First Free Congregational Church
Penn Yan 1841-1855
The period leading up to the Civil War led to tremendous controversy
even in the North. Three of the religious congregations in the village
of Penn Yan split over the issue of abolition of slavery. In July 1837,
a new pastor was installed in the Presbyterian Church in Penn Yan, the
Rev. Ovid Miner. He was very outspoken on the issue of abolition, and apparently
alienated some of his congregation. In 1841 the Presbytery ordered him
to withdraw, and with about 100 members he founded the First Free Congregational
Church of Penn Yan.
A new church building was erected at the corner of Main and Chapel Streets
at a cost of about $7000. It was set back from the street with trees planted
in front on the Main Street side. At least once these trees were vandalized,
and when the editor of the local paper -- Stafford C. Cleveland -- penned
an angry editorial on the subject, he was accosted one night and roughed
up by a gang of local toughs.
By the mid 1850s abolition had become much less controversial in rural
areas in New York, strongholds of the new Republican Party. The expense
of keeping up two separate churches apparently began to seem foolish when
doctrinal differences were so minor. The Congregational Church disbanded
in 1855, and most of its members returned to the Presbyterian Church.
The record book of the church was photocopied some time in the 1980s
by then-village historian Catharine Aspell Spencer. It comprises 13 handwritten
pages, ruled into columns, and lists each member, when and how each was
admitted and when and how each was dismissed. Most of the latter tell where
the person went to from Penn Yan, and a few deaths are also recorded here.
The complete names of women who married or remarried are listed. The book
has been transcribed for posting on this site. The original was apparently
written in various colors of ink, and the photocopy was not adjusted for
this, so some few words are illegible.