History

The first white men to visit what is now known as Biddeford, Maine were an English crew under the leadership of Capt.  Martin Pring. The year was 1603. They were looking for sassafras, a medicinal plant of great value, but finding none, they returned to sea. It was noted that the ship had sailed as far as “The Falls” on the river. This falls area is where Second Congregational Church is located. By 1605, Samuel de Champlain anchored off shore for the purposes of mapping the area. Champlain and crew remained in the harbor for four days.

In 1614, Capt. John Smith explored and mapped the area, but it wasn’t until 1616 that Capt. Richard Vines came to the area with the idea of remaining. Vines and his crew of 32 white men remained through the winter in Biddeford Pool then known as Winter Harbor. Remember, this was four years prior to the English settlement at Plymouth. Vines and crew did not remain long in our harsh climate, but soon other brave settlers came from Wells and Kittery to form a community in the Pool area.

By 1661 there was enough settled community to call a pastor for the Biddeford (named after the town of Bideford, England) area. The Reverend Seth Fletcher was called to be the minister of Biddeford. The first church was held in various homes in the area of Biddeford Pool. The mile long stretch of land known today as Fletcher’s Neck was named for Reverend Fletcher.

At the time the First Congregational Church was established all churches in New England were congregational in structure. That is, there were not other choices for worship. In order to hold citizenship in the town a man must be a member of the Congregational church. Women could be members of the church but they could not vote in either church or community affairs.

At the time of the early settlement of Biddeford, townspeople were farmers and fisherman. Reverend Fletcher insisted that what he taught was how people should live or they would suffer the consequences. Attendance at public worship was rigidly enforced with fines charged to those who broke the law. Church and state were one.

By 1730, people from other religious traditions, namely the Quakers and Episcopalians, had begun to settle in the area. The First Congregational Church, as we know it today, was built on the Pool Road. The Pool Road location was chosen because the town was growing and more and more people were establishing homes and businesses away from the shore. The original building was much larger than the one that exists today as the “Old Meeting House” which is owned by the Biddeford Historical Society. The First Congregational Church history is important to us, at Second Congregational, because our roots or beginnings are from this congregation. The Reverend Samuel Willard was the first minister called to this church. He served for eleven years and was followed by Reverend Moses Morrill. Because the area was growing fast, Reverend Morrill served 2/3 time in Biddeford and 1/2 time in Pepperellboro (Saco) at the First Parish Church.

It was in the latter part of July 1776, while Reverend Morrill was still pastor, that a copy of Declaration of Independence reached the community. It was read from the pulpit and later would play a part in the history of the Second Congregational Church. By 1779 a committee of townsmen were authorized to raise funds to send men to serve in the Continental Army. A young indentured servant named Jeremiah Hill was one of those who enlisted.

The same year that George Washington was inaugurated President of the young United States of America (1789).  Biddeford’s first Postmaster, Benjamin Hooper was appointed. The post office was a combined general store and inn operated by Hooper’s son, Daniel. The Hooper Inn was located on Dean’s Hill at a site about opposite where Emery Street intersects Main Street.

The inn had become a gathering place for local folks and travelers since the Post Road (now Route 1) was so improved as to allow light wagons to be used and a stage coach route made possible. It was in this Inn that three men met and conceived the idea, and made formal plans to establish a Second Religious Society in Biddeford.

The history of the Second Congregational Church comes from an already established community. White men and women had been living on the land for over 150 years. Prior to that many Native American people (Red Paint People, Algonquins and Abenaki) had cherished the land for fishing, hunting and living. By the time the Second Congregational Church was established, the town of Biddeford was growing and new ideas were being introduced in the area of the new church known as “The Falls.”


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