MAGLJRichardson

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JOSEPH A. RICHARDSON 1778-1871

BIOGRAPHY

From Proceedings, Page 1873-242:

REV. JOSEPH RICHARDSON, HINGHAM, Unitarian. 1821, 1822, 1823.

The REV. JOSEPH RICHARDSON, of Hingham, Mass., was born in Billerica, Mass., Feb. 1, 1778, and died in Hingham, Sept. 25, 1871, at the age of 93 years, 7 months and 24 days. His parents were Joseph and Patty (Chapman) Richardson, of Billerica. During his boyhood he worked upon a farm, and had but limited opportunities for acquiring an education. He fitted for college, partly in his native town, and partly in Tewksbury; entered the freshman class in Dartmouth College, in 1789, and was graduated in 1802. Among his classmates were Dr. Amos Twitchell, of Keene, N. H., and the Rev. Brown Emerson, D.D., of Salem, Mass.

Mr. Richardson, upon his graduation, commenced the study of theology with the Rev. Henry Cummings, D.D., of Billerica, and was licensed to preach in 1803. For two years thereafter he was principally occupied with teaching in the Grammar Schools of Billerica and Charlestown. In August, 1805, he was invited to supply the pulpit of the First Parish in Hingham, then recently vacated by the resignation of Rev. Dr. Henry Ware, on his acceptance of his appointment to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity in Harvard College. He accepted the invitation, and was ordained as pastor of that church, and minister of that parish July 2, 1806. The Rev. Dr. Bentley of Salem, preached the sermon at his ordination.

For several years, in his early ministry, Mr. Richardson received into his family a large number of young men, for education and instruction; several of whom he fitted for college. He was chosen one of the delegates from the town of Hingham, to the convention, which met in 1820, to revise the constitution of Massachusetts, It is said that some important propositions which he then advocated, without success, have since been incorporated into that instrument, and that others which he unsuccessfully opposed, were rejected by the people. In May, 1821, Mr. Richardson was elected as one of three representatives from Hingham in the General Court; and the next year he was the sole representative of the town. In 1823, 1824 and 1826, he was a member of the Senate for the County of Plymouth.

In 1826, he was elected a member of Congress, and was re-elected in 1828. He was succeeded, in 1830, by the Hon. John Quincy Adams. Upon his retirement from political life, he resumed his parochial labors, which were continued with only occasional interuptions, till 1855, when the Rev. Calvin Lincoln, a native of the town, and who had been for thirty years the minister of the First Parish, in Fitchburg, Mass., was settled with him as associate pastor. At the induction of Mr. Lincoln into office, sermons were preached by both the associated pastors. In 1856, Mr. Richardson delivered a discourse in two parts, on the fiftieth anniversary of his settlement, which was published; and he prepared, for his eighty-fifth birthday, an appropriate sermon from Joshua xiv. 10: "And now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old," which was read to the people by Mr. Lincoln. It is a striking coincidence that his predecessor, the Rev. Dr. Gay, preached his celebrated discourse, entitled, "The Old Man's Calendar," from the same text, in the same pulpit, and at the same age. Mr. Richardson published The American Reader, in 1813; and the Young Ladies Selections, in 1816. His Letters to Congress, in 1822, attracted at the time considerable attention.

Born before the American Union was established, and before the constitutions of his native State and of the United States were adopted, he lived to see the great principles of freedom asserted in those immortal instruments in successful operation in both this State and the nation. He was of a sanguine temperament, frank and decided in the expression of his opinions, and generous even beyond the extent of his ability. Mr. Riohardson was married in Billerica, May 23, 1807, to Anne, daughter of Benjamin Bowers, of that town. They had no children, and she survives him. He was admitted a resident member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, June 9, 1857.
— New England Genealogical and Antiquarian Register, July, 1872, vol. xxvi.

The following has not, until now, been published. It is kindly contributed by the gentleman to whom it is addressed : —

MEMOIR OE JOSEPH RICHARDSON.

I was born in Billerica, Mass., on the first day of February, 1778. My father and mother were Joseph and Patty Chapman Richardson, farmers in a remote and obscure part of the town. I was favored to attend a small common school, kept usually six or eight weeks each winter, and sometimes a few weeks in summer, when I could be spared from the light work of the farm.

I continued in the work of the farm until near the close of my eighteenth year when I left, and immediately attended the academy in Billerica, taught by Mr. Ebenezer Pemberton, an eminent teacher. Having a small patrimony from my grandfather, — my father having deceased in my early childhood, — I resolved to fit for college, and at once commenced the study of Latin.

My limited means induced me to leave the academy in the winter, after a few weeks there, and to keep a district school in the town. In the spring of my nineteenth year, to reduce my expenses, I left Billerica, and resumed fitting for college, in the family, and under the tuition, of Rev. Titus T. Barton, minister of Tewksbury. In 1798, I was admitted a member of the Freshman Class of Dartmouth College, and was graduated in 1802, a respectable part having been assigned me in the exercises of commencement.

Being unable to pay my college bills, my embarrassment and mortification compelled me to decline the part assigned me. On my return to Tewksbury, after commencement, I was engaged to keep the Grammar School in Billerica. At the close of the term I commenced study, preparatory for the clerical profession, under the care and direction of Rev. Henry Cummings, D.D., of that town. After a few months of study for my profession, I was approbated by the Andover Association, of which Rev. Dr. Simms was moderator, as a preacher. From 1804 to March, 1806, I was a teacher in the Grammar School of Charlestown, Ma., preaching occasionally to supply vacancies in a number of towns, in no instance consenting to be a candidate for settlement. A deep sense of the want of knowledge and fitness for a permanent settlement, strongly inclined me to continue as a school-teacher.

In the summer of 1805 I was invited to supply the pulpit of the First Parish in Hingham, still continuing as a teacher in Charlestown. With the express reserve that I should not be considered as a candidate for settlement, I engaged a supply for several Sabbaths. As soon as my engagement was ended, the parish met, and voted to me a call to settle as their minister. Acceptance I declined for many reasons. The parish repeated their invitation to me to become their minister. 1 resigned my school. The party in the parish having withdrawn and established a separate worship, on the 2d of July, 1806, I was ordained as minister of the First Parish in Hingham. The sermon at the ordination was preached by Rev. Dr. Bentley, of Salem; the charge was given by Rev. Joseph Barker, of Middleborough; and the right hand of fellowship by Rev. Mr. Briggs, of Plympton. During a number of years, clergymen of one party in politics withheld from me exchanges of pulpit service. With clergymen of the other party of different denominations I had free exchanges.

In May, 1807, I was joined in marriage with Miss Ann Bowers, daughter of Benjamin Bowers, Esq., of Billerica.

In 1820 I was a member of the State Convention of Massachusetts, from Hingham, to revise and amend the State Constitution, and a member of one of the committees for that purpose. One proposed amendment of the Constitution adopted by a large majority of the Convention I strenuously opposed. That proposed amendment was rejected by a great majority of the people. Several years I was a member, from Hingham, of the House of Representatives, and Chairman, on the part of the House of the Committee, on Parishes and Religious Societies. Several years I was a member of the State Senate of Massachusetts, and Chairman of the Joint Committee of the two Houses on Parishes and Religious Societies.

Previous to the Convention of 1820 and '21 the Constitution of Massachusetts placed all denominations of Christians on equal grounds, and required all the people to support public worship in some form of their own choice. Congregationalism to that time had been the most numerous denomination. Each Congregational Church formed and professed its own articles of faith, or formula, at pleasure. After the State Convention, the petitions for the incorporation of new religious societies of various sects were numerous. As Chairman of the Committee on Parishes and Religious Societies, I deemed it my duty to be strictly faithful to the broad, liberal principles of the Constitution which expressly forbade exclusive rights or privileges to any sect or denomination.

Early in life I adopted this sentiment: that men are born free and equal as regards their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, whether rich or poor, physically or mentally, weak or strong. Such I believe to be the true intent of Christianity. As a member of the State Convention I deemed it my solemn duty to guard against any unjust or unequal privilege to the denomination of which I was a member. Neither Paul, nor Apollos, nor Cephas, nor those of any other name could be entitled to exclusive privileges under the Constitution of Massachusetts. In the 20th Congress of the United States I was a member from the Plymouth District in Massachusetts; was Chairman of the Committee of the House on enrolled bills. Also on the committee appointed to inquire into the expediency of occupying the Oregon River.

On the 23d Dec, 1829, I offered the following resolution: — "That a select committee be appointed to consider the expediency of appropriating a portion of the revenue of the United States, to purposes of education, to be apportioned among the several States and Territories, according to the ratio of representation." My objects in this resolution were to improve the general welfare, and to strengthen the bonds of the Union.

I also moved an amendment of the rules and orders of Congress so as to authorize the appointment of a standing committee on education. All motions and resolutions offered for such purposes were opposed uniformly by members from the slave States. Deep and abiding was my conviction that education must be the great efficient element for the extinction of slavery, and of other evils tending to dissolve our Union. At the close of my second term in Congress I declined a nomination for re-election, and was succeeded in that office by ex-President John Quincy Adams.

In 1831, I resumed my duties as minister of the First Parish in Hingham. In these duties I continued until the close of the half century of my ministry, when Rev. Calvin Lincoln was installed as colleague pastor of the parish. At the close of my half century in the ministry, being then in the 78th year of my age, I felt the need of relief from labor in my profession. In 1857, I became a member of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society; a society I have regarded as eminently devoted to the diffusion of knowledge of the virtues, and of the peculiar character of the people of New England; a society whose labors are praiseworthy and excellent in reviving and perpetuating the memory and the spirit of the mighty dead.

I have been requested, by my friends, to give a memorandum of my publications.

  1. My first was an Oration on the Death of Washington, delivered in compliance with the invitation of the Town of Tewksbury.
  2. The American Reader. A school-book.
  3. The Young Ladies' Selection of Elegant Extracts. A school-book.
  4. Discourse on Fast Day, April 5, 1810.
  5. Discourse on the Death of Mrs. Hannah Hill, April 3, 1814.
  6. Discourse on Fast Day, April 8, 1813, the Christian Patriot.
  7. Discourse in Dedham before Constellation Lodge, Festival of St. John Baptist, June 24, A.L. 5820.*
  8. Oration at Roxbury before Washington Lodge, June 24th, A.L. 5817.
  9. Letters on Pulpit Exchanges in 1847.
  10. Duty of Ministers and People, 1836.
  11. Sermon on the Duty and Dignity of Woman, 1832.
  12. Sermon on Christian Obedience to Civil Government, 1851.
  13. Sermon on Conscience. Not an infallible faculty as judge, but the verdict of enlightened reason.
  14. Sermon at the Close of the Half Century of Ministry, 1856.
  15. Letters to Congress on national free schools, 1829. Anonymous.
  16. Address at the Second Centennial of the Settlement of Billerica, May 29, 1856.
  17. Sermon on my Eighty-Sixth Birthday, delivered Feb. 1, 1863. Read to the congregation by the Senior Pastor, Rev. Calvin Lincoln. TEXT. — "And now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old."

It is without boasting justly due to myself to affirm, that as a Christian I have never considered myself bound to regard any creed, or formula, or doctrine of human device as of divine authority, or a sure test of Christian character. In the teachings of Christ, the Son of God, by his Example and Word, the light of the world, I believe as the only infallible authority and test of the life of God in the human soul.

In the latter part of the year 1862 my sight so failed that I was unable to read any common print, even with the assistance of the best glasses I could find. With great difficulty I would write a little in a large hand. This became my chief amusement, and a merciful relief when time seemed to be burdensome. The dark state of our country increased my desire to read, and my anxiety for information of the course of events. Mrs. Richardson was able to read to me many of the most important articles in the public papers. Occasionally other kind friends assisted me in the same way, so that my intellectual faculties retained some life and power.

It is just to myself and to truth to remark that during many years I have considered all religious creeds or formulas of human device as imperfect to be used as tests of Christian character, and all opinions, however correct, wholly unfit to be regarded as substitutes for the Christian life. Like the fig-tree, by the life, the fruits only, can the Christian be known.

I would have no test of the Christian life or character but that the Divine Head required. "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."

It is delightful to know that many are the instances of the powers of the mind apparently rising higher as the physical senses decay. But I am not so vain as to imagine that such has been my experience. For this reason I ought at once to close this feeble and scanty memoir. The world seems to me to abound in what a sacred writer calls " strong delusions," of human invention, not sent, but permitted of God. Nothing better is to be expected until the pure religion of Him whom God sent to be the light of the world is better known. Instead of that light let there be no human inventions substituted.

Here and now in the eighty-sixth year of my age, and with almost entire loss of sight, I am compelled to close this imperfect and dull memoir. To your discretion I submit it, to be used as you may judge most beneficial to the cause of our beloved and honored Historic Genealogical Society.

With high respect and under many obligations,
Your assured friend,
JOSEPH RICHARDSON.
JOHN WARD DEAN, ESQ.,
Cor. Secretary N. E. H. G. Society.
HINGHAM, July 1, 1863.


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