Born 28 Nov 1792 in Salisbury, NH, Benjamin Huntoon graduated from Dartmouth College in 1817 before attending the Theological Seminary at Andover, MA 1819-1820. The year 1820 found Huntoon working in Boston while preparing for the ministry and eventually approbated by the Boston Ministerial Association. It is from there he rode on horseback to Canton in September of 1821, having been invited by a committee from the then newly renamed First Congregational Parish and Society to preach in Canton. “Be careful,” the committee members were warned by one of Huntoon’s contemporaries, for “he will steal away all your hearts.”
Events moved quickly for both Huntoon and the expanding Canton parish; by year’s end he had been chosen as their new pastor and was ordained in Jan of 1822, so it would seem that the early warning/endorsement might indeed be ringing true. In Canton, Reverend Huntoon inherited a meeting- house originally built in 1747, without question by then outgrown, and which replacement he spearheaded and Gothic design he influenced. By December of 1823 a site had been selected for the new building and in June of 1824, with proceeds procured from the sale of the old structure, a frame was raised for a new building. The steeple bell is Paul Revere’s work, cast in 1821, and the only one remaining in Canton. Upon the new building’s opening, in the church record-book, the young pastor wrote: “The Lord has blessed us indeed. Three years ago we were in a feeble and discouraging state. Our prospects were dark and our number small. But our sanguine wishes have been more than realized. In building our temple the hammer of strife has not been heard.”
As Canton’s population grew and so too the parish’s subscriptions, a ministerial fund came into existence, supported by money given for pews as well as a generous family bequest; thus the congregation added a newly printed edition of their Hymns and Psalms book as well as experienced the departure of some of their congregants after the Canton parish voted to become Unitarian. The latter would not be the only departure of this time for the church membership, however.
After seven years of what his contemporaries viewed as unceasing labor and ministerial service to their congregation, the Reverend Benjamin Huntoon preached his farewell sermon in November of 1829. He had earlier been invited to deliver a dedication speech at the new Unitarian Church in Bangor, Maine and was subsequently urged to return there to lead that flock. Regarding his Canton pastorship, Huntoon remarked there was “not a single individual of this church or parish with whom I have had the least personal disagreement” but he decided to leave Canton to accept a position in another locale, further serving the Church of Christ and with hopes to better educate his children.
In Penobscot County, Huntoon was later remembered by his parishioners for “endearing himself to all by his kindly ways” and after serving as pastor there for four years, he resigned in 1833 citing reasons of ill health. In Maine until his subsequent return to Canton in 1840, Huntoon and wife Susannah welcomed three more children--Frederick, Susan and Benjamin (named for both father and older brother who had died in 1834 at 13 years of age)--before tragedy struck again and wife Susannah died in November of 1837. The elder Benjamin was now 45 years old, a widower with a large family and inclinations to return to his first ministerial home.
Invited to return to Canton for six months in October of 1840, the Reverend Huntoon received unanimous support by March of 1841 to resume his pastorate there which he called “...a rare occurrence in the history of our churches, but one highly creditable to both pastor and people, as testifying a strong attachment and reciprocal confidence, conferred by past offices of kindness, forbearance, and fidelity.” Over the next decade, Huntoon remarried and welcomed the son who would become the well-known published author of Canton’s pre-Civil War history--Daniel T. V. Huntoon, born 4 Sep 1842.
Benjamin Huntoon’s devotion to his children’s education and the teachers and schools of Canton, as well as to the parish with which he had been reunited occupied much of his time and energy over the next nine years. In addition, he was an active member of the committee to enlarge and beautify the Canton Corner cemetery, a member and Master of the Rising Star Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, a member of the Odd Fellows and Canton’s school committee and a passionate gardener.
Considered liberal in the evolving Unitarian faith, Huntoon did not refrain from speaking his views on antislavery and temperance; he was unusual for that time in steadfastly refusing liquor on parochial home visits. Of these inclinations, his son Daniel writes in The History of the Town of Canton, he “followed fearlessly his own convictions of right…” and “felt it his duty not merely to rebuke the barbarism of past ages and the crimes of other nations, but to say something about the sins of the present day and people.”
By 1849, Huntoon’s conflicts of conscience and politics with the Canton community proved to be substantial enough to turn away even his most steadfast supporters. He left Canton and moved to Marblehead, where he served as pastor of the Second Congregational Church (Unitarian) from October of 1849 to July of 1855. In the fall of 1860, Huntoon returned to his old homestead in Canton, which we now know as Pequitside Farm, for it was “here it was his wish to die; here he spent the declining years of his life, blessed with the love of those who had known him in his early years, -- a constant worshipper and an occasional preacher in the church which had been built through his exertions”.
Reverend Benjamin Huntoon entered into his eternal rest 19 April 1864.
Canton Bicentennial Historical Committee. Canton Comes of Age. Canton: Lanier Professional Services, 1997.
Comeau, George T. Postcard History Series: Canton. Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
History of Penobscot County, Maine: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland: Williams, Chase & Company, 1882.
Huntoon, Daniel T.V. History of the Town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1893.
Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, PA: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1884.
Roads, Samuel, Jr. The History and Traditions of Marblehead. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Company, 1880.