Amity Parish

            As the population of New Haven grew, the settlements spread outward from the Nine Squares to the surrounding countryside. The territory owned by New Haven was wild and wooly, virgin forest populated with wolves, bears, and wildcats, and the occasional Indian. The denizens of the new outlying settlements were expected to appear for religious services each Sabbath Day, no matter how far or what the weather. A county highway connecting New Haven with Waterbury to the north had been carved out through the wilderness in 1686, but it was no more than a rough track, traversable by an ox-cart at best. The inhabitants of the northern part of New Haven Colony through which the old highway passed petitioned the General Assembly for permission to hold winter services in their hamlet, which came to be known as Amity. The center of Amity was nearly seven miles from the New Haven green, where the meetinghouse was located, and travel in the winter was difficult. There were no snowplows, and the people went to meeting on horse or on foot. They were expected to stay all day, for a morning service and an afternoon service. The meetinghouse was unheated, and at noontime, the people retreated to little cabins called Sabbaday Housen, which had fireplaces where they could heat up their dinner and warm themselves.

            The parish of Amity was the fifth daughter parish of the First Society in New Haven, established in October 1738 by an act of the General assembly in New Haven. Usually only winter preaching privileges were granted at first, and Amity hired Stephen White, Yale 1736.

            Yale College had been established in 1701 to educate young men for the ministry and the magistracy; an educated clergy was another bedrock principle of Puritan practice. Yale would be the keeper of the flame of the Puritan founders, although it too changed its theological positions over the years in response to public pressure. Stephen White (Yale 1736) was described by Dexter as a gentle soul, and of the New Light party in theology.

            White decided to move on at the end of that winter, and he was followed by Gideon Mills (Yale 1737). Mills was also of the New Light school. The parish seemed undecided on whether to hire him as permanent pastor, possibly because of New Light/ Old Light issues. The hiring of a preacher was an important decision; a preachers was not ordained until he had a  permanent parish, and then was expected to remain there for the rest of his life. Newly graduated young men generally served as temporary pastors until they found a compatible parish in which to settle down.

            The search committee then asked the Consociation for help in finding a pastor, and in 1742, they were introduced to Benjamin Woodbridge (Yale 1740). He would become their pastor, and served until his death forty-three years later. Woodbridge was of the Old Light persuasion, politically conservative, and a Tory in the Revolutionary War period, when he was accused of being unpatriotic. He suited the people of Amity perfectly, it seems, and was Amity’s first and only pastor. The people of Amity thought so highly of him that when they were granted town status in 1781, they named the town Woodbridge.


 For further reading see:

Reverdy Whitlock. The Parish of Amity, Volume One. Woodbridge, CT: The First Church of Christ, 1982.

Franklin Bowditch Dexter. Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, Oct. 1701- May 1746. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1885. Accessed May 11, 2021,


Amity Parish