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First Baptist Church
Norwich, Connecticut
By Duane H. Hurd, 1882

      The first regular Baptists within the bounds of the present town of Norwich were Ephraim Story and Elijah Herrick. "These men," says Miss Caulkins, "had been members of neighboring churches of Separatists, and soon after 1790 began to hold night meetings1 at their own houses for mutual edification. Whenever they were visited by the neighboring Baptist elders, and the congregation was too large for a private room, they assembled in the school-house, or, if the weather was sufficiently mild, in a grove upon the hillside, or in a neighboring rope-walk. At first they were recognized as a regular branch of the church at Kingston, R. I., but were organized as a church July 12, 1800.

      "The origin of the church is thus related in a document emanating from the church itself:

"'In the year 1800 it pleased the Lord to collect and unite from a broken and scattered condition a few brethren and sisters, to the number of about 20, who were constituted into a church in fellowship with the Groton Union Conference. On the 25th Dec. following our beloved Elder was ordained and took the pastoral charge of the Church.'
      "This beloved elder was John Sterry, who had been for some time previous an acceptable leader in their meetings. Christopher Palmer, of Montville, had also labored among them, and assisted in their organization.

      "The ordination services were performed in the Congregational church. Elder Silas Burrows, of Groton, preached the sermon. Dewey Bromley was at the same time ordained as first deacon of the church.

      "The frame of a house of worship was raised by the society in 1801, and the building so far completed that services were held in it before the end of the year, but it remained long in an unfinished state.

      "This church gathered in most of the inhabitants of the West Side. Bromley, Gavitt, Herrick, Willett, - these are names identified with West Chelsea and with the Baptist Church.

      "In 1811, Eleazar Hatch left a bequest in his will of three or four thousand dollars, the interest of which was to be applied to the support of the Baptist ministry in West Chelsea.

      "Elder Sterry died Nov. 5, 1823, in the twenty-third year of his ministry, and fifty-seventh of his age. He was a native of Preston, but had resided from his youth in the First Society in Norwich.

      "His successor as pastor of the church was Elder William Palmer, who commenced his labors April 1, 1824, and continued in charge about ten years. He was a grandson of Elder Christopher Palmer, who has been mentioned as one of the forefathers of the church. In the mean time the congregation outgrew the meeting-house. It was removed in 1832, and a new house of worship erected on the same spot, which was dedicated in July, 1833.

      "After the departure of Elder Palmer, the pastoral duties were discharged by Messrs. Samuel S. Mallory, Josiah M. Graves, and Russell Jennings in succession, neither of them exceeding two years of service. These frequent changes and- other unfavorable circumstances, operating against the prosperity of the church, led to a new Baptist enterprise, which issued at length in the establishment of the present Central Church. At this period the church at West Chelsea almost died out. The meeting-house was closed, and finally sold to cancel a debt of fifteen hundred dollars that had been incurred.

      "In 1841, Elder Palmer, the former pastor, was prevailed on to resume the office, and the meeting-house, hired for the purpose, was again opened for religious services. He resigned in 1845, but continued to reside in Norwich till his death, which took place Dec. 25, 1853.

      "Elder Palmer was one of the eleven ministers who organized the New London Baptist Association in 1817; had served from year to year as its sole clerk, and was the last survivor of the eleven originators.

      "Mr. Palmer's successor in the pulpit was Miner H. Rising. The church-members at this time were but few in number, as the Bromley family and others who had united with the new church did not return. But in 1845 and 1846, through the influence of a revival which commenced with a protracted meeting, conducted by Rev. J. S. Swan, great accessions were made to the church, and the total membership reported two hundred and seventy-six.

      "The church edifice was at this time redeemed, and Mr. Rising ordained. The health of the pastor, however, soon failed, and he was laid aside from ministerial duty. Since 1849 the ministry has been several times changed."



1 The term night meetings was at first used by way of reproach, as meetings after sundown in the evening were at that time unusual in the regular religious societies.


[From History of New London County, Connecticut, 1882, pp. 297-298. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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