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 8 of 8)
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in a pride and affection which we all share, not only by birthright inheritance,
but by those higher affinities and relationships which have impressed his name
and character upon the intellectual history, progress, and moral stature of the
American nation.


Late Pastor of the Congregational church in Bristol.

This house an hundred years old ! These walls, roof, and even the shingles !
I have often stated this fact, but could hardly credit my own statement. Last
week I met with a Farmington man and had my faith reassured ; now I believe
it is really so. This frame is all just as massive and firm as when first erected,
and the whole structure is more beautiful than on the day of its dedication, for it
has some adornments without and within such as it did not originally possess.
It is like an aged matron who is matured in wisdom, and mellowed by piety, and
thus rendered more dignified and lovely than in early youth.

We have come from Bristol to pay our filial tribute of veneration and love to
this mother of churches. We derived our life from this parent stock, and for
years it was sustained by supplies from the same source. In fiict Bristol was
once a part of Farmington, as were several other neighboring towns. The first
deed ever made in our section, was given to a man from this place in 1727. So
likewise the second. From that period the settlers multiplied, l)ut came to this
center for Sal)bath worsliip and religious privileges the year round till 1742.
Then the Legislature allowed them to establish and maintain public worship by
themselves six months in the year. Hence that portion of the town was called
the " Winter Parish," or " South West Society," and aftcyward "New Cam-
bridge" when they were incorporated an Ecclesiastical Society. During all those
years till 1747 they depended on this church for the enjoyment of Christian ordi-

That year — 1747 — the church in Bristol was organized, and the first minister
settled. And whence did he come ? From Southington, which was only a part


of Farming-ton. If lie be not acknowledged as one of your oflfsj)ring, surely the
" better half " of him will be, for his wife was one of your own refined and pol-
ished daughters. She was the widow of Mr. Timothy Root. Her first name
was Mary Hart. And after the Rev. Samuel Newell passed away, at the close
of his forty-two years' pastorate, who was his successor? The Rev. Giles Hooker
Cowles. He was one of your sons of course, for who ever heard of a Cowles
that was not born in Farmington, or could not easily trace his lineage to this
ancient home"? The excellent wife of our sixth pastor was also from this place
— Mrs. Catharine L. Seeley, daughter of Hon. Timothy Cowles. Thus it ap-
pears that two ministers and two ministers' wives were furnished by this mother
for the church in Bristol.

Moreover, from time to time we have been indebted to this same source for
many of our most exemplary members. Some of them were born and reared
among you ; others, tiiough they originated in other places, were here " born
again" and afterwaid became pillars in our Zion. Thus we make our acknowl-
edgements for your forming and fostering influence which pervades all our history.

I cannot close without a word respecting him who ministered to you more
than half a century in this sacred place. I enjoyed a partial acquaintance with
him for many years, as his eldest son was one of my honored college class-mates.
After I came into this neighborhood my knowledge of Dr. Porter became more
familiar and intimate. I learned not only to venerate, but also admire and love
him, for he was one of the most wise and holy men I ever knew.

As you review the last century you find much to fill you with delight. You
mav well be proud of your ancestors and proud of your sons ; and as we contem-
plate the life and labors of the holy men and women who have gone before, let
us all be " followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."

Spoke substantially as follows :

Mr. Chairman :

I hoped not to have been called upon at this late hour and in the presence of
so many strangers from whom we should be glad to hear. But in answer to your
call I will say a few words in behalf of this community.

We are happy to welcome here to-day so many who trace their parentage to
this community, or who represent the churches and congregations which have
sprung from this venerable mother church. We rejoice and cherish a paternal
pride in them. We thank God for their number and prosperity, their steadfast-
ness in the faith and their great usefulness. We shall ever pray for God's con-
tinued blessing upon them.

Allow me to express the great satisfaction with which we listened to the very
able, interesting, and appropriate address of Tres. Porter this morning. It was a
most becoming tribute to an honored ancestry. It was all that we desired, and
will possess a historic value not easily over-estimated. This, Sir, adds another to
the many, and great obligations which this community owe to the Porter family.
We are not unmindful of, nor insensible to, them.


It was in the fall of 1838, thirty-four years ago, that I first became acquainted
with Farmington. It was then my delightful privilege to spend a few days in
the family of the ever loved and revered Dr. Porter ; and on Thanksgiving day
and the following Sabbath for the first time to listen to his pulpit exercises. I
can never forget the impression then made upon me and which was many times
repeated by them in after years. Every thing in the appearance, the manner,
and the utterances of this venerable servant of God was becoming the solemnity
of the i)lace and the occasion. There was great simplicity, seriousness, and ap-
propriateness. His invocations and prayers were the natural expressions of a
true shepherd, and spiritual leader and guide, receiving their characters and a
special pertinency from the circumstances of his flock and their special condi-
tions and wants. His sermons were uniformly of a very high order. They
were eminently practical discussions of just those subjects which were adapted to
instruct, convert, edify, and comfort his hearers. They at different times covered
a wide range of topics, and illustrated and enforced them with great copiousness
and variety of thought, with great logical force, and, not unfrequently, with
remarkable beauty and elegance of style and imagery. Generally they were
confined closely to a single topic. It was naturally drawn from the text, and
was usually formally stated. It stood forth in bold relief throughout the dis-
course. The speaker was soon lost in his subject. The interest of every thought-
ful and attentive hearer was secured, and increased as the speaker advanced ; and
it was not uncommon for the whole audience to be hushed to stillness and some-
times to be greatly moved by the convincing, and persuasive, and powerful exhi-
bitions of truth thus made. It was by such a ministry of the gospel of Christ,
during a period of more than 50 years, that manifold and inestimable blessings
were secured to this people.

On the afternoon of that Sabbath day I for the first time officiated in that pul-
pit. A remarkable and most interesting spectacle was presented by the congre-
gation before me. It was before the congregations of Plainville and Unionville
were formed, and a large number of the people of those villages were accustomed
statedly to worship in this house, which was often filled full. I recall the appear-
ance of many of the aged men and women of the congregation, some of whom
usually occupied the pews directly in front of the pulpit. There were the Lewis's,
and Crampton's, the Thompson's and Gays, the Stanley's, and Langdon's. In
yonder seat was the tall and courtly figure of Gen. Solomon Cowles. Behind
him was the stalwart frame and noble countenance of Major Timothy Cowles, —
next to him sat the late Mr. John T. Norton, a noble example of a true New
England man. Having early acquired a competence in Albany, by his integrity,
industry, and business skill, he in mid life returned to his native town and built
a beautiful home near the spot of his birth. There the later years of his life
were passed, devoted to the pursuits of agriculture, in the quiet and culture of a
beloved family, the friend and patron of everything good. Yonder was the seat
of the sagacious and staunch Horace Cowles, and near him the peace loving,
and peace making Edward Hooker. There was the beloved physician, Asaliel
Thompson, and there the benevolent, and eminently useful and successful teacher,
Dea. Simeon Hart. These and other scarcely less remarkable men then gave
character to this community. They were strong minded, God fearing, ho: est
men, who carried their religion with them into all the walks of life; and having
faithfully served God and their fellow-men in their day and generation, one .. ter


another they have passed away. Do you wonder that their chiklren cherish their
memories, and honor their virtues, and are so richly blessed in their inlieritance?
In closing, let me say that those who now occupy the places of such an ances-
try are not unmindful of the high responsibilities devolved upon them. They
desire to transmit this priceless heritage to those who shall come after them. We
love this sacred place and the church which still lives and worships within these
walls. We desire that the precious truths on which this church was founded
.shall here ever be taught and preached. Our prayer and effort shall be that we
may never prove recreant to the high and sacred trust which God has devolved
upon us.


of New London, being called upon, responded, substantially as follows :

After a ride of seventy miles, in honor of this occasion, I find myself once
more at the shrine of this dear old church, erected, in part, by and for my ances-
tors, and in a town where the early and forming period of my life was spent.
My father used to say to me, with a twinkle in his eye, " I helped build that
church." " But how so," said I, " when you were born as late as 1765 ?" In
reply he said : " When the heavy beams and rafters were raised, I pulled at the
end of the ropes." But my "right and title" here are more direct, since my
grandfather, then forty years of age, doubtless, did a yeoman's service at the
raising, and my great-grandfather, then seventy-five years of age, sat within its
walls for ten years, before he exchanged an earthly temple for an heavenly.

Surrounded as I am by familiar objects, yet unfamiliar faces, the spirit of
Hood's impressive lines comes over me :

" I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,

The little window, where the sun
Came peeping in at morn."
So, associated with these surroundings, I live over again the sports of youth,
and particularly, just now, the pastime of visiting the old belfry, whenever, /as
ant nefas, I could gain access. With some, perhaps, of the reflections of Cow-
per's " Jackdaw in the church steeple," it was pleasant to witness the circling
flight of the swallows, whose dominion we had invaded, but without disturbing
their nests beneath the eaves. Thus was explained the longing psalmist's im-
agery : " the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself
where she may lay her young, even thine altars, Lord of Hosts, my king and
my God." Wherever I have been situated, on the land or on the sea, if by any
process, this text is suggested, my mind immediately reverts to these youthful
experiences. I use the words, as you perceive, "fas ant nefas," " right or wrong,"
for the mention of the belfry and the thought of the bell-rope brings another
incident to my mind. Some of the elder inhabitants may remember our rather
fee' and old sexton, Daniel Pratt. Though of the same name, he is not the



peripatetic, but a worthier man, because he served his generation with the ability,
however small, which God had given. The incident, very properly, perhaps,
suggests to me the propriety of the psalmist's prayer : " Remember not, O Lord,
the sins of my youth." But the associations of the moment bring to mind how
the boys of the period used to delight in tliwarting his best concerted plans for
preventing our entrance into the church, or belfry, on weekdays. He was once
at work, remote from the church, when a iQ\f strokes of the bell, at intervals,
informed him of the success of our strategy. After a time, the vidette stationed
on the square stair in the porch, announced his approach on a slow run. We
kept the bell in motion, until just as his key entered the back door, when we scat-
tered in all directions, but not until we heard him say : " you had better scamper,
you young rascals, ringing fire-bell here for half an hour."' Will some one say :
" this is beneath the dignity of the occasion ? " But is not a little pleasantry
allowable in the last speech when all are anxious to depart 1 Besides, was not
" uncle Daniel " a character and entitled to notice, on the ground of having been
"doorkeeijer of this house of the Lord " or, at least, the keeper of its keys? I
was once reading at home, Blair's poem, " The Grave," when he came in. Says
I to him : " Uncle Daniel, here is something for you. This poem is on the sub-
ect of the grave and the author says, speaking of the sexton,
"And soon, some trusty brother of the trade
Must do for him what he has done for thousands."

It struck him forcibly, for he remarked : " Now that is right to the point — and
it's true too."

You may think that this was grave reading for a lad. Perhaps it was so ; but
in those days, books were scarce. My sabbath hours were often whiled away in
looking over the pages of the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, or the Panoplist,
or Burder's Village Sermons. Then, we had no literary lectures, certainly none
on a "Course of Reading," for the means of carrying out its suggestions were
not to be found in the " Farmington Monthly Library " even if supplemented by
the "Phoenix."

But 1 remember other and less frivolous matters. Before the era of Sabbath
Schools, and as their substitute and forerunner, the youth were accustomed to
assemble in the square pews, on Saturday afternoons, to recite the Assembly's
Catechism. As a type, or example, of the influences, which proceeded from
that pulpit, I may refer to a sermon preached by a returned missionary, during
which, a veritable heathen idol was exhibited. It was a fact so realistic and pal-
pable, that it made a lasting impression upon the minds of the young and con-
tributed much towards the formation of a missionary spirit among us. Its fruits
have doubtless multiplied and been felt on other continents and the islands of
the sea. As an early result, a missionary garden was cultivated among us, pro-
ducing among other things a good crop of radishes, which were sent by stage to
Litchfield, much as our wants are now supplied by the warmer climes of Norfolk
or Charleston.

But I must acknowledge, with gratitude, the happy, religious and educational
influences which were exerted by that pulpit, with its choice language, its rational
methods of thought, and its words of wisdom. I remember a sermon preached
in my early youth by Rev. Dr. Hawes, of Hartford, on the text, "And Enoch
walked with God and was not, for God took him." A spiritual atmosphere at
the time may have pervaded the people — for it was long remembered by those


who heard it and its influences' may have culminated in the powerful revival
which soon after followed. These, it is true, are but the experiences of a single
mind, but let them be multiplied by the number of hearers, and who can tell the
possible influence.

Doubtless, some may remember, with me, the time when our front gallery was
occupied by a company of ladies in caps and spectacles. Their voices, unlike
wine and friendship, may not have improved with age, but the object to be at-
tained, so honorable to their kindness of heart, was of sufficient interest and im-
portance to draw out all who had the reputation of being good singers. A choir
was thus formed, with " the beloved physician," Dr. Eli Todd, as their leader,
thus securing his attendance at the house of God ; and there is reason to believe,
that like other truly benevolent efforts, its influence was not fruitless, the buried
seed ultimately springing into spiritual life.

Forty years since, at the outset of active professional life, I attended worship
for a single day, in this church, since which time, if my memory serves me, I
have never entered it. Personally, the fact is interesting. In retrospect, what a
vista, with its well-defined outlines, is presented ! I, this morning, visited the
mountain on the east, the same so graphically alluded to by Hon. Mr. Burritt, as
the terminus of his youthful walk from New Britain. The vale which so en-
tranced his vision, with the mountain beyond, lay outstretched before me, almost
a Tempe for beauty. From a similar stand-point, mentally, I look over to the
high table-lands of youth, the pilgrimage of life, its hopes and fears, its successes
and disappointments occupying the valley between. As I return once more to
duty and leave these dear old walls, probably for the last time, I bid them fare-
well! as to a living, conscious friend. If I ever reach the better land, I think I
shall often re-visit this spot, the center of precious memories and the source and
medium of blessed hopes.

DEC 18 1901


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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 8 of 8)