Cherry Valley, Otsego, NY
Post-Revolutionary Church, Part II
A proposal that the call should require Mr. Nott to "put himself under the direction and inspection of the presbytery of this State," seems to have led to the appointment of Mr. Spaulding to present the call to presbytery; but apparently nothing was done, for the young preacher was not ordained till he became pastor at Albany. He himself, however, in one of his letters, related the circumstances under which he was led to become a Presbyterian. On his way to the west he stopped at Schenectady, and going into a prayer-meeting was asked to preach by Dr. John Blair-Smith, the president of Union college. In a long conversation afterwards he explained the object of his journey, which was a missionary of the Congregational church. Bu he was deeply impressed with the views of his host, that as the New England people and the Presbyterians in the new region were so much in accord on points and doctrines, it seemed unwise and unchristian to encourage them in maintaining a profitless division of their strength, that they ought to be induced to unite, and join efforts in the 'Master's cause. These arguments gave a new direction to the young man's life; he abandoned Congregationalism, and lent his influences to form that "plan of union" which led to the building up of so many large and prosperous churches. There is no record of the results of his labors as the supply of the little congregation, and his stay extended to but two years. But he here first established his household, made ties of friendship which lasted as long as his extended life, and formed that attachment for the place which caused it ever to dwell in his memory among his most pleasing associations. He loved to revisit the beautiful valley which had been the scene of his early , and in his old age he resolved plans for giving it lasting benefit aiding in the establishment of it ancient academy on the basis of a substantial endowment.
In 1798 his young wife was conveyed for her health to Ballston Springs, whose waters were already becoming famous. There is one obscurity in the accounts, but it appears to have been at this time that he tarried at Schenectady, being on his way to see his wife, and to attend a meeting of the presbytery of Albany at Salem, when Dr. Smith, after hearing him preach, urged him to return by way of Albany, and occupy the pulpit of the Presbyterian church there, which was then vacant.
Whether he was then already a member of the presbytery, as his Memoirs state (in which case we should expect that he would have been ordained and installed, on being received by it, over his Cherry Valley charge), or whether he made his journey for the purpose of connecting himself with the presbytery, with installation then in view, is not clear. At all events the journey lost him to cherry Valley; he preached at Albany, was immediately called to that important charge, and a few years later had become famous among the clergy men of the country. In 1804 he became president of Union college, where for an extended period he filled that sphere of eminence and usefulness, whose events are a part of the history of our progress during the past century.
By the loss of its minister the little church was again left to its own meagre resources in its difficult struggle, and several years elapsed before it secured the services of a regular pastor. Trustees were regularly elected each year, but no minister is mentioned, except Mr. Spaulding, till 1802, when Rev. Thos. Kirby Kirkham was employed for at least one year, one-quarter of his time to b devoted to Middlefield. In Dr. Nott's time efforts had been made to furnish the church, and the proposal started to erect a better one. It seems to have been greatly needed, for so unattractive with its appearance that it is related that a traveler on passing it exclaimed, "that he had many times seen the house of God, but never before had he beheld the Lord's barn!" It stood on the site of the previous one in the grave-yard, a plain building, fifty feet square, without steeple or ornament. Within was a gallery on three sides, and on the fourth was a round, barrel pulpit mounted on a post, the pews being of the high-backed, square, uncomfortable pattern usual at the period, neither padded or cushioned. For many years there was neither chimney nor stove, any more the old Covenanters had when they met in conventicle on the Scotch hillsides. The feeble warmth of the foot-stoves carried by the women barely sufficed to keep the congregation from freezing as they listened to Dr. Nott's young and fervid oratory in the keen air of winter. The writer has more than once preached in Cherry Valley when the thermometer outside was at eighteen or twenty degrees below zero; and when it was at that stage inside, what must not have been devotion that could keep a congregation together! We do not wonder at finding a record that there should be but one service at that season of the year. Mr. Kirkham's labors seem to have led to little fruit, and he appears not have been re-engaged.
We have seen that the church was organized hitherto in that somewhat informal manner which circumstances permitted. A body of Christians desiring to worship God, they had builded a church and employed ministers to maintain the ordinances so far as they could be obtained. They evidently endeavored to regain that presbytery recognition which they had before the war; but this their remoteness prevented, or their insignificance failed to evoke. Dr. Nott being without ordination prevented the institution of new elders, though one or two who had been such in the old church are believed to have been on the ground. Old "Deacon" John Moore had been a chaplain in the first provincial congress of New York, in 1775, of which he was a member. With such facts, it would seem as absurd piece of punctiliousness to assert, on account of some unavoidable defects, that they were not a church. An army does not cease to be an army because its officers have fallen. They had the fact that they were a Christian body united for worship; they had set up the house of God sixty years before. Old Domonie Dunlop had gone hundreds of miles to presbytery; as soon as they returned from exile, before their own houses were rebuilt, they had solemnly met in the grave-yard to rehabilitate the sanctuary. The church members were there, and they called themselves a "Presbyterian church and congregation." They had had one pastor, and had employed at least two others preachers of the gospel. No temporary neglects or flaws in the strict routine of ecclesiastical order could destroy the fact that they were a church of Christ of Christ and a Presbyterian church. But despite all this a precisian now appears who swept it all aside, and seemingly on his own responsibility, took it in hand, forsooth, to give its existence, and at the same time to impress upon it a new character, and introduce usages entirely foreign to its wont. In January, 1804, Rev. Isaac Lewis came from Cooperstown, then a small place not long settled, and finding the church without a pastor or active officers (though the members still held together, and meetings for prayer were kept up weekly), not only lent his assistance to ordain elders in the church, but treated it as if it were not in existence, as the record runs in the session-book, "organized into a church" a certain number, only fourteen in all, whose names are recorded. Mr. Lewis, the author of this doubtless well-meant, but rather sweeping and gratuitous measure, was a Presbyterian, but seems to have had been reared under congregational usages, but it was under his influence and at this time that the church was led to impose upon itself a long and dogmatical "confession of faith" and "covenant" after the Congregational fashion, or else forgetful, that the proper and only authorized standards of the Presbyterian church are those of the Westminster assembly, adopted by general assembly in 1788. Half a dozen years later, Mr.Cooley, better acquainted with Presbyterian ways, brought this anomaly in the practice of the church to the notice of session, and appended a note to the record, stating that "the session thinks it not proper to require it of members, inasmuch as the printed confession of the Presbyterian church (i.e. the Westminster) clearly and fully express all articles of faith and practice derived from the word of God." (1811) Notwithstanding this repudiation some later pastors revived the use of them, and in 1854 they were printed in pamphlet form. In August, 1873, they were formally set aside by session, and the action, with the reasons for it, entered into the minutes.
The effort secured little fruit beyond amending the organization and enrollment of the fourteen members. There are evident traces that the innovation was displeasing to the old members, who had always seen believers added to the church on the simple terms of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and under the old Westminster symbols, literally construed, and with the largest respect for the right of private judgement, as was usual in the Scotch church., Not till three years later did any of the old stock allow their names to be entered, when four only were received, not on their subscribing to the covenant, but on the ground that they has been members in Dr. Dunlop's time, while many others remained out altogether, as we infer from the absence of so many of the old names, especially of the men, from the roll.
Along narrative, under date 1806, records the goodness and mercy of God in answering the prayers of the church for an "ambassador to watch over the of Christ and warn sinners to repentance," by the arrival of Rev. Geo. Hall, who was called in February on a salary of $500. The old church was now so out of repair as to be dangerous to health in winter, and it was proposed that service be held in "the south room of the academy, excepting on every fifth Sabbath that the Episcopalians expect their pastor to preach there," which is the first notice of a worshiping body of Episcopalians among us. The pastor referred to was doubtless the widely useful Father Nash, the pioneer of Episcopacy in these parts. The old meeting-house told on Mr. Hall's health severely, and he resigned in 1807.
Luther Rich, a name often seen on the records, was in 1801 elected to the constitutional convention, of which Aaron Burr was president, as was Joseph Clyde in that of 1821. Rev. Andrew Oliver was then pastor at Springfield, and appears to have lent his services to our church from time to time during the three years before a pastor was again settled. In Mr. Nott's day the Springfield church is spoken of as applying for his ministration for half the time, an overture which was refused, but which shows there was a church there as early as 1797. In 1800, Rev. Jedediah Bushnell, a missionary, visited the place, ands a revival broke out, which extended to several other towns, and seventeen person were added to the church. Mr. Oliver became their pastor in 1806. The Baptists had formed a church in Springfield in 1797, under Elder Wm. Furman, which flourished. (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