HILLSDALE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
by Captain Franklin Ellis12
Owing to the fact that this church was one of the earliest of this domination in the county its history possesses an added interest, and indicates some of the trials, hardships, and stubborn opposition which marked the infancy of Methodism in America. Other denominations either were coldly indifferent or in open opposition, and the way seemed hedged about with impassable barriers and obstructions that could not be removed or overcome. But through all the church has passed successfully, and achieved a prominent rank among other denominations.
The first meeting in this vicinity was held by Rev. William Swayze, in the house of Mr. Isaiah Esmond, a short distance south of Hillsdale Village, in the present town of Copake. This was in the year 1807. This first meeting was followed by two others at which Rev. D. Ostrander and Rev. W. Fradenburg preached, but seemed to produce no effect upon the people, but a few of whom came to attend the service.
From the published "Narrative" of William Swayze, which he prepared and published in 1839, we make the following extract, which gives his account of the subsequent meetings which resulted in the formation of a church. He says, "I made a second trial, when the enemy arrayed in formidable phalanx around the house. We were suddenly attacked by a volley of stones dashing against the house. One of the company stood at the window near me hallooing, repeating, 'You are a liar!' However unpleasant at the time, I considered it as a favorable symptom. I therefore gave out another appointment, which was attended by a large, respectable congregation from the neighborhood of the Hudson turnpike. I named as a text, 'And the door was shut.' Matt. xxv.10. All was deep attention. I closed, dismissed, and took my seat. Having no directions to leave an appointment for my colleague, and being rather at a loss to know my own duty, having abundant work elsewhere, I sat a few minutes thinking this matter over, when I discovered the congregation remained on their seats. I named to them my hesitancies, and concluded by saying I would come again if there was a prospect of doing good; and I knew of no better way to test this matter than for such as felt desirous to seek religion to come forward and give me their names, and I would pray for them. A Colonel Peaksly's lady then came through the crowd, and said, 'Sir, will you take my name?' She then addressed the congregation, and said, 'Come, my neighbors, it is high time we changed our manner of living; not a professor among us, raising families without the fear of God. Let us set an example. You are only waiting one for another. Let us now set out together.' These statements were in a style of native eloquence which would seem self-sufficient to wake up the sympathy of angels, when her daughter and sister, with some eight or ten of her most respectable neighbors, came forward and gave me their names. In conclusion I gave out another appointment. On my arrival I found six of the number happily converted. I remained with them, preaching every night, about ten days, and organized a class of thirty members."
The lady here mentioned was Anna, wife of Colonel John Pixley, not Peaksly.
From this extract we learn some of the circumstances surrounding the introduction of Methodism among the rough and somewhat lawless people who then inhabited this region. After the class was formed it continued to worship in private houses till the summer of 1811, when the first church was built, on lands donated by Parla Foster. It was a frame building unfinished on the inside, and supplied with seats formed of slabs laid with their ends resting upon logs laid upon the floor. This church stood upon the hill back of and a little northwest of the present school-house. In this rude structure the voices of the pioneer itinerants resounded among the uncovered rafters, and woke the slumbering echoes, as well as the conscience of many a hardened sinner into activity and life. This continued until 1845, when the present church was built, under contract, at a cost of $3000, exclusive of the site and foundations. The site was donated by Seymour Foster. It has been repaired once at a moderate expense. In 1836, Parla Foster gave a lot on the corner of South and Cold Water streets as a site for a parsonage, and a commodious house was erected thereon, by the gift of the members of he church. In 1842 this house was burned, and another one was erected in its stead. This building remained in use until a year or two since, when the new one adjoining the church lot on the south, was built and presented to the society by Mrs. Flavia Bristol, she taking in exchange the old parsonage. The cost of the new one was about $4000, and included the furnishing of the entire house. The present valuation of the entire church property is placed at $10,000.
Among the prominent members in the first years of the church's existence may be mentioned Parla Foster, Phoebe Foster, Ruth Collin, Quincy Johnson, John Jones, Mrs. John Jones, Duncan Thompson, Mrs. Duncan Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. Eighmy.
The great revival connected with the history of the church occurred in 1832. It was sweeping in its nature, and reached every class of the community. About fifty were converted.
The pastors of the church, as near as can now be ascertained, in the order of their service, were, commencing with the year 1832, Revs. Elbert Osborne, Richard Hayter, Edward S. Stout, S. L. Stillman, D. B. Ostrander, J. Carley, W. Lull, Richard Wymond, Oliver V. Amerman, Thomas Edwards, Charles C. Keyes, Thomas Bainbridge, W. W. Brewer, John A. Sillick, David L. Marks, Lucius H. King, William Ostrander, Alexander H. Ferguson, Henry Cox, Marvin R. Lent, H. B. Mead, James N. Shaffer, Charles S. Brown, L. W. Walsworth, Oliver V. Amerman, Henry H. Birkins, William S. Bouton, Abraham Davis, Alfred Coons, and We. E. Clark, the present pastor, who is now commencing the third year of his pastoral labors in connection with this church. Previous to 1832, the pulpit was supplied by the preachers on the Salisbury circuit, except the years 1830-31, when it was an appointment on the Ghent circuit. The preachers from 1821 to 1831, inclusive, were Revs. Coles Carpenter, Lucius Baldwin, Timothy Benedict, Parmelee Chamberlain, David Miller, John Lovejoy, Samuel Eighmey, Phineas Cook, Billy Hibbard, Noah Bigelow, Q. Stewart, Arnold Scholefield, Elbert Osborn, and John Alley.
The present membership is about one hundred and twenty.
The officers are as follows, viz.: Trustees, H. G. Westlake, Leonard Johnson, Owen Bixby, William Coon, Geo. Burton; Stewards, H. G. Westlake, William Coon, Alanson D. Apley, Winthrop Tipple, John Williams, Henry Loring, Frank Johnson, A. F. Park, Exhorter, Philip Becker.
There was a Sabbath-school established in 1828-29, with the following officers: Rev. Noah Bigelow, president; Adonijah Bidwell, vice-president; Harry Truesdall, secretary; Parla Foster, treasurer; and three managers. It is now in a flourishing condition, having a membership of one hundred scholars, and twenty-two officers and teachers. It has a fine library of choice and well-selected books, numbering about three hundred volumes. The present officers are Noyes Bristol, superintendent; William Coon, assistant superintendent; Flavia Bristol, temporary superintendent; Frank Johnson, secretary; George Johnson, treasurer; Alden Williams, librarian; Thomas Miller, assistant librarian.
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