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
WHEN the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Trumbull of North Haven was collecting material for his History of Connecticut he wrote letters to various persons throughout the state inquiring after certain historical facts which he wished to incorporate in his history. Joseph Hopkins, Esq., was then the leading citizen of Waterbury. He was Judge of the County Court and represented the town for many years in the General Assembly. To him Dr. Trumbull wrote, inquiring after the history of the Episcopal Society. Judge Hopkins was not an Episcopalian and he turned the inquiry over to Capt. John Welton. Captain Welton was one of the leading men of the town. For years he and Judge Hopkins together had represented the town in the General Assembly. He was one of the leading men in the Episcopal Society. The letter which he wrote in reply to this inquiry shows him to have been a man of excellent judgment as to what was essential in a letter of this sort: of remarkable memory as to facts and of much skill in their arrangement. This letter has been the basis of the history of St. John's parish ever since. The parish was first called St. James's and did not receive the name of St. John until 1797, about two years before this letter was written. Two years after the writing of this letter Judge Hopkins died. Perhaps in any event Capt. Welton would have been called upon for these data, but we cannot help feeling that it was fortunate that Judge Hopkins was called upon to select the man and that he selected Capt. Welton to reply to Dr. Trumbull's inquiries.
The letter is as follows:
WATERBURY, March 15, A.D. 1799.
Dear Sir:--the following is the best answer I can give to your questions:
In the year of Our Lord 1732, I was then about ten years old, I believe there was not more than three or four Churchmen in town. About that time or before there was one Arnold, I suppose an itinerant preacher, preached to them a few times. What became of Arnold I know not. Afterwards Dr. Johnson of Stratford and Mr. Beach of Newtown officiated occasionally a few times in Waterbury. The state of Episcopacy was much the same with the addition of a few names until about A.D. 1742 or 3 when a considerable number of families came over to the Church and a house for worship soon after began to be built.
In the meantime one Morris from Europe was sent over by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and etc. to St. James of Waterbury and several other Churches, but he soon returned to Europe. Morris was succeeded by one Lyon, another of the Society's missionaries. He was over Derby and Waterbury, did not reside in Waterbury, but officiated there about one-third of the time, but I believe in one or two years was removed to Long Island.
After Lyon was the Rev. Dr. Mansfield. He came into the mission about A.D. 1749, resided at Derby and officiated at Waterbury one third of the time, until about the year 1758, when the Rev. Mr. Scovil came into the mission of Waterbury and New Cambridge. He resided in Waterbury, officiated there one half of the time until about 1771 when the mission was divided and Mr. Nichols took New Cambridge and Northbury, now Plymouth, and left Waterbury and Woodbury, now Watertown, to Mr. Scovil, where he officiated until about 1785, when he removed to Nova Scotia.
All the above clergymen received their ordination in London. In the year 1792 we settled Mr. Hart. He continued in the mission until 1795, then removed to Wallingford. In the year 1797 the Rev. Mr. Bronson came into our service: he has since been settled and is now rector of the Episcopal Church in Waterbury. Thus sir, I have done the best I could to answer your questions not having many memorandums or records to direct me, but I believe the above facts are stated nearly right.
I am Sir yours to serve and etc.,
Joseph Hopkins, Esq.
There is a library in the first Society in Waterbury composed of about 116 volumes, consisting of books on Divinity, History, Geography, and Novels, and the proprietors have laid a tax which is also proposed to enlarge considerably. Also one in Salem and one in Middlebury.
Rev. B. Trumbull.
As this brings the history of the parish down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, perhaps nothing further is necessary at this time. In the History of the Town and City of Waterbury, published in 1896, Mr. Welton's letter is expanded and some account is given of the clergymen whose names he mentions; the history of the Church is also brought down to the date of the book.