During the 1730’s and 40’s, there was a contagious spirit of revival among the churches in England which spilled over into the young country across the sea. Greatly influenced by the preachings of George Whitefield, it was called “The great awakening” and set the scene for new churches to develop as new settlements sprung up in the area to become known as New England.
In 1727, a charter for the land now called Pembroke was granted to Capt. John Lovewell and his company of men in appreciation for their services in defending the early settlements from the Indians. For some time the area was called Lovewell’s Town. The Indians called it Suncook. Settlement began in 1729. The proprietors of the town wasted no time in establishing a religious institution. In fact, the charter for the town stated there should be built a house of worship within 5 years. On April 10, 1733, a contract was drawn up for the first church in the town. It read:
“…of good hewn logs, 30 ft. long and 24 ft. wide, and 10 or 11 feet high – the roof to be covered with good, long shingles, well laid on and nailed, one door made and hung. The sides to be covered with good clapboards.”
When finished, the builder was to be paid 55 pounds. This building was located near the northeast corner of the Pembroke Street Cemetary and gave name to the Meetinghouse Brook which ran near it.
The First Minister
The first minister, Mr. Aaron Whittemore of Concord, Massachusetts, was called to settle in the ministry in 1737. The provisions for his support where:
“An equal share of the lands of the town, which was a sixty-third part of the town…300 pounds, annual salary of 100 pounds for the first two years with 3 pounds a year added after that.”
When Rev. Whittemore arrived in the settlement, the following letter was presented to him by the Scot-Irish Presbyterian population of the town:
To Mr. Whittemore, preacher of the Gospell, and to those members of the church of the congregational persuasion in Suncook, Brethren: We the subscribers being inhabitants of Suncook, and of the Presbyterian persuasion, understanding that you are about to settle Mr. Whittemore as your Minister, judge it necessary to let you know that, as we have been baptized and educated under Presbyterian church government, we feel ourselves conscientiously obligated to the utmost of our power to maintain the same, being that constitution we experimentally find to tend much to our soul’s edification.
If therefore, Mr. Whittemore, and you brethren, will mutually agree to fall in with the Presbyterian scheme in the points of church government discipline and administration of the word and sacrament, and will cheerfully go hand in hand with you in his ordination and settlement as our Minister, nor do we think that this our proposal can be look’d upon as unreasonable; since we are the major number of church members in the Town, who, agreeable to your own principle, are the only persons who have the right to be concerned in the calling and settlement of Ministers. If this proposal can be complied with, it is well, if not, we do unanimously dissent joining in this call and do hereby protest against his being settled as our Minister, seeing we design as soon as God in his providence shall give us sufficient ability and opportunity to settle a Minister of our own persuasion. We are your well-wishers and brethren in our common Lord.
The Threat of Indian Attacks
One of the biggest threats to the early settlers was Indian savagery. It was a very real fear as Indians raided homes and settlements up and down the Merrimack River valley. The following excerpt from the novel “Next To Valour” may be a fairly accurate picture of the settlers’ concerns.
…But presently, when the Reverend Whittemore had finished with his prayers and his thanksgivings and had climbed to the pulpit to deliver his sermon, I found myself watching him and listening attentively for what he might say…”My text for today,” he boomed, and paused impressively, “is from the fourth verse of the eighth chapter of the Book of Hosea: ‘They have set up kings but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not!'”In the instant when he paused, gathering his breath for the onslaught, there came a little gust of wind outside, making the leaves in the great maples rattle. Then for the briefest second all was still. But brief as it was, in the instant there came, clearly, distinctly, a distant pop like the sound of a cork in a bottle.I looked around, wondering if anyone else had heard. Over by the far side of the room, Joseph Merrill had also caught it, for now he was standing up, craning his head foolishly towards the window. The Reverend Whittemore looked at him in surprise.“Sit down!” he bellowed.Joseph Merrill sat, but he also spoke.” I heard shootin,” he announced.I could feel the rustle of the apprehension that passed over the congregation as they turned, to look fearfully at one another.“Quiet!” bellowed the old man in the pulpit, and there fell a silence so thick and heavy that I thought it must shut out all sound. Outside a cicada buzzed, and the sound seemed as loud as the whine of a sawmill. The Reverend Whittemore looked impatient. The buzzing stopped. And then the sound came again; a series of pops this time, scattered, irregular, and very far away. Everyone heard it.Several of the men started to rise.“Sit down!” roared the Reverend Whittemore.They sank back. The old preacher turned toward the altar.” The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore, Amen,” he said all in a breath, and turned holding up his hands. “You all know what’s to do,” he shouted. “That shootin’s a long ways off yet. Rumford by the sound of it. You’ll have time to git to your homes and git things together. Then git to your garrisons as quick as you can. We’ll be all right if you all keep steady heads. Git now!”
The Reverend Aaron Whittemore served the church as pastor for 30 years. Under his leadership, it became firmly established and an integral part of the new settlement. His years of service were not without conflict, however, especially in the relationship with the Presbyterian settlers who had to pay their taxes to the smaller group of Congregationalists for the minister’s support.
Reverend Whittemore was stricken down in the pulpit at the close of one of his sermons and died a few days later (November 16, 1767). He is buried in the Pembroke Street Cemetery as are many of his descendents. The Charles, Frederick and Bert Whittemore families are direct descendents of Reverend Whittemore and continue to carry out the tradition of service to this church.