The people who settled Middletown in 1650 came to America to get away from the evils they saw in the Anglican Church of England. They detested the church’s continued use of rituals that resembled the Catholic Church from which England had separated almost 100 years earlier under Henry VIII.
So the people who came to America, the Puritans, wanted to purify the Protestant church of these rituals, establish their own religion here in America. They called their new body the Congregational Church because it was run by members of the congregation, instead of the King of England, who headed the Anglican Church.
Now, how might these Puritans react when members of the Church of England wanted to establish the church in America? Exactly. They were a little ticked off and downright suspicious.
In America, the Church of England became known as the Episcopal Church.
Middletown’s Episcopalians first started to practice their religion about 1724 with the Rev. James Wetmore offered his home as a place to worship. This occurred 20 years after the first worshippers of the faith met in 1702 in New London. Repeated appeals to start parishes in Connecticut were unsuccessful, and the first efforts resulted in threats of death and imprisonment. Yet the Episcopalians persevered.
Shockingly, Wetmore, born in 1695 in Middletown, was the grandson of a town founder and was originally ordained a Congregationalist minister after graduating from Yale College. His brother was Judge Seth Wetmore, a well-known lawyer who built Oak Hill, a Colonial era mansion still standing at 1066 Washington St.
Another brother, Jeremiah, who lived on Wetmore Place, was convinced by his brother to join the new faith, and he helped establish the city’s parish, first known as Christ Church, in 1750. There were 16 families when it was founded, and 11 of them were Wetmores. Other early members were Richard Alsop, Philip Mortimer and Joseph Wright. Their first minister was Ichabod Camp, who was sent directly from England.
In 1755, the parish built their first church, shown here, on the South Green. Local lore says that when the structure was completed, a shout of joy by the church members was so loud that it could be heard a mile away.
During the American Revolution, Episcopalians, who were essentially followers of the Church of England, came under suspicion by the general population. Where did their loyalties lie? The community wanted to know.
Next week’s article will continue the story of Christ Church and the Church of the Holy Trinity.