THE place where the churchmen first came together was Chippeny Hill, within the confines of New Cambridge, the present Bristol. From the time of its settlement by white men, the history of the Hill has been connected with the growth of the Church of England in New Cambridge. The Brooks and the Matthews families settled there between the years 1742 and 1747, and were soon joined by others of the Church of England. It was in July, 1747, that a group of the members of the meeting house at New Cambridge revolted, owing to the Calvinistic doctrines of the new minister, Rev. Samuel Newell, and "publicly declared themselves of the Church of England and under the Bishop of England." Those who seceded, most of them influential members of the Society which they were leaving, were Caleb Matthews and Stephen Brooks, patriarchs of the families that bore their name, John Hickox, Caleb Abernathy, Abner Matthews, Abel Royce, Daniel Roe, and Simon Tuttle. Caleb Matthews was a captain of militia, and he was also the chairman of the Society's committee and of the building committee which was then making plans for a meeting house. Both he and Simon Tuttle were spared to live until the Revolution. Abner Matthews was also a member of the building committee. John Hickox had been the Society's treasurer.
Nehemiah Royce, a younger man, within a few weeks followed the original eight in joining the new congregation, and he was followed in October, 1748, by Benjamin and Stephen Brooks, Jr., and Joseph Gaylord. It is the opinion of Mr. James Shepard that the dissenters were inclined to worship according to the Church of England even before they were settled at New Cambridge. The Brooks family, the Matthews family, the Gaylords, the Rices, and the Tuttles came from Wallingford, where Church of England services had been held as early as 1740.
The selection of the Calvinist, Rev. Samuel Newell, came after a strong factional conflict within the walls of the meeting house. The orthodox wished to call him as early as 1744, but the liberals refused to accept him, and after a few years of preaching by various candidates, among whom were Ichabod Camp and Christopher Newton, both of whom later became Church of England clergymen, the orthodox faction became the ruling majority and obtained the man they desired. The new church naturally found itself in conflict with the old Society, which was the legal municipal corporation of New Cambridge, and it was several years before the matter of taxation was satisfactorily readjusted. At the time of the Revolution, the largest part of the Church of England residents in New Cambridge had chosen Chippeny Hill as their dwelling place.
It is a tract of land which was well worth recognition, both as farming land and because of its sightly situation. North of it lie the Ledges, a section of rocky woodland; west of it are seen the hills of Litchfield county. The Hill itself is one of those long ranges, running north and south, that are peculiar to that part of the country, and although it escapes by a few rods from being within Litchfield county, it may truly be called the easternmost member of that north-stretching fraternity of hills. Below it, on the east, stretches the valley of the Farmington, with the houses of Bristol visible at the south, and the distant church spires of Farmington visible at the north. It was from this valley that Cochipiance, the Indian, came, from the band of Tunxis Indians that encamped there. He found the Hill in New Cambridge a good place, and claimed it and the surrounding region as his hunting preserve, making his home there by a good spring on the eastern slope. Afterward the white men bought it from him. Two highways, half a mile apart, run northward along the hill until they are lost in the woods and ledges. The western one of the two has long been known as Hill street. A cross road at South Chippeny Hill is called Shumway from the name of an Indian, Shum, whose trail it was. By the year 1774 the hill was cleared and fertile land.
Why it was that the farmers of this section were mostly Church of England men, it is hard to say. Whether their long open hill life bred an independence that rebelled against the Calvinistic tenets of the established church or whether the bright sun that causes the strawberries to ripen there warmed the hearts of those that ate them, we may not know. Certain it is that by 1774, they were a colony of churchmen.
On Sundays, they rode down the Hill to their church at New Cambridge, which was east of the meeting house, across the training ground, near where the north wing of Federal Hill schoolhouse now stands. There a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts conducted the services for them. First, Rev. William Gibbs of Simsbury, then for a time the converted dissenters, Rev. Ichabod Camp and Rev. Christopher Newton; after them, Rev. Richard Mansfield of Derby: then for a number of years until 1773, Rev. James Scovil of Waterbury, and, finally, Rev. James Nichols. Their friends and cousins alighted at the block in front of the meeting house; but they entered the church and joined in the litany, and the choristers led them in the chant. Then they rode back to the Hill.
Meeting house little boys doubtless twitted church little boys that they were not as good as they, yet, methinks, the meeting house little boys wished sometimes that they might climb up on the pillion and ride away to Chippeny Hill. Life was not so stern there. There were good things to eat Sabbath afternoons on Chippeny Hill and there was time to play. And there were good things to eat at other times, too. When the Christmas time came, Chippeny Hill boys had puddings with raisins in them. And there were Christmas trees, trees inside the house, with candles on them. And that was the time when the Yule log was put on the fire and the stories were told and the songs were sung. Of course it was wicked. Parson Newell would say that such things were an abomination of heathendom and the ruination of souls; but what fun it must have been. And girls, and boys too, actually had playthings given to them. The customs of merry old England, which the Puritans despised, were certainly cherished there.
Yet there was work to be done on the Hill. There was corn to plant and wood to cut. In the winter the long flames went roaring up the chimney, and the winds that rise in Goshen swept down upon them. It was not England. No churches with their long choirs had these people seen, nor cathedrals, where the organ bellowed gloriously. Yet they had heard of them from the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. And they loved their home, England. Not that they expected ever to see it, but they liked to read of it, those who could read, and all of them delighted to hear of it; the great cathedral at Canterbury where the archbishop lived; and St. James Palace, where Prince Charles was brought up as a boy and later returned to his own again; and the King, the head of the Church, and, by the grace of God, Defender of the Faith. They liked to hear what play had been presented before him, what noble he had knighted, what hospital he had founded, what sculptor, poet, or artist had received favor at his hands. They prayed for him as their sovereign lord and king,--not lukewarmly, my friends, as you repeat the Lord's prayer day after day, but affectionately,--for a living prince, that he might ever incline to the Heavenly will, that the King of Kings might endue him with heavenly gifts, grant him to live long in health and wealth, strengthening him that he might vanquish and overcome all his enemies, and finally after this life that he might attain everlasting joy and felicity.
The troubles of 1775 were a great shock to these loyal people. The Boston port bill had thrown the Puritans into agitation. It seemed as if they were demented.
They blasphemed the name of the king, and in the streets of New York they defaced his statue. "If you pray for the king," said the meeting house men, "then we will kill you." So the members of the church in New Cambridge closed its doors in silence.