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The Tl'ttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co. 
new haven, conn. 





Dedication iii 

Foreword vii 

"The Place of the Tidal River" i 

The Pioneer Days of John Sherman 7 

Abraham Pierson, Pilgrim and Apostle 19 

John Bowers and the Years of Famine 35 

In the Days of Samuel Russell 43 

Philemon Robbins — "Persecuted for Righteousness' 

Sake" 69 

Two Minor Prophets 112 

The Ministry of "Father" Gillett 124 

Jacob G. Miller — An Interlude 148 

A Variety of Leaders 150 

I. Elijah C. Baldwin 150 

II. C. W. Hill 158 

III. Rev. Cyrus P. Osborne 160 

IV. Rev. Henry Pearson Bake 163 

V. Rev. Thomas Bickford 168 

The New Century 172 

Thru Troubled Waters 179 

War Records : There and Here 184 

Appendix 189 


It is always an interesting experience to endeavor 
to relive the days which are long since gone, and 
it has been an unusually fascinating one, to the 
author, to follow thru, in spirit, the growing life 
of this historic church. Never a dull page has he 
found in its annals, and it will be the fault of the 
raconteur, and not of his material, if there be dull 
pages in this little book. He has endeavored 
simply to retell the story which unfolded itself to 
him as, day by day, he thumbed the pages of the 
ancient records, and supplemented their narrative 
with stray details, gathered from scattered books. 
It is his hope that, in weaving the tale together and 
in striving to give sequence to its chronology, and 
perspective and emphasis to its body, that he may 
not have deprived the reader of too much of its 
original romance. The shaping of the tale has 
been a work of love, and the sole prayer of the 
author is that the reader may see what he has seen, 
and may realize the preciousness and the inspira- 
tion of his heritage. May his imagination be 
touched, and may he find, in these pages, no dull 
chronicle of unfamiliar men and days, but a living 
presentation of the deeds and characters of his own 

In oflfering this story to the Branford people 
and their friends, the writer makes no apology for 
his wholesale borrowing of former material, nor 
even for using the veritable language of others. 

Wherever he has found any fact of interest, he has 
incorporated it shamelessly in his narrative. Gladly 
he offers the only restitution possible, his gratitude, 
to those to whom he has thus become a debtor. 
Especially does he desire to express his apprecia- 
tion of and indebtedness to a fonner pastor of this 
church, the Reverend Elijah C. Baldwin, for his 
scholarly researches and labors, without the results 
of which much of this book could never have been 

In concluding this word of introduction, the 
writer would congratulate the church in Bran ford, 
upon this, their Two Hundred Seventy-Fifth Anni- 
versary, and express his sincere prayer that the 
Great Head of the Church would crown their rich 
heritage, of years gone by, with many a future year 
of richest blessing. 

J. Rupert Simonds. 
May i6, 1919. 


Nearly three centuries ago, there dwelt in this 
portion of New England a strong and numerous 
tribe of Indians, known to the early settlers as the 
Mattabesecks. Their chief was the mighty Sachem 
Sowheog who lived in an Indian fortress, on the 
top of a high hill, in the region known to us as 
Middletown. About him dwelt a powerful band of 
some five hundred warriors, whom he could sum- 
mon instantly to do his bidding, by a blast vipon his 
whistle. Now Sowheog had a son called Monto- 
wese, and it fell to his lot to be petty chieftain over 
the southwestern portions of his father's domin- 
ions ; a region beautiful for hills and rock-bound 
bays, and famous for its hunting and its shellfish, 
and named, by the stream which alternately carries 
down fresh water from the hills, and floods back 
salt water from the Sound, Totokett — "place of the 
tidal river." 

Totokett was not densely populated in those days, 
and Montowese was ruler over but ten warriors 
and their families. But, tho the resident popula- 
tion was so scant, the place was even then a shore 
resort, and Indians from far and near came often 
for short sojourns, that they might fish and gather 
shell-fish. Sometimes these visitors were far from 
friendly, and hostile raids were not at all uncom- 
mon. To withstand these raids an Indian fort was 
built at Indian Neck, and in the repulsing of them 
we know that at least one sanguinary battle was 

fought. So it may well be that Montowese was 
by no means sorry to receive, in December 1638, an 
offer for Totokett from the English Colony at New 
Haven. He appears to have regarded the sale not 
merely as a commercial transaction but also as 
binding to him, in a defensive alliance, the white 
men with their potent weapons. So the sale was 
made, the price being between twelve and thirteen 
pounds, and the deed given ; Montowese affixing a 
bow and arrow and Sausounck a small tomahawk 
as signatures. And it is a happy thing to be able 
to record that neither then nor in any future time 
was there other than cordial friendliness between 
the settlers and the men of Montowese. 

Totokett was now English property but not for 
some time was it much inhabited by English people. 
The inhabitants of New Haven came and went, 
hunted and fished, as had the Indians, but not yet 
were they sufficiently crowded in their own settle- 
ment to be thinking of moving elsewhere. The 
effort appears to have been to settle the new lands 
by inducing other colonists to come there from a 
distance rather than to people them by mere expan- 
sion. The first endeavor was to gain new settlers 
from England to become their neighbors. Accord- 
ingly we find upon their records : "Att a Gen""" 
Court held the i^ of the f Moneth 1640. The 
plantatio of Totokett is granted to Mr. Samuell 
Eaton for such friends as he shall bring ouer from 
olde Englend, and vpo such tearmes as shall be 
agreed betwixt himselfe & the comitty chosen to 

that purpose, (namely) Mr. Eaton and the 4 
deputyes." Samuel Eaton was the brother of The- 
ophilus Eaton, New Haven's governor. He went 
to England with the intention of arousing interest 
in the proposed colony but was persuaded to remain 
there and preach, settling at Durbenfield and Stock- 
port. Thus this venture came to nought, tho it was 
not for some time that hopes of his return were 
given up and, at the General Court March 25, 1644, 
"Itt was ordered thatt they to whome the affayres 
of the towne is intrusted shall dispose of Totokett 
according as in their wisdome they see cause." 

Meanwhile a certain Thomas Mulliner, or Moul- 
liner, had assumed squatter's privileges at Mul- 
liner's Neck, now Bran ford Point; and a Thomas 
Whitway had located in that part of the district 
known now as Foxon. Mulliner may have settled 
even before the land was sold by the Indians and 
have made a separate bargain with them ; we do 
not know. At any rate his right to remain was not 
contested, tho we suspect the New Haven people 
would have been glad to see him go, for he proved 
a troublesome neighbor and was summoned before 
the General Court several times for disorder, for 
contempt, and for breach of peace, as well as being 
a constant disputant concerning the boundaries of 
his lot. Whitway, on the other hand, appears to 
have been peaceable and of good conduct. 

Some time in the year 1644, the date is most 
unfortunately not a matter of history, the follow- 
ing entry was made upon the records of the New 

Haven Colony : "Totoket, a place fit for a small 
plantation, betwixt Newhauen and Guilford, & pur- 
chased from the Indians, was granted to Mr. 
Swayne & some others of Weathersfield, they 
repaying the chardge, w^h is betwixt 12 & i^£, & 
joyning in one jurisdiction w*h Newhaven & the 
forenamed plantations, vppon the same fundemen- 
tall agreement setled in Octob'', 1643, w^h they, 
duely considering, read j lye accepted." We now 
turn to the events leading up to this entry. 

Ten years before the making of this record, a 
few adventurers, from Watertown, Massachusetts, 
settled at Wethersfield, near Hartford. A church 
was organized there in 1635. This church was at 
first without a pastor and, there being no settled 
minister, contentions arose concerning the filling of 
this important position. These contentions led to 
the formation of several parties in the church, each 
of which had its own candidate for the office. This 
divided state of affairs, having continued for sev- 
eral years, and matters constantly becoming worse, 
so that the whole settlement was divided into hostile 
factions, an appeal was made to Mr. Davenport, and 
the settlers of New Haven, for aid in reconciling 
their differences. Davenport and several others 
went to Wethersfield, where they soon perceived 
that the only hope of peace lay in a separation of 
the contending factions. Accordingly they advised 
that one or more of the parties should remove and 
form a separate settlement. Acting upon this 
advice, one group removed to Stamford, while 

another and larger group decided to remove to 
Totokett. Undoubtedly they had been urged to 
locate there by the New Haven authorities, who 
saw in them the settlers whom they had long sought 
for their untenanted lands. At any rate the deci- 
sion to locate there was a happy one for all, offering 
to the emigrants a new home close to an established 
settlement, and, at the same time, solving the prob- 
lem which had existed, for the New Haven Colony, 
since the failure of Samuel Eaton to bring over 
colonists from England. 

The new settlement was, by the terms of the sale, 
to be subject to the same laws and civil government 
as Stamford, Milford and Guilford, the other 
daughter settlements of New Haven. The out- 
standing feature of this political system was the 
absolute limitation of the franchise to such men of 
the community as were members of the recognized 
church. In the Hartford Colony, on the contrary, 
there was no such sharp limitation, and this differ- 
ence in qualifications for the suffrage is the key to 
the understanding of the difficulty which long stood 
in the way of the union of the two colonies, and 
also to an intelligent interpretation of important 
subsequent events in the story of the Branford 

The boundaries of Totokett were fixed as fol- 
lows : on the South, Long Island Sound ; on the 
West, Stony River and the Great Pond (Lake 
Saltonstall), and thence north to the Wallingford 
line ; on the North, a line about ten miles back 

from the shore; and on the East, a line commenc- 
ing ten miles east of the Quinnipiac River, and 
running due north to the Wallingford line, which 
it met in the center of Pistepaug Pond. These 
boundaries have remained practically unchanged to 
the present time. 


The larger part of the Wethersfield people 
undoubtedly came to Totokett by water, journey- 
ing down the Connecticut River and along the 
shores of Long Island Sound. Some few, how- 
ever, must have come overland, thru the wilderness, 
driving before them the flocks and herds. We do 
not know the time of their arrival. It may have 
been as early as the autumn of 1643; i^ may have 
been as late even as the early fall of 1644. Were 
it not for one troublesome court record we should 
feel certain that they first saw Totokett in the late 
spring, or early summer, of 1644. But that record 
appears as a considerable obstacle to this theory. 
Under the date of February 3, 1644, we read that 
the always troublesome Thomas Mulliner was 
bound over to keep the peace, "especially toward 
the inhabitants of Totokett." Now we have no 
record of there being any inhabitants of Totokett, 
other than Thomas Whitway and the Indians, and 
the latter would hardly seem to have been meant by 
the word, in this instance. Accordingly this record 
is strong evidence that the Wethersfield people 
were in Totokett in February. But, if this be true, 
they must surely have arrived sometime the pre- 
vious autumn, for it seems quite incredible that the 
long journey from Wethersfield would have been 
undertaken after the setting in of the New England 

But such a supposition is not only unsupported 


by any other evidence, but seems also at variance 
with such later records as do exist ; which records 
deal with such matters of land allotments and 
preliminary organization as must have been the 
concern of a very new settlement, rather than of 
one more than a year old. The first entry on the 
town books is under date of June i8, 1644, and 
reads as follows, "This dai it is ordered that the 
meadow in this plantation shall be divided into 4 
parts, and then divided by lott, viz : all the meadow 
that lyeth on the right hand side of the town that 
is earliest settled shall be in the first dividend, and 
all the meadow that lyeth by the river on the left 
side and all upwards from that place where it is 
considered a bridge must be, for the 2nd dividend ; 
Also 3dly all the meadow that lyeth downe the river 
from the place where it was considered a bridge 
must be, and all that lyeth within the compass of 
that piece of ground called the plaine shall be in 
the 3rd dividend. 4thly all the meadow left beside 
in the towne that is knowne shall be in the 4th divi- 
dend. This meadow is to be bounded and prized 
by Robert Rose, William Palmer, Samuel Swaine, 
John Horton, Richard Harrison and Thomas 
Blatchley, with all convenient speede, and then the 
lott is to be cast." 

The more plausible theory would seem to be that 
the little band of settlers set out from Wethersfield 
in April or May of 1644, and arrived in Totokett 
the latter part of May, or early in June. The court 
record, quoted above, would seem to refer either 

to other squatters, like Mulliner and Whitway, or 
else, possibly, tho this seems unlikely, to a small 
group of pioneers which may have preceded the 
main body of settlers for the purpose of clearing 
some ground and preparing for the coming of the 

Upon their arrival, the first work was to divide 
the land equably among the settlers. This was 
done by casting lots, according to the precedent of 
Hebrew custom, a practice often followed in New 
England town life. The Wethersfield people located 
almost entirely upon the west side of the river, 
leaving the lands upon the east for the use of the 

It is interesting to recall the names of these 
first settlers of what is now the town of Bran- 
ford, for many of them have been perpetuated, 
and will still be found in the Branford of to-day. 
These names were as follows : Samuel Swaine, 
William Swaine, John Plum, Richard Harrison, 
Thomas Blatchley, Robert Rose, John Linsley, 
Frances Linsley, William Palmer, Richard Mather, 
Sigismond Richalls, Thomas Sargent, Roger Betts, 
William Merchant, Thomas Lupton, Robert Abbott, 
Edward Tredwell, Jasper Crane, Lawrence Ward, 
Thomas Morris, Samuel Nettleton, John Norton, 
George Ward, John Hill, John Ward, Luther Brad- 
field, Thomas Fenner, Daniel Dod, Thomas Rich- 
ards, Jonathan England, Richard Williams, John 
Edwards, Edward Frisbie, Robert Meeker, John 
Horton, Thomas Whitehead, and Richard Law- 


rence. It is barely possible that John Sherman, 
who first ministered to them of the things of God, 
may also have been of this number, tho the appar- 
ently more trustworthy tradition is that he left 
Wethersfield some years earlier, in 1640, and went 
first to Milford, joining" the Branford colony a few 
months after their arrival. Jasper Crane and the 
Wards came from New Haven. 

John Sherman was Totokett's first minister. He 
was born in Dedham, Essex County, England, 
December 26, 161 3. Having entered Emanuel 
College, of the University of Cambridge, he left it 
at an early age, because of Puritan tendencies. 
He came to New England, in 1634-5, and preached 
at Watertown, Massachusetts, as an assistant to 
Rev. George Philips. He was a famous preacher, 
a man of marked intellectual gifts ; was the fore- 
most mathematician in the colonies, and left many 
learned contributions to the astronomical sciences. 
His first sermon was preached at Watertown, for 
Mr. Philips. It was a Thanksgiving Day sermon, 
and was preached under a large tree. Several 
ministers heard it, and "wondered exceedingly to 
hear a subject so accurately handled by one who 
had never before performed any such public ser- 
vice." He soon removed to Connecticut, probably 
with the party which founded Wethersfield, and 
remained there a few years, impressing all who 
heard him with his marked ability. Thomas 
Hooker and Mr. Stone, the ministers in Hartford, 
said, in a clerical gathering, "Brethren, we must 

look to ourselves and our ministry ; for this young 
divine will outdo us all." Besides preaching he 
served as a magistrate and assisted in the organiza- 
tion of several towns and churches. He was mar- 
ried twice, his second wife being a Mary Launce, 
whom he met in the family of Governor Eaton of 
New Haven. 

Although he lived in the third century before 
the promulgation of Rooseveltian theories, Sher- 
man would have delighted the heart of that great 
American, for, in the fullness of time, he became 
the father of twenty-six children. Unfortunately 
infant mortality was so great in those days that 
it is highly probable that this generous family 
were never gathered about the table at one time. 
Or it may be that this was fortunate, for one won- 
ders, seeing that ministerial salaries were smaller 
then even than now, how it would have been pos- 
sible to provide the food wherewith to furnish so 
large a table. Moreover it would have been a 
somewhat difficult task to have transported a family 
of such proportions thru the New England wilder- 
ness as frequently as would have been necessitated 
by his migratory existence. John Sherman was at 
Totokett in the interval between the death of his 
first wife and the acquisition of his second. Conse- 
quently his courtship to Mary Launce may well 
have been the first romance of old Branford. 

Mr. Sherman remained in Totokett two or more 
years, and then removed to his former home in 
Watertown and was minister to that church until 

his death, at the age of seventy-two, in 1685. His 
first wife had died in New Haven, September 8th, 
1644; his second survived him, hving until the year 
1710. His great-grandson, Roger Sherman, was 
one of the signers of our Declaration of Inde- 

We know neither the exact date when John 
Sherman came to Branford, nor that of the organ- 
ization of the church. The evidence would seem 
to indicate that Sherman came in the late Septem- 
ber of 1644; very likely shortly after the death of 
his first wife. The first actual record of his 
presence, or of the existence of a church in Toto- 
kett, is found in the second entry upon the town 
records, which reads, "This dai it was ordered that 
Mr. Sherman should be allowed * * * a year, 
to begin from the first of October, 1644." The 
word "allowed" is somewhat illegible, because of 
age, and the word which follows is entirely lost, 
but there can seem to be no reasonable doubt that 
what we have here is the record of a vote fixing the 
minister's salary, and that his period of service 
began on the date mentioned. Altho we can but 
conjecture as to the precise time when the settlers 
actually joined, by a common covenant, in a defi- 
nite and organized Church, it is practically certain 
that at no time were they without some sort of 
public worship. The same spirit which moved the 
Plymouth Pilgrims to rest from their explorations, 
both on their first Sabbath in the harbor of 
Provincetown, and on that other Sabbath, on Clark's 


Island, in Plymouth Harbor, would have made it 
impossible for the pilgrims to Totokett to have 
been for any time without the gathering of them- 
selves together to worship God. The balance of 
probability appears to be in favor of the church 
having been formally organized very early in the 
life of the settlement, perhaps in the summer of 

Ver}' soon after their arrival the settlers set 
apart two plots of ground ; the first for a Meeting 
House, and the other as the site of a house for a 
minister. Shortly after, the first Meeting House 
was erected, standing in what is now the south-west 
portion of the cemetery, probably in the large 
space which has been ever bare of stones. It was 
a small, unpretentious building, such as were com- 
mon in those first days in the wilderness, and 
utterly unlike even the oldest churches of our time. 
Rough-hewn logs formed its walls, while the roof 
was thatched with the coarse sedge-grass from the 
river banks. In form it was "foursquare" like 
John's holy city, tho scarcely of the celestial dimen- 
sions. Possibly it may have been as much as thirty 
feet long and twenty wide, and four feet high ; 
hardly a cathedral, yet no less, we may believe, a 
House of God. The floor was the bare, hard earth, 
the roof a simple pyramid of straw. Whatever 
windows there may have been were empty of glass, 
either stained or plain, tho possibly covered with 
glazed paper in effort to keep out the snow and 
wind of winter, and to keep in the vision of such 


as might, conceivably, prefer the green of fields and 
trees and the summer sun to the dusty bareness of 
crude, dark walls. For pews, there were some few 
rude benches, each one a length of log supported at 
either end by stakes ; for pulpit, a square, inornate 
box of boards. 

The building was surrounded with a palisade of 
logs, six feet high, and bored at regular intervals, 
at the height of a man's head, with loop-holes for 
the muskets. During service one man always stood 
sentinel, at the entrance to the enclosure, while the 
other men of the congregation never had their 
muskets far from hand. The neighboring Indians 
were quite friendly but tribes from afar often 
made raids upon Totokett, and were inimical to the 
friendly Indians and to the English alike. Of all 
these hostile tribes the Mohawks were most 
dreaded. Later on a "trayned band" was organ- 
ized, being a sort of militia company, in which 
every able-bodied man' was obliged to serve. The 
members of this band wore a strange sort of armor, 
as a protection against the arrows of the Indians, 
a sort of cotton doublet padded like a quilt. It 
could hardly have given a military appearance to 
the company, but it was undoubtedly efficient. On 
April 5, 1687, the town presented the "trayned 
band" with a silk flag and, at the same time, gave 
them a negative encouragement by voting a very 
heavy fine for those guilty of non-attendance at 


There were no church bells in those days and, 
for that matter, no steeples in which to hang them. 
The hour for worship had, therefore, to be 
announced by other means. In some places in 
New England a conch shell was blown, in others 
a gun was fired, but at Totokett the people were 
called to church by the beating of a drum in the 
streets of the town ; and one of the early town 
records deals with the expenditure of three shil- 
lings for a pair of drumsticks, while a later one 
records that George Baldwin was chosen for Con- 
stable "and to beat the drum on the Sabbath." He 
was granted a salary of thirty shillings. 

When the old palisade was removed, some of 
the posts were used, by Samuel Russell, as fence 
posts. A few of them are still in existence. One 
was on exhibition in the church at the time of the 
celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of its 
reorganization. Some others may still be seen 
about the town. A pair of goblets, carved from 
one of these timbers, was formerly in the posses- 
sion of Mr. Plant. 

Late in the year 1646, for the better protection 
against Indians, and to keep the cattle from stray- 
ing, it was voted to build a five mile fence, enclosing 
the town. The fence was to be of logs, four feet 
and two inches high, and was to be completed by 
May first, of the following year. At the same time 
Frances Linsley was appointed "heard of cows and 
heifers," it being his duty to take all of the cattle 


of the community out to pasture, each morning, 
and to collect them and bring them back each 

In the second entry on the town books, being the 
same as that recording the allowance to John 
Sherman, we read, "this dai it was ordered * * * 
that John Plum shall keep the town's books." He, 
then, was the first town clerk, serving until his 
death, in 1648. He was followed by Michael 
Taintor who, in turn, was succeeded by John Wil- 
ford. Eleazer Stent was chosen in 1673 to assist 
Wilford. Stent collected the previous records, and 
copied them, and the first volume is in his hand- 

It has been commonly believed that the ear- 
liest records of the Branford church are lost. 
This is probably, at most, only partly true. In the 
early days the records of church and town had no 
separate existence. The church was the town, and 
the same body which determined the conduct of 
church affairs determined also those of the com- 
munity. The early town records, we have ; and that 
they do not include more details concerning what 
occurred within the church may rather be because 
of omissions, due to the strenuous life of those 
days, than because of the loss of any manuscripts. 
When one pauses to consider, there are a multitude 
of important matters with which we should expect 
the town records to deal, matters concerning the 
purely secular aspects of town life, on which the 
records are equally fragmentary and vague. We 


could wish that our forefathers had given us 
detailed and full accounts of those early days, but 
after all, were we dependent entirely upon the 
records of church and of the Society for informa- 
tion respecting our own times, ours would be a 
picture not much more complete than we now 
possess of those years long past. 

The laws of the Totokett of those days were 
drawni from the Old Testament and the interpreta- 
tion of the code was a literal one. Justice was not 
often touched with mercy, and punishments for 
offences were severe and certain. Like other New 
England communities Branford was equipped with 
pillory and stock and whipping post. These imple- 
ments of justice were doubtless located, at first, 
close to the Meeting House ; later being removed to 
"Whipping Post Hill" an eminence which stood on 
the present site of the Baptist Church. Judging 
that the Mosaic law dealt inadequately with certain 
problems of their time, the settlers supplemented it 
with much added legislation of their own. Restric- 
tions as to conduct on the Sabbath, regulations 
regardine clothing, and careful supervision of the 
stranger within the gates, received special attention. 
June 24, 1650, a curfew law was passed providing 
that "If any man or woman, young or old, shall be 
taken by the watch abroad in the night after ten of 
the clock, and cannot give a suffisient reason there- 
fore to the watch of their being abroad shall for 
every such favilt pay 12 pence or other condine 
punishment as the court shall require." One won- 


ders how popular such a law would be in the 
Bran ford of to-day. 

From time to time new settlers were added to the 
Totokett colony, the most noteworthy of whom was 
the Reverend Abraham Pierson, who came from 
Southampton, L. I., in 1645-6. Inasmuch as he 
was to be pastor of the church for twenty years, he 
deserves considerable attention. 


Abraham Pierson was born in Yorkshire, Eng- 
land, in the year 1613. He was a graduate of that 
mother of Puritans, Trinity College, Cambridge, 
completing his course in 1632. After receiving 
Episcopal ordination, he preached for a time in or 
near Newark, England. Apparently he was mas- 
tered by Puritan scruples for he came to Massachu- 
setts, in 1639, and became a member of the Boston 
church. He soon removed to Lynn, where he was 
reordained, in accordance with New England 
custom, and became pastor of the church. In 1640, 
or it may be in 1641, Pierson and a portion of his 
church removed to Long Island. In May they 
endeavored to establish a settlement on the western 
end of the island but were prevented by the Dutch. 
They then removed to the eastern end and settled at 
Southampton. The reason for this removal is to 
be found in a profound conviction, on the part of 
Pierson, that active participation in civil govern- 
ment should be confined entirely to members of the 
recognized church. He believed that the church 
and the state should be synonymous. In the Massa- 
chusetts Bay Colony this strict limitation was not 
absolutely followed whereas, as we have seen, in 
the New Haven Colony church members only pos- 
sessed the suffrage. He believed that a settlement 
on Long Island would be under the control of New 


Haven. It soon developed, however, that his 
colony was, in reality, under the jurisdiction of the 
Connecticut Colony, which Colony held very liberal 
views as to the separation of church and state. 
Accordingly he, with a number of his congregation, 
again became Pilgrims, for the sake of conscience, 
and removed to Branford. 

John Sherman having removed, probably in 1646, 
Pierson was chosen as minister and became the 
first regularly settled pastor of the church. Sep- 
tember 22, 1650, "It was ordered that the ministers 
pay shall be brought each half year. For every 
milch cow he shall have two pounds of butter, in 
part pay each year; for the rest, for the first half 
year in beef, or pork, or Indian corn, or wampum ; 
for the second half year in wheat and pease, good 
and marketable." He was also given a large por- 
tion of land, part of which was near the Totokett 
Hotel. His house stood near the site of the hotel. 
On February 24th, 1659, "at a town meeting it was 
granted by the consent of the town to Mr. Pierson, 
that he shall have the use of the whole five hundred 
pound lot that he has formerly used, which is the 
meadow of a two hundred pound lot that did not 
belong to his house when he bought it : that was 
granted to him for as long as he shall live in the 
town, and if he shall live in the town till his death, 
then it is given to his wife and his children for 
their use forever." 

Mr. Pierson soon became popular in Branford, 
and under his direction and the impetus given the 


settlement by the addition of new arrivals, the town 
began to take on a flourishing- aspect. A smithy 
was built and equipped with bellows, and a smith 
invited to come from Guilford. A tide-mill was 
erected at the present location of the Branford 
Point bridge, but the greatest industrial venture was 
the starting of a smelting furnace, or "Bloomery." 
This was located at Great Pond, which thereupon 
became for the time "Furnace Pond" but later 
Lake Saltonstall. The ore, for the furnace, was 
obtained from North Haven and was a sort of 
"bog-iron." An iron works was built up around 
it; the first in the state. It would appear that the 
ore was brought from North Haven by water; by 
way of the Quinnipiac and the Farm, or Stony, 
rivers. To encourage this infant industry special 
privileges were allowed it by the town. The 
owners were permitted to cut all the wood from the 
public lands which might be needed for fuel, and to 
flood the lands about by raising the pond. A plant 
of some sort stood there for a long time after. 

In the early sixties an especially large influx of 
new settlers occurred. Among these were Frances 
Bradley, Leonard Dix, Mica Fowler, Nathaniel 
Gunn, Gabriell Linco, George Page, John Potter 
(a blacksmith), and John Wilford. 

In these days there was considerable friction 
between the men of the New Haven Colony and the 
Dutch of the New Amsterdam settlement. Some 
time in the early history of Totokett a party of 
Dutch traders had landed on the shores of the 


river. Possibly they built a trading post ; at any 
rate they remained long enough to give their name 
to that locality, and it has been known as Dutch 
House Wharf to this day. Fifty men from Toto- 
kett and New Haven were imprisoned by the Dutch, 
in 1 65 1, for attempting to settle upon lands claimed 
by the latter in Delaware. When, in 1654, New 
Haven sent an expedition against the Manhadoes, 
as the Dutch were called, Totokett contributed 
eleven men towards the company of one hundred- 
thirty-three, and Pierson was chosen to accompany 
the expedition as chaplain. Mr. Pierson was often 
associated with Davenport, and others of the New 
Haven Colony, in their plans and activities. 

The first marriage noted upon the records was 
that of George Adams to the Widow Bradfield, 
occurring in 165 1. Sarah Page, a daughter of 
George Page, who was bom May 28, 1666, has the 
honor of being the first infant whose name enters 
upon the records ; tho her claim to the honor of 
being the first child of white parents to be bom in 
Totokett would appear capable of being challenged. 
It is a strange coincidence that the first record of 
a death appearing on the pages of the town's books 
is the name of John Plum, who died in 1648, and 
who was the first to keep those books. 

An insight into the nature of the personal posses- 
sions of those days is afforded by the inventories 
made of several estates at about that time. Only 
two of these estates was given a value of as much 
as one hundred pounds ; two more were considered 


to amount to some fifty pounds ; three or four 
others were worth perhaps ten pounds; while the 
value of all the others listed was even less. In 
1659, there was an epidemic of serious proportions 
in the settlement. We do not know what the sick- 
ness was, but we do know that, among- others, Mr. 
Pierson and his wife were ill, and that while the 
former quickly recovered, the latter was ailing for 
some time. 

By far the most interesting- aspect of Abraham 
Pierson's ministry is the story of his missionary 
efforts with the Indians. A letter, written in Sep- 
tember 1 65 1 by the Commissioners for the United 
Colonies, to London, to the Society for Propa- 
gating- the Gospel in New England, speaks of Pier- 
son as studying the language of the Indians in 
order that he "might the better treat with them 
concerning the things of their piece." He spent 
several years in perfecting himself in the Indian 
tongue and was often called upon to act as an inter- 
preter in the courts. In the year 1653, the Com- 
missioners allowed him twelve pounds "towards 
his charge and pains in fitting himself to teach the 
Indians," and the following year, they increased 
this to fifteen pounds. The same year they wrote 
to the London Society that "one Catechism (Mr, 
Elliot's) is already printed, and Mr. Pierson is 
preparing another to suit these south west parts, 
where the language differs from theirs who live 
about the Massachusetts." The record of a meet- 
ing of the Commissioners, held in Plymouth, in 


September 1656, states that "a. letter from Mr. 
Pierson of Branford, date the 25th of August last 
was read, and some parts of a catechism by him 
framed and propounded to convince the Indians, by 
the light of nature and reason, that there is only 
one God who hath made and governeth all things, 
&c., was considered ; and the Commissioners advise 
that it be perfected and turned into the Narragan- 
sett or Pequot language that it may the better be 
understood by Indians in all parts of the country — 
And for that purpose thay spake with and desired 
Thomas Stanton to advise with mr. Pierson about 
a fit season to meet and translate the same accord- 
ingly, without any uncessary delay, that it may be 
fitted for and sent to the press; and they promise 
him due satisfaction for his time and pains. It 
was agreed that Mr. Pierson shall be allowed fifteen 
pounds for the pains he shall take in this work the 
year ensuing." Thomas Stanton was an Indian 
who had been taken to England and educated at the 
University of Cambridge. 

Pierson's translation was completed some time 
before September 1657. It was decided to have 
fifteen hundred copies printed, and Jonathan Ince 
and Thomas Mayhew, the Nantucket missionary 
to the Indians, started for England with the manu- 
script. They were never again heard from, and it 
is believed that the ship was lost, with all on board. 
By the following September, 1658, Pierson had 
prepared another copy and it was decided that this 
should be printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 


The first sheet was completed, at Cambridge, before 
December 28th. It consisted of sixteen pages, and 
one copy was sent to England, where it was 
reprinted, and bound up in a pamphlet with letters 
from Endicott and John Elliot. The complete 
work came from the Cambridge press in some 
seven months. The volume was entitled, "Some 
Helps for the Indians, Shewing them how to 
Improve their Natural Reason, to Know the True 
God, and the Christian Religon." It was the first 
work of any resident of the Connecticut or New 
Haven Colonies which was ever printed. Only 
two copies of it are now in existence ; one being in 
the British Museum, and the other belonging to 
the James Lenox Collection of New York. An 
excellent reproduction of it has been prepared by 
the Connecticut Historical Society and will be 
found, together with a full and detailed account of 
the history of its publication, in Volume III of the 
"Collections" of that society. The advice of the 
Commissioners that it be turned into Narragansett 
or Pequot was never followed, and it was printed in 
the language of the Quiripi Indians, who lived on 
the shores of Long Island Sound ; the first and 
only work ever printed in their language. 

The Catechism itself is extremely interesting, 
and will well repay the efforts of any who care to 
examine it. The text is of the interlinear sort, the 
Indian translation being in bold type, with the 
English equivalent, printed in smaller type, above 
every Indian word. We have no means of ascer- 


taining how effectual it was in converting the 
Indians to the true Faith. Certainly its language 
is far from simple, and its arguments are so uni- 
versally couched in the philosophical jargon of the 
schools that one suspects that the poor Indians must 
have been completely puzzled and convinced, if of 
anything, that the religion of the settlers must be 
one of aweful and perplexing mysteries. Assuredly 
no man of this generation who does not possess a 
doctor's degree, from the department of philosophy 
of some learned university, can expect to follow the 
arguments from "nature and reason" which are 
set forth in this book. It is hardly any wonder 
that the Commissioners seem to have found it 
necessary to order that "6 yards of cloth should be 
distributed out of the mission funds to the principle 
men of the Wethersfield Indians as an encourage- 
ment to those who attend on Mr. Pierson and 
refrained from pow-wow-ing, and from laboring on 
the Sabbath," if his oral expositions were of the 
same order as his Catechism. But one suspects 
that they were not, or at least that the spirit of the 
man and the earnestness of his desire to win con- 
verts to his faith may have shone thru his obscure 
phrasing and have compensated for the lack of 
lucidity in his language. Certainly Branford 
church may well cherish with pride the history of 
his missionary labors. He takes his place by the 
side of Elliot and Mayhew, men in whose souls 
burned that apostolic fire which has sent forth 
Christians, from the first century on, burning with 


fervent zeal to evangelize the world, and to pro- 
claim the good tidings of the Christ to those who 
know Him not. We can never know how large a 
share the endeavors of Elliot and Pierson have had 
in making the Congregational Church in America 
a missionary body. And we more than suspect 
that Mr. Pierson's endeavors may have not lacked 
for immediate f ruitf ulness ; that the personality of 
the man may have been far greater than the short- 
comings of his catechism. One can only rev- 
erence the steadfastness of that great purpose 
which inspired him to aspire to prepare a book in 
an absolutely tmknown tongue. Of a surety no 
pastor of Branford church has been more loyal to 
his Christian convictions, or has more painstakingly 
served his Master than Abraham Pierson, her 
second minister. 

In June, 1667, Mr. Pierson and a large portion 
of the Branford community left Connecticut and 
founded a new colony in New Jersey. In order to 
understand the reasons for this removal it will be 
necessary to devote a little time to a consideration 
of certain developments in New England colonial 
history. It will be remembered that the qualifica- 
tions for the suffrage in the Connecticut and in the 
New Haven colonies differed ; the New Haven 
Colony requiring church membership as an absolute 
prerequisite, while, in the Connecticut Colony, any 
man "of good character, orderly walk, and with 
an estate of Thirty Pounds" could vote. All went 
well for awhile, for men could choose the colony 


whose practice coincided with their convictions in 
which to settle. As we have seen, this is just what 
Mr. Pierson did, removing from Southampton, that 
he might escape the practices of the Connecticut 
Colony, and locating at Totokett, where only church 
members could vote, since Totokett was under the 
laws of New Haven. But, in 1662, a grave crisis 
arose. Up to this time no colony in New England 
had possessed a royal charter save that of Massa- 
chusetts Bay. But, in 1662, Charles II., then newly 
come to the English throne, granted a charter to the 
Connecticut Colony, and included the New Haven 
Colony within its limits and under its jurisdic- 
tion. Here was trouble indeed. New Haven con- 
tested the union with all her strength, and succeeded 
in postponing the inevitable until 1665, but, in that 
year, her efforts proved of no further avail and the 
union of the two colonies became actual. In this 
protest of the New Haven Colony Abraham Pier- 
son took a very active part, for he was convinced 
that the admission of unregenerate persons to par- 
ticipation in state affairs could result only in 
disaster and in a return to those evils which the 
Puritan had forsaken England to escape; in the 
true church becoming subservient to a corrupt state. 
History has not sustained his theory, but we can 
admire that strong conviction, even tho it were 
fallacious, which led him forth, yet once more a 
pilgrim, to aid in the establishment of a third 

The other development in the history of New 


England, which underlay the Newark removal, was 
that strange episode in the story of our churches 
known as the "Half Way Covenant." According 
to the theory of church membership held by the 
Church of England, everybody, born of Christian 
parents, was a member of the church. The New 
England churches held to a different theory. It 
was their contention that only such persons as had 
had a vital religious experience of their own or, 
as we might say, had been converted, were properly 
eligible to church membership, and that even these 
persons were not members in any actual sense 
unless they had united with the church by a public 
profession of their faith. Now, thus far, their posi- 
tion is very clear, and involves no difficulty. But, 
along with this theory of church membership, our 
fathers also cherished a belief in Infant Baptism. 
They taught that any child, either of whose parents 
was a member of the church, was eligible for the 
sacrament of Baptism, and by that rite became, in 
a sense, a member of the church ; tho the member- 
ship was not really regarded as complete until the 
child had reached maturity and had made a public 
profession of his faith. Now certain of these 
children, whose parents were church members but 
who had never themselves made a profession of 
faith, came in due season to have children of their 
own, and presented these for Baptism. The Church 
was now confronted with a grave problem. The 
parents of these children were, in a sense, members 
of the church, for they had been baptized. But, 


in another sense, they were not full church mem- 
bers for they had not publicly professed their faith, 
or become regenerate, or laid claim to any vital 
Christian experience of their own. Accordingly 
they had never partaken of the sacrament of the 
Lord's Supper, and so were not in full communion 
with the church. The problem was, then, as to 
whether these parents, who had a partial but not 
full church membership, had the right to expect 
that the church should baptize their children. 

After considerable debate and heated controversy, 
the New England churches arrived at that strange 
answer which is known to historians as "The Half- 
Way Covenant." The answer contained in that 
covenant was substantially as follows : That since, 
according to the creed of their stern Calvinism, all 
children who were not baptized were doomed to 
eternal punishment, and since, in a sense at least, 
these parents were partial members of the church, 
therefore the churches would recognize a "half- 
way" membership, and would admit the children 
of such as had been themselves baptized, but had 
never come into full communion, to receive Bap- 
tism, but that they should not receive the Sacra- 
ment of the Lord's Supper until they had become 
regenerate. The result of this concession was that 
great numbers of the people were contented with 
this partial membership, that the Lord's Supper 
was neglected, and that church membership in New 
England, tho in theory confined to the regenerate, 


was actually, of this loose, "half-way" sort, almost 
as universal as in the Church of England. 

It is easy to vinderstand that this innovation, 
which was then beginning to become prevalent in 
New Haven, was an extremely repugnant one to 
Abraham Pierson. In its own way, it let down the 
bars to participation in state affairs quite as effec- 
tually as the lax laws of the Connecticut Colony. It 
made church membership easy and devoid of serious 
meaning. Pierson foresaw from it only dire 
calamity. When taken in connection with the 
impending union of the two colonies it left, to his 
mind, only one possible course open, namely that 
he should go again into the wilderness and begin a 
new settlement, whose laws should be the law of 

Agents were sent to examine and buy lands in 
New Jersey, on the Passaic River. In October 
1666, they returned and, on the thirtieth day of 
that month, a large meeting was held at Branford 
and the following agreement was made : 

"Deut. 1:13; Ex. 18:21; Deut. 17:15; Jer. 36:21. 
I. That none shall be admitted free men or free bur- 
gesses, within our town upon Passaic river, in the 
province of New Jersey, but such planters as are members 
of some or other of the Congregational churches ; nor 
shall any but such be chosen to magistracy, or to carry 
on civil judicature, or as deputies or assistants to have 
power to vote in establishing laws, and making or repeal- 
ing them, or to any chief military trust or office, nor shall 
any but such church members have any vote in such 
elections : though all others admitted to be planters have 


right to their proper inheritances and do and shall enjoy 
all other civil liberties and privileges according to all 
laws, orders, grants, which are, or shall hereafter be, 
made for this town. 2. We shall, with care and dili- 
gence, provide for maintenance of the purity of religion 
as professed in Congregational churches. Where unto 
subscribed the inhabitants from Branford : 

Jasper Crane, Abra, Pierson, Samuel Swaine, Lawrence 
Ward, Thomas Blatchley, Samuel Plum, Josiah Ward, / 
Samuel Rose, Thomas Pierson, John Ward, John Catlin,/ 
Richard Harrison, Ebenezer Canfield, John Ward, Sen., 
Ed. Ball, John Harrison, John Crane, Thomas Hunting- 
ton, Delivered Crane, Aaron Blatchley, Richard__Law- 
llgnce, John Johnson, Thomas Lyon (his mark)." 

Mr. Pierson, and a few of the leaders, left Bran- 
ford for Newark in the spring of 1667, and were 
followed, in June, by the remainder of the party. 
They went by way of Long Island Sound. Tradi- 
tion says that the first to land on the Newark shore 
was Elizabeth Swaine, nineteen years of age, being 
helped ashore by her lover Josiah Ward. Each 
Newark settler was' given six acres for his new 
home. Mr. Pierson was granted eighty pounds a 
year, to continue as pastor, and served until his 
death, eleven years later. During the last years of 
his life his son Abraham, later the first rector of 
Yale, assisted him in the pastorate. 

Abraham Pierson died August 9th, 1678. He 
left an estate valued at eight hundred twenty-two 
pounds, including a library of four hundred forty 
volumes, valued at one hundred pounds. His wife 
was Abigail Wheelright the daughter of Rev. John 
Wheelright of Lincolnshire, England, who came to 


America and settled in Exeter, New Hampshire. 
They had eleven children : Abraham, born at Lynn ; 
Thomas, John, Abigail and Grace, bom at South- 
ampton ; and Edward, Susanna, Rebecca, Theoph- 
ilus, Isaac and Mary, bom at Branford. 

Mr. Pierson was a man of note in early New 
England, and appears to have made many friends 
in high places, and to have achieved an enviable 
reputation. Governor Hutchinson, a personal friend, 
declared him to be, "A man of high character and 
commanding influence — a godly and learned man" ; 
while Cotton Mather goes even further, in this 
eulog^^: "It is reported by Pliny, and perhaps 'tis 
but a PHnyism, that there is a fish called Lucerna, 
whose tongue doth shine like a torch, if it be but a 
fable, yet let the tongue of a minister be the moral 
of that fable; now such an illuminating tongue, 
was that of our Pierson. Wherever he came, he 
shone. He left behind him the character of a 
pious and prudent man ; and a true child of Abra- 
ham, now safely lodged in Sinu-Abraha." 

It was his unusual fortune to have had a large 
influence in the formation of four new settlements, 
and upon each of them he left the strong impress of 
his remarkable personality. Conscientious to an 
extreme, strict and conservative in theology, zeal- 
ously guarding the church and its prerogatives from 
stain of worldliness, he was a Puritan of the Puri- 
tans; forsaking his home, and journeying thru the 
wilderness, a Pilgrim of conscience, not once but 
four times, he oft forsook the habitations of his 


neighbors in search "for a better city, whose 
builder and maker is God." These quaHties cause 
him to stand out preeminent in the history of the 
Branford Church, the typical representative of 
those stern but virile virtues of the early fathers. 
When we add to these his burning apostolic zeal, 
he becomes at once one of the outstanding men of 
his time. We may close this review of his ministry 
by quoting three stanzas of a poem which he wrote 
himself. In their outward form they are scarcely 
beautiful, and belong very evidently to those days 
of execrable verse whose products were such as are 
found in "The Bay Psalm Book," which was used 
in church service by the fathers. Yet this very 
quality may but add to their aptness as a eulogy. 
The poem was a long one, of thirty-two stanzas, 
and was written after the death of his friend Gov- 
ernor Eaton, but its words may very fittingly be 
used of the author himself. 

"To each true Church he was a loving ffriend, 
The care thereof he did to Christ commend, 
r th' civill state he was our hordd of gold, 

He wisely did our lawes and orders mold. 

* * * * * 

"God's angels attended his blessed soule, 
Convoy'd him to glorie, wherein the soule 
Of God's elect, his precious name was found; 
There he God's great Prayses shall ever sound. 

"But sith thou'rt gon to rest, and heav'nly joy, 
And canst here no futher be our convoy, 
We leave thee on the throne at Christ's right hand. 
Begging a like man in thy place to stand." 


It was probably at some time during Mr. Pier- 
son's ministry that the name of the settlement was 
changed from Totokett to Branford. No record of 
the exact date of that change exists. The name 
Branford appears to have been taken from Brent- 
ford, a town seven miles west of London, in Mid- 
dlesex County, England. Brentford is famous in 
history as being the site of a bloody conflict which 
occurred, in 1016, between Edward Ironsides and 
the Danes. Six Protestants were burned there 
during the reign of Queen Mary. The noted battle 
ground of Hounsley Heath lies near at hand. 
Tradition states that several of the early settlers 
came originally from this town. 

Doctor Trumbull, the Connecticut historian, has 
been responsible for the widespread acceptance of 
two probably erroneous theories concerning the 
Branford of this time. He states, firstly, that Mr. 
Pierson carried with him, to Newark, the church 
records and that they are lost. We have already 
affirmed that this is probably untrue. He also 
states that almost all of the inhabitants went to 
Newark with Pierson and that the town was nearly 
devoid of population for about twenty-five years. 
This also seems not to be in accordance with the 
real facts. It would rather appear that not much 
more than half of the settlers joined the New Jer- 


sey party. The number of signatures to the agree- 
ment, made at the time of the removal, which is 
quoted above, is but twenty-three. To a "Planta- 
tion Covenant," which will be quoted shortly, and 
which was drawn up by the settlers who remained 
at Branf ord, there are forty-seven signatures ; 
while a purely routine matter, which came up in 
town meeting only two years after the removal, a 
meeting at which there is little probability that 
more than a portion of the free-men were present, 
a vote of twenty is recorded. Doctor Trumbull is 
also responsible for the tradition that the town was 
without church services during most of the time 
which elapsed between the removal of Mr. Pierson 
and the arrival of the Rev. Samuel Russell. The 
true situation would seem to be that the town was 
probably at no time without religious services, and 
that the only reason for their lacking a minister, 
after the removal of Mr. Bowers, was their inabil- 
ity to persuade anyone to accept their call. 

On June lo, 1667, John Wilford, Thomas Blatch- 
ley. John Collins and Michael Taintor were ordered 
to buy Richard Harrison's place as a house for a 
minister. At the same meeting the following cove- 
nant was drawn up and signed : 

"For as much as that it appears that the undertaking 
and the settlement of this place of Branford, was pro- 
cured by and for men of Congregational principles, as to 
church order according to the platform of discipline 
agreed on by the synod in '48, or thereabouts, drawn from 
the word of God in the main ; we, that yet remain here, 
can say that we have found much peace and quietness, to 


our great comfort, for the which we desire to bless God; 
and that it may so remain to such as do continue their 
abode in this place, and to such as shall come in to fill up 
the room of those that are removed, and that do intend 
to remove from this place of Branford — we all do see 
cause now for to agree that an orthodox minister of that 
judgement shall be called to it and among us. The 
gathering of such a church shall be encouraged. The 
upholdment of such church officers shall not want our 
proportional supply of maintainence, according to rule. 
We will not in any way encroach upon or disturb their 
liberties in so walking from time to time, and at all 
times; nor will we be in any ways injurious to them in 
civil or ecclesiastical respects and this we freely and 
voluntarily subscribe ourselves unto jointly and severaly 
so long as we remain inhabitants of this place, and this 
we bind ourselves unto by our subscription to this agree- 
ment. It is also agreed that whoever shall come for 
purchase or be admitted here, shall so subscribe before 
admittance or his bargain be valid in law among us." 
Signed, iJaSper Crane, Johnathan Rose, John Wilford, 
Thomas Blatchley, Samuel Plum, Michael Taintor, John 
Collins, Michael Palmer, John Ward, John Linslie, George 
Page, Thomas Gutsill, Samuel Swaine, Samuel Pond, 
Isaac Bradley, William Rosewell, Peter Tyler, John 
Adams, Moses Batchley, John Frisbie, William Maltbie, 
Thomas Sargent, John Linsley Jr., John Taintor, George 
Adams, John Whitehead, Samuel Ward, Edward Frisbie, 
Henry Gretwich, Matthew Bikskett, Thomas Harrison, 
Thomas Weeden, John Robbins, Robert Foote, Barthol- 
omew Goodrich, Sigismond Richalls, George Seward, 
Edward Ball, William Hoadley, Eleazer Stent, John 
Rogers, Samuel Bradfield, John Charles, Edward Barker, 
Anthony Howd, Daniel Swaine, John Rose, Frances 
Linsley^ Six of these later removed to Newark. 

When Abraham Pierson went to Newark he 
engaged the Rev. John Bowers to serve for the 


remainder of his uncompleted year of office. Mr. 
Bowers began work December 9, 1666, and con- 
tinued to minister to the community until February, 
1678. He was the son of George Bowers, of the 
Plymouth Colony, where his family located before 
1637. After graduating from Harvard, in 1649, 
ranking in social position, then much considered, 
the lowest in a class of five, he returned to Plym- 
outh and taught school there for a time. From 
1653 until 1660, he taught school in New Hamp- 
shire. At one time he had as many as eighteen 
pupils, tho often only seven or eight were present. 
He remained there seven years and then went to 
Guilford, Connecticut, where he served in a dual 
capacity, teaching school during the week and 
preaching on the Sabbath. He continued in this 
work four or five years, and then came to Bran- 

At a town meeting, held February 9, 1667, it was 
ordered that the rate levied for the raising of his 
salary should be assessed not only upon the resi- 
dents of Branford, but also against those who had 
removed to Newark, but still owned estate in the 
former town, the reason being "because that Mr. 
Pierson put in Mr. Bowers for serving out his 
year." On February. 23, 1669, "the inhabitants of 
the town of Branford agree and conclude, with the 
consent of Mr. Bowers, to allow him forty pounds 
and a days work of every planter in the town, to 
help him as he shall have need to employ them. 
The forty pounds and the day's work is for the 


consideration that Mr. Bowers, with God's leave 
doth promise to carry on the work of the ministry 
here in Branford the ensuing year; and the time 
begining the loth dec, 1669." The year following 
it was voted that he should have forty pounds, and 
the town house and use of the lands, if he would 
engage settlement and live in the town house. May 
30, 1671, by vote of fourteen, out of twenty, it was 
decided to give him a "call." The town house, or 
parsonage, would seem to have fallen into bad con- 
dition, for it was also voted that "as for the town 
repairing damage, all that is granted is the mending 
of the chimney and walls and getting the windows 
glazed." Bowers did not reply to this call until the 
third day of the same year, when he made answer, 
"the town having made a motion of settlement 
unto me, my answer is, that God, by his providence 
leading and guiding so to it, and the town provid- 
ing for my comfortable subsistance, according to 
your ability, I am willing for to sit down with you." 
Some difficulty seems to have arisen, however, for, 
in the middle of the following February, Mr. 
Bowers requested the town to find another minister, 
and it was voted to comply with his request but to 
urge him not to leave until they could find some 
one else. Matters seem to have straightened them- 
selves out, for he remained six years longer, until 
1678, when he removed to Derby. After some 
years of service there, he settled at Rye, New York, 
where he died June 14, 1687. 

John Bowers was a man of far smaller calibre 


than either of his predecessors. He was by no 
means an eloquent preacher and was not especially- 
popular, but he was earnest and persevering-. His 
personal life seems to have been beyond reproach 
and, altho his talents were of a mediocre sort, he 
served the church well during- this transition period. 
He married Bridget Thompson, a New Haven girl, 
who survived him several years. They had six 
children, one of whom, Nathaniel, followed in his 
father's footsteps and became a minister. There is 
some question as to whether it was Nathaniel, or 
his father, who served the church at Rye. 

The next decade in the history of Branford 
Church has for its only distinction the fact that it 
was a ten years period of candidating. Again and 
again the town endeavored to secure a minister but 
without success. Sometimes they repeated their 
call, to the man upon whom they had fixed their 
choice, six or seven times before finally being 
induced to take "no" for an answer. The town 
was a small one, and does not seem to have offered 
much inducement to the ministers of that day. 
They were supplied by a Mr. Stowe, Daniel Rus- 
sell, John Harriman, John Wise, Jonah Fordham, 
a Mr. Oakes, a Mr. Younglove, Mr. Woodruff, Mr. 
Emerson, and others. Once they seemed almost 
at the point of success. Mr. Samuel Mather 
preached for them a number of times, was very 
favorably received, and was finally induced to locate 
in the town. How long he remained we do not 
know, but the town records state that it was voted 


to build him a barn, so he must have stayed some 
little time; it may even have been as long as four 
years. But, just as their difficulties seem happily 
settled the General Court intervened and ordered 
Mr. Mather to become minister of the church at 
Windsor. The Branford people remonstrated, but 
without avail. In despair they turned to the neigh- 
boring ministers for help and advice, and also set 
apart a day in December of 1681 as a "Day of 
Humiliation and Prayer in their deplorable state 
not having a minister." During these years of 
candidating the minister's house, which had reverted 
to the town at the removal of Mr. Bowers, was 
rented "at on outcry by a piece of candle." This 
was an old New England method of dealing with 
such matters. A short piece of candle was lighted, 
and the auctioneer "cried up" the property and 
received bids, until such time as the candle burned 
out, when the highest bid obtained the property. 

Despite their ill success in obtaining the services 
of a minister, the church appears to have grown 
and to have increasingly prospered. At the time 
when Samuel Mather was considering their call, 
and his friends were remonstrating against his 
accepting it, because of the smallness of the place, 
he assured them that it was a very considerable one. 
About this same time the Meeting House appears 
to have become too small for their increasing mem- 
bership. They talked of building a new one or of 
enlarging the old, and December 11, 1679, they 
voted that "ye meeting house shall be enlarged, viz 


to have an addition to it so as to make it as great 
again as now it is." They also increased the salary 
which they offered from forty to sixty pounds, and 
they petitioned the legislature for permission to 
"embody in a church estate," but their petition was 
refused. Finally their persistence was rewarded 
and, early in 1686, they prevailed upon the Rev. 
Samuel Russell to become their minister. 


In the early years of the Cambridge settlement a 
young man, named John Russell, located there and 
became one of the first students at Harvard Col- 
lege, from which he graduated in 1645. The 
young man then became pastor of the church at 
Wethersfield, from which church had gone forth, 
a few years previously, the band of Pilgrims which 
settled Totokett. He remained at Wethersfield 
until 1659, when he and all but six of his church 
removed to Hadley in western Massachusetts. It 
was in this historic town that his son, Samuel, the 
future pastor of the Bran ford church, was born. 

It seems to have been quite the regular thing for 
Russell parsonages to have been linked with inter- 
esting episodes in history. Every one knows the 
part which the Bran ford parsonage had in the 
founding of Yale College ; it may not be so gen- 
erally known that it was in the Russell house in 
Hadley that the regicides Goffe and Whalley were 
concealed for several years, while Samuel Russell 
was a young lad, or that Whalley died in that house 
(about 1676-8) and was entombed in the stone wall 
of the cellar. It was from the friendly concealment 
of John Russell's home that Whalley and Goffe, 
patriarchal in their flowing beards of white, are 
said to have emerged, that Sabbath morning when 
the town was threatened with massacre, and to 
have led the surprised settlers to a victorious 


repulse of the Redskin hordes ; and it was into that 
same kindly shelter that they afterwards returned, 
never to be seen again, by the people of the town. 
Dramatic indeed, to us, is this legend of old New 
England, but young Russell must have known these 
aged refugees very well. 

After graduating, in 1681, from Harvard, the 
college of his father, Samuel Russell returned, for 
a time, to the home of his youth and taught the 
village school in Hadley ; doubtless spending his 
spare hours in the study of theology, under his 
father's tutelage. But not all of these spare hours 
were devoted to Hebrew and to Metaphysics, for 
it was during these years that he met and courted 
Mistress Abigail Whiting, whose father was, also, 
a minister. He married her in the year 1685. 

It was in February of the year following that 
Mr. Russell made his first appearance in Branford. 
He found favor in the sight of his hearers, and 
they extended to him a call to become their pastor, 
offering him sixty pounds salary (in provisions), 
the use of the town house and lands, and his fire- 
wood. They would seem to have extended the call 
more than once, for we find it recorded (June 7, 
1687) that "Whereas motion hath been made to 
Mr. Samuel Russell respecting his settlement or 
taking office in a church way, and having also 
applied and solicited to the General Court of liberty 
to embody, and being granted as also it being 
moved to Mr. Russell by those that are members of 
churches, the town agreed to renew their motion 


and desire, leaving it to a committee to prosecute 
the work as they and Mr. Russell shall agree." 

So often had the men of Branford extended a call 
to young ministers, during those ten years of pas- 
toral famine, and so frequently had their calls been 
declined, that it must have been an overwhelming 
surprise to them when (September 12, 1687) Mr. 
Russell accepted their invitation, and became their 
pastor. And fortunate did that acceptance prove 
to be, both for church and minister. 

Altho the call was not accepted, and probably 
not extended, until 1687, it is likely that Mr. Rus- 
sell was preaching in Branford during much of the 
year 1686. Churches and ministers habitually lived 
together a probationary year or so, in those days, 
before permitting themselves to be united in the 
irrevocable matrimony of people and pastor. Pos- 
sibly this may partially explain the unusual length 
of those ancient pastorates, and the exceeding 
scarcity of cases of ecclesiastical divorce. At any 
rate Russell was a resident of the town, for (Oct. 
4, 1686) the town made provision for supplying 
him with firewood, ordering "that every male per- 
son from 16 yrs. old and upwards fit for labor shall 
go forth to cut wood one day, and every team shall 
go forth one day to cart." This practice of grant- 
ing to the minister one or more day's work from 
every able-bodied man in the township was a 
common one in those years. The older New Eng- 
land ministers did not attempt, nor were they 
expected, to live on their meagre salaries. Most 


of them had the use of considerable land, and they 
raised crops and kept animals, in the same manner 
as did their neighbors. Consequently this practice 
of granting them a day's work from each of their 
neighbors was a very necessary and serviceable 
one. Their salaries were supplemented also by 
many gifts of groceries and of farm products. 
Accordingly a salary of sixty pounds, such as was 
given to Mr. Russell, was more than sufficient to 
provide a comfortable living. 

The outstanding event of the early years of 
Samuel Russell's pastorate was the reorganization 
of the Branford Church. As we have noted above, 
the settlers had unanimously petitioned the General 
Court for permission to "to embody" in an organ- 
ized church. This was in 1681. The request was 
refused. But in October, 1687, the petition was 
renewed and the necessary permission finally 
obtained. In the following spring twenty-six people 
drew up and signed the following covenant: 

"It having pleased God of his grace to call us up to ye 
visible profession of religion, and being now by his provi- 
dence called to unite together, for ye carrying on ye 
ordinances of God amongst us. We do therefore with 
self abasement and sense of our great unworthiness, yet 
in obedience to ye gospel of our Lord Jesus, — We do this 
day before God and his people give ourselves and ours 
unto God and then one to another to walk together in 
attendance to all the duties and enjoyment of all the 
privileges of the covenant of grace, that are to be attended 
and enjoyed in particular visible ch'hs, — making the scrip- 
ture to be our rule. We do declare it to be our purpose 
(as God shall assist,) both in our principles and practice 


in all substantials, to walk in consonance with ye ch'hs 
of Christ with whom we hold communion." 

The following twenty-six men and women subscribed 
their names at this time ; Samuel Russell, Wm. Maltby, 
Eleazer Stent, Samuel Pond, Jno. Frisby, Jno Taintor, 
Peter Tyler, Danl. Swain, Aaron Blatchly, Thos. Sarjeant, 
Samll Betts, Eliz. Barker, Hannah Maltby, Sarai Blatchly, 
Miriam Pond, Dorcas Tainter, Eliz. Stent, Hannah 
Wheadon, Eliz. Pamer, Hannah Frisby, Deliver^^ Rose, 
Mary Betts, Ruth Frisby, Sarai Page, Sarai Gutsill, Jane 

This meeting took place March 7, 1688. During 
the month of April seven additional names were 
subscribed, while thirty- four more were added 
during the following year. 

Each year of the last two decades of the seven- 
teenth century brought to Bran ford an increase in 
prosperity. There were frequent additions to the 
population, and some of the newcomers were 
tradesmen. A WiUiam Bartholomew built a com 
mill in the settlement, and his son Isaac appears to 
have been Branford's first settled physician. 
There was also a George Baldwin, who was a black- 
smith, and a John Collins whose trade was that of 
a "cordwainer," or, as we should now say, a shoe- 
maker. In 1697, we are told that Samuel Russell 
and a few others erected a saw mill. In January 
of 1685, a committee was chosen to secure a patent 
for the town and one was granted, February 16, 
1685. This charter is still in existence and is in 
the custody of the town clerk. The same year it 
was decided to have a town school for the purpose 


of instructing the children in the arts of reading 
and writing. 

Because of this increased prosperity it became 
evident that the old Meeting House, even in its 
enlarged form, was too small for the growing con- 
gregation. Accordingly, on the twenty-eighth of 
September, 1699, it was unanimously voted to build 
a new Meeting House. But, altho everyone recog- 
nized the necessity for a new building, opinion was 
strongly and almost evenly divided as to the form 
of the new house. Some were in favor of erecting 
a square house, while others favored a long, rec- 
tangular one. In their desire to settle this difficulty 
they had recourse to the usages of the Old Testa- 
ment and, November thirtieth, 1699, it is recorded 
that "whereas it hath been agreed upon by the 
town to build a new meeting-house, and there being 
different notions respecting the form, some being 
for a square house and others for a long brick 
house with leanto, it is agreed by the town that a 
lott shall be drawn to decide the matter, and it is 
agreed that Benj. Harrington shall draw the lott." 
When the lot was drawn it decided the matter in 
favor of the square house. 

Possibly the decision to build at this particular 
time may have been due to a certain legacy then 
received by the town. 

The will of John T^intor (August 15, 1699) 
contained the following clause: "I do give to ye 
town of Brandford that part of my homelott lying 
between Steven Foots Homelott and what was 


formerly my father Swains and so this to ye street 
on ye north side of sd Land and which I do give to 
sd Towne to build a publick meeting house upon, 
and to continue for that use so long as they shall 
maintain a meeting house there unles ye town See 
cause to build elsewhere and then that land to by 
to ye common or what other use ye town see 
meet." He also bequeathed "to ye Church of 
Christ in Brandford five pounds to be paid out 
of my moveable estate to be disposed of for ye use 
of ye Church as Mr. Russell and Eleaz-r Stent shall 
see meet." The land bestowed in the above legacy 
is the present Green, and on it the new Meeting 
House was erected, in accordance with the wish of 
the donor. Previously to this the church had 
received at least one other legacy, that of Robert 
Rose who, dying April 4th, 1665, left his church the 
sum of six pounds, thirteen shillings and four 

The Green of those days differed somewhat 
from its present appearance, being much more 
rugged and broken in configuration. Steep little 
hillocks and hollows were everywhere visible, and 
huge boulders were scattered here and there upon 
its surface. One of these, rivaling a house in size, 
was situated nearly in front of the present church 
edifice. The main street of the town was on the 
southern side of the common and the new meeting 
house faced the south-west. The stocks and pillory 
and whipping-post were transferred, at this time, 
to a hillock located on the spot where now stands 


the Baptist Church, which hillock became known, 
in consequence, as "Whipping-post Hill." The 
village smithy was situated near another hillock, a 
sandy one, which appears to have occupied a posi- 
tion in the rear of the present Trinity Church, tho 
well over towards Montowese Street. This hillock 
was known as Baldwin's Hill ; George Baldwin 
being the smith and also one of the first deacons of 
our church. 

Once the decision as to its form had been 
arrived at, by sacred "lott," work upon the new 
house of worship began in earnest. There were 
no contractors in those days and the townsfolk 
were dependent on their own labor and skill in the 
rearing of the new edifice. Accordingly it was 
ordered that every inhabitant of the town should 
bear his share in the common task and to each was 
assigned some part in the actual building opera- 
tions, according to the nature of his skill and 
strength. It was further provided that those who 
came to work late should be fined for their lazi- 
ness. Evidently there were slackers even in that 

Quite pretentious must the lines of the new 
Meeting House have appeared to the men and 
women who had worshipped for so many years in 
the building of logs. "Forty foot square — and 
upright wall from the ground to the plate" were 
the specifications agreed upon ; and a point just in 
front of the present town hall was the site chosen. 
The work pushed steadily forward and we read, 


"June 27, 1 70 1. It is agreed that the congregation 
in Branford do meet together to worship in the old 
meeting-house next Lord's day, and that the next 
following we meet in the new house." So upon 
the second Sunday of July the drum was beaten 
from the tower crowning the pyramidal roof — the 
call to worship — and the inhabitants proudly gath- 
ered in their new house and raised within its walls, 
for the first time, their psalms to God. 

Within a few years' time the new building 
proved too small for the growing congregation and, 
January 8, 1706, it was voted "that there should be 
one gallery built on the front of the meetinghouse 
this next summer." But before the summer 
months arrived even this added seating space 
seemed not enough and so the town took further 
action, providing that "Where as at a town meet- 
ing January 1706 it was agreed there should be one 
gallery in the meeting house but upon futher con- 
sideration it is thought to be more convenient to 
have three galleries, It is therefore now ordered 
that there shall be three galleries." A three penny 
rate was laid upon all the eatable effects of the 
townsfolk, for defraying the expense of building 
the galleries. 

It may be worth while for us to endeavor to 
picture to ourselves the appearance of this new 
building. Although no detailed description of it 
has come down to us, nor are there any prints, yet 
certain allusions in the records, coupled with our 
knowledge of the general appearance of the meet- 


ing houses of that period, will enable us to possess 
a probably accurate idea as to how this new house 
of worship looked. In outward appearance it was 
perfectly square, with a pyramidal roof, crowned 
at its apex with a simple turret. It is probable that 
on each of three sides of the house there was a 
door, while the fourth side was occupied by the 
pulpit. There were numerous windows, with small 
panes of glass, which was held in place by nails 
instead of with putty. The building was unpainted 
both inside and out. Like all of the old New Eng- 
land houses, the one in Bran ford was provided, at 
first, with long, rude benches for seats. But soon 
after its completion, permission was granted to the 
minister and Governor Saltonstall, and later to 
others, to build pews. These pews were square, 
box-like affairs, and were located along the walls, 
the minister's being situated at the right of the 
pulpit and the others ranging toward the rear 
according to the raink and wealth of their owners. 
Each pew was the private property of the man who 
built it and was fashioned according to his own 
desire, so that there must have been a noticeable 
lack of unity in the appearance of the auditorium. 
The pulpit was a high one, reached by a long flight 
of stairs, so that the minister was on a level with 
the galleries. It was probably surmounted by a 
huge, wooden sounding board. Just below the 
pulpit, and facing the congregation, were two long 
raised seats which were set apart for the deacons 
of the church. We find many an entry, in the 


records, of Mr. So-and-So being elected to serve as 
deacon, and that he "accepted the office and took 
his place on the Deacon's Seat." The office of 
deacon was more onerous then than now, for it fell 
to their lot to "line the Psalms," that is to read one 
line of the Psalm, which line was then sung by the 
congregation, then the next line, which was sung in 
its turn, and so on), and also, in the absence of the 
pastor, to expound the Scriptures and to read the 
sermon which he sent. There being no musical 
instruments in the churches of that day, it was 
also the duty of the deacon to choose the tune and 
to "pitch" the Psalm — that is to decide the pitch 
at which it should be sung. The Deacon's Seats, 
in the Branford Meeting House, were distinguished 
from the others not only by their position but by 
being furnished with "banisters." 

Under date of January 14th, 1725, in the records 
of the Ecclesiastical Society, comes the first refer- 
ence to another interesting custom. "Capt. Nath-I 
Harrison, Mr. Edward Barker, Capt. S. Maltbie, 
Capt. Ele-z Stent, & Jno. Russell, were appointed a 
Com^*** for to seat ye meeting house any three of 
them to act there in. Ye meeting was adjourned to 
ye second Monday in Feb-ry next Sun hour high at 
night at this place, and ye Seaters then to make 
return of their doings." The duty of this com- 
mittee was to assign to every inhabitant of the 
town a suitable seat in the Meeting House. In 
determining where each person should sit the com- 
mittee was expected to grade the entire population, 


deciding the order of precedence by office, wealth, 
social position and such matters. At no state func- 
tion of modern times are lines more finely or more 
firmly drawn than they were in the supposedly 
democratic congregations of New England. The 
best seats were considered to be those immediately 
in front of the pulpit, then those in the front bal- 
cony, while the least desirable were the seats in the 
rear. This order of preference would suggest to 
us musical comedy rather than a modem church, 
and one wishes greatly that, in this respect at least, 
we might return to the ways of the fathers. 

Often the work of the committee did not receive 
imanimous approbation. Probably no one ever com- 
plained because he was assigned "a foremost seat 
in the synagogue," but complaints were not uncom- 
mon from those who were convinced that the com- 
mittee had not set a sufficiently high value upon 
their worth to the community. In this respect 
human nature seems not much to have been changed. 
The work of this first Branford Committee was not 
accomplished without criticism, for, at the meeting 
in February, "there being sundry persons dissatis- 
fied with ye report of ye Seaters, read at last meet- 
ing, it was voted whether any alteration should be 
made there in." Unfortunately the record does 
not state whether the rulings of the committee were 
sustained or not. 

It was probably about the year 1690 that Samuel 
Russell erected the famous "Russell Parsonage," 
on the lot just south of the old graveyard. It was 

o "^ 

0. == -^ 


a pretentious house in its day and lasted for more 
than one hundred and fifty years. Shortly before 
its demolition the Russell family, in whose hands 
it had continuously remained, had a pencil sketch 
made of it ; and it is from this sketch that the many 
pictures of it now in existence, including the excel- 
lent one which hangs in the present church, were 
made. In this house were born most of Samuel 
Russell's children and, in the south-west front 
room, was held the historic gathering from which 
grew Yale College. 

From the day of the colony's inception Yale had 
been planned for by the New Haven people, for one 
of the three-fold purposes of Davenport, the 
founder of the colony, had been the establishment 
of a college. The pressing necessities of subduing 
the wilderness had postponed the matter for a time, 
and the reluctance of Harvard to the founding of 
a rival school, and the political crisis due to the 
union of New Haven and Hartford, had further 
delayed the fruition of the purpose. But at length 
it came to pass. A number of the younger min- 
isters became much interested in the establishment 
of such a school, and among these Samuel Russell 
with the Rev. James Pierpont of New Haven and 
Rev. Samuel Andrews of Milford were most active. 
By their efforts ten of the most prominent min- 
isters of the Colony consented to serve as trustees 
for the new institution. They met, sometime in the 
year 1701, in the Russell Parsonage, to consult 
together and to formulate plans. The tradition is, 


and it seems authentic, that each of them brought 
to this gathering a gift of books and, laying them 
upon the table, pronounced the well known words 
"I give these books for the founding of a college in 
this Colony." The table upon which these books 
are said to have been laid is now in the posses- 
sion of Yale University and, at the time of the 
Bi-Centennial Celebration of the founding of the 
College, a stone was placed upon the Branford 
Green, commemorating this early gathering. Mr. 
Russell was appointed custodian of the little library, 
which consisted of some forty-odd folios, and it 
was kept for some years in his house. There is an 
old story to the efifect that one of these books suf- 
fered a curious mishap while in his care. It is said 
that the book was lying one day upon the table, 
and that the sunlight, passing thru one of the small 
window panes, which was thicker in the center than 
on the edges and so acted much like a burning- 
glass, became focused upon the opened page and 
burned a hole in it. The further history of Yale 
is too well known to warrant repetition. One more 
fact is, however, worthy of note as being a part of 
the history of Branford Church. After a charter 
for the new "Collegiate School" had been obtained, 
Abraham Pierson, son of Branford's first settled 
minister, was chosen for the first rector, or presi- 
dent of the new college. Pierson was then min- 
ister at Killingworth. Later, after the removal to 
New Haven, Samuel Russell and Governor Salton- 
stall bore a large part of the expense of the erec- 
tion of the first building upon the present campus. 


It was during this pastorate that much of the 
lands at Indian Neck and in other portions of the 
town came into the possession of the Society. As 
early as August 9, 1675, the town had purchased, 
from John Potter, a New Haven blacksmith, two 
and one half acres of land at the Neck. March 15, 
1686, there was purchased by the "Inhabitants and 
Proprietors of Branford from Wampum ye present 
Sachem, and Nawallokis (alias Richard), Libbon 
Johnson, Geoff ery & Mannopollot (alias Young 
Rich-rd) Indians ... in consideration of ten 
pounds" more land at Indian Neck "reserving a 
parcel of upland lying at ye neck called Indian 
Neck and on ye west end of ye neck adjourning to 
that land ye English last purchased of us Indians 
above mentioned, only ye English are to have a 
highway to cart their hay from their meadow." 
Other purchases were made in 1703 and 17 16, and 
finally the entire Neck came into the possession of 
the Society. That portion known as the "Town 
Half Acres" came gradually into the same hands, 
by a series of purchases made during a period of 
more than a century; the first purchase being in 
1685, when about thirty acres were obtained, for a 
consideration of thirty-two pounds and an Indian 
coat. The Society also acquired about one hun- 
dred acres at Scotch Cap ; as well as the Town 
Meadow, of about eight acres. At first this land 
was not much used. Hay was gathered from the 
cleared ground, some was used for pasturing, and 
some was given the ministers to use as they would. 
It was also their prerogative, until after the close 


of Father Gillett's pastorate, to cut their firewood 
from the lands at Indian Neck, a committee being 
annually appointed to mark such trees as should be 
cut. From the time of Mr. Robbins' ministry the 
larger part of the lands were leased out by the 

During the first thirty years of Samuel Russell's 
pastorate he was the only minister in the township. 
But early in the eighteenth century the northern 
portion of the town began to be somewhat thickly 
settled and a separate community centered about 
Libbie's Hill, which is a little north of the present 
North Branford Village. The hill was named 
from an Indian Sachem who once lived there. 

The people of this neighborhood, who were known 
as the North Farmers, requested permission of the 
town, in 171 5, to have separate preaching for them- 
selves. They felt that the distance to the Branford 
Church was too great and that their own com- 
munity was large enough to support such services ; 
but the Branford Church was, naturally, reluctant 
to vote away a portion of its congregation, and so 
the petition was not granted. The North Farmers 
were insistent however, and, in 171 7, appealed to 
the General Court. Because of this appeal the 
town voted, in the autumn of that same year, to 
allow the people of Libbie's Hill to have a minister 
of their own for four months of each year. 

The first services were held at the home of Daniel 
Page who lived near the summit of the hill. Each 
year following, the North Farmers kept their own 


minister a longer time than in the year preceding 
and September 27, 1722, they petitioned for a per- 
manent minister. The town had by this time per- 
ceived the wisdom of the separation and it was 
voted to "set up another Society, purchase a farm 
for the minister, and build a Meeting House." A 
two hundred acre lot on the east side of Great Hill 
was selected by the old Society for the parsonage 
lands. To offset what they had done for the 
daughter society they also purchased an equal 
amount of land for themselves. There was con- 
siderable dissatisfaction among the North Farmers 
about the boundary line which the old Society had 
fixed between the two parishes. Several times 
they requested a revision of the line, and finally, 
December 30th, 1723, the town voted "that if the 
sd north farmers would set down contented with 
their former bounds that then the Town would go 
equal share with them in building & perfecting a 
meeting house, within those bounds, of forty foot 
in length and thirty foot in breadth." This propo- 
sition was accepted, and by 1725, the new Meeting 
House was well under way. Mr. Russell was pres- 
ent at the erection of the frame and made the 
prayer. The building was located within a few 
feet of the present one. It was a typical meeting 
house of its time. It had doors on the east, west, 
and south sides, had many windows with small, 
diamond-shaped panes. The floor of the audience 
room was a few inches lower than the door-sills, 
so that it was not uncommon for a person who 


entered hurriedly to stumble and to pitch headlong 
upon his face. Doubtless this furnished consider- 
able amusement to the younger members of the 
congregation, but it must have been a trifle awk- 
ward to the principal concerned, and have inter- 
fered sadly with the progress of divine worship, 
especially if late comers were as frequent then as 
now. Another interruption to the service was 
found in the high sounding box, a square roof-like 
structure above the pulpit, which served as a ren- 
dezvous for a small army of bats, which was wont 
to come forth frequently and at inauspicious times 
and go flitting about over the heads of the people. 
The church had boxed pews, and high, shut-in gal- 
leries on three sides. 

The Rev. Jonathan Merrick, a native of Spring- 
field, became the first pastor of the North Bran- 
ford Church. He was ordained there, in 1726, and 
remained until his death, in 1772, tho unable, 
because of paralysis, to perform the active duties 
of his office after the year 1769. His last public 
service was to arrange the details for the ordination 
of his sucessor. Rev. Samuel Eels. Mr. Merrick 
was an unusually large framed man, of command- 
ing appearance. He lived to hold a position of 
much influence in church and state, and served as 
one of the first members of the Yale Corporation. 
Many interesting stories are related of him, among 
them the following: Mr. Timothy Stone, him- 
self a minister, taught school awhile in the North 
Bran ford parish. He had some trouble with the 


disciplining' of his pupils — but we will let him relate 
the affair in his own words. "I had a refractory 
boy in my school whom I punished. His father 
was displeased about it and took pains to show his 
displeasure by keeping the child from school. The 
worthy minister sent for the father, who dared not 
neglect the summons. Mr. Merrick then repri- 
manded him with much severity, saying 'You 
teach rebellion in Mr. Stone's school. It shall not 
be so ; I will have you know that I will put my 
foot on your neck. This rebellious spirit shall not 
be tolerated.' The rebuke was quietly submitted to 
and had its desired effect." This story is a good 
illustration of the power of the minister in colonial 
times. His word was law, his voice believed to be 
the voice of God. But times have changed. One 
can scarcely imagine the horrible catastrophe which 
would overwhelm the modern pastor who should 
be bold enough to summon one of his flock into his 
presence and should then declare his intention of 
putting the clerical foot on his parishioner's neck. 
The yellow journals would run the tale in headlines 
for a week and the presumptuous minister speedily 
find himself in the midst of a sensational ecclesi- 
astical trial, if not in worse case. So far has the 
pendulum swung in two short centuries. 

Because of the separation of the northern por- 
tion of the town into a separate parish, it became 
necessary to keep the records of the town business 
and of the parish business distinct. Accordingly, 
in 1726, the Old or the South Society chose John 


Russell, the sixth child of Samuel Russell, for the 
Society Clerk. Church business was henceforth 
transacted in separate meetings and the minutes of 
those meetings furnish us with a trustworthy and 
more complete record than hitherto. One of the 
odd aspects of this separation of church and town 
is found in the fact that, for many years after 
other secular matters had been left wholly to the 
town, the schools remained under the jurisdiction 
of the Society, and the details of school business 
occupy a large part of these first Society Records. 
The first half of the eighteenth century saw the 
high tide of Branford's early prosperity, and 
during that period the town reached a degree of 
relative importance in the state far greater than 
it has ever attained since. It seems to be actually 
true that, in those days, Branford outstripped New 
Haven in commercial importance. The key to this 
prosperity lay in a fine fleet of sailing vessels, 
which made the Branford River their port and 
engaged in an extensive coast-wise trade, particu- 
larly with the settlements in Maine. Wharves 
were built at many points along the river, as far up 
as Mill Plain, and the harbor was improved. 
There were also large store houses at Dutch House 
Wharf, Page's Point, Landfare's Cove, Hobart's 
Wharf, and at other points along the stream. 
Wheat, corn, flax seed, rye, etc., were shipped in 
large quantities to Maine and lumber and fish 
brought back. A particularly lucrative article of 
trade was the bay berries, which were in demand 


for the making of wax, blacking and salves. So 
extensive was the commerce in these berries that 
the town found it necessary to regulate carefully 
the gathering of them, and a fine of ten shillings 
was provided as a penalty for picking them on any 
public land or highway before September fifteenth. 
Juniper berries also were extensively gathered in 
later years. The soil in the northern portions of 
the town produced excellent crops, and the Bran- 
ford land was as fine for fruits then as now, and 
dried apples were exported in large quantities. 
The names of the church members of this time 
reflect the nautical occupation of the inhabitants, 
and "Captains" were as common as in Nantucket 
or on Cape Cod. 

The prosperity which came to the town was 
shared in by the minister, who became one of the 
largest land owners in Bran ford. His name 
appears often on the town records as being one of 
the parties to some transaction in real estate. 
Besides the three hundred acres which were given 
him at his settlement, he received from the town 
several hundred acres more during his residence. 
Nor was his success wholly in matters of property. 
His own church flourished under his leadership, 
and his influence in the affairs of the colony grew 
constantly wider and more weighty. One of those 
ironies of fate, such as one meets frequently in 
history, grew out of his prominence in ecclesi- 
astical circles. In September 1708, Samuel Russell 
was a member of the Synod of churches, which sat 


at Saybrook, and one of the chief advocates of the 
historic Saybrook Platform there adopted ; a plat- 
form which was to cause severe tribulation for his 
Bran ford church, in years to come, and was to 
result in years of ecclesiastical outlawry for his 
successor in the pastorate. The main feature of 
this Platform was the institution of "Consocia- 
tions" in Connecticut, which were to displace the 
"Associations" in which Congregational churches 
habitually gathered. The "Consociation" was a 
semi-Presbyterian body. Whereas the "Associa- 
tions" were merely neighborly meetings of the 
churches of a vicinage, for friendly interchange of 
ideas and for fellowship, and possessed no legisla- 
tive or judicial powers over the constituent churches, 
but only an advisory relation ; the "Consociation" 
was intended to have real authority over the indi- 
vidual churches of which it was formed, and to 
actually adjudicate, in all cases of discipline of a 
difficult nature. Moreover it did not even need to 
wait for a church to request its aid, but could take 
up any question on its own initiative, even against 
the will of the church concerned. The new organ- 
ization was intended as a means of strengthening 
the churches, but was an unpopular one in many 
parts of the state. Branford church joined in the 
meetings of the New Haven Consociation but did 
not formally accept the new plan, and in later years 
declared that it had never consented to it. But the 
plan was approved of by the legislature, and so 
became the law of the land. 


Towards the close of the second decade of the 
century, the health of Mr. Russell began to fail 
considerably, so that he was often unable to be in 
his pulpit of a Sunday. The church was consid- 
erate towards his infirmity and made repeated pro- 
vision for assistance in his duties. In April, 1726, 
it was voted that Deacon Baldwin and others 
should be a committee "to hire some sutable person 
to be helpful to Mr. Russell for three months as 
there may be need." This same year ten pounds 
was added to his salary. In 1728, Deacon Baldwin 
is again directed to provide assistance, whenever 
the pastor is unable to preach ; and in September, 
1729, it was voted to hire a school teacher, who 
should also regularly assist Mr. Russell in his 

But, in spite of these expedients, advanced 

age and disease interfered more and more often 

with his labors and the time was soon at hand when 

both the church and Mr. Russell himself saw clearly 

that he must lay aside the active pastorate. The 

matter was settled in the most harmonious manner. 

A committee was chosen who waited upon Mr. 

Russell and the matter was informally discussed. 

Then the following letter was addressed to the 

Church and Society : 

"Branford, June 30, 1730. 

"My good neighbors and friends : 

I perceive, by your committee that have been with me, 
that you are desirous of endeavours towards settling 
another minister that may be pastor to this church while 
I live, and become your sole pastor when I am gone. I 


pray God direct and guide you in that great affair, and, 
as for me, I shall not at all interrupt your free choice, if 
it should so happen that your choice should not fall where 
I should have pitched, was it, in my power to choose. And 
so for my support, the little time I have to live among 
you, I am not much concerned about it. I only say this 
about it, that I incline yet to hold the inprovement of the 
'half acres' at Indian Neck, during my life ; and will now 
relinquish to the Society the meadow in the 'Mill quarter,' 
and the land and meadow at 'Scotch Cap.' I conclude 
you will not think it unreasonable to find me firewood 
while I live. As for yearly salary for my support, you 
may do just as God may incline your hearts. I leave it 
wholly with you, depending not on an arm of flesh, but on 
the Living God for my daily bread, and all other neces- 
saries of life ; and am not at all afraid but that He who 
feeds the young ravens when they cry, will provide for 
my support. I am yours, in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus 


Samuel Russell." 

The Society held a meeting and gratefully accepted 
Mr. Russell's plan, and also voted that he should 
receive thirty pounds, iii bills of credit, by the last 
day of March of each year. They chose a com- 
mittee and instructed it to obtain Mr. Samuel Sher- 
man, of New Haven, to supply for them. Mr. 
Sherman came, and in September they voted, by a 
small majority, to request him to remain with 
them. He declined, and the matter remained in 
dispute among them for some time. The minority 
were strongly opposed to Mr. Sherman, and Mr. 
Russell disapproved of him. He was invited sev- 
eral other times, by the same divided vote, but con- 
sistentlv refused to come. 


After a pastorate of more than forty-three years, 
Mr. Russell died, on June 25, 1731, at the age of 
seventy-one. He left nine children, three of whom 
became ministers ; Samuel being pastor of the 
church at North Guilford, Daniel of the church at 
Newport, Rhode Island, and Ebenezer of the Ston- 
ington church. The elder daughter, Abigail, mar- 
ried Joseph Morse, who was minister at Derby, and 
found the lot of a minister's wife so pleasant that, 
after his death, she married Rev. Samuel Cook. 
His granddaughter, Mrs. Ezekiel Hayes, is buried 
in the crypt of Center Church, New Haven, and 
one of her descendants became president of the 
United States. Samuel Russell's wife survived 
him not quite two years, and they both were buried 
in the Branford Cemetery, where a table monument 
marks their resting place. 

During Mr. Russell's ministry two hundred 
thirty-seven members were added to the church, of 
whom ninety-six were males and one hundred 
forty-one females. He baptized eight hundred 
seventy persons, eight hundred thirty-three of these 
being infants. Under his leadership the church 
grew from being an unorganized group of worship- 
pers, in an obscure settlement, and became one of 
the strong churches of the state, with a position of 
relative importance in denominational affairs much 
greater than it has ever had since. 

Lacking somewhat of the eloquence of Sherman 
or of Pierson, Mr. Russell more than compensated 
for it by his sagacity and business-like acumen. He 


was a statesman, rather than a prophet, in his min- 
istry, and he laid well the foundations of the reor- 
ganized church, and reared upon those foundations 
a building of which no man need be ashamed. His 
work, and the debt we owe him as a builder, will 
endure so long as Branford church shall last. 


Samuel Russell had died in June of 1731. No 
immediate attempt was made to find a successor to 
his office. According to the prevalent custom, the 
pulpit was supplied frequently by the neighboring 
ministers of the Consociation, and also by Mr. Rus- 
sell's sons. The filling of the vacant pulpit came 
about in an accidental way. A Mr. Philemon Rob- 
bins, who had graduated from Harvard in 1729, 
thought it would be great fun to attend the com- 
mencement exercises and "to see the Wooden 
College," at New Haven. While he was there, it 
so happened that the church in Branford was with- 
out a supply for its pulpit. One of the members 
of the committee went to New Haven to obtain a 
preacher, chanced to hear Robbins, hunted him up, 
and invited him to preach in Branford on the fol- 
lowing Sunday. He accepted the invitation and his 
services were so universally approved that, Sep- 
tember 1 8th, he was invited to fill the pulpit for 
four Sundays, with a view to settlement. He did 
this, and was called to the pastorate on October 9th, 

It was voted "to give him for settlement 400 £ 
and to be paid in two year's time, 200 £ ye first 
year and 200 £ ye next and for sallary 130 £ 
per annum and his fire wood ye whole time during 
his continuing a Dissenting minister among us. 
And the sallary to be paid by ye first of July yearly, 
and in case ye currency of bills should alter either- 


ways from what they are now, then to come to 
some new and reasonable agreement." Capt. Rus- 
sell, Capt. Saltonstall, John Linsley, Lieut. Stent, 
Mr. Isaac Foote, Ensign Harrison and Lieut. Har- 
rison were chosen as a committee to notify Mr. 
Robbins of the call. The following answer was 
received from him, and was read at a meeting of 
the Society, held on December 27, 1732: 

"To the Church and people of Christ in Branford: 
grace, mercy, and peace be muhiplied. Brethren and 
dearly beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, my heart's desire 
and prayer to God is that you may be happily settled : 
and whereas it has pleased Almighty God to unite your 
hearts to me, inasmuch that you have unanimously given 
me an invitation to settle with you in the great and impor- 
tant work of the Gospel ministry, I have thought delib- 
erately and impartially thereupon; and I know not that 
I have been wanting to use all proper methods whereby to 
be determined, viz : in consulting the will of heaven, my 
own inclinations, as also advising with superior gentle- 
men of the ministerial order; and upon the whole my 
determination is, in the fear of God, to accept your call; 
trusting in your continuous affections and prayers, and 
relying upon the spirit and grace of God for assistance to 
so great a work; that I may be enabled to discharge a 
good conscience by my fidelity towards souls in this place; 
earnestly praying, as also desiring an interest in your 
prayers with me, that the Great Sheperd of the sheep 
would make me the happy instrument of convincing and 
converting sinners in this place and building up saints in 
faith and holiness, that God's blessing may be upon us 
and his glorious kingdom advanced by us. Amen. From 
your friend and servant in the Lord, 

Philemon Robbins. 
Branford, Dec. 27, 1732." 


The new minister was the son of Nathaniel Rob- 
bins, and the grandson of Rev. Nathaniel Robbins, 
a Scotchman, who came to this country in 1670 and 
settled at Charlestown, Massachusetts. After grad- 
uation from Harvard, Philemon Robbins studied 
theology with Rev. Nathaniel Appleton, a Cam- 
bridge minister. While thus engaged, he received 
a call to settle \vith the church at Harvard, Mass., 
but declined to accept. Mr. Robbins was of medium 
stature and was somewhat corpulent. He had a 
powerful voice, of pleasing quality ; a ready com- 
mand of language, especially in "ex tempore" 
preaching; and was especially noted for his fer- 
vency and strength in public prayer. He was nat- 
urally of benevolent disposition, gracious of spirit, 
and with pleasing manners. Altho by no means a 
scholar, he was always a popular preacher; was 
quick to learn, and of retentive memory, but pre- 
ferred breadth of knowledge rather than complete 
mastery of more narrow fields. His spirit was that 
of the present age rather than of the times in which 
he lived ; with the consequence that he was always 
progressive in thought and message, and often suf- 
fered for his advanced views. Two of his sermon 
manuscripts have been preserved, and are now in 
the custody of the clerk of the church. In form, 
each is a small booklet, about one half the dimen- 
sions of an ordinary sheet of note paper in size, 
neatly sewed together, and filled with writing of 
almost microscopic size. One wonders how they 
could have been of any possible use in the pulpit. 


By vote of the Society, Wednesday, the twenty- 
fourth day of January, was set apart for the day of 
ordination. This was later altered to Wednesday, 
the seventh day of February. Since an Ordination 
Day was an event of tremendous social importance, 
in those colonial times, it was felt that the Meeting 
House would be too small to hold all who desired to 
attend the service, and so the Society ordered "that 
no negro servant be admitted to enter ye meeting 
house on ye ordination Day." At that time about 
one hundred thirty or the total population of six- 
teen hundred were black. As a preparation for the 
day of ordination, Wednesday the twenty-fourth of 
January, was observed by the whole town as a day 
of Fasting and Prayer. We are fortunate in hav- 
ing an account of the ordination itself, in Mr. Rob- 
bins' own hand, as the first entry on the records of 
the church. These records, beginning at this time, 
were kept, as a sort of private journal, by the min- 
isters of the church ; there being no church clerk 
appointed until more than a century later. Mr. 
Robbins' account of his own ordination is as fol- 
lows : "The Rev. Mr. Samuel Whittlesey of Wal- 
lingford made the first prayer and preached the 
sermon from Ezezekiel III. 17, 18, 19. Then the 
Rev. Mr. Jacob Hemingway of East Haven, made 
a prayer and gave me the charge. Then the Rev. 
Mr. Samuel Russell of Cohabit (North Guilford), 
made a prayer. Then the Rev. Mr. Isaac Stiles of 
North Haven gave me the right hand of fellow- 
ship. Then I named the Psalm, ii8th Psalm, 4th 
part, and gave the blessing." 


Soon after his ordination, the Society voted that 
"there should be a pew made for Mr. Robbins on 
the west part of ye pulpit stairs" ; which vote was 
later altered "to be most agreeable to Mr. Robbins 
his mind" and "that it should be made on ye west 
side of ye fore Door next to it, and that ye two 
hind Seats on ye mens side, Should be taken off for 
conveniency thereof, and that there should be 
another pew made between this and ye Gallery 
Stairs at ye Societys charge and Seated by ye 
Com"'* appointed in case Mr. Rosewell Saltonstall 
cant be prevailed with to alter his place for his pew 
and take this other. So that those Short Seats 
between the stairs and ye west part of ye house 
should be released." It would seem that Capt. 
Saltonstall did not favor this arrangement, for, 
soon afterwards, he "moved to ye Society yt he 
might build his pew in ye place first granted to him, 
and ye Society complied with his motion and 
granted him ye liberty of ye two hind seats there- 
for. The Society voted yt ye Seaters last appointed 
Should Seat ye pew adjoyning to Mr. Robbins 
pew, and all those persons that shall be unseated by 
reason of Capt. Saltonstalls pew : voted that ye 
negros should be moved to ye hind Seat in ye side 
gallery on ye west side of ye house. It was agreed 
that ye place where ye negros did set be made up 
with Seats by ye Societys Com**^*' unles a certain 
Sufficient number of persons should appear to build 
a pew or pews theron at their own cost." A great 
many negro slaves were owned by Bran ford people, 
at that time, Mr. Robbins himself owning one a 


little later. They generally were kindly treated, 
and were received as members of the church, 
usually without privilege of voting, tho even this 
right was sometimes given them, as when (July 28, 
1732) it was voted that "Ader the negro Ser^ of 
Dea. Russell" be given liberty to vote. 

Mr. Robbins came to Branford a bachelor, but he 
had not long resided in the town before he was 
captivated by the attractiveness of a young lady 
whose name was Hannah, the daughter of Isaac 
and Rebecca Foote. Hannah, for her part, seemed 
not invulnerable to the attentions of the youthful 
minister, so they were married on the twenty- 
fourth day of the last month of 1735. The young 
couple went to live in the new house which the 
people of the town had helped Mr. Robbins build, 
shortly after his settlement. This house was situ- 
ated upon a road which ran at right angles to the 
present Montowese Street, entering the meadows 
on both the east and west sides of that street, and 
crossing it near Wilford Avenue. This road 
rejoiced in the euphonious name of "Pig Lane," 
and upon it were several houses, among them the 
first Stent house, built by the original Eleazur 
Stent. The land upon which the Robbins house 
was erected had been presented to the minister by 
Samuel Barker, who owned a beautiful estate on 
Cherry Hill, where he lived after the manner of an 
old English squire, and this land was but one of 
the many gifts which sprang from a great friend- 
ship between Barker and Robbins. Mrs. Robbins 


was a good wife to her husband and bore him nine 
children, all born in this one house. Their home 
became famous for its marked hospitality, and her 
name comes down to us as embodying the virtues 
of old New Englandry housewifery. All honor to 
her memory. 

Even as the beginning of the pastorate of Samuel 
Russell was signalized by the outgrowing of the 
old house of worship and the erection of a new and 
more commodious one, so was the coming of Phile- 
mon Robbins marked by the realization that the old 
building was inadequate and the determination to 
replace it with a new and more spacious one. The 
division of the parish, by the setting off by them- 
selves of the North Farmers, had been more than 
offset by the rapid growth of the town. Moreover 
the old house was felt to be not pretentious enough 
nor sufficiently up to date. Accordingly, February 
28, 1738, the Society met and discussed the situa- 
tion, "considering that ye meeting house is much 
out of repair and fearing it may be grown too 
small in ye summer season," and, at an adjourned 
meeting (March 15), decided to build another 
house. Nothing more was done, however, until the 
following October, when it was again voted to 
build, and the place for the new edifice was fixed 
upon — a spot "which is on ye westward Side of ye 
old meeting house and as near thereto as conven- 
iently maybe." "The Dimentions voted and agreed 
upon were 60 feet in Length, and 44 feet in breadth, 
and 24 feet posts between Joynts." It was ordered 


that there should be gathered together, before the 
first of the following March, "some boards and 
Shingles for ye house." As the months went on 
there seemed some question in peoples' minds as to 
the wisdom of the dimensions chosen and, in Feb- 
ruary, it was decided to alter them so that they 
should be, for length, "64 feet, by ye posts 26 feet." 

Work seems to have gone on slowly, for it is not 
until April 1741, that we read that the committee 
"should proceed in fraiming ye new meeting house, 
raising & Covering this following summer" ; and it 
is not until February, of 1744, that the work was 
sufficiently advanced for the committee to be urged 
to "go forward with ye meeting house for ye 
finishing all ye inside work thereof this summer if 
it can be." In August of that year, the committee 
was given "liberty of taking the timber and boards 
out of ye old meeting house therefor what should 
be fitting." The building would seem to have been 
completed early in^ September 1744, for, upon the 
seventeenth day of that month, it was directed 
"that ye old meeting house should be pulled down." 
The material from the old house, with the excep- 
tion of the glass, which was kept for the new 
building, was sold for about sixty pounds. 

An old print of this third home of the Bran ford 
Church has come down to us ; tho it depicts the 
building as it appeared more than fifty years later, 
or at the beginnings of Mr. Gillett's term of office, 
rather than as it looked at the time of its erection. 
The original building had no clock nor steeple. 

The steeple was not added until 1803, and the clock 
was placed therein in the summer of 1804. There 
is an interesting story concerning the erection of 
the steeple. It happened that, at the beginning of 
the nineteenth century, the newly reorganized Epis- 
copal Church purchased some fine lumber to be 
used for building a steeple for their new church, 
but their funds proved insufficient for the carrying 
out of their plans, and so they were compelled to 
sell the timbers, which they had prepared, to the 
Congregational Society, and they were used in the 
erection of the Congregational steeple. Inasmuch 
as the feeling between the two churches was not 
very cordial at that time, this was regarded, by the 
Episcopalians, as a cause for much chagrin, and, 
by the Congregationalists, as an occasion of con- 
siderable satisfaction. The money for making 
these additions was gained from the sale of 
lumber, from the Society lands, and by the estab- 
lishment and operation of "salt works" at Indian 
Neck, for obtaining salt from the sea water, by 

The new meeting house was situated nearly in 
front of the present edifice, but faced almost in the 
opposite direction. It was occupied by the church 
for practically a century, or until the erection of 
the present building, in its original form, in 1843. 
About a month before its completion, "Capt. Jno 
Russell, I sac Harrison, Deacon Rose, Capt. Nath" 
Harrison & Will™ Goodrich, were appointed a 
com"**" to Seat ye new meeting house and in seating 


to have regard to Age, Dignity & ye rates Layed 
therefor." It was not until February of 1745-6 
that it was voted "yt there be a floor Laid on ye 
Beems in ye meeting house" ; and it would seem 
that the building was first painted, inside, the pre- 
ceding summer, for it was then voted that the 
amount remaining due "for coulering ye inside of 
ye meeting house" be paid. Upon April Fool's Day 
1746, a vote was passed "yt ye 2 pews in ye Gal- 
lery in ye meeting house on ye east side be for ye 
Women to Set in, & ye 3 west pews be for ye men 
to set in & yt ye Society Look upon it Disorderly 
for ye men to Intrude into ye Womens part or go 
up & down ye womens Stairs or ye women to 
intrude into ye mens part or go up & down ye mens 
stairs & also yt ye mens part be seperated from ye 
womens with a rail." Upon the same day it was 
agreed "yt Capt. Harrison Tune ye Psalm on ye 
Sabbath & other Times of Divine worship" and also 
"yt Jno. Russell Jun'' sit in ye 3rd seat in ye 
Squair Body of ye meeting House to be helpfull in 
Singing." The church records contain an interest- 
ing entry, under the date of February 5, 1763, 
where it is stated that it was decided "to request 
ye Rev*^ Mr. Robbins to make use of Doc"" Watts 
Imitation of ye Psalms of David one half ye Day 
in Publick Worship instead of ye New England 
Psalms now in use among us." This meant a dis- 
tinct improvement in the qiiality of the church ser- 
vice, for the "New England Psalm Book," while 
exceedingly interesting to bibliophiles, as an anti- 


quity, was an atrocious attempt at versification of 
the Psalms, with such an absolute lack of rhyme 
or meter that it is nearly inconceivable that the 
book should ever have been used successfully. At 
the same time that this change was made Mr. 
Robbins was also requested "to introduce ye Prac- 
tice of constantly reading" some part of ye Holy 
Scriptures in ye Publick Worship of God." Pre- 
viously to this time, the only way in which the Bible 
had been read in the church service was when it 
was "expounded" by the minister, i.e. — when the 
minister would read a chapter, phrase by phrase, 
commenting upon each phrase as he progressed in 
the reading, and making', practically, a sort of 
exegetical sermon of the perfomiance. The unin- 
terrupted reading of a portion of Scripture was 
unknown in early New England worship. 

Before Mr. Robbins had been pastor many years, 
a granddaughter was born to the Branford Church. 
The extreme northern portion of the town was 
becoming thickly settled, and soon there was a 
growing desire among the people of that region for 
services of their own. They were joined in this 
wish by certain outlying families from Guilford 
and Wallingford. Meetings were held at the home 
of Isaac Ingraham as early as 1744. A meeting 
house, fifty feet long and forty feet wide, was built 
in 1746; and on June 13, 1750, the Northford 
Church was organized, with nineteen charter mem- 
bers. All of these original members were men, but 
the next month twenty-two women were added, and 


one man, the women being mostly the wives of the 
first members. The first pastor of the new church 
was Rev. Wareham WilHams, grandson of Rev. 
John WilHams of Deerfield, who had been carried 
to Canada by the Indians as a captive in 1704, and 
the son of Rev. Stephen Williams, the pastor at 
Long Meadow. He was ordained on the same day 
that the church was organized, and he served as 
pastor of the church for thirty-eight years. He was 
also secretary of Yale College and a member of the 
Yale Corporation. Of more than usual interest is 
the fact that his daughter, Anna, was the wife of 
three ministers in turn, two of them, Rev. Jason 
Atwater and Rev. Lynde Huntington, being suc- 
cessors of Mr. Robbins in the pastorate of the 
Branford Church. The later history of the North- 
ford Church is an interesting one, and has been ably 
set forth in a sermon, preached on the occasion of 
one of its anniversaries, and privately printed. 
The church at Northford has exerted an influence 
far out of proportion to its size upon the life of the 
state, and has furnished a notable number of men 
of large calibre and unusual talent to New England 

Returning, now, to the history of the Branford 
Church, we come upon events of epochal impor- 
tance; the story of the outlawing of Philemon 
Robbins, for heresy, for rebellion and for crimes 
against the state, and of how minister and church 
alike, for many years defied the power and sentence 
of the Consociation and lived a separate life, 


debarred from the fellowship of the sister churches. 
It is a long narrative, but it is well worth the retell- 
ing because the story of the struggle is the story 
of a battle waged, for the real Congregational prin- 
ciple of liberty of speech and conscience, against the 
false doctrine of a bygone day. Philemon Robbins 
has been vindicated by Time and his lonely struggle 
with long odds has been crowned with victory. 

We are to be congratulated in having for our 
sources two pamphlets, both very rare, presenting 
the opposite sides of the controversy. In the first 
of these pamphlets we have Mr. Robbins' statement 
of his own case. It is entitled : 

"A Plain Narration of the Proceedings of the Reverend 
Association and Consociation of New Haven County 
Against the Rev. Mr. Robbins of Branford, since the Year 
1741 ; and the Doings of his Church and People, with 
some Remarks by Another Hand, in a Letter to a Friend. 
By Philemon Robbins, A.M., and Pastor of the First 
Church in Branford. Acts 4:23 'And reported all that the 
Chief Priests and Elders had said unto them.' Boston : 
Printed and Sold by S. Kneeland and T. Green in Queen 
Street 1747." 

The other pamphlet was an answer to this state- 
ment by Robbins, and was prepared by order of 
the Consociation, and was probably written, in large 
part, by Rev. Nathaniel Chauncy, of Derby. Its 
title-page reads as follows : 

"Defence and Doings of the Reverend Consociation 
and Association of New Haven County respecting Mr. 
Philemon Robbins, of Branford; or An Answer to Mr. 


Robbins Plain Narrative and the remarks annexed thereto. 
Wherein many of the false representations of that narra- 
tive are corrected, and the plain truth is faithfully 
declared ; and the insufficiency of the Remarkers Essay to 
vindicate Mr. Robbins is discovered. By a member of the 
Consociation and Association of New Haven County, 
iii John 9, 10 ver : I wrote unto the Church; but Dio- 
trephes who loved to have the preeminence among them, 
received us" not. Wherefore if I come, I will remember 
his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with mali- 
cious words. 

Job 23, 3 : Now hast thou plentifully declared the thing 
as it is. 

Job 15, 3: Thou choosest the tongue of the crafty. 

Prov. 18, 17 : He that is first in his own cause seemeth 
just, but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him. Ver. 
13: He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it 
is folly and shame unto him. 

Printed for the Consociation and Association of New 
Haven County, 1748." 

One is unfavorably impressed, at the start, by the 
seemingly malicious tone of this latter leaflet, but it 
is needful to remember that common courtesy and 
restrained speech were notable for their absence in 
the literary style of the polemical pamphlets of that 
period, and that the moderation of Mr. Robbins' 
language was the exception, and the bitterness of 
the other was the rule. So much for the sources, 
which we shall follow, in as unprejudiced a manner 
as we may ; let us now turn to the narrative itself. 
When our first forefathers began the settlement 
of New England they brought with them a stem 
but virile faith and an earnest piety. The impress 
of this vital and consecrated Godliness was felt for 


decades, and laid its impress upon the new formed 
state. Their forsaking of home and country, for 
sake of conscience; their fearful struggles with 
cold and famine and hardship, in the subduing of 
the wilderness ; the isolation and the perils of their 
colonial life, with the corresponding erasure of the 
ordinary props and aids of living, and the throwing 
of every man upon his own resource and initiative ; 
above all the uncertainty of each new day and 
month, and the critical danger of future impending 
disaster ; all of these made it easy for the fathers 
to appreciate their utter dependence upon Almighty 
God, and to believe that the only hope for their 
future, in the new land, lay in the protecting provi- 
dence of His Divine Sovereignty. Thus it is not 
strange that man and God walked often together, 
in these days when man knew so well the weak 
inabilities of man, nor that the early common- 
wealths were strongholds of Godly faith. Men 
realized their utter dependence upon God, and with 
that realization there came blessing. But this 
happy condition did not endure for long. As the 
perils of the wilderness were faced and conquered, 
and as the hand of man was placed upon the face 
of nature and her unkind obstacles to his plans were 
one by one removed, life became less dangerous, 
less uncertain, and less difficult. Men became more 
confident of their own self sufficiency and of their 
own ability to cope with their lessened daily prob- 
lems. After a while came comfort, then luxury, 
and luxury is ever the enemy of religion. God's 


hou?e began to be neglected, his ordinances for- 
saken, the stern oldtime piety softened. Faith 
became weak, and conscience hardened, and char- 
acters flabby. It is the okl story of ungrateful 
humanity. When men face desperate need they 
grasp God's hand, and when He has succored them 
they forget Him. 

So it came to pass that the early years of the 
eighteenth century witnessed a decadence in the 
spiritual life of the New England Colonies. 
Church and state were more and more separated ; 
the Calvinistic theology, which had been a tower of 
strength to the Pilgrims, became devitalized ; and 
the ordinances of the church were no longer indis- 
pensable, as of old. Church membership ceased to 
be synonymous with deep personal experience, and 
the erstwhile fires of zealous piety died to mere 
smouldering coals. The contrast was marked, and 
it was deeply felt by the leaders of the churches. 

It was in this Laodicean time that Jonathan 
Edwards began his great revival, at Northampton, 
which soon spread thruout the colonies. Coinci- 
dently with this revival of religion, George White- 
field, the noted English evangelist, began a series 
of five tours thruout the New England settlements. 
Upon his first tour, in 1740, he was everywhere 
received with the utmost enthusiasm and by great 
multitudes. But he was a man of fierce emotions, 
and was often censorious, to the point of harsh 
invective. Especially bitter was he against the 


ministers of the day, whom he felt were uncon- 
verted and spiritually blind ; and he did not hesi- 
tate to express that bitterness, often in immoderate 
and unjust language. So it is scarcely astonishing 
that he made many determined enemies, or that 
some, of colder temperament than himself, con- 
sidered him mentally unbalanced. Upon his later 
tours he found many towns and churches closed 
against him, among these most of those of the New 
Haven colony. Branford church, however, wel- 
comed him, to the displeasure of the clergy of the 

As many a good minister, in these later days, has 
brought discredit upon himself by an endeavor to 
"ape" "Billy" Sunday, doubtlessly in a sincere 
effort to reproduce the spiritual achievements of 
that well known evangelist, but with a lamentable 
unconsciousness of the disparity in genius between 
himself and his pattern ; so was it in the days of 
Whitefield. Ministers began to imitate him, upon 
every hand, and many of them were guilty of wild 
excesses which worked havoc with the reputation 
of their master. Speedily New England became 
divided into two parties : those who condemned the 
work of the evangelists — the "Old Lights," and 
those who defended them and felt that their labors 
were renewing the spiritual life of the people — the 
"New Lights." In reality the distinction between 
the parties ran much deeper, and the former party 
were the conservatives of the time, and the latter 


the liberals. Feeling was bitter indeed, and each 
party was arrayed in a struggle to the death against 
the other. 

Now it happened that the "Old Lights" held the 
reins of power in Connecticut and that the region 
about New Haven was a veritable stronghold of 
them; and it also happened that the Reverend Mr. 
Philemon Robbins was not one of their number, 
and that so they set themselves to work for his 
undoing. The means were not far to seek. Accu- 
rately and cleverly perceiving that a sure way to 
put an end to the activities of the itinerant evan- 
gelists would be to confine the activities of the 
"New Light" ministers to their own parishes, the 
New Haven Consociation, at a meeting held at 
Guilford in 1741, had passed the following vote: 
"that for any minister to enter into another min- 
ister's parish, and preach or administer the Seals 
of the Covenant, without the consent of, or in 
opposition to the settled minister of the parish, is 
disorderly. Notwithstanding, if a considerable 
number of people in the parish are desirous to hear 
another minister preach, provided the same be 
orthodox and sound in the Faith, and not notori- 
ously faulty in censureing other persons, or guilty 
of any other scandal, we think it ordinarily advis- 
able for the minister of the parish to gratify them 
by giving his consent upon their suitable application 
to him for it, unless neighboring ministers should 
advise against it." This vote seems very reason- 
able, at first sight, but, if examined carefully and 


thoughtfully, will be seen to leave small chance for 
any minister who was not in favor with his "Old 
Lig-ht" neighbors to preach outside of his own 

The vote was supplemented, strengthened and 
made state-wide, by an act of the General Court, 
soon after, which read in part as follows: "If 
any minister or ministers, contrary to the true 
intent and meaning of this act, shall presume to 
preach in any parish, not under his immediate care 
and charge, the minister of the parish where he 
shall so offend, or the civil authority, or any of the 
committee of said parish, shall give information 
thereof, in writing' under their hands to the clerk 
of the society of the parish where such offending 
minister doth belong, which clerk shall receive such 
information and lodge and keep the same on file in 
his office, and no assistant or justice of the peace in 
this colony, shall sign any warrant for collecting 
any minister's rate, without first receiving a certifi- 
cate from the clerk of the society or parish where 
such rate is to be collected, that no such informa- 
tion as is mentioned hath been received by him or 
lodged in his office." This act was rigorously 
enforced and, under it, several ministers were 
driven from the ministry. A Mr. Humphreys, 
minister at Derby, was deposed for officiating at a 
Baptist meeting; Timothy Allen, of New Haven, 
was expelled for stating that "the reading of the 
Scriptures, without the Spirit's aid, will no more 
convert a sinner, than reading an old Almanack" — 

surely not a very blasphemous remark; while Mr. 
Todd, of Northbury, Mr. Lee. of Salisbury, and 
Mr. Leavenworth, of Waterbury, were also cast 
into the outer darkness and disfellowshipped, upon 
equally weighty pretexts. The truth, we cannot but 
be convinced, is that the conservative majority were 
out after the blood of the liberal few and were not 
scrupulous about how they obtained it. The turn 
of Philemon Robbins was to come soon, and the 
score against him was a heavy one. 

Mr. Robbins was an earnest and ardent leader 
among the "New Lights." It was by his influence 
that the Branford church had invited Whitefield to 
preach a second time, despite the mandate of the 
State Association that "it would by no means be 
advisable for any of our Ministers to admitt him 
into their Pulpits, or for any of our people to 
attend upon his Preaching and Administrations." 
He had also held special evangelistic meetings, in 
his parish, and had induced his people to join in the 
special services of prayer, for a revival of religion, 
which had originated with the churches of Scot- 
land. From time to time he had invited outside 
assistance, notably the evangelist Davenport, who 
was in ill repute with the conservatives for his 
extravagances. Yet, when Davenport began sing- 
ing loudly, upon his way to the meeting. Mr. Rob- 
bins reproved him openly for unseemly conduct, he 
himself having small sympathy for excesses but 
only a very earnest desire for a spiritual reawaken- 


ing- among his people. But, for all these things, 
Robbins was in disfavor with the conservatives. 

A number of years before Mr. Robbins came to 
Branford, a little group of Baptists began hold- 
ing meetings in the town of Wallingford. They 
ordained Mr. John Merriman, as their minister, and 
organized a separate church, refusing to pay their 
church rates to the Congregational Society. By 
the advice of Governor Talcott, the Wallingford 
Society let them alone and did not attempt to collect 
these taxes. The Society and the Wallingford 
minister. Rev. Samuel Whittlesey, a prominent 
member of the "Old Light" party, were very sensi- 
tive about the presence and activities of this Bap- 
tist body. During the closing months of the year 
1 741, these Wallingford Baptists, who had caught 
the revival spirit which was abroad in the state, 
were holding a series of Evangelistic services, 
much to the resentment of the established Society. 
Through the influence of a certain Baptist lady who 
had attended his services in Branford, Mr. Rob- 
bins received the following invitation to participate 
in these special meetings : 

"To Mr. Robbins, Branford. 

Sir : — After suitable respects to yourself, this note is to 
inform you that Mr. Bellamy has been with us at Walling- 
ford, and preached in our Baptist Society to very good 
satisfaction and success on several persons both of our 
people, and also those of your denomination, with whom 
we desire to join heartily in the internals of religion, 
though we can't in form ; so that it seems to be the desire 


of both denominations here, that yourself would oblige 
us with a sermon or two as soon as you can after the next 
week; and please to send me when. This is also my 
desire for the good of souls and the glory of God. 
Sir, yours in good affection, 

John Merriman, Elder. 
Wallingford, Dec. 23, 1741." 

The invitation offered an attractive opportunity for 
an act of neighborliness and was, as such, accepted. 
But, upon the day before that set for the service, 
Mr. Robbins received two notes from members of 
the Congregational Society in WalHngford, and 
also notes from the Rev. Mr. Hemingway and 
from Rev. Mr. Stiles, requesting him not to attend 
the meeting. Robbins could not, however, feel that 
there was any good reason for breaking his engage- 
ment. He attended the meeting, preached two 
sermons to large congregations, was received enthu- 
siastically, and was consulted, after the meeting, by 
several people about their souls' welfare. Both he 
and the Baptist people felt that the services had 
been much blessed. 

It was on January 6th, 1742, that Robbins 
preached to the Wallingford Baptists. It is said 
that he also preached for dissenting congregations 
at Haddam and at Middlefield, His enemies made 
the most of their opportunity. The Wallingford 
case was a flagrant violation of the rule of the 
Guilford gathering, and of the act of the General 
Court. The offence was heightened by the fact 
that Mr. Robbins had previously been invited by 


Mr. Whittlesey, the Congregational minister, to 
preach in his church and had declined to do so. 
The affair was brought to the formal attention of 
the Consociation at its meeting at New Haven, 
February 9, 1742. The following complaint was 
entered by Theophilus Yale, a delegate from Wal- 
lingf ord : 

"The subscriber, do certify, in way of complaint, to this 
reverend Consociation, that on the 6*'^ day of January last 
past, the Rev. Mr. Philemon Robbins did enter into the 
First Society of Wallingford, and preach in a disorderly 
manner, in contempt of the authority of this Consociation, 
without the consent of the Rev. Mr. Whittlesey, pastor of 
said society; contrary to the act of the Guilford Council; 
contrary to an act of this Consociation, and contrary to 
the desire of his neighboring ministers, and a great num- 
ber of church members in Wallingford. 

Theophilus Yale." 

Mr. Robbins was present and defended himself 
against the accusation. He claimed that he had not 
been present at the Guilford meeting, that the 
doings of that meeting had never been accepted by 
the Consociation, and that the Baptists in Walling-' 
ford were, by reason of their exemption from the 
payment of church rates to the Congregational 
Society, practically an independent parish. He 
also said that he saw "much about being contrary 
to the law of the Guilford Council, of the Conso- 
ciation, and of his brother ministers, but nothing 
about its being contrary to the law of God." His 
defence was deemed unsatisfactory, and it was 


insisted that he should confess his fault and make 
apology. He declined to do so, and they offered 
him over night to reconsider, but, upon his insisting 
that he should not change his mind, they passed the 
following resolutions : 

"At a meeting of the Consociation of New Haven 
county, convened by and according to adjournment at 
New Haven, February 9th, 1742. A complaint being 
given in by Theophilus Yale, Esq., a member of the First 
church in Wallingford, against the Rev. Philemon Rob- 
bins, pastor of the First church in Branford, within this 
county, that the said Air. Philemon Robbins has preached 
in said First society in Wallingford, in a disorderly and 
offensive manner, as by said complaint is set forth and 
laid before the Consociation : 

"Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Robbins so preaching was 

"Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Philemon Robbins should 
not sit as a member of this council for his disorderly 

This action did not go far enough to satisfy the 
Branford pastor's ecclesiastical enemies. Accord- 
ingly they worked among the malcontents of his 
own home church, with such good result that, at 
the next meeting of the Consociation, a complaint 
was read which emanated from his own people. 
Acting upon the complaint the Consociation sent to 
Mr. Robbins, who was not present, the following 
note : 

"The Association of the County of New Haven con- 
vened at New Cheshire May 31, 1743. To the Rev. Mr. 
Philemon Robbins, Pastor of the First Church in Bran- 


ford. Reverend Sir, and dear Brother; By a paper, given 
into this Association by one of the members of your 
church, and signed by six members of the same, we are 
given to understand that there is an uneasiness among a 
number of your people, with your conduct and manage- 
ment, in sundry particulars ; and, hoping that it may be 
of good service, we have desired a number of our body, 
viz. : the Rev. Messrs. Jacob Hemingway, Samuel Russell, 
Samuel Hall, Isaac Stiles, and Johnathan Merrick, to 
repair to Branford on the second Tuesday of June next 
to make inquiry into the difficulties among your people, 
and shall rejoice if they may be instrumental of good and 
peace among you ; and hoping you w- ill take this in good 
part, and treat the motion candidly, we heartily wish you 

Test, Thomas Ruggles, Scribe. 

By order of Association." 

The charges which had been entered against Mr. 
Robbins' conduct were the following five : 

"i, That Mr. Robbins has set up lectures, without a 
vote of the church for it. 

2, That he denies the platform. 

3, That he has baptized a child at New Haven. 

4, That he is a promoter of divisions and seperations. 

5, That he admits members of a seperate church at 
New Haven to the Communion." 

Mr. Robbins was much surprised at the accusa- 
tions, and still more so when he discovered that, of 
the six subscribers to them, one was an aged man 
who was mentally irresponsible, and three were 
persons who had been disciplined. He easily satis- 
fied his accusers, and the matter was dropped, but 
the affair itself was very far from being ended. 


From time to time new complaints were entered, 
and the matter was never long allowed to slumber. 
Philemon Robbins endured the matter as patiently 
as he might, never seeking to retaliate against his 
persecutors, and trusting that time would either 
vindicate his course or wear out the energy of his 
enemies. He was not afraid to openly own that, 
under the circumstances, he had been unwise to 
preach to the Baptists of Wallingford, but he 
neither could nor would admit that he had been 
either morally or spiritually culpable. After his 
first appearance before the Consociation, he had 

"I took my leave of the Consociation, and expected no 
more trouble or complaints about my preaching to the 
Baptists." Later, when new charges began to thicken, he 
had added this memorandum ; "The crime is preaching to 
the Baptists, and the punishment is being secluded the 
Consociation. But, unexpectedly, the punishment is turned 
into a crime, and becomes the burden of all the following 
complaints against me." 

Rapidly the charges against him had been multi- 
plied, being drawn from all possible quarters and 
made to cover every conceivable aspect of his 
ministry, until the original accusation was all but 
lost sight of. Year by year he was cited before the 
Consociation, and still the matter grew. 

It will be interesting and illuminating, as show- 
ing how deep was the rancor of his adversaries, and 
how far they were ready to go in their endeavor to 


discredit and undo him, to read one of these 
later indictments which they brought against him. 
Here it is. 

"i. That he, the said Mr. Robbins, has in public taken 
it upon him to determine the state of infants, dying in 
infancy, declaring that they were as odious in the sight 
of God, as snakes and vipers were to us ; and left it 
wholly in the dark whether there were any saved or not. 

"2. That he had assumed to himself the perogative of 
God, the righteous judge, in judging the condition of 
the dead, in a funeral sermon, saying that they were in 
hell, to the great grief of mourning friends and others. 

"3. That in his public preaching he had been guilty of 
speaking evil of dignities ; declaring that the leaders or 
rulers of the people were opposers of the glorious works 
of God in the land ; and comparing our civil authority to 
and with Darius, who cast Daniel in the lion's den. 

"4. In judging and declaring those persons carnal and 
unconverted that did not approve of the late religious stir 
that has been made in the land ; and in the improvement 
of his sermon dividing them, and calling one part, that is, 
the approvers, the children of God, and branding the other 
part with the name and character of opposers. 

"5. That said Mr. Robbins has also publicly and cen- 
soriously judged those that did not fall in with and impute 
the religious stir in the land (which he calls a glorious 
work of God) to be the work of God's spirit, declaring 
such were guilty of unpardonable sin. 

"6. He has publicly asserted, and taught and laid down, 
that a man might be sincere in religion, and a strict 
observer of the church and yet be a hypocrite. 

"7. Said Mr. Robbins has publicly reflected upon and 
reviled the standing ministers of this land, calling them 
Arminians, and comparing them with and to false prophets, 
putting himself in the place of Micajah." 


Regarding his doctrine, they charged : 

"i. That he has publicly taught us, that there is no 
promise in all the Bible that belongs to sinners ; thereby 
frustrating the covenant of God's free grace, and the 
condescension and compassion of God, and his Son, our 
Saviour, to poor, lost and perishing sinners. 

"2. That there is no direction in all the Bible how men 
should come to Christ, nor could he direct any persons 
how they should come to Him ; thereby rendering the 
study and search of the Holy Scriptures, at least an 
unsafe and insufficient way of finding Christ, and the 
preaching thereof useless. 

"3. He has publicly taught that it is as easy for per- , 
sons to know when they are converted, as it is to know 
noonday from midnight darkness ; making the only sure 
evidence of conversion to consist in inward feeling, and a 
sense of their love to God. 

"4. He has declared in public, that believers never 
doubt of their interest in Christ, after conversion; and 
if they do. it is the sign of an hypocrite ; rendering 
sanctification no evidence of conversion or justification, 
and that believers are never in the dark. 

"5. He has also taught, that God could easier convert 
the seat a man sits on than convert a moral man ; and 
that the most vicious or vile person stands as fair a 
chance for conviction and conversion as the strictest 
moral man : thereby making holiness and obedience to 
the moral law, no way necessary to be found in men 
for their salvation. 

"6. Mr. Robbins has taught that there are some sinners 
that Christ never died for, nor did he come to save them; 
thereby perverting the great doctrines of redemption in 
the gospel, and rendering all endeavors in men to obtain 
salvation, useless; teaching Arminianism and blending the 
covenant of works and the covenant of grace together." 

Respecting his enthusiasm, which especially vexed 
them, they complained : 


"i. That bitter and censorious spirit discovered by the 
said Mr. Robbins, against all, even civil magistrates, as 
well as ministers, who do not think the commotions in the 
land which bear the name of religion, a glorious work of 
God, and the effect of the agency of the Holy Spirit, 
declaring all such to be guilty of the unpardonable sin. 

"2. In that strange heat of spirit, under which the 
said Mr. Robbins has acted ; discovered in perpetual 
uneasiness, or craving to be preaching, going into those 
many unscriptual night meetings, and frequent public 
preaching under a religious pretence ; consorting with and 
improving those to preach and carry on in public, as well 
as in those private meetings, that have been most forward 
and famous for their enthusiasm in the present day. 

"3. In the spirit of pride and conceitedness, and expec- 
tation to be believed only upon positive and bold asser- 
tion, discovered by said Robbins ; among other instances 
thereof, by publicly declaring, in a sermon, that the 
standing ministers in this land were Arminians, and 
calling them false prophets, while he put himself in the 
place of Micajah before Ahab, in I Kings XXII, pro- 
nouncing these words upon it, That if the body of the 
people were in the way to eternal life, the Lord had not 
spoken by him. 

"4. That Mr. Robbins has publicly taught, that uncon- 
verted persons have no right to praise God." 

They also found fault with his personal conduct, 
condemning : 

"i. Mr. Robbins' earnestness in promoting and improv- 
ing strolling or travelling preachers ; and improving those 
that were most disorderly, to preach and exhort in the 
society ; more especially at one such meeting carried on 
at his house, by Messrs. Brainard and Buel ; and another 
at the same place, carried on by Messrs. Wheelock and 
Munson; to the dishonor of religion, to the just offence 
of many of the church and people, and to the destruction 
of peace and gospel order, in church and society. 

"2. His introducing Mr. Davenport to preach and 
exhort, and also his man to pray and sing, at the time 
when he went through the country, singing along the 
streets ; attended with this aggravating circumstance, that 
it was on sacrament-day; to the great confusion and 
disturbance of the church, and profaning the sabbath in 
this society. 

"3. His preaching in Wallingford, in the meeting- 
house of the Anabaptists there ; and that contrary to the 
desire of a great number of the people at Wallingford, 
requesting him that he would not, and to the advice of 
neighboring ministers to the contrary." 

We will forbear to comment upon these charges, 
further than to call attention to the puerility of 
some of them and the exceeding strangeness in the 
nature of many others. One would think, for 
instance, that a "strange uneasiness to be preach- 
ing" might be considered rather more commend- 
able than otherwise, in a minister. We shall see 
what the church thought about them, in a moment. 

On August 18, 1744, the members of the church 
voted to request Mr. Whitefield to preach for them 
again. This brought about a new and hotter quar- 
rel with the Consociation. Mr. Robbins decided to 
appeal to the Ecclesiastical Society for support and, 
on October 14th, 1745. he "came into ye meeting 
Desiring yt he might have Leave to Lay ye states 
of his Difficulty with ye Association of N. Haven 
County before ye Society." The Society voted to 
grant his request and, feeling that the matter was 
too important for immediate action, adjourned 
until Monday, the twenty-first. At that time they 
passed the following vote : 


"That this Society is of opinion yt what ye Rev*^ Mr. 
Robbins our pastor has offered to ye Association of New 
Haven County relating to his Preaching to ye Baptists at 
WalHngford is sufficient. 

This Society Desire ye Rev'^ Mr. Robbins to Continue 
in ye ministry among us notwithstanding his preaching to 
ye Baptists & what ye association of New Haven County 
has done thereon. 

That as a particular People have Right to Choose their 
own minister & no eclesiastical authority has Right to 
Impose one upon them without their vote & consent, or to 
depose a minister when he is regularly ordained with ye 
vote & consent of his People . . . We desire ye Rev*^ 
Consociation & Association not to send any Counsells or 
Corntecs among us unless ye Society desires. 

That we cannot submit to ye Acts & Conclusion of any 
Counsells respecting ye ministry among us yt are made 
without ye vote & consent of this Society." 

Acting in consonance with the Society, on 
November 4, 1745, the church voted as follows: 

"i. That we renounce the Saybrook platform and shall 
not receive it as a rule of government and discipline in 
this church. 

"2. That we declare this church to be a Congregational 

"3. That we receive the Scripture of the Old and New 
Testament as the only perfect rule and platform of church 
government and discipline. 

"4. That though we receive the Scriptures as the only 
perfect rule, yet as we know of no human composure that 
comes nearer to the Scriptures in matters of church 
government and discipline than the Cambridge platform, 
so we approve of that for substance, and take it for our 
platform, agreeably to the word of God. 

"5. That we are not hereby straightened in our charity, 
but are free to hold communion, not only with Congrega- 


tional churches, and church members that are in good 
standing, but with those called Presbyterian and also with 
those imder the Saybrook platform regimen." 

This was a declaration of war, with a vengeance, 
and also one of independence. Realizing the hope- 
lessness of further devotion to their former 
strategy, the "Old Light" leaders adopted new 
tactics, and sought to discredit the above votes by 
declaring that they represented the opinions of a 
minority party only ; and also endeavored to win 
over the allegiance of as many members as possible 
to their cause. As a proof that these votes 
embodied the sentiments of almost the whole 
church, thirty-one members subscribed their names 
to the church vote, in an open meeting, and fifty- 
one persons afifixed their signatures to the vote of 
the Society. There is not the slightest foundation 
for believing that, at any time, were there ever 
more than a very small percentage of Mr. Robbins' 
people who did n6t agree with and support their 

A council was called, by the Consociation, to 
meet at the house of John Taintor, in Branford, on 
the last Tuesday of September 1746, and Mr. Rob- 
bins was summoned before it. The session was an 
acrimonious one, and resulted in further condemna- 
tion of Mr. Robbins and of the Branford Church. 
The next step in the conflict developed when, doubt- 
less at the instigation of outsiders, certain of the 
minority party in the church endeavored to apply 
the act of the General Court, and to prevent the 

payment of Mr. Robbins' salary. Angered by this 
action, the Society immediately added to that salary 
one hundred pounds. 

They also felt, as did the church, that the time 
had come to assert their opposition to the infringe- 
ment upon their rights, by the Consociation, more 
explicitly and sharply. Accordingly, at a meeting 
of the church on January 22, 1747, the articles of 
complaint against Mr. Robbins which had been car- 
ried into the council, being read, together with his 
answers thereto, it was voted that : 

"i. We are of opinion that what is contained in the 
articles of charge against the Pastor of this church 
respecting Doctrine and principle is very wrongfully and 
injuriously charged, and disagreeable to the known course 
and tenor of his preaching — We are generally steady 
attendants on his ministry & don't remember that he has 
ever expressed himself as charged in those articles — and 
as to what respects his conduct, we apprehend it wrong- 
fully represented in the articles of charge — indeed his 
admitting Mr. Davenport to preach at that time & so 
Messrs. Buel and Brainard to hold a meeting at his house, 
as they did carry it on, was what we could not some of 
us, so well approve of under the circumstances and we 
don't think he would act in the same way again. 

"2. We think Mr. Robbins' answers to said articles are 
according to truth, and agreeable to his known Principles 
and Doctrine. Some of us remember the particular pas- 
sages in his sermons which are quoted in his answers to 
said articles and they truly represent what was delivered. 

"3. We think Mr. Robbins preaches the Doctrines of 
Grace more clearly and pungently than in some of the first 
years of his ministry among us and yet we have much 
reason to fear our uneasy Bretheren and Neighbors, 
especially some of the principle men among them are dis- 


satisfied on account of those Doctrines which doctrines 
for our part, we think are clearly revealed in the word 
of God, adheared to by the reformed churches as appears 
by their confessions of faith and catechisms, and we trust 
God has and will imprint them on our hearts, and enable 
us to maintain them as long as we live. 

"4. That the above votes be signed by the Deacons of 
this church in behalf of the church. . . . Accordingly 
we who heartily join with our Bretheren in the above 
votes subscribe our names. 

% , _ I Deacons of the Church in Branford. 

Samuel Rose ) 

The Society held a hke meeting, on the second 
day of November 1747. It was a v^rathy one. 
The records of the doings of the council were not 
even allowed to be read in the meeting. After a 
warm discussion, sentiment crystallized in the fol- 
lowing declaration : 

"Yt whereas ye first church of Christ in Branford was 
settled on, or agreeable to ye Platform Drawn up or 
agreed upon at Cambridge in ye year 1648 agreeable to 
which ye said church ruled and governed in Peace & 
whereas after ye settlement of a Platform of Church 
Government at Saybrook ye sd church with their minister 
did once or twice choose their messengers to attend ye 
Consociation of ye County but did not renounce ye form 
of Government on which ye sd church was settled nor 
vote themselves under ye Saybrook Platform & whereas 
ye sd first church which is now in this Society being under 
such circumstances, settled the Rev^ Mr. Philemon Rob- 
bins in ye ministry here who was chosen by this Society 
and sd church for their minister & Pastor, who has con- 
tinued in sd office to General Satisfaction & whereas by 
reason of some late Difference arising by means of some 


uneasy Persons in this Society, it was found necessary yt 
both ye church & Society should more explicitly declare 
which rule of Government they would agree to & be 
Governed by, therefor ye Church in this Society at their 
meeting Nov'" 4th 1745 Declared their renunciation of ye 
SayBrook Platform afors'^^ & Declared ye same to be a 
Congregational Church, & this Society at their meeting 
Octr 21 St 1745, Declared their Denial to be Governed by 
or Submission to ye Acts or conclusions of Counsells 
formed on ye Saybrook Platform, Without their being 
called with ye consent of this Society & whereas Notwith- 
standing ye church in this Society is Congregational, & 
yt this Society agree with ye Church in those principles, 
yet ye Consociation of New Haven County since ye said 
4th of November on ye Complaint of one member of sd 
Church, assumed to Themselves a Pretended Government 
& jurisdiction over this Church & Society * have with- 
out hearing ye Parties or persons concerned. Pretended 
to come into Conclusions respecting our Rew^ Elder & 
without knowing ye Truth from him, ye Church or this 
Society, have, as we are credibly Informed passed a sen- 
tence by which they Endeavor to Depose him, ye sd Mr. 
Robbins . . . Wherefor lest such an Extraordinary 
step should tend to our Disturbance & Create Scruples in 
weak minds, ye Society do now by this their vote, Declare 
yt we owned the sd Mr. Robbins to be our LawfuU & 
Worthy minister & do now renewedly Declare ye Con- 
tinuance of our choice of him to be our minister accord- 
ing to ye Law of this Government & further Declare yt 
we are of opinion yt ye sd conclusions of ye sd Consocia- 
tion are not by this Society to be acknowledged or 

These two declarations made the breach between 
the church and the Consociation absolute. From 
this time, and for many years, the church in Bran- 


ford held no fellowship with the churches of the 
vicinage and became, to all intents and purposes, 
an independent body, tho still affirming themselves 
true to their denomination. Certain of the dis- 
senters in the congregation appealed to the General 
Assembly for intervention. The Assembly recom- 
mended another council, and the Society called one, 
to convene on Wednesday June 29th, inviting, as 
members, certain ministers from various parts of 
the state, whose names had been recommended by 
the Assembly. The Council did not meet. In July, 
the Society invited them again, this time for the 
first Wednesday in August. But, judging, perhaps, 
discretion to be the better part of valor, the min- 
isters again failed to appear. Here the matter 
ended, and the Bran ford Church and the Consocia- 
tion went their separate ways. It was not until 
June 8, 1760, that the church received any further 
communication from the Consociation. At that 
time it received an invitation to join with its sister 
churches in ordaining Mr. Noah Willis of West 
Haven, "it being the first letter this church has 
received from the moderator of the Consociation 
of this County since our vote of refusing the Say- 
brook and taking the Cambridge Platform." The 
invitation was accepted, with the provision "that 
our sending messengers to the Consociation and 
their acting in the Consociation as occasion may 
serve shall not be looked upon as an argument of 
our Being under the regimen of the SayBrook 
asrreement or Platform." Deacon Samuel Rose 


accompanied Mr. Robbins to the ordination of Mr. 
Willis, and thus friendly relations were resumed. 
The church continued to fellowship with its sisters, 
more and more frequently, and the old struggle 
was, if not forgotten, at least passed over in silence. 

Before leaving this story of the tribulations of 
Philemon Robbins we may, wisely, make two or 
three comments concerning it. Let us concede, in 
the first place, that which Robbins himself was 
quite ready to admit, that his acceptance of the 
invitation to preach to the Baptist congregation 
in Wallingford was not wise, under the circum- 
stances. But let us also assert, and here too with 
Mr. Robbins, that there was no shadow of moral 
wrong about it. The issue was not one of crim- 
inality ; it was an issue between the contrasting 
convictions of two incompatible conceptions of 
church polity. Thereby is the whole story raised 
from the realm of petty enmities and personal bick- 
ering to the level of participation in a conflict of 
much moment in the preservation of our church 
polity and faith. Let us see just what, in this 
larger aspect, the significance of this conflict was. 

Coming to these shores in order that they might 
escape a church order intolerant of the dictates of 
their minds and hearts, the New England fathers, 
contrary to what is often ignorantly believed, did 
not set up a state in which there was liberty of 
faith and conduct. Early Congregationalism was 
a state religion and the churches were as much 
"established" churches as any they had left behind, 


in England. Only, for the most part, they were 
established churches instead of an established 
church. That is to say, that while everybody was 
legally bound to support the church set up in his 
community, and heresy and even non-attendance 
were severely dealt with, there was, at the begin- 
ning, no authority higher than the local church. 
Each church was independent and such gathering 
of the churches in Associations or Councils as 
there was, was for purpose of mutual counsel only, 
and the acts or resolutions of those gatherings had 
only advisory force. But, as we have seen, when 
the Saybrook Synod, of which Samuel Russell had 
been an influential member, devised the system of 
"Consociations" they introduced into Congrega- 
tionalism a legislative and judicial body which was 
to have superior and mandatory power over the 
local church. The idea of such a body was bor- 
rowed from the Presbyterian theory and is totally 
at variance with the fundamental ideas of our 

It was against the right of such a body to dictate 
to a local church or minister, what should or should 
not be said or done, that Philemon Robbins, sup- 
ported solidly by the Branford church, rebelled. 
'He claimed that he had absolute right to preach 
when and where he chose, and to invite whom he 
would to occupy his own pulpit, so long as his 
people were satisfied. The Consociation asserted 
that he could not preach where, when or what 
they should choose to legislate against. 


The issue is a sharp one and, tho he and his 
people stood nearly alone in their time, we of 
to-day are almost universally agreed with them. 
We honor him for his protestant courage, and his 
fellow ministers grew into days when they learned 
to honor and respect him too. We also admire the 
breadth of mind which allowed him, in the days 
when men of other creeds were heretics and 
damned, to meet those not of his fold in fellowship 
and to see, in their invitation, a call from God. 
Inexpedient his conduct may have been, but his 
consequent tribulations were those of a man of 
larger heart and vision than his peers, of one "per- 
secuted for righteousness sake." "Of such is the 
Kingdom of Heaven." 

Little information has come down to us of what 
happened in Branford church in the latter years of 
Robbins' pastorate. The years which preceded 
and followed 1776 were too filled with political sig- 
nificance for men to give more than necessary 
attention to church affairs. They did more than 
they wrote. It will be always a matter of regret 
to us that we have not the story of those thrilling 
days. What has been saved is mostly passing 
remarks and allusions. The depreciation of cur- 
rency, the hardness of times, come first to notice. 
The salary is constantly readjusted, to keep pace 
with the decreased purchasing power of money. 
Salt works are established, at Indian Neck, in 1777, 
in an efifort to add to the Society's financial 
resources, and lumber is sold, and more of the 


lands are leased. We read of "foot guards" and 
"horse guards" drilling on the Green, and of a 
regiment of five hundred "Leather-Caps" being 
recruited by Col. Douglass, of Northford, which 
joined Washington's army at New York. A ship 
of war was built on the Branford River, and her 
guns were borrowed and used against the British, 
at East Haven. Coast guards patrolled the shore, 
from Branford Point to Stony Creek, and Bran- 
ford men fought well in the new navy, and some 
of them were captured and died on prison ships. 

These things we know, and it is not difficult to 
infer the rest. It was a time of deeds, not words, 
and men worshipped with swords and muskets and 
made glad sacrifice for liberty. "Father" Gillett 
assures us that Branford did her part well, and 
that the church furnished its full quota of money 
and of men — and we believe his words. There can 
be no honor roll, bearing visible names and deeds, 
placed on the walls of Branford church, in memory 
of these times, but we gladly do homage in our 

The sons of Philemon Robbins bore their part 
in the Revolution and served in the army as chap- 
lains, as surgeon, and with arms in hand. Mr. 
Robbins himself did not enter active service. His 
health was failing, and he was subject to long 
periods of illness. His sons assisted him often in 
the pulpit, and he relinquished a part of his salary 
to the Society. His first wife, Mrs. Hannah Rob- 
bins, died on Sunday, June i6, 1776, while her son. 


Ammi, was preaching for his father. Two years 
later (October 21, 1778) Robbins married Jane 
Mills, the widow of Reverend John Mills of Kent. 
One of her grandchildren was Samuel J. Mills, the 
leader of the little Williams College Band which 
began the history of the American Board of Com- 
missioners for Foreign Missions. 

Two of the sons of Mr. Robbins followed their 
father into the ministry, both studying theology 
with the noted Dr. Bellamy, of Bethel, an intimate 
and much respected friend of their father. Ammi 
became minister of the church at Norfolk, Connect- 
icut, and some of his descendants still hail from 
that town. Chandler was called to the pastorate 
of the old Plymouth church, home of the Pilgrims, 
and spent his life in service in that place. Phile- 
mon Robbins preached the ordination sermons for 
both his sons, and both sermons were printed. 
The one preached at the time of Chandler's ordina- 
tion may be seen among the exhibits of Pilgrim 
Hall, in Plymouth. 

Upon Sunday, the eleventh of August 1781. Mr. 
Robbins preached with unusual power and elo- 
quence. His spirit threw off the infirmity of 
advancing years, and his hearers were astonished 
at the vigor of his language and the splendor of 
his vision. He closed his sermon with the words, 
"Glory ! Glory !", and the congregation dispersed, 
with the spell of his fervent discourse still over 
their hearts. The next day, as he sat smoking 
before the fireplace, after dinner, he fell asleep. 


His wife, unable to arouse him, called the doctor, 
who exclaimed at once "It is Death; and without 
a pang!" The grief into which the whole com- 
munity was plunged is reflected in the entry made 
upon the church records: "August 13, 1781 This 
day died the Reverend pastor of this church Phile- 
mon Robbins in the 72d year of his age and 49th 
of his ministry. He died in an instant sitting in 
his chair. May the Lord sanctify this bereavement 
to this poor destitute flock." 

So passed Mr. Robbins to his larger ministry. 
That he had not failed to give a faithful account 
of his stewardship on earth is testified to by the 
fact that he had added two hundred four members 
to the one hundred twenty-five whom he had found 
at the time of his ordination, and had baptized 
about eleven hundred people. These additions to 
the membership of the church were divided evenly, 
for the most part, thruout his ministry ; the great- 
est number, for any one year, being twenty-eight, 
in 1733, and. there being five years with no addi- 
tions. Although his pastorate included the season 
of the Great Awakening, it also included many 
years of war and hardship, during which church 
life was at low ebb throughout the country. 

Lacking, perhaps, in gifts of careful scholarship, 
and being wanting in diplomacy, at least at times ; 
his was no studied excellence nor churchly states- 
manship. But he was tolerant where others hated, 
broad where most were narrow, prophetic in an 
age of pedantry, a stalwart, great-hearted man of 

God. His people loved him and delighted in the 
spiritual food which he ministered to them. He 
was faithful in preaching, scriptural tho not dog- 
matic. He said, at one time, that he had read, 
before his congregation, the entire New Testament, 
and the Old Testament from Job to Jeremiah 
XXVI — a rather large example of thoroness. 

It was his lot to pass thru much tribulation, to 
be outlawed by his peers ; yet being reviled, he 
reviled not again, but ran with patience the race 
that was set before him, looking unto Jesus, the 
Author and Finisher of his faith. Of a mighty 
earnestness, his enthusiasm was never forgiven by 
his enemies, but it endeared him to his friends. 
Nor shall we be far amiss if we name him the 
"Great Heart" of the Branford church, who 
"fought a good fight," who "finished his course," 
who, by patient steadfastness, "kept the faith." 


Only a great man can wear the robe of a prophet 
and it is no wonder that the two immediate succes- 
sors to the office of Philemon Robbins should not 
have measured up to the fullness of his stature. It 
was months before any effort was made to fill his 
place. In the spring of 1782, a Mr. Zebalun Ely, 
tutor of Yale College, was supplying the pulpit 
and, on the first Monday in March, he was 
requested to continue to preach for another month, 
with a view to settlement. He served on until 
August first, when he was given a call by the 
Society. Mr. Ely declined the call, and accepted 
one to Lebanon. After almost another year had 
elapsed, they called a Mr. Channing, but he also 

The Branford people then consulted with various 
members of the Consociation, and the latter recom- 
mended Mr. Jason Atwater for the pastorate. He 
was requested to preach for four Sundays as a 
candidate and, in November, was extended a call. 
The vote was far from unanimous and, when the 
Consociation met, on Wednesday, February 18, 
1784, for the purpose of examining Mr, Atwater, 
it was felt that it was inexpedient to proceed at 
once with his ordination, and the gathering 
adjourned vmtil March loth. 

On March ist the Society renewed their vote, 
the record reading, "in pursuance of the advice of 


ye Consociation convened in said Society on the 
17th Day of Feb^ last the doings of ye Consocia- 
tion being read — after many objections and debates 
it was voted by division of the house 'whether 
they were Desirous that Mr. Jason Atwater should 
be settled.' " This time the vote was somewhat 
more favorable, there being seventy-eight in favor 
of his settlement, and twenty-one against. The 
dislike of the minority, for Mr. Atwater, was great 
and continued to increase rather than abate, as 
weeks went by. But the Consociation followed the 
majority vote, and the candidate was ordained, 
March 10, 1784, at their adjourned meeting. 

Anticipating this action, the opposing minority 
had, three days previously, endeavored to be 
excused from the payment of further church rates, 
but had been answered to the effect that their peti- 
tion would not be granted unless they joined some 
other society. Now there was no other society in 
town, so the disaffected group proceeded to form 
one and, December 11, 1784, fifty-four of them 
notified the First Society that they had formed a 
new society for an Episcopal church. So began 
Trinity Parish. 

It is probable that the separation of the old 
Society would have come eventually, in any case, 
tho it was unquestionably precipitated by the divi- 
sions over Mr. Atwater. From the beginnings of 
the century some of the supporters of the church 
had been sympathizers with the Church of Eng- 
land. At the time of Mr. Robbins' troubles, an 


abortive attempt to separate the parish had been 
made, a committee being appointed (December 
1749) "on the request of Nathaniel Johnson and 
John Wilford, in behalf of the members or profes- 
sors of the Church of England in this town, for a 
committee to ascertain and lay out a suitable piece 
of land in some of the highways in said town for 
them to set up and build a Church on." The move- 
ment died without fruit, but increasing numbers of 
the Episcopalian sympathizers became lax in their 
support of the Society and in church attendance. 
Occasionally they even held meetings of their 
own. On December 24th, 1750, the Society voted 
"Liberty to ye Professors of ye Church of England 
(as they call Themselves) to meet in ye meeting 
House on ye 25th of Instant December," and, in 
1753, a like permission was accorded for "Dec"' 25th 
which y* call Christmas." It must be remembered 
that our forebears avoided keeping that holy day 
themselves, branding it .as a relic of popery. Sev^ 
eral votes were also passed, from time to time, 
assigning seats in the Meeting House to these same 
people, even to such of them as had refused to pay 
their taxes. So we see that the separation had 
been impending for a long time. 

The movement had begun with the moving into 
town of Church of England people, and had been 
nourished in this wise. As early as September 
1748, Rev. Matthew Graves, of New London, and 
Dr. Samuel Johnson, of Stratford, had held Epis- 
copal services in Branford. Soon an embryo 


society was started and worship was conducted by 
regular missionaries. During the War of Inde- 
pendence this society had been unpopular and was 
suspected of Toryism. But it never entirely died 

After the reorganization (June 2d, 1784), efforts 
began to be made towards a church building. The 
town granted a site on School House Hill, but the 
building was finally begun on Baldwin's Hill. The 
Congregationalists aided them in their endeavors 
and the town granted such assistance as was neces- 
sary. The new house of worship was sufficiently 
completed for services to be held therein by May 
of 1786 but was not entirely finished, and conse- 
crated, until nearly fifty years later, or September 
17, 1832. It stood to the northwest of the present 
building and was a very plain, barnlike structure. 
Rev. Ashbel Baldwin was first in charge, serving 
Guilford also. The relations with the Congrega- 
tional people were harmonious at first, but were 
later disturbed, for a time, by the claim of the new 
Society to a portion of the lands at Indian Neck. 
The claim was never granted, and the matter grad- 
ually ceased to be pressed. 

There is a strange irony in the fact that, soon 
after Atwater had been first called, and before his 
ordination, the Church, despite its years of conten- 
tions against that system and its outlawry, for 
rebellion against it. adopted the Saybrook Platform. 
Verily Mr. Robbins must have turned over in his 
grave. That the bitter experiences of the past and 


the former utter condemnation of that document 
should be forgotten so soon seems almost beyond 
belief. It can be explained, however, by the fact 
that the "Consociation" system had lost its teeth 
and had gradually returned to the usages of the 
"Association" plan, in its actual practices. Never 
again would there be possible the dangers against 
which Robbins had so long stood in protest. So 
the vote really meant little save an eternal blot upon 
the names of those who so dishonored the memory 
of their late leader. A faithful few held out for 
years against this vote of the majority and refused 
to sign their names after the Saybrook Platform 
until, just after the accession of "Father" Gillett, 
they were compelled to do so or forfeit their church 

Jason Atwater was granted a salary of one hun- 
dred pounds, and the use of the wood "standing on 
the Society's Land, he to Cut and Cart the same." 
He had been born, in Hamden, Conn., May 5, 1759, 
the son of Jacob and Miriam (Ives) Atwater, and 
had graduated from Yale College in August, 1781. 
Soon after coming to Bran ford, he married the 
daughter of Northford's minister — Mistress Anna 

In the summer of 1792, the Society helped him to 
build the house on the west corner of Main and 
Rogers streets, tho Rogers Street was not cut thru 
at that time. His farm extended from Main Street 
backwards down to Page's Point and, so, included 
all of what is now the western side of Rogers 


Street. The house was later sold to Mr. Tyler, 
then to Elizur Rogers, and is now occupied by Mr. 

During Mr. Atwater's ministry several important 
changes are to be noted in the arrangement of the 
inferior of the Meeting House and in the conduct 
of public worship. On December 8, 1783, the 
hours of worship, on the Sabbath, were set at "half 
after Ten in the morning & a quarter after one in 
the afternoon." On March 26, 1785, it was voted 
that "the members of ye Church come forward 
into ye Fore Seats to partake of the Lord's Supper" 
and also that "confession for publick Scandal be 
only before ye whole Church." 

The Meeting House was "new Seated," in April 
of 1784, and "3 of ye back seats in ye body of ye 
House on each side of ye brod Alley" were taken 
up, and pews were put in their place. A year later 
"all of ye Long seats (except ye first) in ye Body 
of ye House" were removed and replaced with 
four Pews on each side of ye broad Alley." 
"Alley," of course, means aisle. 

Perhaps the most interesting development was 
that of the choir and the singing school. As early 
as January 26, 1784, it had been directed "That no 
Person that is not seated in the first seats in the 
frunt & side Galleries should set in s*^ seats on any 
Day of Publick Worship, except those that sing, in 
order that they may have suffitient room to set 
together ye better to perform that part of Wor- 
ship." From this we know that the choir, at that 


time, sat in the front seats of the galleries, both on 
the sides of the building, and facing the pulpit. 

A tax was laid (1791) "for the purpose of hire- 
ing a teacher of Musick or Instructor of singing in 
public Worship." By January, 1792, the singing 
school was in full swing and liberty was granted 
to "ye Singing Schollers to get eight loads of 
wood on the Society's land for the use of ye Sing- 
ing School." In 1795, a room for the school was 
also provided and "some few singing Books for 
such scholars as be destitute." Captain Gould and 
Simeon Coan were engaged as teachers and "were 
desired to use their influence to procure as many of 
the young Gentlemen and Ladies to engage in the 
school and obtain the art of Singing (which is con- 
sidered an accomplishment) as may be, and also 
to Instruct the Scholars (especially new beginners) 
as far as they can with convenience to themselves." 

The book which was used at this time may well 
have been, "Urania — A Choice Collection of Psalm 
Tunes, Anthems & Hymns. To which are prefixed 
the plainest and most Necessary rules of Psalmody. 
James Lyon, A.B. 1761." A number of these 
ancient books are still in existence in Branford, and 
are of great interest because of their unusual nota- 
tion, script characters, and for the strange themes 
and words of certain of the anthems. 

Mr. Atwater found some sixty members, accord- 
ing to his estimate, in the Branford church at the 
time of his ordination. During the ten years of 
his service, he added seventy-eight more, forty-three 


within the first year of his service. Soon after 
1790 he became infected with tuberculosis and was 
soon incapacitated by the disease. The Society 
declared his contract terminated, towards the close 
of the year 1793, during which year he had been 
able to do little preaching, and arranged with his 
wife for a settlement. Mr. Atwater succumbed 
rapidly to the disease, and grew steadily worse 
until his life ended, June 10, 1794. 

The next to take his place in the line of the Bran- 
ford ministers was the Reverend Lynde Hunting- 
ton, a native of Norwich, Connecticut. He was 
the son of Oliver and Anna (Lynde) Huntington, 
and was a graduate of Yale. He was called by 
the church on July 20th, 1795, by a unanimous vote, 
and the call was seconded, by the Society, on 
August 7th. After some discussion about financial 
terms, these were fixed at three hundred pounds, 
as a settlement, ninety-five pounds yearly, for 
salary, and firewood. The call was accepted, and 
Thursday, October 22d, was set apart as a day of 
fasting and prayer. On this day Rev. Nicholas 
Street and Rev. Matthew Noyes delivered sermons, 
and upon the Ordination Day, the Wednesday 
following, Rev. Zebalun Ely came down from 
Lebanon to preach the Ordination Sermon. 

The new minister was a man of large promise 
and of much talent. He was a strong Calvinist 
and, in his preaching, returned to the theology and 
exegesis of the seventeenth century. One of his 


first acts was to abolish the Half Way Covenant in 
his church, and to demand specific and deepseated 
experience of personal regeneration as the only 
basis for church membership. This drawing fast 
of the lines is probably responsible for the fact that 
only fifty were added to the church in the nine 
years of his pastorate, and is certainly the explana- 
tion for there being only about one hundred bap- 
tisms during that period. 

For many years the Branford people had desired 
to have a steeple upon their meeting house. In 
1 75 1, the Society had voted that one should be 
erected "if suffitient contributions be forthcome- 
ing," but nothing came of the endeavor at that 
time. Then came the Revolution, and the minds 
of men were turned to other things and their purses 
emptied in defence of liberty. So it was not until 
the new Republic had been born that the resolve to 
add to their meeting house one of those steeples, 
which were becoming characteristic of church 
architecture in New England, was revived. 

The first mention we find of this resurrected 
desire is in a vote of the Society (January 13, 
1797), "that this Society wall sell & dispose of all 
the wood standing & growing or lying on the lower 
end of Indian Neck, as it is called, belonging to 
this Society for purpose of and to be solely applied 
to repairing the Meeting House, and in erecting a 
handsome and decent Steeple, in addition to said 
house, in convenient time." The wood was sold, 
as ordered, and the Meeting House was thoroly 


repaired. Doubtless it had been almost entirely 
neglected during the years of war and the equally 
stringent days just beyond. The house was also 
painted, or whitewashed, both inside and out, and 
the roof was coated "with Spanish Brown laid on 
with Linseed oil." But the new steeple was not 
added until after the dawning of the new century. 

Events of real importance are not many in this 
pastorate, but two matters, both connected with the 
Lord's Supper, are worth noting. It had been the 
custom from the beginning, in the Branford church, 
and in most of her sister churches, to defray the 
expense of the Communion Service by a special 
tax, or "rate" assessed against each member of 
the parish. This old practice was done away with 
December 3d, 1795, and the cost of the sacrament 
was henceforth met by a special offering, taken at 
the Communion Service. As time passed it became 
common for this special offering to amount to more 
than the cost of the service. So, in 1796, the dea- 
cons were authorized to "make distribution" of 
such money as should remain after defraying the 
expenses of the Communion table, "to such mem- 
bers of this ch'^ as they shall judge, after making 
suitable inquiry, to be most necessitous." This 
vote was reaffirmed in 1803. Both of these innova- 
tions proved popular and remain in force at the 
present day. 

Mr. Huntington also was instrumental in the 
abolition of the Half Way Covenant. It will be 
remembered that this covenant was that measure 

which had been adopted in the days of Abraham 
Pierson, and which permitted a "half way" mem- 
bership in the church, consisting of those who 
desired to be church affiliated but who had never 
experienced personal vital regeneration. The meas- 
ure was fast becoming unpopular in the New Eng- 
land of the close of the century, for it was felt, 
and rightly, that it was responsible for much of the 
laxity and lack of, interest in religious life and 
thought of that time. But the Branford church 
had decisively reaffirmed their allegiance to the 
Covenant, when it had come before the members on 
a sort of referendum as to its continuance, in 
Atwater's pastorate, and there is no reason for 
failing to believe that it was the personal influence 
of the strongly Calvinistic Huntington which 
turned the tide against it in this town. 

The closing years of Mr. Huntington's pastorate 
were marked by a series of efforts to purge the 
church of immorality and of worldliness by the 
exercise of her disciplinary powers. Page after 
page of the records is filled, at this point, with the 
minutes of meetings which were called to consider 
and try the cases of oft'enders against the good 
name of the Church of Christ. They are not espe- 
cially interesting pages, and the names and offences 
there recorded have been long since forgotten, and 
may be best left in oblivion. It was not wholly 
their fault, neither was it that of the church, which 
realized too late the perils of indiscriminate admis- 
sion to membership and endeavored, thus sharply, 


to purge itself of impurity and dishonor. The 
fruits of the Half Way Covenant were to be reaped 
for many years, as we shall see, and some of them, 
alas, were unripe fruit. 

But eight short years were allowed for the min- 
istry of Mr. Huntington. His youth was marked 
by talent and his growing years brought signs of 
greater promise. But the disease which had cut 
down his predecessor soon claimed him also and his 
life was terminated by it, September 20, 1804. 

It is difficult to make a fair estimate of his pas- 
torate because it is so evidently incomplete. Some 
good he did ; much more he tried to do. We may 
best characterize him as a reformer, whose fairest 
dream was to restore the Calvinistic sternness of 
thought and conduct which had so nearly vanished 
from the churches of his day. To that end he 
labored earnestly and strongly. Much of what 
could be done, he did, and, since his task was a 
hopeless one, and the past is never reproduced, 
once it be vanished, it may be that his end was a 
happier one than it might perchance have been had 
he lived to see the defeat which must have come 
with added years. At any rate it would appear to 
have been because he had been nominated therefor 
by Destiny, rather than from lack either of talent 
or of merit, that his part in the ministry of Christ 
was that of a Minor Prophet. 


In our review of the one hundred-sixty years of 
the history of the church which grew from the 
small beginnings made at "the place of the tidal 
river," in 1644, we have made mention only of 
men known to us by the written word alone. No 
man or woman lives whose eyes ever beheld the 
living features of Samuel Russell or of Philemon 
Robbins. Far otherwise is it with him of whom 
we now shall speak. "Father" Gillett is nearer 
to us than tradition, or even mere written record. 
Men and women still active in our church remem- 
ber well the features and the personality of this 
minister of God. It is with temerity that we may 
venture to place the printed word beside their 
living memories. Yet the time has come when we 
must do for him even as did he for his predecessors 
in the prophetic office, in his classic "Semi-Cen- 
tennial Discourse." May our portrait be as just as 
were his. 

Timothy Phelps Gillett was born in Farmingbury 
(now Wolcott), Connecticut, on June 15, 1780. 
His father, Alexander Gillett, was then minister in 
that place, and was a man of learning beyond the 
ordinary. He had begun his education by graduat- 
ing from Yale, in 1770, had continued his study of 
the classics, and, not satisfied with Latin and Greek 
alone, had commenced the study of Hebrew, in late 
middle life, and had pursued it so ardently that he 


was able, some years later, to modestly confess to 
a friend tliat he had read thru the entire Hebrew 
Bible three times. Nor, with all his studiousness, 
was he a recluse, for he had a more than average 
success in his profession and his ministry was 
unusually blest. 

From all that we can gather of the testimony of 
those who knew them both, Alexander Gillett and 
his son Timothy were shaped in the same mould of 
character and personality. The mother was Adah 
(Rogers) Gillett, the third daughter of Deacon 
Josiah Rogers, of Farmingbury, and inherited the 
Mayflower blood of Thomas Rogers, member of 
that famous company. 

Timothy was the oldest of six children and had 
been set apart, from his birth, in his father's 
prayers, for the ministry. This consecration of his 
life to that profession had not, however, been 
revealed to him, nor was it, until his ordination 
day; it being his father's cherished desire that he 
might be moved of his own will to choose the holy 
office. With this end in view, he was sent to Wil- 
liams College in 1800, after havin.? been prepared 
therefor in his own home. It is said that Williams 
was selected, rather than Yale, the usual training 
school for Connecticut students, for financial rea- 
sons. After graduating from the College, in 1804, 
he taught in Cornwall for one year and then 
returned to Williamstown where he served first as 
a teacher in the Academy and. later, as a Tutor at 
his Alma Mater. 


During the year and a half in which he held this 
latter office, the young man formed associations 
which had a profound influence over his subse- 
quent life, and which, we may well believe, were 
the immediate cause for his change of profession. 
At that time Gordon Hall, James Richards and 
Samuel J. Mills (grandson, by marriage, of Phile- 
mon Robbins) were undergraduates, at the College, 
and were holding their missionary prayer meetings ; 
and Mr. Gillett tells us that they frequently met in 
his room. In these meetings of the "Williams- 
town Band" the call to a larger service came to 
him. He did not enlist in the world conquest pro- 
gram which they had initiated beneath the historic 
Haystack, but he did give himself unreservedly to 
the work of Gospel ministry in the homeland, and 
he ever was a loyal supporter, both by word and 
act, of the apostolic labors of the missionary 

Timothy Gillett ■ was no stranger to theology, 
even at this time, for he had not spent his youth 
within constant contact with the stern Edwardian- 
ism of his father without becoming rather thoroly 
saturated with its teachings. His after preaching 
bears abundant witness to this. But he now began 
to supplement his knowledge by further studies 
under the direction of President Fitch. He was an 
apt pupil, and was soon licensed to preach by the 
Litchfield North Association. This was on Sep- 
tember 30, 1806. In the winter of 1807, he 
resigned his Tutorship and, that same winter, he 


was invited to preach, for two Sundays, at East 
Haven. While keeping this engagement, his 
destiny became intertwined with that of the church 
at Branford. 

After the loss of their promising young minister, 
Mr. Lynde Huntington, the Branford people were 
almost four years without a pastor. Not since the 
time of Samuel Mather and the "ten year famine" 
had they known such difficulty in filling the pulpit 
of their Meeting House. This time there was no 
dearth of candidates but there was an exceeding 
scarceness of anything approaching unanimity of 
opinion. Man after man was given a hearing, but 
none seemed to meet with universal approval. At 
last they managed to agree upon a Mr. Bennet 
Tyler, but Mr. Tyler failed to agree with them ; so 
that also fell thru. 

As a sort of last resort the Society instructed a 
committee (December 1807) to supply the pulpit 
with some satisfactory man, but to fix upon some- 
one who had never preached in Branford before, 
that there should be the less chance for further dis- 
agreement. The committee appear to have come 
in touch with Mr. Gillett, at East Haven, and 
invited him to preach for them. Accepting, he 
came to Branford on the second day of January 
and, as he quaintly puts it, "having obtained help 
from God," "continued there ever since." 

The more detailed truth is that he was not called 
until the following April ; by the Society on the 
thirteenth, and by the Church on the eighteenth. 


Under the terms of the call, which he accepted 
May 4, 1808, his yearly salary was to be five hun- 
dred dollars, with the privilege of cutting firewood 
on the Society's lands "sufficient to supply his own 
fire, until from continued ill health or infirmity he 
is no longer able to perform his duties." 

Let us picture to ourselves, for a moment, the 
Branford to which Mr. Gillett came and the Bran- 
ford of his early years of ministry. The town had 
changed somewhat since Samuel Russell's days. 
The population had increased until (1810) there 
were 1932 inhabitants in the township. The agri- 
cultural possibilities of the land had been developed 
and several small industries begun ; among these, 
besides the old Iron Works, being three fulling 
mills, one carding machine, and two distilleries. 
There were also six stores, four Congregational 
chvirches (the fourth being the "enrolled" or 
aggrieved church, at Northford which had a feeble 
existence for about a cjuarter of a century), and 
two Episcopal ones. 

But that commercial importance which Branford 
had once enjoyed had fallen away. Her ships and 
gallant sea-men had been decimated by the French 
and Indian Wars, and by our own Revolution, until 
she had but six vessels left, of greater burthen than 
forty tons. Her relative importance in the state 
had also lessened, not so much because of her own 
loss of strength as because she had failed to grow 
as rapidly as had certain of her neighbors. But 
she was a fair town, and she offered a goodly 

■- "" s- ^ 





















— - 

















The appearance of the Green is fairly well repre- 
sented in the cut, which we reproduce, if we 
remember that the "Academy" was not built until 
several years after Gillett's arrival. Along the 
edges of the Green stood a number of "Sabbath- 
Day Houses." These were interesting adjuncts to 
the old New England Meeting House, and we are 
fortunate enough to have, in an extract from the 
"Semi-Centennial Discourse," a description of them, 
in "Father" Gillett's own words : 

"These were little buildings put up on the skirts of the 
public green, and in some instances, hard by the house of 
God, single or double, and designed to accomodate one or 
more families. Sometimes a kind of patriarchate, and the 
whole family of two or three generations spent the inter- 
mission of the Lord's day in them. Here the provisions 
were deposited in the morning ; in the winter season a 
good fire was made, — and then the Bible or some approved 
sermon book, produced and read ; or perhaps the doc- 
trines and principles of the morning discourse discussed. 
Possibly some one of less serious mood might talk with 
his neighbor of worldly matters, or the news of the day, 
but these family gatherings, in those small, unpainted, 
unpretending houses, were far more in accordance with 
the idea of remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy, 
than some of the gatherings of the present day, when 
modern progress has swept away these appendages of 
our earthly courts." 

There can be no doubt that these Sabbath Day 
Houses were veritable garden spots in those puri- 
tanical old Sabbaths. The attractiveness of them 
grows when we remember that the Meeting House 
itself had no stove, and when we picture the con- 
gregation, with numbed feet and chilled faces, 


hurrying forth from the frozen place of worship to 
find the glowing heat of the noon-day stove and 
meal. One suspects that there may have been 
more of the talk of "worldly matters" than good 
"Father" Gillett dreamed. And what a test of 
practical Christian faith it must have been to leave 
the place of comfort and return, with the advent 
of the hour of afternoon service, to the arctic 
church, whose refrigerated air knew no warmth 
save the perfervid imagery of the pictured Hell of 
the sermon. 

The earliest notice which we find of the erection 
of these Sabbath-Day Houses is in an item of the 
Society records, of 1798, which grants permission 
that Deacon Baldwin "and others that are desire-' 
ous of setting up a Sabbath day House or Houses 
may do it in the most convenient place or places & 
least detriment to the Public under the inspection 
of a com*** to be appointed by this Society." 

Besides the items noted above, it may be of 
interest to know that the town had some two- 
hundred-eighty dwelling houses and two social 
libraries. There were five school districts in the 
South Society and, as "Father" Gillett puts it, 
"five indifferent schoolhouses." Only the three 
"Rs," and they in their most elementary forms, 
were taught and the instruction often occupied little 
more than three months in a year for most of the 
pupils. High schools were unknown, and even 
grammar schools were lacking. One of the first 
efforts of the young minister was to remedy this 
lack — but more of that anon. 


It was upon the fifteenth of June, that Timothy 
Phelps Gillett was ordained to the ministry of 
Christ his Master, His father, Alexander Gillett, 
was present and delivered the ordination sermon. 
The title of it was "The Proper Mode of Preach- 
ing the Gospel," and the text, Matthew XIII ; 52 — 
"Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe 
which is instructed into the kingdom of Heaven is 
like unto a man that is an householder, which 
bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and 

It must have been a dramatic hour as, there 
before the flock which his son was called to shep- 
herd, the father revealed the prayer which had been 
hidden in his heart since the child's birth, the desire 
that his son might also serve at the sacred altar, 
and unfolded and traced God's answer to that con- 
stant petition — thru the revival at Torrington, when 
Timothy had been moved by the Holy Spirit to 
conversion ; the days at Williams and the call 
which reached him, thru the missionary band, for 
the prophetic office — and then charged him, in 
words solemn and earnest, to be true and loyal to 
his ministry. The discourse itself has been pub- 
lished and, even in its printed form, is afire with 
the emotions of that dramatic hour. An additional 
touch of interest was imparted by the fact that it 
was the young man's twenty-eighth birthday. 

This year was one of the red letter ones of 
Timothy Gillett's calendar, for not only did it see 
his ordination but also, before its close (November 
29th, to be precise), it witnessed his marriage to 


Miss Sallie Hodges. The young couple lived, for 
two years, in a building on South Street (South 
Main Street), and were then enabled, by aid of a 
small legacy, which came to Mrs. Gillett, to pur- 
chase and renovate the old Parish Tavern. This 
served for their home thruout the remainder of the 
long pastorate. It stands yet, on Main Street, 
three houses west of the Blackstone Library 

The long desired steeple had been added to the 
Meeting House in 1803, and the Society had voted 
"to purchase a Clock to be placed in the new 
Steeple" the year after that. Just when this clock 
was actually purchased and placed in position is 
open to conjecture, but it was probably very soon. 
At any rate a bell was purchased, for we know that 
some public-spirited person provided the funds to 
pay for its being rung, at twelve o'clock noon and 
at nine o'clock each evening except Saturday, 
before the year was ended. 

Not until the annual meeting, in 1809, did the 
Society "procure sum sutable person to ring the 
Bell." At the next annual meeting the same pro- 
vision was made and, in addition, the following 
directions were given as to the hours when it 
should be rung: "The first bell to be rung on the 
Sabbath morning, half after ten o'clock & in the 
Afternoon per quarter of an hour after One 
o'clock, each of the first bells, on the Sabbath, to 
be rung fifteen minutes (enclusive the tolling)." 
In 1 81 2 the body and the steeple of the Meeting 
House were repainted, white, and, the same year, 


the Society decided to purchase a new bell, "not 
to exceed eight hundred wait." The old bell was 
turned in towards the cost of its successor. In 
1814, the sexton and bell ringer was not chosen by 
the Society or its committee but the position was 
"let out by auction." 

The old custom of seating the Meeting House 
still prevailed, but there were variations in the 
method from time to time. Thus, in 1808, it was 
directed that it should be seated "by Age," and 
this practice would seem to have been followed 
until 1822, when the mandate given was that the 
seats be assigned "agreeable to dignification." 

The first practice must have been a source of 
some embarrassment, not to say of irritation, to the 
feminine portion of the congregation. Can we 
imagine the Branford ladies of to-day graded by 
the number of their years in their position in the 
auditorium ; first the nonagenarians, then the octo- 
genarians, and so on down to the numerous "thirty 
years" and "sweet sixteen" groups? 

But the ladies were not the only ones to be sub- 
jected to embarrassment. Imagine poor "Father" 
Gillett's feelings when he was informed, after a 
meeting in 1809, that the committee had assigned 
"the Pew west of the Pulpit stairs for Mr. Gillett 
& Mrs. Anne Huntington," who had been wife, in 
turn, to both of his immediate predecessors. Or, 
again, was it entirely diplomatic when, in 1822, he 
was instructed to share his pew between his wife 
and "Widow Anna Barker"? 


If some of the customs of the fathers were 
retained, in these years, others were dropped. One 
especially obnoxious one, to our way of thinking, 
was done away with in August of 1810. From the 
first days it had been the custom, in New England, 
to require each person, who was a candidate for 
full membership in the church, to come forward, 
before the whole congregation, on some Sunday 
previous to his admission, and to publicly confess, 
in detail, all of the particularly scandalous sins of 
his previous life, especially the hidden ones. What 
a source of constant sensationalism this custom 
must have proved. 

Of course the result w^as, especially in the more 
easy going days which followed the early Calvin- 
istic rigor, that this rule was either not fully 
enforced, or else that the candidates dishonestly 
professed to have bared their souls to public gaze 
without really doing so. The only really surpriz- 
ing thing is that the custom lived on, in some 
churches, for so many years. But its end came, in 
Branford, with the passage, on the above date, of 
a unanimous vote "to discontinue the practice of 
requiring of candidates for admission to church 
privileges confessions for particular scandalous 
sins committed previous to their becoming hope- 
fully converted." 

We must not think, however, that, with the aboli- 
tion of the rule requiring its detailed confession, 
scandal had died out of the Branford church. On 
the contrar}^ these next thirty years were dark ones 


from the standpoint of morality. In the same year 
that the vote to do away with public confession 
was passed, the following vote was engrossed upon 
the church records : "January 4, 1810. Voted to 
choose a committee of inspection and information, 
who upon hearing anything of any of the members 
which is apprehended to be matter of public scandal 
and church censure are to consider themselves as 
under obligations to make enquiry, examine evi- 
dence and proceed with such offenders according 
to the law of Christ's kingdom." 

Under this vote the committee set to work and 
began a series of church trials which fill many 
weary pages of the records. No pause, for any- 
thing except the minutes of these trials and such 
purely routine affairs as the entry of names of dele- 
gates to councils and other meetings, occurs until 
1826, and then it is only that this record may be 
inserted, "Voted, that the state of this church is 
such as imperiously to require discipline," and to 
add the names of a new, and larger, committee. 
Then, for ten more years, follow the charges and 
actions thereon whereby the church sought to 
purge herself of sin, only to end up with another 
vote that a standing committee, of four, should 
"summon erring members for trial." 

It is a disheartening story, this long conflict 
against hidden, inner iniquity, and the offences 
are not trivial ones but include such wrongs as 
"drunkeness," "theft," "lasciviousness" and "adul- 
tery." But the story is not entirely a dark one. 


Anyone who cares to spend a dreary hour or two 
in wading thru these pages cannot but be impressed 
with the patience and the forbearance which the 
church exercised towards these offenders. Every 
chance which could be offered them to confess and 
to repent was freely extended. The passing of the 
final judgment was postponed, again and again, 
until, in one case, the offender died of old age, still 
unsentenced ; and only rarely was the extreme 
judgment of excommunication rendered. 

Not one vote, do we feel, was passed in anger, 
and often the erring member was brought to 
repentance and good standing was restored. The 
immorality and scandal we deplore, but, after all, 
they were only what was to be expected from the 
Half Way Covenant, under whose loose conception 
of membership most of these guilty ones had been 
received ; but we cannot help possessing a certain 
great pride that the purgative process was every- 
where characterized by the patient kindliness of the 
law of Christ. 

Surely the wise counsel and firm hand of 
"Father" Gillett is clearly revealed by these records. 
Blessed is the church which, in the days of stress 
and cleansing, has the gift of such a pastor. Many 
another congregation was forever divided with 
hatred and schism in these same hard years, and we 
gladly ascribe to this shepherd's sanity and calm, 
forbearing judgment the praise for preserving his 
people in unity and concord. 

As "Father" Gillett served his church with true 


statesmanship, so did he serve his town. We have 
already seen that the school system which he found 
in Branford was lamentably inadequate. The new 
minister strove to remedy this misfortune in every 
way he might. From the days of the second war 
with Britain, he taught a "select school" in his 
own house — the equivalent of the grammar school 
of our day. In the year 1820, he gathered a num- 
ber of the leading townsfolk together, and the 
result was the organization of an Academy. The 
next step was the erection of a building and, almost 
entirely by his efforts and largely by his own 
money, the little white building which has stood 
ever since upon the Green (tho its location has 
been changed slightly) was built. There he con- 
tinued to teach for nearly twenty years, charging 
the nominal fee of two dollars a term, per pupil, 
for his services, and providing the firewood himself. 
Early in this pastorate two interesting innova- 
tions were introduced into the Branford church. 
In the spring of 1817, the question arose, at a 
special meeting of the Society which had been 
called to act upon the matter of whitewashing the 
inside of the Meeting House, as to whether the 
Society would allow a stove to be purchased for the 
Meeting House. The matter was felt to be far too 
important for immediate action, so the meeting was 
adjourned to the following Monday, at which time 
there was an unusually large attendance and the pro- 
posal to install the stove was "Voted in the nega- 
tive. Every person present was in the vote." This 


strange reluctance to making their place of worship 
comfortable endured for several years but, in 1824, 
the opposition fell away to a minority, and the stove 
was purchased. 

The other innovation created far less stir but 
was rather more important. Some time in this 
general period, we do not know when, a Sabbath 
School was organized in the Old Society. "Father" 
Gillett may have sponsored it as a part of his edu- 
cational program. At any rate he taught a weekly 
Bible Class, and read carefully, himself, each one 
of the little volumes which was added to the library 
that soon became an adjunct to the school, before 
he would allow it to be placed upon the shelves. 
Aside from these meagre facts, we have no knowl- 
edge of our Sunday School and its beginnings, nor 
any further reference to it for many years. 

Mention should next be made of several improve- 
ments in the church building. In 1831, people 
found it necessary' to purchase a new bell and the 
old one was again sold, the remainder of the money 
being raised by subscription. In 1834, a number 
of the pews in the gallery were replaced with slips, 
and two years later subscriptions were being raised 
for an organ. It is doubtful if the organ was ever 
purchased, for we have no knowledge of there ever 
having been one in the old church. 

Up to this date, the affairs of religion in the 
township had been divided between the Congrega- 
tionalists and the Episcopalians. This was no 
longer to be true. In 1836, a Methodist minister. 


by the name of Chesboro, endeavored to hold meet- 
ings in the Academy, but had Httle success and 
soon went away. This abortive attempt was soon 
followed by a more successful one. A Baptist 
minister, at the suggestion of a lady in Walling- 
ford, began holding small meetings here, in 1836. 
Early in the following spring the work was taken 
up by Rev. Mr. Watrous. Much interest was 
shown, also much opposition, the missioner being 
often very badly treated. In December of 1837, 
Rev. Davis Shailer began holding regular services 
in the Academy and soon gathered a good sized 
group about him. But in the spring the Acad- 
emy was rented as a dancing school, so the Baptists 
began meeting in a private house. Soon a num- 
ber of people were baptized, at the Indian Neck 
Bridge, much to the interest of the townsfolk, and 
a church was organized on December 19, 1838. 
Two years later the present Baptist church was 
erected on Whipping-post Hill, which had been 
leveled for that purpose, and was dedicated on 
July II, 1840. 

This new building of the Baptists may well have 
made the Congregational people dissatisfied with 
their own edifice. At any rate, when Mr. Gillett 
appeared before the Society (September 11, 1840) 
and recommended that a new Meeting House be 
erected, there was little opposition. After some 
discussion, it was decided "to appoint an agent to 
go through the Society, with a subscription paper 
in two forms Viz. One — to solicit for to build in 


the name of the Society, and to be owned by the 
Society & — the other, to soHcit in behalf of & to be 
owned by Stock-holders." The plan was ; first, to 
obtain as much money as possible in unconditional 
gifts and, second, to secure pledges for shares of 
Stock — the par value being twenty-five dollars — 
which shares should be paid for in three payments. 
These shares would entitle the holder to be credited 
with pew rental, as being paid, up to the amount of 
their value. The subscriptions came in slowly and 
so the Share-holders voluntarily converted their 
shares into straight gifts. 

It was decided to have a brick house, with a 
porch and large fluted pillars in front, a steeple in 
the center, and with two aisles in the audience 
room. The work went steadily, tho not rapidly, 
forward. The old Meeting House was in the way 
of the builders, so it was torn down and services 
were held, for a time, in the Academy. In Janu- 
ary of 1844 the slips, which had been placed in the 
new building instead of the old square pews, were 
appraised and rented. It was also decided to have 
an organ in the church. The basement was not 
finished until January i, 1845, for it had been 
necessary to sell part of the Indian Neck timber to 
obtain sufficient funds. 

On January 19, 1845, the new Meeting House 
was finally dedicated, the sermon being preached 
by "Father" Gillett from the 8th and 9th verses of 
the 96th Psalm. The building had cost about nine 
thousand dollars, nearly eight of which had been 
raised by subscription. 


While these things had been going on in Bran- 
ford, Mr. Gillett had also been achieving a position 
of considerable influence among the ministers of 
the state. He was too conservative a man, too 
closely bound to the bygone years, to be a leader in 
the progress of denominational affairs, but these 
same qualities made him respected and added a 
certain weight to his seldom given counsels. When, 
in June 1838, the General Association of Connect- 
icut, meeting at Norwalk, decided to publish a 
digest of Congregational principles and customs, 
Mr. Gillett, with David D. Field and Leonard 
Bacon, were the committee to whom was given the 
task. To the little volume, which the committee 
later prepared, Timothy Gillett contributed 279 of 
its 351 pages, preparing an account of the degree in 
which the ecclesiastical usages of that day con- 
formed to the principles of the Saybrook Platform. 
The little book has been preserved (a copy will be 
found in the Branford Library) and is entitled, 
"The Ancient Platforms of the Congregational 
Churches of New England." It was printed at 
Hartford, 1842-45. "Father" Gillett was also one 
of the group of Connecticut ministers who founded 
the theological college at East Windsor which later 
became Hartford Seminary. Thus, for a second 
time, did a Branford pastor become one of the 
sponsors for "a college in this Colony." 

There is little to record of the decade which fol- 
lowed the dedication of the new church. The new 
organ was not installed until December, 1849, at 
which time a Mrs. Lyon was engaged to play upon 


it, for the magnificent sum of fifty dollars per year, 
"to aid the choir of singers in performing their 
part of divine worship." In 185 1, the outside of 
the new building was painted. But, for the most 
part, little beyond the routine events of placid 
parish life happened. The church was blest with 
progress but without significant events. 

When June of 1858 arrived, it was planned to 
celebrate the close of fifty years of "Father" 
Gillett's service by a suitable meeting of commem- 
oration, to be held on the anniversary of his ordina- 
tion. But illness of the aged pastor caused the 
plan to be changed, and the Semi-Centennial Ser- 
vice was held on July 7. Upon that date friends 
and former parishioners gathered from far and 
near and "Father" Gillett reviewed the history of 
his pastorate, and of the church itself, in a dis- 
course which has become a Branford classic. So 
highly was this discourse esteemed, at the time, 
that upon July 20th, the Society, after passing a 
set of resolutions expressing their admiration and 
esteem for the author, ordered one thousand copies 
printed, each with a steel engraving of Mr. Gillett, 
which were to be distributed, one to each member 
of the church and to each family in the parish. 
That this was never done will be always a matter 
of regret. The address was later printed, thru the 
generosity of two gentlemen of the parish, tho on 
a smaller scale. 

Upon the same day that the above vote was 
taken, the Society received the following communi- 
cation from Mr. Gillett: 


"To the Congregational Chruch & Society in Branford ; 

Having recently completed the 50th year of my ministry 
among you, & understanding that you have a Societys 
meeting on Tuesday the 20th instant, I take this oppor- 
tunity to submit to the Church & Society at the time of 
said meeting the question — whether I shall relinquish 
wholly or in part, the active duties of the Pastoral office 
among you. And I hereby request an expression of your 
wishes on the subject. 

(Signed) T. P. Gillett." 

The Society, by a nearly unanimous vote, expressed 
a desire that he should rehnquish the active pas- 

But now followed a lamentable quarrel about the 
terms of the relinquishment. The Society wished 
it to be total, and claimed to be under no financial 
obligation for the further continuance of a salary. 
Mr. Gillett wished to be free to perform such 
pastoral offices as he might please, and to fill the 
pulpit from time to time. He also claimed that he 
should, rightly, be allowed half, at least, of his pre- 
vious salary. Into the details of that disagreement 
and of the sharp and lengthy correspondence which 
grew out of it, we shall not enter. Suffice it to say 
that the spirit on both sides was soon an embit-^ 
tered one, and that the final settlement brought no 
real satisfaction to either party. It was agreed 
(July 23, 1859) that Mr. Gillett should receive his 
regular salary of $500 for the year ending June 15, 
i860, and that he should have the privilege of 
cutting wood on the Society lands and the free use 
of his slip in the church so long as he remained a 
citizen of Branford. In return he was to free the 


Society from all further claim for financial reim- 
bursement, and was to cease his active pastoral 
service on August i, 1859. So the matter ended, 
but it will always remain as an unhappy page in 
the history of our church that so fair and long a 
pastoral relation should have come to so inglorious 
a close. 

The spring of 1859 had seen two actions of 
import on the part of the church. In March it was 
voted to print five hundred copies of a new Church 
Manual, which was prepared by Mr. Gillett. On 
April 29th it was voted to have a church clerk and 
also a church treasurer. Hitherto what church 
records had been kept had been kept by the pastor. 
William Linsley was chosen for the former, and 
Charles Rogers for the latter office. 

"Father" Gillett continued to reside in Branford 
and to serve his people, in their homes, helpfully if 
informally. Time softened the rancor of the past 
difficulty and, on. March 2, i860, the vote of 
July 29, 1858, in which Mr. Gillett had been 
requested to relinquish wholly the pastoral office, 
was rescinded. A new vote was passed, "that we 
request our aged Pastor Rev. T. P. Gillett to 
occupy the pulpit with the associate Pastor, Rev. 
Jacob G. Miller, and that he take such part in the 
public services of the Sanctuary as shall be mutu- 
ally agreeable to both pastors. — That we should be 
pleased to have our aged Pastor, the Rev. T. P. 
Gillett, visit our families and to perform such reli- 
gious services for us as we may desire." Thus 


"Father" Gillett became Pastor Emeritus, and 
continued so until his death. 

Mr. Gillett had been subject to severe attacks of 
illness for many years. On Wednesday, the last 
day of October, 1866, he was prostrated by an 
unusually threatening one. For several days he 
lingered on, either unconscious or else racked by 
intense agony. On Saturday evening he had a 
turn for the better, and led those about him in 
family devotions, but soon relapsed into a lethargy 
which developed into stupor. He continued uncon- 
scious until Monday, November fifth, when his 
spirit left its earthly tabernacle. So ended a pas- 
torate of this church never likely to again be 
equaled in its length of ministry, the last one of 
lifelong service. 

The funeral was held on November 7th. and 
Rev. W. T. Eustis, Jr., pastor of the Chapel Street 
Church of New Haven, preached the sermon. The 
bearers were students from the Theological School 
at East Windsor, and the interment was in Ever- 
green Cemetery, New Haven, the body being 
removed to Branford later, at the request of Mrs. 
Gillett. Dr. Leonard Bacon spoke, briefly, at the 
grave. The funeral discourse by Mr. Eustis was 
printed and is replete with interesting information. 

We cannot better characterize the personality 
and later ministry of "Father" Gillett than by 
quoting a few of the very apt sentences from this 
discourse. "He emphatically belonged to a gen- 
eration .which has departed, and of whom he was 


almost a solitary, as he was a fitting representative. 
Father Gillett . . . was not merely associated 
with the past by his venerable age, but he was a 
living witness of former days, through his keen 
observation and accurate statements, while he was 
himself a goodly specimen of the manners and 
virtues of the preceding generation." He was 
"conservative in his whole moral and intellectual 
framework," a Calvinist of the Calvinists, yet he 
often allowed men of markedly liberal views in his 
pulpit. "His sermons were distinguished for their 
clear statements, their evangelistic spirit, and by 
their earnest desire for the religious welfare of his 
hearers. They were delivered with slight ges- 
tures yet with a quiet force which attracted and 

As a man, "he was modest, kind, self controlled 
and true. He seldom gave utterance to his deepest 
feelings, was calm under trial, and returned enmity, 
when it assailed him, with words of quietness." 
He was "reticent, but far from morose," "A 
gentle humor lighted his features and played in 
his words, when he felt perfectly at home. He 
often smiled, but seldom laughed." "His face was 
the index of his character; placid, yet resolute; 
kind, but restrained; a gentle eye and a firm lip; 
thoughtful and self controlled, denoting a man of 
courtesy, who never suffered himself to be shaken 
by passion. He was more than he seemed." "He 
was scrupulously exact in attending to every ser- 
vice which was appointed, either in public or 




4 '-f\ 









"''-"^-"-'-^^-i'-ji-r^ V 

Rev. Timothy Phelps Gillett 

Pastor 1 808- 1 866 


private, and never failed in fulfilling the task 

When we add to this estimate the fact that he 
was frugal, without being penurious, and that, on 
a salary of five hundred dollars a year and the 
proceeds of his teaching, he accumulated, without 
speculation, an estate of nearly eighty thousand 
dollars, we have a rather accurate portrait of the 

The ministry of "Father" Gillett was not spec- 
tacular, and will not measure up in dramatic inci- 
dents to that of his predecessors. But, as a quiet, 
unobtrusive, yet cumulatively fruitful record of 
service, it incomparably surpasses tlieirs, nor is it 
likely to be equaled. His theology and tempera- 
ment alike made him an autocrat and, during his 
pastorate, the Branford church knew often the 
hand of a master ; but his was a paternal, even if 
a stern, despotism, and it was upheld by a sterling 
character and capable intellect rather than by mere 
external tradition. 

He was the last of those old New England pas- 
tors whose word was a law in the community and 
whose voice bore the authority of God. Never 
again will a Branford minister have such preroga- 
tives, but we have no regret that they belonged to 
"Father" Gillett. His pastorate was an epoch in 
the annals of Branford church and the fruit of his 
great ministry still abounds. 


After the relinquishment of the active pastorate, 
by "Father" Gillett, the church and Society united 
in calling Rev. Jacob G. Miller, as Associate Pastor. 
Mr. Miller accepted the invitation, and his salary 
was fixed at one thousand dollars, just double the 
amount received by Mr. Gillett. His pastorate is 
an uneventful one, and but two matters need require 
our attention. On December 4, i860, the time of 
the Communion Service was changed from the close 
of morning worship to a separate hour in the after- 
noon. On the same date it was voted, for the first 
time, to observe the "Week of Prayer" (during 
the second week in January), in company with 
other churches. 

On September 3, 1864, Mr. Miller resigned his 
charge in order to accept a call to the Presbyterian 
church of Montrose, Pa., and his resignation was 
accepted. From Montrose he went to Alden, Iowa, 
and thence to Manchester, in the same state. He 
then retired from the ministry and resided for a 
number of years in Cedar Falls, later removing to 
New York state where he died, a few years ago, at 
the home of his daughter, at the advanced age of 
ninety years. 

Mr. Miller was a man of large frame, with a 
dark complexion and a Hebraic countenance, the 
nose being more than usually prominent. He was 
a voracious reader and possessed a retentive mem-^ 


ory. His speech was exceedingly rapid. Fond of 
horses, he did much of his parish work on horse- 
back and was a famiUar figure upon the highways 
of the town. He was not a spiritually minded 
man and must have been a marked contrast to 
"Father" Gillett. Inordinately fond of food, he 
was heard, in later years, to remark that he had 
always a tender recollection of Branford, "espe- 
cially of its clams and oysters." His ministry was 
a useful one, but it was far from being conspic- 
uous, and we may leave it without further words. 



The next in succession to the Branford pulpit 
was Rev. EHjah C. Baldwin, who was called to the 
pastorate of this church on January 9, 1865, the 
salary offered being twelve hundred dollars. 

Mr. Baldwin was a native of Connecticut, having 
been born in Milford, December 4, 1832, his 
parents being Elijah and Catherine (Gunn) Bald- 
win. He was educated in the Milford schools and 
at Union Theological Seminary, from which he 
graduated in i860. His first pastorate was at 
Bethel, Connecticut, where he was also ordained, 
September 5, i860. On May ist, 1856, he had 
married Juliet Childs, of East Hartford, who bore 
him one child, and who died February 23, 1857. 
Before his call to Branford he married again, the 
second wife being Frances Marsh Hutchinson, of 
Cromwell, Connecticut. By her he had four chil- 
dren. She also survived him. 

Mr. Baldwin was installed, by a council which 
met on April 5th, 1865, "Father" Gillett making 
the installation prayer and Rev. W. T. Eustis 
preaching the sermon. The young minister took 
up his residence in the North Main Street house, 
which the Society soon purchased for a parsonage. 
This house is on the right hand side of the street, 
half way down the hill. 

It was towards the close of the second year of 


Mr. Baldwin's pastorate that the Society gave the 
famous ninety-nine year lease of its Indian Neck 
lands to John A. Leggat and others. Under the 
terms of the lease the Society was to receive nine 
hundred dollars a year, as rent, payable the first day 
of every March. In case of non-payment, unusually 
liberal provision was made for the protection of 
the leasing party. Provision was inserted that no 
intoxicating liquors should ever be sold upon the 
premises. It was agreed also that those taking the 
lease should have the privilege of subleasing and 

Like most long term leases this one has been a 
source of some regret to the later generation. The 
rental price was probably a fair one, at the time of 
the drawing up of the terms, but the Indian Neck 
lands have grown greatly in value, since that day, 
and are now such desirable shore property that 
there is no question but what the terms have 
become exceedingly unfavorable for the church 
and Society. 

Elijah C. Baldwin proved to be a popular 
preacher in these first years of his pastorate. He 
was a well read man and his sermons, which he 
always read, were of a "literary" character and 
were marked by frequent quotations. 

Contrary to what one might expect from these 
facts, Mr. Baldwin aspired to be a reformer. He 
saw much evil about him and he felt called upon 
to correct it. Especially did he set his face against 
the saloons, and not without need, for there were 


only forty-two places in town, at that time, where 
liquor was sold. The parsonage was directly 
across from one of these "rum holes" and it needed 
no super-intellect to discern the terrible fruits of 
its influence upon the community, especially upon 
the young men. 

So the minister's sermons were not over tame, 
despite their bookish idiom, and people came out in 
large numbers, and enjoyed his invectives — for a 
while. The consequence was that the auditorium 
became too small for the congregation and plans 
were made for enlarging it. 

After some little discussion, and the revision of 
the plans several times, it was decided to enlarge 
the church by removing the original faqade and 
adding to the length of the roof sufficiently to 
enable the placing of thirty more pews, and replac- 
ing the old faqade with a new one. This was 
accordingly done, and the result is the edifice in its 
present form. The addition at the rear of the 
building, comprising the chancel, was also made at 
this time and the walls of the auditorium were 

In June 1868 the committee in charge reported 
the cost of the alterations to be, approximately, 
$18,500. From November to July while the altera- 
tions were being made the church services were 
held in the basement. In May, of 1868, it was 
voted, by the church, to sell some of the old Com- 
munion goblets and to purchase new ones. To 
these were added new plates, given by Mrs. Butler, 

Present Edifice 
Erected 1843, remodelled i£ 


and some new tankards, which Mr. N. P. Minor 
had provided, so the entire service was new. 

When the redecoration of the auditorium was 
completed it became apparent that the organ was 
not adequate for the enlarged room. Funds were 
accordingly solicited for a better one and over 
$2,000 was raised, about two thirds coming from 
non-residents who had been born in Branford. 
The new instrument was made by the Hooks, of 
Boston, and has served the church faithfully, lo, 
these many years. The reconstructed building was 
rededicated on Sunday, July 5th, 1868, Mr. Bald- 
win preaching the sermon, and Mr. Havens, of 
East Haven, offering the prayer. 

These improvements in the auditorium were 
accompanied by and followed with other additions 
to the church equipment. New Sunday School 
hymnals were purchased and the church itself was 
furnished with "Songs for the Sanctuary." Pew 
cushions, a carpet, lamps and new pulpit furniture 
were provided for the new audience room. Down- 
stairs a new room was fitted up, for the primary 
class, as was also a ladies' room, and a furnace 
was provided for the lecture room. A cabinet 
organ was added to the equipment of the Sunday 
School and the Library was considerably enlarged. 
The Society recognized Mr. Baldwin's contribution 
to these improvements by adding (in 1869) three 
hundred dollars to his salary. 

In the winter and spring of 1874 there was a 
considerable revival in the town, the pastor being 


assisted, during the month of May, by an evangelist 
named Underwood. About sixty persons are said 
to have been converted. There were also several 
other occasions, during Mr. Baldwin's stay, when 
the interest in religious matters was larger than 
usual but none of these times of quickening added 
largely to the membership of the church. 

In January 1874 the Branford church was repre- 
sented at the birth of her youngest daughter, "The 
Church of Christ in Stony Creek." Back in the 
days of his pastorate "Father" Gillett held services 
in the little red school house, at the end of the town, 
once or twice a year. In 1863, or thereabouts, 
Deacon Giles Baldwin of Bushes' Neck began a 
mission Sunday School, at Stony Creek, which met 
for a few weeks of every summer. 

The next step was taken by the Rev. Mr. 
Simons, of the Branford Baptist Church, who held 
special services there in 1863. The year following 
Mr. Baldwin began occasional, and then monthly, 
meetings and, in the fall of that year, a "Religious 
Society" was organized, having a membership of 
thirteen persons, who represented four denomina- 
tions. This society secured tlie money with which 
to build a little chapel, which was dedicated in July 
of 1866, Mr. Baldwin delivering the dedication 
sermon, Mr. Gillett offering the prayer, and Mr. 
Simons, of the Baptist church, reading the dedica- 
tory sentences. 

During the eight years which followed quite 
regular services were held which were usually 


conducted by the ministers of Branford, North 
Branford and Guilford. In April 1874 Mr. E. E. 
Hill, of Fair Haven, began to hold regular morn- 
ing and evening services in the chapel, and con- 
tinued to do so until he was disabled in a railroad 
accident four months later. Mr. Louis Berry, 
then of the Yale Divinity school, was instrumental 
in organizing the little church. There were thirty- 
three charter members, eleven uniting on confes- 
sion of faith and the remainder bringing letters 
from Branford and elsewhere. The small begin- 
ning which they made has been prospered and the 
church has been of much value to the town and 
Kingdom. The present beautiful chapel was built 
in 1902. 

The passing years had made for Elijah C. Bald- 
win not a few enemies and had alienated from him 
some firm friends. His efforts towards reforma-" 
tion, which at first had been warmly seconded and 
had brought to him popularity, began to arouse 
criticism and then hostility. Moreover the recon- 
struction of the Meeting House had not been well 
financed and had left the Society saddled with a 
heavy debt. 

All of this was unfortunate but might, by exer- 
cise of good statesmanship, not have proven seri- 
ous. But Mr. Baldwin was neither a statesman 
nor a diplomat. He was just a good man with a 
great zeal for the Kingdom of God and an undis- 
criminating hatred of evil in all places. He had 
a somewhat tactless tongue and used it in a way 


which stung, tho it was intended to cure. Soon 
his crowded audiences fell away and it became 
evident that his ministrations were not building up 
the Church Visible. 

On November lo, 1873, the Society appointed 
Deacons John Plant, Austin Babcock and William 
Linsley a committee to confer with Mr. Baldwin 
concerning the matter of finances and other differ- 
ences. At an adjourned meeting (November 25) 
this committee reported. Their report is not a 
matter of record, but it resulted, after much dis- 
cussion, in instructions to the committee to consult 
informally with members of the church and the 
Society, and to endeavor to embody the prevailing 
sentiment in a recommendation as to further action. 
The committee obeyed and reported again on 
December 30th. Another long debate was held 
and it was then decided to request a committee to 
report the sense of the meeting to Mr. Baldwin, 
in the hope that this might lead to such steps, on 
his part, as would render further action unneces- 

But no such steps were taken, and the affair 
was allowed to drift along until April 10, 1877, 
when a special meeting of the Society was called, 
on petition of several members, and Mr. Baldwin 
was requested to resign, his resignation to take 
effect by July first. The only result was a prop- 
osition, made by the pastor to the church, on 
August loth, that he relinquish the pastorate at 
the end of the year 1877, and that the church then 


unite with him in calling a council for his dismis- 
sion. The church acquiesced in the proposal. On 
December 31st, after an attempt to have the matter 
reconsidered, which was defeated by a three-fourths 
majority, Mr. Baldwin announced that he consid- 
ered his pastorate terminated and was ready to 
join in the calling of a council. The Society 
granted him the use of the parsonage for the first 
six months of the new year. When the church 
prepared, however, to summon a dismissing coun- 
cil, Mr. Baldwin withheld his cooperation, and the 
council could not be called. 

The next step was an appeal, by the church, to 
the Consociation, at its annual meeting in May, 
which was met by strong objections, from Mr. 
Baldwin, against any immediate consideration of 
the matter. He was persuaded, however, after 
much urging, to meet the church in a Consociation 
session to be held at Branford on October 15th, 
at which meeting the Consociation unanimously 
declared the pastoral relation dissolved. 

Leaving Branford, Elijah C. Baldwin took up 
his residence in New Haven and remained there 
until 1882. While there he edited two volumes 
of "The Home World," a magazine of his own 
origination. He wrote for this magazine and for 
the New Haven Colony Historical Society a series 
of papers, on the early history of Branford and 
upon the first pastors of the church, which were 
the fruit of painstaking and careful research and 
which are absolutely invaluable sources of knowl- 


edge concerning our first century and a half of 
life. For these studies and their fruit he deserves 
the eternal gratitude of our church and they far 
more than offset the difficulties in which he involved 
the Branford congregation in the last years of his 

The New Haven residence and literary work 
were terminated in order that an invitation to 
become Acting Pastor of the church at Cheshire, 
Connecticut, might be accepted. This was in 1882, 
and Mr. Baldwin continued with the Cheshire 
church until his death, which came on April 27th, 
1890. He was buried at Cromwell, Connecticut, 
on April 29, the Branford church being represented 
at the funeral and passing resolutions upon his 


Because of their recent experiences, the Society 
was chary of installing another pastor. Accord- 
ingly, when it was decided to invite Mr. C. W. Hill 
to fill the vacant pulpit, he was merely requested to 
supply it for one year, from April ist, 1878. The 
salary was the not very generous one of one thou- 
sand dollars. Mr. Hill was a graduate of Bowdoin 
College and had been preaching at the Stony Creek 
church while studying theology at Yale Divinity 
School. Shortly after coming to Branford he 
married a Miss Macomber, a young lady from 
Maine, who was of much assistance to him in his 
work until she became an invalid, after the birth of 
their child. 


A young man, of pleasing personality, who 
preached entirely without notes, the new minister 
soon became very popular, especially with the 
young people of the parish. He joined freely in 
their social gatherings and, being somewhat of an 
athlete, was a welcome participant in the sports of 
the young men. He did much towards bringing 
back the youthful contingent whom the previous 
ministry had alienated. In 1879 and, again, in 
1880 he was invited to continue his services and, in 
the latter year, the church offered to unite with 
him in calling an ordaining council. 

Mr. Hill entered enthusiastically into the contin- 
uance of the temperance crusade which had begun 
under his predecessor, but was more tactful and 
therefore more efficient. In 1880 a series of Union 
Temperance meetings were begun which continued 
monthly and which were productive of awakened 
and sustained interest. During the previous year 
it had been decided to revise the membership roll 
of the church and forty-four names, mostly non- 
residents, were dropped, leaving a total of 256 
active and 17 absent members. 

Upon July 9, 1880, Mr. Hill resigned in order 
that he might take up work among the Mormons 
in Utah. Reluctantly the resignation was accepted 
and the church joined with the young man in call- 
ing a council, which met in Branford on Wednes- 
day, July 2ist, and ordained him "for the work of 
an evangelist." The council ordained Mr. F. F. 
Jourdon that same day. 


So ended a ministry which had begun auspi- 
ciously and which has insured Mr. Hill of a warm 
place in Branford's heart for all time. After serv- 
ing in Utah for a time he went to California and 
from thence to the Hawaiian Islands where he was 
a missionary, for a number of years, at Hilo, T. H. 
He is still living and is pastor of two churches in 
La Mesa, California. 


In Mr. Hill the Branford church had known the 
enthusiasm of youth, which has not yet had time to 
measure the glory of its vision and aspiration 
against the stern practicality of the actual everyday 
ministry. In Rev. Cyrus P. Osborne, her next 
pastor, she found one who brought to his new 
charge an unusual wealth and variety of experi- 

Cyrus Osborne was a native of the Pine Tree 
State, born in Waterville in the year 1834. His 
first training was received in that alma mater of 
many a successful man of his time, the forecastle 
of a sailing vessel. His was the stern, soul-trying 
but unforgetable experience which Dana has immor- 
talized in his "Two Years Before the Mast." 
Osborne's three years resulted in the placing of the 
stamp of the deep sea upon his life and the planting 
of the seed of a desire which, tho it was to lie dor- 
mant for awhile, would, in the end, spring up into 
an unusually fruitful ministry. 

Leaving the sea, after three years, young Osborne 


entered Phillips Andover, then Harvard, from 
which he graduated in 1859, and concluded this 
academic aspect of his education with three years 
at Andover Theological Seminary. 

After a successful period of service to the church 
at Bristol, Rhode Island, there followed a year of 
travel in Europe and the Holy Land, a rare privi- 
lege in those times. On his return, the young 
minister was married to Miss Ella Smith, of West- 
field, Massachusetts. Then came the great conflict 
between North and South, and Osborne responded 
to the call to service by joining in the work of the 
Christian Commission, the Y. M. C. A. of that day, 
and rendered a good account of himself with the 
Union Army. 

One might think that the years of training would 
be now completed, but young Osborne did not 
think so for he followed up his wartime ministry 
with only one year of active pastoral service, in 
Baltimore, Maryland, and then returned to Andover 
Seminary for two years more of graduate study. 
At the conclusion of this final schooling he accepted 
a call to Simsbury, Connecticut, where he was 
ordained and ministered four years. 

The call to the church in Branford came to him 
on October 29th, 1880. It was accepted, with the 
proviso that the clause in it which provided for the 
giving of three months' notice by either party as 
preliminary to severing the pastoral relation be 
changed so that but three weeks' notice should be 
required of the pastor. Mr. Osborne remained 


one month more than four years, resigning, 
November lo, 1884, to go to the Presbyterian 
church of Fayetteville, New York, where he 
remained for more than a decade and a half. 

But the best work of Mr. Osborne was not done 
in the regular pastorate nor in the early years of 
his life. He was sixty-five years old when the call 
came, in 1899, to affiliate himself with the work of 
the Boston Seaman's Friend Society, as Corre- 
sponding Secretary. The memory of his own boy- 
hood experience of the perils and hardships of a 
sailor's life must have come to him as he entered 
upon his new ministry. His service in the new 
field was conspicuous and he remained active in the 
work of the vSociety until his death, which came at 
Cambridge, Massachusetts, after a brief illness, 
August 18, 19 1 2. A minister with unusual wealth 
of training, both from books and schools and in the 
university of a varied life, his was a mind of 
remarkable breadth of view, a heart of deep and 
thoughtful sympathy and a spirit irenic and ever 
fresh. Not only is he remembered, in Branford, 
for the good years of his pastorate but also for the 
happy visits which he made, in the interest of his 
special work, in later years. We shall ever be 
grateful that we were honored with his friendship. 

It was during this pastorate that the old par- 
sonage on North Main Street was sold and the 
minister lived at Branford Point. The North 
Main Street residence had become objectionable 
because of the saloon which stood directly oppo- 

1 63 

site. Efforts were initiated at once to build another 
house but difficulty was encountered in fixing upon 
an expedient site and the matter remained in abey^ 
ance until some time after the conclusion of Mr. 
Osborne's ministry. 

The work of the church itself was not eventful 
in these years. Several minor changes were made 
but very little is reported in the records. On 
December 31, 1880, the members of the church 
committee were made ineligible for reelection until 
after the expiration of one year from the conclusion 
of their term of office. Some time during the fol- 
lowing year, the small box which is fastened to the 
wall of the auditorium, next the door, was placed 
there, with a companion one next the other entrance, 
to receive offerings for public charities. A new 
church manual was begun, but was not issued until 
after the coming of Mr. Bake. Upon the last day 
of 1881 it was decided to henceforth use only 
unf ermented wine for the Communion table. These, 
and the death of Deacon John Plant, a faithful and 
efficient servant of the church, in 1881, are the out- 
standing occurrences of the pastorate. It was a 
period of prosperity, but of no conspicuous events. 


After the church and Society had offered the 
pastorate to Rev. C. S. Beardsley and had been 
unsuccessful in obtaining his services, a call was 
extended, November 9, 1885, to Henry Pearson 
Bake of Ticonderoga, New York, to serve as 

1 64 

minister for one year from August 30, 1885, when 
he had come to Branford. The salary was to be 
$1,300, and the Society provided the Margaret 
Hopson house, which was situated upon Hopson 
Avenue, just north of the present home of the 
Swedish Lutheran Church, as a residence for the 
minister. Mr. Bake is of English stock, born in 
Yorkshire, and claims lineage from Abraham Pier- 
son, Branford's first settled minister. 

The pastorate is principally of interest because 
it contributed two important organizations to the 
Branford parish. The first of these was the Com- 
fortable Society, which was formed, about 1886, 
with the particular mission of reducing the church 
debt which remained as a heritage from the time 
of the reconstruction of the building. The society 
took its name from the fact that, when it sought for 
a means to earn money, the task which came first 
to hand was the making of "comfortables." It 
was made up of the younger ladies of the church, 
and was highly successful in its purpose and con- 
tributed several hundred dollars towards the reduc- 
tion of the heavy load which was being carried by 
the Society. Nor did it cease with the accomplish- 
ment of its task, for it has flourished ever since 
and has ministered, upon unnumbered occasions, to 
the improvement of the church plant. 

The other organization, to be born in this period, 
was the Young People's Society of Christian 
Endeavor. The society was inspired by Mr. Bake, 
and is one of the oldest societies of the Christian 


Endeavor movement. It met in the church base- 
ment and was a source of great strength to the 
church life. It has continued, with unbroken exist- 
ence, to our own day, and is still active and influen- 
tial in the affairs of the parish. 

About 1886, the Tabor Lutheran Church was 
beginning its career and the Congregational church, 
in the spirit of neighborliness, extended to the 
young congregation the use of the vestry, upon 
Sunday afternoons, for the holding of their ser- 
vices. The kindly feeling of that day has con- 
tinued as the new church has grown in numbers 
and in strength. 

In 1886, the church building was repainted and 
in 1887, new lamps were provided for the entrances. 
About this same time, the Society, cooperating 
with the owners of adjacent real estate, put thru 
the road which is now Wilford Avenue, and also 
that portion of Church Street which lies between 
Wilford Avenue and South Main Street. The 
property along the eastern side of Church Street 
had been acquired by the Society in 1885, and was 
now divided up into house lots, which were sold, 
with the exception of the corner lot. Church and 
South Main Streets, which was reserved for the 
site of a parsonage. 

Upon May 2d, 1887, the Society received a com- 
munication from Mrs. Sally Gillett, the widow of 
Timothy Phelps Gillett, offering a gift of two thou- 
sand dollars, contingent upon the removal of her 
husband's body from New Haven, by the Society, 


and its reinterment in the Branford Cemetery, the 
grave to be marked by a suitable monument; it 
also being provided that Mrs. Gillett should be 
buried, eventually, beside her husband. The gift 
was accepted and the body of Mr. Gillett was given 
a fitting resting place, close to the church he had 
loved. Mrs. Gillett died soon after and was laid 
beside him. 

As the time drew near for the close of the second 
century since the reorganization of the church, the 
Branford people decided to observe the anniver- 
sary in fitting manner. A committee of twenty, 
ten each of men and women, was selected and the 
Bi-Centennial was fittingly commemorated, March 
7, 1888. The historical sermon was preached by 
Mr. Bake, and was an able one. It was not printed, 
but the original manuscript is now in the possession 
of Mr. Charles Blackstone. 

In many respects the pastorate of Henr}^ Pear-' 
son Bake was an unusually prosperous one for the 
church. Besides the events above noted there 
were several times of marked evangelistic effort, 
and the benevolences of the parish were very 
largely increased. In 1888 the new church manual 
was printed. It is unfortunate that the close of 
the pastorate was accompanied by enmities and dis- 
agreeable circumstances. 

It is neither necessary nor wise to endeavor to 
detail the events which led up to the estrangement. 
Suffice it to say that, by early 1887, a marked 
antagonism had developed between a large group 


and the pastor and that, when on July 28th the vote 
was taken as to whether Mr. Bake should be con- 
tinued in the pastorate another year, it was only 
by the deciding vote of the chair that the invitation 
to stay on was extended. The next year the vote 
was decisively against the continuance of the pas- 
toral relation, and Mr. Bake resigned, July 3d, 
after having been given notice that his services 
would not be required after September first. The 
resignation was unanimously accepted by the Soci- 
ety, and was accepted by the church also, after the 
passage of resolutions commending the work of the 

Upon the Sunday following the crisis, the retir- 
ing pastor preached a sermon of such vehemence 
and fierce invective that it has not yet been for- 
gotten. The result was that, upon the next subse- 
quent Sunday, the house was filled to the doors 
with an expectant congregation, in anticipation of 
another sensation. They were disappointed, how- 
ever, for the sermon was a commendable example 
of restraint and of conquered temptation, being an 
eloquent presentation of the gospel of the Christ. 

Mr. Bake went to New York State, from Bran- 
ford, and is still living, tho he has long since retired 
from active work. In later years he returned to 
Branford, for a visit, and preached again in the old 
church, being warmly received. His ministry was, 
on the whole, a very able one, and he deserves a 
lasting and grateful place in our esteem. 



After the removal of Mr. Bake, the church 
devoted more than a year to hunting for another 
minister. They found him at Orleans, on Cape 
Cod, — a student, and a Christian gentleman. He 
was called to the ministry in Branford on the 
sixteenth day of September, 1889. The salary 
was increased three hundred dollars, and he was 
engaged for an indefinite period, to be ended only 
after three months' notice. 

At the beginning of that same year, the Society 
had borrowed four thousand dollars that they 
might build a new parsonage, on the old Frisbie 
lot, at the corner of Church and South Main 
streets. Aided by generous contributions from the 
Comfortable Society, the house was completed the 
next summer and Thomas Bickford became its first 
occupant. It was an almost ideal location for a 
parsonage, and the house itself was an attractive 
and commodious one. 

The congregation rallied about the new pastor 
and good feeling was more universal than it had 
been for many years. The Branford people found 
in him a friend and a quiet, tactful leader. Sym- 
bolic of this united spirit was the "Collation and 
Roll Call" which was held on October 29, 1890. 
The roll call was held in the auditorium and was 
responded to by about two hundred persons, by 
word of mouth or by letter. The church then 
adjourned to the vestry, and three hundred gath- 


ered about the generous supper tables. After the 
family meal there were toasts and felicitations, and 
an original hymn, written by the pastor, was sung. 
Altogether, it was a memorable evening. One 
item of interest connected with it is that it was in 
preparation for that occasion that the last of the 
wooden slips, which formerly filled the vestry, was 

A tablet, in memory of the ministry of Philemon 
Robbins, was offered, by Mr. Robbins Battell, of 
Norfolk, Connecticut, one of the descendants of the 
former pastor, to the Society and was gratefully 
accepted. The tablet was a large bronze one, and 
was placed on the wall at the right of the chancel. 
It bears the following inscription : 

In Memory of 


Born in Charlestown Mass., September 19, 1709 

Graduated at Harvard College 1729 

Ordained over this Church of Christ February 7, 1733 

Died in office August 3d, 1781, in his 72d Year 

As a Pastor greatly Beloved by His People 

Esteemed and Respected by His Clerical Brethren 

Mild Peacable and a Peace Maker 

Strenuous in Defence of Ministerial Liberty 

Earnest in Promoting the Great Revival 

A Sound and Searching Preacher 

Holding Fast the Doctrines of Grace 


Mr. Bickford's ministry was marked by large 
additions to the church roll, nearly one hundred 
being added during his three years of service. He 
also endeavored to revise the roll, eliminating 
errors which had crept in. It is said, tho the 
matter is not certain, that the Woman's Missionary 
Society was organized at this time. 

November 25th, 1892, Mr. Bickford resigned, 
requesting that the three months clause be waived 
and that he be permitted to leave December first. 
The church and Society granted the necessary per- 
mission, and Mr. Bickford removed to Springfield, 
Vermont, the reason given being the dangerous ill- 
ness of his daughter. 

Branford has had few men, among her ministers, 
of larger personal worth than Thomas Bick- 
ford. He was born at Chelsea, Massachusetts, 
December 30, 1853. Graduating from Colgate, he 
was ordained to the Baptist ministry, at Taberg, 
New York, in 1876. His first Congregational pas- 
torate was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during 
1884-87. He then went to Orleans, in the same 
state, and, from there, came to Branford. After 
the death of his daughter, Ruth, in Springfield, 
Vermont, Mr. Bickford removed to Chicago where, 
for several years, he engaged in business, success- 
fully. Reentering the ministry, he preached in 
Hinsdale, Illinois, and then at Stoughton, in his 
native state. In 1906 he founded the "Sea Pines 
School of Personality for Girls," at Brewster, 
Massachusetts, and achieved notable success, build- 


ing up a school that has attained excellent reputa- 
tion and is likely to be monumental. The vision 
which led him to its founding was one of educating 
the soul, as well as the mind and body, and of 
training young women to know and develop them- 

It was with deep sorrow that, July 5, 19 17, Bran- 
ford learned that she had lost this former pastor. 
He died, suddenly, of heart trouble, at Worcester, 
Massachusetts. Mrs. Bickford and his two daugh^ 
ters, Faith and Addie, survive him and are perpet- 
uating his beloved school. A man of gracious and 
winsome personality, of sterling character, tactful, 
and warmed with gracious humor, he was a true 
and lovable Christian gentleman and the wholesome 
influence of his presence will continue with us for 
full many a year. His character is the measure of 
his ministry. 


The last day of May, 1893, was a momentous 
day for the Branford church, for it marked the 
beginning of a pastorate which was to endure for 
sixteen years, or longer than had any since the days 
of "Father" Gillett. It was also a day of import 
for the new minister. Rev. Theophilus S. Devitt, 
for it not only witnessed his assumption of a new 
charge but was also his wedding day. Mr. Devitt 
came here from LeRaysville, Pennsylvania, and he 
brought with him, as his bride, Mrs. Katherine 
(Buck) Devitt, of his former parish. 

In preparation for the coming of their new 
pastor, the parsonage was painted and put in order 
and the church auditorium was painted and fres- 
coed. The larger part of the funds were provided 
by the ladies of the Comfortable Society, tho the 
Ecclesiastical Society furnished some assistance. 
A little later the church roof was recovered, with 
slate instead of shingles, and new lamps were 
purchased for the audience room. 

Mr. Devitt had first preached in Branford upon 
March 26th of that year and had been called to the 
pastorate upon Easter Sunday. The salary was 
fixed at $1,200 and parsonage (it was increased to 
$1,400 the following year) and he was invited to 
remain for an indefinite period. 

The son of Rev. Frederick Devitt, a Methodist 
minister, and Eleanor (Cassidy) Devitt, Theophilus 


Devitt had been born at Montreal, Canada, March 
6, 1867. He was one of a large family, there 
being eight boys and two girls. Three months or 
so after his birth the family removed to the States 
and became residents of New York State. There 
the young lad received his early training and sup- 
plemented it with a course at Syracuse. He has 
also studied at Yale Divinity and at Allegheny and 
has received the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy 
and of Divinity. Before serving at LeRaysville, 
he had been principal of a school at Smithville 
Flats, New York, for several years. 

The early years of the pastorate were uneventful 
ones, for the historian, and we shall mention only 
a few facts. The first should be the gift, by Mrs. 
Lorenzo Blackstone, to the church, of a memorial 
tablet, in memory of "Father" Gillett, which was 
accepted and placed upon the left of the chancel. 
Its inscription reads : 

In this Church 


Served Successive Generations 
According to the Will of God 

The Son of a Godly Minister 

Born at Wolcott, Conn. June 15, 1780 

Graduated at Williams College 1804 

Where as Tutor he Aided the Beginnings 

Of American Foreign Missions 


Ordained Pastor of this Church June 15, li 
Died at Branford, November 5, 1866 

He Sleeps among the People to Whom by Word 

And Example He Showed the Way of Life 
And Who Loved Him for His Works Sake 
And for His own 

Grateful to God and to His Servant 

A Daughter of this Ancient Church 

Has set up this Memorial 

In 1895 it was voted to elect two additional 
deacons, and Herbert E. Thatcher and John J. V. 
Cuningham were chosen to that office. In 1896 
one of the Jubilee Services of the American Mis- 
sionary Association was held at Branford, the 
neighboring churches participating, and in June of 
'97 came the establishment of the precedent for the 
elimination of the evening service during July and 

The beginning of the new century saw a number 
of improvements in the church building. The choir 
gallery was enlarged, a new carpet purchased for 
the auditorium (the old one being transferred to 
the basement, where it did valiant service for many 
years), and the church was wired for electricity 
and new fixtures were installed. In all of these 
improvements the Comfortable Society had led the 
way and borne the major portion of the expense. 


On May 20th, 1904, Mr. Edward F. Jones pre- 
sented the Society with five thousand dollars, in 
debenture bonds of the New York, New Haven 
and Hartford Railroad, the fund to be known as 
the "Margaret A. Jones Fund," and the interest 
to be at the disposal of the pastor and deacons "for 
the comfort and support and maintenance of those 
who are attendants upon the services of said church, 
and who are poor, sick, aged, or infirm." Mr. 
Jones later supplemented this fund with another 
five thousand dollars. The gift was gratefully 
accepted by the Society and the church and resolu- 
tions were passed, thanking the donor. The fund 
has been a source of much comfort and blessing to 
the needy of the parish in the years which have 
passed since. 

The years 1903 and 1905 were marked by the 
passing of two aged and faithful servants of the 
church. On March 5th, of the former year. Dea- 
con William Linsley was called to his reward. He 
had been deacon for more than forty-five years, 
and had served the church also, as its first clerk, 
for more than thirty years. On May 28th, of the 
latter year, Austin M. Babcock entered the member- 
ship of the Church Triumphant. He had served at 
the Communion table for more than thirty-five 
summers and winters. Sadly did the church miss 
these two faithful servants. 

Beginning in January of 1906 and continuing for 
several years, Dr. Devitt made much of the Week 
of Prayer, calling in other ministers to assist, and 


asking for decisions for Christ, as the week drew 
near its end. These meetings were very successful, 
the attendance sometimes averaging two hundred 
and as many as seventy decisions being indicated by 
the cards. 

One of the dramatic incidents of this pastorate 
came with the June of this same year, when, dur-- 
ing a severe thunderstorm upon the last day of the 
month, the steeple of the church was struck by 
lightning. The damage was quite extensive, being 
reckoned at close to sixteen hundred dollars. The 
steeple was rather badly wrecked, and the ceiling 
of the auditorium was damaged, as was also the 
organ. For some time the tower was surrounded 
by staging and many people still have vivid recol- 
lections of having essayed the ascent of the steeple, 
to the alarm of the authorities. 

A new individual Communion service was pre- 
sented to the church, in the spring of 1905, by the 
Comfortable Society and was used in the autumn 
of that year for the first time. The introduction 
was not made without opposition, certain of the 
members feeling that the antiquity of the older 
vessels more than offset their lack of sanitary quali- 
fications. But the new service soon gained in 
favor and overcame the scruples which it had first 

The need became evident, at about this time, of a 
new parish organization which should include the 
younger women of the community. Accordingly, 
Dr. Devitt gathered some forty or more of the 


young ladies of the community in the parsonage 
parlors and they organized as the Social Workers, 
their purpose being to serve the church and to fur- 
nish a social life, felt to be wanting. How well 
they have since served their purpose is too well 
known to need further recording here. 

This same year stands out as the preeminent 
year of Dr. Devitt's ministry in Branford. For a 
long time the town had been falling more and more 
under the dominance of the liquor interests. Dr. 
Devitt determined to make a stand and to engage 
in battle for a cleaner town. The result was a 
struggle to the death, which soon involved the 
whole community. The people of the church ral- 
lied, for the most part, to the support of their 
pastor and proved unselfish in their devotion to the 
cause. The sister churches and the other Christian 
forces of the town also bore their part. But it is 
to Dr. Devitt that the credit is unreservedly due 
that, on the day after the town election, tlie liquor 
interests found themselves beaten at the polls. 
During the six Sundays before the election was 
held the church had held Temperance meetings, in 
place of the evening service, and Dr. Devitt had 
given of his best, then and in personal labor during 
the weeks. The victory is one of which to be 
proud and it is most regretable for Branford that 
Dr. Devitt was not able to be on hand to carry on 
the fight the following year. 

In December of this year (1908) Mr. Edward F. 
Jones died leaving to the Society, for use as a par- 


sonage, his house and grounds, on Rogers Street, 
with the provision that the land should never be 
sold and that the house be used only for the 
residence of the minister. He also left one thou- 
sand dollars towards the elimination of the church 
debt, and the additional five thousand dollars of 
the "Margaret A. Jones Fund." The Society 
accepted these legacies and sold the former par- 
sonage, devoting a portion of the proceeds to 
improving the new house. Hard wood floors were 
laid, electricity supplied, in part, and other changes 
made. The heating plant was also, later, changed 
from "hot air" to "hot water." 

This fortune was followed by misfortune for, on 
August 22d, 1909, Dr. Devitt read his resignation, 
to take effect October ist. He had received a call 
to a promising field in Winona, Minnesota. With 
great reluctance, after urging reconsideration, the 
church and Society complied with his wish and 
accepted the resignation, accompanying their accept- 
ance with a set of resolutions of high commenda- 
tion and appreciation. So closed his long and 
fruitful pastorate. Dr. Devitt served the western 
church nine years, and is now minister of the Cen- 
tral Congregational Church of Fall River, Massa- 
chusetts. Branford people remember his ministry 
as a period of happy, wise and tactful service and 
honor the man who was their leader. 

^ X 


Of the stern and troubled times which follow, 
from 1 910 until 19 15, we shall give little more than 
a bare skeleton of fact. Too painful are the scars 
of those years to be handled yet; too near are we 
to the conflict to have yet attained that calmness of 
judgment which will enable us, righteously and 
fairly, to add up the cost sheet of those days and 
strike a balance. A future historian may venture 
to assess the gain and loss which came, in that 
period, to Branford church, but the only judgment 
now possible must come from the consciences of 
those who sincerely followed the right, as they saw 
it, thru distressful hours. 

Upon Sunday, March 13th, 1910, Mr. Seeley K. 
Tompkins, who had been recommended to the 
church by Branford people living in the West, 
preached in Branford. Seven days later he was 
called to the pastorate. Having been previously a 
teacher in the Iowa State Teachers' College, Mr. 
Tompkins was ordained, May 16, 1910, at the First 
Congregational Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa, 
Branford being represented on the council. 

Mr. Tompkins was born at Oak Park, Illinois, 
October 9, 1880. His father was James Tompkins 
and was, for twenty-six years, Superintendent of 
the Illinois Home Missionary Society as well as 
being pastor at Oak Park. The mother, Ella 
(Kelley) Tompkins, was of a Vermont family. 


Their child was educated at the Oak Park High 
School; Oberlin College (1901) where he was 
elected to Phi Beta Kappa; Yale University (1913, 
B.D., Magna Cum Laude, M.A.) ; and has received 
the degree of Doctor of Divinity (1917) from 
Miami University, Ohio, After leaving college he 
taught at Oberlin, Carleton College, and Iowa 
Teachers' College. He married Sarah Ina Gil- 
fillan, who is of Scotch descent. They have four 

Mr. Tompkins began his work in Branford on 
June 26, 1910. Fresh from the Middle West, he 
brought to the Eastern church a wealth of new 
conceptions and new viewpoints. The story of his 
pastorate is the record of the application of these 
to the Branford church. 

For many years the church had been using the 
"Songs of the Sanctuary" for a hymnal, and a new 
one was much needed. In January of 191 1, the 
church adopted "Hymns of the Kingdom of God." 
The month previously they had adopted the 
Apportionment Plan for their benevolences. Octo- 
ber 1910, the weekly printed Calendar came into 
use. In September of 1910, the church had 
changed the hour of their evening service from 
seven to seven-thirty. In January they held union 
meetings with the Baptists, and, in November of 
191 1, Mr. Tompkins endeavored to bring about 
monthly union services of all the Protestant denom- 
inations, but with only partial success. That same 
year saw the first of the special meetings during 

Holy Week, which have continued to be held in 
after years. 

Upon the church calendar of Sunday, December 
9, 191 1, Mr. Tompkins proposed a list of three 
changes, which he felt should be adopted. The 
first was the putting of the hour for morning wor- 
ship ahead to ten-thirty o'clock. The second was 
the transfer of the midweek meeting from Friday 
to Thursday, or Tuesday night, in order that Friday 
be left clear for the use of the high school stu- 
dents. The third, and most radical, was the elec- 
tion of an additional deacon and the abolition of 
the lifelong term of office in favor of a five year 
period of service. 

At the annual meeting of the church, on Decem- 
ber 29th, these matters came up for vote. The 
first recommendation, and the second, were adopted ; 
the hour for morning service being changed from 
10.45 to 10.30 A. M., and the midweek service 
transferred to Tuesday night. But, when the pro- 
posal concerning the diaconate came to vote, the 
pastor's proposition was defeated, by a vote of 46 
yeas to 54 noes. Mr. Tompkins thereupon offered 
his resignation, which was refused acceptance, by 
a margin of six votes. 

At the previous annual meeting (1910) a com- 
mittee had been appointed to revise the church 
manual. Acting upon the stimulus of that com- 
mittee and moved thereto by objection to its use, 
on the part of certain candidates for church mem- 
bership, the church, by a majority of one-third, 

1 82 

voted, in June 1912, to change the form for the 
reception of members to a new one which did not 
include the "Apostles Creed." Two years later 
the "Kansas City Creed" was adopted. 

At the annual meeting of December 1912, the 
matter of the change in the deacons' term of office 
again arose. After hot debate it was voted that 
such present deacons as were willing to resign 
should do so, and Deacon Thatcher resigned. 
Another deacon was dropped, on charges, from 
office and membership. Mr. Thatcher was reelected, 
for five years. On February 4th, 1913, Mr. L. M. 
Barker was chosen to the diaconate, for three 
years. At the annual meeting of 1913, Deacon 
Charles Cooke resigned, and Mr. Joseph Lee was 
chosen for a five year term. 

In 1913, the card index system was adopted for 
the listing of church members and Mr. Tompkins' 
salary was increased to eighteen hundred dollars. 
The next year a new set of standing rules became 
the law of the church. To these years also belongs 
the organization and continuance of a successful 
Men's Club. 

So ends the bare record of these years and of 
the innovations made in the church life. That 
many of them were of great wisdom and much 
needed, and that they added greatly to the efficiency 
of the parish work, is beyond question. That they 
cost a fearful price, not only in a depleted member- 
ship and in alienated families but also in the agony 
of human souls is, tm fortunately, no less true. 


The true meaning and interpretation of those years 
must be left to the individual conscience, to the 
future generations — and to God. 

Mr. Tompkins resigned his charge on February 
14, 191 5, to accept a call to the Walnut Hills Con- 
gregational Church of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he 
has remained since. Branford remembers him as 
one who did his duty as he saw it, without counting 
the cost. 


We come, now, truly, to the present generation 
and to our own time. The clouds of the great war 
were enveloping Europe and were fast shutting in 
over our own land when, April 15, 1915, Rev. 
Theodore Burger Lathrop was called from the 
Chaplaincy of Atlanta University, to Branford, 
Connecticut. The story of his pastorate, up to the 
present time, is largely a "war record." 

Mr. Lathrop was born in Macon, Georgia, 
November 19, 1881, his father and grandfather 
having been Congregational ministers. His father 
is Rev. Stanley E. Lathrop and his mother's maiden 
name was Elizabeth Littell. She came from the 
Scotch clan MacLean. It is not surprising that 
Mr. Lathrop felt he must bear his part in the Great 
War, for his mother's father and his eight sons 
fought at Waterloo, while one of his ancestors was 
a captain in the American Revolution, and Rev. 
Stanley Lathrop was in the Civil War, and two of 
Theodore Lathrop's uncles lost their lives in the 
same conflict. 

Mr. Lathrop graduated from Beloit in 1903 and 
taught, for two years, in Ward Academy, South 
Dakota. It was here that he met Miss Blanche 
Mullen, who was teaching music there, after her 
graduation from Yankton Conservatory, and per- 
suaded her to become Mrs. Lathrop. From 1905 
to 1908 he was at Yale Divinity, where he was 

Kkv. Theodore Burcer Lathrop 

Pastor May 30, iqis 
Installed June 21, 1916 


active in university aflfairs. He served the church 
at Plymouth, Connecticut for two years, receiving 
also his M.A. from Yale, and then went to the 
work at Atlanta. 

Mr. Lathrop's pastorate has been distinguished 
for the large accessions which it has brought to 
the church roll. The largest number, at any one 
time, was at Easter 1916 when he received into the 
communion of the church forty-two persons ; a 
record not equalled since the days of "Father" 

The present pastorate will also be long remem- 
bered by the fact that it witnessed the organization 
of a troop of Boy Scouts who have distinguished 
themselves again and again by their splendid 
record, especially in war time service for the 
Government. Several other organizations, among 
them the Go-To-Church Band, the Get-Together 
Club and the Everychild Mission Circle, have 
owed their existence to Mr. Lathrop's planning. 

On Tuesday evening. May 21st, 1916, upon 
recommendation of the Board of Deacons, the 
church voted to install Mr. Lathrop as pastor. A 
council was called for June 21st and the installa- 
tion service was held upon the evening of that day. 
Dean Charles R. Brown delivering the sermon. 

A bequest of one thousand dollars came to the 
church on October 17th, 19 16, to be known as the 
"Eunice Geer and Marion Geer Sheldon Fund." 
The legacy came from Mr. Edwards D. Sheldon, 
and the income is to be used for the poor and needy 


of the parish. The fund is administered by the 
Board of Pastor and Deacons. 

Since the entrance of the United States into the 
war, in April of 1917, Theodore Lathrop had felt 
increasingly the call to service. Accordingly, when 
the opportunity came to him to enter the overseas 
work of the Y. M. C. A., he grasped it gladly and 
requested from the church, August 26th, a leave of 
absence. The leave was granted, and Mr. Lathrop 
was soon across the seas. 

The record of his service is one of which Bran- 
ford is justly proud. From the time of his arrival 
overseas until January 1918, Mr. Lathrop was in 
charge of the Y. M. C. A. "Hut" of the British 
Base Hospital #1, at Etretat. From January until 
April he served in Paris, with the Library Branch 
of the Association, sending books and magazines 
to the men at the front, and in the camps. In 
April he had his first experience of the "front" 
having been made a field secretary and assigned to 
canteen work in the Toul sector. His final assign- 
ment was to the 3d Battalion of the 104th Infantry, 
with whom he remained until ordered home, 
because of illness. He was with this unit at the 
battle of Chateau-Thierry and did work of such 
excellence that he has been recommended for the 
Distinguished Service Cross. 

While her pastor was across the seas the church 
was doing her best to emulate his example. The 
Boy Scouts sold Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps, 
served as messengers for the Government and 


assisted in a multiplicity of campaigns which defies 
enumeration. They also gave their drum corps to 
escort the contingents of drafted men to the station 
and for patriotic parades. The Comfortable Soci- 
ety met weekly, for Red Cross work, while the 
Social Workers took up the task of making clothing 
for the refugee children of Belgium and France, 
Several of the Societies purchased Liberty Bonds 
and Thrift Stamps. All of this was in addition to 
the private contributions of time and strength 
which were made by practically every person of 
the parish. And beyond and crowning these 
endeavors and symbolized by the many starred 
Service Flag in the place of worship, shines the 
Honor Roll of the fifty young men and women who 
were with the uniformed servants of their country. 
Nor will we forget that that flag has now one star 
of gold. 

It was during the interim, following the depart- 
ure of the pastor, that the compiler of this little 
book had the honor of standing in the long and 
glorious succession of the Branford pastorate. He 
came in October of 1917 and remained until the 
April of 19 19 — a wonderful period of sacrificial 
service in the church by those remaining. The 
details of his service are too fresh to excuse recall 
and too few to bear much enumeration. It was a 
time when men were straining themselves and their 
resources to support the Government, and when 
the prevalent conception of the Gospel was one 
translated into deeds of patriotism. While encour- 


aging and reinforcing this, it was his effort to 
interpret the passing epochal events and to empha- 
size their spiritual significance. If he succeeded at 
all in doing this he counts himself happy. 

Probably the two events of the Acting Pastorate 
which will be longest remembered will be the two 
presentations of the Christmas Miracle Play and 
the formation of the Pilgrim Daughters. The 
Junior Church ought also to remain significant. 
Along other lines the work was one of reinforce- 
ment rather than of innovation. 

Mr. Lathrop returned to the church in April and 
has resumed the pastorate. May the peace record, 
both for minister and church, equal their achieve- 
ment in the days of strife. 

So we come to the close of this survey of our 
heritage. The traditions of the fathers lie behind 
us — glorious is the sum of them. But the history 
of the Old Church and Society in Branford is, we 
trust, scarce more than begun. May the Great 
Head of the Church impress upon us more and 
more the obligations of our heritage, and "seeing 
that we are compassed about by so great a cloud 
of witnesses" may we "cast aside every weight, 
and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and run 
with patience the race which is set before us, look- 
ing unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of Our 



John Sherman 1644-1646-7 

Abraham Pierson 1647-1667 

John Bowers 1667-1672 

(Eight years of Candidates) 

Samuel Mather 1680-1684 

Samuel Russell 1687-1731 

(Died in Office) 
Philemon Robbins 1733-1781 

(Died in Office) 
Jason Atwater 1784-1794 

(Died in Office) 
Lynde Huntington 1 795-1804 

(Died in Office) 

Timothy P. Gillett 1808-1866 

(Died Pastor Emeritus) 

Jacob G. Miller 1859-1864 

Elijah C. Baldwin 1865-1878 

C. W. Hill 1878-1880 

Cyrus P. Osborne 1880-1884 

Henry Pearson Bake 1885-1888 

Thomas Bickford 1889-1892 

Theophilus S. Devitt 1893-1909 

Seeley K. Tompkins 1910-1915 

Theodore B. Lathrop 191S- 

J. Rupert Simonds (Acting Pastor) 1917-1919 


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