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CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES OF CONNECTICUT
POPULAR EDUCATION AND SOCIAL REFORMS.
I am invited to speak, historically, concerning "the relations of the Congregational churches of Connecticut to civil government and to popular education and social reforms,” during the period of one hundred and forty years preceding the declaration of our national independence. The theme is large-larger, perhaps, than those who proposed it thought when they made the appointment, and I hope to be pardoned if my treatment of it shall seem inadequate and superficial.
We go back to the beginning. How did “civil government" begin in Connecticut? The story is not unfamiliar; but let us recollect its outlines. In the year 1636, three distinct companies of emigrants from England relinquished the settlement which they had formed in Massachusetts ; and having made some preparation a few months before for their settlement beyond the jurisdiction of that colony, removed to a new land of promise on the banks of the Connecticut. Who were they? What were they? It is hardly enough to say that they were men who, in that age of ecclesiastical inquiry and conflict among Englishmen, had accepted the theory that every congregation of Christian believers, meeting statedly
for worship and edification, and recognizing each other as brethren in their common Lord, is a complete church of Christ, dependent only on Him for its right of self-government and for all its functions,—or, in one word, that they were Congregationalists. Nor is it quite enough to say that one great end of their original migration from England was, that in a new world not yet encumbered by old ecclesiasticisms, the growth of priestly or royal usurpation, they might worship God in churches instituted and controlled according to that theory. Let it be remembered, then, that the three distinct companies of emigrants who came from the colony of the Bay to begin a new colony on the River, were distinctly three, and not one, just because they were, or were to be three congregations for worship and Christian brotherhood—that is to say, three Congregational churches. That was the idea which determined the settlement of the three distinct companies in three distinct towns, Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, and which was determined in all their civil and social arrangements. I will venture to illustrate this position by some particulars of the story.
What is now known as the First Church of Christ in Windsor, was gathered not at Windsor, nor anywhere this side of the Atlantic, but in old England. Just about the beginning of the year 1630, namely, in the month of March, a company of religious people from the three contiguous counties of Devon, Dorset, and Somerset, had come together at the old seaport of Plymouth to embark for New England, expecting there to be neighbors and brethren. Before their embarkation (which was March 20, O. S.) they associated themselves by covenanting one with another as a church of Christ, on a day which they had set apart for that purpose, and which they kept with fasting and prayer. On that day (probably March 17) they completed their ecclesiastical organization by solemnly ordaining to the offices of pastor and teacher two of their own number who had been beneficed clergymen in the national church of England, John Warham and John Maverick.
The church then and there constituted, having crossed the ocean, planted itself among the settlements which Winthrop and his associates were then founding around the Massachusetts Bay. Dorchester was the name which those emigrants (some of them from Dorchester in old Dorsetshire) gave to their settlement. There they abode for a time, beginning to build their homes and cultivate their farms, maintaining public worship under the guidance of their colleague ministers, and providing for that worship a temporary edifice such as the newness of their enterprise would permit.
In like manner, the First Church of Christ in Hartford was instituted, not where it has been shining for these two hundred and forty years, but in Massachusetts, at a place which was then called Newtown. A large number of religious people in the English county of Essex, had been deprived of what they deemed a great privilege. By the operation of English law, Thomas Hooker, the gifted and earnest preacher whose ministry brought them to the knowledge of the truth and led them in the way of life, had been silenced and driven into Holland. Having communicated with him in the place of his retreat, they resolved upon migrating to New England and making a settlement in the wilderness with him for their spiritual leader. Some of them came over as early as 1632, and, after a short residence at Braintree, which received its name from them, removed to the “New Town" which the government of Massachusetts was forming, with the intention of making it their capital, and which, when that design was relinquished, became the seat of their college, and was therefore named Cambridge. At Newtown, those "of Mr. Hooker's company,” as they came over, made their rendezvous. He himself, escaping with some difficulty from England, whither he had returned from Holland on his way to the New World, arrived in 1633, and with him came Samuel Stone, whom he had persuaded to accompany him, in the expectation of being associated with him in his ministry. There, at Newtown, the company of emigrants from Essex became a church ; and on the 11th=21st of October, a fast was kept, and the two ministers were ordained to their offices of pastor and teacher.
Another of the earliest churches gathered in Massachusetts was that of Watertown. It consisted largely of those who had come over under the leadership of Sir Richard Saltonstall, one of the chiefs in the enterprise of founding the colony of the Bay. He had agreed with them in the selection of George Phillips to minister the word of God in their contemplated settlement. They were part of the great emigration with Winthrop in 1630. Arriving at Salem, the earliest of them on the 12th of June (О. S.), they were so prompt in selecting a place for their settlement, and in removing to it, that on the 30th of July they were ready to consecrate their town by instituting the Church of Christ in Watertown. In the words of Cotton Mather, “ They resolved that they would combine into a church-fellowship there as their first work, and build the house of God before they could build many houses for themselves; thus they sought first the kingdom of God.”
Those few towns around Boston harbor had hardly been instituted-their municipal and religious institutions had not really taken root—when the superior attractiveness of the rich alluvial banks on the great New England river began to be felt. An embassy came from the Indians on the river, desiring to have an English settlement among them, for they hoped to obtain in that way protection against their enemies, the ferocious Pequots.* later, the Plymouth colony invited Massachusetts to join in making a commercial establishment on the river, for the benefit of both colonies. For some reason, Winthrop and his associates at Boston declined all such invitations. But meanwhile the thought of a new colony beyond the jurisdiction of the chartered “Governor and Company of Massachusetts," was growing into a purpose ; and the result was that, after a year or two of argument and agitation, the consent of Massachusetts to the founding of such a colony was reluctantly given. The church of Newtown, as a church, with its officers, and the church of Dorchester, in like manner, removed to Connecticut. Doubtless they left behind them some of their members in each of those places ;—the Dor
Winthrop, History of New England, i, 52.
chester church lost one of its ministers,-its teacher Maverick, who died February 13, 1630, while the removal was in progress, and of whom it is testified that he was “ faithful in furthering the work of the Lord both in the churches and civil state.' Doubtless those who chose to remain for the purpose of reorganization, were fraternally dismissed. Nevertheless, the fact is that those two churches removed to Connecticut as churches, each of them bringing its entire organization unbroken ; and that other churches were gathered in the places thus vacated. That which is now known as the First Church in Cambridge, was instituted with all formalityt (Feb. 1=11, 1636) before the original church under Hooker and Stone set out (April 30=May 10) on its march through the wilderness ;I and “a new church was gathered at Dorchester,"S (Aug. 23=Sept. 3) three months later.
It was not so with the Watertown church. Instead of removing to Connecticut in its corporate character, with the other two churches, it remained in its original seat with its pastor. Some of its members-a small minority-were dismissed with intent to form anew in a church covenant," at the river, and they had done so (April 26-May 6) || before Hooker and his great caravan set out from Newtown. Thus, in that plantation also, there was a Congregational church at the very beginning, just as there was in the other two. In each of those three settlements-known at first as Dorchester, Newtown, and Watertown, but afterwards named Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield — the Church of Christ, instituted according to the Congregational theory, was the first rudiment of their social organization.
Their civil affairs were conducted at first by a simply provisional government, originating (as the records of Massachusetts incidentally inform us) "from the desire of the people that removed, who judged it inconvenient to go away without any frame of government,--not from any claim of the Massachusetts of jurisdiction over them by virtue of patent." So careful were the founders of the new colony to define the origin of their civil government. They took
Winthrop i, 181. $ Ibid., 192.
1 Ibid., 180.
Ibid., i, 187. || Col. Records of Conn., i, 2.