The "Lord's Promise and Expectations of Great Things"
The most legendary Dorchester citizen of the Colonial Era is undoubtedly Governor William Stoughton, namesake of Stoughton, MA, benefactor of Stoughton Hall at Harvard University, and the donor of the present lot to the First Church of Dorchester in 1701. Stoughton was born in England on 30 September 1631, the son of Israel Stoughton (1602/3-1644) and his wife Elizabeth Knight. The Stoughton family was likely to have emigrated for religious reasons – Israel Stoughton is recorded to be one of the earliest settlers of the town of Dorchester, which was founded in 1630. William Stoughton's belief in the "Lord's promise and expectation of great things" is perhaps what inspired him to study theology at Harvard College, founded in 1636. Shortly after his 1650 graduation, he returned to England to continue his religious studies at New College, Oxford. Upon completion of his master's degree in June, 1653 he preached at a parish in Sussex, and become a curate in 1659. As a Puritan he lost his post after the Restoration, and returned to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1662. He took a position at the Dorchester Church, where he served as a clergyman for several years.
A "Choice Grain"
Although he had never studied government or law, Stoughton became increasingly drawn to politics, and even declined six invitations to become pastor of the Dorchester Church, claiming the decision was driven by "reasons within himself" (DAHS 1859, p. 271). On 29 April 1668 he delivered a moving and extremely patriotic speech, later named the "Election Sermon," to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In what has been described as one of the most powerful and impressive discourses of early Colonial America, Stoughton proclaimed that "God sifted a whole Nation that he might send Choice Grain over into this Wilderness" (ibid., p. 272). In 1671 he took a step further from the pulpit when he was made a town Selectman, a position he held for three years. From 1684-86 he served as temporary Deputy of the Colony, an appointment which placed him in charge of the courts of justice, and in 1687 was made an assistant judge by Governor Joseph Dudley (1647-1720). On 14 May 1692 he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, and in December of that year became the first Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
"The Last of the Original Puritans"
Despite his numerous civic positions, Stoughton is most famous today for his role in the Salem Witch Trials, in which he acted as both judge and prosecutor. In January of 1692, eleven-year-old Abigail Williams and nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris of Salem began exhibiting strange behaviors including convulsive seizures, screaming obscenities and trance-like states. In the following weeks several more Salem girls exhibited similar unruly behaviors. By mid-February physicians had yet to determine the cause of these fits and it was suggested by Dr. Griggs that the afflicted girls were under the influence of the devil, and that "witches" in the vicinity must be communicating with Satan to curse these children. Under mounting scrutiny and pressure to name the witches, the girls identified three townswomen supposedly responsible for their curses. In the weeks that followed, a number of accusations of witchcraft were registered by citizens who claimed that they had been harmed or visited by the supernatural. Warrants for arrest were issued. The witch hunt had begun.
On 14 May 1692 Sir William Phipps (1651-1695) was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts, and two days later Stoughton was made his Lieutenant Governor. One of their first priorities was to establish a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer in order to try the growing number of witchcraft cases. On 27 May 1692 Stoughton, Samuel Sewall, Wait Still Winthrop, and four others were appointed to the court, with Stoughton serving as the chief justice.
Bridget Bishop was the first suspected witch to be tried by the Court on 2 June 1692. Bishop operated a tavern near Salem and was known to wear odd, black clothing suggesting that she was not living a Puritan lifestyle. She was found guilty after one day of testimony and hanged eight days later. In the twenty-five trials that followed the Court deviated from traditional forms of testimony and evidence. Accepted evidence included the allowance of "spectral evidence" (evidence based upon supernatural visions and dreams), the appearance of suspicious moles and blemishes known as "witch marks." The Court also permitted the judges to converse in private with the accusers and witnesses. All twenty-six defendants tried were convicted.
"Desiring Prayers for His Pardon"
In October 1692 Thomas Brattle, a Sale merchant, wrote a strong letter condemning the trials and the permission of such unusual evidence, and Governor Phipps conceded that spectral evidence should no longer be accepted. Later that month Phips dissolved the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer. He also pardoned eight people that had been condemned to die. In 1697 Samuel Sewall recanted his contribution to the trials and apologized to the congregation of Boston's Old South Church, proclaiming that he was "to take the Blame & Shame" of the Court's actions and sentences. Eleven other judges and jurors also asked for forgiveness for their participation in the trials. Initially Stoughton did not apologize for his role claiming that "he had acted up to the enlightenment he had at the time" (Stevens 2001) An account given in Putnam's Magazine in 1853 suggests that Stoughton eventually had a change of conscience and "after the delusion was over, sent a note to the pulpit on Sunday desiring prayers for his pardon, if in any way he had sinned by his course in the trails; and as it was read he stood up in his pew, showing by his quivering lip the strong feeling within" (DAHS 1859, p. 273).
"They Opened an Eventful Future"
Despite his role in the witch trials his reputation suffered very little, as demonstrated by the fact that he served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1694-99. On 7 July 1701 he died at his large and well-appointed home located at the corner of Pleasant Street and Savin Hill in Dorchester. His funeral sermon was given on 17 July 1701 by Rev. Samuel Willard at the Old South Church. Willard pronounced him "one of the last of the original Puritans – that slandered but inestimable race of men. Their work is done; their mission is ended. The world is galvanized by their heroism, stability and magnanimous achievements. They opened an eventful future; their names are connected with the most momentous questions which have since agitated the civilized world" (ibid., p. 274). As Stoughton never married and had no heirs, he left the bulk of his large estate to Harvard, the poor, the towns of Milton and Dorchester, the First Church of Milton and the First Church of Dorchester. The bequest for this present of standing cups is laid out in his will, dated 6 July 1701, and proved on 23 July 1701, stating "To the Church of Dorchester I give two pieces of Plate for ye Communion of £6 value each. allso £50 the yearly income to be for any such service of the Church as shall be judged most needful" (Jones 1913, p. 147). A nearly identical standing cup by Dummer, illustrated Bigelow, p. 45, was also designated in his will, "Unto the Church of Milton I give one piece of plate for the Communion, of six pounds value." Additional gifts included £50 in aid to the poor of Dorchester and £20 per year towards the education of Elijah Danforth, Harvard class of 1703, and donor of lot 115 (DAHS 1859, p. 274-75).
"Nursery of Good Learning"
Harvard College, which Stoughton called a "nursery of good learning" and an "inestimable blessing" was certainly one of his greatest passions; likewise he was the University's most generous benefactor in the 17th century. His will notes "and whereas through the great goodness of God, for which I most solemnly bless him, as a testimony of my unfeigned respect for Harvard college at Cambridge." In 1698 he gave £100 towards the construction of a new dormitory to be erected in his name (the original Stoughton Hall was torn down in 1781 and rebuilt in 1805 on a different site). Additionally his will provided annual funding for administrators' salaries, upkeep of buildings and a local scholarship to be awarded "at the discretion of the President and Fellows thereof, be given toward the encouragement of some well-deserving student there, coming from or belonging to the town of Milton, if any such be there, otherwise to some other that may deserve it" (DAHS 1859, p. 275). A week before his death Stoughton gifted Harvard a silver grace cup made by John Coney and engraved with his arms. Stoughton was too ill to attend the commencement ceremonies and was represented by Sewall. The grace cup and a portrait of Stoughton with Stoughton Hall in the background are illustrated David B. Warren, Marks of Achievement, Four Centuries of American Presentation Silver, 1987, pgs. 48-49.
"Lord Make Me Faithful in Discharge of This New Trust Committed to Me, and Let His Blessing Be to Me and Them!"
Jeremiah Dummer (1645-1718) was the first native-born New England goldsmith. He apprenticed with John Hull, who noted in his diary on 1 July 1659, "I received into my house Jeremie Dummer ... to serve me as apprentices eight years. The Lord make me in discharge of this new trust committed to me and let this blessing be to me and them!" (Kane 1998, p. 386). When Dummer established his own shop, his apprentices included John Coney, Edward Winslow, and John Dixwell; Coney later married Dummer's sister. Dummer also undertook many civic duties in Boston during the same period in which Stoughton held office. He became a freeman in 1680, lived from 1672 onwards in a house on High Street. Dummer died in 1718 after a long illness, survived among others by his son, Lieutenant Governor William Dummer.
Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1911. American Church Silver of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, with a few pieces of Domestic Plate, nos. 373-74
Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, loan 1938-2011
Height 8 1/8 in. 20.6cm 25oz 4dwt
Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society, History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1859, pgs. 271-279.
John Henry Buck, Old Plate, its Makers & Marks, 1903, p. 237.
E. Alfred Jones, The Old Silver of American Churches, 1913, p. 146-7
Francis H. Bigelow, Historic Silver of the Colonies and its Makers, 1917, p. 46.
Charles Knowles Bolton, Bolton's American Armory, 1927, p. 158.
Herman F. Clarke, "Jeremiah Dummer, Silversmith (1645-1718), Early American Silver and Its Marks, October 1935, fig 6, p. 66.
Hermann Frederick Clarke and Henry Wilder Foote, Jeremiah Dummer Colonial Craftsman & Merchant 1645-1718, 1970, pl. IX, No, 42, p. 76.
Patricia E. Kane, Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths and Jewelers, 1998, p. 396.
Peter F. Stevens, 'Dorchester's "Hanging Judge" Justice William Stoughton Played a Key Role in the Salem Witch Trials,' Dorchester Reporter, 27 September 2001.
Bequest of Governor William Stoughton, 1701 to
The First Parish in Dorchester, Dorchester, MA