Bedford Explained: Domine Manse

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Domine Manse on Great Road doesn’t look all that different in 2018 as it did in AE Brown’s day – Image (c) Bedford Historical Society, 2018 all rights reserved.

By Sharon McDonald
Bedford’s Town Historian

Beside the Great Road in the center of Bedford, half a block east of the Common, you pass a big white house with a sign that reads “Domine Manse.” Have you wondered what that is? Nowadays, it is an office building. But checking with a friend fluent in Latin, I find that “Domine” means “the place where the minister lives.” “Manse” is the word for “minister’s dwelling house” or “mansion.” So “Domine Manse” is “minister’s house ministers house.”

Silliness aside, the Domine Manse is an interesting historic landmark. It is one of the oldest houses in Bedford. In 1729, when our town was incorporated, the Great and General Court made three stipulations: the town must build a place of worship, make provision for the education of the children, and “hire a learned orthodox minister of good conversation, and make provision for his comfortable and honorable support.” These they did. The clergyman they settled on was Nicholas Bowes, a recent graduate of Harvard College, which guaranteed good conversation. As part of his hiring package, they gave him sixteen acres of land. On it, they erected a house – a manse – where he and his new wife Lucy could live with their children and at least one servant, an enslaved woman named “Nonne.”

The Bowes family lived there for less than three decades. Then controversy within the Church of Christ in Bedford – Bedford’s only church [at that time] – led to the end of Nicholas’s ministry here. He joined the army as a chaplain. On the way home from his first campaign, he had a stroke and died. His wife Lucy remarried and sold the house. That is the end of its service as a manse.

The house continued to have a part in history. During the American Revolution, it was the home of John Reed, who was Bedford’s representative to the Provincial Congress in Concord. Leading up to the war, secret meetings of Bedford patriots were held at the Reeds’ home, the Domine Manse.

Down the years, the house remained in the possession of the Reed family. The last Reed heirs made it a restaurant, and it was quite popular in the 1940s and ‘50s for a lovely Sunday dinner. Finally, in 1967, it was sold out of the family to the Town Historian, Louise K. Brown. It remains a Brown property today.