Associate Reformed Church, Orange County, New York
The records of the Associate Reformed Church, Little Britain, have been preserved with great care and the history of this ancient religious organization dates from Colonial times. The history of this Church is best told by the Rev. John Scott King, the present pastor, in a pamphlet issued at the time of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the society. This brief history of the Little Britain Church says in part:
“By a lease dated the 10th of September, and a release dated the 11th of September, 1765, ‘in the fifth year of His Majesty, George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland,’ witnessed by John McClaughry and George Harris, the latter the first Supervisor of the Town of New Windsor, there passed from the hands of Patrick McClaughry to those of James Jackson, Matthew McDool and Andrew Crawford, Trustees, that parcel of land upon which the Little Britain Presbyterian Church now stands and most of the land South and West of it used as a graveyard. The cost of the lease was five shillings, New York money. The cost of the `release’ was five pounds, ‘lawful money of the Province of New York.’ Upon this piece of ground, containing one acre, one rood and twenty-three perches, whose northwest mark was a white oak tree, whose sapling still stands by the roadside, was built a `meeting house’ for the use of a Presbyterian minister and congregation in connection with the Associate Synod of Scotland, to which the Presbytery is subordinate, adhering to the principles of the Church of Scotland as they are exhibited in the Confession of Faith agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines who met at Westminster, 1647, etc.
“The nucleus of the congregation which had been formed so recently, was a body of men, who, with their families emigrated from County Longford, Ireland, in 1729 under the leadership of Charles Clinton, the first in this country of that famous family. The company first settled near Philadelphia but in 1731 pushed on to the center of what is now the Town of New Windsor. To them were added soon after other emigrants from Ireland and Scotland, and men of like beliefs from Long Island, earlier “There was already an incipient Presbyterian Church at Bethlehem, to which Charles Clinton brought his letter from Ireland, and with which the Clinton family was connected through two generations. At St. Andrews was a church of England, and at New Windsor a Presbyterian Church was soon formed.
“What determined the peculiar attitude of the Little Britain community in church matters is found in their history in Ireland, and in the history of their forebears. Cromwell gave to his followers the richest parts of Northern Ireland after his conquest of the island in 1650. At the collapse of the Protectorate these same people suffered at the hands of the Stuarts, Charles II and James II, unspeakable hardships. In 1699 William III, or his Parliament put all Irish Woolens and virtually all products under a heavy tariff or Irish embargo. As, county Longford was a large woolen and flax goods producer, this worked severely against the welfare of the, inhabitants.
“Again the Church of Scotland, which, at times, was truculent to Government favor, tolerated the patronage idea in regard to church pastorates. Erskine in 1737 had taken issue with this state of things and declared the church to be `the freest society on earth.’ Many ministers and congregations rallied around Erskine and brought about the Secession Church. But this was not all. A little later the Burgesses of the Scotch cities were required to take oath to support the religion of Scotland, and as that religion was, in a way, interrogative, there came into being two classes of the Secession, the Burghers and Antiburghers, those who would allow the oath and those opposed to it. The Little Britain Church was Antiburgher in the Secession church.
“These facts explain to a large extent, the Revolutionary attitude of the congregation. Almost to a man the people were against the whole King idea and against its shadow. The Clinton family was not of this persuasion and probably also of a higher class, as classes went then, than the common run of emigrants, who made up the settlement in 1730 to 1765. Established Scotch Presbyterianism might do for the Clintons, but not for these people. It smelled of the King.
“The first church building was erected in 1765; it was square in form, with the pulpit on the west, Patrick McClaughry being the builder. It was unplastered inside, its rafters exposed and meeting at a point in the roof. Its dimensions were about 40×40 feet on the ground. The building was clapboarded on the North and East, and shingled on the West and South. There were no stoves in the building, the minister and people bringing foot stoves. Sometimes Mr. Scrymgeour’s stove was, so warm to his feet that an incense of steam surrounded him as he poured water from the pulpit pitcher upon it to cool it off. The building was in a woods of hickory and oak, some of whose saplings are yet on the West end of the graveyard.
“In 1768 the Rev. Robert Annan, of Scotland, brought up in the Antiburgher branch of the Secession Church, was installed pastor, having in 1765 been ordained and installed over the Neeleytown church. He continued as joint pastor of these churches until 1783, residing at Neeleytown, when he accepted a call to the Federal Street Church of Boston, Mass.
“In 1782 the congregation voted to enter the union body known as the Associate Reformed Church, made up of Seceders, the Associate Synod, and Reformed Presbyterians. Their pastor had taken a prime interest in this union, which brought the church into relations with the Presbytery of New York.
From 1783 to 1791 the church was without a pastor. However, on May 6, 1791, the congregation was able to ordain and install Thomas Gibson Smith as their pastor. He severed his connection with the church May 14, 1800.
“From 1800 to 1812 there was no settled pastor over the church. By 1812 the church had rallied enough to call to it the Rev. James Scrymgeour, from Newburgh.
He was a native of Scotland, a man of commanding presence and powerful eloquence. He was installed January 24, 1812. He died in 1825 and was buried in the yard around the church.
“In 1825, a missionary student, Robert H. Wallace, who had acted as an assistant to the Rev. Mr. Scrymgeour, was prevailed upon to take up Mr. Scrymgeour’s work and was, installed pastor on Oct. 6, 1825. He died February 9, 1868.
On the 30th of December, 1857, Robert H. Wallace, his son, was installed as pastor. The pastorate of the younger Wallace was marked with great prosperity. Four hundred persons were added to the church membership, and the congregation sometimes numbered as high as 300, filling galleries and floor sittings Sunday after Sunday. In 1867, on October 8, the church assumed membership in the North River Presbytery, Old School, and thus became Presbyterian, although holding the corporate name, The Associate Reformed Church. On Dec. 18, 1882, Rev. R. Howard Wallace resigned his charge after serving as pastor for 25 years.
“The Rev. George L. Richmond was ordained to the ministry and installed as pastor over the church on October 10, 1883. In October, 1889, he resigned to accept a call to the Congregational Church of Amesbury, Mass.
“In May, 1890, the Rev. John Scott King was called to the church and ordained and installed pastor October 22 of the same year.
“In 1825 the old, original church building was torn down and a new and larger church built. Its dimensions were about 35×55 feet on the ground. The pulpit was on the north end of the audience room, around which, on the West, South and East sides extended a gallery. The entrance doors were at either side of the pulpit so that everyone entering faced the congregation. About 1826 a house two miles west of the church on the main road, lying at the west foot of Mulliner’s hill on the north side of the road was purchased for use as a parsonage.
“In 1861 the present parsonage was bought. At the time the building was a tavern, but was refitted at a cost of about $3,000. On February 12, 1899, the third church building burned to the ground. The day was the Sabbath and the pastor had just begun his sermon when the fire was discovered. The day was cold and stormy and there were but a few of the congregation present. However, with the assistance of a few summoned from the neighborhood they were successful in saving from the flames all of the interior furnishings, including the carpet.
“The congregation worshipped for seven months at Pierson’s creamery hall nearby until the present structure was ready for occupancy. The third, and present church building, was dedicated September 28, 1899. Its cost was $5,743.85; adding to this the pews and other furnishings which were saved from the old church, the total value of the new structure was about $7,500.