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THIS township was purchased. of the Indians on the 7th of June, 1686-7, by Joshua Lamb, Richard Draper, Samuel
Ruggles, and others. The natives called the place Towtaid, but by the English, before the present name was given,
it was called Strawberry-hill. The settlement was not made till many years after the purchase.
In the beginning of 1713, the proprietors petitioned the general court for a confirmation of the purchase; which
was granted, on the condition that within 7 years from that time 50 families should be settled on a part of the
tract, and that a sufficient quantity of land should be reserved for the gospel ministry there and a school. The
court ordered that the town should be named Leicester. It appears that the 50 families were settled on land previous
to 1722, for on the 8th of Jan. of that year a deed was executed by order of the proprietors to John Stebbins and
46 others, securing to them their lands. Parts of the original purchase are now comprehended in the towns of Spencer.
Paxton, and Ward. The first town meeting was held on the 6th of March, 1721. The exact time when the Congregational
church here was first formed cannot be ascertained, but that it was organized before the 30th of March, 1721, appears
probable, since at a town meeting then held the question of settling Mr. David Parsons as pastor was acted upon.
He was the first minister in the town, and was installed in Sept., 1721. He had previously been settled in Maiden.
The connection of Mr. Par. sons with the people was very unhappy, as they soon began to differ, and at length fell
into violent contention. Difficulties continuing to increase, the town voted, on the 13th of Jan., 1735, to join
in calling an ecclesiastical council to dismiss him, which convening, he was dismissed from his pastoral relation
on the 6th of March the same year. He continued, however, to reside in the town till his death, in 1737. By his
particular direction he was buried on his own land, apart from the graves of those who had once formed a part of
his congregation. He was unwilling that his ashes should repose by the side of those with whom be had worshipped
in the sanctuary, but who had contended with him. His grave is now visible in a mowing field, about 30 rods north
of the meeting house. He was succeeded in the pastoral office by Rev. David Goddard, a native of Framingham, in
1736, whose relation to the people was uniformly happy. Rev. Joseph Roberts, the successor of Mr. Goddard, was
ordained in 1754, and was succeeded by Rev. Benjamin Conklin, in 1763. The next minister, Rev. Zeph. Swift Moore,
D. D., was ordained in 1798. Dr. Moore was succeeded by Rev. John Nelson in 1812. A Baptist soctety was formed
in the town about the year 1738. The first minister was Dr. Thomas Green, a physician of considerable distinction
in his day. He was a native of Maiden, Mass., and was one of the early settlers of Leicester. It was chiefly through
his instrumentality that this church was gathered. Their meeting house stands about 3 miles south of the Congregational
meeting.house. There has been a respectable society of Friends here for more than a century. In 1732, eight persons
filed their certificate with the town-clerk that they belonged to that per. suasion, who, either from a mistake
in spelling, or to make a revengeful pun, wrote it "those people called Quackers." Their present meeting
house, built in 1791, is commodious and of good proportions. The spot in which it stands is retired, and almost
surrounded with forest trees; around it repose, in their nameless graves, the ashes of those who have died of the
society. The number of this society is now about 130 members. In 1823, an Episcopal society was gathered in the
south part of the town, and a neat church erected by private subscription, which was consecrated by Bishop Griswold,
in May, 1624. The Rev. Joseph Muenscher was ordained in March, immediately after which he took charge of this church.
This was the first Episcopal church ever formed in Worcester county.
There was from 1777 till 1783 a society of Jews resident in this town. They removed here in the winter of 1777
from Newport, R. I., to escape from the war then raging along the coasts. There were in the whole, including servants,
about 70 who removed here. Numbers of them engaged in trade, and licenses are recorded to these "to sell bohea
and other Indian teas." After peace took place they mostly returned to Newport. They always observed the rites
and ceremonies of their law, and their stores were closed from Friday evening until Monday morning. A child of
one of the families having one day tasted of some pork in one of the neighbor's houses, its mother, immediately
upon learning the fact, administered a powerful emetic, and thus cast out the sin of which it had. been unconsciously
guilty. Not one of their number flow remains; the last individual some years since moved to New York, and the synagogue
where they worshipped is now desolate and forsaken.
In this town is an endowed academy, and one of the oldest in the state, which was incorporated March 23, 1784.
It owes its foundation to the generosity and public spirit of Col. Jacob Davis and Col. Ebenezer Crafts. This for
many years was the only academy in the county of Worcester. The character of its instruction has ever been elevated
and. liberal. it has a respectable philosophical apparatus, which was procured in 1824.
The above shows the appearance of the village of Leicester, as seen from the residence of N. P. Denny, Esq., on
Mount Pleasant, about 1 mile distant from the center of the place. The public buildings, the Orthodox and Unitarian
churches, the acaderny, the bank, and town-house, all stand in a line on the summit of the hill, on the north side
of a small public green, surrounded by railing.
The town is well watered by springs and several large brooks. Shaw and Henshaw ponds are of some extent. There
are 5 churches, 2 Congregational, 1 Episcopal, 1 Friends, and 1 Baptist. Population, 2,122. Distance, 6 miles from
Worcester, and 46 from Boston. Clappville is a manufacturing village, situated about 4 miles from the center of
the town, having an Episcopal and Baptist church. In 1837, there were 5 woollen mills, 15 sets of machinery; 130,159
yards of cloth were manufactured; value, $319,450; males employed, 166; females, 178. There were 8 manufactories
of machine cards; machines, 118; value of machine cards manufactured, $101,500; hands employed, 38; there were
9 manufactories of hand cards; machines, 35; value of cards manufactured, $50,300; hands employed, 32. There was
1 scythe manufactory, (20 hands,) and 1 machine manufactory, (8 hands.)
Historical Collections Relateing to the
History and Antiquities of
Every town in Massachusetts with
By John Warner Barber.
Published by Warren Lazell.