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 5 of 8)
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scanty collections, and the Connecticut Bible Society paid its
occasional members in illegible Bibles at a reduced price.

It was not an easy thing in times like those for the pastor
of such a congregation as this to stand up before the assem-
bled hundreds whom lie had known from boyhood and urge
the duty of greater benevolence, and to do this persistently
in the name of his master, who though he was rich, yet for
our sakes became poor. But he did it perseveringly amid cold,
incredulous, and scowling looks, and the reward of his fidel-
ity was great. The old meeting-house has been, in an emi-
nent sense, the treasury house of the Lord, and many who have
waxed liberal under its influences have been greatly enriched
of the Master. This meeting-house has also trained the peo-
ple to good manners. The youth stood up before their elders.
Mr. Pitkin, while he continued the pastor and long afterward,
walked with dignity up the center aisle in flowing cloak and
venerable wig, with his three-cornered hat in hand, bowing to
the people on either side.

Tliis meeting house has also enforced respect for age and
position by the traditional custom of seating the people.

On finishing the old meeting house, that is, the second, the
society appointed four men as a Seating Committee who were
" to do it by their best discretion." A year after when the
report came in, it was voted that the society " do regret what
was done by the last Committee in seating of the meeting
house," also that the new committee " shall have respect to
age, office and estate, so far as it tendeth to make a man re-
spectable and to everything else which hath the same
tendency." The committee were requested " not to divulge
their report until it is made public to the society, when the
society shall accept or reject it,"

This rule of seating was re-enacted in 1783-4, and occasion-'
ally afterward. In 17i3, February, a large committee was
appointed to dignify the meeting house, that is, to designate and


arrange the seats according to their relations of dignity, and
to report. Their report was received at a subsequent meet-
ing and a seating committee was immediately appointed ; so
difficult was it to adjust this difficult matter. The society
persevered in thus seating the church as long as it defrayed
its current expenses by taxation. The last seating took
place in 1842. In December, 1844, the society voted to rent
the pews. In 1805 Lieut. Gov, Treadwell with his lady was
invited to sit in the minister's pew during the pleasure of tlie
society, and there he sat till his death. In 1821 Solomon
Langdon, the distinguished benefactor of the society, was in-
vited to take his seat in the same pew. The seating of the
meeting-house according to age and position was a significant
practice in the olden time, for by it that respect to the aged
and the honorable, which is inwardly felt in every community
not wholly barbarous or wholly rotten, was formally and out-
wardly expressed by a place in the meeting-house, and sanc-
tioned every Lord's Day in the presence of God. Those times
were at least stable when society was held together by bonds
like these, for though occasional envy and disparagement
might be cherished in secret they could not overthrow an ar-
rangement which commended itself to the judgment of the
solid men of the community and was conformed to the tradi-
tions of their childhood. When the minister or stranger entered
the school house, its busy inmates rose at once to their feet.
As cither approached the school house by the way-side the
school children ceased from their sports and arranged them-
selves in ranks to give a pleasant greeting to the passer by —
a greeting which blessed those who gave more than those who
received it. These customs of deference and honor, of
courtesy and respect, did much to soften the rugged aspects
of Puritan life. They lifted up its stern and uncompromis-
ing democracy into the dignity of an organized society. Tliey
restrained the unblushing impudence of untamed boyhood
and disciplined all classes to respect for the laws and to
obedience to God. The family, the school, the meeting-house,
society itself were nurseries of order and decorum. We can-
not revive these decorous customs if we would. We would


not if we could, but we cannot but greet them as they pass in
review before our memory with the words :

" Hail ancient manners ! Sure defence
When they survive of wholesome laws."

There are some who do not share this feeling, but would ridi-
cule the pedantic stiffness and tenacious aristocracies of Puri-
tan society. Others would denounce them most emphatically
as unchristian and unseemly in the house of God. But the
fashionable church of modern times with its guarded pew has
little to boast of improvement in its new way of seatioig the
meeting-house, flaunting as it does the wealth which ofteii
does not make a man respectable by ticketing on his pew the
price which he pays for liis sittings.

There was one grievous exception to the general decorum
which was enforced by the old meeting-house, and that was
the behavior of the youth and children in the galleries. It
was one of the inconsistencies of the Puritan's theory with his
practice, that in theory he included the children and youth
within the blessings of the covenant with the family and the
church, and in practice cast them out of the family circle in
the house of God at the most critical and exposed period of
their lives. This practice is akin to its singular straining of
the evidences of the beginning of the Christian life which
practically prevented so many from taking upon them the
vows of the Christian profession till a later period, and led
many to do this even then in a superficial way, who should
have been encouraged to appropriate all the blessings promised
to the believer. The old gallery of the Puritan meeting-house
has too often been little better than a veritable Court of the
Geiitiles into which the children were banished, there to be
systematically trained by the arrangements for their accom-
modation to regard themselves as mere lookers on in the sanc-
tuary. The gallery was the perpetual cross to the young
minister and the old ; to the grave elders below, and to the
perplexed tithing man who could ill conceal the vexation, to
betray which would but weaken his authority.* It is not easy

* These oeeasional outbreaks among the youth in the galleries are in part to be
ascribed to the rude and vigorous life and the exuberance of animal spirits which


to explain the introduction of this practice of separating the
youth from their families and sending them into this outlying
wilderness. In the older countries, both in Germany and
England, the galleries are largely the preferred seats. Dis-
tinguished personages very frequently have their pews aloft.
But the first Puritan meeting-iiouses were rude and inconven-
ient, and the Puritan's knowledge of architecture did not
enable him to make the galleries accessible or attractive.
The aged, who were pre-eminently the honorable with the
Puritan, would naturally not desire to ascend a difficult stair-
way. We find within the historic pei'iod that the gallery of the
Puritan meeting-house was usually filled with the least reverent
hearers and was oftentimes a place of open trifling. In this
town so early as 1714 the deacons were requested " to appoint
or persuade some persons who by the seating shall sit conven-
ient to inspect the youth in the meeting-house on days of pub-
lic worship and endeavor to keep them in order." Again in
1716-7 the society made choice of Thomas North, son of Sam-
uel, to inspect and keep the youth in order in the lower part
of the meeting-house, and riamuel Orvis and Simeon Newel
for the same service in the galleries. In December, 1772, the
first month after this edifice was occupied it was voted that
the center pew in the front gallery shall belong to the men,
and the following stern resolve was adopted, " whereas it is
suggested l)y many members of this society that indecencies
are practiced by the young people upon the Sabbath in time
of public worship by frequently passing and repassing by one

belonged to the hardy sons and daughters of other generations. Beneath all the
decorum and stiffness which were imijosed by artificial manners and religious aus-
terity there was no little rudeness in the outbreaks of youth when they fell short
of criminal excess. An earnest defender and yet a discerning critic of Puritan
life says very acutely, " When our fathers tried to make the youth of a whole
community as grave as church members and moreover by law, it was a similar
mistake. Hence we find the reaction, the outbi'eaking of violent pleasure the
more sure as the more forbidden. I have heard old men tell amidst the coercive
austerity of the day of wash-tubs set on chimnies, frogs dropped on ashes, cart
wheels taken off, walls built across public roads, and all the freaks of rustic mis-
chief, the Jlash and outbreak of a Jierjj mind in youth, when age is, or is thought
to be, too severe." The f'uritan: By John Oldbuy, Esq. [Rev. Leonard Worth-
ington, D. D.] No. 23, Boston, 1836.


another in the galleries, and intermingling sexes to the great
disturbance of many serious and well minded people — Re-
solved and Voted, that each and every of us that are heads
of families will use our utmost endeavor to suppress the afore-
said evils and will strictly enjoin it upon all persons under
our care to behave decently on the Sabbath or Lord's Day,
and that the dilTerent sexes for time to come neglect to pass
up and down the gallery stairs other than those that lead to
that part of the gallery assigned for different sexes, as they
will avoid the displeasure of this society, and be accounted
disturbers of the peace of said society and liable to be pro-
ceeded against as such." In 1813 it was voted " tliat the prac-
tice of certain young gentlemen in seating themselves in the
pews on the female side of the gallery in times of public wor-
ship is disorderly, and ought to be, and is, by this society,
wholly disapproved of." In 1821, the matter of the galleries
was taken thoroughly in hand and a committee was appointed
for the purpose " of securing better accommodations and bet-
ter order in the house of God." As a consequence, import-
ant alterations and extensive repairs were made. The re-
mote pews against the walls, which in some churches have
often been no better than the devil's playhouses and hiding-
places, were removed. Families were henceforth seated in
the galleries ; room was thus made for the youth with their
parents above and below. Special seats were also assigned
to tliosc who were older. In consequence, ordei' and decorum
were thereafter effectually secured. This was a most impor-
tant improvement which doubtless grew out of the great
change in the religious feelings of the community which oc-
curred in 1821, and signified that new relations had been
established between the children and youth of the congrega-
tion, and the pastor and elder members. That so great an
innovation should have been introduced at so early a period
in this large community is most honorable to the enterprise
of the pastor and the energy and moral force of the congre-

Much attention has been given to sacred miisic especially
since this meeting-house has stood. At times the singing has


been of marked and acknowledged excellence. Many of the
leading men in the community delighted in music, and were
no mean proficients in directing it. T have heard from a
gentleman who was well informed on the subject that the
choirs of Farmington and Wethersfield were greatly distin-
guished and maintained an active rivalry at times for pre-

But. the singing at public worship has not always min-
istered to the harmony of the congregation. Here, as
elsewhere, the efforts to effect a concord of sweet sounds
have resulted in fierce discord between sensitive tempers.
Music has been the subject of frequent discussion, and has
been a fruitful occasion for temporary troubles. In March,
1726-7, was passed the following minute : " This meeting
taking into consideration the unhappy controversy that hath
been among us respecting singing of Psalms in our public
assemblies upon the Sabbath, and forasmuch as the churcb in
this place hath several times in their meetings manifested
their dislike of singing psalms according to the method not
long since endeavored to be introduced among us being the
same way of singing of psalms which is recommended by the
reverend ministers of Boston, with other ministers to the
number in all of twenty or thereabouts ; therefore that the
controversy may be ended, and peace gained for this society,
this meeting by their major vote do declare tlieir full satisfac-
tion with the former way of singing of psalms in this society
and do earnestly desire to continue therein, and do with the
church manifest their dislike of singing according to the said
method endeavored to be introduced aforesaid."* In 1757,

*How unhappy these controversies were will be apparent from the following :
" To the Honourable y" General Assembly at hartford y° 18th of May 1725. the
memorial of Joseph Hawlcy one of y* house of Representatives humbly shcweth
your Memorialist his father and Grandffither & y" whole Church & people of
farmingtown have used to worship God by singing psalms to his praise In y ' mode
called y° Old way. however t'other Day Jonathan Smith & one Stanly Got a
book & pretended to sing more regularly &. so made Great disturbance In y' wor-
ship of God for y" people could not follow y' mode of singing, at Length t'was
moved to y* church whither to admit y" new way or no, who agreed to suspend it
at least for a year, yet Deacon hart y" Chorister one Sabbath day In setting y"
psalm attempted to sing Bella tune — and yo"" memorialist being used to y" old
way as aforesd did not know helhtm tune from pax tune, and supposed y° deacon


the society voted and agreed that they would nitroduce Mr.
Watts' Version of the Psahns to be sung on the Sabbath and
other solemn meetings in the room of the version that hath
been used in time past. At the same meeting Elijah Cowles
was requested to tune the Psalm, and that he shall sit in the
fifth pew. In 1762 Mr. Fisher Gay was chosen to assist
Elijah Cowles in setting the psalm, and he should sit in the
ninth pew on the north side the alley, and Stephen Dorchester
was chosen to assist the choristers in reading the psalm. In
April, 1773, the spring after this house was first occupied a
choir was allowed by the following vote. "Voted that the

had aimed at Cambridge short tune, and set it wrong, whereupon y'' petitioner
Raised his Voice in y^ s"^ short tune & y** people followed him, except y° s"^ Smith
& Stanly, & y" few who Sang allowed In bella tune ; & so there was an unhappy
Discord in y'= Singing, as there has often bin since y" new singers set up, and y^
Blame was all Imputed to yo'' poor petition [er] , and Jn" Hooker, Esq' assistant,
sent for liim, & fined him y*^ 19th of fcb'>' Last for breach of Sabbath, and so yo""
poor petition'' is Layed under a very heavie Scandal & Uepro^ch & Rendered vile
& prophane for what ho did in y"' fear of God, & in y'= mode he had bin well edu-
cated in and was then y" setled manner of Singing by y' agi-cem' of y' Church.

Now yo' Petition'' thinks y^ Judgement is erroneous, first, because y" fact if as
wicked as m' hooker supposed Comes under y' head of disturbing God's woi-ship,
& not y" statute of prophaning y° Sabbath : secondly, because no member of a
Lawfull Church Society can be punished for worshiping God In y" modes &
forms, agreed upon, & fixed by y« Society, thirdly because tis errors, when y'
Civill authority sodenly Interpose between partyes y* differ about modes of wor-
ship, & force one party to Submitt to y' other, till all milder methods have bin
used to Convince mens' Consciences, fourthly because tis error to make a Gent
of yo' petition' Carract'^r a Scandalous offender upon Record, for nothing but a
present mistake at most, when no morrai evil is Intended.

Wherefore yo' poor petitioner pi-ayes you to set aside y" s"* Jud, or by what
means yo' hon'^ please, to save yo' poor petition' from y' Imputation of y" hein-
ous Crime Laid to him, & yo' poor petition' as In duty &c. shall ever pray.


This Assembly Grants the Prayer of the within Petition.
Past in the Lower House.

Test, Tho. Kemberly, Clerk

Re-considered. Dissented to in the Upp" House.

Test, Hez. Wyllys, Sect'y.

Capt. Timi' Pierce, Messrs. Whittlesey & D. Buell, are appointed a Com*"'
from the Lower House to confer with such Gent as t!ie Upper house shall appoint
upon the differences of the houses on the above Petition, and make report to
this assembly.

Test, Tho. Kembekly, Clerk


people who have learned the rule of singing, have liberty to
sit near together in the same position as they sat this day at
their singing meeting and they have liberty to assist in cari-y-
ing on that part of divine worsliip." What this " position"
was will occur at once to those " old inhabitants" who remember
the long line of singers around the front of the gallery which
was marshaled and controlled by the chorister opposite the
pulpit, assisted by a few leading singers. At times this line
would be greatly abbreviated and demoralized. Again after
a fresh impulse given by " a singing school," its well-filled
ranks would stretch all along the front, composed of "young
men and maidens, old men and children."

Mr. Martin Bull was appointed to lead, and John Tread well
and Asahel Wadsworth to assist as there should be occasion.
But alas ! very soon, in December, 1774, a large committee was
required to compromise " the difference among the singers. '
At the same time it was voted to sing at the close of the
second service in the winter as well as in the summer. In
1793 six dollars were appropriated to purchase several copies
of Barlow's Version of theTsalms of David, and distribute
them among the singers, having regard to the most deserving.
In 1795 the society's committee are directed to have an accom-
plished master to instruct in psalmody. In 1803 eight chor-
isters were appointed, Luther Seymour at the head. In 1811
a large permanent committee was appointed to regulate the
singing in every particular. In 1818 the Handel Society
was organized, under the leadership of the eminent Dr. Eli
Todd, and was invited by the society to conduct the service
ol song, which it did with great acceptance.* Dr. Todd did
not sing himself but led the choir by his violin, the use of
which was then a novelty in a Puritan meeting house.

* This society was very numerous, and the memV)ers occupied all the seats in
front of the pulpit; Dr. Todd having drawn the long and straggling line into a
compact mass in the center of which he stood, animating and swaying all by his
eye and his instrument. Dr. Todd was rc])orted to be an infidel at that time and
had rarely attended church although he was the beloved and trusted friend of the
]>astor. It was a matter of great rc^joicing in this sensitive community when he
pledged himself to conduct the singing, and the zeal for the Handel Society was
in part inspired by the interest felt in this eminent and greatly beloved physician.



The violoncello was introduced about this time with the
flute, the clarionet and l)assoon. In 1822 the Handel Society
gave notice that it would no longer sustain the singing, when
four choristers were appointed, Horace Cowles at the head. In
1825 liberty was given to the choir to choose its own leader
during the pleasure of the society. In this way came into
being what was known as the Associated Choir, the existence
of which is manifest on the records of the society in 1841.
This society received liberal appropriations for several years,
but some differences having arisen which could not be adjusted,
its services as an association were dispensed with by vote of
the society in 1846. Unhappy controversies having followed
this event, the society in 1851 passed some conciliatory reso-
lutions expressive of their high estimate of the value of the
service of this body, inviting its members to unite with
the existing choir. In 1852 resolutions of a more positive
and earnest character for conciliation and adjustment indicate
a serious disturbance of feeling among the singers in the so-
ciety. In 1801 an organ was purchased, by voluntary sub-
scription from the ladies and an appropriation from the society.

But excitements about singing, or other subjects, have not
been able to weaken the stability, or disturb the unity of this
parish. The old meeting-house is a fitting symbol of the gen-
erally enduring compactness of this ecclesiastical society. For
a century it has stood unmoved against the blast of many a
fierce northwester, neither shaken from without, nor rent
within. In how many bright moonlight nights has it steadied
itself against the threatened wrath of the invading foe. How
often has it been shaken in its every timber by the rushing
winds, when fair weather has come out of the north with
terrible majesty. Often have the spirits of the air made in-
fernal music in its mazy attic, and howled in fiendish merri-
ment over its impending fall ; but it has not fallen. So has
the parish stood amid all the heavings and rockings from
without and within. Its stability and peace have been usually
the envy of its neighbors, and an example to all lookers-on.
There are meeting-houses in Connecticut which liave been
little better than houses of contention and wrath ; in which


Christ has literally been preached of strife and vain-glory,
and the hearers have literally experienced to the full the
warning, " but if ye bite and devour one another, take heed
lest ye be consumed one of another." There are so-called
houses of worship whicli one shudders to look at or think of,
so completely have they been made the devil's houses for bit-
terness and party feeling, instead of being the dwellings of
Christian peace and love — churches which one or two bad
men, or one or two wrong-headed or stiff-headed good men
have continued to keep in a turmoil which has made its Sun-
day worship a feast of bitterness, its preaching a series of
personal denunciations, and its prayers ebullitions of wrath
against man, rather than offerings of love and humility before
God. The good sense and Christian feeling which have ruled
in this community have delivered this meeting-house from
such shocking desecration, and have secured to the parisli the
steady fruits of temperate wisdom. Above all the spirit of God
has been present more than once by timely interposition to
bring peace to this house. Not long after this house was
erected, after the close of the Revolutionary struggle, the
parish was rent by a protracted strife with and about Rev.
Allen Olcott, who was the minister from 1787 to 1791.* Four
years afterward the divisions were still more threatening, for
they were aggravated by a sharp and positive hostility on the
part of many influential men against the new light or Hop-
kinsian preaching. Mr. Edward Dorr Griffin, afterward so dis-
tinguished and so well known, preached as a candidate in the
fervor of his youth, with the glow of his soaring imagination,
and the brilliancy of his imposing rhetoric. His preaching
was attractive and powerful ; and it made a strong impression
on the young and the old. Many were awakened to new con-
victions and began, as they thought, a new life. Many were
vexed and disturbed and conceived a determined hostility to
the fearless and defiant preacher. The old strifes were re-
awakened and became more bitter than ever. A decided ma-
jority gave Mr. Griffin a call ; but a large minority opposed him
— 73 to 24. He accepted the call after a delay of nearly five

* See Porter's Historical Discourse, pp. 78-9.


months. A council was convened which declined to install
him against so strong an opposition, but advised the calling of
another council, to which the society consented by a small
majority — the vote standing 62 to 41. Meanwhile some re-
ports were circulated unfavorable to the character of Mr.
Griffin, and his opponents made use of them before the coun-
cil. When this body convened, the house was packed as never
before or since witli an excited auditory. The spokesman for
his opponents was arrayed in full professional attire and made
showy denunciations against Mr. Griffin's reputation. The

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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 5 of 8)