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 representatives of Trinity Church, New Haven, take a very modest position on this historic occasion. We do not even know with precision the date of our birthday as an Ecclesiastical Society. But we know that we are more than forty years younger than Stratford, the pioneer of Connecticut parishes; we know that our first church was built in 1752, although services had been held in New Haven prior to this time; and that on these grounds we can claim only the twenty-seventh place in order of precedence amongst parishes of Colonial foundation; but there is no record of the exact date of the organization of the parish.
One of the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the Rev. Jonathan Arnold (a Connecticut man), was in London in 1734, and evidently hoped on his return to begin systematic work in New Haven; for he tried to obtain funds for the building of a church and parsonage in that city. He was appointed to work in Connecticut, but at that time the influence of Congregationalism, and of its stronghold, Yale College, were unfavorable to the planting of the Church in New Haven. The latter institution had taken alarm at the secession of its president, Doctor Cutler, who with several friends had declared for Episcopacy in 1722 and the few--very few--scattered Church people had to encounter much opposition when they conceived the idea of building a church. They made their venture of faith, however, as above stated, in 1752, when they numbered, all told, men, women and children, but eighty-seven souls.
Scarcely any one can visit New Haven, and no one can live there, without passing the site of the first Trinity Church. The humble little wooden edifice, contemptuously named a "reading-house" by a local historian, stood about one hundred feet north of the present post office on the other side (the east) of Church Street. It was distinguished from the meeting-house of the period by its chancel and by its spire. This was the first spire built in New Haven, and was said by a vestry-man, whose enthusiasm blinded him to a sense of the ludicrous, to symbolize "good Mother church, with one foot on the apostolic rock, and the other (!) pointing to the skies." The sentiment, however quaintly expressed, seems to have been adopted by other religious societies in New Haven, for within twenty years steeples adorned three meeting-houses in the city. If imitation is the sincerest flattery, the little Episcopal congregation must have observed this growth with some complacency.
The weather-vane on Trinity Church was in the form of a crown, but this was removed after the Revolution. The church was correctly orientated, with the altar at the east end, thus conforming to the immemorial custom of the mother country; whether this was done by accident of design is an open question. The church was built by one Thomas Davis; and tradition says that "when the frame of the building was raised, the heads of all the Episcopal families in New Haven sat down on the door-sill, and spoke hesitatingly of their future growth." The workmen were taken to board by the church families in rotation; and within a few years an aged person was living who remembered hearing from his grandmother that she took her turn with others in rendering this practical service to the infant parish. Missionaries of the Venerable Society, including the Rev. Ebenezer Punderson, who had contributed liberally to the new building, ministered in this church until 1767, when the Rev. Bela Hubbard became the first Rector.
The names of many of the faithful laity are also known. Every member of Trinity parish should honor the memory of one Enos Ailing, whose sagacity, prudence, and foresight secured for the church a valuable endowment. A bequest of a plot of land, to be used for Ecclesiastical purposes, had been made some years before the church was built, by the non-resident heir of one of the early settlers. The bequest was invalid; but Enos Ailing (in those days often called "Bishop Ailing," on account of his zeal for the church), recognized the value of the land; he bought it, and transferred it in 1765 to the wardens and vestry of Trinity parish, for the sum of $1,356--a price which would now be minute considering the central situation of the property, but which then, probably, represented its fair market value.
The parish prospered under Doctor Hubbard's ministrations. The people were poor, yet they managed to pay their debts, to afford the then rare luxury of an organ for their church in 1784, to contribute their share towards Diocesan expenses, and to provide a modest income for their Rector. In this matter they had some help from West Haven, where a part of Doctor Hubbard's time was spent.
There is no record of the consecration of the original Trinity church, although Bishop Seabury visited it several times, and the first completely organized Diocesan convention, with bishop, clergy, and laity, met within its walls in 1792; and five years later Bishop Jarvis was consecrated there. The building was enlarged twice, once by an addition, once by the erection of galleries; but the congregation grew apace, and early in the nineteenth century the new Trinity church, the one we all know, was built on New Haven Green. It was finished and consecrated in 1816, soon after the appointment of the Rev. Harry Croswell as Rector. Three of the five bishops of our diocese are associated with this church; the remains of Bishop Jarvis rest beneath its Chancel, and Bishops Brownell and Brewster were consecrated before its Altar.
Trinity parish is still young. What is a century and a half in the history of the Catholic church--the Holy Church throughout all the world, of which our diocese and our parishes form an integral part? Her members, who have the honor to represent her here to-day, can desire nothing better for their own or for their sister parishes than that they may be permitted to uplift the Cross during succeeding centuries, as it has been uplifted during the years that lie behind us, until the world ranks itself beneath this standard, and the Kingdom of our Lord is established.
One of the founders of Trinity parish was Isaac Doolittle. The following interesting note in regard to him has been furnished by one of his descendants.
Recorded in original charters in archives of La Manche, Abbey of Mont St. Michael for Benedictine monks in Diocese of Avranche, France, A. D. 1085-1087--is found the following:
Ranulphus de Dolieta, Testemonio:--"For forgiveness of misdeeds of himself and his predecessors and successors he grants in the time of William, King of England, to the Monks of St. Michael for the brotherhood and the prayers of St. Michael and the Monks, his servants, all the dues on his lands."
Rudolph of Dolieta, a Norman noble who accompanied the Conquerer, is honored as being the progenitor of the family well known in England's annals by the prosaic name of Doolittle, so did the practical English tongue deal with the elegant Norman cognomen.
The history of this family in England may be clearly traced,--and it is well known among the early settlers of the American colonies.
In the Revolutionary days we find that one of the family known as Isaac Doolittle had become an enthusiastic citizen of New Haven--Trinity Church, of which he was a member, was the object of his warm and earnest attachment. His generous contributions greatly aided in the building of the first house of worship for the parish, and he was chosen a member of its vestry.
He was a man of varied interest--he was a manufacturer of brass hall-clocks, and was engaged in the business of casting bells. When the Revolutionary War came he belonged to a company that made great quantities of gunpowder.
This business brought upon him the disapproval of the congregation of Trinity parish--and he was dropped from the vestry "because he had aided the king's enemies by making powder."
At the conclusion of peace, Mr. Doolittle was reinstated in the "hearts of his countrymen"--and in the vestry he became one of the wardens.
He was, finally, buried at New Haven, near the State House.