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Church History in America

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A house of Christian worship, derived from old English chirch and Scottish Kirk, from Latin circus, the Gaelic cearcal, a temple, a round building. The root of church is from the Gaelic car, roundness, from which we have cirke or kirke.

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By Daniel J. Bornt

Of all the first families that arrived on America's shores nearly four hundred years ago, the Church family of New England takes a back seat to none in regards to pedigree resulting from involvement in founding the new country.

Emigrating from England with the earliest of the Puritan settlers, the Churches set about to establishing a long, distinguished lineage of descendants that were at the forefront of America's most brightest and esteemed citizens.

The putative first Church to step foot upon the new world was Richard Church from Oxford, England, (1608-1668) who arrived at the fledgling Plymouth colony in 1630 aboard the fleet with Winthrop; a carpenter, he built the settlement's first Puritan meeting house of worship.

His son, the renowned Col. Benjamin Church, (1639-1718) led the Massachusetts colonists' militia in the 1676 war against the Wampanoag chief King Philip (Metacomet, the son of Massasoit), ending the Indian uprising in the region, where raids on the frontier settlements destroyed many towns with captives taken.

Another Richard Church, (16-- - 1667) perhaps a cousin, arrived from England a few years after the first Richard, and migrated inland to become one of the original founders of Hartford, Conneticut.

Along the way, as the colonies struggled for freedom from England and to establish a new nation, the Churches were involved, although sometimes not in the most patriotic of circumstances!

Dr. Benjamin Church, (1734-1778?) graduate of Harvard, physician, poet, author and grandson of the illustrious colonel, was accused during the early days of Revolutionary hostility in Boston, of collaborating with the British; tried in a court-martial with General Washington presiding, he was sentenced to life in prison. (Perhaps Masonic brotherhood between Washington and himself prevented his hanging.)

Allowed by the Massachusetts Council to depart for the West Indies Dr. Church sailed from Boston about 1778, but his ship was never heard from again.

Then there was Angelica Schuyler, winsome daughter of Revolutionary General Philip Schuyler. Described as "beautiful and independent with a razor-sharp wit", she eloped with a Church (albeit not one of the American Church descendants) by climbing out the window of her family's Albany mansion.

A few years later, as her sister settled down as the wife of Alexander Hamilton, she became the object of Thomas Jefferson's affections while he was the American ambassador to France and she was still married to Church. His intimate letters to her have only recently come to light.

But all in all, the Churches have achieved prominence throughout the years by distinction in sober intellectual pursuits as men of education, the clergy, the law, and the fine arts.

Among other noteworthy Churches in the family line:

* Garret Church (1611-?), noted citizen of Watertown,
Mass. (possibly a brother of Richard Church of Plymouth.)
* John Church (16-- - 1696), Dover, N.H., killed by
* Thomas Church (?-?), son of Col. Benjamin Church, author of "Entertaining Passages Relating to King Philip's War", which describes his father's role in the hostilities.
* Alonzo Church (1793-1862), educator, born near Brattleboro, VT; President of the University of Georgia at Athens, (1839-1859). His grandfather Timothy Church had fought in the French and Indian War and was a colonel in the Revolution.
* Frederick Edwin Church (1826-1900), world-renowned landscape painter of the 'Hudson River School', son of Joseph Church, a prominent citizen of Hartford, Conn., and descended in a direct line from the Richard Church who founded Hartford. His huge Italianate mansion, 'Olana', overlooking the Hudson River south of Albany, NY is a state historic site.
* Frederick Stuart Church (1842-1924), also a painter, son of Thomas Church and Mary Elizabeth Stuart. His works are represented in the National Gallery in Washington.
* George Earl Church (1835-1910), born in New Bedford, Mass., the son of George Washington Church and Margaret Fisher Church, a direct descendant of the first Richard Church. Civil engineer, explorer, and writer, he constructed a railway in Bolivia.
* Pharcellus Church (1801-1886), noted Baptist clergyman, the son of Willard and Sarah Davis Church, also a direct descendant of the first Richard Church. Well known author and essayist of religious books and publications
* John Adams Church (1843-1917), son of Pharcellus, metallurgist and mining expert whose duties took him to the Comstock, Tombstone, and China.
* Col. William Conant Church (1836-1917), son of Pharcellus, editor, publisher of the New York SUN, Civil War officer and correspondant
* Francis Pharcellus Church (1839-1906), son of Pharcellus, editor and lawyer, author of the famous editorial "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." (See the following web links):

* Albert E. Church (? - ?), L.L.D., head of the mathematics department at West Point, of whom it was said by cadets was a roommate of Jefferson Davis when as a student at the Academy.
* William E. Church (1841-?), lawyer, Civil War N.Y. Calvary
* Irving Porter Church (1851-1931), Cornell University professor and author of engineering books
* Arthur Church (1858-?), mechanical engineer
* Col. Earl D. Church (? - 1930), Washington, DC, Commissioner of Pensions, decorated WWI Army veteran
* Melville Church (1856-1935), Washington, DC, lawyer
* Ellen Church, went on duty May 15, 1930 aboard a United Airlines flight between San Franciso and Cheyenne, Wyoming, as the first airline stewardess.

It is also interesting to note that four Church men on the Union side perished in the July 2-5, 1863 battle at Getttysburg.


Sources and their accompanying dates (or lack thereof) for this article include: "Dictionary of American Biography" (Scribners), "Encyclopedia of Biography," "Union Dead at Gettysburg," "Custer, The Life of George Armstrong Custer" by Jay Monaghan, "Genealogical Guide to the Early Settlers of America," "O Albany" by William Kennedy, and the Associated Press.

copyright 2001 by Daniel J. Bornt

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