Nathanael Howe.

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The Jipostle Peter.







Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851, by

Elias Nason and John Fitch,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.

andoter: j. d. flagq,


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" Mark thk perfect man, and behold the upright ; for the end of

THAT man is peace." Dcivid.

The subject of this Memoir was a remarkable man. The cast of his mind
was original and severe. The bent of his genius was to be useful to his
fellow-men ; and the leading features in his compact and massive character
stood forth in such distinct relief, as to leave an indelible impress on the
moral aspect of the community in wliich he lived.

He was one among a class of di\ines now rapidly passing away, who have
magnified their office ; who

" Ne'er have changed, nor wished to change their place,"

but whose names are identified with the names of the towns where they
reside ; and this brief notice of his life, though destitute of stiiking inci-
dent, will, it is hoped, prove acceptable, not only to those who knew him,
and who hold his memory dear ; but also to those young clergjTncn who are
rising up to fill the places of " the great and good " of other days.

Mr. Howe was born in Linebrook parish, in Ipswich, Mass., on the 6th
of October, 1764.

He was the third son of Captain Abraham and Lucy (Appleton) Howe,
from whom he received a sound physical constitution, and that early moral
culture which was to give shape and direction to liis whole life.

Although diflideot and bashful in his boyhood, he was noted for liis con-
scientious regard for truth ; and his parents, discovering in him an unusual

aptitude to leam, sent him to Dummer Academy^ at Byfield, then under
the care of Mr. Samuel Moody, to prepare for college.

On leaving this place, he studied for a while with the Rev. Mr. Leslie of
Linebrook ; and then with the Rev. Mr. E. Bradford of Ipswich, with a
view to fit himself to enter college two classes in advance.

It was under the faithful instruction of this latter gentleman, for whom he
always entertained the kindest regard, that his mind was impressed with a
deep sense of his condition as a sinner, and of his obligations to God ; and
was brought, through penitence and faith in Christ, to entertain that " hope
which maketh not ashamed."

He soon after made a public profession of religion, and united with Mr.
Bradford's church, at Ipswich.

In September, 1784, he entered, by the advice and recommendation of
Mr. Bradford, the junior class at Nassau Hall, in Princeton, N. J., of which
the celebrated Dr. Witherspoon from Scotland, was then president.

Having remained at Princeton one year, he asked and obtained, an hon-
orable dismission ; and then entered the senior class of Harvard University,
Avhere he was graduated in 1786. His standing in college as a scholar was
respectable, and his moral character without reproach.

Although his residence at Nassau Hall was brief, he seems to have pro-
fited much by the eloquent and impressive religious instruction of Dr. With-
erspoon, and to have made great advancement in the divine life.

He was always very fond of quoting from Dr. Witherspoon ; and one of
his sayings : " Never begin to speak until you have something to say, and
leave off when you have done," he fairly carried into practice through his
whole life.

On leaving college, ]VIi\ Howe spent some time in teaching school in his
native town ; and then entered on his course of theological study, under the
tuition of Dr. Hart, of Connecticut ; which he, however, completed under
the direction of Dr. Euunons, of FrankUn, Mass. From this distinguished
divine, who continued his intimate friend through life, he received, not only
a clear elucidation of the Calvinistic system of divinity ; but also, in part,
that severe style of thought and expression which sometimes bordered upon
eccentricity. He was not an imitator ; and yet, in his close intimacy with
Dr. Emmons, who was the oracle of theological students of that day, he no
doubt, unconsciously, imbibed of him many of those peculiar mental habits,
for which both were so remarkable.

On becoming a licenciate, he preached at Londonderry and Francistown,
N. H., at Hampton, Conn., and at Grafton, Mass. He received a call to
settle over the church of this latter place, which he judged it prudent to

1 Two large pear-trees, which he planted while a member of Dummer, now overshadow
with their branches the ancient house al Linebrook, where he was born.

In January, 1791, he began to preach at Hopkinton as a candidate ; and
in May following, received a unanimous call from the church to settle as its
pastor. The citizens of the town desired, however, that he should admit
children to baptism whose parents were in the " half-way-covenant : " (for
an account of which, see his " Century Sermon ; ") but finding him opposed to
it, they finally united in the call of the church, and he vras settled as min-
ister for life, October 5, 1791, with a salary of £70; ' together with " the
improvement (i e. use) of the ministerial land." 2 £200 were also allowed
hun as a " settlement."

In answer to the call, Mr. Howe says : " At my first coming to this town,
things appeared gloomy, but as I became acquainted with the people, that
gloom vanished, and the town appeared more agreeable. When I consider
the harmony of the church, the unanimity of the town, their generosity in
respect to my support, added to that spirit of candor which seemed to pre-
vail in our public conference-meeting, I am induced to accept your invi-

The ordination sermon was preached by his venerated instructor, the Rev.
Mr. Bradford of Ipswich. •

About three months after his settlement, Mr. Howe was married to Olive,
the sLsth daughter of Col. John Jones -^ of Hopkinton, by whom he had the
follo\ving children, namely : Appletox, ^ born November 26, 1792, and now
a distinguished physician of Weymouth, Mass. ; Eliza, born June 4, 1794,
and died of consumption, December 27, 1815 ; Mary Jones, born Feb-
ruary 2, 1802, was married to the Rev. Samuel Russell of Boylston, and
died November 26, 1836 ; and Lucy Ann, born August 27, 1805, and was
married to Mr. John Fitch, son of Deacon Elijah Fitch, of whom honorable
mention is made in the " Century Sermon."

1 This salary, though it afterwards depreciated in actual value about one half, was never
changed. It was a narrow-minded policy on the part of the town thus to withhold from its
minister a fair support. It compelled him, in his own quaint and severe language, " to do their
business, and neglect his own ; " for, continues he, " What is your business .' Your business is
to support your minister ; and that is what I have been doing for more than twenty years. And
what is mij business ? My business is to preach, and in this I have never abounded." Had the
town requited him justly for his services, it would have received the full benefit of the powers
of a mind, unusually strong and vigorous, devoted exclusively to its spiritual welfare.

It was fortunate, however, in having a minister who had the wit to write a couple of sermons
of a Saturday afternoon ; and who knew how to draw blood without disturbing the temper of
the patient. It is doing better now.

2 This consisted of 100 acres ; together with the same quantity of" common land," given by
the Trustees of Hopkins's donation in 1711, for the support of the " ministry " in Hopkinton.

3 He was the third son of Col. John Jones, who came from Boston to Hopkinton, and was
admitted " a member in full communion " to the church, December 10, 1727, and died February
7, 1773, aged 82 years.

4 He was graduated at Cambridge, in 1815, and studied medicine with Drs. Warren and Jack-
son of Boston. He has been twice elected State senator ; and also to the office of Major-general
of the first division of the Massachusetts militia. His character, in some respects, resembles
that of his father. Like him, he possesses that manly independence which is sure to make
strong friends, as well as enemies ; and to command the respect of both.


Soon after his marriage, Mr. Howe purchased of Deacon S. Kinsman, the
house and farm,' distant about half a mile from the meeting-house, and near
the " ministerial land," where he was to spend the remainder of his hfe.

He had married into an influential family, his pecuniary circumstances
were easy, his health good, and his church flourisliing. His prospects of use-
fulness were unclouded ; and, buoyant with hope, he dedicated all his ener-
gies to the work before him.

His time was now for several successive years divided between his pasto-
ral duties, the composition and delivery of sermons, and the reading of Bax-
ter, Bunyan, Saurin, South, Hopkins, Witherspoon, and Emmons ; who
continued to be his favorite, and almost liis only authors, to the end of

The times, however, did not long remain so easy. Finding after a while
the expenses of his family rapidly increasing, and his salary, from the depre-
ciation in the value of money, becoming altogether inadequate to its support,
he began to relinquish, in some degree, his literary and theological pursuits, and
to labor with his own hands upon his farm, in order that he might " provide
tilings honest in the sight of all men," for the maintenance of his household.

Adopting, as the times demanded, a rigid, though not a mean, economy
in his domestic affairs, and toiling vigorously with the axe in winter, with
the plough in sjiring, and the scythe in summer, he was enabled to eke out
his scanty salary of £70 in such a manner, as to maintain his family, to give
his children a good education, and to make his charities and almsgiving felt
throughout the town.

" We have a good soil," says he to the people in a discourse deUvered in
1830; "rough indeed, and rocky; but when well cultivated, it produces a
rich crop, and amply pays for the labor ; I speak from exjierience ; / Jiave
tried it."

In liis earnest efforts to induce the town to make up to him the depreciation
in his salary, so quaintly set forth in his " Century Sermon," he seems to have
acted from a profound and innate sense of justice ; and his biting and oft-
repeated reproofs to his people for their delinquency in respect to his sup-
port, appear to have been administered " more in sorrow than in anger."
Mr. Howe loved his people ; and they respected him. The bonds that
united him to them were cemented in honor and integrity ; nor did he ever
dream of breaking them without the full and free consent of both the church
and town.

A man of sterling probity, he thought correctly, and said what he thought ;
and though his people disregarded his remonstrances, they had the good sense
to perceive that he was in the right, and the patience to endure the shai-p
rebukes they so well merited.

1 Now in the possession of Mr. John Fitch.

He did not fail to improve, to the end of his life, all suitable occasions for
reminding the town of its injustice in regard to his suppoi-t.

In his sermon preached at the dedication of the new church, in 1830,
which forms a very good counterpart to his " Century Sermon," he says :
" To the male inhabitants of the parish, it is no part of my intention to-day
to make any complaint for any lack of justice, or equity, or mercy in your
treatment of me in respect to my support ; that must be left to God and your
own consciences and a future day of retribution."

It was a maxim often repeated by Mr. Howe, that " the second vice is
lying ; the first, is running in debt," and the fear of incurring liabilities which
he could not meet, often led him into doubts and anxieties, wliich seemed to
indicate the want of a suitable trust in the divine beneficence. Of his firm
reliance on the goodness of God, however, there can be no doubt ; he looked
upon himself only as the steward and almoner of his bounty ; he labored with
his hands; he pi-actised self-denial; he sought for justice from his fellow-
men ; — not for the sake of hoarding money ; not for the sake of benefiting him-
self alone ; but in order that he might " owe no man anything but love ;" in
order that he might have something to relieve the wants of the distressed.

Owing to the rise in the value of his real estate, to legacies from deceased
relatives, and to his persevering and well-directed industry, he was enabled
to leave property amounting to between four and five thousand dollars.
This was, however, not one tliird of what the legacies themselves, had they
remained on interest, would have been.

It would be domg injustice not to mention that while the parish, as such,
remained indiflferent to the claims of its minister, many of the citizens of the
town extended to him their sympathies and contributed something to make
up the deficiency in his salary.

In 1811, the ladies of the parish presented him an elegant surplice ; and
on the very day after the delivery of his " Century Sermon," which " cut the
consciences of his people to the quick," a subscription-paper was started for
the purpose of raising money to purchase him a suit of clothes. The caption
of this paper, on which I find between forty and fifty names, is alike honor-
able to himself and to his friends.

" December 25, 1815.

" "We, the subscribers, feeling sensible of our obligations to support a min-
ister, and being perfectly acquainted with the many persecutions which the
Rev. Nathanael Howe has suffered ; viewing the distressful and unhappy situ-
ation of his family ; feeling it a duty incumbent on us as citizens of the town
and friends of good order ; being conscious that the regular and exemplary
life which our much-respected minister has ever led, has tended greatly to
the happiness of his people, and knowing that the pecuniary aid rendered
him by the town is quite insufficient for his support ; agree to pay the several
sums affixed to our names, for the purpose of purchasing him a mourning
suit, which in all probability in a few days he must be called to wea r."

The whole amount subscribed was $65, of which Elizabeth Price' and
Mai-y riildretli fjave $5 each ; Joseph Valentine $3, Arba Thayer, Samuel
Goddard, Mr. Ilcrrick, Mr. Valentine, W. Rockwood, E. Fairbanks, J. Bur-
nap, 11. Smith, Samuel Valentine, F. Ilohnes, and Benjamin Adams, $2
each ; and all the others, $1 each.

This " mourning suit " was hardly done, when Mr. Howe was called upon,
as anticipated in the heading of the subscription-list, to put it on and wear it
at the funeral of Eliza, his oldest daughter, who died on the 27th of this,
" the gloomiest December " he had ever seen.

He seemed to have had that same intense affection for tliis chUd which
Ednunid Burke felt for his son ; her death fiUed his mind with the keenest
anguish, and to it may be attributed, in a great degree, that remarkable
" depression of spirit," wliich came upon him at intervals through the remain-
der of his life.

In poUtics, Mr. Howe was a conservative and a consistent advocate of the
leading measures of the whig party. He thought it the duty of every min-
ister of the gospel to make his political principles distinctly known ; and he
therefore sometimes spoke with undue severity against the measures of the
popular party in Hopkinton. The native independence of his character led
him to despise every kind of political artifice ; and notliing could ever
prevent him from proclaiming freely the honest con\'ictions of his mind upon
all those subjects of national, state, and town policy, with which he was in
any way conversant.

He defined his political position in early life, and his opponents always
found htm zealously maintaining it with his front directed towards them to
the last.

Not long after the delivery of his " Century Sermon," and while suffering
under great depression of spirits, he preached a discourse from the text,
" Finally, brethren, pray for us," which gave great offence to his congrega-
tion. Among other severe things, he said that he had reason to believe " that
the day of his funeral would be a day of as great joy to this people as the day
of his ordination." This discourse occasioned several meetings of the church ;
but it was finally concluded that the objectionable remarks were as well-
meant as they were justly merited ; and the whole matter was dropped.
Mr. Howe called the church " a minister's lifeguard ; " and " what should you
think," said he to his people in reference to his own peculiar position, " what
should you think of the situation of a general, whom his own lifeguard should
threaten to shoot for fear of his being destroyed by the enemy." It may be
here observed, that many of his illustrations of this nature are Inimitable and
perfectly to the point.

At one time during his ministry, the singers all took offence and left the

1 Daughter of the Rev. Roger Price, Rector of King's Chapel, Boston.


choir. On the next Sabbath, he related the following dream, which had tlie
desired effect, of restoring them to their places. He dreamed that a spirit
from the other world appeared before liim, and informed him that there was
singing enough in heaven, but none in hell ; and that one of the most essen-
tial distinctions between angels and devils consists in this, that the former
delight in singing, while the latter have no inclination to engage in this
heavenly employment.

The angels (continued the spirit) were all crcateil in holiness ; but in pro-
cess of time a part of them became tired of emploj-ing their faculties in sing-
ing the songs of heaven. When these were urged to use all their talents in
the service of God, they said they had no encouragement to sing, or, in other
"words, no pay ! They would not trust the Lord to reward them, but must
be paid by their fellow-servants. The Almighty, therefore, prepared them
a different place and name.

I awoke, (said Mr. Howe,) and lay musing on the subject for sometime, and
then fell asleep ; my thoughts turned to my former dream ; departed spirits
appeared to me, and their conversation was audible. At length, one of them
stood forth to interpi'Ct the dream, and said it had respect to the people of
Hopkintou. Your last year's singers (observed the interpreter) are all dead.
I saw them go to heaven's gate and knock for admission. Whereupon
Gabriel opened the gate and said, " Who are you ? Can you sing ? "
" No ! " " Then you cannot be admitted here." " We did sing for a time,"
replied they, " but were discouraged." " He that putteth his hand to the
plough," answered Gabnel, " and looketh back, is not fit for the kingdom of
God ; you cannot be admitted here." " We would have sung, if there had
been suitable encouragement." " Those who ivill not sing on earth," returned
the angel, " shall not sing in heaven. You can't be admitted here : Depart,
depart!" Upon this, the gulf opened and swallowed them up.. Then I
awoke, (said Mr. Howe,) and " behold it was a dream ; but the tiling was
certain, and the interpretation thereof, sure."

The only " tune " which Mr. Howe is ever known to have learned to sing
is " Islington ; " but though he had no musical powers in himself, he appre-
ciated them higlily in others ; and sometimes " boarded " the singing-master
gratuitously, in order that he might have music in his family, and improve the
style of it in his church. In his dedication sermon, 1830, he says, " I feel
myself under more obligation to them (the singers) than to any other class of
the parish."

To his efforts and encouragement may be attributed in part that lively
interest in sacred music which has so long prevailed in Hopkinton, and which
continues unabated to the present time.

In the education of the young, he took a special interest. He was in the
habit, so long as the state of his health permitted, of visiting all the pubUc
schools in town once or twice a year, for the purpose of catechizing the



children, of giving them pious counsel, and of encouraging them in the pursuit
of useful knowledge. He was very fond of children ; and had a rare faculty
of interesting them in what he said, and of winning their affection and
respect. He never left a school without uniting with it in prayer •, without
impressing some striking thought upon the minds of all.

" How much pleasure I feel," said he on a certain occasion, " when I see
a good master, or a good mistress and a good school, in good order, with
their bright eyes and ivory teeth, trying to learn. It keeps coming into my
mind. The world is indeed growing better ! "

The most highly-valued present which the writer of this has ever received
is a " Bible," given him by the Rev. Mr. Howe, as " a reward of merit,"
ivhen a boy at school.

Several young men were led, by Mr. Howe's advice and pecuniary assist-
ance, to obtain a liberal education ; and two of them are now distinguished
clergj'men, one in this, and another in an adjoining State.

In common with many ministers of his time, Mr. Howe was in the habit of
using moderately stimulating drink ; which he thought essential to the support
of his constitution under the severe manual labor in which he engaged.

It is related of him, that while on a journey to Boston with a load of ship-
timber on one bitter cold day in winter, he stopped at a tavern and called
for a glass of brandy ; but the tavern-keeper, not recognizing in his cus-
tomer the minister of Hopkinton, and noticing the tremuloiis motion in his
limbs (wliich was habitual with him), refused to accommodate him, on the
ground that he had drunk enough already. Mr. Howe very good-naturedly
desired him to treat every applicant for brandy in the same manner, and
went on his way, philosophising, no doubt, upon the best means of making
the town of Hopkinton support its minister.

When-the temperance reformation begun, however, he was one of the first to
engage in a society for the promotion of the cause ; yet he was slow to believe
that temperance meant " total abstinence from all which intoxicates." In
his dealings with his feUow-men he was open-handed and above-board, and
he desired the same kind of treatment in return. The following letter,
written near the close of his life, illustrates this trait in his character, and
shows how he stood in respect to the temperance cause. It will sufficiently
explain itself.

" To the Managers of the Temperance Society in Hopkinton.
" Gentlemen : The language and spirit of your letter to me, dated Feb. 19,
1836, have merited and received my attention ; the result of which I will com-
municate to you. Seeing you are grieved at my using of gin, at different
times and places, not privately, but publicly, under the direction and advice
of a temperate physician, which is agreeable to your own by-laws, for a
complaint which has attended me for years, and sometimes seriously threat-


ened my life, I am led to conclude it is best for me to resign my office as
president of your society, and require that my name should be erased from
the number of its members ; not from any disregard or disaffection to the
temperance cause, which ought to be sustained by every member of the
community ; but from your disrespect to me as your president, in calhng
and holding a meeting •vrithout my knowledge or consent, to do business
which was more interesting to me than any other member. This, gentle-
men, I receive unkindly. This reason I consider sufficient for requiiing
that my name should be erased from your body, and from this time I shall
consider my connection with the temperance society in Hopkinton dissolved.
Let me say, I have the present week joined the county temperance society
in Charlestown, and hope to avoid whatever will be injurious to its progress.
It is my intention to harbor no unfriendly feelings to your number on
account of anything said or done with respect to this matter. With senti-

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Online LibraryNathanael HoweA century sermon → online text (page 1 of 5)