Editor’s note: Allison Milne is a senior at Westborough High School and a volunteer in the Local History department of the Westborough Public Library.
Ebenezer Parkman was not one of the original members of the town of Westborough, but without this man as its first minister who knows what would have become of our little bubble or the people who lived here.
Before his long career even began, Parkman was invited to Westborough’s meeting house–its center of religious and political life–to interview for the minister position. The meeting included not only himself but another contender named Mr. Eliot. In the meeting men who had taught either Mr. Parkman or Mr. Eliot were brought in to speak, accompanied by ordained reverends who knew one of the two nominees. This procedure was done to aid in the decision, because the town was seeking advice and recommendations for the two men, and it was the best way they thought to get a background check on the candidates. During the Election of a Gospel Minister, the two men were interviewed multiple times in an attempt to find a minister who would work well with the people of Westborough and maybe even settle into the town. After the many meetings and the long decision time trying to find the best fit, Parkman was offered the job.
It may have taken months for Parkman to decide to take the offer from the town, but once he signed the contract there was no way he would not go down as one of the early influencers on Westborough. Ebenezer took his time with the decision since he knew coming from a wealthy family in Cambridge to a small rural new town would take him sometime to settle into the community. Once he responded to the offer he would be leaving a footprint in the town’s story, but he definitely did not have a love-at-first-sight relationship with the town. Perhaps the reasons for his hesitations were also why the minister before Parkman, Daniel Elmer, was never “ecclestically settled.” While Elmer did practice and give sermons in the town for a little while, he eventually sold his house in Marlborough and moved out of the area. It is believed he passed away in New Jersey. Unlike Elmer, Ebenezer brought his entire family to live out their days in Westborough. But Parkman did not come easily: he asked for items to be added to the contract that would make the town more appealing to him.
Ebenezer Parkman was a Harvard-educated man who, as the first minister for the town of Westborough, held the community accountable for the deals it made. His sermons touched on topics like the best ways to live your life, but as a man who grew up rich it took Ebenezer Parkman a while to realize that as a new town, Westborough could not comply with every wish and demand he had. The contract he was offered contained a promise from the people of Westborough to supply him with cut and ready firewood and a few other things like a horse, which all would aid in saving time that he could not waste. He asked a lot from the citizens, especially when it came down to taking care of their side of the transaction, but the people grew to understand he was making these demands as a reward for giving so much to the town and its people. When he was appointed to the position, the town appointed James Edger and Edward Baker as the committee to watch over every need Ebenezer had. But before he even started to work, Parkman noticed that the two men who were to help with his needs were already slacking on their half of the agreement. But after compelling them to act by delivering the firewood and satisfying other parts of the agreement, the preaching finally began.
Life in Cambridge vs. Life in Westborough
Ebenezer was the son of an original member and ruling elder at the New North Church in Boston’s North End. His family was taught to “revere the Parkman name,” but this name ended up damaging Ebenezer’s name in the history books. “Parkman” was displayed on advertisements depicting slave sales, and those sales are known to have happened in the house of Parkman’s brother. While Ebenezer was spreading guidance in how to live life according to God’s will, his brother was selling off human lives for his own benefit. The reason this fact tarnished Ebenezer’s name is that it is known that Ebenezer himself was seen visiting his brother in that same house throughout their lives, so he knew what was happening.
During this time period, people being sold was a regular event, but Ebenezer’s soul was still affected by it. He also became heavy from other challenges and experiences, such as losing his first wife, getting sick himself, and repenting for everyone around him. His life’s work was spent giving sermons, but he began with a highly ranked family status in the Boston area. When he moved out to Westborough and left his wealthy childhood behind, he had to build his rank in the town’s system and work to lose the title of outsider.
His Lifelong Involvement and Interactions in the Community
Parkman was once very judgmental of how things were run in Westborough, in addition to its way of life, but time passed. As his opinions changed, Rev. Parkman stopped traveling to his family’s house in Cambridge to avoid the townspeople and finally joined his wife and children every night in the house they occupied in Westborough. As noted before, Ebenezer’s acceptance of the job did not include the acceptance of the culture and way of life, but with his existence on earth passing him by he grew into the life of a citizen. As he became more content with the lifestyle of Westborough, the townspeople began to invite him over. The first one to do so, or to truly treat him as one of them, was Mr. Gershom Rice.
After Parkman let himself be immersed into Westborough life, he ended up spending moments of his spare time with criminals at court cases and executions to educate and learn about them himself. This was the start of a new period for everyone connected to the town. Ebenezer aided in the building of a powerful town, but one where people only thrive when the town is as well. To make a difference in the world, immersion first needs to take place so everyone can trust one another and believe in each other’s abilities. Ebenezer took a while to become connected to others in the community, but with his power of talk, he helped himself and others to create lives and to serve as tools for God to spread His message and wisdom.
For his duration as minister of Westborough, Ebenezer Parkman did not only work with the people of Westborough, but he built relationships with people in surrounding towns to keep his people happy as well. For decades Ebenezer ended up being “intimately connected to the life of Westborough” and as time went by, his connections and relationships grew stronger. People began to share town gossip with him, as well as information about the land and people he would call home for the rest of his life. He was given supplies like cider from those he helped. A few years into Reverend Parkman’s career, he became acquainted with some men who held the same occupation as him, and they formed a club.
It may have taken a while for Rev. Parkman and Westborough residents to come together as friends and equals, but once they did, the little town grew to be a place where other famous speakers, preachers, and even men involved in government stopped by between their big events, thanks to Parkman sticking around as the minister.
Many of the gifts he received and the experiences he had throughout his life were recorded in his daily diary entries, which reveals his openly honest perspective on everything he encountered. His early entries, not surprisingly, contain hesitations on being offered and then accepting the minister job, but most of the diaries entries include his viewpoints on the townspeople and the experiences he went through while holding the position of first minister.
Ebenezer Parkman was an opinionated man, although he learned to accept things as life went on because of the politeness from the people and the town. The reason why he was so committed to his own ideas may have rested in his ability to be hard on himself, as when he wrote statements like, “(my) consumption of Time and the misimprovement of my Talents.” Proclamations such as this one causes one to believe that the reason he judges others is that he is just as harsh on himself. He had some horrendous days, so the way to notice how his day went is by watching how used contractions in his entries, like “din’d” and “s’d.” Was he trying to transfer his emotions to paper quickly?
There are points in his career and writings where his thoughts and especially his actions revealed stress. When he brings up illness and “the end”in his diary, we can see life events causing anxiety and a strain on his beliefs. As the years pass by in his daily entries, it is hard not to notice him age with weariness, and it seems he constantly had tiring weeks while his life continued to get worse, with losses and illnesses surrounding him. To rebound from all these horrible situations, the people around him aided in simple moments and shared their troubles of just living. For example when the town lost a citizen, they all came together to feel the loss and spent time together to do things for one another, like preparing food, cutting stalks, and husking corn, including Ebenezer who felt the pain of loss as well.
Everytime the end of a year approached, Parkman always seemed to gain his mentality back, at least enough to be thankful towards the men and women who had helped him get through the year by lodging and feeding him. Before getting better, the weight of everything on his mind would result in repetitions in sermons and him not wanting to go many places. He even skipped diary entries for days or even weeks. But once he repented and wrote down detailed confessions on his and his loved one’s sins at the end of each year, he gained back some energy and became the socialite he was known as being, just in time for the start of the new year.
While growing old, Parkman spent his spare time writing secret reflections along with performing services that helped his family’s spiritual welfare. He believed he was diligent in his work, but all that work was leaving him unprofitable and negligent so he needed to supplement the weaker areas. For a long period of his life, his entries contained thoughts and events that happened around him in town, but over time the entries changed to talk of “temporal possessions” and “temporal transitory Enjoyments.” This meant he only saw everything around him, including life, to be temporary and that enjoyment of life could get in the way of services that needed to be done for God. Parkman spent his life with his eyes set on the sights of fixing everyone, including his own sins and misfortunes. He was consumed by dark thoughts, but he found reasons to continue his work when there was a “special appearance of God for Us,” an example being when his wife was brought back to health after laying on what was believed to be her deathbed.
Parkman’s legacy is in his diaries, since the most interesting part about this man is that there is so much information about him and an abundance of stories on him. Instead of putting him high up on a pedestal, his journals and other records about him let people know there are many aspects to this man. One of the stories that is consistently taken from his journal is one about a fire that had happened just before he had arrived and that took the lives of a father, his sons, and a worker. His diaries help historians and anyone who is interested know what society and general life was like in Westborough during his lifetime.
Ebenezer may not have truly been the first minister for Westborough, but he was the first one to move his entire life and live in town. He left an imprint more influential and larger than any other minister Westborough has ever experienced. Seeing as Parkman passed away while still living in Westborough, his preachings may have repeated once in a while, but the topics he spoke of jumped from math to literature and so forth, and his diaries ended up full of entries about food or riding someplace. As Reverend, Ebenezer bought land in Westborough to grow both his wealth and the influence of his occupation everywhere, which was amazing for the slow-moving community that took him in as minister. One thing that never seemed to change as time passed is the town’s devotion to the almighty God himself. With an unwavering dedication, the people took to Rev. Parkman’s idea of fearing the thought of not being enough and it submerged itself into the minds of his audience, enough so that they needed to build a new place for him to talk seeing as the crowds grew as his speeches grew more popular and people kept coming to hear his life lessons.
Without the serious professionalism from this one man, this new town may not have been organized and created in the way it is today, with thriving, wealthy, and educated individuals. Parkman was given an opportunity to do what he enjoyed, while still supporting and maintaining a lavish lifestyle. As he aged, everything seemed to put distress on his mind, but he is greatly appreciated for setting up a system where relationships do not only happen between people in town but also included those in neighboring towns. Even though in his journals Ebenezer Parkman seemed to know what he wanted and always planned out everything, he still received help to get things done. He was an intelligent leader and valuable citizen for Westborough. Ebenezer Parkman and his diaries will forever be famous and known as one of the most highly influential figures this town has ever seen.
Walett Francis G., The Diary of Ebenezer Parkman 1703-1782 First Part 1719-1755,
Worcester: Amer Antiquarian Society, 1974
Heman Packard De Forest and Edward Craig Bates, The History of Westborough, Massachusetts,
Westborough: Westborough: The Town, 1891