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ASA EATON 1778-1858


Deputy Grand Master, 1820


From Virtual Biography:

EATON, Asa, clergyman, born in Plaistow, New Hampshire, 25 July 1778; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 24 March 1858. He was graduated at Harvard in 1803, and while pursuing theological studies officiated for two or three years in Christ Church, Boston, as lay reader. In 1805 he went to New York, and in July of that year was admitted to orders by Bishop Benjamin Moore in Trinity Church. He returned to New England soon afterward, and entered zealously upon clerical duties in connection with Christ Church, Boston. This position he resigned in 1829, owing to continued weakness of voice, and engaged in the free Church City mission with gratifying success. In 1837 he became connected with St. Mary's school, Burlington, New Jersey, and labored there for four years. Thence he returned to Boston, where he occupied himself in various Church works. He also accepted the charge of Trinity Church, Bridgewater, which he held at the time of his death. He received the degree of D. D. from Columbia College in 1828. Dr. Eaton's principal publication was a "History of Christ Church, Boston" (1828).



From Proceedings, 1858?

"Whereas it having pleased our Divine Master to remove from the labors of earth, to the rest of Heaven the soul of our venerable and venorated Bro. the Rev. Asa Eaton D. D. — a permanent member of this G. Lodge, — and a Past Dep. G. Master — therefore —

"Resolved, That we cherish in fraternal remembrance the many Masonic virtues which adorned the life of our departed brother — that we honor his memory for the lustre which his spotless character — his consistency as a man, his firmness as a mason — and his meekness as a Christian, shed upon our beloved fraternity.

Resolved. That their resolutions be entered upon the Records of this G. Lodge as a memorial of our appreciation of the life and character of a faithful brother whose spirit has ascended to that Temple above, not made with hands eternal in the Heavens."


From Original Proceedings, 1858, Page 32:

Past Deputy Grand Master, Rev. Asa Eaton, D. D., died at his residence, in Boston, on the morning of the 24th of March last, he having reached the age of fourscore years. He was born in Plaistow, N. H., July 25, 1778. His preparatory studies were pursued with Rev. Giles Merrill, the preceptor of Atkinson Academy, in New Hampshire, and he graduated at Harvard University in 1803. On leaving the University he become lay reader in Christ Church, Boston, and continued in the office until 1805, when he was admitted to orders. From July, 1805, to May, 1829, he was the Rector of that church. From 1829 to 1837, his labors as City Missionary were crowned with great success, and secured for him the love and attachment of his numerous parishioners. On retiring from this position, he became connected with a literary institution in New Jersey, which connection continued until 1841. After his return to Boston, though without a parish, he engaged actively in the service of the Church. While a student at the University, he employed his vacations in keeping school; and he was thus occupied at Groton, Mass., in 1802, when he was initialed into Masonry in Saint Paul Lodge in that town. He received his first Masonic lesson from the late Hon. and R. W. Timothy Bigelow, who was then the Master of the Lodge. On his removing his residence to Boston in 1803, he become a member of Saint John's Lodge. He was Chaplain of this Grand Lodge one or more terms, and frequently officiated in that capacity for subordinate Lodges. In 1820, he was appointed Deputy Grand Master by the Grand Master, Hon. Samuel P. P. Fay. After having been a Freemason for more than half a century, he bore hearty testimony to its usefulness, and expressed the sincerest approbation of its principles.


From Proceedings, Page 1873-203:

REV. ASA EATON, D.D., BOSTON. Episcopalian. 1805-1819.

On the 27th of Dec., 1804, Dr. Eaton served as Chaplain of Columbian Lodge, it being the occasion of the installation of officers. The History of that Lodge, 1856, refers to him thus : —

The Brother who acted as Chaplain at this celebration still lives, and is honored and beloved for his amiable and Christian character; and, among the Brethren, for his steady devotion to the principles of the Order. Rev. Asa Eaton, D.D., was born in Plaistow, N. H., July 25, 1778 [died in Boston, March 24, 1858]. He pursued his preparatory studies with Rev. Giles Merrill, the preceptor of Atkinson Academy in New Hampshire, and graduated at Harvard University in 1803. On leaving the University he became a lay reader in Christ Church, Boston, until 1805, when he was admitted to orders. From July, 1805, to May, 1829, he was the rector of that church. From 1829 to 1837, his untiring labors as City Missionary were crowned with abundant success, and secured for him the love and attachment of his parishioners. On retiring from this position he became connected with a literary institution in New Jersey, which connection continued to the year 1841. Since his return to Boston, though having no parish, he has engaged actively in the service of the church.

While a student at the University he employed his vacations in keeping school. He was thus occupied at Groton, Mass., in 1802, when he was initiated into Masonry in Saint Paul's Lodge in that town. He received his first Masonic lesson from Hon. and R.W. Timothy Bigelow, who was then Master of the Lodge. On his removing his residence to Boston, in 1803, he became a member of St. John's Saint John's Lodge. He was Chaplain of the Grand Lodge; and he frequently officiated in this capacity for subordinate Lodges. In 1820, he was the Deputy Grand Master, having received his appointment from Hon. Samuel P. P. Fay, who was then the Grand Master. After a connection with Freemasonry for more than half a century, and much of that time having been actively engaged in Lodge duties, he fails not to bear hearty testimony to its usefulness, and to express the sincerest approbation of its principles.

The following are passages taken from a commemorative sermon on the life and character of Dr. Eaton, preached by the venerable brother in Masonry, Rev. Theodore Edson, D.D., in the church of the Advent, Boston, on the 27th of April, 1858 : —

When God removes his good and faithful servants to a higher sphere of duty, neither they nor their services are lost. They are members, and living members, still; and, for the loss of their labors here, there is compensation in the legacy of their example. St. Paul teaches us to avail ourselves of it, to study the men that have been successful in their course, to commemorate their character, to copy the good. The church makes capital of her dead men; for as much as her dead men live. By holding them in grateful remembrance, the impress of their character is repeated in our hearts, and thus works its way, with more or less of distinctness, into the lives of many. Would that the remembrance of him whom we now comnemorate might enhance in us the benefits of his godly life!

His family, in Plaistow, N. H., was of the Congregationalist order, and his early training was in that persuasion. He is supposed to have had the ministry in view in the pursuit of his classical education. He entered Harvard College, 1799, at the age of 21; and, as his birthday fell on the 25th of July (the festival of St. James), it could not have been far from Commencement Day. Men of distinction were in college with him; and among his classmates were Drs. Payson and Willard. Professor Farrar was his room-mate. His general conduct and standing in his class were reputable. He was of remarkably strict principles, conscientious, intelligent, and of a devout mind. The venerable Dr. Crocker, who was in the class before him, and three years in college with him, says, "He was always on the side of order in times when disorder prevailed shamefully, and sometimes alarmingly. He had the reputation of great diligence in his studies, and was respected for his general attainments. His aim ever seemed to be to qualify himself for usefulness in the world."

He was a lover of truth of every description. He had a notable faculty for investigating truth and for sifting evidence. He loved to weigh and discriminate; and had satisfaction in the exercise of his faculty of gathering the good, and in casting the bad away; in allowing the weightier to preponderate over the lighter, over temporary interest, over prejudice, over obstinacy. Consciousness of his talent for weighing evidence, and the pleasure of exercising it, served to increase caution in his investigations, and satisfaction in the conclusions of his mind when once carefully made up. He was ready to buy the truth at any cost; but no earthly consideration could tempt him to sell it.

It was probably not until his residence in Cambridge that the subject of the church came directly before his mind. Occasional services in Christ Church (I think they must have been by Mr. Jenks, lay reader, afterwards Rev. William Jenks, D. D., Boston, and pastor of the Congregationalist meeting in Green street) were the first that he witnessed.

We may remark the low condition of the church, as he first saw it, compared with the prosperous condition of Congregationalism; nevermore so than at that day, and nowhere more so than in his native New England. The one offered to his desire of usefulness nothing, —almost nothing; while the other opened to his hopes the paths which Payson and Coggin, his classmates, pursued so successfully.

In the great dearth of clergy of our church at that time, and the difficulty of procuring a supply, attention was turned, by force of circumstances, to the procurement of lay readers from the college graduates as a substitute; and it was when the ways of Zion in this church were mourning, and Congregationalism — to which he had conscientiously belonged, and to the service of which he was supposed to have devoted himself—was thriving and prosperous, that an invitation came to him from Christ Church, Boston, to become their lay reader. They knew of him as a suitable person for such a service; and he knew enough already to perceive that he could make the engagement in good faith, and enough to desire that further investigation, of which such a position would afford him a favorable opportunity. He accepted the invitation, but gave himself an interval of about three months between his commencement and the time of entering on the active service of the parish, Oct. 23, 1803. In the mean time (to wit, Sept. 13), Bishop Bass had departed this life. Dr. Walter had been dead about three years. The Rev. Mr. Haskell, his successor, after serving the parish over two years, had resigned it with a view to the rectorship of St. Ann's Church, Gardner, Me., as being then a preferable position. The election, consecration, and death of Bishop Parker occurred the following year. Dr. Walter and Dr. Parker lived on terms of friendship and good fellowship under circumstances which, in minds of other mould, might have produced an awkwardness. They were men above it. Their hearts were set on things above; and, for the object of their affections, they worked together kindly. But, upon their decease, intercourse between the two parishes declined, and died away. Dr. Gardiner was comfortably situated in Trinity. His companionable abilities, his inexhaustible flow of conversation, his sweet humor, his easy manners, his power of amusing, joined with a good deal of frank, downright open-heartedness, made him an idol of his strongest parishioners, and gave him unbounded influence with them. Keeping carefully within the limits which he prescribed to himself, and doing with exactness his routine of service, he was able to afford to hereditary and determined churchmen an agreeable and respectable position, and thus to gather and secure that important element of parochial strength.

Such were some of the circumstances in which our venerated friend commenced his labors in the humblest form of ministrations in Christ Church; and such were some of the discouragements before his mind, when he turned away from the promising fields to which his own early persuasions pointed, and when the church became the object of his choice and affections. Had he been an obstinate man, as some inconsiderately supposed, he never could have turned himself as he did. It was his nice discrimination of evidence, and his susceptibility to the power of truth, which (under grace) brought him into the church.

And now, purposed as he was to offer himself for the service of the church in holy orders, with such circumstances of urgency, — the parish impatient for a rector, the clergy wishful of the strength which he might bring to their corps,— his age advanced, he nevertheless filled up his two years of theological study. The urgency of circumstances pressed him to diligence and thoroughness in study, but not to the shortening of the term of time then considered due to preparation for such a work.

In July, 1805, at the age of 27, with a title from the parish in which his two years of residence and acceptable labor had won him a good degree, he went on to New York, and was ordained by Bishop Benjamin Moore, in Trinity Church, deacon, on Wednesday, 31st, and priest the Friday following. He returned to his charge, now fully invested with the functions of a parish priest, and entered on the new duties of his already familiar sphere with the freshness of youth, and the vigor and wisdom of manhood. He knew his ground well, — understood its capabilities and its difficulties. Already beloved by his people, among the clergy " he soon took a high position as a wise, devoted, and successful pastor. "I shall be sufficiently well understood in describing his churchmanship to be that of "evangelical truth and apostolical order." This he derived from the Scriptures, and the comparative study of the history and standards of the church.

His judgment was sound and clear. He knew his ability of appreciating evidence, and enjoyed the exercise thereof. He was slow and cautious in making up his mind; but, when made up, he knew so well the grounds of his opinion, that he was satisfied with his conclusions; and, in view of what it cost, he grasped and held it with with a firmness which your easy, slippery, accommodating minds could scarcely understand. He was laborious as well in pastoral duty as in study. He was ready to work for his Master and Lord in season, out of season. Not only to his principles, but to his course, he held with characteristic firmness, and a determination at that time as needful as it was remarkable.

As early as 1806, about eighteen months after the death of Bishop Parker, the election of a successor began to be agitated in the convention. It was moved, not by them that had the means, but chiefly by them that had the zeal without the means. It was moved in each successive convention, till the object was slowly and with difficulty accomplished in 1810, by the election of Bishop Griswold, who was consecrated, and entered upon the duties of his Episcopate the following year. The venerable Dr. Crocker said to me, "After the election of Bishop Griswold, he (Dr. Eaton) became his (the bishop's) friend, and was one among the many, who, by correspondence and otherwise, ultimately prevailed on him to accept the appointment. I need not tell you," says Dr. Crocker, "with what joy the result was hailed throughout New England as an omen for good to the church."

By this time, Christ Church, through God's blessing on the hard work and judicious care of its rector, had risen from its depressed condition to a state of strength and of standing; and the decade from 1810 to 1820 witnessed the maturity of his strength, the multiplicity of his labors, and a full success in his conflict with difficulties.

In addition to the ordinary labors of Sunday, he established, and sustained for many years, a third service and lecture on Sunday evening, whereby the church was presented to church-people of the city in a new and interesting mode of working, and to thousands, strangers to the church, who would otherwise never have known anything of it, many of whom became sons and daughters of the faith. Nobody knew the fruits and importance of those extra services so well as himself; and his estimation of them may be inferred, by those to whom he had no occasion to speak of them, from the fact, that long after it was known that the labor was wearing seriously upon his health, he could not be induced to give them up. There were things in his estimation more to be considered than ease or health. He could not bear to withhold his hand from a tillage so fruitful to Christ. And, after all, God gave him to us fourscore years almost; and the lives of few men have spanned a greater amount of service, or a more outlengthened usefulness. They are yet alive, in whose vivid and affectionate remembrance those inviting bells, those evening services, and the beloved pastor, are associated together among their sacred and delightful recollections.

It is now known to but few, perhaps not half a dozen still living, that, for a length of time he was accustomed to devote one evening in the week to a little parlor-meeting of friends for prayer, practising in the Prayer Book, taking sweet counsel together, and giving pastoral instruction. I mention it as an illustration of the thoroughness of his pastoral labors at the time, and of his watchfulness and readiness in and out of season, to do the work of an evangelist. When Sunday schools began to be talked of in this country, his perspicacious mind quickly caught the idea, and clearly perceived how readily the institution was to be harmonized with church-training. His was the first school opened in this region, and was in successful operation long before other pastors and churches were driven into the scheme by the outside pressure of public opinion. Such was the man, — alert, judicious, laborious.

He gave his countenance steadfastly to the general subject of education. Salem Street Academy came up under his auspices. When the American Education Society was formed, he was much solicited to take office therein, and especially by Dr. Eliphalet Pearson, then the President of the Trustees of the Theological Institution and Philips's Academy, Andover, — a man whose name I cannot pass without a profound sense of his worth and acknowledgment, however feeble, of his great kindness to me in his family, and continued afterwards as long as he lived. He had an affectionate regard for Dr. Eaton. In some strong features of mind, they were not unlike. Whilst the tongue of flippancy sometimes styled them severe and stern, they were the kindest and most gentle of men. God grant I may be found worthy to join them, when it shall please him to pass me on to the next upward degree!

He was much solicited to take the office of Secretary of the Board of Directors of the American Education Society, — a post which he was induced to accept, and in the exact discharge of the considerable duties of which, for quite a number of years, he gave entire satisfaction. With this service, the education of him who gratefully pays this feeble tribute is, in Divine Providence, connected. On the accession of Bishop Griswold to the episcopate, impulse was given to the church in his jurisdiction. In Massachusetts, the feeble parishes were revived. There was a movement, however slight at first, in the home missionary work; and some scope was thus given to the missionary spirit, and to the work of extending the church. It may be supposed how more than ready was the rector of Christ Church to hail, and set forward, such a spirit. Following the steps of Bishop Parker, he, in addition to his throng of parochial and other engagements, accepted the rectorship of Christ Church, Cambridge, which he held for a number of years not as a sinecure, but extending thereto a nursing care, and supplying his own pulpit with such substitutes as he could avail himself of, gave it, from time to time, his personal ministrations. In the rise of St. Mary's Church, Newton Lower Falls, he early gave the helping hand in much the same way, by taking charge and responsibility of the rectorship, which he is believed to have held till the parish was strong enough to secure the rector who served St. Mary's through an almost thirty years of faithful, laborious, and successful incumbency. His personal attention is to be found in the first movement for a church in Lynn and South Boston; whilst the decayed but reviving parishes in Marblehead, Quincy, Bridgewater, and other places, shared occasionally his ministrations.

In 1820, a new church (St. Paul's) was consecrated. This is an epoch of the church in Massachusetts. At this time Christ Church was strong, and commanded the respect which had been reluctantly conceded. In standing, the parish had become at least the second in the State. In point of life and efficiency, as a member of the whole, it was first. It was the point to which the poor and feeble parishes instinctively addressed themselves. Upon the organization of St. Paul's parish, and the settlement of Dr. Jarvis, a power of the laity was brought into activity which had been comparatively dormant before. The journals of convention after that date assume a new appearance. Dr. Jarvis did his work here, — an important work, —some thought before the time; I would say seasonably done, — a work which remains to this day, and will remain as long as the elect are to be gathered.

Dr. Jarvis and Dr. Eaton were fast friends, notwithstanding the very considerable transfer of important members from Christ Church to St. Paul's. Dr. Eaton was not a man to be overruled by prejudice, nor so much influenced thereby as strong minds are wont to be. He could sit at the feet of one who could teach him of Christ; always firm to his own reasonable and intelligent convictions, always open to the receiving and sifting of evidence, always gratified in allowing to truth its due weight.

About this time God was inflicting him with his infirmity of voice. After a continuance, perhaps increase of this affliction for several years, during which, even to the last, he probably did as much valuable service in the parish as most pastors can do, he resigned his parochial relation to Christ Church. Not far from the time of his return to Boston, the parish of the Advent was organized. The enterprise met his sympathies. He loved to see the strengthening of the stakes and the lengthening of the cords of Zion. A free church, where the rich and the poor might have full and equal access to divine worship, begun with hopeful promise of good standing and success, could scarcely fail of his good-will and encouragement. A strict construction and practice of the principles and rubrics of the church, its working operation earnestly carried out, in and upon all classes of persons, agreed well with his taste, his convictions of right, and his warm heart's desire. He was a lover of strict constructions, both of principles and practice; deeming them safer to follow, after all, than the devices and desires of our own hearts. For his brethren and companions' sake, he wished the work prosperity; but mostly, as I humbly think, in that it offered him the opportunity of superinducing, upon the waning of his more active life, the increasing culture of the devotional.

Our friend had an eye for correct proportions, and appreciated the devotional element of Christian character; and I think it was, in no small part, the opportunity of daily prayer and frequent sacraments and almsgivings, that attached him to the church of the Advent. He had worked his day, — had sustained a successful struggle for the interests of the body of Christ in this naughty world with labor and prayer. In active service he was prompt and efficient. The active virtues of the Christian character were developed to their fulness and strength; and as he retired gradually from one post to another, at the instance of his Master, — from a more to a less laborious position, — it is beautiful to observe the corresponding increase of the devotional exercise and culture. When compelled to labor less, he gladly seized the opportunity to pray the more. That God should have crowned the faithful labors of his more active life with fifteen years of daily service and often communions and abundant alms, in the place and house of prayer, may be contemplated as a bright and a beautiful instance of the grace and the goodness of our Lord. That such a life should wane into such an evening; that the sun, departing from our observation with such serenity and increasing beauty, should now be rising with increasing brightness and glory in another sphere, is a hope which it is our duty to cherish, and our privilege to contemplate.

"Verily, there is a reward for the righteous." And their reward is gain to the body, — gain to us of the body. By the removal of the departed there is accession to the amount of life there; and if we learn the lessons which their godly lives teach, so as to quicken divine life in our souls here, then will the amount of vitality in the whole body be increased by their removal. Their loss shall be gains here, — gain of life, gain in the number of living members; so that the church shall not lose, but gain, vitality in their departure; so that, through the tears of our bereavement, we may still say and sing, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."

Distinguished Brothers