Sketches of Church Life in Colonial Connecticut
Being the Story of the Transplanting of the Church of England into Forty Two Parishes of Connecticut,
with the Assistance of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
NEWTOWN Parish was founded in 1732, the Rev. John Beach being its first Rector. He had labored here for eight years as Congregational minister; until, compelled by his convictions to give up his position, he became a communicant of the Church at Stratford and was soon admitted to Holy Orders in England, 1732. He was appointed missionary at Newtown and Redding by the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and began his work alone in northwestern Connecticut in the face of bitter opposition and with a small flock of five families.
Having no church building, the services were held in his own house. In those days Churchmen came from New Milford and other remote places to worship at Newtown, sometimes coming on Saturday with their needful supplies, while their brethren gave them house room.
Down to the end of 1734 there were in Connecticut four missionaries and five houses of worship--one of these at Newtown. The first church building was 28 by 24 feet. It was raised on Saturday, the roof boards put on the same evening, and the next day the faithful few assembled for divine service, sitting on the timbers and kneeling on the ground. The second church building, finished in 1746, was double the capacity of the first. Mr. Beach divided his time between Redding and Newtown, reporting to the Venerable Society at one time an attendance of over three hundred at Redding and over six hundred at Newtown.
At the beginning of the Revolution the communicants numbered three hundred. These were trying times for Churchmen, yet the Church was winning its way in spite of much opposition, sufferings and dangers. Warnings were repeatedly given to cease praying for the King; but the Rector at Newtown, alone of all the clergy in the colony, continued his services without interruption through the entire Revolutionary period. It is related on one occasion that soldiers entered the church and threatened to shoot the Rev. John Beach if he read the prayer for the King and the royal family. Mr. Beach, however, went on as usual with no change, while the soldiers, struck with such quiet courage, stacked their muskets and remained through the service. Mr. Beach died in 1782 and his successor was the Rev. Philo Perry. During his rectorship the third church was erected. It was formally named "Trinity Church," and was consecrated by Bishop Seabury. This Church stood for seventy-seven years, until replaced by the present beautiful stone edifice. Mr. Perry was Rector for twelve years.
On August 5, 1799, the Rev. Daniel Burhans, D.D., was chosen Rector, remaining with the parish more than thirty years, when the infirmities of age obliged him to resign. Thus a period of one century was covered by these first three rectorships, marking three different periods in the history of the Church in this country. The first takes us down to the Revolution, through the times when Holy Orders could be obtained only by incurring the dangers of three thousand miles of ocean travel, when the baptized went unconfirmed for want of a bishop.
The influence of Trinity Church, Newtown, upon the Church in other places cannot be measured. While in recent years, it has lost many in numbers it looks back with pride upon its noble history, and less than fifty years ago a Rector of Christ Church, Hartford, declined a call to Newtown because it was a "larger and more arduous work than he was then engaged in!"