St. Peter's Episcopal Church
History of St. Peter's Episcopal Church
The events leading up to the founding and construc- tion of present day St. Peter's church begins some
sixty years prior to the year 1741, wherein Oxford was set apart as a separate congregational parish.
Until that time settlers of Oxford were obligated to
take the long journey to Derby for services at the congregational meeting house. In May 1740 the
people of what is now Oxford presented a petition to
the General Assembly of Connecticut that a new parish be created, separate from Derby, to have the
name of Oxford, and a year later, in May 1741, the petition was granted.
The first meeting of the Oxford (Congregational) Ecclesiastical Society was held June 30, 1741, at the residence of Mr. John Twichel. This house, 162 years later became the rectory of St. Peter's Church on Academy Street. At a society meeting held Oct, 6 1741. it was voted to build a Meeting House, and to ask the General Assembly to appoint a commission to decide where the meeting house should be built. The committee selected the site "at the south end of the hill commonly called Jack's Hill, and near the highway that runs on the east side of the Little River". This was apparently near the location of the present Congregational Church.
The first meeting house was built in 1743, and the first minister was the Rev. Jonathan Lyman. Six years after the building of the Congregational Meeting House, namely in 1749, a missionary from the English "Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts," the Rev. Richard Mansfield, became rector of the Episcopal Church in Derby. He was a young man of twenty-five, "of indomitable zeal and energy." Whatever Church of England people there may have been in Oxford must have continued journeying each Sunday to Derby - quite a trip, even in these days of automobiles, and much more so on horseback over poor roads until 1760, when, it is said, Episcopal services began to be held in Oxford homes.
In 1764, the Rev. Mr. Mansfield founded St. Peter's Church, when he was forty years old. In 1766, the church (or mission as it was), purchased five acres of land from Joseph Davis, known by name as Meeting House Lot, lying near Oxford meeting house.The Rev. Mr. Douglas says the old church
was built on the Davis five acre lot, presumably in the year 1767. As to the appearance of the old church building, all that has been known is that it had a high pulpit with staircase and the pews had straight backs, not inclined. As to the location of the old church building, it was undoubtedly at the southwest corner of the St. Peter's Cemetery on Governor's Hill Road, for as Mr. Douglas points out "The site of the old church can be approximately located as all of the grave stones in that location are dated after 1834 (the year when the old church was demolished) whereas it is surrounded by stones of an earlier date." Also the late Mr. Atwater Treat, senior Warden for many years, pointed
pointed out at the site, considerable quantities of broken glass in the ground which had probably fallen there when the old church was torn down.
When the church was first organized in 1766, the Church Wardens were Abel Gunn and William Bunnell, and the following were a "committee" of the church - Abel Gunn, Thomas Wooster and Samuel Hawkins. There is thought that St. Peter's Church was closed for a time somewhere between 1775 and 1778 do to the decision made by the Clergy to close their churches amongst controversy over the Book of Common Prayer. The book was said to have "extreme expressions of loyalty to the King of England, who was looked upon as the anointed and ins inspired representative of God. On Jan. 30th of every year prayers declaring the national penitence and humiliation for the "Martyrdom of the blessed King Charles the First were to be read. Morning and evening prayers included a "Prayer for the King's Majesty", desiring that he "may vanquish and overcome his enemies".