The Stamford Historical Society Presents
Portrait of a Family: Stamford through the Legacy of the Davenports
James Davenport 1716–1755
Revivalists customarily worked in cooperation with local churches and ministers. Davenport, however, while still only 24, began to grow in prominence for his spirited words against conventional ministers and his condemnation of their leadership. He so influenced some members of First Church, New Haven that they left that congregation to form North Church. His preaching became increasingly extravagant and led to the Connecticut General Assembly’s passing of an act in 1742 which in effect condemned itinerant preachers as vagrants. A newspaper report in the Boston Evening Post related statements by James which reflected the impact of the anti-itinerant legislation on him. In it he stated that most of the ministers in the country were “unconverted, and that they were murdering of Souls by Thousands and by Millions.”
At Stratford and Boston his actions led to examinations, which led to similar decisions – James was judged non compos mentis – insane. Both times he was returned to Southold where a Council of Ministers censured, but did not dismiss him.
By March of 1743 James was organizing a church in New London. It was here that New Englanders witnessed the most bizarre occurrence during the Great Awakening. James drove himself and his followers into a religious frenzy, culminating in a grand bonfire. He began by burning books by “false writers,” continuing the next day, with a “sacrificial blaze of worldly goods.” The peak of the fire brought his friends to strong remonstrances which, in turn, led Davenport to his senses. He regretted being led by a “false spirit” and in 1744 wrote his “Confessions and Retractations,” claiming an illness and a “cranky” leg as contributing to his errors.
Dismissed by the Southold church in 1743, James went on to serve churches in the presbyteries of New Brunswick and New York. He moved on to a church in Hopewell, New Jersey where later they moved for his dismission. Before their request was acted on, in 1755 James Davenport died, at age 41.