Reviewing the progress of the town after the revolutionary period we find Doctor Jabez Fitch prominent, occupying for many years the offices of justice of the peace, judge of probate and colonel of the Eleventh Regiment. He died in 1784. Colonel Aron Cleveland, so prominent in public affairs during the revolution, was struck with palsy while in the prime of life, and after a long and distressing sickness died in 1785. Deacon Asa Witter died suddenly in 1792. Captain Ephraim Lyon, Nathan Waldo, Eliashib Adams, Jabez Ensworth, David Baldwin, Benjamin and Asa Bacon, Captain John Adams, Daniel Frost, Captain Stephen Butts, and other older men were active in town affairs. Dr. Gideon Welles served acceptably as town clerk and treasurer. Doctor Jaireb Dyer engaged extensively in trade and medical practice. Several stores were opened on Canterbury Green. The status at the beginning of the revolution may be inferred from the fact that the population in 1775 was 2,392 whites and 52 blacks; and the grand list then amounted to £20,730. Though we have no figures to show definitely, yet it is supposed that the population and wealth were now increasing, though they may have been somewhat depleted by the seven years’ war. Business and trade were now active. Farmers found a ready market for their produce. Doctor Dyer carried on a brisk trade with the West Indies, dealing largely in horses and cattle. Thomas Coit. from Norwich, engaged in mercantile traffic on Canterbury Green. Alexander Gordon, of Plainfield, opened trade in Westminster. Luther, son of David Paine, also engaged in trade. Jedidiah, grandson of Obadiah Johnson, kept the tavern, engaged in trade, and was active in military affairs. Abel Brewster opened a jeweler’s store. William Lord engaged in the manufacture of hats. Isaac and Consider Morgan entered into partnership in 1804, and opened a very large stock of dry goods, drugs, hardware and groceries. Many new buildings were erected about this date. William Moore built a large house on the northeast corner of the crossings in the village, and there opened the first post office in Canterbury in 1803.
With the improved traveling facilities offered by the new turnpike Westminster village became a place of more importance. Doctor Rufus Johnson purchased a strip of the meeting house green in 1790, and afterward built a house upon it. Captain Stephen Butts entertained travelers in an old house adjoining. The old “Ford” house, on the Norwich road, and the Parks tavern house were called the oldest houses in the vicinity.
About the year 1800 the emigration movement broke out afresh, and many Canterbury pilgrims were wending their way to distant states. Captain Josiah Cleveland, of Bunker Hill fame, removed to Owego, N. Y. Doctor Azel, son of William Ensworth, settled in Palmyra, where he became an active and influential citizen. A pleasant eminence in Rome, N. Y.. called Canterbury hill in honor of its first settlers, became the residence of Gideon, John, Elisha and Daniel Butts, Samuel and Asa Smith, Samuel Williams, Thomas Jewett, Daniel WY. Knight and others from Canterbury. Eliashib Adams, Jr., Elijah Herrick and William Bingham attempted a settlement in Lewis county, near Lake Ontario, but Herrick was drowned in crossing Black river, and Adams finally settled in Maine. Deacon Eliashib Adams followed his son to a temporary home in Massachusetts. Alexander Gordon sought fortune in the far South, and William Moore established himself in the snows of Canada. General Cleveland had the honor of giving name to the locality upon which the present noble city of Ohio stands. In 1796 he went out in command of an expedition sent by the Connecticut Land Company to survey and settle the Western Reserve. He arrived at “New Connecticut ” on the 4th of July, and on the 22d mounted the bluff from a landing made a short distance up the Cuyahoga river and took possession of the site of Cleveland, where the town and village plan was laid out by him in October following.
At this time, i. e., in 1800, the population of Canterbury was 1,812, and the grand list amounted to $48,037.48. About 1811 Gad Bulkley kept the post office and David Hyde carried the mail and served the newspaper class that held its headquarters at Samuel Barstow’s much frequented tavern. The tavern at the Green enjoyed its accustomed patronage and popularity, successive landlords having been Jacob Bacon, Samuel Hutchins, and Captain Bicknell. Its previous occupant, Jedidiah Johnson, was made general of the Fifth Brigade in 1809. Canterbury at this date furnished most of the officers for the 21st Regiment, viz. William Kinne, adjutant; Samuel Hutchins, quartermaster; Isaac Knight, paymaster; Reverend Erastus Learned, chaplain. Its company of light infantry was one of the best drilled and equipped in the state. Its officers in 1809 were: Joseph Simms, captain; Nathan Fish, lieutenant. In 1815 they were: James Aspinwall, captain; Samuel Hough, lieutenant; Amos Bacon, ensign.
In October, 1769, the inhabitants living west of a north and south line surveyed through the center of the town, were granted by the assembly a charter and endowed with distinct privileges as a society to be known as Westminster. A broad hill summit near the center of the society was chosen by unanimous consent for the site of a meeting house, where about four acres of land at the crossing of the roads was given by John Parks for the site of meeting house, burial ground and common. The meeting house was built during the summer of 1770. A church organization was effected November 20th, 1770, the following persons subscribing to the covenant according to Cambridge platform: Stephen Frost, Robert Herrick, John Lewis, Isaac Woodward, Daniel Davis, Thomas Bradford, William Bond, Jacob Foster, Enos Woodward, Peter Woodward, Amos Woodward, Ebenezer Davis, Anthony Glass, John Herrick.
The first minister obtained by this church was Reverend John Staples, who was ordained April 17th, 1772, and continued till his death, February 15th, 1804, in the sixty-first year of his age and the thirty-second of his ministry. He was followed by Reverend Erastus Learned, installed February 6th, 1805, and continued in the relation until he died, June 30th, 1824, in the fiftieth year of his age and the twentieth year of his ministry in this church. His successor was Reverend Israel G. Rose, ordained March 9th, 1825, and dismissed by council October 11th, 1831. The fourth pastor was Reverend Asa King, who commenced his ministry in this church in 1833, and continued in the pastoral relation until his death, December 2d, 1849. Through increasing age and infirmity he was obliged to resign the active pastoral labors March 1st, 1848, and the pulpit was then supplied by Reverends Pierce, Strong, Baldwin, Burchard and Hazen for short terms. The last mentioned, Reverend Reuben S. Hazen, was installed as pastor of the church September 26th, 1849. His pastorate was terminated by his death, March 31st, 1864, while in the seventy-fourth year of his age and the fifteenth year of his ministry to this church. The pulpit was supplied for some time by Reverends Hyram Dyer, Lucien Burleigh and others. Reverend E. F. Brooks was installed as pastor of this church July 11th, 1866, and remained here until the relation was dissolved by council June 9th, 1868. In the fall of the same year Reverend Joseph W. Sessions commenced his labors here, and continued that service until November 14th, 1877, when he resigned on account of advancing age. After that time the church was supplied by Reverends Mr. Chappell, H. L. Reade and E. H. Parmalee, until March, 1881. On the first Sabbath of that month Reverend Stephen B. Carter, whose boyhood had been spent within the pale of this church, commenced his pastoral relation with the church, and he still continues in that position.
The meeting house of 1770 is still in use by this congregation, no other having been erected since. The total membership January 1st, 1889, was fifty-two. In 1847 the Hon. Seth Staples. a lawyer of New York, son of the first pastor, presented this church with a fine toned bell, which is still in use. In 1883 a valuable clock was presented by Pulaski and Pliny Carter, and their sister, Mrs. Pamelia C. Spalding, all of whom were born and reared in this parish, though now residing elsewhere. Extensive repairs upon the house of worship were made a few years since, in which former residents generously assisted, no doubt taking pleasure in thus manifesting their love for their old church and childhood’s home.
A singular circumstance is on record in connection with Westminster, though nothing about it connects it-with ecclesiastical history except that it is from a minister’s diary. July 2d, 1788, a remarkably black cloud seemed to settle down upon this locality, and from it burst forth a terrific thunder storm, accompanied by great and numerous hail stones. The record states that in places the hail was nineteen inches deep (perhaps in some gutter or other hollow spot). It is said that glass was much fractured and grain and grass lodged, and gardens were destroyed, so that people in the neighboring towns sent relief to the sufferers. The violence of the storm probably did not extend over a very large extent of territory.
Canterbury has never been largely identified with manufacturing interests. And the passing decades that have seen such interests buildup some other towns almost like a magic spell, have seen the interest in manufacturing rather decline here than build up, until now the town contains no manufacturing establishment of any prominence. One or two carriage shops, one or two saw mills and a grist mill are all that could claim a place in such a list. The manufacturing record of the past is briefly told. The first footprints of this kind that we see are the granting of liberty to Samuel Adams, in 1703, to build and maintain a corn mill on Rowland’s brook, a short distance northwest from Peagscomsuck. This mill was kept in operation for a longtime. At a later colonial period, tannery works were also carried on by Benjamin Morse. About the revolutionary period and after, potash works were carried on by Ephraim Lyon, Stephen Butts and Phineas Carter. Dr. Carter afterward carried on a cooperage at Westminster, employing four to six hands in the winter season. After the revolution, tanneries were established in several parts of the town. The Downings, who settled in the western part of the town and gave their name to the brook, built a mill upon it and made a little settlement there, which for a time flourished in quiet seclusion and almost isolation from the other parts of the town. Saw and grist mills were carried on successfully by the Morses and the Bradfords in the North society, a dam being allowed on Rowland’s brook in 1804. In the course of the next decade or two, carding machines were in operation on Little river, and cloth dressing and hat manufacturing were carried on with increased vigor. Captain Joseph Simms engaged in making heavy black woolen hats, and employed sometimes four or five journeymen. He was established at Canterbury Green. James Burnet also carried on the same business at Westminster. At that time some six or eight stores were needed to supply the wants of the town. In cotton spinning Canterbury made no great pretenses, and only achieved one small mill, which was erected by Fenner, Harris & Bulkley on Rowland’s brook, and did a good business during the war of 1512. The clothing works of Captains Kingsley and Spafford at that time enjoyed abundant patronage. In 1826 the project of a canal along the valley of the Quinebaug absorbed much attention and was highly approved by the people of this town in open town meeting. The canal was to run from Norwich to the north line of the state, its objective point being Worcester. The state granted a charter for it, but before it was executed the railroad project superseded it. At this time the people were considerably aroused to the questions of manufacturing enterprises presented to them. Flourishing foundry works were carried on in the north part of Westminster parish by Isaac Backus and Nathan Allen. Samuel Hough and D. F. Eaton engaged successfully in axe-making. George Justin made scythes and axes in his blacksmith shop in South Canterbury. Perez Austin made and repaired wagons and carriages. Phinehas Carter kept up his cooper’s shop. Stillman G. Adams carried on the hat manufacture in place of Deacon Simms, who had removed to New York state. Sufficient domestic cloth was yet made to keep Kingsley’s and Foster’s fulling machines and clothiers’ works in active operation. Cotton manufacturing was still carried on in Fenner’s factory, and Canterbury shared with Plainfield the rising promise of Packerville. A house and farm to furnish a home for the poor of the town was purchased in 1829. One after another all these attempts at manufacturing have faded out, like the stars of night before the coming of the day.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889