Saybrook is considered by many to be “the mother of Congregationalism” in Connecticut and western New England. Early on, the hiring of the minister and the payment of all costs related to the church were borne by the town government and voted on annually at Town Meetings. The First Church of Christ in Saybrook stood at the eastern end of Church Street (then known as Middle Lane) in a simple meetinghouse. The church was said to have been organized during the summer of 1646, eleven years after the settling of Saybrook by George Fenwick on behalf of the patentees.
The current First Congregational Church of Christ in Saybrook (above) is the third church location since 1646. From the meetinghouse on Saybrook Point, the church moved in 1726 to a location across the street from the present church on the triangular parcel marked by the blue sign. The second church site can be seen on a map of 1838 where sight lines from the second church’s ” Saybrook Spire” are shown.
A twenty year old John Higginson was the first chaplain of the fort and was succeeded in 1642 by Reverend Thomas Peters. In 1646, Reverend James Fitch, succeeded Peters. Fitch is known to have formed a new parish in Norwich in 1660 where approximately half of the original settlers of left Saybrook went with him. Reverend Jeremiah Peck followed Fitch, followed by Reverend Thomas Buckingham. Beginning with Reverend Buckingham, most of the church’s early pasters are buried at Cypress, with four pastorates covering a period of 170 years. Reverend Buckingham was also instrumental in the development of the Saybrook Platform and one of the founders of the Saybrook Collegiate School, later to become Yale.
As for the original meeting house, a special act of the General Court required that eight guards stand duty flanking the doorway to the building. The beating of a drum called the congregation to the meetinghouse (the person who beat the drum was paid forty shillings a year – thirty shillings was paid for sweeping the meetinghouse). For over 186 years, the only heat in the original meetinghouse and the second church building was foot stoves brought by members of the congregation.
The First Church of Christ in Saybrook pays tribute to their past, describing the succession from the first meetinghouse through the current building. An artifact of the second church building – a casement window with leaded English glass – is on display in the church’s treasure cabinet.