Project Canterbury

The Tories of Chippeny Hill, Connecticut
by E. LeRoy Pond.

New York: The Grafton Press, 1909.


DESPITE the submission in affairs political that followed the Danbury raid, the Church of England or, as Joseph Roberts wrote it, "the Chruch of Englon," lived on. Poor Joseph Roberts was not as learned as his fellows, but he was not afraid to stand up for his religion and his King. In the latter days of the Revolution, when the church record book at New Cambridge was devoid of entries, he inscribed in it this sentence.

"I, Joseph Robarts Now make a Prefesion of the Chruch of Englon". The complete church record, aside from the baptisms, from the time of the last vestry meeting which was held at the Church, May 9, 1774, until his entry in 1781, was as follows:

1776. Feb. 6. Jered Peck profest himself a member of the Church of England.

1777. April 1. Jude Learning declared his conformity to the Church of England.

1778. April 6. Ethan Curtis profest himself a member of the Church of England.

1781, Jan. 19. I, Joseph Robarts Now make a Prefesion of the Chruch of Englon.

Later in 1781, there was recorded a vestry meeting held at Jesse Bunnel's.

With the success of the American arms, signs of toleration became evident. "There is reason to believe from general reports," says the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the report for 1781, "that the condition of the missionaries in New England is much better than it has been, and they live more quietly, though their churches are still shut up."

It was not, however, until November 17, 1784, that the members of the Episcopal church at New Cambridge formed themselves into a legal church society, and voted to repair the church house. Voting to repair the church house, however, was easier than repairing it. In fact it could not be repaired. It "had lain desolate on account of the persecution of the times," and although meetings were held in the old building, a new church was a necessity. Where it should be located was the question. Few if any churchmen were now living at New Cambridge. The church center had moved westward, into Northbury, and the churchmen of that place and Harwinton were clamoring for recognition. There were fifteen Episcopal families in northeastern Northbury near the Hill, and five miles of rough and uneven road lay between them and St. Peter's Church at Northbury. At least ten Harwinton families must travel four and a half miles over a most intolerably rough mountainous road to go to church at Harwinton center. A union was the logical solution of the situation. It was voted by the New Cambridge people, in 1790, "that we was desirous of having the east part of Northbury and the south part of Harwinton to join us in making up a society." The petition for the establishment of the new society was prepared by the clerk, signed by the inhabitants of Northbury and Harwinton, and was granted by the General Assembly.

Thus was formed the parish of St. Matthew, or, as it was originally called, the Second Episcopal Society in Northbury. The first vestry meeting was held, with Captain Nathaniel Jones in the chair as moderator, at Ensign Ozias Tyler's new house in Northbury, April 4, 1791. The church edifice, East Church, was built in pursuance of a vote taken December 1, 1791, was ready for use in 1794, and was consecrated by Bishop Seabury, October 21, 1795, the same year that the town of Plymouth was born. The people were indeed happy when their well beloved bishop, who had been consecrated at Aberdeen, Scotland, preached to them. The ordination of their priest and the consecration of their church were the last official acts recorded in his register before death claimed him. How fond their descendants have been of the church all these years is evidenced by the fact that no other sect has been known to hold a service within its walls. The changes that have been made have been made reverently and little has been done to break the lines as they were originally laid out.

I can almost see them now, filing into their stiff backed pews, with all the pride which only the farmers of their faith could have. There were Capt. Nathaniel Jones, the sea captain, and Capt. Zebulon Frisbie. They were members of the committee that called Nichols to New Cambridge, and, with Capt. Abel Matthews, they were the ones who took steps to form the legal society after the war. The Matthews family was there, you could depend upon it; Caleb Matthews the clerk, Nathaniel Matthews and the rest of them. The Gaylord family was there, and the Carringtons. There also sat Ira Dodge of Northbury who deeded to the society the land upon which the church was built, and Ensign Ozias Tyler of Northbury whose new house was the pride of the community that was growing up about the church, and who was the first delegate to the State Convention in 1792. And then there were Robert Jearum, the chorister, also of Northbury, Stephen Graves and Calvin Woodin, Jabez Gilbert who fought the French at Ticonderoga in 1759, all of Harwinton, Uncle Asa, too, that good old soul Uncle Asa Smith who "felt it no disgrace, to vote for federal Brace, fall down and skin his face," with Capt. Thomas Hunger-ford the Whig who saved Joel Tuttle's neck on Federal Hill Green, and Joseph Smith whose father betrayed Dunbar, and Obadiah Munson, Samuel Hawley, Jesse Bunnell, and many others; some living close by the church but many driving thither from the Hill or elsewhere.

The list of pew holders would not be complete without mention of the leader who was the "flower of them a' ", and it is worth while taking a good look at him. Isaac Welles Shelton used to sit in the front pew at the right until he was buried in the churchyard nearby. A short man he was, dressed in knee breeches and pumps, with a round face and dimpled chin and grey prominent eyes,--"bullet eyes" they called them. He was the wealthiest landowner on Chippeny Hill, with four or five slaves at his call, was a gentleman and the son of a gentleman, the great grandson of Governor Welles, and a member of the wealthy Shelton family of Stratford, who were extensive land owners. He drove about in a gig, at a time when gigs were a rarity, and his son Harry rode a high-spirited horse. When Isaac Shelton was ill for seven years with softening of the brain he hired a man to stay with him, as he was afraid to be alone. Gossip said that in his younger days he lived in New Haven, his land surrounded by a high board fence, and that he never went out in the evening without an attendant. Some hinted that his money was not procured in an honorable way. But when he died, all paid homage to the man who had come to spend his best days on the Hill; and they laid away his body with loving pride, for he was a gentleman.

But go back a little and consider the records of his native town of Stratford, July 29, 1779:

"Resolved that Isaac Welles Shelton shall not reside in this town. Resolved that no inimical person now with the enemy shall return and reside in this town, unless they have the approbation of the town in their meeting."

And then read in Sabine's "Loyalists of the American Revolution": "He joined the British on Long Island, and conducted the party that burned Danbury. Guilty of other treasonable conduct, he was arrested and convicted and ordered to confine himself to the county of Hartford."

And finally this letter from one of his descendants:

"When the war cloud arose, he joined the home country, expecting to fight the British, but could not suffer the humiliating treatment of his superior, an inferior officer of the company, resisted punishment, struck the officer, and fled. For safety's sake he spent some time with the British."

HE CONDUCTED THE PARTY THAT BURNED DANBURY! Chippeny Hill did not know that, and does not know it to this day. That was in his younger 'days before he came to the Hill, and when he did he came to visit his cousin, the wife of Capt. Jones, he fell in love with her niece, married her in 1780, and became a resident. He had a brother David, who lived in Northbury parish.

When Mr. Nichols left in 1784, it was Shelton who was appointed to collect the tax for the purpose of hiring preachers, and when the petition for the formation of the new society was drawn, he was chosen to act as the society's agent and, as their most influential representative, to appear before the General Assembly. With Capt. Hungerford and Lemuel Carrington he was authorised to sell the old church edifice at New Cambridge; with Ensign Tyler, Samuel Hawley, and Stephen Graves, he set the stake where the church was to stand and built it. He was the recognised man of prominence in the new society, and yet he had conducted the party that burned Danbury; and Moses Dunbar died the Traitor!

The days of Isaac Shelton were the days of the prosperity of East Plymouth and of the building of the homesteads which still stand, faithful to the memories of the old families that are gone. They were the days of well kept farms and an industrious people. Ensign Ozias Tyler's new house led to the erection by Stephen Graves of a better one, and Graves' new dwelling led Calvin Woodin to build still better across the valley. Each vied with the other, no longer in fleetness of foot, in craft, and in courage of the Ledges, but in more fruitful and harmonious rivalries. And as James Nichols, priest in the wilderness, led them in war, so Alexander Viets Griswold, first rector of the sanctuary, led them in peace.

He was a gentleman, was Mr. Griswcld, yet one of the best day laborers in town. His family lived in Cyrus Gaylord's house and Gaylord boarded with him and knew him well, for they worked together in harvest time. His manner of living was so plain that the boarder at times wearied of it, and he was so polite that when a negro came asking for charity, he sat down and ate with him lest he feel slighted. He was so strong that when word was brought to him that a boy was being borne away by a freshet into the mill pond near the church, he ran at top speed, plunged into the swollen torrent and rescued the child from the flood. He saw a group of men about a rock tugging at it without success, so he sprang from his horse, leaped the fence, and although in his best dress, he seized the stone, and with the exercise of almost herculean strength, helped them heave it out from its bed. Mr. Griswold's home was in St. Matthew's parish and it was well for him that he was not afraid of the elements, for Harwinton and Northfield were also parishes of his, and each was six or eight miles distant from the others, the country between was hilly and the roads bad, and it was his duty to visit the members of his flock, attend funerals, and hold services weekdays and Sundays.

Much of his time was spent on horseback, for carriages in that region were then scarce thought of. Cold and stormy, one Sunday, it was his duty to preach at Harwinton. He arose before his family and saddled his horse without breakfast in order to arrive at the service in time. The snow came and drifted and he baffled with the tempest until he reached Harwinton at noon. As the parishioners had already held a morning service, he held an afternoon service and then turned his horse toward home. It was midnight before his horse was put out and he crawled into bed without supper. One time he returned to a farmhouse, wet to the waist, from fishing. He was urged to change his clothes. "Oh, no," he said, "it may as well dry on me," and so he passed on.

This man was a Tory, a nephew of Rev. Mr. Viets of Simsbury, who was in prison with Moses Dunbar and ministered to the doomed man. When his uncle left this country after the war to go to Digby, Nova Scotia, he, too, was prepared to go, but he did not. He had a wife who was but seventeen and her people wished to keep her; so he became a farmer and worked his farm for ten years. Then he became a clergyman; and when three calls were extended to him at the same time, he passed by the parishes at Redding and at Waterbury and took up the post of labor among the Litchfield county hills. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Seabury, October 21, 1795, when the church of St. Matthew was consecrated, and was the builder of that parish. His parishes gradually increased; and, when he left, there were 220 communicants, most of whom had come to the Lord's table under his ministry.

He "found the people mostly religious and comparatively free from vice. No years of his life were more happy than those spent here in his first parish." He died honored among men, ecclesiastical ruler of all of New England, save Connecticut, Right Reverend Alexander Viets Griswold, Bishop of the Eastern Diocese. Bishop Griswold had occasion once to depose a man from the church. This man had left his first parish in Connecticut an absconded debtor, and later for intemperance was excluded from the churches in Vermont, in 1799. His name was James Nichols. Thus lived two men who loved the Past and taught it to their people, and both were devoted to the cause which had been lost. One drowned his sorrow in the cups; and the other labored on a New England farm. The one who worked became a man of the Future. They call such men Americans.

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