Durham, Conn. First Church
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.
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|
|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|
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.