Sheldon B. (Sheldon Brainerd) Thorpe.

North Haven annals : a history of the town from its settlement, 1680, to its first centennial, 1886 online

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The summer of 1759 was spent in soliciting aid
for the building of a church house in North Haven.
Toward the latter part of the year such progress
had been made that a special meeting of the First
Ecclesiastical society was called December i8th, at
which they said: '"We were willing that those that
profest to the Church of England should set a Church
or House for Publick worship on the Northeast cor-
ner of the Green." This concession does not bespeak
jealousy or antagonism, and just at the time, too,
when everybody's teeth were "on edge" by the rasp-
ing events occurring in such quick succession. The
Dana controversy, the Mount Carmel defection, the
growing opposition to the Rev. Isaac Stiles, the dis-
traction of the French war, the condition of the cur-
rency — all were simultaneously rolling in their waves
of turbulence and unrest.

But they rode through the storm in safety and two
days after Christmas, or on December 27th, 1 761, the
Rev. Mr. Punderson formally dedicated St. John's
Church to the service of God, and thenceforward Epis-
copacy had not only a name, but a habitation among

The "northeast corner of the Green" (quoting
from the First Ecclesiastical Society) was the spot
where the rectorv now stands. The wisdom mani-


ustcd in the selection of this site was something
tor which that parish has always been profoundly
thankful. The unsectarian spirit which prompted
the donation of this plot should in this case be espe-
ciallv remembered. It was so at variance with the
>,a'neral trend of feeling toward the Church of Eng-
land throughout the colony as to make it an isolated
case. Can the religious history of the State produce
a parallel instance ?

In the year the Rev. Benjamin Trumble became
the successor of the Rev. Isaac Stiles (1760) he bar-
i,Mined for the hill land on the east side of "The
green." The entire tract on that side then belonged
tf) Joseph Pierpont, 2d, grandson of the Rev. James
Pierpont of New Haven, the donor of "The green."
The western line of his land being uncertain on ac-
count of the area of the tract given "to the neigh-
bors" being so vaguely defined, he secured the services
of Master Oliver Blakeslee, a native of the town and
a surveyor, whose calculations have never been dis-
puted, who established a satisfactory boundary line be-
tween Joseph Pierpont and the public property. This
survey cut off "the northeast corner of the green,"
which the First Ecclesiastical society had always
understood as theirs, and included it in Mr. Pierpont's
possessions which the Rev. Mr. Trumble was trying
to purchase. When a bargain was finally effected and
the deeds came to be drawn, Mr. Pierpont reserved the
church site "six rods north and south and three rods
east and west," and sold it to the Church of England
parish at the same rate per acre as charged Mr. Trum-
ble. The church was already built upon it. The First
1-cclesiastical society seemed to acquiesce in the new
line, but Mr. Trumble expressed considerable dissatis-
faction at the reservation made, but finally waived
the issue by saying 'it did not matter much — he would
soon have the church for a barn." A statement at
once heavily charged up to the young and impulsive



minister by the churchmen and said never in the suc-
ceeding sixty years to have been forgiven.

The new church building stood nearly on a line
with the front fence of the present rectory; a drive
was constructed around it. It was 38x30 in size and
the entrance faced the south. The exterior was plain,
without steeple, turret, bell or porch. It was built in
the usual style of the Church of England places for
worship before the Revolution. The windows for
that day were very fine. There were three on each
side, long and wide, and one at the north end, a little
east of the center of the building. These windows
consisted of two long sashes, carrying twent}' lights
each, and surmounted with a semi-circle top called a
"crown window" in distinction from the Puritan
square top meeting-house window. Two half windows
were set in the south end, above the door, one of
which lighted "the singers' gallery," This gallery at
first was built only in the southeast corner of the
church, but later was extended a little distance on the
east side.

A center aisle four feet in width extended from
the door the length of the church. At the north
extremity of this there was first a small, square read-
ing box; above this a square box prayer desk, and
above that a paneled pixlpit having a board seat firmly
fastened to the wall. On the left of these and below
the large end window, and facing the pulpit, was a
small, plain table, loaned the parish for the time
being, and at the south end of this table was the com-
munion rail, with space, perhaps, for eight communi-
cants. The church had no furniture of any descrip-
tion, not even a chair, and did not possess any for
some time.

For the accommodation of the w^orshipers there
were two box pews in front, on the right-hand side oi
the pulpit, and then ten seats running back to tlic
door. On the left-hand side, in front, was a plain



board seat for convenience, esi^ecially at Communion.
Then came two small box pews, followed by only
seven seats on that side, the remaining space being
allotted to the gallery stairway. The ceiling was
about eighteen feet high, finished flat, and showing
no timbers. Both exterior and interior were devoid
of paint for many years. Its seating capacity was
about one hundred.


The above view is presented as a careful representation of this ancient edifice. It
stood where it "could not be hid " for seventy years, giving way to the present build-
ing in 1834.

There is in the possession of Mrs. Franklin Shep-
herd an interesting relic connected with this old
church, being none the less than a diagram of its
interior, with the names of the pew and seat holders
carefully noted in the order in which they sat. From


this we learn who were the solid men of the parish,
and the pew rent they paid:

, - £ s.

Samuel Mix, - 6 o

Abraham Blakeslee, 7 5

Zophar Blakeslee, - - 7 o

Joel Blakeslee, - - . - 4 10

Stephen Mix, 4 10

The sum total raised was c^2jQ 15s. There is no
date recorded of this diagram, but the most careful
comparison of the names thereon fix it not later than
1768. It was probably drawn at the annual Easter
meeting in that year.

There being no bishop in the country at that time,
the building when completed could not, according to
the usages of the mother church, be consecrated. It
was, therefore, simply dedicated, or, in other words,
set apart for public worship on St. John Evangelist's
day, December 27, 1761.

The Rev. Ebenezer Punderson officiated at this
ceremony. It was due to him that this result was
brought about in such a short time. The parish of
Wallingford commenced two years earlier than did
North Haven the erection of a church, but it was one
year later than 1761 when they were ready to dedi-
cate it. Mr. Punderson's energy had previously been
shown in the erection of the first Church of England
house of worship in New Haven, in 1753. For this
building he gave the greater part of the timber, and
the land on which it stood had been bought of Samuel
Mix, a North Haven man, and one of the vestrymen
of St. John's church in 1761.

Mr. Mix was a large landholder. Few men in the
parish owned greater possessions than himself, and
only one in the Church of England society outranked
him in wealth in 1787. He had enjoyed the confidence
of the First Ecclesiastical society previous to leaving
that body, being made collector of the " ministerial



rate" in 1759, and also collector of the Chtirch of Eng-
land rate in 1764. He died in 1813, at the age of 82, and
was buried in the old cemetery. Tradition affirms he
brought from Middletown, Conn., the black walnut
from which sprang that magnificent tree now stand-
ing near the house of James Mix, a lineal descendant
of Samuel. During the Revolutionary period he sym-
pathized with England, and, unfortunately for a
patriotic record, his name stands to-day appended
with others to a paper prqmising aid and comfort to
the King's forces in New York City in 1778.

The dedication services of this church were unique
for this latitude. Occurring as it did only two days
after Christmas, the building was decorated with ever-
greens and made to assume a festival appearance.
The music for the occasion was something remark-
able for that day, if tradition may be relied upon. It
was tinder the direction of the " Quiresters," Simon
Tuttle, Samuel Mix and Joel Blakeslee, assisted by
Oliver Blakeslee.

The First Ecclesiastical society had introduced Dr.
Watts' Psalms into their choir gallery the year pre-
vious (1760). This was the American edition, pub-
lished by Benjamin Franklin in 1741. The Church of
England deemed such Puritan music wholly unsuit-
able to their service, and so struck out in a different
direction. The records of the parish show for many
years that great pains was taken with this branch of
public worship.

A word further concerning one or two of the early
officials of this church. Ebenezer Blakeslee lived long
enough to see the organization of the parish, be chosen
its senior warden, and look upon the church edifice.
Age was beginning to incapacitate him for active
duty, and he was soon to " fall asleep by the way."
He was a vestryman for the last time in 1764, and
then his name disappears from the i-ecords. It is
likely that he died two years later, for in the record


of a baptism in 1766, " Ebenezer Blakeslee's wife " was
present, while at a similar event in 1767, the "Widow-
Elizabeth Blakeslee " attended. He was buried in
New Haven.

Samnel Pierpont, oldest son of Joseph Pierpont.
ist, and grandson of the Rev. James Pierpont, of- New
Haven, was the senior warden in 1761. Thus it came
about that in the little parish of North Haven was
officially renewed the broken line of the Pierpont
family in the Church of l^nifls-iid, a- family of whom
the known genealogy dates from the year 980, when
Sir Hugh de Pierrepont was " Lord of the Castle of
Pierrepont in the south confines of Picardy and dio-
cese of Laon in Normandy." 3.1r. Pierpont was thirty-
two years old when first elected senior warden, 1761,
and he continued in this position, with few excep-
tions, for fifty years, or until his death in 1S20, at the
age of ninety-one.

Contemporary with and a colleague. of Mr. Pier-
pont for twenty-five years was Abraham Blakeslee.
This gentleman was of the old Blakeslee stock, and a
near relative of Ebenezer, mentioned. -He died in
1785, and was succeeded by Zophar Blakeslee, whose
official record ceases in 1708.

There are other and illustrious names connected
with this church. There are incidents and traditions
attached to its life by the score. There are sad pages
of reversals and struggles during the Revolutionary
war. In brief, there is still lying untouched, beyond
the year 1761, all its history of sacrifice aiid self-abne-
gations, all its record of sunshine and'storm, all its
wealth of hope and weight of fear,."^ll its crosses
borne and all its crowns won.. -■'■' ■. .' "

After the Rev. Ebenezer Pundcrsoi; had succeeded
in organizing St. John's parish in 1760 and building
the church dedicated on St.- John's daypDecember 27.
1 76 1, he was soon transferred on aceou»t of trouble-
some times in New Haven to the. .mission in Rve,



X. Y., made vacant by the death of that " worthy,
learned and faithful " clergyman, the Rev. James
Wetmore. In the meantime there had been trans-
piring a series of events, which, in the culmina-
tion, was destined to have far reaching results in
North Haven, Wallingford, Cheshire and what is now
Meriden. ■ . •.

In the records of St. John's parish is the following
significant entry written in the clear and beautiful
penmanship of Oliver Blakeslee, clerk.

"The Rev. Mr. Samuel Andrews returned from
England Jan. 23d, 1763, Missionary for 3 Parishes,
viz.: North Haven, Wallingford and Cheshire, and
delivered his first discourse February 14th at St.
John's Church in North Haven to an audience of One
Hundred People."

The influence of this man accounts for much of
the religious history of North Haven, Wallingford,
Meriden and Cheshire between the year 1762 and the
close of the Revolutionary war. He was really the
establisher of Episcopacy in all the above named
region. He was a man of estimable character, lovea-
ble in every respect ^nd an indefatigable worker. He
was a native of the colony, a graduate of Yale Col-
lege and a very prudent man.

He resided in Wallingford. When he began his
work he received as his salary ^30 sterling from the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign
Parts, ^50 from his congregation here, a glebe of
fourteen acres and a house in Wallingford. The
house is still standing. Afterward the North Haven
parish consented to give three Sundays a year to
Xorthford. He also to some extent officiated gratuit-
ously in Middletown.

The four parishes of to-day, St. John's, North
Haven; St. Paul's, Wallingford; St. Andrew's, IMeri-
den; St. Peter's, Cheshire, are the evidence of wisely
and thoroughly laid foundations by " Parson An-


drews." But the Revolutionary war brought serious
trouble. The Rev. Mr. Andrews, as was natural in
the circumstances, was a sincere loyalist. He was
specially honored by King- George, who presented
him a beautiful coat of arms. Yet, in the midst of all
the trouble during that exciting period, ]\Ir. Andrews
was always the courteous gentleman and sympathetic
friend. He remained the faithful and devoted mis-
sionary, so far as possible, throughout the war. He
was not molested in North Haven, but for awhile he
was put under heavy bonds in Wallingford and not
allowed to visit any of his people without the consent
of the selectmen.

For a time; with one or two exceptions, the minis-
trations of the twenty Church of England clergymen
serving the forty parishes in Connecticut were
silenced. In North Haven St. John's Church people
being devotedly attached to " Parson Andrews," and
having been well instructed and thoroughly grounded
in their churchmanship, stood by their church regard-
less of the unpopularity of their course, and regard-
less of all difficulties. Most all of them made the
political mistake of being loyalists. Some were neu-
tral; a few sympathized the patriots. However,
they were not seriously molested, again showing the
remarkable state of things in the early history of this
community. The counselor and guide in the affairs
of St. John's parish at this time was the educated and
influential layman, Joseph Pierpont, Esq., a man
highly honored by the town and state, and for fifty-
nine years parish clerk. He was a sincere friend and
great admirer of the Rev. Mr. Andrews.

In 1784, the year after the declaration of peace,
begin the records of what was at first called "The
Prudential Committee of St. John's Parish," in dis-
tinction from the vestry of the parish. This pruden-
tial committee consisted each year of a moderator, a
clerk "sworn according to law," and an executive


committee of three, all elected annually by the
society. The vote at the first recorded meeting was:
Abraham Blakeslee, moderator; Oliver Blakeslee,
clerk; Samuel Sackett, Seth Todd, Joel Blakeslee,
committee. It was also voted: "That a tax of two
pence on the Pound should be collected of the mem-
bers of said Society for said Society Charges, and that
Benjamin Pierpont be collector of said tax." Also:
"That the warning of the Annual Meeting of said
Society and Congregation should be in the form of
and in conjunction with the other vSociety in said
North Haven." The following society meetings and
the action taken indicate a great deal: "At a special
meeting of the Episcopal Society in North Haven
legally warned on August 24, 1785; Voted — 'That we
are desirous to have the Rev. Mr. Andrews continue
with us if he can consistent with his interest and
ours.' " Joseph Pierpont, Esq., and Zophar Blakeslee
were appointed a committee to confer with the dele-
gates of the Wallingford and Cheshire societies in a
mutual application to Mr. Andrews as above voted.
Two weeks later at an adjourned meeting it was fur-
ther agreed, " That we will give the Rev. Mr. Andrews
jC2^ lawful money for his labors in the Gospel with
us one fourth part of the time, for and during the
term of his service among us in the work of the min-
istry." Walter Munson was added to the above
named committee. It is not likely that these over-
tures met with success, for in the following Decem-
ber it was voted, " That we will support the Rev. Mr.
Andrews for his service with us for the one half of
the time, providing the sum do not exceed forty-
pounds lawful money." The committee was further
strengthened by the addition of Alven Bradley (pre-
sumably a Mt. Carmel man).

A week later at a society meeting, this committee
reported no progress and it was then voted to rescind
the action of the previous meeting appropriating ^4a


and assess themselves four pence on the pound on the
list of 1786 for the support of j\Ir. Andrews one-half
of the time for said 3'ear.

All this earnest, generous effort was a failure. The
popular feeling in Wallingford was very bitter against
Mr. Andrews, and those who had been identified with
the Chvirch of England during the war. Mr. Andrews
was conscientiously a loyalist, and in the circumstances
believed that it was his duty to leave the country.
Before leaving he presented St. John's parish, from
his limited means, ^7 to assist the in securing
another clergyman. He went to the town of St. An-
drews, New Brunswick, where he was very successful
and highly honored. He was here in 1786 on a visit and
spent the winter of 1792-3 in Wallingford, officiating
in North Haven one-third of his time. He died in
New Brunswick in 1820, the same year that Samuel
Pierpont, his senior warden died here, and four years
before the death of his devoted friend, Joseph Pier-
pont, Esq.

The officers of St. John's parish during Mr. An-
drews' ministry, were as follows:

1762 — Samuel Pierpont, senior warden; Abraham Blakeslee,
junior warden.

Vestrymen — Samuel Mix, John Blakeslee, Ashbel Stiles.
Zophar Blakeslee, clerk.

Samuel Pierpont held the office of either senior
or junior warden from 1761 to 1820, fifty-nine years.
Abraham Blakeslee was a warden until his death in
1785. He was succeeded, as junior warden, in 17S6,
by Zophar Blakeslee. The additional vestrymen.
between 1762 and 1785, were Matthew Blakeslee.
Ebenezer Blakeslee, Simon Tuttle, Abraham Siely,
Oliver Blakeslee, Joel Blakeslee, Timothy Shatock,
Hopestill Critenden, Walter Munson, Joseph Pierpont,
James Heaton, Zuer Bradley, Samuel Butler, Lemuel
Bradley, Richard Brockett, Benjamin Brooks, Titus


Frost, Jonah Todd, Timothy Fowler, John Tuttle,
Samuel Sackett, Alven Bradley.

Oliver Blakeslee was the first clerk, but Zophar
Blakeslee succeeded him from 1762 to 1785, although
between 1773 and 1785 Joseph Pierpont, Esq., was the
assistant clerk. Then Joseph Pierpont succeeded him
and continued clerk until his death, in 1824, at the
age of ninety-one.

Abraham Blakeslee was the lay reader of the
Church services at first, with the assistance of Samuel
Mix in 1770, and Samuel Pierpont, Zophar Blakeslee
and others later, as the absence of the Rev. Mr. An-
drews so many Sundays during the year made lay
services necessary. The church was regularly opened
for lay services every Sunday that Mr. Andrews was
officiating elsewhere. Some of the books of sermons
read by these men, and also by others later, are now
in the parish library with their original library num-
ber, in some instances having the original signa-
ture of the purchaser. This is particularly the case
with regard to Zophar Blakeslee. He used, among
others, three volumes of Bishop Sherlock's sermons,
published in 1761. -Then followed, among others,
Bishop Atterbury's sermons and Bishop Home's, pub-
lished later, etc. These sermons were the best works
of the English Church during the last century, to
which were added near the close of the century.
Bishop Seabury's sermons, etc. As early as 1766 there
were at least eighty-eight volumes in the parish, and
over one hundred volumes at the close of Mr. An-
drews' ministry, many having been sent from Eng-
land. These books indicate a high standard of relig-
ious thought in those days on the part of the people
of St. John's Church, and in a large measure account
for the preservation of their church during the Revo-
lutionary war and afterward.

From the organization of St. John's parish in 1760,
great effort was made in the succeeding ten years to



build up church mtisic, and with considerable success.
In 1770 more systematic work was agreed upon, and
three men, Joel Blakeslee, Simon Tuttle and Samuel
Mix, were chosen "choristers." The following- year,
among others, Oliver Blakeslee, teacher, clerk, sur-
veyor and accountant, was placed upon this commit-
tee, and who really, up to 1775, was the director of the
musical service.

In the latter year another man was added to these
"choristers," who was destined to be called "The
father of music in St. John's Church, Titus Frost.
He was a chairmaker and lived at Muddy river. Al-
though assisted heartily by his associates, who were
noted singers in their day, yet he was unquestionably
the man whose influence most brought about the musi-
cal results seen in this church to-day.

He married ]Mabel, daughter of Isaac Stiles. Isaac
was a Congregationalist. He was the father of Isaac
Clark Stiles (brother of Mabel). Isaac Clark was a
Congregationalist in his boyhood. He married Eunice,
daughter of Zophar Blakeslee. Her Episcopacy was
so decided that she won her husband over to her
belief, and he became an Episcopalian, holding an
influential position in that church for many years.
From that marriage came the great assistance the
several Stiles families have rendered St. John's
Church and parish to the present time.

Titus Frost put into the church the first piece of
.chancel furniture owned by the parish. He made a
chair for the rude, unfurnished chancel. He invited a
few friends to accompany him to the church, and tak-
ing the chair up the aisle, placed it in the proper
place, and then, being decrepid, limped back down
the aisle preceding the little procession, singing with
others, to the tune of "Old Hundred," the last verse
of Bishop Ken's hymn, " Praise God, from whom all
blessings flow," etc. This was the first " processional
hymn" in the history of St. John's Church. In 1783


all the music was put into his hands. He was chosen
"to manage and order the singing." The Tate and
Brady version of the Psalms, with a few hymns and
something especially for Christmas and Easter, con-
stituted the musical material for use. Chanting was
not practiced until thirty years after the Revolution-
ary war. The hymn composed by the poet-laureate
Tate, beginning,

" While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the groiind " —

was sung with great spirit at Christmas. The tradi-
tions in the parish with regard to the enthusiastic
singing of that hymn, and the Christmas and Easter
arrangement of music, generally under the leadership
of Titus Frost, are many and interesting. At the
time of his taking up this work attention to Church
music was being considered in all the parishes. Per-
haps Mr. Frost's efforts in this direction received
especial approval October 22, 1788, which was a memo-
rable occasion for this parish. On that day the sixth
convocation (afterwards called convention) of the dio-
cese of the Episcopal Church of the State, and for
the matter of that, of New England, met in North
Haven. Bishop Seabury and the clergy generally
were present. Two deacons, one from New Haven
and one from Dartmouth College, were ordained to
the priesthood. Unusual preparations for so unusual
an occasion were made, and Titus Frost was in no
ways behind with his department of the divine ser-

Online LibrarySheldon B. (Sheldon Brainerd) ThorpeNorth Haven annals : a history of the town from its settlement, 1680, to its first centennial, 1886 → online text (page 11 of 32)