Prepared and delivered
Setauket, L.I. N.Y. – July 2nd and 16th, 1876
REV. WILLIAM H. LITTELL
9th Pastor of the
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Deut. 32: 7— Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; Ask thy father and he will shew thee: thy elders and they will tell the.
This discourse was presented in two parts by Mr. Littell at the celebration of the 100th year of the Declaration of Independence. It was transcribed from an undated typewritten copy that is obviously quite old. – Sam Morris, February 22, 2001.
Rev. William H. Littell was the ninth pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. He was born in May 2, 1840 in Summit, N.J. He prepared for college at Flushing Institute on Long Island, Graduated from Princeton College in 1863 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1867. He was ordained in June 1887 in the church of New Providence, New Jersey. In this church he was baptized in infancy and received in full membership at age 15. He was dismissed to the Presbytery of Burlington, where he spent one year. He was installed as pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church on October 28, 1868 and served until his death in August 1904.
Rev. Littell was an inveterate preacher. Before his arrival, the Setauket Presbyterian Church had established an outpost in Port Jefferson and he preached both in Setauket and in Port Jefferson. In his second year a chapel was established in Stony Brook and he preached there also. With morning and evening services, he often preached four or five times on a Sunday. In August 1881 another chapel was established East Setauket. He preached every Sunday in Setauket and alternated between Stony Brook and East Setauket, preaching at each on alternate Sundays.
Upon his death in 1904 the officers of the church prepared the following obituary:
At a meeting of the Officers of the Setauket Presbyterian Church held August fifteenth – all being present – the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:
The elders – trustees and deacons of the Setauket Presbyterian Church record with profound sorrow the death of the Rev. William H. Littell – the honored pastor of this church – on Saturday August 6th 1904 – in the 65th year of his age – and the 36th year of his pastorate – Mr. Littell was installed as pastor of this church October 28th 1868 –
From the first he gave the Church – and the community the full love of a large heart – and the untiring service of an active mind – With a genial disposition – with an unselfish interest in the welfare of all – with tender sympathy for the afflicted – and kindly participation in the happiness of others – with genuine regard for high and low – with tactful suggestions and wise counsel – he quickly won and ever kept a place of peculiar honor and influence in the community – In the pulpit he preached a pure gospel – and out of the pulpit he lived a wholesome and consistent Christian life – Under his influence and guidance most of the present members of the Church came into its communion – And for years to come the influence of his teaching – of his bright life – and of his earnest prayers – will affect this Church for good – His spiritual children rise up and call him blessed; yea – blessed is he – for he rests from his labor – and his works do follow him.
The elders, trustees and deacons would record – with their sense of great loss – their gratitude to God for the gift of this good man to be our pastor through these years. It is our earnest prayer that the Lord may over rule this affliction – so that the people, in their grief, may turn with new purpose and steadfast faith to do God’s will in all things – and to the afflicted family of our Pastor we tender our deep sympathy – the expression of our love – and assurance of our prayers.
Selah B. Strong, Chairman W.W. Howell, Secretary
In accordance with this injunction of Moses as well as the Recommendation of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in these United States of America, we this morning remember the days of old, and consider the years of many generations as regards our beloved church.
It seems meet and right, at this period in our nations history – to review not only the way in which God has led us as a Nation, but also to trace the history of these Organizations, that have been the bulwarks of Civil and religious liberty. We do not presume, when we ascribe to the Presbyterian Church a great influence in this direction while it would greatly interest us to dwell upon this broad theme – yet we find right at hand, in the history ofr this branch of that great church, much to interest, much to encourage and at the same time much to make humble. Our discourse, for reasons that wills soon appear, naturally divides itself into two parts, relating respectively to two periods in our history.
The 1st period extending from the first settlement of th etown of Brookhaven and more especially the village of Setauket and the building of the first Church edifice to the settlement of Rev. Zechariah Greene as the sixth pastor, i.e: from 1655 to 1797. The second period from 1797 to the present time.
It is a cause of deep regret that so little reliable information can be secured as to the early history of this church. In reference to this matter and with the same regret Rev. Zechariah Greene, whose settlement in 1797 makes a division in our discourse, writes as follows: “The history of this church and Congregation previous to my settlement is very limited, owing as I am informed by aged men, to the destruction of the first records of the town by fire – and the loss of records (by means unknown to me) kept by my predecessors, so that I was unable to obtain a list of the names of the members of the church.”
By the aid of Tohmpson’s History of L.I. and a History of L.I. from its first settlement by Europeans to the year 1845 with special reference to its ecclesiastical concerns by Rev. Nat’l S. Prime, whose Father Ebenezer Prime was for many years an honored and useful pastor at Huntington – we gain information that enables us to state dates between which the church must have been organized. We here express our obligations to thee sources of information in this first period not covered by any church record and shall draw from them as occasion requires. With these aides, however, we can only give sketches of the successive pastors, and mention the church edifices. I the absence of records we can know but little of the spiritual condition and prosperity of the church, and that by inference.
Our village derived its name from the Setaulcot tribe of Indians of whom the land was originally purchased. The first settlement was made in 1655. The original planters were Presbyterians and well educated men who possessed a competent knowledge of the laws and constitution of England and brought with them the true spirit of Freedom and independence. The persecuting spirit shown by Englands King, Chas. I and by the Star Chamber and the High commission court, drove many to seek a home in this western world. Of those who emigrated at that time to various parts of the New World, Numbers after having landed and remained for a time in New England, sought permanent homes on Long Island. The company which settled here came directly from Boston and its neighborhood. The number of persons is not exactly known, but a list of those who composed the settlement two years after this in 1657 is preserved. It contains 55 names, names that are still familiar because borne by their descendents who dwell among us at this day, many of them honored and useful, but others alas, “degenerate suns of noble sires.”
Although it is not certain at what period a church was organized here, it is known that early measures were adopted to establish public worship. Soon after the settlement was commenced, a public building called a town house was erected, which besides the civil purposes, it is observed, appears to have been used as the place of religious meetings. – On the 2nd of Feb. 1671 it was voted to erect a meeting house 28 feet square, and the work was soon after carried into effect. In 1665 the Rev. Nat’l Brewster who had three brothers already settled here came to visit them, and became the minister of the place. There is then sufficient evidence that the organization of the church occurred between 1655 and 1665. Following the example of other settlers, who either came to the Island, as organized colonies with civil officers already chosen and accompanied by a minister, or very soon made provision for their spiritual necessities, we may be reasonably suppose it was organized at a date not later than 1660.
Of the churches in Suffolk Co. it is probably the 5th in point of age. Those of Southold and Southampton having been organized in 1640, only a few months apart previous to the departure of the colonies from New England. The church at Easthampton was organized in 1652, and the organization of the church at Huntington, which town was settled in 1652, probably preceded by two or three years the organization here. The first recorded corporate name of this church, which has continued to this day, is “The First Presbyterian Church of Brookhaven,” a name we do well to bear in mind while tracing its history as the first church organization in this the largest township on Long Island – in extent of territory we view it as the point to which the scattered settlers used to gather for the devout worship of God — and now behold her as an honored and aged but not enfeebled mother surrounded by her children, in whose growth and success she feels the deepest interest and truest joy.
But to return to what we may learn of the first pastor already mentioned, Rev. Nat’l. Brewster, and of history of the church during his ministry. We find that he is named by Prime as the grandson and by Thompson as the nephew of Elder William Brewster who filled so distinguished a place in the Plymouth Colony – The Pilgrims of the May Flower. We think the family tradition and a consideration of dates bear testimony to his being a grandson of Elder Brewster.
He was a graduate of the first class of Harvard College in 1642, and is supposed to have been the first native graduate in the New World. At a town meeting in 1665 it was voted to purchase a house and lot for his use. He is said to have been a good scholar and an able diving, and his wife is mentioned as a woman noted in that day for her genius and literary acquirements. Some of their descendents are with use at this day, and others have found homes in various part of our broad land. Of one of them, Capt. Caleb Brewster of Revolutionary memory we will have occasion to speak later in our discourse. Owing to failure in health Mr. Brewster did not continue in the full discharge of his duties to the time of his death, which occurred in 1690 in the 70th year of his age.
His assistants during the later years of his ministry were Sam’l Eburne and Dugald Simson. In 1693 Mr Jona Fordham of Southampton was invited to become is successor. On account of feeble health he declined a settlement though he labored here four or five years.
This brings us to the second pastorate, that of Geo. Phillips. He was graduated at Harvard in 1686; preached at Jamaica, L.I. a few years and was called to this church in 1697. After supplying them some years he was ordained to the gospel ministry and installed pastor of this church in 1702, at which time the town voted him 100 acres of land near Nasekeage Swamp, and shortly after another 200 acres were voted to him for his use while he remained pastor, to belong to him and his heirs forever if he continued here during the whole period of his natural life. . He is described as a man of solid talents, faithful in the work of the ministry and withal possessed of a happy vein of wit and humor that rendered his company and conversation always agreeable.
Many of the Phillips Family have been eminent in New England, and one observes that few families in this country have been more distinguished for liberal donations to religious and literary institutions. One of them founded Andover Academy; another that of Exeter, N.H. ; two have been Governors of Mass. And one Mayor of Boston. Mr. Phillips continued in the exercise of the ministry until his death in 1739. He as well as his predecessor were buried in the grave yard, but I am not at all certain that their graves can now be distinguished.
In 1720 during the ministry of Mr. Phillips, it was agreed that a meeting house built upon the meeting house green to be improved in such a manner as the majority of the contributors shall agree and according to the tenor of an instrument in writing bearing date the 29th of July; also Col. Henry Smith, Col. Richard Floyd, Justice Adam Smith, Selah Strong, Sam’l Thompson and Jonathan Owen were chosen to order the building, to proportion the same and the place of setting up, where it shall stand and remain for the public use. The execution of this plan was delayed several years in consequence of a difference of opinion as regards the site. In a town meeting August 9th 1714 it was agreed to decide the question by lot and the decision was in favor of the old site. The house was finished in the following year, as far as was common in those days, without ceiling or plaster. According to Prime this building stood till 1811, but according to Thompson till 1766, when being somewhat decayed and insufficient also to accommodate the increased number of the congregation, it was taken down and a new church erected in that year. The town records contain the following entry in relation to this new building “Memorandum of the meeting house; on the 10th of Feb. we began to get timber and on the 19th of the same month we raised the house in the year of our Lord 1766. This house through greatly injured by the British during the Revolution was subsequently repaired and stood till 1811. In 1730, also during the ministry of Mr. Phillips the first Episcopal church erected on L.I. at the expense of that denomination was built in this village and known as Caroline Church, in honor of Queen Caroline who made a donation thereto. Four years after the town generously voted an adjacent piece of ground for a cemetery. This building several times altered and repaired still stands and is 146 years old, and allowed to be the oldest church structure of the Episcopal denomination on L.I. if not in the state.
But to return to our history; the third pastor was Rev. David Young, the grandson of Rev. Jno. Young, the first minister of Southold. [This is disputed] Rev. David Young was born 1719, finished his course at Yale College in 1740, and was settled over this church in 1746. WE may conceive that the people having been without a messenger of God six years to break to them the bread of life, gladly welcomed him to their midst, and we are disposed to conclude from what we can learn, that his was a successful though short ministry. He died in 1753 in the 34th year of his age and the 8th of his labors as a pastor of this flock. In this brief period he was so fortunate as to obtain and secure the respect and confidence of his people. He is said to have been a man of more than ordinary powers of mind, and his loss was doubtless a heavy blow following so closely as it did upon the death of Mr. Phillips and the interval during which they had been as sheep without a shepherd. In the charge to the people on the installation of his successor Rev. Mr. Talmadge, Mr. Brown of Bridgehampton refers to the state of things in these words: “It may not be improper my dear Brethren and Friends, to remind you of past dispensations of divine Providence toward you, in respect of the Gospel Ministry and ordinances among you. These privileges have (I conclude within the memory of many if not most of you) been interrupted and for a season removed, by the death of one minister after another who have labored in the Gospel among you. Your late pious and worthy pastor whose praise is still in the churches, you enjoyed but a few years; he was removed in the midst of his usefulness; his death did undoubtedly cast a dark gloom upon many minds, and by means of that dark and awful Providence, you have for some time been destitute of the stated ministry of the Word and Gospel sacraments. We now congratulate you on the pleasing and happy prospect you have of again enjoying those privileges.” The pleasing and happy prospect here referred to was as already stated, the settlement of Rev. Benj. Talmadge as the fourth pastor of this church. He was born at New Haven in 1725, was graduated at Yale College in 1747 and ordained an dinstalled pastor of this church the 23rd of Oct. 1754.
I have been greatly interested by a pamphlet placed in my hands by a lady of Mattituck, L.I. containing in full the sermons and charges delivered here at his ordination and installation as follows: “A sermon by Rev. Sam’l Buell of Easthampton on Christ the grand subject of Gospel preaching.” A discourse on “Presbyterian Ordination,” and a charge to the pastor by Rev. Ebenezer Prime of Huntington, and a charge to the people, from which we have given a quotation by Rev. James Brown of Bridgehampton. These discourses while full of sound doctrine and practical conclusions, are without that brevity which is now considered essential to excellence; while the two charges are quite as long as any now delivered on such occasions, the services must have consumed a large part o the day with probably an intermission. The pastorate of Mr. Talmadge thus inaugurated in 1754 continued till his death in 1786. It therefore, includes the memorable years of our revolutionary struggle, and through the transition from 1754 to 1775 seems hasty, out utter ignorance of the condition of the church in that time must be our apology. Mr. Talmadge, however is mentioned by one as a gentleman of fine talents and a first-rate classical scholar, and by another as a fine scholar and able divine. We may, therefore, presume that during his ministry the cause of education was prompted and the work of the ministry as ably and successfully carried on as the unsettled and troubled state of the country would allow.
We pass to consider only briefly the connection of our church and village with our struggle for an existence as an independent Nation. Here too we are met by the difficulty that all statements that may in any sense of the word be called history, are brief and disconnected. The principally refer to the patriotic efforts of individuals prominent among are a descendant of a former pastor, the son of the one then in office and one who afterwards, held up in this place for a long time the Banner of the Cross. Need I say that I refer to Capt. Caleb Brewster, Major Talmadge and Zechariah Green. Capt. Caleb Brewster great grandson of the first pastor commissioned early in the war, was a Lieut. Of Artillery, was confidentially employed in an armed boat by Washington between Conn. And L.I. for the purpose of obtaining intelligence. He performed this duty with fidelity, judgment and bravery. Besides this his engaged in successful expedition for the destruction of enemy’s stores on land and sea, captured several armed boats of the enemy, and participated in many important and hazardous engagements, the particulars of which cannot now be ascertained.
Major Benj. Talmadge was an able soldier, statesman and patriot, and received honorable mention in the history of his time as an active and enterprising officer of the revolution. After serving in other capacities he received in 1777 the commission of Major, and was honored with the confidence of the Commander in Chief and principal officers in the army; besides actively engaging in the general battles of the main army in the northern states. He conducted successfully expeditions for the destruction of the enemy’s stores and kept up a secret correspondence with patriots of L.I. & New York City within the enemy’s lines – in the interest of our army, and much to the gratification of Gen. Washington. He retired from the army with the rank of Colonel, and afterward served his country for sixteen years in the Legislative Councils.
Of the revolutionary record of Zachariah Greene we will have occasion to speak later in our discourse. It may seem like a reflection on the patriotism of our village thus to name individuals who through they sprung from here, and this Island was the scene of their exploits were not at the time residents. This course may seem more partial, as history assures us it was true of L.I. in general that its inhabitants were entitled to as high a character for patriotism and love of freedom as any in the state or country. Inconsequence, however, of the possession of the Island early in the war by the British army, it was held under absolute subjection to its close, and the people had not the opportunity of engaging activity in the contest; yet the sacrifices which they made, the suffering they endured and the assistance they rendered to the cause of freedom whenever an opportunity presented, enabled them to a place among the most patriotic citizens. During the whole war the inhabitants of the Island, especially those of Suffolk Co. were perpetually exposed to the grossest insult and abuse. They had no property of a movable kind, they could properly speaking, call their own; they were oftentimes deprived of the stock necessary to work the soil. The best rooms in their houses; the stores of fuel, provisions and clothing for bed and person were ruthlessly seized without ceremony and without compensation. But their pecuniary losses were not the sorest trials that our forefathers endured under the tyranny of the oppressors. Besides violating the rights of person and property, British officers committed many acts of barbarity for which there could be no apology. They made garrisons, storehouses and stables of the houses of public worship in several towns, and particularly of such as belonged to Presbyterians. Such was with case of the structure that immediately preceded this edifice in which we are now gathered. Rev. Zechariah Greene immediately after his settlement makes this record: The tombstone of Rev. Geo. Phillips and those of many others were destroyed by the British army, who built a fort around the church and cast up the bones of many of the dead. They destroyed the pulpit and the whole inside work of the church. Col. Richard Hewlett commanded this body of men. N the 14th day of August 1777 about 150 men, under the command of Col. Parsons, embarked from Black Rock, Conn. In a sloop and six whale boats with muskets and a brass six pounder for the purpose of capturing the force and encamped here. They landed before day break the next morning at Crane Neck, where they left their boats with a sufficient guard and marched as quickly as possible to the village. A flag of truce was sent to the church demanding a surrender which was refused, and firing commenced on both sides. In a short time word was brought from the boats that some British ships were preceding down the Sound, and fearing that their return might be intercepted, Col. Parsons ordered a retreat tot the boat, and the party arrived again at Black Rock the same evening, with a few of the enemy’s horses and some military stores. Among the soldiers engaged in this expedition were Capt. Caleb Brewster with whose war record we are already familiar, and Mr. Zechariah Greene who twenty years and one month afterward was installed pastor of this church. A most singular coincidence that on this spot where he fought with carnal weapons, he should for more than half a century fight with spiritual weapons.
Besides this skirmish Setauket was the scene of many revolutionary events and no small number of robberies and murders were committed by the British and their Tory allies. We thus see that the trials of our Fathers in this section of our land, were heavy and irksome indeed, as there was no redress to be gained, nor successful resistance to be offered. It must have been with feelings of gratitude and joy they welcomed the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of the enemy’s hosts that had held them so long in subjection. While their joy was no less than that of those who had been permitted to meet and conquer the enimies of their country, there must have been a feeling of deep sorrow that they were denied the privilege of sharing actively in the contest.
Rev. Mr. Talmadge survived the establishment of our independence a few years, until Feb 1786, and was succeeded in April of that year by Rev. Noah Wetmore, of whom and whose pastorate all we can say is: he was a graduate of Yale College, was first settled at Bethel, Conn. Was installed here April 17th 1786, and died after a ministry of 10 years March 9th, 1796 aged 65 years. We are thus brought to the time at which Rev. Zechariah Greene entered upon his duties as the sixth pastor of this church, and with a brief review of his life previous to his installation here, we bring the first part of our discourse to a close. His grandparents on either side were respectively early settlers of Conn. and Mass. Early in his childhood, his parents removed to Hanover, N.H. His boyhood was passed partly in hard physical toil and partly in the enjoyment of such advantages as a district school afforded. At the opening of the year 1776, the most memorable of all the years of our revolutionary struggle, full of prosperity, full of hope, the subject of our sketch of a boy of 16, joined the army under Washington. And here let us ask ourselves, can we ever rightly appreciate the moral courage, self-sacrifice and heroism that actuated brave youths who while yet in mere boyhood, dared to confront victorious veterans; dared to brave the fortunes of an uncertain war and dared too, to brave the ignominious fate of outlawed rebels. Thus they proclaim that next to God they loved their country. His first active service was in rearing the fortifications of Dorchester heights; he afterwards took part in the battle of White plains and the skirmish at Throggs Point, and in Oct. 77 at the battle of Germantown was wounded in the left shoulder and was never able to bear arms afterwards. Disabled for warfare, he immediately returned to a course of study he had relinquished at his country’s call, and which eventually led him to the sacred ministry. He was first settled at Cutchogue in the town of Southold June 28th 1787, from whence he removed to Setauket Sept. 27th, 1797.
Let me close this morning with the words of another describing how this patriot in advance years viewed the Declaration of independence, the 100th anniversary of the signing of which is so near at hand: “The news that it had been signed and sent forth to the country reached N.Y. on the 9th of July, and it was read the same evening at the head of each brigade.” No incidence in Mr. Greene’s life appears to have left a more lasting impression. Ask him even in advanced years says one about Dorchester or Throggs Point, White Plains or Germantown, and he would tell them over with pride of a veteran soldier and with the facility of an impaired memory, but once speak to him about the Declaration of Independence; once ask him about its reception by the people and by the army, and he would raise from his chair and with kindling eye, erect form and impressive voice describe how his brigade marched to the assigned place for its reading, and drank in with increasing pride and gratitude those words of manly protest; and how the closing paragraph was followed by the shout of “United we stand, divided we fall, we must we shall be free.” And as if borne by violence of the same feeling which many years before had so convulsed him, he would strike his staff to the ground exclaiming with heartfelt earnestness “Take care of the Union, take care of the Union, do no harm to the Union.”
These are words to which we should give earnest heed to-day and during the festivities and rejoicing near at hand, it becomes us to remember the days of old, to consider the years of many generations, and by a review of the past to be excited to gratitude and a fresh consecration of ourselves to the giver of all good; but remember at how great a cost of treasure and blood too, our Independence was secured and preserved in the late civil war.
Before we proceed to the 2nd division of our discourse, in which we trace our church history from the settlement of Rev. Zechariah Greene to the present time, let us glance at the condition of affairs on L.I., or more particularly in Suffolk Co. from an ecclesiastical point of view.
Frequent reference has been made in the first part of our discourse to town meetings, at which church affairs were discussed, Ministers called, salaries fixed and the erection and site of edifices determined. This is more in harmony with Independency or the Congregational of the present day then with the Presbyterian form of government. Although the terms Congregational and Presbyterian were used interchangeably in the early history of New England and are so used to this day in the rural districts; only a part of the churches called Presbyterian had regular sessions formed by the election of Ruling Elders, and a still smaller number were with their pastor in a regular connection with any Presbytery. This state of things existed in New England and Colonies settled from there, while in Penn., N.J., Virginia and the Carolinas regular Presbyterian forms of government prevailed. Of the churches of Suffolk Co., Southampton is rightly entitled to the honor of having adopted the Presbyterian forms of Government earlier than any other. Southold claims to be the oldest church and town, but did not become fully Presbyterian until 45 years later.
In 1716 the Presbytery of Philadelphia with which some churches and ministers on L.I. were connected, divided itself into the Presbytery of Philadelphia, New Castle and Long Island, and formed the Synod of Philadelphia. Mr. Geo. MacNish of Jamica exerted a strong influence in favor of Presbyterianism among the churches of L.I. and he and Mr. Sam’l. Pomery of the new town were probably those who were set of from 6the Presbytery of Philadelphia to form the Presbytery of L.I. This Presbytery was duly organized April 17th, 1717 at Southampton, when the church there became Presbyterian and the Presbytery that day ordained and installed Sam’l. Gelston. The Presbytery consisted of the three already mentioned and Rev. Geo. Phillips, who for twenty years had been pastor at Setauket, but probably joined the Presbytery at this time. This was the first Presbyterial association on L.I. or in the province of New York, and for many years all the Presbyterian churches formed in Westchester Co. and the City of New York were subject to its jurisdiction. This Presbytery of L.I. united with East Jersey Presbytery May 1738 to form the Presbytery of N.Y. For some reason not now known, this union or some action of the Presbytery following closely upon it, could not have been agreeable to the churches of Suffolk Co., for April 8th 1747 Egenezer White of Bridgehampton Nat’l. Mather of Aquebogue, Ebenezer Prime of Huntington, Ebenezer Gould of Cutchogue, Silvanus White of Southampton, Sam’l. Buell of Easthampton met at Southampton to form the Presbytery of Suffolk Co. This body continued in existence until it ws reorganized in Oct. 1790 by the Synod of N.Y. under the original name of the Presbytery of L.I. It was this Presbytery of Suffolk Co. that met here Oct. 22nd 1754, and ordained and installed Rev. Benj. Talmadge as has been previously mentioned.
The presence of Rev. Geo. Phillips at the first organization of a Presbytery on L.I. in 1717, and this ordination and installation of Mr. Talmadge here in 1754, and the record we have that Rev. David Young, the intermediate pastor, was ordained by a Presbytery at Newark, N.J., all lead us to the conclusion that this church became Presbyterian in its organization as well as in name early in the first half of the Eighteenth Century. The first settlement of Rev. Zechariah Greene was over the church at Cutchouge which was then Congregational, but on the 9th of Sept. 1797 he was received as a member of the Suffolk Presbytery, accepted a call to this church, and was installed here on the 27th of Sept. 1797. At the time of his settlement the affairs of the church were in a very unsettled state, owing as he says, to the loss of church records, he was unable to obtain a complete list of the members.
With the co-operation of two Elders, Capt. Nathan Woodhull and Dr. Sam’l. Thompson, who were elected to the office during the ministry of Mr. Talmadge, he soon brought order out of confusion. A confession of faith and form of covenant for the admission of members of the church was drawn up, and after due consideration adopted. The confession embodies the truths of the SS. As set forth in the Westminster standard, and the covenant is as follows:
“We do this day in the presence of the Great and Holy and Eternal God, who knows the secrets of all hearts and before Angels and men solemnly take and acknowledge the Lord Jehovah Father Son and Holy Ghost to be our God. And we desire to give up ourselves soul and body and all we have an dare to live for him and no other , and submitting and yielding ourselves to his disposal and service as willing and obedient subjects. And as we are by nature children of wrath and have greatly dishonored God by our transgressions both in heart and life, so we do now openly declare our detestation and abhorrence of all our former offences both public and private, and desire forgiveness of God and man; and we do take and confess the lord Jesus Christ for our Saviour and Redeemer, depending upon his merit and righteousness alone for acceptance and with God. We do ourselves take the Hold Ghost for our sanctifier and solemnly promise by the assistance of Divine Grace (with[out] whom we can do nothing) to forsake our sins and renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil and serve the Lord in newness of life, and live in the conscientious discharge of the duties we owe to God, our neighbor and our own souls, according to the direction of God’s Holy word, and we do also give up ourselves to one another in the Lord, promising by th ehelp of divine grace to act toward on another as becometh brothers and sisters in Christ, and we will watch over one another in the love of the Lord, seeking each other’s good, holding communion with each other in the worship of God and in the careful and diligent use of his ordinances. And we yield ourselves and ours to the discipline of this church according to the rule of Christ so long as we continue together in the relation. By the Grace of God.”
On the 19th of Nov. less than a month form his installation, the church renewed covenant; five males & 14 females entering into this covenant – with God and with on another. The following year several were added to the church by profession of their faith and by letter, and a goodly number of children were presented for baptism, showing that parents realized that was their privilege, having given themselves to the Lord, to dedicate their offspring to him.
Another step was taken in the right direction in Feb. 1799, when a committee was appointed to visit a few individuals, who it was said had been members of the church, and urge upon them the duty of renewing covenant with their brethren, and to inquire also weather professors were careful to maintain family worship. About this time several sad cases of discipline received the prayerful attention of Pastor and session and people. Some resulted in the reclamation of offenders, but other cases as the subjects proved obstinate and independent, for the sake of the purity of the church, were carried forward to the point of excommunication. Such careful exercise of discipline in the house of God seems to have borne good fruit in additions to the membership of the church. This increasing interest in spiritual matters culminated in 1809, when 29 made profession of their faith and entered into covenant with this church. This is probably the largest number ever received in a single year, and of this number 20 were received at one communion. This season of refreshing was followed by the election of additional Elders. Wm. H. Helme, Geo. Lee, Jonas Davis, Daniel Tooker and William Dickerson. The last two also held the office and discharged the duties of Deacons.
We find the church at this time in a flourishing condition, though the membership is not large. A faithful pastor with an efficient company of spiritual advisers say by God’s blessing be very useful in extending Christ’s Kingdom. That those who as Trustees watched over the temporal affairs of the church were also active, we have good evidence in this structure where we are assembled for the worship of God.
The building erected in 1766 through such injured by the bullets and cannon balls which passed through it while occupied by the British in the Revolutionary War, was subsequently repaired and stood till 1811, when it was taken down to make way for what Thompson calls, the present handsome and commodious structure, which was completed in 1811 and dedicated to the service of Almighty God May 24, 1812. From this time onward we find a healthy state of the church indicated by constant, though at no time large accessions to its membership; by the faithful exercise of discipline and by elections from time to time of those who should rule in the House of God. In 1830 we find a record of the election of John Davis of Stony Brook, and Floyd Smith of Setauket to the Eldership, and Sam’l. B. Lee to the office of Deacon, to which was added that of Ruling Elder in 1832. In 1833 Capt. Henry K. Townsend was also chosen to this office.
The next item worthy of mention was the presentation of a bell to the church in 1839 by Elnathan Hawkins of Westchester; the following is the note of presentation:
“Address to Rev. Z. Greene – My Dear Sir: I wish to present to the church of my native place a Bell. I sent one to the care of Jonas Smith, and have requested him to have it placed in the church, providing yourself and the Trustees have not objection.”
In the years 1841 and 42 a number were added to the church on profession and by letter. Among the latter, Mr. J.W. Hart from the 11th St. Presbyterian Church, who during his stay here served the church in the Eldership. Again in 1843 when the aged pastor in his 83rd year is ready to say “Lord now let us thou thy servant depart in peace.” He is suddenly visited with new proof that is ministry is not yet unfruitful, and 18 souls added to the church. While in 1844 we find this record:
The business of the last two session meetings and the labors of the Sabbath with the administration of the Sacrament were performed by Rev. Zechariah Greene, then in the 85th year of his age. His colleague was detained by sickness. As one truly says of him, “Up to the very day almost of his removal from Setauket, he was as a vine clinging to the walls of the Sanctuary, full laden with the rich fruits of a spiritual autumn.”
Mr. Greene’s active connection with the church lasted some 52 years. In 1849 by the death of his wife, he found himself compelled to break up housekeeping, and his advanced age (89) making itself felt as a bar to any increase in his usefulness, he informed the Trustees that he must seek another home. Accordingly in June of that year, he went to reside with his daughter at Hempstead. He was still retained as Senior pastor of the church at Setauket up to the time of his death, a pastorate of 61 years in all. In the last years of his life at Hempstead, he was a sympathizing if not active co-operator in all enterprises bearing on the moral and spiritual welfare of men. Through in the early years of his ministry he conformed to the drinking customs of the day, when the wave of temperance reform swept over the country, he became an earnest and consistent advocate of total abstinence. He was one of the founders of the Suffolk Co. Bible Society, and Pres. Of the Hempstead Society at the time of his death. He was a devoted friend to the cause of missions, and years after he could render any assistance, he felt a tender and fatherly regard for the Sabbath School. His was a long ministry extending over 72 years. He ever regarded religion as comprising the whole duty of man, and he acted throughout life in obedience to its precepts. A zealous soldier of the church militant, he looked forward to the unfading crown at the end of earth’s conflict. At 98 one observes he was buoyant and possessed great energy of thought, and displayed great mental vigor. It was true of him that “Though old, he still retained his manly sense and energy of mind. Virtuous and wise he was, but not severe; he still remembered that he once was young; his presence checked no decent joy, for he a graceful looseness, when he pleased put on, and laughing could instruct.”
Thus the aged Patriarch, the honored patriot, the venerated pastor, ripened for the exchange of worlds – And as his life had been one of long preparation for death, it found him calmly, trustfully expectant, awaiting. “The need of Saints, white robes and the Father’s house.” How appropriately may it be said of him in words he himself chose as the theme of discourse at his burial “He walked with God and was not for God took him.”
We have already referred to the year 1843 as one marked in the ministry of Mr. Greene by large additions to the church. That these were in part the result of labors put forth by Rev. Mr. Gile, who in that year became co-pastor, on one who has heard of his labors of love in your midst can doubt. Thus the aged the youthful sower rejoiced and reaped together a spiritual harvest in this field, which had indeed the “smell of a field that the Lord hath blessed.” For some time previous Mr. Green had enjoyed the assistance of Rev. Ezra King, who after the dissolution of the relationship between and the Middle Island church, devoted half his time to this congregation.
But to return to the ministry of Mr. Gile, a blessed memory: He was born at Littelton, N.H. Jan. 2nd 1816, was graduated at Union College in July 1839, where he sustained high reputation as a scholar and was universally respected. After a year spent in teaching, he came to N.Y to study medicine, but was induced to abandon it and prepare for the work of the ministry. He was licensed in N.Y. in Oct. 42, and in Feb. 1843 commenced preaching here. In Sept. 43 he was received as a Licentiate under the care of the Presbytery of L.I., and on the 15th of Nov. of the same year ordained and installed as associate pastor of this church. His active work commenced in Feb. and at the March communion 10 were received, and at succeeding communions of that year 8 more were added, in all 18. Among them many still honored and useful in our midst, other having witnessed a good confession, have passed hence to their reward. Of those then added, two, Henry S. Deering, M.D. and D.B. Gayles were unanimously elected and installed Elders in 1845. In Jan. 1848 a request was presented to session, signed by about 50 residents of Port Jefferson and its vicinity, asking that a branch of this church be established in that village, with stated preaching every Sabbath and the administration of the ordinances, the petitioners promising to contribute to its support. It was resolved that the request be granted with the concurrence of the Trustees and carried into effect immediately. The same evening, Jan. 30th, being the first day of the week, a meeting was held at Port Jefferson, according to notice given and the granting of the above mentioned request was declared by the pastor.
And now we draw near to the time when this pastor respected by the community and beloved by his people, was by a sad and mysterious providence removed from his earthly work. We quote from a memoir that appeared in the religious paper of that day,
“On the morning of the 28th of Sept. 1849 he left his residence in Setauket and went to Stony Brook, a village within the bounds of his congregation to bring a small boat which had been presented to him by a friend, from Stony Brook Harbor to Setauket Harbor, a distance of several miles. His course lay around Crane Neck Point in the vicinity of which there is reason to believe he was drowned by the upsetting of his boat. Part of the boat were found a few days afterwards on the shore, but his body has never been recovered. Thus a short time after the removal to another earthly home of the honored and beloved pastor, to whom this people looked upon as a father, they were called to sorrow for this associate whom they fondly hoped would also grow old in their midst and for whom, ‘many mourned as for a first born.’”
He is thus described by Rev. Mr. Edwards, then of Smithtown who preached the funeral discourse.
“As a man he was discreet, modest, retiring kind and sweetly amiable, and at the same time manly energetic and courageous. As a minister of everlasting gospel, he was consistent and exemplary, shedding around him a sweet savor of Christ, faithful active and laborious, and increasing in influence and usefulness. His mind naturally good, was trained and cultivated, and under the influence of his industrious and studious habits was expanding and developing itself. In the pulpit he was as many of you can testify, a workman that needed not to be ashamed.”
And addressing some of you still with us at this day who were added to the church during his brief ministry, and others then neglecters of the Gospel that are still in the same condition, I cannot refrain from calling to your minds words addressed to you at his funeral, and making them my own to you to-day. Have you been duly thankful for the blessing which in him the Lord bestowed upon you? Have you duly prized and improved his ministry? Oh, it is a solemn thing to have a messenger of Christ finish is work among you and go to give in his account. He has left behind a flock that he carefully and diligently served. Brethren prepare to meet your shepherd, who has gone before you. He has left behind him in this congregation neglectors of the Gospel, whom in vain, he endeavored to win to Christ. He will no more entreat you to be reconciled to God. Take heed, lest you meet him in witness against you in the day of judgment. Turn yet I beseech you, standing here as his successor: turn at the call which God by him has made upon you that you perish not and that you may at last meet him, not to your condemnation, but to your delight and joy.
Here we reach a much to be regretted blank in our church records, for April 48 to March 1850, which can be only partially filled from other sources. In June 49 Mr. Greene removed to Hempstead; In Sept, following Mr. Gile was drowned and the church was without a pastor until March 12ath, when at a special meeting of Presbytery at Middletown, L.I. the relations between that church and its pastor, Rev. Jas. Evens was dissolved, and Henry K. Townsend, and He4nry S. Deering of Setauket congregation presented a call for his pastoral services, which call was found in order, accepted and a committee appointed for his installation here on the 19th of March as follows: Rev. Ezra King to preach, Rev. James C. Edwards to change the paster, and Rev. Jas. McDougall the people. The Rev. Winthrop Bailey the moderator to preside and propose the constitutional questions; all of which was accordingly done and on the 19th of March, 1850, Rev. J.S. Evens became your pastor. Of him as a man, and as an under-shepherd breaking to you the bread of life, there is no need that I speak in this presence. Most of you have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance and cherish vivid and pleasing recollections of his pastorate of seventeen years. Some statistics which I have sought from him by letter and which would doubtless interest you, have not been received. I hope to have them at hand for use before making copies of this discourse for the church, and for the Presbyterian Historical Society at Philadelphia. He was a member of the first class that pursued a full course at New York University, and was graduated in 1834, and as we have seen for some years previous to entering on is duties here, was pastor of the church at Middle Island. Many scenes and events of his pastorate you readily recall: such as the erection of the church edifice at Port Jefferson; the seasons of refreshing when a goodly number of young people came out upon the Lords’ side. As pastor and people you passed through the trying period of civil war, when a second struggle for our existence as a Nation resulted in the establishment of our government on the alienable rights of men under God to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Your memories too recall scenes of trial and yoy in your domestic histories, when the ties that bound you ere strengthened and associations formed that will ever be carefully cherished. But of none of these would I or could I at this time appropriately speak at length – but I cannot pass over this lightly the great service rendered your late pastor to the cause of education. Some among you were instructed by him in the branches necessary for the ordinary business and duties of life. Others learned from him the secretes of traversing the great deep to bring treasures from far, while yet others were prepared for their course at College and for professional careers beyond. This work is mostly appreciated by those actually benefited by being under his care; but parents thus assisted in the great work of educating their children, and we who see the impression made on some who are now the active men and women among us, have also great cause for gratitude. Especially is the cause of Christ benefitted by the three who entered the ministry elsewhere jost as their instructor closed his pastorate here – need I say we refer to Rev. J.M. Greene of West New Brighton, S.I., grand nephew of Rev. Zechariah Greene. The Rev. Chas. S. Deering of Rosemond, Ill, son of our late lamented and beloved Henry S. Deering, and Rev. Charles R. Strong of Roslyn, L.I., son of the honored Judge Selah B. Strong, whose memory we cherish and revere as we trace the history of this church, whose temporal welfare he so greatly advanced, while for many years he held the offices of Pres. and Treasure of its Trustees. The entrance of these three young men into the ministry in the space of two years – from one church is an event worthy of our notice in itself, and a record to which we turn today with great pleasure. To them as sons of this ancient Mother, we send her Christ’s salutation today. She follows them with prayers and benedictions and rejoices in their success, and sympathizes in their trials. It is not a singular fact that as in recounting revolutionary history we found three worthy of special notice as links connecting our church with that struggle, so in these later days we chronicle the entrance of three upon a warfare where they fight with spiritual weapons under the banner of our great captain Jesus.
But to return to the little there remains to be noticed – the pastoral relations between Rev. Dr. Evens, and it is to be observed that the honorary title of D.D. was conferred upon him by his Alma Mater, University of N.Y. – while he was pastor here. The relation I may say was dissolved by the Presbytery of L.I. all parties concurring, Dec. 17, 1867 and he dismissed to the Presbytery of Nassau.
Your present pastor, Wm. H. Littell, was born at Summit, N.J. May 2nd, 1840,prepared for College at Flushing Institute L.I., was graduated at Princeton College June 1863, and entered the Theological Seminary in Sept. of that year. After remaining out one year on account of ill health, was graduated at the Seminary in April 1867, licensed Oct. 2nd by athe Presbytery of Elizabeth in the church of New Providence, N.J. in which he was baptized in infancy and received in full membership at 15 years of age; was afterwards ordained by the same Presbytery and in the same church on the 3rd of June 1867, and dismissed to the Presbytery of Burlington where he labored for one year when he was dismissed to the Presbytery of L.I. and received by them at Huntington in Sept. 9th 1868. He was installed pastor of this church Oct 28th, being the 9th pastor in 218 years. Rev. Jas. C. Nightingale preached the sermon from “Fair is the moon, bright is the sun, trouble is an army with banners.” Rev. Dr. Strickland presided and proposed the constitutional questions and gave the charge to the people. By invitation of the Presbytery, the Rev. S.S. Sheldon, D.D. of the Presbytery of Elizabeth gave the charge to the pastor. Yearly reviews have been given since we entered on our pleasant relations as pastor and people. We aim to have such full records as shall furnish any future historian with ample materials for his work. It only remains to mention as a matter of history that in 1868 the interior of this church was remodeled and beautified. In Nov. 9th 1870 a committee of the Presbytery of L.I. organized a Presbyterian church at Port Jefferson, at which time 34 were dismissed from this church to the new organization, among whom were Elders H.K. Townsend and D.H. Buckingham, from whom we parted with deep regret, so also as to the rest who went forth from us, but to all we said and still say, “God bless you, you success in the enterprise, is ours, because it is for the honor of Christ and the extension of His Kingdom.” It is to be observed that notwithstanding this diminution of our membership, the total number of communicants is now larger than when they went forh from us, and at no time in the history of the church has the number been larger than now. The congregation must have been larger drawn, as it was formerly from a greater extent of territory. Immediately after this reorganization at Port Jefferson we commenced to hold evening services here; services were also held alternate Sabbath afternoons at Stony Brook, which we trust will prove fruitful.