The Methodist Church in Albany

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The De Witt map of 1790 locates and identifies a Methodist church on the southeastern corner of North Pearl and Orange streets.

British Army officer Thomas Webb is credited with bringing Weslyan teachings to Albany while he was on duty at the fort in 1766. However, Webb's stay in Albany was brief and Methodism does not seem to have caught on in the city until after the War for Independence.

Clerics prior to 1800 perhaps were James Campbell, Joel Ketcham, and others.

A Methodist burial plot was not depicted on either of the De Witt maps made during the 1790s but was included within the church cemetery plots laid out in the new cemetery in what is now Washington Park and was shown on the Randall Map of Albany dated 1809.

Later, a number of Methodist congregations were established in the city. By 1836, all three were located east of Pearl Street.

Today (and dating from about 1867), the descendant of the first Methodist ( Trinity ) church is located in a still impressive structure at Lark and Lancaster Streets.

notes

Sources: Weise; link to article in Bicentennial History of Albany - from which the following passage has been excerpted. It will be compressed as new material is incorporated above:


      Some time in the years 1765-66, Captain Thomas Webb, of the British Army, was stationed in Albany in charge of the military post as Barrack master. He had been converted in Bath, in England, joined the Methodist and labored as a lay preacher. He is said to have maintained family prayer, and also preached in the public streets. In February 1767, he was in New York, and immediately entered upon evangelistic labors there and on Long Island and in New Jersey. That he never returned to Albany, we infer he felt the time was not yet favorable for Methodism came here. Late in the autumn of 1788, Methodism came to Albany to stay; but for years was a very feeble plant.
      The pioneer preacher in this work was Rev. Freeborn Garretson, a native of Maryland, a man of gentle birth, of some financial means, and until he emancipated them, a holder of slaves. He was one of the earliest Methodist preachers of American birth. It was now twenty-two years since the first Methodist sermon had been preached in America. This was in New York, and for reasons that we do not now consider; the work had spread mostly to the south from that city. Francis Asbury had joined those who were laboring in this work in 1771, and when the scattered societies of Methodists were organized into a church, in December 1784, Mr. Garretson came to New York, and with the other preachers entered into a work of revival that was spreading north through Westchester County.
      Mr. Garretson was assigned to this district with a band of young men, whom he sent out to find fields of labor, himself passing over the whole territory once in every three months, and putting in his own labor where it seemed most needed.
      To both the Bishop and Mr. Garretson, to make Albany a strong point seemed eminently desirable he readily obtained the privilege of preaching in City Hall. It is not strange that the resident clergy should not look with disfavor upon this effort to introduce what they accounted another gospel, nor did the people generally sympathize with them.
      The dogmas of Calvinism had come with the first settlers from their Holland home, and the current theological literature and conversation were all cast in that mold. It was not until July of the next year (1789), that he succeeded in gathering any converts. On the first of July he writes “Albany still appears to be a poor place for Methodism.” He had preached in the City Hall. The next day, at an hour by sun, he met a few friends in a private house and joined them into a society under the Methodist discipline. In the evening he preached again in the City Hall.
      The building of a House of Worship was accomplished in the next two years. It was built and is still standing on the southeast corner of North Pearl and Orange Streets. As late as 1870 there was and old man in the city whose parents were interested in building the house, and remembered the people cutting and hewing the timbers for the frame.
      By a record in the office of the County Clerk, we learn the church was incorporated under a general Act of the Legislature in 1784, as the Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of Albany. The following names appear as the first Board of Trustees, elected in June 1792: John Bloodgood, Abraham Ellison, Isaac Lawson, Elisha Johnson, William Fradenburgh, Nathaniel Ames, Calvin Chessman.
      Still another record is worth preserving. After a new house was built on Division Street, in 1812, the old house was for a time occupied by the Baptist, and finally, in 1822, sold to the Scotch Presbyterians.
      The first preacher stationed in Albany, when it was taken from the circuit, was Joel Ketcham, a man of more than ordinary popular address. David Buck followed for one year. Then Cyrus Stebbins four years successively; William Phoebus, a man of culture, 1806-7; Thurman Bishop, 1808; Daniel Notrander, 1809-10; Lewis Pease, 1811; Samuel Merwin, 1812-13.
      In 1813 a portion of the members wished to establish a Sabbath – school. But the older members thought it would be breaking the Sabbath. They compromised by getting tracts printed and circulating them among the people. A leading spirit in this was a Scotchman by the name of Balantine, a schoolteacher. E &E Hosford, leading printing house in the city, printed tracts for these jealous Methodists before the American Tract Society had an existence. They were mostly Wesley’s Tracts.
      But what these men failed to do a woman accomplished. In 1816 a Methodist lady had a select school in the city for young misses, and added to her labors by establishing a Sabbath school, the first in the city.

The following table shows the growth of the membership from 1797, when first reported separately from the circuits:

White       Black
1799…… 40 …
1800…… 40 …
1801…… 46 8
1802…… 57 6
1803…… 66 5
1804-5 [no census given]
1806… 90 4
1807…… 85 16
1808…… 91 17
1809…… 08 15
1810…101 13
1811… 116 13

      It was matter of great encouragement, after this long period of weakness, that in 1811 they appear to have turned the corner of one hundred, never again to fall below that number. This led to a new enterprise seeking a more eligible situation for their house of worship. In February 1812, they purchased two lots upon the south side of Division Street, a few doors below South Pearl. When they built upon North Pearl Street, one lot, with a front of a few inches over thirty feet answered the purpose; now that they buy two lots.

      Mr. Upfold, who was not a Methodist probably an Episcopalian, opened his house as the headquarters of their evangelistic labors. It was in his house a schoolroom in which he and his wife taught school that Mrs. Bocking, with their aid, instituted the first Sabbath school in Albany. Here too, and by Mrs. Bocking, was inaugurated the first effort for the moral and intellectual elevation of the children and youth of African descent. These left Albany in the course of ten or fifteen years.
      The church on Division Street was opened for public worship in 1813. Bishop Asbury held a session of the New York Conference in June 1812. He preached, as recorded in his journal, in the old church, and made an address on the spot designated for the new church. In 1815 he held another conference here, and at the request of the Conference, he preached a funeral sermon on the death of Dr. Coke, who, on his way to establish a mission on the island of Ceylon, died, and was buried in the Indian Ocean. An aged lady in this city, born in 1801, remembers this sermon, and adds that the church was appropriately draped for the occasion.
      The membership in 1813 numbered 153 whites and 16 blacks. For the next twelve years it fluctuated between this and 215 whites, 25 blacks; but fell off over 50 the next year. It should be observed that in those years, and until 1847, probationers were numbered with those in full membership. Consequently, under the labors of an injudicious and sensational Pastor, the numbers were swelled only to be reduced again when the excitement passed. After 1823 it never fell below 200.
      The prejudice continued, Methodist preachers being regarded as intruders. Aside from viewing their doctrines as erroneous, they were mostly uneducated in the classics and what pertained to a liberal education. But there were those among them, men without a college training, whose solid acquirements made them the peers of any in the ministry of other churches. Dr. William Phoebus, Daniel Ostrander, and Samuel Merwin were men who would command the respect of any who formed their acquaintance. In 1822-25, Phineas Rice, a man of marked ability, and withal eccentric, was the Pastor.
      An occurrence in 1821 is remembered with interest. The gifted Summerfield, of overwhelming popularity, came to the aid of the church in their financial troubles. He preached in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and raised a collection of $95.12; in the evening in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and raised $88.
      For the next twenty-five years, the country at large and the churches generally were passing through commotions, arising from, various sources; and staid as has been the type of Albany Methodism, it could not escape partaking of the common excitement.
Some records dating from 1806 at ACHOR.




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first opened 6/20/12; updated 10/2/13