The Congregational church in Eastford was organized September 23d, 1778; present at the organization, Reverends Stephen Williams, John Storrs and Elisha Hutchinson. The original members were: Andrew Judson, Benjamin Sumner and wife, Jonathan Chapman and wife, Samuel Snow, Elisha Wales, Simeon Dean and wife. In May it was voted to hire Mr. Andrew Judson of Stratford, with the view of a settlement as pastor. At the same time it was voted to build a meeting house. In June it was voted that the county court committee set the stake on Lieutenant John Russel’s land. A subscription was started, the society agreeing ” that those that subscribe towards building a meeting house have liberty to build it of equal bigness with Woodstock’s West Society meeting house,” i. e., 45 by 35′ feet. The council met December 1st, 1778, to examine the candidate and arrange for his ordination and installation. December 2d Mr. Judson was set over the church as pastor. His salary was 70 pounds a year, and 500 pounds for settlement. Mr. Judson died in office, November 15th, 1804. During the last years of his life he was feeble in health, greatly depressed in spirits, and unable to preach, but his son John and others supplied his pulpit. In addition to the nine original members, ninety-nine were added to the church. Mr. Judson’s ministry continued twentysix years. Reverend Hollis Samson, having ministered before in his connection with the Methodist denomination, affirmed that he was now, and really always had been of the doctrinal belief of the Congregational church, preached much to the acceptance of the people, and in a church meeting called for the purpose, solemnly affirmed that he was in harmony with the church in faith and church polity, received a unanimous call to settle with them as their pastor. He was ordained by a council which met December 5th and 6th, 1809.
Mr. Samson remained pastor a little over six years, when he was reported as intemperate, and as having embraced the doctrine of the Universalists. He was dismissed without recommendation, May 27th, 1816. But few united with the church under his ministry, and the church did not prosper. At one time only about twenty members, and only six of these males, were found on the records. Reverend Asahel Nettleton, the noted evangelist, labored with this church with great success. The reviving was almost like a resurrection from the dead. Large numbers were gathered into the church. Sixty-three united with the church from the time of Mr. Samson’s dismission to the installation of his successor, which took place May 31st, 1820, the new pastor being Reverend Reuben Torrey. His salary was to be four hundred and fifty dollars, and twenty cords of wood annually, to be delivered at his door. Mr. Torrey continued pastor twenty years. He was dismissed April 28th, 1840. One hundred and twenty-eight members united with the church under his pastorate.
Reverend Francis Williams was ordained and installed September 22d, 1841. He remained ten years, and was dismissed November 12th, 1851. Seventy-two persons united with the church during his pastorate. Reverend Charles Chamberlain. was installed April 14th, 1858. Fourteen had united with the church since the dismission of Mr. Williams. The following churches were invited to appear by pastor and delegate at the council: Ashford, Chaplin, Hampton, Willimantic, Windham, West Killingly, Abington, West Woodstock, North Woodstock, East Woodstock. This pastorate continued nine years and sixty-eight members were added to the church during this time. He was dismissed March 14th, 1867. Reverend Clinton .I. Jones was installed May 8th. 1872. A very interesting centennial of this church was observed September 23d, 1878. A historical discourse by the pastor, reminiscences by Reverend F. Williams, Moses Torrey, Esq., son of a former pastor and others, and letters from those who could not be present, made this an occasion long to be remembered. This pastorate continued sixteen years. Sixty-five persons united with the church during this ministry. Reverend C. M. Jones was dismissed June 22d, 1888. The church is at present without a pastor. Five hundred and forty-five have united with the church from its organization. Benjamin Sumner was chosen deacon February 21st, 1779; Jonathan Chapman, February 28th, 1781; Noah Paine, January 1st, 1790; Samuel Sumner, August 15th, 1799: Elijah Deans, May 23d, 1817; Elisha Trowbridge, May 23d, 1817; Dyer Carpenter, August 31st, 1820; Allen Bosworth, July 1825; Earl C. Preston and Henry Work, September 21st, 1834; Harvey Lummis, December 31st, 1842; Joseph D. Barrows, April 26th, 1844; George S. Deans, March 20th, 1873. In all thirteen deacons have served this church, only three of which are now living-Deacons Preston, Barrows and Deans; and only two pastors-Reverend Francis Williams and C. M. Jones. The present membership of the church is eighty-three.
The present meeting house was erected in 1829. It was dedicated December 23d of the same year. Esquire Bosworth purchased the old meeting house, removed it from the common and made it into a dwelling house. The day for the removal was fixed, men were invited with their teams, and all was ready for the start, when a delegation came to Esquire Bosworth, saying the oxen would not draw unless the teamsters were treated. Esquire Bosworth had recently identified himself with the temperance cause, and the rummies ” hoped to bring him to terms, but they mistook their man. The words of his pastor at his funeral, ” He was one of the firmest oaks that ever grew upon Mt. Zion,” were well spoken. Instantly the reply came, ” It will rot down where it is, first.” Enough teams were unhitched to prevent the moving that day, but immediately an offer came from neighboring towns to furnish teams that would draw though the teamsters were not treated. Esquire Bosworth left a legacy of a thousand dollars, the interest to be applied to help support a settled orthodox minister, and for the support of no other.
A series of conference meetings held in North Ashford resulted in the formation of a society and a vote to build a meeting house in 1793. It was voted that the house be forty feet long and thirty feet wide, with a porch to furnish a better way to go into the gallery. Timothy Allen gave two acres of land on which to build the church and parsonage. The church was organized November 5th, 1794, recognized as in fellowship by a council. Original members were: Ephraim Hayward, Ebenezer Curtis, Jonathan Carpenter, Jesse Bugbee, Marcus Bugbee, Ezra Hayward, John Hayward and Abigail Hayward. The present membership is seventy-five.
A new meeting house was built in 1843. It was 48 feet long, with a projection of 5 feet for entrance, and 36 feet wide. Elder Bennet, then their minister, preached the dedication sermon. The pastors have been: Daniel Bolton, 1796; Ledoit Noah, 1811; Buckley Waters, 1814; Stephen Haskel, 1819; Leonard Gage, 1829; Alvan Bennet, Alfred Trum, 1842; Rensselaer Putney, 1844; George Mixter, 1846; Tubal Wakefield, 1852: Gilman Stow, 1858; Erastus Andrews, 1865; C. B. Rockwell, 1873; Percival Mathewson, 1878; A. A. Robinson, 1885; Asa Randlett, 1887; sixteen pastors in all. The deacons have been: Ephraim Howard, Joseph Burley, Benjamin Corbin, Jairus Chapman, John Burley, Oliver M. Angel and Frederick Davidson.
Several Baptist ministers have been natives of Eastford. Elder Bolles had three sons who rose to eminence, Matthew, Augustus and Lucius; also Charles, son of judge David Bolles, and Isaiah C. Carpenter.
The Methodists had a circuit established in Eastford in 1826. Several years before that they built a small church in the western part of the town, and among other preachers the eccentric Lorenzo Dow sometimes preached in this house. In 1831 a new meeting house was built in the Center, jointly by the Methodists and the Universalists, each having the right to occupy it half the time. In 1847 the Methodists built a meeting house for their own use, procured a fine pipe organ. built a room for town purposes in the basement, also a vestry for their evening worship. Captain Skinner, Mr. Mumford, Mr. Keith, Willard Lyon, Mr. Hewett, Mr. Hiram Burnham, Captain Leonard Dean and other men of wealth and influence, caused this church to be quite flourishing, but when they passed away it began to decline, and now for much of the time no service is maintained, and no preacher is sent by the conference. This church has raised up ministers who have filled stations of usefulness. Among these Isaac Sherman, John Sherman and Orson Dodge may be mentioned.
The Congregational church has also furnished ministers who have done good service in the cause of their Master. Chester Carpenter, son of Deacon Carpenter, graduated at Amherst College and at the Theological Institute at East Windsor Hill. He was ordained at Sinclairville, N. Y., September 25th, 1845, but was attacked with hemorrhage of the lungs, and went South, started for home and died on the way, April 17th, 1867. Reverend John P. Trowbridge, now of Bethlehem, Conn., who has been and still is a pastor of eminence and success, as also a native of this town, may be mentioned.
Select schools have from time to time been in successful operation. Some of the teachers have been: Hon. Samuel Jones, a distinguished criminal lawyer now of Hartford; Hon. Edwin Jones, of Chaplin, now a millionaire of Minneapolis, and Reverend John R. Freeman. In her eight school districts Eastford has had eminent and successful teachers; men like Master John Griggs, Calvin Whitney, Esq., the two judges, Elisha and Jairus Carpenter, and ladies of marked ability and success. Such teachers in our common schools do a work that tells for good upon the rising generation. An amusing incident occurred in the history of one of the solid citizens of Eastford in his early boyhood. For some misbehavior his teacher made him creep under the teacher’s table standing in the middle of the room, with the remark, ” If you act like a dog be a dog in your place under the table.” Soon the minister came in to visit the school, when “Bow-wow! bow-wow!” was the instant greeting he received from under the table. Explanations were given, a hearty laugh indulged, and the scholar had permission to take his seat. Hon. Charles D. Hine, secretary of the state board of education, has a summer residence in Eastford, and the schools receive the benefit of his influence.
A very eccentric man in Eastford, many years since, furnished an item for the page of history, which perhaps fails of finding a parallel in all our modern records. Mr. Ephraim Lyon instituted, as he called it, a church of Bacchus, the membership to be of those who indulged in the use of intoxicating liquors to excess. He did not invite members to enroll their names, nor did he ask their consent to have their names recorded. He took the business into his own hands, kept his church records himself, and claimed to be very conscientious in his work. He named himself as the high priest, saying he must become badly intoxicated several times each year in order that he might hold the office. He appointed his deacons from those he called the most zeelous members.” He lived in the southeastern part of Eastford, removing to Westford toward the close of his life, but keeping up the organization while he lived. His members resided in Eastford, Ashford, Chaplin, Hampton, Pomfret and perhaps some other towns in the near vicinity. The membership sometimes reached the number of one thousand or more. All must be what are commonly called drunkards. Most were men, but he had a few women in his church, some of them “zeelous members.” If any became members of temperance societies or reformed they were promptly excommunicated, and their names stricken from the roll of membership, but if they relapsed into their old habits their names were re-enrolled. It was his boast that few failed to comeback who had been cutoff. So great was the dread of being enrolled on his books that his life was threatened by some drinking men in case he put their names on his book, and he sometimes had to run for his life, but with the spirit of a martyr he was true to his official work; nothing moved him from his purpose. His wife became so alarmed at their threatenings, lest they should wreak their vengeance upon him, that she burned his book of church records, but he soon replaced it, and hid it carefully for its future safety. He read it in companies where he felt safe in so doing, so that none could be enrolled without it soon being known to the reluctant members and others that they were members of the church of Bacchus, to be put in official positions when they became sufficiently ” zeelous.” The eyes of some were opened to see how they were regarded, and reformation followed, and it was thought it exerted a salutary check upon some young men who feared they might be enrolled as members. Members who died in full membership were said to go to the Bacchanalian revels of their patron god.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889