Queer Places:
Hempstead House, 11 Hempstead St, New London, CT 06320

Elder Stephen Gorton (March 21, 1704 - 1780) was the son of Benjamin Gorton Jr and Ann Lancaster. He married Sarah Rogers on 31 Aug 1726. In the case of the Reverend Stephen Gorton of New London, the church intervened to stem a tide of public criticism and then restored him to his pastorate in 1757.

Gorton, the great-grandson of the Rhode Island heresiarch Samuel Gorton, one of the founders of the colony of Providence and Rhode Island plantations in the Narragansett Indian country, now the state of Rhode Island. Stephen Gorton was a married Baptist minister of the Baptist Church of New London and Lyme. He was in court in 1726 for attempted sodomy, but charges were dropped. In 1756 he was charged with “unchaste behavior with his fellow men when in bed with them” and was dismissed from his ministry at the General Meeting of Baptist Churches in 1757. The secular court in which the charge had been brought allowed the church to try him. He confessed, and returned to his pastorate where he was welcomed.

Baptists in New London first organized a church in 1710 and constructed a meetinghouse on Niles Hill, called the “pepperbox” because of its unusual hip-roofed shape. This church broke up in 1771, but a Baptist church was reformed in 1792, formally organizing in 1804 as the First Baptist Church. Local resistance thwarted their attempts to buy land for a new meeting house and the Baptists had to resort to subterfuge to acquire land at the corner of Union and Pearl Streets. This rapid growth of the First Baptist Church led to the need for a new church, which was built at the corner of State and Washington Streets in 1856. The Romanesque Revival edifice was designed by W.T. Hallett, who also designed such other New London buildings as the City Hall (original facade) and Lawrence Hall (since demolished), both also built in 1856. The interior was not completed until the 1880s and the church’s stained glass windows were dedicated in 1892. The window on the State Street side was added in 1931.

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