By Holice and Debbie
THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF GILBERTSVILLE
The first meeting for the purposes of considering the feasibility of organizing a church at this place was held on may 2, 1797, of which Agar Nash was moderator and Timothy Donaldson scribe. The moderator was instructed to invite the Rev. Mr. Gilbert, of Ballston, to attend and organize a church. Accordingly, on Sept. 3, 1797, Mr. Gilbert formed the church, consisting of nine male and twelve female members, as follows: Nathaniel Coyle and Bridget his wife, Samuel Shaw and Mary his wife, Timothy Donaldson and Abigail his wife, Amos George and Betsey his wife, Azar Nash and Rhoda his wife, William Shaw and Hannah his wife, William Shaw, Jr., and Lydia his wife, Edmund Petengill and Sarah his wife, Stephen Wood and Chloe his wife, Lydia Haines, Catherine Donaldson and Elizabeth Shaw. These persons were all from New England, and the church was named the First Congregational church, of Butternuts. Strong Calvinistic articles of faith were drawn up,--twenty-three in number-- and subscribed to by all the members; and Samuel Shaw was chosen deacon, and Timothy Donaldson scribe of the church. None of the original members are now living. Mrs. Abigail Shaw, the last one, died May 13, 1854, aged ninety-nine.
The church was too feeble at first to enjoy a settled pastorate, but was supplied at intervals by various ministers, some of whom were missionaries preaching to neighboring churches. This was then missionary ground, and the church was indebted to home missionaries for an occasional supply, but it does not appear that the church ever received missionary aid. Meetings were held in Timothy Donaldson's barn, and in a barn which is now standing on the Brewer farm. Previous to the organization of the church, there were occasional meetings in Abijah Gilbert's barn.
Among the ministers who supplied the church in those early years were Rev. Messrs. Stone, Woodward, Kirby, Griswold, Harrower, Willitson, Brainerd, Chapman, and Bull. The latter was an eccentric Englishman, an old bachelor, celebrated for long prayers and for longer sermons. It was no unusual thing for him to occupy an hour in public prayer, and still more time in preaching, his sermons ranging freely through the entire Scriptures. On one occasion, he held a meeting in the Brewer barn, commencing in mid afternoon; he did not cease preaching till it was so dark the last hymn could not be read without candle-light. Many years afterward, he was calling upon Prof. White, of Union theological seminary. The doctor happened to be in a hurry that morning, so he said, "Brother Bull, will you lead us in a short prayer?" "Pray yourself," replied the old man, bluntly, "and pray as short or as long as you please."
June 12, 1801, Reuben Cady and Amos George were chosen deacons, and Charles Thorp was elected to the same office in 1806. In September, 1805, the church united with the Susquehanna Congregational Association, then in session at Great Bend, Pa.
In about the year 1805 the first meeting-house was erected, across the valley, on a farm then owned by Timothy Donaldson, and now the premises of J. R. Blackman. It was quit an imposing structure for those days, being two stories high, with a deep gallery in the interior. It seems that the gallery was not completed on the day of the dedication, and a ladder temporarily took the place of a flight of stairs leading to the upper auditory. The question arose how to get the ladies into the gallery by means of this ladder. It was then that the genius of Daniel Root, who was a carpenter, came to the rescue At his suggestion, the ladder was nailed upon boards, and thus the ladies ascended with due propriety and gracefulness.
The pews were square, with high backs, and the pulpit was literally a work of high art. It was of a circular form perched upon a single pedestal, presenting the appearance of a vast goblet. This lofty throne was ascended by means of a back flight of stairs. Directly over the pulpit was a canopy, also circular, painted blue, containing the sounding-board,--the whole suspended from the ceiling by an iron rod. "Often have I thought when a child," said one of the members, "now if that rod should break and the canopy should fall, how nicely the minister would be boxed up." The house was provided with no means whatever for being warmed, but the women brought little foot-stoves and their big muffs, while the male portion of the congregation came clad in heavy "box coats," as they were then called. The singing in those days was good, as the Rockwells, the Huntingtons, the Morgans, the Halberts, and the Donaldsons constituted a choir then famed for its excellence.
June 5, 1808, Joseph T. Gilbert, afterwards known as Deacon Gilbert, united with the church, and on the 26th of June, 1811, was elected deacon, and continued to serve in that capacity with great ability until his death, which occurred June 13, 1867.
It is proper in this connection to make honorable mention of Mrs. Elizabeth Heslop, who joined the church in 1809. She was long known as one of the most active and consistent members. She was distinguished for force of character, piety, and liberality, giving in her last years nearly all her surplus income to benevolent objects. She was, indeed, a mother in Israel,--on eof the excellent of the earth. Mrs. Heslop left the communion of this church to join the church triumphant, March 24, 1846.
In the year 1808, Mr. Isaac Garvin, a licentiate of the Hampshire South Association, accepted a call, and on the 28th of September of that year, he was ordained and installed the first pastor of this church, by a council consisting of clerical and lay delegates from the churches of New Windsor, Jericho, Franklin, Hartwick, Burlington, and Oxford.The pastoral relation thus consummated was continued for twelve years,--the longest period any minister has served the church,-- and was productive of results at once the most happy and the most unhappy, as the sequel will show. It is not stated what salary Mr. Garvin received at first, but in 1815 the society voted to give him $150. For several years the church seems to have had rest and prosperity. The records are occupied principally with accounts of additions, infant baptisms, and cases of discipline. The discipline of the church must have been very thoroughly administered in those days, and as Mr.Doubleday observes in his historical sermon, "We must conclude that either those early days were much more fruitful in crime than the present, or that the church now is culpably negligent."
In the winter of 1816-17, the church enjoyed the first general revival of religion. A remarkable feature was the number of heads of families that were converted, the number being estimated by Enos S. Halbert at as many as fifty. As one result of the revival, over sixty persons were added to the little church, of whom, as far as I can ascertain, only two survive in this place,--Enos S. Halbert and Jared Comstock. As another result, the society raised the salary in 1817 to $300, one half to be paid in money, the rest in grain. The prosperity continuing, in 1818 the Sunday-school was organized. In the same year the society, in addition to continuing the salary at the advanced figure, felt rich enough to have the meeting-house cleaned for $1.87-1/2; and voted also that it be swept once in two months by Joseph Chapin, Jr., for which he was to receive two dollars for the ensuing year.
At this time, the church was united, happy, and prosperity; but, alas! a storm was coming that was to widely scatter many sheep of the fold, and to threatened to sweep the fair work of years out of existence. About this time a school was organized, called an academy, which was held in the red school-house till that was burned, when a stone house was built for it, now occupied as a marble-shop. It was a flourishing school, taught by Levi Collins, and turned out many men who subsequently became ministers of the gospel, among them the two Patengills, the two Foots, Adams, Scott, Stoddard, and the celebrated Baptist evangelist, Jacob Knapp.
On July 4, 1820, this academy held an exhibition in the church, consisting in part of dramatic representatives, some of the performers being dressed in costume. This exhibition, and the fact that some of the members of the church attended it, gave great offense to many, and particularly to Mr. Garvin, who declared he would never preach in the church again,--a promise he faithfully kept. "Why, brethren," said he, "if I should preach there again, those walls would all b hung with images!" The church members who attended the exhibition afterwards made confessions, and both the Union association, with which the church was connected, and he Northern Associated presbytery, of which Mr. Garvin was a member (both of which bodies were convened to consider the case), voted that the confession was as full as the gospel requires, and the church also voted satisfaction. But Mr. Garvin declared that no acknowledgment would ever satisfy him, and he persisted in his request to be dismissed from the church. The result was the pastoral relation which had existed so long and so happily was dissolved by the Northern Associated presbytery, and Mr. Garvin withdrew from the church, taking a large number of the members, probably over one-half, with him. It is proper to state, however, that there were other and more private grievances which influenced those members in heir final decision to separate from their brethren who remained. They first united with the church of Otego, and subsequently had an organization here, Mr. Garvin still preaching for them. Then ensued times of great wrath and bitterness on both sides, varied by many, yet unsuccessful, attempts at reconciliation. Finally, after three years, the council, by advice of the Otsego presbytery, commenced a process of discipline with the withdrawn members on the charge of breach of covenant. It was continued for over two yeas, during which time forty-four was excommunicated, some of whom again returned to the fellowship of the church; others joined sister churches, and still others united with the Episcopal church of this place, which was organized about eight years afterward. In 1825, Mr. Garvin was suspended from the ministry by the Northern Associated presbytery for promoting schism, and he finally entered the ministry of the Episcopal church.
I have thus barely touched upon a trouble that sorely distracted and divided the church for many dismal years. I have done so, not to tear open a grievous wound long ago healed, but simply for the purpose of history. It is easy to see, after the lapse of over half a century, that neither side could lay claim to exemption from all blame, and it has never ceased to be a matter of devout gratitude to Almighty God that the spirit of Christian tolerance and reconciliation finally prevailed, and the church was permitted to resume her ever-afterwards united and prosperous career.
Soon after the dismission of Mr. Garvin the policy of the church, which hitherto had been purely Congregational, was modified, taking on some of the forms of Presbyterianism. In 1821 a committee of nine was chosen for twelve months, under the name of a "ruling committee." In 1823 the church voted, whilst retaining the old name, to "govern themselves for three years by a committee who may be styled ruling elders, which committee shall consist of six brethren."
The duties of this committee were essentially the same as those of ruling elders in the Presbyterian church, with two exceptions; persons were admitted to membership by a vote of the church, and any person who declared himself a Congregationalist, in cases of discipline, might be tried by the church instead of the sessions. In the same year the church, which in 1811 had transferred its ecclesiastical relationship from the Susquehanna to the Union association, again transferred itself, uniting with the presbytery of Otsego, on what was known as the accommodation plan. From this time, for many years, the committee were called the session, and by vote of the church transacted their business according to the Presbyterian directory, with the two exceptions just noted.
After Mr. Garvin's dismission, the church was without a settled pastor for more than two years until January 30, 1823, when Rev. Horace P. Bogue was installed, and remained until January 10, 1830, when he was succeeded by Rev. George Spaulding. Mr. Spaulding remained until 1832, and was followed by Rev. Chauncey E. Goodrich, who continued in the pastoral office until 1834, when he resigned to become the chaplain of the insane asylum at Utica. The Rev. Calvin Waterbury was the next pastor, and remained until 1840. It was during his pastoral that the present academy building was erected, and not the least of his many good works here was the very prominent part which he tool in that important enterprise. Mr. Waterbury was followed by Rev. T. T. Bradford from 1846 to 1849. During the summer of 1850 the pulpit was supplied with much acceptance by the Rev. Edward Cope, of Gilbertsville.
In November of 1850 commenced the ever-memorable ministrations of Rev. W. T. Doubleday, which were continued for ten years, and were then only terminated by his increasing ill health. In 1853 the organ was purchased and placed in its present position, by the generosity of a few friends. The same year the house was remodeled within, and made much more comfortable and attractive. In 1855 the society purchased the present parsonage, --one of the most commodious and attractive places of residence in the village The first parsonage still remains, being the little brown house just above the residence of Mr. Hesloy. The second parsonage was the house in which Lewis Bryant, Esq., now resides.
The pastorate of Mr. Doubleday was an important era in the history of the church. He succeeded in bringing hundreds within the fold of Christ, and is remembered with feelings of reverence by the church people and the inhabitants generally, by whom he was universally esteemed.
In the autumn of 1860, the Rev. Samuel J. White commenced his very able ministrations among the people, and continued with them for a period of eight years. Dr. White was succeeded by Rev. C. M. Livingston, who came in 1868m and remained until the autumn of 1870.
In September, 1871, the present efficient pastor, Rev. S. H. Moon, assumed control of the church. In 1872 the church was changed to the "First Presbyterian church of Gilbertsville," and the following chosen as elders, viz., Isaac Blore, Enos S. Halbert, Daniel S. Musson, Rufus Eggleston, Henry N. Coe, and Thos. K. Cope. These were afterwards duly ordained to the office of ruling elders, and continue to serve as such, being re-elected as often as their term expires. The church is now in a prosperous condition, its membership numbering 240 souls. (*The History of Otsego, NY, Duane Hamilton Hurd, 1878)
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Transcribed by Holice B. Young
Copyright Debbie Axtman and Holice B. Young
December 23, 1999