Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Excerpt from Book Published in 1860 Provides Memories of Sundays at St. Paul's Church Before 1838

The history of St. Paul's Church of Eastchester, now a National Historic Site, is closely entertwined with that of the Town of Pelham. Consequently, I often have written about the history of the church here. For a few of many examples, see:

Thursday, November 8, 2007: Brief History of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester Published in 1886.

Friday, September 21, 2007: The Ringing of the Bell of St. Paul's Church of Eastchester on the 100th Anniversary of the First Service in the Stone Church

Thursday, September 6, 2007: Information About St. Paul's Church, the Battle of Pelham and Other Revolutionary War Events Near Pelham Contained in an Account Published in 1940

Wednesday, August 15, 2007: Plan of Pews in St. Paul's Church 1790

Monday, August 13, 2007: 1865 Comments of Rev. William Samuel Coffey of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester Regarding the Tenure of Rev. Robert Bolton of Pelham

Wednesday, August 8, 2007: A Description of an Eyewitness Account of Interior of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester During the Revolutionary War

Friday, June 15, 2007: Photograph of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester Published in 1914

Monday, April 9, 2007: An Account of the Election Victory of Lewis Morris in the So-Called "Great Election".

Monday, February 12, 2007: Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site Opens New Exhibition: "Overlooked Hero: John Glover and the American Revolution"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006: A Brief History of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester Published in 1907

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes a chapter from a book published in 1860 containing an account of "Pleasant Sundays' spent at St. Paul's Church in about 1836. The author of the book was James Bolton (1824 - 1863), the youngest son of Rev. Robert Bolton who founded Christ Church in Pelham Manor and who served as Rector of St. Paul's Church in East Chester.

As James Bolton notes in the preface, he changed names in the book, but provides "truthful" narrratives from his boyhood. The book is about his family's life on the "Pond Field Farm" in East Chester which Rev. Bolton acquired in about 1836 before he built Bolton Priory and Christ Church in Pelham. In the book, James Bolton refers to Pond Field Farm as "Brook Farm", to East Chester as "Lancaster" and to St. Paul's Church as "St. Peter's Church".

The material appears immediately below, followed by a citation to its source.


Pleasant Sundays.

BROOK FARM was about three miles from the village of Lancaster. It was the nearest village to us, and thither we had to go for our letters, literature, clothes and groceries; all of which, and blue pills besides, could be obtained in one large shop. The village, nicely shaded with locust-trees, straggled for another mile along the high road -- the houses being mostly on the left-side of the way, as on the right-hand side the land bordered on a vast salt-marsh, watered, and often flooded by a tidal creek [Hutchinson River], which connected Lancaster with the sea. Beyond the marsh, rose a somewhat hilly and well-wooded country, trending towards other townships. The inhabitants of Lancaster were mostly farmers, each living on [Page 33 / Page 34] his own small holding. Here and there was a villa of pretensious architecture, the residence of a retired city tradesman, or of an elderly maiden lady, invisible as a dormouse during the cold season. The Lancastrians must have been a healthy population, for they had no doctor. They must have been a happy population, for they had no lawyer. That they were kindly and hospitable, we had many practical experiences. There were, as there always are, village curiosities among them; the cheif of these was that aged patriarch, Beldart, the sexton -- six feet of bone and muscle -- bell-ringer and grave-digger -- the parish authority -- the person, according to his own estimate, on whose Atlas shoulders rested all the interests of true religion and virtue in Lancaster.

Close on his heels came Squire Timms, a crotchety bachelor -- rector's churchwarden, always in a fidget about something -- the target of the village belles. Then there was 'Aunt Bathsheba,' as she was called -- as her own children called her -- fattest and amiablest [Page 34 / Page 35] of women -- throwing off smiles as the sun throws off its rays -- delighting much in teaparties (she was famous for crullers and dough-nuts), and so fond of hearing herself sing, that she never knew when to let a note go, but would be warbling away at the first line of a psalm whilst the congregation had turned the corner of the third. If it was not praying for the dead, I would say, 'Bless her dear old soul.' Sixty years ago, when a boy, whilst playing about the camp of a British regiment, then lying at Lancaster, her husband had his skull cracked by a wanton soldier, who got, as he deserved, the cat-o'-nine-tails for it. He had to be trepanned, and there on the crown of his polished head, encircled by a wreath of snowiest hair, you could see the piece of silver -- we always set it down for an English half-crown -- which the doctors had made him a present of.

The parish church, St. Peter's, of which our beloved father was rector, stood by itself on a green knoll at the entrance of the village. It was a large stone edifice, begun prior to [Page 35 / Page 36] the revolutionary war, and had been used as a court-house or hospital by either earmy, according as the one or the other occupied Lancaster. Beldart remembered when you could trace blood-stains on the floor. There, even up to our day, sunken in the trunks of a row of venerable acacias, might be seen the rings to which troopers had fastened their horses, and occasionally, so tradition said, unhappy creatures with two legs less than a horse.

I have told you that the church stood by itself on a green knoll. It was surrounded with tall willows and poplars; but the glittering weathercock on its spire out-topped the tallest of them. The churchyard, which sloped down to the marsh, lay behind. It was spacious, yet thickly covered with stones, some just from the mason's chisel, some dating back as far as 1688. Over the graves ran quantities of blackberry vines, the fruit whereof we could stick on our thumbs like thimbles; but we dare not go very deeply into their constituents. I am afraid that these juicy black- [Page 36 / Page 37] berries often drew us off from profiting by the epitaphs.

Adjoining the church was a hundred-and-fifty-feet carriage shed, built, as the inscription on it testified, by that munificent individual, 'John Armiger, Esq., for the comfort and convenience of the worshippers at St. Peter's.'

I was a 'comfort and convenience,' for numbers of the worshippers came from a distance, and we could not leave our vehicles exposed to the noon-heat or rain. Now we drove into this famous shed, exchanged our horses' bridles for halters, gave them their hay or corn, and left the whole row, two or three dozen, in charge of a single man.

For this church, then, of a Sunday, our family started about ten o'clock, directly the necessary farm duties were done. It was a three quarters of an hour's drive, for there were some formidable hills to ascend and descend. We made a regular cavalcade -- four wheels, two-wheels and saddle -- seldom less than fifteen souls -- and we carried our own [Page 37 / Page 38] and our horses' provender with us, for it was too far to return between morning and afternoon services.

Arrived, we had ten minutes to see the horses stabled, and exchange a word with the farmers' sons, who lingered outside the porch till the bell tolled in. Then we took our seats in the gallery around the organ. (The organ also announced, in gold letters, that it was the gift of the munificent 'John Armiger, Esq.') We were the choir, whilse our elder sister played. The prayer-book service is the same as in England, except that you pray for the 'President of the United States,' instead of 'our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria,' and for 'the Senate and Representatives in Congress assembled,' instead of 'the High Court of Parliament.' Our beloved father had no curate. I often wished I could have helped him when it was so hot, that every opening of the mouth was an effort. He preached simply, affectionately, earnestly -- upholding the Banner of the Truth with both [Page 38 / Page 39] hands and the people knew the joyful sound, and crowded to hear it.

After service, we looked to the horses and then, in exceedingly primitive style, spread our own meal on the vestry table, and, sitting round on chairs and hassocks, ate our meal 'with gladness and singleness of hears, giving thanks to God' for it in his own house. In extreme summer the vestry was too close, and we had to adjourn to the open space around the communion rails.

Then our Sunday-school commenced. We had fifty or sixty children. The were arranged in classes in the gallery. My personal charge was a group of black boys. They were merry fellows -- merrier than wise. They laughed at the driest question in the Catechism, and there were certain Scripture stories, as Balaam and his loquacious ass, and Jonah in the whale's belly, which gave rise to such a rolling of the whites of their eyes, and to such rollicking sounds, that I did not [Page 39 / Page 40] venture to narrate them twice. I tried to write lessons on their memories, but it was very much like trying to write them on a whipt syllabub.

Sunday-school ended, we strolled up a lovely shady valley, down which a brook dropped musically; lay on the cool sward; listened to the wood-thrush's vespers; and talked on sacred subjects.

By-and-by the bells rang again, and we assembled for a late afternoon service. Then hastening home, we walked over the farm, and marked the growth of things; and so, thanking God for our Sabbaths, finished them as a Christian household should with 'hymns and spiritual songs.'

Those were pleasant Sundays. I regale myself on them now! They were pleasant, I verily believe, because they were observed sacredly. Busy six-day workers need a seventh day's rest, and you cannot rest if you allow worldly enterprises or worldly pleasures to occupy the mind -- they keep the mill grind- [Page 40 / Page 41] ing, whereas you want to shut it up, and get rid of its clatter.

It is possible for everybody to sanctify the Lord's day in their hearts, and if they have learnt that secret, they have learnt the secret of pleasant Sundays.

Source: Bolton, James, Brook Farm: The Amusing and Memorable of American Country Life, Chapter V, pp. 33 - 41 (NY, NY: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860).

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