A Highly Religious Man with Strong Presbyterian Beliefs
by Rev. David T. Myers
We might more readily suggest any number of men and ministers of whom this title might describe. But when it is known that this description was given to a man, indeed a minister, by the name of Richard Denton in the early sixteen hundreds residing in Long Island, New York, most, if not all of our readers might reply with at statement like “I never heard of him.” And yet, he established the first Presbyterian church in the colonies.
Richard Denton was born in 1603 in Yorkshire, England. Educated at Cambridge in 1623, he ministered in Halifax, England for some years in the parish of Owran. Emigrating to Connecticut, he worked first with the famous preacher Cotton Mather. The latter said of him that “Rev. Denton was a highly religious man with strong Presbyterian views. He was a small man with only one eye, but in the pulpit he could sway a congregation like he was nine feet tall.”
When religious controversies, like which church government the congregations should follow, threatened to disrupt the Connecticut group, Denton and a group of families moved to what is now Hempstead, Long Island, New York. He settled there in a large Dutch colony. Because there were some English settlers also there, that was enough for a congregation to be organized.
Back in those early days, his salary came from every inhabitant of the area. In fact, you could be fined for not attending worship, and that fine was aggravated each week to a higher level for succeeding absences. The church he began, today called Christ Presbyterian Church, was so successful with Rev. Denton in its pulpit, that Dutch people began to attend it as well.
On August 5, 1657, a letter was written by two Dutch settlers to the Classis of Amsterdam, saying: “At Hempstead, about seven leagues from here, there lives some Independents. There are also many of our church, and some Presbyterians. They have a Presbyterian preacher, Richard Denton, a pious, godly and learned man, who is in agreement with our church in everything. The Independents of this place listen attentively to his sermons; but when he began to baptize the children of (Dutch) parents who were not members of the church, they rushed out of the church.”
As time went on, the salary of Rev. Denton began to be collected sporadically by the citizens. As a result, he planned to go back to England. After all, he did have a large family of seven children. And it was said that his wife was sickly in constitution. Another letter was written two months later on October 22 in which the same two writers stated, “Mr. Richard Denton, who is sound in faith, of a friendly disposition, and beloved by all, cannot be induced to remain, although we have earnestly tried to do this in various ways.” They were not successful, and he returned to England. He died in 1662.
Words to live by: The date of the presence of Presbyterians boggles our minds and hearts. Since that time, countless servants of the gospel have labored in difficult fields where money has been tight. The New Testament more than once urges the members in the pews to share all good things, including remuneration, with those who teach them the Word.