HISTORY OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL SOCIETY CONTINUED.
IT will have been observed that during the early years of the history of the town, ecclesiastical affairs were the subject of business in the town meetings. Churches were built, pastôrs settled, and taxes laid for their support in the same manner that all other public expenses were provided for. This method of the support of religious institutions was continued long after the dissenters had become numerous, and after they had been relieved from taxes levied for the support of the Standing Order. Before the close of the last century, the inconvenience of conducting ecclesiastical and civil business by one organization had become so great, that a law was passed, authorizing the formation of ecclesiastical societies in the different towns, from which all secular business was to be excluded, and turned over to the towns in their corporate capacity. The law required, that on the application of a certain number of the principal inhabitants of a society thus proposed to be organized, a warrant might be issued by a Justice of the Peace, summoning the members to meet at the place of holding town
meetings, to organize the society, and assume the charge of ecclesiastical affairs in the town. The warrant in this case was issued by David Downs, Esq., a Justice of the Peace on the application of—
Silas St. John,
At this first meeting of the society, Deacon Isaac Chainberlain; Mr. PelatIah Pierce and David Downs, Esq.,
were chosen Society’s Committee, to act in society matters in the same capacity as selectmen act in the town affairs.
Colonel Samuel Canfleld was chosen society’s clerk, which office he held till 1805, when Dr. Samuel Rockwell was
chosen clerk, which oflice he held till 1836. Richard Smith, Esq., was then chosen clerk and has held the office
till the present time. Parson Smith, when in the maturity of his powers, was deemed one of the best preachers of
his time, in the ministerial circle with which he was connected. Other elements of character combined to make him
very strong in the affection and respect of his: people, and when old age with its attendant infirmities came upon
him, it does not appear that the parish entertained any desire for a change of its clerical relations. The first
movement in that direction was from Parson Smith himself. At a meeting of the society, holden On the ist Monday
of March, 1802, the following communication, from the minister, was laid before the meeting :— To the Church and
Jrit Society in Sharon—Beloved brethren
The fifth of October lnst completed a period of seven and forty years since I first came into this town to labor with you in the work of the, gospel ministry; however I was not ordained to that sacred work until the 28th of August following. During this lengh of time, I have labored with you by night and, by day, in season and out of season. I could have wished :that my labors might have ‘proved more successful, but this was not in my power to command, however sincerely desired and ardently prayed for; and now, at ‘length, worn down with age and bodily infirmities, I find myself unable to discharge the duties ,of that sacred office in such a manner as would be mOst useful and beneficial tO you The support of the gospel ministry will richly compensate for the good derived to Society, as it respects the life that now is, but if we take eternity into view, it becomes an object of infinite magnitude and importance. .‘
It is therefore, Brethren, my sincere desire, that you would invite and call in some suitable person to take part with me in the evangelical ministry, as a ‘colleague,’ and fellow laborer in this vineyard of our common Lord ‘and I shall always be ready to afford you my assistance, so far as my strength and ‘abilities will permit.. And that the burden of support might not be too great, I offer to resign my salary except the parsonage money which is about twenty pounds ten shilljngs, and nine pounds ten shillings’ in addition, which will amount to one hundred d dollars, whenever another minister shall be settled in this place.
This small compensation you will not think unreasonable to grant towards my. support and comfort during the remainder of my days, which in all probability will be but of short continuance.. And if any other method can be devised which’will be more agreeable ‘to the church and society, it shall meet with my hearty concurrence.
May the great Head of the Church guide and direct you in this important affair, and that the result may ‘be for the honor of God, the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, your present peace and future tranquility and happiness, is the most devout wish and fervent prayer of your sincere friend and, aged pastor and teacher. COTTON M. SMITH.’
Sharon, Feb. 9, 1802.
The only action taken by the society’ at its first meeting called to consider the application of Parson Smith, was a vote directing the committee to hire some person to assist him in preaching, but at a subsequent meeting held April 12, 1802, the society voted to comply with his request. During the two years which elapsed before the settlement of a colleague, Mr., Smith must have preached for a considerable portion of the time, as the society paid him two hundred and twenty dollars for his services ‘for the first year, and two hundred and eighty seven dollars for the second.
At a meeting of the society, holden on the 3d day of October, 1803, it was voted that a committee be directed
to hire the Rev. David L. Perry, or some other person, if he is not to be obtained, till further orders from the
society, and to give more importance to the measure, it was voted that Deacon Paul Smith, Capt. Samuel Pardee and
Deacon Benjamin Hamlin be appointed a committee to assist the present committee to hire some person to assist in
At a meeting holden on the 3d day of January, 1804, Mr. Abraham Beecher moved, that the society wish Mr. David L. Perry to settle as colleague with the Rtv. Cotton Mather Smith in the work of the ministry. This motion was postponed to a future meeting, and the committee were drected to hire Mr. Perry for six Sabbaths. At an adjourned meeting, holden on the 16th day of January, A. D. 1804, the motion was unanimously passed, with an oiler of a yearly stdary of five hundred dollars. This was then as large a salary as was paid to any minister in the consociation. Mr. Perry signified his acceptance of the call, and the first Wednesday in June, 1804, being the 6th day of the month, was appointed for the ordination. It took place according to the appointment, and the following is the order of exercises
Moderator of the Consociation—Rev. Amaria R. Robbins, of Norfolk.
Introductory prayer—By the Rev. Samuel J. Mills, of Torringford.
Sermon—Rev. David Perry, of Richmond, Mass., father of the candidate.
Consecrating prayer—Rev. Joel Bordwell, of Kent; Revs. Smith, Perry, Robbins and Mills, imposing hands.
Charge to the Pastor—By Rev. Cotton Mather Smith, his colleague.
Right hand of fellowship—Rev. Joseph W. Crossman, of Salisbury.
Concluding prayer—Rev. Jeremiah Hallock, of Canton.
The Rev. Mr. Smith continued in the ministry in Sharon until the 27th day of November, 1806, when the venerable and beloved pastor went down to the grave. After the settlement of Mr. Perry he preached but seldom. He however delivered a sermon on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination, which made the oc.casion one of the most tender and affecting interest. The character of this excellent man is well and very truly summed up in the epitaph inscribed upon his monument, which is as follows :—
The REV. COTTON MATHER SMITH,
Born in Suffield, Oct. 16, 1731, ordained in Sharon,
August 28, 1755, died Nov. 27, 1806, in the 76th year of
his age and 52d of his ministry.
Sound in the faith, in life and conversation as becometh the
Gospel, in doctrine incorrupt; in manner forcible and persuasive;
A fond husband; a tender father; an unvarying friend;
Having for more than fifty years, earnestly contended for the
faith once delivered to the saints, he is gone to render his
final account to the great captain of his salvation.
People of his charge, he still speaks to you in a voice
awful as death, solemn as the grave,
Prepare to meet your God.
The Rev. David L. Perry was born at Harwinton, Conn., on the 21st of June, 1777. He was the son of the Rev.
David Perry, who was then the minister of Harwinton, but who was afterwards and for many years settled at Richmond,
Mass. He was a graduate of Williams College of the class of 1798, and for three years commencing in October, 1800,
was a tutor in that institution. He studied divinity with the Rev. Dr. Backus, of Somers, Conn., and upon the unanimous
invitation of the church and society in this town, he settled here in the ministry as before stated. Soon after
his settlement, he married the only daughter of the Rev. Dr. Strong, minister of the first church in Hartford,
by whom he had ten children.
Soon after his settlement in Sharon, he purchased of Deacon Paul Smith forty acres of lanil lying on the east side of the town street, including that now owned by Mr. Henry J. Taylor. On this he erected a very neat and commodious brick dwelling house, which has been very much enlarged by subsequent owners, and which was his home during his life. The good taste of Mr. Perry in improving the grounds and beautifying the adjoining appurtenances have made it one of the most admired and desirable family residences in Sharon. He continued in the ministry here until his death on the 25th day of October, 1835, having been suddenly cut off by a stroke of apoplexy. He was a man of very pure character and of respectable talents, and he died much lamented by the people of his charge and his brethren in the ministry.
Up to the year 1807 all the expenses of the Society had been provided for by the levy of a tax on the polls and property real and personal of the members, except the income of the small fund arising from the sale of the original parsonage right. At the annual meeting of the Society in 1807, an important change in the method of providing funds was adopted. It was voted to rent the pews for one year to the highest bidder. This was so great an innovation that there were serious fears of its failure. The first committee appointed to sell the pews were Isaac Hunt, George King, Isaac Chamberlain, Samuel Rockwell, and Paul Smith, Jun. The proceedings were a success, and that method of raising money for the expenses of the Society has been continued with a few temporary exceptions to the present time.
In the year 1813, it had become apparent that the society was growing weaker in its means of supporting the necessary expenses of its institutions, and that the congregation was growing less in numbers. The emigration of its members and the increase of dissenters contributed largely to that result. Anxious for the maintenance of the Puritan system and for the continuance of the administration of gospel orditiances in their time-honored method in Sharon, the men of property in the parish undertook to raise, by subscription, a permanent fund, to be safely invested in securities by real estate, the income of which was to be applied to the payment of the expenses of the society. The whole sum was subscribed before the matter was brought before the society for its acceptance. The articles of subscription were drawn up in the most care ful manner, to insure the safety of the investments, and to direct the use of the fund to the purposes intended by the donors. The church is allowed to change its form of administration from Congregational to Presbyterian, but in other respects all deviations from the strictest rules of old New England Puritanism are forbidden. At a society’s meeting holden on the first day. of November, 1813, the fund was transferred to the society and accepted by it upon the terms and conditions specified in the article of subscription. it was placed in the care of the committee of the society. The amount subscribed in the first instance was over four thousand dollars. The old parsonage fund amounted to a little more than one thousand dollars, and several subscriptions, legacies and donations have been added since, so that the present amount of the fund is about seven thousand dollars. Of this sum, two thousand dollars has been invested in the parsonage. There were forty subscribers to the fund article, and the following is a list of the names of those who subscribed. fifty dollars and over :—
John Cotton Smith and son.......
This fund has been of very great utility to the society, giving stability to its proceedings and encouraging accession to its membership.
A stove was first set up jn the meeting house in 1818, against a strong opposition from some of the older members of the congregation.
The first twenty years of Mr. Perry’s ministry passed without any thing to mark it with any peculiarities. Several revivals of religion atttended the faithfulness of his ministry, and added to the membership of the church. Times had so changed, that those who disliked the ministry, instead of making their dislike known through their votes in the meetings of the society, would leave it without reproach, and unite with some other demomination of Christians, and the society thus left, though weakened in numbers by their secession, was strepgthened by the unity which it occasioned. Emigration, too, had caused the withdrawal of much strength from the parish. A revival of religion in 1823 added some one hundred members to the church, which gave it unwonted stability, and encouraged efforts to build up the society.
The great want of the society had been for many years a new jlace of wOrship. The old church, standing in the main street was out of repair, and in no way conformed with the requirements of modern taste or convenience.
Encouraged by the smiles of the Divine favor, and by theunity Of sentiment in favor of the measure, the society undertook, in 1823, to erect a substantial and costly edifice for the worship of God. At a society’s meeting, holden on the 20th day of October of that year, it was voted that John Cotton Smith, Edmund Bennett, Samuel Rockwell, Isaac Chamberlain, and Charles F. Sedgwick be a committee to enquire into the expediency to prepare a plan and furnish an estimate of the probable expense of building a new house of worship, and report to the next adjourned meeting. On the 18th of November following, the committee reported to an adjourned meeting of the society that it was inexpedient to repair the old church. They also recommended to the society to instruct the society’s committee to collect such information and make such estimates of the expense necessary to build a new church, as shall be necessary, and report to a future meeting of the society.
At the annual meeting of the society, in October 13, 1823, the following resolution was adopted, two-thirds of the voters being in the vote
Resolved; That whereas the present House of Worship in this Society is so far decayed as to be unfit for use or repair, it is expedient to erect by subscription, a new edifice for the worship of God.
Resolved. That Samuel Rockwell, Henry Reed, William M. Smith and Charles F. Sedgwick be a committee to solicit subscriptions for a sum not less than four thousand dollars, for the foregoing object.
This meeting was adjourned for two weeks, and at the adjourned meeting, the committee for obtaining subscriptions reported such success that a very strong vote was passed to proceed in the erection of a new house of worship without further delay. It was turther voted that a committee be appointed to adopt a place for this proposed building, to determine whether it should be constructed of brick or stone; to make the necessary contracts for the erection and completion thereof and to dispose of the old meeting house so as best to subserve the interests of the society in building another; the committee to consist of nine members, to be chosen by ballot, a majority of whom were to be competent for the transaction of business. The following named persons were appointed upon this committee :—
John Cotton Smith,
It was further provided that the committee should select three of their number, to superintend the building
of the house, and to collect and pay over to the treasurer of the society the monies subscribed for that purpose.
The persons selected as this sub-committee were Hezekiah Goodwin, William M. Smith and Charles F. Sedgwick. It
was determined to build the walls of the house of brick, on a stone underpinning, and a contract was made with
William Watson, of New Milford, a builder of high repute and long experience, to do the mason work of the house.
The woodwork was contracted to be done by James Jennings, of Weston, in New Fairfield county, who had been known
here as a builder of churches by his having been employed in such service in North Canaan and Warren a short time
before. Both these gentlemen fulfilled their contracts to the entire satisfaction of the committee and of the society,,
and all the expenses of the building were promptly met by the parish.
The following is a copy of the subscription paper to raise the thoney to build the meeting ‘house, with the names of those who subscribed to the amount of fifty dollars or over :—
SHARON, October 13th, 1822.
Whereas, the house dedicated to divine worship in. the first Ecclesiastical Society in Sharon is so far destroyed as to be unfit for use or repair,
Therefore, to erect a suitable edifice “for the service of Almighty God, according to the Congregational or Presbyterian system of faith and worship, the walls to be constructed of brick or stone, under the direction of the committee of said society, and to be located on land now- owned by Samuel Rockwell,
Esq., near the site of the present house; we, the subscribers,. do severally engage to pay to such committee the sums’ annexed to our respective names; one-half part thereof on the first of May next, and the remainder on the first day of’ November then following. Provided nevertheless that unless the amount of foUr thousand dollars shall be subscribed for the foregoing object, the present article shall not be obligatory’ on the subscribers, but shall be deemed of no effect.
John Cotton Smith and son..................
In the Spring of 1863 the subject of a thorough repair and alteration of the church was agitated, and received
the approval of nearly all the members of the society. At a meeting holden on May 29, 1863, Charles Sears, John
C. Terrett, Aaron R. Smith, Asahel A. Hotchkiss and Henry M. Gillette were appointed a committee to adopt a plan
of the proposed repairs, and in their report made to a subsequent meeting they, or a majority of them, were authorized
to proceed with such repairs and improvements, both inside and. outside, wherein the subscriptions for that purpose
should become binding, and also to constrUct a lecture room, whenever a subscription of sufficient funds could
While the church was being repaired, the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church was kindly offered for congregational Sabbath worship in the afternoon. Both congregations were every way well accommodated,. and were much enlarged during the continuance of the arrangement, and friendly feelings between them prevailed throughout the whole time thus occupied.
The proceedings of the committee in repairing the church were prosecuted with so much vigor, that it was occupied by the society, for public worship, on the 6th day of March, 1864. It was dedicated by appropriate ceremonies on the 2d of March, 1864, an historical sermon being preached by’ the pastor, the Rev. Mr. McLaughlin. The whole expense of repairing, painting and furnishing the house was four thousand and fiftyfour dollars, and provision was made to meet that whole sum before the .house was occupied..
The next indispensable item in the supply of the wants of the society was a parsonage, and on the 18th day of June, 1866, it was voted, nothwithstanding the great expeflse incurred in repairing and improving the church, to incur the greater expense of building a costly and beautiful parsonage. Joseph Bostwick, Aaron R. Smith, William W. Knight, Gilbert L. Smith and Hiram Weed were appointed a committee, to examine sites and raise money by subscriptions, to procure a parsonage and other appropriate buildings. This committee selected the site now occupied by the building, and on the. 16th day of July Henry M. Gillette, Joseph Bostwick, Aaron R. Smith, Gilbert L. Smith and Charles Sears were appointed a committee to go forward and erect the building. Some dissatisfaction with the choice of a site and other matters pertaining to the erection of-.the building exhibited itself, and another meeting was called to review, and perhaps reverse the proceedings of the last one ; but the young and enterprising men of the parish had the matter in hand, and the society sustajned their mGvement by a’ large majority. The whole expense of the building was $5,784, which was promptly met by the parish. It has also expended more than one thousand dollars in the purchase and improvement of their organ, but it is now entirely free from debt.
The following named gentlemen have been pastors of the church since Mr. Perry’s death, for the times indicated:
Rev. Mason Grosvenor, installed Sept. 28, 1836; dismissed May 14, 1839.
Rev. Grove L. Brownell, installed May 20, 1840; dismissed August 1, 1848.
Rev. Thomas G. Carver, installed Oct. 1, 1851; dismissed August 6, 1853.
Rev. Leonard K Lathrop, installed July 18, 1854; died August 20, 1857.
Rev. Daniel D. T. McLaughlin, installed January 18, 1859; dismissed June 7, 1865.
Rev. Alexander B. Bullions, D. D., the present incumbent, was installed May 28, 1868.
The following named persons have held the oñice of deacon in the church.
Nathaniel Skinner, elected in 1739.
Ebenezer Jackson, elected in 1739.
Matthew St. John, elected in 1745.
Jonathan Elmer, elected in 1746.
Ebenezer Frisbie, elected in 1755.
John Williams, elected in 1766.
Timothy Carvier, elected in 1766.
Daniel Griswold, elected in 1774.
Gain Miller, elected in 1781.
Joseph Landon, elected in 1781.
Benjamin Hamlin, elected in 1793.
Paul Smith, Jr., elected in 1793.
Isaac Chamberlain, elected in 1799.
Aaron Read, elected in 1812.
William Mather Smith, elected in 1828.
Charles Sears, elected in 1854.
John Cotton Terrett, elected in 1864.
Abel C. Woodward, elected in 1874.
Edward F. Gillette, elected in 1874.
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