Part Two: The Well, the Meeting House – and the First Covenant
Now a widow, Beulah Bullard was on her own, save that five of her children were living nearby or perhaps even with her, though that fact is not recorded. One, a son, the namesake of his father, established a reputation that is also found in local history. Still, Beulah missed her husband, and while her days were full of the labor of life, more strenuous that we might understand today, Beulah had moments to reflect on the 34 years she had shared with Ephraim.
They had known each other as children, and one can only imagine any feelings they held for each other. Their marriage, like most in that period, was not to achieve large financial gain for both families, nor one of political rank. It was all about gaining the chance of living with even modest comfort in a time when hard work was the basis of daily life. To be healthy with the prospect of bearing children meant the chance to thrive and as children grew, they contributed to the day-to-day living. They were also the best insurance for future support as parents grew older.
The house where Beulah and Ephraim settled was built well and strong, but without glazed sashes in the windows, as was true for the first West Needham meeting house. Even in the mid-1700’s, window glass came from England at a price beyond all except the very wealthy. The Bullards had heard that some homes in Boston had glass in the windows, but for them it was a luxury to be put off. When the weather was cold, the skins of mature sheep covered the openings, and they held in the warmth from the central fireplace. Windows to see through would come later.
Outside the house, the original well sometimes went dry, especially in mid-summer. Fortunately, in West Needham, most of the wells yielded good clean water, pure enough to drink without having to be boiled. This meant that Ephraim Bullard’s task was only to deepen the well. It was hard work made a bit easier with the help of neighbors. Having a dependable, year-round supply of water satisfied the most basic need for living in West Needham, and Beulah was always grateful.
Beulah also felt warm gratitude that her husband, at least for a few years, had been able to operate a local tavern. As is common for taverns, it was a popular place, and it provided income that was quite steady, even if payment for a pint was not to be fully trusted. In the late colonial period, now including the last years of open warfare, the British Pound was often not available and banks started printing their own money. The Bullard’s had learned which currency was reliable; they held onto such bank notes when they could get them, and Ephraim was careful about extending credit. Now Beulah spoke prayers of thanks for the money she had. The same challenges faced everyone, even Beulah’s children, and as a widow, she had no means of future financial support of her own – what we now know as Social Security was still more than a century away. By any measure, the war had put the local economy in great turmoil.
So here she was, living in the 1780’s, in a home with a reliable well, even if she still had to lift the water hand over hand. Beulah didn’t mind. She was physically strong and energetic. And while her husband Ephraim had died before building the windlass on top of the well, he had been a voted member of the committee that started the construction of a new meeting house.
That too would remain unfinished for many more years, but it left Beulah within a community of faith in the west part of Needham, one with a remarkable richness of spirit and commitment. In 1774, there were more than 80 persons who had voted to build a new meeting house. The number had then grown smaller, probably for unsurprising reasons that are not written in the history. Nevertheless, Beulah and her friends continued to worship on Sundays in one home or another. Prayer together was a habit for all of them. They were able to find ordained leadership through “supply” pastors; preachers who would come from other parishes just for one Sunday, or maybe more during Holy week and Advent. So strong was the fellowship among Beulah’s friends that they talked openly about their beliefs and their trust in God and God’s presence in their lives. They lived to deserve God’s favorable judgement, both as individuals and as a community. Perhaps because it created an unbreakable bond among them, they were able to establish and write down the First Covenant of the Church and Congregation in the West Parish in Needham.
Here are some phrases from that Covenant:
“In the name of the Lord, and in obedience to his [H]is will and divine ordinance… we do combine to walk together, as a particular church of Christ, according to all those holy rules of the gospel…We do accordingly recognize the covenant of grace… [and] we likewise give up ourselves one unto another, in the Lord…and we do also acknowledge our children, and those under our immediate care, to be included with us in the covenant of the gospel; blessing God for such a favor.”
In its full form, this First Covenant was voted into being on September 6th, 1798. Together with the completion of the meeting house, now with pews and glass windows, and especially the blessing of the Massachusetts legislature, the west Needham Parish was deemed “organized”.
Beulah Goodenow Bullard’s name is not recorded among those ten – “seven men and three women” — who are listed in the historic vote, but her son’s name appears, and we can reasonably assume that she was present in the gathering at the time. She was, after all, Ephraim’s mother. What we know for sure is that she lived through a remarkable period of church evolution when upturned civic events held confusing promise. Beulah had been blessed with a faithful husband whose military life interrupted his effort to build a windless over the household well. However, he was important in the effort to assure that his widow would have a community of faith. And she — a mother of ten children who lost four of them far too soon — remained part of that community, the one that became the Church of the West Parish. We know it today, 225 years later, as Wellesley Village Church.
God’s Grace endures.
Beulah Goodenow Bullard lived a full life which ended in 1802. Her remains, and her husband’s, are within the soil in the Village Church cemetery.
Bradford Harding, Village Church Historian
Bowden, Addison, Wellesley Congregational Church – Cemetery Documentation, a Service Project for the Rank of Eagle Scout, 2015.
Chandler, Edward Herrick, The Wellesley Congregational Church; 1798 to 1898.
Philbrick, Nathaniel, Mayflower, Penguin Books, 2006
A Manual for the Congregational Church in West Needham, published by vote of the church for the use of members, Bazin & Chandler, Boston, 1859. (Reprints, Kessinger’s Publishing, Whitefish, Montana)