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Newent Congregational Church, Lisbon
NEWENT or THIRD SOCIETY
The ecclesiastical society in this place was organized in 1723, the town having previously appropriated sixty acres of land for the use of the first minister that should settle there. The affairs of the society were entirely under the control of the PERKINS family, as appears from the following entry:
Jan. 17, 1720. In town meeting ordered, that if the PERKINSes at their return from Boston, do not bring with them a minister to preach in the crotch of the river, or satisfy the selectmen they shall have one speedily, the rate-makers shall put them into the minister's rates.
The church was constituted and Rev. Daniel KIRTLAND ordained its minister, Dec. 10, 1723. The original members were Daniel KIRTLAND, the pastor, Samuel LATHROP and Joseph PERKINS, who were chosen deacons, John BISHOP, Jeremiah TRACY, (son of Thomas TRACY of Preston,) Isaac LAWRENCE, and Isaac LAWRENCE, Jr. - the church resting upon seven pilars, a favorite number of that day.
The church agreed to profess discipline according to the Cambridge Platform. They professed to believe "that all organized church acts proceeded after the manner of a mixed administration, and could not be consummated without the consent of both elders and brotherhood." In this they agreed with the two older societies of Norwich.
Before the formation of this church, the inhabitants between the rivers had been accustomed to attend meeting at the town-plot [of Norwich], the distance for some of them being about eight miles. The older people went on horseback, the women on pillions behind the men, but the young people often traveled the whole distance, going and returning, on foot.
Church-going in former days was a serious and earnest duty. None stayed away from the house of worship, that could by extremest [sic] effort get there. On horseback or on foot, over wearisome roads, or through lonely by-paths that shortened the distance, they came with their households to obtain a portion of the truth. "Many a time," says Rev. Levi Nelson, "while passing over the society, has my attention been arrested to notice the paths, now given up, where they used to make their rugged way to the house of God, almost as surely as the holy Sabbath returned."
And when there, how intently and with what eagerness to profit they listened. "To this day," says the same reverend author, "I love to think of their appearance in the house of God, of the seats they occupied, and of their significant motions to express their approbation of the truth."
The new society took the name of Newent, undoubtedly at the suggestion of the brothers PERKINS, and according to tradition, in remembrance of a place of that name in Gloucestershire, England, from whence the family came.
The meeting-house was probably built immediately after the church was gathered.
1723. Sixty acres of land granted by the town to the Society in the crotch of the rivers for the first minister that shall settle there. The same to be given to the Society over the Shetucket for their first minister. Jan. 4, 1725-6. The proprietors grant that spot of land the Newent meeting house now stands upon and ye common land adjoining to it to that Society for their use so long as they shall have occasion for it.
Joseph TRACY, Moderator
Lieut. Jabez HYDE
Deacon Christopher HUNTINGTON
Capt. Benajah BUSHNELL
The site of this building was about half a mile south of the present sacred edifice, and continued to be used until about 1770. (footnote: "It stood where Mr. Daniel HATCH's house now is." Nelson's Half-Century Sermon, 1854.)
The church has still in good preservation a large folio volume of the works of Baxter, sent as a present in former years from England. It was placed on Sundays upon the desk below the pulpit, and those who stayed between the services gathered around upon the nearest seats, and one of them read aloud for the edification of the others. (footnote: ibid.)
The inhabitants of Newent, in a petition to the General Court, October session, 1727, state that they had been afflicted with a distressing sickness for two successive years, especially in summer. In 1726, every family but one was smitten, and about twenty persons died in three months. In the summer of 1727, every family with no exception felt the scourge, and one-sixth of the male heads of families died. The farmers could not secure their crops, and though kindly assisted by people from other parishes, they lost some of their grain and much of their hay.
Rev. Daniel KIRKLAND (or KIRTLAND) was a native of Saybrook, born in 1701, and graduated at Yale College in 1720. His ministry in Newent was of nearly thirty years duration. He was a man of scholastic habits and high aspirations, but of sensitive organization. His failing heath led to his dismission from the pastorate in 1752. Recovering partially, he was installed at Groton in 1755, but after two years of service he again broke down, and returning to his old home in Norwich, there remained till his death, which occurred in May, 1773.
Mr. KIRKLAND had ten or twelve children. His second son, John, born Nov. 15 1735, was one of the first settlers of Norwich, Mass. Another son, Samuel, born Dec. 1, 1741, is well known as the Oneida Missionary, one of the most energetic, faithful, and self-denying men born within the limits of the old town Norwich
Mr. Peter POWERS was ordained the second minister of Newent, Dec. 2, 1756. He remained in charge seven or eight years, and then was dismissed at his own request on account of the insufficiency of his salary. Mr. POWERS was a man of marked character, earnest and energetic in action. From Newent he went immediately into the settlements then making in the Coos or Cohios country on Connecticut river, and organized a church in Haverhill, consisting of members from both sides of the river, that is from Haverhill, N.H. , and Newbury, Vt., over which he was installed Feb. 27, 1765, preaching his own installation sermon. Here he was accustomed to meet his appointments and make his parochial visits in a canoe, rowing himself up and down the stream,-an easier mode of traveling, probably, than that of mounting a horse and stumbling over half-cleared pathways, as in his former parish at Newent.
Mr. POWERS died at Deer Island, Maine, in 1799.* (footnote: For many interesting particulars respecting Mr. Peter POWERS, see History of Coos County, by Rev. Grant POWERS.)
The church at Newent, being left without a pastor, gradually declined, and for several years gave but feeble signs of life. Something like a reorganization took place in 1770; several of the Separatists returned to their old places, and Mr. Joel BENEDICT, a man of fine classical attainments, was ordained pastor of the church Feb. 21, 1771. He continued with them eleven years, when an infirm state of health, and the old difficulty, want of adequate support, dissolved the connection, and he was dismissed April 30 1782.
Dr. BENEDICT afterwards settled in Plainfield, and acquired a distinguished reputation as a Hebrew scholar. Hebrew, he said, was the language of the angels. He died at Plainfield in 1816.
In June, 1790, Mr. David HALE of Coventry was ordained. He was the brother of the accomplished and chivalrous Capt. Nathan HALE, who was executed as a spy on Long Island, by order of Sir William HOWE. Mr. HALE was a man of very gentle and winning manners, of exalted piety, and a fine scholar. He carried his idea of disinterested benevolence to such an extent, that if acted upon, it would overturn all social institutions. He thought it to be a man's duty to love his neighbor, not only as himself, with the same kind of love, but also to the same degree, so that he should not prefer, even in thought, that a contingent calamity, such as the burning of a house, or the loss of a child, should fall on his neighbor rather than on himself. Mr. HALE supplied the deficiencies of his salary by keeping a boarding-school. As an instructor, he was popular; his house was filled with pupils from all parts of the county, but ill-health and a constitutional depression of spirits obliged him to resign this employment, and eventually his pastoral office. His mind and nerves were of that delicate and sensitive temperament, which can not long endure the rude shock of earthly scenes. He was dismissed in April, 1803, returned to Coventry, and there died in 1822. David HALE, so well known as proprietor and editor of the Journal of Commerce, was his son.
These four ministers of Newent were all men of more than common attainments, and each was distinguished by peculiar and prominent traits of character. Neither of them died as minister of the parish. The four pastorates covered respectively twenty-nine, eight, eleven and thirteen years, with intervals between of four, seven, and eight years.
Rev. Levi NELSON, a native of Milford, Mass., the fifth pastor, ordained Dec. 5, 1804, was a man of great simplicity of character and purity of life. It was often said of him that he never had an enemy.
He preached his half-century sermon in 1854. Only one (footnote: Mrs. L. HOMMEDIEU of Norwich) of the thirty-eight members who received him as their pastor in 1804, was then living; but of the ordination choir, four were present and united in singing again the same hymns that formed a part of the original service. The old Kirtland church was then extant, seated in decaying dignity upon gently rising ground, with its barrack-like row of sheds spread out at the side like wings. The outside of the edifice had been covered and re-covered, as the wear and tear of years demanded, but no tool or painter's brush, under pretence of improvement or repair, had invaded the interior since it was first completed. The impression produced on the mind upon entering, was that of homely, stern solemnity. The pulpit was high and contracted, with a sounding-board frowning over it, and a seat for the deacons in front of it, below. The pews were square, with high partitions; the galleries spacious, with certain seats more elevated than others for the tything-men or supervisors of behavior. This venerable structure is believed to be the last specimen of the old New England sanctuary that lingered in the nine-miles-square. It was demolished when about eighty-eight years of age, and its place supplied by a new church, dedicated Sept. 15, 1858.
In 1843, the Newent church comprised 150 members, spread over a wide range of southern Lisbon, but two Methodist churches have since been formed in that vicinity, and Congregational influence has declined.
Rev. David BREED, Mr. NELSON's successor, was dismissed in 1862, and they have since had no settled pastor.
Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of Norwich, Connecticut. From its Possession by the Indians, to the year 1866. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Co., (1866). pages 439-443