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
IN 1723, when the "West Farmers," as those living in what is now Cheshire, then a part of Wallingford, were called, formed the "new Cheshire Parish," there were thirty-three families "all of the Congregational belief" it was said.
It is probable that among these were some, who at heart loved the Prayer Book and its services; but, if we call to mind the restrictions under which Church of England people rested, and the lack of clergy, it will not seem strange that the two or three let themselves be counted in as Congregationalists. To be sure the Commissioners of Charles II, in 1665, were assured that the "Colony will not hinder any from enjoying the Sacraments and using the Common Prayer Book, provided they hinder not the maintenance of the public minister," yet it was not until 1708 that any legal provision was made for such liberty. Then they were allowed "if they soberly dissented" from the Congregational order to have public worship in their own way, but were still obliged to pay for the support of the Congregational Church, in the places of their respective residences, and not until 1727 were they relieved from this restriction and also excused from paying taxes for building meetinghouses for the established church of the colony.
The absence of these restrictions and the ministrations of Mr. Johnson (the only Episcopal clergyman in the colony) quickened slumbering hearts, and in 1729 we find the first written evidence of an Episcopalian in Cheshire. In that year a letter was sent from Wallingford to the Bishop of London, which closes with these words: "And now that God may bless your Lordship, and the charitable endeavors of the honorable Society and enable them to send more laborers to a harvest truly plentiful, is the sincere prayer of Your Lordship's most dutiful and obedient servants." Among the fifteen signers appears the name of Matthew Bellamy, who was a resident of New Cheshire Parish from 1708 until his death in 1752, and whose name later appears among the vestrymen of the Union Church in 1740.
This Union Church was built in that year at a place called Pond Hill in Wallingford, and its members lived in that place, North Haven and Cheshire. The Episcopalians in Cheshire travelled this long distance to church until 1751. Davis's History of Wallingford says: "In 1751 the Rev. Ichabod Camp formed an Episcopal Society in Cheshire, and for a time services were read by a layman named Moss." On this point Dr. Beardsley's sermon says: "Mr. Joseph Moss was one of the warmest and most zealous defenders of its worship; and to him, more perhaps than to any other layman, you are indebted for all you have been and all you are. He it was who first gathered some of his friends and neighbors in the house of Zachariah Ives and read to them the service of the Church. In 1760 he bought the ground on which the present building stands; and with the aid of Henry Brooks, Sen., Zachariah Ives, Dr. Benjamin Lewis, Amos Matthews, Ebenezer Tuttle, Moses Tuttle, and Isaac Tyler erected a small church for the accommodation of the Episcopalians in Cheshire."
The deeds he gave conveying the land on which the church stands and the burial ground, are still in existence and bear the respective dates of 1765 and 1767. The first regular clergyman who ministered in this parish was, as before mentioned, the Rev. Ichabod Camp, who, returning from England after his ordination, in 1752, acted as missionary in Middletown, Wallingford, and Cheshire until his removal to Virginia, eight years later.
In 1761, the Rev. Samuel Andrews, born in Meriden in 1737, the youngest of eight sons, returned from England with the appointment of missionary to Wallingford, Cheshire and North Haven. One fourth of the time he preached in Cheshire and the congregation increased so much under his ministry, that, in 1770 the parish proceeded to the erection of the church which answered until 1839. This building was at first without a steeple and being a square forty-two feet by forty-two feet, and very high, presented an awkward appearance. An anecdote, illustrative of this point, is told of Bishop Seabury. Being here, on a visitation to the parish, some one of the leading members remarked that they were contemplating erecting soon a steeple to their church. The Bishop looked at the building and very good naturedly replied, that he thought they "had better build a church to their steeple." Later we read that "such was their prosperity in 1795, that they enlarged this house of worship, and added the steeple." From 1770 until the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, harmony and prosperity continued in the parish. Then, in common with many Episcopal parishes in the land, this suffered much from the persecution of those who sought to enfeeble and destroy whatever savored of the king and his country.