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Church Denominations. At the time Vermont entered the Union, her churches numbered very nearly one hundred, the majority of them being Congregational and Baptist. Both of these churches grew rapidly, and by the end of this period these two denominations alone had organized churches to the number of one hundred and seventy
thereabouts. The Congregational church at Bennington, organized in 1762, was the first organized church in the State ; and the one at Newbury, two years later, probably the second.
The Baptist churches were at this time confined mostly to the southern part of the State. Besides the regular preachers of this church, there were the itinerant preachers, often men of marked ability, but lacking education beyond the rudiments of common English and a thorough knowledge of the contents of the Bible. Through summer's heat and winter's cold they traversed the half-made roads and rough byways, often fording rivers and braving great dangers to carry the gospel from one solitary settlement to another.
In the year 1796, Methodist churches first came into existence in the State. The work of the Methodists was divided either into “ stations” or “circuits.” A station was restricted to a single congregation; while the circuit
sometimes embraced a whole county, and by its means the doctrines of that church were carried to all parts of the State. The itinerant, or circuit preachers, as they were called, had regular appointments in all the towns in their circuits. To reach these towns they were obliged to travel on horseback over rough bridle-paths, oftentimes the only roads connecting the towns in the circuit, preaching oftener than otherwise in schoolhouses, barns, or in “God's first temples,” the groves. Large crowds came to hear them ; for the people of those days would travel cheerfully many miles to hear a sermon, oftentimes on foot, but at best on horseback or with no better conveyance than a rude wagon or sled.
Late in the summer, after the harvests, the Methodists held camp-meetings in the woods, lit up at night by the glare of the pine knot. The Methodist preachers were preeminently men of prayer, and characterized by their great zeal in proclaiming the message of free salvation, which was in those days considered rank heresy by other evangelical churches in which the doctrine of foreordination was universally taught. In view of this fact, is it any wonder that the glad message was ushered in with enthusiasm by the early Methodists?
You will remember that the royal charters had each granted two shares in every township for the use of the Episcopal Church, one to be used in the support of that church in the town in which it was granted, and the other for the Episcopal society in England, to be used for spreading the gospel in foreign parts. Although one share was set apart in each township for the first settled minister, in only one instance was this share taken up by an Episcopalian, and that was in Arlington. Most of these shares were taken up by Independents.
Notwithstanding the provision made for this church in the early charters, its growth in Vermont was very slow. Up to the year 1800 its parishes numbered, in all, but twelve; and the number of communicants in all, taken together, was less than one hundred. None of the societies were able to maintain alone a clergyman; and, as one has said, in writing a sketch of the early church, “ It might be said she dwelt in tents, for we cannot find that she possessed a single finished temple.” As might be expected, the cause of the church suffered during the Revolution on account of the hostile feeling which the people had toward England and English institutions. But, while the cause of the church seemed almost hopeless, it was kept alive by the faithfulness of the few, and preserved for better times.
In most of the townships the lands granted for religious purposes, with the exception of the shares for the first settled ministers, lay uncultivated and uncared-for for many years. Their final disposition will be taken up under another head.
There were also a few Universalist and Christian churches in Vermont during this period, and several societies of Quakers, who were exempted from military service because of their non-resistant principles. Graham, in his early history of Vermont, characterizes the last named as “industrious, quiet, peaceable, punctual, and exemplary people."
In the town charters issued by the Vermont Legislature, no provision was made for the Church of England; but shares were set apart for the first settled minister, as in the royal charters, and also one for the support of a gospel ministry. For the building of the churches and the
support of the ministers, the towns levied and collected taxes, and to hire and pay the minister was often the duty of the selectmen. Tithingmen and sometimes choristers also were chosen in town meeting.
Schools and their Maintenance. The thought of the Vermonters was too much engrossed by other matters to do much for the cause of education till after the close of the
But they had maintained their common schools ; and the advantages offered by them had been so well improved, that nearly all the inhabitants could read, write a legible hand, and had sufficient knowledge of arithmetic to transact ordinary business. In each of the New Hampshire grants, one share had been set apart for the support of the common schools. Our early Vermont legislators seem to have had in mind to do better things for the cause of education. They not only declared that there ought to be one or more common schools in every town, a grammar school for every county, and a State university, but in their town charters made provision for all three by preserving a share for each purpose.
After the close of the war, grammar schools and academies sprang into existence so rapidly that before the end of this period they numbered more than twenty, and were scattered throughout the State. One of these, then known as the Rutland County Grammar School, now the Castleton State Normal School, is the oldest incorporated school in the State, being incorporated in 1787. Many of the grammar schools derived little benefit from the school lands, as more than half the town charters had been granted by Governor Wentworth, and in these no provision had been made for schools of this class.
This was especially the case in the southern part of the State. In several
counties, however, the grammar schools realized quite a revenue from the rental of school lands.
There was also some realization of the need of trained teachers in those days, as we learn from the fact that in 1791 a fall term of school was kept at Danby by Jacob Eddy, a Quaker, for the instruction of teachers; and this was the first school expressly for teachers in the United States.
In addition to the revenues derived from the rental of school lands, taxes were raised in each town for the support of the common schools. In 1782 a law was passed providing for the divisions of towns into school districts. It directed that trustees should be appointed who should have a general superintendence over all the schools in the town, and that there should be a prudential committee in each district whose duty it should be to raise half the money needed for the support of schools on the grand list, and the other half in the same way or on the polls of the scholars, as the district itself should determine.
Establishment of Colleges.-- With a view to establishing a university in the State, the Assembly of Vermont reserved one right of land in all the townships that they granted, for the use of such an institution. The land thus reserved amounted to 29,000 acres, lying chiefly in the northern part of the State. But nothing was done toward the establishment of a university for several years after the close of the war.
The union of New Ilampshire towns east of Connecticut River with Vermont brought Dartmouth College within the limits of our State. After they had been ceded back to New Hampshire, on being requested to do so by President Wheelock, Vermont granted to Dartmouth College a town