Reverend Mr. Dorrance remained pastor of the town ecclesiastic of Voluntown until March 5th, 1771, when, on account of his great age and infirmity, he was relieved. About 17772 an ecclesiastical society was chartered in the south part of Voluntown, and the same year, as we have already seen, a society `vas also chartered in the north part. The mother church, thus crippled, was unable to settle a pastor, and could with difficulty maintain regular worship. June 30th, 1779, the ancient First Church of Voluntown was reorganized as a Congregational church according to Cambridge Platform, its membership including ten males and sixteen females. The pastoral services of Reverend Mr. Gilmore were then secured, and religious worship was regularly maintained. Near the close of the century, and after the organization of Sterling, the remnant of this ancient church built a house of worship on the line between the towns, so that while the speaker stands upon the platform, one foot may be in Sterling and the other foot in Voluntown. In the last year of the century Reverend Micaiah Porter, who had been pastor of this church for nineteen years, removed and left the people without a shepherd. The weakened congregation now turned to the Baptists, who were strong in the neighborhood, and Elder Amos Crandall, an open communion Baptist, occupied the Line meeting house on alternate Sabbaths for several years, preaching to a small congregation. Still the church was not entirely disbanded. Reverend Elijah Welles, after his dismissal from Scotland, labored with it fox a year, but without marked success. Worship was kept up in an intermittent fashion for several years by a few brethren. In 1817 an appeal for aid was presented to the Domestic Missionary Society for Connecticut, and this was favorably answered for a time. After nearly thirty years of uncertain existence, this church secured the services of a stated pastor, and Reverend Otis Lane was installed over it October 29th, 1828. Infirm health compelled his removal after a few years, but he was quickly succeeded by Reverend Jacob Allen, installed in October, 1837, who with a brief intermission remained in charge for nearly twenty years. A new meeting house on this site was erected in 1858. At the dedication of this the new pastor, Reverend Charles L. Ayer, was ordained. This dedication of house and ordination of pastor took place January 6th, 1859. A new parsonage was obtained, largely through his efforts. He was dismissed October 27th, 1863. Reverend William M. Birchard was installed May 4th, 1864, and dismissed March 25th, 1868. Reverend Joseph Ayer, father of Charles L., came here in November, 1868, and after acting some time as stated supply, was installed May 11th, 1870. He was dismissed May 19th, 1875, on his 82d birthday. Reverend Stephen B. Carter served the church as pastor from January 1st, 1876, to December 31st, 1880. John Elderkin, the present pastor, began his labors here in April, 1881. The present house of worship on Ekonk hill was dedicated January 6th, 1859. The house before it occupied the same site, built in 1795 to 1800. A burying ground still marks the spot where the first house of worship stood, about two miles northeast from the present one, on the west side of the road leading from Voluntown to Sterling hill and Oneco. In January, 1889, the church had 33 members.
The meeting house on Sterling hill, which had been erected for general religious and town meetings, by the “Meeting House Association,” was used by different societies until about the year 1812. At that time the Baptists were rising in importance and increasing in numbers, and the regular stated occupancy of this meeting house was accorded to them. This new religious interest had been developed under the preaching and labors of Elder Amos Welles, previously of Woodstock. Baptists in Coventry and Sterling united in a new church organization February 13th, 1813, and its pastoral charge was assumed by Elder Welles. Public worship was held alternately at Coventry and Sterling hill. Asa Montgomery was chosen deacon- in 1816, and Philip Keigwin assistant. Nearly fifty were added to the church during the ministry of Elder Welles, which continued till his death in 1819. The Plainfield Baptist church and a neighboring church in Rhode Island united with this church in forming the Sterling Hill Association, which held a general meeting once a year, exciting a large attendance and much interest.
After this, the church enjoyed for five years the ministry of Reverend George Appleton. In April, 1829, Peleg Peckham became its pastor, continuing in charge for many years. Great revivals soon following brought in more than fifty to the membership of the church. The connection with Coventry was dissolved, and the church assumed the title of the First Baptist church of Sterling. John Gallup succeeded Thomas Douglas as clerk. Ira Crandall was chosen deacon upon the death of Deacon Asa Montgomery. Philip Keigwin was also a deacon. During the year 1829 a branch was established in Voluntown, which became independent of this church in about ten years. The meeting house was thoroughly reconstructed in 1860-61, the former proprietors relinquishing their claims to a new- Association ” and the Baptist church which had so long occupied it.
Elder Peleg M. Peckham took charge, as we have said, in 1829, and continued until September, 1850. After that no stated preaching was had for some time. Services were conducted by temporary supplies. The old house stood where the present one does. Some of the timber of the old was worked over into the new. Elder Peckham died May 29th, 1872, at his home in Sterling hill, now occupied by his grandson, Samuel P. Green. While the old church was in a dilapidated condition, Elder Biddle preached to the congregation in the school house for a year, about 1857. After that, Elder Peckham, who had given up the ministry on account of throat troubles, resumed the work for another year-1858. Elder Terry came in 1861, and served the church till 1865. Elder Thomas Dowling came in January, 1866, remaining three years. Fenner B. Dickerson ministered to this people from 1870, about four years. Elder WV. D. Phillips was ordained here Tune 24th, 1874, but only staid about three months. Temporary supplies followed: L. Smith Brown was ordained May 16th, 1877, and remained till 1881. C. W. Potter began pastoral labors June 1st, 1882, and continued till April 1st, 1885. Elder E. S. Hill began his work here August 1st, 1885, and still remains in charge. The church at present numbers 97 members.
At Oneco Methodist services have for some time been conducted, in connection with the Methodist Episcopal church of Moosup. At the present time (1889) a house of worship is being erected here by that denomination.
At North Sterling, in the northeast part of the town, a Union Free Will Baptist church has been started. This settlement is on the Rhode Island line, and the meeting house stands beyond the line in that state. A number of the inhabitants in this town. are connected with it.
Source: History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889
1 thought on “Sterling Connecticut Church History”
My forefather, Samuel Hopkins, was an elder in the Presbyterian Church established by Rev. Dorrance. Yet, I do not find him mentioned in your records of the Church or of Sterling (Voluntown).