

Elder Fernald visited again the “hill country” in June 1826. He mentioned specifically stops in Farmington and Wolfeborough.

Milton’s Congregational minister, Rev. James Walker, died on September 4, 1826. Elder Mark Fernald preached at Milton on October 9, 1826, just a month after Walker’s death and five months before the Milton Christian congregation organized themselves.

According to Scales’ History of Strafford County:

The “First Christian Church” [in Milton] was organized March 3, 1827, with ten members as follows, viz., Hapley Meserve, Joseph Goodwin, Anna Goodwin, Joanna Meserve, Eliza Rines, Abigail Burnham, Ruth Burnham, Mary Burnham, Dorcas Ricker, Mary Howe.

The first deacons were Hapley Meserve and Samuel Ricker, and the first clerk was Hapley Meserve.

The pastors have been Simeon Swett, John Davis, John T.G. Colby, Samuel S. White, Jotham S. Johnson, and A.G. Comings. The deacons have been H. Meserve, Samuel Ricker, Joseph Goodwin, Jonathan Howe, Joseph H. Nutt, James H. Twombly, and John C. Varney; and the clerks Hapley Meserve, Daniel B. Goodwin, and Martin V.B. Cook.

Two hundred and one members have been added to this church, and sixty-eight have died. Their house of worship, known as “Union Chapel,” was dedicated Sept. 22, 1841 (Scales, 1914).

Of the pastors mentioned, only Simeon Swett and John T.G. Colby seem to have actually resided in Milton for any length of time. The others appear to have been pastors in the same sense as Elder Mark Fernald: visiting occasionally as a stop on their circuit.

Elder Fernald made another trip in June 1827, on which occasion a two-day general meeting (as opposed to a household meeting) was held.

Saw some of the glory of God displayed in the awakening of sinners, in Kittery and York. On the 19th, I went to Lebanon and on the 20th, and 21st, attended a general meeting at Milton, N.H. We had a good season; the word had good effect, and two were baptized. I visited Brookfield, Tuftonborough, and Wolfborough, and preached several times, not always with my usual freedom; but some of my meetings were very profitable, I think. On the 24th, after preaching twice, I baptized two sisters, and at sunset baptized again. I returned home on the 29th (Fernald, 1852).

Elder Simeon Swett

Simeon Swett was born in Gorham, ME, October 23, 1797, son of Joshua and Mary (Bailey) Swett.

Elder Mark Fernald (1784-1851) of Kittery, ME, attended a general meeting at New Chester, NH (now Hill, NH), October 1-2, 1823.

On the 2d, in the morning, we met in conference, and received two young speakers, viz. Simeon Young and Simeon Swett (Fernald, 1852).

Elder Simeon Swett and two other elders met with the brethren and sisters of Middleton – and vicinity – on March 3, 1827, for the purpose of associating themselves as a church. Since the meeting took place in Milton, and on the very same day as the Milton Christian Church is said to have been founded, it seems likely that the Milton Christian Church and Middleton Free Baptist Church were established at the same meeting.

Religious services were held at Middleton many years previous to the organization of 1827, at which time by the request of a number of brethren and sisters living in the vicinity wishing to associate themselves together as a church of Christ. Elders John H. Nutter, Simeon Swett, and Joseph Banfield met with them March 3, 1827, at the home of Jonathan Howes in Milton, for the purpose of acknowledging them as such (Mitchell-Cony, 1908). 

Elder Simeon Swett gave a discourse, August 6, 1827, on the second day of a two-day general meeting, which was held at the east Meeting-house in Wolfeborough, NH:

Thursday, A.M. a discourse was delivered by Elder Simeon Swett, upon Isaiah lxii. 10. “Go though, go through the gates: prepare the way of the people, cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.” P.M. a discourse was delivered by Brother Jacob Davis, from Isa. iii. 11. “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given” (Gospel Banner (Woodstock, VT), November 3, 1827).

Middleton’s first settled Freewill Baptist minister was Rev. Nehemiah Ordway and the second was Rev. John Buzzell. A succession list of later ministers begins with Rev. William Buzzell, Elder Butler, Simeon Swett, J.H. Nutter, etc.

Simeon Swett and John T.G. Colby assisted Elder Mark Fernald at Kittery and York in October 1827.

October 7th [1827]. Brother Colby and myself preached at York, and baptized, and on the 13th, baptized two at Kittery. There was some revival spirit in Kittery and York, where I held many meetings, and had the assistance of brothers Colby and S. Swett. Difficulties existed in some measure as they had for months, among us, the particulars of which I have recorded and left among my papers to be preserved (Fernald, 1852).

Elder Fernald spoke at general meetings held in Strafford and Durham, NH, in October 1829. Simeon Swett and John Davis spoke there too.

October 2d, I preached particularly to the Sabbath school children and their parents. 17th and 18th, attended a general meeting at Crown Point, so called, Strafford, N.H. I spoke on the subject of grace; also J. Davis and S. Swett spoke. Good appeared among us. 28th and 29th, met in general meeting at Durham, New Hampshire. N. Piper, E. Shaw, W. Demerritt, E. Philbrick, J. Winkley, J. Goodwin, S. Swett, G. Pierce, and myself, attended; also N. Wilson and Andrew Rollins of the Free-will Baptists. The Lord helped us, and the meetings were of interest. For several months my health was remarkably good, and I preached more than once every day. Brother J. Flanders was with me a part of the time,, and labored to good acceptance (Fernald, 1852).

Simeon Swett does not appear in the Fourth (1830) Federal Census of Milton. Nor does he appear in that of Middleton. He was then a bachelor and may have resided in someone else’s household.

The New Hampshire Register and Farmer’s Almanacs for 1830 listed ministers for twenty-three NH “Christ-ian” churches. Simeon Swett appeared for Milton. (J.T.G. Colby appeared for Ossipee). It listed William Buzzell as minister in the Freewill Baptist category for Middleton. Swett and Colby occupied the same positions in the 1831, 1832, and 1833 almanacs.

Elder Mark Fernald visited Milton again in August 1831, “where a general meeting was held, near the Three Ponds.” J.C. Blodgett and J. Osborne preached there and Brother Robert Mathews was ordained. Simeon Swett preached with Elders Mark Fernald and S. Nutt in Newmarket in September 1831. Elder Fernald returned to Milton in November 1831.

In November, I preached in Kittery, York, and New Castle, until the 15th, when I went to Brookfield to visit a sick woman. The distance was great, and the traveling bad; but life was desirable. 16th, and 17th, at Wolfborough. 18th, and 19th, at Tuftonborough, where I preached and baptized. 20th, and 21st, attended meetings again in Wolfborough. A help was chosen in the church according to 1 Corinthians xii: 28. 23d, at Middleton, and [November] 24th, at Milton and Great Falls. 30th, a three days meeting commenced at New Castle. I attended the meetings a part of the time (Fernald, 1852).

Elder Simeon Swett married in Haverhill, MA, January 10, 1832, Caroline P. Tyler, he of Milton, NH, and she of Haverhill (Haverhill VRs). She was born in Canaan, NH, November 20, 1808, daughter of Job Tyler.

In May 1833, Elder Fernald attended a New Hampshire Christian conference, which was held in the Milton home of Brother Pinkham. (James Pinkham and James G. Pinkham were the only male Pinkham household heads in 1830).

On the 30th, I went to Milton, where the New Hampshire conference met on the 31st, at brother Pinkham’s. One old brother wished to leave us, because God’s sentence on Adam, as named in Genesis, did not prove to him future punishment; it proved to him there would be none. I informed him that Adam was not taught there was a heaven, hell, resurrection, immortality, or eternal life, and silence on future punishment no more proved it untrue, than silence on all I had named proved them untrue. They were hid in God, and brought to light by Christ in the gospel (Fernald, 1852).  

Simeon Swett moved on to Exeter, NH, sometime before 1837. The Swett’s fourth through tenth children were born there between 1837 and 1849, “where he was settled for a number of years” (Brigham, 1912). Simeon Swett headed an Exeter household in 1840.

Swett took over the Exeter church after it had suffered a loss of members in the period leading up to 1842-43. Many left to join the Millerites.

Elder Simeon Swett was remembered partly in Exeter, NH, “as the compounder of several medical preparations which acquired popularity” (Bell, 1888). Elder Mark Fernald suffered a violent bilious attack on the road in Stratham, NH, May 1, 1849. He reached Exeter, where he “put up,” i.e., stayed at the home, of Dr. S. Swett, who administered medicine to him (Fernald, 1852).

Simeon Swett headed a Lawrence, MA, household in 1850, a Portsmouth, NH, household in 1860, and a Beverly, MA, household in 1870.

Elder S. Swett gave the concluding prayer at Elder Mark Fernald’s funeral service, which was held in the Kittery Christian meeting-house, January 2, 1852.

Simeon Swett, a physician, died in Beverly, MA, August 21, 1880, aged eighty-two years and ten months. Catherine B. Swett died in Beverly, MA, September 19, 1883.


Elder Fernald stopped at Milton on May 15, 1839, on his way to Wolfeborugh. Elder [John T.G.] Colby accompanied him from Wolfeborough to Tuftonborough. Fernald came again to Milton on September 29, 1840.

After preaching several times and in different parts of Wolfborough and attending the dedication of a Free will Baptist meeting house the exercises of which were solemn and good. I left for Milton where I reached on the evening of the 29th. On the evening of the 29th I preached at a rum village. The evening was rainy but several assembled and heard a plain and pointed testimony against sin. A Universalist preacher was present and offered some very appropriate remarks. He appeared to know what was right whether he practised it or not. I returned home on the 30th and escaped a severe storm (Fernald, 1852).

It would seem that Elder Fernald considered some portion of Milton to have been a “rum village.”

The Milton Christian Church’s Union Chapel was dedicated on September 22, 1841.

Some Christian Church members were drawn to Millerism. William Miller (1782-1849) was a Baptist lay preacher who predicted that the Second Coming would take place in 1842-43. When that did not happen, the Millerites experienced the “Great Disappointment.”

Elder Fernald visited Milton on May 22, 1845, on his way to Wolfeborough and Tuftonborough. (His diary did not mention Milton’s new Union Chapel). Wolfeborough and Tuftonborough were loci of Millerite friction and disappointments and he spent much time in that area.

Elder John Davis

John Davis was born in Plaistow, NH, September 1, 1802, son of Benjamin Jr. and Susanna (Giles) Davis.

“Rev. John Davis, born Sept. 1, 1802, died Nov. 10, 1885, saw his mother die on his seventh birthday, and that day he promised her he would be a Christian. At age eighteen, he held meetings in Benton, Warren and elsewhere with success. About this time he was baptized and united with the Christian church at S. Piermont, where his parents belonged. Soon after he received license, and continued to hold meetings in schoolhouses, kitchens and in the newly settled country with good results (Burgess, 1889).

In 1820, Elder John Davis lived in #6 district, East Haverhill, [and] preached in Haverhill and surrounding towns (Brigham, 1979).

At age 24 he married and obtained a helper in gospel work. He afterward moved to South Benton where he preached two years. Here he met Free Baptists and identified himself with them. He joined the Lisbon church at North Benton, was licensed by the Sandwich Q.M., and ordained soon after at Bethlehem, where he moved in Jan. 1830. Rev. Jonathan Woodman was on the council (Burgess, 1889).

John Davis married in Haverhill, NH, November 13, 1826, Abigail Carr Jeffers (Haverhill TRs). In March 1831 [SIC], while Elder Davis was away on a visit, his “only son was born” (excerpt from a letter) (Brigham, 1979).

Bittinger’s History of Haverhill, N.H., tells of its Freewill Baptist church having been organized in a barn in 1831 and of a succession of its ministers.

But previous to 1831 there was occasional Free Will Baptist preaching by itinerants, the earliest being Elder John Colby, a noted Evangelist, and in 1820 Elder John Davis of East Haverhill preached there and in adjoining towns (Bittinger, 1888).

John Davis headed a Bethlehem, NH, household at the time of the Fifth (1830) Federal Census. His household included one male aged 20-29 years, one female aged 20-29 years, and one male aged under-five years.

During his pastorate of eight years at Bethlehem, the church was more than doubled. He preached at several more places until he located at East Tilton with his son-in-law, where he worked with his hands and preached occasionally till the death of his wife in 1880. He then lived with another son-in-law at West Campton a few years, and finally at South Boston, where he died. He was buried at East Tilton” (Burgess, 1889).

John Davis headed a Wheelock, VT, household at the time of the Sixth (1840) Federal Census. His household included one male aged 30-39 years, one female aged 40-49 years, and one female aged 5-9 years. His household had one member employed in the Learned Professions or Engineering.

John Davis, a farmer, aged forty-seven years (b. NH), headed a Haverhill, NH, household at the time of the Seventh (1850) Federal Census. His household included Abigail C. Davis, aged forty-four years (b. MA), and Melissa A. Davis, aged ten years (b. VT).

Rev. John Davis performed the marriage ceremony for Mr. David Kezar and Mrs. Rachel P. Witham in Haverhill, NH, February 10, 1859 (Vermont Journal, March 5, 1859).

John Davis, a F.W.B. clergyman, aged fifty-seven years (b. NH), headed a Haverhill (Haverhill Center P.O.), NH, household at the time of the Eighth (1860) Federal Census. His household included Abigail C. Davis, aged fifty-three years (b. MA), and Melissa A. Davis, aged twenty years (b. VT). He had real-estate valued at $600 and personal estate valued at $350.

In Coventry, NH, during the 1860s

Elder John Davis came out from Centre Haverhill, and Elder Lorenzo D. Jeffers from East Haverhill, and ministered to the people, sometimes for a few Sundays and sometimes for months (Whitcher, 1905).

John Davis, a farmer, aged sixty-seven years (b, NH), headed a Chelsea, VT, household at the time of the Ninth (1870) Federal Census. His household included Abigail C. Davis, keeping house, aged sixty-three years (b. MA). He had real estate valued at $2,000 and personal estate valued at $750. He shared a two-family house with the household of Frank A. Smith, a farmer, aged thirty-one years (b. NH). Smith’s household included Melissa A. Smith, keeping house, aged twenty-nine years (b. VT), Lillian E. Smith, at school, aged seven years (b. VT), and Harry Smith, aged twenty-five days (b. VT). Smith had personal estate valued at $235.

Stephen Smith, a farmer, aged seventy-three years (b. NH), headed a Campton, NH, household at the time of the Tenth (1880) Federal Census. His household included his wife, Hannah W. Smith, keeping house, aged seventy-five years (b. NH), his son, Frank A. Smith, a farmer, aged forty-one years (b. NH), his son’s wife, Melissa Smith, keeping house, aged thirty-nine years (b. VT), his granddaughter, Lillian Smith, works in family, aged seventeen years (b. VT), his grandson, Harry Smith, aged ten years (b. VT), and his son’s wife’s father, John Davis, a retired clergyman, aged seventy-seven years(b. NH). John Davis was a widower.

John Davis, a clergyman, died in Boston, MA, November 10, 1885, aged eighty-three years, two months, and ten days. He had been born in Plaistow, NH, son of Benjamin and Susanna. His gravestone inscription states: “I have fought a good fight, I have kept faith.”

Previous in sequence: Milton’s Congregational Ministers of 1827-46


American Baptist Publication Society. (1860). American Baptist Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1860. Retrieved from

Bell, Charles Henry. (1888). History of the Town of Exeter, New Hampshire.

Bittinger, John Quincy. (1888). History of Haverhill, N.H. Retrieved from

Brigham, Theda Page. (1979). Appendix to Descendants of John Page (1614-1687) of Hingham and Haverhill, Massachusetts. Haverhill, MA: Haverhill Historical Society

Brigham, William Irving Tyler. (1912). The Tyler Genealogy: The Descendants of Job Tyler, of Andover, Massachusetts, 1619-1700. Retrieved from

Burgess & Ward. (1889). Cyclopedia of Free Baptists. Retrieved from

Campbell, Alexander, and Loos, Charles Louis. (1845). Millennial Harbinger; A Monthly Publication Devoted to Primitive Christianity. Retrieved from

Claremont Manufacturing Company. (1830). New England Register and Farmer’s Almanac, 1830. Retrieved from

Claremont Manufacturing Company. (1873). The New Hampshire Register, Farmer’s Almanac and Business Directory, 1873. Retrieved from

Ellis, Franklin. (1879). History of Cattaraugus County, New York. Retrieved from

Fernald, Mark. (1852). Life of Elder Mark Fernald. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2012, April 29). Rev. Albert G. Comings. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2011, November 5). Rev. John Davis. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2015, December 13). Rev. John Taylor Gilman Colby. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2007, August 19). Elder Mark Fernald. Retrieved from

Find a Grave. (2012, September 28). Simeon Swett. Retrieved from

Mitchell-Cony Company. (1908). Town Register, Farmington, Milton, Wakefield, Middleton, Brookfield, 1907-8. Retrieved from

Whitcher, William Frederick. (1905). Some Things About Coventry-Benton, New Hampshire. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2018, December 3). Millerism. Retrieved from

Author: Muriel Bristol

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