By Pam Harnden, Staff Writer
FAYETTE/WELD — Footprints of Patriots homeward bound through wilderness, the fifth book in the Home Nest Chronicles written by Arnold and Leda Sturtevant, uses family letters, journals and diaries to describe the history of the Fayette Baptist Church.
Arnold’s ancestor Andrew Sturtevant was among the 70 patriots of the Continental Army who settled in Starling Plantation following the end of the Revolutionary War. Andrew was 16 when he enlisted. Two bothers also served.
Arnold said, “The three brothers married three sisters and moved to Wayne, Readfield and Starling Plantation. The name Starling came from the British pronunciation of General Lord Stirling as “Lard Starling. Veterans changed the name to Fayette as most considered LaFayette to be one of the heroes of the Revolution.”
LaFayette outfitted the troops, financed the war with his personal finances and was the youngest general ever appointed by the Continental Congress, Arnold said.
He said, “A cluster of towns in this area were named to memorialize the war or war events. New Sandwich became Wayne after Mad Anthony Wayne, George Washington’s third in command. Chesterville is named after the marching song “Chester,” and Monmouth for the Battle of Monmouth where General Stirling was heroic. Mt. Vernon was named for Washington’s beloved home,” Arnold said.
“My great-great grandfather, Andrew Sturtevant, fought at the Battle of Saratoga with Asa Wiggin who was in his late 30s. It was the first big victory for the Continental Army.
“The two settled in Fayette. Asa and his wife had no son to take over the farm. He offered the title to Andrew for taking care of him and his wife. Asa died at age 95 in the house of Home Nest Farm. Andrew was in his late 80s when he died in the same house.
“The land for the church and cemetery came off that farm. It was donated,” Arnold said.
Leda said, “It didn’t take them long after the Revolutionary War to get the church going.”
Arnold said the church was started in 1792. The first meetinghouse was built in 1802. The current church was built in 1837.
The bell in the present belfry was cast by George Holbrook, an apprentice of Paul Revere, who became the better bell maker. He combined various metals and made tens of thousands of bells, he said.
Arnold said Oliver Billings was the first pastor of the church. He served for 42 years.
Leda said baptisms were held at Tilton Pond in the winter.
“He baptized converts in winter because of an element of fear. Thinking it could be their last year of life makes people think differently. Once in January Billings baptized eight people individually while members of the congregation raked away anchor ice to keep the hole open,” Arnold said.
He said his father kept church records for years. His great grandfather was the clerk for 36 years and his great grandmother for another 30 years. Doris Webster was also clerk for 36 years.
When the Sturtevants moved to Home Nest Farm from Livermore in 1975, there were a handful of members with Pastor Lester Dow preaching. He was paid $50 a week for a Sunday sermon.
“He had five kids, we had four about the same age. Dennis Stires was looking for a place to start a Christian school. Dow couldn’t do it on his salary. The deacons pursued it and the walls were put up as the money came in. The school started in a one room schoolhouse at Home Nest Farm,” Arnold said.
The school opened in 1979 and operated for five years.
The church’s next project was housing for the pastor. A full time crew of four retired men built the parsonage. Younger people helped lift rafters and put the walls up on weekends.
“Russell C. Cotnoir Jr. was thinking about staying on as pastor but was commuting. He was praying about housing at the same time we were concerned about it. It was a real inspiring project. it got members working together again,” Arnold said.
“Those are happy memories,” Leda said.
Arnold said the whole community went through periods of decline. A high point for the church each year was reading the answers to letters sent to former members now living elsewhere.
A radio ministry has swelled church numbers. People travel from all over the state.
“They don’t mind the long drive, “Leda said. “There has been one change after another. That’s what life is all about. We were the young ones, now we’re the older ones.”
“Through bad times the Lord kept the church going. God says all history is for a purpose that we might learn,” Arnold said.