Saturday, October 15, 2011

What I'm Learning

So my quest for knowledge has begun. I'm starting local with a book called The History of Middletown, Vermont. 

The area was inhabited as early as 1761, but it wasn't established as a separate town until 1784, pulling a corner from each of its 4 neighboring towns, Poultney, Ira, Tinmouth, and Wells. Hence the term Middletown. :-D Apparently, the inhabitants had a hard time participating in daily life within their respective towns due to their difficulty getting over the surrounding mountains, so they established the little "valley" at the base of all those mountains as a town unto itself. Fourteen thousand acres hemmed in by mountains on pretty much every side. Cozy.

Thick forest occupied the entire town initially, but Thomas Morgan "made the first clearing", completed the first house, and welcomed the first baby born to Middletown--his son Jonathan. This began the settlement.


Joseph Spaulding is credited with being the founder of Middletown. He was referred to by most of the town as "Captain Spaulding" due to his "leading spirit in getting the town established." He was the surveyor who located the town lines and also gave the town its name. Other credits he earned throughout his life include the following:

  • he served as a lieutenant during the Revolutionary War
  • he taught the first school in Middletown and several others following, the last when he was over 75 years old
  • he was the first captain of the militia in town and held that office during the time of the Shays' rebellion in 1786
  • he lived to be 96 years old and was able to read without glasses throughout his entire life (What a crazy little interesting detail! :-D)
  • (I'm assuming the photo below represents his son based on the dates, but I don't recall the book mentioning him specifically.)

Jonathan Brewster is the acknowledged leader in the formation of the congregational church. (This is our church! Thank you, Mr. Brewster!) It is believed the church first began in May of 1782, although the first written record of meeting notes is dated May 1783. Brewster had a reputation for being an extremely hard worker, so it is fitting to find on his gravestone the following quote: "There remaineth a rest for the people of God." Awesome. He died in 1820 at the age of 76. (Older than America!!!)

Gideon Miner, primarily referred to as "Deacon Miner" due to the respect he garnered within that role at the Congregational Church, was perhaps one of the most influential teachers within the history of our church. Here is a direct quote: "Few men, and we may include clergymen, were more familiar with the Bible than he was, or more capable of explaining and enforcing its doctrines." Deacon Miner and his wife had 11 children and over 30 grandchildren, one of whom (Orlin H., Jr.) was an intimate friend of President Lincoln.

When the first census was taken in 1791, Middletown residents numbered 699. By 1800, due to the industriousness of the inhabitants in building mills, grists, factories, and other businesses leading to job opportunities, the population had grown to 1066. By 1810, the total was up to 1207. At that time, the town businesses included 4 grist mills, 2 saw mills, 2 or 3 forges, 2 distilleries, 2 or 3 clothiers establishments, several mechanics' shops, 2 taverns, and 2 general stores.

Oddly enough, it is entirely likely that Mormonism originated in Middletown with the Wood family, who basically launched their own family religion in 1800 and drew Joseph Smith into their fold through his father when he was just a child. It's a long, very strange story, but their religion involved the use of hazel rods to give them revelations as to where to dig for gold and silver. The practice of this religion led Joseph Smith to claim (this book uses the word "pretend") that he had found "the golden bible" in 1830, at which point he began the establishment of the Mormon religion as it currently exists. Crazy!

Reverend Jesse Caswell was the first foreign missionary to come out of the Middletown Congregational Church. He went to Siam in 1838 to serve as a missionary and teach English to the king. He died there in 1848 at the age of 40, at which time it is said that the king of Siam wept like a child and began a correspondence with Caswell's family which lasted for many years.

On July 22nd of 1811, Middletown suffered such a massive flood that almost all of the major businesses were completely washed away, and most of them never fully recovered, if at all. Primarily due to this incident, the population declined fairly significantly over the next several years, and by the census of 1820, the total number of residents registered was 1039.

Although the Congregational Church was most likely established in 1782 (certainly by 1783), a permanent building wasn't built until 1796. This building still stands on the town green and serves as Middletown Springs Community Church today! (I LOVE that place! :-D) For many years, the church was without a designated minister, during which time the deacons served as teaching pastors under the primary leadership of Jonathan Brewster. Finally in 1805, Reverend Henry Bigelow became the first "settled minister" over the Congregational Church in Middletown. He remained in this role until his death in 1832. 

Shortly after Pastor Bigelow's death, Rev. Stone preached for about 6 months, but was not asked to "settle." Following Stone, Rev. Guy Sampson preached for about 2 years and then moved on to a vocation outside of ministry. Finally in the spring of 1836, Rev. John A. Avery settled over the church, but was eventually dismissed in 1841 to move on to Onondaga, NY. Other documented preachers beginning in 1842 are as follows:
September 1842-May 1844: Rev. B. Reynolds
December 1846-December 1847: Rev. Mr. Payne
Fall 1848-Fall 1855: Rev. John H. Beckwith
1856 (for about 6 months): Rev. Enoch Caswell
Fall 1858-April 1864: Rev. Calvin Granger (It was during Rev. Granger's ministry that an addition of 16 feet was added to the front of the church, which included a spire and a bell.)
September 1865-September 1866: Rev. M. Martin
Fall 1866-(not sure how long he was there as he was listed as the "present pastor" when this book was originally published in 1867): Rev. G. Myrick

The Baptist Church in Middletown was organized in 1784. It was a large church from 1790 until 1802, drawing members from all 4 of the surrounding towns of Ira, Tinmouth, Wells and Poultney. However, in 1802, a large percentage of the congregation then living in Poultney left to form a church in their own town. The church was without a pastor until 1790, when they called Rev. Sylvanus  Haynes to settle with them, and he accepted. Rev. Haynes served in this role until 1817, when he moved to New York. Those who came behind him are as follows:
1817-1819: Rev. Seth Ewens
1821-1828: Rev. Isaac Bucklin
1828-1832: There was no "settled" pastor, but Rev. Mr. Fuller, Rev. Linus J. Reynolds and Rev. G.B. Day each provided teaching during this period
1834-1837: Rev. Mr. Soullard
1838 (for only about 6 months): Rev. Mr. Haskell
1839-1841: Rev. E. B. Bullard (He left to become a missionary in Birmah and eventually died there.)
1841-1845: Rev. Robert Myers
1846-1849: Rev. R. O. Dwyer
1849-1850: Rev. M. J. Smith
1850-1852: Rev. J. J. Peck
1855-1860: Rev. Beriah N. Leach, D. D.
Rev. Mr. Frenyear preached for a short time after Rev. Leach left, and Rev. Thomas Tobin was the current pastor when this book was originally published in 1867.

Widespread financial woes in 1839 led to the decline of many farms and businesses in Middletown during the next decade. This resulted in a severe population reduction over the next several years. By the census of 1860, the total inhabitant count was down to 712. After 1860, the town became essentially an agricultural town, primarily focused on dairy farming. The Middletown Cheese Manufacturing Company was organized in the spring of 1864 and quickly became a very successful business. In 1866, they recorded receiving 1,707,814 pounds of milk, which created 173,970 pounds of cheese. This resulted in $30,383 in gross receipts.

This book was originally written in 1867, so the "history" stops there for now. Also, I should note that there are some fascinating stories about some of these people which are far too long to summarize in a blog post, but I certainly recommend this book very highly to any and all Middletown (or near and around Middletown) residents. And maybe those of you who have been here awhile can help me connect some dots. :-D Until then, I'll just keep reading.

Side note: I've walked through the Middletown cemetery before, but I went back this morning thinking that it would take on a different meaning now that I am a bit more familiar with some of the names. I'm sad that I couldn't find some of the specific stones I was looking for in the cemetery--especially Jonathan Brewster. Some of them weren't readable anymore, but it's still stirring to walk through there and think about some of their stories with a bit more clarity. I'm enamored.

Next up in my quest:  David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winner 1776.

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