Town meetings of old were often held in private homes. In 1740, 10 years after the incorporation of Wilmington as a town, there was a Town Meeting held in the Hathorne home. It is now better known as the Richardson house on Woburn Street.
Perhaps the hottest issue before the 1740 meeting was the selection of a new minister. It was a requirement that a town have a minister. It had been, in fact, the distance to church in Woburn that led residents of Goshen, then a northerly section of Woburn, to form a new town.
The town was able to form a church in 1733, and the Rev. James Varney was hired. He was dismissed after a few years. In 1740, the claims of Rev. Varney were still an active subject, and were brought up in nearly every Town Meeting.
Possibly 30 men took part in the Town Meeting of the Hathorne family in 1740. Seven “dissented” from the selection of Isaac Morrill as the town pastor. Two of the dissenters were of the Harnden family, the second John Harnden and the second Lieutenant Benjamin Harnden.
Isaac Morrill was not the only person discussed. He was selected and stayed for more than 50 years.
A committee of three persons was appointed to deal with the question. This was not the first committee, and still more were to come to deal with Rev. Varney. Cadwallader Ford, Samuel Walker and Benjamin Lewis were appointed.
Cadwallader Ford can be of some interest. His home, built in the 1720s in the Land of Nod, is on Salem Street, facing Middlesex Avenue.
Ford was, essentially, a trader who perhaps later became an attorney. He had the honorific of “Esquire” in the years before the Revolutionary War. By 1739, he had attained a position which made him one of the more prominent persons in the colony. His son, Cadwallader Ford, Jr., became the captain of the Wilmington Minute Men in 1775.
The colony had gone through two types of currency, “old tenor” and “new tenor.” Both were just paper currency and were losing value.
A group of people proposed a new type of currency, to be called “Mannefactory.” It was based on a Land Bank and Manufactory scheme. The basis of the scheme was that real estate would be the security for the currency. It was not unlike many such schemes proposed over the years, none of which succeeded.
Cadwallader Ford was one of 1,254 men who supported the Mannefactory scheme. His appointment to the committee did not add to its value, in the eyes of Mr. Varney. Instead, it just added to the fire.
He had already turned down a proposal to accept that kind of currency when Ford was appointed to the committee.
The committee was instructed to “attend upon ye Cort” and to “act in ye Towns behalf.” A month later, another Town Meeting added to the committee by adding the names of Stephen Wesson, Ensign Daniel Eames and Joshua Thompson (brother of Jeames) to the list of members. The committee was “Impowered” to “appoint or Constatute an Attorney or Attorneys to Manage this Case to a final Judgement.”
But nothing happened. Mr. Varney finally disappeared from the records. It seems that his claims were never settled.
Many years later, State Senator Chester Clark stated that Mr. Varney went off to Boscowan, New Hampshire where he was preaching in 1754. He never appeared in Wilmington again.
John Harnden, who had been one of the dissenters, was at sort of a low point in his career, as far as town government goes. He had been a deacon, a school teacher, and a selectman. In 1741, he was none of those.
On May 19, 1742, the selectmen appointed Benjamin Lewis to be the school teacher. That family had been in the area as early as 1705, and he was one of the three men to serve in the committee with Cadwallader Ford.
But Lewis lasted only a year. John Harnden was again appointed school teacher in 1743. He was also elected a deacon. Whatever had been his problem, if there was one, was gone.
John Harnden no longer participated in the dissent about Mr. Morrill. Not such was the case of Lieutenant Benjamin Harnden.
In 1742, the Town Meeting voted 100 pounds, Old Tenor, for the minister’s salary. The amount of the salary had been increased because of the decreasing value of the currency.
There was but one dissent this time. It came from Lieutenant Benjamin Harnden, he who lived on what is now Main Street, near Butters Row.