A Piece of Greens Farms History - Part 2

A Piece of Greens Farms History- Part 2

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

By Bob Weingarten

The first amendment of the US Constitution created on Septem­ber 17, 1787 set the groundwork for the clause: "separation of church and state." The amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The phrase, "separation of church and state" was first used by Thomas Jefferson to express his under­ standing of the first amendment. Connecticut was the fifth state to ratify the Constitution on January 9, 1788 but it took more than 74 additional years for Green's Farms to adopt this concept. Let me explain with the history of our area dealing with the idea ' of the separation of church and state.

In a prior article on the "Settling of Greens Farms" it was stated that colonists from the village of Fairfield followed cattle to the area now identified as Machamux, a part of Greens Farms, in 1648. Within a few years there were five settlers called the "Bankside Farms" who settled in Machamux. These five settlers, with their families, were the only Fairfield colonists that farmed the area for the next 20 or so years.

As Fairfield colonists heard about the good farming land of Machamux they started to move to the area. By the early 1700s there were about 270 residents in the area and they found it difficult to go by foot or rid ox-carts to attend church in Fairfield since their trip was between 2 to 8 miles depanding on where they lived. Because of the time to travel the residents of Machamux petitioned the Connecticut General Court in 1708 asking to be legally recognized as a separate and totally self-reliant parish with both religious and civil authority. But the village of Fairfield objected since they didn't want to lose tax revenue from the settlers. Al­ though the initial request was denied, a new petition was submit­ ted to the Court in 1710. This time the request was granted since the village of Fairfield couldn't mount compelling objections. The General Assembly approved the West Parish of Fairfield, effec­tive May l7ll, granting the parish the right to appoint its own minister and "that they shall be a district parish or society by and of themselves." This edict allowed the West Parish of Fairfield to have both religious independence with the authority to self­ govern themselves from the village of Fairfield.

"Vlith this mandate for self-governing the parish held its first meeting on June 12, 1711 at the first meeting house on Greens Farms Road and Morningside Drive South. Many years later this meeting house became known as the Greens Farms Congrega­ tional Church, after the West Parish of Fairfield was renamed the parish of Greens farms. Although the first parish meeting was held in 1711, the meeting house was not completed until 1720.

In Machamux and the village of Fairfield it was understood that the church was the town. The church collected taxes, supervised elections, created and ran schools, passed laws and administered punishment.  The number of residents grew so rapidly that a larger meeting house was needed and construc­ tion started in 1738. During this period of the development of the West Parish of Fairfield, the name was changed in 1732 to the parish of Greens farms after John Green, the largest landowner of the Bank­ side Farms. The acfual documented name of parish of Greensfarms was used in property transfer deeds until the early 1850s.  There were several other names used for this parish such as the Con­ gregational Society of Greens Farms.  But the name usage didn't change the fact that the church controlled all the ecclesiastical and civil activities

But not all was well in this church run self-governing commu­nity. For instance, there was an issue of which pews should be assigned to which parishioners. The conflict became so abusive that the General Assembly appointed disinterested outsiders to determine who would receive which pews. But civil matters were not contested.

The second meeting house, which was located at the corner of Green's Farms Road and the Sherwood Connector, was burned by British Major General William Tryon in 1777 as part of his infamous experiment in what he called "desolation warfare," the deliberate targeting of non-military assets. Tryon, according to Westport preservationist, Morley Boyd, believed that destroy­ing the meeting house would disrupt the governance of Greens Farms both religious and civil - and demoralize the Pa­ triots. Following the total loss of its meeting house, the residents of Greens Farms, in the winter of 1782, submitted a damage claim to Connecticut's General Assembly. A year later, the Assembly assessed the loss of the 52 by 40 foot meeting house, together with its bell, at 600 pounds. In order to satisfy as much of the claim as it could, the Assembly then authorized the sale of land that it had previously confiscated from Tories. In the meantime, the residents of Greens Farms moved forward with the construc­ tion of a third meeting house, which was completed around 1781.

This third meeting house was built on the current site of the Congregational Church of Green's Farms on Hillandale Road. Yet again the parish of Greens Farms needed to build another meeting house since the third one burned to the ground in 1852 of unknown origin. The fourth meeting house was constructed in Greens Farms in 1853. Just for historical completeness in 1832 thirty-six Greens Farms parishioners decided to form their own church, the Saugatuck Congregational Church, but since this was outside the bounds of the parish of Greens farms it had no effect on the Greens Farms Congregational Church governmental control.

The separation of church and state did end in 1835 for the newly created Town of Westport but didn't affect the residents of the parish of Greens farms. The parish continued to function inde­pendently as a self-managed, religious and civil district until 1842. Taxes continued to be collected by the Greens farms Society, an organization operated by the Congregational Church.

On February 10,1841 there was a petition to annex the parish of Greens farms into the Town of Westport.  The following resolution to that petition reads: "That the parish of Greens farms, in the town of Fairfield, in the county of Fairfield, be and the same is hereby annexed to the town of Westport, in said county, and shall become part and parcel of said town of Westport, and entitled to the same rights, privileges  and immunities as the town of Westport."

Thus the separation of church and state finally ended in Greens Farms in 1842 when it was annexed into the Town of Westport, only 74 years from the US Constitution proclamation of the con­ cept of the separaof church and state in the union.






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22 Aug 2016


By Bob Weingarten