Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 12 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 12 of 51)
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public trust and importance, since the commence-
ment of the government of the nation, almost to the
day of his death. He not only served faithfully this
hi.^i native commonwealth and the nation at large in
the general government, but his name stands among
the fathers and founders of another commonwealth,
one of the largest in the union. At the time of his
death he was among the last surviving members of the
convention, which framed the present Constitution
of the great State of Pennsylvania, and his zealous
exertions procured the insertion into that instrument
of the all-important article, the object of which was
to secure to the whole people of that commonwealth
the blessings of education, by a legal and certain pro-
vision for the gratuitous instruction of the poor. But
I must not allow myself to enter into an enumeration
of his great and various public services. That has
been done by others elsewhere,* and the cause of
truth and justice and virtue imperiously requires
that a full and thorough delineation of his upright
and illustrious life and character should be transmit-
ted down among the historical treasures of future
generations. His venerable image will be preserved
in the hearts of his countrymen. His worthy exam-
ple will shed a guiding and cheering light upon the
years that are to come, and a high place will be as-
signed him among the descendants of the Puritans
and Pilgrims, and among those noble and fearless

* See Appendix.


men, who by their great actions and services ren-
dered their own age, the heroic age of their country.
Our venerable and honored friend possessed, and
through life exhibited virtues, which it well becomes
us to commemorate in this place, and aspire to in
all places. I can only glance at some of the most
striking traits of his character. He was distinguish-
ed for the native simplicity of his heart and man-
ners. This characteristic is especially worthy of
notice when we consider the high rank which he
held among the distinguished men of the nation,
the dignified places he had occupied, and the wide
space which his reputation has filled in the history
and opinions of his country. Although he must have
been conscious of all this, still we never perceived
the least effect arising from it, to diminish the sim-
plicity, and ingenuousness of his deportment. He
literally knew no guile. The feelings of pride, jeal-
ousy and suspicion seem never to have entered his
heart. He would listen with respect and confidence
to all, however humble or however young, who
might be thrown into his company. In his manners
and in his feelings he carried the great. Christian
doctrine, that we are all of one blood, brethren of
the same family, children of the same parent, heirs
of an equal inheritance, into the most perfect de-
velopment. He looked not on the most humble as
his inferiors, and never abased himself by flattering
the most exalted. In this sense, which is its only
legitimate and should be the only allowable sense,
he was the most thorough republican, with whom I
have ever been acquainted.


The next striking attribute of his character was
its firmness. For this he is known and distinguish-
ed throughout the whole nation. When his mind
was once made up with respect to the course mark-
ed out by his views of duty and principle, there was
indeed no power which man could wield, no induce-
ment which this earth can offer, that would be suf-
ficient to appal or to allure him from pursuing it.
There was a noble grandeur, a sublime magnanim-
ity in his character in this respect, which all have
acknowledged and applauded. And those who
may have thought proper to pursue a different course,
so plain was it that he was governed, not by pride
or pertinacity of opinion, but solely by his consci-
entious sense of duty, even they have ever regarded
his firmness with lively admiration and with sincere
respect. This attribute of his character naturally
led him to the formation of the most fixed and de-
cided opinions of men and things, which to a super-
ficial observer sometimes assumed the appearance
of prejudice. I allude to this because it affords me
an opportunity to mention, what has always seemed
to me the most extraordinary point in his admirable
character. He was not a prejudiced man — he was
remarkably free from prejudice. The nature and
the evil of prejudice is that it discolors the whole
moral vision. The man who is subject to it, when
he has conceived a dislike to a particular person, on
account of something wrong in his actions or charac-
ter, is rendered unable to see or to appreciate what-
ever there may be in him that is good and praise-
worthy. It was not so with our venerable friend ;
and my estimation of his pure and upright mind never


rises so high, as when I remember instances in
which he has been the voluntary, the earnest de-
fender of individuals, towards whom he has enter-
tained a strong feeling of disapprobation for real or
supposed faults, when they have been undeservedly
assailed, or their actual excellencies have been de-
nied. He w r as disposed to do justice to all men.
He could not bear to sit in silence when manifest
injustice was done even to his enemies.

While his mind was thus elevated by its supreme
love of justice, above the reach of prejudice, it is
true that he entertained the most fixed and decided
opinions, as has just been observed, of men and
things. And it was perfectly natural that he should.
As he was governed, in the formation of those
opinions by the most conscientious principles, it was
impossible for any doubt or hesitancy to arise from
ivithin respecting their correctness or justice. And
every one who has witnessed his great intellectual
vigor, as it appeared in his unrivalled conversation,
and in the unsurpassed clearness, purity and sim-
plicity of his nervous and powerful writings, must
immediately have perceived that his apprehension
of character, of duty and of truth, could not have
been otherwise than strong and decided. All good
and great men have entertained, every good and
great man must necessarily entertain, fixed and
determined views and opinions.

He was a most active man. I mean by this that
he was willing and anxious, upon principle, to fill up
as high as he could the measure of his duty — to be
as useful as his faculties and his circumstances
would enable him to be. He felt that he was re-


sponsible to their giver for the use of his powers,
and he acted upon a prevailing sense of the duty of
doing all that he could do for the improvement and
welfare of his fellow creatures, while he remained
among them. He seemed to regard this as the con-
dition upon which his life was given and continued
to him. The great variety and number of his public
services and social employments illustrate his love
of activity and his disposition to be useful. It must
be fresh in the memory of us all, with what zeal and
energy he devoted himself, not many months since,
when the call of misery reached us from a distant
and famishing land, to the compassionate purpose of
providing the means of answering that call. This
was the last great service which he rendered to his
fellow men, and it was a fit termination of a life of
continued active beneficence.*

He was remarkable for his pure, deep, unfailing
love of truth. On every subject he sought to attain
to it, in every direction he pursued it. It was utter-
ed in all that he spoke — it shone in his whole life —
it prompted to every act — it was written in his
countenance — it was never violated at his hands.

All, whose privilege it was to enjoy an intimate

* The name of Timothy Pickering well deserves to be enrolled among
the benefactors of the suffering people of Greece. He presided at a meet-
ing of citi2ens, convened in Salem, at his request, for the purpose of deliber-
ating on their claims to compassionate regard, and on the best mode of con-
tributing to their assistance — was Chairman of the Committee of Relief then
chosen — and wrote the admirable Address which was circulated by that Com-
mittee throughout the County of Essex. All who co-operated with him in
that humane movement, take pleasure in declaring that he imparted to it its
life and energy, and that the sufferers who were relieved by the generous
contributions of money, food and clothing then made, owe to him pre-emi-
nently their gratitude. He was at this time 83 years of age.


acquaintance with him, will ever cherish the recol-
lection of the gentleness of affection and tenderness
of sensibility which existed in a rare and heautiful
combination with the sterner features of his inflexible
character. To the world at large the aspect in
which he was chiefly contemplated may have been
that which presented to view his energy and firmness,
but they who were permitted to be with him, in those
scenes and relations, in which the heart gives way to
the impulses of its nature, can never forget exhibi-
tions of a tenderness of soul which the rough colli-
sions of life could not harden, of a sensibility which
time did not impair.

But I must hasten to present to you the character
of our honored friend in another and a still brighter

He was a religious man. He was a devout be-
liever in the Christian revelation. This was the
fountain from which his virtues drew their strength,
their beauty, and their grace. He was not only a
devout, but he was a studious christian. It is but
seldom that you will meet with a man, even of that
profession of which the Bible is the text book, so
thoroughly and minutely acquainted with the scrip-
tures of both covenants. His knowledge of the
sacred writings appeared in the most natural and
beautiful illustrations drawn, in the course of free
and familiar conversation, from every part of the
volume that contains them. And it was impossible
to be at all in his company, without discerning how
thoroughly and how frequently he must have medi-
tated and reflected upon the doctrines and prospects


of religion.* All who have worshipped in this
assembly must have noticed with what constancy
he waited upon the services of the sanctuary —
neither distance, nor inclemency of the weather could
detain him from the worship of the Sabbath. In
this respect how well did he represent his pilgrim
ancestors ! what a good example has he left behind
him !

His religious ojiinions were in harmony with
those which are here presented and entertained.
He was led to them by the deliberate exercise of
his mature understanding, and he recommended and
adorned them by a long course of virtue and piety.
They were at all times a source of consolation to
him, they shed light upon his path in life, and gave
him an unfailing support and refuge, in a hope that
was fixed in heaven. They imparted to him calm-
ness, faith, and peace of mind, upon the bed of death.
It was my sorrowful privilege to be with him, for a few
moments, not long before his departure, and to join
with him in a service of devotion. " I had hoped,"
said he, "to live a little longer," (for a purpose which
he proceeded to mention to me), " I had hoped to live
longer; but," he continued, directing his venerable
countenance upward, " I bow to the will of God, I
am ready and willing to die."

* As an instance of his familiarity with the topics of religion, and his skill
in the scriptures, the writer would mention, that in consequence of a conver-
sation which he happened to hold with his venerable friend, not many weeks
before his death, on the question " Hoic are the dead raised up? and with
what body do they come?" he received from him, the next morning, in the
form of a commentary on the passages in John xx. 19, 20. 24. 26 and
87, which had been adduced during the discussion of the previous evening,
a criticism that would have done honor to a professional biblical scholar.



Thus lived, and thus died, our beloved and vene-
rated friend and fellow-worshipper. While the
history of his country records his actions, and the
hearts of his countrymen cherish his memory — let
us, my friends, all strive to imitate his example, to
cultivate his virtues, to strengthen ourselves by his
principles — then may we hope like him to leave a
character behind which will be esteemed by all who
contemplate it, and will grow brighter with truth
and time, and to follow him to those rewards which
await integrity, purity, benevolent usefulness, and
piety, in a better world ; for our text assures us,
that all, who, like him, walk uprightly, work right-
eousness, and speak the truth in their hearts, shall
abide in God's tabernacle and dwell in his holy



[The following notice was published in the Salem Gazette of January 30th;
a few particulars have been added.]

With emotions of the deepest sorrow we have this day the painful
duty to announce the decease of the Great and Good Man, the pure
Patriot and illustrious Statesman, the

He departed this life yesterday morning, after a sickness of a few days,
in the 84th year of his age, and has thus closed a long and brilliant
course of patriotism, integrity, truth, disinterestedness, and public service.

Though he has died as full of years as of honors, the departure of a
character so much celebrated, respected and esteemed by the public, and
so much beloved and admired in the circle of private friendship and do-
mestic life, will create no ordinary sensation of unfeigned grief. He
has left no one of his associate patriots surviving, except the illustrious
and venerable John Jay, whose life is so much identified^with the whole
of our national history. From the peace of 1763 till a very recent period,
he was a zealous, strenuous, intrepid, and influential actor in all the scenes
and vicissitudes through which our country has passed ; he participated
in the discussions and troubles arising from the Stamp Act, was one of
the most ardent and zealous Whigs, and when the Colonies were men-
aced with hostilites from the mother country, he was the foremost and
indefatigable in arousing his countrymen to resistance, and devo-
ted his time and exerted his influence to array and discipline our milita-
ry forces for the defence of our liberties. When the struggle came he
shrank not from the encounter ; at the darkest and most gloomy crisis
of the Revolution, he led a Regiment of Volunteers, consisting of the
flower of the young men of this town, to reinforce the feeble band of
Washington in the Jerseys, in mid winter, when the army was without
pay, without a commissariat, without tents, or a hospital. The discern-
ing and sagacious eye of Washington selected him for an honorable
and arduous station in the General staff of the Army ; he shared in all
the scenes of hardship, peril, and Buffering endured by our patriot for-
ces till the Peace of 1783. His constancy, fortitude, toils, services, en-


title him to the affection, aud endear him to the memory of all who glo-
ry in our Independence, and exultin the enjoyment of our free institutions
and Republican liberty.

Col. Pickering was born in this town, on the 17th July, 1745, and was
descended from a respectable family, who were among the earliest emi-
grants. He received a liberal education and was graduated at Harvard
University in 1763, at the moment when the Peace between Great Brit-
ain and France had liberated the Colonies from a harassing war, and
left them at leisure to investigate and ascertain their Rights in relation
to the mother country. The controversy, that soon arose, engrossed his
feelings, and enlisted all the powerful faculties of his mind on the side of
his country. He soon became the champion and leader of the Whigs in
this vicinity.

The disputes between Great Britain and her American colonies (which
now form the United States) commencing with the Stamp Act in 1705, and
revived in 1767, by the act of parliament for raising a revenue in the col-
onies, gave rise to two parties, which at length were distinguished by
the names of Whig and Tory ; the latter acquiescing in British claims of
taxation ; the former resisting them. In 1767 the Assembly of Massa-
chusetts sent a circular letter to the speakers of the other Assemblies,
for the purpose of promoting the adoption of uniform measures, (by pe-
titions and remonstrances) to obtain a redress of grievances. Most of
those assemblies concurred with that of Massachusetts. In 1768, a let-
ter from Lord Hillsborough required the Assembly of Massachusetts to
rescind the vote of their predecessors for sending that circular letter.
This was peremptorily refused, by a majority of 92 to 17. The represen-
tatives of Salem, Col. Pickering's native town, were among the 17.
At the next election, they were neglected, and Whigs chosen in their
stead. This was the crisis of the political revolution in Salem. Col. P.
was then four-and-twenty years old. His elder and only brother, the
Hon. John Pickering, was chosen one of the representatives : and from that
time he was himself actively engaged in all the Whig measures which
were preliminary to the final revolution and independence of the colonies.
Always a member of the committees of inspection and correspondence,
the burthen of the writing rested upon him. The memory of one of
those Documents, characterized by the most magnanimous and gener-
ous sentiments, is preserved by Dr. Ramsay, in his elegant " History of
the American Revolution."

When, in 1774, the British Parliament, by an act usually called the
Boston Port-Bill, shut up the capital of Massachusetts from the sea,
thereby prostrating its active and extensive commerce, the seat of the
provincial government was removed from Boston to Salem. Sympa-
thizing with the sufferers of Boston, the inhabitants of Salem, in full
town-meeting, voted an address to the new governor, General Gage,


the great object of which was, so far as an expression of their sentiments
would go, to procure relief for their brethren in Boston. That ad-
dress was written by Col. Pickering, and he was deputed as one of a
Committee to present it in person to Gov. Gage. Its conclusion Dr.
Ramsay has justly thought worth transcribing on the page of history.
It here follows with his introductory observation : —

" The inhabitants of Salem, in an address to Gov. Gage, concluded
"with these remarkable words — 'By shutting up the port of Boston,
"some imagine that the course of trade might be turned hither, and to
"our benefit. But nature, in the formation of our harbor, forbid our be-
" coming rivals in commerce with that convenient mart ; and were it
"otherwise, we must be dead to every idea of justice, lost to all feel-
" ings of humanity, could we indulge one thought to seize on wealth,
" and raise our fortunes on the ruins of our suffering neighbors."

While the seat of government remained at Salem, Col. P. received
a note from the secretary of the province, informing him that the gov-
ernor wished to see him at the secretary's house. He went, and was
introduced to Gen. Gage. Taking Col. P. into another room, the gener-
al entered into conversation on the state of things, the solemn league
and covenant, and the non-importation agreements. In the conclusion,
the general said — " Well, there are merchants who, notwithstanding all
your agreements, will import British Goods." Col. P. answered —
"They may import them, but fhe people will use their liberty to buy
them or to let them alone." These incidents are mentioned as evidences
of the confidence he had acquired among his fellow-citizens, from an early
period of our political disputes with Great Britain.

Prior to the war he was elected by the citizens of this County
Register of Deeds. After the commencement of hostilities, when
Massachusetts organized a provisional government, he was appointed a
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and also Sole Judge of the
Maritime Court to take cognizance of Prize causes, pursuant to the
resolutions of Congress, for the middle District, comprehending Bos-
ton, Marblehead, Salem, and other ports in Essex. Into these ports
were brought most of the Prizes taken by the armed vessels of Mas-
sachusetts. The number of Prizes while he held the office, which
was until he joined the Army under Gen. Washington's immediate
command, amounted to about one hundred and fifty.

On the 19th of April, 1775, was the battle of Lexington. About nine
o'clock in the morning, Col. Pickering being in his office, (the registry
of deeds for the county of Essex) a captain of militia from the adjacent
town of Danvers, came in and informed him that a man had ridden into
that town, and reported that the British troops had mached from Bos-
ton to Lexington, and attacked the militia. This officer, whose com-
pany belonged to Col. P's regiment, asked for orders, and received a


verbal answer, that the Danvers company should march without waiting
for those of Salem.

Immediately Col. P. went to the centre of the town, and met a few of
the principal inhabitants. A short consultation ensued. Those who
knew the distance of Lexington from Salem, and its relative situation to
Boston, observed, that the British troops would certainlyliave returned to
Boston long before the Salem militia could reach the scene of the re-
ported action ;"and that to march would therefore be useless. It was nev-
ertheless concluded to assemble the militia, and commence the march >
and for this sole reason, — That it ivould he an evidence to their brethren
in the country, of their disposition to co-operate in every measure which
the common safety required. This idea, however, of the fruitlessness of
their march, was so predominant, that they halted a short time, when a-
bout two miles from the town, expecting every moment intelligence
that the Britisli troops had returned. But receiving none, they resumed
their march, and proceeded to Medford, which was about five miles
from Boston. Here Col. P. first received certain information that the
British troops were still on their march, and on a route which rendered
it possible to meet them. He hastened the march of the militia on the
direct road to Charlestown and Boston ; until, on an elevated part of the
road, the smoke was seen from the fire of a small number of militia mus-
kets discharged at a distance, at the British troops. He halted the
companies, and ordered them to load, in full expectation of coming to an
engagement. At that moment a messenger arrived from Gen. Heath,
who informed Col. P. that the British troops had their artillery in their
rear, and could not be approached by musketry ; and that the general
desired to see him. Leaving the companies in that position, he went
across the fields and met Gen. Heath. They Soon after saw the Bri-
tish troops ascend the high ground called Bunker's hill. It was about
sunset. The next day they entered Boston.

In the fall of 1776, the army under Gen. Washington's command be-
ing greatly reduced in numbers, a large reinforcement of militia was
called for ; 5000 from Massachusetts. Col. P. took the command of the
regiment of 700 men furnished from Essex. When the orders came, he
assembled the militia in the First Church in Salem, harangued them, and
exhorted them to step forward in defence of our liberty in that hour of
peril. After having sent round the drum and fife, as the signal for vol-
unteers, he stepped forward as the first ; his patriotic example was
quickly followed by large numbers. The quota of Salem was composed
of volunteers.

This tour of militia duty was performed in the winter of 1776 — 7;
terminating at Boundbrook, in New-Jersey ; Gen. Washington's head-
quarters being at Morristown.


Soon after his return home, Col. P. received an invitation from Gen.
Washington to take the office of Adjutant- General. This he accepted,
and joined the army under Washington's command at Middlebrook, in
New-Jersey. The following letter was addressed to the President of
Congress by Gen. W. : —

" Morristown, Mat 24, 1777.

" SIR, — I beg leave to inform Congress, that, immediately after the re-
ceipt of their resolve of the 28th of March, recommending the office of Ad-
jutant-General to be filled by the appointment of a person of abilities and
unsuspected attachment to our cause, I wrote to Col. Timothy Pickering,
of Salem, offering him the post in the first instance, and transmitting at
the same time a letter for colonel William Lee, whom Congress had been
pleased to mention, to be delivered him in case my offer could not be ac-

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 12 of 51)