THE REV. JAMES NICHOLS
THE principle of loyalty to the king, which was the guiding light of the Chippeny Hill band, was installed in great measure by Rev. James Nichols. In the words of the public records of Connecticut, concerning seventeen of his parishioners, they were "much under the influence of one Nichols, a designing church clergyman who instilled into them principles opposite to the good of the States" and "under the influence of such principles they pursued a course of conduct tending to the ruin of the country and highly displeasing to those who are friends to the freedom and independence of the United States."
Rev. James Nichols, born in December, 1748, the son of James Nichols of Waterbury, was graduated from Yale College in 1771. The churchmen of New Cambridge, at a vestry meeting held August 2, 1773, voted to have him for their minister, and appointed a committee to confer with him. They then owned a small building at New Cambridge near the training ground, where Rev. James Scovil occasionally held services but as he also cared for other parishes, they desired a permanent minister of their own, and united with the parish of Northbury (now Plymouth) to procure one. In the report of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts read at the annual meeting, February, 1774, before the distinguished assemblage of its patrons, at the parish church--the Church of St. Mary Le Bow, the church of the Bow-bells, in Cheapside, which Sir Christopher Wren had built after the great fire,--the portion treating of the field in Connecticut says: "The two parishes most distant from Waterbury, viz., Northbury and New Cambridge, consisting each of about forty families, have voluntarily engaged to support their own minister. Sixty pounds sterling and a glebe of very good land are to be his maintenance. The Rev. James Nichols, a gentleman well recommended, hath lately been ordained to those parishes; and the Society, in consideration of his receiving no salary and of the commendable zeal of the people, have presented him with a gratuity of twenty pounds." The people of New Cambridge had already, at a vestry held August 30, 1773, voted forty pounds yearly for their part of his stated salary and "voted to raise twenty-five pounds to carry him home." He was the last man from Connecticut to take holy orders from "home" before the Revolution. The statement that Nichols was "well recommended" is worthy of notice. Nine particulars are named in the reports of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, of which the Society required those who recommended a clergyman to testify, and of these, number eight is "His affection for the present government."
The young priest of twenty-five had a bitter time of it in his parish. He administered baptism at New Cambridge in May, 1774. The following day, May 9th, is the date of the last vestry meeting recorded as held in the church, for the wave of insurrection was sweeping over the country, rendering public allegiance to the king dangerous, and the church only followed the example of the other churches throughout New England when it ceased its public services. For the ten years thereafter of his pastorate, he held meetings in farm houses, and the people were practically without a church. His parish, as reported by Rev. Mr. Scovil in 1773, consisted of thirty-three families and forty-seven communicants in New Cambridge, and forty-five families and sixty-three communicants in Northbury and in the bounds of Harwinton. He was the recognized instigator of the strong love for England that imbued his flock, and the patriots hunted for him high and low. When they found him hiding in a cellar near Cyrus Gaylord's home in East Plymouth, they tarred and feathered him and dragged him in the neighboring brook. He is also said to have been shot at several times. He baptised his son, Charles Nichols, January 21, 1776. November 22, 1776, he sold a farm of seventy acres to Jonathan Pond. With Moses Dunbar, he was tried by the Superior Court in Hartford, January 27, 1777, for treasonable practices against the United States, but was acquitted. May 22, 1777, seventeen Tory prisoners from New Cambridge were examined at the house of Mr. David Bull at Hartford by a committee of the General Assembly, and were found to be "much under the influence of one Nichols, a designing church clergyman." He received his ministerial taxes in 1778, at Salisbury, and in 1779 and in 1780 at Litchfield. It is probable that Salisbury was familiar ground to him for his father's residence was there in 1756. The receipts for the taxes, as they appear upon the records of the New Cambridge society, are as follows:
"To the Collector of Minister Rate in Farmington. This may certify that the People of ye Town belonging to the Episcopal church have paid ye Minister Rate to me for the year 1777 and this may discharge the same. Salisbury, March 7, 1778.--James Nichols, Missionary."
"Litchfield, February 27, 1779, this may certify the Collector of minister Rate for the parish of New Cambridge that the people of the Episcopal Church of said Parish under my care have paid their rates to me and I hereby discharg the Colector said Rate is on. Test. James Nichols, Clerk."
"Litchfield, Dec. 29, 1780, this may certify the Colector of minister Rate for the parish of New Cambridge that the people of the Episcopal Church under my care have paid their Rate to me and I hereby discharge the colector is on list. James Nichols, Minister."
Receipts like the foregoing were customarily accepted by the collectors of the "Standing Order" from Church of England clergymen, but the law did not authorize the acceptance of them except from a resident clergyman. Nichols was not of course a resident at New Cambridge while living as a fugitive at Litchfield. Consequently we read that, "At a meeting of the inhabitants of the Parish of New Cambridge holden at the Meeting House on the 17th of February, 1779, it was voted that our Collector shall collect the Rates of the People of the Church of England."
Nichols took his nephew with him to Litchfield as a valet, and there the boy found the girl who afterward became his wife. From Litchfield, the young minister made occasional visits to his former parishioners at New Cambridge. He administered baptism once in 1777, and not after that until 1780. At a vestry held at Joseph Gaylord's in March, 1782, it was voted that he give one-third of his time to West Britain, now Burlington, and provision was made for the collection of his ministerial rate by subscription; Nathaniel Matthews being chosen to receive the subscriptions. At a vestry meeting held at Joel Turtle's, in 1783, William Gaylord and Samuel Smith, jr., were elected to make up and collect Mr. Nichol's rates. The last baptism at New Cambridge performed by him was March 21, 1784. It was on January 30, 1780, that he baptised among others, a daughter of Stephen Graves, whether at the Graves home or at some other farmhouse it is not recorded.
The snow came and there was famine in the American camp in New Jersey. Two days later, Long Island Sound was almost frozen over in the widest part so that persons crossed the ice from Staten Island, an undertaking never before possible since the first settlement of . the country. With Long Island Sound almost frozen over, Harwinton and Litchfield were certainly cold places, and Parson Nichols, I wot, was glad when his pastoral visit was over, and his valet led the horses to the stables in Litchfield and he could seat himself once more by the warm fireside.
"Respected for his pleasing manners and eloquent preaching," he became Rector of St. Michael's Church at Litchfield in May, 1780. This church had been deprived of the services of a minister from 1774 to 1780 owing to the lack of the usual support from the old country, but had been held together by Captain Daniel Landon and other loyal souls, who met regularly despite the fact that the church windows were the favorite targets df hoodlums. Landon's granddaughter remembered that when General Washington passed through Litchfield, the soldiers, to evince their attachment for him, threw a shower of stones at the church. He reproved them saying, "I am a Churchman and wish not to see the church dishonored and desolated in this manner."
Nichols "collected a respectable congregation," wrote Truman Marsh, who became rector in 1799, "and did much to remove prejudice and to raise the church from its low and depressed state." He resigned May, 1784, about the same time that he left New Cambridge and Northbury. In 1785 he drafted an "Address of Thanks" to the Legislature for incorporating the church society.
The historians of Litchfield knew little about Nichols. Statements that he came from Salem, Mass., are incorrect. There was a church clergyman by the name of Nichols at that place, and mentioned in the letters to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, but his name was Robert Boucher Nichols and he was a native of the Barbadoes and a graduate of Oxford. James Nichols, though ordained by the Society, was not one of their regular missionaries, which partly accounts for the scant mention of him in their reports.
Certain correspondence with Jonathan Pond, who lived at the foot of Fall Mountain, within what is now the town of Plymouth, throws light on his later career. On August 23, 1784, in a business letter to Jonathan Pond, he wrote from Arlington, Vermont, "Your agent was not sufficiently impowered to make a settlement on any conditions but payment of money which was not in my power. I expect to be down at Litchfield in about a fortnight, but of this I am not certain. My business is such I cannot assign time and place to meet you, but I shall be hereabouts until the latter part of September. The gentleman Mr. Andrews will inform you I am willing to submit the matter to men &c other matters of conversation he can relate to you which would be tedious to write." Before this, November 19, 1782, he had written to Jonathan Pond, the place from which he wrote being unknown, "I am desirous of leaving our matter to men Mr. Graves has nominated, Mr. Prindle, Capt. Phelps, & Lieutenant Cook of Harwinton. I am fully agreed to those gentlemen and I hereby impower my friend Mr. Stephen Graves to sign instructions with Lieut. Thomas Brooks in my behalf." In December, 1785, Jonathan Pond recovered judgment in the Litchfield county court against Nichols as an absent and absconded debtor for a debt of two hundred and fifteen pounds, as a result of which judgment Judah Barnes, constable, levied execution upon two pieces of land belonging to the debtor, in Bristol, appraised at about one hundred and sixty pounds. His last letter to Pond was as follows :
"Arlington, February 12th, 1787. "Sir -- Upon Mr. Tuttle's request and also my own earnest desire of an amicable settlement between us I have come to this resolve. I will meet you and him at any time after the 15th of March at Williams Town bay state where if we do not settle I will pay you a reasonable price for coming and I hereby declare I will not give you any trouble in Law on any account in your journey and this writing shall be sufficient to assure you of the same. My meaning is I will not commence any action whatever against you in the bay or Vermont State until after the first day of May next.
"Sir--I have an earnest desire to see you but as Mr. Tuttle will inform you necessary business will prevent my coming to Connecticut until next summer when matters might be better settled, but they are now in such a 'situation that it seems necessary and a saving of costs to accommodate matters soon.
"Sir, Wishing you and your family well,
"I remane, Yrs.
It is difficult to say whether the Pond correspondence is of any material importance in judging Nichol's character, but it has been given for what it may be worth. The controversy was evidently over the title to the Pond homestead which Jonathan Pond purchased of James Nichols. Where Nichols obtained his title was a mystery that baffled Jonathan Pond and he was compelled eventually to purchase the farm a second time from Charles Ward Apthorpe, a Tory of New York. According to a little old scrap of paper among the Pond documents, apparently an unsigned abstract of title, Nichols obtained the farm from certain named individuals, who, it was surmised, were heirs of the parties to whom it had been mortgaged. The mortgagees, according to the paper, had previously given a warrantee deed of it "to Charles Ward Apthorp of the City of New York who (sd Apthorp) has joined the Enemy and forfeited his estate." The fact that Apthorpe had forfeited his estate is emphasized by an exclamation point. It is true that Charles Ward Apthorpe joined the enemy. He had been a patron of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel since 1758, his name appearing in the reports in company with that of Rev. East Apthorp, D.D., the rector of the parish church of the Society, St. Mary Le Bow, and he was the second assistant manager of the Court of Police in New York established by General Howe's proclamation of May 1, 1777, drawing a salary of two hundred pounds therefor. Of him Judge Jones in his scathing criticisms of his fellow Tories says: "This gentleman never attended; the appointment was designed as a sinecure." He was a wealthy purchaser of mortgages in Waterbury and about Connecticut, a member of His Majesty's Council governing New York, and was indicted because of the latter fact for high treason by a rebel grand jury of New York. His estate, according to Jones, was confiscated together with those of the other members of the royal council--but, alas for the title of Jonathan Pond, his estate in Connecticut was not forfeited. He laid claim to it through his attorney, the honorable James Hillhouse, in 1792, and, in response to repeated demands from Hillhouse, who was attending Congress at Philadelphia, Jonathan Pond, honest old blacksmith with a family of eight children on his hands, raised the cash and paid for the farm a second time.
Having considered Nichols' life in Connecticut, let us see how he fared in Vermont.
The little community of Arlington, in Vermont, was a Church of England town chartered in 1761 by people mostly from Litchfield, Connecticut, and later settled by emigrants from Newtown and New Milford, Connecticut. In 1784 the inhabitants resolved to install a minister and build a church. "The Rev. James Nichols, a clergyman from Connecticut, of more than ordinary parts, was employed, and the services of the church which for some time had been very irregular were resumed at private houses." It was about 1786 that Nichols was called and the church edifice was commenced. Owing to the poverty of the inhabitants the building was not completed until 1803, but it had been furnished with temporary seats and was used for public worship about 1787, and was, in fact, the first church in the State. The name of the parish was St. James, and the salary of Mr. Nichols--its first rector--was twenty pounds a year, raised by assessment upon "the grand list." On June 4,1788, "the Rev. James Nichols, having by his intemperate habits lost the respect of his people, was dismissed."
Sandgate, a place not far from Arlington, proved to be a more permanent field of labor for this gentleman from Connecticut. It was while he was here that he and the Rev. Daniel Barber of Manchester organized the first annual convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, which was held at Arlington in September, 1790. One of its purposes was to take action to preserve to the church the lands which had belonged to it before the war. Nichols and Barber were the only clergymen who attended. Barber read the prayers and Nichols preached the sermon. Nichols also preached the sermon at the next recorded convention in 1792.
In 1793, the Rev. Bethuel Chittenden and the Rev. J. C. Ogden, men of a more spiritual type, increased the number of clerical members of the convention to four, and the Rev. Dr. Edward Bass of Newburyport, Massachusetts, was at that time elected bishop.
A special convention two months later at Manchester elected the Rev. Samuel Peters, D.D., bishop, and dispatched a messenger post haste to the Archbishop of Canterbury to have him consecrated. Peters was a notorious refugee from Connecticut and was an enemy of Dr. Bass. Nichols and Barber were evidently in favor of Peters, for they signed a letter of recommendation to the archbishop, and there was considerable correspondence between Nichols and Peters. Chittenden and Ogden protested vainly for Dr. Bass.
This convention was a packed one and but nine out of twenty-four parishes were represented. Colonel Jarvis of Toronto, Canada, a son-in-law of Dr. Peters, was very active in securing a majority of votes for Dr. Peters and Colonel John A. Graham of Rutland, a relative, placed his name in nomination.
Dr. Peters was at this time in England, living upon a pension from the government, and was a Tory of the objectionable kind. He had been driven from his home in Hebron, Conn., because of rabid loyalty and in retaliation wrote his "General History of Connecticut," which contains the famous Blue Laws spun from his brain that have since been associated with the name of that State. He hated Dr. Bass as the devil hates holy water, for that able and good clergyman of Newbury-port had reluctantly yielded to the stress of the Revolution and peaceably held services without mention of the king and royal family. This cost him the withdrawal of financial support by the home society, due partly to the enmity of Dr. Peters, but he was reinstated and finally became Bishop of Massachusetts. Dr. Samuel Peters was a brilliant but eccentric man. His ruling passion was ambition. He loved kings, admired the British government, revered the hierarchy, and possessed strong influence in England. His pension was forfeited by a quarrel with Pitt but he maintained some sort of a living from fictitious land sales and charity, until his death in New York in 1826 at ninety-one years of age.
The church had owned valuable lands in Vermont, and Peters had hoped, as did Nichols no doubt, and, in fact, all the church people more or less, that it might retain its ancient possessions. It was almost vital to the existence of the church in Vermont that this be allowed. A contemporary wrote that there were "no Episcopal churches in the State, but a few church people and only two or three strolling ministers who cannot get a decent support." One reason in favor of Dr. Bass was that he could continue to live at Newburyport and thereby save expense.
The Rev. Daniel Barber, Nichols' friend, clung to his glebe land when the town of Manchester brought a suit of ejectment against him and won out, but the State immediately legislated glebe lands away from the church and the struggle was for naught. The contest for a bishop was abandoned. Peters could not secure consecration from either the Archbishop of Canterbury or from the American bishops, and the consecration of Dr. Bass was not effected at this time. This contest, however, was the means of drawing a line between the spiritual leaders like the Rev. Bethuel Chittenden and Mr. Ogden and those more materialistically inclined like Nichols and Barber, and fortunately for Vermont the better class prevailed. Barber, who, according to Peters, was "expelled from Vermont by starvation," gamely kept up his struggle for land at Claremont, New Hampshire, where he formed a convention of churches detrimental to the Vermont organization. In advanced years, wearied with domestic trials, he gave up the struggle and in 1815 entered the Roman Catholic priesthood, being deposed from the Episcopal church in 1818.
The Rev. James Nichols was the only clergyman present at the Vermont convention in 1795, at which Colonel Graham made report of his unsuccessful trip to England to procure the consecration of Samuel Peters. The convention passed a resolution of thanks for Colonel Graham and a resolution of thanks and regret for Dr. Peters.
In 1796, 1797, and 1798, Nichols did not appear at the annual conventions. It is supposed that he continued at Sandgate although there is mention at one time of his being minister at Manchester. In the convention of 1799 a letter from William Smith, secretary of the Convention of the Diocese of Connecticut, written by the order of the Bishop and Clergy of that Diocese to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Vermont, respecting the Rev. James Nichols, was read and ordered to lie on the table for consideration. When the letter was taken up, it was voted "That the Convention do disapprove of the conduct of the Rev. James Nichols and that they do recommend to the several churches in the State not to employ him as a Clergyman until he procures a Certificate from the Standing Committe that he has reformed his conduct and that he will do honor to his profession."
"Rev. James Nichols," reports Bishop Griswold, "having by his letter dated at Manchester, Vermont, July 2, 1819, declared his resolution to renounce the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church and in future not to exercise any of its functions, and in consequence, agreeable to the provisions of the 2nd canon of the General Convention of 1817, he the said James Nichols, on the 2nd day of September, 1819, in the presence of Rev. Mr. Crocker and other clergymen, was declared to be, and is, suspended from his grade of the ministry." The Rev. Carlton Chase, D. D., in Thompson's History of Vermont writes thus: "The writer is constrained though with sorrow to mention the names of two other individuals who for a time bore no inconsiderable part among the friends of the Church--the Rev. James Nichols, who resided at Sandgate, and the Rev. Russell Catlin who resided at Hartland. The former was a man of talent and eloquence; the latter possessed neither. It is painful to think of, and better not to describe, the latter days of either."
It was not until June 17, 1829, that the "designing church clergyman" of Chippeny Hill "died miserably" at the home of one of his two sons at Stafford, Genesee County, New York, aged eighty and one-half years.