George Ingersoll Wood.

The early history of the Congregational Church and Society, of North Branford : delivered in the Congregational Church, Jan. 6, 1850 online

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Online LibraryGeorge Ingersoll WoodThe early history of the Congregational Church and Society, of North Branford : delivered in the Congregational Church, Jan. 6, 1850 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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3 ^153 DlEtDflflD? S







Remember the days of old ; consider the years of many generations. — Deut. xxxn, 7.








The following sketch was originally delivered in sermon form on the text

which appears on the title page. Since its delivery it has been revised and

rewritten. It was written and is now published, for the people of North

r~ Branford. The reference it contains to certain localities in the town, and

<j- the names of persons which appear on its pages, will of course be matters

y of interest chiefly among those for whose benefit it was written. Whatever

vj interest may be felt in it by others who happen to read it, can arise only

U from the fact that it forms a constituent, though humble chapter in the his-

tj^tory of the early Puritans of New England.

North Branford, Feb. 1860.



It is among the first duties of every religious community
which is fortunate enough to have a Past, to know its own
history. Some of God's richest mercies to a given generation
will be found to have had their earthly germ in times long
past ; and the] generation consequently which is not familiar
with the experience of its predecessors, can have at the best
but a very limited and imperfect view of the extent of God's
goodness to itself. Each generation as it appears on the
earth in its turn, (and especially here in New England,) resem-
bles in an important respect the trees which beautify its
surface ; its roots — the source of its beauty and glory and
life — lie buried in the soil. Whatever there may be in the
character of this community which is. worthy to be perpetu-
ated among the generations to come, came, under God,
mainly, as I believe, from the fathers who lie buried in these
adjacent grounds.

I propose then to trace the history of this church and society,
so far as the materials for such a history are still accessible
— from its earliest days.

The religious history of the early inhabitants of North
Branford, until the year 1701, is nearly identical with that
of the Congregational church of Branford, with which they
were originally connected. We claim, therefore, a common
property, and feel a common interest in all that pertains to
the early history of that church. The outlines of that his-
tory, in a few words, may properly precede such matters as
relate exclusively to ourselves.

The whole region included in the ancient limits of
the Town of Branford, was granted by the New Haven
Colony to Mr. Samuel Eaton, in the year 1640, under the
Indian name of Totoket ; a name which is still retained as
a designation of the mountain range in North Branford.
Mr. Eaton having failed to fulfill the condition of the grant,
— which was, that he should procure a number of his friends
in England within a specified time, to settle within these
limits, — the Colony afterward sold it to William Swain and


others of the Town of Wethersfield ; stipulating that they
should unite themselves with the New Haven Colony in all
the fundamental articles of government. They immediately
removed to Totoket and commenced the settlement of Bran-
ford in 1644. The reason of this exodus from Wethersfield
was, the existence of an unhappy division among the early
settlers of that town. By the advice of Rev. John Davenport
and others of New Haven, the people separated, and a part of
them removed and purchased a tract of land in Stamford, of
which town they were the founders, and another part, as I
have already noticed, removed to Branford. Just at this
period, the Rev. Abraham Pierson, of South Hampton, Long
Island, feeling aggrieved, with many of his people, because
that town had put itself under the jurisdiction of the Con-
necticut Colony instead of the Colony of New Haven, re-
moved to Branford and united with Mr. Swain and his friends
in the settlement of the town. Mr. Pierson was soon chosen
to the pastorate of the church, being the first who held that
office ; and was assisted for a time by a Mr. Brucy. He
was installed in 1644. In 1665 he removed with most of his
people in a body from Branford to Newark N. J., carrying
with him the original records of the church and town. Not
to leave this allusion to rather a singular event in our early
history, unintelligible to those who are not familiar with its
circumstances, I observe very briefly, that by the charter of
Charles II. the New Haven Colony was incorporated with the
Connecticut Colony. This union was much disrelished and
resisted by the colony of New Haven, and especially by the
towns New Haven aiid Branford, these towns holding out in
their opposition for some time after Guilford, Milford and
Stamford had assented to the union. Mr. Pierson and his
church were so much opposed to this measure that they almost
all removed to Newark in 1665. Branford was, in conse-
quence, almost without inhabitants, and entirely without a
church and minister for twenty years. After some of these
years, a population gradually moved in from other parts, and
in 1685, Branford was re-invested with town privileges. I
will add but a single remark explanatory in some measure of
the opposition of the New Haven Colony to a union with that
of Connecticut. It was a fundamental and important point
in the government of the New Haven Colony, that none but
members of the church should be elected to civil office — a
mistake in political matters certainly not more pernicious than
that of more recent days, in which piety and a high regard
for the welfare of the church seem often to amount to a
virtual disqualification for civil office. For this reason and
others, New Haven Colony objected to the union.

Omitting to notice such other matters as pertain exclusively
to the history of Branford and its church, I observe that
with the means of information to which I have had access, the
nearest approximation I can make to the exact date at which
the inhabitants of Branford began to move into and settle
this, then, northern part of the town, is the year 1680. As
the population began to be numerous enough here in 1701* to
have occasional worship among themselves, especially in the
winter season, it is evident that some years must then have
elapsed since the first settlers moved into this region. The
year brought down to us by tradition as the year in which
the settlement of this region began, is 1680, which probably
is not far from the truth. The first house erected within the
present limits of North Branford according to the tradition,
was built by Capt. Jonathan Rose,f the ancestor of the Roses
of North Branford, near the house now occupied by Widow
Hannah Rose, on Hop-yard Plain.

From that period, then, or somewhere near it, down to the
year 1701, and occasionally till 1724, the first settlers of this
region, then called the North Farms, might have been seen on
Sabbath morning making their way to church along the
track of what is called the old road to Branford, to attend
public worship in Town. It was a time somewhat like the
days of vShamgar in Israel, when men travelled by " walking
through crooked by-ways " and when, indeed, the very term
employed to denote travellers was (in the original) " walk-
ers of paths." At that early period the only way of commu-
nication between the North Farms and the Town, was along
a foot path through the forest, so narrow that none but
walkers and riders on horses could make their way. With a
slight assistance from the imagination, we may see our
worthy sires and their wives on the morning of the Sabbath,
moving onward toward the settlement with becoming gravity,
on saddles and pillions, with the wallet slung between them,
to carry provisions for the day — this being the mode, as I am

*For this date and the fact here asserted, I am indebted to the discoursa
preached by Rev. Timothy P. Gillett, of Branford, on the last occasion of
tlieir meeting for worship in the old church.

f The father of this Jonathan Rose, was Robert Rose, the first of the fam-
ily who came to this country, from the North of England. He was one of
the eight individuals who owned originally the township of Branford, —
Tradition reports that he owned ten cows (besides sixty horses) at a time
when there were not ten more in all Braniord, and that the Sunday^s milking
was always given to the poor. The bible he brought with him from Eng-
land, printed in 1599, is still extant, in the possession of Widow Hannah
Rose, and has been in its time, the property of three or four deacons of the
Rose family.


informed, in which all riders made their way to church. At

that time, the land now covered in part by this church and

occupied as a place of burial, was thickly covered with trees,

and what is now the main road that passes the church, was

a simple foot-path of the kind described. It was a time, too,

in which the wallet was not the only "life preserver" needed

on the way to church. There were beasts of prey and

Indians nearly as wild, to be guarded against, and the gun

with its deadly contents was considered by some, a necessary

accompaniment of the ride to church. Indeed,, so serious an

undertaking was it in the beginning for some of the earliest

settlers in these North Farms who lived two miles above us

to the North East, to reach the sanctuary in Town and

return again without being lost, that they found it necessary

on the first occasion of their going down to carry an axe, and

blaze the trees that they might keep the path on their return.

Whoever travels over the same two miles of road now and

wonders at its serpentine and hilly course, may reflect, with

some consolation and profit, that it was originally laid out as

a road to the sanctuary, and that our church-going fathers

wisely preferred crossing the hills to passing the swamp and

the thicket.

These resolute men and women of that day, evidently
prized the ministrations of the Rev. Samuel Russel, who was
at that time Pastor of the flock.

Beginning at length to experience the inconvenience of
so long and difficult a journey to the sanctuary, especially in
the winter, they were permitted after they became suffi-
ciently numerous, about the year 1701, to have occasional
preaching among themselves ; which was probably held in
the school house, (or perhaps in some private dwelling.)

In the year 1722 we find the first entry in the town records
respecting what is called " the North Society." On the 27th.
of Sept. in that year, a Parsonage lot is purchased by the
Town for the use of this Society ; whence we gather that
the community here are now beginning to mature towar^ an
ecclesiastical distinctness. A purchase of lands on Indian Neck
had been made of the Indians as early as July 30, 1685, for
the support of the ministry in said town forever. These
Parsonage lands were equitably divided beween what was
then called the South and the North societies, on the 8th of
Oct., 1722.

On the 12th of May, 1724, the Town voted to build "a
meeting house " (we use the term employed by our fathers,
without holding ourselves responsible for the propriety and
good taste of the same) in the North Farms. In the words
of the record, it was " voted that the whole Town would as


one, in respect that they are numerous, so that one meeting
house is not sufficient to contain them, build another meeting
house jointly and settle another minister, and maintain each
of them by one rate ;" whence it appears that what are called
the North and South societies were still blended in their in-
terests, and that their affairs are managed by the Town. —
Three distinct sites having been proposed for the new meet-
ing house, it was decided by vote to locate it " on the knoll on
the west side of the river, at the place near Samuel Harrison's."
The spot designated by these words was that occupied
accordingly, as you all know, by what we call the old meet-
ing house, which stood within a few feet of this to the south,
and stood till this was nearly completed. The town meeting
at which this vote was passed, was warned by Lieut. Thos.
Harrison and Joseph Morris, Nathaniel Harrison being
Moderator. Isaac Foot, Lieut. Rose, John Harrison, Daniel
Barker and Josiah Rogers,* were the committee appointed by
the town to superintend the building of the house.

About six months after this, the Town revoked their agree-
ment to support both ministers by one rate, and then, in 1724,
this ecclesiastical society of North Branford was fully or-
ganized, and assumed the entire support of its own minister. '

By an entry on the records of " the Branford Society,"
which likewise begins now its own proper existence as distinct
from the Tovv^n, it appears that they had at this time "just
begun to have a minister among themselves in the North
Society." It is then 126 years since this people began to
enjoy the labors of a minister of their own, and about 149
years, (nearly a century and a half,) since meetings for relig-
ious worship were first held within the limits of North
Branford. Who this first minister was, who supplied the
pulpit in the outset before they had a settled Pastor, we have
no means of knowing. The Rev. Jonathan Merick was the
first pastor of the church ; but his ordination took place tv/o
years after this date. It is possible that he supplied the pul-
pi* .durmg these two years, but more probable that one or
more preceded him before the society was in a condition to
call a minister for settlement. The old meeting house was
framed, erected and covered the same year, and began to be
used, but was not entirely finished for seven or eight years
afterward — as I find on our society records, that in the year
1732, Capt. Jonathan Rose and Isaac Baldwin, were chosen a
committee to finish the gallery of the house. The dimensions

* This Josiah Rojjers, the ancestor of the Rogerses of North Branford, was
a lineal descendant of the 5th generation from John Rogers, who was
buriii by the Roman Catholics at Smithfield, in 1554.



of the house were 45 by 35 feet. The Rev. Mr. Russell
came up and offered prayer at the erection of the frame, and
an accident occurred at the time, which, but for the marked
favor of Providence, must have been fatal to several. One
of the heavy upright beams, (and beams in those days were
heavy,) fell from its position into the midst, as it seemed, of the
people, but by a kind Providence, without hitting or injuring

As the records kept b}^ the Rev. Mr. Merick are unfortu-
nately lost, we have not the exact date of the distinct organ-
ization of this church, though it is highly probable that this
took place in the same year, 1724^ about the time of the
organization of the Society. Thus a formal separation has
at length been effected from the church in Branford, in a
spirit mutually amicable — a spirit which we have reason to
believe has descended from generation to generation, and
which still exists between the two churches.

Before entering upon the history of Mr. Merick's ministry,
I would make a single remark in relation to the old burying
place adjacent to this church. When the stones were taken
up in 1848, to be placed in a safer position, the oldest stone
was one that recorded the death of Isaac Bartholomew, in
1727. From a tradition that has come down very directly
from Aaron Baldwin, (a son of Dea. Israel Baldwin,* one of
the first settlers,) it is evident that this must have been one of
the first graves, if not the first ; and consequently that this
ground began to be appropriated as a place of burial about
the year 1727.

Till the year 1726, this people seem not to have been in a
condition to have a settled minister among them. In this
year, the Rev. Jonathan Merick, their first pastor, was
ordained over them. He was born in Springfield, Mass., in
the year 1700, and was consequently 26 years of age at the
commencement of his ministry. His house was framed at the
expense of the Town, at the time the frame was made for the
old church, and was erected soon after. According to the
tradition which has descended among us, Mr. Merick was a
man of decision and energy, generally accomplishing what-
ever he undertook. From his word there seemed to be but
little disposition among his people to take any appeal. He
was beloved and respected among them as is tolerably evident
from the length of his ministry here, which was forty three
years. He owned and cultivated an extensive farm in
connection with the discharge of his ministry, as was not an

* The ancestor of the Baldwins of North Branford, was George Baldwin,
who moved into Branford a few years after its desertion, from Milford.


uncommon custom at that day — the same farm which is still
in possession of the family which have inherited his name.
His ministry ceased in 1769, in consequence of a paralysis,
which incapacitated him for its duties. The last public act
of his life was to preside as Moderator of a church meeting
held Feb. 23, 1769, to appoint the day for the ordination of
his successor, the Rev. Samuel Eells. His signature appears
for the last and now the only time on our church records, as
Moderator of that meeting. He lived till the 27th of June,
1772, when, at the age of 72, he died and was buried among
his own people, a few feet east of this edifice. The inscription
on his grave-stone is as worthy of the attention of the present
generation as it was of that generation to whom it was par-
ticularly addressed. " Remember them that have spoken
unto you the word of God." There is one individual still
living who attended upon Mr. Merick's ministry and remem-
bers his personal appearance — Mr. Ebenezer Russell, 91 years
of age. He informed me that Mr. M. was a man of large
and commanding stature, and wore one of the large old
fashioned wio^s.

During the ministry of Merick, until the year 1745, the
people residing in what is now the northern part of North
Branford, and the society of Northford, attended public
worship in this place, and constituted part of this church and
society. Having become at this time sufficiently numerous
and able, they were set off as a distinct society by the
General Assembly in the session of that year. For a while
after the old burial-place was appropiated, they likewise
buried their dead in this place. In the days of Mr. Merick,
and for some time after him, the settlement here was designa-
ted by the name of " the village," — a term worthy to be re-
vived again for the fathers' sakes, as well as its own, and far
preferable, as it seems to me, to the foreign name which has
somehow usurped its place.

The first deacon of this church was Benjamin Barnes — a
man distinguished alike for his piety and his poverty.* An-

* An incident which will serve to illustrate his reputation for poverty and
the cheerful submission he felt under this allotment, is preserved in an anec-
dote which has descended respecting him. Meeting on a certain occasion
one of his wealthier neighbors, Mr. Timothy Harrison, Deac. Barnes was
noticed to have his pocket knife in his hand. After a little pleasant conver-
sation together, Deac. Barnes observed in a good humored tone, that he
carried his knife about in his hand because he was too poor to have a pocket.

All else that is known respecting him is, that the cellar of his humble
dwelling is still visible on "Bare Plain," near the spring which supplies the
aqueduct of the main street of that district. I may add here, that I have
spelled the name of this Plain, Bare instead of Bearf (which is sometimes


other of the deacons who officiated during Mr. Merick's
ministry was Israel Baldw^in, who w^as one of the original inhab-
itants of North Branford. He w^as found dead some lime in
the year 1765, on "the Great Hill," alone, with his horse tied
to the tree under which he lay. His death was evidently a
natui'al one, though he seems to have died very suddenly. An-
other of Mr. Merick's early deacons was Daniel Page,' one of
the original settlers of this region, and the first of the name
who came here, who resided near the summit of Sibbies'
Hill.* He died in 1766. Ithiel Russell and Barnabas Mul-
ford w^ere the deacons of the church in the last days of Mr.
Merick, and the first days of Mr. Eells's ministry. Deacon
Russell was the representative of the church in the council
that ordained Mr. Eells. He retired to rest in good health in
the evening of March 25, 1772, and was found dead in his
bed on the next morning. f

During the ministry of Mr. Merick, the mode of conducting
religious w^orship, especially in the department of praise, w^as
quite different from the mode of the present day. We find
that from 1732, and for several years thereafter, an individual
was annually chosen by the society as "clerk," whose office
w^as to " read and tune the PsalmV' Jonathan Butler, Jun.,
was the first appointed to this office ; and by vote of the so-
ciety he was " seated in the second seat" — which I judge to
have been a seat of honor from the fact that it seems to have
been assisgned to men of military rank in the congregation.
Abiel Linsley and Abraham Whedon were his immediate
successors in this office. There seems to have been some

adopted.) for the following reason. The Indians having been long accus-
tomed to burn over this piece of ground annually to make it a good hunting
ground for deer, when the first settlers began to build upon this Plain, it was
found to be almost entirely bare of trees and of all vegetation. I am informed
likewise, what would not now be easily credited, that when it was first
surveyed, the whole tract was not considered of sufficient value to be worth
recording. The most reasonable conjecture then is, that the name of the
Plain was not derived originally, as some have supposed, from a beast of prey,
but from the fact that the land was originally bare of vegetation. The
venerable and majestic oak which stands in the street near the middle of the
Plain, from the tradition which has descended respecting it, dates its origin
much farther back in the past than the earliest settlements in this region,
and probably often refreshed with its shade the wild hunters of this region.

* The name given to this hill was originally connected with a Spring,
still called " Sibbie's Spring," on the homestead of Widow Augustus Russell.
It Avas the name of a petty Indian Sachem, (under Kishonk, the Sachem on
Indian Neck,) who was the chief over the Indians of this neighborhood.—
The spot on which they had their wigwams is still to be seen a little south
of « Goshen Pond."

fSee Appendix. B.


difference of opinion in the congregation as to the proper
mode of conducting this part of worship, as the society voted,
in 1735, that "the clerk have Hberty to tune the Psalm which
way he jyleasethP

It would be a matter of some interest doubtless to you, had
we a list of the names of those who were first ors^anized into
a church in this " village," and who' constituted Mr. Merick's
original flock, and were among the earliest inhabitants of this
place. This list of names, with other things, doubtless, which
it might interest us to know, being unfortunately lost with
the records kept by Mr. Merick, I have appended, at the end
of this historical sketch, a list recorded by Mr .Eells at the
commencement of his ministry in 1769, of those who consti-
tuted the church at that time.* As 45 years only had elapsed
at that time since the organization of the church, it is highly
probable, if not certain, that the oldest members were among
the number of those first organized into a church.

Probably there are few, if any communities in the State, in
which so large a portion of the present generation of residents
are the direct descendants of the original settlers of the soil. If
we have not more of the Puritan spirit and principles than
any other community, it certainly is not because we have not
been favored with peculiar advantages for their preservation.

It is one of the pleasant circumstances we have to contem-
plate in the history of the first generation of men who settled
New England, and one of no little miportance to us, that they
were generally a generation of godly men, who, in founding
these towns and villages, made it their first care to provide


Online LibraryGeorge Ingersoll WoodThe early history of the Congregational Church and Society, of North Branford : delivered in the Congregational Church, Jan. 6, 1850 → online text (page 1 of 2)