"History of the First Presbyterian Church in Chateaugay.
A Sermon Preached July 9th, 1876, by the Pastor, Rev. James W. Grush.
One hundred years ago this part of our State was untrodden by the white man, and possessed only by the Indian and the beasts of the forest. It was not till 1795 that a survey even of this region was attempted. In the summer of that year a survey was made by Cochran and Ransom, assisted by Samuel Beman and his son Nathan, Benjamin Roberts and others. It was in prosecuting this survey that these pioneers found inducements to settle here and in the next year they began the first improvement. Nathan Beman was the grandfather of our townsman who bears his name, and when a boy of twelve years of age was guide to Ethan Allen in the surprise and capture of the fortress at Ticonderoga on the early morning of the 10th of May, 1775. He was a resident of this town till the time of his death, in 1850, and his remains now rest in our cemetery.
These, Benj. Roberts and Nathan Beman, were the pioneers, but during the next three years numbers of hardy settlers had joined them and in 1800, as it stands on the record, eighty votes were cast in the town for Senator. I need not, if I could, describe the hardships of these early settlers in establishing a home in the dense forest, nor their conflicts with nature – whether with the storms and frosts of the northern winter or with the wild and sometimes voracious beasts of the forest, or in subduing the land and fitting it for tillage. The incidents of their every day life would be interesting and many of them worthy of record; but it is the organization of the Church that invites our attention.
The little colony flourished and increased in numbers; there was need that the institutions of the gospel should be established. The first religious meeting was held in 1800 or 1801 by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Huntingdon. In 1802 a
Methodist circuit preacher, Rev. Henry Ryan, visited the town, and in 1805 a class was formed with Benjamin Emmons as leader. It is said that the first Methodist ministers had some forty appointments in four weeks, extending 300 miles. Those were the days of home missionary work.
But the organization of the Congregational Church was due to the earnest and faithful labors of Rev. Ashbel Parmelee, of Malone, and Rev. James Johnson, of Potsdam. Rev. Ashbel Parmelee was on of three brothers, all ministers, who are well remembered by the old inhabitants throughout this Northern region; for with the zeal of the Apostles and in imitation of their example, they went through the region while the settlements were yet in their infancy, "confirming the Churches." The Church was organized as a Congregational Church in 1816. The list of the original members is not upon our record, and all the records of the Church previous to 1830 are lost and no trace of them can now be found. The facts, however, here mentioned are from reliable sources.
From the records of the Presbytery of Champlain, we find that Mr. Jacob Hart was ordained in Chateaugay in 1822. Reference is made to him in a letter of the trustees of the Society, a copy of which has been preserved. The letter is dated Jan. 30, 1827, and is addressed to Rev. Absalom Peters, Secretary of the American home Missionary Society, and applying to that Society for help to sustain the gospel. …..
At this time there was no church edifice, but the school house was used by
different denominations, for, small as was the population, denominationalism
divided the people then as now, and there threatened a serious altercation with the Baptist Society, who claimed the right to use the school house three-fourths of the time. To this Mr. Hart makes reference in a letter dated April 14, 1827, and addressed to Rev. Absalom Peters on the same subject as the foregoing, saying: "There is no question but the whole labors of a clergyman are much needed in Chateaugay; there is not any part of our county that is in greater need of being protected by such labor, nor any place where prospects are so faint. ….."
As a first step towards providing a permanent place of worship, a meeting of the inhabitants of the town was held on the 19th of Sept., 1825 to take into consideration the necessity and practicability of building a meeting house. Rev. Jacob Hart was chosen chairman of the meeting and Chas. D. Backus, secretary. Trustees were also appointed to solicit subscriptions and to receive and pay out the same to the best advantage. The trustees then appointed were Isaac Sebring, Warren Botsford and John Backus. Mr. Sebring, in pursuance of his trust, obtained for the use of the Church, from his partners in business in New York, subscriptions of 245 acres of land in Franklin county, valued at $490, and from friends in Albany, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, subscriptions paid in cash, $228. So that with $228 in money and 245 acres of wild land the building committee began to lay the foundations of the meeting house; but, as the work progressed, Mr. Sebring paid from his own purse $469.42. On the 21st of July, 1828, the frame was raised, and afterwards enclosed; but the house remained unfinished for a long time. Finally, however, a subscription was circulated, and the house completed at an estimated cost of $3,000 and dedicated in 1842. In the account of the raising we find this quaint statement: "In addition to the Presbyterians there was a number of Baptists who aided in raising the frame of the meeting house, which was very heavy. The whole work was accomplished in great harmony, without accident, dispute or intoxication."
To say that there was no intoxication at a raising fifty years ago, where there were a hundred men employed, is to say that temperance principles had begun even then to prevail. As early as 1835 we find on the records of the Church that a total abstinence pledge was required of all candidates for admission to the Church; and in our elections, where temperance was an issue, none of the members voted against temperance principles, with perhaps one or two exceptions at our last town election.
In June, 1830, is the first record of a Church meeting. From that it appears that Rev. Moses Parmelee was minister to the Church. At this date, June 30, 1830, there were 47 members enrolled. But this was when the Church extended itself westward, and included what is now the Church in Burke. Rev. Moses Parmelee ministered to the Church for nearly four years. During his ministry the Church enjoyed a good degree of prosperity and had doubled its membership.
We find the first mention of Rev. Jas. Millar in February 1835, who continued to minister to the Church with, a short interval of absence, down to January, 1843.
In November, 1835, a protracted meeting was held and continued for nine days under the direction of Rev. Horatio Foote, at the close of which the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated, and at that time 30 members were received into the Church; and during the eight years' ministry of Rev. James Millar sixty persons were added to the Church. Down to the close of his ministry the Church had been Congregational, but the name of the Society was "The First Presbyterian Society of Chateaugay," and the Church had been connected with the Presbytery since 1827, under an arrangement called the plan of union, agreed upon by the General Assembly and the General Association of Conn., according to which the Church could send delegates to the Presbytery and Synod, who should be received in all respects as elders, and that the Church on its part should submit their records to the Presbytery for examination and approval. But on April 4, 1842, after due deliberation, the Church, by a large majority, according to the record, adopted a report of a committee previously appointed, to the effect "That it would be for the
spiritual interest of the Church that its spiritual concerns be vested in the
hands of a Church Session, according to the Presbyterian form." On the 25th of
the same month the organization as a Presbyterian Church was completed by the
election of the following as elders, namely: - Tim. Beman, Wm. V. Derby, Warren
Botsford, Samuel Farnsworth, Erastus Douglass, Benjamin Miller, Robert Bennet,
Samuel Stoughton, Oscar F. Brewer, James J. Webb; and as deacons: - Tim. Beman,
Erastus Douglass, Warren Botsford, Benjamin Miller.
On the 15th of July following the Articles of Faith and Covenant now in use in the Church were adopted in a meeting at which Rev. Ashbel Parmelee was Moderator.
At the close of this year, 1842, Rev. James Millar resigned the pastoral charge of the
Church. On Jan. 2, 1843, the Church invited his son, Mr. Andrew M. Millar, though not ordained to the gospel ministry till the following year, to take the lead in religious meetings. On the 19th of June, 1844, he was ordained and installed pastor of the Church by the Presbytery of Champlain. During his ministry the Church enjoyed at times a high degree of prosperity. In the single year 1845 forty-one were added to the Church, an din 1850 thirteen at a single communion season. It was during his pastorate, in 1845, that a division in the Church took place and twenty-five members were granted letters of dismission to form a Congregational Church in the town of Burke.
On June 5th, 1848, the pastor tendered his resignation and the Presbytery at its meeting in the same month dissolved the pastoral relation. In Jan., 1849, Rev. E.B. Baxter was invited to minister to the Church, and during the year of his ministry thirteen were added to the Church. In the spring of the next year, 1850, Rev. A.M. Millar returned and continued to minister to the Church till his dismission to serve as
chaplain in the army in Nov., 1861. During this second period of his ministry
the Church greatly increased in numbers, eighty-two being added during the
period of twelve years.
On June 30th, 1856 a destructive tornado swept over this village, leaving ruin in its wake. None of the buildings that were exposed escaped being wrenched. Many were unroofed, and some were entirely demolished. All the houses of worship shared in the general ruin. Ours was entirely unroofed and the frame greatly injured. A meeting of the Society, however, was called within one week to consider what was to be done. It was voted at this meeting to remodel the house and enclose with brick. A building committee was appointed, who proved to be very efficient, consisting of Messrs. Edgar Keeler, Samuel S. Clark, and Wm. V. Derby. Work was commenced at once, and in a few months a renovated and improved house of worship arose from the ruins. The entire cost was $3,000, and this was paid partly by subscription and the sale of pews; partly by help from abroad, and the last $200 by a loan from the Board of Church Erection.
From the time of Rev. A. M. Millar's resignation in 1861 to the present time the Church has had the services of a succession of ministers. In 1862, Rev. John H. Beckwith for one year; in 1863, Rev. John Turbit for six months; from October 1863, Rev. A. M. Millar for two years and a half; from March, 1866, Rev. Simeon Gilbert, for one year and a half; in 1868, Rev. Thomas Thomson for one year. In the spring of 1870 Rev. C.D. Flagler commenced his ministry with the Church and continued two years and on Feb 11th, 1873, your present pastor was installed by the Presbytery of Champlain.
In 1861 the Church adopted the system of term eldership, the elders being elected for three years. During the continuance of this system J.C. Millar, A.S. Bryant and Joseph Shaw were added to the board of elders. In 1868 the church voted to return to the old system, when Jas. Danskin and the late S.S. Clark were chosen elders. Mr. Clark was held in high esteem as an officer and worked in the Church till his decease, which occurred in 1870, and his memory is still held precious. The present elders are Wm. V. Derby, Robert Bennet, Samuel Stoughton, Joseph C. Millar and James Dnsakin (sic), the first three having held the office since their election in 1842.
In Mr. Gilbert's ministry, in 1866, improvements were made on the interior of the meeting house, beautifying it and making it more attractive; and during the last three years the house has been refurnished with new heating apparatus, and new carpets and new cushions and other improvements by the Ladies' Aid Society, and the new means for lighting by the Young Ladies' Society, and a new organ by general subscription.
A very interesting incident and worthy of mention is that of a class in the Sabbath
School, which, by ten cent contributions from Sabbath to Sabbath, placed in the
pulpit a suitable Bible; and all that class but two have since become members of
In reviewing the history of the Church we find there have been connected with it from its earliest organization, 426 members, and the membership at the time of the last report to Presbytery numbered [110?]. One Church was colonized from us. Four young men who first made a profession of religion in this Church have since become ministers of the gospel. Rev. Nelson Cook, who will be remembered only by the oldest among us; Rev. T.H. Canfield, who in 1870 was reported as laboring in a Congregational Church in the West; Rev. A.M. Millar, who is well known among us; and Rev. F.M. Smith, now pastor of a Baptist Church in Illinois.
In this review of our history, we recognize the Lord's hand leading us, sometimes through vales and shadows, sometimes through conflict, teaching us by his discipline and even by our toils and declensions that his blessing crowns a firm trust in him; that prosperity follows earnest effort put forth in his cause; and that his frown is upon indifference to his claims and declension in his service. Therefore, let this review and the unwritten history of our conflicts, and falls and declensions lead us to gird on the armor anew, and, thankful for past victories and repenting of past failures in duty, let us with united faith, hope and love, push on, with greater conquests in view, "Pressing toward the mark of our high calling in Christ Jesus."'