Article Number Thirty Four - The Story of the First Presbyterian Church

Written by Joshua G. Borthwick and originally published
on December 29, 1883, in the Catskill "Examiner". Copy provided by the Durham Center Museum and retyped by Annette Campbell



The majority of the first settlers of that part of Durham town, which was known as "New Durham," were members of the Congregational Church in Conn.  They were the descendants of the Puritans; and brought with them many of the popular ideas, and many of the peculiar 'virtues' of their forefathers. They believed that the Sabbath was a holy day---every hour of it, and, before sunset on Saturday. they brought all their labors to a close, and kept the evening as holy time. And, when the morning came they all, old and young, went to "meeting."  No Sunday sickness then; no businessman so pressed with labor through the week, that he must stay at home to sleep on the Sabbath. O,no; they "went up to the House of God in 'company.'  They were 'glad' to do so.  Will it ever be so again?
 
The settlement was commenced in 1784; and during that year, and probably for two or three years following it, they held their meetings in private houses. We are told that there were seven American and two Dutch families living in the settlement at first, and that the following year added five families to their number, and that the third year brought four more families to share with them in the experience of frontier life.  These sixteen families could hardly be comfortable in their small log houses when all were present.
 
Hence we conclude that certainly as early as 1787, they built a "Meeting House."  We do not know how large it was; but it was built of logs, and stood on "Meeting House Hill" very near the site of its successor, as is proved by Society papers still extant.  And, be it remembered, this was at least five years before the church was organized. They had no "minister," they were young and probably diffident, and it became a troublesome question as to who should "take charge" of the meetings.
 
Deacon Christopher Lord, of Saybrook, Conn, who was the father-in-law of Jonathan Baldwin, Daniel Kirtland and Nathan Champion, (and for ought we know of, other settlers in this locality, as he had several daughters,) was sent for, and such was the interest manifested in his coming, that a conveyance was sent to bring him, and Patience Strong, his wife, to their new home in the wilderness. He was evidently a very godly man, and just the one to build sure foundations; and no doubt the religious character of Durham owes very much to the influence of Deacon Lord and his co-adjutors in those early days. He lived in a small house, long since removed, which stood about 40 rods East of the present residence of Mr. Curtis Osborn, which until 1816, was the home of Jonathan Baldwin, although the house now standing was not at that time built. In 1794 Mrs. Lord died, after which he lived in the family of Mr. Baldwin until he died in 1797. They had occasional preaching by different ones, Missionaries passing through the country, but he was their spiritual leader, notwithstanding, and so revered, and so reverend was he, that he was known as "Priest' Lord. It appears that as early as 1792, they began to desire a better house of worship and also the ministrations of some preacher of the word; not that the were dissatisfied with  Dea. Lord's leadership, but we are told that he felt a strong desire that they should have a minister. He was an old man, and no doubt felt unable to bear the responsibility, as the numbers and wants of the people increased. Moreover, some of the people were dissatisfied with the location of the Meeting House, preferring Canfield Hill, near where Mr. Owen More lives.
 
In order to provide for the solution of these and other questions, they drew up the following paper:
  "Considering that the Public worship of God is A Christian Duty, and of Divine Appointment, and Considering that God hath thus far Blessed us, in giving us Numbers and Strength sufficient to set up the Public worship and Ordinance of the Gospel; we believe it is our Duty no longer to neglect it; and whereas it is necessary that there should be A Decent House in Some Convluent place, for the Meeting of the Inhabitants on Sundays and other days of religious appointment, We (Whose Names are Underwritten) Inhabitants of Durham and parts adjacent, in the Township of Freehold and State of New  York, Do pledge our Faith to and Covenent with each other, that we will Proceed Directly to Possess Some Place for Said House; and, we further agree that the two following places be set up for Subscriptions, viz: Meeting House hill, near Curtis Baldwin's  and Canfield hill, near Doctor Cook's, and that the place with the most Signers (the same being House holders or settlers,) at or before the Day to which this Meeting shall be adjourned, Shall be the place for said House; which decision so obtained, we do each of us Solemnly engage and abide by; In Witness whereof we do hereby set our hands, Each Subscribing to the place he prefers, viz: Meeting House Hill, Canfield Hill."
 
Then follows a long list of names and the amounts subscribed which amounted to a little more than two hundred dollars, in our currency, in sums ranging from 1 pound sterling to 4 shillings.  The subscription paper was dated May 16, 1792, and, in order to indicate the extent of the interest which we felt in this enterprise we will copy the names of those who signed covenant as they termed it.
 
  "Dea. Christopher Lord, Capt. Benjamin Bidwell, Capt. Lemuel Hotchkiss, Doct. William Cooke, Capt. Jonathan Pratt, Lieut. Linus Hopson, Joseph Hart, Jairus Chittenden, John Hull, JOhn Cowles, David Cowles, Daniel Merwin, Augustus Pratt, Daniel Kirtland, Elijah Rose, Jonathan Baldwin, Phineas Canfield, John Canfield, Frances Wilcox, John Giddings, Thomas Gridley, Jedediah White, Ephraim Powers, Giles Humiston, Silas Fordham, Bela Strong, Daniel Coe, Asahel Gridley, Thaddeus Squire, Selah Strong, Silas Hull, Timothy Hulbert, Gideon Hulbert, Daniel Hubbard, Benjamin Hubbard, Jonatha Hubbard, Solomon Hubbard, Jonathan Nelson, Elijah Hubbard, Giles Ingraham, Bill Torry, Chileab Smith, Abijah Hulbert, David Baldwin, Elizur Kirtland, Noah Baldwin, Curtis Baldwin, Abiel Baldwin, Ichabod Scranton, Jehiel Cooley, Moses Austin, Seth Akins, Paul Percival, David Merwin, Joseph Graham, Simeon Guild, James Holcomb, Eliab Skeel, Abner Cooper, Ezra Jones, Isaac Hubbard, Jason Humiston, Elisha Hart, Daniel Brown, James Hinman, Richard Benjamin, James Utter, Ethan Pratt, Hendrick Patrie, Gideon Skeel, Salmon Cowles, Adoniram Skeel, Nathan Cole, Zackariah Valance, JOhn Moon, David Sage, Benjamin Smith, Ichabod Spencer, Elisha Cook, John Bishop, John Palmer, Dan. Cornwall, Martin Kirtland, Seth Pratt, Stephen Stocking, Jabez Hubbard, Elkanah Percival, Ezra Chalker, Adijah Dewey, Jacob Garvey, Daniel Brainerd, Asa Tryon, Miles Cook, George Cooper, Ebenezer Tibbals, Thomas Smith, Stephen Phelps, Eliakim Strong, Abner Mather, Robert Hotchkiss, Collins Luddington, George Wright, Jared Smith and Stephen Strong.
 
On the 17th day of May, 1792, they met and finished the subscription list and adjourned to the 30th inst.  On that day they met and appointed a committee of same to devise the Covenant and make such alterations as they should think proper, after which they adjourned to the 5th of July, "at three o'clock after Noon."
 
The committee consisted of "Capt. Hotchkiss, Joseph Hart, Ichabod Spencer, Stephen Phelps, George Wright, Daniel Coe, David Cowles, John Wright and Jared Smith.  And now this committee is out, we will adjourn.

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