Keepers of the Covenant: Frontier Missions and the Decline of Congregationalism, 1774-1818

By James R. Rohrer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Committee on Missions, 1792-1797

Connecticut pastors had legitimate reasons to worry about the welfare of their townspeople in the new settlements. The isolation and loneliness experienced by many migrants was traumatic, and few licentiates or ordained clergymen were available to minister to their needs. During the 1780s the pressing demand for orthodox preachers in Vermont alone far exceeded the supply of missionaries. When central and western New York opened to settlement in the early 1790s the shortage of Congregational ministers quickly reached crisis proportions. By 1795, the Connecticut General Association estimated that there were already more than two hundred settlements in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania where Congregational migrants resided without any orthodox shepherd. 1 Over the next several years, as emigration from New England accelerated, the number of vacant settlements dramatically increased.

The flow of immigrants into New York from Connecticut and Massachusetts was extraordinary. Speculators lured Yankees westward with the promise of rich farmland and easy credit. At a time when farmers in southern New England could expect to pay between fourteen to fifty dollars per acre for even average land, prime New York farm sites could be purchased for as little as two dollars per acre. New York speculators facilitated access to their land by the hasty construction of wagon roads across the state. As early as 1792 the Catskill Turnpike connected Hartford with Wattle's Ferry on the Susquehanna River. From here Connecticut migrants could follow the northern branch of the Susquehanna into the fertile region south of the Finger Lakes, or turn southward into the hills of northern Pennsylvania. 2

Another important route, the Mohawk Turnpike, gave New England

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