The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 28, 2005


Reverend Paul Litchfield, first minister of Carlisle

On display at the Gleason Library are the Reverend Paul Lichfield's waistcoat and the 19th century footstove used to keep people warm during day-long religious services in the winter.

January 15 marked the opening of Reverend Paul Litchfield, First Minister of Carlisle, the first of a year-long series of history and art exhibits at the Gleason Public Library celebrating Carlisle's Bicentennial. The exhibit examines the life and work of Reverend Litchfield, who served the community from 1781 until his death in 1827. It includes his waistcoat, a foot stove used during nineteenth-century church services, and three sermons in manuscript form written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and delivered by Reverend Litchfield in Carlisle and surrounding towns. The exhibit was co-curated by the Carlisle Historical Society and the Gleason Public Library. It continues throughout the month of February.

The following information about Rev. Litchfield was taken from Carlisle: Its History and Heritage by Ruth C. Wilkins.

On May 25, 1781 Carlisle residents attending the District Meeting were asked:

"To see if the Congregation in the District of Carlisle will join with the Church of Christ in said District of Carlisle to give Mr. Paul Litchfield a Call to be our Gospel Minister." By a vote of 43 yeas to 3 nays Reverend Litchfield became Carlisle's first minister, a post he held throughout his lifetime. As minister, he held the most esteemed position in the community, figuring prominently in every aspect of town life.

Reverend Litchfield was paid annually "eighty pounds lawful silver money." He also received two cows, a horse, and twenty cords of wood a year. In 1782 he purchased the house at what is now 501 Lowell Street, the house across from Hickory Lane, still called the Litchfield Parsonage. In addition to his duties as minister, Reverend Litchfield served as Carlisle's Representative to the General Court in 1809, 1810, and 1811. He was also active in the Massachusetts Missionary Society and the Bible Society of Middlesex County.

He was born in Scituate, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1752, a descendant of the first Litchfields in America. The eldest of ten children of Thomas and Lydia (Cole) Litchfield, he graduated from Harvard College in 1775, continuing his study of theology with Rev. Dr. Stephen West of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. After brief tenures with several congregations, Reverend Litchfield was ordained a minister of the only church in town, the Orthodox Church in Carlisle, on November 7,

On February 2, 1778 Reverend Litchfield married Mary Bailey, also a native of Scituate. Their children were Paul (b. 1779), Roland (b. 1782), Philo (b. 1783), Benjamin (b. 1785), Mary (b. 1787), and Franklin (b. 1790). Franklin, also a Harvard graduate, traveled extensively and had a successful career in medicine. In 1823 he was appointed U.S. Consul at Porto Cabello by President Monroe. Roland Litchfield married Rebecca Simonds and remained at the Litchfield Parsonage for a second generation. Mary Bailey Litchfield died in 1809 and in 1811 Reverend Litchfield married Mrs. Sarah Capen of Braintree.

Though no image survives of Reverend Litchfield, there exists the following description recorded by James Sullivan Russell, a Carlisle resident who knew him as a young man:

"He was tall, long-limbed, broad but thin chested, with silver hair combed back and hanging gracefully down over his coat collar. He dressed in a black, broad-skirted, curve-waisted coat with ministerial bands or ruffles. He wore a long vest and knee breeches, with knee-buckles, and long black silk hose. His shoes were large, and were also adorned with silver buckles three inches square; and crowning all the costume was a three cornered hat."

Though there is little extant information about his work as a minister, during his tenure the meetinghouse burned (1810) and was rebuilt (1811). This building is now the First Religious Society. The following year arrangements were made to purchase a bell for the meetinghouse, a bell that was cast by Paul Revere. He was the minister in 1805 when Carlisle officially became a town.

Much of what we know of Reverend Litchfield's character is learned through his eulogy, which was delivered by Rev. John H. Church of Pelham, New Hampshire. In remembering Carlisle's first minister, he said:

"He possessed a strong discriminating mind. He was fond of deep thought. It was not his manner to glide along on the surface of a subject. He preferred more thorough investigations and discussions. He manifested much affection and kindness in his family. He was a lover of hospitality and good men. You will long and affectionately remember him and the things which he taught."

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito