A Study of the First Maternal Association of
Utica, New York, 1824 - 1833
Part III: The First Presbyterian Church in Utica
The economic and political power which members' husbands held in Utica
was accompanied by cultural hegemony. The members were married to the
founders and leaders of the First Presbyterian Church, the single most
powerful religious institution in Utica during the period studied. In
1805 when the First Utica Presbyterian Society was formed, among the first
nine Trustees were the husbands of Sophia Clark, Sarah Hoyt, as well as
the father of Eunice Camp Potter and Harriet Camp Merrell. The Presbyterians,
direct descendants of the Puritans, were distinguished from other Protestant
denominations by their strict adherence to a form of church government
designed by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. In brief, each congregation
was composed of members of the Society and members of the Church. To become
a member of the Church, an individual must provide public relation of
personal conversion to submission to the sovereign will of God; thus entering
into a covenanted relation with God. The prospective member must also
agree to submit to rule by the elders and the minister, who would both
advise, admonish, suspend and excommunicate those whom they deemed to
treat their covenant with the Lord and His church with contempt. The court
of the congregation was termed the session. In turn, the session was under
the authority of the Presbytery, which oversaw a group of congregations.
The Presbytery was a subdivision under the General Synod which initiated,
planned, organized and administered programs for the advancement of Presbyterianism.
During the period of the Maternal Association, the minister of First Presbyterian
was Rev. Samuel Aikin. His wife, Delia Aikin, was a member of the Maternal
Association. Of thirty-one elders elected from the founding of the church
in 1813 until 1850, eight were married to members of the Maternal Association.
Deacons were also elected, but entrusted with more perfunctory managerial
power. Of the four Deacons elected during the period, two were married
to members and one was the father of a member's husband. The presence
of members' husbands in the center of power within the church was evenly
distributed throughout the period studied. In addition to their hierarchy
of governance, Presbyterians followed specified doctrines. P. H. Fowler,
minister of First Presbyterian at the end of the century, provided a history
of Presbyterianism in the synod of central New York. He explained that
among other tenets, prospective members of the Presbytery of Oneida from
1805 onward were required to answer the following questions in the affirmative:
Do you believe that God at first made man in his own image, after his
own likeness, and entered into a covenant of life with him upon the
condition of perfect obedience; that our first parents broke that covenant,
and by their apostasy brought sin and ruin upon themselves and all their
Do you believe that mankind are totally depraved, and wholly indisposed
to embrace the gospel salvation until their hearts are renewed by the
sovereign and almighty influence of the Holy Spirit?
Prospective members were required to covenant "to give up your children
to God in baptism." Fowler writes that:
Great effort was made to keep up and promote intelligence and orthodoxy
in the churches. In their early days, the Presbyteries busied themselves
in circulating the standards of the church and religious books generally,
and their records abound in accounts of this work…Especial attention
was given to the instruction of children and youth.
To further attest to their acceptance of the doctrine of original sin,
members of the Oneida Presbytery confessed to the following belief:
We believe that in consequence of the apostasy, the heart of man, in
his natural state, is destitute of holiness, and in a state of positive
disaffection with the law, character and government of God; and that
all men previous to regeneration are dead in trespass and sin.
The City Directory of 1828 lists thirteen "religious charitable institutions"
open to men. Of these, seven were led by husbands of members of the Maternal
Association. Erastus Clark helped draft the constitution of The Oneida
Bible Society formed in 1810 to distribute Bibles throughout the county;
Alexander Seymour and Samuel Aikin were directors with Thomas Hastings
the Recording Secretary. Walter King and Alexander Seymour were officers
of the Western Education Society organized in 1817 to educate indigent
men for the ministry. Jesse W. Doolittle and Charles Hastings were officers
of the Western Domestic Missionary Society, organized in 1826 to preach
to the destitute in western New York. Briggs W. Thomas and Asahel Seward
were officers of the Oneida Evangelical Association organized "to assist
resident ministers during the pressure of revivals." Rev. Aikin was president
of the Missionary Association of Utica and J. E. Warner, Secretary. The
Bible classes in the First Utica Presbyterian Society organized in 1825
were run by Reverend Aikin and eight teachers. Five of the eight teachers
were husbands of members of the Maternal Association. Three were husbands
of founders of the Maternal Association. Of the fifteen members for life
of the American Branch Tract Society of Utica by virtue of their contribution
of ten dollars, identified in 1829, four were husbands of members of the
Maternal Association. The one director for life from Utica was Samuel
The husbands of members of the Maternal Association created an interlocking
directorate throughout the community, exercising their power as they established
more secular voluntary institutions. Theodore Pomeroy was an officer in
the Medical Society of the County of Oneida. William Williams and Comfort
Butler were among the twelve directors of the Utica Library formed in
1825 to issue books. Thomas Hastings was given the title Leader of the
Utica Musical Association formed in 1827 to promote the cultivation of
sacred music; Alfred Wells was the secretary of the Builders Society organized
in 1828. Asahel Seward, Walter King, Jesse W. Doolittle and Reverend Aikin
were trustees of the Oneida Institute of Science and Industry, an organization
to enable young men to work while preparing for the ministry.
The economic, political and cultural dominance exercised by members'
husbands was both cause and result of the cultural preeminence of First
Presbyterian Church. That preeminence accrued as well from the superior
education of its ministers and the cultural authority deriving from the
direct Puritan ancestry of prominent members. Typically, Presbyterian
ministers were college graduates and had satisfied a board of examiners
as to their proficiency in Greek, Latin, English grammar, mathematics,
logic, rhetoric, geography and natural philosophy.
Yet a scholastic clergy would have a difficult time in the area that
Whitney Cross termed "the burned over district" because of the uncontrolled
spread of revivals or enthusiastic religion through the area.
The first minister, James Carnahan, was a graduate, class of 1800, of
the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton. Licensed to the ministry
in 1804, Rev. Carnahan dispensed conservative Calvinism to his Utica congregation
from 1805 until 1811. Carnahan provided scholastic sermons that emphasized
the depravity of man and the sovereignty of God. Highly incensed when
an itinerant preacher, a Baptist woman, Martha Howell, became a leading
spokesperson in opposition to infant baptism, a necessary means of perpetuating
the patriarchal covenant, Rev. Carnahan published a learned refutation
of her and those who encouraged her. Not only did Howell attract a following
of those opposing infant baptism, she was also granted church pulpits.
In his sermon "Christianity Defended, against the Cavils of Infidels,
and Weakness of Enthusiasts," Carnahan attempted through a display of
erudition to defend orthodoxy. He was profoundly aggrieved that churches
were enabling a woman to appear in sanctuaries and to teach, and took
as his text, "because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth
herself a prophetess to teach, and to seduce my servants."
The issue of infant baptism had been a divisive one from the beginning
of the Protestant Reformation. If Protestantism was to rely upon regeneration,
a second birth in submission to the patriarchal divinity, rather than
upon ritual, then some said that infant baptism was improper for an infant
could not be said to be born again in the spirit. This was no insignificant
difference, for a challenge to infant baptism was a challenge to the Abrahamic
Covenant; it was a challenge to patriarchal control of the next generation.
Covenant theology was most successful during the early settlement of New
England when clergy functioned within a theocratic colony. The ministers
and many members of First Presbyterian Church seem to have cherished some
hope of establishing in the frontier area of Utica a new theocratic experiment.
According to historian Whitney Cross, the pages of Western Recorder
sought to reestablish clerical influence in politics. Western Recorder
was edited, published and printed by Charles and Thomas Hastings, both
married to members of the Maternal Association.
Martha Howell who brought an apoplectic response from Reverend Carnahan,
was one among many in Utica and its environs in the 1800s, who were attacking
the foundation of Calvinist doctrine. In 1812, Rev. Carnahan lost his
voice and was forced to resign his pastorate. In 1823, he was elected
to the presidency of Princeton College, a position he held until his death
in 1859. This position represented a retreat from theology, for the College
representing secular studies had been separated from Princeton Theological
Seminary in 1811.
His successor, Reverend Henry Dwight ordained over the First Presbyterian
Church and Society in 1813, was a graduate of Yale where he had studied
with a leading theologian and President of the College, the Reverend Timothy
Dwight who was his relative. He finished his studies at Princeton. According
to Whitney Cross, the Edwardean traditions of New England Congregationalism
which had given birth to Yale University were "even in 1800 more liberal
and flexible than those of the Princetonian Presbyterians of Scotch antecedents."
Timothy Dwight, Nathaniel Taylor, and later Lyman Beecher and Charles
Finney "warped the New England theology in the Arminian direction, away
from the notion of predestination and toward free will."
Whitney Cross emphasizes the constant recurrence of Arminian revivals
throughout the area from the Great Revival of 1799 to the ministry of
Charles Grandison Finney in the 1820s. Cross writes that "all the major
denominations (the Episcopal Church was relatively weak in this area)
and most of the smaller ones were strongly revivalistic. Congregationalists,
soon Presbyterian under the Plan of Union, (1801) were accustomed to social
dominance just as they had been in New England. They consequently initiated
revival campaigns in which other sects followed, as they had in the home
region. Methodists and Baptists, more literal, more emotional, and better
understood by common folk, increasingly 'strung Presbyterian fish' and
gained adherents more rapidly, just as they had at the expense of the
established New England church."
Yet revivals implicitly challenged the validity of the training and orientation
of scholastic clergy. Typically, revivalists were comparatively uneducated;
emphasizing human depravity so as to goad listeners into the conviction
that they were sinners and must renounce their own wills in favor of divine
They generated enthusiasm and offered individuals impassioned oratory
and vibrant experience in contrast to scholastic disputation. Regardless
of Rev. Dwight's probable conflicts regarding revivalism, under his ministry
in 1815, "the Presbyterians of Utica made nearly as many converts as with
Finney a decade later, and added large numbers again in 1819 and 1821."
In 1817, however, like his predecessor, Reverend Dwight lost his voice
and resigned his ministry. He seems to have determined that the future
was not promising for a scholastic clergyman. A rich man, he moved to
Geneva, New York, where he established the Bank of Geneva, becoming its
president. His banking operations at one time extended to Michigan and
Ohio, where his brothers were also the owners of banks.
The Reverend Samuel C. Aikin was installed in 1818, and remained the
pastor until 1835. In 1824, the year the Maternal Association was founded,
the church acquired an organ, and decided to erect a new and larger building.
In 1826, the foundations were laid; and in 1827 at the pinnacle of the
church's preeminence in Utica, the building was dedicated.
Married to Maternal Association member Delia Aikin, Rev. Aikin was said
by a local historian to have been "a man of intellect and a powerful preacher,
locally perhaps the ablest writer of his time." On the occasion of the
fifty-first anniversary of American independence, Reverend Aikin delivered
an address before the Sunday School Societies which was subsequently published.
Perhaps he captured the exuberance of Utica's elite in 1827:
Here also is a spirit of enterprise unequaled in any other portion
of the globe. What is not this spirit doing? You see the wilderness
falling before it, and becoming a fruitful field. You see villages and
cities rising as if by enchantment. You see our canvas spread on every
ocean, and our produce exported to every clime. You see canals opening
in every direction, and these, and our rivers and coasts, covered with
boats and steam-boats. What an influx of population from other countries,
and what a tide of emigration is rolling westward.
Yet Reverend Aikin was most fearful of these same developments, and responded
to the democratizing process by proposing religious instruction in Sunday
schools as a means of controlling "the lower orders of the community."
The Presbyterian cleric revealed his anxiety regarding "the unborn millions
which are to people this great and growing Republic." If religious instruction
did not keep pace with the enterprise of the nation then "our prosperity
must prove our ruin." "Unless directed by morality and religion, and under
their control, they [enterprise and prosperity] will be employed in inventing
pleasures and luxuries" which will lead to ignorance, vice, civil wars,
anarchy, ruin. If Sunday schools were not supported, then the reins of
government would fall to "an unprincipled mob, who care neither for law