This is the second in a series that will touch on the 400-plus year history of West Haven’s Green.
You think we live in troubling times? Little more than a half century after first setting foot on the shores of what they called new haven, the Puritans’ great religious adventure to the New World no longer seemed that great. The church of their grandparents proved to be so restrictive, relatively few West Haveners could call themselves full-fledged communicants. They did not even have their own church. Instead, they had to journey into New Haven every Sunday to attend services that lasted for hours. A good many West Haveners simply did not bother.
They were not alone. All across the colony, there was growing disaffection among younger inhabitants who believed their voices were not being heard by their elders. Call it a youth rebellion or maybe it was the inevitable voice of progress. The outcome was the same. Connecticut’s Puritan leaders drafted the Saybook Platform in 1708, which made it far easier to form new ecclesiastical societies. That, in turn, was music to the ears of some visionary West Haveners.
Securing seven acres from Eliphalet Bristol for the village common, a West Haven committee asked New Haven for its blessing to form a church society of its own as early as 1712. The petitioners went out of their way to stress that their request was not based on “any dislike we have for our pastor, nor distaste against any of you….”
Despite such assurances, New Haven did not approve West Haven’s church petition until 1715. The delay had nothing to do with religion. It feared losing West Haven’s tax revenue used to support New Haven’s First Church. In fact, when New Haveners finally agreed to allow for the creation of the West Haven parish, it initially drew parish boundaries that decidedly favored New Haven.
They were so egregious that the Connecticut General Assembly stepped in. By expanding West Haven’s boundaries, the General Assembly accomplished two goals at once. Its actions complied with the colony’s efforts to expand the number of Congregational parishes in Connecticut. Doing so denied New Haven of a growing source of tax revenue. And that might help to weaken New Haven’s ultra-conservative brand of Puritanism that the rest of the colony found too oppressive. It was a ruling that Connecticut’s Standing Order would soon regret.
This week’s story is contributed by Peter J. Malia, who is the author of Visible Saints, West Haven, Connecticut, 1648 – 1798, available at connecticutpress.com , Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.