Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

Centennial History of Delaware County, New York : 1797-1897
edited by David Murray, LL.D.

Transcribed by Tamara Sanford


A COMPLETE history of the founding and building up of the several church organizations in Delaware county would be most interesting. It could only, however, be undertaken after a prolonged investigation of the records of each of the bodies, and would be best done by persons writing each for his own denomination. What can here be attempted is to sketch the general movements by which the several denominations established themselves in the new county. It is left to the town histories to give the accounts of the several churches which have grown up in them.

It may in general be safely asserted that all the early pioneers were persons of religious convictions, and so far as possible brought with them their own church organizations and arrangements. With the Now England settlers came the Congregational churches, which in many cases were transformed into churches connected with the Presbyterian body. From England and Scotland came many families who at home had been Presbyterians, and who in their new homes took measures to establish churches of their own kind. The "Great Awakening" which arose out of the preaching of George Whitefield, the Tennants and the Wesleys, had roused into activity the religious life of New England and the Middle States. And all who came from these quarters were imbued with a deep sense of dependence on an over-ruling providence. We leave it of course to the town histories to describe the special movements which led to the founding and development of particular churches. It will be sufficient here to give some general account of the principal religious bodies and the movements by which they became established in this county.

The Congregational churches with their peculiarities and political affiliations came with the emigrants from New England. Harpersfield, Franklin, Meredith, Walton and other towns, were settled in part by New Englanders and the establishment of Congregational churches followed soon after. Thus in 1787 a church which afterward became Presbyterian was founded in Harpersfield. It is now called a Congregational church. Others followed thus: in Franklin, 1763; Walton, 1793; Sidney, 1808; Deposit, 1812; Masonville, 1818; Davenport, 1825; Colchester, 1825; and Hancock, 1831. There was for a long time a mutual agreement between the Congregational body and the so-called New School Presbyterian church to co-operate in their pioneer work. It followed therefore that churches founded under New England influence often became connected with the adjacent bodies of the Presbyterian church. Presbyterian churches were founded as follows: In Delhi, the First Presbyterian church, 1805; in Masonville, 1820; in Delhi, the Second Presbyterian church, 1831; in Franklin, the Arabia church, 1832; in Stamford, 1834.

A class of churches, which may be termed Scotch Presbyterian, has arisen in many parts of the county. These were connected with the Associate, the Associate Reformed, and the Reformed Presbyterian bodies. In 1858 the two former bodies combined to form the United Presbyterian church, by which name the body is now designated. The families who associated themselves to form churches connected with these bodies were mainly from Scotland and the North of Ireland, who came into the county in the early part of the century. As has been explained this immigration began soon after the Revolutionary war and continued down as late as 1810. The Rutherfords, the Scotts, the Gladstones, the Fletchers, the Forests, the Murrays, the Elliotts, the Telfords, the Thompsons, the Archibalds and others all came from the South of Scotland; and the Lamonts, the McGregors, the McGibbons, the McLaurys also spelled McClaughry, McLaughrys, McFarlands, McDonalds, McCrackens, emigrated either from the North of Scotland or the North of Ireland. They were all Protestant and chiefly Presbyterian in their religious affiliations. Hence in Andes, Bovina, Delhi and Kortright, where these settlers chiefly congregated, Scotch Presbyterian churches fast followed: At the Flats below Delhi in 1805, in Bovina in 1809, in Kortright in 1810, in Andes in 1833, and at Cabin Hill in Andes in 1835.

The Baptist church came without much external pressure. Whenever a few families of this faith found themselves within reach of each other they usually combined themselves into a church. The form of church government among the Baptists is congregational, so that it was possible for these little churches to spring up and flourish without dependence on any outside organization. The early Baptist churches may be mentioned as follows: In Colchester, soon after the Revolutionary war; in Harpersfield, 1792; in Franklin, 1793; in Masonville, 1810; in Deposit, 1812; in Roxbury, 1816; in Sidney, 1817; in Meredith, 1818; in Tompkins, 1830; in Walton, 1833; in Delhi, 1842; in Hancock, 1858; and in Stamford, 1863.

The most, numerous body among the churches in Delaware county is now no doubt the Methodist. They began the work of evangelizing in this region almost as soon as the Revolutionary war was ended. The machinery of the church is well adapted to the circumstances of thinly settled, poor and religious communities. The country to be covered is divided into circuits in each of which there are a number of preaching stations, situated so that one or, two preachers (or circuit riders) can visit them and preach to them as often as the number of stations will permit. Thus if a circuit contains ten preaching stations two circuit-riders are assigned to it; and if each of the preachers were to give the full Sabbath to each station, they would be able to visit every station once in five Sundays. With even these infrequent visits it would be possible to keep up the church organization, and stimulate it to a healthy activity and growth.

The work laid on these pioneer circuit riders was most onerous. The long journeys required of them were chiefly made on horseback. 'They received so little pay that it was absolutely necessary for them to live and lodge at such homes as they could find among their own people. The circumstances connected with their long rides and their pressing services, made it impossible for them to read or consult books, or make any study of the original languages in which the scriptures were written. In the early days of Methodism it was rare to find scholarly men among the clergy. The character of their work made it impossible. They know the English Bible, and this was almost the only book with which they were familiar. This must not be interpreted as the times of an ignorant clergy. The men who became eminent as preachers in the Delaware county circuits in the early days, were only to be called unlearned in the bookish sense. In all other respects they far outranked the clergy of cities and pavements, of books and libraries. From the fresh woods through which they traveled, from the silence and solemnity of nature they learned lessons more profound than books can teach. From the unspoiled children of the pioneer settlements they imbibed experiences far more instructive than can be found amid the centres of culture.

The movements which led to the establishment of Methodist churches throughout the towns of Delaware county began, as we have said, soon after the close of the Revolutionary war. It would be impossible to trace these movements from that early time through the century which followed. Before the third decade of the eighteenth century was finished, Methodism had obtained a lodgment in almost every township. And during the two decades which next followed, the churches had acquired a standing which has ensured their permanent growth and prosperity.

It will be sufficient in ending what we have to say about this powerful body, to enumerate the times when the churches were founded in the several townships. The first movement of which we have any record was in Colchester in 1795; it was in this Township that Brainerd the great Indian missionary once preached at a date even earlier than this. Then in 1800 Methodist churches were founded in Middletown, in Roxbury both at the village and at Moresville. Soon after this in 1802, and later in 1808 in consequence of the preaching of Nathan Bangs a church was begun in Walton. In Harpersfield movements were begun in 1808, but a. church was not founded until some years later. Subsequent steps were taken and churches founded: in Franklin in 1818, and Croton 1819; in Andes in 1820, but it was some years later before a church building was begun, which was occupied in an unfinished state* in 1830, and completed in 1838; in Masonville in 1822; in Tompkins: and Deposit in 1830; in Hancock in 1831; in Davenport and in Hobart in 1834; at Fergusonville in 1836; in Delhi in 1839; and in Bovina in 1849. (*It is said that the workbench was used as a pulpit and a potash-kettle as a stove).

The Episcopal church began in Hobart in 1794, the village itself having been called after the celebrated Bishop Hobart of New Jersey. The second township to found an Episcopal church was Delhi in 1819, and others in the following order: Walton, 1830; Deposit, 1860; Franklin, 1865. The only meeting house of the Friends, which, however, has not continued, to the present, was begun in Harpersfield in 1810. A considerable number of Roman Catholic churches have come into existence within the last half century. These have arisen chiefly in connection with the Roman Catholic population, which has followed the construction and administration of the railroads which have penetrated the county.

It has already been said that the Scotch immigrants who came into Delaware county brought with them the bias in behalf of the schools and churches which they had enjoyed in their old home. Their first effort was always to establish a school where their children could receive the elementary and useful education of which they knew so well the value.

Next to schools they invariably sought to establish churches for themselves and their families. They brought with them, however, all the church divisions that had arisen in Scotland. Within the little circle of Scotch friends, there were, for instance, the Associate church, the Associate Reformed church, and the Reformed Presbyterian church, which latter body was commonly called the Cameronian church. Each of these bodies had its separate organization and maintained a rigidly distinct system of worship. They did not exchange pulpits with each other, and never gave an invitation to the members of the other bodies to partake with them of the Lord's Supper. They all agreed in using the psalms of David for singing and the Westminster catechism for the instruction of their children. And yet in spite of these marks of conformity, they were strenuously and sometimes even bitterly opposed to each other on account of disputes Which had arisen in Scotland and which did not in the least relate to their doctrines or their discipline in this country. Thus the Cameronians held that Christians ought not to take any part in sustaining or administering a government which was not conducted on religious principles. Hence the members of the Cameronian church never voted or took any part in the elections which were held in America.

The church concerning which the following recollections are given was connected with the Associate body. It was the first church established in the town of Bovina; but was followed soon after by another Scotch church of the Cameronian persuasion. The building was as ugly as could be imagined. It was almost square, without ornaments or projections, or steeple. It was a frame building, clap-boarded, and had been painted of a snuff-brown color. The paint, however, had long since been washed away, and the boards left of a natural wood color.

The inside, that is the galleries, the pews and the pulpit, was finished in unpainted pine. At the front of the church there were two doors from the vestibule into the open air. From the vestibule two uncarpeted stairs ascended to the galleries. Two doors led into the main body of the church, near which stood two stoves burning wood when the weather required them. The gallery extended around three sides, and on the fourth side opposite the entrance stood a high pulpit directly in front of this was a second and lower pulpit for the precentor. The pews were partly narrow sittings and partly square boxes with seats around three sides. The services never being held in the evenings, there were no arrangements for artificial lighting either by candles or lamps.

The preacher in this church was a Scotchman who had immigrated to America when he was still a young man, having just finished his theological studies. He was a man of fair abilities, and devoted to his work and his flock. It is impossible to say how much salary he received, but certainly it must have been quite small. As he grew older and his children increased in number and size he found it necessary to purchase a farm on which he lived during the last years of his pastorate.

The church services began at ten o'clock and were of the ordinary Scotch Presbyterian character, consisting of singing, reading the scripture, extemporaneous prayers and a sermon. The whole service lasted about two hours, of which the sermon constituted quite one-half. The preaching was always without notes; as indeed the preaching of all the Scotch ministers of that day was. At the close of the morning service there was an intermission of an hour; during which the people scattered under the trees and among the wagons in which they had come to church. They employed the hour faithfully in setting the luncheon which they had brought with them, in discussing the sermon, and in exchanging the harmless gossip of the week. There was a delightful, cool spring near the church, and nearly everyone took occasion to visit it during the intermission and to drink from it with a tin cup which was always kept there.

The afternoon service began at one o'clock, and lasted about an hour and a half. It was exactly like that of the morning with the exception that several of the parts including the sermon were a little shorter. The people scattered on foot and in wagons as they had come. The wagons were nearly always the lumber wagons which the farmers used on their farms. They were provided with, a spring seat in front on which the driver and another sat, and then with board seats placed across the box of the wagon. I suppose that in very early times these wagons were sometimes drawn to church by oxen, but in my time only horses were used, and often very good horses at that.

The music in the church was of a very limited and old-fashioned description. There was no instrumental music allowed in any of the Scotch Presbyterian churches of that day; and to a great extent the same, is true to this day. The human voice, in the opinion of these good people, was good enough for the praise of God in his sanctuary. The precentor who led the singing was a Scotchman who had learned what he knew about music before he left his native land. The number of his tunes was not large, perhaps a dozen in all. They were all Common Metre tunes except Old Hundred. They used Rouse's metrical version, in which all the psalms are rendered in common metre, except the one hundredth which is long metre. As far as I can remember the following tunes,* with others, were used: French, Coleshill, Bangor, Martyrs, Dundee, Newton, Elgin, York, Mears, Irish, Old Hundred. (*My readers will remember the sketch of "Jeems the Door-keeper" in John Brown's Spare Hours. The tunes he used in his solitary family worship were French, Scarborough, Coleshill, Irish, Old Hundred, Bangor, and Blackburn).

The tune Ortonville was introduced during my day at the Scotch church. But it had the unpardonable fault of repeating the last line. This was contrary to the spirit of the New Testament and was a "vain repetition." So the precentor reduced Ortonville to orthodoxy by omitting the repetition of the last line.

A Sunday school was started in this Scotch church probably about 1840. It was the result of a general movement which was then taking place throughout the country in favor of the establishment of Sunday schools. It was held at the intermission and the exercises were strictly in accordance with the doctrines and usages of the church. The children who composed the classes were required to commit to memory chapters of the Bible, the psalms in verse, and the Shorter Catechism. The parts of the scripture which were commonly learned were: the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes, the 53rd and the 63rd chapters of Isaiah, chapters front the Proverbs, chapters from the Gospels, and from the epistle to the Hebrews. As a matter of course the children also were required to repeat the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed and the Ten Commandments. These they had probably learned at home in accordance with the invariable Scotch custom. But many children who belonged to families who were indifferent to religious instruction, obtained in this Sunday school the training which implanted in them the seeds of religious faith.

It remains to describe one of the peculiar institutions of the Scotch church as it had been derived from the practices in Scotland. This was the celebration of the Lord's Supper. The usual custom in American churches of Scotch origin was to celebrate this ordinance twice in the year, in the spring and in the autumn. It was so extended and laborious a series of services that the minister of a church always sought assistance. And as this assistance could only properly come from ministers of the same body, it was sometimes no easy matter to obtain the help that was needed.

The first day of the celebration was Thursday which was kept as a fast-day. Meat and foods of a similar kind were generally abstained from, but the day was not kept as an absolute fast. A service was held in the church in the morning, when a sermon was preached either by the pastor or by the minister assisting him. Then there was a service on Saturday morning, when another sermon was preached. After the service was over the members of the church passed in line in front of the precentor's desk, where one of the elders stood and gave to each a "token", the possession of which entitled the holder to sit down at the Lord's Table. No general invitation was given to the members of other churches, and only members of this particular church were entitled to tokens. The tokens were little bits of chipped flint, on one side of which had been cut the letters J. C. (Jesus Christ).

The principal service was held on the Sabbath, when usually the visiting clergyman preached a discourse which was called "fencing the tables". The object was to point out and declare the sins which would debar the members from sitting down at the Lord's Table. Often this was a most solemn and almost a terrifying discourse. The extemporaneous Scotch eloquence penetrated to the hearts of the people, and faces grew pale and hands trembled, and sometimes-suppressed sobs told of the searching impression which this discourse was making.

After this discourse the communicants sat down at the table which had been spread through the middle aisle and across the space in front of the pulpit. When all of the communicants could not be accommodates at one table, a second was served immediately after the first. An elder passed along the table and took up the tokens which had been distributed the preceding Saturday. The bread was then passed along the table by another of the elders, after which one of the ministers spoke a few words of pathetic comfort. Then in like manner the wine was passed along the tables, and the other minister made a short address. The usual intermission followed, and the afternoon service was held as on other Sundays.

The communion season was closed by a service on Monday morning, when one of the ministers preached, applying with great power the lessons of the occasion.

Index to Centennial History of Delaware County

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