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
THE history of the formation of this parish is unique. In a letter written by the late associate Justice Bradley of the United States Supreme Court, addressed to a late aged resident of this vicinity, he says, "How comes it, that I find that on ground donated by my grandfather Bradley for the use of a Congregational Society, an Episcopal Church was built and used for many years as a place of worship?" This is how it happened.
In 1740 the residents of Gilbert Town, some seven miles north of the Mill Plain Church at Fairfield, and about six miles south of Christ Church, Redding Ridge, desired to build a convenient place of worship. At the same time the Congregational friends also wished for a house of prayer. This desire was so strong in the Bradley family and neighbors that Bradley gave about two acres of land; others near at hand contributed timber and the foundation was built and frame made ready for the Congregational building. Then some good Congregational brethren at what is called Easton Centre, two miles north of Bradley lot, called a halt; saying, "Why place a meeting-house among a lot of Church of England folks, and leave us out in the cold?" It appears that what is now Easton Centre was the principal place of residence for Congregationalists, while Gilbert Town was the home of many Church of England people. Providence in this instance ruled, for it appears the officer of each society held a meeting, and an agreement was made whereby the Bradley lot with its foundation and frame for building was transferred to the Church of England Society, who made some return in cash.
This church at Gilbert Town was in the form of a Methodist edifice, about square, without spire, tower, or other external marks to indicate that it was an Episcopal Church. It had centre box pews, side aisles, and over hanging gallery on three sides with a high pulpit at the west end and a chancel. This building was open for worship according to the Church of England form from about 1744 until 1776, Sunday services being held by the Rector of Mill Plain. From 1776 to 1783 services were held irregularly. Then services were held by Dr. Shelton and other clergymen, which were more regular. The parish records of 1783 are in the care of the clerk of Christ Church, Easton Centre.
The building of the Gilbert Town church was on the High road leading from Fairfield north to Danbury, Newtown, and other, then important, inland towns. There can be no doubt but that its location was a wise selection, as it was the center for miles around for Church of England people. Its influence was far-reaching. The old burial ground just north of the church on the east side of the highway contains tombs of some of the founders. Tryon on his sail to Danbury slept within gun shot of the church, but, as many members were Tories, he ordered the church saved from fire. Thus from 1744 to 1855 this building, consecrated by prayer and praise, was a monument to the zeal and devotion of the Church people of Colonial days in this place.