Sherlock Bristol.

The pioneer preacher : an autobiography online

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By Rev. J. H. Fairchild, D. D., President
of Oberlin College.

There is nothing so interesting to the human heart as
human experience ; and this volume setting forth scenes in
the life of Rev. Sherlock Bristol, presents a wider range of
experience in many lines of thought and action, and a'
greater variety of adventure, than are often found con-
centrated in a single human life. The book contains
much that is amusing and inspiring. The same earnest
purpose pervades the book, that has characterized the life
of the author from childhood to old age, and few I think can
read it without being stimulated to higher endeavor and
a more worthy life. It may be quite possible to question
the wisdom displayed here and there in an emergency, as
in most human lives, but the earnestness of faith and
courage, often mightier than wisdom, are seldom found
wanting. ' v ' ' \f *'* '' { '

It was my'privilege "to become ' acquainted with Mr.
Bristol at the beginning of his college life at Oberlin, and
the life-long friendship- which resulted may explain some-
what the interest wH< which \ the record of his
life; but I cannot imagine thai 'any" one who has a particle
of sympathy with the struggles and efforts of an earnest
soul, can read this book without similar interest.


I. The First Fifteen Years of my Life, - - 9

II. The Sabbath School, and its Influence, - 21

III. Conversion and Early Christian Work, 25

IV. Two Years in Phillips' Academy, - - - 40
V. Life and Experiences in Oberlin College, - - 53

VI. An Eventful Journey, - - - - - 66

VII. Returning to Oberlin, - - 80

VIII. A Year in New Haven Theological Seminary, - 93

IX. Graduation at Oberlin and Labors in Central Ohio, 99

X. Agency for Oberlin College, ... - 120

XL Pastoral Labors in Fitchburg, New York and

Andover, - - 124

XII. Poor Health and a Trip to California, - - 137

XIII. A Year among p Miners in 1850, , -, - - - 166

XIV. From California;. to New Ycrk. - - 190

XV. Pioneer Labors i 'WJscOnsH; " - - - - - 205

XVI. Across the Plains* tcVOregoii,' Before the Railroads,

and During an Indian War, y ( _ - 23S

XVII. Two Years in Iuuho, - 273

XVIII. The Journey Back to Wisconsin, ... 286

XIX. Renewed Labors in Wisconsin, ... - 293

XX. Third Journey to the Pacific Coast, - - - 304

XXI. Twenty-One Years in Southern California, - - 320


This book is not written and sent forth to the
public because of anything remarkable in the
abilities or success of the author. He puts forth
no claim to have walked on a higher plane, or to
have accomplished a more important work than is
quite within the reach of the average man. And,
because he occupies this position, he cherishes the
hope that the successes and failures narrated in the
following pages, will afford encouragement and
warning to those who, like him, are moving for-
ward in the common walks of life. No claim is put
forth to any special literary merit in the book, but
the writer hopes to have made himself clearly under-
stood, and that his style and language express
average English in writing and speech. Nor does
the writer claim absolute and literal correctness in
all the minute narrations he has given of conversa-
tions and speeches, many of which occurred long
ago. The statements of all the principal facts may
be relied upon. They are too deeply graven on
the tablet of memory to be doubted or forgotten.
Minute and unimportant variations from literal
truth, in some cases it is freely admitted, are pos-
sible, and even probable. Let the reader make
allowances for such.



Should references to self which abound in this
book savor of egotism, in the view of the reader
let him consider how difficult it is to write an auto-
biography, whose very nature it is to write about
self and avoid amenability to this charge. If the
question be asked, does this give the whole the
totality of my life, the answer is, Certainly not.
Much is left out which lies solely between the
author and God ; much that is properly private
much in which the public have little or no inter-
est. But the following classes of persons, it is
hoped, will read these pages with interest, and
some degree of profit.

ist. The young people between the ages of
twelve and twenty who, at times, seriously pon-
der the propriety and duty of an early consecra-
tion of themselves to God. They will read, per-
haps with interest, the story of the writer's con-
version, just after he had finished his fifteenth
year. The obstacles which blocked the entrance
upon the narrow way, his struggles to overcome
them, and success through the help of One mighty
to save. He hopes it will stir some of them to like
efforts and like success. Will they regret it when,
like the writer, they stand by their seventy-third
milestone, and look back over the years of the
right hand of the Most High? Will they regret it
when 10,000 years have passed ?

2d. The author's struggles for an education
under difficulties, and the timely helps, which
strangely came to hand, all the way through the


academy and college and theological seminary,
may stimulate hope and courage and effort in those,
who like him, sigh after a liberal education to fit
them for the ministry, or other walks of eminent
usefulness, but lack the means to obtain it. Who
can limit the possibilities which lie before the
devout young man or woman who is brimful of
faith, energy and perseverance? Of the most
eminent men in the church and State it may be
said, " These are they who have come out of great

3d. In all our churches there is a class of earn-
est, devout men and women who long for emanci-
pation from sin, and sigh and cry after holiness of
heart. Such will, perhaps, read with interest the
writer's story of his experience of the weakness of
human resolutions and favorable surroundings, in
the contest with sinful habits and temptations, and
the power of Christ to deliver and to keep the
soul that casts itself on Him wholly for help.

4th. To the theological student and young
minister seeking a field of labor, these pages may
suggest some special attraction in the home mis-
sionary and pioneer fields. After a life spent
upon the border, wer^ the writer to choose his
field again he would go among the poorer
churches and spend his life, or at least begin it,
upon the frontier.

And, finally, he hopes these pages will contain
words fitly spoken to those who, like himself, have
passed their threescore years and ten, and are


soon to fold their tents and pass over the Jordan.
To such he would speak only words of encourage-
ment and cheer. He fully believes in the possi-
bility of a serene, cheerful and even happy old age.
Infirmities indeed there are, but the helps prom-
ised correspond, " For as thy day is, so shall thy
strength be." Nearly all expect to be old some
time, should life be prolonged it will come full
soon, and too soon we cannot begin to prepare
for it. And if we do it will, save in special cases,
be the most joyful period of life. Farewell, kind
reader, let us each act our part bravely in life
lay up abundant stores for old age, and when
the end comes may those who stand round our
graves be reminded of the sweet words of inspi-
ration, " Mark the perfect man, and behold the
upright, for the end of that man is peace."

San Buwa Ve?itura> Cal., Oct. I, 1887.



I was born in Cheshire, New Haven County,
Conn., on the 5th of June, 181 5. My father had just
been drafted into the army which served against
Great Britain in the second war with that power.
My grandfather had served six years in the War of
the Revolution, and was one of the tall and well-
built veterans selected to receive the arms of the
British soldiers who surrendered at Yorktown. He
was a powerfully-built man, brave and generous.
He was an ardent patriot, and when he had
enlisted with Washington's army he staid by it
to the end of the war six long and weary years
and was in at the death of English domination in

I was born on the farm where my father was
born, where his father was born, where his father was
born, and which his father cleared and cultivated
and where, also, he died, five generations of us,
successively living practically under the same roof,
and deriving our sustenance from the same acres.
Our original ancestor referred to was an emigrant
from England. He was one of some forty heads
of families who colonized a section of the Con-
necticut forest, claimed by the New Haven Colony,



some fifteen miles north of New Haven Harbor.
This section was some twelve miles square, and
was at the time an almost unbroken forest, abound-
ing in great oaks, some of which were from 500 to
1,000 years old. Other trees there were, such as
beech, elm, walnut, chestnut, butternut, maple, ash,
bass, alder, pepperidge, boxwood, ironwood, etc.
There were no prairies in all the State. The
dark and dense woods covered every square rod,
from hilltop to valley. Every acre was pre-emp-
ted by them. The only exceptions were the
water courses and an occasional pond created by
beaver-dams, or flood wood piled up by freshets in
the narrow gorge. It requires not a little of bone
and muscle, and of courage, too, for a man with a
family to settle down for life in a forest so wild and
forbidding. But " a man was famous in those
days, according as he lifted up axes against the
mighty oaks." Indian wigwams were here and
there in the valleys and along the streams, and not
infrequent were their calls upon the pale faces,
asking tribute of them for the privilege of dwell-
ing in their vicinity. This part of Connecticut was
a very paradise for the Indian. Its winters were
comparatively mild and free from snow. For the
warm ocean air melted it away soon after it fell.
Its rivers and brooks were full of fish, such as
trout, suckers, pike and small bass. Its ponds,
small and great, abounded in eels, bull-heads, frogs
and turtles. Deer, wild cat and catamount were
numerous. There, too, were raccoon, woodchuck


and squirrels without number, the latter, naturally-
daring and impudent, coming down the trees
almost within reach of the Indian's arm, and defy-
ing him to try his arrow upon them. Partridges
drummed in the thickets, pigeons crowed and
cooed in the oaks, while quail and thrush and black-
bird and robin made all the welkin ring with their
morning orison and their noon-day song. Night,
too, had its minstrels, the lively whip-poor-will, the
solemn owl and the katy-did. Berries, too, and
nuts in varieties far exceeding those of any other
land I have ever visited, were found on every
square mile, and in quantities almost incredible.
The adjacent shores and shoals of Long Island
Sound were covered with oysters, quohogs, clams,
mussels, scallops and almost every species of the
great conch family. And when you add to all this
long list upon the Indian's bill of fare, the vast
shoals of menhaden, haddock, codfish and black-
fish, which often, in those early days, nearly choked
the entrances into its small bays, inlets and rivers,
then surely you have demonstrated that this,
indeed, was a very paradise for the Indians of
New England. Very naturally, it also became
the fighting ground, where fierce tribes strove for
the possession of the coveted prize, a contest
always ending, not as Darwin says, in " the sur-
vival of the fittest" that is, the most peace loving,
humane and gentle but rather in the survival of
the worst, that is of the most warlike and war-lov-
ing, the most bloodthirsty, cruel and treacherous.


It was here on the north border of the New Haven
Colony, and among these warlike tribes our ances-
tor selected his location and received from the
colonial officials a liberal grant of land. It was on
the east line of the present township of Cheshire,
and on the west of that of Wallingford. Here our
ancestor lived many years, brought up a family,
wrestled with the oaks and fought out the battle
of life. Little has come down to us respecting
him. But the ancestral acres are invested with a
historic lore, more interesting to us of the fifth
generation than tongue can tell. Here a bear
was chased down, treed and killed. There a ghost
was seen a veritable ghost and somebody died
soon after. In yonder secluded valley lived a witch
who was wont nightly to sally forth, and, trans-
forming some innocent man or woman into a horse,
she rode her victim unmercifully over corduroy
roads and high hills, till just at daydawn she
returned home and changed back the animal she
rode from horse to man or woman again. All the
next day she would smile on her visitors and chat-
ter with them of all good things, as if she was,
indeed, but a little lower than the angels. Not so
her hard ridden neighbor, who grunted all day
with galled back, swollen legs, roweled sides and
rheumatic joints. Yonder stood a house where
once a man was shot! At the funeral one of his ten
thumbs and fingers pointed straight toward a man
in the crowd which gathered at his funeral ! No
doubt that was his murderer, else why did that
finger point at him ?


Not to tarry longer among tne scenes of this
prehistoric period, I pass to say that the first fif-
teen years of my life were, in the main, uneventful.
They were passed in alternate attendance upon
school (district) and working on the farm. The
school term for us farmer boys was usually about
four months, in winter, while the work on the farm
occupied us the other eight months of the year.
Happy and specially privileged was the youth
who could average five months of schooling per
year till he was sixteen. I do not think I was
noted during this period of my life for anything
save for uniform good nature, fearlessness and
athletic feats. I had the name of being what they
called a " dare-devil boy," ready for any advent-
ure which called for strength, and that ready and
practical wit which in some persons is only
brought out bv emergencies. My father, my
uncles and even my grandfather, seeing this trait
in me, used often to test it, even when I was but a
small boy, by various endeavors to frighten me,
and great was the zest with which they often told
to each other the stories of their failures. I
remember many of them, and will narrate one as a
sample: It was a dark and stormy night, the win-
dows in the old house rattled and shook fearfully,
and all things seemed weird and ghostly, when my
father proposed that I should go out into the back
room, without a candle, feel my way to the cellar
door and go down the rickety stairs. Reaching
the floor of the cellar I was to lift up my voice and
cry out in the darkness ;


" Old Grandpa Grey Beard,
Without a tooth or tongue,
Give me your little finger,

And I'll give you my thumb."

Then I was to march to the end of the cellar, and
as I went was to stop at each vinegar cask, or
whisky barrel, or cider hogshead, and, thumping
three times on the head of each, I was to repeat
the incantation ; on my way back I was to do the
same. Dared I to do it? Was I not too big a
coward for that? What would he give me to do
it? He drew out eighteen cents and said, " I will
give you that." Well, put it in mother's hands.
He did so, and I started ; I fumbled and felt my
way to the bottom of the stairs. There I made the
cellar caverns resound with that dolorous incanta-
tion. I did not know what it meant, and I don't now,
but it seemed to me I stood at the mouth of Pluto's
pit, and was daring - the very devil himself to come
out and take me if he could. But I was bound to
put it through now I had begun. I felt my way
along and thumped vigorously on the cider hogs-
head and whisky barrel. What sepulchral sounds
they gave back ! I had reached the end and was
on my way back when I was startled by lugubri-
ous shrieks and moans proceeding from the center
of the stairway ! I was standing by a potato bin,
and, taking out a big one, I threw it! It hit my
father full in the face, and he cried out, " Take care!
You hurt ! " He retreated up stairs and I followed,
and got my eighteen cents. Mother laughed at
him as I never knew her to do before or since.


My grandfather, too, exhausted on me his sto-
ries of witches and ghosts and scenes of blood and
robbery and murder, " to try the boy's mettle,"
he used to tell grandmother, when she remon-
strated. He would keep us around his great fire-
place, eating apples and drinking cider, the long
winter evenings, entertaining us with his wonder-
fully interesting stories. But the blackest and
bloodiest and most horrifying of all were reserved
for the last of the evening. And great was the
old man's glee when he could by this means induce
any of his grandchildren to stay with him over
night. But I have no recollection of ever gratify-
ing the dear old grandsire by waiting till morn-
ing before I dared to go down into the foggy val-
ley which lay between our house and grandfather's.
The valley was pleasant enough by day, when we
boys went there to fish or to skate, but in the dark
and foggy night how dismal it was! A very val-
ley of Gehenna to us ! There were the ruins of
the old distillery, the cellar of the old haunted
house, and where, according to grandfather, " oft
the sheeted dead did squeak and gibber as in the
Roman streets," and where now, in these degen-
erate days, their successors, the bats, flitted and
coursed their crooked ways up and down the
creek; where the great owls flapped their dusky
wings and muttered forebodings of bad luck to all
wicked boys who, like me, dared to intrude upon
their solemn meditations during the dark hours
of night! Where, moreover, 10,000 toads and


frogs, from the great-mouthed bullfrog of alder-
manic proportions and dignity, whose deep bass
voice sounded like a bass drum in the distance, up
through all the grades of lesser frogs, to the tiny
tree toad, who sat above the rest on a willow
branch, piping prophecies of rainfall and freshet,
making, in the aggregate, a pandemonium of
noises which burdened all the dank and sickly air !
All this, and more, made the aforesaid valley little
less than a gauntlet through which we children
hastened home with bated breath and quickened

Let not the reader think I have overdrawn this
picture of the dismal valley. Ought not I to know,
who bobbed for eels a hundred nights up and down
the brook, ofttimes alone, and sometimes stay-
ing out till 12 o'clock, waiting for one more
bite ? Yes, I speak with authority ! I know all
about the dark valley, and how often I tripped
lightly through it, my feet scarce touching the
ground, and by no means as the ignorant poet says,
" whistling to keep my courage up," but careful
not to step upon a leaf, lest the evil one should
awake and learn who was passing. I was cour-
ageous enough when I reached the top of the hill,
and I could see the lights in my father's house
near by. But how was it when down in the val-
ley? But enough of this, so brook of . my child-
hood, farewell !


While yet a boy and not old enough to handle


a gun I became passionately fond of hunting and
fishing. I doubt whether Nimrod or Esau were
naturally more so. I knew all about the haunts
and habits of the game in our vicinity, and set
snares and nets and traps, and figure fours and
deadfalls to capture them. But, in one of my
feats, I received a setback which ever after greatly
modified my treatment of wild animals. I had set
a steel trap for a woodchuck ; when caught it
proved to be a mother, from whose appearance I
judged she had a litter of small sucking wood-
chucks in the hole. I did not like to kill her and
leave her young ones to die the lingering death of
starvation. I tried to get her leg out of the trap,
but it was broken badly ; I got a stick and pressed
with all my weight upon the spring. It broke in
two and I fell upon her. The teeth snapped vig-
orously about my clothes. In the melee I gave
her a blow which killed her. The next day, toward
evening, I visited the hole and found four young
kitten woodchucks gathered at the mouth of the
hole, waiting for the return of their mother. See-
ing me they scampered back into the hole. Why
should they not? Was not I the murderer of their
mother? What harm had they ever done to me?
And for that matter what wrong had I received
from their mother? Who else had she wronged?
Could we not spare her a few heads of clover?
Well, I felt bad, went home and told my brother.
He felt as I did. We would carry them some
choice fresh clover heads ! We did so. The


next day, at evening, we went again. They
were all there, looking off toward the clover
patch, if possible, to catch a glimpse of their mother
again. They ran back as we came nigh ! Alas,
the clover heads were untasted, they were too
young, they wanted milk! What should we do?
We would dig them out and feed them on cow's
milk, or, at least, put them out of their misery.
But the job was too much for us, the great oak
roots were too large and strong for us, and the
burrow too intricate and deep, and we had to give
it up. In a few days they dug out, poor, gaunt
and hollow-eyed creatures, one after another went
into the hole and never came out again. The last
one, after about eight days' starvation, was so weak
that we caught it. We offered it milk, but it was
too far gone, and it died in our hands. Since then
there has been a tender spot in my heart when I
have had to do with harmless brute creatures
when rearing their young.


Recurring to the " dare-devil fearlessness"
attributed to me in my boyhood, there was one
phase of it not usual with boys of that ilk. I never
tried to show it by taking my Maker's name in
vain. Swearing was in those days quite common;
nearly all our relatives and neighbors, on the male
side, were more or less addicted to it, so were not
a few of the boys of my age. But to me, it was
about the most unreasonable, low-down and con-


temptible of all the forms of sin. As 1 read the
Decalogue, no one of the commandments seemed
to me so reasonable, and indeed so pathetic as that
which says : " Thou shaltnot take the name of the
Lord thy God in vain !" Could the dear Father,
whose ringers fashioned us and brought us forth,
and to whom we owe everything, could he ask
iess of us, as we went forth from His arms of love,
than that we should treat His name with respect ?
And what language is competent to denounce in
suitable terms of loathing and scorn the reckless
wretch who tramples under foot even that com-
mand, and goes out of his way, even on the most
trivial occasions, to kick about, as an old hat, the
sacred name of God? From a child I hated the
words and scorned the man who used them. Years
before I had reached my fifteenth, it had become a
principle with me to avoid association with boys
or men who were profane. Not a few alterca-
tions over the matter occurred between me and
my playmates, when the profanity became unen-
durable. Sometimes the swearers twitted me with
being pious, and while I said, " You know well I am
not," yet, I added, " I am not mean enough to
insult the God that gave me being, and if you are
and intend to keep it up, then let us separate right
here." Usually others interposed, the swearing
was suspended, and the play went on. I noted
that these swearers seldom afterward troubled us
with their profane speech. This abhorrence of pro-

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Online LibrarySherlock BristolThe pioneer preacher : an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 20)