First Church Is Home To One Of The Oldest Bells On American Soil
By: Mary Stanley
The First Church of Christ in Sandwich Village is home to one of the oldest bells in America—a bell that predates American independence by more than a century.
That bell—a ship’s bell, cast in 1675—has been on display inside the church’s front entrance since the late 1960s.
It was given to the Federated Church in appreciation for the services performed by Pastor Roland Cotton in the early 1700s.
The minister of the church had taken it upon himself to give a Christian burial to Merchant Sea Captain Peter Adolph of New York and his crew members, who had drowned when their ship, en route from New York to Boston, wrecked off of Sandwich in 1703. Their bodies had washed ashore in East Sandwich.
After finding identification papers on the captain’s body, Pastor Cotton wrote to Mr. Adolph’s widow explaining the tragedy and letting her know that her husband had been buried in the Old Town Cemetery on Grove Street.
In appreciation for his kindness, the widow gifted the bronze bell to the Federated Church, which stood at the corner of Main and River streets. The church, which is now a private residence, once housed the Yesteryear’s Doll Museum.
The bell hung in that church for more than 60 years.
The church underwent renovations in 1763. “After the church was enlarged, the bell was too small for the new bell tower,” said Virginia E. Lewis, a member of the First Church of Christ.
According to the town’s Archivist Barbara Gill, the bell was sent to the Barnstable County Courthouse where it hung until August 22, 1826, when a fire destroyed the building.
When the new courthouse was built, the bell was hung in the building’s cupola.
Sandwich reacquired the bell in 1963.
“The First Church of Christ, which was the sister church of the Federated Church, requested that the bell be returned to Sandwich,” Ms. Gill said.
After the bell’s return, the First Church placed the bronze piece of history inside the building for all to view and appreciate.
A narrative that accompanies the bell at the church’s entrance states that the bell “is not just a piece of metal. It is a bell that tells a story of disaster, heartbreak, gratitude, fire and jubilation.”
The narrative continues: The inscription around its rim perhaps best tells the reason for its remarkable survival: If God be for us, who can be against us?”
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