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
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Part Three
 
    In October, before Mr. Blinman left Pequot, the planters of Mystic and Pawcatuck became so exasperated at the town of Pequot and the General Court of Connecticut on account of their determined and continued opposition to their new town project, that they preferred a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts setting forth that they had several grants of land lying on the east side of Pequot river, which they had received from the Colony of Connecticut, which was conquered Pequot land, the jurisdiction of which rightfully belonged to Massachusetts under the decision of the commissioners of the United Colonies in 1646-7, and asking from them a confirmation of their title to such grants, and also to be accepted under their government, with the liberties and privileges of township, having already a plantation of about twenty families.  The Massachusetts General Court did not reply to them directly, but sent a letter to the General Court of Connecticut, asserting jurisdiction, and requesting them not to exercise authority over, nor be grievous to, said planters; and that in due time the question of jurisdiction could be brought before the commissioners of the United Colonies.  After Mr. Blinman left Pequot in January, 1658, it will be remembered that several meetings were held there for the purpose of adjusting the difficulties into which the new town controversy had drawn them.  These meetings were not productive of any good results, and left matters worse off than they found them.

    On the 15th day of May, 1658, a Church meeting was held at Pequot, for what particular purpose does not appear.  But having been convened, at a time when the Mystic and Pawcatuck planters were doing their utmost to break away, not only from the Church, but from the town and colony, it doubtless had some reference to, or was in some way connected with it.

    The leaders of the new town enterprise were resolute and determined men.  Not satisfied with the answer given to their petition of October, 1657, by the General Court of Massachusetts, they preferred another petition to that Court in May, 1658, in which they urged every possible consideration for a new town.  They asserted that their plantation was settled by Gov. Winthrop under a commission from the Massachusetts Court in 1649.

    Though the Connecticut Colony asserted jurisdiction in 1650, which they for the time acknowledged, yet they considered that Massachusetts had the better title, and implored the Court to grant them the liberty of a township, and the privileges thereof, with confirmation of their lands then in possession, and previously granted them by the General Court of Connecticut and by the town of Pequot.

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    To that petition the Massachusetts Court replied under date of June 3d, 1658, (which after noting the fact that the Court had made no answer to their previous petition,) they concluded by saying that they would forbear further action in the premises until the next meeting of the Commissioners of the United Colonies.

    Meantime they admonished the petitioners to carry themselves and order their affairs peaceable, and by common agreement till the commissioners should meet, which would be in September following.  Acting upon this suggestion the planters at Mystic and Pawcatuck entered into a combination, and formed what they styled "The association of Pawcatuck people," which in short was nothing more nor less than a squatter sovereignty township, to which they promised due allegiance and pledged themselves to defend it with their persons and estates, according to the rules of righteousness;  and when adopted, by virtue thereof, they appointed commissioners to decide all causes and punish all crimes.

    During September following the commissioners met at Boston and this matter of jurisdiction came before them by the consent of both colonies;  which after a number of pleas pro and con, they decided in favor of Massachusetts, and held that all of the conquered Pequot territory east of Mystic River rightfully belonged to the Massachusetts Colony.

    In October, 1658, the Massachusetts Court "judged meet to grant that the English plantation between Mystic and Pawcatuck be named Southertown, and to belong to the County of Suffolk;" and then ordered that the prudential affairs thereof should be managed by a number of townsmen, "until the Court takes further" order, and then appointed three Commissioners to end small causes, and to deal in criminal matters;  also appointed a Constable and Clerk of the writs.  So the planters of Mystic and Pawcatuck after more than four years of unwearied labor, fruitful of controversies and alienations in Church and State, finally succeeded in obtaining a grant of township.

    They immediately abandoned their articles of association, and placed themselves under the government of Massachusetts.  A majority of the planters favored the Massachusetts alliance.  The minority favored the Connecticut authorities.  This difference of opinion led to serious difficulties among themselves.  Massachusetts did not confirm the Connecticut and Pequot grants.  They had axes of their own to grind, and granted lands to their own friends and institutions.

    Southertown as bounded out under an order of the Massachusetts Court, extended east from Mystic River to Wecagaug brook some four miles east of Pawcatuck river, and northward as far as Lantern Hill on the west, and Ashaway river on the east.

    The first grant of Massachusetts in 1658 was a gift of a large tract of land at Watch Hill to Harvard College, and subsequently they granted to their Boston friends almost the entire west half of the present town of Westerly.  They also granted nearly one half of the present town of Stonington to parties in and about Boston, covering the lands granted by the Connecticut authorities to Thomas Stanton, Thomas Shaw, William Chesebrough and the Taugwonk grants to Thomas Miner.  They also granted eight thousand five hundred acres to Harmon Garret's tribe of the Pequot Indians.

    Meantime the inhabitants of Southertown were making vigorous efforts to build them a meeting-house.  Rev. William Thompson came there as a missionary to the Pequot Indians the year before Mr. Blinman left Pequot.  His meetings were attended by the English as well as by the Indians.  He sided with the planters against Mr. Blinman and the rule of Connecticut, and signed the first petition to the Massachusetts General Court.  He left in 1659.

    There were several town meetings held during the years of 1659-60-61 for the purpose of building a meeting-house, which resulted in the erection of a small one, raised May 13th, 1661.  The town called Rev. Zachariah Brigden, who came in September, 1661, and remained  till his death, which took place April 24th, 1662.  After him came Mr. Fletcher, Mr. Savage and Mr. Chauncey, who supplied the pulpit until 1664.  During May of that year the town invited Mr. James Noyes, of Newbury, Mass., who came and preached as a licentiate for ten years, and until the church was organized in 1674.

    In 1662 Gov. Winthrop procured the new charter from King Charles II.  Under an apprehension that the Connecticut Colony might again in some way assume control, the townsmen of Southertown petitioned the Massachusetts authorities in January, 1662, to continue their protection, assuring them of their continued loyalty, and setting forth that the Connecticut men were causing factions and divisions among them.  Massachusetts made no reply.  In the autumn of that year the charter came which fixed the lower eastern line of Connecticut at Pawcatuck river, which of course included Southertown in Connecticut.  the inhabitants did not relish this change, nor did they at first acquiesce, but after some two years in October, 1664, in response to a summons from the General Court of Connecticut, they sent William Chesebrough, the original founder of the town, to Hartford, to make their peace with the Connecticut authorities.

    He succeeded, and the General Court granted them a general amnesty.
 
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    The General Court of Connecticut had no particular regard for the name of Southertown, so in 1665 they changed it to that of Mystic, "in memory of that victory God has pleased to give this people of Connecticut over the Pequot Indians," and the Court might have added what they no doubt rejoiced over, that Winthrop had been too sharp for Massachusetts with the King and that they had recovered nearly all of the conquered Pequot territory.

    Rhode Island did not join the confederation of the United Colonies, nor did she cherish much respect for the decisions of their Commissioners.

    In 1660 what is known as the Misquamicut purchasers bought that portion of the conquered Pequot territory that was situated east of Pawcatuck river of Sosoa, a Narragansett Captain, who claimed to have ousted the Pequots therefrom before the Pequot war.  They commenced a settlement there in 1661, ousting all the Massachusetts and Connecticut grantees and the Pequot Indians, driving them over the river into Stonington.

    In 1666 the General Court of Connecticut for reasons not now understood changed the name of the town from Mystic to Stonington.  In 1668 a census of its inhabitants was ordered , and the same year a portion of them asked the General Court for liberty to settle themselves in Church order which was granted, and the town set apart five hundred acres of land for the ministry.  The census showed a list of forty-two inhabitants, residing on the territory now embraced in the limits of Stonington and North Stonington.

    The meeting-house erected in 1661 was a frail affair, and during the year 1670 the town voted to build a bigger and a better meeting-house upon the most convenient place of the ministry land.  A site was selected and a new meeting-house was built thereon during the years 1672-3, and on the 3d day of June, 1674, the first Church of Stonington was formed.

    So after twenty years of more or less distractions among themselves as they termed it, and bitter controversies with he Connecticut and Massachusetts Colonies and the town of Pequot and New London about the organization of their township;  and the unhappy differences with Mr. Blinman in 1654; nine of their inhabitants, viz: Mr. James Noyes, Mr. Thomas Stanton, Mr. Nathaniel Chesebrough, Mr. Thomas Miner, Mr. Nehemiah Palmer, Mr. Ephraim Miner, Mr. Thomas Stanton, Jr., Mr. Moses Palmer and Mr. Thomas Wheeler, united in a covenant commencing as follows: "In order to begin and gather a Church of Christ in Stonington this 3d day of June, 1674, do covenant, etc."

    The Rev. James Noyes, who came to Southertown in 1664 as a teacher and licentiate, was not ordained until Sept. 10th, 1674, after which he continued his labors with the Stonington Church and people until his death, which took place Dec. 30th, 1719.

    I have thus sketched the early history of Stonington and the organization of its first Church, because they are both intimately connected with the early history of New London and its first Church.

    The foregoing historical sketches of the first Churches of New London, Norwich and Stonington establishes the fact that the Church organized in Gloucester, Mass., in 1642, with Mr. Richard Blinman as its pastor, removed to and was transplanted in New London in 1651.  The Church formed in Saybrook Conn., in 1646, with Mr. James Fitch as its pastor, removed to and was transplanted in Norwich in 1660.  The first Church of Stonington was organized in that town June 3d, 1674.

                                                    Richard A. Wheeler