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 4 of 8)
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their arms and accoutrements, as men prepared for battle. It
was a full and overflowing audience, and all in high expecta-
tion of hearing something new and charming from so gifted a
preacher. Alter his warm and fervent prayer to heaven for
the success and prosperity of the American armies, and the
liberties and freedom of our country, he introduced his address,
if I remember right, from these words : ' Play the man for
your country, and for the cities of your God; and the Lord
do that which seemeth him good.'


This sermon was well adapted to the occasion and spirit of
the day. It was tender and pathetic — lively and animating.
It was like martial music; while it touched the finer feelings,
it roused and animated for the dreadful onset — the shout of
war and the cry of victory ! During the time of its delivery,
abundance of tears were seen to flow, from both old and
young, male as well as female."*

That similar scenes were transacted within and^ without
this house none of us can doubt, who have been so'recently
witnesses to their liiie in our recent conflict. Earnest prayer
was offered on every Lord's day for the fathers and sons wlio
were in the field, and at the interval between the services
the latest news from all the places of contest was eagerly com-
municated and heard. This village street was a part of the
high road from Boston through Hartford to Philadelphia.
Washington came by this route to meet Rochambeau at Weth-
ersfield to arrange for the final expedition against Yorktown.
Several thousand of the French troops were encamped for a
night at least, about a mile below this place, and their arrange-
ments for a bivouac are still to be seen. Tradition says that
the Puritan misses did not disdain a dance by moonlight with
the French officers. Some of Burgoyne's officers were quar-
tered here after the surrender, and we are indebted to the skill
of one of their number for two of our best houses. Several
dwellings were patterned in different parts of the State after
one of these houses. A part of the artillery taken at that
memorable surrender was kept for a long time in the vil-
lage, in what was formerly the orchard of John Mix.

Farmington was a staunch Federalist town till the Feder-
alist party was set aside. Two or three of the leading men
only were Jeffersonians, but they had a slender following.
That this was largely owing to tlie influences which issued
from this old meeting house, would certainly have been con-
ceded, or rather angrily contended by the anti-Federalists.
Whatever religious advantages might have followed the
division of the parish into two or three religious denomina-

* See Barber's Historical Collections of Connecticut, (Simsbury).

tions. it is morally certain that had any other house of
worship been erected here, the town would have been divided
into two political parties. As it was, John Mix, the town
clerk, who wrote a bold clerkly hand, and Gen. George Cowles
were regularly sent to the Legislature for more than a
score of years. Hon. Timothy Pitkin was for several sessions
a Federalist member of the United States Congress, and after
his retirement from political life was of no doubtful political
sympathies. His always lighted candle, as it gleamed from his
office every night, testified to the passers-by of laborious histor-
cal and political researches, all of which were made to contrib-
uted to the renown of the party of Washington and Hamilton.
To the Puritan meeting house the school house was always
an indispensable adjunct and a near neighbor. Upon every
village green the school house was built under the shadow of
the house of God. The holy commonwealth of the Puritan
could not discharge its duty to itself and its Redeeming King
did it not provide by law and taxation for the instruction of
the children of all its households. The Puritan town and the
Puritan parish, as soon as either attained to organized life, pro-
vided for the instruction of the children as well as for the main-
tenance of worship, and enlisted the active co-operation of min-
ister and magistrate. This old meeting house has witnessed a
special and also an historic interest in this class of duties.
Within six months after its dedication the parish was divided
into separate school districts, and a petition was presented
to the legislature to authorize each to tax itself to manage
its own concerns. It was not till 1795 that the Legis-
lature constituted special school societies throughout the state.
In the year following, this newly formed school society digested
a system of regulations for the visitation and discipline of the
schools. In 1798 a bill with similar provisions was reported
by John Treadwell of this town, afterwards Governor, and
adopted for the entire state of Connecticut. This edifice
deserves especial honor as the place in which the school sys-
tem of Connecticut was first matured and adopted.

The town of Farmington provided very early and very lib-
erally for a special town fund for the support of public schools


in all its societies, by the sale of lands reserved for highways.
In this old meeting house also were held the annual school
exhibitions, in which the highest classes from all the schools,
each in turn, appeared on the stage to try its skill in reading,
spelling and defining before the assembled community. The
late Professor Olmsted records his remembrance of one of
these exhibitions which must have taken place before 1809.*
The one which I remember must have been held before 1817.
It was fixed in my memory by the circumstance that the first
class from the school on the Plains could not be accommo-
dated on the narrow stage that was stretched in front of the
pulpit from gallery to gallery, but a large number stood in the
aisles below at each end. In February, 1793, it was voted
that John Treadwell, John Mix, Timothy Pitkin, Jr., and Seth
Lee be a committee to devise a plan for the formation of a
new school in the society to give instruction in some of
the higher branches of science not usually taught in com-
mon schools and report. There is no record that any report
was ever made. It is probable that the fierce ecclesiastical
strife which had begun to agitate the community, preoccupied
the attention of the public. f

In the year 1816 the academy building was erected by an
association of gentlemen who contributed a thousand dollars,
to which the society added some six or seven liundred ;
thereby securing to itself the use of a convenient lecture room
and to the community apartments for a higher school.
Such a school was maintained with great success for some
twenty y^'ars, and was of great service to this and other
towns. To this movement may be directly traced all that
has been subsequently done for special education in this vil-

Of this academy the most distinguished principal was Dea-
con Simeon Hart, who not only devoted himself with singular
painstaking and probity to the education of the youth com-
mitted to his care, but was in all his years of residence in
this town a public-spirited citizen, and an ardent servant of

* See Half Centur}' Discourse, by Noah Porter. Appendix, p. 45.
t Seejpage 51.


Christ and his church. No man loved this old meeting-house
better than he, or delighted in whatever might contribute to
the spirituality and attractiveness of its worship, or the suc-
cess of the gospel. His pride in the historic memories of this
edifice and this town prompted to very laborious services in
preserving these memories from neglect and oblivion.

The relations between the meeting-house and the academy
were so intimate tbat when it became desirable to accommo-
date the large audiences which were attracted by the annual
public exhibitions, the meeting-house was opened, and dramas
were more than once enacted in this old Puritan edifice with
drop curtains and green room. Many hundreds of pupils
from places near and remote have habitually worshiped in
this sanctuary and have learned to remember it most vividly.
Not a few have been attracted by its teachings and worship,
to a liighei- and better life on earth and in that kingdom
wliich Christ has opened to all believers.

The Old Red College, as it was called, should not be for-
gotten, as its inmates at one time made themselves very con-
spicuous in this meeting-house and in the community. It
stood on the ground now occupied by the Female Seminary,
and was originally the residence of Col. Noadiah Hooker.
His pure and noble-minded son Edward Hooker used it for
lodgings for a number of students from the Southern and
South-Westem States, whom for several years he prepared for
college and for public or professional life.

In the palmy days of the village these well-dressed and
sliowy young men, ten to fifteen in number, for several years
made themselves conspicuous at all times and especially on
Sundays, when with iron-shod boot-heels they tramped to the
highest pew in the gallery and made themselves the observed
of all observers.

The meeting-house certainly befriended the public libraries
which this village has for a long time most successfully sus-
tained. One of these for a long time satisfied the literary
wants of the North end of the village, but was subsequently
absorbed into what was called the Phoenix Library, which has
existed since early in the present century. I think there was


also a Mechanics Libraiy in the village, and still another library
on the Great Plain. One of these libraries, probably the oldest,
originated in a horse-shed with a few boys, as I am informed,
wlio organized a plan of joint ownership and exchange for the
very few juvenile books which came within their reach. It
became a very flourishing institution, and was for many years
sustained by a large number of proprietors. They met for
many years on the first Sunday evening of every month at the
house of Deacon Elijah Porter.* This library meeting was
the village Lyceum at which its educated and professional
men and the more intelligent citizens would freely compare
their views in respect to the affairs of the village and the
nation, to which thoughtful and curious boys listened with
unnoticed attention. After this free interchange of opinion,
which went on while the books were received which had been
taken at the previous meeting, at the appointed hour the
drawing began, which was now and then interrupted by an
active bidding for any book which was especially desired.

The old library still survives in the hands of a very few of
the original proprietors. It is an instructive memorial of the
past as well as a valuable collection of standard books. f It
is to be hoped that it may never be dispersed but may become
the property of the town. It would not be honorable to the
town or the village at a time when so many towns in New Eng-
land are collecting and supporting public libraries if these books

* On the records of the Farmington Library Company, there appears on page
1, a "Catalogue of the Library begun in 1785." On the 1st of January, 1801,
without any*pparent change in the organization, it began to be called the
Monthly Library. From 1796 to 1813 Elijah Porter was the librarian. During
the year 1813 the office was filled by Luther Seymour, after which the library was
dissolved, and on the 12th of February, 1814, the Phoenix Library was formed by
a selection of the more valuable books from the old library. Elijah Porter was
again appointed librarian and retained the office until March 17, 1826, when the
Village Library, of which Capt. Selah Porter had been librarian since January,
1817, was united with the PhcBuix and both remained under the care of Capt.
Porter until he resigned April 4th, 1835, and Simeon Hart, Jr., was appointed
in his place. It appears by the record that "The Farmington Library Company
was formed Feb. 18, 1839, designed to supersede the Phoenix Library Company,
which proved defective in its organization and was accordingly dissolved."

t See the Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Education, A. D. 1868,
page 94.


should be sold for a pittance, and its standard histories and
solid treatises should be distributed no one knows whither. At
the time when it was most generally used there were no daily
newspapers in Connecticut. No religious newspapers were
in existence. A monthly magazine brouglit scanty news of
the movements of the Kingdom of Christ. The mail came
from Hartford and all the world besides but once a week in a
coach drawn by two horses.*

Tlie meeting-house also educated the people through the
Westminster Catechism, which was recited every Saturday
morning in all the public schools — due allowance being made
to the few who preferred another manual. Once in the winter
the minister regularly catechised all the schools as the Pastor
of the lambs of the flock, and inspected them in his ca-
pacity as school-visitor. From 1810 to 1818 special catechet-
ical exercises were maintained by the chui'ch for all the bap-
tized children.

In 1818 a Sunday school was established, and has ever since
been prosecuted with great vigor and eminent success. Sub-
sequently Sunday school libraries were introduced, and after-
wards Sunday school newspapers and numerous other appli-
ances, till the Sunday school has practically become one of
the regular services of the Lord's Day.

The meeting-house contributed to the education of the
people most efficiently by its direct instrumentalities, by the
Sabbath neatness, and order and decorum which it enforced, by
the universal respite from secular occupations, and by the well-
reasoned sermons which were pronounced from the pulpit to

* It was not till the year 1823 or 4 that a line of four horse stage coaches was
established from New Haven to Northampton, which ran through the town three
times a week each direction, and afterward every day. Another similar line to
Litchfield also was established about the same time. The former was a torerunner
of the Farmington Canal which was commenced in 1S25, completed to the State
Line in 1828, and subsequently finished to Northampton in 1834. In 1848 this canal
was abandoned and the Canal Railroad was completed to PlainviUe, to Colhns-
ville in 1849 and to Northampton in 1858. The relations of the canal to the
old meeting-house ought not to be entirely overlooked. In the earlier years of its
existence it did good service by bringing to church, in a boat, made convenient
for the purpose, a large freight of passengers from PlainviUe who beguiled the
voyage by singing and other religious services.


hundreds of thoughtful listeners. The arguments of these ser-
mons concerned the immortal interests of men — their appeals
waked up the most stirring emotions. Many of their hearers
during the following week pondered on what they heard, and
esteemed tlie words of the preacher more than their necessary
food. For more than one generation while this edifice has stood,
the Sunday sermons took the place which is now largely
usurped by books, and newspapers and social intercourse.
The truths which were discussed in this pulpit, the principles
which were enforced, the quickening seed-thoughts which were
uttered, the kindling and elevating pictures which were por-
trayed, and the eloquent expostulations which were sent home
to the heart, furnished of themselves an education the value
and efficiency of which cannot easily be over-estimated. If
theology is the haven and Sabbath of all man's contempla-
tions, then a theology earnestly and plainly preached is of
itself an efficient instrument of culture.*

The New England pulpit has usually been an instructive
pulpit. The New England ministry has not usually failed in
definite opinions, or feared to utter them. The New England
meeting-house has been the sanctuary of the freest and bold-
est discussion of all thu truths which bear upon man's salva-
tion in the life to come, or his duties in the life that now is.
The boldness and independence of this ministry have been its
strength. It has neither sought to soften the truth nor to con-
ceal it, but by manifestation of the truth has commended itself
to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

This leads me to notice what this old meeting-house has

* It is not easy for the present generation to conceive it possible that the interest
in theology should be so absorbing among many of the leading men of a commu-
nity as we know it was till a comparatively recent period in many of the New
England parishes. Certainly it was so during two-thirds or three-fourths of the
century while this meeting-house has been standing.

The rigidly orthodox Governor Treadwell could not receive without an elabo-
rate metaphysical protest the new-light notions of the distinguished theologian of
the parish of New Britain, but held an earnest controversy with him in the Con-
necticut Evangelical Magazine. One of the early remembrances of my life is of
a visit to the Pastor from Deacon Bull who had been endeavoring to digest the
newly-published, and as he thought, the new-fangled theology of Dr. Dwight, in a
borrowed volume which he brought home with his queries and exceptions.


contributed and what it has witnessed in the way of forming
and reforming the public morals. If the Puritan minister
was at times over definite and confident in laying down the
doctrines of the gospel in all the ramifications of a metaphys-
ical system, he certainly did not shrink from expressing his
mind in regard to the duties which the gospel enforced, nor
in applying its rules to the lives of his own flock. There
certainly has been no deficiency in this meeting-house in this
regard. If the merchants and capitalists of Farmington were
ever lax in inserting certain descriptions of property in their
tax lists, it was not for the lack of faithful admonition from
the Pastor. If the youth were tempted to excessive laxity in
amusements they heard a timely word.*

Wlien the attention of the churches of New England was
called to the ravages of intemperance, this church responded
with zeal to the summons. When the first and second
and third temperance movements were made, viz : — abstinence
from distilled liquors, from everything which can intoxi-
cate, and the Washingtonian reform ; this meeting-house heard
many a sermon from the pastor on the Sabbath, and many an
address, and a discussion from the pastor and others on week
days in respect to the teacliings of the scriptures and the
legitimate deductions from them. This meeting-house was
efficient in driving out the numerous distilleries which once
filled the parish and the town, as well as in making the indis-
criminate sale of liquors to be disreputable. Whatever any
man may think of some extremes in principle and temper
which may have been exhibited in this movement, no one can
doubt that the movement itself has done much to redeem
the community from a blighting curse.

*0n the days of the Annual Fast the political sins of the commonwealth and
of the nation, especially after both had fallen oif to Jeifersonian principles, were
duly set forth in many pulpits ; not very offensively in this. One Congregational
minister in Connecticut — the eccentric but shrewd Dr. Backus — the minister in
Bethlehem, subsequently President of Hamilton College, was betrayed into such
bold utterances concerning President Jefferson, as to be prosecuted for libel and
committed by the United States marshal to the jail at Hartford for the lack of the
bail which he refused. Being somewhat eccentric in his humor and being pro-
vided with a swifter horse than his guardian, he amused himself on his way from
Litchfield to Hartford in occasionally leaving the marshal a few miles behind.


The Anti-Masonic movement agitated the community some-
what painfully, although the glories of the Farmington Ma-
sonic Lodge had begun to decline when the excitement against
masonry commenced. The meeting-house and the church wit-
nessed somewhat earnestly against this association, although
a few years before, the meeting-house was filled with a crowd
at a magnificent celebration of St. John's Day by a masonic
procession which took possession of its seats and its pulpit,
and symbols mysterious to the boys were paraded before unini-
tiated eyes and the Rev. Menzies Rayner delivered a discourse
from Gen. xrii., 8.

The Anti-Slavery movement was taken up at an early period
and prosecuted with great earnestness.* This and Anti-Ma-
sonry occasioned decided differences of opinion in respect to
the interpretation of the Scriptures and the proper attitude
which should be assumed by the church toward masonry and
slave holding. These differences were attended by many un-
comfortable results and not a little excited feeling. Whatever
any one might then think, or may now think of the utterances
of the pastor in respect to either movement, no one could doubt
that he endeavored to find the truth with an honest and ear-
nest love of the truth, and that when he formed an opinion
he did not hesitate to utter it with boldness on the one hand,
and on the other with a liberal and charitable love for those
who were not content with his moderation. In these re-
forming efforts the old meeting-house has heard some utter-
ances from tiie pulpit and the pews which had been more
wisely suppressed. But the free spirit of the fathers taught
their sons to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.
Those of the hearers whose patience has been tried and whose
spirits have been stirred by the too much, or the too little
which has been set forth in the name of God, have generally

*It deserves to be remembered also in the annals of this house that after these
agitations had begun to subside, some forty Africans who had been set free by
the authority of the nation, were regularly present in it for months, as an earnest
of the great deliverance which was to follow a quarter of a century afterward.
When these Africans became residents of this town, and eveiy Lord's Day ap-
peared in this house of Christian worship, their presence was felt to hallow this
place, and gave emphasis to the oft repeated prayer, " Thy Kingdom come."

41 '

bethought themselves that a free pulpit, and a bold pulpit
bring more of good than of evil to a community, and that
some of the most important lessons which the gospel teaches
are those of tolerance and charity when party feeling runs
high and good men are tempted to suspect and denounce one
an°other. The old meeting-house has outlived so many pass-
ing excitements even in this unexcitable community as to be
^We if it would, to emblazon on each panel of its extended
walls some wholesome lesson concerning the folly of hot-
headed wrath in the name of Christ, and the sublime wisdom
of quietly resting in the truth that is or may be revealed.
The sum of the gathered wisdom of its century of observation
upon these discussions and differences of opinion in regard to
Christian and political ethics is the apostolic direction, " Let
us therefore as many as be perfect be thus minded, and if in
anything ye be otherwise minded God shall reveal even this

unto you."

One class of difficult duties this pulpit has faithfully

inculcated, for the exercise of which this meeting-house

has been a successful school of practice. I speak of the duties

of Christian beiievolence :it home and in foreign countries. It

is not easy to conceive what were the conceptions and habits

of this community sixty years ago in respect to this class of

duties. But we must do this in order to appreciate what

changes this meeting-house has witnessed. At that time the

community was more wealthy than it is at present, but the

yearly salary of its minister was five hundred dollars in

money, the use of the parsonage, and twenty-five cords of

wood ;' the whole being the equivalent of say twelve hundred

dollars at the present time. Once a year by authority of the

Governor of the state, a contribution was called for in behalf

of the Domestic Missionary Society of Connecticut. There

existed also a Female Cent Society somewhat later to whicb

each subscriber paid a cent a week or fifty cents a year. At

the anniversary of this association each contributor sent or

' -paid in her subscription, enclosed in a paper parcel with

her name written within. The contribution of now

and then a dollar would betoken some special elevation



of the grace of liberality in the heart of some devout mother
in Israel.

The American Board for Foreign Missions and the Connec-
ticut Missionary Society for the new settlements gleaned up

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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 4 of 8)