The Presbyterian church at the Center is the oldest organization in what is now known as the town of Livonia. It was organized in 1806, December 29th, in the house owned by David Benton. This house stood on the farm now owned by John Morrissey; it is claimed that this house was the first frame one in the town. It must have been built about 1800. The church was organized with a Rev. Mr. Lane as pastor, who had been a licensed Methodist minister in England. The records covering the ministry of Rev. Lane are very few; he could not have stayed long with them.
Previous to the organization of the church and during the years 1802 and 1803 the Rev. John Rolph conducted whatever religious services were held.
When the church was started it was known as the Second Congregational Church of Pittstown and was received into the Ontario Association on January 14th, 18007. The Ontario Association was dissolved May 35th, 1813, when the society assumed the name of the First Presbyterian Church of Livonia. It has continued under this name to date.
The original members of this church were: Jeremiah Riggs, Aaron Childs, Selah Stedman, Thankful Parsons, Lucy Childs, Dameras Blake, Mary Stedman, Irene Clark, Benjamin Cook, Oliver Woodruff (deacon), Rachel Gibbs, Anna Woodruff, Sally Farrand, Sally and Rebecca Blake, Nancy Benton and Lydia Gibbs.
The meetings were held in log cabins, barns and school houses, but principally in the school house, spoken of in a previous article, which stood on the Buell Woodruff farm. On May 30th, 1814, the society dedicated their first meeting house, which stood very near the site of the present church building. The cost of this structure was about $3,000. The Rev. Aaron C. Collins was the minister in charge and continued his preaching until sometime in 1818. During this year, the Rev. Ebenezer Everett was ordained in this church and acted as its pastor for a few months. In 1819 he was succeeded by the Rev. Ezekiel J. Chapman. On January 5th, 1823, they adopted in full the “Presbyterian form of Government.”
During the pastorate of the Rev. Chapman the members were very active in building up their society. It is recorded that they “labored” with back-sliding members to bring them back “into the fold”. They took their religion and obligations seriously and any breach of faith was not looked upon kindly. They were troubled in those days with gossipers (same as we are now). Gossiping was an unpardonable sin and was effectively dealt with as is evidenced by the records of the “Trial of the Shirt”, which took place in the school house in 1826. The record of this trial throws an interesting side-light upon the times and the characters of the people. It is quoted here as it is recorded, excepting that names have been substituted in place of those actually interested in the trial.
“THE CASE OF MRS. JOHN DOE”
“April 6th, 1826: The session met at the Center school house pursuant to the call of the Moderator and was constituted by prayer. Present Rev. Mr. Chapman Moderator, Messers. Mason, Clark and Stone Elders. A complaint was presented by Sister Ester ___, wife of ___, against Sister Mary Doe for slander which was found to be informed. Resolved that the Moderator be and hereby is requested to assist the Complainant in preparing a complaint in a form more agreeable to the Directory. Adjourned to meet at this place on Thursday next at 5 o’clock p.m. Closed with prayer. J. Stone, Clerk.”
“April 27th: The session met according to adjournment at the Center school house and was constituted by prayer. Present Rev. Chapman, Moderator, Messers. Woodruff, Mason, Doolittle, Clark, Beecher and Stone Elders.”
“The complaint as amended of Ester ___ against Mary Doe was presented which being found to be in form was accepted and is as follows viz: To the Judicatory of the First Presbyterian Church in Livoinia. The undersigned being a member of the said church doth hereby exhibit the following charges against Sister Mary Doe.
Viz: Charge 1 - Slander.
Specification No. 1: That the said Mary did say or insinuate last October and since that a certain garment to wit a femal shirt sent by one Lucy ___ of Williamstown, Mass. to Widow ___ who then resided in the family of your complainant (it being in the fall of 1823) was exchanged by your complainant’s family or in other words was exchanged in the family and that instead of the original one which was a good fine whole shirt a poor, old coarse brown or yellow shirt with one or more holes in the lap or knee was given to said Widow.
Specification No. 2: That the said Mary in the month of September and October last and since did by publishing contents of a letter said to have been written by her brother Harvey ___ to her in answer to a letter which was written by the said Mary to the said Harvey and by her insinuations endeavor to make it appear that your complainant and your complainant’s husband had ill-treated and abused their mother the said Widow thus endeavoring to injure their reputation.
Specification No. 3: That the said Mary did in the month of October and since by presenting said letter and by her insinuations and remarks that the said time or times accuse L ___ some of your complainant of defrauding the said Harvey and Elijah ___ of the said Williamstown by exerting or unjustly taking money from them in a settlement which took place between the said Harvey and Elijah and the said L --- in the fall of 1823.
Specification No. 4: That the said Mary did last October insinuate and declare that the said ___ did take property from her unjustly or that the said L --- did take property from her unjustly or both.
Specification No. 5: That the said Mary in the month of December last and since did endeavor to injure the reputation of your complainant and your complainants family by insinuating and saying that the shirt above named was sent by her sister the said Lucy to her mother the said Widow for the express purpose of laying her out at her decease and also at the said time publishing a letter said to be written by one Rachel ___ of said Williamstown in which a pretence is made towards giving a description of said shirt, said letter written to the said Mary.
Specification No. 6: That while the said Mary allows that the one shirt shown by some member or members of the family of your complainant is the same that was sent by her sister the said Lucy to the said widow, she has since the month of December last said that they have shown two meaning thereby that your complainant has represented them both or each of them as the same one by the said Lucy to the said Widow. Witnesses names as follows: Rev. Chapman, Jonathan Kingsbury, Elisha Clark, Charles Mason, Lois Mason, Oliver Woodruff, Sally Ford, Thomas Ford, William Godfrey, Polly Godfrey, Clarissa Sanford, David Gibbs, Benjamin Gibbs, Rhoda Gibbs, Susan Nixon, Mary Stedman, Dorcas Beecher and a notice to produce the letters referred to above.
Viz: Charge 2 - Lying:
Specification No. 1: That the said Mary has in or since the month of October last said that the said shirt was exchanged by your complainant or any member of your complainant’s family.
Specification No. 2: That the said Mary has since that time last above named said that she never said there was a hole or holes in the lap or knee of said shirt. Witnesses same as above named.”
“And your complainant having as she hopes in Christian love an meekness and according to the directions in the 18th Chapter of Matthew endeavored to reclaim the said Mary and she not hearing your complainant nor those others whom in the second step she took with her, she does now agreeably to the directions in the 17th verse of said Chapter tell it unto the Church. Livonia March 15th, 1826. Signed ___.”
“A true copy. The complainant being in order was accepted. Resolved that a committee be appointed to converse with the accused agreeable to the 9th section of the 4th chapter of Discipline. Resolved that Rev. Chapman and Messers. Mason, Stone be this committee. Adjourned to meet on the 1st Thursday of May at 4 o’clock p.m. at the meeting house. Closed with prayer. J. Stone, Clerk.”
“May 4th: The session met agreeably to the adjournment at the meeting house and was constituted with prayer. Present Rev. Chapman, Moderator, Messers. Woodruff, Mason, Beecher and Stone Elders. The committee appointed to converse with Mrs. Doe on the subject of the complaint of Mrs. ___ reported that they had not been able to effect a reconciliation and that in their opinion a trial cannot be avoided. Where upon resolved that the Moderator be and he hereby is requested to issue citations to all concerned to appear at the next meeting of the session to have the matter fully heard and decided.”
“Resolved: That the Moderator be requested to invite the attendance of Rev. Messers. Whittlesey, Barnard and Day to counsel and advise with Judicatory and in case of their failure to solicit the attendance of Rev. Messers. Fitch and Steele, one or both. Adjourned to meet at the meeting house on Tuesday the 23rd instant at 10 o’clock a.m. Closed with prayer. J. Stone, Clerk.”
“May 23rd: The session met at the meeting house agreeably to adjournment and was constituted with prayer. Present Rev. E. J. Chapman Moderator and Messers. Woodruff, Mason, Doolittle, Clark and Stone Elders. A letter from Ester ___, the complainant, against Mrs. Doe was read which stated that she should not be ready to prosecute the complaint at the appointed time and requested that it might be postponed for about three weeks and that she wished for liberty to insert the names of other witnesses in the complaint. Resolved that the request be complied with and that there be another committee appointed to see if reconciliation cannot be effected and trial avoided. Resolved that Messers. Woodruff and Mason and the Moderator compose the committee. That they report at the next meeting of the Judicatory. Adjourned to meet at the meeting house on the 1st day of June at 4 o’clock p.m. Closed with prayer. J. Stone, Clerk.”
“June 1st: The session met agreeably to the adjournment and was opened with prayer. Present Rev. Chapman Moderator, Messers. Woodruff, Mason, Doolittle, Clark and Stone Elders. The committee appointed at the last meeting of the session reported that in their opinion there is no probability of reconciliation and that trial cannot be avoided. A letter was presented by the complainant containing the names of the witnesses which she wished to be added to the complaint and also a request that certain letter and other papers may be used as testimony. Resolved that the request be granted subject to the control of the Judicatory. Resolved that the Moderator be requested and is hereby requested to cite the parties and furnish them with citations for their witnesses to appear at the next meeting of the session to have the matter fully heard and decided. Adjourned to meet at the meeting house on Tuesday the 27th of June instant at 10 o’clock. Closed with prayer. The list of the additional witnesses and of the papers and letters: Rev. Chapman, Oliver Woodruff, Joel Stone, Lucinda Stone, David Doolittle, Charles Mason and wife, Samuel Daniels, Elisha Clark, Augustus Gibbs and wife, Betsy Obediah Banks, Fred House, John Burleigh, Hiram Hawley, Prudence Woodruff, William Waldron, Thomas Ford and wife, Betsey Ford, William Godrey and wife, Clarissa Sanford, Mary Stedman, Eli Stedman, Selah Stedman, John Kingsbury, John Pratt and wife, Eldad Gibbs, Esther Gibbs, Jeremiah Gibbs, Leman Gibbs and wife, John E. Nixon and wife, Reuben Coy, Delihah Coy, Ebenezer Everett, John Adams, Harvey Riggs, George Potter, David George and wife, Docas Beecher, Nathanial Beecher and wife, Harvey Woodruff, David Gibbs, Orlando Hastings and a notice to be given to the defendant to produce certain letters referred to in the complaint.”
“THE TRIAL OF MRS. MARY DOE. LIVONIA JUNE 27TH, 1826”
“The session met agreeably to adjournment and was opened with prayer. Present Rev. E. J. Chapman Moderator, Oliver Woodruff, Charles Mason, David Doolittle, William Trichnor, Elisha Clark, Alfred Beecher and Joel Stone Elders. Rev. Warren Day of Richmond being present was appointed Clerk Pro. Tem. The minutes of several late meetings were read by which it appeared that the trial of Mrs. Doe was the order of the day. At the request of Mr. Chapman the Rev. J. B. Whittlesey of Avon who was present was appointed to act as Moderator during their attendance on the business before them. Messers. Stone and Beecher were appointed a Judicial Committee to recommend the best method of proceeding in the case who advised that should the trial go on it would be proper that the testimony to support each charge and each specification be heard separately. The parties were then called to say whether they were ready for trial. Mrs. ___, the complainant, was not present and could not attend during the trial on account of ill health, but her son, L ___, said that he would represent his mother in the case so far as to give the names of the witnesses to support each charge and to suggest the questions to be put to the witnesses on the part of the prosecution. Mrs. Doe desired that she might first see the accuser face to face before the trial should commence and time was allowed her in which to call upon the complainant. Mrs. Doe was then asked what plea she made to the charge and she plead, not guilty.”
“On motion it was resolved that no witness afterwards to be examined except a member of the session shall be present during the examination of another witness on the same case.”
“Charge 1 - Specification 1: Benjamin Gibbs was called on the part of the complaint and sworn, who said as follows: I have heard Mrs. Doe say within the year past that she believed that a shirt sent to her mother by Mrs. ___ of Williamstown was exchanged, but that she did not pretend to say by whom it was exchanged. There is a wrong, said she, somewhere. I recollect that I said that I did not think that L ___ has done this and she replied that she believed so too. Read to witness and approved. Mrs. Doe here admitted that she said that she believed that the shirt was exchanged but contended that she never meant to say that she supposed the family of the complainant was guilty in the matter; but that she supposed that people have judged this to be her opinion from some of her words.”
“Rhoda Gibbs was sworn but could testify nothing to the subject of the charge.”
“Oliver Woodruff sworn, same as last.”
“Dorcas Beecher sworn, says, I heard Mrs. Doe say that there was a hole in the shirt as large as an egg.”
“Sally Ford sworn, says, I heard Mrs. Doe say that she supposed that the complainant’s family changed the shirt. I told her in conversation once that I did not think any of the complainant’s family had exchanged it and I think that she said she should not unless she had known worse things of them. Read to witness and approved.”
“Mary Stedman sworn, says, I heard the accused say that she thought that some of the females in the family of the complainant had exchanged the shirt before it went into the hands of the widow; I heard her say that it was a mean shirt, yellow and with a hole in it as big as a hen’s egg and afterwards that it was very thin and needed patching. The family once showed me the shirt and it had a break in it on the shoulder where one of the draw strings was fastened. Mrs. Doe told me that the shirt which she saw had draw strings on it only about half way around and Mrs. D. said that when the young S ___’s came up she asked Mrs. O ___ who went with them to see the shirt whether it was the same that the family showed before and that she replied that she could not tell for she had not her specks on. Read to witness and approved.”
“Deacon Mason sworn, says, I heard the accused said that there was a hole in the shirt, of that there was a thin spot that would have made a hole in it as big as a hen’s egg? Read to witness and approved.”
“Mrs. O ___ sworn, says, I have seen two shirts. The first had a hole in it as large as a cent on the side of the shoulder. It was poor and yellow and it was shown to me that day after L ___ came home. Last fall another shirt was shown me which was a better one, whiter, finer and no holes in it. The first shirt was shown by Mother; the second by the complainant who asked me if it was the same one which was shown me by Mother. I said nothing, but the complainant said What if the shirt was exchanged? All Mother’s things are to be ours.”
“Question by Com. When you were asked whether that was the same shirt did you not reply that you did not know because you had not your specks on?”
“Answer. No, I never made that answer. The shirts were a little differently made. Saw no hole in the lap of the first, did not take the second into my hands. The accused was with me the second time and no person came into the room that I remember.”
“Question. Did you have access to your mother’s linen the second time?”
“Answer. Yes, this was then shown me; saw no other supposed to have been sent from Williamstown. Read to witness and approved.”
“Dr. French sworn, says, The accused has resided in my family and is intimate in it and I have never heard her say that she supposed that the complainant’s family had made the exchange. Read to witness and approved.”
Editor’s note: The session then proceeded to hear the testimony on the second specification. The records of the second, third and fourth specifications cover matter of a personal nature and have no bearing on the case as started.
“5th Specification was then taken up; when the accused admitted that she had said as therein stated but not to injure the family. She said that she did so in consequence of her cousin’s telling her so and writing a letter to her to that effect, an extract of which was read and is as follows: Mary wrote as her Mother directed; she says the garment she sent was good, never had been worn more than two or three times, it was white, all linen, a as fine as forty. She says it might be a straight shirt as she designed it for no other use than to lay out Grandmother. She thought that the form did not matter.”
“6th Specification: Mrs. G ___ again sworn says that she did not know that the complainant has shown the right shirt.”
“Mr. Godfrey sworn, says, I heard Mrs. ___ say that she did not know but that the family of the complainant had shown the right shirt, but I never heard her say that they have shown two shirts.”
“Mr. Mason sworn, says, I have heard Mrs. ___ say that the garment which they showed her was not the one which her Mother showed her. I knew nothing of the matter until I was called to attend to it.”
“2nd Charge - Lying - 1st Specification: John Kingsbury again, Mrs. ___ said to me when I went to converse with her on the subject that she believed that the family had exchanged the shirt. Mrs. ___ also said that I did not know as well as others what was done in the family, but that the exchange may have been made at Mrs. ___.”
“Mrs. G___ again: Mrs. ___ said to me that she had no recollection of ever telling any person that she believed that the family had exchanged the shirt.”
“Adjourned to meet tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock a. m. Closed with prayer. Warren Day, Clerk, Pro. Tem.”
“June 29th, 1823, 8 a. m. The session met agreeably to the adjournment and opened with prayer. The trial of Mrs. ___ was resumed, the 1st specification of the 2nd charge being under consideration.”
“Mrs. Stedman again: I have heard Mrs. ___ since the 1st of October say that she believed that some of the females of that family had changed the shirt. I have since heard her say that she did not know that she had said that the females had exchanged the shirt. I would not say anything on this subject except when I had gone to see her and to converse with her on the matter of difficulty between the two parties.”
“Mrs. Stedman again: Mrs. ___ said to me the same day that the complainant took the second step of labor with her that she did not know that there was a hole in the shirt but only that there was a thin place in it large enough for a hen’s egg to be pushed through.”
“The testimony was generally read to each witness and approved. The result: All the testimony having been heard and the parties having no remarks to make they retired and each charge and specification and the testimony in its support was read separately and the opinion of the Judicatory taken upon them and it was resolved concerning each and every charge that the accused is not proven guilty of what therein is alleged against her. There were no two witnesses that testified to the same specification excepting that some of them testified to what she said to them when they went as members of the Church to converse with her in a private and confidential way and after the complainant had felt herself aggrieved; of which the session think that Mrs. ___ cannot complain as it was said in confidence and as no steps of previous labor had been taken in the case concerning them; and also because in the case of some of the specifications there were facts to justify the accusations.”
“The session would not say, however, that they think her innocent in the sight of the heart searching God. They believe that she has said things against the complainant and the complainant’s family which the law of love and Christianity forbid, but they are not of such a nature as to draw upon her the censure of the church. The Judicatory would therefore exhort her to be on her guard with respect to her speech concerning them, to do nothing to widen the breach between them, but rather to heal and be tender of their reputations, to be forgiving of any supposed injuries conciliating in her behavior, and, in short, to do unto others as she would be done by.”
“The result was read, accompanied by an affectionate admonition from the Moderator, and the business was concluded with prayer. Warren day, Clerk, P. T.”
Editor’s note: When the head of the Ontario Presbytery examined the records of this trial he was very much dissatisfied with the result and recommended that parts of it be retired. This was not done, however, as haying and other farm work had been neglected too long already.