John S. (John Seely) Stone.

Memoir of the life of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold, D.D. : Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Eastern diocese online

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Online LibraryJohn S. (John Seely) StoneMemoir of the life of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold, D.D. : Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Eastern diocese → online text (page 2 of 53)
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Jones, a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, as whose re-
spected widow she now resides in the vicinity of her native

From this notice of the family as descended by the fathers
side, it is proper to look a moment at its ancestry by the


About the year 1634, the Dutch, under patronage of Van
Twiller, Governor of Fort Amsterdam, now New York, at-
tempted to possess themselves of lands on the Connecticut
river. For this purpose, they seized upon and fortified " Dutch
Point," now Hartford, and endeavored to frustrate the settle-
ment of Mr. Holmes, and his companions at Windsor from
the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. By an order from
the British Parliament, however, their design was defeated ;
their possessions at Dutch Point confiscated, and the party
obliged to return to Fort Amsterdam.

A century later, Alexander Viets, an eminent and wealthy
Dutch physician of New York, who had come over from
Europe, and was settled among the descendants of those of
his countrymen, who made the attempt at Dutch Point,
having learned the existence of Copper mines in Simsbury,
disposed of his property in New York, and purchased the ter-
ritory, on which those mines lay. His speculation was un-
successful, and resulted in the loss of all his property. He
resumed the practice of medicine in Simsbury, though with
nothing of his former pecuniary success. After the European
custom, his city patients used to pay cash in hand for every
visit. His country patients thought it well enough to pay
when dunned. But, for dunning, he had neither heart nor
habits ; and so lived and died poor. So poor did he be-
come, that when his son, John, asked the daughter of a re-
spectable neighbour in marriage, he was opposed by her
parents on the ground of his being utterly unportioned. The
marriage, nevertheless, took place ; and John Viets, with
more talent for business than his father, became the restorer
of the fallen fortunes of the family. He recovered the terri-
tory about the mines, and, at his death left to each of several
sons a valuable farm. These mines lie on the western ac-
clivity of the Talcot mountains, two or three miles north of
the Griswold estate, and command noble views over the
Farmington Valley and the hills, which rise beyond it, in
the west. John Viets originally lived on the northwest de-
scent from the mines to the valley ; where the old cellar of his
house is still visible. Subsequently, however, he removed


and built the house, which is still standing near the mouth
of the mines, and which is now occupied by the aged widow
of his son, Luke Viets. This house, perched on a high and
sightly step of the mountain, was the birth-place of the
Bishop's mother, and of his uncle Roger Viets, of whom I
shall say more hereafter. Several of the surrounding farms
are still in possession of the family, and constitute a neighbor-
hood of Vietses.

Dr. Alexander Viets, then, was, by the mother's side, the
great-grandfather of Bishop Griswold ; and John Viets, his
grandfather. This John Viets, as we have seen, was a man
of superior abilities, which seem to have been inherited by
his daughter Eunice, the Bishop's mother; and her marriage
with Elisha Griswold, his father, brought together two of the
most considerable families and estates in the town.

Having thus traced the Bishop's natural parentage, it may
be well, before entering on the incidents of his childhood, to
glance at the circumstances, which lie as a fountain head,
under God, to his religious character.

Dr. Alexander Viets appears to have carried with him
from New York to Simsbury a strong attachment to the Pres-
byterian Church. Accordingly, we find his son John a
sturdy adherent to the doctrines and institutions of that de-
nomination. This zealous Presbyterian, finding his son
Roger, from early childhood, a boy of high promise, and re-
markably fond of books, resolved to educate him for a Pres-
byterian minister. Accordingly, at the early age of thirteen he
sent him to Yale College. One Sunday, while a student
there, he expressed a strong desire to attend the English
Church, as the Episcopal was then designated. With much
difficulty he obtained permission from the President, for one
Sunday. He went; and for the first time in his life, wit-
nessed the services of our Church. He was interested, he
was impressed: so much so, that he sought and found oc-
casions for repeating his attendance ; studying, meanwhile,
various works on the subject of Episcopacy, which he dis-
covered in the College Library. In the result, he came out
an Episcopalian, and wrote to his father for permission to


become a clergyman of the English Church. Highly indig-
nant at this proposal, and at the proof which it furnished that
his favorite son had forsaken the faith of his fathers, he in-
stantly answered the letter, and threatened that, unless the
idea were utterly abandoned, he would forever disown him.
The son remonstrated, sent Episcopal books for his father's
perusal, and finally had the happiness of seeing both his
father and all the other members of the family sincere and
zealous conformists to that very Church, which had at first
inspired them with such horror, and into the ministry of which
it was his now gratified wish to enter. After finishing his
studies at Yale, Roger Viets sailed for England, whence, in
due time, he returned in Priest's orders, and took charge of
the Episcopal parish in Simsbury. So scanty, however, was
the salary, which he received from the Society in England,
that he was obliged to associate, with his duties as pastor,
those of a farmer in the summer, and those of a teacher in
the winter ; in which last capacity he became Tutor to many
of the children in his neighbourhood ; and, among the rest,
to his nephew, young Griswold.

To this man, the Rev. Roger Viets, who will often appear
in the course of the ensuing memoir, was Bishop Griswold
more indebted than to any other person, his mother perhaps
excepted, for his early religious impressions, and for his early
literary culture. Mr. Viets was instrumental in training
several, besides his nephew, for the ministry of our Church.
But, had his influence in this respect been limited to the early
training of one such mind as that of Griswold, how justly
might we exdaim : what a stream of healthful influences to
our Zion has flowed from the fountain-mind of that one little
boy of thirteen in Yale College!

The parish Church in Simsbury, of which Mr. Viets be-
came the minister, is situated about two miles to the southeast
from the Griswold estate, below the gorge, through which
the Farmington river passes the Talcot mountains, and on
their eastern declivity overlooking the valley of the Connec-
ticut towards Windsor and Hartford. Here, in a sheltered
and fertile bosom of the hills, the ancient Episcopalians of


Simsbury met for their weekly worship; and here young
Griswold spent his early Sabbaths, in learning the ways of
God in his sanctuary.

The origin of St. Andrew's Church, Scotland, (as the
neighborhood, in which it is situated, is called, from the fact
that its early settlers were Scotchmen,) is connected with the
history of the Simsbury mines. After the failure of Alexan-
der Viets in his mining speculation, a company from Boston
undertook, about the year 1740, to work the mines. The agent
of this company, Mr. James Crozier, was a zealous Episco-
palian, and through his influence the operatives at the mines
and many of the neighbors became attached to the Church.
With these materials for a congregation, Mr. Crozier under-
took to furnish them with a church. To this end, he inter-
ested several gentlemen of wealth in Boston, and in New-
port, R. I., in his object; and succeeded in obtaining funds
both for the building of a church edifice, and for the pur-
chase of a glebe. The original subscription paper, on which
these funds were pledged, is now in the hands of Ariel
Mitchelson, the Bishop's brother-in-law. The first Rector
of this Church was a Rev. Mr. Gibbs from Boston. But,
as he became slightly deranged for several of the last years
of his life, Mr. Viets succeeded him before his death, and
remained Rector till the period of the revolutionary war.*

* In 1774, the number of Episcopalians in Simsbury was greater than
that in any other town of Connecticut, with two exceptions, Newtown and
New Haven; the number in Newtown being 1084; that in New Haven,
942 ; and that in Simsbury, 914. The other towns, which came nearest to
Simsbury, were Norwalk, 792; Derby, 725; Stamford, 710; and Walling-
ford, 626. This early growth of the Church in Simsbury is mainly attri-
buted to the influence of Mr. James Crozier.

I found these statistics with others in a report, made by the Rev. Elizur
Goodrich, Congregational minister in Durham, Ct., Sep. 5, 1774; and con-
tained in the "minutes of the Convention of delegates from the Synod of
New York and Philadelphia, and from the Associations of Connecticut,
held annually from 1766 to 1775 inclusive;" a somewhat curious docu-
ment, by the way; which, if I mistake not, contains evidence that the ob-
ject of the aforesaid Synod and Associations in thus toilfully and accurate-
ly numbering our Episcopal tribes in their day, was to shew the ground of
their apprehension, that the growth of the Church was hostile to the spirit


The Church has since been rebuilt a few rods from its origi-
nal site; and thus separated from its ancient grave-yard. In
this resting place of the dead, stands the monument of Mr.
Gibbs, which, while the old Church remained, occupied a
place in the chancel. Long rows of tombstones also, and
tall monuments mark the family burial places of the Gris-
wolds, the Pinneys, the Holcombs, the Mitchelsons, and
others of former days, who, as the highly respectable charac-
ter of these their memorials in death abundantly testify,
were all families of note and consideration. As a country
church-yard, it is in a good state of preservation, and has a
peculiar interest from the fact of its having been, almost ex-
clusively, the burial place of the families of an Episcopal

But, to leave this sketch, and return to the family, which
gives it to us its principal interest ; the most particular no-
tices, which in his auto-biography, the Bishop gives of his
parents, are the following :

"Respect for a parent worthy of being remembered may
be accepted as some apology for recording a transaction of
his youthful life, now perhaps unknown to every individual,
myself excepted. The story of General Putnam and the
Wolf has often been published and many times related.
What follows was, in my judgment, not less hazardous,
wonderful and daring. It was an exploit much talked of
for years by those, who are now dead and gone, but was
never committed to writing.

" Some beast of prey, supposed to be a Catamount, had de-
stroyed many sheep. According to the custom of those
days, my father set a large steel-trap to take him. The next
morning, when he repaired to the spot, the trap was gone,
evidently dragged away by the animal, which had been
taken. He followed the track till he entered a wood on the

of our American liberties both in Church and in State, and favorable to
the ultimate establishment here of a monarchical government, with a
legally associated hierarchy. This effort at numbering was systematical-
ly and extensively made; and seems to have had some influence if not in
expediting, at least in aggravating, the war of the Revolution.



side of the mountain. After a search for some time he dis-
covered under a large rock a den, which, from foot-prints
and other signs at its mouth, was evidently the abode of
some large and savage beast. Though alone, he was yet
without fear. The den, as it was afterwards found, was in-
habited by a she-bear with six cubs. The entrance was
narrow, and descended but little from a horizontal direction.
He had no weapon but a walking-stick ; and yet with this
alone in his hand, he with some difficulty crawled into the
den, and soon discovered that the object of his search was
within. With a view to ascertain whether his trap was there,
he thrust his staff against the animal, by whose fierce growl,
and the glare of her eyes, he discovered that it was a bear.

" He retired from the den ; but the bear, preferring, it seems,
to guard her young, did not follow him. He immediately
notified some of his neighbors, with whom and a large hunt-
ing dog he repaired again to the cave. The dog would not
enter. My father therefore again crawled in ; and when, as
he supposed, sufficiently near the bear, fired his gun and re-
treated. The dog, as though ashamed of his former coward-
ice, now rushed in, and seizing the bear by the head, drew
her out. At first, they feared to fire, lest, instead of the
bear, they should kill the dog. But, no sooner was she
fairly out of the den, than with her paw she struck the dog
a blow, which sent him many feet down the steep descent
of the hill, and then ran off. They fired as she fled ; but
for that time she escaped. They secured, however, the six
cubs ; one of which had been killed by the discharge of the
gun in the den."

The mountain, mentioned in this account, is that part of
the Talcot range, upon which the Griswold estate abutted
to the south, and around which the Farmington sweeps
through its gorge towards the Connecticut. The surviving
members of the family in that neighborhood have a tradition
that the bear, though she escaped at first, yet was afterwards
taken, and proved to be one of uncommon size. The inci-
dent is interesting as evincing the bravery of the Bishop's
immediate ancestor, and the still simple and primitive


character of the neighborhood and its inhabitants at the
time when it happened.

Of his mother, the Bishop writes thus : " My case so far
resembled that of Timothy that my mother's name was
Eunice and my grandmother's, Lois ; and that, from both of
them I received much early religious instruction. By their
teaching, ' from a child I have known the Holy Scriptures,
which were able (had I rightly used the knowledge) to make
me wise unto salvation.' To the care of my mother, especial-
ly, instilling into my tender mind sentiments of piety, with
the knowledge of Christ and the duty of prayer, I was much
indebted. Through life, I have sinned much, and in every
thing have come short of what should have been my im-
provement from such advantages ; yet, through the Lord's
merciful goodness, the fear of God, the love of his name and
a faith in Christ have never been wholly lost."

A noble record, this, to be added to the many, which
have been already made, of the value of a mother's early in-
fluence over the religious character of her children. But,
I have paused long enough, perhaps too long, amidst the
circumstances, which mark the natural and the religious
parentage of the subject of the present memoir. And yet,
when we are about to trace the course of a pleasant and fer-
tilizing stream, something may doubtless be pardoned to the
fondness, that lingers awhile amidst the simple or the strik-
ing scenery, in which it takes its rise.



In entering now upon the progress of that life, which it is
the design of these pages to trace, although the materials for
this part of my work are not abundant in amount, yet they
are rich in kind ; and by putting together what the Bishop
has recorded of this period, and what I have been able to
collect from those branches of his family, who survive in the
neighborhood of his birth, we shall obtain a tolerably clear
idea of this early portion of his life. We may not be able to
trace the stream through every point in its course ; but we
shall get sufficiently frequent views of it to mark its general
direction, and to exhibit its general character.

From early infancy, he was remarkable for quick intelli-
gence, an amiable disposition, and a ready apprehension of
religious truth. Schools were not then, as now, to be found
in the neighborhood of every Connecticut man's door. But
his mother, a woman of remarkable intelligence, abundantly-
supplied their place, and was herself the early and the effi-
cient tutoress of her own children. One of her grand-
daughters, Mrs. Bright of Northampton, Mass., who spent
the greater part of her childhood and early youth with her
grandmother, and who, while her aged relative was in feeble
health, occupied much of her time in reading to her the
Bible and other religious books, remarks : " When tired of
reading, the book was laid aside, and she would frequently
relate to me anecdotes of the Bishop's childhood, which to
me were always interesting. I have often heard her say,
that Alexander could read fluently at three years of age;
which, at that time, was very remarkable, as few children
then learned to read before seven or eip;ht.

"At a very early age, he distinguished himself above the
other children by his love and clear comprehension of the
Holy Scriptures. His mother was in the habit of instructing


her children every Sunday evening in the Church Catechism ;
in which exercise he was remarkable for the readiness of his
replies, when questioned as to the meaning of any of its

" As an instance of this ; when they were, one evening, re-
peating that part of the catechism, following the question ;
' What desirest thou of God in this prayer?' in reply to which
the Old English Prayer-book, then in use, answers among
other things ; ' that he will keep us from all sin and wicked-
ness and from our ghostly enemy ;' his mother asked, what
was meant by l ghostly enemy ?' The older children, whose
minds, as was common in those days, were filled with stories
of ghosts and apparitions, misled by the word ghostly, could
think of no particular ghost, as their enemy, considering the
whole Jdngdom of ghosts as inimical to all mortals. They
were therefore unable to answer the question. But as soon
as it was put to little Alexander, he immediately replied ;
' Satan ;' to the no small astonishment of the rest, who
wondered how he could possibly have known that.

" His mother, whom, inperson, he strongly resembled, was
a woman of uncommon energy, dignity and decision of
character. Though a fond mother and grandmother, she
was yet a strict disciplinarian. Well do I remember," says
Mrs. B. " the deep awe and veneration, which filled our
minds, whenever she entered the room, where we were.
All noisy play instantly ceased, and we listened in most re-
spectful silence to every word that fell from her lips : while
any word, or even look of disapprobation, which we chanced
to receive, sank deep into our hearts, and was remembered
for years : for well knew we that it was not given without

" Next to the religious education of her children, she con-
sidered early habits of persevering industry, as of the greatest
importance. All her children were accordingly kept con-
stantly employed at an age, when most children are con-
sidered too young to be capable of any employment. As
early as five, they assisted in various little labors of the farm,



such as gathering fruits and nuts, riding horse at ploughing,
and other similar engagements.

"I remember, when myself a very young child, accompa-
nying my mother on a visit to her and the Bishop's grand-
mother, (Mrs. Lois Viets) then very aged. In her conversa-
tion at the time, she cautioned my mother against too great
rigidness in the management of her children. ' Eunice,''
she remarked, ' was too severe in her family discipline.
There was Alexander, as good and amiable a boy as ever
lived ; and yet, how severe she was with him ! whipping
him for the most trifling transgression, and keeping him every
moment, when not otherwise employed, knitting, knitting,
knitting /'

" I have since inquired of my mother, what this knitting
was? She told me, that, when they were very young, during
those hours, when they could not be otherwise employed,
they were kept knitting bone-lace, a kind of netting composed
of a great variety of stitches, and then very much in use.
The Bishop and my mother, who was next him in age, be-
gan knitting this lace when they were not more than five
years old; and many were the gloves, caps, capes, and
aprons thus manufactured by their tiny fingers.

" To the great joy, however, of the little knitters, bone-lace
soon went out of fashion ; and Alexander was employed in
occupations more congenial with his tastes. Netting was
never a favorite employment with him ; and those ' trans-
gressions,' for which, as his indulgent grandmother thought,
he was so severely punished, were occasional neglects of the
bone-lace for pursuits of a more active, or a more elevated
nature. In boyhood he was ever fond of hunting, swim-
ming, and other athletic sports : but, such was his special
fondness for reading, that he would frequently, at a very early
age, leave the other children engaged in their sports, while
he stole away to enjoy the pleasure of some favorite book.
Even then, he would often pass a great part of the night in
reading, while the rest of the family were asleep."

Many of the foregoing remarks and incidents, which I


have, in substance, from the pen of the Bishop's relative, and
which come thus directly from his own mother and from the
sister nearest his own age, are, in my view, highly impor-
tant. Whether the mothers of our day will take sides with
the Bishop's mother, or with his grandmother, in the ques-
tion of discipline, may be a matter of doubt. Or rather, it
is to be feared, that, so far as the discipline of their children
is concerned, the mothers of our day become, in spirit, grand-
mothers too early, by falling into that system of easy indul-
gence to their offspring, for which our age is too much dis-
tinguished ; though, in the second motherhood of grand
dames, it has ever been regarded as a somewhat pardonable
weakness. But, let this question be decided as it may, no
one can deny the importance of the principle involved in the
efforts of the Bishop's mother to form in her children the
early habit of industry as a matter of duty. Too much time
is often allowed to children for toys and idle sports ; and too
little is devoted to the work of forming in them early, useful
and abiding habits of industry. " It was interesting to me,"
says the Bishop's sensible relative, in connexion with her
account of this matter, " to learn that the habits of unwearied
and persevering industry, which so distinguished my uncle
throughout his whole after life, had so early, though so hum-
ble an origin." The profits, which accrue from the labors
of children's hands, are a consideration of no moment to
many parents : but, the habit, which is thus formed in the
course of children's lives, of being always engaged in some-
thing useful as a matter of duty, is to all parents, of incom-
parably greater value than the most splendid fortunes, which
they can possibly amass for their heirs. Nothing, in the
shape of suitable employment for children's hands, can be
too "humble," though their parents wear titles, when it be-
comes the fountain-head of future valuable principle, noble
character and lofty attainment. The boy who knit "bone-
lace" at five years of age, because his mother taught him
that it was a duty to be always doing something useful in
moments, which must otherwise run to waste, or perhaps be
filled with mischief, was a worthy predecessor to the Bishop,


who afterwards, with unmatched industry, bore, for more
than thirty years, "the care of all the churches" scattered
over a diocese wide enough for a kingdom.

What little, in his auto-biography, the Bishop says of this
early period of his life, corresponds well with the account,
which has thus been given. It is contained in the following
paragraphs :

"I recollect nothing in my childhood and youth more re-
markable than the rapidity, with which I learned the lessons
given me. When about four or five years old, I remember
being often required to read before strangers, who, at that
day, viewed my forwardness as a great wonderment. In
about three days after the Greek grammar was first put into
my hands, I had, without any other teaching, written in
Greek characters, the first chapter in John's Gospel, inter-

Online LibraryJohn S. (John Seely) StoneMemoir of the life of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold, D.D. : Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Eastern diocese → online text (page 2 of 53)