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Harding, Elisha (1711-1784)

From Partridge Nest

Elisha Harding, second minister of the First Congregational Society of Brookfield, Massachusetts, was born on April 11, 1711, the eldest son of Abraham Harding and Mary Partridge of Medfield, Massachusetts. Abraham was a Selectman, but a man of modest means, and it was probably poverty which kept Elisha from entering college until he was over thirty. So far as the college records showed, he was much the oldest student ever to be admitted; but he was pious and promising, so the Faculty made him a waiter and a Scholar of the House, and finally gave him a Hollis Scholarship. Family tradition says that he was given his degree in three years because of his age, but although this was sometimes done it was not true in his case. For his second degree he held the affirmative of "An Opera bona facere, grata Mercedis quoquo Modo, liceat?"

In November, 1748, the Brookfield church called him, and the town in concurring gave him a contract which was complicated by provisions attempting to protect his salary against inflation. [1] When he was ordained on September 13, 1749, Nathan Bucknam (A.B. 1721) preached the sermon and told the town that it had obtained a good minister:

A Man of singular Probity and solid Learning, one who from a Child has known the holy Scriptures, and made them much the Matter of his Study and Practice, who has devoted himself to the Service of the Sanctuary since he was capable of weighing Things in the Balance of Judgment, and chusing for himself, and has with great Pains and cost been preparing himself therefor, and we doubt not will study to approve himself in all Things a Minister of Christ, commending himself to every one of your Consciences in the Sight of God, and will gladly spend and be spent for you. [2]

This promising ministry was doomed, however, by the facts of geography. Brookfield was a very large town with an ancient and decrepit meetinghouse which was not convenient to the new centers of population. The northern part immediately moved to obtain incorporation as a separate parish, and when in 1754 the town voted to build a new meetinghouse, the southern part, led by Jedidiah Foster (A.B. 1744), also seceded. The prompt incorporation of the North Parish and the South Parish left the First Church, now the West Parish, in a hopeless financial position, obviously incapable of continuing the Parson's salary of £64 a year, which if paid would hardly have supported even a bachelor like him. The minister saw the writing on the wall and insisted on resigning, even though no voice was raised against him, and his fellows in the Brookfield Association tried to dissuade him [3] So he was dismissed on May 8, 1755. Brookfield remembered him as a successful minister and "a gentleman of great benevolence," but as he had foreseen the parishes fell to quarreling about his unpaid salary and carried the case to the General Court.

Harding went immediately to Ashburnham, Massachusetts in which and neighboring towns he preached as a supply. In later years he lived in the family of Colonel Benjamin Bellows of Walpole, New Hampshire, serving wherever a minister was needed. His longest period of service in one place was at Rockingham, Vermont, to which he rode weekly from 1771 to 1773, when that town finally settled a minister of its own. When the Colonel died in 1777, the minister went to live with General Benjamin Bellows, Jr., and there he remained until his death on December 8, 1784. His gravestone still stands in the Walpole burial ground, in Walpole. [4]

Footnotes

  1. The contract is printed in Dunham, Samuel; [An Historical Discourse Delivered at West Brookfield] (Springfield, 1868), p. 14.
  2. Bucknam, Nathan (1749). A Monitor for Gospel Ministers pp. 3031. Boston.
  3. Parkman, Ebenezer. Diary (Mass. Hist. Soc.), May 7, 1755.
  4. Sibley, John Langdon; Shipton, Clifford K.; (1960) [Sibley's Harvard Graduates, Volume XI - 1741-1745]: Biographical sketches of those who attended Harvard College in the classes of 1741-1745 with bibliographical and other notes, p 561-2. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Society.