John Adams Vinton.

The Symmes memorial : a biographical sketch of Rev. Zechariah Symmes, minister of Charlestown, 1634-1671, with a genealogy and brief memoirs of some of his descendants. And an autobiography online

. (page 1 of 23)
Online LibraryJohn Adams VintonThe Symmes memorial : a biographical sketch of Rev. Zechariah Symmes, minister of Charlestown, 1634-1671, with a genealogy and brief memoirs of some of his descendants. And an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 23)
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The Symmes Memorial.







Embracing Notices of many of the Name, both in Europe and America,
not connected with his Family.








Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis,
Doctrina sed vim promovet insitam.— HOR.

The glory of children are their fathers.— Solomon.



Entered, according to act of Congress, in the year 1873,

By John Adams Vinton,

In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Wasliington,

^1 1158968

^0 As there are indications, scarcely to be mistaken, that my life on earth is

jN- drawing to a close, I deem it proper, for the satisfaction of those who may

IX/ come after me, to make some statements concerning the manner in which

\ my life has been passed.

"Sj I was born in Winter Street, Boston, Feb. 5, 1801; just five weeks after

A the commencement of the nineteenth century. I was the eldest son of

Josiah and Betsey (Giles) Vinton, who were married in Boston, April 7,

^ ♦ 1800. I was named John Adams, from the strong attachment entertained

. ''■^ by my father for his kinsman, the second President of the United States ;

\ my flither's mother, Anne Adams, being a daughter of Boylston Adams, a

^ first cousin of the President, whose term of office was then just expiring.

>^ On the side of both father and mother, I trace my ancestry to no less

^k than thirty-five men of different names, in the first generation of New

v^ England people. On the side of my father I am descended from the

^\ Huguenots of Fi'ance, exiled 300 years ago.

XJ Though feeble in body, I was always disposed to mental effort, the more
perhaps on that very account. I was able to read at a very early age, and
when five years old could read a psalm in the Bible without serious diffi-
culty. When seven years of age, I had read the New Testament through.
I could also make rude letters and figures on a slate. I began to write on
paper the summer after I was seven years old.

My advantages for education were always very limited. I never attended
a public school in Boston, of any kind. This was not then permitted to
children under seven years of age. In Boston I went to women's schools,
supported by private subscription. After the removal of the family to
Braintree, in March, 1808, I attended a woman's school in summer, and a
man's school in winter ; each of them, perhaps, three months in length.
The teachers in those days were poorly qualified ; and I learned but little,
except by myself in private. My knowledge of arithmetic I obtained by
turning round in my seat and witnessing the operations of the older boys,
some of them young men, in the seat behind me. I soon became able to
assist them, and show them how to solve a question in arithmetic. My
grammar and arithmetic were acquired, chiefly, without any help from the


master. In Angnst, 1811, my father took me into his store to assist him.
I still attended school part of the day in winter ; but several months before
I was thirteen my school -days ceased entirely. Since November, 1813, I
have never attended school.

I was extremely fond of reading, especially in books of history. My
father took no newspaper during several years ; but when I could get hold
of one, it afforded a perfect treat. He had some valuable books, which I
devoured with the keenest appetite. Before I was thirteen, I had read
through Josephus, 6 vols.; Prideaux's Connections, 4 vols.; Marshall's Life
of Washington, 5 vols. ; Rollin's Ancient History, 6 vols., and Pinkerton's
GeograjD^y, 2 vols. ; most of them large octavos. He had also an atlas of
60 maps. These books were to me treasures of untold value.

My fondness for books, however, did not please my father. He thought
I must get my living, as he had, in a store. He never seemed to think that
my desire for an education could be turned to any good account. He
always frowned upon it. He often told me, with great emphasis, that if I
spent so much time over books, I should starve ! He persistently
discouraged, even till after I entered college, my desire for an education.
The feeling went through the family. My brothers and sisters seemed to
look upon me as an inferior sort of being, because I wanted to know
something, to be a man of education and refined culture, a man of thoughts
and ideas ; instead of giving all my attention to the acquisition of wealth.
I well remember, as though it were a thing of yesterday, how, from my
father's dry-goods store on Washington Street, the part at that time called
Cornhill, I watched the boys of the Latin School, then situated on School
Street, Boston, as they were returning from school, swinging the satchels
containing their books ; and how sad I felt that the ojiportunities they were
enjoying could not be mine. My thirst for an education was always
subordinate to an earnest desire to be useful ; to help others, if I could, to
be good and to be happy.

The Spirit of God strove with me from my childhood. My iather, being
a church member, was wont, of a Sunday afternoon, after meeting, to take
his children into a room by themselves, and hear them recite the answers in
the Assembly's Shorter Catechism ; closing the service with prayer. This
was about all the religious education I received. There was no explanation
of the catechism ; no attempt to make us understand it. Even in my
childhood, I wondered that the exercise was so mechanical and formal.
Still the exercise was not lost. The impression was good, and remains to
this day. Oh ! if my parents had talked kindly and tenderly to me of the
love of Christ, and my duty to love and obey him, how different had been
my early life ! There were no Sabbath schools in those days : 1 never
attended one till, in 1817, I attended as a teacher. Ministers seldom or
never preached to the young.

When I was between eight and nine years of age, a small book, intended
for children, came to my hands, entitled a Memoir of Dinah Doudney, of
Portsea, England, written by Rev. John Griffin, a minister of that place.
I think this was the iirst book, except the spelling-book and Testament,
that I ever read, and it impressed my mind very strongly. It was an
account of a little girl, about my own age, who was a remarkable example
of early piety. That a child of my own age could be devotedly pious, and
could die and go to heaven — the impression never wholly left me. The
book, I think, was, many years after, issued as a tract by the American
Tract Society.


I do not remember any special concern for my salvation after this, till
October, 1811, when I was in my eleventh year. The solemn, earnest
preaching of Rev. Daniel A. Clark, then just settled as our minister, in
East Braintree, and the death of a young girl in the neighborhood, gave
rise to many solemn reflections, and drove me to secret prayer and earnest
cries for mercy. These impressions of divine truth were never wholly lost.
I find in my diary, which I began to keep in my eleventh year, a great deal
that indicates a strong desire to be a true christian, and even a belief, two
or three years later, that I was one. At the age of fourteen, I deliberately
and solemnly entered into a written covenant with God, to be His only,
and forever. I never wholly lost the impressions of that hour ; though I
wandered away from God, lost the spirit of prayer, and at times had fearful
experience of a heart in rebellion against my Maker. T* can conceive of
nothing more truly indicative of a renewed state of mind than some things
which I wrote the winter I was fourteen, particularly a prayer which I
have lately found among my papers. But months and years elapsed ere I
obtained a confirmed hope. I remember, and find it so written, that in the
autumn after I was fourteen, I had earnest desires to be a minister of the
gospel. But none of my friends, and nobody else, encouraged this desire.
The desire, however, remained ; it had existed, in some degree, ever since I
was ten years old.* Now, at the age of fourteen, I made it a matter of
fervent prayer for the divine guidance. My feelings continued to be very
tender, and my impressions from divine truth were at times overpowering.
I prayed much and earnestly. Yet I said nothing to any of my friends ;
for I knew it would do no good.

I read the works of Jonathan Edwards, of Joseph Bellamy, and other
writers of that stamp. The views therein set forth, and the preaching I
heard from Park Street pulpit, after our return to Boston, in November,
1813, impressed me very deeply. The effect was to make me feel myself
unutterably sinful, loathsome and vile ; lost and undone forever. I knew
that God was merciful, but only to the truly penitent. How could I
become truly penitent? I labored under the great mistake that I must
become so by my own endeavors ; and I felt that I could as soon make a
world, as to change my own heart and make myself truly good : that I
could as easily chase away the darkness of primeval chaos, as to produce
one sincere emotion of true love to God. Oh ! if I could have known that
such a work was not expected at my hands ; that all I had to do was to
surrender myself absolutely and forever into the hands of God, give up my
will to his, devote my all to him, and to trust wholly in Christ for this
great salvation ! what a relief it would have been !

At length, after years of struggle and of unspeakable distress, I came to
see all this. I came to see, as in the noon-day sun, that my efforts to make
my heart better would never amount to anything ; and that Christ was
ready to take me just as I was, in all my sin and guilt, and to make me his
own, immediately and forever. Now, fifty-four years afterwards, the tears
burst from my eyes as I remember what a change then took place in me.
It was like the clearing of the sky after a storm : it was the noonday
brightness after stark midnight : it was the sensible flowing in of the divine
life upon the soul : it was a resurrection from the dead ! Nobody

* Mr. Clark, our minister at Braintree, speaking to my father, and refen-ing to mc, once
said— "That boy will get an education, if ho has to wait till you and your wife arc both


can liave any idea of it but from experience. I enjoyed a heaven upon
earth. At times, I was perfectly overcome. Everything around me was
changed. More than all, God, who had formerly been contemplated with
alarm and terror, if not with aversion, now appeared unspeakably glorious
and excellent. Never, from that day to the present, have I doubted the
reality of the change.

I am at this time tenderly and deeply impressed with God's wonderful
goodness, in bringing me so early and so distinctly to know Him as my
Father, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. I well remember exercises of
mind, when only sixteen years of age, which could only have been felt by
a renewed soul. During four or five years I suffered extreme distress, in
view of being in an unconverted state, and, as such, exposed to the wrath
of God through ftiterminable ages. God was to me an object of unspeak-
able teri'or, as a holy, just, and righteous Being, the inflexible Enemy and
Punisher of sin. I knew he was not vindictive ; but that holy law of his
he must maintain. I could not flee out of his hands ; I could not render
myself acceptable to him ; I could not even produce in my heart the
repentance and faith which the gospel requires ; what could I do ?

I now see that I gave way, unduly, to a certain morbid tendency of
mind, a disposition to look too much on the dark side. This has always
afflicted me, I was looking into my heart for comfort, and no comfort
could poss^ibly arise thence. Oh ! if I had fully realized that Christ came
to save the lost ; that I might apply to him just as I was, bad as I was,
wretched and undone as I felt myself to be ; and that it was safe and
proper to cast myself simply and wholly on Him, an all-sufficient vSaviour,
giving myself wholly to Him, relying on His boundless grace. His unspeak-
able love. His infinite power ; it had been well with me ! Foolish creature
that I was, to think I must make some preparation for believing in Christ 1
when, according to scripture, and to every christian's experience, believing
in Christ, trusting wholly in Him, is the very first step in the way to
Heaven !

Oh ! what relief I felt when I came at length to realize Christ's infinite
ability and willingness to save ! when 1 felt that I had nothing to do, in the
affair of my salvation, but to cast all my burden, all my care, my whole
soul, on Christ ! I felt just as the Pilgrim felt when he came in sight of
the cross. The tears now start freshly from my eyes, at the bare recollec-
tion of what I felt more than fifty years ago, and for a long time after.

I was one of twelve young persons who made a public profession of
religion in Park Street Church, Boston, June 4, 1820, being then a little
over nineteen.

When I became of age, February, 1822, I was released from my long
and irksome service in m^^ father's store, which had continued, with some
intermissions, from August, 1811. For this long service of ten years or
more, I received nothing but my board and clothing ; and my clothing was
for the most part, I think, made up from my father's old clothes. After
trying, four or five months, without success, to get into business in Boston, I
went to Philadelphia, at the invitation of my two uncles there, my father's
brothers, and assisted in their wholesale dry-goods store until the spring of
1823. All this while, my mind was exercised on the subject of a prepara-
tion for the gospel miuistiy. At length my mind became fully settled, and
I made known to my uncles and my father my fixed purpose, if life were
spared, to become a minister. My father said plainly that he could not
assist me. My uncles warmly approved my design. They said they had


ever thonght that I ought to receive a liberal education, and had even
intended to send me to college at their own expense ; but were prevented
by reverses in business. As it was, they agreed to bear a certain part of
the expense.

I returned to Boston in May, and found the Providence of God had
prepared the way before me. It was decided that I should go to Exeter, N. H.,
and apply for admission on the Phillips Fund. I walked nearly all the way
thither, forty-eight miles, under a iDurniiig sun, at the summer solstice,
carrying my bundle of clothing and books, and arriving th^re faint and
weary. A good lady, Mrs. Halliburton, took me to board at a little more
than half price.* After a few weeks, I was made a charity scholar on the
Phillips Fund, receiving one dollar a week from it, which paid nearly two-
thirds of my board.

At Exeter, to make up felt deficiencies, I studied very hard, even till
twelve or one o'clock at night, and got along well, even to the wonder of
the other students, who, nevertheless, sometimes could not suppress feelings
of malignant envy. In fourteen months I was found prepared to enter any
college in the land. I entered Dartmouth College, Sept. 22, 1824.

I was punctual in all the exercises of college, never absent, and never
late, but for just cause. I made good progress in my studies, and soon
gained the confidence of the Faculty, and of my fellow-students. I taught
school eveiy winter, which helped to defray my expenses. In the summer,
I was engaged in Sabbath schools in the vicinity of Hanover.

There was a great revival of religion in college and in the village, during
the spring term of 1826. I enjoyed the season greatly, and did what I could
to promote the work. And here I may remark, that from the time when I
began to indulge a settled hope of my own salvation, I was disposed to
speak to others, as I had opportunity, especially to those about my own age,
respecting their need of salvation. An eminent clergyman of our denomi-
nation, who has occupied important spheres of usefulness, both as a pastor
and as an ofticer of one of our great national societies, to whom the
christian church is indebted for some of our sweetest, noblest hymns of
praise — hymns that are used wherever American christians meet for
worship and pious conference — said to me, at a casual meeting, some years
ago — "I remember, Brother V., how you used to walk, and talk with me
about my soul ! "

While a member of college, I employed my winter vacations in teaching
school, and my spring and fall vacations in pedestrian tours. I visited
Northampton, Hartford and the towns along Connecticut River to its mouth
nearly, New Haven, Providence, Middlebury, Burlington, Lakes Champlain
and George, Cape Ann, Portland, the White Mountains and many other
places, going on foot nearly all the way, the foot travel amounting to more
than one tliousand miles. In these journeys I was careful to take religious
tracts witli me and distribute them by the way, and to converse on the
concerns of the soul as I had opportunity, often with entire strangers. I
found my health greatly benefited by this course.

I was chosen a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society in June, 1827,
at the first election made from my class. The whole number then elected
was nine. Four were elected afterwards. I graduated, August 20, 1828,
having the fifth appointment, the Greek Oration, in a class of forty
members. Six of those who ranked after me, subsequently became

* She gave me four weeks' board out of ten.


professors in American colleges. I might have held a similar position, had
not my inclination led me another way. I had the degree of A.M. from
Dartmouth College.

But it is time to state what my expenses were at Exeter and at college,
and whence my supplies were derived. I kept an accurate account all the
while ; and it is now before me.

Expenses at Exeter, while fitting for college, from. June 23, 1823, to
Aug. 20, 1824, nearly all of which was for board, say 52 weeks — leaving
out vacations — at about $1.50 per week, $102.11.

Rec'*. of my father, $ 4.30

llec*^. of the Charity Fund of Phillips Exeter ">

Academy, one dollar a week, during the >- 43.00
time I was thus aided, )

Rec'^. of my uncles, T. & A. Vinton, Philadelphia, 40.00
Rec'^. of Richard Chamberlain, Boston, 20.00

Rec^. of George J. Homer, Boston, 5.(>0

Rec'^. of John Kent, Boston, a young friend, 5.00

Rec*^. of William T. Boutwell, my room-mate, .50

Rec'^. of Mrs. Ladd, for cuttinir wood, 1.50

Total receipts for fourteen months, $119.30

My total expenses during those fourteen months, including vacations,
travelling, and incidentals of all sorts, were exactly $121.92, which
amounted to one hundred dollars for a year, nearly.

At college, the sum total of my expenses was $693.63

viz. : Freshman year, $153.76

Sophomore year, 192.04

Junior year, 1 65.00

Senior year, 182.83


At Exeter I had nothing to pay for tuition, being a charity scholar. At
college, being a charity scholar, one-half of the amount of my term bills,
or seventy (70) dollars in all, was remitted. My board at Hanovei', in the
entire four years, cost me $175; room rent, $27.80; travelling, $77.47;
clothing, $152.50. I gave in charity, $20.

My receipts, while in college, were as follows :

From my ftither, in the whole, $150.00

For my own labors, of which were $156.87 for) ixoOO

teaching school four winters, f

From Mr. Richard Chamberlain, Boston, 80.00

From Mr. George J. Homer, Boston, 120.00

From my uncles, T. & A. Vinton, Philadelphia, 116.64

From George Vinton, my brother, 22.00

From my mother, besides bedding and some clothing, 2.61

From Mrs. Carter, Peacham, Vt., 5.00

From a society in college, 4.60

Total receipts in four years, $680.85.

My expenses in Andover Theological Seminary, three years, were
$628.26. Tuition is free at Andover Seminary to all the students.


Received from my father, $170.00

" " my brother George, 23.00

" " my mother, $o.OO; sister Eliza, $3.00, G.OO

" " George J. Homer, Bostou, 25.00

" " Dauiel SafFord, Boston, 20.00

" " American Education Society, 80.00

" " Ropes Fund, Andover, 20.00

Avails of personal labor, of which I received for clerk ")

hire, $38.61 ; preaching, $4:3.00 ; writing for the press, >- 1G3.00
$24.00 ; agency for N. H. Bible Soc. 5 weeks, $30.00, )

Total, $511.00

The amount received from the Ropes Fund I afterwards repaid, as also
the greater part of what I received from the American Pxlucation Society ;
I also repaid $114, received from Seminary Fund, with interest, in 1839,
eight years after. The Ropes Fund was established by Mr. William Ropes,
an eminent christian merchant of Boston. Mr. George Joy Homer was
one of the partners in the well-known firm of Homes & Homer, hardware
merchants, Union Street, Boston.

I entered the Theological Seminary at Andover, Oct. 31, 1828. Every
thing there concurred to promote my intellectual progress, and spirituality
of mind. The light shone brightly upon my path, and I found myself as it
were in the very suburbs of heaven.

The subject of Foreign Missions had for many years occupied my mind.
I read and conversed much on the subject. Dr. Woods, the professor of
theology, and others, warmly approved of my inclination to be a foreign
missionary. He advised me to cherish the desire I felt. After due
deliberation and much prayer, I made a formal tender of my services to
the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. I was
willing to go wherever tliey might wish to send me. The offer was kindly
received; but after some delay. Dr. Anderson, the secretary, told me frankly,
in February, 1831, that my own slender health, and that of my intended
wife, presented an insuperable bar to its acceptance.* The matter had
been by me fully laid before Dr. Woods, who was a member of the
Prudential Committee, and supposed to be acquainted with the missionary
work in all its bearings. I had told him about Miss Haskell's health, and
every thing else I could think of^ bearing on the case ; I had talked the
matter over and over, with him, several times ; and he had uniformly and
strongly approved of my going as a missionary. The matter had also been

* My tender of myself to the Foreign Missionary Society was decliaed in tlie following
letter :

^"■Missionanj Rooms, Boston, Feb. 17, 1S31.
" M\' Dear Sir : I stated your case to the Prudential Committee as you described it to
me, particularly in relation to your intended partner's health; and it appeared to them so
very doubtful whether duty required you to go on a mission, that they were not prepared
to vote you an appointment at present. This is the reason why none is sent you. They
have long made it a rule not to give an appointment, unless the case is a clear one. You
will not consider this, however, as a refusal of your services. The committee mean to say
nothing more than this: — that, as circumstances now appear, they do not feel warranted
to decide in favor of your becoming a missionary to the heathen. May the Lord enlighten
your path, and render you eminently uscf d wherever may be your field of lalior.

" I am, ray dear Sir, very truly yours,

"R. Andeeson."
" Mr. John A. Vinton, Theol. Sem., Andover."


laid before my class in the seminary, and tlieir opinion requested ; and
thirty-uine out of forty, by express vote, said it was my duty to go. The
students in the other classes took the same view. Mr. Evarts, also, the
former secretary, who knew me well, both being members of the same
church in Boston, told me in an interview at Andover, in August, 1830,
that it was probable the Prudential Committee would wish to send me out
as a missionary, and he bade me get my testimonials ready. Bridgman,
afterwards missionary to China ; Schauffler, now and for many years
missionary at Constantinople ; Emerson, missionary to the Hawaiian
Islands ; Munson and Lyman, the martyr-missionaries of Sumatra — all

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Online LibraryJohn Adams VintonThe Symmes memorial : a biographical sketch of Rev. Zechariah Symmes, minister of Charlestown, 1634-1671, with a genealogy and brief memoirs of some of his descendants. And an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 23)