History of the First Presbyterian Church of Durham
Extracted from J.B. Beers, History of Greene County, published
Retyped by Sylvia Hasenkopf
Many of the settlers of New Durham belonged to the Congregational Church of Connecticut. They were Puritans, and believed in God, his word and his day. Among the first things they did was build a log meeting house on the hill, and provide for regular meetings on the Sabbath. But they were young, and no doubt quite diffident, and thought they needed some one to take charge of their meetings.
Deacon Christopher Lord of Saybrook, the father-in-law of Jonathan Baldwin, was sent for. He and Patience, his wife, came in 1787 and spent the remainder of their days here. He well supplied the place of pastor for ten years. He was a very holy man and was sometimes called Priest Lord. He lived near Mr. Baldwin's until the death of Mrs. Lord in March 1794, after which he lived in Mr. Baldwin's family until his death in November 1797.
The church was organized November 8th 1792 by Rev. Beriah Hotchkin of Greenville. Christopher Lord, Lemuel Hotchkiss, Jairus Chittenden, Eliakim Strong, Augustus Pratt, John Hull, Joseph Hart, Daniel Merwin, and Ichabod Scranton, were the original nine members. January 13th 1793, 37 others united with them. Christopher Lord and Joseph Hart were chosen deacons.
In September 1794, Rev. Mr. Knapp of Canaan, Connecticut, was with them, and eight others identified themselves with the church.
The Rev. Samuel Fuller and Rev. Jonathan Bird preached for them occasionally.
In 1796 they built a new frame meeting house on the hill near the site of the old log building, which had become too small to accommodate them.
In the autumn of 1797, Rev. Jesse Townsend came among them and remained 12 years. He was much liked and his ministry was very successful. During his ministry 174 members were received into the church. He also baptized 232 children.
September 29th 1799, "The church voted to put themselves under the care of the Northern Associated Presbytery," but they retained their Congregational form of government. About this time Jonathan Baldwin and Benjamin Chapman were chosen deacons in place of Deacon Lord, deceased and Deacon Hart, removed.
Rev. Seth Williams, D.D., was the next pastor. He remained from 1810 to 1829. He was an eminently faithful and holy man. His ministry was greatly honored. He received 241 members and baptized 385 children. May 3rd 1810, 56 members were received. In 1813 they elected Benjamin Hubbard sen. as deacon. In 1816 they gave letters of dismission to 35 members, who organized the Second Presbyterian Church at West Durham. The same year they elected David Baldwin and Noah Baldwin deacons, in place of Deacon Jonathan Baldwin, removed, and Deacon Hubbard, dismissed. In 1821 the church building was removed to "Broadway", which interrupted their peace for the time, but the wisdom of the pastor and others prevailed and harmony restored.
Upon the retirement of Dr. Williston, Rev. Elam Clark preached for them a short time.
Rev, Jonathan Cone came among them in 1830, and remained nearly 17 years. Soon after his arrival the church became Presbyterian in its form of government, and elected Benjamin Chapman, David Baldwin, Noah Baldwin, Luther Hayes, James Baldwin 2d, Lyman Strong, Dennis Baldwin, Thomas Hitchcock, and John Wright jr., elders. The year 1831 was a prosperous year for the church. A powerful revival of religion continued nearly through the year. At two communions 78 members were received and 203 during his ministry.
Rev. Charles Evans then preached for them about a year, and was succeeded, June 1st 1848, by Rev. Marcus Smith, whose ministry continued eight years. He did a great work for the church, not only in restoring union and peace among its members, but in 1851,largely through his influence, they took their church building down and built a larger one in the village. In 1850 they secured a suitable building for a lecture room. During the pastorate of Mr. Smith 48 members were received into the church. He was of Scotch ancestry, and as a preacher and an organizer he possessed rare abilities.
Rev. Elias L. Boing was his successor. He commenced his work July 13th 1856, and continued until March 13th 1864. He was a faithful pastor, and received 1010 members into the church.
Rev. Andrew P. Freese very ably and acceptable supplied their pulpit for 15 months.
Rev. V. LeRoy Lockwood was the next pastor. He came in October 1865, and remained until April 1869. There were 75 persons who united with the church during his pastorate. He was a man of talent, and a splendid preacher.
Rev. Charles Boynton succeeded him in the summer of 1869, and remained until June 1879, during which time 74 were added to this church. He was a well read man, and an instructive preacher.
In October 1879 Rev. E.L. Boing commenced his second pastorate in this church, and is the present incumbent. The membership May 1st 1883 was 127. More than 1,000 persons have been members of this church.
There were some peculiar customs in vogue in the early days of the church. They had a "covenant," which all who were willing to aid in "supporting preaching" signed; some more and some less. Upon this "covenant" a tax was laid, as funds were needed from time to time. But as the circumstances of those who had signed the covenant were sometimes reduced, this tax became oppressive. After several experiments the present annual pew rent system was adopted.
For a long time they had "tything men". They were elderly men, appointed once a year, and their business was to keep order among the young people, especially those who occupied seats in the gallery. Everybody went to church in those days, rowdies as well as others. Now it is different and tything men are not needed.
The introduction of instrumental music was attended with difficulty and danger. Charles Johnson was the chorister, and the wording of the subscription paper which he drew up and circulated, is a model of courteous entreaty. He succeeded; and when Elizur Baldwin began to play on that bass-viol. "there was music in the air." But, as one of the ancient men said, "peace and harmony was restored."
The church, or rather, meeting house on the hill, was without a steeple, although at one of their society meetings they voted that, "if any persons wish to adorn the house with a steeple, they may have free toleration." But in 1821, when the church was removed to "Broadway", they erected a steeple, and in 1823 they purchased the bell. They retained the old-fashioned pews until 1833.
The meetings connected with the Washingtonian movement of 1841-44 were held in this church, and 500 signed the pledge.