1850: George Rapall Noyes to Samuel Abbott Smith

Samuel Abbot Smith

This letter was written by George Rapall Noyes (1798-1868), a Unitarian minister and scholar at Harvard.

Wikipedia says of Noyes: “From October 1840 till his death he was Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Dexter Lecturer on Biblical Literature, in the Theological Department of Harvard College. Noyes died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a few days after correcting the final page proofs for his New Testament translation.”

The letter was addressed to Samuel Abbot Smith (1829-1865) of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Smith earned his A.B. degree in 1849 and his A.M. degree in 1853 from Harvard. He was ordained in West Cambridge and served there until his death in 1865.

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[Addressed to Mr. Samuel A. Smith, Peterboro, New Hampshire]

Cambridge [Massachusetts]
August 24, 1850

Dear Sir,

I have, according to your request, reserved a room for you in the third story of Divinity Hall. In regard to the study of Hebrew, if you have good ground for believing that the study of it will injure your eyes, I will excuse you from it. The eyes are too important to be sacrificed to the acquisition of any language. As this is the principal study for the first term, you will be able to favor your eyes as much as you please in regard to other studies which you may pursue in its place. The other studies in my department are theoretical study of the New Testament and the Principles of Biblical Interpretation. The textbooks are found except the New Testament, which you ought to have in Griesback’s or Tischendorf’s Edition. I would recommend to you to bring with you such theological books as you have.

The exercises in the Divinity School will not begin till the Monday after the commencement of the college term, i.e., a week from next Monday. It is desirable that you should have your room in order at that time. Call upon me when you come to know about your room. Other information I can give you when you come.

Yours with best regards, — George R. Noyes


When the young Samuel Abbot Smith’s mother died, he (1829-1865) lived several years with his maternal grandparents and aunt. A deeply enduring tie developed between young Samuel and his grandfather, Reverend Abiel Abbot, and between the boy and the mountains of southern New Hampshire.

Gifted with mechanical abilities but also a strong student—he was first in his class at Philips Exeter and at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1848— he chose divinity as his profession. He also chose West Cambridge (“with some hills,” he noted in a letter to a friend) as his first pastorate in 1854. A popular and committed minister, Reverend Smith gave West Cambridge more than sermons: he gave them their history. Samuel Abbot Smith collected and connected all of the first-hand stories that existed about that town’s role on April 19, 1775, the first day of the American Revolution in his West Cambridge 1775.

In 1865 Reverend Smith traveled to Virginia to do missionary work in Norfolk, Virginia to preach Liberal Christianity to the people—the newly freed and the recently defeated—of the South. Eight Sundays later the good minister struggled home, mortally ill with typhoid fever, to die.



One response to “1850: George Rapall Noyes to Samuel Abbott Smith

  • Patricia Enger

    And bingo, I found ANOTHER connection; I am descended down through his ancestor Nicholas’ brother, James Noyes! Thank you again for this site.

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