Bennington, Vt. First Church

Collection History

The First Church in Bennington, Vt., also known as the Old First Church, actually originated in Massachussetts as a result of the congregational schisms induced by the Great Awakening. During the 1750s, a group of Separatists drawn from churches in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts began meeting in Westfield Mass., selecting Rev. Jedediah Dewey as their pastor in 1754. The group then moved to Bennington as it was being newly settled in 1761, and reorganized in 1762 as the First Church of Bennington, becoming the first Protestant congregation in Vermont. These first members were also proprietors of the new town.

The first meeting house, located in the heart of the village, was an architecturally plain and multi-purpose building which hosted town meetings, legislative sessions, court trials, and a school in addition to worship services. It even housed wounded Hessian mercenaries after the battle of Bennington in 1777.

A new meeting house, which is still in use, was erected in 1805. The building was designed by renown architect Lavius Fillmore and was considerably more lavish than its predecessor. The cost of construction was $7,793.20, a sum largely raised from the sale of first floor pews. The legal agreement over the building's maintenence constituted Vermont's first instance of separation of church and state, with the church assuming full autonomy as well as financial responsibility for its own upkeep.

The building was rededicated and extensively renovated in 1937, with the box pews and high pulpit restored. Pew and wall plaques were installed to honor prominent Vermonters, including the poet Robert Frost, who was not a member of the church but who spoke at the rededication, and whose grave is located in the churchyard. The meeting house remains one of the state's best examples of Federal period religious architecture, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The collections below have been provided in partnership with Bennington Museum, who hold the physical records. More information can be found in the collections catalog. These include a wide array of material relating to church administration and correspondence, including record books and loose papers, disciplinary trial records, official correspondence with other churches and committees, a report by a committee on temperance, and items of correspondence received from Rev. Lemuel Haynes of Manchester, VT.

 

Digital Materials

Church papers, 1752-1766

This bound assemblage of church papers includes records largely kept by pastor Rev. John Palmer, and also meeting minutes, articles of faith, and a chronicle of events including many disciplinary cases.

Church records, 1762-1820

This bound volume of official records includes both church and society meeting minutes, articles of faith, ecclesiastical council reports, disciplinary cases, copies of correspondence, admissions, and baptisms.

Church records, 1820-1848

This second bound volume of church records follows on from the former, and includes meeting minutes, articles of faith, the church covenant, ecclesiastical council reports, baptisms, admissions, and copies of correspondence including the call of Rev. Absalom Peters to the ministry. At the end of the volume is a more formal listing of admitted members with details of mortality and dismissions, as well as a list of baptisms.

Early records, 1774-1856

These records comprise a small group of loose documents including what may be the church's original covenant (ca. 1765) with later additions by David Robinson, Jr. in 1835 and 1841, as well as lists of members, subscriptions, and an undated trial document containing General Robinson's charges against Mr. James Ballard.

ca. 1765 church covenant
1774 subscription list for completion of meeting house
1784 subscription list for support of minister
1787 subscription for repair of meeting house
1803 list of members and proposed members
ca. 1863 index
undated typewritten blank form for widows' power of attorney
undated report on fire insurance for meeting house
undated testimony against Mr. James Ballard, and reply

Membership rolls, 1762-1866

This list of members of the First Church contains names, place of residence, and other notes. 110 members are listed as residing 'in town' and 46 'out of town'. The document comprises four leaves of folded paper.

Covenant, 1780

This document contains the 1780 covenant of the First Church, signed by ca. 70 members.

Members list, 1786-1812

This handwritten bound booklet contains a roll of church members, showing dates of admission and the name of the minister under whom new members were admitted. There are a total of 58 male and 136 female members listed, totalling 194.

Minister support, 1785-1823

These documents relate to the church's financial support for the ministry. They include agreements to pay the minister, a minister's tax list for 1812, and a 1823 letter from Rev. Absalom Peters to the church regarding his salary.

Lemuel Haynes's papers, 1801-1837

These documents relate to Rev. Lemuel Haynes, pastor of Rutland and later Manchester, VT. They include a manuscript sermon on the nature of repentance (first preached 1801), and a signed letter, dated 1806, to Rev. Elihu Smith of Castleton regarding a difficulty in the Congregational Church at West Rutland. Also included are an engraved portrait of Haynes and a short biographical sketch.

Church trial records, 1809-1937

These loose documents comprise trial records for various members of the parish, including testimony, commentary, examinations and confessions by the accused and their peers. Of particular note is the printed notice of James Hicks' confession of slander, publicly clearing the name of the victim, Margaret Adams.

Albro, Thomas J. 1837
Ballard, James 1830-1832
Briggs, Adeline 1837
Bushnell, Sarah 1832
Clark, Franklin 1827
Crawford, Polly 1837
Duncan, Nelson 1836
Fenner, Martin 1839
Grey, Edward 1833
Gilbert family 1835
Haswell, John 1839
Haynes, Hannah 1824
Hicks, James 1835
Keyes, Horatio 1824
Knap, James 1816
Merrill, Polly 1823-1824
Norton,  Martin E. 1838
Norton, Sally 1833
Perry, Roxanah 1833
Pool, Jacob 1830
Safford, Percis 1824
Scott, Martin 1847
Sheldon, Richard 1835
Wallbridge, Ebenezer 1812-1814
Webster, Mercy 1826
Winchester, Chester 1834
Wood, Ephraim 1809-1811

Miscellaneous records, 1815-1937

This assortment of church records includes several letters of recommendation, requests for delegates to be sent to ordinations and ecclesiastical councils, and ministerial correspondence.

1829 August 7 from the Church of Christ in Manchester to the First Church of Bennington letter requesting attendance at the ordination of Rev. James Anderson
1835 May 25 from the Church of Christ in Newfane to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Margaret Eliot for transfer
1829 July 5  from the Church of Christ in Swanzey to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Olive Crosset for transfer
1833 May 5  from the Church of Christ in Canterbury, N.H. to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Samuel Ingolls and his wife for transfer
1820 June 20 from the Church of Christ in Norwich to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Harriet Peters for transfer
1833 November 1 from the Church of Christ in Manchester to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Mary Woodward for transfer
1834 December 15 from the Church of Christ in Manchester to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Henry Robinson and his wife for transfer
1824 March 27 from the Church of Christ in Pittsfield to the First Church of Bennington letter requesting attendance at the ordination of Rev. Rufus Bailey
1815 October 22 from the Church of Christ in Francestown to the First Church of Bennington letter recommending parishioner Joseph Punchard for transfer
1834 April 18 from the Church of Christ in Williamstown  to the First Church of Bennington letter requesting attendance at ecclesiastical council
1837 February 10 by Rev. Edward Hooker    partial copy of church meeting minutes
1836 August 12 by the Committee relating to Church support of the poor    report with recommendations for charitable contributions
1844 February 26 from the Church of Christ Heath  to the First Church of Bennington letter requesting attendance at ecclesiastical council
1842 September 15 from Joseph N. and Fanny Hinsdill  to Rev. Hooker  letter requesting dismission
1888 January 21 from M.L. Severance  to Deacon Alfred Robinson  letter accepting call to the ministry
1937 April 3 from Albert Varney    typewritten letter soliciting bids to paint the church 
1937 March 23 unknown   typewritten letter tendering resignation as organist
ca. 1875     list of members  

Temperance report, 1836

This report of the Temperance Committee of the First Church was signed in pencil by its three members (Aaron Hubbell, Edward Hooker and Noadiah Swift) on June 17, 1836. The committee was established to present recommendations for adoption by the Congregation. They advised that the First Church institute total abstinence from spirits as a matter of Christian duty, and limit membership to abstaining members only.

 

Special Thanks

These digital resources have been made possible in part by the Council on Library and Information Resources, through a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the Council on Library and Information Resources.

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