East Cemetery’s Van Winkle Gateway

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An outstanding job of brush clearing along Rt. 202 between Litchfield and Torrington has recovered the Van Winkle Gate of the East Cemetery.

 

 

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East Cemetery, Litchfield’s largest, is, according to Alain White’s history of the town, the third oldest cemetery in town.  White identifies West Cemetery, established in 1723 as the oldest but does not state what is second.  In 1754 a committee consisting of Samuel Culver, Joshua Garritt, and Edward Phelps was formed to lay out a new cemetery closer to town.  Their work was finished in January 1755.  As is evident from the plaque above (which adorns the right side of the gateway), Edgar Van Winkle, Sr. served as president for the Litchfield Cemetery Association for 27 years.  Van Winkle was a Union College educated civil engineer and Union Army veteran who rose to be chief engineer of New York’s Department of Public Works.  He also worked for the Shepaug Railroad. 

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On the left side of the gate are biblical quotations.  The first is: “Then shall the Dust return to the Earth as it was and the Spirit to God who gave it” from Ecclesiastes.  The second is: “Blessed are the Dead which die in the LORD that they may rest from their labors & their works do follow them” from Revelation.

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Originally the area of the cemetery behind the gate was designated for use as a highway, but when the cemetery expanded in 1837, the town voted to give the highway land to the Litchfield Cemetery Association that still maintains the grounds.  The stonewalls alongside the Route 118 frontage of the cemetery were built by public subscription in 1850.  The southeast corner of the cemetery – along this road – contains unmarked graves of Revolutionary War soldiers.

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The entrance to the cemetery on Route 118 is dedicated to the memory of Edgar Van Winkle, Jr., who also served as president of the Litchfield Cemetery Association.  

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Hidden Nearby: Sharon’s Moravian Monument

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Jan Hus

The Unity of Brethren, better known as the Moravians, also played an important role in the early religious history of the county.  The group’s nickname stems from the refugees from Moravia, an area of the present day Czech Republic.  The Moravians were essentially followers of the Catholic revolutionary Jan Hus, who advocated for giving lay people a more prominent role in the church and having masses said in vernacular languages.  Hus was burned at the stake in 1415.

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Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

One of the principal tenets of the Moravian church is the “ideal of service,” which emphasizes the importance of educational and missionary work.  At the forefront of these ideals was Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, a German social reformer and Moravian bishop who led efforts to spread Christianity through the Native Americans of the Northeast.  Around 1740, von Zinzendorf himself came to America, and preached to Indians in New Milford.  He was so successful in igniting the fire of Moravianism that the natives agreed to move with Zinzendorf to Bethlem (today Bethlehem), Pennsylvania.  Harsh conditions and illness, however, soon led the Native Americans to return.

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Monument to Rauch in Pine Plains, NY. Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Around the same time, a second Moravian mission was established in Sharon to minister to the settlements at Shekomeko (Pine Plains, NY), Wequagnock (near Sharon), and the Schaghticokes in Kent.  The mission was founded by the Reverend Christian Henry Rauch, who presided for two years before turning the work over to 26 year-old Reverend Gotlieb Buetner, who died two years later, and was buried at the site of the mission.

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New York State chased the Moravians out of their borders in 1745, fearing that the missionaries were secret emissaries of the Catholic Church.  This led numerous Christian Indians to settle around Sharon, where the Moravian mission continued under the leadership of David Bruce, a Moravian teacher from Edinburgh, Scotland.  In 1789, George Loskiel wrote of Bruce’s activities in his History of the Moravian Missioners Among the North American Indians:

Bruce … resided chiefly in a house at Wequagnock … but sometimes resided at         Schaticook, whence he paid visits to Westenhunk, by invitation of the head chief of the Mohikan nation, soweing the seeds of the gospel wherever he came …. Twenty Indians were added to the church by baptism.  Brother Bruce  remained in his station till his happy departure out of time …. He was remarkably cheerful during his illness, and his conversation edified all who saw him.  Perceiving that his end approached, he called his Indian brethren present to his bedside, and, pressing their hands to his breast, besought them fervently to remain faithful unto the end, and immediately fell asleep in the Lord.

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That was July 9, 1749.  A monument to Bruce and Joseph Powel, a later Moravian missionary, was erected in Sharon in October 1859, 110 years after Bruce’s death.  The monument still stands, hidden deep within the woods along Route 361.  On its east face is the following passage from Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him that bringeth

Good tidings, that publisheth peace,

That bringeth good tidings of good,

That publisheth salvation.

Special thanks to my friend and colleague Warren Prindle of Sharon for not only bringing this monument to my attention, but also hacking through the woods with me to find it!

The Beecher Monument

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The monument sits prominently on the eastern end of where Route 63 passes through the Litchfield green, a fitting location for the monument to Litchfield’s most prominent family.

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Lyman Beecher (1775-1863)

Lyman Beecher was born in New Haven in 1775 and graduated from Yale in 1797.  The following year he became the pastor of the East Hampton (Long Island) Congregational Church at an annual salary of $300.  He remained there for twelve years before he was hired by the Litchfield Congregational Church, where he remained for sixteen years. (It is interesting to note that the monument sits at the site of Beecher’s church; the current Congregational Church was moved to its site in 1929).

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Beecher remembered his time in Litchfield as the most “active and laborious” of his life.  In his autobiography he wrote that he “found the people of Litchfield impatient for my arrival and determined to be pleased, if possible, but somewhat fearful that they should not be able to persuade me to stay.  The house yesterday was full, and the conference in the evening, and so far as I have heard, the people felt as I have told you they intended to.  Had the people in New York been thus predisposed I think I should not have failed to give them my satisfaction.  My health is good and I enjoy good spirits, some time past, am treated with great attention and politeness and am become acquainted with agreeable people.”

S4859-lgTimothy Dwight, the president of Yale University, preached the sermon at Beecher’s installment service.  Beecher very quickly established himself as one of the nation’s most important religious leaders.  He was central to the establishment of the Litchfield County Foreign Mission Society, and from the pulpit at the Congregational Church gave the Six Sermons on Intermperance, that when published in book form in 1826 were widely circulated on both sides of the Atlantic and were “among the earliest and most effective” statements on behalf of the temperance movement.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe

Lyman Beecher’s achievements have largely been eclipsed by those of his children; in fact, Theodore Parker, the noted writer and abolitionist said that Lyman was the father “of more brains than any other man in America.”  Harriet Beecher was born in Litchfield the year after Lyman was installed as pastor.  One townsperson shared a recollection of Lyman Beecher serving as the judge of an essay contest among the students of Sarah Pierce’s academy.  Upon hearing one essay he immediately brightened and asked who had written it.  He beamed when he learned it was his daughter’s work.

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Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher, soon to surpass his father’s fame as a minister, was born in Litchfield in 1813.  He was  remembered by his classmates for building a pulpit out of hay and impersonating the elder Beecher’s sermons.

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Catharine Beecher

Catharine Beecher, Lyman’s oldest child, would become a reformer and leading proponent of the cult of domesticity.  While not born in Litchfield, she had fond memories of the annual “minister’s wood sled” when members of the congregation would bring Beecher wood for the winter and in return the Beecher children would serve them cider, hot cakes and doughnuts.

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The Beechers’ time in Litchfield ended in 1826 when Lyman moved to a congregation in Boston.  Harriet achieved her fame in Cincinnati and Maine, Henry Ward headed the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and Catharine opened a school for girls in Hartford.  Still, they had a great impact on Litchfield, as remembered by this monument which was erected by the University Club in 1908.

The Original Site of St. Michael’s Church

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This small, difficult to find marker stands along Route 202 between the ABC Music Shop and the Tapping Reeve Condominiums.  It marks the first location of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

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Peppercorns

The church was founded in November 1745 at a meeting of the heads of thirteen Litchfield families.  While the numbers of Episcopalians in colonial Connecticut paled in comparison to the number of Congregationalists, Litchfield’s families were fortunate to have a strong leader in John Davies.  Davies, who had been born in England, donated money to build the church and leased the land on which the first church stood.  The terms of the lease between Davies and the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts called for the parish to pay Davies one peppercorn annually on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.  Thus, the parish got its name.

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The Revolutionary War was a particularly trying time for the church, as parishioners took an oath of loyalty to both the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The church closed completely between 1777 and 1780, and American soldiers allegedly threw stones at the structure as they passed through Litchfield until they were stopped by George Washington, himself an Episcopalian.  Approximately 20% of Connecticut’s Episcopalians fled to Canada as a result of the war.

In 1784, the Connecticut General Assembly officially recognized the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Society of Litchfield was organized.  Further stability came the following year when Rev. Ashbel Baldwin was installed at the pulpit in Litchfield.

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St. Michael’s Church today

These developments, coupled with the cessation of Episcopalian loyalty to the King, led to the need for a larger church. This resulted in the parish’s move to South Street, the site where the current church built between 1918 and 1920 still stands.

Hidden Nearby: Henry Obookiah’s Cornwall Grave

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Henry Opukahaia (spelled Obookiah in his lifetime) was born on the island of Hawaii in 1792.  His parents were killed in a civil war and as a fifteen-year old, Henry was taken aboard the merchant ship Triumph, commanded by Captain Britnall and bound for New Haven.  While on board the ship, Henry befriended Thomas Hopu, a Hawaiian cabin boy who taught his fellow islander English.

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Henry Obookiah’s grave in the Cornwall Cemetery along Route 4.

While in New Haven, Opukahaia studied under Reverend Edwin Dwight, a recent graduate of Yale.  In addition to the traditional curriculum of tutors and pupils of the time, Opukahaia focused especially on English grammar.  During the course of his education, Opukahaia was exposed to Christianity and he not only converted but asked for training so that he could spread the gospel on his home islands.  This resulted, in part, in the founding of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall.  Over its ten years of operation, the school educated 100 students, including 43 Native Americans and 20 Hawaiians.

While a student in Cornwall, Opukaiah worked on farms in Torrington and Litchfield to support himself.  The Litchfield community encouraged Henry to systemize the Hawaiian language through the writing of a dictionary and books on common grammar and spelling.  Opukaiah also wrote his memoirs.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah's gravesite.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah’s gravesite.

Unfortunately, before these projects could be completed, Henry fell ill.  Diagnosed with typhoid fever by Dr. Calhoun of Cornwall, Henry died in February 1818.  He last words were reportedly “Alloah o e,” which translates to “My love be with you.”

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Lyman Beecher

The Reverend Lyman Beecher of Litchfield presided over Opukahaia’s funeral, stating:

He came to this land and hearing of Him on whom without hearing,

he could not believe, and by the mouth of those who could never

have spoken to him in Owyhee.

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Opukahaia was buried in the Cornwall Cemetery, but in 1993 family members in Hawaii had his body reinterred at the Kahikolu Congregational Church in Kona, Hawaii.  The Cornwall gravesite is marked with a plaque thanking the community for caring for Henry, and is topped with his words, “Oh ! How I want to see Hawaii!”

Hidden Nearby: Bethlehem’s Joseph Bellamy Monument

2013-06-29 08.52.55This monument on the Bethlehem green marks the location of the church where Joseph Bellamy preached.  Bellamy was one of the leading Congregationalist pastors and theologians – as well as a prominent educator and writer – of the late 18th century.  Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1719, he graduated from Yale in 1735 and studied for a time under the famed minister of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards.

Muddy_roadBellamy was licensed to preach in 1738, at the age of nineteen.  That same year Bethlehem, a community of fourteen families, was granted “winter privileges.”  Because of the poor nature of 18th century roads, settlements were given the privilege of hiring their own minister for the winter months instead of traveling to the nearest established church.  Bellamy began preaching on November 2nd of that year and 1740 formally became the town’s minister.

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Bethlehem, 1836. The Congregational Church is on the right.

Initial services were held in a barn, but by 1767 the townspeople had voted to tear down the old meetinghouse and hired workers at four shillings a day to construct a new meetinghouse, with dimensions of 60 by 43 feet.  The new meetinghouse would have a “good decent bell” and a “lightning-rod” and the interior would be arranged for “men not to infringe on women’s pues.”

2013-06-29 08.51.52It has been stated that no theologian of the time – except for Edwards – had the impact  that Bellamy had.  This was due largely to his teaching of theological students and the publication of his twenty-two books, which laid out the basic ideas of New Light Congregationalism.  New Lights largely accepted the revival movements of the Great Awakening and as such brought political divisions to largely Old Light New England.  In response to these divisions minister Gideon Hawley, wrote to Bellamy in 1763 that he didn’t “know of but two clergymen however in the country that appear to like your principles.” In spite of his controversial views, Bellamy served as the pastor in Bethlehem for more than half a century, until his death in 1790.

A future post will examine the history of Bellamy’s house, now maintained as the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Gardens.

West Cemetery’s Civil War Effigy Graves

IMG_3402Memorial Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the staggering statistic that forty percent of all Union dead in the Civil War were unidentified.  While this was a marked improvement from the Mexican War fifteen years earlier – in which 100% of the American dead were buried in unmarked graves – it nonetheless posed a particular problem for Americans.

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The Death of George Washington – a classic representation of the idea of the “good death.”

Death held a central place in the culture of Victorian America.  Society dictated that there was such a thing as a “good death,” in which the deceased expired in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.  To such a religious society, the dying individual was closer to God, and therefore his final words were dutifully recorded as being of great importance.

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A Civil War embalmer

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the prime of their lives at great distances from their homes and families was therefore at variance with the notion of the “good death.”  While thousands of dollars were spent on embalming bodies to return them home for burial,  many families were left without even a place to mourn their fallen soldiers.

IMG_3403A solution was the effigy grave, a memorial stone for a victim whose body – because it was unidentifiable or for financial reasons – was unable to be returned home.  The Civil War graves grouped together in Litchfield’s West Cemetery (with a monument of a drum labeled “Mustered Out) are a good representation of these graves.

IMG_3405These men fought on some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War.

IMG_3406Others suffered through unimaginable horrors in prisoner of war camps.

Perhaps these memorials gave some comfort to the families of these soldiers in the aftermath of the war.  One hundred and fifty years later, the stones continue to remind passersby of these soldiers’ service to our nation.