This is Part 1 in a series titled “Seeking God in the Vermont Wilderness.”
I’ve recently been doing a study of Vermont history, and Royalton history in particular. One thing I was surprised to find was just how important faith was to the earliest settlers of Royalton and the rich Christian heritage that Royalton boasts. This series will be dedicated to giving glimpses into the early faith that existed in Royalton, Vermont. My hope is that we will be encouraged to press on in knowing the Lord in the tough physical and spiritual wilderness of Vermont.
My historical journey began with Evelyn Lovejoy’s 1911 The History of Royalton which has been recognized as one of the best local histories in Vermont because of the depth of research and the extent of material Mrs. Lovejoy gathered for the book. In that remarkable 1100 plus page tome she provides a handful of notable stories that give us a glimpse into the faith of some of Royalton’s early settlers.
She writes at the beginning of her chapter dedicated to the ecclesiastical history of Royalton:
It is noteworthy that one of the first things the pioneers of New England considered in establishing settlements, was the provision for supplying their spiritual needs. The settlers of Royalton could hardly have numbered one hundred, all told, when they gave their attention to the matter of stated preaching.-Lovejoy, The History of Royalton, 193.
The first known gospel sermon in the area was given in the home of Royalton’s first settler, Robert Havens. According to Lovejoy, Havens is said to have come from Killingly, Connecticut and then to Sharon in 1765. From there he would move over to Royalton some time in 1771. Not long after arriving Lovejoy gives us this remarkable story about how that first sermon occurred:
Mrs. Lorenza Havens…is authority for the statement that the first sermon preached in town was in the house of her father, Robert Havens… The preacher was Reverend Elisha Kent, whose son Elisha, it is said, came to Royalton in 1772.-Lovejoy, The History of Royalton, 195.
[Rev. Kent] was very fleshy and somewhat infirm and preaching sitting in ‘the great chair.’ It is told of him that in the midst of his sermon he stopped and said to Mrs. Havens, ‘Madam, your pot is getting dry.’ He was not so lost in his discourse that he did not have an eye on the savory meat that the good wife was ‘potting down’ for his dinner, when the long sermon should be ended. We can imagine the company gathered in the little log house in the forest, the kindly Benjamin Parkhurst and wife, who had found their way on horseback along a trail that could have been only partially cleared at this time; Isaac Morgan and wife, who had waded the river, if it were summer, or crossed on the ice if it were winter; Elisha Kent, Jr., and his whole family, for John and Elisha third, then striplings, would wish to hear, ‘grandfather’ preach, and perhaps Joseph Moss, a babe in arms, helped in the music too… If the sermon of this graduate of Yale, preached in the wilderness to the heroic souls gathered in that rude [read: primitive] home had been preserved, how it would be prized by present and coming generations of Royalton!-Lovejoy, The History of Royalton, 195.
These early settlers plodded through woods, rivers, snow and ice to hear the word of God preached to them. I’m reminded of the many places in Scripture where we are called to this kind of hunger after the truth:
Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.-1 Peter 2:2
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.-Psalm 42:1
My soul is consumed with longing-Psalm 119:20
for your rules at all times.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.-Matthew 4:4
May we, like those gathered in that “rude” home in the 1770s, hunger and thirst after God’s word.