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 "United States" is not only the union of many states under one government but the welding of many peoples into one nation. So in religious history every form of Christianity has sought refuge within its borders, and already the cry for "unity" is ascending as nowhere else in the world. Let us trace the stages in the story.
Before the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, almost before they were dreamed of in the Church of England, the religious contest for the possession of America began. The Pope drew a line dividing the Atlantic Ocean, giving all new discoveries east of it to Portugal, in recognition of Vasco da Gama and his discovery of the "new way to India," while all west of that line the Pontiff "gave" to Spain as reward for the westward voyage, from that coast, of Christopher Columbus. Thus the whole New World was laid out as papal territory. England heard. She drew no line. She acted. "No peace with Spain beyond the line" drawn by the Pope became the national motto of the day. No sooner had Christopher Columbus landed on the West Indies than John Cabot sailed out from England, bearing a charter which claimed not only all lands he should touch upon in the New World as territory of England, but also claiming all souls living in those territories for conversion to the Church of England; and services were celebrated on the east coast according to the rights of the Church of England before Americus Vespucius landed on the continent, and named it. Drake landed in San Francisco bay and celebrated the first Holy Communion on that western coast. The Virginia settlers in 1607, coming to Jamestown, held service and began to convert the Indians to Christianity before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.
This followed in 1620; and after the Puritans, an army of religious refugees sought and found an asylum free from persecution on these shores. Meanwhile the Church of Rome, by the Jesuits in the Northwest, the Franciscans and Dominicans in the South, and the English Romanists in Maryland, maintained a claim to a share in the religious life of the country. By a series of events reaching over many years (the cession of Florida, the Louisiana purchase, the acquisition of the Northwest, California, Texas, and New Mexico) this share of the Church of Rome has been limited to spiritual not temporal power. She has been welcomed as one of man religious bodies, but not placed over any. The "Monroe Doctrine" holds good in the religious world. The recent planting of our rule in Cuba and the Philippines, together with the consequent proclamation of religious liberty in each of these sections, from separate links in the same great chain. Our land has been made the home of religious liberty. Hence it is that religious pioneers are prominent among the settlers of each portion of its territory. All along the eastern coast, and on the plains of the Missouri, bands of Puritans and Quakers, Huguenots and Moravians have sought in the great openness of the New World liberty to worship after their own manner the one God of their fathers, while across the Rocky Mountains it is the Methodist missionary Whitman and his wife who crest the wave of emigration that claimed the northwest coast from the savage and the trader.
With this great freedom for our cornerstone, a reverence for God and respect for man made in His image, the motto that crowned the triumphal arch at the World's Fair in Chicago ("Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"), is an inspiring prophecy of possibility for our country. To us come all peoples and all tongues. They come together in voluntary peacefulness for the first time since the scattering of nations at the tower of Babel. They come for freedom and they grow towards unity. Beginning with individual freedom in one country, under one flag, one ruler, one law, they grow to speak one language and more and more to realize that we are all worshipping one God. One baptism into one holy name is beginning to mean more to us than east or west, Roman or Protestant.
It is then, most fitting that we, members of the Anglican communion, who took the initiative in claiming this land for freedom, should look to our beginnings and our brave struggle in one spot in New England where the Puritan tried to become a Pope.
Life to-day in Connecticut is better understood when we realize its growth out of the conflicts of the past. The story of the introduction of the worship of the Church of England by the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is indeed an astonishing one. From the time that, in the southwest, Col. Heathcote fully armed escorted the clergyman at Rye into Stratford to celebrate a Prayer Book service, to the day when, in the northeast corner of the State, in the town of Pomfret, old Godfrey Malbone built a church upon his farm land to escape compulsory taxation for the salary of the Congregational minister, the story is one of opposition on the one hand and bravery on the other. This will be no less surprising to the broad-minded Puritans of our clay than to ourselves, for those times are forgotten in the days that are. Yet happily we shall rise from a study of these pages with a greater enthusiasm for the heritage won for us, not by favour, but by struggle and in the fear of God--a heritage not only of the Prayer Book and of the Episcopate, but of the principle of religious freedom, and, as we believe, in the end, of the realization of Christian unity. Had any one religion, or any one race obtained sole authority in our land, it could never have become what it is becoming now, the harmonizer of the human family. State union was bought by the Revolution; race equality before the law, by the awful throes of the Rebellion; and doubtless Christian harmony, in the same broad sense of unity in fundamentals without compelled uniformity of externals, will not come without "great searchings of heart." But that it will come we can see in promise by, not only our integral diversity, but by our national character of "arbiter" and "peacemaker," which we have established as our portion among the nations of the world. More and more will the Christian bodies of America come to realize that they "Members, by Baptism of the One Body of Christ," are, not one day may be, one Church. Let us then turn to the story of the rescue of Connecticut in Colonial days from the cramping hand of an "establishment" through the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.