The first merchants at Coventryville is supposed to have been Otis LOVELAND, who traded some three or four yeas from about 1801. He was succeeded by Russell WATERS, who traded until 1816, when he moved to the farm now occupied by Frank PEARSALL. About 1818, Levi PARKER built a store on the site of the residence of George MINOR, which is believed to have been first occupied by Thomas W. WATKINS, whose father-in-law, Burrige MILES, leased the land on which it stood, the condition of the lease being that it should be occupied as a store and nothing else "as long as grass grows and water runs." A part of Minor's residence is still fitted up for a store to comply with the requirements of the lease although it is not used as such. Watkins traded but a few years. John REED and Charles G. OSBORN, traded in the same place under the name of Reed & Osborn until about 1855. George MINOR kept a small store on the same ground about two years, when Benjamin SLATER from Norwich rented and kept it two years. In the meantime he built the store now occupied by William LAMAN, which he occupied until 1856, when he sold to Calvin FRANKLIN and Peleg PENDLETON, who traded about three or four years and moved to Greene. Harris BRIGGS and Rufus CORNWELL bought out Franklin & Pendleton, and traded some two years, when Cornwall bought out Briggs' interest. In the spring of 1867 Cornwell sold to W. H. IRELAND, who carried on the business for a number of years with his cousin, Oliver IRELAND, and afterwards with his brother-in-law, Thomas GREENE. Then Charles TURNER one and a half years; E. M. NOLTON two years; George R. JOHNSON one year, and William LAMAN, the present store keeper 22 years. The last four merchants held the postoffice at the same time.
The first postoffce at Coventryville is believed to have been established in 1807 and kept by Jotham PARKER, about half a mile south of the village, where he also kept a small store. Just when the office was moved to the village and who kept it there, whether Thomas W. WATKINS or Russell WATERS, who are believed to have followed in succession is uncertain. Waters, it is supposed, held it until 1816 when he was succeeded by Dr. Edward CORNELL, who held it until his death, July 19, 1849. He was succeeded by Leonard R. FOOT, who held it about four years. Foot was followed by C. G. WATERS who held it until about 1857, when Peleg PENDLETON was appointed. Pendleton was succeeded about 1861 by Rufus CORNELL, who held it until the spring of 1867, when William H. IRELAND was appointed.
The first physician of whom we have any authentic information was Ashel WILMONT who moved to Coventry in the spring of 1835. Edward CORNELL, whose father was one of the first settlers in Guilford, was practicing here in 1827, and continued until his death, July 19, 1849, at the age of 56 years. Tracy S. CONE came to Coventryville about 1850, practiced about twelve years and moved to South Oxford. Charles G. ROBERTS located there a few years after Cone left and practiced until the death of his father, Dr. George W. ROBERTS in Greene, Feb. 10, 1870, when he moved there and took his place. Dwight E. CONE, a nephew of Tracy S. Cone, went there about 1875 and practiced some two years, and is now located at Fall River, Mass. Dr. BARTLETT practiced there a few years in the early seventies.
The First Congregational church of Coventry at Coventryville was organized November 19, 1807, by David HARROWER of Sidney, with the following members: Noah RICHARDS, Stephen DODGE, Benjamin BENEDICT, Abijah BENEDICT, Benjamin HOTCHKISS, Sarah, wife of John STODDARD; Anna, wife of Eliakim BENEDICT; Abigail, wife of Abijah BENEDICT; Lois, wife of Stephen DODGE; Beulah, wife of John HOSKIN; Isabelle, wife of Noah RICHARDS; Roxalina, wife of Daniel BROWN; Hannah, wife of Ozias YALE and Penelope, wife of Henry CHANDLER. For several years previous to the organization of the church public worship was maintained in private houses, although there was not a man in the settlement who was a professor of religion. The wives of these New England pioneers, impelled by the early training received in their eastern homes and a desire to perpetuate the sacred office in their new abodes, incited meetings on the Sabbath. The services consisted at first of reading, singing and praying, and were conducted by a man who was deemed most capable, although he "was not pious." The number who attended was not large at first but they attended regularly, although they lived at remote distances from each other. They struggled in poverty and in the midst of the trials and incidents to a new country their dependence for a year or two for a leader being on one man of poor health and one very aged man, holding their meetings after a time in the school house. But their number gradually increased with new accessions to the settlements, which brought an addition to their leaders in the person of an aged man who came five miles on horseback and assisted them when he could. The reading of printed sermons was soon added to the services. Their meetings continued several years when an old preacher, named CAMP, joined them and preached part of a year. He was followed by a gentleman from England, styling himself a Presbyterian or Congregationalist, who preached here a year of two and left in 1807. A sufficient number, either professors or those interested in devotional exercises had settled in the locality to warrant the formation of a society, and articles of faith and covenant were adopted by each of the fourteen previously named, except Stephen DODGE and Beulah HOSKIN, who dissented from the articles respecting the dedication of children in baptism. Numerous additions were made to the membership by baptism and otherwise during the early years of its organization. Twenty-four joined the following year and in 1823 the membership had increased to 116. September 1, 1808 Christopher S. M. STORK and Noah RICHARDS were chosen deacons. The society connected with this church was organized at the school house in the eastern part of the town at a meeting over which Benjamin JONES and Ozias YALE presided, Feb. 7, 1804. Jotham PARKER, James WYLIE, JR., and Christopher S. M. STORK were elected trustees. The name adopted was the First Congregational Society in Greene, of which this town then formed a part. September 14, 1819, the name was changed to First Congregational Society of the Town of Coventry. At this time Rev. Horatio T. McGEORGE was the pastor. He was dismissed March 16, 1807. February 24, 1808, a call was extended to Rev. Joseph WOOD to preach the gospel in this place. It is presumed that the call was accepted for on September 6, 1808, it was recorded that he became a member of the church. In the fall of 1811, Charles W. THORP of Butternuts, a candidate for the ministry, engaged to preach for a short time in this place, and on January 13, 1812, the church voted to call him to the pastorate. He was ordained July 8, 1812. Revs. David HARROWER, Joel T. BENEDICT, Joel and Henry CHAFIN, being the officiating clergymen. Mr. Thorp's pastorate was closed June 10, 1823. He was followed after an interval of two years, which was filled by occasional supplies, by Rev. Anbrose EGGLESTON, who commenced his labor in May, 1825. June 11, 1827, Mr. EGGLESTON received a call to the pastorate, and was ordained June 21 of that year. He continued his labors as pastor three years. During his pastorate several members of the church withdrew to form and unite with the Second Congregational Church of Coventry. In 1830, Rev. N. GOULD labored with them part of a year, and Rev. Oliver HILL part of the year 1831 as stated supply. Rev. Daniel BUTTS commenced his labors in 1833 and closed them the third Sunday in June, 1835. In 1836 Rev. Elisha WHITNEY was sent by the Home Missionary society, to whom application was made for aid February 8, 1836. He remained one year. Rev T. A. EWEN commenced his labors May 15, 1836, and closed them in May, 1841. He was succeeded in the fall of 1841, by Rev. Chrispus WHITE, who was installed pastor May 11, 1842, and dismissed April 1, 1851. Rev. G. M. SMITH entered upon a one or two years' pastorate Sept. 1, 1851. He was succeeded after an interval of about two years by Rev. William H. LOCKARD who served four and one-half years. After an interval of one year Rev. Isaac D. CORNELL became the pastor and remained seven years, until 1865. An interval of about one year lapsed when Rev. S. S. GOODMAN began his labors and continued them one and one-half years. After an interval of six months Rev. George D. HORTON began an eight years' pastorate. He was succeeded by Rev. Henry C. CRONIN, who commenced his labors in December, 1878. In May, 1881, Rev. WARREN came, for two years. Rev. Austin CALDWELL, three years. 1890, Rev. John F. GEDDES, one and one-half years; 1893 to '96, Rev. Joel F. WHITNEY; 1896 to '98, Rev. R. C. LANSING; 1898 to 1905, Rev. A. McINTYRE; 1905 to '07, Rev. A. C. DODGE; 1909 to 1911, Rev. G. P. LINDERMAN.
April 7, 1808, the church voted to build a meeting house 36 by 54 feet, and the following year the present church edifice was erected. Philo and Ozias YALE scored the first stick of timber used in its construction, and the former drew it to the spot where the church now stands after it was hewed by Abijah BENEDICT. After the church was enclosed services were held in it for two or three years without any fire, to make the worshippers comfortable benches without any backs supplied them for seats. In this rude structure contrasting so strangely with the comfortable, even luxurious, appointments of our present houses of worship men, women and children assembled in cold winter weather and listened to two sermons each Sunday with naught save clothing of their own manufacture to keep themselves warm. Oh, for more of that spirit today, there would not be so many half filled churches. After a time square box pews, then in vogue, were substituted for the rough benches. The church was remodeled and repaired and a new bell and steeple added in 1840, at a cost of $1,492, and some twelve years later the interior was repaired and remodeled at an expense of $500. Only occasional trifling repairs have been made. The church has had a good parsonage for many years. The pecuniary embarassment of the church were very great and many sacrifices were made in those early days to sustain the gospel. During Mr. Thorp's pastorate the society was confronted with the necessity of raising an indebtedness which stood against it or suffer a loss. Mr. Thorp made strenuous effort to raise the money and after all was raised that it was thought could be, there was a deficiency of $65.00. In this dark hour he went with his troubles to Deacon STODDARD, grandfather of John Stoddard, now deceased, who lived in Coventryville. The Deacon was in the field plowing with a yoke of oxen. He sat upon the plow beam and after a few minutes reflection he arose, unhitched the oxen, drove them away and sold them, paying the debt with the proceeds. Such were the difficulties which confronted the little colony in their efforts to establish in the inhospitable wilds of their new homes that religious culture which had hallowed the associations of their native land, and such the heroism and devotion with which they were met and overcome.
The residents of this town still retain more thoroughly than in most parts of this territory the sterling character of their Puritan ancestors. Among the prominent men in early days, noted for piety and energy, were: C. S. M. STORK, John STODDARD, 1ST, John STODDARD, 2ND, A. IVES, P. YALE, O. YALE, Philo MINOR, B. BENEDICT, T. BLAKE, Ishmal ROGERS, Russell WATERS, and later Eden, Eliakim, and Ira BENEDICT, Moses MILES, Marshal MILES, and still later Jared BASSETT, B. BUCKLEY and B. TAGGART.
Previous to 1815 the church was connected with the Northern Associated Presbytery. In February of that year it united with the Union Association. June 19, 1827, it was received under the care of the Chenango Presbytery. April 17, 1842, it resolved to ask for a dismission from the association and stand neutral for a while until prepared to chose where to unite. June 10, 1845, it was again received under the care of the Chenango Presbytery. At present it stands related with the Presbytery of Binghamton. The number of members in June, 1879, was 150, the average attendance at Sabbath school, 60.
The first thing the farmers had to sell was lumber and the first of that was pine shingles. Pine was very plenty and they made shingles thirty inches long and sold them for $1.00 a thousand. They sold good pine lumber for $4.00 a thousand. About a mile north west of Coventryville, is a stream sawmill owned by Ray SEELEY, and built by his father, William, many years ago; and one and one-half miles north is another owned by George HODGE and built by Edwin OGDEN.
About three and one-half miles south east of Coventryville is a grist and sawmill which was built some thirty years ago by John LANDERS and owned for a good many years by his sons, FREDERICK and JOHN. I think it is not running now. As has been said there was a gristmill, a carding and cloth dressing mill, all combined, a little south of Coventryville about two miles west of Coventry owned and run by Mr. BRAINARD, who afterwards run the gristmill at Center Village.
The saw mills run by water were many, every little stream had from one to four. I think it would be safe to say there were fifteen or more in the town. Fifty years ago there were four cooper shops running at full blast, two and three men working in each shop. The LAMAN Bros. told me that they have had six men working in their shop at one time.
The first tannery and the only one in town was built by John FOOT about 1805 and was run until about 1890, most of the time it did an extensive business. David HAYES run it for many years until his death which occurred in 1864, after that it was run by John DIBBLE until about twenty years ago. We feel as though this history would be incomplete without the review of one hundred years. Although I have written a little of it, it contains many incidents and thrilling scenes which I must record, but before the review comes, I think we had better have a poem, written by Mrs. BENEDICT, the poetess of Coventryville church.
When for their country men can die,
Perchance a garland wreathes their name;
And in the nation's archives high,
The centures finds their deeds of fame.
But men may live and toil, and do
Their duty with persistent will;
And building for the good and true,
Their simple lives with gradeur fill.
Such men were here! we may not know
The self-denying love that thrilled
Their hearts, and made them warmer glow,
While patiently the soil they tilled.
"Now let rise and build for God!"
With one united voice they cry;
Then ready feet the forest trod,
And marked the tall pines stretching high.
Axes with true and steady stroke
Brought down the monarchs of the soil;
The sure strong oxen bore the yoke
Of service in the daily toil.
The sills were laid, the rafters rose,
And, slow and sure, the work went on,
O'ercoming all that might oppose,
Until the "meeting-house: was done.
Fronting the south it proudly stood;
Was entered by a double door;
Plain and unpainted was the wood,
No fires within, and bare the floor.
By narrow stairs the preacher climbed,
To reach the pulpit placed so high,
And if his sermons were well timed,
He upward drew each heart and eye.
But as improvement makes its way,
Where earnest working souls are found,
It happened that once on a day,
The ancient-looking house turned round.
And when the rosy sunshine streamed
One morning over hill and dell,
Upon a pillared front it gleamed,
And music floated from the bell.
The seats were changed. The pulpit then
Was taken from its lofty perch
For desk and sofa; that was when
The meeting house became a church.
Will we not gladly gather here,
And in the same strong, helpful name
Of Him who lead our father's on,
Press forward in the way they came?
With reverent step these aisles they trod;
Their voices bent in prayer and song;
They simply came to worship God,
And counted not the hours too long.
T'was here the grave old deacons sat
Serenely, this side, in their pews;
And, while at church, we're certain that
They ne'er discussed the weekly news.
Where are the builders? Toiling hands
And eye that looked with joy and pride
Upon this house, that firmly stands
Are closed and folded side by side.
The summer grasses o'er them creep,
The winter snows upon them fall;
Over their graves none pause to weep,-
Yet "by their works" remember all.
How changed! Today could they but view
The place where once, with placid mien,
They always sat two sermons through,
With lunch and Sunday school between.-
What would they think of weary souls
Who scarce can wait till one is through?
Though blest with warmth of glowing coals,
With shutters, carpets, cushioned pew.
I look, but memory fondly throws
O'er all these seats its blissful rays;
I only see the forms of those
Who gathered here in other days.
The hymns come floating from above,
The grand old fugue, the anthem bold.
But the lips that sung the Saviour's love,
To earthly songs are hushed and cold.
We in the earthly temple,-they
In one to mortals yet unseen,
Where floods of heavenly radiance play,
Yet but a shadow lies between.
Perchance some helpful message, borne
Downward on trembling lines of light,
Cheers weary hearts or hearts that mourn,
Making some sadden moment bright.
Some day we hope to upward rise,
And join the heavenly, happy band,
In worship pure beyond the skies,
In temples built by God's own hand.
But this with years and honor crowned,
We consecrate, O Lord, to Thee!
Here help and strength our fathers found;
Here may our labors ever be.
Coventry is an ancient English covenant town in Warwickshire, on the Sherburne river, an affluent of the Avon; about eighteen miles east, south east of Birmingham, pleasantly and advantageously located in the very center of old England. It is a quaint old city mellow with years, dating back to the early part of the eleventh century, rich in everything of which England may be proud, yet of its antiquity, or legends or history or architecture, its feudal forms of church and state, is not our province here to speak. We give it honorable mention, a cordial greeting, because it is the venerable grandmother of our own Coventry in Chenango county, New York. Like its grandame, our Coventry is situated almost in the very center of this great Empire State; whilst not possessing hoary or renowned antiquity, yet it can proudly boast of as favorable location, as fine climate, as rich soil, as industrious, contented and intelligent people as can be found in any country. Coventry, Tolland county, Connecticut, in the north east part of the State, was so named by people settling there from this same old Coventry in England; yet of the circumstances and the time of its settlement there is no record. It is at present a quiet, prosperous New England town, with all modern facilities, two Congregational churches, one Methodist, one Episcopal and a Catholic. Some men, both great in church and State, had their birth in this place. NATHAN HALE, the veteran spy of the Revolution, was a native of this town; HARLAM PAGE of Tract Society fame, belonged to this place. From here a goodly number of men entered the ministry, among them Rev. BADGER connected with the American Missionary Association. With dates and personnelle not at all uncertain, we can therefore trace the origin, right and title to the name we bear.
Coventry of the Empire State, then is the legitimate daughter of a worthy mother. All, three, daughter, mother and grandmother, redoubtable factors in the world's life and history, living and vigorous, yet independent and almost unknown to each other. With few exceptions these early settlers came from Connecticut. This immigration from the homeland occupied a period of thirty years, 1785 to 1815. New England life has left its impress upon the steady habits and intelligent character of the people to this day. These men and women too, for we cannot ignore the fact that it takes the man and the woman to make complete humanity; the man to conquer nature, and the woman to beautify and adorn the house. These persons were not God's in the old fabulous scene, nor were they giants in the scripture sense. They were strong, hardy, vigorous pioneers, able to battle with the difficulties of a frontier life and to solve the problem of building homes and planting a Christian civilization on the very outskirts of the forest world. Worthy successors of the early sires of the Mayflower. The forest was dense, the trees of great size, wild game plentiful, panther, bear, wolf, deer and small game in abundance. It needed the sinewy body, the brawny arms, the active brain, the level head of the old Puritan stock to swing the ax, fell the trees, clear the fields, build the log cabins and plant the first crop, to sow the first seed in the virgin soil. This stamp of brawn and muscle only could succeed in the wilds of such a wilderness to claim the country for God and civilization and to make it the habitable abode of cultured men and women. This honor belongs to the hardy sons of New England. No other type of men would have been equal to the undertaking. We of today are apt to discount the old-time Puritan. We imagine him gloomy, morose, unsocial, aggressive, tyrannical, domineering, overbearing. Some of this may be true, much of it is a great mistake. He was genial, healthy, robust, natural; a tremendous will power; a man for emergencies; a meddler with things difficult and greatly inclined to undertake the impossible. His theology made him the man he was. It is theology that made him the man; that makes the nation; that makes the people. The old New England Puritans would ring from God, nolens volens; the agreement, the pledge that he was, without doubt or forfeiture, one of the elect children destined for all eternity; a chosen man of the Almighty. With this consciousness he was a power unconquerable, invincible. Nothing impossible with God on his side. No other consideration can account for or explain the reason why New England has so stamped itself on the national life. Such were the forefathers of this country; well and nobly did they do their part in the modeling of the grand old Empire State.
The first settlement in Coventry was in 1785, and just three years after this the first school house was built, indicating that the settlers located here with great rapidity and educational facilities were therefore a need. This school house was built of the same material as the house at that time, a log structure. It served a threefold purpose of school house, meeting house and town hall. The building stood about one-fourth of a mile south of this village, on the other side of the brook, about seven rods to the west after crossing the bridge on the road to Afton on lands now owned by Frank PEARSALL. Sixteen years ago in this house where we now assembled, in the presence of an appreciative audience the one hundredth anniversary of the relic of the past was celebrated. Hon. Edgar A. PEARSALL and Mrs. William Henry BENEDICT did honors to the occasion; the one by his eulogy, the other by a poem rehearsed in eloquent and appropriate language the history of the old log school house. A memorial stone should mark the site to keep it in perpetual remembrance. Wherever the New Englander went his theology went. The religious usages of childhood, youth and early manhood could not be effaced. Church members or not, he was accustomed to regular attendance at the house of God every Lord's day, and this habit followed him into his frontier forest home. Before building the school house the people met on the Sabbath day from house to house, to read the scriptures, sing and pray, though none of them were professing Christians. The wives of these New England pioneers, influenced by their early home training, were the chief promoters of the Sabbath gatherings. The Christian world will never know how much it is indebted to the Godly women of the early settlements. Although a few in numbers and the people living far apart, these services were regularly maintained and the number increased by new comers. The building of the house of worship was a serious undertaking the country yet scarcely settled, and but little wealth, yet enterprise and perseverance overcame all obstacles. The building was reared and enclosed but resources failed and there it must rest awhile. Several years elapsed before its completion. The form of the building was square and it faced the south. Rough plain benches served for seats, the only heating apparatus, the foot stoves brought by the women from their homes. The pulpit, a small box like structure, midway between the floor and the ceiling, reached by a narrow stairway. Usually there was a sounding board above the pulpit, over the minister's head to force the voice downward to the audience. In summer time worship, setting on rough benches might be agreeable but in the severity of the winter it would be a difficult affair. Imagine a congregation in the coldest of the weather sitting on those hard seats, wrapped in their warmest homespun clothing. The minister in a heavy overcoat buttoned up to his chin on his head a heavy woolen or silk skull cap, holding a service for two long hours or more in which he dives deep into the mystic lore of speculative philosophy, of intricates, phyological (sic) research of the unfathomable depths of God's infinite being. His eternal decrees, and his wonderful plan of salvation for the redemption of a lost and ruined world.
The people listening in respectful attitude give close attention to the spoken word and you have a picture of a devout worshipful assembly of the olden times worthy of our deepest and profound regards. Such were the fathers and mothers of Coventry one hundred years ago, earnest and sincere worshipers of God. Up to the present date affairs stood thus: 1785, the first settlement; 1788, the first school house; 1804, the first society organized; 1807, the first church assumed righteous life; 1809, the first meeting house erected. The first general election of the town was held the 29th and 30th days of April and the first day of May, and Gen. Benjamin JONES was elected Member of Assembly.
An amusing incident is told of Gen. JONES' journey to Albany to take his seat. Travelers then had to find their own conveyance and Mr. Jones fell in with a teamster, who was going to Catskill, and bargained for a ride. The journey was long and Mrs. Jones therefore prepared for her husband a well-filled box of provisions. The first night out he had some doubts as to the propriety of a member of the Assembly carrying a box lunch under his arm, agreed with the teamster to take charge of it when they arrived at the hotel and at a suitable time, invite Mr. Jones to eat with him. Under the circumstances the teamster condescended to do so and all went well. At the proper time the teamster opened the box and proceeded quietly to eat his supper without any courteous invitation to his legislative associate. Mr. Jones, after waiting some time, suggested to the teamster that as the victuals looked tempting he felt much inclined to partake with him. The teamster looked up and in an unmannerly way replied: "You can if you want to, of course, the victuals are good!"
A story is told of Burige MILES, which should not be left out of this sketch. The log hut which became his dwelling when he first came into the country, was the log house already built by Royal WILKINS, but no door as yet had been hung and a heavy blanket was kept to supply the place. A blazing fire on the hearth was expected to burn all night to frighten away the wild animals. With loaded gun at his pillow, Miles slept the first night in his unfinished hut. In the late hours of the night, a panther stuck his head through the blanket and gave a fierce howl. The sleeper sprang from his bed and seizing his gun, found the fire had gone out. He could perceive only the fiery eyeballs of the wild animal and his unerring gun dealth death to the intruding brute.
Mrs. Eunice STORK and three sons, CHRISTOPHER L. M., WILLIAM and LUTHER came into the country in 1792. The husband and father was a sea captain and out on a voyage at the time of the immigration from the homeland. On arriving at port he followed his family. But a frontier life was too tame for him and he returned to the charge of his vessel which proved his last voyage. The ship floundered at sea and went down with all on board. Christopher L. M. Stork's name stands prominent in the organization of the parish and also of the church in 1807. He was elected to the office of deacon in 1808. He was tall, strong and of a vigorous physique. He owned a large farm and also carried on the business of tanner and shoemaker. When crossing the Hudson river, his valise fell into the water and on reaching the shore he ran down the stream in advance of the current, waded into the river and seized the valise as it came floating down. A fortunate thing for him as it contained all his available worldly wealth and about $450. The wallet which held the money in is the possession of his grandson, RUSSELL Stork.
A story is told of Deacon Stork, which illustrates his vigorous individuality. One day a panther came for prey in his cattle yard and the Deacon and his man, ELLIOT, pursued the animal to a tree in the adjoining orchard. As the two men approached, the animal sprang furiously toward them only to meet the unerring bullet which laid him dead with his claws fastened in Elliot's boots. The Deacon stooped and grasped the brute by the feet and by the strength of his sinewy arms lifted him as high as he could reach and the animal measured just the distance between stalwart Deacon's hands and the earth.
The Storks came from Cheshire in their manhood prime. Christopher L. M., with his wife and three children, his wife making the journey of four hundred miles on horseback with babe in her arms. The household goods accompanied by the other members of the family were carried on a sled drawn by a yoke of oxen. The other two lived outside of the immediate community. One granddaughter of Christopher L. M. is now living in Coventry: Mrs. Albert SEYMOUR, to whom we are indebted for considerable information.
The following extract from the history of Harpursville gives a brief incident of the early settlement of the JONES'. The original owner of the J. Warren HARPUR farm was SIMEON JONES who came from Coventry, Connecticut, and settled in 1795. Later the property came into the possession of the Harpur family and is known as the BRYANT farm. Mr. Jones as a pastime, would occasionally indulge in a fascinating recreation, at least to Mr. Jones, of filling a basket with rattlesnakes killed on the back of the house, placing them on his back, and take them home to try out the oil. At that time rattlesnake oil was very valuable.
In the spring of 1788, Gen. BENJAMIN JONES, a cousin of Simeon, settled on the YOUMANS farm on the east side of the river. Gen. Jones was a commanding officer in the U. S. Army and saw service in the Revolutionary war. The Jones families are numerous in the Susquehanna valley. The removal from the valley to the hills of Coventry of Gen. Jones came about in this way: Soon after moving to the Youmans farm his horses got away. They were followed by a pathway with only blazed trees as a guide to Harpursville, on to Belden and up into Coventry where they were found. The impression was so favorable that he sold out and settled in Coventry.
An incident is related of the family of SIMEON PARKER. One Sunday while the family were at church, two brothers, who were left at home to keep house went to the spring, and there found some cubs which they supposed were little dogs. They had a fine time with the animals, the mother bear all the time, unnoticed by the boys, sat a short distance away, apparently unconcerned, watching the performance. The parents upon returning home, were terrified at the peril of their children and rejoiced in their providential escape.
As already stated of the STODDARDs, there was a family of ten children. CURTIS, the eldest, was a strong, muscular well built man and it is said on good authority that he cut ten acres of wood every year until his farm was cleared. In speaking to Mr. J. J. Stoddard, I asked him if this was not an incredible feat? He answered, yes and no, and said some of those men could swing an ax with incredible dexterity and an acre of forest timber would fall before it with seemingly no very great effort.
This incident is related by Curtis. One day when in the woods chopping about noon, as the tree that he was cutting down began to topple and fall he heard the voice of his little boy calling to him to dinner. As it fell it bore the body to the earth, the trunk of the tree lying across the body of his child. As rapidly as strength and skill could work a tree was cut a short distance above where the boy lay, and with the strength of a giant he lifted the stump section from the prostrate body and flung it aside. He then lifted his unconscious child in his arms and carried him to the house. As the news of the accident spread, men came rapidly to make inquiries and render assistance. Some visited the scene of the accident and declared that it would have taken the strength of five men to lift the trunk of that tree which Curtis did under the excitement of the occasion. Wonderful to relate the child regained consciousness and fully recovered.
BENJAMIN BENEDICT moved to Coventry in 1820. He was deacon of the First Congregational church ni (sic) Winchester, Conn. In the church book is the record: "March 9, 1821, Deacon Benjamin Benedict, and Sylvia, his wife, recommended from the church at Winchester, Conn., were received as members of this church." The church voted likewise that Deacon Benedict officiate as deacon in this church.
Deacon ITHUEL BLAKE and his wife, Wealthy, hailed from Winchester, Conn., in 1818. Wealthy was a daughter of Deacon Benjamin BENEDICT, and Ithuel was a man of great smiplicity of character and led an exemplary life.
ITHUEL ROGERS united with the church in 1812, recommended from the church at Greenville, Mass., from which place he had moved at an early date.
BENJAMIN TAGGARD and Mehitable, his wife, though perhaps the latest comers and the farthest away, yet their punctuallity and faithfulness to all church serivce became proverbial, and the influence bore fruit towards a respectful observance of Christian responsibility and the service of God.
Last but not least comes Hon. CHARLES PEARSALL, who for many years a member of the church, by his vigorous individuality, skillful financial management and wise council, bore the church bravely onward to the approach of its centennial year. Although he did not live to see it, passing away in 1897, yet by his untiring zeal did as much for the permanent prosperity of the church and to make the anniversary of 1904 pleasureable and a possibility. He is one of the links uniting the present with the past.
The history of the early years is replete with remarkable incidents not yet recorded but worthy of a prominent place in the record of church and society. We gather a few of them and the following is a characteristic of frontier life. The two MILES brothers, SIMEON and MOSES, had been chopping all day in the woods and on their way home were met by a bear. As they had no guns Moses suggested that they drive him towards the house and capture him. Simeon, who was urging the beast onward approached too near and the animal turned and seized him in his forepaws. As the bear opened his mouth Simeon thrust his hand down his throat and seized the roots of its tongue and held his grip until Moses run for a gun and dogs, when the animal was speedily dispatched.
Another incident was related of AMASA IVES, who was a strong leading character in the settlement. One morning he heard an unusual disturbance in the sheep yard. Hastening out he saw a wolf in the midst of his flock. He rushed upon the animal, caught him by his hind feet and swinging him round and round, took as soon as possible his pocket knife from his pocket, opened it with his teeth and cut the ham-strings, threw the wolf down and run for his gun.
A story is told of EPAPHRAS WATERS and of his proverbial regularity at church service. Every Sabbath rain or shine, snow or sleet, he went to church. One Sunday morning in winter he drove his horse and sleigh to the door, left the horse standing and went into the house to put on his overcoat and while doing so the church bell began to ring. The horse recognizing the familiar sound started at a brisk pace for the meeting house and when Mr. Waters came to the door, behold his steed was gone. He followed hard after and on reaching the church found the horse standing quietly in his own stable in the church sheds. He turned him around and went home for his family. This is a fair sample of Christian punctuality of those days.
Many of the men were not only finely developed physically but of great strength. To conquer the wilds of nature this was a dire necessity, and here is an illustration. Deacon Philo MINOR and John STODDARD, SR., were together at the cider mill and three barrels of cider were loaded into Deacon STODDARD's cart. As the oxen were headed in to the road and up the hill the cart body not being fastened down tilted and the barrels rolled some distance down the hill. The deacon followed with his oxen and cart and lifting each barrel of cider placed them in his cart with as much ease as if it had been a basket of potatoes.
There were also in those days political honesty as well as Christian integrity. There were three voting places in the town, and Deacon Ithuel BLAKE, who had charge of the ballot box, would carry it to each place with the uncounted votes and no one thought of impeaching his uprightness. Ye scribe thinks it would be better if we had more such honesty in politics today. Those were days of privation and toil, hardihood and endurance necessarily attend a frontier life, but they were all bravely borne. Frequently by message from home and encouraged by new comers, their isolated conditions were only temporary. As time moved on the land was cleared, the country became more settled, families and homes the order of the day. The customs and wages of the people were duplicate of those in the old Connecticut homeland; gathering in each others houses in the winter evening where bountiful refreshments were served and the social side of life enjoyed.
To be a professing Christian in those days was a matter of some consideration; no person entertained the thought, unless truly converted to God and intending to adorn his profession by a consistent life. Yet, for all this expulsion, contrition, confession, reinstatement, if not of great frequency, yet the church was by no means a stranger to the exercise of discipline in the maintenance of her purity and integrity. Nor yet without an occasional church trial; when some recalcitrant member is arranged and either tenderly admonished, severely reprimanded or as a last resort cut off from the fellowship of the church. The oversight, though brotherly, affectionate and forbearing, was minute and the censorship of times tempered with vigor. In temperance, Sabbath breaking, profane language, neglect of church meetings, association with excommunicated persons, were the chief misdemeanors for which church discipline were administered. As an instance, a certain brother, who to the dishonor of the church of Christ and in violation of his covenant obligation, had been for a long time habitual if not total neglectful of the worship of God in his family; that is the continuous neglect of family prayer, was complained of for said neglect. The church considered it a case of lawful discipline and the brother was admonished. He pleaded as an excuse his want of confidence and lack of ability to perform the duty. The church refused to consider this excuse sufficient and after repeated admonitions he was publicly excluded. Another instance indicating that while it might not be a sin to drink, (total abstinance being as yet scarcely a possibility) yet to get drunk was a very unchurchly thing and called for discipline, and the expulsion, the confessions, the declamation, are rather plentiful along this line. A certain brother was labored with for indulging too freely in the use of strong drink. He made humble confession yet he afterwards asserted that he was not so drunk but what he could attend to business. This people whose church centenary was commemorated that day, believed God, believed in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; believed in her ordinances as a means of salvation; believed in a consistent Christian walk in life, and a hope of blissful immortality. May many centennials fall to her lot. However, incomplete and defective this sketch may be, it would be still more so if it did not record honorable mention of the eightieth anniversary of our church, 1807-1887, twenty years ago, celebrated under the ministry of Rev. Augustine CALDWELL while pastor of the church. The address of the occasion is the admirable product of his pen; rich in historic statement and anecdote. A few in common to both-his pages and ours-but many stories related by him which could not be related here. It was also accompanied by a very felicitious poem, written for the occasion by the poetess of our church, Mrs. Henry BENEDICT. The address and poem are in print, published together and we hope will be preserved in the archives of the church as valuable contributions to its history.
The church has been neither barren nor backward in aggressive work for the conversion of souls and spreading the gospel. Many outpourings of the spirit and gracious revivals seasons have fallen to her lot in the years of the century we commemorate. In the month of January, 1808, when the church was a year old, while Rev. HARROWER of Sidney, of revered memory, was giving to the little congregation temporary and voluntary service a revival blessing came with an addition of about twenty persons to the membership, besides the baptism of many children. During the ministry of Rev. THORP there were three revivals. In the first three were seven persons, in the second twenty, in the third forty, in all seventy-six souls added to the church in his ministry of eleven years. In the ministry of Rev. EGGLESTON, the church suffered a temporary decrease, as twenty-seven members took letters of dismissal to unite with the Second Congregational church of Coventry. In the ministrations of Rev. FITCH just one year's pastorate, 1832, another gracious outpouring of the spirit came and seventy-eight were added. While Rev. BUTTS was serving the church twenty were brought into the fold, the fruit of a revival. The pastorate of Rev. WRIGHT was eminently successful, during the nine years large additions were made. During the ministry of Rev. HORTON forty were added. The pastorate of Rev. CRONIN was wonderfully blest, eighty persons came into the church, some whole families came together.
In taking extracts from the centennial celebration we would not think it complete without the two poems, one written by Mrs. William Henry BENEDICT, about seventy-eight years of age at the time of the centennial and who is still living at this date, 1912, in her 87th year. The poem was recited by her granddaughter, Miss Ann MATTERSON. The other by Rev. Elijah W. STODDARD. The centennial poem by Mrs. Benedict follows:
In the afternoon services Rev. Elijah W. STODDARD, gave a truly interesting talk entitled, Reminiscences of Early Settlers. He referred to nearly all of the families represented in the church in his boyhood days, taking the families in order along the various streets. He closed with a poem, in which were woven the names and some personal illusion to the twenty-three ministers who have been pastors of the church during its history. The poem by Rev. Elijah W. Stoddard follows:
The dove of heaven descend and rest
Upon our sacred shrine,
Light, life, and faith,-the heavenly zest
Through all the century manifest
Within its walls combine.
Thus with our house, and hope of peace.
A Sabbath comfort prove
Nor Father, Son, nor spirit cease
From every burden to release,
And fill each cup with love.
End of Chapter VI pg 44-61