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
ROXBURY is one of, if not indeed quite the oldest parish within the limits of Litchfield County, dating its organization as far back as the year 1740, a period earlier than that of any other parish in the county of which we have any written records extant. It was organized by the Rev. John Beach of Newtown, and for a considerable time was the only Episcopal parish within the limits of Woodbury, to which Roxbury at that time belonged. The account of the organization of the church is specific and interesting. Thus recorded: Captain Jehiah Hawley and Mr. Joseph Benedict of Milford; Messrs. Zenas Ward and David Squires of Southbury; James Masters of Woodbury; Messrs. Ebenezer Thomas, Joseph Weller, David and Isaac Castle, Nathan Squires and Titus Beach, agreed to form themselves and their families into an Episcopal congregation and to meet in a private house at Roxbury, as being the most central place. Fully persuaded in their own minds that God would bless this undertaking, the Church being an establishment of His own instituting, and having no prospect of soon obtaining a person in holy orders to minister among them, they made choice of Captain Hawley to be their Reader for the ensuing year. Zenas Ward and Daniel Squires were nominated to act as Wardens. Captain Hawley was an excellent reader, a man of unblemished character, and of clear understanding and of exemplary purity. His Christian conversation and persuasive manner of gaining the doubting and of winning men to the Church who had ignorantly opposed themselves, brought in fresh accessions to this newly begun worshipping assembly; and it was not long before they found themselves in a situation for building a house for public worship. This edifice was erected contiguous to the then Congregational house of worship, on the hill about a mile east from the present centre, which site is soon to be marked by a suitably inscribed stone. The Rev. Thomas Davies, speaking of this church in a letter to the Society in England for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, says: "In Roxbury there is a pretty church neatly finished."
The first clergyman regularly connected with the parish as its stated minister was the Rev. Solomon Palmer in 1754. He was one of the first converts to Episcopacy. He was settled at Cornwall, as a Congregational minister, some time about the year 1742. After the lapse of some ten years from the time of his settlement, and before his people were at all aware of his intentions as to the course he was designing to pursue, he made to them a communication on a Sunday, informing them that by investigation and reading he had become convinced, and felt it his duty to conform to the Episcopal Church. Obtaining a dismission from them he went to England and was ordained by the Bishop of Bangor, at the request of the Bishop of London, who was then disabled by sickness from attending to the duties of his office. Some time in the year 1754 he was received into the service of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and became the Society's missionary, making his place of residence in New Milford. His mission included New Milford, where he resided, and several of the neighboring parishes in Litchfield County. About 1760 he resigned his mission and removed to Litchfield. Under his ministrations the parish of Roxbury increased somewhat in numbers. The Rev. Thomas Davies succeeded Mr. Palmer by appointment of the same Society, which appointment was communicated to him, and in the following words: Agreed the 18th day of September, 1761, that Mr. Davies be appointed to the churches of New Milford, Sharon, New Preston, New Fairfield, in Litchfield County. Litchfield parish was soon included in his charge, the Rev. Mr. Palmer having resigned and moved away in 1762. The first recorded service in Roxbury by Mr. Davies was on the 25th of November, 1763. On that occasion he lectured from Matthew ix, 13, and as appears from extant records of his acts, kept by himself. By these records also it appears that he officiated in this parish one Sunday in five until his health gave out tinder arduous and accumulated labors. His last recorded notice in the parish was January 12th, 1766. He died suddenly, in the bloom of life's usefulness, at New Milford, where he resided, on the 12th of May, 1766, where he was buried, and a tablet marks his resting-place. He died in the 30th year of his age and the fifth of his zealous ministry. Under his ministrations the church increased considerably. His records show 32 baptisms, 36 communicants, 34 families. A few Episcopal families resided at the centre of Woodbury, whom he occasionally visited and preached to in the Town House, they having at that time no house of worship. In the year in which Mr. Davies died the Rev. Richard Clark took the parish in charge, in connection with New Milford and several other neighboring parishes. He continued to officiate in the parish until about the year 1770, when Rev. John Rutgers Marshall was appointed missionary to the churches of Roxbury and New Milford. During his ministry--the period of the American Revolutionary War--the parish experienced sundry vicissitudes of trial, but being a man full of patience and steadfast in the Gospel, for the space of ten years he faithfully watched over the spiritual interests of his mission field, from 1771 to 1780. After Mr. Marshall's death the parish was vacant for a number of years.
The foregoing was written by the late Rev. Mr. Cooley for the Archdeaconry Record. The matter was taken from records then extant. These have unfortunately disappeared, but there are persons still living in the parish who have seen them. Particular attention is called to the founding of the parish, 1740. It was incorrectly given in some accounts of its bicentenary.