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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Thursday, June 28, 2007

More About John Morrison

I knew if I whined enough, someone would help me with sources on what exactly caused the Presbyterians of Peterborough, New Hampshire, to dismiss John Morrison as their minister.

A kind Boston 1775 reader gave me a look at the Church History article that discusses this case among other New Hampshire dismissals. Its footnotes led to two more detailed sources, including Google Books’s copy of “An Address Delivered at the Centennial Celebration, in Peterborough, N.H., Oct. 24, 1839,” by John Hopkins Morison. He had this to say about the Rev. Mr. Morrison [whose last name he spelled like his own, just to confuse the search engines]:

From all that I can learn he was a man of decided talents; but it must be borne in mind, that the same ability will appear always more conspicuous in a bad than in a good man, just as a horse, or a building or perfect symmetry will always appear smaller than another of the same dimensions whose parts are out of proportion.

But after making all due allowance, we must, I believe, conclude that Mr. Morison possessed more than common powers, for good or for evil. But soon he proved himself an intemperate, licentious man, dangerous alike as the companion of either sex.

A charitable construction was put upon the first symptoms of intemperance. At a party he was found unable to walk, and it was necessary to take him through the room where the young people were collected, in order to place him upon a bed. This was managed with so much adroitness, that no suspicion was raised, except with three or four church-members who were disposed to view it as an accident, at a time when similar casualties were not uncommon.

But soon, while his bad habits in this line became notorious, his evil passions in another direction flared out, to the general scandal of the town. A Presbytery was held; he was suspended from his office for two or three months, a thing probably to his taste, as his salary was not suspended.

At length, however, the people could no longer tolerate him; he relinquished his connection with the society in March, 1772; visited South Carolina, returned and joined the American army at Cambridge in ’75.

He was present at Bunker-hill, but excused himself from entering the battle on the ground that his gun-lock was not in order. The next day he joined the British, and continued in some capacity with them till his death, which took place at Charleston, S.C., December 10, 1782.

He became a professed atheist. It is said that he spent his last days, when he was daily sinking to the grave, among profligate, abandoned associates, taking his part in every species of dissipation which his decaying strength would permit; and just before his death, gave a sum of money to his companions, requesting them to drink it out upon his coffin.

His wife, Sarah Ferguson, in every respect a true, exemplary women, never to the time of her death, (November, 1824, æt. 84,) lost either the interest or the confidence with which she had first joined her fortune to his.

It is refreshing to add, that their son, John Morison, who died more than forty years ago, was, by the uniform consent of all who knew him, one of the most pure-hearted and clear-headed men that our town has produced. I have never heard him mentioned by one who had known him except with strong affection and respect. He received his education at Exeter, where for a time he was also a teacher.
TOMORROW: Primary sources—Peterborough petitions to be allowed to dismiss the minister.

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