Prime Time: The Rev. Samuel Newell, a Builder of Bristol

Published on Sunday, 11 February 2018 21:22
Written by Bob Montgomery

Staff Writer

Here is the “Builders of Bristol” story of Reverend Samuel Newell (1714-1789), whose gravesite is the showcase of the Downs Street Cemetery:

Each Sunday, the first settlers of Bristol made the long trip over King’s Highway to the church in Farmington. In 1774 the settlers applied to the General Assembly of the colony of Connecticut for incorporation as an ecclesiastical society district distinct from that of Farmington. It was granted and given the name of New Cambridge.

The search for a minister was immediately begun, but a controversy developed. There had already grown up in Connecticut considerable dissent over the strictness of congregationalism. Rev. Samuel Newell was the choice of the majority of the society, but his installation was deferred three years because of minority opposition. At last, in 1747, the majority insisted on installing him as their pastor.

It was in the same year of 1747 that the Congregational parishes built their first meeting house. It was 40 feet by 30 feet, and stood about at the fork where Maple Street and Queen Street now meet. By 1770 it was outgrown, and a new meeting house was built nearer to the site of the present church, but slightly northeast of it.

Samuel was born in the Southington section of Farmington in 1714 and graduated from Yale in the class of 1739. In the seven years before he settled in Bristol he was strongly influenced by the famous Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvin-istic preacher. Samuel had received practical training by preaching in East Hartford and later in Plainfield. It is quite likely that the opposition in New Cambridge drew him like a magnet to this community, for he was not a man to retire under fire. Samuel Newell was a natural born Calvinist.

His preaching, although stern, was powerful and his fame spread throughout the colony. Several persons moved to New Cambridge to enjoy his sermons. He was a true leader. His words had power and his advice was often sought in worldly, as well as spiritual matters and, when given, it was conclusive.

Like other 18th century ministers, when he entered the church the people rose and reverently saluted him. When he passed on the street, the children hushed their play, uncovered, bowed and curtsied. When he died an unspeakable solemnity filled the community and one little girl is said to have asked her mother with trembling lips, “Mamma, is God dead, too.”

Rev. Newell was also a prosperous citizen. He inherited a large estate from his father, making him an extensive landowner. He married a well-to-do widow with a home of her own, but wanted his own home so he made a contract with the New Cambridge Society for the house he wanted and the salary. The home was built on the south corner of Burlington Avenue and Pardee Street.

His tomb is prominently situated at the very front of the old Downs Street Cemetery. His epitaph was cut into the stone for its stately beauty  - “He fell on sleep February ye 10th, 1789 in the 75th year of his Age and the 42nd of his ministry. ‘Death, Great proprietor of all; ’tis thine, To tread our Empires, and to quence ye Stars.’ ”

Write to Bob Montgomery, c/o The Bristol Press, 188 Main St., Bristol, CT 06010. Call 860-973-1808 or email:

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Sunday, 11 February 2018 21:22. Updated: Sunday, 11 February 2018 21:24.