The Last Will and Testament

Can a church have a will? Well, recently we acquired a remarkable document, full of sarcasm, in which the Second Society of Lyme did just that. Or was it, in fact, members of the Society, or was it someone totally disaffected by this particular church or by religion in general?

The Second Society of Lyme,was organized in 1724 or 1725, with George Griswold as minister. The church flourished until Griswold’s death in 1761. In a history of the church found online at http://www.nianticcommunitychurch.org, the statement is made that “without his [Griswold’s] influence trouble arose quickly and by 1793 there remained ‘only two aged females.'” What I want to know is, what was the nature of the “trouble”? Was it a split between the “New Lights” and “Old Lights” of the Great Awakening? Was it something political or personal?

The first page of the church's last will, 1767. Ms 101731

The first page of the church’s last will, 1767. Ms 101731

Here is an excerpt from the text of this “will”:

In the name of WONDER, Amen. I, old NIANTICK Considering ye uncertainty of life & having groaned these 40 years in great distress in my body politic with various theological distempers with moral simptoms which impress on my mind the thought of speedy annihilation, therefore I Will myself to CHAOS, King of uproar & Lethe of oblivion, as Touching those wondrous faculties I have been possessed of I dispose of them as follows:

Imprimis I give & bequeath to my darling Daughter Chesterfield all my Ignorance with 1/4 of my Folly and 1/8 part of my Religion with 1/4 of my Enthusiastic & Fanatic possessions with the full one half of my Knavery with all my inhumanity which way be seen at my burying Yard [.] Item I give & bequeath unto my Legal Mother the 1st Society of Lyme 1/2 of my folly & 1/2 of my Religion with 1/2 of my enthusiasm & Fanaticism & 1/4 of my Knavery with 1/2 my ancient Quarrel about Settling a Minister with 1/2 by Bigotry * Superstition which my loving Mother well deserves.

The rest of the text is similar, and is “signed” in the presence of Orange, Oswegotche and Spithead.

The signatures on the back of the will. Ms 101731

The signatures on the back of the will. Ms 101731

Like many of our collections, this document could do with a lot more research to help put it into context. We have histories of various churches in the state, and a large collection of manuscript sermons that might put this event into perspective. If you would like to solve this conundrum, please come to the Research Center and ask for Ms 101731.

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