Art Bradbury – Rev. Samuel Woodbridge (1684-1746)
Founded in the later 1630s, the Hartford Township extended to present day West Hartford on the west side of the Great River to as far as the Manchester / Bolton border on the east side. All matters of administration were conducted in Hartford’s first Meeting House with no separation of its dual functions as Congregational Church and Town Hall. Minister and church deacons ran all.
The slow, but steady, population growth on the east side found the increasing need to cross the mercurial Great River, as the Connecticut River was then called, for such things as church or the settling of legal matters, and, burying the dead, logistically quite problematic.
After several petitions for the “liberty of a minister” of their own, the General Assembly finally granted this in 1702. Thus, all residents were ordered to pay a tax towards the maintenance of their new ministry: Hartford’s Third Ecclesiastical Society.
Coming from a long line of ministers, Samuel Woodbridge, born in 1684, was a graduate of Harvard Seminary in 1701, and was ordained in 1705 upon agreeing to assume the new ministry with several terms such as:
- ￡60 a year salary, plus £9 for fire wood [￡is symbol for pounds]
- a house on 2 acres of land
- an additional tract of land of 30 to 40 acres
- and agreeing to serve for life unless removed earlier by vote of the congregation.
The town’s first Meeting House, from which he preached, was built between 1699 and 1706 on a small hill located about where Pitkin Street now meets Main Street — a large boulder with bronze plaque now marks the spot.
Now having its own Meeting House, the residents on the east side had some local independence for church and civil matters. This first gathering spot was remembered as being plain, barn-like, no steeple or chimney, and not painted either inside or out. Seating, including side galleries, was assigned according to social standing and amount of tax paid.
This first church home was torn down in 1735 and replaced by a 2nd Meeting House, much like a large colonial home, which was painted white and had sheds to shelter the waiting horses during the day-long services. Added amenities inside included small seats along the sides for children and in the back east corners of the upper gallery, opposite the altar, special seating for slaves and indentured servants. How it very likely looked can be seen in a mural painting in the auditorium of the Community Cultural Center painted by Paul Saling in the 1920s.
Rev. Woodbridge had a long and distinguished ministry of 40 years; by all reports loved and respected by his flock. He was even appointed a Fellow of Yale College from 1732 to 1743. In 1734 he preached the election sermon at the opening of the General Assembly in Hartford before assembled fellow ministers, legislators, officers, and the Governor of the Colony.
An interesting insight of the times is found by how Woodbridge viewed the few remaining Podunk, the native inhabitants of the area, which he was quoted as calling “scoffers” – a derisive name for those he saw as willfully scorning civilized behavior and customs.
In a process beginning in 1710, he headed a committee that appointed the first school master for east of the river, and oversaw the building of the first school-house, which was nearby the Meeting House, and a 2nd built several years later.
He was also involved with the residents east of the river finally getting their own cemetery, Hartford’s 2nd burying ground, now called Center Cemetery.
At the age of 62, in 1746 now the first minister of the Third Church of Christ of Hartford, he died survived by his 2nd wife, Content, and 7 children.
His son Samuel joined up early in the Revolutionary War and was among those sent from Hartford to reinforce Boston in the Lexington Alarm of 1775, and later he was among the most prominent of East Hartford citizens.
The importance of the man interred and the extraordinary quality of the carving of this tombstone, at the height of brownstone carving by or in the style of noted carver, Thomas Johnson III, puts it among the most historically and artistically significant in the cemetery.