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 first services in Middletown according to the ritual of the Church of England were held in a room (which served as a chapel for some time) in a large house which formerly stood on the north side of Washington Street, on the ground now known as "Wetmore Place," and named after the original owner. The date of these services was prior to 1730. Here the interest was created which furnished the "one hundred sober-minded people" which met the Rev. Mr. Punderson at his first service here in 1739. In Dr. Beardsley's history we find that at the end of the year 1742 thirty families earnestly desired the favor of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel," and that "a missionary might be sent to them," and in March, 1749, that "the raising of the church was near at hand." The then town officials having reluctantly given them liberty to build, and staked out a plot on the east end of the South Green, a little north of the head of Union Street, the building was raised, with the entrance and tower at the west end and the chancel at the east. "When the frame was completely raised, there was a shout given so long and loud, that one who lived at the time often remarked 'that it could be heard perhaps the distance of a mile.'" The tower was, in later years, blown down in the night during a September gale, and as the road then crossed the Green diagonally, the stage driver boasted the next morning that "he had driven over the Episcopal steeple."
It was in this edifice, on the 2d of August, 1785, that the first Bishop met his clergy after his consecration in Scotland. Three of the clergy (for political reasons) had removed to the British Provinces; but eleven were present, with the Rev. Benjamin Moore of New York, and the Rev. Samuel Parker of Boston, when four persons, viz., Messrs. Henry Vandyke, Philo Shelton and Ashbel Baldwin, with Colin Ferguson of Maryland (who came on for that purpose), were ordained Deacons. Thomas Fitch Oliver was admitted to the same order four days afterward, and Colin Ferguson was admitted to the Priesthood. Thus in one week were both orders, for the first time in the United States, administered in this parish, known at that time and afterwards as Christ Church. The present name was authorized by an act of the Legislature in 1848. This was rendered necessary in carrying out certain provisions of the will of a most liberal benefactor of the church, Mrs. Martha Mortimer Starr, who died May 8, 1848. The first wardens were Philip Mortimer and Caleb Wetmore.
Colonial Clergy associated with Holy Trinity, Middletown
REV. JAMES WETMORE (who may justly be called one of the pioneers of the Church in New England) was born, of Congregational parents, in Middletown, December 31, 1695; "entered Yale College and took the degree of A.B. in September, 1714, and of Master of Arts in 1717. He studied with Rev. Noadiah Russell for the ministry; was called in 1718 to North Haven, Conn., and in the fall of that year was ordained in the First Congregational Church in that place." He continued his labors four years, when he became convinced that the ordination under which he was ministering was invalid; whereupon he, with Dr. Cutler, Rector of Yale College, Dr. Johnson, President of King's College (now Columbia) of New York, in 1721 declared publicly their belief in the Divine origin and perpetual obligation of Episcopacy.
As soon after this declaration as arrangements could be perfected, Mr. Wetmore sailed for England, where he was ordained Priest by the Rt. Rev. Edmund Gibson, D.D., Lord Bishop of London. His certificate of ordination is dated July, 1723. While there he received from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, etc., the appointment of Catechist and Assistant to Trinity Church, New York, September, 1723, and at once entered upon his duties in that capacity. In 1726 he was called to the Rectorship at Rye, N. Y., and appointed thereto by the above-named Society, April 25, 1727. On October 3, 1745, he writes to the Secretary of that Society thus:
"I was three weeks ago at Middletown, in Connecticut, the place of my nativity, which I have been used to visit annually while my father lived, and have not only preached among them, and baptized many children, and some adults, but taken pains in connection with my relations and acquaintances to give them just notions of religion, and beget in them a liking for the Church of England; and I am rejoiced to see very hopeful prospect of a good church gathering in that place, promoted chiefly by some brethren of mine."
The large red two-story house, on the north side of Washington Street, standing there in 1832, upon the ground now mapped as "Wetmore Place," has been proved to be the residence of his brother Ichabod (for many years a warden of this parish), and undoubtedly the place where Mr. Wetmore first preached, baptized and taught the tenets of the Episcopal Church.
In his reports to the above-named Secretary in 1735, 1736 and 1738 and 1739, he states that, in addition to his own parish, he had been doing duty at North Castle, White Plains, and Bedford, Westchester County, and Stamford, Horse Neck and Greenwich in Connecticut.
His pilgrimage on earth was closed May 15, 1760. "Worthy, learned and faithful."--Dr. Johnson.
RT. REV. ABRAHAM JARVIS was born at Norwalk, Conn., May 5 (O.S.), 1739. His father had conformed to the Church of England two years before the birth of the future Bishop. He was, therefore, from the beginning trained to the highest office to which he was in time to be called. His early studies were pursued at Stamford, under the charge of the Rev. Noah Welles, the Congregational minister of the town, who was a noted instructor in his day. From Stamford he passed to Yale College, where he was graduated in 1761, and in the autumn of that year commenced his services as lay reader at Middletown. Early in 1763, by tax and subscription, a sufficient sum was raised by the parish to defray his expenses to England for orders. In the autumn of 1763 he sailed with Bela Hubbard, who had studied with Dr. Johnson, reaching London in January, 1764. He received Deacon's orders from Dr. Keppel, Bishop of Exester, February 5, and Priest's orders from Dr. Littleton, Bishop of Carlisle, in St. James's Church, Westminster, on the 19th of the same month. He sailed for home on the 20th of April, arrived in Boston in June, and on the 1st of August was settled as Rector at Middletown.
His residence was located on the southwest corner of South Main and Church Streets. This property, consisting of a house and one acre of land, was conveyed to this parish as a glebe by Philip Mortimer and Widow Mary Alsop. It was sold by vote of the parish, June 13, 1809, to Thomas Mather, who erected the present house thereon, known in later years as the home of Lieutenant-Governor Benjamin Douglas, deceased.
In 1780, Mr. Jarvis was invited to the charge of St. John's Church, Providence, R. I., but declined the offer. He received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology from Yale College, New Haven, A. D. 1796. At a convention held at Wallingford on the 27th of February, 1787, he was appointed to proceed to Scotland for consecration as Bishop, but the necessity was obviated.
In 1796 Bishop Seabury died, and at the convention of the diocese in May of that year, Dr. Jarvis was elected his successor, which he declined, but in the August convention, when he was elected by the unanimous vote of both clergy and laity, he accepted, and was consecrated Bishop of Connecticut in Trinity Church, New Haven, on the 18th day of September, A. D. 1797, by the Rt. Rev. William White, D.D., assisted by the Rt. Rev. Samuel Provost, D.D., and the Rt. Rev. Edward Bass, D.D. Bishop Jarvis served his parish in Middletown two years after his consecration as Bishop--in all thirty-five years. He then removed to Cheshire, where he had already placed his son at school, and built himself a house.
Bishop Jarvis's episcopate covered a period of a little less than sixteen years, and extended through the time of the deepest depression of the church. Under God, however, he carried his diocese safely through the period of discouragement and trial, though he lived to see the first beams of a brighter day, which, after 1811, began to dawn upon the church. On the third of May, 1813, at his residence, then in New Haven, after a short but severe illness, he rested from his labors, having nearly completed his seventy-fourth year. "He was buried," says Dr. Beardsley, "in the public cemetery then recently opened; but upon the erection of Trinity Church in that city, his remains were disinterred and deposited beneath the chancel of the edifice which he had hoped to see erected."