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 2 of 8)
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Prince, pastor of the old South Church in Boston, deserves notice here. The let- '
ter was dated June 10, 17-i9 : " Old Guilford raised a meeting house June, 1712,
68 feet long and 46 feet wide. A steeple 120 feet high was built at the west end
of it in 1726. This was the first steeple built in the Colony of Connecticut." The fol-
lowing is also interesting : " At a meeting of the inhabitants of the old or
western j)arish in Guilford Jan. 19, 1725-6, voted that the belfry and spire of the
meeting house in this society shall be built in the fashion and proportion of the
belfry and spire of the churcii at Newport, Rhode Island, so near as the Commit-
tee can obtain it to be done."



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long before they could comprehend the graver mysteries to
which it was supposed to give resonant emphasis. Along
the front of the pulpit was the deacons' seat* in which sat
two worthies whose saintly dignity shone with added luster
and solemnity on the days of holy communion. On the
right of the pulpit was the minister's pew, and on the left
the pew for those who were widows indeed, in dependence as
well as in loneliness. From this narrow pew there opened a
door beneath the pulpit into a closet, of which it was fabled
that it was reserved by the tything man for boys especially
unruly in behavior. The gallery was surrounded by a row of
pewsf with three rows of long benches in front, nsing as is
usual above one another.

In the winter of 1825-6 the pews and the long seats in the
gallery were demolished and slips were substituted for them,
with doors for more private and special occupation. In 1836
the pews were removed from the floor, the old pulpit and
sounding-board disappeared, new windows were made with
'blinds, etc., at a cost of some -f 2,186.70. These repairs were
executed after the designs, and under the direction of Tim-
othy Porter, a well trained and thorough builder, who effected
most of the alterations in the spirit of the original. Much of
the cost of these alterations was defrayed from the last legacy
of Solomon Langdon. The steeple was surmounted by a
gilded crown, which remained sole survivor and witness of
the days of colonial dependence, till the year 1836, when
it was taken down to be regilded but not restored to its
old position. It deserves to be noticed, as marking-
progress, that in 1795 the doors leading into the house above
and below were provided with puUies, which made their
presence audible for at least forty years after. In 1810 two
large chandeliers^ were procured, for singing-meetings at

* A table Avas attached to the deacons' scat or pew by hinges, wliich when used
was kept in place by braces of twisted iron of a comely fashion.

t High above all the rest b the two entrances were lifted two pews for those of
the African race who sat in the galleries. Corresponding to these in position
we're two seats on the floor below.

I These chandeliers were made by tlie wcll-renicmbercd tin niannfacturer and
dealer, Asa Andrews.



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night, — an evening sermon or lecture being scarcely known,
— wliicli some few of those present will remember, as not un-
sightly of their kind, although the kind did not attain the
highest conceivable beauty. These were simply urn-shaped
blocks of wood painted white, suspended from the ceiling
above by long rods of iron — twisted here and there for decora-
tion. The eye of many a boy has followed those rods, with an
impression of mystery, as to how they were held in their place.
From these central urns several fiat strips of iron proceeded,
curving downward and upward, holding sockets of tin, to
receive their tallow candles on those very rare occasions on
which the church was lighted.

It was not till 1824 that stoves were introduced. Previous
to this period foot-stoves were the sole substitute, for the
filling of which the people from a distance were dependent on
the liberal fires which were prepared at the hospitable houses
in the vicinity. Many a time have I seen so dignified a per-
son as the aged Governor Treadwell strike his well-booted
feet together to elicit some warmth as he came in from the
snow, before the morning service began.

The place where this house was erected was known as the
Meeting House Green as early as 1718, as a new school house
was directed to be built upon the place witli this designation ;
" near where the old chestnut tree stood,'' which was doubt-
less one of the noble remnants of the original forest. As early
as 1743 a general permission was granted to sucii farmers
as lived at a distance to erect small houses along the fences
on eitlier side of this green for their comfort on the Sabbath,
or as it was phrased, for '* their duds and horses." Two such
houses stood on the east line, near the town pound, within the
memory of many, as late as 1818 or '20. Repeated encroach
ments have been made upon this enclosure which have been
now and then stoutly resisted. The only record of any early
effort to make the place attractive is found in the vote which
directs the Committee " to bank up decently the new meeting
house." At what time the ever memorable Lombardy poplars
were planted which so long surrounded the church and the
green, we do not know. We know that they lined the village



15

street and were planted in double rows throug;h the cemetery.
In 1806 we find the committee directed to secure tlie shade
trees set out on tlie green in such manner as they think proper,
and also '' to erect a railing or posts to hitch horses to." These
poplars were planted some eight to ten feet distant from the
meeting house and about the same distance from one anotlier
in front and rear. A double line attended the walk to the
front door. Another row bordered the path along near the
village street. I can well remember when the horses at-
tached to wagons and other vehicles were tied during service
time along the street on either side in front ; also behind at the
railing which guarded the sacred poplars. In a hot sum-
mer afternoon the stamp and occasional scream of these
horses often saluted the ear during sermon-time, while the
swaying sprays and flickering leaves of the poplars met the
eye through the staring windows. N.ow and then one or two
of the many sturdy hearers — of whom a score might be stand-
ing divested of their heavy coats to keep themselves reverently
awake after a hot week of harvest work — would go out quietly
to adjust some strife among the horses, or to extricate an un-
lucky steed from a serious entanglement.

The swaying poplars will never be forgotten by those who
became familiar with their moving walls of glossy greenery as
they guarded the sanctuary. How fickle are human fashions
and the tastes whicli admire them ! In 1818 the Committee
were directed to cause the two rows of poplars from the meet-
ing house to the road " to be immediately removed." In 1811
the decree went forth that the line which had struggled for
existence so long and doubtfully nearest the church should
be removed and disposed of " at their discretion." The green
remained only partially inclosed till 1853. The highway ran
diagonally across and in every direction about it till that time.

Strange as it may appear, no sheds for horses were erected
before 1844, long after the other extensive alterations were
effected, although the necessity of providing them was earnestly
pressed as early as 1807. There was, however, at the north
end of the house beyond the steeple a primitive " horse-block,"
some 6 or 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2 feet high, of native



16

red sandstone, along which many a two horse wagon has
driven and hastily receiv^ed its living freiglit of sturdy sons
and laughing daughters, while the horses were rearing and
plunging till they were off in dust and wind and sleet. Where
novt^ are all those simple and earnest souls, so many of whom
cherished so carefully those words of love and hope from the
pulpit, which cheered their ride homeward and southed and ele-
vated the labors of the following week ? The whipping-post
must not be forgotten, from which now and then fearful
screams in the week-time would penetrate the closed windows
of the neighboring school-house and appall the younger chil-
dren, while the older and more hardened boys looked signifi-
cantly at the master's rod or ferule.* Chained to the whip-
ping-post were the stocks, in which now and then a drunken
vagabond found himself encased, but which in the coarse ot
nature decayed, and survived in disgraceful impotence long
after their occupation was gone.

But I have lingered longer than I should upon the old build-
ing and its surroundings, before considering their relations to
this community and its history.

The edifice itself is a memorial full of significance. A
building so large as this and so expensive indicates that the
community had made important advances in wealth, enter
prise, and self-respect. It shows plainly that the barbarism
and roughness incident to pioneer life had been outgrown.
From 1640 to 1720, 80 years, this town had fronted an almost
unbroken forest which extended from the wooded horizon
which we see from this slope, westward to the Housatonic and
northwestward to Lake George. This was the hunting ground
of the Tunxis tribe and the marauding ground of the dreaded
Moliawk, who might appear either as the foe of his timid sub-
ject, or perchance as his ally for the destruction of the whites.
For the first sixty years there was a numerous and not always
friendly tribe in a garrison and village almost within musket
shot of this church. f At the end of the first century the

* In 1827 or '8 a man was whipped on the public green of New Haven.

t Early in 1657 an Indian killed a woman and her maid and fir(>d the house,
occasioning the destruction of several buildings. The Indians were forced to deliver
up the murderer, who was brought to Hartford and executed " as a butcher fells



17

Iiuliau bojs were nearly as numerous as the white l)oys of the
village. The church erected befoj-e this was provided with
" guard seats," as they were called, where some 10 to 20 men
could be on the lookout near the doors against a sudden assault.
The space for these seats was relinquished in 1726 for the erec-
tion of pews for 8 families, with the provision that the pews
should be surrendered should there be subsequent occasion to
mount a guard. Later than this, on some occasion of alarm in-
creased by the presence of strange Indians, the men of the
Tunxis tribe were required to present themselves daily at the
house of Deacon Lee, and pass in review before his daughter,
whom they admired and feared.* It is pleasant to find, in
1751, liberty granted to the Christianized Indians to build
themselves a seat in the meeting house in the north-east corner
over the staii's.f Relays of men were called for to serve in
the two or three desperate wars in which the French and In-
dians combined for the possession of tlie northern and western
line of posts, and in which victory for the French might l)ring
the tomahawk and the torch into this valley. This town sent
its share of men to Ticonderoga, and probably to Louisburg ;
and in this way it trained, as did all the rest of New England,
its experienced veterans and its hardy novices for service
in the War of Independence.

an ox." — \Diary of John Hull. Transactions and Publications of the American
Antiquarian Societi/, vol. iii., p. 180.]

In 167.5 Simsbury, then Massacoe, a frontier settlement to the north, was de-
serted by its inhabitants— some forty families— and totally burned. So complete
was the desolation that the returning settlers found it difRcult to discover the
places where their effects had been secreted.

* Deacon Lee lived a little distance northward from this church on the west
side of the street. The Indian garrison and village extended southward to the
point of land at the confluence of the Pequabuc and the Tunxis rivers. It is very
easy to perceive the reason why this place was selected as their chief residence.
It is not easy to walii along the brow of the hill which overlooks the reservation so
long styled ilie Indian neck, without picturing the rude wigwams scattered along
this sunny terrace, with canoes idly floating below on the stream which was
filled with shad and salmon, while the deer were abundant in the forest that
stretched westward and northward to the Mohawk country.

t Fiom the State Records for 17.33, '4 and '6, appropriations are ordered from
the public treasury for " dieting of the Indian lads at 4 shillings per week for the
time they attend the school in said town." In 1734, £33 6s. were paid ; in 1736,
X28.

3



18

What this community had been from 1700 and onward, and
what it had now become could not be better symbolized than
by the old church edifice which was commenced in 1709,
completed in 1714, as contrasted with this very carefully con-
structed and expensive church in 1772. The older — the
second clmrch was fifty feet square, with height propor-
tional, and furnished with a cupola or turret which tradition
has always placed in the centre, from which the bell rope was
suspended so soon as a bell was provided. Tiiat this tradition '
was correct is rendered nearly certain by the existence of
churches of a similar form at that period. The church in
Hingham, the oldest standing in New England, was built in
1680. It is 5r) by 45, the posts being 20 feet high. The cupola
rises from the middle of the roof. How hard it was to l)uild the
churcii of 1709 — 1772, and how rude it was when built, is ob-
vious from the fact that the first tax of a penny in a pound
was spent in procuring the hails. Another vote respected the
glass and lead. Another directs that " it be ceiled with good
sawn boards on the within side up to the railings and filled
with mortal- up to the girts." Later thoughtfulness of our
fierce northwesters suggested the vote that the mortar should
be continued along the second story. Two tiers of new
seats were ordered, one on each side the aisle which extended
to the east door. It follows from this and other notices, that
the house stood &,loiig the street to the northwest of this, that
the pulpit was on the west side and the entrances were from
the north and south and east.* In 1731 the purchase of a bell
was ordered, and in 1738 a town clock. Before the bell was
provided, the beat of drum called the people together on Sun-
days and public days at a cost of ,£1 lO.s. the year. New
seats are next ordered for the gallery ; now and then a pew is
erected at the expense of the occupants. f In 1746 a commit-

* The seats from the first house were probably removed to the second and were
placed fachig the pvilpit. except the two new ones, which, it may be conjectured,
filled the space not covered by the old seats, now transferred to a lar


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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 2 of 8)