Chauncey Judd: Religious Aspects of War

Updated May 14, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Religious Aspects of War

A large portion or the American colonists were decided in their sentiments by what may be called their religious affinities. From the first settlement of the country, it was well known that the design had been cherished by a certain party in England to extend the national church establishment over the colonies.

Those who believed in the validity of Presbyterian ordination, says Bronson, and the independence of the American churches, who abhorred prelacy almost as much as they did the pope, were quick to see the religious bearings of the questions of the day. They felt that such a measure as the stamp act must be resisted at the beginning, as a dangerous encroachment upon their just rights, and which, if not opposed successfully, would end in the loss of their most cherished institutions, political and religious. The Church-of-England men held different visions and had different sympathies. They looked upon theirs as the only true church, and Congregationalism as a heresy which had ruled too long in this country. They favored the views and hoped for the triumph of the British government.[1]

These views were very prevalent in the town of Waterbury. The two parties were more evenly balanced than in most other towns. The Churchmen were in a minority, but they were still numerous - sufficiently so to excite the jealousy, and even the fears, of the majority. When at one time they obtained the ascendancy in society meeting in Northbury,[2] the manner in which they conducted themselves had not inspired confidence in their moderation. Religious denominations in power are not wont to treat the opposition with peculiar leniency. Such is the transcendent importance of religious truth, and such the wickedness of unbelief, or a contrary belief, that men are apt to think any means justifiable which tend to spread the one or suppress the other. The Congregationalists cannot plead guiltless to the charge of attempting, when in authority, to crush out dissent by the use of power.

When at last the war of the Revolution broke out in 1775, the Churchmen of Waterbury, of Connecticut, and New England were seen ranged upon the side of the parent country and against the rebel colonists. They were royalists, or tories. They had reasons satisfactory to themselves for their opinions and conduct. They wished the success of the British government because on that success depended their hopes of worldly distinction and religious privilege. On that they supposed they must rely for the permanent ascendency of the Episcopal Church in America - its doctrines, its faith, and its worship. To England they were bound by the strongest ties. From that country their parish clergymen had from the first received a great part of their support. They owed it a debt of gratitude, which, if they could not repay, they were unwilling to forget. They had always been the weaker party, had been ridiculed in their weakness, and sometimes voted out of their just rights. Their feelings had not been conciliated, and they had come to hate the whigs heartily. They now hoped that their wrongs would be redressed.

The Episcopal clergy of Connecticut and of New England took the lead in opposition to the war. They kept up a correspondence with the Society [for Propagating the Gospel] at home, of which they were beneficiaries, in which they expressed their views freely of the merits of the controversy, and gave information of the state of the country. The loyalty of their own church was a subject for frequent comment and congratulation. Dr. Richard Mansfield, of Derby, wrote in December, 1775, that he had preached and taught quiet subjection to the king and parent state, and that he was well assured that the clergy in general of the colony of Connecticut had done the same. Of the one hundred and thirty families under his charge, one hundred and ten, he continued, are firm and steadfast friends to the government, and detest and abhor the present unnatural rebellion, and all those measures which led to it. Further on, he remarked that the worthy Mr. Scovill [of Waterbury] and the venerable Mr. Beach [of Newtown] have had still better success, scarcely a single person being found of their congregations but what hath persevered steadfastly in his duty and loyalty.[3]

Among these royalists were several of the principal families of Germantown. Mr. Jobamah Gunn was the largest landholder and richest man in the town. He carried on extensive operations on his farm, and employed many men to labor for him. In his sentiments, as well as in the magnitude of his business, he resembled an English squire. He did not believe in the doctrines of equality which began to be so rife in society. He would have the good old custom of lords and tenants maintained, and thought that all who were not rich enough to own land should be bound to service to those that were.

Near him resided the Wooster family, one member of which we have already introduced to our readers. David Wooster, Sen., had twelve children, some of whom, in after years, attained distinction as persons of respectability and piety. He was imbued with sentiments of opposition to the war, and became noted among the leading tories of the town. His brothers, Daniel, John, Thomas and Henry, lived in Derby, all of whom agreed substantially in their opinions, and were highly obnoxious to their townsmen of the opposite party. Numerous other families of like faith lived in the neighborhood; indeed, it became known through all the surrounding region for its disaffection and as a place where refugees from the recruiting service, and those guilty of offenses against the authorities, were harbored and protected.

This disaffection pervaded even the militia of the town. There had been two military companies in Waterbury, one of which was commanded by enthusiastic friends of the country. Of the other, Captain Brown and all the officers except one sergeant were tories, and were free in expressing their sentiments. Of course, in the excited state of feeling then prevalent, such utterances could not fail to attract attention. A formal complaint against the captain was made to the General Assembly for disloyalty to the colonies, coupled also with the charge that he had refused to detach men for service in the army when ordered by the lieutenant-colonel of the regiment. For these offenses he was summoned before the Assembly, and, after a full hearing, was found guilty, cashiered, and made incapable of holding any military office, and the company under his command was disbanded. Smarting under his disgrace, he soon after joined the royal troops in New York, received a captain's commission, and, in the following August, died there.

His example was followed by not a few of the disbanded company and others, chiefly young men. During the year 1776, says Bronson, after the defeat of the American forces on Long Island, when the British army was lying in and about New York, the patriot cause looking desperate enough, about eighty persons (royalists) left Waterbury with the intention of joining the enemy. Some were taken on the way by the Americans, but most of them reached their destination. They did not, however, meet with the reception they had expected. Instead of being welcomed and petted, they were treated with superciliousness and neglect. The discipline of the army they found almost intolerable, and a thorough disgust for their new friends soon took the place of former admiration. Many, taking advantage of the proclamations by Congress of pardon to such as should return to duty, departed the royal standard, came home and took the oath of allegiance to the state. A part of these entered the American service. Numbers died or were killed while still with the British army. A few served in it till the close of the war. Of the latter number, a part, after peace was declared, settled in Nova Scotia. Others found a home in the southern states, while two or three returned to Waterbury.[4]

As might readily be supposed, these tories in the British service were among the most dreaded foes of the inhabitants living in the vicinity of the royal armies. They became notorious for their plundering excursions, in which they carried off cattle, hay, fruits and stores of all sorts for the use of the troops. In the neighborhood of New York they were named cow-boys, from the frequency and success of these raids. Their familiarity with the country and its people enabled them to plan their excursions successfully, and escape, for the most part, with impunity. Often they had old grudges against those who had insulted or prosecuted them, and they could now couple with the plunder they carried off the sweets of revenge. It is needless to say how rapidly the morals of men thus engaged would deteriorate, and how soon many of those who at first were simply honest royalists, became robbers and murderers, hardened in every crime.


History of Waterbury, p. 328. The succeeding statements as to the royalists of that town, and of the attitude of the Episcopalians toward the war, are given on the authority of that work.


The northern parish of the town, now Plymouth. On finding themselves the majority in the parish, they took possession of the meetinghouse, voting out the services of the Congregationalist pastor. - Bronson, p. 310.


History, pp. 329, 330, 332.


History of Waterbury, pp. 353-354.

Sources +