History Part 1

History of Methodism in Brandon
By Rev. Bernice D. Adams, A.M.
From the Vermont Historical Hazetteer, Volume III, 1877, page 469 ff.

The introduction to Methodism into Brandon was characterized by the same mighty influence of the spirit in connection with powerful preaching and self-denying labor and sacrifice, and encountered the same opposition and persecution which attending its introduction into other portions of the old world and the new. Too few memorials of the labors, sacrifices, trials, and persecutions of the fathers and mothers in out Israel, have been preserved. It is a labor of love and a work of piety to collect and treasure what remains. Present and future generations of Methodist ought to be more laborious, devoted, and self-sacrificing for reading these memorials. And as the recent will become ancient, and the present take its place with the past, it mat not be unprofitable to trace the progress of the Church in Brandon down to the present time.

“The Rev. Freeborn Garrettson with the apostle of Methodism in all the region now occupied by the Troy Conference. (This Conference embraced the western half of Vermont when this passage was written.)

At the conference of 1788, he was appointed presiding elder of the district north of the City of New York, and extending from New Rochelle, near New York City, to Lake Champlain. At that time there were but six circuits in his large district.” (Troy Conference Miscellany, p. 22)

“The Lord has raised up a number of zealous young men who had entered the field of itinerancy with hearts fired and filled with love to God and the souls of men. Several of these were placed under the charge of Me. Garrettson who was requested by Bishop Asbury to penetrate the country north of the city of New York, and form as many circuits as he could.” (Bangs’ History of Methodism, Vol. I, p. 269)

The following account of the exercises of his mind, and of the manner in which he proceeded in the work of breaking up this new ground is from Mr. Garrettson’s own pen:

“I was very uneasy in my mind, being acquainted with the country, and entire stranger to its inhabitants, there being no Methodist societies farther north than Westchecter; but I gave myself to earnest prayer for direction,

I knew that the Lord was with me. In the night season in a dream, it seemed to me that the whole country up the North river, as far as Lake Champlain, east and west was open to my view.

After Conference adjourned, I requested the young men to meet me. Light seemed so reflected on my path, that I gave the directions where to begin, and which way to form their circuits. I also appointed a time for each Quarterly Meeting, requesting them to take up a collection in to every place where they preached, and told them I should go up the North river, to the extreme parts of the work, visiting the towns and the cities on the way, and on my return I should visit them all and hold their. Quarterly Meetings.

I had no doubt but that the Lord would do wonders, for the young men were pious, zealous and laborious.”

“God was with these heroic pioneers of Methodism, opening their way before them, supporting them amid their trials, raising them up friends among strangers, and blessing their labors.”

“My custom was,” says Mr. Garrettson “to go round the district every three months, and then return to New York, where I commonly stayed about two weeks. In going once around I usually traveled about a thousand miles, and preaches upwards of a hundred sermons.” (Garrettson’s Life, p. 201)

At the close of their first year’s labors, they returned over 600 members.

Of these young men, according to the minutes of 1788, Darius Dunham was appointed to Shoreham, and Samuel Wigton to “Lake Champlain”. “Shoreham” and “Lake Champlain” merely indicated the places where they were expected to form circuits. One or both of these men, without doubt, preached in Vermont, and were perhaps the first Methodist preachers that ever preached in the State. None of the 600 members, first mentioned, however, were reported from Vermont. Probably none were gathered

In 1794, Joshua Hall was appointed to Vermont, but did not labor in the State, and of course reported no members. In 1796, Nicholas Snethen, whom, on account of his eloquence Bishop Asbury was to call “his silver trumpet”, was appointed to Vershire on the east side of the mountain, and had the honor of forming in that place the first Methodist society in Vermont, although for some reason, no members were returned to the ensuing conference. Ralph Williston was appointed at the next conference to Vershire circuit. In 1798, 100 members were returned for the Vershire circuit east of the mountain, and 186 for Vergannes, west of the mountain. These were the first members reported form Vermont and enumerated in the Minutes. From this time, preachers were stationed, and members reported in both sections of the State in rapidly augmenting numbers. The question arises: Who gathered the 186 members reported in 1798 for the Vergannes circuit, since no preachers had been sent here by the bishops at the preceding Conference? Probably at this late day, no one can answer with certainty. Very likely, the two brothers, Michael and Samuel Coates, and almost certainly the indefatigable Lorenzo Dow, and perhaps others labored here before the Conference of 1798. This is inferred from the fact that oral tradition still preserves the name of the Coates as passing through and preaching here before any regular preachers had been sent into this region who informed the people that they would probably have preachers in a year or two, and that Lorenzo Dow was instrumental in the conversion of the leader of the first society organized in western Vermont. (Christian Advocate and Journal, Vol. 8, p. 7)

The following extracts from an article in the Christian Advocate and Journal for September 6, 1833, contain some interesting incidents connected with the introduction of Methodism into Brandon and vicinity.

“Methodism was introduced into these parts about forty years ago. The Rev. Messrs, Coates, Mitchel, Wood, Dow, and Hutchinson, were among the first Methodist preachers who labored in these parts. Brother Hutchinson was presiding elder where his district extended from New York nearly to the Canadas. Some of out brethren are now living who were the fruits of the labors of these men of God. Often have I sat and listened to the accounts they have given of their labors, sufferings, and success.

I am informed that the first person who joined the Methodists in Vermont, west of the Green Mountain, was a young woman, who resided at the time in the town of Monkton. The first regulate society which was formed was in Brandon, Rutland county.

The introduction of Methodism into Brandon was attended with one or two circumstances worthy of notice. Lorenzo Dow, who at that time was a very zealous and holy man of God, I am told, came into the town and called on a Baptist deacon, and desired liberty to preach in his house. The deacon very readily consented. Thos was on Saturday, and a few of the neighbors were invited to attend in the evening; to whom he preached and made an appointment to preach again in the morning at sunrise. At a suitable time, the family retired to bed. But in the preacher’s room, the voice of prayer was heard by the family the greatest part of the night. Twice the deacon arose and looked into the room, unperceived by the preacher, to see what was the matter, and found him on his knees. A soon as the day began to dawn he heard the preacher get up and go out. He had the curiosity to follow him at a distance. He went to the orchard, where he prostrated himself on his face, and wrestled and prayed to God for the people in that place, in a most fervent manner. After about half an hour he returned to his room, and waited for the people to come to meeting. At sunrise quite an assembly had met, and the preacher came out of his room, and immediately commences his discourse.

He told them he had obtained an evidence that God would revive his work in that place; and that he was at work even now, on their hearts. Before he finished his discourse many hearts began to melt, and many eyes overflowed with tears.

“He had sent an appointment into another part of the town, for which he soon set off, and a large part of his morning hearers followed him. In the village, which was near the center of the town, there lived a Captain H., (Horton) a merchant, who, having heard of the appointment, set off with his niece, a young lady who lived in his family, to hear the Methodist preacher. During the discourse the young lady became considerably awakened to feel the need of religion. When the preacher concluded he desired all who felt the need of religion and were resolved to serve God to manifest it by rising up. Several rose, among whom was the young lady. Capt. H. seeing this, rose also, rather for the purpose of keeping her company than anything else for he felt somewhat ashamed to see her rise. The preacher addresses a few words to them and called on God and his holy angels to witness this act of theirs. This somewhat arrested the feelings of the Captain. They set off toward home, but had not gone far before the preacher overtook them, on his way to his next appointment. He entered into conversation with the Captain. He got him to promise he would take his advice, if it should be such as he himself should acknowledge to be good. It’s this way he prevailed on him to promise to seek after God.

By the earnest entreaties of his niece, the Captain went on to the next appointment; and here he became powerfully awakened, and went home with a very heavy heart. When he arrived at home, he found his brother and lady had come to make him a visit, and the family were all awaiting his arrival to dine. He sat down at the table, but his heart was so full he could not eat. He burst into tears in the midst of the company, and immediately left the room. The family were in great distress, for they feared the Methodists had driven him distracted. However, his wife soon set out for religion, and he and she and the young lady were happily converted to God. A blessed work of God immediately commenced in that place, and a society was soon formed.

The people in Brandon were not all friends to the Methodists, not even all who professed to be Christians. Many of them thought the people were strangely deluded; and as for the captain, they doubted not he was crazy. There could be no surer sign of this than that he should say, he knew his sins forgiven. Many were determined to drive the Methodists out of the place. Some said the preachers were from England, and were sent here to exert an influence in favor of the king. One day when our friends had assembled in a schoolhouse, for public worship, a minister and three others, one of whom was a deacon of the church, and brother of Capt. H, came in, and stood with their hats on, while the preacher was at prayer. As soon as he had finished praying one of them spoke out in a very angry tone, and inquired, what business they had there. Our people made no reply; but brother Wood, the preacher said, “All who wish to hear Methodist preaching follow me to Brother H’s house; and they commended singing,
“come on, my partners in distress”, etc.
Immediately all left the house, except the minister and his three friends. They went to the Captain’s house and preceded in their worship without further interruption.”

The first Methodist class in Brandon was formed, August 14, 1798, with Major Gideon Horton as leader and circuit Steward. As the first conference at which preachers are recorded to have been appointed to this circuit seems not to have been held till the 19th of September following, the original members of this class must have been comprised in the 186 members before mentioned. The earliest meetings of the society were held in Potato Street, now called the McConnell neighborhood, most of the inhabitants in that section being Methodists, with a large number in Sugar Hollow. Meetings were held in dwelling-houses, barns and schoolhouses. Major Horton, the leader, used to go down from the village to attend meetings. Meetings of great interest and power were held, sometimes continuing all night. Persons were overcome by the influence, and lay for hours as if dead or in a swoon. The people, especially the young, thronged the meetings, and numbers of the converts were bitterly opposed, husbands persecuted their wives, and parents even punished their children, to prevent their identifying themselves with the Methodists.

Among the original, or early members of this society, besides Major Horton and his wife Thriza, were Dr. John Horton, Gideon Mott, Henry and Eli McCollom, Daniel Hendee, Daniel Pomeroy, Benajah Douglass and Nathaniel B. Alden. Notwithstanding the fact that a majority of the early Methodists were gathered from the humbler classes of society, it happened in many instances, that some remarkable men were from the beginning enrolled with these humble disciples. This was the case with the Brandon society. Numbers of those above named and their associates lived useful and honored lives, and left descendants, who fill honored positions in different parts of the country. Major Horton remained an officer of the society in Brandon till 1808, when he removed to Hubbardton and erected mills, around which a small village grew up, which after him was called Hortonville. He was the grandfather of the late Mrs. Franklin Farrington. Behajah Douglas, a native of Massachusetts, came to this town from Ballston, NY, in 1795, was a most irrepressible character, both in religious and secular affairs, represented the town for four consecutive years (Dr. A.G. Dana says five) in the legislature, was the grandfather of the late distinguished United Stated Senator, Stephan A. Douglas, and died October 2, 1829. His funeral sermon was preached by Rev. Tobias Spicer, D.D.

Daniel Pomeroy came to town in 1794, was one of the most exemplary and efficient members with which this society has never been blessed, and represented the town in the State Legislator from 1823 till 1826 inclusive. He dies April 7, 1843, aged 73. One of his sons, Rev. Charles Pomeroy, was long a useful and devoted minister of the Troy Conference, and a grandson, Rev. Charles R. Pomeroy, is an able and useful minister and educator in the church.

Nathaniel B. Alden lived for many years as a local minister in the church, has one son who was also a local preacher, and died a few years since in Elizabethtown, New York.

Eli McCollum remained a useful member of the church till his death, and is now well represented in the church by his son, Harry S. McCollum.

The church prospered for many years, and within 10 years from organization of the society arrangements were made and materials collected to build a church on a site near that of the present church edifice. Dissensions, however, arose in the church, which caused the enterprise to be abandoned. A bitter feud raged between Messrs. Douglas and Gideon Horton, who were political rivals. Mr. Douglas was expelled from the church, but afterward restored. Mr. Horton removed to Hubbardton, as already stated. Some other members withdrew and united with other branches of the church, and the society became well-migh extinct. A sad warning against strife among brethren.

In 1814, William Clark, a zealous Methodist removed into town. He, in connection with Eli McCollum established meetings, and Brandon became once more a regular preaching appointment, which it has continued to be to the present time. Three years later, in 1817, a great revival prevailed in town. Benajah Douglas and Daniel Pomeroy are remembered as the chief members of the church in 1825.

A camp meeting was held in Brandon, near the village, in 1831, and another in 1832. Elder Tobias Spicer presided at both. Bishop Eligah Hedding attended the first, preached and ordained a minister.

Rev. Peter P. Harrower was appointed to the charge of the Brandon Society for the last quarter of the conference year 1835 and the succeeding year. When he went there he found about 30 members in the society, mostly in middle and advanced life, the chief men of whom were Daniel Pomeroy, Benj. McDaniels, David Sanderson and Eli McCollum. About the first of September, 1835, a revival commenced and continues without interruption for some 8 months. As the result, about 60 converts joined the church on probation, and all, with one or two exceptions, continued in the church.

The first Methodist Sunday-School in town was established by Mr. Harrower the same year. The Sunday School, together with a bible-class meeting on a weekday, had much to do with this revival. Mr. Harrower superintended the school himself for some time. He then appointed Harry S. McCollum, superintendent, who was at the time an unconverted man, but he soon after experienced a change of heart. Later superintendents of the school have been Charles Sullings, Jr., Rev. William Ford, Henry L. Leonard and J.S. Stafford.

A legal society was organized for building a Methodist church, October 4, 1836, and on the 18th, Levi Bacon, Daniel Pomeroy, H.S. McCollum, Edward Fisk and Lorenzo Washburn were chosen trustees, and Daniel Pomeroy, building committee. It had already been determined to build a brick church with a tower. Daniel Pomeroy for himself and son subscribed $1350 for the church, the next highest subscription being only $150. The church was built in 1837-1838, and was dedicated just before conference in the latter year, presiding elder John M. Weaver preaching the dedicatory sermon.

Through the efforts of Rev. John W. Belknap, who appointed to Brandon in 1838, the first pastor to occupy the pulpit in the new church, in connection with the pastors of the Baptist and congregational churches, special services were held at Forestdale, the Arnold neighborhood, and in other schoolhouses about town, and an extensive revival occurred. 30 adults were converted in the Arnold district alone. In this revival Lewis Barker as converted, who has since been one of the main pillars of the church. Under the labor of Rev. Daniel F. Page, pastor in 1841, a series of meetings was held in the Arnold schoolhouse, at which a large number of children were converted. The numbers of probationers reported to conference by Rev. C.R. Ford, pastor 1855-1857, indicate that very considerable additions were made to the church by conversion during him term of service. The largest number of members that has ever been reported to conference, since Brandon became a separate charge, was 131 members 11 probationers which were reported by Rev. B.D. Ames in 1862.

The present officers of the church are as follows: Pastor, Rev. Andrew Heath;
Stewards, H.S. McCollum, Lewis Barker, Wm. A. Williams, Emory Fuller, James L. Cahee, Henry L. Leonard, A. McLaughlin, J.S. Stafford and Asahel L. Cool.
Leaders, Wm. A. Williams, Henry L. Leonard, and Chauncey Hewett.
Sunday-School Superintendent, J.S. Stafford.

A very eligible lot, opposite the Brandon House, has recently been secured, on which to erect a new church. This enterprise will doubtless be carried out at no distant day. The church has also erected a cottage on the New Haven Camp-Ground.

The following preachers have been raised up in connection with the Brandon society, viz. Noah Bigelow, licensed to preach in 1809. Nathaniel B. Alden, licensed to preach in 1820, and Enoch Brazee probably licensed to preach about the same time as the latter. Me Bigelow entered the traveling connection in 1810, preaching in the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. He filled important appointments in Portland, Maine, Pittsfield, Mass., Troy, NY, and New York City, at which he dies about 1845. He was a man of genuine piety and superior talents, but injured his health by the practice of vociferous speaking. He commenced his religious life alone, so far as his own family was concerned, they all remaining unconverted until the great revival of 1817, when most of them were brought in. Charles Pomeroy joined the New York conference in 1822. He was a powerful preacher, and a man of deep conscientiousness and solid piety. He continued a faithful and useful and useful minister of the church, until in the mental infirmity of advanced age he became a Swedenborgian. He has reared a most worthy family of children, several of whom have been called to fill responsible positions in society. Rev. Enoch Brazee left the church and joined the Free Will Baptists.

(Insert Table of Ministers)

The circuit of which the statistics are given above was at first called Vergennes, and embraced all the Methodists in Vermont, west of the Mountains. In 1799, it was curtailed by the organization of Essex circuit, embraced that portion of Western Vermont, north of Williston. In 1801, it first appears under the name of Brandon circuit, all the territory north of Salisbury remaining in Vergennes circuit. It then, and for some time afterwards, extended south and west so as to include Danby and Wells, and Granville with Whitehell and Crownpoint in New York. In 1821, the circuit before many years was still further reduced in size, and from 1826 to 1840 its boundaries and name were often changed. For one or two years, about 1835 it is not easy to determine from Minutes in what circuit the Brandon Society was included. From 1841 to the present time, (1872) the boundaries of the charge have remained substantially unchanged, embracing the town of Brandon and the William’s district in Sudbury.

Of interest also:
“From a Discourse on the life and Character of Hon. Stephan A. Douglas” by Rev. D. D. Ames, delivered in the Methodist E. Church at Brandon, on Sunday, June 9, 1861. Vermont Historical Magazine, Vol. III, p. 474 ff.

“Rev. William Ford” – Sixteen years a resident of Brandon – Selections from his poems. Ibid, p. 489 ff.