METHODIST SOCIETY IN SHARON,
THE first preaching in Sharon by clergymen of the Methodist connection was in 1788. A Mr. Cook, an Englishman, preached once or twice at Samuel Hitchcock’s, in the south part of the town, and attracted considerable attention by his bold and stirring appeals to the conscience of his hearers. He also preached once or twice in the ball-room in Gallow’s tavern, which stood on the lot now owned by Robert S. Noyes, Esq. It was said that some of the authorities of the town intimated to the tavern-keeper that another license would not be granted to him, if he opened his doors again to the preacher. Very soon Freeborn Garretson, who was the Presiding Elder in an adjoining district, in the State of New York, was invited by Mr. Sylvanus Hanchett, who then lived where Alden Bryan now lives, to hold meetings at his house. An interesting discussion took place, at one of these meetings, between Parson Smith and Mr. Garretson, which excited much attention at the time. It related to the disputed points which divided the two denominations of which they were ministers. It is not supposed, however, that any good results followed the controversy.
The Rev. Fitch Reed collected some facts and published the result of his investigations many years ago, relating to the introduction of Methodism into Sharon, which are undoubtedly authentic, as they were obtained from living witnesses, and which are of much interest to the present generation of that denomination in the town. The following is copied from Mr. Reed’s statements :—
“Mr. Aipheus Jewett, father of the late Rev. William Jewett, of the New York Conference, and of the late Hon. Judge Jewett, of Skaneatles, New York, and his wife were the first persons who joined the Methodist church in Connecticut. Freeborn Garretson was the first Methodist preacher who visited that section. Jesse Lee soon after formed a Society in the south part of the State. These facts I learned from Rev. William Jewett, and they were afterwards confirmed to me by
his father and mother.
The young Society in Sharon was supplied with preaching once in two weeks in the afternoon of a week day. Mr. Jewett was a farmer, and in the season of haying and harvest employed a number of extra laborers. He always invited his workmen to accompany him to the preaching, and they usually went. One day a Mr. Maxam, a poor man, declined thus going for the reason that he was poor and could not afford to lose the time. On Mr. Jewett’s offering to pay him for the time thus spent, he went, was awakened and converted and lived to extreme old age, a faithful and useful member of the church.
A colored man, Black Harry, as he was called, a local preacher, often accompanied Mr. Garretson in his travels. Harry once spent two or three weeks in Sharon, and made himself very useful in preaching. Some unprincipled person invented and circulated an infamous story about him, and as it involved-an alleged crime against thepèace and good order of socifty, he was arrested and brought to trial before the civil authorities. The crowd assembled to witness the proceedings was so great that the Court was held in the Congregational Church on the public green. The result was’ that not a shadow of crimi nalily was proved against him, and he was honorably discharged Andrew Harpending, a traveling preacher of some note, happened to be present, and as the people began to leave’ the church, he procured a table and taking his stand upon it in the open air, preached one of his characteristic sermons, loud, fearless and earnest. A young lady, living half mile south; not being, permitted to attend the meetings, stood at an open upper window, and there distinctly heard the preaching and under its influence was brought to a saving knowledge of God So God often works in unexpected ways and “makes the wrath of man to praise him.”
As the Methodist Society in Sharon is located contiguous to the State of New York, it has always been connected with circuits and districts in that state The circuits for many years extended into the counties of Dutchess and’ Columbia, and rendetéd mesessary a tri-weekly travel of some twos hundred miles fer the preachers. As the preachers increased in numbers, and the means ‘of their support were multiplied, the circuits were diminished in extent, and the appointments for preaching were more frequent. Meetings were held at private houses, and the preaching place in Sharon was at Mr. Jewett’s. The old gentleman used to speak with great satisfaction of the large numbers of Methodist ministers, including Bishop Asbury, whom he had entertained at his house. The society, has never been destitute of regular preaching since its formation.
The first camp meeting in Connecticut was holden in the summer of 1805, in a grove near the road leading north from Austin Cartwright’s, and such success attended the proceedings that another was holden the next year near the house of Mr. J ewett. The exercises on both occasions were marked by the intensely earnest preaching, the fervent prayers, and the loud and lofty singing of God’s praise, which characterized the early worship of that most remarkable body of Christians. Mr. Garretson had the charge of both meetings as Presiding Elder of the district. The camp meetings for the two succeeding years were held in Goshen.
The society erected, in 1808, a meeting house, in Calkins town so called. It stood facing the termination of the highway leading from Mr. Jewett’s north to that locality, and it was their place of worship for nearly thirty years. And when in subsequent years, the progress of the society and the wants of the church demanded more enlarged accommodations, it was interesting to observe the lingering fondness with which the older members of the society cherished the memory of the scenes of spiritual joy and growth in grace, which religious exercises in that old tabernacle of the Lord had promoted and cherished. It had become amiable in their cherished recollections.
When, in 1835, it was deemed advisable to erect a new house of worship, it was found necessary to organize the society according the existing statute of the state. The law in that respect has since been altered, so that the ecclesiastical organization Of. the Methodist Episcopal Church becomes a legal orgathzation, under the laws of the state. An enrollment of members was had, which was afterwards organized into a legal Ecclesiastical Society, in due form of law.
The following is a copy of the Article of enrollment and the appended names of the members, which must be deemed well. worthy of preservation by their successors in all time to come.
We, the subscribers, for the purpose of availing ourselves of the rights, powers and privileges of a certain statute law of the state of Ccnnecticut; eptitled “An Act relating to religious societies and congregations," and for the maintenance of public religious worship in the town of Sharon, in the county of Litchfield and State aforesaid, according to the forms and usages of the Methódist Episcopal Church, do, by voluntary Association of ourselves, for the purposes aforesaid, hereby institute and establish a religious society or congregation to be known and called by the name of the Methodist Episcopal Society in Sharon, and do hereby enroll ourselves as members of said Society, to be ‘governed by all the laws regulating said societies except that Of taxation. — Witriess our hands—
Zaccheus W. Bissell,
The following is a record of the proceedings of the first meeting of the Society:-
“At a meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Society. of Sharon, holden on the 13th day of January, A. D. 1835, in pursuance of a warrant under the hand of Charles F. Sedgwick, Justice of the Peace for the County of Litchfield— “Rev. Julius Field was chosen moderator.
“Zaccheus W. Bissell chosen clerk pro tern. and duly sworn.
“Horace Reed was chosen clerk for the year ensuing of the Society.
“Elijah H. Williams was chosen treasurer for the year ensuing.
“Zaccheus W. Bissell, Ira Williams, Richard’ Clark were appointed a Society committee for the year ensuing.
“Richard Clark, Ira WillIams, Zaccheus \V. Bissell were appointed trustees of the Society.
“Virgil B. Roberts, Horace Reed, Zaccheus W. Bissell Ira Williams and Elijah H. Williams were appointed a building committee.
“Voted, that the church about to be erected by this Society shall be located in Sharon Village, on such piece of land as may be purchased by this Society for the erection of said church, and of which a deed shall be executed by the owner of said land to the Society, for the purpose aforesaid.”
The new church building was erected and finished in 1836.
In the subsequent Spring it was dedicated to religious use and worship, with appropriate ceremonies, by the Rev. Nathan Bangs, D.D., an eminent clergyman of the denomination, whose family in the early years of his ministry had lived in the town while he was fulfilling his appointment as preacher on this circuit. The house has been altered and improved in many respects since its first erection, and is now, probably, the most costly and tasteful church of that denomination in the county of Litchfield.
The following is a list of the preachers who have supplied the pulpit in Sharon since 1828:
Wm. S. Stiliwell,
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