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First Free Congregational Church 
Penn Yan 1841-1855


The period leading up to the Civil War led to tremendous controversy even in the North. Three of the religious congregations in the village of Penn Yan split over the issue of abolition of slavery. In July 1837, a new pastor was installed in the Presbyterian Church in Penn Yan, the Rev. Ovid Miner. He was very outspoken on the issue of abolition, and apparently alienated some of his congregation. In 1841 the Presbytery ordered him to withdraw, and with about 100 members he founded the First Free Congregational Church of Penn Yan. 

A new church building was erected at the corner of Main and Chapel Streets at a cost of about $7000. It was set back from the street with trees planted in front on the Main Street side. At least once these trees were vandalized, and when the editor of the local paper -- Stafford C. Cleveland -- penned an angry editorial on the subject, he was accosted one night and roughed up by a gang of local toughs.

By the mid 1850s abolition had become much less controversial in rural areas in New York, strongholds of the new Republican Party. The expense of keeping up two separate churches apparently began to seem foolish when doctrinal differences were so minor. The Congregational Church disbanded in 1855, and most of its members returned to the Presbyterian Church.

The record book of the church was photocopied some time in the 1980s by then-village historian Catharine Aspell Spencer. It comprises 13 handwritten pages, ruled into columns, and lists each member, when and how each was admitted and when and how each was dismissed. Most of the latter tell where the person went to from Penn Yan, and a few deaths are also recorded here. The complete names of women who married or remarried are listed. The book has been transcribed for posting on this site. The original was apparently written in various colors of ink, and the photocopy was not adjusted for this, so some few words are illegible. 

Index                                                                Record book