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The Methodist Episcopal Church 1789-1879
From the "History of Redding" by Charles Burr Todd

Quick Links:
Fairfield Circuit
Redding Circuit 1790-1824
Redding and Bridgeport Circuit
Redding Circuit 1828-1834
Redding and Newtown Circuit
Lay Preachers

When Jesse Lee left New York on the mission which was to quicken and vitalize the New England churches, his first resting-place was at Norwalk, where he preached on the highway under a spreading elm, no house being opened to him. From Norwalk he proceeded to Fairfield and New Haven, and from the latter place to Redding. He reached this town on Wednesday, the 24th of June, 1789, and from this period we are to date the origin of the Methodist Church in Redding, although some six months elapsed before it was formally organized. In his journal under the above date, Mr. Lee thus narrates some of the incidents of this first visit:

"I traveled a stony road to Redding and according to directions called on Esquire Benedict but he was not at home; so got my horse and rode to Mr. Rogers to consult him about the matter. While I was talking to him Mr. Bartlett a Congregational minister came by, and being informed who I was asked me home with him. After I had been there a while he asked me some questions relative to doctrines, and I endeavored to inform him what kind of doctrines we preached. He said he could not invite me into the meeting house, because I held what he thought was contrary to the gospel. I told him I did not expect an invitation to preach in the meeting,a house, but if I was asked I should not refuse. However Mr. Rogers sent his son down in a little time to let me know that there was a school house that I could preach in, so I made the appointment for the people at six o'clock. Having met at that hour I preached on Isa 55: 6: 'Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,' &c.. I bless God that I had some liberty in preaching.

"The school-house where this first sermon was delivered probably stood on the common near the old meeting-house. The few and simple doctrines that bit. Lee preached were the witness of the Spirit, the entire efficacy of the Atonement, and the possibility of falling from grace, and they were presented with so much force and earnestness as to produce a deep impression on those who heard them; yet he had no time to remain and note the effect produced, but rode away the next day, carrying his tidings to other communities. Twice again Lee visited Redding-July 8th, and September 16th of the same year--without seeing any fruits of his efforts; for, although many were impressed with the truth of his doctrines, they hesitated about coming out openly and joining the new sect. At length on his fourth visit, December 28th, 1789, he "joined two in society for a beginning. A man who has lately received a witness of his being in favor with the Lord led the way, and a woman who I hope was lately converted, followed." This was the second Methodist society organized in New England, the first being at Stratford. The first two members mentioned above were Aaron Sanford and his mother-in-law, Mrs. William Hawley. Mr. Sanford by this act became the first male member of the Methodist Church in New England; he was at once appointed leader of the class thus formed, and its meetings were held for years at his house. After its organization the growth of the Society was very rapid, chiefly through the class-meeting, and that agency so effectively used by Methodism, the lay preachers. It is unfortunate that, owing to the loss of the early records of the church, we can give the names of but few of its original members. From the records of the first society I copy the following certificate, dated December 15th, 1789:

" I hereby certify that Aaron Sanford of Reading, has constantly attended the Methodist meetings in this town, and pays his part toward my support as a minister of the gospel."
"Jesse Lee."

Similar certificates were given, February 9th, 1790, to Hezekiah Sanford, and August 6th of the same year to Isaac Sherwood, and S. Samuel Smith.

From the church book of baptisms which has been preserved, we learn that prior to 1794 the early preachers had baptized children of Daniel and Anna Bartram, Silas and Huldah Merchant, Jonas and Lucy Platt, Paul and Mary Baqrtram, Jabez and Sarah Gorham, Elijah and Menoma Elder, Aaron and Mary Odle, John and Sarah Sherman, Uriah and Hannah Mead, Benjamin and Elizabeth Knap, Chester and Elizabeth Meeker, Charles and Lucy Morgan, Ezekiel and Easter Bertram, Jesse and Martha Banks, Isaac and Betty Platt, and Aaron and Eunice Hunt, and we may safely reckon them as members of the church at that time.

Early in 1790 Lee organized his first circuit in New England; it was called the "Fairfield Circuit," and embraced Norwalk, Fairfield, Stratford, Milford, Redding, Danbury, Canaan, and intermediate places. The first regularly appointed minister whose name appears on the Society records was John Bloodgood, who was here as early as January 21st, 1791, perhaps earlier. He was a native of the South, and after serving on the Fairfield Circuit one year, was transferred to the Baltimore Conference, to which his ministerial labors were chiefly confined. He died in 1810. Like most of his colleagues, he preached in the schoolhouses, under trees, sometimes in barns, but always so fervently, and with such native eloquence at the May (1791) session of the Conference by Nathaniel B. Mills and Aaron Hunt.

Mr. Mills is described by his colleague, Mr. Hunt, as "a man small in stature, intelligent, sound, an able preacher, and rather inclined to dejection." He was born in New Castle County, Delaware, February 23d, 1766. He entered the Baltimore Conference in the spring of 1787, and after a laborious ministry of forty-two years, both in New England and the South, was compelled in 1835 to retire to the ranks of the superannuated, where he remained until his death in 1844. His colleague, Rev. Aaron hunt, was born in Eastchester, Westchester County, N.Y., March 28th, 1768, and entered the Methodist ministry in 1791, making some of his first essays at preaching on the Redding Circuit.

In 1793, while preaching in "Redding, he married Miss Hannah Sanford, daughter of the Mr. Aaron Sanford before mentioned, and shortly after "located" in Redding, where he continued to reside for many years, and where most of his large family of children were born. Mr. Hunt was prominent among the early Methodist preachers, and was well known throughout the State. During his pastorate the church had been encouraged by a visit from the eminent Bishop Asbury, who passed through Redding in June, 1791, during his hasty tour through New England, and preached here "with much satisfaction," as he remarks in his journal. The church received another and longer visit from him in September, 1796. "The society in that village," says Mr. Stevens, the historian of Methodism, "had been gradually gathering strength. They assembled to greet him at Mr. Sanford's, where he gave them an encouraging discourse from  Peter 1: 13-15.” From this time until 1811, the record of the church is one of continued growth and prosperity; revivals were frequent and accessions many; classes were early formed at Lonetown, Redding Ridge, Sanfordtown, Boston, and at Long Ridge, the latter some years later becoming a separate church organization.

Still the society was without a house of worship, and the want was beginning to be severely felt. In 1803 they first leased the town-hall for a place of public worship, as appears by the following extract from the town records: "At a town meeting held December 12, 1803, it was voted,'That the Town House he leased to the Methodist Society for $15 per year to be used as often, and as much as they please for public worship, and said Society to repair all damage done to the Town House while they are assembled therein for public worship.' " This lease was continued from year to year at varying rates, until the erection of the first church in 1811. Of the building of this edifice we have no data except such as is contained in this extract from the society records:

“At a Society meeting of the Methodists, duly warned and held at the house of William Sanford in Redding, on Tuesday the 30th day of October, 1810. Voted, that Seth Andrews, William Sanford, and John R. Hill be a committee to said society for the ensuing year, to do and transact all temporal business. Voted, that our said committee carry round a subscription paper immediately to raise money for the purpose of building a Meeting-House in said Redding, for the purpose of Divine Worship. “AARON SANFORD, Clerk."

The church was built the succeeding summer. It stood on the site of the present residence of Mrs. Wolsey Randle, on land purchased of Jonathan R. Sanford, Esq. His deed conveying the land, dated June 6th, 1811, was given to Seth Andrews, William Sanford, and John R. Hill, trustees for the Methodist church and society in Redding, the consideration being $130. No actual description of the first church is preserved to us, except that it was built after the usual fashion of Methodist churches in those days. It had no steeple nor tower, no ceiling except the roof, and there were no means of warming it, except by foot-stoves carried in by the female worshippers With the above exceptions, the following description of an early Methodist church would probably apply to this in every particular: “The building was as unpolluted by paint within and without as when its timbers were standing in their native forest. A gallery extended around three sides. At the extreme end of the left gallery was a small room partitioned off for class meetings The pulpit was elevated about six feet above the floor, and in form resembled a large dry goods box, the breastworks so high as almost to conceal the preacher if small of stature from view. From the pulpit extended a staircase conducting to the class-room in the gallery, to which the preacher and the members repaired at the close of the public service.” None of the incidents in the history of the old church are so vividly remembered and described as the quarterly meetings which were held there. The quarterly meeting to the early Methodist was the most important of all the institutions of the church, and those held in Redding were especially noteworthy; it was a sort of home-coming to the mother church, and at such times all the Methodist homes in town were open to the brethren from abroad the presiding elder and the two preachers on the “Circuit” were always Present on these occasions, and the membership was gathered from Danbury, Ridgefield, Easton, and Newtown, as well as from places more remote. The exercises on these occasions began at 9 o’clock on Sabbath morning with the “love-feast” and the passing of bread and water, of which all partook, as a token of their brotherhood in Christ. At 10:30 a sermon was preached by the elder. At 12PM. the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered at 1PM another sermon was preached, generally by one of the preachers in charge. At the conclusion of this discourse the genial elder would proceed to designate to the guests their respective places of entertainment The day was usually concluded by a series of prayer-meetings held in the different districts, and conducted with great warmth and fervor. The old church seems to have been intended for a temporary structure, and was succeeded in 1837 by the present neat and commodious edifice. A brief account of the erection of the present building will be interesting and probably new to many, though barely seventy years have elapsed since its timbers were standing in the forest. We find on the society records the following entries:

“The members of the Methodist Episcopal Society of Redding are hereby notified and warned, that a society’s meeting for said society will be held on Tuesday the 26th day of instant January at 1 o’clock PM at the Methodist Church in said Redding for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of building a new church in said society, and locating the same near the intersection of the roads near Town House, appointing a building committee to superintend and carry said object into effect, make arrangements to dispose of the old house if thought proper, and to do any other business proper to be done at said meeting.
“Sherlock Todd, Jesse Banks, Aaron Mallett, Trustees. “Redding, Jan. 20, 1836.”

A society meeting was held at the appointed time-Rev. H. Humphreys being chairman, and Thomas B. Fanton, clerk. It was then voted “To approve of the proposed plan caption of the subscription paper to raise subscriptions and build a new house…”

It was further provided “that the said House shall be located somewhere near the four corners that intersect at Redding Town House, but the said object not to take effect, unless the sum of Two thousand five hundred dollars be subscribed, and the said House to be built within eighteen months from the date hereof.”

Voted: “To build a House agreeable to the above caption, provided a place be obtained that is approved by the committee appointed for that purpose.”
Voted: “To appoint a Building Committee of three persons to superintend, and take charge, and contract for the same House, viz.: Thomas B. Fanton, John R. Hill, and Gershom Sherwood.”
Voted: “To add two more to the building committee-Jesse Banks and David Duncomb.” Voted: “To adjorn the meeting two weeks from this day at one P.M.”
“Thomas B. Fanton, Clerk.”

No account of the adjorned meeting is to be found in the society records. The twenty-five hundred dollars needed were speedily subscribed, and the building was erected in the summer of 1837 and dedicated in December of the same year, Rev. C.K. True preaching the dedication sermon. In 1868, during the pastorate of Rev. William T. Hill, the church was thoroughly remodeled and refurnished. The pulpit was cut down, and the antique pews exchanged for the present neat and comfortable ones. The rededication service at this time was perhaps the most interesting occasion in the history of the church. Bishop James was present, preached the dedication sermon to an audience that filled every nook and corner of the building, and many old pastors and friends of the church added by their presence to the interest of the occasion.

In September, 1870, Rev. Aaron Sanford Hill gave to the church some ten acres of land lying in the northerly part of the town, the income from which was to be appropriated to the use of the church. This gift Mr. Sanford supplemented by another of $4,000 in 1871, of which the interest only was to be used meeting the expenses of the church. This fund is known as the Sanford Hill Fund. In 1877 another benefaction of $500.00 was given by William A. Sanford, Esq., to be applied in the same manner as the preceding.

Revivals in the church have been frequent, and attended with gratifying results; notably in 1815 under the preaching of Rev. Reuben Harris, in 1822 during the pastorate of Aaron Hunt, in 1838 under that of Rev. John Crawford, in 1855 under Rev. E.S. Hebbard, and in 1867 under Rev. William T. Hill.

According to the minutes of the Annual Conferences the following ministers were appointed to Fairfield Circuit(which included Redding), beginning with its organization in 1790:

1790 John Bloodgood
1791 Nathaniel B. Mills, Aaron Hunt
1792 Joshua Taylor, Smith Weeks
1793 James Coleman, Aaron Hunt
1794 Zebulon Kankey, Nicholas Snethen

Those appointed to the Redding Circuit were:
1795 Daniel Dennis, Timothy Dewey
1796 Elijah Woolsey, Robert Leeds
1797 David Buck, Augustus Jocelyn
1798 William Thatcher
1799 David Brown
1800 Augustus Jocelyn
1801 Samuel Merwin, Isaac Candee
1802 James Coleman, Isaac Candee
1803 James Campbell, N.U. Tompkins
1804 Peter Moriarty, Sylvester Foster
1805 Peter Moriarty, Samuel Merwin
1806 Nathan Felch, Oliver Sykes
1807 James M. Smith, Zalmon Lyon
1808 Noble W. Thomas, Jonathan Lyon
1809 Billy Hibbard, Isaac Candee
1810 Nathan Emory, John Russell
1811 Aaron Hunt, Oliver Sykes, and John Reynolds
1812 Seth Crowel, Gilbert Lyon, S. Beach
1813 Aaron Hunt, Henry Eames
1814 Ebenezer Washburne, Reuben Harris
1815 Elijah Woolsey, Reuben Harris
1816 Samuel Bushnell, John Boyd
1817 Samuel Bushnell, Theodocius Clarke
1818 James M. Smith, Theodocius Clarke
1819 J.S. Smith, Phineas Cook
1820 Laban Clark, Phineas Cook
1821 Laban Clarke, Aaron Hunt
1822 Samuel Cochrane, Aaron Hunt
1823 Samuel Cochrane, John Reynolds
1824 Elijah Woolsey, John Reynolds

To Redding and Bridgeport Circuit:
1825 Henry Stead, Richardson, H. Humphreys, Fredric W. Siger
1826 Henry Stead, Richardson, H. Humphreys
1827 Henry Stead, John Lovejoy, J.C. Bontecue

To Redding Circuit:
1828 Henry Stead, Gershom Pearce
1829 Ebenezer Washburn, Gershom Pearce
1830 Ebenezer Washburn, Oliver V. Ammerman
1831 James Young, Josiah Bowen
1832 Nicholas White, Jesse Hunt
1833 Jesse Hunt, John B. Beach
1834 Joshiah Bowen, John B. Beach

To Redding and Newtown Circuit:
1835 Humphrey Humphries, Joshiah L. Dickerson, John Davies
1836 Humphrey Humphries

March 28th, 1837, the society, “after due deliberation, existing circumstances being considered, voted to try a station the ensuing”; which was accordingly done, and the Rev. Humphrey Humphries became the first stated pastor.
Since then the church has enjoyed the undivided care of its pastors, and has been generally prosperous and aggressive.

The list of pastors since 1837 comprises many well-known names and will be read with interest. They are as follows:

1838 John Crawford, 2d; Morris Hill
1839-40 Paul R. Brown
1841-42 Daniel Smith
1843 Philip L. Hoyt
1844-45 William F. Collins
1846-47 Joseph D. Marshall
1848-49 Jacob Shaw
1850-51 John L. Gilder
1852-53 Friend W. Smith
1854-55 E.S. Hibbard
1856-57 Hart F. Pease
1858-59 George C. Creevy
1859-60 Wm. H. Gilder
1860-62 J.W. Horne
1862-64 George Hollis
1864-67 David Nash
1867-70 Wm. T. Hill
1870-72 T.C. Beach
1872-74 W.R. Webster
1874-77 Joseph Smith
1877-79 John Dickinson
1879-81 J.S. Haugh
1881-84 J.O. Munson
1884-85 Henry Aston
1885-88 L.P. Perry
1888-89 Nelson L. Porter
1889-92 David Taylor
1892-94 E.L. Bray
1894-99 B.C. Pilsbury
1899-1901 F.M. Moody
1901-03 G.A. Veits
1903-05 Jabez Scott
1905-07 H.Q. Judd

Of the above list but one Rev. Jacob Shaw, died and was buried in Redding. Of the layman who nobly aided these clergyman in their ministry many will be held in grateful remembrance by the church.

The names most familiar to early membership perhaps, were those of the lay preachers: Aaron Sanford, Hawley Sanford, Rory Starr and Walter Sanford; the class leaders: John R. Hill, Abraham Couch, Urrai Mead, Sherlock Todd, and Bradley Burr; and the official members: Thomas B. Fanton, David S. Duncomb, Aaron Sanford, Jr., Charles Gorham, Eban Treadwell, and John Edmonds.

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