J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Someone’s Been Writing in Two Discourses

I stumbled across this Google Books file of Henry Ware’s Two Discourses Containing the History of the Old North and New Brick Churches, United as the Second Church of Boston, published in 1821, and noticed someone had written in it. These scans come from a copy owned by Harvard University.

The title page is signed by John F. Eliot, but the note on page 7 is signed “EE,” which indicates the notes come from that man’s father, Dr. Ephraim Eliot (1761-1827). Ephraim was a son of the Rev. Andrew Eliot and brother of the Rev. John Eliot. He left several detailed essays about the history of Boston, including a wonderful profile of Dr. Amos Windship.

Ephraim Eliot evidently went through this pamphlet and added his own recollections and family lore. Thus, after a description of the galleries built in the Old North Meeting-House in the 1680s, his handwritten footnote describes their shape (“altogether formed an octagon”), name (“they were called Hanging Galleries”), and fate:
upon a general repair of the house [they] were removed, when I was a small boy. The society had become very small, & they were for a long time useless. I remember the talk about taking away the hanging galleries, but never saw them.
And then that meetinghouse was torn down during the siege of Boston and turned into firewood.

On page 6 Eliot wrote this interesting note:
My good old grandmother was brought up in the belief, that Increase [Mather (1639-1723), shown above] was endowed with the gift of prophecy. as one instance of it, she used to tell, that on concluding his last sermon before the fire, he exclaimed, there must be an instant reformation, or there will be a [phrase ending “tation,” unreadable in the scan because of ink bleeding from the other side of the paper]. Before the next morning, the meeting house was in ashes, with many other buildings.
Enoch Pond’s 1870 biography of Mather suggests that Eliot’s grandmother wasn’t the only one who’d noticed that sequence of events:
In the year 1676,…Boston was visited with a distressing fire. In some unaccountable way, Mr. Mather had a presentiment of the approach of this calamity, and warned his people of it, two Sabbaths in succession. The very night of the second Sabbath, the fire broke out in his immediate neighborhood, his meeting-house and dwelling-house were both consumed, and whole streets were laid in ashes.
TOMORROW: Unabashed gossip about Boston’s ministers.


Anonymous said...

I took the liberty to clean up an image of Eliot's note on page 6 and believe the indecipherable phrase you elude to reads "sudden desertation".

J. L. Bell said...

Thank you. That makes sense theologically, though I would never have guessed it.