A Brief History of our church

An ink drawing of the church.
Research shows that the Connecticut Colonial General Assembly granted the petition for formation of an Ecclesiastical Society in East Hampton, effective November 30, 1748 after sufficient funds were raised.

The Ecclesiastical Society was the legal title for a church in those days, granted by the government of the Colony of Connecticut. As this occurred before the birth of the United States and the formation of the US Constitution there was no separation of Church and State so each locality had to petition the government for a church location. Ecclesiastical Societies had three tasks to perform in those days, granted to the pastor, which were to levy and collect taxes for the benefit of the society and colony, preach the Gospel, and raise and maintain a local militia. The armory (usually gunpowder and shot) for said militia in those days was stored in the undercroft or basement of the church.

The following information regarding the formation of the Congregational Church of East Hampton comes from the Rev. Joel S. Ives, pastor from 1874-1883, taken from the 150th Anniversary book published in 1899:

The petition to the colonial General Assembly granted effective November 30, 1748 which legally brought the church into existence was the third petition to the General Assembly for a church in East Hampton. The first petition was dated April 29, 1743, based on the fact that most of the parishioners were “five miles distant” and “most of us seven mile” from the “place of publick worship”, which was the Middle Haddam Society, most likely sited on Hog Hill Road. The proposed “Society” had raised enough funds to have a person “preach amongst us for more than six months the last year.”

The second petition was sent to “the Honorable Assembly of his Majestyes Colony of Connecticut to be held in New Haven”, dated October 8, 1744. This petition stated that “the former petition was granted and that some of the petitioners are ten miles distant from a place of worship and the Rhoads we are to travel are in very Rough and Bad to Travel in, and while mindful of their poor circumstances they are still hopeful of being able to support a minister, and therefore petition that they be set off as a society” around definitive boundaries that were outlined in the petition.

The third petition was dated April 29, 1746, which declared that certain rights were given in answer to the petition of 1744, and that they had been able to employ a pastor for eleven months each year, and that they were about to build a new meeting house. Realizing that the building of this structure would increase their taxes to the ecclesiastical society of Middle Haddam, they “humbly” requested that they be “sett off from said society and be a distinct ecclesiastical society” unto themselves so that taxes raised from among themselves could benefit their own society and not Middle Haddam’s. At the October session of the Honorable Assembly the right was given to lay a tax of fourpence an acre on all laid-out lands of the society for the “settlement of a minister and the building of a meeting house, full rights of a society having been given and the name of East Hampton having been decided upon.”

At the October 1748 Honorable Session it was reported that the church was “now about to settle the Rev. Norton in the work of ministry among them, and asking liberty of this assembly to embody into church estate”, it was “Resolved that they have the liberty, and are hereby granted liberty to embody into church estate with the approbation of the neighboring churches.” November 30, 1748 was the date that “marks the date of the consummation of that purpose, which had thus been ripening since the spring of 1743, and even earlier, for the first petition shows that there had been regular preaching here in the year 1742.”

Thus was born the Congregational Church of East Hampton.

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