INCORPORATION OF THE TOWN—FIRST TOWN MEETING—LIST OF OFFICERS CHOSEN—SETTLEMENT OF REV. PETER PRATT— FIRST MEETING HOUSE—ALARMING SICKNESS.
DURING the process of locating and settling the township, the inhabitants enjoyed no corporate privileges, nor had the town received any other name than that given it by the committee who laid it out in 1733. After so many inhabitants had removed into the town as came in the Spring and Summer of 1739, it became important that they should be invested with the usual privreleges of Towns, and they should receive a corporate name. A meeting was accordingly holden, and Captain Jonathan Dunham was appointed agent to make application to the assembly for a charter, with the usual privileges of Towns. The character, principles and expectations of the settlers are forcibly illustrated in their petition to the Assembly for an Act of Incorporation, which is as follows:-
To the Honorable, the Governor, Council and Representatives, in General Court assembled at New Haven, 2d Thursday of October, Anno Domini, 1739 :—
“The memorial of the subscribers hereunto, being the perSons who, by your Honors’ favor were allowed to purchase the southernmost township on the west side of the Housatonic River, which we have presumed to call by the name of Sharon, humbly showeth that the settlers on said tract of land are daily increasing in numbers, and that there are at this present time twenty-eight families settled there, and a considerable number that are not head of families, and all are united in a desire that the plan may have your Honors’ favor, protection and encouragement; that we may proceed with courage and resolution, not only to advance our estate, and temporal interest, but also the interest of religion there, and for that we humbly pray,—
1. “That we maybe formed as a Town, and have the same privileges as are allowed and granted to other Towns in this Colony.
2. “That we may have your Honors’ allowance to call and settle some orthodox minister of the gospel among us. This we the earlier ask, because we have a young gentleman now with us, in whom we think we can all unite, and who we think would be willing to undergo the difficulties of settling a wilderness country, that he might be instrumental in building up the interest of Christ there. Your Honors granting the favors prayed for will engage your memorialists ever to pray.
The petition was granted and the following is a copy of the act of incorporation:-
“Anno Regni Regis Georgii Secundi
“At a General Assembly holden at New Haven, in his Majesty’s Colony of Connecticut, in New England in America, on the second Thursday of October, being the 11th day of said month, and continued by several adjournments until the 31st day of the same month, annoque Domini 1739. Upon the memorial of the inhabitants of the southernmost town on the west side of the Ousatonic river, showing to the assembly the number of settlers now in said town, and the circumstances they are under, and praying for the countenance and favor of this assembly, first in allowing them to be formed as a town,
and to have the privileges of other towns in this colony, also to call and settle some orthodox minister in the work of the ministry’ among’ them.
“Resolved by this Assembly, that the inhabitants of said town, qualified as the law directs, shall have and enjoy all such rights and privileges, and have such powers as are usually granted to other towns in this colony and that said inhabitants shall have liberty to call and settle some orthodox minister of the gospel in the work of the ministry in that place, taking the ‘advice of the ministers of the neighboring churches, and that the town hereafter be called by the name of Sharbn. ‘And captain Jonathan Dunham of said town, is hereby appointed and empowerdd to cause the inhabitants of said town to meet in said town on the second Wednesday of December next, to choose town officers in said town for the year ensuing.”
Captain Dunham, in pursuance of the authority given him warned the first town’ meeting, and the town was fully organized for municipal purposes. For the information of the present generation, and to show in what way the business of this meeting was conducted, its proceedings are here copied from the records, preserving accurately the orthography of the original.
“The Inhabitance of Sharon aplying Themselves to the Genral assembly in October Last Past for Town Priviledges Cap Dunham was mad Choice of to Represent the Town to the Assembly, and having obtained the Desiar of the town he being ordered by the Assembly to Warn the Inhabitance in order To Chuse town officers which Being Dune the Inhabitance being met on the 11 day of December In ye yeare 1739 at the house of Nathll. Skinner In Sharon And then opened the meeting as the Law Dricts
"Cap Dunham Was Chosen moderator
“Leu Jabez Creppen John Sprague and Cap Jonathan Dunham Was Chosen Select men for the year insewing
“Nath Skinner Was Chosen town Clark
“James Smith was Chosen Constable and Sworn as the Law Directs
“George Way was Chosen Granjuery and sworn as the Law I)irects
“Ebenezer Mudg William Tickner Ebenezer ifrisbie and Cornelius Hamlin Was Chosen Surveys of high Ways and Sworn as the Law Directs
“Jeremiah foster Samuel Mudg and Thomas Creppen Was Chosen fence vewers and sworn as the Law Directs
“Samuel Comstock Was Chosen Colector
“Nathi Skinner Jun Was Chosen Leather Sealer
“Nathi. Skinner Jonathan Dunham and John Sprague Was Chosen a Com’tt. to go after a Minister.
“Nathi. Skinner and Lew. Jabez Creppen chosen a Com’tt. to Lay out a Beuring Place.
“It was further voted that a Note or Warning In writing set up at The house of John Sprague and Nathi. Skinner and at Garrit winegars mill Six Days before a town meeting Given Reasons of Said Meeting, Shall be a Lawful Warning for a town meeting.
“farther voted that Swin haven a Ring in their Noses Shall be accounted an orderly Creater.”
We have seen that at the first town meeting measures were taken to procure a minister to preach the gospel to the inhabitants. They evidently contemplated the employment of a minister in the early settlement of the Town, and such, too, it seems was the intention of the Assembly in sequestering two rights for the support of the gospeL This aid was afforded in order to assist a community which must necessarily have been weak and feeble in its infancy, in having a supply of the Word of Life, and the benefit of religious ordinances. Prompted by these encouragements, the first inhabitants of Sharon took early measures to settle a minister. The committee appointed at the first town meeting made application to Mr. Peter Pratt, of Lebanon, a candidate for the ministry, and graduate of Yale College, of the class of 1736, and on the 8th day of January, 1740, the Town called him “upon trial for some convenient time,” and laid a tax of fifteen shillings on a right for the payment of his services. His labors were acceptable to the people, and on the 14th day of March following, he was invited to settle over the’ church and congregation in the work of the ministry. The Town voted him a salary which would amount to about two hundred dollars per annum.* Mr. Goodrich and Mr. Sprague were appointed to treat with Mr. Pratt and to present to him the offers of the town. These were accepted by him, and the time fixed for the ordination was the last Wed nesday in April. It is supposed that it took place at that time, and that the services were performed in a private dwelling, as no place of public worship had been provided at that time.
The records of the Congregational Church in Sharon for the first fifteen years are lost. The exact date of the organization of the Church cannot, therefore, be determined. At a meeting of the Church in Westchester, a parish of Coichester, Conn., on the 28th day of April, 1740, Nathaniel Skinner (deacon), Jonathan Dunham, Jabez Crippen, Benjamin Fuller, Nathaniel Skinner, Jr., Thomas Skinner, David Skinner, Jonathan Skinner, Jabez Crippen, Jr., Samuel Mudge, Micah Mudge, Cornelius Hamlin, Alexander Spencer and Josiah Skinner “received letters of recommendation, in order to be embodied into a Church at Sharon, where they have for some time resided.”
At a meeting of the same Church, on May 18, 1740, (about three weeks after the former meeting) Jeremiah Foster, Mary Foster, Mary Skinner, Content Fuller, Elizabeth Skinner, Abigail Mudge, Mary Hampton, Mary Dunham, Mary Skinner, Jr., Eunice Mudge, Elizabeth Dunham, Lydia Crippen, Deborah Crippen, Thankful Crippen, Waitstill Heath, Abigail Skinner, Patience Fuller, Hannah Dunham and Martha Mudge received a letter of recommendation “to the Church in Sharon,” which indicates that this Church was organized between the meetings of the Church in Westchester.
The ministry being thus established, the next business in order was to provide a place of public worship; and to this object the attention of the Town was soon turned. On the 23d of June, 1730, the town voted to build a meeting house at some convenient time, 55 feet by 45, and 22 feet posts. This would have been a large house for those times, and as it was probably found to be more expensive than the circumstances of the town would authorize, it was abandoned for that year. In the mean time the inhabitants met alternately on the Sabbath, for public worship, at the house of Captain Dunham, and at the house of Mr. Pardee, and in the milder season of the year, the meetings were held in Mr. Pardee’s barn. For temporary accommodation, and until a better house could be provided, it was voted, in the Spring of 1741, to build a meeting house of logs or poles, 36 feet by 20. Where this temporary log meeting house stood, is not now known. It was used but a short time, as while it was building, measures were being taken by the town to build a house, which should be of sufficient dimensions to accommodate all the worshippers. It was voted that the new house should be 45 feet by 35, and 20 feet posts, and Capt. Dunham, Ensign Sprague, and Sergeant Pardee were appointed a committee to superintend its erection. A committee, appointed by the government, consisting of John Bostwick, of New Milford, and Samuel Lewis and John Mills of Kent, were called upon to fix its location, and it was determined that it should be erected in the middle of the street, directly opposite the tavern now kept by Mr. Perry Loucks. The building was commenced early in the spring of 1742, and in the course of the season it was so far completed, as that public meetings were held in it in the following October. But it was five or six years before it was finished and glazed. The Hon. Philip Livingston, who had become a large owner of real estate in the town, generously offered to give a bell for the use of the meeting house, provided the town would build a steeple, It was voted that this should be done at the north end of the meeting house, and Messrs. Dunham, Pdrdee and. Hutchinson were appointed a committee to return the thanks of the town to Mr. Livingston for his munificent offer. For some reason the bell was never procured, nor the steeple erected. The meeting house stood about twenty-five years, when it was found too small for public accommodation.
The first year (1739) was one of great promise and prosperity. The population rapidly increased and the productions of the soil richly rewarded the toil of its cultivators, but the month of May 1742 was marked by the commencement of a wasting sickness which overwhelmed the settlers with distress and threatened the entire breaking up of the enterprise. This calamity put it out of their power to comply with the condition of their bonds, and in their extremity they made application to the Assembly for relief. The following is a copy of their memorial, drawn up by the Rev. Mr. Pratt, which is a remarkable specimen of suppliant eloquence. It was addressed to the Assembly in the usual way, and proceeded to say
“That notwithstanding the smiles of Divine Providence upon us at our first settling in this place, in which we thankfully encouraged ourselves, yet so numerous have been the frowns, and so heavy the strokes of the Almighty in the year past, and so dark is the countenance of our present state, that we have not only been brought to uncommon continued distress, but even to despair of future prosperity unless relieved by your Honors’ favor. In May last it pleased the Almighty to send a nervous fever among us, which continued eleven months, in which time more than one hundred, and twenty persons were long confined with it, some have lain more than one hundred days, some eighty, many sixty, and few have been capable of business in forty days after they were seized with the distemper. By reason of which, many were unable to plow for wheat in the year past, many who had plowed were unable to sow, and some who had sowed unable to secure it by fence, and much wheat that was ripe, rotted on the ground. By reason of the sickness of the people, which was not only exceeding expensive to the persons and families sick, but also. to those who were in health, their time being taken up in tending those that were sick, many of whom were obliged to suffer for want of help. Twenty are dead, many widows and fatherless children are left among us, not a man but that has sustained loss—many who were more than level with the world are impoverished. The distress of the winter has been exceeding great and impoverishing. Our cattle are s9 destroyed that there is not a cow left to half the families in the town, and now many men are obliged to leave their business at home, and go twenty miles to labor for bread and corn, and so must continue to do until harvest, so that we are not now able to take up our bonds without being wrecked in our estates, some torn, others quite broke, so that not above three-quarters of us can save our home lots and pay our purchase. Neither can we maintain our minister, or build our Meeting House, but must quit the place, or. become tenants, we and our children, to neighboring rich merchants who are seeking our lands, but at their own price.
“Therefore we, a withering branch of this commonwealth, and the poor of this colony, would now humbly pray for your Honors’ assistance and gracious notice! And as our industrious improvements have been the admiration of all who have beheld our settlement, and far exceeding any other instance, of late plantation, we trust we may not after three years’ toil, sickness and went, be turned off from our lands; become tenants, or seek another settlement under worse circumstances than when we settled in this place, which, that your Honors would take into your wise consideration, and upon it graciously act towards us, is the earnest and necessary prayer of your Honors’ dutiful and humble mernorialists.”
The second application was successful to this extent, that the time for the payment of the bonds was extended some two or three years, and thus the settlers were able to meet their payments without further embarrassments.
These memorials explain how Philip Livingston and Martin Hoffman became large owners of real estate in Sharon at an early day, a fact which before was obscure. They were, undoubtedly, the rich neighboring merchants referred to in the memorial. The representatives of Philip Livingston are, still proprietors of the common land in Sharon.
The first death recorded of those residing in Sharon is that of Miriam, the wife of William Goodrich, Jun., which occurred on the 22d of April, 1740.
The following persons also, as appears of record, departed this life duriug the same season, viz.: Asa Rood, David Skinner, Mary, wife of Nath. Skinner Esq., Deacon Hezekiah King, Benjamin Fuller, Jonathan Dunham, Jun., Daniel Boziton, Daniel Boziton, Jun., in all nine persons.
The first person born in the town after Jehiel Jackson, before mentioned, was Sarah Bates, daughter to John and Anna Bates. She was afterwards the wife of John Randall, and lived to a very advanced age. The first marriage in the town was that of Elnathan Goodrich to Elizabeth Showers. It was celebrated on New Year’s day, January 1, 1740.
It is supposed that Nathaniel Skinner and Hezekiah King were the first deacons 61 the church. Deacon King, however, died during the first year, and was prol)ably succeeded by Jonathan Elmer. The first pound was erected where Mr. Jay S. Canfield formerly lived, it would seem from the votes on this subject, and also in relation to the location of the meeting house, that there was some strife between the inhabitants, as to where the centre should be established. Some were for having it fixed half a mile south of the place finally established, but the decision of the government’s committee seems to have quieted all difficulty on the subject.
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