Cherry Valley, Otsego, NY
THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY CHURCH, PART I
The principal source from which the following portions of this recital are drawn is an exceedingly interesting MS volume, inscribed in a beautiful hand resembling copperplate, "The Records of the Presbyterian Church and Congregation in Cherry Valley, Anno Domini 1785." Besides this, which is chiefly a chronicle of the temporalities, the Records of the Session are extant in four volumes, commencing in 1804.
The thread of the history is abruptly resumed with the following quaint and touching entry upon the first page of the old record-book.
"We, the Ancient inhabitants of Cherry Valley, in the county of Montgomery, and the State of New York, having Returned from Exile finding ourselves destitute of our Church officers, viz., Deacons and Elders. In consequence of our difficulties, and other congregations, in similar circumstances, our legislature thought proper to pass a law for the relief of those ????, An act to encorporate all Religious Societies passed April the sixth, One thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Four. In compliance of said act we proceeded as follows:
"At a meeting of theRespectable Number of the old Inhabitants of Cherry Valley, it is agreed upon that an Advertisement be set up to give notice to all the former Inhabitants that are Returned to their Respective Habitations to meet in the Meeting House yard on Tuesday, the Fifth day of April. Next to Ten O'clock before Noon, then and there to chose Trustees who shall be a body for the purpose of taking care of the Temporalities of their Respective Presbyterian Congregation agreeable to an act (etc).
"Cherry Valley, March 10, 1785.
SAMUEL CLYDE, Justice of the Peace."
Thus, with neither minister nor missionary nor any of those specially qualified person at hand who are generally the prime movers in religious undertakings, not even a deacon or elder, the forlorn remnant of the people of Cherry Valley who had escaped the ravages of war and of the massacre, true to their pious training, out of their desire to worship God, and under the leadership of the civil magistrate, assumes that right to form themselves into a church, which is inherent in Christians in such circumstances, without regard to precedent or ecclesiastical succession. The war, which so severely tried the colonies, received its finishing stroke in the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October, 1781; but it was not till late in 1783 that the armies were disbanded, a treaty with Great Britain having been signed in September that year. For a space the energies of the young nation seemed paralyzed with its efforts, and with the vision of its success. It was not till the second year after this that the survivors of Cherry Valley came to search amid the thicket of young vegetation for the boundaries of their farms and the relics of their homes. They met formally, as we have seen, to take measures for the rehabilitation of their church, and the advertisement was set up in March, 1785.
There is something extremely impressive in the thought of that assemblage of returned "exiles" in the meeting-house yard, deliberating in the cold March air, amid the blackened ruins of their sanctuary and the graves of their dead, upon the prospects of rebuilding the house of God.
The artist, seeking to perpetuate upon the canvas the spirit of the earnest period, could scarcely find a more fitting subject for his pencil. Great drifts of snow there frequently still cover the ground at that season; but, if otherwise, we may imagine the unpromising features of the landscape which formed the ground of he picture; the arching stems of the raspberry making a tangle over the low gravestones, through which it was difficult to walk; the trees base of leaves; the nearer hills lonely and gray, save when patches of the hemlock varied the tone with touches of blackness; and the distant summits far down the valley fading to shades of cold steel-blue under the cloudy and threatening sky.the costumes of the figures, the brown doublet or heavily caped greatcoat of gray, the blue Continental uniform, and rough hunter's legging of leather, would give diversity to the group; but what a master-hand must not it be that could render the firm and rugged lines in the faces of the men!
The names of twenty-one electors are recorded who elected three trustees, Samuel Clyde, John Campbell, Jr., and James Willson. The last accompanied Lindesay in 1739 when he came to locate his patent, and seems to have been the surveyor. He purchased a farm in 1745, and the old parchment deed describes him as the high sheriff of the district. The returning officers were Colonel Campbell, and Wm. Dickson, the latter the ancestor of Rev. Cyrus Dickson, of New York.
The corporate body was kept up from this time onward; but in the first years the church was left to care for itself without the assistance of a regular minister, worship being maintained with such temporary help as could from time to time be procured in a region so isolated. By 1790 a meeting-house had been erected, but from subsequent records of the post-revolutionary church seems for many years to have been without regular furniture, and in the barest possible condition. In 1796 the names of fifty-four others are entered as "members of the first Presbyterian congregation." Among these is that of Rev. Solomon Spaulding, a man whose literary labors subsequently became as instrument in supporting the most scandalous imposture our county has produced. We read in Scriptures of an old prophet at Bethel, who preferred dwelling among the ten tribes to ministering to the faithful people, and whose preferences therein ultimately led to deplorable mischief. Mr. Spaulding doubtless anticipated no such results, but having abandoned the ministry, he devoted his leisure to some unprofitable speculations about those same lost tribes of Israel. On this he wrote a romance, detailing an imaginary history, and identifying them with the aborigines of this continent, whom he describes as coming to this country by a long journey through various lands from Jerusalem, under two leaders, Nephi and Lehi, and giving rise to the traces of art and civilization which in the mounds and other relics which still are so perplexing a problem to scholars. The MS. Of the work being sent to a printing office, where its absurdity caused it to be refused, it was copied by one Rigdon and thence came into the hands of Joseph Smith, the pretended prophet of the "Latter-Day Saints," became the source of the pretended revelations of the "Golden Leaves," and now survives, with a few additions from Scriptures, as the Book of Mormon.
Somewhere before this time an energetic effort was made in behalf of education, and a handsome building was erected for an academy, which long exerted the happiest influence on the culture of the neighborhood, and sent out numbers of men who became prominent throughout the country. Mr. Spaulding appears to have taught in his institution, and doubtless he occasionally preached in the church, and baptized the children. But in this year both church and school were to secure the services of a man whose labors in the latte soon raised it to great efficiency, and who himself rapidly rose to eminence as a eloquent divine and efficient supporter of education. An entry in the Record, Aug. 15, 1796, states that the question "whether this society will give the Rev. Mr. Eliphalet Nott a call to settle as our minister," was carried in the affirmative, and a subscription opened to raise money for his support.
Dr. Nott came from Connecticut in the summer of 1795, as a licentiate missionary to these parts, being then at the age of twenty-one and recently married; reaching the place by the great turnpike from Albany, by which this country was soon to be opened up to rapid development, but which was then only recently cut through, and passable only on horseback. He himself describes the pleasing emotions with which he gazed down upon the smiling valley with its nestling village and waving cultivated fields, after the rough uninhabited country which intervened for long distances between it and the more easterly settlements. Filled with melancholy thoughts at his lonely situation in a region so distant, and where he supposed all would be entire strangers, he stopped at a house to ask for some refreshment, when to his surprise he was greeted by name. It was an old Connecticut acquaintance, Mr. Oziss Waldo, who received him most cordially, and at once urgently besought that he would tarry and take charge of the church, of which himself long after continued an active and useful member. Engagements further required Mr. Nott's attention; but the call was made out, and after some hesitation he returned and took up his labors as both preacher in the church, and teacher in the academy, which was soon thronged with pupils. In his letter of acceptance, a characteristic document recorded in his own hand, he dwells on the 'distance from ministerial assistance and advice" as making him hesitate, but speaks of the prevalence of infidelity and the "destitute and broken state" of the society, which he calls a 'solitary Zion," not as deterring but as reasons for not "deserting" it. (The History of Otsego, NY, by Duane Hamilton Hurd, 1878)
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Transcribed by Holice B. Young
Copyright Debbie Axtman and Holice B. Young
December 23, 1999