November 26th, 1718, a church was formally organized in Ashford by Reverend Josiah Dwight, Mr. Samuel Whiting and Joseph Meacham, of Coventry. Mr. Hale was ordained pastor, and the following men subscribed to the articles of covenant: James Hale, John Mixer, William Ward, Joseph Green, Isaac Magoon, Matthew Thompson, William Chapman, Benjamin Russel, Daniel Fuller, Isaac Kendall, John Pitts, Nathaniel Fuller and John Perry. On December 9th following the female members named hereafter were added to the number of original names: Sarah Hale, Abigail Mixer, Judith Ward, Mary Fuller, Mary Russel, Elizabeth Squier, Mary Fuller, Mrs. William Chapman and the Widow Dimick. December 21st, Elinor Kendall and Sarah Bugbee were added to the number. John Mixer was made the first deacon. In September, 1721, he being about to remove from the town, his place was filled by the election of Isaac Kendall and Joseph Bugbee. ” Brother John Perry ” was at this time chosen “to set the psalm with respect to public singing.” The meeting house had been finished sufficiently to afford a place to hold services in, but it remained unfinished inside until 1723, when it was decided as desirable to finish with
plaster and whitewash all the lower part of the meeting house to the lower girth.” Among the furniture of the house was an hour-glass, for which Nathaniel Fuller was allowed two shillings. The finish of the interior, however, was delayed many years, and the privileges of pews and the orderly seating of the congregation according to the ideas and usages of those days, were questions frequently under discussion and subject to various and often opposing decisions. It was evidently a hard struggle for existence with the first church of Ashford. There were discordant elements in the population, and a factor of ignorance laid obstacles in the way. Taxes were laid, school questions were set aside, remarkable privileges were granted, all to help forward the matter of church and minister’s house and support, the -South church of Boston donated fifteen pounds to help this church, but with all the means used and efforts made the work was backward.
The memorandum of a fact which has no essential relation to this church appears on its records, and for want of a more appropriate place at command in which to preserve ‘it, we take the liberty of digressing a moment to mention it. In the records of Mr. Hale appears this statement: “The great earthquake on the Lord’s day evening, October 29, 1727, was in an awakening manner felt in this town, as also the terrible storm of wind and hail the September before.”
The discipline of the church was preserved with very much of the mint-tithing exactness which was characteristic of the period, while much liberality was exercised with regard to some matters which are now considered as of great practical importance. For example, on one occasion Ephraim Bemis was charged with selling strong liquor in small quantities upon a certain occasion, and the question was raised as to whether he was guilty of a ” confessable fault ” in so doing, but the church decided in the negative. In 1739 the meeting house needed extensive repairs. At that time the salary of the minister was raised to £100 a year. Mr. Hale suffered failing health for some time, and measures were taken to supply his place temporarily. But his pastorate closed with his death, November 22d, 1742, he being in the fifty-eighth year of his age. His successor was Reverend John Bass, of Braintree, who was installed September 7th, 1743.
In the time of the great revival of 1740 to 1750, Solomon Paine and other itinerants extended their labors to this field, and many of their hearers embraced Separate or New Light principles. These Separatists were divided on the question of baptism, making two factions, while the orthodox church people were also divided into the rigidly Calvinistic and the liberal classes, and thus four quite distinct factions existed in Ashford.
The methods and action of these Baptists and Separatists were very offensive to the strict church people, and the preaching of Solomon Paine especially was so obnoxious that efforts were made to stop him by legal process. February 15th, 1745, while Paine was preaching in a private house, complaint was made to justice Tiffany, who, upon searching his legal authority, was clearly convinced “that it was an unlawful meeting for Paine to come to Ashford to preach and exhort,” and thereupon granted a warrant for his arrest. Constable Bemis went to the house to serve it. Taking hold of Paine he told him that he had no right to preach, and that he must go before the justice to answer for his unlawful preaching. Paine vehemently stigmatized the law as being suggested by the Devil, and refused to respect it or obey the summons. Bemis then called upon several persons. to assist him, who at first refused, but when reminded that the law had a penalty for such refusal, they ” gently took Paine from the stage whereon he was preaching, and carried him out of the door and set him down.” But Paine stubbornly refused to go before the justice, whereupon “they took him in a very gentle way and set him on a horse and led him to justice Tiffany’s,” where he was appropriately rebuked and then dismissed. The arresting party was afterward indicted for a riot, in which the charge set forth “that with riotous intent and with force and arms they did assault the person of said Solomon Paine, and pulled him onto the floor and carried him half a mile distant, to his great hurt and abuse and the disturbance of others.” The county court acquitted them, but adjudged that they should pay costs, but on their appeal to the general assembly, this charge was also remitted. The church now enjoyed a season of quiet, during which, in 1747, some considerable repairs were made on the meeting house. But the question of the orthodoxy of Mr. Bass soon arose and gave occasion for prolonged disquietude. Councils were frequently called to investigate his orthodoxy. A final council, which met June 4th, 1751, found sufficient ground for their action, and dissolved the pastoral relation between him and the Ashford church, and Mr. Bass withdrew, leaving the church divided in sentiment and opinion, a strong party in it being in sympathy with the deposed pastor and his views. The church was much divided, and a number of efforts were made to secure society privileges in the eastern and northern parts of the town, but without success. Meanwhile repeated attempts were made to get a minister who could secure favor among the differing factions sufficiently strong to obtain a call to the pastorate. Among the ministers who thus passed in review before this now hypercritical congregation were Daniel Pond, David Ripley, Messrs. Mills and Elderkin, Stephen Holmes, Daniel Kirtland, Nehemiah Barker and Elijah Blake. At length, after six years of commotion and discord, Mr. Timothy Allen succeeded in obtaining a call, and was ordained pastor of the church and town October 12th, 1757. He was a powerful and fervent preacher, of decided ” New Light ” proclivities. The northwest inhabitants were also favored with two months’ preaching in the winter, paid out of the common fund. This concession encouraged the people of that locality to press their claims for more distinct society privileges, which, after much agitation of the question, were granted by the assembly in October, 1765. The bounds of Westford society thus formed were ” from the northwest corner of said township five and one fourth miles south on the west line of said town, from thence a strait line to the crotch of Mount Hope river, and thence a strait line to John Dimmock’s south line, where said line crosses Bigelow river, thence north on said Bigelow river to Union line.”
The town of Ashford at that time contained forty thousand acres, and a valuation on its grand list of £13,700. The Westford Society thus formed included thirteen thousand three hundred acres, eighty families and a valuation of £3,500. The proposition to set off Eastford as a distinct society, with boundaries substantially as they now appear with reference to the town, was agitated at the same time, but was not carried into effect until October, 1777, when that society was granted distinct privileges.
The preaching of Reverend Mr. Allen was not agreeable to the people, and he became unpopular and his salary fell short. To make up the deficit he engaged in trading in land, and here he became involved in debt and his creditors sent him to jail. A council was called, which dismissed him from his pastorate, though clearing him from every serious charge. Several years passed before the settlement of his successor could be effected. During this interval the church was greatly weakened and scattered, but still continued in its efforts to secure a minister and preserve order. Baptisms were administered from time to time by the neighboring ministers. Days of fasting and prayer were held in 1766 and 1765, ” for direction and assistance in the affair of choosing a minister,” and church and society at length happily united in choice of Reverend James Messinger of Wrentham, a graduate of Harvard College, who was installed into the pastorate February 15th, 1769. Under the leadership of this ” much beloved spiritual guide,” as he was called, the church increased in numbers, and regained something of its primitive standing, despite the political distractions of the times. The venerable Isaac Kendall, who had served the church as deacon, through the changes and pastorates, from its organization, died October 8th, 1773, in the eighty-eighth year of his age, and the fifty-second year of his deaconship. Benjamin Sumner, one of the fathers of the town, Jedidiah Dana and John Wright, also served as deacons. Deacon Elijah Whiton was dismissed to the church in Westford society.
Mr. Messinger died while in the service of this church, and his place remained vacant for several years, when Reverend Enoch Pond was ordained and installed over the church September 16th, 1789. ‘ He was a native of Wrentham and a graduate of Brown University. Possessing unusual ability and cultivation, he gained great influence over his people, and enjoyed a harmonious pastorate. Ebenezer Mason and Isaac Perkins were chosen deacons in 1789, and upon the death of the latter in 1795, they were succeeded by Matthew Reed and David Brown. The old meeting house, having now been in use seventy years, was enlarged and thoroughly repaired. A revival of religious interest soon followed the settlement of Mr. Pond, and about sixty persons were added to the church. Mr. Pond closed his labors with the close of his life August 6th, 1807. His epitaph, written by Reverend David Avery, thus estimates him
Generous in temper, correct in science and liberal in sentiment, the gentleman, the scholar, and the minister of the sanctuary, appeared with advantage in Mr. Pond. The church and society in Ashford were favored with his Gospel ministry eighteen years.”
His successor was Reverend Philo Judson of Woodbury, who was ordained and installed September 26th, 1811, and enjoyed a successful ministry for a still longer period. He was released from his charge in 1833. His immediate successor, Reverend Job Hall of Pomfret, remained but three years. He was succeeded by Reverend Charles Hyde of Norwich, who was installed pastor of this church February 21st, 1838. Matthew Reed and Elisha Byles were chosen deacons in 1825. After the death of Deacon Kendall in 1829, his son of the same name was chosen to fill his place, being the third Isaac Kendall who had occupied the deacons’ seat, and the fifth of the name in direct succession to occupy the Kendall homestead of 1714. A new meeting house was erected on the previous site in 1830.
Reverend Job Hall, the seventh pastor, was ordained January 15th, 1834. He was born in Pomfret May 11th, 1802, graduated at Amherst, 1830, dismissed July 17th, 1837, after a ministry of a little more than three years. Nineteen were added to the church during his ministry. He retired to a farm in Orwell, where he died a few years since, much respected in the community where the closing years of his life were spent. Reverend Charles Hyde, the eighth pastor, was installed February 21st, 1838, and dismissed at his own request, and greatly to the regret of his people, June 26th, 1845. During his ministry of seven years and four months, ninety-one members were added to the church. He left to accept a call to Central Falls, R. I., where he remained for several years. After his dismission from this parish, he labored for a time in South Coventry, but failing health compelled him to give up the work of the active ministry. The ninth pastor was Reverend Charles Peabody, a native of Peterboro, N. H., born July 1st, 1810, graduated at Williams, 1838, at Andover, 1841; settled in Biddeford, Me., where he remained till June, 1843. He was next installed in Barrington, R. I., where he labored till 1846; installed in Ashford, January 20th, 1847, where he continued three years and eight months. Twenty-seven were added to the church during his ministry. His next field was Windsor, then Pownal, Vt. He then returned to Biddeford, where he labored till 1866, then to Eliot, Me. Several years since he retired to Longmeadow, Mass., where he still resides. The tenth and last installed pastor was Reverend Charles Chamberlain, who graduated at Brown University, and was for a time a tutor in that institution. He -was first settled in Auburn, Mass.; installed in Ashford, June 8th, 1854, dismissed March 29th, 1855. Twenty were added to the church during his ministry of nearly four years. Soon after his dismission, he was installed in Eastford. He afterward labored in East Granby, where he died suddenly a few years since.
Among those who have labored as acting pastors or stated supplies, are Reverends George Soule, Thomas Dutton, Stephen Barnard, Benjamin B. Hopkinson, Andrew Montgomery, Charles P. Grosvenor, O. S. Morris, and S. M. May. In 1886 Nathaniel Kingsbury commenced his labors with this church, and the Baptist church in Warrenville, and continues with this church in his labors. Only one of all the ten pastors of this church, Reverend • C. Peabody, is now living. Four of the acting pastors, Soule, Dutton, Barnard and Morris, have finished their work. The deacons of the church have been: John Mixer, Isaac Kendall, Josiah Bugbee, Jonathan Avery, Jedidiah Dana, Elijah Whiton, John Wright, Benjamin Sumner, Nathaniel Loomis, Ebenezer Mason, Isaac Perkins, Matthew Reed, David Brown, Isaac Kendall, Zachariah Bicknell, Matthew Reed, Elisha Byles, Isaac Kendall (the fourth Isaac Kendall in a direct line), Reuben Marcy, Royal Keith, Samuel L. Hough, James G. Gaylord, James Trowbridge, Andrew H. Byles and John A. Brown, the two last named now serving in this office.
The present meeting house was built in 1830, three years after Mr. Judson’s dismission. The choir occupied the gallery .back of the pulpit, looking down upon the head of the minister, where they were able to judge quite accurately, if he preached any sermons yellow from age. After a time the meeting house underwent thorough renovation. The gallery was closed up behind the pulpit, the pulpit lowered, the singers’ gallery removed to the rear of the audience room, the large choir filling well the seats, occupying the entire breadth of the meeting house. About two years since the audience room was again remodelled, the pulpit giving place to a preacher’s desk. This was placed in the rear part of the room, the singers on the east side, at the preacher’s left hand, the slips changed to face the preacher and singers in their new location, and the audience room is completed with much taste and beauty. Whether the “progress of the age” will compel new changes in the future, who can tell? It now seems in too good taste to demand further improvements.
Until Reverend Mr. Allen’s dismission, there had been but one Congregational church and society within the eight miles square of the town. The town had before, for several years, voted preaching for two or three months (probably the winter months) to the people of the northwest part of the town, and employed a preacher for them; but they belonged to the center, and came to the meeting for the greater part of the year, After Mr. Allen’s dismission, the town by amicable agreement in town meeting, was divided into three ecclesiastical societies -the East, the Center and the West. The aim was to give the same amount of territory to each. The Westford society was incorporated in October, 1765, the church in February, 1768. At” first, meetings were held in private houses, notices of the meetings to be given at Solomon Mason’s mills and Zephaniah Davison’s shop. December 9th, 1765, it was also voted to build a meeting house, and hire preaching; to raise a tax of two pence to pay for preaching; that the meetings should begin the first Sabbath of April that Esquire Whiton should procure a minister; and that Ebenezer Dimmock, Christopher Davison, Manasseh Farnum and Joseph Barney be a committee to count the cost. A minister was procured according to vote-the society further voted to meet at Captain Ward’s for divine worship during his pleasure. June 7th, it was voted to choose a committee of three able and judicious men to fix a place for the meeting house, also five more, viz., Ezra Smith, Samuel Eastman, Benjamin Walker, Christopher Davison and Samuel Knox, to notify the first and ” get them out.” Negotiations were then opened with certain proprietors in Brimfield, Mass., and a convenient meeting house frame which they had given up was purchased for thirty pounds, provided the same could be taken down without damage.” This was successfully accomplished, and was safely on the ground. in Westford by June 13th. The quality of the liquor to be furnished for the raising brought out as earnest discussion almost as the fitness of a ministerial candidate. It was first voted to have ;in, but this vote was soon rescinded and it was decided to have a barrel of the best West India ruin, and one quarter of a barrel of sugar, the best in quality, for the raising. Ensign Walker was to provide the same, and money was taken from the treasury of the society to pay the bill. “Under this potent stimulant the meeting house was raised without apparent accident, and hurried on to completion, workmen being allowed two shillings and six pence per day, they victualing themselves, and two shillings during the winter.” After hearing several candidates, Ebenezer Martin, of Canada parish, was invited to preach for the winter.
February 11th, 1768, was set apart as a day of solemn fasting and prayer, in order to the gathering of a church and settling a minister. Reverend Gideon Noble of Willington, conducted the service, assisted by Deacon Nathaniel Loomis, and Deacons Wright and Dana from the old Ashford church. A suitable covenant was prepared and subscribed by James Ould, Ezekiel Tiffany, Ezekiel Holt, Elijah Whiton, Joseph Barney, Ezra Smith, James Whiton, Joseph Whiton, Benjamin Walker, Thomas Chapman, Manasseh Farnum, John Smith, Jonathan Abbe and Joseph Chaffee. At a meeting of the church four days later it was voted to call the Reverend Ebenezer Martin to settle in the gospel ministry in this place, at which time the covenant was probably signed by the pastor elect and the following brethren, viz: Joseph Whiton, David Chaffee, Ebenezer Walker, Christopher Davison and Jonathan Chaffee. The wives of many of these brethren, together with Stephen Nott, Daniel, Eldridge, Hezekiah Eldridge, Ichabod Ward, David Kendall and Jacob Fuller were ere long added, making a membership of fifty-five. The society concurred in the call to Mr. Martin, offering sixty pounds salary, rising to seventy, paid half in money, half in produce, viz., wheat, ‘Indian corn, oats, pork and beef. Twenty pounds in land and sixty pounds toward building a dwelling house, secured acceptance of the call, and on June 15th he was ordained with the usual solemnities. Work on the meeting house was slowly carried forward. A large number of inhabitants received liberty to build stables for their horses on the meeting house green, provided they were ” set so as not to encroach on any road.” June 14th, 1770, a meeting was held in the meeting house to hear the report of the pew committee. Each pew was to be occupied by two families. Forty inhabitants, highest on the list, were to draw said pews according to their lists; build the pews and ceil the gallery girths. This report was accepted and the pews were distributed as follows: 1. Benjamin Walker, Elijah Whiton; 2. Ebenezer Dimmock, Ichabod Ward; 3. Thomas Chapman, Ebenezer Walker; 4. Joseph Woodward, Zaccheus Hill; 5. Ezra Smith, Ebenezer Walker; 6. David Chaffee, William Thompson; 7. David Robbins, George Smith; 8. Adonijah Baker, Josiah Chaffee; 9. John Warren, Josiah Rogers; 10. Ezekiel Tiffany, Benjamin Chaffee; 11. Jedidiah Blanchard, Benjamin Walker, Jr.; 12. William Henfield, James Whiton; 13. Samuel Eastman, Henry Works; 14. James Averill, Job Tyler; 15. Ezekiel Holt, David Chaffee; 16. James Ould, Stephen Coye; 17. Abijah Brooks, Simon Smith; 18. Ephraim Walker, Jonathan Abbe; 19. Jacob Fuller, William Preston. Probably the 20th seat was for the minister’s family.
Among newly arrived families, bringing them additional strength, was that of Stephen Nott, the father of sons of great promise, and Doctor Thomas Huntington of Lebanon, who proved a most valuable acquisition to both the society and the town.
In March, 1778, Reverend Elisha Hutchinson was ordained the second minister in Westford. His ministry seems to have been quite brief for these early times. Reverend William Storrs, the third pastor, was a native of Mansfield; ordained in Westford, November 10th, 1 790. His was along and successful ministry. He died while pastor in Westford, greatly loved and lamented by his people. Reverend Luke Wood of Waterbury, the fourth pastor in Westford, was installed December 13th, 1826. He seems to have been a good minister, useful in his work, but after a few years he left for other fields of labor. After he left Reverend Alvan Underwood labored for several years as acting pastor, without installation. His labors were quite successful, and he was highly esteemed by his ministerial brethren, and among the churches. For brief periods Reverend Mr. Hurd, who afterward labored in the West, and Mr. Langdon were acting pastors. Reverend Charles S. Adams, the fifth and last installed pastor in Westford, of Roxbury, Mass., was installed January 7th, 1846, Reverend Richard S. Storrs, D.D., of Braintree, a relative of a former pastor, preaching the sermon of installation. At the same time ‘the new meeting house was dedicated, Reverend Roswell Whitmore of West Killingly, a native of Westford, preaching the sermon of dedication. At the laying of the corner stone Reverend Charles Hyde of Ashford, and Reverend Francis Williams of Chaplin, assisted Mr. Adams in the public services of the occasion. Mr. Adams commenced his labors in Westford, September 15th, 1844, but was not installed until the new meeting house was built. This delay was deemed best by him and his people, as the old meeting house was in a dilapidated condition, and they fully intended to build, but could not at once unite upon the location of the new house of worship. Mr. Adams taught a select school during a part of his ministry in Westford, affording superior facilities for the education of his own children and of other young people in the vicinity. After laboring with this people for fourteen years he was dismissed, and commenced laboring soon after in Strongsville, O. He afterward labored in Michigan, but failing health compelled him to retire from the active labors of the ministry. As he neared the close of life, his wife, worn with taking care of her husband, was taken with disease which soon terminated in her death, a few hours before his own. He knew she was too ill to watch at his bedside, but in his low state it was not thought best to inform him of her departure. He expressed bright hopes for his own home above, but said his only anxiety was for his poor wife, whom he must leave not so well provided for in the things of this world as he could wish. How glad must have been his surprise to find her ready to welcome him to the new home, having reached it a few hours before his arrival. One funeral service, and the husband and wife who had long walked life’s journey together, were laid to rest in one common grave. Neither sadly mourned the departure of the other.
Thus every pastor who has been settled over the people in Westford has closed his labors upon earth. Since the labors of Mr. Adams closed in Westford the pulpit has been supplied by acting pastors, whose labors have continued only for a few years each with this people, Reverend Messrs. Griswold, Kinney, Beman, White, Allen and John R. Freeman, who died while in service, and is buried in the beautiful cemetery in Westford. Reverend Oscar Bissell has been acting pastor for several years and is still doing good service as the minister in Westford. The deacons have been, Elijah Whiton, Thomas Chapman, Amos Kendall, William Walker, Abner Chaffee, Nathan Barker, Benjamin Chapman, Allan Bosworth, Ebenezer Chaffee, Nathan Huntington, Chauncey Whiton, Charles W. Brett, now acting deacon, all who preceded him, it is thought, have entered the higher service above.
During the great revival which occurred about the year 1740, and the commotion of the Separatist or New Light factions, a part of the people of Ashford were inclined toward Baptist ideas. The severe agitation in the church of the standing order strengthened the volume of those holding Baptist sentiments. So rapidly did the Baptists increase in numbers that in the summer of 1743 they were organized as a distinct church. This was the first Baptist church formed in Windham county. Thomas Denison, of New London, a recent convert to Baptist principles, became its pastor. His ordination took place in November, 17143, the ” laying on of hands ” being by Elder Moulton, of Brimfield, who had himself been ordained by Elder John Callendar, of Newport, and other noted Baptist fathers. The church thus organized had but a brief existence. Mr. Denison soon declared himself mistaken, renounced his Baptist principles, fell into a rambling itinerancy, and left his church disheartened and disorganized, to fall to pieces. After some years of weakness and struggles the members of this church were incorporated into the church of Brimfield.
Westford is the native place of men of eminence and usefulness in the country: Reverend Enoch Huntington, Reverend Roswell Whitmore, Reverend William Chaffee and Reverend Homer Sears, Baptists; Reverend Samuel Whiton, missionary in Africa, who wrote an excellent volume on the Dark Continent, and when his failing health admonished him that he must return to his native land, reluctantly closed his labors there, to resume them again as soon as renewed vigor permitted his return. When his health gave way the second time he bade farewell to the land of his adoption, and came back to the land of his birth. In improved but broken health he renewed his loved work at the West and the South, until the- voice of providence clearly admonished him that his life upon earth must soon close.
Reverend Elijah Robbins, who has also for more than thirty years labored under the direction of the American Board in Western Africa with much faithfulness and success, an early school-mate of Samuel Whiton, had his early home in Westford. Reverend Theron Brown, Baptist, also a school-mate of Whiton and Robbins, has a high standing in the ministry, in the circle of American poets and as an editor of the Youth’s Companion. A small hill town parish, raising up ministers and missionaries like this, may well be commended. We may almost apply the words of the wise man: ” Many daughters have done virtuously but thou excellest them all.” It is not in raising up ministers alone that Westford is to be praised. Men of eminence have entered other walks of usefulness. Judge George Lincoln- fills a high station in the legal profession in the state of New York. Ezra White, Esq., was a successful merchant in New York city, and his benefactions for the support of the gospel in his native place and in enlarging and enclosing the beautiful cemetery, where rest the mortal remains of his ancestors, is a worthy example for successful sons who leave our hill towns for the business centers of our republic. Doctor Melancthon Storrs, grandson of Reverend William Storrs, a surgeon in the army during the rebellion, and eminent among the physicians of Hartford and in the state, also his brother, William Storrs, Esq., for many years superintendent of the coal mines in Scranton, Pa., liberal in doing for his native place. Many others fill stations of usefulness as teachers, wives of eminent men, citizens, temperate, industrious, respected and useful.
The Baptist church in Westford was formed in 1780, through the instrumentality to a great degree of Mr. John Rathburn, who had removed from Stonington, and was ordained as its pastor, March 15th, 1781. A membership of fifty-four was reported in 1795. Elder Rathburn with his family friends possessed a goodly amount of property, contributed largely in preparing a place for public worship, and gave the land for the cemetery of the village, thus showing that it is not always to the advantage of a church to have the minister poor and dependent upon his people for his support. Under this ministry the church was quite united and prosperous. Among his successors were Elder Amos Babcock and Reverend Ezekiel Skinner, M. D., under whose labors the church grew strong and prosperous. He was a man of varied abilities, with an executive ability unusual. He was efficient in ministerial labors, giving lectures on subjects of much interest at the time, and having a medical practice which would have been considered sufficient for most men in the profession. He lectured on the prophecies, on slavery and the live topics of the age. After he closed his labors with the church in Westford Reverends Dexter Monger, Washington Monger, Amos Snell and others for longer or shorter periods labored with this church.
This church has had a varied history. A large, wealthy, and influential portion of the community cherished what are called the Christian Baptist doctrines. They did not admit that Christ was in Divinity equal with the Father. They had a decidedly separate interest from the strict Baptists, and the latter ‘could not candidly fellowship them. There was also a portion of the Baptists who did not hold restricted communion. These at length united with the Christians, and in 1862 they reorganized into a Free Will Baptist church. Reverend G. W. Cortis commenced his labors in 1862. He served them for about two years, and when he left in 1864, Reverend P. B. Hopkins commenced his labors with the church. He labored for about nine years, and was succeeded in 1873 by Reverend D. C. Wheeler, and in 1877 Reverend L. P. Bickford commenced his labors and continued until 1881. Two deacons served this Free Will Baptist church, Royal Chapman and Lemuel Willis.
At this period, the Strict Communion Baptists had come into the ascendancy and under the lead of the state missionary the church was reorganized as a regular Baptist church. In 1884 Reverend L. S. Brown was ordained as their minister, and he was followed by Rev. J. H. Bidwell, who was succeeded by Reverend A. J. Culver and he by Reverend Oscar Bissell. The present pastor is Reverend Samuel Thatcher, who ministers to this church and that in Warrenville. This church has two deacons, Nehemiah Clapp and Captain Jacob Walls. From this parish originated Reverend Amos Snell, Reverend Henry Coe, and also Reverend Frederick Coe, Andrew Richmond, a graduate of Yale College, a successful teacher, afterward in mercantile life in New York, and Charles Dean, a member of the glass company, and now president of the National Bank at Stafford Springs, also Hon. Edwin Busk of Willimantic. He still owns a saw and grist mill in Westford, doing a large business, principally at present in preparing car timber.
In the olden time the Richmond and Sons company did a profitable business in manufacturing what were called the Richmond Socks. They made an overshoe from cloth webbing such as was used in trimming carriages, and before the India rubber came into use, they had an extensive sale, and the company became wealthy. Here the glass works were located. The Richmonds, Busk and Dean, did a large business and accumulated wealth in the manufactory. But this business has ceased, and the ” Richmond village” is not doing the business for which it was formerly celebrated. The present meeting house in which the people of the village meet for worship was built in 1840.
John Warren, Esq., manifested much anxiety to have a Baptist church organized in the western part of Ashford, in a village on the turnpike from Hartford to Boston and Providence. The First, or as it was often called, the Knowlton meeting house, was not considered so central, nor easy of access as many thought desirable. But the people in the vicinity of the old church were greatly opposed to giving up worship in their sanctuary, and continued for a time to worship there after another congregation was formed in “Pompey Hollow,” as the place was then called. Mr. Warren offered a fund to support worship in the Hollow, and the name of the village was changed to Warrenville. A church was organized January 22d, 1848, with eight members, viz., Nathaniel Sheffield and his wife Polly Sheffield, Celia A. Coates, Sophia Hammond, John Church, James Kent, Hiram Cady and his wife Miriam Cady. The ministers employed have been: Washington Monger, 1848; Percival Mathewson, 1850; J. B. Maryott, 1854; Tubal Wakefield, 1858; Elder Fulton, Lucien Burleigh, 1864; C. B. Rockwell, 1863; David Avery, 1871; E. P. Mathewson, 1878; J. J. Bronson, 1880; C. N. Nichols, 1881; L. S. Brown, 1886; N. Kingsbury, 1887; L. Thatcher, 1889, present pastor. The deacons have been, Hiram Cady, John Church, Jared Lanphear, and Stephen C. Robbins, serving at the present time. Present membership of the church, 86; non-resident 36. The meeting house was built in 1848. Permanent funds for the support of the minister were given by Nathaniel Sheffield $1,000, John Warren $300, Ebenezer James $1,000.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889Home » Windham County » Church History of Ashford, Connecticut