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
THIS parish was founded as a mission in 1725, by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson of Stratford, Conn., who often officiated until 1727. With the blessing of God, he was instrumental in bringing many families into the Church. His successors were two brothers, the Rev. Henry Caner of Fairfield, and the Rev. Richard Caner of Norwalk. Their ministry continued till 1735, when the Rev. John Beach of Newtown became missionary in charge. This clergyman reported to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at London, England, that he often officiated and administered the sacraments in Ridgefield where, in 1735, there were twenty families of very serious and religious people, who had a just esteem of the Church of England and desired to have the opportunity of worshipping God in that way. Between 1740 and 1776 the parish was in charge of five consecutive priests, of whom the Rev. Epenetus Townsend was the last. He began his ministry in 1768, and in connection with the missions at Ridgebury in town of Ridgefield, and Salem, N. Y. After the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Townsend was appointed Chaplain to one of the loyal battalions then stationed in New York City, which in 1799 was ordered to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Soon after leaving New York a severe storm arose and the vessel in which he, his wife, and five children had embarked was foundered in Boston Bay and every soul on board perished.
From 1725 till 1776 eight different priests of the Church of England officiated and they were sent by the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Each of these clergymen received an annuity of at least twenty pounds sterling, in addition to the tax levied for his support. This tax, as received by the Rev. Joseph Lamson in 1744, was £40. 11s. 11d. This sum seems to have been the annual ministerial rate. During the colonial period the Rev. Jeremiah Leaming of Norwalk often served the church. This is the priest, who, at Stratford, Conn., in 1772, delivered a sermon in commemoration of the acquirements and Christian character of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the founder of St. Stephen's parish.
The first church building was erected in 1740 upon a site which was granted by the proprietors of the town, January 4th, 1739. During the Revolutionary War it was taken by a commissary of the American Army, as a building in which to deposit the public stores. In April, 1777, it was set on fire by the British forces in their retreat from Danbury. Though not consumed, it was rendered unfit for divine service. In 1785, it was voted to erect another edifice; but so impoverished were the people generally, because of the war, that, it was not completed and furnished until 1791. In 1820 the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut was petitioned to indemnify the parish for the loss it sustained, because of the burning of its former church by the British. This petition was based mainly on the fact that the building was destroyed because of the use to which it was put during the British occupancy of Ridgefield. The application, however, proved unsuccessful.
The new church was not consecrated until 1831 and then by the name of St. Stephen's Church. The consecrator was the Rt. Rev. Dr. Brownell, Bishop of the Diocese. The third and present edifice was built on the old site and consecrated in 1842. At the organization of the parish in 1739, the Rev. James Wetmore was minister in charge, having been appointed by the Venerable Society.