Lebanon, Conn. First Church and Society

Collection History

The area which would become known as Lebanon was originally part of a Mohegan settlement called Poquechaneed. The town of Lebanon has its origins with the settlers of Norwich, Connecticut, who wanted to expand beyond the "nine miles square" they had bought from the Mohegan sachem Uncas. From 1663-1692, various parcels of land were deeded to settlers in the area by Mohegan rulers including Uncas and his son, Sachem Owaneco. The town of Lebanon was incorporated by the General Assembly of the Connecticut Colony on October 10, 1700, with the First Church and Society of Lebanon formed in the same year. Rev. Joseph Parsons was called as the first minister and served until 1708.

Nine men formed the original membership of the First Congregational Church of Lebanon, and the first meeting house was built in 1706. Rev. Samuel Welles was the church's second minister from 1711-1718, followed by Rev. Solomon Williams from 1722-1776. By 1724, northerly residents were less willing to travel and pay for the upkeep of a meeting house on the original location at the town common. The First Society's decision to replace the building in that year provoked these members to argue for its re-location to a plot of land owned by parishioner Jedediah Strong. Those living on the south side countered the northerners' requests by invoking an 'ancient agreement' which had been established by the town proprietors, in which it was verbally agreed that the meeting house should never be moved from its current locale on the town common.

The ensuing conflict over the meeting house's location, which lasted approximately 80 years, became known as “The Meeting House War.” Church members formed two factions, known as the North Society (also sometimes referred to as the "village people") and the South Society, who lobbied for the meeting house to remain adjacent to the town common. In 1731, the Connecticut General Assembly ruled that the new meeting house should stand on the original site. However, the North Society continued to lobby their cause through the colonial government, including petitioning to form a separate society. Eventually, in 1804, a concillatory agreement was reached between members of both groups in which the existing building would be disassembled and moved a mile to the north. However, when workmen came to demolish the building, southern residents formed a mob and placed them under arrest. This was followed over several days by a retaliatory gathering of northerners, who similarly placed southern members under arrest. Eventually the matter was resolved in state courts and the southern faction prevailed, with northern agitators forced to pay damages and the meeting house officially located at its former location on the town common.

The resolution of the long dispute resulted in the construction of a brick meeting house on the common in 1804-1809. The building was designed by the renowned architect John Trumbull and is the only surviving example of Trumbull’s architectural work. The third meeting house was largely destroyed in the hurricane of 1938, and the church sought to restore the ruin to Trumbull's original specifications. Work began in 1938 but was delayed by the Second World War, and was completed in 1954. The church is still active today as the First Congregational Church of Lebanon, and is a member of the United Church of Christ.

This digitized collection contains records largely relating to the 18th-century dispute over the situation of the meeting house, including testimony, rulings by the General Council, and legal documents. There are also records 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 and society records, 1715-1767

These records comprise the early records of the First Church and Society, including foundational documents, treasury records, public meeting warnings (notifications), and meeting minutes. There are also several documents concerning the dispute over the location of the meeting house, including a decision by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1731 to locate the building on its previous site, following the creation of a new society in Goshen, Conn. which resulted in a parish redistricting that pushed the effective center of the Lebanon First catchment farther north. Also included in this volume of records is an unsuccessful petition to separate the North Society from the First Society, following a decision to levy funds for repairs in 1767 which reinvigorated the controversy.

1715 February 28 from the inhabitants of "the Crank" (northwest Lebanon)  to the inhabitants of Lebanon petition to form a separate church and society
1716 May 10 from the Connecticut General Assembly to "inhabitants of the northwest part of Lebanon called the Crank" official letter granting permission to form a church and society
1726 October 13  from the Connecticut General Assembly to the First Society committee  report on potential new meeting house locations
1728 September 5  by Joseph Howler (attorney)   receipt of payment for preaching [partial]
1728 September 5 by Ebenezer West and others   promissory note agreeing to pay Joseph Parton for preaching
1730 December 28  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1731 June 30 by the Connecticut General Assembly   official act for placement of the new meeting house
1732-1804     list of First Society rate payers and rates, extracted from earlier records
1730-1792     extracts from records of the First Society of Lebanon, including loosely bound notes with "a list of the polls and rateable estate of the inhabitants of the First Society in Lebanon" and meeting minutes
1731 January by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1733 October 5 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1736 January 17 by Samuel Parker and Richard Abbe   official statement on placement of new meeting house
1739 April 25     list of subscribers for the building of new meeting house
1739 April 25     list of subscribers for the building of new meeting house
1743 April 9 from "Messrs Gray, Trumble, and Medcalf"  to Thomas Cushing receipts for meeting house expenses
1741-1745 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes of First Society dated November 18, 1745 (recto) and a list of payments received, dated November 27, 1741 (verso)
1747 May by the Connecticut General Assembly   official act creating a committee to determine if North Lebanon parishes should be formed into a separate society (copy)
1756 September 14 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1767 May 7 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society, with affirmative vote to hear petition of northwest inhabitants to form a new society
1767 August 29 from William Williams (Justice of the Peace) to "either of the constables of the town of Lebanon" official notice confirming Joseph Fitch as rate collector for the First Society
1759-1764      receipt of payments to Jonathan Trumble by various ratepayers
1765 December 30      receipt of payments to Jonathan Trumble by various ratepayers
1761      treasury accounts of First Society
1759 April 23  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1751 September 25  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
undated by John Partridge   will of John Partridge

 

Church and society records, 1697-1773

The bulk of these records date to 1772-1773, during which time a controversial vote was taken to move the meeting house to the north. Following this vote, disaffected members of the Southern Society appealed the decision to the Connecticut General Assembly, who ruled that the meeting house should remain on the common, and that northern residents were still obligated to pay for the building's repairs (a conciliatory clause was added whereby these members would be financially compensated if a separate north meeting house was built). These records include documentation produced as a result of the dispute, including meeting minutes, petitions, and testimony, as well as general meeting minutes, public meeting warnings (notifications), financial records, and explanatory essays regarding the meeting house dispute.

1772 February 28 from Elisha Doubleday and other signatories (First Church members) to the First Society committee petition requesting that the new meeting house be situated on the village green
1772 June 11 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1697-1772     "minutes of ancient records and transactions"
1772 September 2     rent papers for meeting house
1772 September 15  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting

1772 September 21 
by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 September 21 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting, with financial calculations on reverse side
1772 September 25 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 September 28 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1772 September  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 October 2  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 October  by the Connecticut General Assembly   letter appointing First Society committee members
1772 October  by Caleb Chappel   testimony regarding meeting house location agreement
1772 October  by Jonathan Case   testimony regarding meeting house location agreement
1772 October by the Connecticut General Assembly   letter appointing First Society committee members
1772 October 7  by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1772 October  from various First Church members to the Connecticut General Assembly petition regarding the location of new meeting house
1772 November10 by Jonathan Trumbull (on behalf of the First Society committee) to Ebenezer Silliman (on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly) summons to a meeting regarding the location of meeting house
1772 November 11  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 November 9 by Samuel Williams and others (inhabitants of southeast Lebanon)   meeting minutes
1772 November 12 by Jabez Hamlin and Oliver Wolcott (on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly)   citation 
1772 October  by Stephen Strong and Andrew Alden   testimony regarding meeting house location agreement
1772 October  Samuel Hide    testimony regarding meeting house location agreement
1772 October 2 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1772 October by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1772 November 16  by Jonathan Trumbull (on behalf of the First Society committee)   "explanation of the memorial" regarding meeting house location
1772 November 23  by Jonathan Trumbull (on behalf of the First Society committee) to Ebenezer Silliman (on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly) request to preserve the current placement of meeting house "according to ancient tradition"
1772 November 29  by Solomon Wiliams  to Jonathan Trumbull (governor) list of all male society members residing in north Lebanon
1772 November 23      loosely bound notebook entitled "Lebanon Meeting House", detailing the dispute over meeting house location
1772 November 25     list of land plots, owners, and valuations
1772 November 25     lists of rate payers who desire meeting house relocation
1772 September 28 from residents of southeast Lebanon   to the Connecticut General Assembly letter calling for a resolution to meeting house dispute
1773      list of expenses incurred while opposing the meeting house relocation effort
1773 May 13  by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1773 May 8 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1773 May 8 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1773 May 13 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1772 November 27 by Ebenezer Silliman and others (on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly)   General Assembly meeting minutes, with committee appointments and report on meeting house dispute
1773 May by Homer Hillborough (on behalf of the Connecticut General Assembly)   remonstrance in case of the First Society's meeting house dispute
1773 September 21 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1773 September 27 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society
1773 October by the Connecticut General Assembly   resolution assigning meeting house location to Meetinghouse Hill
1773 October  by the Connecticut General Assembly   resolution assigning meeting house location to Meetinghouse Hill (copy)
1773 October by the Connecticut General Assembly   remonstrance and further details of act 

 

Church and society records, 1772-1796

This volume largely comprises administrative records for the First Church and Society through the last quarter of the 18th century, including meeting warnings (notifications), meeting minutes, and financial records. There are also personal financial records detailing monies spent on the legal disputes over the location of the meeting house.

1772-1773 by William Williams   list of payments necessitated as a result of meeting house dispute
1774 April 28 by the First Society committee   meeting minutes for First Society, with affirmative vote to create a new society
1774 August 16 from Jedediah Elderkin to William Williams cover letter for a receipt to William Williams
1774 August 16 from William Williams to Jedediah Elderkin list of payments spent on legal cases
1774 September     list of expenses related to meeting house
1775 February 12 by Jonathan Trumbull (on behalf of the First Society committee) to Jedidiah Phelps promisory note for the manufacture of a meeting house clock
1776-1787      loosely bound notebook containing First Church meeting minutes
1778 March 16 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1779 December 16   from John Lewis  to the First Society committee letter denying ministerial call
1782 July 10 by G. Ely to the First Society committee letter regarding preaching commitments
1784 June 16 by the First Society committee to all members of Lebanon First Society notification for an upcoming society meeting
1796 May from Eliphalet Williams and others to William and Thomas Williams deed granting pew rights [typewritten copy]

 

 

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.