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Ashford Baptist Association, (CT)

By Rev. Charles Willett, 1874

     TEXT: Epistle of Jude, third verse, -- "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints."

     Some forty years ago, on a beautiful Summer afternoon, the late Rev. John O. Choles stood on the shore of Buzzard's Bay, where many were gathered together to witness the administration of the sacred and beautiful ordinance of gospel baptism. The administration was preceded by an address, in the course of which he noticed the pedo-Baptist argument drawn from the antiquity of affusion in administering baptism. "Talk about antiquity," said the Doctor, "Why, error crept into the church on the very heels of the Apostles."

     Jude recognized this fact, and believing the maintenance of truth indispensable to the usefulness and success of the gospel -- instead of writing of the hopes and joys and general blessedness of the common salvation, the creeping in of error made it more important that he should exhort them to earnestly contend for the primitive faith of the gospel. Liberalism and non-essentialism had no place in the apostle's creed. It was an uninspired man that wrote that compound of absurdities, so often quoted with approbation:

"'Bout words and forms let graceless zealots fight,
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right."

     The inspired word teaches that "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness," -- not believeth anything or everything, but the truth as it is in Jesus, -- that it is "Through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth," that men are saved. Jude, therefore, as one "Set for the defence of the gospel," saw the urgent necessity of being "Rooted and built up in Him (Christ); established in the faith, as they had been taught," that they might not be "Carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;" "But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."

     We believe, therefore, in view of the teachings of these passages, and many others that might be quoted, that the essential worth of a church, an association, or a denomination, depends upon the amount of divine eternal truth that it believes, loves, advocates, defends, and practices.

     The ASHFORD BAPTIST ASSOCIATION, the semi-centennial of which we this day celebrate, adopted as its creed, or rather, as the creed required to be held by the churches composing the body, the following brief summary of gospel truth; which we believe will stand while the earth remaineth, or the heavens endure.

     Article 10 of the original constitution, says: "No churches shall be received into this Association, but those that believe in the real Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, total depravity, effectual calling by sovereign grace, justification by the righteousness of Christ, the final perseverance of the saints, a future state of rewards and punishments; immersion the only baptism, believers the only candidates, and baptized believers the only candidates for church fellowship."

     It may, therefore be truthfully said that this body, at its organization, was set for the defence of the truth, and its position and mission has never been changed. No church can be constitutionally a member of this body unless it holds to these cardinal doctrines of the gospel, and is constructed "According to the pattern shown in the mount." That a less Scriptural creed would have been more popular, and have led to a more rapid enlargement, is quite probable. The man who builds his house upon the sand, spending no time on foundation work, may outstrip him who builds upon the rock, but when the rains descend and the winds blow and the floods come, what then?

     The past fifty years of our denominational history have not furnished as much interesting material for the historian as the fifty years that preceded them. The 1ong and earnest battle for religious liberty had been crowned with complete victory before this Association was organized. It may be well, therefore, to put on record a few of the many interesting incidents that transpired on this field in the years of old, and especially to revive recollections of the men who, in those days, led the sacremental [sic] hosts, doing manly service for Christ and truth. Of the churches that have belonged to this body, 1st, Ashford, with its place of worship located a few miles west of this village -- Warrenville -- bears the earliest date. It was first gathered in Brimfield, Mass., in 1747; its membership being scattered through several towns in that State and in Connecticut. For some unknown reason, another Baptist church was organized in Brimfield, and at a meeting held in Stafford, May 29th, 1775, the old church voted to change its principal place of worship from Brimfield to Ashford. But while its headquarters was in Ashford, its pastors preached the word in all the towns around, wherever a school-house, or dwelling house, or even a barn was opened to receive them. "They went everywhere preaching the word." Being by no means confined to one sermon a week, but "Smiting five or six times," and with blessed results. And the laity earnestly co-operated, making long journeys to attend the meeting, especially on the Sabbath, and often witnessing to the truth uttered by the preachers.

     Our denominational ancestors believed they were set for the propogation [sic] and defense of fundamental principles connected with the visible churches of Christ, and to their credit be, it recorded, many of them showed their faith by their works.

     Soon after the action taken at Stafford movement was commenced to secure a house of worship in Ashford. A small frame was erected and covered, but, without glass and without plastering, and with only moveable seats -- probably inverted slabs -- on which those who had walked miles sat, while sermons long and strong were preached, and thanked God for the privilege. During the year 1800, they decided to glaze and seat the house; but before they began the work it was burned. They soon contracted for another and larger house, which is now standing in a dilapidated condition. During its early Connecticut history, this church was served by Thomas Ustick, Ebenezer Lampson, Solomon Wheat, Frederick Wightman and Ezekiel Skinner. Of the first three but little is known, Of the latter we shall speak farther on. Of Frederick Wightman we may say that he was a good man, and, under God, wrought a good work In Ashford, the eleven years of his pastorate being the palmy years in the history of the church. They were very loath to part with him and made repeated efforts to get him back, but did not succeed. In the meantime the church was suffering for want of pastoral labor. At the time of the formation of this Association that church numbered 88 souls, with Ezekial Skinner for pastor.

     The next oldest church belonging to this body is the North [West1] Woodstock, which was gathered in 1776. Bial Ledoyt was the first pastor, continuing several years; but finally leaving on account of some difficulty, though he afterwards returned and assumed the pastorate; but some of the church objected to his coming back, causing no little discord and contention, until his final resignation. During his absence the church was served by Samuel Webster (colored), who was ordained an Evangelist, and Robert Stanton who was ordained as pastor. Of these men and their labors but little was recorded. Some time subsequent to the close of Mr. Ledoyt's second pastorate, Nicholas Branch, a licentiate of the First Baptist church in Providence, came to Woodstock and was ordained as pastor, and continued with them until after the formation of this body. Of Mr. Branch we shall speak further on. Membership, 110.

     The Hampton church was formed in 1776, but a society had existed six years previous. They had for preachers in those early days, Elisha Ransom, William Grow, Whitman Jacobs, Elder Grafton, Phillip Slade, Simeon Brown, Abel Palmer, Elder Moffat, Thomas Baldwin, Daniel Colton, Peter Rogers, William Bently, David Putnam, G. F. Davis and others. Of these Elder Palmer remained the longest, and was evidently the most useful. G. F. Davis, who subsequently served the First church in Hartford with eminent success, and who stood for years at the head of the Baptist ministry in Connecticut, did some of his first preaching in the old Hampton church. William Bently occupied a prominent position in the ministry of the denomination for many years, and fell asleep in a good old age leaving an enviable record behind him. Thomas Baldwin also occupied an eminent position in the ranks of the Baptist ministry, being for many years pastor of the Second Baptist church in Boston. Surely, that church must have coveted the best gifts. In the first minutes of the Association the church reports 68 members, with John Paine as pastor.

     The mother church in Thompson was composed mostly of persons who had been members of the Baptist church in Leicester, Mass., and was organized Sept. 9, 1773. They immediately made choice of John Martin as pastor. He was ordained in 1773 and continued his pastorate until Oct. 1779. He was succeeded by Parson Crosby one of their own number. He was ordained in 1798, and continued to 1819, over 20 years. Elder John Nichols, a convert from the Methodists, and Arthur A. Ross, a licentiate of the Church, supplied the pulpit for three or four years; on April first, 1823, James Grow became pastor and served eleven years. He was the first moderator of this Association. The Thompson church reported 225 members. Of Elder Martin our knowledge is quite limited. Parson Crosby was a good man, and greatly useful in the ministry, 334 persons having united with the church during his pastorate of 20 years. His memory is still fondly cherished by many of the aged pilgrims. Arthur Ross was a useful man, somewhat eccentric, better adapted to the work of an Evangelist than that of pastor. John Nichols was a preacher of decided ability, and much esteemed by his brethren in the ministry, and out of it. Of James Grow we make record further on.

     A Baptist church was organized in East Killingly in 1776, composed of 59 members. This church has been noted for the frequent changes that have occurred in its general condition and in its membership. Seasons of great prosperity, with large ingatherings, have been enjoyed, and periods of great declension have often intervened. Of the preachers who served the church we know but little until we come to the name of Edwin Cooper, who was ordained pastor in October, 1805, and served them more than twenty years. Extensive revivals were enjoyed in connection with his labors -- the most extensive in 1822, during which nearly one hundred united with the church. In 1825 they reported 236 members,2 Calvin Cooper, pastor.

     The 2nd Baptist church in Ashford was organized in 1780. It was never a strong body, and suffered some loss of numbers, in 1816; from the coming in of a preacher of the Christian denomination. Of the early preachers we have little more than the names of John Rathbone and Henry Curtis, the latter reported as pastor in the first minutes of the Association. They reported 30 church members.

     What is now the Eastford church was organized in 1793 with 7 members -- 6 just baptized and one by letter. Some 20 others intended to become members, but neglected to obtain letters from the churches to which they belonged. Their first pastor was Daniel Bolton, who continued to serve them until 1806. He was a somewhat noted man in his day, working with his own hands on his farm, and preaching the gospel publicly and from house to house. William Palmer, of blessed memory, preached for them three years, and the historian says, "He preached to large and delighted congregations." They were further served by Buckley Waters, Stephen Haskell, and John W. Hunt -- the last named being entered as pastor in the first minutes of this body. Church then numbered 55.

     In 1806, the brethren and sisters residing in Pomfret, and immediate vicinity, were recognized as a regular Baptist church. This took place under the ministry of Elder James Grow, who had been preaching for them several years, there having been a Baptist Society in the place since 1776. Previous to the organization of the church, quite a number of brethren had been employed to preach to them for a few months or years, but no one of whom it seems necessary to make record here. Elder Grow preached for them 22 years, having removed to Thompson just before the first meeting of the Association, James A. Boswell having taken his place. Number of members at that time, 81.

     The present Baptist church in Tolland was organized in 1807, in connection with the labors of Elder Joshua Bradley. He served them but a short time, and then he and some 26 others took letters for the purpose of organizing a church in Mansfield, where most of them resided. After he left, Asa Niles is reported as pastor two years. The names of Goodwin, Palmer, Hubbard, and Lillibridge, are also mentioned as having preached and administered the ordinances among them, but perhaps none of them as pastors. In May, 1812, Augustus Bolles came among them. In 1814 he was ordained as their pastor, and continued such until 1817. From that time until 1826 no name of preachers are recorded. The first minutes report the church without a pastor. Membership, including branch in Andover, 81.

     Joshua Bradley, whose name has been mentioned in connection with Tolland and Mansfield churches, was no ordinary man. A poor boy, bound out as an apprentice at the time of his conversion -- unable to read, he got permission to attend school four weeks that he might learn to read the Bible. That four weeks was a great era in his life. Not long after he might have been seen with a Latin grammar hung up before him while he toiled on his shoemaker's bench. When "out of his time" he devoted himself to preparation for college -- making a pair of shoes each day, to pay for his board. He passed through Wrentham Academy, and in due time graduated from Brown University. It should surprise no one to learn that such a man, though never what is called a popular preacher, made his mark on the world; or that he devoted much time and thought and hard work to educational interests, that others might obtain what he so highly prized, without suffering what he suffered to obtain it. He originated, or was, early in their history, at the head of eight or ten literary institutions in six different States, beginning in Wallingford, Ct., and including what is now Shurtlief [Shurtleff] College in Illinois. He died in St. Paul, Minn., Nov. 22nd, 1855, in the 84th year of his age.

     Of the others named we make no further record here.

     The present Baptist church in Stafford was organized in 1809. The early preachers were Samuel Bloss and Benjamin M. Hill, with others for occasional supplies. Of the first named we know very little, and of the second we may not use the space even a slight notice of his useful life would demand, and besides, his record is already in all our minds and hearts. When this Association was formed, Mr. Bloss was again pastor. The church reported 90 members.

     Mansfield Church dates from the same year as Stafford, 1809. It was gathered, as before mentioned, mainly through the labors of Joshua Brad1ey, who was one of the constituent members. Besides the 25 from Tolland church, there were smaller numbers from both the Hampton and the 1st Ashford churches. Besides Elder Bradley, who remained but a short time, they were served by Jonathan Goodwin, until after the organization of this Association -- in all 18 years. They report in the first minutes 200 members.

     The 2nd Baptist church in Woodstock, originated in 1792, but as no history of this church has been published, I am unable to give any account of its early history.

     It will be seen from the foregoing that most of these churches were planted during the last years of the last century, and strenuous efforts have been made to prove that they did not originate from christian principle, but solely to get rid of paying taxes.

     That the old system of taxing every man living in the parish, to support the Established Church, whether he believed its creed or attended its worship, had something to do with the organizing of Baptist Societies in those days, is doubtless true. A law had been enacted by the legislature, freeing from parish tax those who could prove that they belonged to and aided in the support of some other religious society than those of the standing order. But when pedo-Baptists assert that the primary object in organizing Baptist churches was to get rid of the taxes, they greatly err, either through ignorance or a willful perversion of facts.

     It is true, that to take from a man who with hard work and rigid economy could but just comfortably supply his family with the necessaries of life, his best cow, or fatted swine, and sell them at auction, to pay a minister h never heard preach, and to support a meeting he never attended, was not congenial to human nature; and when it came to arresting, fining, and imprisoning men for "Preaching the gospel contrary to law,"3 it was adding insult to injury.

     But back of these surface matters lay true heart work. There had been extensive revivals of religion, and the new-born sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty found anything but comfortable and spiritual homes in the parish churches, most of which -- under the influence of infant sprinkling, half-way covenantism, and kindred errors -- had fallen into a cold, sterile formalism. Hence the coming out of the Separates, whose chief difficulty with the churches they left was, that they developed so little spirituality. But having broke loose from traditional trammels, and reading the word of God with unprejudiced, spiritual eyes, large numbers of them became Baptists, as it might reasonably be expected every honest, unprejudiced, spiritually-minded Bible reader would become.

     But on those times of conflict and suffering and victory we may not longer dwell, except to notice a few of the prominent men that were cradled among the hills of Windham and Tolland Counties, and went forth, in days of old, stalwart men, to do service for God and truth.

     Of these, I notice first, the three Bolles brothers -- Mathew, Lucius and Augustus -- born and reared in Ashford, and each of them worthy of a much more extended notice than can here be taken of them. Mathew Bolles was a laboring man with quite a family before be was converted. He was 43 years old when he commenced preaching, and continued in the work 26 years, and until within ten days of his death. It is said of him that he was an eloquent and effective preacher and particularly gitted in prayer. Enviable testimony.

     Augustus, the second of these brothers, entered the ministry at 34 years of age; was ordained, as we have seen, in Tolland, in 1814; removed to Wintonbury (now Bloomfield) in 1818, and after seven years labor, being in poor health, he removed to Hartford, where he resided twelve years, preaching as opportunity offered or his health would permit. During four of those years he edited, very acceptably, the Christian Secretary. In 1837 he removed to La Porte, Ind., where he was instrumental in gathering a Baptist church. In 1839 he took charge of the church in Colchester Borough, and held it two years. This was his last pastorate, but he continued to preach, here and there, until his infirmities, especially blindness -- which became total some years before his death -- laid him aside from his loved work. This good man has just passed away, at the great age of almost 98 years; but his memory will be fondly cherished by the many who have known and loved him in the past.

     Lucius, though the youngest of these brothers, was nevertheless the ablest, best educated, most useful, and widest known of either of them. As the first pastor -- and for 23 years the only pastor -- of the 1st Baptist church in Salem, Mass., he became widely known as an able preacher and eminently successful pastor -- no less than 512 persons having united with the church in twenty years. But it was as Secretary and chief executive officer of our Foreign Mission Society -- which position he ably filled for more than 16 years -- that he obtained a world-wide reputation, and his influence for good was felt wherever our missionaries planted the standard of the cross.

     Let it be recorded, that the father of these brothers -- David Bolles -- was a minister of the gospel, showing that some ministers sons are as good as the sons of other people.

     I notice next the Bennett brothers -- Alfred and Alvin -- members of the Hampton church, and for many years useful ministers of the Word -- hard-working, successful servants of the Master.

     Alfred Bennett was a pioneer, literally and ministerially, in Central New York, then a vast, almost unbroken wilderness. There he toiled as a frontier farmer, and preached in the wilderness as another John the Baptist, and like him baptized a large number, -- as many as 126 as the fruit of one revival season -- and all of them he baptized where there was much water. But he became more widely known as a collecting agent for the old Triennial Convention. His annual visits to his native State, on his agency, some of us will never forget. He was a remarkable man in prayer. Often when he was praying large numbers were melted to tears. No one who united in it, will ever forget the prayer he offered in the old Mulberry Street Tabernacle, New York, in behalf of Dr. Judson, who was present in feeble health, having a few weeks before buried his wife in St. Helena. The church became literally a Bochim -- a place of weeping. Similar scenes were enacted on other occasions, especially when his son Cephas was set apart as a missionary printer for Burmah. Thank God for Alfred Bennett.

     His brother Alvin was a devoted and useful minister of the gospel for many years, but not possessed of as great natural abilities as Alfred. I might add, that another of this family -- Asa -- filled the office of a deacon well in Homer, New York; was in fact a main pillar in the Baptist church in that town for many years. And still another -- Sarah -- was the able, faithful, and useful wife of Rev. Wm. Palmer.

     But my time and your patience will allow me to mention particularly but one more child of the Hampton church. It is well known that the church was located on Grow Hill, and James Grow was one of the children of the church. He was a good, strong, useful man. He did not leave his plough to enter the army, but after holding the plough six days in the week he did valiant [sic] service for King Jesus on the seventh. He was actively employed iu the work of the ministry nearly fifty years, and baptized 476 persons, all within the limits of this Association. There was also a Deacon Grow in those days, one of whose daughters became the wife of Alfred Bennett ; -- and other Grows, active in the good cause, not only on Grow Hill, but in Vermont; and one of the race I knew well in Wisconsin -- a grand nephew of Rev. James -- and with his large muscular frame, well developed brain, warm heart, and sound Baptist sentiments he was a worthy representative of the Grow Hill stock.

     In this list of old-time worthies, belongs the name of Benjamin M. Hill; and to the brief notice already taken of him, I will add, that he was a Thompson boy, a licenciate of the Thompson church, and ordained at Stafford by a counsel called by the church in Thompson. He was subsequently the useful and much-loved pastor of the first Baptist church in New Haven, and also of the first Baptist church in Troy, N. Y. But his great work was wrought as the chief executive officer of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, which position he held for many years. Dr. Hill still lives, in ripe old age, respected and beloved -- one of the few remaining links that connect us with the generation that by sacrifice and suffering won the priceless boon of soul-liberty in this State.

     But I must leave this fruitful era -- fruitful in strong, useful men -- and attend to matters pertaining to the last fifty years.

     The first minutes of the Ashford Association were published in 1826.
     The meeting was held in Stafford, June 29th and 30th. A preliminary meeting had been held the September previous, at the house of Rev. Ezekiel Skinner, in Ashford, when Rev. Elisha Cushman, senior, preached, -- a constitution was drafted and arrangements made for the meeting in Stafford. At that first regular meeting James Grow was preacher and moderator. Churches reported, 12, -- viz: lst Ashford, lst Woodstock, 2nd Woodstock, 2nd Ashford, Thompson, Pomfret, Killingly, Tolland, Stafford, Hampton, and Mansfield. Seven of these churches had once belonged to the Stonington Union Association, but at the time of the organization of this body ten of them, at least, came from the Sturbridge (Mass.) Association, being dismissed from that body at a session held in Pomfret in August, 1824, for the purpose of forming a new Association. Pastors present, 10, -- viz: Ezekiel Skinner, George B. Atwell; Henry Curtis, John M. Hunt, James Grow, James A. Boswell, Calvin Cooper, Samuel Bloss, Jr., John Paine, and Jonathan Goodwin. Of these only one -- father Atwell -- is supposed to be now living. The membership reported was 1354, Killingly reported the largest number, 236; Thompson, 225; Mansfield, 200.

     The next session was held at Woodstock, Andover church was added; membership, 1245. Killingly, for some unexplained reason, reported 91 less than the previous year. During this session a sermon was preached by Rev. William Bentley, of sainted memory, in the interest of Domestic Missions, and a collection taken up.

     In 1827 the Association met in Thompson. Rev. Lucius Bolles was present, and preached and took a collection for the Burmah mission.

     During the session in 1828, which was held in Mansfield, Rev. Hubbell Lomis -- an able pedo-Baptist minister, who had been pastor of a Congregational church in Willington -- having yielded to the convictions forced upon him by the study of the New Testament, and having been baptized, was ordained as a Baptist minister. This change of position on his part led to the baptism of quite a number of the members of his former charge, and the formation of a Baptist church in Willington. If all pedo-Baptists, troubled with similar convictions, would yield to them, the multitude baptized would far exceed in number the multitude that John baptized in the Jordan.

     In 1829 the Willington church was received into the Association.

     In 1830 the Association met with the church in Willington. The number of baptisms reported was 232. Whole number of members, 1331.

     In 1831 the Association met with the 1st church in Woodstock. Baptisms, 124; whole number 1410. At this time the larger churches were Thompson, 215; Willington, 165; Mansfield, 158; 1st Woodstock, 145.

     At the anniversary in Tolland, in 1834, Brother and Sister Vinton were present. It was just on the eve of their first departure for Burmah. Their presence, and remarks, added greatly to the interest of the meetings.

     At the session in Thompson, in 1839, special notice was taken of the then recent action of the American Bible Society, in refusing to aid in printing the Burmah translation of the scriptures, because Dr, Judson had translated -- instead of transfered [sic], as king James' translaters did -- the Greek words relating to baptism. The utterance of the body was calm, chrlstian, but decided. No dictation would be submitted to. Truth and conscience were of more importance than the aid of the American Bible Society; although Baptists had given large amounts to that Society.

     At the anniversary held in Killingly, in 1839, Rev. Alfred Bennett was present as agent for the Board of Foreign Missions.

     1840, met in Mansfield. General condition of the churches unfavorable. Only 26 baptisms reported.

     In 1842, at Willington, the entire aspect of the churches was changed; -- 329 baptisms reported. Net gain in membership, 275 -- bringing the whole number up to 2017. Sister Miranda Vinton, of the church in Willington, had just sailed for Burmah.

     In 1846 met in Tolland. Since 1839 not a new church had been added to the Association. This year what had been the Thompson church came up as two churches -- thus adding one to the list of churches but not adding to the aggregate membership or real strength of the body. This year the church in Brooklyn, which in consequence of its failing to report to the Association, had been dropped from the minutes, was restored.

     In 1848 met in Pomfret and enjoyed a feast of fat things. The newly organized church in Wilkinson, now Putnam, was received at this session. Brother and Sister Vinton, fresh from the far off land of their labors and victories, were present, and with them two Koren disciples, as trophies of grace. Father John Peck was also there, to represent Home Missions. A sermon that he preached on the "Treasure in earthen vessels," was one to be felt, and remembered; especially the fact that to an earthen vessel, once cracked, no possible effort -- with putty or otherwise -- could restore the ring. "It may look very well," said the good man, but tap on it and the ring is not there." The remarks of Bro. Vinton were plain, strong, pungent, soul-stirring. It was good to be there.

     In 1849, at Andover S. Centre, Ashford church was received.

     In 1850, met in Killingly. Brother and Sister Vinton were again present, just on the eve of their return to Burmah. It was an occasion of deep and tender feeling. The impression was quite general that their faces would no more be seen and their voices no more heard at the anniversaries of this body.

     In 1853, at the session with the 2nd church in Ashford, an earnest movement was started to secure, without unnecessary delay, a history of the several churches composing this body; but sad to state, this work is still after twenty years, unfinished. This year was printed, for the first time, a compendium of the minutes of the Association from the beginning -- giving the place of meeting, name of preacher, moderator, clerk, and also the principal statistics. This compendium, enlarged and brought down to date, may be found annexed to this discourse.

     At the session in Putnam in 1854, the voice or [of] Father Gage was heard, after fifteen years of public silence on account of loss of voice. He especially thanked the brethren for their kindness to him during his protracted infirmities and sufferings.

     During the session of 1855, an address was delivered by Sister Miranda Vinton, just home from Burmah.

     In 1857, at Mansfield, the death of this Sister -- who had previously become the wife of Missionary Norman Harris -- was reported, and suitably noticed.

     1858 was a year of revivals. The Association met in Stafford. Total baptized, 257. Willimantic, 49; Putnam, 43; East Killingly, 38; 2d Woodstock, 28; Brooklyn, 25; Mansfield, 19; Tolland, 18; Willington, 13.

     In 1859 the Association met in Tolland, -- 104 baptisms reported. The death of Rev. J. H. Vinton was announced aud appropriately noticed.

     In 1863 the Association met in East Killingly, -- 193 baptisms reported. Death of Rev. Nicholas Branch, long a member of this body, was announced, and the brethren invited to attend his funeral at West Woodstock the next day.

     In 1865 the session was held in Willington. The death of Mrs. Calista Holman Vinton was announced. Thus the three Vintons passed away within a comparatively few years of each other.

     The session of 1868 was held in Mansfield. An unusual number of deaths were reported. Among them Dea. W. A. Sumner, long a pillar in the church at Tolland, and Sister Jerusha Nichols, of Thompson, a well-known "mother in Israel." At this meeting a plan for holding special meetings of the Association, for strictly religious services, was proposed by a committee and adopted by the body, and was re-adopted with some modifications in subsequent years, but I am sorry to have occasion to add, has not been carried out to an extent sufficient to really test its merits.

     The special feature of our last anniversary was the reported deaths of three ministering brethrens, viz: Austin Robins, Washington Munger and Erastus Andrews, who, in by-gone years, had done good service as pastors of churches belonging to this body.

     I have thus briefly mentioned a few facts here and there as they have occurred during the fifty year's history of this body, and I propose now to group together its action on various important moral and religious subjects.


     Fifty years ago Sabbath Schoo1s were established in connection with but few of our country churches. Some ministers and many lay members stood in doubt of them. At the second session of this body the following resolution was passed: -- "Resolved, That this Association highly approve and cheerfully recommend the establishment of Sabbath Schools for the benefit of children and youth."

     In 1828 the Association recommended to all the churches to form Bible classes, establish Sabbath Schools, and collect circulating libraries. In 1729 this subject was referred to a committee to ascertain the state of the schoo1s and report to the Association. They reported the existence of 6 schools, in connection with the following churches: -- Thompson, 1st Woodstock, Mansfield, Killingly, Brooklyn and Willington. It is added, one has just been established in Willimantic. The committee earnestly urged that each church establish and maintain throughout the year, a Sabbath School and Bible class in connection with their Sabbath services. The next year 10 churches reported Sabbath Schools; and a report in 1834 indicates their existence with each of the churches. A committee on this important subject was appointed each year until the formation of the Sabbath School Convention.


     At the first anniversary of the Association the following resolution was passed: -- "We earnestly recommend to the churches the continuance of the monthly Concert of prayer for the spread of the gospel." In 1812 resolutions were passed cordially approving the system adopted by the Baptist Convention of Connecticut for aiding the cause of missions in general, and of supplying destitute churches and such other places within the State as need assistance, and recommend a hearty co-operation with the Convention in extending its benevolent designs.

     In 1831 it is stated that if each member of the churches would contribute one cent a week, the sum of 733 dollars would be collected annually, and the statement is followed by this resolution: "That each church composing this body be hereby invited to resolve itself into a Missionary Society, auxiliary to the Connecticut Baptist State Convention, and that each member pay at least one cent a week into the Convention treasury." I am afraid that reasonable work was never done. Nevertheless, the Association has always been a missionary body -- has paid more or less attention to this all-important subject at each anniversary, and especially in connection with its


     By its Foreign Missionaries, I mean, of course, those that have gone forth from its churches. This Association has given to the foreign field Rev. Justus Vinton, his wife Calista Holmon Vinton, and his sister Miranda Vinton, who at the time of her death was the wife of that devotion missionary, Rev. Norman Harris; and also two children of Mr. Vinton, his son being a member of that church in West Woodstock. A son of Rev. Dr. Skinner, long a member of this body, died a missionary in Africa, and the Dr. himself spent some years in that country. Not a large number, yet I think this body may congratulate itself on the excellence and usefulness of those it has furnished. And to this may be added that from hence went forth Lucius Bolles, for so many years the efficient Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, and on this field was born, and born again, that noble man, Alfred Bennett, one of the most successful collecting agents the Missionary Board ever employed. The presence of either of the Vintons, or of Father Bennett, and I will add of Father John Peck, Home Missionary Agent, always added special interest to our anniversaries.


     At the 2d anniversary of this body, a committee was raised to consider the subject of aiding in the education of young men for the ministry, having especial reference to the then recently formed Connecticut Baptist Education Society. That Committee, the following year reported, "That in their opinion, it was expedient to refer the subject to the affectionate and candid consideration of the churches." Voted to accept it. An ingenious way of disposing of a subject, about which honest differences of opinion were then entertained. In 1833 a collection was taken up for the Education Society, amounting to $8.66. In 1834 an able and rather lengthy report on this subject, signed by George Phippen, Chairman, was adopted by the body, and from that day to this, the importance of the work has been admitted, and yet the annual contributions have been limited to a minority of the churches, and the amount contributed has been small.


     The names of the ministers present at the first anniversary have already been given; of that list I suppose that Ezekiel Skinner, James Grow, Jonathan Goodwin and George B. Atwell, were the more prominent. Prominent among their successors I mention Hubbell Loomis, Asa Bronson, S. S. Mallory, Jeremiah Chaplin, Nicholas Branch, Sylvester Barrows, Bela Hicks, Silas Bailey, Benajah Cook, Addison Parker, and S. T. Smith. Of those who when young men preached for a time on this field, during the fifty years, and have since done good service for the Master elsewhere, a long list might be given, but a short one must suffice. I name Lewis Leonard, Henry Bromley, D. B. Cheney, Elisha Cushman, I. T.Burgess, G. W. Pendleton, B. S. Morse, C. Y. Swan, Justus Aldrich, and D. H. Stoddard; others, perhaps equally useful, might be named, had we time and space.

     Of about 130 pastors that have served the churches during the fifty years, I can think of but one whose time of service was at all protracted, whose entire ministry was spent on this field. James Grow labored in this Association from its organization to the time old age and infirmities laid him aside. To the brief sketch already given of this useful man; I will only add that he entered upon the work of preaching the gospel near the commencement of the present century, having passed through severe conflicts upon the subject; extending back to near the time of his conversion in 1791. With all the direct and indirect, near and remote, results of his labors, only the revelations of the final judgment can acquaint us.

     Ezekiel Skinner, a skillful physician and surgeon, an earnest reformer, and a faithful preacher of the gospel, is reported as pastor of the first church in Ashford for the first four years of the history of this body. In 1830 he is reported as pastor of the 2d Ashford Church, of which he remained a member until his death in 1856; although he spent some of those years in Africa, as physician, preacher, and a part of the time as governor of the colony of Liberia. In early life he was an outspoken deist; after his conversion, which occurred near the commencement of the present century, he ,was for several years a Congregationalist, following the example of his ancestors, and the "Tradition of the elders;" but it took but a few years of Bible reading, with spiritual eyes, to convince him that he had not been baptized, and accordingly he was buried with Christ in baptism, and received into the Baptist church in Lebanon. Of this devoted, earnest, self-sacrificing man, it would be gratifying to say much, but for lack of time I will only add some extracts from the pen of Rev. J. B. Pinney, a Congregational minister, with whom he was associated In Liberia. He says of him, "No man had a mind and heart more faithful in benevolent schemes, and no one could endure more in their execution. His pulpit performances were characterized by simplicity, zeal, energy, and candor. To rhetoric he paid no attention. His utterance was loud, his manner fervent and impressive. His denominational views were strong, and were put forward confidently and boldly. More than once he proposed a public debate with me on the question of baptism, which I declined." In that he (Pinney) showed wisdom.

     Something I would gladly say of each of the original pastors, but will take the time to notice but one more. John Paine, of blessed memory, was a child, and a licentiate of, and called to ordination by, the Old Hampton church. His name stands as pastor of that church in the first printed minutes of this body. After leaving that place he labored some years in Massachusetts, but was subsequently pastor of the 2d church in Woodstock ten years, besides preaching more or less for other churches belonging to this body; and when I add that he was highly respected and much beloved among us, I am sure I speak the sentiment of all present that were wont to meet with him in private, or on public occasions. But he is gone, as are all those associated with him as pastors fifty years ago, except, as before stated, Father Atwell; and to him might be addressed the language of an aged poet, to those of his generation:

"O, my coevals, remnants of yourselves,
Poor human ruins, tottering o'er the grave."

     Many other good men and true, have served the churches composing this body during its history, and so far as I know not a single man among them has fallen on the field, morally, and but one or two theologically, during the entire period. Jonathan Goodwin swerved from the faith in his old age, and Thomas Huntington, who preached to the church in Brooklyn a short time, lapsed into ultra Adventism, and soon went out of sight.

     The whole number of pastorates -- not including supplies -- has been 212, distributed among the churches as follows: Putnam, 1st and 2nd Ashford and Old Thompson, 7 each; Hampton, Brooklyn and E. Thompson, 8 each; Pomfret, Central Thompson and S. C. Ashford, 9 each; Tolland, 3rd Ashford, and Willington, 12 each; 2nd Woodstock, Mansfield, and Andover, 13 each; Willimantic, 15; East Killingly, 19. As the foregoing represent the entire fifty years with some of the churches, and fewer years with others, they afford only an imperfect basis for calculating the comparative usefulness of short or long pastorates; and yet, taken in connection with other facts, they teach an important truth which pastors and churches might well heed. For instance, the old Thompson church experienced its largest prosperity during the long pastorates of Parson Crosby and James Grow; the 1st Ashford during the long pastorate of Frederic Wightman; East Killingly during the pastorate of James Cooper; and, all things considered, the Pomfret church during the long pastorate of Elder Grow; and Brooklyn church during the long pastorate of Silvester Barrows; while the Putnam church with but two pastors -- three pastorates -- in 18 years, has enjoyed remarkable prosperity, and of 271 baptized into the church 218 have received the ordinance at the hands of those two pastors -- C. Willett and Wm. C. Walker. These facts do not prove that all long pastorates are specially successful, or short pastorates always unsuccessful, -- but they are deemed worthy of record, that they may be pondered by preachers and churches, and, taken in connection with collateral facts and circumstances, be allowed their due weight in deciding future action.


     I find the names of 46 persons marked in the minutes as licentiates, and recognize about 30 of them as having been licensed by the churches, belonging to this Association. Among those reported during thee first 25 years, I find the names of Justus Vinton, Leonard Gage, B.G. Leonard, Miner G. Clark, Sylvester Barrows, Benjamin Congdon, Austin Robbins, E. P. Bond, and J. E. Johnson; several of them have gone to their reward, others are still bearing fruit, though mostly in old age. In later years I find P. Mathewson, J. P. Bates, D. H. Stoddard, and others, and quite recent E. B. Andrews, A. M. Crane, J. B. Robinson, W. E. Bates, and several others who give promise of usefulness in the Master's Vineyard. It may be well to add that a large majority of these laborers have come from the old churches on the hills, First Woodstock, Willington, Eastford, Thompson and Tolland, having furnished the larger numbers.


     The Association organized with 12 churches; the largest number ever reported was 18, in 1850. Since then, Hampton, lst Ashford and Pomfret have been droped [sic] from the minutes, leaving the number 16 for many years.

     A great change has taken place in many of the churches. Time was when four churches, Thompson, Mansfield, Killingly and 1st Woodstock contained more than half the membership of the Association. Now Thompson is divided into two comparatively feeble churches. Mansfield is much reduced, and 1st Woodstock still more, and Killingly has had no regular service for more than two years.4

     These changes are to be accounted for, in part, by the changes in population and in business centres, and partly by the starting of new churches at the centres of population, and partly by the fact that the same number of American families do not furnish, on the average, one half as many persons to attend on religious worship as they did fifty years ago. It should also be borne in mind that the number of Protestant families on the field occupied by this body is but little, if any, larger to-day than fifty years ago; and yet we report 674 more members now than then, and but 116 less than the highest number reached during the fifty years, although a change from American Protestant to Foreign Catholic help in our manufactories has been going on at a rapid rate for the last twenty years, affecting unfavorably a number of our congregations. But the advance in other respects should not be overlooked. Instead of five or six small, inefficient Sabbath schools, we now have 16 schools; with 1500 members. Our current expenses are five times as much as fifty years ago; our church property probably ten times as much, and our contributions to benevolent objects twenty times as much, so that, on the whole, we may "Thank God and take courage." And yet, around most of these older churches are large numbers of unsaved men and women and children that it does seem ought, by some means, to be gathered in.

     Of the new churches, Willimantic and Putnam have become large and efficient bodies, especially the latter, which by its 1arge donations to benevolent objects is making itself felt around the world -- clearly showing the wisdom of its organization, even though it led to the discontinuance of the Baptist church in Pomfret.

     This year -- 1874 -- a church recently organized in Danielsonville, with 59 members, was received into the Association, making the number of churches now, 17.


     Baptists, from the day of John the Baptist and Peter the Baptist until now, have believed in "Times of refreshing," and for them have prayed and labored, and in them have from time to time rejoiced. For several years after the organization of this body the additions were less than the diminutions.

     The compiler of the valuable index, found in the minutes for 1866, says: -- In 1828 revivals not enjoyed; 1829, no revivals; 1830, revivals numerous, 232 baptized; 1831 revivals reported, 124 baptized; 1832, revivals, 259 baptized; 1835, revivals numerous and cheering, 199 baptized. These were years of the right hand of the Most High, nearly all the churches sharing in revival influences.

     In 1842 there were numerous additions to eleven out of the sixteen churches -- 329 in all; being the largest number reported m anyone year.

     The following year 141 were baptized. Another season of ingathering was enjoyed in 1849 and in 1850 -- 151 being baptized the first year and 137 the last. Again in 1858, 257 were baptized, and in 1859, 104. The last specially fruitful year was 1865, when 106 were baptized.

     Between these harvest years there have been years of comparative barrenness. What reason have we to pray earnestly and perseveringly, "O Lord, revive thy work! for except tile Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it."


     At the session in 1868 the following preamble and resolution were unanimously adopted:
Whereas, a very small number of Baptist ministers have departed from the Apostolic order in not requiring baptism before the reception of the Lord's Supper; and as many public journalists, both secular and religious, have taken occasion from this fact to represent the denomination as abandoning its position on the communion question, therefore
Resolved, That on this forty-fourth anniversary of the Ashford Baptist Association we declare our united adherence to the old Baptist platform, that in all cases baptism should precede the Lord's Supper, and that an inversion of this order by inviting to the table unbaptized believers, is contrary to the principles held by us, and by the great Baptist brotherhood.


     That churches composed largely of the yeomanry of Windham and Tolland Counties, should be outspoken against iniquity in high places, and low places, is just what might be expected of them. The protests of the Association against human slavery; against the fugitive slave law, and against all attempts to extend the horrid system over new territory, have been clear, definite, strong, and often impassioned. The first published report on this subject was as early as 1834, and signed by N. Branch and B. Hicks. The report closes with the following resolutions: --
"lst. That this Association views slavery as a great and heinous crime in the sight of God.
"2nd. That the church has criminally neglected her duty in slumbering over this evil, and that she is imperatively called upon to use all means, consistent with reason, good laws, humanity and religion, to exterminate it, and to open the fountains of science and the consolations of religion to the much wronged and down-trodden African-Americans."

     In harmony with the key-note thus sounded, the voice of this Association was heard from time to time, until liberty was proclaimed throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof. It would be deeply interesting to reiterate the noble sentiments and stirring protests uttered by the Association upon this subject, but as the battle is over, and victory secured, we will leave it to attend to other reforms in regard to which we are, or ought to be, to-day, in the midst of the fight.


     Fifty years ago intoxicating liquors were to some extend manufactured and sold and drank by members of the churches composing this body, as well as by more or less church members of nearly or quite all denominations. But the temperance reform had commenced, and as early as 1827, the following preamble and resolution were adopted: -- "Whereas, this Association deprecate the prevalence of the destructive vice of intemperance, and view with lively interest the efforts now making for its suppression, therefore: Resolved, That it be earnestly recommended to all christians and others, to abstain from the use of ardent spirits except as a medicine, and that particularly, at all meetings for religious purposes, such as ordinations [sic], counsels, and other similar occasions, but especially at the future meetings of this Association, no ardent spirits be provided or used.

     Alas! that there should have been occasion for the last clause of this resolution; but there was a necessity for just such an utterance, and 1 thank God there were those in the Association that dared to speak, though their advice might be scornfully rejected by not a few at that day.

     In 1830 very strong ground was taken, and all along the years, the position of this body on the subject of temperance has been in the front rank. When the question of a prohibitory law was being agitated, its voice was heard on the right side. In 1854 it resolved: -- "That we hail with pleasure the prospect of a speedy enactment in this State, of a prohibitory liquor law, and hereby pledge our earliest co-operation with the friends of humanity, in the support and execution of such law."

     In 1861 the Association sent an earnest protest to the State legislature against the repeal or modification of the Prohibitory law. In the minutes for 1862 we find the following emphatic language: Rum, next to the king of the bottomless pit, is man's worst enemy -- the devil's best agent -- the most active and successful opposer of religion."

     In 1867 an able report includes this resolution: -- "It is especially our duty to enlist the feelings of our youth and children, and use all proper means to implant and cultivate the principle of total abstinence in all our Sabbath Schools," and so on to the end; our last action includes the following resolution: -- "That the licensing, sale and use of intoxicating liquors as a beverage is wrong, and no legislation can make them right; and that no man can rightfully vote to license or in any way to approve the traffic."

     Such has been the strong, explicit and uniform testimony of this body on that momentous subject.


     And with its condemnation of alcoholic poison it has included narcotic poison, as the following will show:
"Resolved, That it is the duty of all true Gospel ministers to set their faces against the use of tobacco in all its forms, and if hitherto accustomed to indulge in it as a luxury to abandon its use at once."

     This is found in the minutes for 1864, and to it is appended, perhaps by the clerk, the following: --
"Query; Can Christian men who raise tobacco, pray to the Lord for a good crop."


     The Association has also recorded its judgment against secret societies. In 1846 this resolution was passed, "We deem it highly improper for Church members to become members of secret societies, inasmuch as those that do the truth come to the light that their deeds may be made manifest, while such as do evil choose darkness and prefer to throw the mantle of secrecy over their actions." In 1849 the following resolution from the minutes of the Hartford Association was adopted: --
"Resolved, That we affectionately dissuade the members of our Churches from joining secret societies, as it is quite evident that such institutions -- to say the least of them -- are of doubtful utility, and in their ultimate effects tend to produce suspicions and divisions in the Churches."


     During the progress of our late civil war, the utterances of this body were eminently loyal and patriotic; but I will not detain you to repeat them, but will say that the sincerity of those utterances was demonstrated by the large numbers that went forth from our churches and congregations, to aid in putting down the rebellion, many of them, sealing their patriotism with their blood.

     I have thus thrown together some of what have struck me as the more important parts connected with the fifty years history of the Ashford Baptist Association. And while there is much; very much, connected with the history of this body that is gratifying, and that calls for gratitude and special thanksgiving to God, yet I cannot but think that more should have been done for the Master, and larger results secured in the salvation of souls. The whole number of baptisms reported in 48 years is 3840. Reckoning the average number of churches at 16, this gives to each church 240 baptism, or an average of 5 each year. An average quite too small and yet some churches have averaged even less than that. If I had not already wearied your patience, I should like to institute several comparisons between the past and the present, but must confine myself to one or two. The ministers of the past generation preached more than we do. They not only preached on the Sabbath, but during the week their voices were heard in farmers' kitchens and in school houses with great frequency. They carried the gospel to the people, instead of waiting for the people to come after it, and pay an admission fee in the shape of pew rent, in order to hear it. Many of those preachers labored on their farms in the day time, and then traveled miles to preach in the evening. Any agency that tends to reduce a man's preaching capacity to one sermon a week, it does seem, must be of doubtful utility. "It has pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save men." The change in this respect is not altogether with the ministers; the members of the churches in by-gone years could go miles to attend evening meetings, and many of them were ready to second the effort of the preacher, by earnest, warm-hearted exhortations, and much good was done in the name of the Holy Child Jesus.

     But finally, liberalism and unionism, falsely so called, have become dangerous elements in the religious world. Jehovah is a positive God; Divine law is positive law; Jesus is a positive Saviour; and the gospel is a positive system; each of them as far removed from latitudinarian non-essentialism, as the East is from the West; and we, as the custodians of great gospel principles, debase our high calling, dishonor our Master, and surrender our strong hold when we are enticed into any compromise with error or hushed to silence and inaction by the false charge of bigotry and sectarianism. Let us beware lest being led away we fall from our own steadfastness.

     Our STANDARD says, "Buy the truth and sell it not." Truth alone will stand the fires of the last day, and safely pass the ordeal of the final judgment. Much of truth we hold in common with all Evangelical denominations, and gladly unite with them in propagating and defending such truth, but wherein, as we understand the BOOK, they deviate from the truth, we must adhere to our own convictions, and every sensible, candid, honest person will approve such a course. Standing as we do upon the word of God only, our defence is, "The munitions of rocks." Believers only to be initiated into the visible Church and those only through a voluntary burial with Christ in the "One baptism;" and such, and such only, entitled to the privileges and immunities of church membership. No hereditary membership, no baptismal regeneration, or use of gospel ordinances as converting agencies, except in a collateral sense. Brethren, if the fathers were right in laboring and suffering and making the sacrifices they did, that churches might be established and built up, according to the pattern shown in the mount of divine revelation; let us their successors see to it that we do not dishonor their memory by sacrificing to flattery what they purchased with labors, fines, stripes, and imprisonments; but amid prosperity or adversity, smiles or frowns, stand erect for God and truth, and as occasion may require, earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.



1 The word "West" is handwritten over the word "North" in the original document.

2 The next year they report but 145, with no explanation of the difference. We think there must be a mistake in one of the reports.

3 See Tolland County Court records.

4 Since the above was written public worship has been re-established, in Killingly, and revival influences are being enjoyed by the people. Several have been baptized.


[Taken from Rev. Charles Willett, Historical Discourse Delivered at the Fiftieth Annual Meeting of the Ashford Baptist Association, 1874, pp. 3-22. A 28 page booklet that includes a Compendium of Minutes. This is from a photocopy from the Andover Newton Theological Seminary Library. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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