A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE BAPTIST
DENOMINATION IN AMERICA, AND OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
By David Benedict
London: Printed by Lincoln & Edmands, No. 53, Cornhill, for the Author
This is wholly an inland State, and is bounded north by Lower Canada, east by Connecticut river, which divides it from New Hampshire, south by Massachusetts, and west by New York. This State began to be settled about 1725 or 1730; the south part of it, at that time, was claimed by Massachusetts. After the year 1741, the whole territory was considered as lying within the jurisdiction of New Hampshire; but in 1764, it was by order of the King of Britain, annexed to the province of New York. This occasioned a long series of altercation between the settlers and claimants under New Hampshire and the government of New York. But these tedious controversies were finally adjusted, and in 1791, Vermont was admitted a member of the federal union. [Morse's Geography, vol. i. p. 361.]
There were but two Baptist churches established in this State, previous to the year 1780. The first of these was gathered in Shaftsbury in 1768, and the other at Pownal in 1773. An account of these churches will be given when we come to treat of the Association, to which they belong. About the year 1780, and during a few succeeding years, a number of Baptist ministers from different parts of the neighboring States removed and settled amidst the lofty forests of this then uncultivated territory. These ministers were preceded in their settlement here, by a few families of their brethren, they were attended in their removals by a considerable number more, and multitudes shortly followed after them, who dispersed in almost every direction on both sides of the Green Mountains, in the lower and middle regions of the State, and thus laid the foundation for the large number of churches, which shortly afterwards arose.
Between the years 1780 and 1790, thirty-two churches were planted in Vermont, so that together with the two which had been planted before, there were at the last mentioned date, thirty-four churches in this State, in which were twenty-eight ordained, and fifteen licensed preachers, and their whole number of communicants was about sixteen hundred. Elisha Ransom, Elisha Rich, Joseph Cornell, Thomas Skeels, Hezekiah Eastman, William Bentley, John Hibbard, John Peak, Caleb Blood, Aaron Leland, Isaac Beal, John Drew, Isaac Webb, Henry Green, Isaiah Stone, and Joseph Call, were among the first Baptist ministers, who settled in this State, and by whose laborious and evangelical exertions, the early churches were planted. But few of these ministers moved into the State, with the immediate expectation of taking the pastoral care of churches, for at the time of their removal very few churches had been gathered; but most of them came by the invitation of the few scattering inhabitants, who had just commenced the settlement of their plantations, and were desirous of having the gospel preached among them. And some of them were merely adventurers into a new country for the purpose of obtaining lands on which they might plant their families, and provide for their support. But that wise Providence, which led them in the wilderness, not only made a way for their temporal comfort and advantage, but soon opened a door for peculiar usefulness in their ministerial labors; showers of grace were soon sent down on many of the infant settlements; the calls for their labors became numerous and importunate, and the Lord inspired his servants with diligence and delight in his service, and crowned their labors with abundant success.
In the churches, which were planted by these men, have been raised up a number of ministerial sons, who have long been and still continue to be successful laborers in this part of the Lord's vineyard. Their names will be mentioned in the history of the churches and Associations with which they are respectively connected.
There are, at present, within the bounds of this State about 80 churches, most of which are connected with the Shaftsbury, the Woodstock, the Vermont, the Richmond, the Barre, and the Danville Associations, all of which bodies were organized within this State; none of them, however, are exclusively in it, and the Shaftsbury and Woodstock have the majority of their churches in the States of New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
As the churches, in this State, began to associate soon after they were planted and have, with a very few exceptions, always traveled in an associated capacity, it may be best to exhibit what the limits of this work will permit us to say of them, in connection with the histories of the Associations to which they belong.
This Association was formed in the town from which it received its name, in the year 1780. It contained at first the five following churches, namely two in Shaftsbury, the first in Cheshire, then called, now New Providence, one in Stillwater, and one at White Creek. The principal ministers were Peter Warden, William Wait, Lemuel Powers, and Joseph Cornell. Lemuel Powers was ordained at this first meeting of the Association.
For a few years after this body was formed, it embraced some churches, which now belong to the Vermont Association. At present, though this Association contains thirty-two churches, yet but four of them are in the State of Vermont, namely the first and fourth in Shaftsbury, the first in Pownal, and the church in Stanford; sixteen are in the State of New York, eight in that of Massachusetts, and four in Upper Canada.
Some sketches of those churches belonging to this body, which are situated in Massachusetts, New York, and Upper Canada, will be given in the history of the States and Province to which they belong. Although there are so few churches in this community situated in Vermont, yet, as it was formed in this State, this may be the most proper place to give a general view of its movements. We shall first, however, give some brief sketches of the few churches which belong to it in this State.
Shaftsbury. This town is in Bennington county, near the southwest corner of the State. It joins the town of Bennington on the south, and the State of New York on the west. Such is its local situation, being near to the place where the three States of New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts meet, that it has never been at any great distance from the center of the Association, and here its sessions have very frequently been held. It has already been observed, that the oldest church in Vermont was formed in this town in 1768; this was but four years after Bennington began to be settled. I can find no particular account of the origin of this church. Mr. Backus merely mentions, that Mr. Bliss Willoughby, who was ordained as the pastor of a Separate church, at a place called Newent, in the town of Norwich, Connecticut, in 1753; who went to England in the character of an agent for the Separate churches in 1756, became a Baptist after the year 1764, was a leader in early times amongst the Baptists in this place. [Backus? History, vol. iii. p. 296. I find the account of Mr. Willoughby's being a leader, etc. is disputed by some, and supposed probable by others. And so I must leave it.] He also mentions that his son Ebenezer Willoughby, preached among this people, although neither he nor his father had the pastoral care of them; and that in 1774, the church consisted of 39 members. This town appears to have abounded with Baptists; a second church was formed here in 1780, a third in 1781, and a fourth in 1788. The third church was composed of brethren, mostly from Rhode Island, who were strenuous for the imposition of hands, and their church was founded upon what are called The Six Principles. This church united with the fourth in 1798. At present there are three churches in this town, called the first, second, and fourth. Two of them belong to the Association, and one does not. The first church is under the pastoral care of a young man, a native of the place, whose name is Isaiah Matrison.
The second church has no pastor, and never had; but they have a worthy exhorter among them, by the name of Downer, who is now 80 years old. The fourth in this town has flourished more than any of the rest. It was many years supplied by Mr. Caleb Blood, and under his ministry it experienced some precious revivals and prospered greatly. The most distinguished of these refreshing seasons, was in the years 1798 and 1799, at which time, about 150 persons were baptized. An interesting account of this revival was written by Mr. Blood, and after being inserted in a number of pamphlets and magazines, it was published in Mr. Woodward's Surprising Accounts, etc. After administering to this church about nineteen years, Mr. Blood, in 1807, by the request of the third church, then newly formed in Boston, removed and settled with them. There he continued about three years, and then he removed to Portland, in the District of Maine, where he now resides. The church, which he left in Shaftsbury, has had some refreshing seasons since his removal; they are still a large and respectable body; but as yet remain destitute of a pastor.
His Excellency Jonas Galusha, Esq. the present Governor of Vermont, resides in the neighborhood of this church, of which a number of his family are members. One of his sons, who was bred to the law, has lately embraced the gospel, has united with this church, and by it has been approbated to preach.
Pownal. This town is also in the county of Bennington, and lies in the southwest corner of Vermont, having Massachusetts on the south, and New York on the west. Through it runs the Hoosuck river, on which some Dutch people from the State of New York, formed settlements, as early as any which were made in Bennington.
In 1764, a Baptist minister by the name of Benjamin Garner, from West Greenwich, in the State of Rhode Island, traveled into these parts, and preached among the few inhabitants through the summer of that year; and the year following he removed his family and settled in the place. Nothing of a religious nature appeared here, until 1772, when Mr. Garner, having found five Baptist members besides himself, he united with them, and embodied them into a church. The next year the place was visited with a distressing sickness, which was the means of awakening many to the concerns of religion, and the church, this year, was increased to sixty members.
Mr. Garner made high pretensions to godliness, but his profession and practice were far from corresponding with each other. The foul sin of uncleanness easily beset him. Of this sin he had been accused while in Rhode Island, and a repetition of it here, plunged him into disgrace, and the new-formed church into embarrassment and confusion. This affair happened soon after the enlargement just mentioned, and in a broken and disconsolate situation, this infant church remained, until the winter of 1781, when they were visited by Francis Bennet from Foster in Rhode Island, whose labors were blessed among them, and the church soon after resumed its visibility and travel. [Mr. Garner died at Pownal, in the autumn of 1793, in the 78th year of his age. For a long time before his death he was, to use his own words, "A poor object of despair." But a little before he died, he manifested some comfortable views in the prospect of eternity, and once said to a friend "That he believed that all the punishment he should ever endure would be in this life."]
In 1788, Elder Caleb Nichols, who was also from Rhode Island, settled in Pownal, and became the pastor of this church, in which station he labored with much acceptance and success for many years. Mr. Nichols was born in Exeter, Rhode Island March 12, 1743. He was a vain and thoughtless youth, much attached to the violin and merry company. At the age of twenty-four, he was brought to embrace the Savior, and soon after was baptized by Elder Nathan Young. Not long after he began to preach, he was ordained to the pastoral care of the second church in Coventry in his native state, which had been constituted a few months before. Under Mr. Nichols? ministry, this church prospered greatly, so that in the course of eight or ten years it increased to 350 members; but in the time of the war the members scattered abroad, and the church became so broken and feeble, that Mr. Nichols thought best to remove from them, at the time already mentioned.
In a Ms. of Mr. John Leland's, written while Mr. Nichols was alive, I find his character thus given: "Elder Nichols moved into Pownal in 1788, bringing with him not only fair paper credentials, but what far exceeds, a heart flowing with love to God and men; and now, instead of using his violin to captivate the thoughtless throng, he is engaged with successful zeal in sounding the gospel trumpet. His life and conversation are exemplary; his preaching is spiritual and animating, pretty full of the musical New-Light tone. But his gift in prayer is his great excellency; for he not only prays as if he was softly climbing Jacob?s ladder to the portals of heaven, but his expressions are so doctrinal, that a good sermon may be heard in one of his prayers."
Under the ministry of this excellent man, the Pownal church was edified and enlarged. The year after he removed among them, a revival attended his labors. In 1793, another powerful work of God broke out among them, and in a short time about seventy were added to their number. This worthy minister finished his course in 1804. Since his death, the church has experienced some refreshing seasons, and been supplied with different preachers, but have not as yet settled any one among them in the pastoral office.
The second church in Pownal was gathered in the west part of the town in 1790, by Mr. Bennet, whose name has already been mentioned. This church has never been larger and has never united with the Association. Concerning the church in Sailford, I have received no information. We shall now proceed to give some brief sketches of the body whose history we have under consideration.
The Shaftsbury Association, although of a recent date, compared with some of its sister communities, yet on account of its almost continual prosperity and enlargement, the number and size of its churches, and the number of eminent ministers amongst them, must be considered as one of the most important establishments of the kind amongst the American Baptists.
In 1788, the number of its churches had increased to sixteen, at which time the total number of members was about 800.
In 1796, the number of churches was twenty-eight, and in this year upwards of four hundred were added by baptism, which made the whole number of members almost eighteen hundred.
In the year 1800, this Association contained upwards of forty churches, and more than four thousand members. In this year there were added by baptism 767. In this prosperous manner, this body progressed, until the year 1804, when its number amounted to between five and six thousand. It had now become so large and extensive, that a division which had previously been proposed was amicably effected.
The churches in this Association, at the time of its division, were scattered over the counties of Berkshire and Hampshire in Massachusetts, and in those of Columbia, Rensselaer, Washington, and Saratoga, in New York. It had in former years been much more extensive in its boundaries, but many churches had been dismissed before this period, to unite with Associations which had been established within their respective vicinities.
Most of the churches which were dismissed in 1804 were situated to the westward of the Hudson river, in the counties of Washington and Saratoga in the State of New York; these united in forming the Saratoga Association.
About the time of this division, the Association probably contained as great a number of Elders of distinguished abilities and eminent usefulness, as any other Association in the United States. But the Saratoga Association took off some of these men, others, not long after, were taken away by death, and some removed to other parts; and thus this extensive and influential establishment, was not only reduced in its numbers but enfeebled in its energies. But at present it appears to be resuming its former character, and is travelling on with reputation and strength.
For a number of years, this Association was considerably occupied in discussing the question, "Whether church members ought to be tolerated in uniting with, and continuing to frequent, Masonick Societies, to the grief of their brethren?" This was a question of much importance, and at the same time of a very embarrassing nature. It appears to have been started in the Association in 1798, and continued to be agitated more or less for five or six years. It is stated in their Minutes, that there were, in some of their churches, at the time this matter was taken up, brethren, who had united with Masonick Societies, and who continued to frequent their Lodges in opposition to the remonstrances, and to the continual grief of their brethren. When this matter was brought before the Association, the brethren generally were puzzled to know what advice to give. They could by no means approve of the grievous conduct of the brethren complained of; and at the same time, as it could not be proved that they had, by uniting with the Masonick Fraternity, violated any moral rule, they could find no law by which they could be made the subjects of church discipline and censure. The Association, at first, said but little on the matter, but the question being agitated from year to year, they at length became somewhat animated with their own discussions, and expressed themselves with more energy and decision on the subject. In 1803, a committee, who had been appointed for the purpose, after a short preamble, made the following report:
"In order to prevent any further difficulty on the subject, we wish now to be fairly and fully understood; that as to the propriety or impropriety of Free Masonry, we do not, as an Association, undertake to determine. Yet we freely say, that inasmuch as our brethren do not pretend they are bound in conscience, by any rule in the word of God, to unite with that fraternity, for them to form a connection with them, or frequent their Lodges, when they know it is a grief to their Christian brethren, and makes disturbance in the churches; it (in our opinion) gives sufficient reason for others to conclude they are not such as follow after the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another, Romans 14:19; but rather are such as cause divisions and contentions, contrary to the doctrine we have learned, Romans 16:17; and, of course, if they continue obstinately in such practices, ought to be rejected from fellowship; and consequently it is not reasonable for us to invite them to a seat in our Association. We therefore answer the query from the church at Providence, in the negative.
"Yet we do not wish, at present, to have this resolution so construed, as to interrupt our correspondence with sister Associations, but to have it continued.
"If there be any brethren, in any of our churches or sister Associations, who live in the practice of frequenting the Masonick Lodges, we flatter ourselves, that such churches and Associations, after hearing our minds on the subject, will not feel disposed to grieve brethren among us, by sending such of their members as delegates to this Association."
This report was received by the Association and inserted in their minutes for 1803, page 9. The broad hints towards the close of it were not the most grateful to some members of corresponding Associations, who had been let farther into the secrets of Masonry, than their proscribing brethren, and who had never considered that the meeting with Masonick Lodges was, in itself, a crime of sufficient magnitude to interrupt Christian fellowship.
But to make short the history of this affair, it is sufficient to observe, that it proved in the end, to be much labor and time spent to little purpose.
The Association, notwithstanding their spirited resolves, left the question pretty much as they found it. They, it is true, manifested some portion of wisdom in their discussion of the matter, but they showed by far the most when they gave it up.
This Association lies on both sides of the Connecticut river, in the States of Vermont and New Hampshire. It was organized with a very few churches, February, 1785, in Woodstock, which is one of the principal towns in Windsor county, a few miles above Windsor in Vermont, and not far below Hanover in New Hampshire, and no great distance west of Connecticut river.
Some of the oldest churches in this body are situated on the eastern side of the river in the counties of Cheshire, Grafton and Hillsborough, in New Hampshire. An account of these churches has already been given in the history of the State to which they belong. As this body originated in Vermont, we shall, under this head, give a brief narrative of its proceedings, together with some historical sketches of the most distinguished churches which it contains.
This Association has never been large compared with the Shaftsbury and some others; but it has generally been in a flourishing state, its movements have been harmonious and regular; its churches have been well established and respectable, many of which have been, and still are, supplied with ministers eminent for their abilities and usefulness.
Dr. Baldwin, now the pastor of the second Baptist church in Boston, was, for a number of years, the pastor of the church in Canaan, (N.H.) one of the constituent members of this Association, and the most remarkable event, which I find in its history is, that by their request, he exhibited before them, a small treatise, entitled, "The Baptism of Believers only, and the Particular Communion of the Baptist Churches, explained and vindicated." This performance, being approved by the Association was, at their instance, forwarded to the press. "This work was intended rather as an apology for the particular communion of the Baptists, than as an attack upon the sentiments and practice of others." But it was, however, viewed by the Pedobaptists, as a work of too much importance to pass unnoticed.
Accordingly, in 1791, the Reverend Noah Worcester, pastor of a Congregational church in Thornton, (N.H.) published a reply to it, entitled, "A Friendly Letter," etc. This called forth a reply from Dr. Baldwin in 1794, after he had settled in Boston. In a word, the little tract which Dr. Baldwin wrote amidst the forests and mountains of New Hampshire, laid the foundation for that baptismal controversy, which he has since, with much ability, maintained against a number of opposers. Amongst the oldest churches in the Woodstock Association, on the Vermont side of the river, we must reckon those of Woodstock, Hartford, Bridgewater, Westminster, Dummerston, Royalton, Windsor, Putney, Chester, Rockingham, and Reading. Dummerston, Putney, and some other churches in the southeast corner of Vermont, now belong to the Leyden Association. Of a few of the remaining ones it may be proper to give some brief accounts.
The Woodstock church was planted in 1780, by Elder Elisha Ransom, who had removed from Sutton, Massachusetts, and settled in this town a short time before. This church joined to the Warren Association the same year in which it was gathered, and continued with it, until the Woodstock Association was formed. The Woodstock church prospered much for some time. In the course of three years from its beginning, it increased to eighty members, and became so extensive that another church was formed from it in the same town, about 1785, which, however, was not long afterwards re-united to the mother establishment. Mr. Ransom continued in the pastoral office here, upwards of twenty years. And after him, Mr. Jabez Cottie administered to the church a few years; but he has removed from thence; and the followers of Elias Smith have prevailed so much, that the church has now nearly or quite lost its visibility.
The church in Chester, Windsor county, was formed in 1789. It originated in the following manner. In 1786, Aaron Leland, a native of Holliston, Massachusetts, who had been approbated to preach a little before, by the church in Bellingham, then under the care of Elder Noah Alden, received a letter from fifteen persons living in Chester, none of whom however were Baptist members, requesting him to come and preach among them for a short time. Conformable to this request, he took a journey to the place a few months after. But when he arrived, he found it so much uncultivated, both in a natural and moral point of view, and the prospect so unpromising, that he was unwilling to think of tarrying with them long. But after being here a short time, he felt a powerful application to his mind of this passage, "The Lord hath much people in this city." This scripture afforded him much comfort then, and he has had the happiness since of seeing it abundantly verified. After preaching with the people a few weeks, he returned; visited them again not many months after, and in a short time settled among them. He had been previously ordained by the church in Bellingham.
In 1789, he had the happiness of seeing a small church gathered, which consisted of only ten members, including himself. This little body traveled on in harmony and order, experiencing a gradual increase, but no remarkable ingathering for ten years after it was founded. But in 1799, a revival commenced, which became very powerful and extensive, and spread, not only throughout Chester, but prevailed in a number of the neighboring towns. At the close of this work, the church had become so numerous and extensive, that they thought proper to make a division, and by the advise of their brethren, who were called for the purpose, on the first of August, 1803, four churches were set off from the original body, which were named from the towns in which they were situated, Andover, Grafton, Wethersfield, and Cavendish. This was an interesting day, and the circumstance is probably unexampled in the annals of our churches. These detached churches are now all supplied with pastors, and are well established and flourishing bodies. Two of their pastors had been deacons in the mother church before its division, the other two came from other parts. Mr. Jonathan Going, pastor of the church in Cavendish, was educated at Brown University. Besides planting so many daughters around her, and furnishing two of them with pastors, the Chester church has sent out three other ministers, who are laboring in other parts.
Notwithstanding this great and sudden reduction, this fruitful body was left with between 70 or 80 members. It experienced no great addition, from the time of its division, until 1811, when another revival commenced within its bounds, by which a goodly number have been added. Mr. Leland, the worthy pastor of this church, has, in addition to his ministerial duties, filled a number of civil offices in the State. He was nine years a Representative from the town of Chester in the State Legislature, four of which he was Speaker of the House of Assembly. In 1803, he was appointed Judge of the County Court for the county of Windsor. This office he still holds. He has also held a number of minor offices, all of which he has now resigned. He was at one time, so loaded with civil offices and honors, that many of his friends were much concerned for his religious and ministerial character. And, indeed, he at length became concerned about himself, and that not without cause. Although he had been enabled to maintain an unspotted character, in the midst of all his worldly elevations, yet he found such a want of religious enjoyment, and such a defection in the zeal and success of his ministry, that he, a few years ago, gave up all his civil employments, except that of officiating on the bench, which occupies his attention but a few weeks in the course of a year, and he is now once more very zealously and affectionately engaged in the most honorable, and at the same time the most despised employment amongst men. Mr. Leland is distantly related to John Leland of Cheshire.
The county of Windham, in the southeast corner of this State, has been in some measure a distinguished resort and nursery of Baptists, for upwards of forty years. In this county are twelve churches, belonging to the Leyden Association, the seat of which body is considered to be in Massachusetts. The first church in Guilford, and the church in Dummerston, are the oldest among them; the Guilford church appears to be the oldest on this side of the Green Mountains, the origin of which was in the following manner: About the year 1770, a number of persons from different parts, moved into this town, many of whom were soon afterwards awakened to religious concerns, and embraced the Baptist sentiments. These persons, to the number of thirty-three, were embodied into a church in 1776. This church increased so much that another was formed out of it in 1785. But the next year, for some reason, these two churches were again united into one, and a revival commenced among them soon after, by which a large number were added, and the church moved on in harmony, until the famous dispute between the States of New York and New Hampshire disturbed its tranquillity. As the church was established on disputed land, the members imbibed the spirit of controversy, and soon fell into an unhappy contention, insomuch that the church was scattered and nearly dissolved. But in 1790, after the interfering claims of the contending States were adjusted, and the territory of Vermont was restored to tranquillity, this church recovered from its dispersion, and re-commenced its travel. The town of Guilford has abounded with Baptists, and it now contains three churches, but I have not gained sufficient information to give an account of their origin or movements.
The ministers, who have labored here at different times, were Whitman Jacobs, a native of Bristol, Rhode Island, who planted the church in Thompson, Connecticut; Peleg Hix, from Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and Richard Williams, from Groton, Connecticut. The first church is now under the pastoral care of Jeremy Packer; the one called Guilford United Church, is supplied by Lewis Allen; the third church is destitute of a pastor.
Dummerston church was constituted in 1783. The next year after it was formed, Mr. Isaiah Stone, who is now at New Boston, New Hampshire, settled in the town, and preached a part of the time with this church for a number of years. When he removed from them, the church contained only thirty-one members. Soon after his removal, a revival commenced, by which about a hundred were added to their number.
In 1793, Rufus Freeman settled among them, and soon after he was ordained their pastor, in which office he continued many years. Mr. Freeman was a native of Providence, Rhode Island, where he was born in 1762. His father died at sea when he was an infant, his mother died while he was yet a child. At six years of age he was carried to Fitzwilliam, in New Hampshire, by a man who brought him up. In this town he was converted in the seventeenth year of his age, and here, also, he began to preach in 1789. From Fitzwilliam he went to Hardwick, and from that place to Dummerston. His next remove was to Colerain, and farther than this I cannot trace him. Mr. John Leland, in his MS. History of this church, speaks of Mr. Freeman in respectful terms.
The present pastor of this church is Jonathan Hunt, who has been with them a number of years. Of the remaining churches in this county, I have not obtained sufficient information, to form any interesting details.
This was the third confederacy of the kind established in this State. It was organized in Elder Joseph Corne!l's barn, in the town of Manchester, May, 1785. The country was then so new, and the houses so small, that a mansion similar to that in which the Savior was first seen by mortals, was the most convenient place in which they could assemble. This body, at the time of its constitution, comprised only five small churches, in which were but four elders, and 231 members. In five years from its beginning, it increased to thirteen churches, and 740 members. The number of churches is now twenty-two, which contain about 1900 communicants.
This Association lies wholly west of the Green Mountains, and is mostly in the counties of Rutland and Addison. Two of its churches, namely Salem and Granville, are in Washington county, New York. This body now comprises a number of large and respectable churches, which are supplied by a number of ministers, eminent for their abilities and usefulness; but as to its movements we cannot say that they have, at all times, been harmonious and comfortable. For many years the Association traveled in peace and love, but at length it fell into a dispute about the prerogatives which it possessed. Some were for constituting it a board of trial for ministers, churches, etc. others opposed these measures as an infringement on the independency of the churches, and an usurpation of power, to which they had no constitutional claim. And thus, to use a familiar figure, while some were endeavoring to plant horns on their body, which in their opinion was wanting in energy, others stood by with their weapons to beat them off; and at length the contest arose so high, that the Association was rent asunder, and the two parties, for a short time, met in separate companies; thus the body, about which they were contending, was left without either head or horns. It is not intended, by this familiar manner of treating these measures, to trifle with the feelings of those worthy brethren, by whom they were promoted. These unhappy proceedings must not be reckoned among their wisest and most condescending acts. But it is pleasant to learn, that a spirit, conciliatory and forbearing, soon succeeded that which was so discordant and painful; a convention composed of delegates from both parties came to an amicable adjustment of their differences, the powers of an Association were unanimously agreed upon, the dissevered members of this body were happily united, and it has, from that period, traveled on in harmony and love. The substance of these remarks was communicated by a minister who has long held a respectable standing in this Association.
Respecting the history of the churches in this connection, some very brief sketches must suffice. I was not enabled to travel amongst them. I have, however, taken much pains to ascertain their history, a few things have been communicated, but many more which were expected have, for some reason, not come to hand.
The five constituent churches of this Association were those of Clarendon, Granville, Manchester, Danby, and Mapletown. The churches in Wallingford, Ira, Middletown, and Pittsfield, were constituted before the Association was formed; and those of Poultney, Orwell, Hubbardston, Brandon and Paulet, but a few years after.
The church in Wallingford was gathered in 1780, and is the oldest within the bounds of the Vermont Association. It was named after Wallingford in Connecticut, from which town many of the first settlers emigrated. Mr. Henry Green, now in Cornwall, was its first pastor. The Wallingford church withdrew from the Association in the time of its contentions, and has never united with it since. It is still in respectable standing, though destitute of a pastor.
The next church in point of seniority, is that of Manchester, in the county of Bennington, which was planted by Elder Joseph Cornell, in 1781. Mr. Cornell is a native of Swansea, Massachusetts, from which place he removed to Cheshire, in the same State, in 1770, where he was ordained ten years after. Immediately after his ordination, by the request of more than seventy heads of families in Manchester, he removed and settled among them, and continued upwards of thirteen years, pastor of the church which he established there.
This church, like that of Wallingford, wishing to let alone contention, before it is meddled with, left the Association at the same time, and yet remains out of it, Mr. Cornell left them before this time. Its circumstances are prosperous, being under the care of a worthy minister, whose name is Calvin Chamberlain.
There is also an unassociated church in East Clarendon, which is now supplied by an Elder McCuller.
Middletown. The church here was constituted, October, 1782. It remained without a pastor until 1790, when Mr. Sylvanus Haynes, a native of Princeton, Massachusetts, was settled among them, under whose ministry they have been edified and built up to a large and respectable body.
Poultney. This church was constituted in 1785, It was formed upon Calvinistic principles, but on the plan of open communion, which plan was continued a number of years, but has long since been given up. This church was small, and in a measure destitute of preaching for many years. In 1801, it was reduced to fifteen members, who thought best to attach themselves to the church in Middletown, under the character of a branch of that body. But the next year, having Mr. Clark Kendrick to preach among them, they again resumed their travel as a distinct church; Mr. Kendrick was, soon after, ordained over them, and still continues their much respected pastor: Mr. Kendrick was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1776, and is a brother of Ariel Kendrick, of Cornish in that State.
I have not received accounts from any other churches in this Association, except the one in Middlebury, which was formed in 1809, and is now under the care of Nathaniel Kendrick, who was formerly in Lansingburg, New York. Some sketches of a number of others would doubtless be as interesting as those which have been given, but as they have not been forwarded as was expected, they must of necessity be omitted.
This Association is situated northward of the Vermont, and extends from Onion river to the northern boundaries of the State, and three of the churches are in the province of Lower Canada. It is bounded on the west by lake Champlain, and extends eastward to the Green Mountains, and is in the counties of Chittenden, Franklin, and Orleans.
This Association was begun with not more than four or five churches, in 1795, and although it has been gradually increasing from its beginning, it has not yet become large. Respecting the history of the churches in this establishment, I have obtained scarcely any information, except that some were raised up by the labors of Elders Jedidiah Hibbard, from New Hampshire, and Joseph Call, from Woodstock, in this State. I find, also, that Elders Ezra Willmarth, now of Weare, New Hampshire, Samuel Rogers, at present in Galway, New York, and Elisha Andrews, of Templeton, Massachusetts, were preaching within the bounds of this Association, in the early part of its movements.
Elder Ezra Butler, who has long been in the State Legislature, a member of the Senate, a county Judge, and who is now a member of Congress, belongs to this Association, and resides at Waterbury, on Onion river. Three churches in the Richmond Association, namely Sutton, Hatley, and Stanstead, and St. Armond, are in the province of Lower Canada. I have lately been informed that this Association has changed its name to that of Fairfield, and that the churches in Canada which contain about two hundred members, are not included in it.
Besides those already mentioned, there are two other small Associations in this State, which are situated on the east side of the mountains. These Associations are Barre and Danville.
The Barre Association lies immediately north of the Woodstock. It was formed about 1807, of six or seven churches, and is yet very small. It is situated in the counties of Orange, Caledonia, and Jefferson. The churches of Hanover and Lyme are in the county of Grafton in New Hampshire. The Danville Association lies still north of the Barre, mostly in the county of Caledonia. It was formed of four or five small churches, about 1810. This Association is mostly the fruits of Missionary labors.
The unassociated churches in this State will be brought into the list of Associations and Churches.
There are a number of Baptist churches in this State of the Free-will order, which will be taken notice of in the history of that community.
Although many of our brethren were amongst the first settlers, in most parts of this State, yet the greater part of the settlers were of the Congregational order, from the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. These people carried with them the religious maxims of their native States, and by their influence the country was divided into parishes, in most of which Congregational churches were established, and a law was passed similar to those in the other New England States, empowering these parishes to levy a general tax for building meeting-houses, and supporting their ministers. The Baptists in a few instances, and but a few, have been oppressed with these taxes. But now, all laws, regulating religious worship, are done away, and the gospel is left in Vermont as it is in all the other United States except three, and as it ought to be every where, and as we believe it finally will be, to be supported by the voluntary contributions of its advocates and friends.
A brief account of the nature, progress, and abrogation of these laws will now be given.
I do not find that any laws were made in Vermont, with regard to religion, until 1797. Then an act was passed for the support of the gospel, etc. the substance of which was to empower the inhabitants of every town or parish in the State, (in which there should be twenty-five voters) to associate for religious purposes, to levy and collect taxes, to build meeting houses, and to hire and support religious teachers of such denomination, as a majority of such town or parish thought proper. And every person of "adult age, was, by said act, considered as being of the religious opinion and sentiment of such society, and liable to be taxed, after residing in said town or parish one year, unless he should, previous to the vote for raising taxes, etc. obtain, and procure to be recorded in the Town Clerk's office in said town, a certificate of his different belief, signed by some minister of the gospel, deacon, elder, moderator, or clerk of the church, congregation, sect or denomination, to which he belonged."
This statute remained in force, until the third of November, 1801, when the Legislature passed an act, repealing so much of the former act, as related to procuring certificates; but still considered the voters in such town or parish of the religious opinion of such society, and made them liable to be taxed for religious purposes; unless they should, individually, previous to any vote of said society, etc. deliver to the clerk of such town a declaration in writing, with their names thereto subscribed, in the following words, "I do not agree in religious opinion, with a majority of the inhabitants of this town," or parish, etc.
Thus stood the law until the 24th day of October, 1807, when the Legislature passed an act, repealing all the statutes on the subject, except the section relating to voluntary associations, and contracts individually entered into." [This information was communicated by Cephas L. Rockwood, Esq. of Chester.]
The bill which proposed this law, which is so congenial with every principle of religious freedom, was two sessions before the Vermont Assembly, and was supported by the united exertions of the great body of dissenters. Messrs. Aaron Leland and Ezra Butler were at this time members of the State Legislature. Leland was Speaker of the Lower House, and Butler was an active member of the Senate. It is generally thought that our ministering brethren had better keep at home, than to engage in the bustle of political affairs. But on this occasion, these two ministers did much good. This bill was much contested. In the Lower House it was debated by a committee of the whole, which brought Mr. Leland on the floor. Both he and Mr. Butler zealously and ably advocated it, and exhibited with much perspicuity and effect those unanswerable arguments, which the Baptists always urge against supporting religion by law. They were seconded by many gentlemen of different persuasions. But their arguments were, at the same time, violently opposed by many powerful adversaries. But the spirit of freedom prevailed, and the bill, to the honor of the valiant Green Mountain men, finally passed into a law.
Many had very alarming apprehensions of the levelling consequences of this law; none of them, however, have been realized. There were, at this time, about a hundred Congregational ministers settled in this State, but not one of them was displaced in consequence of this law. They were a worthy set of men, and as soon as their churches and congregations saw the law was repealed, which empowered them to raise money for their support, they set about raising it in other ways, and all of them were supported as well without law, as they had been with.
This would doubtless be the case generally in the other New England States. But the ministers there have so long been accustomed to lean on the strong arm of the civil power for their support, that they are afraid to stand up and trust to the voluntary contributions of their flocks. And it is highly probable that many of them would make out poorly indeed. But those who are worth having, would be supported, and those, who are not, ought to dig for themselves, and it is no matter how soon they are displaced.