Congregationalism Comes to Madison

New Englanders Pioneer Frontier Church
          Our church celebrates its one hundred twenty-fifth birthday in October 1965.  It has lived and served its rapidly developing parish in years crowded with important events. In the lifetime of the church the nation has spread across the continent from its eastern moorings through wilderness, plains, prairies, and mountains to the waters of the Pacific.
           Wisconsin has changed in those same years from a sparsely settled frontier territory to a forward-looking state peopled by near four million souls.  Madison at the same time, has grown from the little village in 1840 of 146 to a city of 157,844 individuals for the most part interested in keeping this one of the best places in which to live on the American continent.
            Our church, too, has grown apace, surmounting discouragements and obstacles common to frontier conditions. Nine courageous and dedicated pioneers met and organized the church on October 4, 1840. The first meetings of the church were held in the library of the territorial capitol.
            The names of the nine charter members, all from New England and New York, appear on a wooden plaque in the narthex of the church.  They were:  David Brigham, Mrs. Elizabeth
Brigham, William N. Seymour, Mrs. Anna Maria Seymour, Mrs. Maria A. Morrison, Mrs. Emiline Wyman, Mrs. Arvilla M. Catlin, Miss Clarissa R. Pierce, and Mrs. Gertrude Slingerland.
            The first names on the list should always be those of David and Elizabeth Brigham.  David was the brother of Ebenezer Brigham, the first permanent white settler in Dane County. (Elizabeth was a kinswoman of Benjamin Franklin.) They had come from Massachusetts.  David Brigham died in 1843. "The Widow Brigham" was a staunch member of this church until her death in 1879. The plaque bearing the names of the charter members was unveiled at our centennial celebration October 4, 1940, by her great-granddaughter, another Elizabeth Brigham, then a senior in West High School.
            The first minister of this church was the Rev. Elbert Slingerland, of the Dutch Reformed Church, and for the first year of its existence the congregation was attached to that denomination which had strong roots in New York State.  But Yankee influences prevailed, so in 1841 this became a Congregational Church.
            The first quarter century it struggled like all young churches in a pioneer society.  It had seven ministers up to 1867 - Mr. Slingerland succeeded by Justin Clark, Samuel Miner, Charles Lord, Nathaniel Egleston, Lathrop Taylor and Lewis Matson.
            The congregation erected a frame building in 1846 at a cost of $1800 on Webster Street across from the present site of No. 1 Fire Station. In 1857 this building became the first high school in the city and the congregation erected a stone chapel on West Washington Avenue costing $4,400.
            Despite the financial difficulties of the Civil War period, the project, which was started back in October 1840 by the little band of earnest pioneers, lived on and became the basis of all future development.

Posted on October 17, 2017 at 11:08 am in Featured Content.

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