Elizabeth Hall Dickerman.

The Sisters : a memoir of Elizabeth H., Abbie A., and Sarah F. Dickerman online

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Mary Randall


8 I 8 T E E 8:









Entered according to Act of Cpngress, in the year 1859, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massa-


Geo. C. Hand & Avery, Printers, 3 Cornhili, Boston.


MA]S~T persons, especially among the young, who
desire to be useful in the service of Christ, fancy
themselves debarred the privilege by want of oppor-
tunity. Had they been called to be ministers or
missionaries, could they dispense thousands in char-
ity, or had they the advantages of high social
position, they would, as they flatter themselves,
accomplish much for the cause of their Redeemer.
In the absence of these opportunities, they feel
unable to do any thing, and their endeavors are few
and worthless.

The example of the young persons whose brief
lives are sketched in this memoir is deemed instruc-
tive, as showing the error of this prevalent impres-
sion. They were of the ordinary walks of life ; yet
they had learned the secret of doing good. Emi-
nent in their personal piety, they strove both by
example and direct effort to effect the salvation of
others. If opportunities of usefulness were not pre-


sented, they made them ; and they found as others
will, who do the same thing Providence cooperat-
ing with them, and rewarding their humblest under-
takings with his blessing.

The author has felt embarrassed in the selections
from their journals and letters by the frequent allu-
sions they contain to himself and his family. To
insert these seemed, possibly, indelicate ; to omit
them, unjust to those who penned them amid the
most sacred records of their spiritual history. He
trusts that the few allusions of this kind which he
has admitted will be pardoned, when it is remem-
bered how intimate are the relations between a
pastor and the youth of his flock, an intimacy
which, in the case of these sisters, was one of pecu-
liar interest and tenderness.


Residence Birth Childhood, 9


Early religious impressions Conversion Admission to the Church, 12


Attendance at school -Thirst for knowledge Abbie's Journal-
Letters Solicitude for the conversion of her schoolmates, 19


Teaching Commencement of school in Mt. Carmel Labors for
the conversion of pupils School exhibition " The flower
fadeth, ' ' Missionary aspirations, 45


Sickness Thirst for knowledge Darkness Parting from friends
Spiritual comfort Resignation, ^67



Elizabeth's journal of the last hours The dying scene The
funeral, 103


Influence of Abbie's character and death Elizabeth's resolutions
Visit to Plymouth Re-opening of school Prayers and labors
for her pupils Music lessons Death of her grandmother, 128


Organization of the Hart Female Seminary Elizabeth as Prin-
cipal Discouragements Brightening prospects Household
cares Labors for souls Revival, 153


Fannie Her early character Conversion Diary Efforts of
usefulness, 179

Fannie Sickness and death, , 199


Improvement of affliction Elizabeth's return to her school Re-
newed efforts of usefulness Perplexity as to duty Determines
to relinquish her charge Close of term, 212



At home Relaxation from labor Domestic duties Visiting
Correspondence, 236


End of the diary Visiting Beginning of sickness Invitation
to Harrisburgh Severe suffering Medical attendance Cheer-
fulnessSubmissionSolicitude for her mother Unclouded
hope Farewells Death Letters of friends, 261



Residence Birth Childhood.

THE beautiful plain upon which New Haven
is built extends northward from Long Island
Sound, between the mountain ranges of the
East and West Rocks, across the whole breadth
of Connecticut. At about eight miles from the
city, it is interrupted by the high and rugged
cliff of Mount Carmel, projecting like a spur
from the western range, from which it is sepa-
rated by a deep notch. The view from the sum-
mit of this mountain, a place of frequent resort
to the lovers of pleasant scenery, is strikingly
beautiful. Northward, the broad valley stretches
away in the distance in a variegated landscape
of hill and dale, of venerable orchards and green
meadows, with here and there a winding brook
gleaming through the verdure like a silver thread


woven in some flower-wrought carpet. In the
south, the blue waters of the Sound bound the
horizon, embosoming in their crescent the city,
partly hid by East Rock, and the prairie-like
" salt meadows " which surround the head of the
bay ; while, at your feet, is the little white church
of the parish, and a long street of pleasant resi-
dences, with here and there the tall chimney of
a manufactory, and ever and anon a railway
train gliding in graceful curves along the valley;
the whole constituting a picture of quiet beauty
rarely surpassed in all the diversified scenery of
New England.

At a little distance from the foot of this moun-
tain, and near the church of the parish, named
from this conspicuous feature of it, " Mount
Carmel," was the home of the subjects of this
memoir. They were children of Deacon EZRA,
and SARAH J. DICKERMAN, both descended from
ancient Puritan families in New Haven; the
mother tracing her ancestry to the Rev. Nicho-
las Street, the successor of Davenport as pastor
of the first church in that city. The births of
the three were as follows:

ELIZABETH HALL, born May 21, 1829.
ABBIE ANN, born July 22, 1831.
SARAH PRANCES, born April 18, 1838.


They were the only daughters in a family of
nine children, of whom one died in infancy; a
family who were all trained with scrupulous care
in the principles and duties of religion, and who
share in large measure the blessing of God upon
parental faithfulness.

The childhood of these sisters was marked by
little worthy of special notice. They were active
and intelligent, fond of reading, and apt in the
usual studies of their age. In disposition, Eliz-
abeth was mild and gentle, inclined to cheerful-
ness, and of a sunny temperament. Abbie, and
to a less extent also, " Fannie/ 7 (as she was usu-
ally called,) were more impatient, sometimes
irritable, and the former suffered often from de-
pression of spirits. Though remarkably decided
and firm of purpose, yet there mingled with this
a native modesty which shrunk from notice, and,
in the two eldest, amounted almost to reserve.
They were, in a word, amiable and interesting
children, the pride of their family, * and giving
promise of an early development of character
in more than ordinary sweetness and purity.



Early religious impressions Conversion Admission to the

IT might be expected that persons educated
as these young girls were, would have, even in
childhood, seasons of marked religious impres-
sions. Such was especially the case with Abbie.
Her mother mentions an occasion of this kind in
the spring of 1838, when she was scarcely seven
years old. As the family were sitting by the
fireside, Abbie began to weep. On being ques-
tioned as to the cause, she did not incline to an-
swer; but being pressed with the inquiry, at
length said it was because she felt herself to be
a sinner; and as Elizabeth made a similar avowal,
while nothing unusual had occurred to awaken
their emotion, their parents hoped it might be
the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and
earnestly renewed their consecration of them to
the favor of their covenant-keeping God. Nothing
was said to them of entertaining a hope that they
were Christians, but they were simply encour-


aged to enter upon the performance of religious
duty. Ever after this they manifested much de-
light in spiritual things, and were very regular
in their habits of devotion. In 1840, the church
in Mount Carmel enjoyed a season of revival, in
which they were greatly interested, attending
the meetings, striving to secure the presence of
their young companions, and frequently express-
ing the most ardent desires for the conversion
of souls, and for the progress and extension of
the work. At one of the first of these meet-
ings, when the minister then laboring there spoke
to her in relation to her feelings, Abbie looked
up to him with a timid smile, and said, U I do
love my Saviour ! " nor did there seem to be any
good reason to doubt the truth of her assertion.
It was not, however, till 1845, that religion
assumed a distinctly marked character in either.
In the autumn of that year, Abbie came down
from her chamber very early one Sabbath morn-
ing, weeping; having; been awakened in a violent
thunder storm, by an alarming dream which the
storm had probably occasioned. She was very
much distressed in view of her guilt and danger
as a sinner, and begged her mother's advice and
prayers. But though in a measure relieved by
these, she did not immediately find peace. Her
convictions were deep and overwhelming. In-


deed, it was a characteristic of her experience
in all her subsequent course, to have at times,
and often for weeks together, the most profound
and distressing views of her sinfulness ; and it
was only when, by repeated trials, she had cast
herself wholly on Christ for pardon and deliver-
ance, that she learned to throw off her burden,
and take to herself the comfort of an abiding
hope in him.

It was on the succeeding Wednesday, after
a season of very peculiar suffering, and while
engaged in prayer with her mother, that she
first felt the dawn of peace in her soul. It
was, indeed, like the morning light after a night
of storm. The transition from despair to hope
filled her with joy. " Oh," she exclaimed, " how
I want to have Edward and Elizabeth feel as I
do ! " On that very day she wrote to the former,
(her eldest brother,) then at school in a neigh-
boring town, narrating what she had just expe-
rienced, and tenderly entreating him to seek
forthwith an interest in the Saviour. Nor did
she write in vain. The blessing of the Holy
Spirit seemed to accompany the letter, and her
brother was so deeply affected by the intelligence,
and the earnest appeals to his heart, that he was
unable to rest till he, too, was rejoicing in the
same new-born hopes.


To her sister Elizabeth she was equally faith-
ful, though not with the same immediate results.

" E.," she wrote in a second letter to her
brother, " spent the Sabbath at home ; and oh! how
glad I was to see her and tell her what a precious
Saviour I trust I have found." The latter was
then engaged in teaching ; and having at the age
of sixteen the sole care of a school of fifty pu-
pils, it is not surprising that her mind was too
much engrossed with her occupation to give to
anything else a very particular attention. Still,
the effect of Abbie's entreaties was not entirely
lost. An impression was made which was never
obliterated ; and often did she remark in later
years, that both she and her brother had reason
to regard their sister as having been in an emi-
nent degree the instrument of their conversion.

In the autumn of 1846, the writer of this me-
moir, having recently been installed pastor of the
church in Mount Carmel, called to converse with
Abbie in respect to her uniting with the church.
Elizabeth was then at home. During the con-
versation, Mrs. D., who was present, made some
remark expressive of her anxiety for the latter.
The pastor immediately addressed an appeal to
her, founded on the important step about to be
taken by her sister. Elizabeth manifested an
interest in the subject, but said little. On the


next Monday evening, a meeting was appointed
at the house of the pastor for those who might
desire religious conversation ; and at the sugges-
tion of her mother, Elizabeth attended, in com-
pany with herself and Abbie. The subject of
her personal salvation was again pressed upon
her attention, and she was urged to an immediate
self-dedication to God. She appeared to be very
serious; frankly acknowledging that she desired
to be a Christian, and ought to be one without
delay; and saying also that she had once enter-
tained a hope of her piety, but had for some time
past relinquished it. At length she pledged her
word that she would that night give herself to
Christ anew. On her return home she retired to
her room, and, with characteristic promptness and
decision, took her pen and wrote out her solemn
purpose to be the Lord's.

"Resolved, That from this time forth, with di-
vine assistance, I will renounce the pleasures of
the world, and seek to glorify God.

Oct. 19, 1846. E. H. DICKERMAN."

She knelt with this resolution before her, and
there solemnly and deliberately adopted it as the
one great purpose of her future life ; giving up
herself to God, and beseeching pardon and ac-
ceptance through the blood of the Redeemer.


When, after some time, she came from her room
and entered the family circle, she wore a smile
on her countenance, and a look of such calm, yet
earnest purpose, as left no doubt in that happy
group that the great decision had been made.

The experience of the sisters in this important
crisis of their lives was characteristically differ-
ent. Elizabeth was not so long weighed down
with the burden of conviction, as Abbie; indeed,
it was the prompt, unquestioning response of
her heart to the intellectual perception of duty,
which distinguished her here, as ever after.
Abbie dwelt more in her emotions, and was very
much subject to their control; Elizabeth, though
not destitute of deep and earnest feelings, was
accustomed rather to hold them in check, and
subordinate them, as well as everything else, to
the guidance of her understanding. In the for-
mer, the subjective life was the most prominent;
in the latter, the objective. With Abbie it was
a leading inquiry how she felt, with Elizabeth,
what she was doing; yet the feeling of the one
had its outgrowth in a very earnest self-denying
life ; and the activity of the other, its reflection
in a deep conscientiousness, and an ardent devo-
tion to the cause of her Saviour.

It may be thought that a formal act of dedica-
tion to God in writing, like this of Elizabeth,


unpreceded by a period of pungent conviction,
was premature, and tended to the creation of
false hopes. In some cases, perhaps, it might be
so. The precise -instructions that should be
given to individuals in such circumstances ought,
doubtless, to be varied according to the peculi-
arities of each case. Yet we have known not a
few instances in which resolutions so formed
have been attended with the happiest results.
The soul thus solemnly given to the Lord, enters
the school of Christ ; where, under the teachings
of his Spirit, it gains instruction both in respect
to its own depravity, and the necessity and suf-
ficiency of the atonement, which no amount of
technical conviction could afford. If not itself
properly conversion, it speedily eventuates in it ;
as the fixed resolve of the prodigal was the first
step in that return which brought him, at length,
to the home and the embrace of his rejoicing

Abbie was received to the church, by profes-
sion, on the first Sabbath of November, 1846; and
Elizabeth, in the January following.



Attendance at school Thirst for knowledge Abbie's journal
Letters Solicitude for the conversion of her schoolmates.

A LEADING characteristic of these sisters was
a thirst for knowledge. For the objects most
usually attractive to girls of a similar age dress,
company and amusements they had very little
taste. Especially after their conversion, they
sought with increased ardor the advantages of
an education, as a qualification for usefulness.
In the fall of 1847, Elizabeth entered as a pupil
in the " Seward Institute," in Florida, Orange
County, New York, w^here she graduated the
ensuing year, receiving the first premium for
scholarship in the senior department, from the
Hon. William H. Seward, the President and pa-
tron of the institution. After her graduation,
Abbie entered the same school and remained
through the ensuing winter. And though unable
to return and complete the course, as she ardent-
ly desired, she still prosecuted her studies at
home, and while herself engaged in teaching,


with great assiduity, till her failing health com-
pelled her to desist.

Of Elizabeth's religious history during these
two years of study , there is but slight record.
. She was too intensely occupied to write very
frequently to her friends, and her allusions to the
subject in her correspondence were still less fre-
quent. The acquisition of knowledge was then
her all-engrossing pursuit ; and it is probable that
the standard of her piety was less elevated than
it subsequently became.

Of Abbie, fortunately, we have more knowl-
edge. Early in 1848, she commenced a private
journal of her religious experience, which she
continued with slight interruptions till a short
time before her death. In this, and the letters
written to her friends, we have ample materials
for tracing her religious life, and observing how
rapidly she was trained, under the teachings of
the Divine Spirit, to that maturity of piety which
made her early ripe for heaven.

There is, in many minds, a strong prejudice
against these, so called, private journals of re-
ligious experience; a prejudice which is often,
doubtless, well founded. The difficulty of keep-
ing them true to fact, of making them an honest,
unexaggerated transcript of the real life, is so
great, under the natural tendencies to self-decep-


tion ; that little reliance, ordinarily, can be placed
on them as exhibiting the actual character. Yet,
notwithstanding all this, it can not be questioned
that such a journal may be so conducted as em-
inently to aid the work of self-cultivation. It
very evidently was so in the present case. That
Abbie had kept such a record of her spiritual
life, was never suspected by her most intimate
friends till a little before her death. It had been
her purpose to destroy it ; but upon the earnest
request of the family, and being assured it would
be a great gratification to them after her depart-
ure, she reluctantly consented to its preservation.
None who intimately knew her will doubt that
it is a simple, unvarnished record of her actual
feelings and experience.

The first entry made in it is marked by great
simplicity, conscientiousness and solemnity.

"HAMDEN, Sunday, March 14, 1848.
I have felt that it may, perhaps, aid my ad-
vancement in the spiritual course, to keep a
journal, or diary. With this in view I now com-
mence one, feeling as I do, that I ought not to
neglect anything which may have a tendency to
promote my growth in grace, and fit me for that
eternal world to which I am rapidly hastening."


Other extracts will show her prevalent habit
of thought and feeling at this time.

Monday Evening, March 15. Last night I re-
tired burdened on account of sin, especially my
ingratitude and coldness in the service of my
dear Redeemer. I passed a very restless night ;
for my mind was constantly occupied with
thoughts of my situation, and of those around
me, and of how little I am doing in the service
of Christ. This morning I had a season of sweet
communion with God; but I have to lament that
I have been very cold in religious duties during
the day, and it has been with difficulty that I
could devote my thoughts to heavenly things.
This evening I have attended a female prayer-
meeting, and felt that it was good to be there.
I mourn over my coldness, and it grieves me that
I can not love God more ; but this heart of mine
is so sinful that it will love only as it is renewed
by grace.

16th. This morning I had unusual enjoyment
in my religious duties, and I thought I should
go through the day trusting in God, and striving
to glorify him ; but alas, I have not honored him,
either by my w&lk or conversation, but when lit-
tle things occurred I have been irritated and
vexed. I felt that this was wrong, and it must


be that I have not looked to God for assistance,
for if I had, he would have provided for me a
way of escape. This evening attended singing
school, and while there, felt emotions of pride.
Oh when shall I be meek and lowly in heart 1

Sunday evening, 21st. I have to-day attended
church, and heard a sermon preached from Dan-
iel xii. 3. " They that be wise shall shine as the
brightness of the firmament; and they that turn
many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and
ever." While hearing of the glory that awaits
him who saves a soul from death, it seemed as if
the Sun of righteousness shone in upon my heart,
and I felt new aspirations after holiness. I re-
solved to devote myself to the work of doing
good, more than I have done. If it should be
the will of God that I should leave my beloved
parents, my brothers and sisters, and all that is
dear to me in this world, and go to some foreign
country that I might lead souls to Christ, I feel
that I ought cheerfully to obey. Life is short,
and what is done must be done quickly. If I
know my own heart, I do want to labor in the
vineyard of my Lord. I feel that it is folly to
spend my time in pursuit of the honors, wealth,
or pleasures of this world. There is no true
happiness in them ; it is found only in Christ.
How delightful the thought, that, if faithful in


duty, we may, with God's blessing, be instru-
mental in adding some to that j innumerable com-
pany who shall surround the throne of God and
sing praises to him for ever.

This is the first intimation left on record of
what became a very strongly marked desire of
Abbie, that she might ultimately be permitted
to serve her Saviour as a missionary to the
heathen. Frequent allusion is made to it in her
journal, and in her letters to one or two of her
most confidential friends. It was this which
seemed chiefly to actuate her in her efforts at
mental cultivation ; nor was the hope of attain-
ing this privilege relinquished until almost the
last moment of her life.

March 28th. My health has been such, for a
few days past, as to oblige me to remain below
by the fire, in consequence of which I have been
deprived of the opportunity of spending much
time alone in my room. I now gladly hasten to
have a little season of communion with God and
my own heart. I have been thinking of the mil-
lions who have never heard of a crucified
Saviour, and feel that I ought to be willing to
give up all to send them that which will make
them wise unto salvation.

30th. I fear that I am growing cold, and


going back from duty and from God ; for I do not
have those earnest desires for the salvation of
souls and the prosperity of Christ's kingdom
which I had some time since ; neither do I feel
so much of the love of Christ in my own soul as
I have been wont to experience. I find myself
inclined to give way to passion, and have sadly
indulged in fretfulness towards F., also in
trifling conversation. I know and feel that it is
wrong to live so. Shall I ever have grace to
overcome ?

31st. I have attended a conference of the
churches held here this afternoon, and feel that
it has been a blessed season to my soul. There
were present brethren from the neighboring
churches, and their hearts appeared to be full of
the love of Christ. When I understood their
feelings in behalf of sinners, and heard what
God is doing in other places, and what efforts
his children are making to promote his glory, it
seemed as if I had done nothing but to injure
his cause. I resolved, when at church, to con-
secrate myself to him anew. And I do now, on
my knees, before God and angels, give myself wholly
to him ; and am resolved, by the assistance of my
heavenly Father, to labor and pray more earnestly
for the salvation of souls than I have ever yet done.

April 1. This morning I felt that God was


with me. I have not spoken to any impenitent

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Online LibraryElizabeth Hall DickermanThe Sisters : a memoir of Elizabeth H., Abbie A., and Sarah F. Dickerman → online text (page 1 of 14)