Monday, March 29, 2010

Madness Monday - The “Odd” Romanus Emerson, Part 1


Boston Society considered Romanus Emerson (1782 – 1852) peculiar, odd and eccentric because he had developed into an atheist later in life. Boston can be described as progressive and liberal, but also exceedingly traditional, which goes for opinions today as well as in the antebellum days. The snide tone of this next excerpt certainly describes the situation! According to the History of South Boston by Thomas C. Simonds, Page 275-6

“Romanus Emerson [My 4x great grandfather] …His early studies were directed with a view to the Christian ministry. But owing to an impediment in his speech, he left his studies…Mr. Emerson lived at South Boston more than forty years. He came here in 1810 and kept a small grocery store in addition to his trade… He was an industrious citizen, frugal and temperate in his manner of life….He was forward in every movement for social reform, and took a deep interest in the moral progress of society… He had great command of his temper, and could not easily be provoked to violent anger or resentment….

Mr. Emerson possessed strong reasoning powers, and was an original and independent thinker. But here was something peculiar in the structure of his mind- a defect, perhaps it should be called, [italics mine] which sometimes led him to singular conclusions, of which he was unusually tenacious. For he had a pride of opinion, which he did not easily yield, when he had once made up his mind. He was especially singular in his views of religion. Till late in his life, he had most rigidly adhered to the opinions usually styled orthodox, and in the Baptist denomination. From various causes, becoming dissatisfied with these, and most unjustly attributing all the wrongs that have arisen from the mistakes and abuses of religion, to pure religion itself, his mind swung to the opposite extreme. He openly renounced all religious opinions whatever, and died deliberately holding to his speculative unbelief… He died on the 10th of October, 1852, at the age of 70 years. “

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Boston Investigator, 20 October 1852, Issue 25, Col. A

“The following obituary notice of Mr. EMERSON is copied from the South Boston Gazette:-

The death of Father EMERSON, an old resident of the Ward, demands more than a passing notice. We have gathered the following events in his life, from a reliable source. ROMANUS EMERSON was born in Hancock, New Hampshire, September 1st, 1782. Besides one sister, he had three brothers, Orthodox ministers, that survive him, - Rev. Dr. Brown Emerson of Salem, Rev. Reuben Emerson of Reading, both older than he, and Rev. Noah Emerson of Holliston, younger. He was educated for the ministry and entered college with his brothers, but owing to an impediment in his speech, he gave it up and learned the Carpenter’s trade. He came to South Boston in 1809, was married in 1810, and has therefore resided here 43 years, engaged as West India Goods Dealer, and at his trade. When he came here the spot on which he settled (near the Hawes Place Meeting House) was the village, consisting of only six houses, and the only place settled. He paid 3 cents a foot for land, while near the Bridge he could have it for ½ of a cent. We mention this to show the increase in real estate.

He has left a wife and six children. He has been Fence Viewer since 1822, and was a member of the Common Council in 1843, was an original pew owner and member of the Hawes Place Society, and continued so to his death. As a man, he was strictly honest, always to be relied on in business transactions, an excellent neighbor, a good citizen, a firm unyielding friend of temperance, and had been for 18 years. He formerly sold liquor, had a license, but seeing its evil he gave it up in 1834. In politics – a Jeffersonian Democrat, repeatedly a candidate for office by that party. In 1848 he became a Free Soiler, as firm and unyielding as he had previously been Democratic. In religion,- he was in former years a strict Baptist, an active, praying, faithful member of the Baptist church. In 1834 he read Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason; this, with other causes, changed his views, and he asked and received his honorable discharge from the Baptist church; then went to the extreme point the other way. His views, to which he has adhered 18 years, and in the full faith of which he died, were- that there was no God, except a God of Nature; that death is an eternal sleep, that when he died that was the end of him- annihilation.

He gave full directions as to his funeral; that he should be put in a pine coffin and buried in the burying ground at the Point, which was done; and also left an address to be read at his funeral by Horace Seaver, Esq. Editor of the Investigator. After consultation of his friends with Mr. Seaver* it was deemed best that he should be buried from the Hawes Place Meeting House, and Rev. Lemuel Capen deliver an Address and make a prayer, which was done on Wednesday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The funeral was attended by a large number of relatives and friends. The Address of Mr. Capen dwelt on the life and character of the deceased.

Mr. Emerson has left a Will. He gave to the Infidel Society five hundred dollars, but as they are not known to the law, it is doubtful whether they can receive it. The rest of his property goes to his wife and children.

The complaint causing his death was general debility of the system- consumption of the blood, caused by advancing old age. He had been failing about one year and six months; he retained all his mental faculties to the last, and though at times in great distress, died calmly without a struggle.”

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Click here to see Part 2
Continued tomorrow with more on Romanus Emerson

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Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo
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