Old Times in Windham
by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 8 published on April 8, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Retyped by Arlene Goodwin
He prayeth best, who loveth best.
All things both great and small,
For the Dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
A slight allusion in the Parish Record show, what is confirmed by early tradition, that the Rev. Mr. Perry, of Hobart, Delaware Co., held services in the Parish of Trinity Church, occasionally, and probably with some regularity, during the period following its organization. This period seems to have lasted till 1815, or later. The edifice belonging to the Parish and now in use was completed in 1818, nineteen years after the formation of the parish, and by resolution of the vestry, the cost of it was not to exceed, $2,200. The Rev. Mr. James Thompson was probably the minister in charge at that time. The building of the old church is just within the scope of the writer’s recollections. If the reader will pardon so trifling a matter, he remembers going to see the building as it was in process of erection, in company with his grandfather, then in infirm health, though a man of rather stout frame and figure. He remembers how, childlike, he picked up nice blocks which the carpenters were clipping off and the venerable grandfather asked Mr. Finch, the builder, to allow the child to take them home for playthings.
The Rev. Mr. Thompson had left the profession of law to become a clergyman. In general deportment he was dignified. In the pulpit he was earnest, and his delivery made the more effective by a peculiarly loud and sonorous voice. There was something majestic in some of his gestures and attitudes joined with the thunder of his tones. Punctual in his official duties, pointed, vigilant and searching in his ministrations, self-denying and patient, he was one who could himself say in answer to the question: Watchman what of the night?—the night cometh and also the morning. He was a man of very decided character, and a hopeful energetic parish minister.
Mr. Thompson was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel Fuller, of Rensselaerville, a man of calm, composed temperament, of solid judgement, and of good theological attainments. He was trained in the Presbyterian faith and ministry, and held a very reputable standing—a Calvanist of the old school. In mature life he separated himself from his early ecclesiastical relations and was ordained in the Episcopal Church, and built up a parish in the place of his residence, Rensselaerville. He was a man of great sincerity of heart, simple and unpretending in manners, with what was in that generation quite common, something like distance and reserve. No one could question his pure uprightness. His style of public ministration was sedate almost to sadness. Wholly unimpassioned, his appeal was to the reason and conscience. Mr. Fuller was remarkable for sobriety of judgement and quiet independence.
These venerable men had for their auditors in church men almost equally marked and venerable. Silas Lewis, senior, one of the pioneer worthies, who hesitated and stuttered in speaking, but whose words when once spoken were generally found to be words of wisdom, and his consort equally sterling in character were always in their accustomed place at worship. General Jehiel Tuttle, whose figure was imposing, but whose manners were gentle was near them in church, Daniel Gunn, a younger brother of Samuel Gunn, the church pioneer was an attendant. Judge Levi Alden was steadily in his place with his family. Gurdon Brainerd and his wife were faithful in public worship, and were examples of sweet charity in private life. Lyman Morss, than whom few have lived more blamelessly, and his excellent wife, were worshipers there. Mr. Lake and family had their place, and were people of marked sobriety and consistency. The wife and children of Araunah Hubbard, two of whom are now among the oldest of the members of the communion, were regularly there, Daniel Merwin and children, Samuel Merwin and family, and several branches of the Holcomb family, all from Lexington, were constant in church worship. Abram Chatfield never failed though he should travel eight or nine miles to church. Samuel Robinson always punctual, and always devout, was a man of most primitive earnestness and simplicity, whose voice in responding was equal to that of the Rev. Mr. Thompson. And in fine the revered relative before mentioned, and his aged consort, full of tenderest charity—all these and others with them made up a goodly company of honest christian people, who had each a place and an order, who strove together steadily to do their duty, who knowing their privileges embraced them in a certain manly but unassuming way. The sober majestic earnest of that old congregation and their minister, each in his place as though like a forest trees planted there; their amens strong, manly and fervent, as is said to have been the case in the early centuries of the gospel, filling the old church—their figures either portly and massive, or firmly knit and strong; their histories those of men who had grappled with stern and keen difficulty; all this should have left and probably did leave a deep impression on the imagination and heart. It was a thrilling past, a thoughtful present, and the infinite future, which were blending in a devout hopeful experience—the calm orderly advance of covenant men and women toward what they knew was their home and rest. To unite earnestness and sobriety to struggle with composure of heart, to maintained proportion and measure and balance in religion, is, as the writer ventures to think, to solve successfully the great problems of our life.
Before leaving the old church shall we for a moment call to mind her primitive festivals and think how beautifully Christmas is associated with memories of childhood? How the snow creaks under our feet as though it were alive, and determined to scream out whether or no? How the sleigh bells ring in the twilight and the riders glow with a thrill of delight as they are whirled along through the bracing cold atmosphere? And when the old church at some turn in the road bursts suddenly on the view all alight in Christmas Eve gaiety, glowing and radiant, and we enter her courts and there too all is bright and fragrant because the fir tree and the pine and the box are brought together to adorn the way of the King and, as the old way of adornment causes us to do, we sit embowered in sweet shrubbery, and around and overhead are clustered wreaths and branches, emblems of what cannot die, and hymns of joy are sung—Glory to God in the Highest; it is childhood’s festival of delight. Jerusalem then puts on beautiful garments, the bride adorns herself and is glad; and childhood instinctively catches the holy joy; not defining the unsearchable, no measuring and calculating and scrutinizing itself or the Infinite, but gladly resting as did the little children who had the happiness to be taken into the Saviour’s arms and receive a blessing of the value of which they were unconscious.
Speaking of Christmas and childhood so often united in sweet bonds of their own, let me throw off formality still further, and speak to the children and briefly tell them the story of a boy in the old time who kept Christmas at the house of a generous uncle and aunt of his. Where were honey and other sweet things, and a sliding down hill place and good-natured loving cousins, and a blazing pile in the great old-fashioned fire place, and a mug of cider warmed and spiced was passed around to the guests. But the boy found delight in the garret. For looking among the curiosities of the place an old book caught his eye. The cover gone, and the color of the leaves was smoky and dingy. Now upon reading a little, not at the beginning for that was gone, the boy read of a sailor who would go to sea, and was cast away on the desert coast of Africa, and lions met him and roared, and he killed one or two of them. Then he was again shipwrecked and thrown upon a lonely island, and lived a long time in a solemn bowery cave, and had only goats and cats for his companions. This old book was the boy’s Christmas discovery in the old garret, and he thought it equal to either honey or mince pie. The children, perhaps the grown-up children, will be able possibly to guess the name of the old book for it was in old time a great favorite.
The road to the hospitable house with the interesting garret led thro’ the woods and along a solitary path. The stories of wolves were then fresh and fell on young, kindling imagination as sparks do on tinder. How significant was every echo, and the locality was alive with echoes and reverberations which seemed as if bounding back and forth among the forests and high ledges of rocks. At the farm house there was a dog, and intimate from one Christmas to another, of the size and color of a wolf, whose howl was wolfish, and in fine, whose named was Wolf. And when his loud bark waked up the echoes and set them ringing about the spot, seemed fit for legends of elves and witches, and the strange wild fascination produced a sort of creeping sensation, a pleasant terror in the thoughts. For the moment, childhood fancied itself in the very haunt of savage beasts gathering about with their unearthly yells, but yet knew itself out of danger. The cheer within doors, the good aunt’s kindness, and the uncle’s gay banter were greatly heightened and enjoyed with keener zest because of the contrasted wildness and howling echoes out of doors. Such was a child’s Christmas festivity. And let the kind reader know that the locality in question is about a mile north of Mr. Snow’s residence, a high spot but peculiarly marked and sheltered, and that it was round the hearthstone of Russel Glading and his charitable wife, Deborah Glading that this good Christmas cheer was dispensed. Their work is done, and a new day has dawned upon them. The comforts of that spot had been won by a strong arm and firm will out of the forest wild. It was hearts that had struggled for a home and gained it, that melted at the recital of another’s woe, and stretched out a free hand to help the distressed.