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William Adams

1673 - 1685


William Adams was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts on May 27, 1650. His father William Adams Jr. and his mother whose maiden name was Starr both died by the time Adams was nine years old, after which he was raised by two uncles. He began his diary by noting that he was "born a sinner into an evil world," which demonstrated both his Calvinist faith and perhaps a suspicion that God was punishing him. Admitted to Harvard in September, 1667, Adams was graduated in August 1671. One of his Harvard teachers extolled Adam’s character, scholarship and piety, calling him “among the choicest of the ripe fruits of this young generation."

While at Harvard, Adams had visited the Dedham home of his college friend Hezekiah Willett where his erudition, amiability, and dutifulness positively impressed those he met. Shortly after Adams graduated from Harvard, Reverend John Allin died and Church of Christ deacons asked Adams to deliver several sermons. In this period, several churches were seeking to recruit Adam. Nevertheless, after three calls from Church of Christ, he finally accepted ordination as minister in Dedham on December 3, 1673. 

As there was no official parsonage, the new minister rented the Allin house. While Adams was at Church of Christ, congregants inaugurated the envelope system of regularly committing to contribute to the minister’s salary on a weekly basis, but collecting the promised funds was still problematic.

During his tenure Adams delivered two noteworthy sermons that were published and widely disseminated, including one about the Day of General Fasting given in Dedham on November 21, 1678 and another on the theology of election given before the General Assembly of the Massachusetts Colony in Boston on May 27, 1685, significantly ten years after the conclusion of the King Philip War. This second sermon is noteworthy because in it Adams seemingly questioned the conviction of many Massachusetts Bay leaders there present that the Puritan defeat of Philip’s Native American forces was sign of God’s favor, “His wonderful and gracious dealings this people.” Indeed, many triumphalist Puritan politicians and ministers celebrated the defeat and subsequent dispossession of indigenous opponents by citing Psalm 111;6 “He has showed his people the power of his works: that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.” 

Adams’ sermon, however, went on to question the surety of this widespread Puritan assumption about the meaning of Philip’s defeat by stating that “these works and dispensations of God, though admirable and obliging to men; yet they are no certain evidence of a person’s or people’s special and entire acceptance with God.“  Adams then reminded his legislator listeners that “As to the works of creation and external Providence, the benefit of them is common to all inhabitants of the world. ‘God makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”  Adams went on to observe that “as to signal dispensations of visible favor and spiritual privileges; what God has done or is doing…, though a great advantage and hopeful token, yet cannot always be a concluding mark of special favor...: for They may be abused by the corruptions and sinful neglects of men.”  In this manner Adams’ sermon both admonished the arrogant certitude of Massachusetts leaders as to the God-given righteousness of their victory and implicitly critiqued their treatment of the defeated Native Americans which included enslavement, expropriation, and expulsion. 

Adams married twice; on October 21, 1674 he wed Mary Manning of Cambridge, with whom he had three children; and after Mary death on June 24, 1679, Adams married Alice Bradford of Plymouth with whom he had four more children. William Adams died at 36 years of age on August 17, 1685. Prayers at funerals were not customary in that day, but one was offered at his, one of the first ever recorded in New England. He is buried in the Old Village Cemetery in the tomb of Timothy Dwight.


Dedham pulpit, or, Sermons by the pastors of the First Church in Dedham, in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries : with a centennial discourse by the present pastor : First Church (Dedham, Mass.), issuing body : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
Memoir of the Rev. William Adams, of Dedham, Mass, And of the Rev. Eliphalet Adams, of New London, Conn - Google Play Books
Smith, Frank. A History of Dedham. Dedham; The Transcript Press, 1936.
Weaver, Rali “For Those That Came Before Us.” Sermon at First Church. October 9, 2022.
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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