(REVEREND) JAMES FITCH (1622 – 1702) – IMMIGRANT
1639: IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA
In 1639 JAMES had immigrated to America.
PREPARING FOR THE MINISTRY
JAMES meets and becomes a student of Thomas Hooker in Hartford, Connecticut. Hooker was a theorist and lectured extensively on the church and ministry. JAMES stayed in Hartford, [Connecticut] for seven years learning from both Hooker, the Pastor, and Samuel Stone the teacher… what he needed to learn from Hooker were such particular puritan doctrine as it was interpreted in New England, together the congregation of the elect, the role and the structure of a proper sermon for that Hooker was probably better prepared than almost any teacher in England, old or new.
In 1646 – probably early in the summer - JAMES was ordained as Pastor at Saybrook, Connecticut.
JAMES wrote several important documents which were circulated widely. He struggled to clarify several important points of puritan doctrine, 1) he struggled to find grounds for proving the necessity of works without curtailing the absolute freedom of God to chose and reject regardless of man’s achievement, 2) he wanted to resolve the question of individual assurance, that is how a man might reach some working assurance that he was of the regenerate even though pure knowledge was an inscrutable secret open to God himself, and 3) he wanted to justify God’s ways in concepts meaningful to the human intellect to bring him into line, so to speak, with the more rationale laws of ethics.
JAMES lived near the new meeting house on a two acre lot with a house, a barn and an orchard.
1647: EPIDEMICAL SICKNESS
In the early summer of 1647 “an epidemical sickness” swept through parts of New England. Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts reported that it seized the victims “like a cold and light fever with it”. On 7 July JAMES’ mentor, the Reverend Thomas Hooker, died at Hartford, Connecticut.
1647: JAMES MEETS ABIGAIL
Some time in 1647 the 25 year old minister met a young woman at about his own age named Abigail Whitfield.
When JAMES came to Saybrook, Connecticut, one of those who was said to have participated in his ordination and installation was Reverend Henry Whitefield.
1648: CONFIRMATION AND DISCOVERY OF WITCHCRAFT PUBLISHED
1648: MARRIAGE OF JAMES AND ABIGAIL WHITFIELD
On 18 October 1648 JAMES (age 26) married Abigail Whitfield in Guilford, New Haven, Connecticut. JAMES and Abigail had at least six children:
1649: MARYLAND PASSES ACT OF TOLERATION
1652: MAINE JOINED TO MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY
1652: RHODE ISLAND FIRST COLONY TO ABOLISH SLAVERY
1653: ENGLISH QUAKER JAMES NAYLOR SEEN BY SOME AS NEW MESSIAH
1656: LIFE IN CONNECTICUT
During his life in America, JAMES accumulated large tracts of land, some in distributions of the town, some given to him by generous Mohegans, and others granted by a grateful legislature.
He kept this land and it appears to have been a good deal less than 200 or 300 acres for nineteen years-long after he moved to Norwich-when he sold it at the time of King Philips War.
1658: CROMWELL DIES, IS SUCCEEDED AS LORD PROTECTOR BY SON RICHARD
1659: RICHARD CROMWELL ABDICATES
1659: MASSACHUSETTS HANGS TWO QUAKERS ON BOSTON COMMON
1659: DEATH OF ABIGAIL
On 9 September 1659 Abigail died in Norwich, New London County, Connecticut.
1664: MARRIAGE OF JAMES AND PRISCILLA MASON
On 2 October 1664 JAMES married Priscilla Mason – place unknown. JAMES and Priscilla had at least five children:
KING PHILIP’S WAR 1675-1676
We tend to think of JAMES only as a minister, but the fact is that he had farms, he kept live stock - necessitated by the meager earnings as a minister.
Samuel Eliot Morrison said, “Puritanism did not hold to asceticism or celibacy. The clergy married young and often… ‘increase and multiply,’ the oldest of God’s commandments, was one that the puritans particularly enjoyed obeying—or some of us would not be here.” JAMES must have taken this admonition to heart; he married twice and fathered fourteen surviving children.
1687: JAMES II ISSUES DECLARATION OF INDULGENCE FOR LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE
KING WILLIAM’S WAR 1689-1697
FRENCH & INDIAN WARS 1689-1763
Sometime in late 1694, JAMES suffered what we would call a stroke or, in those days a stroke of the palsy. It probably affected his speech, making it difficult to serve as minister.
1695: ENGLAND ENDS PRESS CENSORSHIP
1701: LEBANON, CONNECTICUT
In 1701 JAMES retired to Lebanon, Connecticut for the rest of his life. When JAMES moved to Lebanon, he and his son James sold the home lot in Norwich, [New London County], Connecticut.
1702: WILLIAM III DIES AND IS SUCCEEDED BY QUEEN ANNE
1702: COTTON MATHER PUBLISHES “MAGNALIA CHRISI AMERICANA”
1702: QUEEN ANNE’S WAR BEGINS
1702: DEATH OF JAMES
On 18 November 1702 JAMES (age 80) died in Lebanon, New London County, Connecticut. He is buried in the old Lebanon cemetery also called the Trumbull cemetery east of the village center. It is on a little knoll close to the Susquetonscut brook. The grave stone is quite large, probably to accommodate the lengthy epitaph. At the top is a sole effigy, a face with wings, symbolizing the immortal sole. Under the spreading wings is the legend “remember eternity”. Below is a long inscription in Latin reportedly written by JAMES’ son Jabez. The inscription has been translated as, This tomb are deposited the remains of the truly reverent Mr. James Fitch born at Bocking in the county of Essex, England December 24, 1622. Who after he had been well instructed in the learned languages, came to New England at the age of 16 and passed several years under the instruction of those eminent divines, Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone. Afterward he discharged the pastoral office at Saybrook for fourteen years, from wence, with the greater part of his arc, he removed to Norwich, and there spent the succeeding years of his life, engaged in the work of the gospel, till age and infirmity obliged him to withdraw from public labor. At length he retired to his children at Lebanon, when scarcely half a year had past, when he fell asleep in Jesus, November 18 1702, in the 80th year of his age. He was a man of penetration of mind, solidity of judgment, of [charity,] devotion to the sacred duties of his office, and entire holiness of life, and also for skill and energy for preaching, inferior to none.
Notes On (Reverend) James Fitch
Information is based on the following sources:
Puritan in the Wilderness: A Biography of the Reverend James Fitch 1622 – 1702, by James T. Fitch, Picton Press, Camden, Maine.
See this source for additional information.NOTE:
JAMES and Abigail were, according to legend at least, married by her father in the north end of the living room of the Gilford Stone House on 1 October 1648. This seems unlikely however because the 17th Century congregational church, marriage was not a sacrament, and marriages were generally performed by civil authorities rather than clergy. The marriage was recorded “after the fact” in the Norwich, Connecticut vital records.