Religious Aspects of War
A large portion or the American colonists
were decided in their sentiments by what may
be called their religious affinities. From the
first settlement of the country, it was well known that
the design had been cherished by a certain party in
England to extend the national church establishment
over the colonies.
Those who believed in the validity of Presbyterian
ordination, says Bronson,
and the independence
of the American churches, who abhorred prelacy
almost as much as they did the pope, were quick to
see the religious bearings of the questions of the day.
They felt that such a measure as the stamp act must
be resisted at the beginning, as a dangerous encroachment
upon their just rights, and which, if not opposed
successfully, would end in the loss of their most
institutions, political and religious. The Church-of-England
men held different visions and had different
sympathies. They looked upon theirs as the only
true church, and Congregationalism as a heresy which
had ruled too long in this country. They favored the
views and hoped for the triumph of the British government.
These views were very prevalent in the town of
The two parties were more evenly balanced
than in most other towns. The Churchmen were
in a minority, but they were still numerous â€“ sufficiently
so to excite the jealousy, and even the fears,
of the majority. When at one time they obtained the
ascendancy in society meeting in Northbury, the
manner in which they conducted themselves had not
inspired confidence in their moderation. Religious
denominations in power are not wont to treat the opposition
with peculiar leniency. Such is the transcendent
importance of religious truth, and such the
wickedness of unbelief, or a contrary belief, that men
are apt to think any means justifiable which tend to
spread the one or suppress the other. The Congregationalists
cannot plead guiltless to the charge of attempting,
when in authority, to crush out dissent by
the use of power.
When at last the war of the Revolution broke out
in 1775, the Churchmen of Waterbury, of Connecticut,
and New England were seen ranged upon the
side of the parent country and against the rebel colonists.
They were royalists, or tories. They had reasons
satisfactory to themselves for their opinions and
conduct. They wished the success of the British government
because on that success depended their hopes
of worldly distinction and religious privilege. On that
they supposed they must rely for the permanent
ascendency of the Episcopal Church in America â€“ its
doctrines, its faith, and its worship. To England they
were bound by the strongest ties. From that country
their parish clergymen had from the first received
a great part of their support. They owed it a debt of
gratitude, which, if they could not repay, they were
unwilling to forget. They had always been the weaker
party, had been ridiculed in their weakness, and
sometimes voted out of their just rights. Their feelings
had not been conciliated, and they had come to
hate the whigs heartily. They now hoped that their
wrongs would be redressed.
The Episcopal clergy of Connecticut and of New
England took the lead in opposition to the war. They
kept up a correspondence with the Society [for Propagating
the Gospel] at home, of which they were beneficiaries,
in which they expressed their views freely
of the merits of the controversy, and gave information
of the state of the country. The loyalty of their own
church was a subject for frequent comment and congratulation.
Dr. Richard Mansfield, of Derby, wrote
in December, 1775, that he had preached and taught
quiet subjection to the king and parent state, and that
he was well assured that the clergy in general of the
colony of Connecticut had done the same. Of the
one hundred and thirty families under his charge, one
hundred and ten, he continued, are firm and steadfast
friends to the government, and detest and abhor
the present unnatural rebellion, and all those measures
which led to it. Further on, he remarked that 'the worthy Mr. Scovill
[of Waterbury] and the venerable
Mr. Beach [of Newtown] have had still better
success, scarcely a single person being found of their
congregations but what hath persevered steadfastly in
his duty and loyalty.'
Among these royalists were several of the principal
families of Germantown. Mr. Jobamah Gunn was
the largest landholder and richest man in the town.
He carried on extensive operations on his farm, and
employed many men to labor for him. In his sentiments,
as well as in the magnitude of his business, he
resembled an English squire. He did not believe in
the doctrines of equality which began to be so rife in
society. He would have the good old custom of lords
and tenants maintained, and thought that all who
were not rich enough to own land should be bound to
service to those that were.
Near him resided the Wooster family, one member
of which we have already introduced to our readers.
David Wooster, Sen., had twelve children, some of
whom, in after years, attained distinction as persons
of respectability and piety. He was imbued with sentiments
of opposition to the war, and became noted
among the leading tories of the town. His brothers,
Daniel, John, Thomas and Henry, lived in Derby,
all of whom agreed substantially in their opinions, and
were highly obnoxious to their townsmen of the opposite
party. Numerous other families of like faith lived
in the neighborhood; indeed, it became known through
all the surrounding region for its disaffection and as a
place where refugees from the recruiting service, and
those guilty of offenses against the authorities, were
harbored and protected.
This disaffection pervaded even the militia of the
town. There had been two military companies in
Waterbury, one of which was commanded by enthusiastic
friends of the country. Of the other, Captain
Brown and all the officers except one sergeant were
tories, and were free in expressing their sentiments.
Of course, in the excited state of feeling then prevalent,
such utterances could not fail to attract attention.
A formal complaint against the captain was
made to the General Assembly for disloyalty to the
colonies, coupled also with the charge that he had refused
to detach men for service in the army when ordered
by the lieutenant-colonel of the regiment. For
these offenses he was summoned before the Assembly,
and, after a full hearing, was found guilty, cashiered,
and made incapable of holding any military office, and
the company under his command was disbanded.
Smarting under his disgrace, he soon after joined the
royal troops in New York, received a captain's commission,
and, in the following August, died there.
His example was followed by not a few of the disbanded
company and others, chiefly young men.
the year 1776, says Bronson,
after the defeat of
the American forces on Long Island, when the British
army was lying in and about New York, the patriot
cause looking desperate enough, about eighty persons
(royalists) left Waterbury with the intention of joining
the enemy. Some were taken on the way by the
Americans, but most of them reached their destination.
They did not, however, meet with the reception
they had expected. Instead of being welcomed and
petted, they were treated with superciliousness and
neglect. The discipline of the army they found almost
intolerable, and a thorough disgust for their new
friends soon took the place of former admiration.
Many, taking advantage of the proclamations by Congress
of pardon to such as should return to duty, departed
the royal standard, came home and took the
oath of allegiance to the state. A part of these entered
the American service. Numbers died or were
killed while still with the British army. A few served
in it till the close of the war. Of the latter number, a
part, after peace was declared, settled in Nova Scotia.
Others found a home in the southern states, while two
or three returned to Waterbury.
As might readily be supposed, these tories in the
British service were among the most dreaded foes of
the inhabitants living in the vicinity of the royal
armies. They became notorious for their plundering
excursions, in which they carried off cattle, hay, fruits
and stores of all sorts for the use of the troops. In
the neighborhood of New York they were named
from the frequency and success of these
raids. Their familiarity with the country and its
people enabled them to plan their excursions successfully,
and escape, for the most part, with impunity.
Often they had old grudges against those who had insulted
or prosecuted them, and they could now couple
with the plunder they carried off the sweets of revenge.
It is needless to say how rapidly the morals
of men thus engaged would deteriorate, and how soon
many of those who at first were simply honest royalists,
became robbers and murderers, hardened in every
History of Waterbury, p. 328.
The succeeding statements as to the
royalists of that town, and of the attitude of the Episcopalians toward
war, are given on the authority of that work.
- The northern parish of the town, now Plymouth. On
the majority in the parish, they took possession of the meetinghouse,
voting out the services of the Congregationalist pastor. â€“
Bronson, p. 310.
- History, pp. 329, 330, 332.
- History of Waterbury, pp. 353-354.