“Sufferers’ Land Post #15 – The Episcopal Church in Norwalk

As with everything else in the early days of the village of Norwalk, Platt and Sally Benedict were involved in the religious life of the community. Although they were not baptized when they arrived, they saw the need for a church in Norwalk, and decided to establish one.
In 1818, they hosted the first Episcopal service in their cabin, consisting of the reading of the Episcopal Church service, and a sermon by a layman. These lay meetings continued for years, first in private homes, and later in the Court House.

In 1820, Platt and Sally organized the first Sabbath School in the Court House. Most of the children of the town attended this non-denominational school. It would be years before a minister arrived in the village, but in the meantime, thanks to Platt and Sally’s initiative, a vibrant religious community developed.

Sunday, January 20, 1821, a minister named Reverend Searle visited the village for the first time and called a meeting to organize a new parish. Seventeen men attended, with Platt, of course, taking the lead. They decided to call the new parish, Saint Paul’s, and elected wardens and vestrymen. They elected Platt vestryman, and selected him to be a representative of the new parish to the fourth annual Diocesan Convention.

Reverend Searle could not stay in the parish, so he selected lay readers to carry out services in his absence. Platt, as usual, was one of those selected. Services continued every Sunday, with Reverend Searle occasionally attending to give Holy Communion and perform baptisms. The Bishop also visited the parish from time to time, so often that Sally’s son David ran away from home once because he was tired of polishing the bishop’s boots. [1]

During one visit, Sunday, February 17, 1822, Reverend Searle baptized Platt Benedict into the church. The next day, he held a meeting of the vestry in the Benedict home. He selected Rufus Murray to perform divine service in the parish once he became qualified. Reverend Searle continued to visit St. Paul’s parish occasionally, his last visit coming in 1826. [2]

During this time, a deacon by the name of S.A. Bronson also served the parish. He later recalled the religious life in Norwalk at the time. My first visit to this place was in 1825, to supply as far as a layman could, the place of a clergyman. No settled minister of any name had ever resided here, and only the Episcopal Church had attempted to keep up regular services. When, subsequently, a clergyman did become resident here, the regularity of the services depended upon the established forms of religion, as conducted by laymen. Many of you, no doubt, remember the old white court house, and cousin Ami Keeler with his tin horn, with which he used to call the people to worship — a horn more truly spiritual than some of more recent date. [3]

By this time, the parish conducted weekly services and had a strong Sunday school program for the religious education of all the children of the village, not just those of families in the parish. If not for Sally and Platt Benedict, none of this would have happened.

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

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Footnotes:
[1] Story of David Benedict running away from home is from the undated text of an address given by Eleanor Wickham to the Sally DeForest chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
[2] First religious services in Norwalk and the early history of St. Paul’s Parish are described in detail by C.E. Newman in The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1876, pp. 45-47. The establishment of the Sabbath School is described in the above article and in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1867, p. 84.
[3] “Address of Rev. S.A. Bronson, D.D.” The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, p. 7.

Note: Mary L. Stewart of Norwalk, a parishioner at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church, kindly assisted with this post.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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One Response

  1. […] I was baptized in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. My god-mother was Eleanor Wickham, daughter of Frank and Agnes Wickham. It also was the first church established in Norwalk, in 1818, when Platt and Sarah Benedict (also my ancestors), held the first services in their cabin. […]

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