Durham, Conn. First Church

Collection History

The area which would become Durham, Connecticut was originally known as Coginchaug, meaning "Long Swamp" and was settled by the Wangunk, an Algonquin-speaking people. In 1699, Caleb Seward and his family become the first European settlers in Coginchaug, and in May 1704 the name was changed to Durham after Durham, England. The town was officially incorporated in 1708 by the Connecticut General Assembly in New Haven, which granted "their consent and full liberty to the Town of Durham, to embody themselves into church estate with the approbation of the neighboring churches."

In November of 1709 the town voted to build its first meeting house, measuring 40 feet square. In December of 1710 Rev. Nathaniel Chauncey was called to preach, and was officially ordained as minister of the new church on February 11, 1711. In 1734 the town voted to build a second meeting house measuring 64 x 44 feet, to which a steeple, clock, and bell would eventually be added in 1794. It was erected on the northeast corner of the village green.

Rev. Elizur Goodrich was approved as minister in 1755 and remained in the position until his death in 1797. He was followed by Rev. David Smith who was called and ordained in 1799. In November of 1804, as part of a national trend toward separation of church and town affairs, the First Church and Society split from the town and became responsible for its own finances and governance. Rev. Smith continued in the ministry until his pastoral relation was dissolved in 1832, due to controversies related to his refusal to baptize under the half-way covenant, and the perceived arbitrariness of his disciplinary measures. During this time a significant number of congregants left to join the new Methodist and Episcopal churches in Durham. In July of 1832 Rev. Henry Gleason was invited to take over the ministry, and 136 new members joined after his ordination and before his death in 1839.

A third meeting house, measuring 60 x 40 feet, was erected in 1735 on the site of the current town hall. The building was destroyed by fire on November 28, 1844, and subscriptions were immediately raised for its replacement. However, a dispute soon arose over where the new meeting house would be located, with factions forming to the north and south of the Mill Bridge. Ultimately this led to a schism which resulted in the formation of separate North Congregational and South Congregational churches. The North Church was located north of the former meeting house, and dedicated in June of 1847. The South Congregational Church was located at the former site of the third meeting house, and dedicated on December 29, 1849.

This digitized collection contains administrative and legal documents largely relating to the dispute over the situation of the fourth meeting house, both before and after the decision was taken to split the congregation into two separate churches. There are also contemporaneous documents relating to church administration and financial matters. The original manuscripts in this collection are owned by our project partners, the Connecticut Historical Society. Further information about the collection can be found in the CHS catalog.

 

Digital Materials

Church records, 1804-1904

This collection of loose church records dating from the mid-19th century primarily concern the dispute over the location of the fourth meeting house, after the third was consumed by fire in 1844. The records include petitions, correspondence, legal documents, and lists of subscribers funding two separate meeting house locations. The majority of the petitionary materials were created by southern residents upset about the proposed relocation of the meeting house, which was to be sited farther north than the previous location on the village green. The documents also include calls for separation between the two geographical areas, which would eventually result in the creation of separate North and South Congregational Churches.

1804-1820 by Rev. David Smith   list of church members
1804-1831 by Rev. David Smith   list of church members
1820-1828 by Rev. David Smith   list of church members
1824-1882     treasury records
1829 October 29 by Seth Seward to the Rev. David Smith formal complaint against William Foot
1831 March 4     promissory note for deacons’ salaries
1835     lists of subscribers for the fourth meeting house, both north and south of the bridge
1836 January 19 by John Robinson (town clerk)   deed for land upon which meeting house is to be built
1836 July 31     statistics and history of the Durham sabbath school
1836 September 7 from Gaylord Newton (on behalf of the First Church in Durham sabbath school) to the superintendent of the sabbath school of the Methodist Society in Durham letter proposing meeting between two schools
1844     votes or subscribers for the two proposed locations of the fourth meeting house
1845 December 18     record of the creation of committee to assess the location of the fourth meeting house
1845-1846     society meeting minutes
1846 January 1     treasurer's account
1846 April 29 from Gaylord Newton [constable of Durham] to the Connecticut General Assembly letter describing difficulties with the proposal for a fourth meeting house
1846 April 8 from residents in the northern district of Durham to the First Church in Durham remonstrance of Daniel Bates and others, protesting the committee's decision
1846 April 15 by Alfred Camp (Justice of the peace)   certification of the swearing in of Wolcott P. Stone as clerk of the First Church in Durham
1847 September 27 from the church in Higganum to the church in Durham letter of recommendation for parishioner Julia Clark
1848 April 26 from the Methodist Episcopal Church in Durham to the South Congregational Church in Durham letter of recommendation for parishioner Angeline L. Seranton
1865-1867     financial ledgers and notes
1846 May 2 from aggrieved members of the congregation of the First Church to the superior court of CT petition to halt construction of meeting house and reopen location discussion
1846 May 19 by members of the First Church in Durham to the Connecticut General Assembly remonstrance (complaint) against the granting of a petition by Dennis Camp
1846 October 12 from residents in the northern district of Durham to residents in the southern district of Durham proposition from northern Durham residents to southern residents
1904     printed pamphlet of "Christian Endeavor Prayer Meeting Topics"
undated from residents in the southern district of Durham to the First Church and Society letter accusing northern residents of inciting prejudice within the meeting house relocation committee
undated     “statement of facts” regarding the conflict over the location of the fourth meeting house, with arguments for building on the former site of the third meeting house
undated     confession of faith and covenant
undated     note of subscriber numbers and rate calculations for the fourth meeting house
undated     essay describing the conflict over meeting house location
undated     lists of subscribers for the fourth meeting house, both north and south of the bridge
undated     calculations of subscriptions raised for both meeting house locations
undated     list of names
undated from separatist brethren to the meeting house committee chairman letter from parishioners wishing to form a separate church
undated from residents in the southern district of Durham to the Congregational Church and Society in Durham letter petitioning the church to reconsider their decision to locate the new meeting house in the north
undated from separatist brethren to the First Church in Durham letter petitioning the church and society to allow separation
undated     letter describing and bemoaning the conflict over the fourth meeting house
undated from residents in the southern district of Durham to the First Church in Durham petition to block the move of the meeting house to the north
undated     form letter for filing a complaint
undated     lists of church members south and north of the Mill Bridge
undated     essay with explanation of land ownership in Durham
undated by Daniel Bates and others (aggrieved members)   list of names on the petition to the legislature
undated from residents in the southern district of Durham to the First Church in Durham list of reasons in favor of separating the church


Special Thanks

This digital resource has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

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