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 story of the church in Milford during the Colonial period is the story of a struggle with adverse circumstances.
The first glimpse of the field in this town is given us in a letter written September 22, 1736, to the Secretary of the Society by the Rev. Thomas Arnold, an itinerant missionary, in which he reports: "Last Sunday I performed divine service in Milford, one of the most considerable towns in Connecticut Colony, where the use of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the ten Commandments, or the reading the Scripture in divine service was never before known. There was a very numerous auditory, most attentive and desirous to be instructed in the worship of the Church of England. Those who are looking toward the Church are commonly the poorer sort of people."
On January 27, 1764, Edward Alien and thirty others from Milford, being desirous to worship God according to the established form of the Church of England, drew up and signed an obligation taxing themselves one penny upon the pound on the list of 1763, to be appropriated to the use of procuring and supporting the reading of divine service in Milford. An additional sum of eleven pounds was also subscribed for the same object. As a result of the above subscriptions, Mr. Richard Clark, a gentleman of liberal education, and a candidate for Holy Orders, was engaged to read divine service at the rate of twenty pounds per annum. At a meeting held July 26, 1765, it was agreed by way of donation to have Mr. Clark board around among the Church people, remaining quarterly with each family. An application to the Society to have Mr. Clark appointed with a salary as catechist at Milford is declined, by the Rev. Dan Burton, in a well-preserved letter now on file among the church papers in Milford.
In October, 1765, St. George Talbot, a charitable and well-to-do layman of New York, came to Milford and gave his note for four hundred pounds to the professors of the Episcopal church, payable to them at his decease, on condition that they erect a house for the purpose of public worship, which they did in June, 1770, and named it St. George's Church, in memory of the donor. Though at this time the building was merely enclosed and provided with windows, lay reading, by Mr. Tingley of New York, was provided under the direction of Dr. Johnson. In 1774 Dr. Kneeland of Stratford took charge of the parish and officiated every fifth Sunday until November, 1776, when Dr. Johnson became rector.
At a meeting of the Wardens and Vestry and other members of the parish, in March, 1775, authority was given to any member to build a pew, of which he must keep a just and true account, and might use the pew for the interest of his money. If disposed to sell, the wardens or vestry were to have the prior right to purchase at the original cost. If they refuse to purchase, then any member might have the opportunity.
In the month of March, 1775, the church building was dedicated by the Rev. Bela Hubbard of New Haven, assisted by the Rev. Dr. Kneeland and the Rev. Richard Mansfield of Derby, and a numerous auditory was convened on that occasion.
A severe disaster now befell the little struggling church. Mr. Talbot died and a large portion of his bequest was paid in depreciated continental money to Major David Baldwin, a warden, who did not dare refuse the same for fear of personal abuse, and a large sum was lost to the church. The name of the church was thereupon changed to St. Peter's. From 1776 to 1786 during the Revolutionary War, there was seldom any assembling in the church either for prayer or for preaching, and matters were in a very depressed condition. In 1786 the Rev. Henry Van Dyke officiated one year, succeeded by the Rev. John R. Marshall, both zealous missionaries of the Society, From this time to the close of the century we find very little more of interest to record.
I will close by mentioning the fact that in building the new beautiful stone church of St. Peter's in 1848, respect and honor to the memory of Dr. Johnson, were shown by placing a full-length representation of him in the stained glass window in the chancel.