Religion in Jefferson County, NY
From: Jefferson County Centenial 1905
Compiled by Jere Coughlin, Secretary
Hungerford-Halbrook Co, Watertown, N. Y.


The Knight of the Cross in the person of the Jesuit missionary marched by the side of the soldier in the 17th century in what is now Jefferson county. But the message of the gospel fell on bar ren ground, or at least left no influence that could be transmitted through the heart of the red savage to his pale-faced successor. The missionaries who accompanied de LaBarre and Champlain, suffering privation and danger passed on with them to other fields from the Bay of LaFamme and the deep forest and the deadly swamp, seeing little good results to reward them for their devotion, except the great influence they were able to exert in favor of peace between the French and the Five Nations.

Therefore, while no record of religious effort in this region can be complete without reference to their visitations, the fact remains that the real progress of religion in Jefferson county may be compassed within this period of 100 years whose completion we are now Celebrating.

The gospel came to the pioneers as it did to the Indians, through missionary effort, though not as a strange new story. It fell on hearts which vibrated to the echoes of New England church bells and was like a message and benediction from home. With less than 100 years between the time when New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts were providing men and means to preach Christianity in this then far-western field, we who dwell here now, in peace and comfort and enjoyment of all the blessings that accompany a Christian civilization can find but a poor excuse for indifference to the work of sending the old, old story on still further even to where the west meets the east, and to the "uttermost parts of the earth."

That outside aid was necessary in those early days is shown by a report of Rev. James Woodward in 1802, of four months' missionary work here, in which he acknowledged collections as follows: Adams, $1: Watertown, 50 cents; Rutland, $3.47 1-2; Champion, $1.50; Brownville, 25 cents. No mention is made of buttons found in the contribution box, but presumably they ranked higher as specie than they do now.

The available records indicate the order in which some definite form of religious efforts appeared in the several towns, either in the organization of a society or the construction of a house of worship as follows:

First Churches.
Champion, 1801, Congregational; Adams, 1802, Baptist; Watertown, 1803, Congregational; Rodman, 1805, Congregational; Brownville, 1806, Baptist; Lorraine, 1806, Baptist; Henderson, 1806, Baptist; Ellisburg, 1807, Baptist; Rutland, 1808, Congregational; Philadelphia, 1809, Friends; Hounsfield, 1812, House of all denominations; Leray, 1814, Baptist; Antwerp, 1816, For all Denominations; Lyme, 1816, Baptist; Wilna, 1819, Catholics; Clayton, 1820, Free Communion Baptist; Alexandria, 1821, Presbyterian; Orleans, 1821, Baptist; Cape Vincent, 1824, Presbyterian; Theresa, 1825, Presbyterian; Pamelia, 1847, Union; Worth, 1875, Union.

While Champion leads and Watertown is third in this list, it is recorded that missionaries from New England held meetings in the latter town almost as soon as the first settlers arrived and that many meetings were held at the home of Hart Massey as early as 1801. The date given Watertown in the tabulation is that of the organization of the Congregational society in the barn of Caleb Burnham at Burrville, when 15 members formed the nucleus of what subsequently became Watertown's First Presbyterian church which celebrated its centennial anniversary two years ago. The church at Champion was organized by Rev. Mr. Bascomb of Massachusetts, who was sent out by the Ladies' Charitable society of Connecticut.

In 1820 there was one Catholic family in Watertown, and the first mass was celebrated in 1830 in the house of Daniel Branagan.

The Jefferson County Bible society formed Jan. 29, 1817, and is still flourishing in its 89th year. There are today in Jefferson county 140 Sunday schools, 1,500 officers and teachers and 13,500 scholars, a grand total of 15,000.

You have given me the privilege of telling the story of a work whose results shall abide through the ages. Though these fine buildings of which we boast, this great hall with its wealth of relics of the distant past, and our proud little city, our thriving towns and all the substantial things about us shall vanish into nothingness, yea though "the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll," this divine message that has brought cheer, courage and consolation and assurance of final victory to multitudes who have fought life's battle here in these hundred years, shall ring on down through future centuries glad tidings to myriads of listening ears, for it is written:

"Of old has thou laid the foundations of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands.

"They shall perish but thou shalt endue; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed.

But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end."

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