A Brief History of St. James: 1764 to the Present

To 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 the church.

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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