The First church of Thompson, as already narrated, was organized January 18th, 1730, and Marston Cabot ordained and installed over it as its pastor. He was born in Salem in 1704, graduated from Harvard College in 1724, married, July 22d. 1731, Mary, daughter of Reverend Josiah Dwight. He was a man of learning and sound judgment and a preacher of unusual excellence. The covenant adopted by the church under his guidance shows him to have been of unimpeachable orthodox,, according to the standard of the day, and that the church was in full sympathy with his views, and “ready to rest satisfied with such admittance of adult persons as is performed by the pastor’s examination of their knowledge and experience of the principles and practices of religion.” It also covenanted To obey him that is by our present voluntary election, or those that may hereafter be set over us– in the Lord, as such that watch over our souls, and whom we shall always account worthy of a gospel support and maintenance; as also to adhere to a pious and able ministry in this church, laboring in a way of joint concurrence with him or them, to his or their conscientious discretion, exerting the ministerial authority committed to them to recover and uphold the vigorous and impartial administration of discipline among us.” The so-called “Half-way Covenant ” was admitted by the church, under which children of baptized parents, not church members, were made subjects of baptism.
Mr. Cabot exercised the authority entrusted to him with becoming discretion, and while strictly enforcing the laws against intrusive Separates and Baptists, tempered justice with mercy, allowing such to withdraw quietly from the church without attempting coercion. His relations with his own people were ever most cordial and harmonious, and although the currency was so fluctuating that it was sometimes very difficult to ascertain its real value, the ” credit of the salary ” was faithfully maintained according to contract. In 1751, £500 were found needful; in 1755, £600 were required and £65 allowed for firewood. His domestic life was shadowed by the loss of several children in the successive epidemics so prevalent at that period. Eight hundred and thirty infants were baptized by Mr. Cabot in his twenty-six years ministry, but a star affixed to, many names indicates their early removal. Whether, in addition to ” throat ails ” and malignant dysentery, lives may not have been shortened by bringing them into the fireless meeting house to be baptized even in the depth of winter, is- an open question. One respected brother of the church, Jacob Bixby, lost his wife and eight children within a short period.
The second pastor of Thompson’s First church, Reverend Noadiah Russel, was born in Middletown, January 24th, 1730, graduated from Yale college in 1750, studied for the ministry probably with his father, one of the leading ministers in Connecticut, received a call to settle in Pomfret, which, “-very much if not altogether ” on account of quarrels about building a meetin-house, he felt constrained to decline. ” June 7,1757, preached the first Sabbath in Thompson; July 27 the society had a meeting, unanimously invited me to settle among them in the work of the ministry; Aug. 30 gave my answer in the affirmative, considering their unanimity, and consequently the prospect that there is of my being comfortable among them and serviceable to them; Oct. 5 was kept as a fast previous to the ordination; Nov. 9 was the day of my ordination; Rev. Mr. Putnam of Pomfret made the first prayer; Rev. Mr. Gleason (Dudley) made the prayer before the charge; my brother of Windsor made the prayer after the charge; my father gave the charge; the Rev. Mr. Gleason gave the right hand of fellowship.” That very important part of the exercises-the sermon-omitted from the church record, was undoubtedly delivered by the father of the new minister, Reverend Noadiah Russel. Jacob Dresser, Simon Larned and Lusher Gay were then serving the church in the office of deacon.
Mr. Russel received from the society £165 settlement and X65 salary, with sufficiency of cord wood for his own use till he came “into family estate,” and then thirty cords a year. “Family estate” was soon established by his marriage with Miss Esther Talcott of Middletown, and the purchase of the ” Corbin House,” on the brow of the hill, on the site now occupied by Mr. Chandler. His pastorate was eminently serene and peaceful, the well known ” molasses story ” illustrating the regard in which he was held by his people. Attempting to remonstrate against the large proportion of molasses with which a worthy dame persisted in sweetening his tea, his hostess only answered with another brimming spoonful and the emphatic assertion, ” clear molasses ain’t too good for Mr. Russel,” a saying everywhere accepted as expressing the popular sentiment that nothing could be too good for so good a minister. As a preacher he was sound and solid, but perhaps a trifle heavy and hardly considered equal to his predecessor. He was much beloved by his ministerial brethren, and his counsel and judgment held in high esteem. Doctor Whitney reports: ” His mental powers were excellent. He thought and reasoned well, was careful and critical in examining things, capable of forming a good judgment, agreeable and edifying in conversation. His house and heart were open to friends and acquaintances, a lover of mankind, faithful in his friendships, ready to do good and to communicate, exemplary in relative duties.” The young Woodstock schoolmaster, Mr. Timothy Williams, in his contemporary diary. gives us the opportunity of attending service in the old meeting house and learning something of his preaching, viz.:
Jan. 7, 1787, Weather very cold, walked to meeting and heard Mr. Russel preach very–well, A. M. from John iv. 24, God a pure spirit; spent the intermission at Mr. Russel’s; sat in Esq. Larned’s pew P. M. with Major Simon Larned, and heard a fine, close New Year’s sermon from Psalm xc. 9, ‘Our years pass away as a tale that is told.’ Mr. Russel observed seventeen persons had died last year, although it was remarkably healthy; exhorted us to inquire whether we were better prepared for death than when the last year began. If not we were vastly more unprepared, &c., much to the purpose. Jan. 14. Rode in slay to meeting house; heard Mr. Russel from Matt. xxv. 14, 15, on improvement of talents. If the unprofitable servant was so severely punished merely for neglecting his single talent, what would be the condemnation of those who waste, squander and misimprove their many talents. Dined at Rev. Mr. Russel’s with Major Simon Larned, and sat with him and lady in Mr. Russel’s pew, P. M.” Between the two Sundays the young schoolmaster spent one evening by invitation at the minister’s with agreeable young company, ” took tea and played at Alphabetical Induction, huzzling the bag and shifting two corks.
Mr. Russel was a man of great punctuality, conservative in his views, ” very strict in his attention to the order of society.” His temperament inclined him to great moderation, and during the revolution his sympathies were with the mother country, and his accustomed prayer for ” King George and all the members of the Royal Family,” was made a part of the Sabbath service as long as it was in any way suitable. Yet by his great prudence he maintained this difficult position without giving offense. His prudence was also manifested during the Dodge episode, when that audacious young reprobate offered to preach in his pulpit. The Woodstock minister, by declining such overture, brought upon himself a troublesome lawsuit, heavy costs, and a scathing castigation from judge Swift. ” How different,” says the judge, “the conduct of Reverend Mr. Russel,” who himself attended the service and assisted in the public worship, thereby endearing himself to his parishioners and all good men, and instead of producing mischievous consequences was productive of peace and harmony. Thus quietly amid troublous times the years glided away and Mr. Russel was considering the necessity of employing a colleague, when, like his predecessor, he was suddenly removed. A newspaper reports-” Died at Mendon, Mass., Tuesday, October 17, 1795, Rev. Noadiah Russel, of Thompson, Conn. On the Thursday preceding, Mr. Russel, his wife and son entered upon a journey from their house to Boston, proceeded leisurely, arrived at the Rev. Mr. Alexander’s on the following Monday. Towards evening sat down at table for refreshment. Then Mr. Russel was suddenly seized with apoplexy, and continued with little or no sense or motion till about eleven the next evening, when he expired. The remains were brought back to Thompson for interment on Friday, on which very mournful occasion a sermon was delivered by Rev. Josiah Whitney, of Brooklyn, from Heb. vii. 23.”
The number of children baptized during Mr. Russel’s ministry was 926. Additions to the church had been less frequent during this period, ” a great spiritual dearth” prevailing during the revolutionary war and through the remainder of the century. Five hundred and five members had been admitted into the church between 1730 and 1795. Deacons Thomas Dike and Joseph Gay had entered upon service.
After a brief interval Mr. Daniel Dow, of Ashford, received a call to the vacant pastorate. After graduation from Yale College in 1793, he had pursued theological studies under Reverends Doctor Goodrich, of Durham, and Enoch Pond, of Ashford, supporting himself meanwhile by teaching psalmody, and was licensed to preach, by the Windham County Association, May, 1795. He had but just passed his twenty-third birthday, and was very small of stature, so that when he first appeared in Thompson as a candidate he was taken for a boy who had come for the doctor, and quite amazed the family when he made known that he purposed to supply the pulpit. His ability and promise were quickly recognized, and he received a satisfactory call, although his orthodoxy was not quite up to the requisite standard, he having ” fallen into some mistakes and inconsistencies, in consequence of having read many erroneous books.” It was a time of great doctrinal ferment. High Calvinism was in vogue, and the ministers composing the majority of the Windham Association were keenly alert to any taint of unsoundness. The examination of the candidate was held in Esquire Dresser’s tavern. A little girl peering into the room carried through life a vivid picture of the youthful divine standing in the center of the room, with his coat thrown off, and sweat raining down his face, like a farmer’s in a July hay-field, parrying the thrusts of his ministerial inquisitors. Whatever his sentiments, he held his own triumphantly, and was successfully ordained and installed, April 20th, 1796-” a day of much rejoicing and mutual congratulation. The people loved their young minister and he loved the people.” “To be further qualified for the office of a bishop,” he had previously become ” the husband of one wife,” the daughter of Deacon Jesse Bolles, of Woodstock.
Fifty years later Doctor Dow thus detailed his early experiences, and the aspect of the times: “The church I found to be in a very cold, back-slidden state; very few of them willing to converse upon experimental religion, or ready to give a reason of the hope that was in them, if they had any religion at all. The congregation seemingly intent upon nothing but vanity and folly. My flock scattered over the whole town, an area of about eight miles square. Various denominations of Christian people contending with each other about the shells and husks of religion, while they appeared to pay little or no attention to the substance. Intemperance greatly prevailing, and moderate drinkers, as they were called, drinking most immoderately. Errorists of every kind running to and fro, and many having itching ears running after them. Some openly avowing their infidelity; while others were proclaiming good news and glad tidings; by which they meant that impenitent sinners, drunkards and all were sure to go to Heaven. . . . My people were all very friendly to me. They filled the old meeting house well, heard what I said to them with as much satisfaction as they would listen to a song, but there was the end of it. Nor was it in my power to awaken them. I preached what I thought good sermons, great sermons, sermons full of excellent speech and moral suasion, sermons good enough to convert anybody, and yet they had no more effect in awakening and converting sinners than a pop-gun discharged against an impenetrable rock. . . . But in all this the Lord taught me an important lesson. I was brought to see that nothing short of the power of God can either awaken or convert a sinner. From that time I preached the doctrine of grace more plainly. I expurgated my system of divinity of all Arminian notions, and my language of such phrases as were capable of misconstruction . . . and determined to preach all the doctrines of grace if I possibly could. as plainly as Christ and his Apostles preached them. Soon I began to perceive a very different effect. The Lord did what the preacher could not do . . . and from that time to this we have had repeated occasion to say: `What hath God wrought ?’
Material prosperity kept pace with spiritual. The ancient house of worship was once more renovated and crowned with steeple and bell by private enterprise. A great crowd of people assembled to witness the hanging of this most welcome bell, June 2d, 1798. A clock was also procured and inserted, and twenty dollars a year allowed for ringing bell and taking care of clock. Two dollars yearly were also paid “to sweep the house once in two months and clear off the cobwebs.” The society committee was directed “to procure and hang ” a conductor to said steeple. Mr. Dow was always much interested in church psalmody and a singing school was now opened and four new choristers appointed. Although so prosperous in the main, money was still “so scarce that it was found difficult to raise the three hundred dollar salary promised the minister and measures were set on foot for establishing a fund, the interest thereof to be for the support of the Gospel. This was successfully accomplished in 1809-the sum of $5,000 being raised by, many subscribers.
*Semi-centennial preached by Doctor Dow, April 22d, 1846.
In 1815, the meeting house was so damaged by the memorable ” September Gale ” that its renovation was deemed impracticable. Thaddeus and George Larned, Elijah Crosby, Zadoc Hutchins; Isaac Davis, John Nichols, Noadiah Russel, David Town, Daniel Dwight, John Brown, Roger and Joseph Elliott, and James Bates, were appointed a committee for building a new meeting house. A Building Association was formed, subscribers agreeing to build a house, not expending over $6,000. A native architect, afterward very celebrated, Mr. Ithiel Town, furnished the plan; Elias Carter served as master builder; Harvey Dresser, of Charlton, executed the handsome painting under the lofty pulpit, so artfully simulating a stairway partly veiled with crimson drapery that children were always wondering that Mr. Dow did not make use of it. The dedication of the new house, September 4th, 1817, was one of Thompson’s especial gala days-the singing under the direction of a veteran leader, Mr. Charles Sharpe, surpassing anything before attempted. The choir met at the gate of the parsonage and marched in procession in pairs, led by the chorister and first soprano, to the meeting house, singing all the way, but so timing march and song that as they crossed the threshold, ” Enter his gates with songs of joy ” was on their lips. They also sang “Old Hundred,” ” Marlborough,” and lastly, ” Denmark,” with astonishing force the ro-ho-ho-ho-ling years” being so drawn out and intensified as ” not only to astonish the waking multitude but would have aroused the Seven Sleepers.” The new meeting house, with its heavy galleries and elaborate pulpit, was greatly admired, although wholly destitute of any accommodations for Sabbath school or conference meetings. Mr. Dow was at this date one of the most popular and eloquent ministers. of the county. The singing of the choir was exceptionally fine, and the impressive figures of the venerable deacons, Aaron and Moses Bixby, seated beneath the pulpit, added to the effect of the whole service. Children supposed that their names were ex officio, and that all deacons were called Moses and Aaron.
After some years of unsuccessful experiment, a Sabbath school was established in 1825, Deacon Josiah Thayer superintendent. Deacon Thayer, with Deacons Charles Brown and Daniel Alton, were in service many years. The pastorate of Mr. Dow, prolonged for more than fifty years, was marked by many striking events and changes, but the early love and admiration of his people remained unchanged. A man of deep convictions, great ability and many striking qualities, he impressed himself very deeply upon the minds of two generations. A keen controversialist, perfectly sure that he was in the right, his early relations with other denominations were not harmonious. When invited to speak upon the platform at the first Methodist camp meeting, he repaid the courtesy by denouncing, in most straightforward terms, their whole method of procedure. Young people, timidly questioning the validity of their baptismal sprinkling in infancy. were treated to a sermon upon vain jangling and the keen query, ” Have not some of you been jangling about your baptism ? ”
The pertinency of his texts was very remarkable, and his peculiar and emphatic mode of announcement and reiteration gave them more power. He used no notes; discourse and illustration were wholly based upon scripture, which he had at tongue’s end from Genesis to Revelation. Wrongdoers in his own congregation found little mercy. When, after keen, incisive glance, he announced for text-” How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? “-those who had attended dance or merry-making during the week knew very well what was coming. Meeting one Monday a young lawyer of his congregation, he remarked that he had missed him from his place in church the preceding afternoon. “Yes,” said the young man,
I was invited to attend the dedication of an Universalist hall up north; had a great time there-a band of music from Southbridge, a Universalist minister offered prayer, and I preached the sermon.” ” No doubt the Devil was very much pleased with the whole performance,” was the instant reply.
Softening with advancing years, Mr. Dow relaxed from earlier denominational exclusiveness, and enjoyed much pleasant fraternal intercourse with Baptist and Methodist ministers. His long experience and intimate acquaintance with family histories made him exceedingly effective and impressive upon funeral occasions, which he regarded as special means of grace. He delighted to preach upon the fulfillment of prophesy and the restoration of the Jews, but opposed the Millerite delusion so effectually in a series of sermons that not one of his congregation embraced this belief. In 1840 a doctor’s degree was conferred upon him by Williams College. In April,, 1836, he preached an appropriate discourse upon the words, ” Forty years I have led you in the wilderness.” Ten years later people gathered from far and near to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his settlement and listen to most beautiful and touching reminiscences from the ever-beloved pastor. Original hymns by his son, J. E. Dow, of Washington, and Mrs. Anna S. Larned, added to the interest of the occasion. Doctor Dow continued to preach with unabated animation and power for more than three years, till suddenly stricken down from heart failure, on the eve of July 19th. 1849. after his return from officiating at a funeral. An immense, congregation attended his funeral the following Sabbath. The sermon was preached by his ministerial brother and friend, Reverend Roswell Whitmore, of Killingly. His aged widow survived till 1853. The first three pastorates of the Congregational church had thus covered a period of one hundred and nineteen years.
Deprived so suddenly of their lifetime leader, the church, like sheep without a shepherd, did not know which way to turn, but a chance word left by Doctor Dow led to the immediate choice of his successor, the first and only candidate, Reverend Andrew Dunning, of Brunswick, Maine; born July 11th, 1815; graduate of Bowdoin; ordained at Plainfield, Conn., May 24th, 1842; dismissed January 26th, 1847; installed over the Congregational church of Thompson’ May 15th, 1850; died in charge, like his predecessors, March 26th, 1872, an honored member of a remarkable ministerial succession. Lovely in person and character, eminently prudent, peace-loving, sound in judgment, able in discourse, the pastoral work of Mr. Dunning fully justified the spontaneous choice of his people. Although the withdrawal of population to the valleys was now telling heavily upon the hill churches, and many valued members were thus removed from Thompson, the church maintained a good record throughout Mr. Dunning’s ministry. In .1856 it took possession of a new and elegant house of worship, opposite the former house, Mr. William H. Mason bearing a large share of the cost of construction. Dedication services were observed with the usual enthusiasm, Mr. Dunning presiding with grace and dignity, and preaching an appropriate and impressive sermon. A suitable organ was soon after placed in the church, through the instrumentality of the ladies of the congregation.
Smitten with fatal disease while yet in the prime of manhood, and not attaining ” unto the days of the years of the life ” of his fathers in the ministry, Mr. Dunning was permitted in a very special manner ” to glorify God ” in the heroic fortitude with which he bore his sufferings, and in his dying testimony to the faith which had supported him. His long illness” was a perfect triumph of grace.” His funeral sermon was preached by one of his own spiritual children, Reverend Joseph P. Bixby. The inscription on the tablet in the Congregational church edifice delineates most truthfully the characteristics of this beloved minister: “Servant of the Lord . . . . gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient . . . . thoroughly furnished unto all good work.”
Four pastors in one hundred and forty-two years was Thompson’s excellent record in 1872. Five since that date show its ability to keep up with the times. Reverend Joseph Bodwell was installed as pastor December 16th, 1872; dismissed in the autumn of 1874. Reverend John A. Hanna was installed July, 1876; dismissed October, 1879. Reverend Aaron C. Adams served as acting pastor from December, 1879, to May, 1887. Reverend Marcus Ames entered upon service as acting pastor December 1st, 1887, but in three months was stricken down with illness and died during the year. Reverend George H. Cummings was ordained and installed May 24th, 1888. In these later pastorates the church has faithfully maintained its original pledge ” to adhere to a pious and able ministry,” each minister having his special excellences and devoted adherents. Since the resignation of Deacon Charles Brown, who served more than forty years, the office has been filled by Deacons Elijah Crosby, Charles Brown, Marcus F. Town, Josiah W. Dike-all descended from early members of the church. The present chorister, Mr. Andrew Mills, has been a member of the choir more than half a century. Messrs. James O. Mills, Charles Baldwin, B. F. Hutchins and Jerome F. Crosby have also served as choristers. It is a remarkable fact, illustrating the lamented dying out and emigration of native New England families, that of the twentyeight original members of the First Thompson church, only one, Henry Green, is represented by name on the present roll of membership. Two or three are still represented in the female line. Descendants of Samuel Converse, Israel Joslin and Ivory Upham are now numerous in different parts of the town.
The first Baptist church in Windham county was formed in Thompson parish in 1750. Jeremiah Barstow, of Sturbridge, appears as the first Baptist exhorter, suffering a month’s imprisonment in Windham jail for presuming to preach without permission from constituted authority. ” Gone to ye Baptists ” is the mournful record of good Mr. Cabot against the names of those who yielded to his enticements. Refusing to pay rates for the standing society, they were” strained upon” by collectors, and suffered various trials, until embodied as a ” Six Principle Baptist Church,” with Elder Wightman Jacobs for their pastor, and united in association with other churches in the vicinity. Its existence was, however, short and troubled, and it became extinct upon the removal of its pastor and leading members to Royalston, Vermont, in 1769. Finding themselves exposed anew to taxation for support of the standing order, and being fully in harmony with Baptist sentiments, a Baptist society was formed November 17th, 1772. some seventy-five subscribers expressing their regard for the Baptist constitution and way of worship, their willingness to be helpful in building a house for public worship and in settling a minister, according to their ability, “not believing that there ought to be any compulsion in such cases, or carnal sword used.” Mr. John Martin, of Rehoboth, was chosen to preach to them on trial, who preached through the winter in private houses in the vicinity of the present Brandy hill.
After pleasant meetings in June to tell of their experience of God’s grace in their souls, James Dike was appointed to write a petition, and Ebenezer Green to carry it to the mother church in Leicester, Mass., asking leave to embody as a distinct church. September 9th. 1773, these petitioners, viz., Widow Deborah Torrey, Mary Green, Elizabeth Atwell, Sarah White, Widow Deborah Davis, Lydia Hall, Hannah Jones, James Dike, Ebenezer Green, Jonathan Munyan, Levi White, Thaddeus Allen, John White, together with John Martin, John Atwell, John Pratt, James Coats and Levisa Martin “firstly gave ourselves to the Lord and to each other and signed a written covenant,” and thus became embodied. On the same day Mr. Martin was called to become the minister of the church, the society concurring without ” one vote to the contrary.” James Dike and Ebenezer Green were elected deacons. Ordination services were held November 3d, 1773, under a large apple tree near the Jacobs Tavern. Elder Ledoyt of Woodstock began the public service with prayer.- A sermon suitable to the occasion was preached from Phil. i. 18, by Elder Isaac Backus, Elder Green of Charlton gave the charge, Elder Winsor of Gloucester the right hand of fellowship-all conducted with decency and order. The deacons were formally ordained, December 9th, the church having previously decided that each had a gift of prayer and exhortation that ought to be improved for the benefit of the church, but that it ought to be “limited, viz., he ought not to rise up of his own head and open the meeting by prayer.” but wait the suggestion of the elder; likewise the gift of exhortation should not be indulged in unless “he could see any point that he could advance any further upon in agreement to what had been said,” and ” if the church in general should judge that he did not advance anything forward, or give some further light,” he should be gently reproved, but the third time he attempted and advanced nothing forward, he should be silenced. It is not surprising that upon reconsideration the church ” disannulled that vote concerning Dea. Dike’s and Dea. Green’s gifts, and ordered that vote to be crossed out, but willing they or any other brother should improve according to the ability that God shall give at proper times and seasons as the church shall judge.” A meeting house was built the following summer on land given by Benjamin Wilkinson, the large hearted proprietor of the old Red Tavern on Thompson hill, “in the fork of the roads where Oxford and Boston roads meet,” Ezekiel Smith, Ebenezer Starr and Jonathan Munyan, building committee. ” A vote was called whether we would allow this Baptist church the decisive vote in choosing her gifts to improve in the meeting house we are now about to build, and it was voted in the affirmative;” by which action the control of the house was given to the church. Many were added to its membership, and public worship was largely attended. In 1792 Pearson Crosby and Jonathan Converse were chosen deacons.
In 1796 Brother Solomon Wakefield had liberty ” to improve his gifts and hold meetings, when the door may open at any time or place, when he is free to do the same,” and the clerk gave them ” credentials to go forth to preach.” Some serious difficulties had then arisen in the church, due mainly to dissatisfaction with the pastor, whose mind was somewhat unsettled with advancing years. A part took sides with the minister. September 7th, 1797, a council was held, which resulted in division of the church, ” each individual, male and female, to have full liberty to join which party they choose.” Twenty-seven members thereupon withdrew and set up worship for themselves in an obscure corner, known as Oxford Gore, with Elder Martin for their minister, The majority remaining soon after united in choice of Pearson Crosby. Resigning himself wholly to the judgment of the brethren, a council was held November 7th, 1798, which unanimously mously voted, ” Satisfied with the work of grace on his heart, his call to the ministry and system of doctrine.” On the day following he was ordained and inducted into the ministry, ” all of which was attended to with a degree of becoming solemnity.” The faithful labors of the new minister were crowned with abundant success, and in a few years the membership-of the church had largely increased. Thomas Day was added to the number of deacons.
Though so prosperous in the main it was found difficult to provide a support for the minister. After laboring more than two years, it was voted to pay Elder Crosby forty dollars for his past services. A legacy from Deacon Ebenezer Green, and liberal subscriptions from others, enabled the society in 1801 to purchase a farm “to provide a place of residence for our teacher or minister near our meeting house,” which, with an annual salary of eighty dollars enabled him to provide comfortably for the wants of his large family. In 1803, a new meeting house was erected-Elder Crosby, Deacons Jonathan Converse and Thomas Day, Captain David Wilson, Joseph Dike. Abel Jacobs, building committee. A suitable site was purchased ” on the great turnpike read from Boston to Hartford.” May 19th, more than a hundred men assisted at the raising, “having dinner, supper and liquor enough provided,” and the work of building was pushed forward so efficiently that in August the Sturbridge Association of Baptist churches was held in the new house. Pews sold to ready purchasers helped defray the cost. The church continued to gain in numbers and its new meeting house was well filled with attentive hearers. It was very interesting on a Sabbath morning to see the people flocking thither by the old by-ways and ” across lots ” from all sections. Elder Crosby was a strong and eloquent preacher, particularly gifted on funeral occasions.
In 1805, a standing committee was instituted, consisting of the pastor, deacons and five brethren, to settle all matters of difficulty between members without the knowledge or action of the church, called out probably by the great number of trifling complaints lodged against church members in those days, but hardly consistent with the democratic character of Baptist principles and usages. In other respects the church showed itself remarkably conservative, particularly in ” A Rule for the Management of its Temporal concerns ” adopted in 1818, which provided ” that all delegated power in things of a temporal concern shall be vested in the deacons except in such things as the church shall think proper to add other brethren.” The minister’s salary was to be raised by an ” everedge ” upon each member, the deacons “to make out the Everage Bill,” lay it before the church for ratification, receive payment, warn and report delinquents, and if any should neglect to pay within a month of the time specified, church fellowship would be withheld till satisfaction was given-a method differing but little from the rate bill and ” carnal sword,” so repugnant to Baptists. So also with reference to women using their gifts of speaking in public, the church was severely censured for permitting a very able and fervent female preacher to occupy the pulpit in the absence of their pastor.
But in spiritual power the ” Old Baptist church ” exceeded. Between 1812 and 1815, a remarkable ” revival ” was experienced, bringing hundreds into the, churches. The work was particularly sweeping in the newly-formed ” Factory Villages ” of the valley, where for two or three years Satan had seemed to reign with almost sovereign and despotic sway. Vice and immorality were permitted to riot without control. The sound of the violin, attended with dancing, the sure prelude to greater scenes of revelry for the night.” Here Elder Crosby reports-” Convictions of the most pungent and powerful character. Some wrought upon in the most sudden manner-one moment swearing, cursing and ridiculing religion; the next, calling upon God to save their souls. In less than a week instead of the violin, the songs of Zion and preaching and conference every evening.” Eighteen baptismal seasons, all characterized by the greatest solemnity, were observed by Elder Crosby during this powerful revival. On a bitter cold day, January, 1813, he enjoyed ” the glorious sight ” of beholding thirteen young people in the very bloom of life following their dear Lord into the cold stream of Jordan, people traveling through the snow and cold eighteen miles to witness this impressive scene. Young people who went about town in ox sleds that tempestuous winter breaking out roads that they might attend these precious meetings, never forgot the joyful enthusiasm of the time. 11 lany were brought in who became most valuable members of the churches and preachers of the truth. Benjamin M. Hill, afterward secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, was licensed by this church in 1815; Lewis Seamans a few years later. John B. Ballard, one of the subjects of this revival, was afterward very active in ministerial and mission work. Stephen Crosby was ordained deacon in 1815. Three hundred and fifty-four were added to the church in the twenty years of Elder Crosby’s ministry. In 1819 he followed his children to Fredonia, N. Y.
His immediate successor was Elder John Nichols, of West Thompson, received into the fellowship of the Baptist church and installed as its pastor May 19th, 1819, an eloquent and powerful preacher. Arthur A. Ross, a licentiate of the church, was associated with him, and served as sole pastor for a short period. In 1823 Elder James Grow, an experienced minister, already well known to the church, became its pastor. A man of deep spiritual experience and fervent piety, his labors were greatly blessed, one hundred and forty-five being added to the church during his ten years’ ministry. Reverend Bela Hicks was called as his successor in 1834. At about this date the growing prosperity of Thompson Hill village and the number of influential Baptists living there led to a separation in the church, a number of its members, with their pastor, Elder Hicks, removing their worship to anew meeting house built by them in the village.
Elder Grow resumed charge of the branch in the former meeting house and served acceptably till laid aside by increasing infirmities. Till his death in 1859, he held a warm place in the hearts of many, and his trembling voice was often raised in prayer and affectionate exhortation. Four hundred and seventysix were baptized by him. With a small salary he gave with a willing mind, and sent Doctor Judson in the early days of foreign missions fifty dollars with his own hand, which Doctor Judson answered in a letter, which brought more than twenty thousand dollars to the Burman mission. Elder James Smither, an earnest preacher, succeeded Elder Grow for two years, and was followed by Elder Nicholas Branch, a man of strong character and a vigorous and original preacher. An attempt was now made to unite in worship with the church at the Center, Elder Branch taking for his text the Sunday before leaving the old meeting house, “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough.”
But the words were not prophetic. Older people could not feel at home under new conditions, and returned in a few months to their old church home, and having still their ministerial farm, proceeded to build a new ‘house of worship and make arrangements for permanent abiding. After careful thought and mutual conference, an harmonious separation was effected April 8th, 1846, each brother and sister present of the two churches signifying their assent to the subjoined resolutions: ” Resolved, that the Baptist . church in Thompson be, and the same hereby is divided, and hereafter constitutes two distinct bodies, the one body to be known as the East Thompson Baptist church, and the other as the Central Baptist church of Thompson. Be it further resolved, that each individual present answer for himself or herself as to which body they wish to be connected with also, so far as they feel authorized to, answer for their friends.”
The Eastern church, with its new meeting house and ample field of labor, has since enjoyed a comfortable existence under the guidance of successive faithful ministers, viz.: Elders I. C. Carpenter, L. W. Wheeler, J. B. Guild. Nicholas Branch, P. Matthewson, D. S. Hawley, W. A. Worthington, N. J. Pinkham. The one hundredth anniversary of the church was celebrated very delightfully by both churches, at the East Thompson meeting house, September 9th, 1873, when a very interesting history of the church was given by its pastor, Reverend N. J. Pinkham. Addresses were made by former pastors, Elders Carpenter and Matthewson, and by children of the church, residents in other towns; also by Mr. James Hill, the oldest member of the church; Captain John Green, a former member, and by ministers from other towns. A beautiful September day, a large and sympathetic audience, the number and variety of addresses, made it a day of rare interest and enjoyment. The present pastor, Reverend Samuel Thatcher, who has now labored some six years with the East Thompson church, has the happy gift of imparting his abounding energy to others, and the church enters upon its second century with cheering prospect of continued usefulness.
At the time of the migration to Thompson hill the Baptists in that vicinity boasted some very strong and influential men, such as Deacon Stephen Crosby and his son, Judge Talcott Crosby. Captain Vernon Stiles, Mr. Richmond Bullock. Under their oversight a comfortable house of worship was erected and opened for service in 1836. Elder Harvey Fittz succeeded Elder Hicks the following year. The congregation was large and influential, many sterling families from different parts of the town favoring removal to the village. A powerful revival soon followed, strengthening the membership of the church. During the succeeding pastorate of Reverend Silas Bailey, a distinguished and able minister, afterward president of Granville College and other institutions, the church continued to flourish and received large accessions. Jason Elliott and George Davis were ordained deacons in 1840.
Great interest was felt at this date in temperance reform, and many very interesting meetings were held in the Baptist church-the commanding presence and sound judgment of Elder Bailey giving him much influence in this and other public movements. Union temperance meetings were held throughout one winter in the vestry of the church, greatly enlightening public sentiment. The loss of Elder Bailey, when called to wider fields, was much lamented by all. His successor, Elder L. G. Leonard, a man of culture and ability, was less successful. Elder Charles Willett was called to the pastorate June 4th, 1845, and continued some years in charge, assisting very effectively in the harmonious settlement of the two branches in 1846. A council of recognition was held May 20th, at which time Elliott Joslin and Valentine Ballard were set apart as deacons, an office which they worthily filled many years. Emigration was now depleting the church; some influential families removed west, others became connected with the Baptist church of the present Putnam. Each pastor found the number of members decreasing. Elders Thomas Dowling, E. R. Warren and Moses Curtis succeeded Mr. Willett. During the pastorate of Reverend B. S. Morse, 18581861, the meeting house was thoroughly repaired. Mr. Morse did good service in compiling a history of the Baptist churches, delivered before his people, and published in the minutes of the Ashford Baptist Association. Elder E. P. Borden supplied the pulpit for two years. Elders W. Munger, B. N. Sperry, Robert Bennett, William Randall are later pastors. For several years Baptists in Grosvenor Dale associated with this church, Messrs. Sperry, Bennett and Randall holding an afternoon service in the chapel of that village, and having pastoral charge of those attending the service; but from the removal of Mr. Briggs and other causes it was discontinued. The present pastor, Reverend S. A. Ives, entered upon service in April, 1888. Deacons Valentine Ballard and Hiram Arnold serve as senior deacons. Charles Arnold and John D. Converse have been recently installed in service. The church edifice has been thoroughly repaired and refitted, absent ones of the church assisting in this work.
Methodists appeared in Thompson at an early date, zealous itinerants preaching in various localities, wherever they could find a hearing. Avoiding the hilltops so long pre-empted by the ” Standing Order,” they found a willing constituency in the neglected valleys, where population had slowly gathered about the mill sites. The first Methodist preachers remembered are John Allen and Jesse Lee, who gained a few followers. In 1793 a class of six members was formed in West Thompson, with Noah Perrin of Pomfret, for a leader. Joseph Buck, Shubael Cady and Jonathan Allen were prominent among these early Methodists. The Nichols family was a notable accession to their ranks. Captain Jonathan Nichols, the bridge builder and ship architect, became a Methodist, opening his house for the reception of the New England Conference in 1796. This was the sixth Methodist conference of New England, the only one ever held in Windham county. Bishop Asbury, Joshua Hall and many distinguished Methodist preachers were present, and the services were marked by the most thrilling interest. Soon a Methodist house of worship was built west of the Quinebaug, under the direction of Captain Nichols, and religious services statedly observed. John Gore, Dyer Branch, Joshua Crowell, Elisha Streeter, Thomas Perry, were early preachers in this house, drawing many hearers from the west part of the town and adjoining sections of Pomfret and Woodstock. In time the rough house became too small for the congregation and was bisected and enlarged.
In the revival season of 1812-1815, many were added to the church, and an earnest brother, Shubael Cady, gathered the children into a class for instruction-one of the first reported Sunday schools in the country.
The Thompson church became so powerful that its name was given to the circuit. It continued to increase and flourish under the care of zealous leaders and elders till, in 1840, a handsome church edifice was erected in West Thompson village. Judge Jonathan Nichols and his kinsmen, Messrs. Faxon and George Nichols, were very active and efficient in forwarding the Methodist interests throughout the town. So also was Reverend Hezekiah Ramsdell, who made his home in West Thompson while preaching in various fields with much eloquence and acceptance.
Thompson and Eastford were now, united in a circuit embracing a membership of seven hundred. So large was the field that a division was thought needful, and new societies formed in Fisherville and East Thompson. Soon after this division the mother society was further weakened by the establishment of worship in what is now Putnam, by which many valuable members were removed. The West Thompson Methodist church has, in spite of these losses, maintained a good standing, furnishing an acceptable church home for many substantial families, and also for aged ministers and their families. The venerable Fathers Warren Emerson and John Case spent their last years with this people. Among its many faithful ministers may be numbered: Elders George May, William and Richard Livesly, Edward A. Stanley, Charles Morse, Phelps and Stearns.
A Methodist house of worship was erected in Fisherville in 1842, and a good congregation gathered. One of its first ministers was the honored Father Daniel Dorchester, whose son, Daniel, now so widely known in the denomination, preached at the same time in East Thompson. This society was greatly benefited through the thoughtfulness of Mr. Joseph Green, by which the debt upon the meeting house was cleared and money left for a permanent fund. Captain George Nichols was one of the early benefactors and constant friends of this society. Situated in a thriving village, with a country around it unoccupied by other churches, this Methodist church has filled an important position and been productive of much good. Its well kept burying ground and continued improvements in the house of worship manifest much enlightened public spirit. The present pastor, Reverend George A. Morse, is completing his third year of service.
The East Thompson Methodist society, organized in a part of the town previously left out in the cold, had a hard struggle for existence in its early years. But the very difficulties in the way made its preservation more important. With the opening of the New York and New England railroad, and its junction at East Thompson with the Southbridge Branch, population increased and the church felt a new impetus. For many years it has been a strong and active body, and enjoyed a succession of faithful and efficient pastors. Its Sabbath school has been kept up with much interest, its prayer meetings are lively and well attended, and the church and children’s festivals are observed with unusual spirit.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889