Early History of the Baptist and Presbyterian Churches – Rev. D.O. Griswold and Rev. S.W. Whelpley.


"Virtue may be assail’d but never hurt,

Surpris’d by unjust force, but not enthrall’d;

Yea, even that which mischief meant most harm ,

Shall, in the happy trial, prove most glory ,

And evil on itself shall back record!"


THE Baptist Church of Saratoga Springs was organized in October, 1793, It was then composed of only twenty members – ten males and ten females – and united, at its next session, with the Shaftsbury Association. At this period of its existence, it was located four miles south of the present village, on the direct road to Waterford. In 1796 they built a log meeting-house, near the original place of their first organization, which stood on that which is now "Shipman’s Hill." Shortly after the erection of this structure, they called to the pastorate the Rev. E.P. Langworthy, who remained with them eighteen years. {Rev. Elias P. Langworthy was afterwards settled over the church at Ballston Spa, where he resided during the war of 1812. He was an ardent patriot, and raised a subscription to buy a cannon to celebrate Hull’s naval victory. He went to Albany and purchased the gun and drew it home with his well-remembered horse, "Mike." Whenever a victory was announced, the "Elder," as he was familiarly called, and the late Sanbun Ford, would make the "welkin ring" with the reports of their gun. The old gun is yet preserved at Ballston, and is used on the Fourth of July and other festive occasions. He was the father of Hon. Lyman B. Langworthy, once sheriff of the county, but for many years a resident of Rochester. Elder Langworthy died at Ballston, and is buried in the village cemetery a few rods east of the monument to Hon. James M. Cook.} In 1804, this church, with thirteen others, met on the second Wednesday of August, with the first church in Milton, and organized the "Saratoga Baptist Association." In 1809, they built their second house of worship in what was then (and still is) called the "Ellis neighborhood," two miles south of the village. This house was afterward sold to Elias Benedict, the owner of the United States Hotel, who moved it to his premises, and in later years turned it into a club-house and billiard-room. Some beautiful trees, standing about eighty rods east of Carrigan’s Mills, on the south road which leads to the residence of the late Isaac Patrick, mark the place which this building once occupied. In 1819, the late Francis Wayland, of Troy, N.Y., was called to the pastorate; and shortly after the latter’s settlement, the late Rev. Francis Wayland, Jr. (President of Brown University) was licensed by the church to preach the Gospel.

The society continued to meet at the building in the "Ellis Neighborhood" until 1821, in which year, through the exertions of Rev. Francis Wayland, they erected a third house of worship on a lot presented to the society by the heirs of Gideon Putnam, in accordance with the will of that person. The present Baptist church edifice in Washington Street, completed in 1856, stands on the same spot. Rev. Mr. Wayland served as pastor for four years, when he was succeeded by the Rev. John Lamb, who remained settled over the society for two years. From 1825 to 1828 the society had no regular minister. In the latter year Joshua Fletcher – at that time a student in the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution (now Madison University) – was engaged as a supply, and shortly afterward established as a permanent pastor. He continued with them for nineteen years; and, it is speaking within bounds, to say that a more worthy, faithful, and conscientious man than he has never been settled over this church. He, in fact, devoted the best years of his life to the society; he was with them in "good and evil report," worked for them in the cause of Christ at a small salary, and only left when he found that he must go into some other more remunerative employment. Indeed, the Baptist church of Saratoga Springs never can be sufficiently grateful to FRANCIS WAYLAND and JOSHUA FLETCHER for their self-sacrificing labors in its behalf.

In 1847, Rev. Joshua Fletcher was succeeded by Rev. Mr. Kingsbury, who, in turn, was followed by the Revs. Stowell, Sawyer, Beecher, Woodruff, Cheetham, and the Rev. Mr. Woods, the present (1875) courteous and able incumbent.


The Presbyterian Church .


The early history of the Presbyterian Church of Saratoga Springs is so identified with its organizer and first pastor, Rev. Mr. Griswold, that a sketch of one is really the history of the other.

Darius Oliver Griswold was born in 1787, in Goshen, Conn. At the age of seventeen he entered Yale, and began his course of study preparatory to the ministry. After remaining two years at Yale, he went to Williams College, whence he graduated in 1808, at the age of twenty-one, taking the valedictory. This was remarkable when it is remembered that part of his education was obtained by teaching in a neighboring academy in the day-time and singing-school in the evening – keeping up with his class, meanwhile, by severe night study. That he was highly regarded as a scholar is evident from the fact, that he was afterward invited to deliver before one of the literary societies of his Alma Mater an oration, which he performed very much to the acceptance of his friends. After leaving college he taught an academy at Ballston one year; then pursued a regular course of theological study at Andover Seminary for three years. Upon the expiration of this course of study, being licensed to preach, he began his labors in Bloomfield, Ontario County, N.Y., in 1812, where he spent three years. To this field he took with him his bride – having married Miss Abigail Wakeman, of Ballston, N.Y., on September 17, 1811 – who throughout all the trials and labors of his ministry proved herself, by self-denying and devotional conduct, worthy of his choice. He then came to Saratoga Springs, and began preaching in a dilapidated old school-house near the present Baptist church. For one year he preached on alternate Sabbaths in Saratoga and Glen’s Falls, and made himself so useful in winning souls to Christ, that the Presbyterian society – then a very feeble one and scarcely deserving of the name – sent him out to collect funds for building a house of worship.

His efforts were so successful that, in 1817, the church, composed of nine members, was organized in his study. This study was in the south end of Washington Hall, and is room No. 30. In 1822 he was dismissed from the pastorate at his own request, and settled at Watertown, Conn., where he remained ten years. He did not leave Saratoga without great remonstrance. The Presbytery showed their appreciation of his particular fitness for the place by refusing to dismiss him until his third request, made on the ground that he absolutely could not live on his salary. It was soon found, however, that it was necessary to the prosperity of the church that he should return. A subscription paper was accordingly started, and every dollar thus raised, was on the express condition that he should come back. With this paper, a letter was sent to him, stating that many were so discouraged as to propose letting the church – for the erection of which he had labored so assiduously – to the Episcopal Society. This determined him, and in 1833 he returned to Saratoga, where, after laboring zealously and actively for six years, he was laid aside by the paralysis which, on the 28 th of December, 1841, terminated his existence. A funeral sermon was delivered on the Sabbath after his death by Rev. A.T. Chester, from 2 Tim. iv. 6-8, to the united congregations of the place. Rev. Mr. Griswold left three children, all of whom yet survive, viz., Burr W., a lawyer of New York City; William L., a well-known former citizen of Saratoga, but now also of New York; and Helen, the wife of Mr. S.E. Bushnell. His widow survived until February 8, 1856, when she also, following her beloved consort, was enabled to unite with him in the praise of the Lamb whom on earth they had both together so glorified.

Mr. Griswold had many remarkable traits of character. Dr. Chester – his successor, but now residing in Buffalo, N.Y. – in his memorial address says: "As a man he commanded the love and respect of all who knew him. He was affable and social, had a sensitive heart and generous spirit. To the cry of distress he ever lent a listening ear, offering cheerful assistance. His was a spirit with which it was impossible to associate anything ungenerous or mean or base, a pure-minded Christian, whose character may be truly expressed in the term Christian gentleman.

"As a scholar, his standing and attainments were elevated. His success as a teacher and as a writer proves this. His sermons are of a high order, exhibiting great purity of language with great classical elegance of expression, and much energy and vivacity. He was held very high as a preacher by many of those who hear sermons with the greatest interest and intelligence. His simple and yet elegant statements of gospel truth, his solemn manner and powerful voice, have made impressions upon many minds which can never be lost.

"As a spiritual teacher and guide he was faithful and sincere in his efforts to lead sinners to Christ, and to keep those who professed attachment to him in the performance of their covenant obligations; a firm believer in the plain doctrines of the Bible he ever sought to make others acquainted with these truths, and to win them to the love and acceptance of the truth. ‘ He fought the good fight ,’ and he used the weapons which God furnished and continually carried on the contest with the enemies of the Cross of Christ. ‘ He finished his course ,’ for though it seemed to be abruptly terminated, yet so had infinite wisdom before appointed. His course was not extended like that of many others. The goal seemed to be in the middle of the race-ground; yet did he reach that. ‘ He has kept the faith .’ "

Mr. Griswold’s musical talent was also of the highest order. He had a voice alike remarkable for its power and sweetness, and led the choir from the pulpit for several years. Mrs. Daniel Wayland (daughter-in-law of Rev. Francis Wayland and daughter of Nathan Lewis, who built the Pavilion hotel) was one of the two sopranos on whom he depended. Many people yet living have often spoken to me about the rapture with which they have listened to the blending of their voices. It was his custom to meet his choir weekly for the purpose of practising, and to this is to be attributed the fact that during his ministry the choir of the Presbyterian Church at Saratoga was noted for its fine singing – many of the visitors often remarking "that they heard no such music at home."

Another characteristic of Rev. Mr. Griswold was his great moral courage. Although naturally of a retiring, shrinking disposition, and withal of a modesty which continually put self in the background, yet, when principle was involved, he was as firm as the everlasting hills. An instance of this is in point. Mr. Griswold had never thought it best for clergymen to meddle with politics; but at an election held a few months before his retirement from the ministry, the issues were such that, on the night previous to the election, he stated in his family his intention of voting. His wife thereupon suggested her fears that he would repent it, to which he replied, "I shall do it if I have to follow my good brother Wayland’s example – call for a Bible and swear in my vote ; for I have made up my mind, deliberately and prayerfully, that it is my duty; and if it has come to this, that office-bearers in the church of Christ will put into office an openly irreligious man in preference to a man who helps to support the preaching of the Gospel and religious instructions, it is time for ministers to take a stand. I would vote if I knew that I should be turned out of house and home to-morrow night in consequence ." The day following he deposited his vote quietly, and the Whigs’ and Griswold’s candidate was elected.


Rev. Mr. Whelpley .


Rev. Samuel W. Whelpley, who was the regularly installed pastor of the Presbyterian church at Saratoga during a part of the interregnum of Rev. Mr. Griswold, was born in Stockbridge, Mass., in the year 1795. When two years of age, his father, Rev. Samuel Whelpley, removed to New Jersey to take charge of the Academy at Morristown. Here he remained, until, after fourteen years of successful teaching, he accepted an invitation to take charge of the Newark Academy. In 1813, his eldest brother, Philip (subsequently settled over the Wall Street Church, New York), and himself were fitted for college, and were on the point of entering, when their father’s health failing, the support of the family devolved upon them, and they were obliged to take charge of the Academy and continue in the business of teaching until they entered the ministry. In 1815, he moved to New York and took charge of a classical school; at the same time entering upon the study of divinity, under the charge of Dr. Gardner Spring and his father.

In 1817, he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the New York Presbytery, Dr. John B. Romeyn, Moderator. The same year he was ordained and installed pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Plattsburgh, N.Y. Here his efforts were greatly blessed, especially in the year 1824, when, during a great revival, upwards of one hundred joined his church.

In 1825, he was invited to take charge of the Church at Saratoga Springs – then left without a pastor by the resignation of Rev. Mr. Griswold; and on the 11 th of August of that year he was duly installed as pastor. To this step he was led chiefly by the persuasions of Chancellor Walworth and his wife, who had formerly both been members of his church at Plattsburg { sic . – BC} , and also by the hope that his labors might be lightened, for Plattsburgh was at this time a missionary station, and the parochial labors were immense. While at Saratoga his labors were blessed, some were added to the church; and there are yet a few old residents who remember the pastorate of Mr. Whelpley with feelings of deep gratitude. At length Mr. Whelpley felt obliged to ask for his dismission from the church where he had labored with so much usefulness. Chancellor Walworth and the other elders regretted exceedingly to part with him, but seeing his determination, bade him an affectionate farewell. The causes which led to this step on the part of Mr. Whelpley are partly shadowed forth in the following extract from his private manuscript diary. He writes: "I labored hard in Saratoga Springs for nearly three years, but with very little success. The town was even at this date the resort of men of pleasure, and its attractions drew together a motley crowd from all parts of the world. Every other store, almost, was a dram-shop, and intemperance was universal." Accordingly, by the advice of Rev. Dr. Payson, in 1829, he removed to East Windsor, Conn. Here his strong position on the temperance question (which, by the way, had embroiled him not a little at Saratoga) divided the church; and at the end of two years, 1832, he preached acceptably for Dr. Kirk, of Albany, who was at that time in poor health. From 1832 to 1843, he was constantly preaching in Palmyra, Rochester, and Waterville, until ill health compelled him to discontinue and devote the powers of his mind to writing for the press.

Accordingly, that he might be near his circle of relatives and friends, he removed to New York City, with his wife and infant son, and became one of the editors of the North American Protestant Magazine . Here, through his literary associates, he opened a path for himself, and made his mark on the newspaper and periodical literature of the day. In every way a truly Christian gentleman, he gave his influence to the furtherance of every moral aim, and interested himself in intellectual progress. Stories, travels, criticism, imaginative sketches, biography – each received the treatment best adapted to it. All topics were treated with originality of view and in a broad, catholic spirit. But the year 1847 was to end his struggles and labors, and bring him the rest which earth generally yields her sons. He had for several years been in a decline, and in September he gained his release.

Of a nervous, ardent, and highly sympathetic nature, he may have laid himself open to attack from the very impetuosities of his temper; and, like all men of his temperament, he was in constant danger of falling a prey to designing men. Indeed, at times, while at Saratoga, he came into collision with some of his brother ministers, but he was prompt to forgive and forget; and the differences of to-day were covered with the garment of charity to-morrow.

Mr. Whelpley’s manners (such is the testimony of Chancellor Walworth) were as polished and scholarly as his conversation and his writings, and to these he may, in a considerable degree, have owed the good fortune which gave him for wives the two women who shared his affection. His first wife was Miss Susan Angus, of Perth Amboy, a lady of refinement of character and of considerable talent. She was an authoress when women seldom touched the pen. His second wife was Miss Abigail Belden, the eldest daughter of the late Rev. Mr. Belden, well known to old New Yorkers from his long and prominent connection with the public-school system. Notwithstanding, also, that this marriage was a love-match, and a runaway one at that, Mrs. Whelpley made her husband a devoted wife. She possessed great dignity of character and sweetness of disposition, and the communion of mind and heart were happily blended between them. After her marriage, Mrs. Whelpley turned her attention to literature, and wrote for many of the periodicals with which her husband was connected.

By his first wife, Rev. Mr. Whelpley left seven children, most of whom are still living. By his second wife he had but one child, Henry B. Whelpley, who still lives to hold in affectionate remembrance the father of his childhood.

Upon Mr. Griswold’s retirement, Rev. A.T. Chester was called to the church. Rev. John Woodbridge (now of New Brunswick, N.J.) succeeded him; and he in turn was followed by the Rev. Mr. Newman.

"The memory of the just is blessed."



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