Belchertown Congregational Church, 1891, Historical Sketch


This church was organized, as nearly as can now be determined, in the spring of 1737. What, is known respecting it, prior to February 26, 1756, is gathered from other sources than its records.

Samuel Bascom, Benjamin Stebbins and Aaron Lyman from Northampton, John Bardwell and Jonathan Graves of Hatfield, were pioneer settlors of the place. To these names the following persons must be added as the probable original male members of the church: John Smith, Ebenezer Bridgman, Moses Hannum, Eliakim Phelps, Joseph Bardwell, Nathaniel Dwight, Oliver Smith, Joseph Bridgman, Thomas Graves, Benjamin Billings, Stephen Crawfoot, Joseph King, and Robert Brown.

The subject of erecting a meeting-house was brought up in 1737. A year after, the building was ready for use, though not finished till 1746, and then "done in a manner suited to their embarrassed circumstances."

The house now occupied as a place of public worship was erected in 1789, the birth year of our Constitutional Republic, but it was not dedicated till September 12, 1792. In 1828, during Dr. Coleman's ministry, it was much enlarged, and the interior entirely reconstructed at an expense of over $3,000. Again, in 1850, during the ministry of Dr. Wolcott, it was remodeled and better adapted to the wants of the minister and congregation. It was put into its present condition in the summer of 1872, being reconstructed and refurnished at a cost of $7,000. It was rededicated September 12, 1872, on the eightieth anniversary of its first dedication. The exercises of the occasion included a sermon by the pastor, Rev. P. W. Lyman, an historical address by Rev. G. A. Oviatt, and dedicatory prayer by Rev. H. B. Blake, former pastors.

The Brainerd Church was organized September 30, 1834; between ninety and a hundred persons were then, or shortly after, dismissed from the First Church to constitute it. It continued a separate existence until August 31, 1841, when, with about a hundred and eighty members, it was reunited to the parent church, its pastor, Rev. G. A. Oviatt, becoming the pastor of the united people.

About 1815 persons have been members of this church since its organization.


The first pastor of this church was Rev. Edward Billing, a native of Sunderland, and a graduate of Harvard College. He accepted the call, in a letter dated February 22, 1739, and was probably ordained in April, 1739. He was dismissed in April, 1752. In 1754, ho became the first pastor of the church in Greenfield, where he died about the year 1757.

Rev. Justus Forward, the second pastor, was born in Suffield, Ct., May 11, 1730; graduated from Yale College in 1754; taught school in Hatfield, where he studied theology; was licensed to preach in the fall of 1755, and was ordained February 25, 1756. He was solo pastor till March, 1812, when a colleague was settled. He died March 8, 1814, in the fifty-ninth year of his ministry, and the eighty-fourth year of his age, having followed to the grave more than nine hundred of his people. During his ministry three hundred and eighty members were received into the church, of whom two hundred and ninety-four joined on profession of faith. Several revivals of religion occurred during his connection with the church—the most remarkable of which was in the years 1785-6.

Rev. Experience Porter, the third pastor, was a native of Lebanon, N. H. ; graduated from Dartmouth College in 1803 ; was tutor in Middlebury College one year; studied theology with Rev. Asahel Hooker in Goshen, Ct. ; was ordained over the church in Winchester, N. H., November 12, 1807, and settled over this church early in 1812. He retained his pastorate till March 9, 1825. During these thirteen years four hundred and twenty-five persons were received into the church, three hundred and forty-five of them on profession. This was about equal to the whole number added during the previous eighty years. Two remarkable revivals occurred during his ministry. In 1813, one hundred and seven persons were added to the church upon profession, and from the fall of 1818 through 1819, two hundred and eight persons united with it. Mr. Porter died August 25, 1828.

Rev. Lyman Coleman, the fourth pastor, was born in Middlefield, June 14, 1796; graduated from Yale College in 1817; taught three years in the Latin Grammar School at Hartford, Ct.; was a tutor in Yale College four years and a half. While there he studied theology, and was ordained here, October 19, 1825, and was dismissed in September, 1832, having received one hundred and seventy-eight persons into the church, of whom one hundred and thirty-three were upon profession of faith. This was his only pastorate and he ever retained a peculiar affection for this people. After a period of many years and during his last sickness he sent this pathetic message, "Have pity upon me, O ye my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me." After his dismission here he was Principal of Burr Seminary, Vt., also of the English department of Phillips Academy in Andover, a teacher in Amherst, Mass., and Philadelphia, Pa., Professor of German in Princeton College from which he received the degree of D. D. He was the author of several valuable works upon Sacred Geography and subjects connected with Christian Antiquities. His last work was done in Lafayette College, Easton, Pa., where he was teacher of Ancient Languages, and in which place he died, March 16, 1882.

Rev. Jared Reid, the fifth pastor, was born in Preston, Ct., February, 1788 ; graduated from Yale College, 1817 ; studied theology at Andover; licensed to preach, April, 1822; was settled in the ministry at Reading, November 20,1823 ; dismissed in 1833. He was installed here September 4, 1833; and was dismissed January 6, 1841. He then removed to Tiverton, R. I., where he preached from 1841-51, when he retired on account of failing health. He died in that, place, June 17, 1854.

Rev. George A. Oviatt, the sixth pastor, was a native of Bridgeport, Ct.; graduated at Yale College, 1835 ; where he also studied theology. He was ordained pastor of the Brainerd Church in this place, August 28, 1838; when (upon the resignation of Mr. Reid) the two churches were reunited, he was invited to become their pastor, and was installed over this church, August 31, 1841, and dismissed July, 1845. He then spent four years in Boston, one year as secretary of the Sunday School Union, and three years in mission work. The Shawmut Church was organized as the result of his labors. he was pastor of the Third Church in Chicopee, five years, and of the church in Somers, over eleven years. While there he enlisted in the Union army and became chaplain of the Twenty-fifth Ct. Regiment. After a number of months in the service he nearly lost his life through severe illness, from which he never fully recovered. Returning home he gained sufficient strength after a time to resume his ministerial work at Somers, where he labored until called in 1867 to organize and become pastor of the church in Talcottville, Ct. Here he labored nearly eight years, when he was called to Sud-bury, where his labors continued until 1882 ; when he resigned on account of the delicate state of his health, he died in that place June 1, 1887, at the age of 76.

Rev. John Clancey, the seventh pastor, was born in Johnstown, N. Y., 1793. He graduated from Middlebury College, 1818; studied theology at Andover. After spending one or two years as Home Missionary, he was settled in Charlton, N. Y., where he remained twenty years. He was installed over this church February 25, 1846, and remained until March 27, 1849. He then returned to Charlton, and for six years supplied neighboring churches. He was then settled in Florida, N. Y., where he preached five years until failing health compelled him to resign his pastorate, he then removed to Schenectady where he spent the last fourteen years of his life. He died Sept. 9, 1876.

Rev. Samuel Wolcott, the eighth pastor, was born in what is now .South Windsor, Ct., July, 1813; he graduated from Yale College in 1833 ; completed theological study at Andover in 1837. For two years afterward, he assisted the Secretary of the A. B. C. F. M. Nov. 13, 1839, he was ordained and went to Syria as a missionary. He continued his labors in that region till January, 1843, when, on account of the death of his wife, and the unsettled condition of affairs in Syria, he returned to America. In August, 1843, he became pastor of the church in Longmeadow, from which he was dismissed in December, 1847. He was installed over this church, October 2, 1849, and dismissed March 29, 1853. A noteworthy revival visited the church during the first year of his ministry here, and 100 were added to the church, 19 on profession of faith. After leaving this church, he was pastor of a church in Providence, R. I., for six years and a half; then spent two years in connection with the New England church in Chicago, Ill. He was settled over Plymouth church, Cleveland, Ohio, from 1862 to 1874. He then became Secretary of the Ohio Home Missionary Society, and held this position until May, 1881. He received the degree of S. T. D. from Marietta College, in 1863. He was a member of the first Cong'l Council, in 1865, and of the five succeeding Councils. He wrote a number of hymns, of which the best known is, "Christ for the world we sing." In 1885 he removed to Longmeadow, where he died, February 24, 1886.

Rev. Henry B. Blake, the ninth pastor, was born at Winchester, Ct., May 20, 1817; united with the Cong'l church there in 1832 ; graduated at Williams College in 1841, and at the Theological Institute of Ct., at East Windsor Hill in 1844. He was ordained and installed pastor at South Coventry, Ct., January 1, 1845, and settled over the Village Church in that place, May 15, 1850. Being dismissed in 1855, he was installed here June 26, 1855, where his pastorate continued ten years, during which time 89 persons were added to the church on profession of faith. He resided in town till 1869. From 1869 to 1876 he was engaged in missionary and educational work at Wilmington, N. C., among both the white and colored people, where he was the first Superintendent of City Schools. He was acting pastor of the First Church in West Springfield from 1878 to 1879, and January 14, 1880, he was installed at Cummington, Mass., where he died, May 23, 1884. His funeral occurred on the 25th, on which day Rev. P. W. Lyman pronounced a eulogy on his life and character, in a memorial sermon at Belchertown, which has since been published. Mr. Blake married Mary R. Wolcott at Agawam, Mass., September 23, 1842, who with one son survives him.

Rev. W. W. Woodworth, D. D., the tenth pastor, was born at Cromwell, Ct., October 16, 1813 ; graduated from Yale College in 1838; from Andover Theological Seminary in 1841. He was pastor at Berlin, Ct., 1842-52; at Waterbury, Ct., 1852-58; stated supply at Mansfield, Ohio, 1858-60; at the Olivet Church, Springfield, 1860-62 ; at Plymouth, 1862-64 ; at Painsville, Ohio, 1864-66. He was installed over this church May 16, 1866, and dismissed May 4, 1870. During his ministry here 85 were added to the church 58 on profession of faith. He was pastor at Grinnell, Iowa, from 1870 to 1875, and at Berlin, Ct., his first and also his last pastorate, from 1875 to 1800. His death occurred there, June 14, 1890. Soon after his dismissal hero, a revival visited the church, and during the year the church was without a pastor, 34 were added to it.

Rev. Payson W. Lyman, the eleventh pastor, was born at Easthampton, February 28, 1842 ; graduated from Amherst College, 1867, and from Union Theological Seminary, N. Y., in 1870. After preaching a short time in Ashfield, he was ordained and installed pastor over this church May 10, 1871, where he labored for sixteen years, his pastorate being the longest since the establishment of this church, with one exception,that of Rev. Justus Forward. During his ministry there were 143 additions to the church. He was dismissed June 2, 1887, and installed pastor of the Third Cong'l Church of Fall River, February 20, 1889.

Rev. Charles H. Smith, the twelfth pastor, was born in Abington, town of Pomfret, Ct., April 11, 1861; (fitted for College at Amherst High School) graduated from Amherst College, 1884, and Hartford Theological Seminary 1887. He preached at Shutesbury, Mass. two years while in College, 1882-84, and at Burlington, Ct., 1885-87, while in the Seminary. Was ordained, but not installed, in this place Nov. 1, 1887.

1. "Historical Sketch", Manual of the Congregational Church, Belchertown, Mass., 1891, pages 3-10.
See Also
Belchertown Congregational 1891 Church Manual

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