THE FIRST ORGANIZED CHURCH
IN
NEW LONDON COUNTY
AN HISTORICAL STUDY
By
Hon. RICHARD A. WHEELER
Read before the New London County Historical Society,
at its Annual Meeting, Nov. 26th, 1877
 


HISTORICAL SKETCH

    The object of this paper is to show so far as I have been able to learn, when, how and where the First Churches of New London, Norwich and Stonington were organized, or know to exist as such.

    The first settlement of New London, then known as Nameaug or Pequot, was commenced by Mr. John Winthrop, acting first under an allowance, and afterwards by a commission from the General Court of Massachusetts prior to and during the year 1646.

    The Massachusetts Colony claimed jurisdiction of the place as their part of the conquered Pequot territory.

    The Rev. Mr. Thomas Peters desiring to join the settlement, was ordered by said Court to assist Mr. Winthrop for the better carrying on of the work of the plantation.

    About the same time William Chesebrough, then living in Rehoboth, Plymouth Colony, acting under the advice and encouragement of Mr. Winthrop, visited Pequot with a view of making it his permanent place of abode, but finding it unsuitable to his expectation, decided to locate himself farther east at Wequetequoc (now Stonington.)

    Mr. Peters did not long remain in the new settlement, for during the summer of 1646 he received a summons from his old flock at Cornwall, England, to return home and renew his pastoral relations with them.  In the early autumn of that year he bid adieu to Pequot, and sailed for England in November following.

    As soon as the General Court of Connecticut became aware of Mr. Winthrop's settlement at Pequot, they laid claim to the jurisdiction of the place by virtue of their Patent from the King.  In
view thereof Massachusetts reasserted her claim and the matter was referred to the Commissioners of the United Colonies in 1646, who decided in favor of Connecticut.

    When William Chesebrough brought his family to Wequetequoc in the fall of 1649 the Connecticut General Court gave him to understand in a summary way that they disapproved of his settlement there, claiming jurisdiction, which he acknowledged, and after stating to them that he had been influenced by Mr. Winthrop in settling down at Wequetequoc, the General Court in 1651, consented for Mr. Chesebrough to remain at Wequetequoe on condition that he would gather around him a considerable number of acceptable persons, that would "engage for the planting of the place," to all of which he assented.

    In September of that year he made application to the General Court for the confirmation of the title to the lands he then claimed at Wequetequoc, and after consulting his old friend, Mr. Winthrop, and the Deputies of Pequot then in attendance at Court, he made an arrangement and agreement with them by which it was mutually understood and agreed that if Mr. Chesebrough would place himself on a footing with the inhabitants of Pequot, that town would confirm to him the title to said lands by virtue of a grant thereof.

    The town of Pequot carried out this agreement with Mr. Chesebrough, and he exerted himself to his utmost to induce men of character and influence to settle around him, and thereby redeem his pledge to the General Court, and so well did he succeed that before the spring season of 1654 he was joined by some of the more respectable and influential men of his time, such as Thomas Stanton, the Interpreter General of New England, Captain George Denison (with the exception of Major John Mason), the most distinguished soldier of the Colony, Walter Palmer, an old neighbor of Mr. Chesebrough in Rehoboth, Capt. John Gallup, a famous Indian warrior who fell at the great swamp fight in Rhode Island in 1675, and Thomas Miner, a man prominent in all the relations of life.

    Others soon followed with their families and became permanent residents.  There was no place of worship for them at that time nearer than at Pequot, and there being no roads and two rivers to cross made it well nigh impossible for them to attend there.

    So in 1654 they applied to the General Court, asking to be incorporated as a town by the name of Mystic and Pawcatuck.  No sooner made than their application was resisted by a majority of the Pequot planters, and a stormy contest followed that involved not only the town of Pequot and the General Court, but the church and minister of the Pequot plantation.

    After the departure of Mr. Peters from Pequot in 1646, no particular efforts were made to obtain another minister until 1649 and 1650 when a committee was appointed by the town to procure a minister.

    This committee extended an invitation to the Rev. Richard Blinman, of Gloucester, Mass, who after prayerful consideration accepted the call, and came to Pequot during the year 1650.

    In October of the same year the town granted Mr. Blinman a lot of land and voted him a salary of sixty pounds per annum, which was afterwards liberally enlarged.

    In December following they granted him a house lot of six acres, and subsequently built him a dwelling house thereon.

    Previous to this time no meeting-house had been erected at Pequot for public religious worship.

    All meetings of that character had been held in the rude cabins of the planters.

    In August of 1650 and after Mr. Blinman had consented to become their settled minister, the town purchased a barn of Mr. Robert Park[e] and fitted it up for a meeting-house, and subsequently during the years of 1652-3-4-5 a new meeting house was erected at Pequot.

    Mr. Blinman was a native of England, and a minister of Chepstow, Monmouthshire.  He came to New England with several Welsh gentlemen of good note, by the invitation of Mr. Edward Winslow, of Plymouth, and came to that place before 1640.



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    Mr. Blinman and several of his friends were propounded for freemanship by the General Court of Plymouth March 2nd, 1641, and soon after, acting under the advice and influence of Mr. Winslow, settled near him at Green Harbor, (nor Marshfield), Mass.  Dissensions soon arose, the nature and extent of which is not certainly known, but sufficiently serious to cause Mr. Blinman and his old friends to leave the place, and cross the bay and fix their residence at Gloucester, formerly known as Cape Ann.  There Mr. Blinman and his Welsh friends, joined by a few others, united in forming a church in 1642, and there he continued to labor in the work of the ministry until 1649.

    Towards the latter part of his ministry in Gloucester, Mass, Mr. Blinman met with serious opposition from parties inside and outside of the Church, which served to endear him to his long time friends, so that when he received the call from Pequot and had decided to accept it, they made up their minds to go with him and share his fortunes.  They were most welcome in their new home.  The town granted each of them a home lot, besides other accommodations in various ways.

    For the first two or three years of Mr. Blinman's labors in Pequot everything promised a long and successful ministry.

    Unfortunately he became involved in the controversy relative to the new township of Mystic and Pawcatuck.  At first he favored the project;  afterwards he opposed it, which alienated his friends at Mystic and Pawcatuck.  Before the contest had reached its height a town meeting was warned and held at Pequot for the purpose of conciliation and an amicable settlement of their troubles.  this meeting was held August 28, 1654, and resulted in the appointment of four from Pequot and three from Mystic and Pawcatuck "to debate, reason and conclude whether Mystic and Pawcatuck should be a town, and upon what terms, and to determine the case in no other way, but in a way of love and reason, and not by vote."    Mr. Winthrop, Goodman Caulkins, Cary Latham and  Good man Elderkin represented Pequot.  Mr. Robert Park, Goodman Chesebrough and Capt. George Denison represented Mystic and Pawcatuck.  There is no record of the labors of this committee, but from subsequent events, it appears that they failed to agree.

    Mr. Blinman's course relative to the matter was severely censured by Capt. Denison and Thomas Miner, and high words passed between them.  The General Court did not take decisive measures at first, and in 1656 ordered that the majority of the town of Pequot should decide whether the charge of the ministry at Pequot and Pawcatuck should be a joint charge, or each party pay for their own preaching.

    This action of the Court did not suit the planters at Mystic and Pawcatuck.  they were in a minority, and of course were subject to the will of the majority, who decided that the planters at Mystic and Pawcatuck should pay their rates to Mr. Blinman and appealed to the Court to enforce the payment thereof.

    The Court by an order passed in May, 1657, directed them to pay Mr. Blinman what they owed him, and appointed a committee consisting of Mr. Winthrop, Major Mason, Capt. Callick and Mr. Allyn, to issue matters between the inhabitants of Pequot, Mystic and Pawcatuck, if they could, or else make a return how they leave things.

    This committee met at Pequot July 8th, 1657, for the purpose of considering the matters in dispute.

    That they said or did does not appear of record, nor is it known what their findings were, but whatever they were, instead of reconciling the parties in interest, served to intensify the controversy.

    Mr. Blinman's rates were not paid, and he gave up his occasional services at Mystic and Pawcatuck.

    Pending this controversy the Massachusetts General Court claimed the proposed new township of Mystic and Pawcatuck as belonging to that Colony, on account of their participation in the Pequot war.

    The matter of jurisdiction as between the Colonies of Connecticut and Massachusetts was referred to the Commissioners of the United Colonies for adjudication and award, who after due consideration decided in June, 1658, that Mystic and Pawcatuck belonged to Massachusetts, and was by the General Court of that Colony incorporated under the name of Southertown.

    Before the consummation of that event Mr. Blinman's pastorate had ceased to be by his own act, for on the 20th day of January, 1658, he gave notice that "he would be gone," and went to New Haven the same week;  and during January and February three meetings were held at Pequot to reconcile matters between the inhabitants of that town and those of Mystic and Pawcatuck, but all were of no avail as subsequent events plainly show.

    So far no mention is made of a Church in the town meeting records of Pequot or those of the Connecticut General Court.



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    It will be remembered that the town of Pequot held a meeting on the 28th day of August, 1654, wherein conciliatory measures were adopted.  In the evening of that day a meeting of the Church was held at the dwelling house of Goodman Caulkins in Pequot.  The record of that meeting was made by Thomas Miner in his diary, and is as follows, viz:  "I was sent for at Pequot for to be reconciled to the Church, and at evening the major part met at Goodman Caulkin's house, namely:  Mr. Blinman, Mr. Bruen, Goodman Morgan, Goodman Caulkins, Ralph Parker, Goodman Lester, Goodman Coit, Hugh Roberts, Capt. Denison and Goodman Chesebrough and Thomas Miner being there.  All these took satisfaction in my acknowledging the height of my spirit;  secondly, in that I saw my evil in my sudden and rash speaking to Mr. Blinman, and with all this was acknowledgment on the Church's part that I was wronged;  so all was passed by on my side and the Church's, with promise on both parts- as that, all former offenses should be buried, and never more to be agitated;  so desiring the prayers, each for the other, we parted from that meeting August 28th, 1654."

    I have briefly sketched the early history of New London, for the purpose of showing the nature of the controversy between Mr. Blinman and Mr. Miner, which led to the Church meeting at Mr. Caulkins' house.

    Capt. Denison, who was present, subsequently assailed Mr. Blinman for preaching for Pawcatuck and Mystic, being a town before he sold his land there, which offensive remark he afterwards retracted before the General Court.

    There was a wide difference between a minister of a town, and the pastor of a church, and no one understood this difference better than Thomas Miner.  He had been connected with the Charlestown and Hingham churches and was familiar with their proceedings.

    Ministers of towns never administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  But Mr. Miner records the fact of the sacraments being administered July 8th, 1655, and afterwards, before the new town controversy had alienated him and other from the members at Pequot.

    After the Charter of 1662 had brought Southertown alias Mystic and Pawcatuck under the jurisdiction of Connecticut, Mr. Miner became reconciled to the Church at New London again, but attended meetings there only occasionally, as he was then interested in the meetings at Stonington.
 
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