AUSTERLITZ, COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Capt. Franklin Ellis98
The first recorded action regarding a religious organization in this town is found in the records of the meetings of the original proprietors of the "Spencer's-town" grant. It occurs in the minutes of the meeting of April 16, 1760, and was the twelfth resolution adopted, and reads as follows: "Whereas, there is a Right and a half in Spencer's Town Ship that is without any owner in particular, but is owned by the propriety in general, by a grant for taking one general Deed of the natives, it is now voted, that one Right of said right and a half shall be given to the first gospel minister settled in said propriety." And also "Voted to give a deed to Mr. Jesse Clark, provided he settles here in the function of a minister." Mr. Clark did settle on the land, and in 1761, March 31, a meeting was called to "pitch the meeting-house," meaning, to select a site for a meeting-house. No action was taken, however, in that direction. The meeting voted to give Mr. Clark a salary of £50 for 1761, £55 for 1762, £60 each for 1763-64-64, and £65 yearly thereafter. Also to give him £60 towards building a house. It was further voted, "that we will meet on Sundays for publick worship at Mr. John Spencer's house."
The first meeting-house was erected about the fall of 1771, the first mention of it being in March, 1772, when a proprietors' meeting was held in it. It stood a little east of the present church, and faced the north. It was repaired in 1789, and again about 1825, the latter time at a cost of about $2500. At this time it was turned, facing the east, and moved back to its present position, and, as the resolution states, "fitted up in modern stile." It was again repaired in 1863, at a cost of $2500. The original frame is still in use. The parsonage was purchased in 1868, of Mrs. Lucretia P. Beach, for $1300. The present valuation of the church property, including its interest in the cemetery lot, is about $4000.
The first pastor was Rev. Jesse Clark, who was long and familiarly known as "Priest Clark." He served about thirty years. Rev. David Porter succeeded him in 1790, and remained thirteen years. In 1805, Rev. Alvin Somers became pastor, and remained nineteen years. The Rev. Joel Osborne came, in 1826, and remained till 1835. Rev. L. H. Van Dyck then served a short time, and in 1843, Rev. Timothy Woodbridge, D.D., was installed. He served nine years. Since 1852, the pastors, in the order of their service, have been Revs. Samuel N. Steel (who died in March, 1854, while serving as pastor), William H. Clark, James A. Clark, J. H. Goodell, and H. P. Bake, the present pastor, who began his ministry here quite recently. In addition to these the church has been served by the following supplies, Revs. S. M. Gould, Charles E. Lester, T. S. Brittan, -----Finch, Alonzo Welton, C. S. Sylvester, and H. Slauson.
The church was incorporated May 10, 1803, as "St. Peter's Church," and David Pratt, John Ambler, Daniel Morris (2d), Matthew Beal, Jabez Pierson, and Joseph Niles were elected trustees. The first recorded trustees were chosen in 1789, and consisted of Colonel David Pratt, Colonel Matthew Scott, Captain Joel Pratt, Deacon Moses Chittenden, Lieutenant Abraham Holdridge, Deacon Jabez Pierson, Lieutenant Joseph Niles, William Powers, Esq., and Major Beriah Phelps. At that time it must surely have been a branch of "the church militant."
At one meeting, previous to 1800, it was voted, "that wiming should have one-half of the Galery (viz.) half the frunt seet, and the Pews on the North Side of the meeting-house to the wiming." Four pews were also reserved "for widows and others," and "the northwest corner pew in the gallery" was "given to the Blacks." Previous to 1824 this church was Congregational, but at that time it places itself under the charge of Columbia presbytery, and in 1827 adopted the discipline of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.
The deacons of the church in the order of their ordination have been Abiah W. Mayhew, Stephen Davis, William Bailey, William G. Bailey, M.D., Isaac Mead, Charles S. Davenport, Thomas M. Ostrander, John C. Gaul, and Chester Smith. Messrs. Davenport and Ostrander are the present deacons. The elders of the church have been Story Gott, Elisha Murdock, Abiah W. Mayhew, Stephen Davis, Josiah Shelton, William Dickerman, Dan Niles, George Cady, William Bailey, Samuel C. Ingersoll, Dwight Warren, James W. Jones, Isaac Mead, John C. Gaul, Walter Fowler, and Judson Parks. The six last named are the present incumbents.
The present trustees are John C. Gaul, James S. Griswold, Thomas P. Niles, Lucien S. Griswold, James W. Jones, and Walter Fowler. Isaac Mead is the church clerk. The membership at present is about sixty. The Sabbath-school connected with this church is under the superintendence of Thomas M. Ostrander, and numbers about fifty scholars. It has a good library.