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History of Ryegate, Vermont
Chapter XIII


THE ASSOCIATE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

EARLY CHURCH GOING —THEOLOGICAL METAPHYSICS.—EARLY MINISTERS.—REV. DAVID GOODWILLIE.—ORDINATION OF REV. THOS. FERRIER.—REV. W M. PRINGLE.—THE DISRUPTION-—REV. JAMES MCARTHUR.—RE-UNION.—LATER PASTORS.—SUNDAY SCHOOLS.—CHURCH EDIFICES.

THE colonists of Ryegate brought from Scotland a love for the Sabbath and the ministrations of the gospel, with a profound reverence for the doctrines and order of government of the Presbyterian church. They regarded no toil too hard, no sacrifice too great, to the end that religion and morality might be established and perpetuated in the new colony among the Vermont hills. For some years they were favored only occasionally with preaching on the Sabbath, and many resorted to Newbury, a distance of about ten miles from the center of the town, to hear the discourses of Rev. Peter Powers.

In an historical discourse delivered at Newbury in 1831 by Rev. Clark Perry he said, "Not only men but women also came on foot from what is now called Ryegate Corner, and even as far as the ten mile tree, [The "ten mile tree," was in Barnet, on the Harvey tract. The meeting-house at Newbury was opposite the Oxbow cemetery at that time.] that they might have opportunity to worship the God of their fathers in the public congregation. When the ladies came to Wells River there being no canoe, they would bare their feet and trip it through as nimbly as the deer. The men generally went barefooted, the ladies certainly wore shoes." Mr. Powers held frequent week day services in Ryegate, but with both Newbury and Haverhill in his charge, he could have given little time to this town, as he was the only minister for many miles up and down the river. "Those who did not find it convenient to attend church at Newbury held meetings for prayer and Christian conference, and attended to the religious instruction of their children."

As we have before stated, the first settlers were from the established church of Scotland, or from that body of seceders known as the Associate Synod. As there was no established church in America, the causes for separation had no existence here, and the colonists united in forming the Associate Presbyterian church. A few of them held Covenanting views, and connected themselves with that body after the arrival of Rev. Wm. Gibson.

NOTE: The authorities for this chapter are: Rev. J. A. McKirahan’s sketch.—Mr. Miller's notes and abstracts of session records.—Historical sketch of the Associate church in Barnet.—Life of Rev. James Clarkson.—Minutes of Synod.Personal information.

This is not the place to inquire concerning the theological differences which caused the formation of two distinct branches of the Presbyterian church here in Ryegate in those early days, or even to state the points of difference. They originated in Scotland and are part of its history. A careful and precise definition of the views held a century ago by Covenanters and by Associate Presbyterians, would present doctrinal points of controversy which could hardly be understood by people of our time. Any one who will undertake to read and comprehend the treatise of Rev. James Milligan upon the controversy between the Associate and the Reformed Congregations of Ryegate and Barnet, will be perplexed by what would seem to us metaphysical subtleties, which could have no bearing upon every day life. Yet there were plenty of people in both towns a century ago who understood and could define these points of difference down to the minutest particular, and could give what seemed to them good and sufficient reasons why the doctrines held by their opponents were illogical and unscriptural. We can only comprehend the eagerness with which people pursued these inquiries into abstruse points of theology by attributing it to the tendency of the Scottish mind for metaphysics, and the further fact that people in those days had more time for such things than we have.

It is believed that the Associate Presbyterian church, which in 1858 became United Presbyterian, was organized before 1779, but as the early records are lost, and the particular circumstances of its formation with them, we can only conjecture concerning them. Rev. Peter Powers, who had great influence in Ryegate and was a member and clerk of the Grafton presbytery, organized Presbyterian churches in Peacharn, Bath and other towns, and the circumstance that in the year mentioned the Rye-gate people applied to Newbury to obtain a part of his services in their town, leads us to think that their church may have been organized through his instrumentality, perhaps under the direction and possibly under the oversight of Dr. Witherspoon himself.

We have mentioned in the previous chapter the services of several who preached in Ryegate before there was any settled ministry, but the flames of all have not come down to us. Dr. Witherspoon, whose interest in the colony ceased only with his death, visited the town in 1776, again in 1782 and 1786. At each visit he preached and baptized children. Rev. Mr. Clark was permitted by his congregation at Cambridge, N. Y., to spend some time in this town and Barnet, in 1785. In 1786 both towns requested supplies from the Associate Reformed Presbytery of Londonderry, and Rev. John Houston was appointed, and instructed to ordain elders over them. This statement, made by Rev. Thomas Goodwillie, would seem to imply that there had been some irregularity in the formation of the church, if organized seven years before, and yet without duly ordained elders. In 1788, by appointment of the Presbytery of Pennsylvania, Rev. Thomas Beveridge came and labored several months. In the next year Rev. David Goodwillie came from Scotland, was induced to visit Barnet, and received a call on the 5th of July, 1790, to become the minister of that congregation. As the people of Ryegate expected to receive part of his services, the call was concurred in by the following persons on the part of the congregation in this town: John Gray and Andrew Brock, Elders; William Neilson, Alexander Miller, James Henderson, William Neilson, 2d, James McKinley, John Wallace, James Neilson, Hugh Gardner, and William Gray. Mr. Goodwillie was installed over the Barnet congregation Feb. 6, 1791, and gave to the Ryegate people one sixth of his time and services for thirty-two years. He was a remarkable man and the ancestor of a distinguished family. Under his charge the church prospered, growing steadily in numbers and ability. "He was diligent in preaching, pastoral visitation, and public catechisings, and in that long period failed to keep his appointments but twice, when prevented by sickness." It is supposed that about 150 were added during his ministry.

In July, 1798, Rev. Thomas Beveridge came to assist Mr. Good willie at the sacrament, was taken sick and died and is buried in the churchyard at Barnet Center, where the congregation of Cambridge, N. Y., erected a monument to his memory.

In those early days the ministers of the Associate church were few in number, and often went long distances to assist one another in the four days meetings held in connection with the sacrament. Rev. James Clarkson, who was for thirty-eight years pastor of the Associate church at Chanceford, Pa., near the Maryland border, 80 miles southwest of Philadelphia, rode on horseback to Barnet to assist Mr. Goodwillie on such an occasion in the first year of his settlement, and the latter returned the compliment. Similar journeys and exchanges were made by Revs. Thomas Goodwillie, Alexander Bullions, and William Pringle. Rev. David Gordon, whom we shall mention later, was minister at Chanceford before he came to Ryegate.

A great-granddaughter of the Rev. James Clarkson was the wife of Rev. John L. Merrill, pastor, 1860—’65 of the Presbyterian church at Chanceford, and 1891-1901 of the Congregational church at Newbury. Mr. Merrill gives us this interesting circumstance.

It will be remembered that in 1799, at a special town meeting called to decide the ecclesiastical relations of the town, 33 voted to settle Rev. Mr. Gibson of the Reformed Presbyterian church, and 13 voted no. It was to these dissenters and their families that Mr. Goodwillie ministered till about 1820.

The congregation now felt able to support a minister of its own, and Rev. Thomas Ferrier having preached acceptably, the following call was presented to him by Rev. Peter Bullions, who had been appointed by the Associate Presbytery of Cambridge to moderate the call:

We the Elders and other members of the Associate Congregation of Ryegate, in full Communion, who have acceded to the Lord’s cause aforesaid and Maintained by the Associated Preshytery of Cambridge, as subordinate to the Associate Synod of North America: Taking into our serious consideration the great loss we suffer from the want of a full Gospel Ministry among us, and being fully satisfied from opportunities of enjoying your public ministrations among us that the great Head of the Church has bestowed upon you, Mr. Thomas Ferrier, Preacher of the Gospel, under the inspection of the Associate Synod of North America, such ministerial gifts and endowments as through the Divine blessing may be profitable for our edification.

We therefore call, and beseech you to come to us and help us, by taking the charge and oversight of this congregation, to labor in it, and watch over it, as our fixed Pastor: And on your acceptance of this our call, we promise you all due support, respect, encouragement and obedience in the Lord. Moreover, we beseech and entreat the Reverend Presbytery to whom we present this call, to sustain this the same and to take all steps necessary to your settlement among us with all convenient speed.

In testimony whereof we have subscribed this our call this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord 1821, before the witnesses subscribiug:

William Gibson, Walter Gilfillan, Andrew Buchanan, Robert Gibson, David Warden, George Nelson, George Smith, William Warden, James Neilson, John Gibson, James Barr, Alex. Henderson, Elders, William Mason, James Henderson, William Gray, Alex. Gibson, Robert Gibson, 2d, Peter McLaughlin Andrew Warden, William Henderson, Wm. Gilfillan, 3d, Robert Gibson. Wm. Gibson. Jun., Wm. Nelson Jun., Peter Gibson, James Gibson, James Dunsyre.

In presence of witnesses. John Gilfillan, John Wallace

That the above 27 subscriptions are genuine, and done in my presence this Oct. 8. 1821, is attested by Peter Bullions, Moderator. [Town Records, Vol. III, pp. 69, 70.]

The call was laid before the Presbytery, May 24, 1822, and tendered to Mr. Ferrier at Philadelphia and accepted by him. He was ordained at Ryegate, Sept. 28, 1822, the sermon being preached by Rev. Mr. Good-Willie, other parts being taken by Revs. Peter and Alexander Bullions,

Rev. Miller and Rev. Mr. White.[It may he interesting to readers of this age of rapid movement to note the deliberation with which the steps looking to the settlement of Mr. Ferrier over the Congregation of Ryegate were taken. Here are the several acts by the different parties with the date of each.] His salary was to be $300, a house and twenty acres of land. Some difficulty about securing a parsonage led to his resignation in 1825. Mr. Miller says that he was a very polished speaker, but too fastidious for his people. Sixteen members were admitted during his ministry. He seems to have demitted the charge about the time the new church was built. There is no record of services at its dedication.

The congregation now having a meeting-house of its own was prospering, but it was four years before they settled another pastor and were supplied by various ministers during brief periods, some of them being Revs. Perrier, Bullions, Goodwillie, Wm. Gibson who are mentioned in the records.

NOTE BY REV. J. A. MCKIRAHAN.

1. Petition from the elders of the Ryegate church for the moderation of a call presented to the Presbytery at Cambridge, N. Y., Aug. 27, 1821.

2. Presbytery in session at Cambridge, Rev. Peter Bullions reported the moderation of a call at Ryegate for Mr. Ferrier. Clerk of Pres. appointed to notify Mr. Ferrier; Mr. Bullions the Congregation.

3. Phil. Pa., May 24, 1822—nine months after the first step was taken—the call presented to Mr. Ferrier, and he asked for time to consider it.

4. May 27, three days later Mr. Ferrier formally accepted the call.

5. Aug. 28, 1822, one year from the first step Pres. met at Cambridge N. and ordained Mr. Ferrier to the office of the ministry.

6. Ryegate, Vt., Sept. 28, 1862—thirteen months from the inception of the whole matter Mr. Ferrier was formally installed pastor of the Congregation at Ryegate.

Rev. William Pringle, who had preached acceptably during several months, received a call, which Rev. Alex. Bullions was appointed to present before the presbytery, April 20, 1829.

He was installed pastor, June 29, 1830, and the son of a distinguished minister in Scotland, was a man of more than ordinary ability, and the church was very prosperous during some years. About a year before his ordination the society decided to build a parsonage, and Alex. Henderson, Alex. Gibson and John Nelson were chosen a committee for that purpose. This parsonage which was taken down some years ago, was built in the winter of 1829—30.

We now reach an event in the history of the church which it would be much pleasanter to pass over in silence, now that nearly all who had any part in its proceedings have long ceased to care for them. But it is a part, not only of the history of the town and the church, but of the Associate Presbyterian church in North America, and we think we may, without grieving any one, give the general outlines of this unfortunate controversy. It began more than seventy years ago, lasted through many years, and was a serious obstacle to the moral and religious welfare of the community. The only lesson that can be drawn from it is that good men are not always wise. The present pastor has outlined the difficulty in a few sentences—.

Until 1838 the course of the church was even and undisturbed. It grew in membership, and maintained religious services after the manner and spirit of the old church in Scotland, many of the older members having come from that land, and others in the years that followed the permanent organization of the church. But in that year trouble arose in the Presbytery (of Cambridge, N. Y.) which for years seriously affected the churches of Ryegate and Barnet. In the spirit of modern days we may wonder how such trouble could have arisen. It had its origin in Scotland over a matter of practice purely local. The Burgess’ Oath, in some six cities in Scotland, required a declaration of belief in, and acceptance of, "the present religion" of the country. The Associate church had seceded from the Established church because of corruptions which they declared existed in the Establishment.

The dispute concerned the meaning of the phrase—"the present religion," one party maintaining that it meant the Established church, on account of whose corruptions they had separated from it; the other, that it meant the Protestant, or opposed to the Roman Catholic church.

It seems evident that such a controversy could not be of any possible interest to the church in America. But its doctrinal feature was taken up, and engaged the attention of the church in this country during a series of years. In 1838 Rev. Alexander Bullions, D. D., of Coila, N. Y., was debarred from the ministry for alleged heretical views on the matter. The congregations of Barnet and Ryegate were also erected into a new Presbytery, called the Vermont Presbytery, by the Synod in the same year. The pastors were, one a brother-in-law, and one a son-in-law, of Dr. Bullions.[Dr. Bullions married Mary, daughter of Rev. David Goodwillie of Barnet, and Sister of Rev. Thomas Goodwillie. In 1830 the Ryegate minister, Rev. Wm. Pringle, married a daughter of Dr. Bullions.] The Vermont Presbytery restored Dr. Bullions to the office of the ministry. Then the Synod dissolved the presbytery, and deposed the ministers. Party spirit ran high, and involved other congregations. New presbyteries and a new synod were formed, maintaining a separate and independent organization. The congregations of Ryegate and Barnet were both divided, and Rev. James McArthur served that part of both churches which remained with the old presbytery. His pastorate extended from 1846 to 1853. In 1854, the whole matter was dropped, the two synods were re-united without confession or removal or acts of discipline by, or on, anybody. In the Union of 1858, all became United Presbyterians in a strict sense.

Mr. Miller’s abstract of session records shows that in 1830 there were 112 members, and that between that date and 1840, 64 had been added and 13 dismissed.

Those who adhered to the decree of synod convened Oct. 11, 1840, and the session was constituted by Rev. David Gordon, whom we have mentioned before and who supplied the congregation for a time. The elders were John, Alexander, and James Gibson, George Nelson and Andrew Warden. The number of members who presented themselves was 46, of whom 24 were named Gibson, and from the number of persons of that name connected with it, this organization was often called the "Gibson" party, as well as the "Synod" party. They were without a settled pastor for some time, but in 1846 Rev. James McArthur came and was ordained and installed on the 11th of September at Barnet village, over the united congregations of Rvegate and Barnet. Mr. McArthur was born at Cambridge, N. Y., Jan. 8, 1815, and educated at Franklin college, receiving his theological training at Canonsburgh, Pa. His salary was $400, one-half of which was paid by the Ryegate people. The admissions to his church during his pastorate were 40 in Ryegate and 37 in Barnet, and he married 57 couples.

His wife was a Miss McNab of Johnstown, N. Y., whom he married in the year he came here. They lived for some time in the family of Dea. John Gibson and then resided in a house which he bought at Mclndoes, where some of his congregation lived. Several of his children, of whom there were seven, were born there, one of whom became a Presbyterian minister in Illinois. Mr. McArthur resigned near the close of 1857, but continued to preach here occasionally till the end of September in the next year. He removed to Illinois where he filled several pastorates and was also a county superintendent of schools. He died in Walton, Kansas, Oct. 9, 1887. "He was," says Mr. Miller, "a man of good, fair abilities, a faithful minister of the gospel, very exemplary in his conduct, and highly respected wherever known."

The party which adhered to Mr. Pringle kept possession of the church and parsonage, while the Synod party held public worship where they could for some years, and, in 1850, formed articles of association with the Covenanters under which both combined to build a church on the east side of the street. Thus during several years there were two rival congregations, worshipping in church edifices on oppposite sides of the same country road, not differing in the slightest particular in either creed or manner of church government, and separated by their views concerning events occurring in Scotland, with which neither party had the slightest thing to do. It was of these two divisions of the Associate church that Dr. Bullions spoke when asked the difference between them replied, "Oh, in one they sing David’s Psalms, and in the other they sing the Psalms of David."

The asperities of the period are softened in our view by a circum stance related in the United Presbyterian of July 2, 1908, by Rev. Dr. Scott: "In 1840 the Synod sent a commission of three ministers, all of whom afterward became theological professors, to deal with the Presbytery of Vermont, pastors and people. The meeting was appointed for July 10th in Mr. Goodwillie’s church in Barnet. The people received the commission in no very friendly spirit. The Rev. James Martin had prepared a notable sermon on ‘The duty of submission to church rulers’ for the oecasion. He had taken a severe cold on his journey, was seized with a hemorrhage and when he stood up to begin his sermon the blood gushed from his mouth. The audience looked upon it as a judgment because he had come to depose their pastor. Dr. Goodwillie, however, took him to his own home, and he and his family tenderly nursed him for, several weeks until able to return to his home in Albany." The sermon was never delivered. In 1861, the union being accomplished between the two factions, the Synod party sold their interest in the latter house to the Covenanters.

The part of the congregation which remained with Mr. Pringle continued to hold regular services with fair attendance and success. In 1844 a number of persons from Greensborough joined the church and were with others formed into an Associate Presbyterian church, June 5, 1845. The new synod, which included those portions of the Ryegate and Barnet congregations which adhered to Rev. Dr. Bullions, assumed the name of the Associate Synod of North America and embraced four presbyteries containing in 1852, twenty-one congregations, eight of which were in New York, six in Illinois, three in Vermont, and one each in Ohio and Rhode Island, numbering 2658 communicants. Several overtures to draw these dissidents into other branches of the Presbyterian church seem to have been made, notably one from the General Assembly which at the meeting of the synod in 1852 was declined in the following resolution.

"That we will not unite with any body who do not sing the psalms of inspiration, or who sing anything else than the psalms, or until we have examined it, who do not sing our version of psalms."

Mr. Pringle resigned in 1852. A further account of him and his family will appear later. After his resignation the divided forces of the church began to unite, and the breach was gradually healed, to the joy and relief of both parties, which had wearied of the long contest which brought no good to either side. The two Associate Synods were formally re-united at a joint session in Albany, N. Y., May 31, 1854. In 1858, the union between the Associate, and Associate Reformed Synods, was consummated, and the Associate Presbyterian church of Ryegate Was thenceforth known as the United Presbyterian church.

During the five years which followed Mr. McArthur’s resignation the church was supplied by several ministers, whose names are not all remembered. Rev. Mr. Blaikie was here in 1859, during several months, and other ministers before and after him. Mr. George M. Wiley was the next pastor by installation. He came here in July, 1863, and was installed Oct. 12th, and resigned in March 1868, to become pastor of a church at West Hebron, N. Y. Mr. Wiley married Miss Ella M. Gray, and a more complete record of his life will be among the annals of the Gray family. His successor was Rev. William Bruce, from the north of Ireland, who came here in May, 1868, was ordained and installed on the 1st of October. He resigned his charge August 10, 1870. Mr. Bruce died in 1888, having been blind many years. Rev. Hugh Brown, who supplied here a few weeks in 1860, returned in 1870, and occupied the pulpit till the spring of 1872.

Mr. Brown was followed by Rev. Alexander Young Houston, who began to preach here in the fall of 1873. Mr. Houston was born in Ohio in 1824, graduated from Franklin College in 1852, and studied theology two years in Canonsburg Seminary. He was installed here Feb. 13, 1873. In March, 1872, he was badly hurt by a tree falling on him in Hugh Gibson’s woods. His health breaking, he resigned about a year later, and the pulpit was declared vacant. He died in New Wilmington, Pa., Aug. 20, 1891, having been in the ministry about 35 years, including some time in the Christian Commission during the civil war. Mr. Houston’s successor was Rev. James B. Clapperton, born in Delaware Co., N. Y., in 1836, and graduated at Westminster College and Alleghany Seminary. He was installed here June 9, 1876, and resigned June 20, 1881, returning to New York state. His successors have been Rev. G. T. Galbraith, 1884—85; Daniel Harris, 1886—94; F. A. Collins, 1895—1904; Rev. J. A. McKirahan, the present pastor, installed January, 1906.

The first elders were Andrew Brock and John Gray. Their successors so far as can be ascertained have been: 1817, William Gibson and George Smith; 1820, Robert Gibson, John Gibson and Andrew Warden; 1830, Wm. Henderson, Alexander Henderson; 1832, George Nelson, James Gibson, Alexander Gibson; 1843, Andrew Laughlin, Nathan Batchelder; 1873, Wm. J. Gibson, A. B. Pringle, John F. Nelson, W, L. Somers; 1856, Robert Symes, Robert Gibson, Hugh G. Miller; 1867, Robert Dalrymple; 1888, W. T. McLam, R. J. Nelson, F. W. Whitehill, J. E. Crown.

The Associate Presbyterian congregations of Ryegate and Barnet belonged to the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania, from the time that these congregations applied to that Presbytery for a minister till May 21, 1801, when the Associate Synod of North America was organized, and they were included in the Associate Presbytery of Cambridge, N. Y., then formed. On July 10, 1840, the Associate Presbytery of Vermont was constituted at Barnet by Rev. Thomas Goodwillie. Since May, 1858, the Vermont Presbytery has belonged to the General Assemblv of the United Presbyterian church of North America.

Very little can be ascertained respecting the beginning of Sunday Schools connected with the church. The older people did not favor them, considering that parents should instruct their children, instead of leaving the duty to others, and it was not until Sunday Schools had been long established in other towns, that a few children were gathered for instruction during the interval of Sabbath services. But the innovation soon became a fixed feature, yet Sunday Schools do not seem to have been considered a part of the church work, as no allusion to them is made in the session records till about forty years ago, and the first mention of them is of a restrictive nature, in decreeing that the Sunday School papers should not be given out upon the Sabbath. In later years the school became an important part of church work, constantly increasing in scope and value. Societies for the study and support of missions, temperance and religious training of the young have shared its benevolent care.

We have mentioned that this church was by vote of the town, entitled to occupy the old meeting-house a certain number of Sabbaths in each year. In 1825, the congregation erected a church edifice, the first building in the town dedicated wholly to religious purposes. This house of worship served the society for 65 years, when the present church was built, and dedicated. It contains many features which are indications of the changes which have taken place as to the view which the church now takes of its mission in the community.


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