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St. James
Episcopal Church

Parish History

 

History of Saint James' Poquetanuk
Preston, Connecticut


During the 17th century the Church of England was scarcely tolerated in Connecticut, for the colony had been settled by dissenters from her doctrine, discipline and rites. In the later part of 1734, St. James’ Parish was organized through the efforts of the Reverend Ebenezer Punderson Sr. who was profoundly influenced by the writings of the Reverend John Barclay, who defended the Church of England and refuted arguments of the Puritans against it.

 

Ebenezer Punderson Sr. [1708-1771], a Yale graduate in 1726, was ordained at the age of 21 in 1729, and later served as the minister of the Congregational Church in North Groton (now Ledyard). After just two and one-half years of serving the Congregational Church, Ebenezer Punderson Sr. announced that he planned to seek Episcopal ordination, following in the steps of his Congregational predecessor, the Reverend Samuel Seabury. Although Punderson’s parishioners tried to dissuade him, a council convened on February 5, 1734, and voted to dissolve the Congregational connection and allowed him to leave.

 

On his departure he sailed to England for a proper ordination into the Church of England and returned to the Connecticut colony with a commission from the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. It was in the year of 1734, he established a church in North Groton and attracted many of the parishioners from the former Congregational Meeting House. St. James’ Parish, North Groton, has the distinction of being the first Episcopal Church in the area, and Punderson served the people in Norwich, Groton, Hebron, Charlestown (Rhode Island), and throughout the area.

 

In 1734 the first church building was erected on Church Hill in North Groton (now Ledyard) however the church was not incorporated until September 6, 1784 because the original records were lost at sea. The first building was a wooden-frame edifice, 40 feet by 60 feet, with galleries but without a steeple. It was at the back of the property, with a graveyard in the front. The original layout of the site is still obvious, with graves and markers, at the top of Spicer Hill Road (formerly Church Hill Road) in Ledyard.

 

From 1734 to 1752, Reverend Ebenezer Punderson Sr. served as priest and in 1752 Punderson Sr. was succeeded by his son Ebenezer Punderson Jr., who served as the churches leader and lay reader until 1758. In 1758 Samuel Tudor took leadership and remained with the church until 1761.

 

1762 brought another Yale graduate to St James, John Beardsley. Beardsley was ordained in England in the Spring of 1761 and in the same year Beardsley married Ebenezer Punderson Sr.’s daughter.

 

The years from 1768-1774 were years of decline for the church. Prior to the War of Independence these years saw many members of the parish move to Nova Scotia and follow their Tory Loyalist roots. During 1774, Dan Forester offered his service to the church. Due to the years of decline many clandestine services were performed within private homes and the service were performed according to the English Prayer Book with prayers of King George III, Queen Charlotte and the Royal Family.

 

In a letter dated August 17, 1774, permission was given to move the church building from Church Hill, North Groton, but it was not until 1785 that the church was moved to Shingle Point Raod (then still Ledyard), just south of the Village at the head of Poquetanuck Cove, and adjacent to the Town of Preston. The letter giving permission to move the church, was signed by Ebenezer Punderson Jr. and Ebenezer Punderson the III (son and grandson of our first missionary rector).  At the new site on Shingle Point Road, Samuel Seabury served the parish from 1784 through 1794.

 

Throughout the next twenty years, 1794 to 1814, a variety of visiting missionaries served the church; Joshua Wingate Weeks, Benjamin Benham and John Tyler. From 1814-1819 Amni Rogers served at Easter serves and was paid at a salary of $100 per year. Amni Rogers wrote lengthy memoirs during his service at St. James. Mr. Peter Gilchrish Clarke [1793-1860] served the parish from April 14, 1819 through 1821 and after his service the parish was vacant until 1929. The church had occasional services performed by Asbel Steele but due to the decline in membership the church did not have a leader from 1821-1829. Thomas K. Peck [1798-1827], an ordained, Deacon, served as a missionary to the Eastern Diocese during the low membership years and he was housed in Poquetanuck from 182-1827.

 

By May of 1827 the parish was destitute and reduced to about twelve families and on August 9 of 1827 Thomas Peck died while in his home in Poquetanuck, Connecticut. The years following 1829 were one of intermittent leadership. Nathan B. Burgess [1771-1854] served from 1829 to 1833, from 1833 to 1836 no church records have been found, Silas Blaisdale served Easter services in 1836 and 1837, Calvin G. Wolcott served from 1837 to 1838 and then in 1840 Dexter Potter [1839-1846] began his service to the church.

 

In 1840 the original church building was sold to the Congregational Church in Salem, taken apart and moved to Salem Green, where it later burned. A second building, a handsome Greek Revival Church, was built on property at the head of Poquetanuck Village (present site). Dexter Potter served the church in both buildings, from 1840 through 1846.

 

In 1847 Henry F. Roberts started with the church at a salary of $400.00 per year. Roberts served until 1851 and then Seth S. Chapin served the next nine years till 1860. Roberts was also paid a salary of $400.00 per year. James Adams [1799-1868] served the church from 1860 to 1868. In 1868, Henry S. Attwater served the church until he left in 1871, to be a missionary in Kansas. From April 7, 1872 to May 5, 1879 John Purvis served the church, J. F. Hoffman served in May and June 1879, Jared W. Ellsworth served from July 6, 1879 to May 17, 1880, Robert L. Mathison served from May 30, 1879 to June 3, 1883 and Ximenes Alanaon Welton served from July 15, 1883 to July 3, 1894.

 

On July 16, 1879, new construction on a new building (present church) and was occupied on Good Friday April 8, 1898. The new church had a three paned, memorial Chancel Window of leaded glass in the east wall of the church above the altar. The side windows were made of cathedral glass in the center with three shades of olive, bordered by opalescent glass of different colors. The Rose Window in the West wall was entirely of opalescent glass of different colors, and the center had a sky-blue background with a dove on a wing. All of the woodwork of the church was made of North Carolina pine, hand oiled, except the alter, altar rail, retable, credence and pulpit, which are of a quartered oak. The baptismal font (1809), Bible Lectern and a side chair were all original to the second building.

 

George Buck started serving the church in October 29, 1894, so he was there when the church construction started. He served the church until 1899. W.S. Emery served as a visitor in march of 1900 and in 1900 William H. Jepson served three years to 1903 and then Daniel H. Verder served from December 6, 1913 until April 8, 1904. C.S.M. Stewart serve the church from September 8, 1904 to October 1, 1908 and then William E. Hooker served from December 10, 1908 to May 1, 1914. From 1914-1918 Leavitt Clough Sherburne (Priest and Poet) served the church but left on October 29, 1918 when he was granted a years leave to enter YMCA War Service in France. With Sherburnes leave F.C.H. Wendel served the church in 1919.

 

The church's next priest, Thomas Henry Marchant Oxford, served from July 15, 1919 to May 1, 1940. This period included the Great Hurricane of 1938, when the church was severely damaged. Rev. Oxford lived rectory style in Preston during his time with Saint James.

 

The Great Hurricane of 1938 severely damaged the building. The soaring steeple on the bell tower was blown away, the walls separated and opened to the weather, and the beautiful Chancel Window was destroyed. It was nearly a year before the church was restored for full use, and services were held in the parish hall while work was being done.

 

After Mr. Oxford retired in 1940, several student lay readers from Berkeley Divinity School served the church. The students were J. Jay Post, John Grosvenor Dahl (November 1940 to May 1941), C. Kilmer Meyers (April 1941 – later Bishop of new York) and Charles B. Scoville (April 1941). Clinton R. Jones served the church from June 11, 1941 to January 22, 1945 when he left to become an Army Chaplin. Gordon Hurst Barroe served from June thorugh Auguts in 1945, Clinton R. Jones returned half time to St. James (and half time at St. James in new London) in Poquetancuk in 1945 and 1946, but resigned on September 4, 1946.

 

There is no record of leadership that exists for the years of 1946 and 1947. In the Fall of 1947, Charles K. Parker served and stayed with the church till 1960. Edward H. Cook served from January 1, 1961 to July 1, 1961, Sherill B. Scales Jr. served from July 1, 1961 to November 1, 1962 and Robert C. Worthey served St. James ½ time (1/2 time at St. David’s in Galesferry) from November 18, 1962 to June 11, 1964.

 

In 1965 the Parish House (not the church building) burned to the ground. Just prior to the devastating fire, indoor plumbing had been installed for the first time. Following the fire, plans were made to purchase 3.3 acres adjacent to the existing church and build a new parish hall. A fine Parish House was built and dedicated in the Fall of 1965 by the Right Reverend John H. Esquirol, Bishop of Connecticut. The parish house has a small parking lot on the north side of the building and remained unconnected to the church for several years. In 1968 and 1969, the buildings were connected and the parking lot was expanded. The Parish hall was dedicated to the memory of the first rector and missionary, the Reverend Ebenezer Punderson Sr.

 

David Lawrence Cannon was ordained on March 5, 1965 after serving half time at St. James from January 11, 1964 to march of 1965. While working ½ time a St. James Rev. cannon also served as Vicar and Curate at Christ Church in Norwich, CT. In the Fall of 1965, Rev. Cannon was ordained and served the church from 1965 to December of 1999.

 

By 1988 all church debt had been paid off. Plans were made to add an educational wing to Punderson Hall to renovate the existing space with handicapped access and additional parking, and that project was completed in 1989. The Reverend David Cannon retired at the end of December 1999 after thirty-five years of service as Vicar.

In June 2000, the Reverend Jaclyn Sheldon became Vicar of Saint James’ parish; her Service of Installation was held November 2000. St. James’ Parish paid off its mortgage in January 2001 and the current building and grounds are maintained by parish members. 

 

In May 2007, Rev. Sheldon’s husband Bill died unexpectedly of complications following surgery.  It was a great loss to the parish as well as Bill’s family.  Rev. Sheldon continued to serve the community, but retired from her position as Vicar on March 29, 2008. 


After nearly a two year search process, the Vestry called The Reverend Ronald J. Kolanowski as Vicar.  Fr. Ron began his tenure on March 14, 2010.  On July 25, 2010 on the feast of St. James the Greater, The Reverend David L. Cannon was installed as Vicar Emeritus at St. James’ in recognition of his on-going connection with the parish and the wider community.  On October 8, 2010, the Right Reverend Ian Douglas formally installed Fr. Ron as Vicar at St. James’.