Tidbits of Church History for January 2021  

First Congregational Church, Portland, CT

January 13, 1712/13 ~   The Church voted one acre of land adjoining the land of James Stancliff for use as a burying ground on the east side of the great river.  This burial ground was first used for the interment of Samuel Hall, the 15 year old son of original member Deacon Samuel Hall and his first wife, Sarah Hinsdale.  The young Samuel Hall died in February 1712/13 and was “the first person laid in this yard” called Old Quarry Burial Ground.  As the local quarrying industry increased in the 19th century the cemetery was situated on the banks of the river over prime brownstone. The cemetery was then moved and the remains of those interred were given to family members for placement in family plots. Those who were not claimed were interred in the Trinity Cemetery in the northeast corner abutting Spring Street. The headstones of Samuel Hall and his mother Sarah are next to each other in the present Trinity Cemetery. Deacon Samuel Hall is considered to be in an adjacent plot but there is no headstone. There are 11 original members with headstones in this cemetery.

January 14, 1722  ~  “Ruth Newell (wife of the first minister) was joined to the church in East Middletown.”

January 17, 1725 ~ From the notes of church meetings it states; “Samuel Hall, that was formerly chosen a Deacon in the church and had been approved by the church, was ordained a Deacon of the church.”  January 22nd Joseph White was chosen a Deacon by a major vote.

January 1, 1727 ~ Daniel Newell was baptized.  Daniel was the third child and only son of our first minister, Rev. Daniel Newell, and his wife Ruth Porter Newell.  Daniel was born on December 26, 1726.  When his father died suddenly in September 1731 Daniel was adopted by his Uncle John Newell.  Daniel graduated from Yale in 1750 having studied theology but later changing to medicine.  He married Susanna Porter (a distant relative of his mother’s) in 1751 but died in Berlin on September 8, 1755 presumably from wounds he received in battle in the French and Indian War. 


January 19, 1851  ~  “ at a church meeting 33 members requested to be dismissed from this church for the purpose of forming, in connection with others, a new church.”  These members were dissatisfied with the Main Street location of the new  (present) 1850 building and chose to establish the Center Congregational Church closer to their homes in the eastern part of the society near Bartlett and Strickland Streets.

January 27, 1961  ~  “voted to merge with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to become affiliated with the United Church of Christ.”

January 24, 1971  ~  A Renovation Canvas Committee was commissioned to raise $55,000  for the 250th Anniversary Year.  

January 1, 1996  ~  Rev. Rosemary Turner became Interim Minister

December in our History

Tidbits for December 2020

Diane Burgess ~ 300th Historian

Beginning this month and throughout the 300th Anniversary Year, items of historical interest will be included in newsletters and our website.  We hope you enjoy reading about the church’s history.

December I, 1720 the church voted to call the 20-year-old Rev. Daniel Newell as our first minister.   Rev. Newell had graduated Yale in 1718 and was ordained on October 25, 1721.  He married Ruth Porter one week later and they had 4 children before his untimely death in 1731.

December 27, 1766 Rev. Moses Bartlett died at age 58.  He served for 33 years as our second minister and was the first physician for the East Middletown settlement then known as the Third Church of Christ of Middletown.  A new larger meeting house was constructed during his ministry.

December 18, 1850 the new (present) church building was dedicated.  It is the third edifice for our congregation and took just one year to build.  The gothic design was created by New Haven architect Henry Austin and is similar in design to the First Church of Kent, CT built in 1849.  This year marks the 170th year that worship has occurred in this building!   

December 19, 1865 Rev. Hervey Talcott died at age 74 having served for 45 years as our fifth minister and was the longest serving pastor in our history and the first to preach in our present sanctuary.

December 1973 the first Jumbo Christmas Card was signed by members, perhaps the design of Ruth Campbell who used Garfield the Cat as a frequent artistic choice.  This was a way for members of the congregation to send greetings to all other members and the savings of stamps and card expenses were then donated to a special mission. Various artists have designed a large card for most years since and a special “mission” has been chosen yearly.  Approaching almost 50 years of donations, this year we hope to continue this tradition even if we are not meeting for worship in person. 


In 1989 Christmas Eve Services were initiated and in 2011 a Service of Christmas Calm became a part of the Advent traditions.

Giving and Missions have always been a part of our Christmas. But in more recent decades the focus has changed with the times. “White Gifts” was a tradition from the 1950’s through the 1980’s when members brought  gifts wrapped in white tissue paper and children presented them at the Christmas Pageant. Later they were distributed at the Cromwell Children’s Home.  Recently our decorated “Giving Tree” near the pulpit bore gift tags for local families’ needs which were then fulfilled by our willing congregation and returned with the attached tag for dispersal to the assigned local families.  In 2020 the method of getting a tag will be accomplished online in case we cannot be present in the sanctuary, but the spirit of the project will remain the same and local families will continue to enjoy your generous donations!