History of Woodstock, Connecticut 1756-1800

Revolt from Massachusetts was soon followed by a protracted ecclesiastic conflict, resulting likewise in secession and separation. Both controversies sprung from the same germ-the inherent antagonism between the two colonies. Those citizens who favored Massachusetts government and ideas adhered faithfully to the Cambridge platform and principles, upon which the first church in Woodstock was founded, while the especial friends of Mr. Stiles, advocates for the new departure, had imbibed some portion of his regard for the Saybrook platform and religious establishment of Connecticut. Mr. Stiles’ request to attend the meetings of the Windham County Association of ministers, “purely for his own information and satisfaction,” aroused suspicion and uneasiness in the first years of his ministry. These difficulties had so increased that in 1762 a council was held, in which nine specific points of grievance were brought forward, discussed and carefully adjusted. Yet notwithstanding this amicable settlement, old fires were rekindled by the ” amazing conduct ” of Mr. Stiles in introducing a covenant, embodying as he claimed the substance of the Cambridge platform, and without proper warning or discussion, declaring its adoption upon the subscription of himself and a small number of the brethren. A large number of church members protested earnestly against this imposition, and positively refused to submit to it. Attempts to compound the difference were wholly fruitless, and after a few months of wrangling the opposition withdrew from Mr. Stiles’ preaching, and held meetings by themselves. In 1756 the aggrieved party-twenty-three brethren and twenty-one sisters—by the advice of an ecclesiastic council, formally “reassumed in church state on the ancient basis of the church, whereof we stand members,” and were declared by the council a church in regular form, according to the usual method.”

This procedure at once raised the question which of the two churches had the right to the tithes and property vested in the First society, and both parties carried their woes to the general assembly. Mr. Stiles asked for a council to hear and determine the differences; his opponents prayed for “a distinct, separate society.” A council was granted but could not agree upon terms of statement. Everyday the breach widened. The old church party reiterated to the assembly ” the inconsistency of the thing in its own nature,” and “the violence that must be done to our consciences, in that we should be compelled to uniformity with a minister and his adherents, who have so far departed from the ancient order, and be made to suffer for abiding in conformity with the sister churches throughout the province in which we were first embodied,” while Mr. Stiles adroitly insinuated charges of Separatism, irregularity and disaffection to the civil constitution of Connecticut. The condition of religious affairs at that date, the violence and disorders caused by the Separate movement, gave great weight to these insinuations, and undoubtedly warped the judgment of councillors and legislators. The ministry of state and county sympathized mainly with Mr. Stiles, and the small body representing the original church covenant was sorely beset and hindered, and even refused the privilege of communion with the church in the West parish. A -number of prominent ministers appointed by the general assembly in 1757, found the difficulties very great-” all peace, unity and good agreement wholly destroyed and gone from among the people of the society and members of the church,” but found no practicable way of accommodation.

The majority for a time apparently favored the Stiles party, which was thus enabled to lay taxes upon the whole society, but after some years the balance of power had shifted, the question assumed a more definite sectional character, descendants of first settlers in the south half insisting upon the old church covenant, the more varied population of the north adhering to DIr. Stiles and Connecticut church government. Conflicting votes were now passed at successive society meetings, whereby affairs were thrown into the greatest confusion. Rival committees refused to warn meetings in behalf of their opponents. The assembly, wearied out with their contentions, turned a deaf ear to all petitions. The old church party, in 1758, secured a vote to assess all estates in the society for support of their own minister, and proceeded to collect it. Windham courts declared the assessment unlawful, but had not power to grant relief.

Emboldened by success, the anti-Stiles party proceeded to lay hands on the meeting house. Richard Flynn was chosen key. keeper; Samuel Chandler and Colonel John Payson deputized to get possession of the key. Failing in this, Zebulon Dodge was directed to take off the lock and put on another, and deliver the new key to Mr. Flynn. Victory was finally achieved by a society vote: ” I. That the society meet in the meeting house in said society on Lord’s day for public worship for the future. II. That there be a committee chosen to supply the pulpit till farther orders, in the room of Mr. Stiles. III. That Mr. Samuel Chandler be a committee to supply the pulpit with some suitable person to preach, and that the clerk serve Mr. Stiles with a copy of the transactions of this society, that he may know the minds of the society, and so not presume to go into the desk on Lord’s day to disturb the society in the public worship as he has heretofore done.”

In spite of this summary ejection Mr. Stiles did presume to enter the desk already occupied by the opposition minister, and’ was only ousted by a hand-to-hand contest. This battle cleared the air, and virtually ended the controversy. The northern belligerents withdrew with their discomfited minister. A committee appointed by general assembly arranged an amicable settlement. The society division besought so many years was at length effected-the old south retaining the meeting house, the young north carrying off the minister. Church property was divided between the two societies. Isaac Johnson, Parker and John Morse, John May, Nathaniel and Elisha Child signed the agreement July 20th, 1760. Church records were left in the hands of Mr. Stiles, society records with the clerk of the First or South society. The question as to which body could claim the title of 11 First church of Woodstock ” was ignored as too delicate for contemporary discussion.

In spite of these dissensions the town was gaining rapidly. Many new settlers purchased farms, especially in the north part of the town. Various business enterprises were set in motion: mill privileges and iron ore were utilized, trade and production stimulated. New men came to the front. At the town meeting December 1st, 1760, Isaac Johnson served as moderator. Thomas Chandler was chosen town clerk and treasurer; Isaac Johnson, Thomas Chandler, Nathaniel Johnson, Ebenezer Smith, Jr., Nathaniel Child, selectmen; Moses Chandler, constable and collector of colony tax; Moses Child, collector of excise; Samuel McClellan, George Hedge, Elijah Lyon, Abner Harris, John Chamberlain, Amos Paine, Matthew Hammond, Jonathan and Henry Child, Ebenezer Child, Jr., Ebenezer Corbin, Jonathan Morris, Hezekiah Smith, Captain Joseph Hayward, Joshua Chandler, surveyors of highways; Silas Bowen, Lieutenant Hezekiah Smith, grand jurymen; Silas Bowen, Moses Child, Hezekiah Smith, Moses Chandler, Upham May, Ebenezer Child, Jr., Samuel Child, Jr., listers; Nathaniel Child, Abijah Child, Samuel Bowen, collectors of rates; George Hedge, Josiah Hammond, Stephen Marcy, Asa Morris, Caleb May, Elisha Child, tithing men; Benjamin Bugbee, William Chapman, fence viewers; Darius Ainsworth, Zebulon Marcy, Joseph Manning, Ezra May, Isaac Bowen, Nathan Child, haywards; Moses Child, receiver of stores; Jedidiah Morse, packer; Joseph Peake, gauger; Richard Flynn, Daniel Bugbee, branders. Ebenezer Smith was chosen town clerk in place of Thomas Chandler, removed to Vermont. Lieutenant Hezekiah Smith and other officers were excused to serve in the army.

Needful improvements were gradually carried out. Highway districts were set out in 1773-five in the First society, in charge of Thomas Baker, Jonathan Allen, Jonathan Lyon, Jed. Bugbee, Matthew Bowen; four in New Roxbury, directed by Daniel Paine, Benjamin Howard, John Perrin, Samuel Narramore; four in the North society, under Caleb May, Ephraim Carpenter, Eliakim May, Stephen Tucker. New roads were laid out superseding the old range ways. A committee appointed in 1771 to examine the financial condition of the town, reported that the town’s money for a number of years had been prudently handled. In public affairs Woodstock manifested much interest, taking a prominent part in political discussion and demonstration. A strong radical element was very forcibly called into exercise throughout the whole revolutionary struggle, leading her citizens to go far beyond their proportion in supplies of men and munitions of war. With equal spirit she resisted all Massachusetts’ attempts to coerce her into subjection, and gallantly entered the field in the contest for the shire-ship of Windham county. The one-sided position of Windham town was a grievance to the north part of the county. The proposed change to Pomfret was still unsatisfactory. Woodstock met the dilemma by proposing that Connecticut should remove her northern bound some four and a half miles farther north, “agreeable to the manifest intent of the Province charter,” and “then take a just view of the situation of Woodstock and its conveniency for a shire town;” a proposition which the Lower House did not deign even to consider.

In the discussion concerning the adoption of the federal constitution, Woodstock showed her wonted independence, indulging in large and warm debate until the dusk of the evening and adjourning after much opposition. At the second meeting, which was very fully attended, Mr. Stephen Paine and Deacon Timothy Perrin were chosen delegates, and although it was alleged that the vote was illegal, sundry persons presuming to vote who were not legal voters, they attended the meeting in Hartford, January 3d, 1788, and voted against the adoption of the constitution. Woodstock’s native radicalism and the prevalence of what were called ” sectaries,” developed a strong opposition to federalism. The anti-federal or republican party found many supporters in town, and Baptist and Methodist radicals were occasionally sent as representatives.

Deacon Jedidiah Morse, long remembered as one of the strong men of Woodstock, now served as town clerk and treasurer. Captains Nehemiah Lyon, Amos Paine and Ephraim Manning, Captains Daniel and William Lyon, Thomas May, Noah Mason, Shubael Child, Darius Ainsworth, Benjamin Haywood, Ebenezer Smith, Nehemiah Clarke, Silas May, Ebenezer Coburn, appear among town officers. Hon. Charles Church Chandler, grandson of judge John Chandler and his successor in the old Chandler homestead at South Woodstock, the first lawyer in Woodstock and a man of wide influence, died suddenly in 1787.

Samuel McClellan, general of Connecticut’s Fifth Brigade, was now one of the most prominent men in Windham county.

His valuable services during the war of the revolution were everywhere recognized. Woodstock’s native military spirit was greatly stimulated by his presence and example, and her two commons were noted for a brilliant succession of military training. These gala days were exceedingly popular, bringing together a great concourse of people, and were marked by the customary hilarity and carousings. General McClellan and his revolutionary war horse were especial features of these occasions. John, son of General McClellan, was early promoted to the rank of brigade major. After studying law with Hon. Charles H. Chandler, he entered upon practice at Woodstock hill, and was very active in establishing Woodstock Academy and other public enterprises.

Turnpike schemes awakened much interest in Woodstock. The road from Boston to Hartford was laid out through Thompson to her great disappointment, but she secured the Norwich and Worcester turnpike, with a branch diverging to Sturbridge, and also a direct road from General McClellan’s corner to Providence. This latter road was afterward continued to Somers. Middlesex Gore on the north, left outside of town bounds by the reconstruction of the state boundary, was claimed by Woodstock in 1793, but she did not succeed in retaining possession. In 1797 an attempt was made by a number of western residents divested, as they claimed, ” in great measure of the privilege of free and legal inhabitants of the town of Woodstock, and a participation in the election of town officers, owing to their remote distance,” to obtain independent town privileges. Some encouragement was given by the other societies, but a majority of voters would not consent to new town.” Relief was obtained in time by holding town meetings alternately in the three societies.

Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889

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