Amasa Brown's Church
From: The Story of Hartford, A History
Compiled by: Mrs. Isabella Brayton, Town Historian
in collaboratin with John B. Norton.
Hartford, NY 1929

Amasa Brown's Church

As most of the pioneers had come from New England where organized religion still retained a vital influence in the community, they brought with them to Hartford the sect to which they belonged. As to denominational preferences there were two main groups, the Congregationalists and the Baptists, the former probably greatly outnumbering the other denomination, but the zeal of the latter under the leadership of Rev. Amasa Brown soon built up a strong body of the Baptist thought, so that it brought into that fold most of the early settlers and exerted an influence over a wide extent of the surrounding section. The early history of the region is closely interwoven with that denomination.

That society was formed in 1787 and continued an uninterrupted course of prosperity for forty years. A consideration of the story of this society offers a picture of the character and habits of mind of the early settlers as does nothing else, for we see exhibited their sternness and discipline in all matters of life, and their weaknesses and inconsistencies. The records of the church meetings and numerous trials date back almost to the first years of the church and are written in numerous small pamphlets, made up evidently of sheets of common paper, folded and bound by the clerk, and covered sometimes with scraps of old newspapers or magazines. The latest of them is now hallowed by the changes of several decades, the earliest by those of over a century. Owing to the loss of the very first records made by the church, there is some obscurity concerning the events of the first few years, but enough is known to say the church was organized in one of the characteristic log barns. This structure stood only a short distance from the present building. The society named itself the First Baptist Church of Westfield. The number of the original members we do not know. Deacon H. Mattison, B. Whitford, Daniel Pearce, Noah Scott, Timothy Atwood, Daniel Carr, Colburn Barelle, Samuel Downs, Thomas Brayton, Achilles Walling, Job Pickett, David Brayton, Henry Brayton, and the names of members of the Ingalls, Bump, and Ingaisbe families are some of those handed down to us. Caleb Cummings was the first clerk. This group was formerly a portion of a church that met in a building that stood just over the north line of the patent. This congregation had been formed in 1778. The school-house of the so-called Westfield district stands upon the site of the old church. Nearby is a little brook where many were baptized. The dissolution of this church took place by agreement in 1788, as the country became sufficiently inhabited, and it was seen that there would take place a division of the old town. The old Westfield church building stood until 1827, when it was torn down, portions of the structure being used in the construction of the school building, and parts were taken to be used in the Truthville Church.

Two years after the formation of the Hartford church, a meeting house of logs was built by them at the south end of that plot of land given to the town as we have seen by Governor DeWitt Clinton for church purposes. Until 1789 or 1790, a "brother" named Simmons preached among others as occasion demanded.

In 1789 Rev. Amasa Brown of Swansea, Massachusetts, and then of Ira, Vermont, became the first settled pastor, who continued in charge until 1821, a period of thirty-three years, during which eight hundred and eighty-two persons were baptized by him. It was at Ira, Vermont, that, according to his grandson, "His mind was called to the subject of preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus and improve opportunities to improve his gift, and meetings were appointed for that with a view to give him a license. At one of the meetings an old Baptist minister was present to hear his effort. He opened the meeting all right, and took his text and went on with his sermon very well for a short time, but got a little 'swonpot,' burst into tears and sat down. The old minister arose, took up the subject where grandfather had left it and finished out a good sermon. Well, grandfather received his license and was an honor to his calling." He then refers to his grandfather's pastorate in Hartford, "then a new town where he took up a farm and endured all the hardships that were the natural consequences of all the poor people of that day in settling up the country. He was a man of excellent common sense and devoted himself so faithfully to the building up of the interests of the whole community. He became very popular and retained his influence for thirty-three years, the time that he was pastor of the church. He was never settled after getting his license over but one church, and that church he organized, and they built him a quaint, old fashioned house of worship in which I used to sit when a boy under his preaching. He was a fair specimen of the old time preachers of the Gospel, lived and suffered with his people."

At this point we will consider for a little while his labors down to 1800. He was a very busy man and must have spent long hours in the saddle. By 1792 he had established a branch of the church at \est Hebron. It is called in the church records the West Branch, and later grew into a separate church. Meetings were held at the house of a Brother Dickinson. On November 30, 1793, it is recorded that a covenant meeting was held at Brother Materson's. The North Branch at North Hebron was at first not so successful, as in 1796 a committee, composed of Brothers Baker, Ingaisbe and Love, were appointed "to look into the circumstances at The Meadows," as the hamlet was called. Elder Brown, as he was called, also established a branch at South Granville, where a Brother Wilmot was leader. The society was formed there to listen to him, "for his improvement." In 1796 he started work in the town of Granville at the house of Henry Cummings. In 1795 we read of him holding a church meeting in the village of Westfield, now Fort Ann, for baptismal service. In 1793, we read of the Hartford church voting to hold a public meeting at the Great Bend of the North River, the Mettowee, probably to receive and baptize candidates. On Saturday, October 26th, of the same year, there is mention of a meeting there, "covenant renewed, found agreeable union, six attended and had comfortable communion." By November, the brothers at Great Bend requested a council in order to form a church. The work in Hartford had also been so successful that the church at what is now Adamsville was formed and called the Second Baptist Church of Hartford. We read in the church book: "Received minutes of act of council November 9th, 1795, from the Second church at Hartford, that was dismissed from this church to be a church. We find seventeen males and thirteen females, thirty in the whole, that was dismissed from this church." Previous to this, on August 1st, there were 99 male and 100 female members on the roll of the First Church.

The Adamsville church was under the charge of Gamaliel Barnes for its first four years. This Barnes was one of the first settlers in that section of Hartford. He was evidently somewhat of a mystic, for when breaking the soil with his plow he became obsessed with the idea that a house of worship should be built on that spot. Such was the founding of that church.

The Hartford churches belonged to the Shaftesbury Association until January, 1805, when they joined the Saratoga Association, which then held its first session in Union Village (Greenwich). It was not until 1826 that the Washington Association was formed out of the Saratoga Association, and with which the Hartford churches became united.

Elder Brown was ably helped in his work by several members of his church who possessed "gifts" of exhortation and prayer. Among these were Brothers Merrithew, Timothy Heath, Barnes, Cole and John Ward. Brothers Barnes and Merrithew were allowed to "improve" at the North Branch. Finally, his direct influence reached faraway Canada, where John Baudin was sent to work among the French. It was to this work that the entry in the church book dated 1800 refers. "Voted to send a committee to St. Armond Church, Lower Canada, on some matter between that church and this." This Baudin was a French-Canadian who had settled in town, come under the spell of Elder Brown's preaching, joined the Baptist Church and returned to Canada to zealously propagate his new beliefs. It is said that he met death at the hands of his compatriots. It is certain that he met ignominy and insult for forsaking the religion of his forebears.

A Jonathan Wade, born December 10th, 1798, in Otsego, N. Y., came when a young man with his father and mother to Hartford, where he came under the influence of Rev. Amasa Brown, and became the most noted of the elder's spiritual children. In 1816, when eighteen years of age, he was baptized and after graduating from The Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution in 1822, he and his wife, whom he had met while at school, went as pioneer missionaries to far-away Burma at a time when such a life was of peculiar hardship and peril. His work led him to be an expert linguist in the language of the people with whom he labored, for he compiled both a Burmese and a Karen dictionary. Both he and his wife, after a long life of service, finally died and were buried in the country where they were sent.

Strict discipline within the membership strengthened the work. The dignity of church trials, which were frequent, was fortressed by the policy voted in 1792 "That all difficulty between brethren from that time forward should be brought to the church agreeably to Matthew 18, which is considered in the church to mean that brethren taken in the second steps of labor are to judge the accused person to be in fault and call upon him to retract before the matter is brought to the church." Previously one brother had annoyed the church on the frivolous accusation that another had called him a "liar." Anything that could bring the church into disrepute was avoided. A Brother Delaney was taken to task for giving away to temper at town meeting. Members were rigorously required to live up to their confession. In 1794, a Brother Robertson was found "guilty of a breach of Divine Law for selling a yoke of oxen for double the worth of them" and was pronounced to have an avaricious spirit. Magistrates were to be obeyed as God's servants, and strict compliance to the laws were required, else there were chances of being brought before the church and the hand of fellowship withdrawn. There was no escaping orthodoxy. Matters of religious belief had to be strictly adhered to. In 1792 a Brother Elihu Ward was expelled for his "precept or belief that all men shall inherit eternal glory." In 1796, the congregation's orthodox stand on this point was made explicit when it was voted "That the blank for the 5th article shall be filled with these words; 'there shall be a separation in the day of Judgment between the righteous and the wicked, and that the judgment of the wicked shall be eternal and that of the righteous everlasting.'"

The elder himself was not as strict as many of his flock, for we see that in his conduct of public meetings he fell out with them in 1794 on the question of the kind of music to be used. In that year it was voted to choose a "singer" in the church and to "sing such tunes or old tunes as they could sing." They were frank people in those days, for "Brother Cummins was dismissed from being 'quoirester' by his being infirmed in his voice," and Deacon Whitford was chosen to succeed him. But this did not satisfy the elder, who wanted good music. At a somewhat unofficial gathering held to consider the matter, Elder Brown expressed his opinion "That the new mcrde of singing was agreeable to him and that it is not so much to the glory of God to alter the mode of singing at this present day if the brethren are agreed," meaning evidently it was not against the "glory of God." However, a number of them were not agreed. Elder Brown said "That he didn't wish to make any difficulty to the church, only asking the following particulars which he thinks due the growth of the society and the honor of God; that he may have the liberty of asking Mr. Kingsley (evidently not a brother) to sing a psalm or hymn after the authority of the meeting, and to have the liberty to ask them to sing as many psalms or hymns as he shall judge proper before the authority of the afternoon meeting begins and again after the afternoon meeting." The conference was persuaded to grant the request of the elder, who could not see "But that the act was legal in their requesting Mr. Kingsley to lead in singing." It must be that organs did not come into use until a decade or more afterward. To satisfy both parties in the church it was voted "That the church manifest a freedom to sing in public worship by lining or not lining. Mr. Kingsley to sing one-half of the time by lining, the rest of the time by books." In this slow manner the spirit of change scored one victory.

Elder Brown and his immediate successors in office were considered to be under the democratic government of the congregation, in no way raised above the least of the members. Many of the congregation were as well educated, if the quaint spelling and wording of records made by him indicate anything. Many were as well versed in theology, for speculation in such matters was common, and the Bible was read with intelligence by almost everybody who could read, and several had like "gifts" of preaching and prayer. He was among them only as a servant. At this period he received thirty pounds or somewhat over a hundred dollars a year for his support. The money was raised by an equality. While this sum was relatively larger than a like amount now, as those were days in which money was scarce and ways of spending few, yet it was meager for the support of his large family even in addition to the income off his farm. The other expenses of the church were slight and were raised by contributions made on communion days. At least, in 1793, this was the case. In one instance Brother Caleb Cummins was promised ten bushels of marketable wheat by the first of January for paying a Mr. Carr two pounds in money for work on the church. Later we shall note that the common custom of paying in produce became the mode of paying half of the elder's salary. Until 1858 the salary was raised by tax.

The Sabbath was for a long time hardly a day of much relaxation, as much time was spent in travel to and from church, over roads that were for most of the year almost impassable. Until 1800 many of them were mere trails through the forest. Most of the people came on horseback probably, or on foot. It was not until somewhat later that whole families were bundled into farm wagons, in which were placed the double chairs now so much in demand as antiques.

There was at least one, sometimes two, long services. The sermons were long, and it is a token of the sincerity and interest of the members that they sat through them without a murmur. Had such not been the case they would have dared to speak their disapproval. During most of the year it took some personal fortitude to sit in the pioneer churches, which before the introduction of stoves in the second decade of the century, were unheated, and in spite of heavy clothing and foot warmers, the congregation must have been far from comfortable on hard plank seats. No present day congregation could have endured it. In connection with the churches we may mention that although, as we shall see, the pioneers were not without fault, there was a strong prevailing sentiment against a lax observance of the Sabbath. On the 6th of June, 1794, a public notice was issued by the county and signed by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas of the county, and among other officers the fourteen justices of the peace, warning the people of their intention to enforce the law for the suppression of immorality and reminding the constables of the county to arrest and detain all persons travelling without necessity on the Lord's day. Although the people at large were favorable to the movement, there was much trouble on the subject for many years.

Contiuned in Elder Brown and Church

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