April 1, 2013
Elisha's Corner: Puritan Use of Slavery
Perhaps due to our treatment of the history of slavery as a southern system and the abolitionists’ movement a northern judgment and attitude, use of the black slaves in the New England colonies is often overlooked. Not only did the Puritans use slaves, they approved of slave ownership as justified by their interpretations of the Bible. Definitely they were not among God’s “elected”, but rather condemned by God to serve whites. Douglas Harper, author of Slavery in the North, cites the Reverend Cotton Mather declaring that they were the “miserable children of Adam and Noah … for whom salary had been ordained as a punishment.” Their acquisition, however, was restricted to exchange in trade with the African slave dealers, as opposed to any overt physical force. In contrast to the slaves of the southern colonies, slaves in the Puritan New England communities were presumably better treated with more skilled tasks that they were taught and with lighter labor burdens. It was incumbent upon the slave owners to insure that their charges were spiritually and physically well kept as it was sinful to do otherwise. It is curious that the true motive for the spiritual guidance that was provided may have been less a matter of ministry and more for control; if they were resistant to their physical earthly master, the fear of the more powerful master was instilled in them.
A few slaves were recorded in the Connecticut colony as early as 1634 in New Haven and 1639 in Hartford. Since Puritans would only accept slaves as a result of trade, most if not all were transported in from the West Indies as early as 1680 as a resource supplied by the New England ships of the “Triangle Trade”; slaves for New England rum who were then traded in the West Indies for sugar and molasses. Initially such slaves were exchanged in the West Indies for the captured Indians following the Pequot War who could not be trusted, particularly as slaves. The slave population in the Connecticut colony was at its highest at 40% of the total inhabitants between 1755 and 1774. They commanded a price that was 100% higher at £22 than the price for the same in Massachusetts. By then half of all the ministers, lawyers, and public officials in Connecticut owned slaves, and a third of all the doctors. Oh yes, ministers! Our own venerable first minister Reverend Elisha Rexford was recorded in an early census to have had a slave. The historical accounts of the very early Congregational church of the Ripton Parish, which served the earliest inhabitants of present day Monroe, indicate that in the second meeting house “built in 1745…. Male slaves sat on one side of the building and female slaves on the other.” Attendance was required of everyone in the community, but not everyone was a church member. Unlike their southern counterparts, the slaves of Puritans were freed whenever they became too old or inefficient; a bit of the Puritan-pragmatism. This added a burden to the society wellbeing for their care and control. However, the laws did require that former masters and their heirs of freed slaves were liable and were required to provide for their support should they become “indigent”. In 1774, further importation of slaves into the colony was prohibited. By 1797, a law was enacted to free slaves reaching the age of twenty-one which coincided with the apprenticeship age; yet without money, clothes and professional standing. Slavery in Connecticut was not completely abolished until 1848, but without freeman status; they could not own property, secure church membership, and consequently not vote.
March 1, 2013
Elisha’s Corner: Preparation
The oldest primary record of our historical legacy as a congregation is a book of meeting minutes and notations kept by the founders of the Ecclesiastical Society of New Stratford. The first entry was made on June 21, 1762, by Elijah Adams, clerk, at the house of Henry Hawley. The group of men who had petitioned the General Assembly in a “Memorial” to pioneer the establishment of a separate parish for worship, met to begin the preparations that would take seven years to accomplish with the opening of the original meeting house on the green in June, 1769. At that meeting its was “Voted that there Shall be preaching the Gospel in Sd [said] Society as soon as May be and that the old house Erected for winter preaching Shall be ye place to Attend Public worship till a More Convenient place be Provided”, and a committee was established “to Provide a Minister or Ministers to preach ye Gospel among us”.
Fast forward to 1939, and the 175th anniversary celebration of our founding.The minister at the time was Rev. Eugene L. Richards, the third longest settled pastor who had tenure of ten years from 1931 to 1941. In preparation of this event, two quotes by him are recorded. The first prepares us for the acceptance of a trust;
“We are here to build upon the foundations of the past. We are making history today that will be remembered by those who come after us.”
The second parallels the preparations made 177 years earlier to grow a worshipping community in the Puritan tradition;
“With due appreciation of this occasion of the labors and glories of the past, we leave things that are behind and look forward to those which are before.” It is still a challenge of our faith as a congregation.
At the annual meeting of the congregation, January 21, 1938, it was decided to have three typewritten copies made of this book and to place the book with the one typewritten copy in the State Library at Hartford for safe keeping, where it remains today, and to retain the other two copies in the care of the Clerk of the Church. The work was done by Rev. Richards and Miss Beulah Bennett, typist. Care was taken to preserve the original spelling and use of capital letters, and in other ways to make the typewritten copies, as near as possible, an exact reproduction of the original.
On January 19, 1763, it was recorded that a committee was named to work with the “County Court in fairfield” to secure agreement and permission on a site for the new meeting house. Five years later, January 9, 1768, the Society “Voted that we the Inhabitance of New Stratford will Begin the Building of a Meeting house the Ensuing winter”. Patience was virtuous even back then. However, two weeks later, they “Voted that we the Inhabitance of New Stratford Do Determine to Build a house whereinto Attend Public worship to be fifty-two feet in Length and thirty-six feet in width and the height as Shall be thot a Sutable Porportion to the length and width” In February of that year, the The Society “Voted that the Inhabitance of New Stratford Do Tax themselves 4 pence on the pound on the List Given in ye year 1767 for ye purpose of Giting Timber to Build a Meeting house in Sd Society and to be paid in Labour if any See Cause by the first Day of May Next or to be paid in Cash by the firstDay of Nov.r Next” Yet another committee was formed to oversee the construction; build by committee existed back then, too. The following January, 1769, The Society “Voted that the Inhabitance of New Stratford will agree with and hire Someone person (if the Same be Practicable) to Build the Meeting house in sd Society, that is to say the outSide work of ye same, all Saving the Stone work”. By then, the foundation of purchased stone had already been layed.
It was build, without the steeple first, twenty-five feet south of our existing meeting house – about the same size (we need to measure) – and facing in the same direction, south. Is it possible that Church Hill Road did not pass behind it at that time? The meeting house stood as the only church in New Stratford for over thirty years, until 1807, with the consecration of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church – our “Tory” brethren across the green.
February 1, 2013
Elisha’s Corner: Speculation
Woe is to the Puritan that is restrained from his worship of God and the hearing of His Holy Word from the Bible!
The law of the Ecclesiastical Society of Stratford, settlement of Stratford on the Housatonic River and our “mother” church, required homesteads of its inhabitants to be no more than two miles from the Meeting House, and for good reason; (1) the mutual protection from hostile Indians and nature, (2) assurance of faithful attendance at Sunday worship, (3) enabled the community to keep watch of one another’s behavior, that they not fall into sinful practices. By the early 1700’s this was becoming difficult. Enough families had established homes in the vicinity of what is now the Huntington Green to justify the General Assembly in May of 1717 to agree to establish the Ripton Parish; whereby the parishioners could form and financially support a church, but still be attached to Stratford for taxes. Sounds like colonial double taxation. But now the two mile rule applied to the Ripton Parish church, which included our settlers north of White Hills.
By 1750, enough settlers populated our area that some forty families submitted a “memorial” (petition) to the General Assembly for the right to a “Winter parish”. According to Rev. Samuel Orcutt’s A History of Old Town Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, these families requested that, “…some of the members of the Society of North Stratford and some of the society of Ripton in Stratford, praying liberty to this Assembly to meet among themselves for divine service four months in the year, viz: December, January, February, and March, for the term of three years from this time, they approving some orthodox preacher among them during said term ….” According to Rev. Orcutt, this petition met opposition and failed. However, some time later the Assembly granted their petition “…. And power and authority is hereby granted to the memorialists to worn and hold their meetings for taxing themselves for the support of the charges that may arise in carrying on the service aforesaid and to choose their respective officers for gathering the same, &c., as other such like societies by law in this Colony; and that those persons abovenamed that live within the society of North Stratford shall be freed from paying taxes to the society of North Stratford for said four months during said term of three years….”. North Stratford is the present day area of northeastern Trumbull; but wait a minute, how about those connected to the Ripton Parish? Double colonial taxation for them is here inferred. Hmmm! And the term was for only three years; 1750 something to 1764 is more than three years. What was going on between these ten or so years? Hmmm!
They needed a place of worship. We are told that a structure in the vicinity of Moose Hill was used. This may have been a “noon house” type structure (barn) with a fireplace, no doubt, because it was for winter use. Or was it also used in some of the other eight months as March 16, 1761 drew near. Hmmm!
To hear the word of the Lord, they needed a Bible to read from. Not that they could not read themselves, for they were educated people, but Bibles were scarce and of great value then. Maybe John or Timothy Wilcoxson, or Joseph Moss, from the Stratford Wilcoxson and Moss families, had one. Possible and probable, for why and how would they otherwise request to hold services “among themselves”. Hmmm!
They also needed a preacher, of sorts, and a non-ordained preacher in those days was deemed adequate for the interpretation of the Holy Word. Like the Bible they must have had a ready source, for these were farmers who by necessity knew how to plan ahead. Jedidiah Mills was the minister of the Ripton Parish Congregational Church. A follower of Jonathan Edwards and supporter of the “New Light”, he took under his tutorage promising young men for entry to Yale College and the ministry. Aah! Now there’s a source, and our inhabitants paid tribute to the Ripton Parish. Hmmm! Big possibility and probability.
This brings me to the January 1763 meeting minutes of record, 250 years ago, and six months after the first held meeting at the Henry Hawley house:
At a Meeting Lawfully warned and held by the Inhabitance of New Stratford on ye third Day of Jan. 1763—2 oClock afternoon at ye house of Lieut-t John Moss Meeting Being opened
Voted that Mr. Henry Hawley be Moderator at Sd Meeting
Voted that also Lieut-t John Moss Be chorister for ye Society of Stratford
Why would a chorister, who by definition is the “leader of a choir”, be elected this pre-maturely; unless they were already having Sunday worship among themselves, and maybe in the “winter meeting house”? Hmmm, again! But this is all speculation and requires further research to justify conclusions.
Faith in history, Gary Thompson
December 15, 2012
Elisha’s Corner: News! Rexford Not Our First Choice
As mentioned previously, a committee was appointed in June 1762 to “Provide a Minister or Ministers to preach ye Gospel among us”. Our forebears got more serious on 2 August 1762 and started talking about the need to “Procure and bring a person on probation In order to Be Setteled if Agree-d to … Being ye Desire and Voted By Sd Society that Mr. Jos. White be ye person to be Sought After and Brought upon Probation if it Be Possible”
Jos. White!? Who was this person with whom the Ecclesiastical Society negotiated for almost two years from 2 August 1762 to 28 May 1764, when he fell off the radar screen? He was a Yale grad, born in 1741 and died in 1822 in Danbury…and apparently chosen prior to Mr. Rexford.
Not too long after Joseph White disappeared from the scene in Monroe, he showed up in Danbury as an elder of a church of a Scottish Christian sect (Sandemanians), with whom his father Rev. Ebenezer White was also involved. Possibly Ebenezer said: “Joseph, come to Danbury and support this clan of believers.” It is unclear what happened to Mr. White vis-à-vis MCC.
A tenet of the Sandemanians was that there was no central ministerial authority. Training was not a prerequisite to preaching, nor was education or experience. They may sound like a loosey-goosey sect but such is not the case. If you had a 2nd marriage for any reason, you were disqualified from being an elder. To eat, pray or drink with a nonmember of the sect was discouraged. Unanimity of opinion was a requirement; they were very much a “my way or the highway” type of group. It is beginning to be clear why, if this is how Joseph M. White thought also, that he may not have been a good fit here at what is now MCC.
So White was out, opening the door for Rexford to come in. Only four months after the disappearance of White from the Ecclesiastical Society minutes, on 17 September 1764 Elija (sic) Rexford is mentioned, and the rest is history, as they say. Rexford accepted the job 3 months after that and departed 44 years after that.
Yours in history,
December 1, 2012
Elisha’s Corner: Deciding Important Basics to Create the Church
So, where were we? Oh, yes, 1762—250 years ago…2 years before MCC’s birth.
Elisha’s Corner last time talked about the permission granted in May 1762 by the General Assembly in Hartford to form a New Stratford Ecclesiastical Society in North Stratford (now Monroe). Also discussed were the boundaries of the new parish and the “warning” to hold a first meeting at Henry Hawley’s house on 21st June. That must have been some marathon meeting! They accomplished a lot that day, deciding on a temporary place for worship, on a committee to find a minister, on methods to communicate with people, and on the members of the choir. Also, 13 (thirteen!!) people signed up to do jobs—at least one person signed up for 2 things. They either had a topnotch Nominating Committee, very enthusiastic members, or extremely effective incentives for participating (or disincentives for not participating).
Just as we have Mr. Frank Wittenauer, so did they have a moderator, one Mr. David Willcockson. On 21st June, they voted on a Society Committee (“Trustees?) to take care of the Society for the next year: Henry Hawley, Sam Beardslee, Andrew Hubbel, Nathan Booth, and Timothy Willcockson. “Choristers” were designated: Samuel Blackman, Nathan Booth, and Elnathan Paterson. The pastoral search committee was named: Peter Curtis, John Moss, Joseph Johnson, John Johnson and Jonathan Curtis.
They also decided that the old house erected for winter preaching would be where worship would take place only until they could come up with a better place.
Lacking Twitter, Facebook, a good church bulletin or The Steeple, they determined that they would post notices about parish goings-on at specific locations around town—at various school houses, dwellings, corners and even on a specific tree.
What do you notice about the names? Probably a few things: (1) we recognize a lot of them still today, e.g., Booth, Hawley; (2) the spellings of the last names are not what we would expect in some cases, e.g., Willcockson, Beardslee; (3) some of the first names are unusual today: Elnathan, and Abiel and Ichabod from last week’s Elisha’s corner; (4) and here is the big one: no women!
How many and which of the first names mentioned do not appear anywhere in the Bible??
Yours in history,
Arlene Redmond, MCC Historian
Elisha’s Corner- November 15, 2012
We will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of MCC in 2014, because 1764 was when Elisha Rexford was called as our first pastor and the church was established. What were the events leading up to the founding of the church 250 years prior to 2012?
As mentioned in the last “Elisha’s Corner,” the Ecclesiastical Society of New Stratford was created by the Assembly in Hartford in 1762 so that the people of what is now Monroe, would not have to travel the inordinate distance to Stratford (the reverse of which this writer of Elisha’s Corner does every week; as long as we take the car and not the horse and buggy, it is not too bad of a commute these days.)
What exactly is an ecclesiastical society? In those days, the concept of separation of church and state was a non-starter—it just did not exist. An ecclesiastical society was set up to carry out such duties as: tax inhabitants, run the town, hire a pastor and provide a meeting house for worship and other town business. You could consider the Board of Trustees as a present day ecclesiastical society although they are not charged with taxing us (for the most part) or running Monroe.
The creation of the Ecclesiastical Society of New Stratford occurred on the 2nd Thursday of May, 1762 in response to a petition made the prior October by John Moss, Timothy Willcockson and Nathan Booth and others. The committee that ruled in our favor was made up of Elisha Sheldon Esq., Increase Mosly and Timothy Judd.
The Assembly’s Resolution described the boundaries of the parish mostly in terms of people’s houses, although some landmarks and some roads were also noted. It would be like saying, “the boundaries for the parish (if there were such a thing) for present-day MCC, run from Masuk to Emily’s ‘dwelling,’ take a sharp turn eastward to Warren’s house, then run northerly to Katherine’s house, cross a road to Molly’s house, turn a little and go by Andrew’s and Dylan’s dwellings and end up back at Emily’s house.” That path may describe a figure eight, spiral or aimless scribble in actuality, but you get the drift. The description of the parish boundaries went on at GREAT length in that manner. The venerable names involved in those dwellings along the path defining the parish included: Samuel Deforest, Nathan Booth, Nathan—ll Lewis, Milton Hawley, Zachary Tomblinson, Jr., Sam-ll Wells, and Sam-ll Sherman. Also mentioned were: “from Barn hill to Ripton meeting house” and from “Bagburn Hill to white hills.”
Henry Hawley was “required and commanded” to “warn” all inhabitants in “his Majesties Name” to show up “at the Dwelling house of Mr. Henry Hawley” at 1:00 p.m. on the 21st of June “in order to form into a proper Society to Choose a Moderator and Clerk and a Society Comit-ee to Take Care of ye prudentials of Sd Society and when So formed to Do all other Business proper and Necessary to Done as Said Meeting.” I think that means they were told to get their ducks in a row and figure out how to run a town and a church. This order was signed by Ichabod Lewis—Justice of the Peace, John Moss, Sam-l Beardslee and Peter Curtis, inhabitants of New Stratford.
It is always interesting to realize that the beginnings of our church pre-dated the beginnings of our country, hence the reference to “his Majesties Name.” In this case it was King George III of England, also known as, “The Mad King” or “The King Who Lost America!”
More about 1762 another time.
Elisha’s Corner has been on hiatus for an extended period but is making a re-appearance as we begin to think about the upcoming 250th commemoration of the founding of MCC (1764).
This day in history: actually the day was September 28th, 1762 and road conditions in what is now Monroe particularly those leading to the proposed place of worship were apparently unacceptable. Unthinkable that should be the case!
That was the year—1762 in May—that the Connecticut General Assembly in Hartford created the Ecclesiastical Society of New Stratford, thus giving the residents permission to create a new religious parish. Road conditions were even worse then than they are now and the nearest parish was more than 3 miles away. Complying with the state law to attend services all day was becoming a burden. By granting permission to create this Society, the Assembly made it much easier to comply.
With the creation of that “Ecclesiastical Society,” the building of the road to MCC had begun.
Even though the trek to Sunday meeting would be greatly reduced, apparently, the roads leading to the newly created parish needed some work. It was necessary to charge the good “Mr. Abial Bears [to] be ye person to Git out ye Select Men to View ye Scircumstances of Sd parish and Alter Highways convenient for Sd Inhabitance to Attend publick worship and other Occations.” Translation: “Mr Bears, grab some guys, assess the situation and clean up the roads to MCC.”
Below is the full entry in the Minutes of the Meetings New Stratford Ecclesiastical Society for September 28th, 1762:
“At a Meeting Lawfully Warned and held By the Inhabitance of New Stratford at ye house of Mr. Henry Hawley on ye twenty eighth Day of September 1762 Meeting being opened Voted that Mr. Henry Hawley be Moderator of this Meeting
Voted that Sd Meeting be Adjourned to ye house of Joseph Moss at Six oClock on ye Same Day
Said Inhabitance Met According to Adjournment and opened Sd Meeting Voted that Mr. Joseph Moss be a Collector to Collect a Rate Made at a Meeting held on ye Second of August Last
Voted also that Mr. Abial Bears be ye person to Git out ye Select Men to View ye Scircumstances of Sd parish and Alter Highways convenient for Sd Inhabitance to Attend publick worship and other Occations
Voted that this Meeting be Adjourned without Day
Member, Jean Loveland, originally wrote the following history in 1967. It's been updated to include more recent information.
The long journey to Huntington Parish had become unbearable to the residents of New Stratford (Monroe) and a winter meeting house had been established in a building on Moose Hill Road. This served the needs of Sabbath Day during the cold months until 1762, when a group of residents petitioned the State Legislature for a new parish. As a result the New Stratford Ecclesiastical Society was formed.
Members of the Society became the governing body of church and community, having charge of all religious, school and town affairs. The first meeting house was erected on the Monroe Green, and served until 1847 when the present Church was built. The great stone foundation is symbolic of the strength and determination upon which those early settlers founded their faith. The intricate craftsmanship of the interior of the church steeple is a work of great artistic skill.
In 1886 Beardsley Hall was donated by Mrs. Elizabeth Gray in memory of her husband, Dr. Edward M. Gray, village physician. The first parsonage on Old Tannery Road served only a few years and was sold, after which the present parsonage on the Green was purchased. In 1935 Beardsley Hall was expanded when church members purchased, at auction, one of the early school buildings owned by the town. This structure was converted into a kitchen, which remained in use until Rexford House was built. Several years after purchasing the old school building, a small parcel of land in back of the church was purchased.
By 1956 the church facilities were outgrown, except for the meeting house itself. In order to accommodate the needs of an expanding membership, a fund drive was conducted. With the monies raised, new school rooms and other facilities were added to Beardsley Hall along Route 111.
Even though there were multiple expansions in the past, the Church was in need of additional space. Study groups and building committees worked on a new construction plan to meet those needs. Ground was broken on Thanksgiving Sunday, November 19, 1967 for a new building and in 1968 Rexford House opened.
The town of Monroe continued to grow over the next decade and a half. It became evident the next building that needed expansion was the meeting house. In 1985, worship services were now held in what is now known as Wilton Hall and ground was broken to enlarge the meeting house. Additional pews were installed, a handicap entrance provided, the balcony opened and the interior of the building was restored to as near as possible to its original appearance. On March 2, 1986 the meeting house was re-opened and the first worship service was held in the newly renovated building.