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Memorial of the Reverend George Putnam, D. D., late pastor of the First religious society in Roxbury online

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The Riverside Press, Cambridge:
Printed by H. O. Houghton and Company.


Ordained July 7, iSjo.
Died April II, 1S7S.



George Putnam, son of Andrew and Jerusha
Clap Putnam, was born in Sterling, Mass., August
1 6, 1807. His early training was in the academies
of Leicester and Groton.

He entered Harvard College in 1822. What he
was there can be best told by extracts from letters I
have received from two of his most distinguished

Rev. Andrew P. Peabody, D, D., says, " He was
plain, simjDle, and unpretending, — one of the young-
est in the class, and, though thoroughly manly, in no
other respect old for his years, — the soul of truth
and honor, respected and liked by all his classmates,
dearly loved by many. It is but little to say that in
speech and life he was all that a young man should
have been. I think that no one even then would have
ventured on a coarse or profane utterance in conver-
sation with him.


" He held a high rank in his class, and undoubtedly
might have had the first place if he had striven for
it. But I doubt whether he cared for college rank.
He did care to do thorough work, and less than that
he could not do. But I do not think that after pos-
sessing himself of the contents of a lesson, he ever
took any pains to jDrepare for recitation ; and those
were times, as you know, when recitations specially
got up had a high market value. His college work
was easily done with his clear mind and retentive
memory. He took good care of his health. He gen-
erally, I think always, went to bed at nine o'clock,
and though the early morning lesson was generally
learned first, if by any chance he had not done it
justice, the lesson was sacrificed to sleep."

Rev. George W. Hosmer, D. D., says, " Though
very quiet, he was always manly, thoughtful, and ready
with his opinion. It very early was manifest that
there was a good deal in him. He made no attempt
to show off, but he never failed, and so, gradually ris-
ing into notice, he was counted among our able men ;
and when at one of our Senior exhibitions he had a
dissertation, I think of Edmund Burke, we all were
delighted with his power of writing and speaking.
In college, as in after life, he used his powers easily,
and seemed always to have large reserved forces."

These are testimonials of his college life, and they


are in accordance with many others I have received.
Among his classmates who became eminent men
were Nehemiah Adams, D. D., Samuel F. Haven,
Richard Hildreth, Edward Jarvis, M, D., Cazneau
Palfrey, D. D., Willard Parker, M. D, Robert Ran-
toul, Oliver Stearns, D. D., J. T. Stevenson, Timothy
Walker, LL. D., Samuel H. Walley, and Stephen
M. Weld.

After graduating he spent one year as a teacher in
Duxbury, and then entered the Divinity School at
Cambridge. What his success was there may be in-
ferred from the fact that before completing his re-
quired course of instruction, he received an invitation
to preach as a candidate for one of the oldest soci-
eties in New England, and that after officiating but
three Sundays he was called, by a very general vote,
to become the associate pastor there of the Rev. Dr.
Eliphalet Porter.

His letter of acceptance is dated May 21, 1830.
He was ordained July 7, 1830. Rev. Orville Dewey,
D. D., preached the ordination sermon.

The parish at this time, and for some years after,
was essentially an agricultural one, a majority of the
members being substantial farmers. To this class
the new minister's style of preaching, so plain, direct,
and impressive, so full of illustrations of God's benef-
icence in nature, was just what they needed. It made


them appreciate their calling in its religious as well as
secular aspect, and it made them respect each other.

No one had a higher estimate of country life
than he, and no enjoyment could be greater than his
during the summer vacations he spent on the home-
stead at Sterling.

In the early days of his ministry there was one
member of the parish whose influence was so valuable
that I must speak of him here. This was the late
John Lowell, — a name widely known and honored,
— a gentleman of the highest culture and of as varied
learning as any one of his time. Though never de-
siring or accepting political office, there was no one
in the community whose opinions on national affairs
were regarded with more respect. In social inter-
course and the relations of private life, the worth and
beauty of his character were fully displayed.

He heartily welcomed the young pastor to his new
field of duty, and gave him the benefit of his friend-
ship and frequent intercourse. Those who remember
the rare conversational powers of Mr. Lowell can best
appreciate such an advantage for a young man just
entering on professional life.

In 1 83 1 George Putnam married Elizabeth Anne,
daughter of Rev. Dr. Henry Ware, Hollis Professor
of Harvard College.

No one who knew this lady can forget the benefi-


cence and beauty of her character. Where she was,
there was sunshine ever. She had a ready sympathy
for all in trouble, and an open hand for their relief.
She died March 24, 1866, leaving five children, all of
whom are now living.

Gradually in the course of ten years the agricultural
element in our society disapjaeared. The increased
value of land, and the estimates of the assessors, drove
our farmers to more profitable fields.

The pews they, left were soon filled by the com-
mercial class, many of them from the highest mercan-
tile houses in Boston. Some of these, who had not
been accustomed to look for business talent and expe-
rience in clerical men, were surprised to find that Dr.
Putnam could give them wise counsel in mercantile
emergencies, when even the oldest among them were
in doubt. No one had a higher estimate of mercan-
tile honor than he. No one despised more heartily
any deviation from it.

Some of his sermons on this theme were of such
singular merit that he was requested to publish them,
but this, like many other such requests, he declined.
He had a singular disinclination to publish anything
he wrote. His common answer was that after he
had preached a sermon at home, and thi'ee or four
times elsewhere by exchanges, it reached more than
would be likely to read a pamphlet.


There was another class in our society, and not a
small one, the professional men, whom he delighted
by the beauty of his language and the brilliancy of
his thoughts. One trait he had always shown — an
intuitive sagacity to seize the master key to a subject,
and so easily open all its parts. I have never known
a man who came so c|uickly to conclusions, and was so
generally in the right. He saw at a glance, and his
position was at once taken.

In 1845 he was offered the chair of the Hollis
Professorship at Cambridge, and the friends of the
college urged him persistently to accept it. The pos-
sibility of his leaving his society of course produced
intense excitement there. The letters he received
from petitioners and remonstrants would make an
interesting volume. The real question with him was,
"What is my duty in settling this trying question ? "
Happily for his society, and for him too, we think,
he decided to remain with us. The interests of the
college were always dear to him, and at a later period
of his life he had abundant opportunity of showing
his appreciation of them. He was for many years a
most efficient member of the corporation. His serv-
ices in that position were greater than the joublic
knows. To him the college owes it that after the
Boston fire the appeal was made which brought
nearly three hundred thousand dollars to make up


the losses the institution had suffered. I know,
from high authority, that the corporation, all but
he, thought it was in vain to make the appeal, and
everything must be retrenched. He alone resisted
and brought the board to his plan of ajDpeal for
help. Many other instances could be cited in which
he showed himself an earnest and efficient friend
of the college.

Dr. Putnam was interested largely in public affairs,
outside of his professional duties. He was a member
of the constitutional convention, in 1853; one of the
presidential electors in 1864, and with Edward Ev-
erett, Ex-Governor Lincoln, and John G. Whittier,
voted for Abraham Lincoln. In 1869 he was elected
a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and served
two years with great efficiency. The ability he
showed in the discussion of financial questions and
kindred subjects clearly indicated the practical charac-
ter of his mind.

In educational affairs he manifested a deep interest.
He was chairman of the school committee of Rox-
bury, and for many years president of the board of
trustees of our Latin School. He was also presi-
dent of the trustees of the Fellowes Athenaeum,
chairman of the trustees of the Boston Young
Men's Christian Union, and one of the trustees of
the Boston Public Library.


During his whole ministry the character of his
preaching was eminently practical, and some of his
most effective sermons were those addressed to young
business men. Every-day topics, those that touched
nearest the lives of his peoj^le, he chose most fre-
quently. For controversial sermons he had no taste,
or belief in their usefulness, and in this he resembled
his venerable predecessor, the Rev. Dr. Porter. To
the good sense and Christian spirit of both may be
attributed the harmony which has always subsisted
among our Roxbury ministers of all denominations.

In the spring of 1871, a long vacation having been
granted for health and recreation, he spent six months
in Europe. The acquaintances he formed there, and
the interesting places he visited, were ever after among
his most pleasant memories.

I come now to that period of his life which proved
so afflictive to him, and, in its consequences, so full
of sorrow to his frignds. On the 23d of December,
1872, he attended a meeting of the Corporation of
Harvard College. The weather was intensely cold.
On his return home he was stricken by paralysis.

Every mode of relief which the best medical advice
could suggest was immediately obtained. His physi-
cian, though not discouraging the hope of ultimate
recovery, gave the family reason to expect that for
many months he must Ijc an invalid and endure the


discomforts of confinement to his room. The result
was in accordance with medical opinion.

The society took immediate measures to relieve
him from all anxiety in regard to pastoral duties, and
expressed in many ways their symj^athy for him in his
invalid state.

On the 6th of October, 1873, a letter was received
from him, so characteristic and of such interest to his
people, that I must quote largely from it here.

" It is now just three cjuarters of a year since I have
been able to discharge any of my pastoral duties, and
it is uncertain how soon I may be permitted to re-
sume them, wholly or in part; and of course it is not
certain that the time will ever arrive.

" In order to insure that tranquillity of mind which
in such a case as mine is the first requisite for the
recovery of health, it is necessary that I should feel
myself free, both in fact and in appearance, from all
responsibility for professional services, the least of
which, in or out of the pulpit, I am forbidden at pres-
ent to undertake.

" In the mean time the parish requires for its pros-
perity the entire energies of a stronger if not a
younger man ; and I have no right and no wish to
stand in the way of their procuring and maintaining
the best talent and services their position and re-
sources can command.


" I therefore find it my duty, as obvious as it is
painful and afflictive to me, to resign my pastoral
office, and I do hereby resign it accordingly.

" I must not in a brief official communication, in-
dulge myself in any expression of the recollections
and emotions that crowd upon me in overwhelming
numbers and force, as I perform this (to me) veiy
solemn act by which, so far as depends on me, I dis-
solve a tie that has continued through these forty-
three years, with so much happiness to myself and in
such unbroken harmony on all sides ; an act which,
when it shall have taken effect, brings to a close a
work which has engrossed all the years and all the
ambitions of my youth and my age, and embodied all
the little usefulness that my life has to show for itself;
the work in which I have found the richest satisfac-
tions the world has afforded me, and to which I have
given all the faculties I possessed, with many and
grievous shortcomings, I know but too well, yet cer-
tainly with no divided interest or affection.

" I shall hope under any circumstances to spend the
remainder of my days here, amid the associations en-
deared to me by use and wont and the manifold ex-
periences of life. I hope to live and die among the
kind and faithful friends who I know will not quite
forget me among the stronger claims of any new pas-
toral relationship ; friends who to a large extent are


the children and grandchildren of those parishioners
who so long ago brought me here, and warmly wel-
comed me and mine to the new home that has now
become hallowed to heart and memory by the cheery
labors and the chastening trials, the sunshine and
clouds, of near half a century."

When the reading of this letter was finished, the
Hon. John J. Clarke, after appropriate remarks, pre-
sented a series of resolutions expressive of the strong
attachment of the society, their high appreciation of
his past services, and their unwillingness to accept his

The meeting was also eloquently addressed by the
Hon. William Gray, who advocated the adoption of
the resolutions.

A committee^ was then appointed to confer with
Dr. Putnam on his letter and the doings of this meet-

In the report of that committee it was stated that
they presented the resolutions, assuring him that they
expressed the sentiments of every member of the so-
ciety ; that we all looked hopefully for his restoration
to health and for the satisfaction of again hearing him
in our jDulpit ; but whether this hope was to be real-

^ Consisting of C. K. Dillaway, William Gray, Samuel C. Cobb, John
J. Dixwell, George Lewis, Charles Hickling, William Crosby, and John
L. D'Wolf.


ized or not, we were not ready and should not be
ready to accept his resignation of an office so long
and so honorably filled. His society wished his con-
nection with them, which time had strengthened and
endeared, to continue unbroken till the end of his life,
such having been the expectation of both parties at
the time of his settlement.

Dr. Putnam assured the committee that he fully
appreciated the unfailing kindness of the members of
the society ever since the day of his settlement here.
The fact that the resolutions had been adopted unani-
mously he considered sufficient to induce him to as-
sent willingly to the request of the society.

This report was accepted, and in view of the im-
paired health of Dr. Putnam, measures were immedi-
ately taken for the election of an associate pastor.
The society soon united in giving a call to the Rev.
John Graham Brooks, which call was accepted.

His ordination took place on Sunday, October lo,
1875. In the order of exercises were: Reading of the
Scriptures and ordaining prayer, by Rev. C. C. Ever-
ett, D. D. ; ordaining address, by Rev. George Put-
nam, D. D. ; sermon, by the pastor elect; and con-
cluding prayer by Rev. Wm. Newell, D. D.

During the succeeding year the senior pastor ap-
peared often in the pulpit, but rarely took part in the
services beyond the reading of a hymn. If he ven-


tured upon a sermon his people listened with in-
creased interest to the words which fell from his lips,
for they were conscious how soon that voice, which
had so charmed them by its utterances in the past,
might cease forever.

The last time he was heard in his pulpit he
spoke with his usual impressiveness, but it was
painfully evident from the feebleness of his voice
that no progress had been made in the recovery
of his health. The disease had taken too strong-
hold upon him for any human agency to remove.
By the advice of his friends he did not preach
again, though occasionally taking some part in the
Sunday services.

The closing days of Dr. Putnam were a happy
sequel to his beneficent life. Visions of the higher
world were flitting before him and they were wel-
comed. His work was done and he had a Christ-
ian's readiness to account for the trusts committed
to him.

As one of his classmates stood near not long before
his death, he said, " Hosmer, this is as happy a year
as any in my life:" — after such years, — and he in
his invalid chair, — the world sinking away before
him. No doubt he enjoyed the retrospect, though
he said not much about it, and he enjoyed the pros-


pect too. He expected — he saw something and
trusted for more than he saw, —

" Knowing that his earth-receding grasp
Was on the anchor of eternal life."


A MEETING of the " First Religious Society in Rox-
bury " was held in the Putnam Chapel, at three o'clock
p. M., on Saturday the thirteenth day of April, a. d.
1878, to take appropriate action in regard to the death
of the Senior Pastor, Rev. George Putnam, D. D.

The meeting was called to order by Joseph W.
Tucker, clerk of the society, who read the call for
the meeting and addressed the Proprietors as fol-
lows: —

My Friends, — The notice which I have just read
is a sad one to act upon. But it is fitting and proper
that we, the Members of the " First Religious So-
ciety in Roxbury," should assemble on this occasion
and consult together, and make the necessary prepar-
ations for the funeral service and render the last
tribute of respect and esteem to the remains of our
honored friend and religious teacher, the Senior Pas-
tor of this society, who passed away quietly at his own
home, surrounded by his family, on Thursday even-
ing, the eleventh instant, at 8:40 o'clock, on the anni-
versary of that day when he preached his first sermon
in the church he afterward loved so well.


And now, friends, with your approval I will ask the
Hon. Samuel C. Cobb to take the chair and preside
over the deliberations of this meeting.

The selection of Mr. Cobb as chairman was ap-
proved by the meeting, and on taking the chair he
spoke as follows: —


Dear Friends, — We meet under the shadow of a
great affliction.

He who has ministered unto this people so" accepta-
bly, — the faithful pastor, the great preacher, the wise
counsellor, the good citizen, and the steadfast friend,
— has been called from the scene of his earthly labors,
and a united and devoted people mourn his depart-

We do well, dear friends, to come together at this
time to mingle our sympathies and our tears under
the pressure of this grief, and at the same time to
meditate together on the solemn and mournful event,
and to pay our tribute of respect to the memory of this
good man, — who has gone in and out before this peo-
ple for nearly half a century, who has occupied so
large a space in all our hearts, and who has so often
led us to contemplate the beauties of revealed religion,
and the glorious promises of an assured immortality.

I will not invade the sacred precincts of a long


personal acquaintance and intimacy, to speak of our
departed friend as he was in the private walks of life.
_I dare not now trust myself to do so. Neither is this
the time nor the place for eulogy.

He has left the impress of his mind not only upon
the religious convictions of the times, but upon the
methods and purposes of secular education. His
labors in behalf of our great university, as a member
of our school boards, and as a director of our public
libraries, will long be recognized and honored by all
promoters of sound learning.

No one had a better opportunity than myself to
know and to appreciate his exalted character and his
great endowments. He combined, in a remarkable
degree, the attributes of a full and well-balanced
Christian character ; the strength that came of a mas-
sive and cultured intellect, coupled with the tender-
ness and serenity that reflect the sure abiding faith

How we who have known him so long, as friend
and pastor, will miss his genial presence, and his im-
pressive words ! And what a loss has our denomina-
tion sustained in his departure !

Let us sanctify in our hearts all that was wise and
good in his counsels, all that was elevating and en-
nobling in his example, and remember always with
thankfulness that we have been blessed in no ordinary
degree by his long and faithful ministrations.


It now remains for you to take such action in rec-
ognition of this melancholy dispensation as you shall
deem to be appropriate.


A truly good man is removed. His work all done
and well done. He taught us in his sickness as in
health. He was uncomplaining, resigned, and for him
death had no terrors. The moistened eyes, sad coun-
tenances, and earnest inquiries testify of the high es-
teem in which he was held.

We trust confidently that he will sit in heavenly
places, at God's right hand, in comjDany with Him
who was made perfect through suffering, and died
that we might live.

He needs no eulogy ; all know his worth ; his rep-
utation is spread world-wide. But it is proper that we
leave a record, for future generations, of our estimate
of him as a Christian teacher and a Christian man. I
therefore submit the following resolutions : —

Resolved, That, in the death of Rev. Dr. George
Putnam, this society has lost, in its Senior Pastor, one
who, for nearly half a century of unbroken harmony,
has been most warmly beloved and preeminently dis-
tinguished as a religious teacher and a wise counsel-
lor; and has uniformly, from his settlement with us,
commanded the respect, affection, and admiration of


all who came under his influence ; and by his parish-
ionei's will never cease to be affectionately remem-

Resolved, That Dr. Putnam enforced, with uncom-
mon power, the moral precepts of the Christian relig-
ion, and the supreme importance for all to govern
their conduct by those principles in the performance
of the daily and hourly practical duties of life ; and
that his devotional exercises were remarkable for their
reverence, and peculiar adaptation to the occasion ;
and that no one could listen to his preaching and to
his prayers without being strongly and seriously im-
pressed by their fervent spirit.

Resolved, That we tender our warmest sympathies
to his bereaved family for their and our irreparable
loss, but feel that he has been removed from this
world of care, trial, and suffering, to another state of
existence where he will be greeted with the blessed
announcement of " well done, good and faithful ser-
vant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

Resolved, That a committee of six be appointed to
adopt such measures as may be deemed by them
proper and suitable for the funeral services.

Following the reading of the resolutions, remarks
were made by several members of the Society as fol-
lows : —



I rise to move the adoption of the appropriate res-
olutions offered by Mr. Clarke. I have been an at-
tendant on Dr. Putnam's services for over twenty-
eight years, and am very thankful to say that I fully
estimate the loss of our beloved Pastor and friend,
who has so faithfully served us for so many years.
His memory had been present with me both by day
dreams and night dreams, since his decease, and I
shall continue to dearly cherish his memory as long
as life shall last.


I heartily assent to the resolutions that have been

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Online LibraryMass. First church RoxburyMemorial of the Reverend George Putnam, D. D., late pastor of the First religious society in Roxbury → online text (page 1 of 3)