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Joshua Bates

1802 - 1818


Joshua Bates was born on March 20, 1776 in Cohasset, Massachusetts, son of Zealous and Abigail Bates. Bates graduated from Harvard College in 1800 and enrolled as a special student in divinity at Phillips Academy where he also served as an instructor. He was licensed to preach by the conservative Andover Association in 1802. Because of the declining mental and physical condition of Reverend Jason Haven, First Church leaders decided to hire an assistant and appointed a search committee headed by Dedham congressman and leading Federalist Fisher Ames. This committee called Joshua Bates to serve as associate pastor in April 1802. When Haven passed away that fall, some critics argued for offering Bates a trial contract rather than a traditional lifetime appointment. However, Fisher Ames gave such a persuasive speech about Bates character and supposedly liberal views that opponents relented. This is how Bates, who actually turned out to be a outspoken Federalist, was hired to serve a congregation that was Democratic Republican by a ratio of 3 to 1. After Bates’ ordination, many of these critics actually left First Church to join the neighboring Anglican St. Paul’s Church. 

Bates was ordained on March 16, 1803 "before a very crowded, but a remarkably civil and brilliant assembly."  Opposition to Bates had become so intense that the town newspaper predicted protest at his ordination, but nothing ever materialized.  As a minister Bates was an orthodox Calvinist. To begin with, Bates administered Communion every sixth Sunday, on the Thursday before which he would deliver the Preparatory Lecture. Students dutifully marched to the meetinghouse to listen to the lecture and the following Monday Bates would quiz them on Calvinist doctrine.  Next, at a time when New England theologians were increasingly in disagreement about core religious doctrines, some younger ministers ascribed to a more liberal interpretation of such fundamental beliefs as predestination and original sin.  Bates sided with the more conservative faction of the clergy and refused to share his pulpit with more liberal ministers for fear of spreading “dangerous” heterodoxy. Bates also had the predilection of investing his sermons with his political opinions which were of a Federalist bent. Not only would he decry the policies of then President Thomas Jeffersons; he also accused Jefferson of being an infidel and accused his followers of being, at best, doubtful Christians. As one contemporary opined Bates’ “frequent and explicit definition of a true Christian, when applied by his hearers to themselves, so clearly excluded them, that a large portion of the society saw that their religious instructor viewed them in no other light than that of unworthy pretenders to the Christian name”.  

Needless to say, some parishioners took strong exception to Bates’ Sunday political proclamations. On the evening of 4th of July, 1809 some angry congregants dragged the town cannon out to the church green and pointed it at Bates' parsonage. They loaded this relic of the King Phillip War with wadded sod and sufficient powder and prepared to blast away. Bates then accosted them in his nightshirt with a bucket of water that he intended to pour into the gun’s priming. One of the celebrants, not recognizing the minister, shouted, “Get out of the way, you bugger, or you’ll get your brains blown out.” Bates temporarily cowed his tormentors with articulate denunciations, so that they withdrew. However, later in the evening they reconsidered and returned to fire a window shattering blast.  And towards the end of his tenure in Dedham, the entire choir resigned, en masse.  It is not clear why from the records, but Bates missed them and worked to get them back. By 1808, even Fisher Ames would have enough of Bates’ hectoring and combative style and would join Dedham's Anglican church.

In 1818 Bates was offered the presidency of Middlebury College and accordingly asked to be released from his ministerial duties at First Church. One of the parishioners recounted that “when he asked for a dismission, a majority heard of it with pleasure, and willingly voted for his dismission in the belief that a successor might be ordained who would be more useful, because his opinions would be more compatible with their own.”

From 1818 to 1839, Bates presided as president of Middlebury College, during which tenure, Bates secured sufficient funding for the struggling institution and oversaw the construction of the Old Chapel, an icon of the college that is on the National Register of Historic Places. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1834 and after leaving Middlebury, became Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives for the twenty–sixth Congress (February 4, 1840–July 21, 1840) Bates was pastor in a church in Northborough, Mass., 1841–1842 and ended his ministerial career in a church in Dudley, Mass., 1843–1854, where he died on January 14, 1854.

Smith, Frank. A History of Dedham. Dedham; The Transcript Press, 1936.
Joshua Bates (educator) - Wikipedia
BATES, Joshua | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives
Hanson, Robert Brand. Dedham, Massachusetts, 1635-1890. Dedham, MA: Dedham Historical Society, 1976
Filing Cabinet: Ministers-1688-1897: First Church Papers- 1627-1965; Dedham Museum and Archive
Filing Cabinet: History: 1839-1900: History of First Church in Three Discourses by Alvan Lamson

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