Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 6 published on March 25, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
The sweet remembrance of the just
Shall flourish when he sleeps in dust.
Samuel Gunn acted a leading part in the organization of Trinity Church, Windham, and as an introductory to a sketch of his life it is not improper to copy A Joint Act of Association, apparently in his handwriting, and probably draw up by him, which reads as follows:
"We whose names are hereunto affixed do profess ourselves to belong to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. And do hereby solemnly agree to associate ourselves together to promote the same in the towns of Windham, Freehold and vicinity."
"Always relying on the Protection and Blessing of Almighty God, and doing nothing contrary to the Constitution and laws of the government under which we live." May 11, 1799
"Samuel Gunn, Orange Munson, Norman Collins, Jehiel Tuttle, Silas Lewis, Jabez Barlow, Ebenezer Osborn, Samuel Merwin, Eli Osborn, Constant A. Andrews, John Tuttle, Justus Coe, Benjamin Johnson, Daniel Merwin, Samuel Goodsell, Enos Baldwin, Eliphalet Wheeler, Samuel Woolcott, Almond Munson, Ebenezer Johnson, Amassa Tuttle, Elisha Stanley, Thomas J. Merwin, Uri Cook, Samuel Chatfield, William Tuttle."
At the date, A. D. 1803, the following names occur—Ichabod Andrews, Chester Hull, Isaac Doolittle, Abel Holcomb, Henry Goslee—and several others still in 1804 and 1806.
The following document explains itself, and gives us a glimpse of early times.
I certify that the following notification was given in time of Morning Service, on Sundays the 12th and 19th of May A. D. 1799:
The people belonging unto and wishing to establish the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Towns of Windham and Freehold vicinity, and Counties of Ulster and Albany, and State of New York, are hereby requested to meet at the house of John Tuttle in said Windham on the 20th day of May, inst. for the purpose of electing a vestry and doing other business agreeably to an Act of Legislature of this State for this cause made and provided.
Philander Chase, Missionary,
Windham May 20th, 1799
The proposed meeting was held, the parish organized under the style and title of "Trinity Church, Windham," and the following persons were chosen wardens: Samuel Gunn, Norman Collins; and eight of the before-mentioned subscribers were chose vestrymen. The Rev. Philander Chase, who presided at this meeting, was then a young man, and afterwards became Bishop of Ohio and Illinois respectively. The Act of Incorporation of the parish is recorded in records of the Clerk’s office of the County court of Ulster, at Kingston, under date of June, 1799.
Without entering into consideration of the several interesting civil questions which the above extracts from the records of Trinity Church, Windham, suggest, it is proposed to ask the reader’s attention to the leading facts of the life of Samuel Gunn, the first of the subscribers, substantially as those facts are given in a brief sketch published in London, in 1841.
Samuel Gunn was born at Waterbury, Conn., in the year 1763, and baptised by a clergyman sustained by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The War of Revolution commenced while he as a child, and the Church suffered severely during the momentous period. Yet Samuel Gunn continued faithful to this spiritual mother. After the war, and when he had attained the age of manhood, and given unquestionable signs of christian character, he was confirmed by Bishop Seabury.
The parish at Waterbury being at that time without a clergyman, Mr. Gunn was appointed a lay reader. During the week he was occupied on his farm, but on Sunday he conducted the devotions of a few zealous christians according to the venerable forms of the Liturgy.
At length he determined to seek a home in the Western country, and removed about the year 1793, to Windham, in the State of New York. Here he soon found means to collect a few persons together, and persuaded them to unite with him in Divine worship, acting a second time in his vocation of lay reader. The number of attendants increased until finally they organized a parish. He seemed destined to be a lay reader, and by the silent influence of the blameless life, no less than by his direct exertions to promote the truth.
His circumstances becoming embarassed he again decided to remove westward. Having punctually paid his debts, he went forth with a light heart and purse in quest of new toils and new means of usefulness. It was in the autumn of 1805, as Mr. Gunn with wife and five children was on his journey, while passing through a deep forest, one of his children fell from the wagon, and in a moment was crushed beneath the wheels. With his own hands the afflicted father dug a grave by the roadside and having read the solemn burial service of the Church, committed the remains of his child to their kindred dust.
At length he reached Portsmouth, in Ohio, which contained then not more than a dozen dwellings, and purchasing a small farm, employed himself in felling the trees and breaking up the soil; and then the Liturgy was heard, probably for the first time on the banks of the Ohio. Every Sunday he collected his family around him, and united with them in worship and praise, and soon his congregation grew larger, until in 1819, a new Diocese had been founded in Ohio, and no other that Philander Chase, the Missionary, who had often slept under his roof, and dined at his table in Windham, in New York, was now his Bishop in the far West. Soon the two, acting together as they had done twenty years before in Windham, organized a parish in Portsmouth, and Mr. Gunn was chosen senior warden, and appointed Lay Reader for the third time. He conducted the services until, many having died, the number of attendants was small and their assembling often a matter of ridicule to the thoughtless. But they persevered, acting from their settled convictions of truth, until in 1831, a convenient room was obtained for worship, and here the aged man, with a trembling voice, continued to conduct their devotions. In the month of July of that year he officiated for the last time. The hope of immortality brightened upon him, and his conversation became more and more solemn and edifying. The Church was dearer to him than ever, and as the crowing act of a life devoted to service of God, he asked the few members of the parish to come to this sick room, and explained the need of a church to their spiritual prosperity, offered to give one-third of his hard-earned property, valued at two thousand dollars, on condition that his brethren would make up the remainder; and his offer was gladly accepted and the necessary sum immediately raised.
Soon afterward, at the conclusion of a service held in his sick room, the aged veteran raised himself a little on his pillow, and spoke a few words in the most pathetic manner laboring to impress upon his offspring a deep sense of the necessity of pure and practical religion. He spoke of the comfort he felt in resting all his hopes on the Great Atonement in the Death of Christ, and besought his dear family to follow on in the narrow way of life that he might at last enjoy the happiness of meeting them in heaven. About this time the Sacrament of the Holy Communion was administered in his sick room, and yielded him lively joy and consolation. Five days afterward he breathed his last in perfect peace, having almost completed his seventieth year. Many hundred accompanied his remains to the burial ground, for he had been a friend to all, and had long been regarded as an example of uprightness and integrity.