Doing family research this week brought home how unique Connecticut was in its relationship with religion, and the influence it had on the congregation's daily life.
I grew up in a small rural town in northern New Jersey and was reading the history of the town and how it evolved. My ancestors moved to the area before 1800 and acquired large parcels of land which they farmed, and later divided between sons and grandsons. People of many nationalities, although primarily Northern European, came for the rich farmland, water power and minerals. The Dutch Reformed came from the north, the English Presbyterian and Methodists from the east and the German Lutherans from the southeast - a variety of cultures, religions and trades. Indeed the first church building in my town was a "Free Church" and shared by several congregations.
Contrast that to Connecticut settled in the 1600's by English Puritan congregations moving together from the Boston area or from England, each to create their own town around their church. Thomas Hooker is the best known example of a religious leader who brought his congregation first from England to Cambridge and then to the wilderness to settle Hartford. Most of the early towns in mid state and along the shoreline were similarly settled. The church was first, the government grew around that core and the state came together out of necessity from concern about the Indians and later the French.
As we know support of the Congregational Church was written into the Connecticut constitution and was not changed until well into the 1800's. So as civilization spread away from the Connecticut River Valley to Bolton, North Bolton and Vernon the religious culture went with it. Thus, when North Bolton, the future Vernon, became its own parish and built its own meetinghouse religion was central to the settler's life.
Doing a little light* reading this week in Cole's "History of Tolland County" I came across an example that started this whole line of thought. In 1787 John Skinner, Jr. brought a complaint before the Bolton Justice of the Peace that Ozias Humphrey of Simsbury "not having the Fear of God before his eyes and being thereto moved by the instigation of the Devil was guilty of Breaking the Sabbath by Laughing and Smiling and other unbecoming carriage in the Meeting House in the North Society of Bolton during Public Worship. All of which is against the Law of God and this state and to the very evil example of others" and he prays that Humphrey may be dealt with according as the Law Directs.
Our forefathers took their religion seriously. Wonder what they would have thought of Sunday afternoon football. At least the favorite team around here is the Boston Patriots.
* A poor attempt at historian humor. Cole's book weighs 8 pounds and is anything but light. But published in 1888 it captures a lot of detail from those who lived its history. For those interested the quote is from page 582.