The church on Woodstock hill remained without a stated pastor some three years after the deposition of Reverend Abel Stiles, when it harmoniously united with the society in extending a call to Mr. Abiel Leonard, of Plymouth. Faithful to the Old Dominion and Cambridge Platform, eleven Massachusetts churches were invited to carry forward the ordaining exercises, June 23d, 1763, and over ten pounds expended in ” liquors, sugar and lemons.” The eloquence and affability of the young minister soon won the hearts of the congregation, and old grievances were gradually overlooked and forgotten. In 1766 the rupture was so far healed that mutual concessions were interchanged between the two churches and amicable relations permanently established. Those honored brethren, Jedidiah Morse and William Skinner, were now elected deacons; a vote was passed, “That a chapter in the Bible should be read publicly every Lord’s day if agreeable to the congregation, and three forward seats in the front gallery sequestered for the use of the singers.” Those women, both elder and younger, that were favored with agreeable voices were desired by the society to occupy the reserved seats on the women’s side. Repairs were made in the meeting house, and everything indicated renewed harmony and prosperity. Old men in later years looked back to this era as the Golden Age ” of Woodstock, when the renovated house was filled with joyful worshippers, and the pastor, with his two deacons, ” the largest and finest looking men in the parish,” sat together at the communion table.
War with its absolute demands turned all this joy into mourning. The beloved pastor was called away and many of the congregation. Mr. Leonard served most efficiently as chaplain of Putnam’s regiment, preaching with great acceptance on several important occasions. An autograph letter from Washington and Putnam “to the church and congregation at Woodstock,” requesting that his term of service might be extended, is held as a sacred relic. The church, unable to vote consent, ” in silence manifested its resignation.” His mournful end overwhelmed his people with sorrow. Overstaying a furlough, according to tradition, on account of dangerous illness in his household, he was met on his way back to camp by a rumor of disgrace and dismissal, and in a moment of weakness took his life with his own hand. His widow and family remained in Woodstock.
After two years interim, Eliphalet Lyman, of Lebanon, was ordained as pastor, September 2d, 1779, having first given satisfaction as to his doctrinal standing. He was an able and sound preacher, and held a leading position among the clergy of his generation. In the early part of his ministry he was involved in an unpleasant controversy with Hon. Zephaniah Swift, of Windham, in consequence of his attitude toward Oliver Dodge, Pomfret’s reprobate minister. The refusal of Mr. Lyman to allow Dodge the use of his pulpit called out a most vituperous castigation from the irate judge, and he was also subjected to a legal trial and damages for intrusion upon his own meeting house. The affair occasioned much excitement and ill feeling, and was widely ventilated in current newspapers. This incident may have stiffened the orthodoxy of Mr. Lyman and his church, which in 1815 joined the Windham County Consociation, and thus identified itself with Connecticut churches, after a century of spirited opposition.
In 1821 the First society entered upon the work of building a new meeting house; Captain William Lyon, General David Holmes and William K. Green, committee; Rhodes Arnold and James Lyon were commissioned to take down the old house in a prudent manner; Jedidiah Kimball, to procure subscriptions to defray expenses of building. Four long days in June were spent in gratuitous labor upon the foundation. At seven in the morning, August 22d, 1821, the work of raising the new frame was initiated by prayer from Mr. Lyman. Free dinners and supper. and spirit at eighty-nine cents a gallon, helped incite a large attendance, so that by noon the second day the frame was successfully erected, when, “in view of the goodness of God in preserving the lives and limbs of all those who were engaged in this perilous business,” the meeting was closed by a second prayer from Mr. Lyman and a thanksgiving anthem. Though so auspiciously begun, the work was carried on with difficulty, but by July 11th, 1822, this was so far surmounted that the house was publicly dedicated. The veteran chorister, Mr. Flynn, was requested ” to select such tunes as – he may think proper, and with the rest of the singers learn and sing them on the day of dedication.” James Lyon, Doctor Daniel Lyman, John McClellan, Esq., Spalding Barstow and Rhodes Arnold had charge of seating the large congregation. The sermon was preached by the venerable pastor. The bell had been recast by Major George Holbrook, a communion table given by Mr. Jedidiah Kimball, and the ladies of the congregation had tastefully assisted in dressing the pulpit. Two years later Mr. Lyman was dismissed from his charge at his own request.
His successor, Ralph S. Crampton, ordained May 22d, 1827, remained but little over two years, the anti-Masonic agitation hastening his departure. The vote not to receive into the church any person who was a member of the Masonic institution, was afterward rescinded. The pastorate of Reverend William M. Cornell continued three years. Reverend Otis Rockwood, installed November 20th; 1834, remained nine years. He was much interested in temperance and kindred reforms, and in 1842 received forty persons into the membership of the church. Reverend Jonathan Curtis was installed February 18th, 1846, and labored faithfully till smitten with paralysis. He was dismissed by the same council which ordained his successor, Henry M. Colton, November 18th, 1852, who after a three years’ pastorate – was dismissed at his own request. Reverend Lemuel Grosvenor, of Pomfret, next served as acting pastor for five years, and on Thanksgiving day, 1859, gave an interesting historical sketch of church and society. Reverends James L. Corning, J. A. Wilkins, J. W. Allen, J. W. Lyon, followed in quick succession. In 1868 Reverend Nathaniel Beach was received as acting pastor, and remained ten years in charge, greatly respected and beloved in church and county. The succeeding six years’ service of Reverend F. M. E. Bachelor was also acceptable and profitable.
With such experience the church willingly returned to its primitive mode of settlement, inviting Reverend E. B. Bingham to become its pastor, and after more than thirty years lapse enjoyed the privilege of installation. Very interesting services were held, April 14th, 188 5. The sermon was given by a descendant of several old Woodstock families-Doctor George L. Walker, Hartford-and former beloved pastors participated in the services. A united, strong, aggressive church is reported as the happy result of this five years’ pastorate. Spiritual and material prosperity are alike quickened. Young people join with much heartiness in wide-awake “Christian endeavor” and missionary societies.
The church edifice of 1821 has been made over and beautified. So complete a transformation has rarely been accomplished. The plain, old-fashioned meeting house, with its double row of square windows, high galleries, rectangular pews and awkward pulpit, is replaced by an aesthetic auditorium, elaborated in every detail with the best skill of modern art and taste. Eleven stained glass windows, of exquisite design and coloring, add greatly to its effectiveness and beauty, in soothing contrast with the glare of other days. Beautiful in themselves, these memorial windows transmit to succeeding generations the memory of departed worth. A window contributed by Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes, Hon. E. H. Bugbee, and others, bears a portrait of the first white man connected with the history of Woodstock-the pioneer Indian missionary, John Eliot. One of the leading spirits in the first settlement, Lieutenant Edward Morris, is most fitly commemorated in the window given by his descendant, J. F. Morris, of Hartford. A third perpetuates the memory of the gifted and eloquent chaplain, Abiel Leonard, so beloved by his people, so prized by Washington and Putnam. Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Beach, a heroine of to-day, is another window. The daughter of an honored Woodstock pastor, a successful teacher in Woodstock Academy, appreciative pupils have thus shown their reverence for her high character and valued missionary service. The remaining memorial windows were given by Messrs. Edward E. and Henry C. Bowen, and by representatives of the well-known families of Bugbee, Carrol, Lyon, Mathewson and McClellan. The renovated church edifice was re-dedicated February 17th, 1889, with sermon by Mr. Bingham and prayer by Mr. Beach. Music from the new organ added to the interest of the occasion. The church on Woodstock hill, near the close of its second century, enters upon a new period of prosperity and usefulness.
The Second church, gathered in New Roxbury, pursued its way quietly after the settlement of Mr. Williams. Comprising at first residents throughout the parish, its numbers were reduced by the development of Baptist principles and interests; yet the number of children baptized was very large. Mr. Williams was an able preacher and ranked well among the ministry of the day. He was also a successful teacher, receiving many young men into his family for instruction. His own sons, Stephen and Timothy, were fitted for college, together with John McClellan and other Woodstock youths. Diaries kept by Messrs. Stephen and Timothy Williams give a vivid picture of colonial and college life. The Williams homestead, with its inmates, comes freshly before us. We see the busy pastor studying, writing, visiting the sick, attending numerous funerals, catechizing the children in various schools, and entertaining the increasing flow of company with patriarchal hospitality. The young men study and read, help about farm work, install the great logs upon the hearthstone, and bring reports from the busy world about them. With them we participate in installation and training days, funerals and frolics, school exhibition and college commencement, and gather all the news and gossip of neighborhood and towns adjoining. How vital the question of the new mode of singing, just introduced into West Woodstock church ! Our young men favor regular singing and set tunes, and record with reprehension the conduct of those church fathers who stalk out of the meeting house when “Virginia” is sung, or other obnoxious tunes attempted. In 1782 it was voted ” That the singing be carried on by reading the portion line by line till the last singing of the afternoon, and then a whole verse to be read at a time.” Six choristers were appointed to lead in this exercise. This proving unsatisfactory, ” that they may all rest easy,” after large debate it was decided ” That the deacon read the portion line by line in the forenoon, and in the afternoon a verse at a time, except the double-verse tunes, and them to be sung through without reading.”
The meeting house soon after this date was thoroughly repaired, fitted up with pews, and painted in fashionable stone color, the roof a Spanish brown. Mr. Williams remained in charge till advanced age, sustaining through life a very amiable and worthy character. His son Stephen was cordially invited to the vacant pastorate, but thought best to decline. The place was filled by another resident of the parish, Alvan Underwood, a graduate of Brown University, ordained and installed May 27th, 1801. John Fox, Elias Child, 2d, and Philip Howard served as society committee; John Austin, Parker Morse and John Paine as special committee, ” to attend on and see to seating people, and to keeping order and regularity in the assembly of spectators.” The pastorate thus inaugurated was peaceful and prosperous. Mr. Underwood was of an especially genial and sympathetic nature, beloved by old and young. The church singing was carried on successfully and harmoniously, Mr. Jathniel Perrin, a famous singing master, taking the place of the former six choristers. The new bass-viol introduced during this period was cared for and kept in order by Benjamin Lyon, 3d, Abiel Fox and Abraham Paine.
In 1821 a new meeting house was completed. Darius Barlow, John Fox, Abram W. Paine, Elias Child, 2d, Benjamin Lyon, 2d, successfully circulated subscriptions for necessary funds. A year’s salary for that purpose was relinquished by Mr. Underwood. Ebenezer Skinner, Benjamin E. Palmer and William Lyon were deputized ” to stick the corner stakes for the foundation,” and within two years the work was accomplished. Several revivals were enjoyed and valued accessions made to the church during Mr. Underwood’s ministry, and its first Sabbath school was successfully established. Thomas Child, Edmund Chamberlain, Ebenezer Corbin, Timothy Perrin, Shubael Child, Gideon Shaw, Henry Bowen, Stephen Johnson, Albe Abbot, Jacob Lyon. Alexander Dorrance and Laban Underwood had then served the church in the office of deacon. March 30th, 1833, Mr. Underwood was dismissed from his office, and engaged mainly in evangelistic labor, returning to West Woodstock in the closing years of his life.
John D. Baldwin in 1834 entered upon three years service. During his ministry a new confession of faith and church covenant were prepared and adopted, and pains taken to collect and preserve the church records. Reverend Benjamin Ober was installed pastor December 4th, 1839. The revival of 1841-2 brought thirty-eight per-sons into the church. Ill health soon compelled Mr. Ober to resign his office. Reverend E. F. Brooks served from 1846 to 1849. Reverend Joseph W. Sessions was installed March 27th, 1854, and continued ten years in service. About seventy were added to the church during the great revival season of 1857-58, adding much to its strength and vitality. Equally fruitful was the ministry of his successor, Reverend Henry F. Hyde, whose praise is still vocal in other Windham county churches. During his three years’ ministry in West Woodstock the Sabbath school was much increased and many families added to the congregation.
Other faithful ministers have followed as stated supplies, the latest but the present, Reverend John P. Trowbridge, preparing an interesting historical discourse, delivered in his own church September 29th, 1886, in commemoration of the two hundredth anniversary of the settlement of the town. Reverend John Avery, one of the former pastors of the church, assisted in the service. Ancient hymns were sung under the leadership of Mr. Luther Fox, and many aged members of the church enjoyed the privileges of the occasion. Though from unfavorable circumstances, the church in West Woodstock has lapsed from its early prominence and standing, it has sent out into the world many faithful men and women, and fulfilled in good measure the designs and hopes of its founders.
A Baptist church was organized in New Roxbury parish in 1766. A Baptist element had previously existed, and a Six Principle Baptist church had been formed and disbanded. Fresh interest in Baptist principles was aroused by the preaching of Reverend Noah Alden, a popular Baptist minister, which led to the conversion of young Biel Ledoyt, a former leader in merrymaking and frolic. Young friends attempting to ridicule and argue with him were themselves convicted and converted, and many young people became subjects of a powerful work of grace. ” Parents were amazed to see their giddy children distressed for their souls.” Frolic and dance were given up, the Bible and good books read eagerly, meetings for prayer and exhortation greatly frequented. The standing church of West Woodstock, always noted for formality and somewhat rigid orthodoxy, looked with some suspicion upon these irregular and enthusiastic demonstrations. A church fast was proclaimed, and several sound divines invited to advise in this emergency, who, with marvelous lack of wisdom, ” fell to reading about false spirits, and Satan transforming himself into an angel of light,” insinuating that the late powerful work was a delusion, and ” the first instruments of their awakening ” the deceivers which should come in at the last time.
No wonder that these young converts turned to the church which offered them comfort and liberty, and separating from the church of their fathers, agreed to meet together as a society, improving the gifts which God had given them. At the first favorable opportunity a number were baptized by immersion, and in February, 1766, a church of sixteen members was constituted. under the guidance of three ordained Baptist members. Increasing rapidly in numbers, May 26th, 1768, Biel Ledoyt was ordained as its pastor.
As the First Baptist church in a large section of country it held a commanding position, and was early connected with the Warren Association, of Rhode Island. Opposition from the standing church increased its influence and popularity with the masses. While a majority of the West Woodstock church was disposed to admit the claims of this Baptist church and release its members from taxation, a minority stoutly denied the validity of their organization, and protested against ” freeing the Anabaptist people in this society from paying minister’s rates amongst us.” After much discussion and wrangling the matter was referred to the wise judgment of Jonathan Trumbull, who showed with much clearness, “that the Baptist churches in this Colony are no otherwise known in law than that church of Baptists in your society is, that those people having formed themselves into a Baptist church and society . . . are excused from paying any part in your society tax for the support of your minister.”
This matter settled, the church continued to gain in numbers. A rough meeting house was soon built and well filled with hearers. With some peculiarities of character and expression, Elder Ledoyt was an able preacher. Timothy Williams attending a chance service in 1788, reports, a thronged assembly; First prayer, seven or eight minutes; sermon, Eph. III: 8, one hour in length; last prayer, ten minutes.” Serious difficulties soon after ensued, scattering the large congregation and dividing the church. Various councils failing to heal the breach, Elder Ledoyt withdrew to Newport, INT. H., “leaving his flock in a very broken and divided condition.” Members were added through the labors of Samuel Webster, a colored evangelist. January 19th, 1799, Brother Robert Stanton was ordained as pastor over the First Baptist church in Woodstock. “as long as they are profitable to each other.” During his ministry some fifty were added to the church, and a new church edifice constructed.
Difficulties marring the profitableness of Mr. Stanton’s ministry, he was succeeded by Elder Ledoyt in 1806, who found a door opened by God’s Providence, – whereby he must return and labor with the church of his youth.” Malignant disease ended life and faithful service, March 24th. 1813. He was succeeded by Elder Nicholas Branch, long known -and honored in the ministry, but then a youth just entering ministerial service. Peace, love, union and prosperity ” were enjoyed during his six years’ ministry. In succeeding brief pastorates a remarkable revival was experienced, adding sixty to the church. Uniting in the Ashford Association, formed in 1825, it reported 110 members, 45 baptisms during the year. The faithful labors of Elder George B. Atwell extended over nine years, and were greatly blessed to the growth and spirituality of the church. His successors, Elders Nathan D. Benedict and Bela Hicks, were faithful and successful pastors.
The great revival season of 1841-42, brought the membership of the church to nearly two hundred. Reverends Isaac Woodbury, Henry Bromley, Edward Brown, Thomas Holman and John Paine officiated as pastors in varying terms of service. Reverend Leavitt Wakeman served from 1855 to 1858, when Elder Branch again assumed the charge. Reverend W. A. Worthington followed in 1561, and was succeeded in 1865 by Reverend J. Torrey Smith. The hundredth anniversary of the organization of the church was observed in November, 1866, when a valuable historic discourse was delivered by the pastor. Former pastors assisted in the service in person or by appropriate letters. In 1869 the meeting house was thoroughly repaired and renovated, the sisters of the church giving much effective aid. Reverend Sylvester Barrows served as pastor from 1869 to 1874. Anew parsonage was built by the society during his pastorate. Reverend Samuel J. Bronson became pastor in 1875, and died in charge in 1879. His successor, Reverend William H. Smith, remained in service six years.
Loss of population has told heavily upon this as on other churches in West Woodstock, so that its present membership is much reduced. Four of its members have been licensed to go forth as preachers, viz., Miner G. Clark, John B. Guild, Hugh Dempsey, Percival Mathewson. A beloved sister of the church, Calista Holman, the wife of Reverend Justus H. Vinton, has accomplished most valued missionary work among the Karens.
Her son, Justus B. Vinton, while laboring in the same distant field, maintained his connection with the West Woodstock Baptist church. Many other members have gone out to help build up and strengthen other churches throughout our own country. The list of deacons serving the church comprises many honored names, viz., Nehemiah Underwood, John Morse, David Bolles, Samuel Crawford, Sr., Aaron Gage, Penuel Corbin, Sr. and Jr., Luther Tucker, Charles Mathewson, Samuel Crawford, Jr., Halsey Leonard, Joseph E. Dean, Shubael Day, Francis L. Corbin.
Woodstock’s Second Baptist church was gathered at what was known as Quasset, June 29th, 1792. The council was held at the spacious old Bolles House, occupied by Jesse Bolles, tanner and shoemaker, a prominent Baptist. Thirty-five members united in fellowship. Amos Wells of Stonington, was ordained pastor August 9th the same year. Jesse Bolles and Robert Baxter were chosen deacons. A convenient house of worship was soon erected on land given by Deacon Bolles. The Stonington Association met with this church in 1795, and found a membership of 76. Deacons Baxter and Bolles, Brothers James, Jeremiah and Childs Wheaton, Charles Chandler, Robert Aplin, Artemas Bruce and Thomas Bugbee, were chosen a committee to aid in settling difficulties between the members in 1802. William H. Manning was chosen deacon upon the removal of Deacon Bolles; Childs Wheaton succeeded Deacon Baxter. Elder Wells was retained as pastor till 1811, a man of power and public influence, especially in relation to the ecclesiastic constitution of Connecticut. When, by vote of the town, Baptists and Methodists were allowed to preach to the freemen on election day, Elder Wells chose for his text Paul’s assertion, ” But I was free born,” and his stirring sermon was published and widely circulated.
His successor, Reverend George Angell, was a man of lovely Christian spirit. James Wheaton, Thomas Bugbee, William Manning, John Sanger are names honored in the history of this Woodstock Second Baptist church. Deacon Sanger received liberty to preach as he had opportunity, and his fervent exhortations are still remembered. The prevalence of Millerite sentiments greatly reduced the membership of the church, but its prosperity returned with its removal to South Woodstock, where a new church edifice was erected in 1844, upon land granted by the town. The venerable John Paine then served as pastor. Many other faithful men have served in its ministry. Elder John Paine, honored in many Baptist churches, officiated at the time of the removal to South Woodstock. The late Reverend Percival Mathewson, born and reared in Woodstock, spent his closing years with this church.
The church of East Woodstock, or Muddy Brook, as it was formerly called, assumed local habitation in that precinct early in 1760, taking with it minister, records, church utensils, indicative of previous existence. There is no evidence of any reorganization at that date. An established church or body of believers simply changed its place of worship. An ecclesiastic society, known as the Third or North parish of Woodstock, was organized October 30th, 1760, Nathaniel Child, Nehemiah Lyon, Caleb May, committee. It was voted,- November 24th, ” To build a meeting house of the same bigness as that admired edifice in the first society.” The choice of site occasioned some delay, during which interval the church held services in the dwelling house of Benjamin Child, Jr., still standing near the residence of Mr. N. E. Morse. Successive committees agreed in fixing the meeting house spot on land given by Nathaniel Child, east of the brook, but there were those who preferred a more westward site, and transmitted their preference to their descendants. Nathaniel Child, Esq., Lieutenant Ephraim Child, Ensign Stephen May, Stephen Lyon, Ezra May, served as building committee.
The house was so far completed as to be ready for occupation August 8th, 1762. Pew spots were granted to Reverend Abel Stiles, Madam Urania Lyon (widow of Captain Jabez Lyon, a prominent resident then recently deceased), Stephen Lyon, Deacon Daniel Lyon, Nathaniel Child, Esq., Captain Nehemiah Lyon, Benjamin Wilkinson, Henry Child, Elisha Child, Deacon John May, Caleb May, Thomas May, Ephraim Child, Job Revere, Stephen May, Joshua May, Samuel Chandler, Benjamin Child, Jr., Josiah Sumner, Samuel Corbin, Jesse Carpenter, Alexander Brown, Moses Marcy and Seth Chandler. Four pews in the rear were added afterward. The house was large and abundantly lighted, and seated a large congregation.
Mr. Stiles completed a new dwelling house nearly opposite in 1763, and enjoyed a peaceful anchorage after his many trials. Substantial residents in adjacent parts of New Roxbury and Thompson parishes were annexed to the society. Land for a burial ground was purchased of Elisha Child, and Nathaniel Child was chosen to care for the meeting house and dig the graves.
Singing received immediate attention, Nathaniel Child and Caleb May being selected “to tune the Psalms of this society.” Joseph Manning and Increase Child were soon called to render assistance in that office. In 1774 Asa Child, Samuel Corbin, Jr., and Chester Child were requested to assist in tuning the psalm. As early as 1780 money was paid for “instruction in singing,” probably to jedidiah Morse, Jr., a proficient in that line. Opposition to new tunes was manifested, as in West Woodstock, by the withdrawal of offended hearers, Deacon Nehemiah Lyon marching gravely out when St. Martyn’s was sung.
Mr. Stiles remained in charge till 1783, though in great bodily infirmity,” his soul wading in clouds and temptations.” Impressive funeral services are reported in the diary of Stephen Williams: ” A crowded assembly of above a thousand persons, the remains of Rev. Abel Stiles being placed in the broad alley, Mr. Gleason made first prayer; Dadda preached (Rev. Stephen Williams); Mr. Ripley in behalf of the mourners made a short but comprehensive and pertinent speech at the grave after Mr. Russel had closed with prayer.” Reverend Joshua Johnson, previously ordained as colleague, continued in charge till 1790. Mr. Stephen Williams, as delegate, reports the ordination of his successor, Reverend William Graves, August 31st, 1791. After preliminary grog drinking at Nehemiah Child’s, “the council marched into the meeting house followed by the multitude, a thousand of whom filled the house, and perhaps five hundred without. Rev. Josiah Whitney as scribe read the doings of council. Woodstock was sung before the prayer, then Montague. Joseph Lyman gave a solid old divinity sermon from John 21, 17, forty-five minutes; addressed only pastor elect and society. Mr. Whitney with imposition of hands made ordaining prayer, ten minutes. Rev. Stephen Williams gave the charge, eight minutes, Eliphalet Lyman with considerable pathos the right hand of fellowship. Rev. Mr. Graves read psalm, well sung-Lisbon-and dismissed people a little after one; attention and decent solemnity remarkable; no opposition appears though a number profess neutrality. By Mr. Graves’ request drank punch, cherry, and wine, and dined well with the council at Mr. Thomas May’s, who entertains gratis. Rode with Mr. Mosely of Sturbridge or Hampton, theologue, towards night, to Bowen’s, and spent the evening in festivity with ladies and gentlemen from Woodstock, Pomfret, Brooklyn, Thompson, Sturbridge; cost 5/4. Saw most of them away, but the darkness prevented finding all the horses called next day on Mr. Graves; drank wine and had a water-melon feast.”
This festive ordination inaugurated a very serious and profitable pastorate. Mr. Graves was an earnest and devoted Christian laborer, greatly esteemed by his own people and brethren in the ministry. A fund had now been raised for the maintenance of public worship, and those who did not approve of the legal minister’s rates were released upon easy terms. Collections were taken for the Connecticut Missionary Society, and four months absence was granted Mr. Graves to go on a mission among the new settlements. Church music was aided by a grand bass-viol, manipulated by Pearley Lyon and Chester May, and the singing school kept by William Flynn for one dollar per evening. Nehemiah Child had succeeded to the office of gravedigger. Alfred Walker, Amasa Lyon, Rensselaer Child, John Paine and Stephen Child were chosen in 1814 to act as superintendents of funerals.
Reverend Mr. Graves died in 1813, and was succeeded by Samuel Backus, of Canterbury, ordained January 19th, 1815. A very remarkable revival was soon experienced by the church, adding some two hundred within two years to its membership. Mr. Backus was pre-eminently a man of faith and prayer, and though moderate in discourse, made deep impression upon the heart. He organized a Bible class of seventy-five members, of whom fifty-nine came into the church at one communion. A very effective Sabbath school was begun in 1818. The deacons up to this date had been Caleb May, Nehemiah Lyon, Elisha Child, Charles Child, Aaron Lyon, Nathaniel Briggs. William Child was chosen in 1819; Luther Child in 1824. Additional funeral superintendents were Oliver Morse, Alduce Penniman, Ezra Child, William Child, Penuel May and John Fowler.
Contentions respecting the site of a projected meeting house troubled the closing years of Mr. Backus’ ministry, leading to the disruption of society and church, and the erection of two church edifices. A majority of the society favoring the house built at Village Corners, the eastward residents organized as a distinct society December 26th, 1831. Their meeting house was already in progress, John Paine, Judah and Pearley Lyon, committee. The site was given by Messrs. Nehemiah and William Child. William Child, Chester May, Charles Child, Jr., James Lamson, Oliver Morse, William and Abiel May, Caleb, Erastus and Stephen Child and Elias Mason, 2d, were added to the committee. April 25th, 1832, the house was formally dedicated, and Reverend Orson Cowles ordained as pastor. W. M. Cornell had supplied the pulpit in the interim after the dismission of Mr. Backus. During Mr. Cowles’ five years’ ministry remarkable revivals were enjoyed, bringing many converts into the depleted church. Mr. Boutelle’s ministry (1837-1849) was marked by a great advance in benevolent contributions. Reverends James A. Clark, Michael Burdette and J. A. Roberts served for short periods.
Next followed the pastorate of Reverend Edward H. Pratt, extending from 1855 to April, 1867, so abounding in all good influences. Faithful in every detail of duty, interested in everything relating to the well being of individual or community, the promotion of temperance principles and practice was the crowning interest of Mr. Pratt’s useful life. His influence, especially upon the young men of his own congregation and the children of the Sabbath school, was most vital and permanent, and has greatly strengthened the temperance standing of the town. Called to active service as the secretary of the Connecticut Temperance Union, his aid and counsel were ever given freely to town and church till his lamented death. Succeeding his ministry were the short terms of Reverends Francis Dyer, W. A. Benedict, C. A. Stone, W. H. Phipps and J. A. Hanna, extending to 1875, when the two North Woodstock parishes again united in service, each occupying its own church edifice part of the Sabbath.
The East Woodstock house has been thoroughly renovated and improved, and the singing, under Messrs. Harris May and William Child, maintains its ancient reputation. The deacon’s office since 1832 has been filled by Elisha C. Walker, T. B. Chandler, Asa Lyon, Halsey Bixby, George A. Paine, Monroe W. Ide, John Paine, Edwin R. Chamberlain. Willard Child, D. D., Albert Paine and Charles Walker, D. D., have gone out from it into the ministry. The son of Doctor Walker, George L. Walker, D. D., is the well known pastor of Centre church, Hartford, Conn.
The Northward wing of the East Woodstock church took possession of its new house of worship February 10th, 1831. Its first pastor was Reverend Foster Thayer, ordained and installed the following June. During his five years’ labor forty were added to the church. His successor, Reverend L. S. Hough, continued in charge four years. Reverends Willard Child and D. C. Frost officiated until the installation of William H. Marsh November 30th, 1844, who accomplished nearly seven years’ service. 0. D. Hine, D. M. Elwood and John White followed in quick succession. Reverend T. H. Brown, a young man of much promise, was removed by death after a pastorate of two years. Reverend J. W. Kingsbury, installed in 1869, dismissed in 1871, was the last pastor settled by the church. Reverend W. A. James, of Killingly, served as acting pastor for. four years, during which time the church edifice was destroyed by fire. Subscriptions were immediately circulated and a sufficient sum raised to repair the loss. Children of former members and generous friends helped in fitting up the new building, which was completed and dedicated in the fall of 1873. After the removal of Mr. James in 1875, the North and East churches united in support of a minister. Reverends C. N. Cate, T. M. Boss, John Parsons and C. W. Thompson, have served successively as pastors of the two societies. The present incumbent is Reverend F. H. Viets.
In its comparatively brief term of separate existence this church has had the good-fortune to send out honored ministers and missionaries. Three sons of Captain John Chandler, of North Woodstock, have accomplished valuable service. Reverend John E. Chandler was sent by the American Board as missionary to India in 1846, and still labors in Madura over an extensive field. His son, Reverend John S. Chandler, and his two daughters, Henrietta and Gertrude, have also devoted themselves to mission work in Madura. Reverend Joseph Chandler served in the war as delegate from the Christian Commission, and also in Home Mission work. The third brother, Reverend Augustus Chandler, debarred from missionary work in India by delicate health, labored usefully as evangelist and stated pastor.
Methodism was introduced in West Woodstock in 1795 by that active itinerant, Jesse Lee. A class was formed at an early day and a few Methodists joined in social worship, but no substantial footing was gained until the revivals of 1829-30, when through the preaching of Elders Lovejoy, Bidwell and Robbins, many converts were gathered in and added to the class. A Methodist house of worship was built in West Woodstock and stated services instituted. Ebenezer and Elisha Paine, Thomas Chandler, Charles Child, Benjamin Works, and a worthy band of Christian women, were active in this church. Connected successively with Dudley, Thompson and Eastford circuits, it enjoyed the ministrations of many faithful, zealous, self denying Methodist preachers-Elders Livesy, Ireson, Allen, Carter, Davis, Perrin, Pratt, names honored in wide circuits. In connection with the labors of Reverend Charles C. Barnes in 1841, an extensive revival prevailed, bringing in the whole neighborhood in the vicinity of the church. Reverend John Howson was sent by the conference in 1843 as the first stated preacher in the Methodist society, and aided much in confirming and strengthening the members. Two faithful ministers went out from the church at this date, Elders Charles Morse and Mellen Howard. Elder Morse afterward labored in adjoining towns and died a few years since greatly respected by all.
Methodist conference meetings were often held in East Woodstock village, especially in the house of Mrs. Stanley, a zealous Methodist sister, whose children were working in the factory. In 1828 a class of forty-five members was formed in the village-John Chaffee, leader; Elders H. Perry and G. Southerland, circuit preachers. Having no stated place of worship an earnest brother, Nathaniel Jones, built an addition to his house for this purpose, where many fervent meetings were enjoyed, under the guidance of some of the shining lights of Methodism. The hall of the new school house was afterward occupied by the Methodists for day-time Sabbath services. In 1847 East Woodstock was made a station, Benjamin M. Walker, preacher. Through the efficient agency of Elder Daniel Dorchester, preacher in 1851-52, the church edifice in West Woodstock was purchased, and removed to East Woodstock village. A comfortable house of worship and overflowing congregation was the happy result of his labors, greatly benefiting succeeding ministers. Elders J. D. King, Caleb S. Sandford, J. E. Heald, Culver, Boynton, S. A. Winsor, W. A. Simmons, Horace Moulton, Daniel Pratt, Mellen Howard, O. E. Thayer, L. D. Bentley, Pack, Case, Latham, Turkington, G. R. Bentley and A. H. Bennett have successively served in ministering to the East Woodstock Methodist church. One faithful minister, Reverend E. S. Stanley, has gone out from it to fulfill much useful service.
In 1854 Methodists in West Woodstock completed anew house of worship, stimulated by the presence and aid of Reverend Otis Perrin; Luther Arnold, Lewis and Jared Corbin, Elisha Paine, William Myers, Benjamin Chandler, and other residents assisting in the work. Miss Mary Myers went out to Africa, in 1885, to aid in the missionary enterprise inaugurated by Bishop William Taylor. Marrying on the voyage another consecrated worker, they entered upon the field with much hopefulness, only to meet the fate of so many missionaries in that deadly climate. A son of Mr. Myers followed his sister in the same work. The church in West Woodstock is mainly supplied by resident local preachers, Elders Perrin, Goodell and Pratt, with S. B. Chase, having had it in charge. Some forty-two families in the town are connected with these two Methodist societies.
Universalists appeared in Woodstock toward the close of the last century, uniting with the church of Oxford. These families, with their descendants, remained apart from the standing churches of the town, attending services in other localities. A Universalist society was organized in West Woodstock in 1839, Ebenezer Philips, clerk; Adolphus Alton, treasurer; Charles Wood, George Sumner, John G. Marcy, John Fox, 2d, John Weaver, committee. Reverend Zephaniah Baker was hired as preacher. In 1842 Sanford Marcy and Luther Fox were chosen choristers; L. M. Bradford, Pitt Sharpe, Sanford Bosworth, G. Sumner, A. Alton, building committee. A house of worship was completed the following year. F. M. Fox was chosen to take care of the house and seat the people. It -was voted to have the slips free. Reverend Holmes Slade was retained as preacher for a number of years. In 1859 thirty-three persons were enrolled members of this society. Zephaniah Baker, its first minister, returned to the charge in 1876. Weakened by deaths and removals, the society gradually lost ground, and its meetings were discontinued.
In 1874 an Advent Christian church was formed in West Woodstock, with fifty-six constituent members, and Reverend P. S. Butler as pastor. An Advent chapel was built in Woodstock Valley in 1579, and dedicated November 25th. A considerable number of persons, in different parts of the towns, have embraced Advent principles, and maintain religious services. An Advent chapel was also built in East Woodstock, in 1879, on land of Mr. Nathaniel Child. Reverends P. S. Butler and E. S. Bugbee have charge of these churches and services.
Religious services are conducted in behalf of the Swedes, in Agricultural Hall, and a Swedish church has been organized.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889Home » Windham County » History of Churches in Woodstock, Connecticut