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 Trinity Church, Brooklyn, is one of many vicissitudes. Its beginning in 1769-70 was a protest against the tyranny of the local establishment, which tried to compel Colonel Malbone, a landholder and a member of the Church of England, to pay taxes for the building of a new meeting-house. His assessment was two hundred pounds, an eighth of the entire cost. Such a sum was an outrageous, though legal, imposition. He protested against the demand, but was answered, "Build we shall, and you shall bear your part. You Churchmen make us pay elsewhere, and you shall pay here." He resorted to the only possibly measure of relief, by himself building a church; as a Colonial law would then permit the Society taxes to go for the support of Church services. Some twenty heads of families were secured, all persons of moderate circumstances, who signed a declaration of conformity to the Church of England, with the condition that Col. Malbone would build a Church, and get a missionary established.
Thus, in November, 1769, this parish was organized. Considerable help was given from abroad; one of the people gave a lot. The plan was from a recollection of other edifices, especially King's Chapel, Boston. Col. Malbone calls it "neat, plain, and elegant," 46 by 30 feet. It was raised in June, 1770, and the work went on with fair speed to completion. The chief burden fell on Col. Malbone, a heavy one, as he was determined to have no debt, and was often seriously distressed to meet the payments. However he struggled on, the building was finished, and entirely paid for. He named it Trinity Church, for his old Parish Church of Trinity, Newport, R. I. The altar was at the east wall of the church. The pulpit surmounted by a sounding board, and the reading desk and clerk's desk were a third down the alley. The Bible was a folio Baskett edition of 1759, and is still in perfect preservation, and used at all services in the church. While the church was building, Colonel Malbone read the service on Sundays in his own house, with a sermon, substituting for the Absolution, a prayer from the Commination Office. He apologizes for invading the sacred office of the priesthood by pleading the need of instructing the new pledged Churchmen in the service, "most of them being as ignorant of it, as so many Iroquois." He distributed devotional books, "especially those preparatory to the Lord's Supper." In February, 1771, one of the services held in Mr. Ashcraft's house (still standing), so many came they were obliged to sit in each others laps, "an infant congregation lusty for its age."
April 12th, 1771, the church was formally opened by Rev. Mr. Tyler of Norwich, Rev. Samuel Peters of Hebron present and assisting. The sermon was on the Sanctity of the Christian Temple. Mr. Tyler remained several days, and on one of them baptized the infant daughter of the church warden, Dr. Walton; some outsider made a rhyme on the occasion of which the following is a verse:
Last Wednesday sen'night--don't be surprised--
Miss Polly Walton was baptized.
The good old Colonel sponsor stood,
T' insure the infant should be good.
His lady too and Mrs. Aplin
All did their parts, so did the Chaplain.
Through five months following, Parson Tyler, as he was called, officiated occasionally; the rest of the time Colonel Malbone himself. It was difficult to procure a missionary. The Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had determined some years before not to establish any new missions in New England, but finally by the urgency of Malbone's friends, Dr. Caner and the Bishop of Durham, Dr. Egerton, they granted a stipend of thirty pounds if the people would raise as much more.
In September, 1771, a Rev. Mr. Mosely applied for the place, but "his manners were too free to be suitable." In his stead, Rev. Dr. Caner and the worthy Mr. Learning and others recommended the Rev. Daniel Fogg, who was then officiating as assistant to Dr. Caner in Bath, North Carolina. Mr. Fogg came in April, 1772. There were twenty-five families belonging to the church then, and their number steadily increased until the Revolution. The Church was closed during that time. Mr. Fogg and his brethren could not omit the prayers for the Royal Family, on account of their Ordination vows. Services were conducted, however, throughout the war in Colonel Malbone's house in the presence of a few persevering Church people. There were thoughts of putting a stop to these services, but Colonel Malbone being popular with his neighbors, and taking no part in the contest, they let him alone. Near the close of the war, 1782, the missionary petitioned the Assembly for leave to go to New York to collect the seven years arrearages of his missionary stipend. It was not given him. When the war was ended, the clergy were absolved from the claims of English allegiance and public services were resumed. The Church had one firm supporter in the founder, Colonel Malbone, but he could do little more than give the minister a home. The friends of the Church were few, and his support was scanty. In 1785, Colonel Malbone died, seemingly near a death-blow to all hopes of continuance. He was a man of great strength of intellect and very highly cultivated. Numerous anecdotes of Malbone's eccentricities have floated down the stream of time. Tradition says that once when called upon to attend a dissenting meeting, he caused twelve oxen to be yoked to a sled, their horns decorated with ribbons, a slave with each yoke of oxen, and he himself rode in state to the meetinghouse, mounted in a chair upon the sled. At another time he received a deputation of some village people, who came to give him some orders as to his conduct, by placing himself between them and marching them up to a mirror saying: "Look here, Do you suppose the Almighty made such as you to lord it over me?" They slunk away in silence, and troubled him no farther. He was always ready to befriend a needy neighbor. Someone in his presence expressed much sympathy for a poor man who had lost his cow. How much are you sorry? His informant hesitated, "Well, I am sorry twenty dollars," he said, taking the amount from his pocket-book.
After the death of Colonel Malbone, Mr. Fogg meditated removal, but being persuaded that it would be ruinous to all hope of further life to the struggling parish, he put away that thought forever, and labored on as best he might. His salary was less than forty pounds a year, and was paid mostly in kind. So many were the legs of veal and quarters of mutton that his wife was sore bestead how to dispose of them. His farm produce and prudent husbandry and housewifery helped him to a comfortable living, but his successor he feared, without these helps, would hardly obtain a subsistence. So he urged the endowment of a fund for the support of the minister. $2,000 were pledged, but never realized, and after Mr. Fogg's death the subscribers mostly declared they only did it to please the "Old Gentleman," and it fell through.
Mr. Fogg was one of the ten clergymen who met at Woodbury and chose Seabury to the Episcopate, and the only definite information concerning the action they took in the matter is in a letter from him to Parker, afterwards Bishop of Massachusetts. "We clergy," he writes, "have even gone so far as to instruct Dr. Seabury, if none of the regular Bishops of the Church of England will ordain him, to go down to Scotland, and receive Ordination from nonjuring Bishops."
In 1791 Bishop Seabury visited this church, and confirmed several. Once again he officiated in the Rector's absence. Bishop Jarvis also visited the parish. No names are given of the confirmed. One convention report, 1812, says: Communicants, 27; baptisms, adults, 1; infants, 10; burials, 2. At Mr. Fogg's death, he left 31 communicants. He died in 1815, after a rectorship of more than 43 years.
In 1865 expediency dictated that the Church should be nearer the centre of population, so a new church building was planned and the cornerstone laid June 9th, 1865. The last service in the old church was held on Easter Day, 1866, and on April 4th the new church was consecrated by Bishop Williams, who preached the sermon on the occasion. The old building still remains in perfect preservation, and occasional services are held in it. Annually on All Saints' Day, her widely scattered children assemble in her time-honored walls to thank God for those departed in this faith and fear, and in the Holy Eucharist enjoy the communion of saints, and the hope of the life everlasting. The graves of those buried in God's acre around the holy temple are decorated with a profusion of flowers which have previously been consecrated upon the ancient altar. Also those are called to mind who have lived and died far from this their Christian birthplace, who cherished in their memory this sacred spot where they were born again in baptism, ratified their vows in confirmation and received the tokens of their Saviour's dying love in Holy Communion. From time to time her faithful children are brought to her sacred courts, where the beautiful burial service is said over them, and they are laid to rest in the lovely churchyard. The dear old mother watches over them now as she has done for more than a century.
It should be mentioned that St. Alban's, Danielson, which was organized about 1865, is a child of old Trinity; Christ Church, Pomfret, and St. Philip's, Putnam, are also descended from the old parish.
Trinity Church, Brooklyn, was the last parish organized before the Revolution, and so the last of the Connecticut parishes to have a Colonial history. Its present rector is the grandson of one of the Colonial clergy and Connecticut's second bishop, the last of the clergy of the Diocese who is connected with its Pre-Revolutionary days.