A Brief History of St. James: 1764 to the Present
best understand the history of St. James’, one must remember the
early history of our country. The early settlers, particularly
in New England, left England with distaste for many of the
accepted roles of the establishment, especially that of the
Anglican Church and its function as a prop for the monarchy.
In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, the Puritans
hounded the Anglicans in their midst, forcing them to leave or
to conform to Puritan models of behavior. Among those who left
were some members of the Anglican parish in Newtown and New
Milford, Connecticut of the Rev. John Beach, a former
Congregationalist turned Anglican. These families settled in
Arlington in 1764.
Following the British victory in the French and Indian War,
1755, the lands west of the early settlements became safe for
further settlement. The Charter for Arlington as a town, 6 miles
square, was issued 26 July 1761 by Benning Wentworth, Governor
of New Hampshire, who reserved two prime lots of 500 acres in
his own name. The proprietors met in Pownal on September 10th,
1762 and arranged for a party to move to Arlington and establish
a settlement. The party arrived in 1763, to be followed by the
first settlers in 1764, nearly all Episcopalians. Among these
people was the first Lay Reader of the church, Capt. Jehiel
Hawley. (His descendants live here today.) He conducted
Episcopal services in his home as he had done earlier in
Roxbury, Connecticut, and served as Moderator for the town.
While escaping one form of trouble, they found trouble of a
different sort when in 1776. After they had settled in their new
homes and began to conduct Episcopal services, the Revolution
served to isolate them further as "Tories": those loyal to the
King of England. During the Revolution, Capt. Hawley left
Arlington and served on the staff of General John Burgoyne until
Burgoyne’s defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, when he started for
Canada. He died en route in Shelburne in 1777.
During the period 1764 - 1786 the Episcopalians in Arlington
survived, sometimes just barely, by conducting their own
services and from the ministry of priests from outside Vermont
who traveled through the region conducting sacramental services.
During the Revolution, 1776-1781, there is little evidence of
many services being conducted at all. Following the Revolution a
group of families, led by Nathan Canfield, formed the Episcopal
Society in 1784. Shortly thereafter the Society (now called the
Vestry) voted to build a church, and work was begun under the
direction of Canfield, who advanced about half the cost. In
1786, the first priest, Rev. James Nichols, was installed. In
1790, the first convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont
was held in Arlington.
In 1803 the Society voted to establish two churches in
Arlington - one, a Free Church where attendees did not have to
buy their pews, called Bethel Church in West Arlington, and the
other an original wooden church (then called Bethesda) where
today’s church stands. Bethesda Church was competed in 1803. In
1829, the cornerstone of a new stone church was laid on the
foundation of the old wooden church. Called St. James, it was
dedicated in 1831 and completed in 1833.
From 1786 to the present, St. James’ has been served by a
number of priests, many of whom have gone on to more demanding
assignments. On the whole, however, the parish has been blessed
by rectors who have tended their flock faithfully, and helped it
to maintain its role in the life of the community, the state,
and the nation. Today’s Rector is The Reverend Bradford D.
Clark, a graduate of the Divinity School of the University of
Chicago and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. He was
ordained in the State of Maine and was called to St. James’ in
1994, where he resides with his family in the rectory next to
St. James has been fortunate to have had so many dependable
lay leaders in our church during the periods when clergy were
not available. These men, the Hawleys, Demings, Canfields, Hards,
Bucks and others were Arlington's town’s first citizens.
However, full credit must be given to the role that women have
played in the church’s life. It has been the women, from the
earliest formal organization ("The Ladies Mite Society") to
today’s Women of St. James’ and St. Mary’s Altar Guild, who have
served as the cement that has bound the parish together. The
Parish of St. James’ is proud of its role as the "Cradle Parish
of the Diocese", and continues to work and pray for the
community of Arlington, as it has for over 230 years.
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