The First Church of Christ in Saybrook (Congregational) was organized in 1646, some 370 years ago. The first meetinghouse was located outside the fort on Saybrook Point, on the mouth of the Connecticut River. Sunday services required eight guards to protect church members from any Pequot Indian attacks. Over the next century, First Church expanded its membership, built two additional churches, and benefitted from having only 6 ministers, three of which served a total of 152 years. Thomas Buckingham (1665-1709); William Hart (1736-1783); and Frederick William Hotchkiss for 61 years (1783-1844).
During this period, the most notable events in our church history took place during Thomas Buckingham’s ministry. These included Buckingham’s leading role as a founder and teacher of the Collegiate School, stated in 1701, later to become Yale University when it moved from Old Saybrook to New Haven in 1716. Also, Buckingham served as moderator of a group of minister in 1708 that formulated the “Saybrook Platform”, a doctrine that set forth new standards for congregational church governance. Finally, Buckingham played a critical role as patriot for successfully rallying fellow citizens against threatened takeover in 1675 of fort Saybrook (included in the Connecticut Colony) by an emissary of King James, who as Duke of York, controlled New York. The repulse of this armed fleet known as “Andross Incident”, prevented the possible acquisition of Connecticut by New York interests. William Hart and Frederick Hotchkiss later played critical roles in First Church’s rich history.
History of the Meetinghouses
1646: The first meetinghouse, built about 1647, was probably a frame building with riven clapboards, located on the north side of Middle Lane, with the parsonage just west of it. The second meetinghouse, a frame building, stood “near about the place of the old one”. Its construction was authorized at a town meeting held January 17, 1679, and it was ready for occupancy in 1681. One of its windows, a casement leaded sash with imported English glass, is on exhibit in the treasure cabinets in our present building. The third meetinghouse was erected in 1726, on the Church Green. The Green is directly opposite our present buildings. Our present and fourth meetinghouse was dedicated January 5, 1840 and was extensively renovated in 1977.