Noah Porter.

An historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 online

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Online LibraryNoah PorterAn historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 → online text (page 1 of 8)
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October 16, 1872.



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l/tcbration of the m\t j|iindrc(lth Inniuersarg



October 16, 1872.








At a special meeting of the First Ecclesiastical Society of Farm-
ington, held May 5th, 1871, it was voted "that a committee of five
be appointed to devise ways and means to have a proper celebration
of the one hundredth anniversary of the building of our church in
this village ; and Julius Gay, Edward Norton, John S. Rice, Thomas
Covvles, and Samuel S. Cowles were appointed said committee."

The committee met accordingly, and, having in mind the address of
President Porter, to which many of us had listened, on a somewhat
similar occasion thirty years before, with no ordinary interest, we
deemed it most fitting that he who had worshiped in the old church
in his boyhood, and whose venerated sire had so faithfully and so
well for sixty years ministered to this people, should again meet with
us and rehearse the story of these hundred years.

After an examination of the records of the Society, it appeared
that the inscription, "July, 1771," cut upon the foundation stones of
the building, had reference only to that portion of the structure, while
the remainder of the house was not finished until the year follow-
ing and the " Dedication Lecture " was preached on the 25th of
November, 1772. It was therefore decided that the commemoration
exercises should be held as nearly upon the one hundredth annivers-
ary of the dedication as the coolness of the season rendered desirable.
The following circular w as sent far and wide to all the old residents,
whose address could be ascertained :

" One hundred years having passed since the erection of the present church
edifice, at Farmington, Conn., it is proposed to hold commemorative services
Wednesday, Octoher 16th, 1872, at half-past ten o'clock, A. m.

The Committee are happy to announce that, with other appropriate exercises,
there will be an Historical Address by President Porter, of Yale College.

It would add much to the interest of the occasion should there be present a
large representation of those who have gone out from us, also of others, who
with no personal associations, may yet be interested in the growth and prosperity
of this ancient church of Christ.

To all such, a most cordial invitation is extended to unite with us in the
celebration of this anniversary.

In cases where an acceptance of this invitation is impossible, letters, embodying
interesting facts and reminiscences, will be gratefully received.

Persons residing at a distance, who propose to be present, will confer a favor
on the Committee by sending in their names at an early date, in order that
suitable provision may be made.

Early morning trains from New Haven, Northampton, and Hartford arrive at
Farmington Station at 8.08, a. m., and evening trains leave said station for either
of those places at 7 p. m.



SAMUEL S. COWLES, |^ Committee.
Farmington, October 1st, 1872."

The 16th of October was a pleasant day. The church was
crowded. The pulpit, the communion table, and the adjacent walls,
were covered with floral decorations, amid which appeared the names
of the former pastors of the church and of the building committee, and
the text: "One Generation passetli away and another Generation
Cometh." By the side of the pulpit were exhibited the drum by
means of which the people were formerly summoned to church on
the Sabbath, and some of the carpenters' tools which were used in
the construction of the building. After the delivery of the address,
the audience was invited to partake of a collation prepai-ed by the
ladies of the church.

The exercises in the morning were as follows :

1. Voluntary. " Tne Lord is in His Holy Temple."

2. Invocation.

3. Reading of the Scriptures, by Rev. J. F. Merriam.

4. Anthem,

" And will the great eternal God
On earth establish his abode,
And will He, from His radiant throne
Avow our temples as His own ?

These walls our fathers here did raise ;
Long may they echo to Thy praise,
And Thou, descending, fill the place
With choicest tokens of Thv grace.

Here let the great Redeemer reign ,
With all the glories of His train ;
Whilst power divine His word attends.
To conquer foes, and cheer His friends.

Great King of Glory come.
And with Thy favor crown
This temple as Thy dome,
This people as Thy own."

5. Prayer, by Rev. C

6. Anthem.

L. Goodell, D. D.

" Great God, we come with grateful i These years with blessings Thou hast

[hearts,. [crowned,

For blessings which Thy love imparts, 'in peace and plenty we abound,
And offer thanks to Thee. While mercies still increase.

From Thy celestial courts above,
O, smile upon us, God of love.
Let Mercy, with protecting wing.
To contrite hearts forgiveness bring.


Thy goodness smiles on all around.
The blooming mead, the fertile ground,
All speak of love divine.

In every star which decks the sky.

The sun, the moon uplifted high.

We see Thy goodness shine.

7. Historical Discourse,

8. Hymn. Tune " Marlow."

" O God, our help in ages past.
Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast.
And our eternal home !

Before the hills in order stood.
Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages, in Thy sight,
Are like an evening gone —

9. Benediction.

In loud thanksgiving let us sing.

And our united offerings bring :

Thy blessings never cease.

And when on earth no more we raise
Our hearts to Thee in prayer and praise,
may we sing in Heaven !

And there in strains which Angels tell.
The lond thanksgiving anthem swell
For all Thy favors given."

by Pre.-ident Noah Porter, D. D.
Sung by the Congregation.

[Short as the watch that ends the night

[ Before the rising sun.


Time, like an ever rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away ;
They fly, forgotten, as a dreaha
Dies at the opening day.

O God ! our hel]) in ages jiast.
Our hope for years to come.

Be Thou our guide while troubles last.
And our eternal home."

The afternoon was devoted to short addresses appropriate to the
occasion, and remarks were offered by Rev. J. F. Merriam, the
pastor of tlie church, Rev. Scth Bliss, of Berlin, Elihu Burritt, Esq.,
Gen. Joseph R. Hawley, Hon. Fran'-is Gillette, Rev. J. R. Keep,
R. G. Vermilye, D. D., F. Hawley, Esq , Leverett Griggs, D. D.,
Rev. T. K. Fessenden, Rev. C. L. Goodell, D. D., Dr. Isaac G.


This edifice has been used as a place for public'' worship
almost a hundred years. The "Dedication Lecture" was
preached Nov. 25th, 1772, and on " the Sabbath " following
the congregation began to occupy this house as their place of

A hundred years, when viewed in one aspect, is a brief
period and of little consequence ; viewed in another, it is
comparatively long, and may be most important in the events
which it includes and the influences which it lias seen spring
into life. It is not nineteen centuries since the Christian
era began. The last three or four hundred years of this
era have been distinguished as the most eventful of these
nineteen, and among these none has witnessed changes so
significant and so much for the better as the very last.

It seems scarcely credible that the world of thought
and feeling could be what we know it was when this old
church was new ; that the manners and institutions, the
opinions and principles, the inner life and the outward civ-
ilization of Christendom have undergone such marvelous
changes, while this house has been standing here and looking
out upon the stream of progress that has rushed so swiftly by.

As we enter it to-day to honor its fresh and green old age,
we are almost impelled to regard it as a living person, and
reverently and lovingly to question it concerning the past

which it has watched in the busy days, and thought of in
the silent nights, during the long years in which it has been
keeping sentry on this hill-side. Or, if the fiction be too bold
which makes it a person, surely that is not too daring which
believes it to be filled at this hour with the spirits of the
departed, whose feet have trod in these aisles, whose eyes
have looked familiarly upon these walls, and whose instructed
minds and reverent hearts have interpreted the course of
events, both public and private, local and national, in the light
of the divine purposes and the promised redemption of man.
It is as one awed and elevated by their presence that I
would speak — with faithful truth, yet with affectionate interest
in the past history of the community which for a century has
known and honored this as the house of God.

First, as is appropriate, I would speak of the edifice and
its consti-uction. The first recorded movement towards the
erection of this building was on Feb. 2d, 1767, when, at a
meeting of the parish, 54 voted, 24 being in the negative,
that it. was necessary to build a meeting-house in the first
society* of Farmington, and Solomon Whitman was directed
to apply to the county court to fix the site for the edifice.

Nothing further seems to have been done before December
21st, when it was voted " that a judicious committee should
be called to give their opinion whether it was expedient to
build a new, or repair the old, structure." Dec. 30th, 'three
builders, probably residing in the neighboring parishes, were
selected as this committee. They reported in April, 17- 8,
that the old meeting-house was not worth repairing.

It was not, however, till February 6th, 1769, that the
decisive vote was taken (53 against 12) to build this church.
Another agent, Mr. John Strong, was selected to apply to
the county court to fix the place, it being stipulated that it

* The old town of Farmington at that time consisted of six societies: the first ;
the second, Great Swamp, 1708, named in 1722 Kensington; the third, South-
ington, L722 ; the fourth, New Cambridge, now Bristol, 1744; the fifth. New
Britain, 1754; the sixth, Northington, now Avon, 1750, subsequently divided
into East and West Avon. Since the erection of this church edifice, three other
Congregational societies have been constituted within the limits of the First
Society, viz.: West Britain or Burlington, 1774, Plainville, and Unionville, 1839.


should l)e within this plot of ground. One penny in a pound
was voted to procure timber ; and Capt. Judah Woodruff
and Mr. Fisher Gay were chosen a committee " to procure
thick stuff for the building." Hezekiah Wadsworth and
Isaac Bidwell were subsequently added (Dec. 18th, 1769,) to
these two.

In Dec, 1770, tlie movements became earnest and decisive.
It was resolved tliat the timber should be cut that winter,
that the house should be seventy-five feet long and fifty
in breadth, and that it should be framed and set up the
following spring or "fore part of summer." That this was
done is evident from the inscription on the foundation, " July,
1771." The important provisions were added that it should
have a steeple at one end, and a porch at the other for the
stairs leading into the gallery. Both these directions are
somewhat significant.*

In April, 1771, the question of the location came up, and it
was voted, 78 to 32, that it should be placed south-east of the
old house, facing to the north-west or west. It was also voted
that the steeple should be at the north end of the house,
probably after a careful balancing of the relative strength of
the voters of the north and south parts of the parish, or
perhaps because tradition or aesthetic feeling required that a
church situated near the meridian line should look to the
north. Also that there should be " two tiers of hewed stone
foreside of said house, and two-thirds of the way at each
end." At the same meeting, the precise place of the house
was determined by a large committee and approved by the

* In all the older, and in many of the later, commodious meeting-houses of
New England, the galleries were reached by stairways within the audience room.
Any person who was ever present in one of these churches and recalls the
stunning and irreverent din made by the youth as they rushed down these noisy
staircases, would not need to be referred to the reason given in the vote passed
on a like occasion at Wethersfield (1760), viz.: "That there shall be a porch
oi)posite the steeple," and " that stairs be made to go into the galleries in said
steeple and porch and not in the body of said house, that the congregation may
not be interrupted by such as go into the galleries in time of Avorship, and that
there may be more room in said house."

t The following month this matter was again called up by the committee who
had been appointed by the General Assembly, and 55 voted for the north place,

A number of men were selected from the north and south
parts of the Society to aid on alternate days in raising the
frame till it should be finished.* It was voted to cover it
that summer. In September, it was voted to cover the deck-
ing- of the steeple with sheet lead. In Deceml)er, 1771, it
was voted to give X20 to Lieut. Abner Curtiss for hurt and
damage sustained at the raising of the frame, and to the
widow Merrills, whose husband was killed, £6.t It was also
voted to finish the church tlie following summer. In Novem-
ber, 1772, it was voted to meet in it for regular worship.

The two persons who deserve to be named as active in its
construction are Col. Fisher Gay and Captain Judah Wood-
ruff". J Mr. Gay was one of the two or three leading merchants

so called, 39 for the site of the old house, and about 7 for that place called " The

* The tradition is, that on each day of the raisinj^ a large Indian pudding was
boiled in a potash kettle for the dinner of the workmen.

t There is still extant in the original MS. an elegiac poem of some two
hundred lines on the death of Mr. Merrills, who was a worthy citizen of the
White Oak district, a builder by trade, who had not completed his own house at
the time of his death. He fell from the roof, or the frame of the attic floor,
being struck by a rafter which sent him headlong to the earth. It was for a long
time a tradition among the boys that there might be found in the cellar the blood-
stained rock on which he fell.

t Col. Fisher Gay was the son of John Gay, Jr., who was born in Dedham, Mass.,
1698. He was born in Sharon, Oct. 9, 1733, and graduated at Yale College,
1759. At this time he received from his fatheCan English guinea :uid his father's
blessing. He began his life at Farmington as a school teacher, but after two or three
years he started a small mercantile business, which, by his energy an I skill, be-
came very considerable. He soon became prominent in public affairs. He
was appointed one of the committee of correspondence from the town in 1774, and
was a member of the other important committees, as of vigilance, preparation,
etc. On hearing of the conflict at Concord and Lexington, he shut up his store
at once and marched to Boston at the head of about a hundred volunteers. His
commission as Lieutenant Colonel is dated January 23, 1776. His last commis-
sion as Colonel bears date June 20, 1776. The brief journal which he kept of
his services before Boston is preserved. From this it appears that he reported to
Geicral Washington Feb. 6tli, and on the 13th was sent for by him and imme-
diately despatched into Rhode Island and Connecticut to purchase jjowder. On
the 18th he reported himself with a number of tons, " to the great satisfaction of
the General," but was severely ill from over-exertion. The 4th of March he was
ordered with his regiment to act as a part of a covering party to the workmen
who were detached to fortify Dorchester heights. The success of this attempt led


of the village, and a public-spirited and intelligent man. In
obedience to the vote of 1769, he and Captain Woodruff went
to Boston for the timber, which was brought from the then
Province of Maine, and was of the choicest quality. Captain
Woodruff was the architect and master-builder, and the tools

to the evacuation of Boston, and Colonel Gay, with his regiment, with Colonel
Leonard, Majors Sproat and Chester, and other officers and their troops, were or-
dered to march in and take possession of the town, where he continued within, or
liefore the works, till the army hefore Boston hroke up, when his regiment was
ordered to New York. On his way he spent two or three days with his family for
the last time — heing at that time very ill. He grew worse after reaching New York.
A part of his command was sent to Long Island, and were in the action which fol-
lowed the retreat, in which last movement they were distinguished. He died Au-
gust 22, 1776, and was buried on the day of the battle. His zeal and self sacrifice
were conspicuous. On his sword, which is still preserved, are engraved the words,
" Freedom or Death ! "

Judah Woodruif was born about 1720, and was the youngest son of Joseph
WoodruflF, who descended from Matthew Woodruff, one of the eighty -four proprie-
tors of the town. His house stood near the site of the one owned and occupied
by the late Noadiah Woodruff, at the north end of the village. At about the age of
forty he served as First Lieutenant in the French war, under a warrant signed by
"Thomas Fitch, Esq., Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over his
Majesty's English Colony of Connecticut, in New England in America. Given
on the twenty-second day of March, in the thirty-second year of the reign of his
Majesty George the Second, King of Great Britain, Anno Domini 17.59. By his
Honor's command, George Wyllys Sec'y." He served through the French war,
and was at the battle of Ticonderoga.

After the close of the war, he returned home and commenced building, and during
the interval between the French war and the war of the Revolution, built ten houses
including his 'own, and also the cAirch of which he was the architect and master
builder. At the open'ng of the Revolutionary war he entered the army and
served as an officer. After the close of the war he built four or five other dwelling,
houses in this village, which with the ten previously erected, with one or two ex-
ceptions are still standing in excellent repair, and with care would last another

He was a man of energy and ])ersevering industry, as was proved by his work-
ing at late hours, carving upon the pulpit for the church with his knife, after the
labors of the day. He was also a man of taste and close observation, and introduced
a style of building which added to the respectability of the dwellings of this villa

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Online LibraryNoah PorterAn historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 → online text (page 1 of 8)