During the war of the revolution a small Congregational church was constituted in what is now the southeast part of Chaplin, on what is called Chewink Plains, a locality of flat land which was much frequented by the little birds in whose honor the name was given. The original members of this early church were mostly from the Windham church, and it had only one pastor, Reverend John Storrs, a native of Mansfield, son of the minister in that town, and in the line of distinguished clergymen of the name. He was a faithful and useful man, but at his death in 1799 the church became extinct, thirteen of its members returning to the church in Windham. There remains now to mark the location of this original church a burying ground, which lies in the waste of wild land a little north of the New England railroad crossing, on the road from Chaplin to Scotland. It covers about two acres, and the peacefulness of its retreat seems enhanced by the murmuring sighs of the breezes that pass through numerous white , pine trees which occupy the ground. Many old graves are unmarked. The oldest dates discernible on the . monumental slabs indicate the early years of this century. Many of the old name of Canada appear, and this name shows in later years the change to modern form as Kennedy. On a conspicuous brown stone slab we read: ” Our Dear Brother, J. S. Colburn, Member of Co. H, 18 C. Vol., Died at Danville, Va., A Prisoner of War, Dec. 18, 1864, 2E. 20 yrs., 7 mo. Thou hast left us, Fare thee well.” Other family names that appear on headstones are Smith, Hunt, Button, Allen, M’Coy, Dean,, Blackman, Flint, Ashley, Kelley, Walcott, Upton, Bugbee, Colburn, Holt, Nichols, Lawton, Neff, Wyllys, Burrows and Martin.
At some time between 1840 and 1850, a small Protestant Methodist church was formed in the south part of the town, to which Elder Jones ministered, preaching in school houses and private dwellings. After his death this church also became extinct.
We have already said that the founder of settlement here was Deacon Benjamin Chaplin. His Christian character, beautifully manifested in his life, has been a subject for the admiration and emulation of many generations, and must continue to be until the wheels of Christian civilization turn backward. As Deacon Chaplin drew on toward the end of life, and thought how God had blessed him in things temporal as well as things spiritual, his pleasant home, his good children, filling places of influence, honor and usefulness, the thought pressed upon him, ” How can I best serve my generation after I have passed to my home above?” Although almost or quite as many inhabitants occupied what is now the boundary of the town, yet few of them were in what is now the center of the town. On Tower hill, Bare hill, Natchaug, Chewink plains and Bedlam were found most of the people, yet all of them must go from two to five miles to find a place-of public worship, and not one of these places was adapted to be a. center for a place of worship. Near his residence must be the natural center, the place for a meeting house, to accommodate all parts of the new town, which was sure in time to be incorporated.. He therefore made a will, characteristic of the man, and likely to carry out the purpose he had in mind.
He bequeathed the sum of three hundred pounds for the support of a learned orthodox ministry. If any of his heirs endeavored to prevent the carrying out of this purpose, and to make this part of his will inoperative, such person or persons were to be disinherited and to receive nothing from his estate. From the income of this permanent fund, a minister professing and preaching the doctrines of the Gospel, according as they are explained in the Westminster confession of faith, was to be in part ‘supported. If the question arose whether any preacher did thus teach, it was to be decided by the ministers of the Windham County Association. An ecclesiastical society must be formed before January 1st, 1812, and religious services must be held within one-mile and a quarter of his dwelling house. Regular preaching must be maintained to entitle the society to use the income from this fund, and by regular preaching was meant at least forty Sabbaths each year. This fund was enlarged by subscriptions from the people, by the sum of five hundred pounds, subject to the same conditions and limitations as that of Deacon Chaplin.
The ecclesiastical society was incorporated by the general assembly in October, 1809 “Voted, that the School House in Chaplin District be the place of public worship; that we set up steady preaching bearing date from the first Monday of December, 1809.” A committee was appointed to supply the pulpit. It was found so difficult to agree upon the location of the meeting house to be built that it was voted to apply to the county court to settle the question. This vote was taken August 13th, 1810. A petition was sent to the general assembly for permission to raise by a lottery the sum of two thousand dollars for the purpose of building a meeting house, and four managers were nominated to act in this business. It does not seem that success -attended this effort. Subscriptions in money, building materials and labor were raised for the building of the meeting house, and it was accepted as completed according to contract September 14th, 1815. It was not finished as it was intended eventually to be but so that public worship could be held in it.
Neither pews, slips nor pulpit were provided, but the people went up with joy to the courts of the Lord, to worship Him in His own house. After a number of years a steeple was built upon the east end of the meeting house, a bell procured in 1837, the pews or slips were constructed, and a lofty pulpit placed for the elevation of the minister. Thus they intended to have their pastors settled over the people. Many years after, one of the pastors expressed the earnest wish to have the pulpit brought down from its great altitude, that he might be among his people as one of them, saying when his Master wished him to come up to heaven he hoped he should be ready, but while he was upon earth he did not wish to be placed somewhere between earth and heaven. The pulpit was brought down as he wished, and yet it was too high for some of his successors, and it has been brought down several feet lower, and now it has only the elevation of the modern pulpit. A number of years since, the people feeling the need of a lecture room or vestry, moved the meeting house about fifty feet on the hillside, and constructed a very commodious vestry under it, where the evening meetings and other religious and social gatherings are accommodated. Thus the same meeting house has been occupied during the entire history of the church, except for a short time when worship was held in the Center school house.
The Congregational church was organized by an ecclesiastical council, May 31st, 1810, consisting of fifteen members. Present on the council: Reverend Nathan Williams, D. D., of Tolland, moderator; Reverend Moses C_ Welch, of North Mansfield, scribe; and Reverend Hollis Sampson, of Eastford, with their delegates. The creed and covenant adopted by the church were approved by the council.
The church has had ten deacons: Ebenezer Cary, Nathaniel Moseley, Elkanah Barton, Roger Clark, Darius Knight, Jared Clark, Ephraim Kingsbury, Otis Whiton, John W. Griggs and William Martin. All have finished their work upon earth except Deacons Griggs and Martin, who are now acting deacons.
The church has had six pastors and several stated supplies. Reverend David Avery, Reverend Nathan Grosvenor and Reverend John R. Freeman are the only stated supplies who have served for any considerable time. Reverend David Avery labored at the time of the formation of the church, was one of the original members, married Deacon Chaplin’s daughter Hannah, preached in Chaplin and in Bennington, Vt., and died while laboring in Virginia February lath, 1817. Reverend Nathan Grosvenor made his home in Chaplin during the closing years of his life, died in Chaplin, and was buried in Pomfret in the ancestral cemetery. Reverend John R. Freeman, after leaving Chaplin, preached in Andover, Conn., Barkhampsted and Westford, where he died December 6th, 1876. Reverend Francis Williams, of Chaplin, preached his funeral sermon. He was buried in the beautiful cemetery in Westford.
Reverend Jared Andrus, a native of Bolton, Conn., was installed December 27th, 1820, being the first of the six regular pastors. He was dismissed May 11th, 1830. He was born May 6th, 1784, and died November 12th, 1832, having been installed over the Congregational church in North Madison, Conn., in the preceding June. He was buried in the cemetery at North Madison. Reverend Lent S. Hough was ordained in Chaplin August 17th, 1831, and was dismissed December 20th, 1836. After leaving Chaplin, Mr. Hough preached in North Woodstock 1837-41; North Madison, 1842-45; Bethel, 1845-46; Middletown, 184763; Wolcott, 1863-69; Salem, 1869-70; Niantic, 1870-77; and died in Poquonock September 22d, 1579, aged seventy-six.
Reverend Erastus Dickinson, born in Plainfield, Mass., April 1st, 1S07, ordained pastor of the Congregational church in Canton, Mass., 1835, was installed the third pastor in Chaplin October 25th, 1837, and was dismissed `January 2d, 1849. Mr. Dickinson preached, after leaving Chaplin, in Marshfield, Mass., Colchester, Conn., and in Sudbury,-Mass. He was dismissed on account of failing health, and only preached occasionally afterward. He removed to Bricksburg, now Lakewood, N. J., where he resided about twenty years. He died September 4th, 1888, aged eighty-one.
Reverend Merrick Knight, born in Northampton, Mass., January 15th, 1817, was ordained in Chaplin as the fourth pastor May 1st, 1850, and dismissed December 31st, 1852. Mr. Knight afterward preached in Stafford, Hebron, North Coventry, Broadbrook, Rocky Hill, Torringford, New Hartford, South and East Hartland, where he is still laboring in the work of the ministry.
Reverend Joseph W. Backus, the fifth pastor, a native of Franklin, Conn., was ordained in Blackstone, Mass., installed in Chaplin January 23d, 1856, and dismissed January 1st, 18.58. Mr. Backus afterward preached in Leominster, Mass., Lowell, Mass., Rockville, Thomaston and Plainville, where he still labors in the ministry.
Reverend Francis Williams, the sixth pastor, was born in Ashfield, Franklin county, hass., January 2d, 1814. He was the fourth son of Captain Israel and Lavina Toy Williams. The family consisted of nine sons and two daughters. He prepared for college at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield, Amherst Academy and the academy at Shelburne Falls. He entered Williams College in 1834 and graduated in the class of 1838, speaking an oration at commencement. He was one of the prize speakers in his junior year, and had also a junior oration. Immediately after graduation he entered the Theological Seminary at East Windsor Hill, Conn., where he graduated in August, 1841. During his educational course, he taught in Coxsackie, N.Y., two terms in Hawley, Mass., and during the winter of his senior year he was principal of the Sanderson Academy in his native town, and one winter during his seminary course he was principal of the academy in Windsor, Conn. He was licensed to preach at the close of the middle year in the seminary, by the Franklin County Association at Coleraine, Mass. Nearly six months before he closed his seminary course, he received a call to settle in Eastford, Conn., and accepted it, on condition that he should complete his course at the seminary, supply the pulpit by exchanges, or by sending some of his classmates, whenever he, wished; his salary then commenced, and he has been under a regular salary continuously from that day to the present. Reverend Doctor Tyler, of East Windsor Hill, preached his ordination sermon. General Nathaniel Lyon, of Eastford, graduated at West Point and came to his home at about the same time, and henceforth until Lyon’s death, they became personal friends; Mr. Williams offering the prayer at his funeral. After a little more than ten years, Mr_ Williams accepted a call to settle in Bloomfield, Conn. Reverend Doctor Milton Badger, of New York, preached the sermon of installation. In 1858, Mr. Williams accepted a call to settle in Chaplin, where he has remained for about thirty-two years. Professor Edward A. Lawrence, D. D., of East Windsor Hill, preached the installation sermon. His health has been good almost during his entire ministry. Since his graduation at the Theological seminary, in 1841, he has been but twice absent from the annual anniversary of the seminary, and then he was detained to attend funerals. For more than thirty years he has been a trustee in the Hartford Theological Seminary, only the Hon. Newton Case, of Hartford, being his senior in office. On several occasions he has been a member of the examining committee in that institution. For several years he has been a director of the Connecticut Home Missionary Society and a trustee of the Ministers’ Fund, and has never been absent from one of the-meetings. For more than forty years he has been acting school visitor in the different towns where he has resided. In 1876 he was elected as a member of the legislature and was a member of the committee on temperance.
On the 22d of October, 1841, he married Miss Mahala R. Badger, daughter of Enoch Badger, of Springfield, Mass. She was sister of Reverend Norman Badger, a classmate of Stanton, the great war secretary, a professor at Gambia College, O., president of Shelby College, Ky., and died while chaplain in the army. She was also a niece of Doctor Milton Badger, long a distinguished secretary of the Home Missionary Society. They have had five children, four sons and one daughter. Two sons died in infancy. Edward F. graduated at Williams College in the class of 1868, taught for a short time, when failing health compelled him to return to his home in Chaplin, where he died October 6th, 1869, aged 24. Charles H_ graduated at Eastman’s Business College at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., became a member of Haight’s Engineer Corps, took a severe cold while at Rondout, N. Y., surveying the Hudson River railroad, had severe hemorrhage of the throat, and died in Chaplin, December 19th, 1874, at the age of 26. Mary Elizabeth, their only daughter, graduated at Mt. Holyoke Seminary in the class of 1871, taught select school after graduation, married Reverend William H. Phipps, October 10th, 1872. He has been pastor in East Woodstock, Poquonock, and Prospect, Conn., where he has been pastor for about eleven years, and where he still continues his labors.
Seven sermons preached by Mr. Williams have been printed in pamphlet form, and several in part or in full in newspapers.
- Temperance Funeral Sermon of Francis Squires. At his own request preached, Text 2d Kings, 10. 9: ” Responsible Agents of Intemperance.” In American Temperance Preacher No. 4.
- Funeral of Benjamin Bosworth, Esq., of Eastford.
- Funeral of Reverend Asa King, pastor in Westminster, Conn.
- Funeral of Mrs. Asa King, preached in Westminster.
- Funeral of two soldiers from Chaplin, killed in the battle of Winchester, Earl Ashley and Anson A. Fenton, preached in Chaplin. Text, John 18, 36.
- New Year’s Sermon, January 5th, 1863, in Chaplin.
- New Year’s Sermon, January 3d, 1874, in Chaplin.
No ecclesiastical council has ever been called to adjust any church or ministerial difficulties, and no minister placed over this people has been accused of, or tried for any scandal or heresy while pastor here or elsewhere. It is a temperance town. N o saloon, tavern or dancing hall is known to exist; and probably a dancing school or hall has not been known in the town in the last fifty years, if ever; certainly not in the last thirty years. Many, noted revivals have taken place, and the church has been in a vigorous state for a rural community.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889