1812: Rev. Henry Blatchford to Dr. Samuel Blatchford

Rev. Henry Blatchford

This letter was written by Henry Blatchford (1788-1822), a native of Devon, England, who came to this country in June 1795 with his parents, Rev. Samuel Blatchford (1767-1828) and Alicia Windeatt.

Henry was a graduate of Union College (1810) and a member of the first class of students entering the Theological Seminary at Princeton, New Jersey. He was ordained and installed as pastor of the Irish Church on Orange Street in New York City in 1815. He relocated to Salem, Massachusetts in 1818 and died four years later. It was said of him that no minister ever “gained more rapidly upon the affections of those whom he taught publicly, but especially of those with whom he mingled in social intercourse.” Henry married Mary Anne Coit (1798-1869), and they had three daughters before his death.

Dr. Samuel Blatchford

Henry wrote the letter to his father, Dr. Samuel Blatchford, who was the first president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was born in Devonport, Devon, England, and educated at the Dissenting College of Theology at Homerton, now called Homerton College, Cambridge. He married Alicia Windeatt on March 25, 1788. On November 4, 1789, he was ordained and became pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kingsbridge, Devon. In 1791, he became pastor of the church in Topsham, Devon. In 1795, he became pastor of a church in Bedford, Westchester County, New York State, and later pastor of a church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1804, he became pastor of the Presbyterian churches in Lansingburgh and Waterford (which later merged). He was also asked to be principal of Lansingburgh Academy. In 1805, he was appointed a trustee of Union College and later a member of the Board of Examiners. In 1824, Stephen van Rensselaer appointed him trustee and the first president of the Rensselaer School, which grew to become Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was given an honorary master’s degree by Yale College in 1798 and the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Williams College in 1808. He died in Lansingburgh on March 27, 1828. His grandson Samuel Blatchford was an attorney, judge and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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TRANSCRIPTION
Addressed to Rev’d Dr. [Samuel] Blatchford, Lansingburgh, New York

New York [City]
March 16th 1812

My dear father,

I acknowledge with gratitude the receipt of your last letter. It affords me much satisfaction to think of you all, when I am alone more to talk to you, when I am with our friends, but still more to read your letters.

I am glad to hear that Samuel is ready for his departure, and hope an opportunity will soon offer for his conveyance. If your weather is like ours, he will soon be here. Jeremiah did not go to Charleston as he expected. His father is gone in his place. Your friends are all happy in the prospect of seeing you and Mother in May. I hope nothing will occur to prevent Mother’s accompanying you, for it will be a general disappointment.

English bills are no better than they have been and there is not much prospect that they will be. Much is said here of treason and war. What the result will be, I know not. As we are apt to judge of the future from the past, this may end in nothing. Mighty battles may be fought (as has frequently been the case) in Congress, where kingdoms are easily overthrown and glorious victories won.

Mighty battles may be fought (as has frequently been the case) in Congress, where kingdoms are easily overthrown and glorious victories won.

Chester has shut up shop; for what, I don’t know. I can learn no other reason than that business is dull. News from England is indeed melancholy. A family so few in number must feel the loss on one very sensibly. I pray that it may be sanctified to them. The Almighty Disposer of all events, we know, can do nothing wrong. We see some cutoff in the prime of life as we should say in the midst of their usefulness to their friends and the world, but it is not for us to say, why? I pray that we may all improve this dispensation of Providence, think more of the solemnity of death and the importance of being prepared to meet it. I should like very much to see the letters. Is anything said respecting Mr. Edwards and my business? I wish you would let me know in your next how I may direct to Cousin Sophia. I shall write by the next packet.

I was very much surprised to hear that Esq. Chorgan had united himself to the church. I am very glad that Walkbridge has come forward. I hope he will enjoy much of the presence of God. I doubt not but he is an acquisition to the church. I wish he might be followed by more of our young friends.

Our communion was yesterday, we had a very solemn time. Such seasons are precious to sinners who feel the weight of their own guilt and the need of a Saviour’s righteousness.

Is Cousin T. W. W. an Episcopalian or not? Hopkinsianism is making a great noise among us and I have some fears for the consequences. Dr. [Philip] Milledoler¹ & Dr. [John B.] Romeyn² & Mr. [Ezra Stiles] Ely³ have taken their stand. I witnessed a warm contest last week between the clergy in which Mr. Spring & Mr. Strong gained no honor. Could I, my dear Father, enjoy one hour’s familiar intercourse with you I could tell you much on this subject that would be interesting to you. So Mr. Spring & Strong – two young men – comparatively boys – belong the superlative honor of disturbing the peace and harmony of our churches. But enough f this. It is impossible for me in this way to give you any idea of the scene I witnessed. Our Presbytery meets next month. I have then to undergo an examination for which I am now preparing.

I saw Lambert Lockwood in church yesterday afternoon but did not speak with him. Last evening old Mrs. Dr. Rogers died. She was 88 years old.

I wish you would let Sam bring with him my Lyric poems and I should be much obliged to you for one of your letters to Dr. Smith.

Dr. [John B.] Romeyn desires to be affectionately remembered to you.

Remember me to all friends. Give my love to Mother and the family and believe me to be your very affectionate son, — Henry Blatchford

FOOTNOTES

The New Divinity (or Hopkinsianism, after Samuel Hopkins) is a system of Christian theology that was very prominent in New England in the late 18th century. Its roots are embedded in the published and unpublished writings of Jonathan Edwards; hence it has also been call the “Edwardean Divinity.” It modifies several tenets of Calvinism, most notably the notion of free will and original sin, the nature of the atonement of Jesus, and His righteousness being imputed to believers. Traditional New England Calvinists, such as Edward Dorr Griffin, president of Williams College and minister of Park Street Church, opposed New Divinity’s theology.

¹ Rev. Philip Milledoler (1775-1852), graduated from Columbia College (1793), became a minister, and then served as the fifth President of Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) serving from 1825 until 1840.

² Rev. Dr. John B. Romeyn, a Union College and Columbia graduate, the son of Dr. Theodoric (Dirk) Romeyn, Dominie of the Dutch Reformed Church and primary founder of Union College. Dr. John B. Romeyn would go on to pastor, among others, Cedar Street Church (now Fifth Avenue Presbyterian) in New York City, and would be recognized as one of the most prominent Presbyterian figures of his day.

Ezra Stiles Ely

³ Ezra Stiles Ely was an influential Presbyterian clergyman who wanted to merge church and state to ensure that the nation was ruled by orthodox christians. A great article by William L. Wunder published in Historical Biographies (2009) provides a capsule summary of Ely’s controversial career:

Ely was born June 13, 1786 in Connecticut. He graduated from Yale in 1803. His first taste of national fame was his publication of Visits of Mercy in 1813, describing his chaplaincy among the prostitutes at the New York City hospital and almshouse. Later, Ely became pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and was selected as stated clerk of the General Assembly of the national Presbyterian Church from 1825 to 1836.

As a prominent Presbyterian in 1827, Ely attracted national attention with his July 4th sermon. He called for “christian freemen to elect christian rulers” and for a “christian party in politics” to keep unorthodox liberals and deists from office. To that end, Ely supported the Sabbath movement. Proponents wanted to halt mail delivery on Sundays or otherwise the nation would suffer God’s wrath. However, Richard M. Johnson’s congressional committee killed the proposal.

The Christian Party sermon was also an attack on John Quincy Adams, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Ely despised the rationalist, humanist approach of Adams’ Unitarian worship. Adams, likewise, despised “the busybody presbyterian clergyman.” In the election of 1828, Ely campaigned for fellow presbyterian Andrew Jackson, mobilizing his christian soldiers to defeat Adams. After Jackson’s victory, Ely advised Jackson not to travel on the Sabbath on his way to Washington. Jackson obeyed, but believing in the separation of church and state, he was wary of Ely.

Rumors swirled about the extramarital activities of Margaret Eaton, the wife of Jackson’s Secretary of War John Eaton. Ely wrote to Jackson about those rumors: one example- Mr. Eaton fathered Margaret’s children while she was married to her first husband John Timberlake. Ely concluded that Mrs. Eaton was a lewd woman who would do more damage to “your administration than one hundred Henry Clays.” He advised that Jackson’s nieces “not return the civilities of Mrs. Eaton.”

Jackson replied with a stern lecture, warning about unsubstantiated rumors. He presented his own testimony and of others about the Eatons, refuting the rumors. Ely backed down, admitting the accusations had no proof. Already rebuked by Jackson, Ely was paid an unexpected visit from Margaret Eaton herself, who traveled to Philadelphia to interrogate Ely about the charges, totally unfeminine behavior at the time.

Then on September 10, 1829, the most extraordinary meeting in presidential history took place. Jackson, Ely, Washington presbyterian pastor John N. Campbell, and the cabinet, except Eaton, discussed the controversy. Jackson stubbornly defended the Eatons. Ely admitted that Mr. Eaton’s integrity was not impugned, but couldn’t say the same thing about Mrs. Eaton. Jackson exploded, “She is as chaste as a virgin!” The meeting resolved nothing. In 1831, Jackson ended up replacing his whole cabinet over the issue.

Also in 1829, Ely set his sights on another bold, offensive woman in Washington. Anne Newport Royall wrote books and articles about her travels across America, pointing out political and religious corruption of the Presbyterians. Ely and his followers thought she was a devil. Washington Presbyterians, in contact with Ely, planned their revenge. They taunted her at her residence until she lashed out at them. She was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace.

Afterwards, Ely involved himself in less petty endeavors. He attempted to build a college and seminary in Missouri. However, the Panic of 1837 derailed the project. In 1844, he was named pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New London, Pennsylvania. He was active in benevolent works, donating about $50,000 during his lifetime. Ely suffered a paralytic stroke in 1851 and eventually died on June 17, 1861 in Philadelphia.

Ezra Stiles Ely may have started a long line of political clergyman. For example, there was Henry Ward Beecher of the Civil War era, Father Coughlin of the 1930’s, Jerry Fallwell of the Moral Majority, and Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition.

Gravestone of Rev. Henry Blatchford


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