Monday, December 23, 2013

Amanuensis Monday ~ The Obituary of Katherine (Eaton) Emerson, 1809

The Panolopist, June 1807

This obituary was found in The Panoplist, and Missionary Magazine United, Volume 2, No. 2, pages 151 - 152, August 1809

Mrs. Catharine Emerson, late wife of Mr. John Emerson of Hancock, N. H. was born A. D. 1743.  She was the youngest daughter of Mr. Noah Eaton of Reading, Massachusetts, and enjoyed the advantages of a religious education.  Under the faithful preaching of the Rev. Mr. Hobby, her mind early became subject to religious impressions.
            She was admitted a member of the first church of Christ in Reading September 24, 1769.
            Her subsequent life evinced the sincerity of her profession: that she was a christian, not in name only but in truth.  That divine charity, which Paul describes as the essence of true religion, was the principle that habitually governed her conduct.  Though possessed of superior judgment and lively sensibilities, they were so far under the influence of grace, which reigned in her soul, that even the profligate and profane were constrained to acknowledge the excellency and power of true religion.  The gentleness of her temper, the meekness of her mind, the cheerful sobriety of her deportment, the correctness of her sentiments, the piety of her conversation, her devout attendance on the institutions of the gospel, and unwearied exertions to do good, proved her a follower of Jesus Christ, and gain her the esteem and applause of every person, who enjoyed her acquaintance.
            In the education of her children, she exhibited equal wisdom and assiduity. Recognizing her covenant engagements, when she gave up her children in the sacred ordinance of baptism, she was faithful to that covenant by "training them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  She was a mother, who not only gave her children the best counsel and examples, but carried them on her heart to the throne of grace: and, in answer to her prayers and labors, the bessing of Abraham descended upon them.  Of nine children, who were spared to adult age, eight of whom survive; she had the satisfaction, several years before her death, to see five come forward and publicly profess their faith in that divine Redeemer, whom she had long embraced as her only portion.
            In no situation is a pious female more amiable, useful, or respectable, than in rearing a numerous family in the principles of true religion, and guiding them in the paths of virtue.  Mrs. E. did not deem it a service too arduous, or an office too low, to take the religious part of her children's education into her own hands.  Too well she loved them; too much she regarded the welfare of their souls, to neglect a concern of such infinite moment.  While she possessed their love, respect and obedience to an unusual degree, she was no less happy in keeping their consciences awake to an abhorrence of sin in every form, and to regard to every branch of religion, by affectionately instilling into their minds the most important truths in a manner adapted to their capacities.  A suitable proportion of every Sabbath day was devoted to this object.  That day she taught her children by precept, and by the devout manner in which she spent it herself, to reverence as a holy sabbath to the Lord.  The manner in which she taught them the Assembly's Catechism and explained the Scriptures, was peculiarly tender and engaging, and the salutory effects produced, proved that the high estimation in which she held the practice was judiciously placed.  After closing the business of the day, instead of permitting her children to go into vain or dissolute company, she would often call them round her and spend the evening in conversing with them on the great things of religion and particularly on the various dangers and duties peculiar to their age.  Noble exemption from prevailing practice!  In administering correction, she pursued a practice worthy of imitation.  She first retired into her closet to examine the state of her mind, and then prefaced the punishment with some calm, affectionate observations on the guilt of disobedience, especially as an offence against God.
            Mrs. E. had, several times, been reduced to the brink of the grave, and more than once had taken an affecting leave of her family and friends, in expectation of a speedy departure.  In that situation, a situation which tries the hopes of men, she manifested the utmost calmness and confidence in God, and patiently waited the expected summons. Her last lingering illness she bore with christian fortitude and submission.  That grace which sanctified her heart and life, softened her dying pillow.  In the calm triumphs of faith, she yielded her spirit into the arms of that Savior whom she had often recommended to others, and entered into her rest on the 21st of December, 1808, in the 65 year of her age."

[The Panoplist was a religious monthly magazine printed from 1805 - 1820 in Boston by Jedediah Morse, and edited by Jeremiah Evarts.   You can find an archive of this magazine at the website for the Congregational Library in Boston, at this link with links to the archived copies at Internet Archive and Google Book Search] 

Katherine Eaton Emerson (1744 – 1809) is my 5th great grandmother.  It is difficult to learn any personal information on my ancestresses before about 1900.  They often don’t have obituaries, and if they do they only mention them as wives and mothers.  This is a very early example of a rare personal obituary of a woman.  In reading through this several times, I still don’t learn a lot of personal information about Katherine.  It is very laudatory and wordy, but basically it states that she was a very pious woman who raised five children to accept Christ.  Considering that it was published in a religious magazine, this is more than I can hope to find on her life.  It doesn’t state who wrote the obituary, but then again, most obituaries are anonymous. It doesn’t state that three of her sons became Congregational ministers.

Her husband, John Emerson, died the same year, on 14 November 1809.  Perhaps he was the author?  He came from a long line of ministers and deacons, and his great grandfather was the Reverend Joseph Emerson of Concord, Massachusetts, who married Elizabeth Bulkely, the daughter of the famous Reverend Edward Bulkely one of the first ministers in Concord.

Katherine and John had eleven children, as stated in the obituary.  Their son Noah (1775 – 1777) died young, as well as a daughter Phebe (1780 – 1795).  Among the surviving children were two daughters and seven sons. Three of the sons became ministers:

1.  Reuben Emerson (1771 – 1860) graduated Dartmouth College in 1798 and was ordained in Westminster, Vermont. He was pastor of the Congregational Church of South Reading, now Wakefield, Massachusetts from 1804 until his death in 1860.

     2.  Brown Emerson (1778 – 1872) graduated Dartmouth College in 1802, and received a DD from Dartmouth in 1835.  He was ordained on 14 April 1805 as assistant minister to the Old South Church in Salem, Massachusetts where he stayed until his death 67 years later. 
     3.  Noah Emerson (1787 – 1860)  graduated from Middlebury College, studied at the Andover Theological Seminary from 1814 – 1817 and was a missionary in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Georgia.  He was the Pastor of the Congregational Church in Baldwin Maine in 1825 and stayed there for 25 years.

Among the other sons, the eldest, John Emerson (1765 – 1835) became a wealthy farmer in Reading Vermont.  He died when a barn fell on him during a hurricane, and he left one thousand dollars for the Vermont Missionary Society.  Hiram (1767 – 1849) became a mason; Jacob (1773 – 1839) became a farmer in Keene, Ohio; and then there was Romanus (1782 – 1852). 

What about Romanus?  Well, out of a family of deacons and ministers, there were several who studied for the ministry and didn’t quite make it.  His cousin Ralph Waldo Emerson was a minister briefly before having a revelation and a change of heart to become a philosopher and author.  Romanus studied for the ministry, too, but according to several compiled genealogies he had a speech impediment which made preaching impossible so he tried teaching.  I guess this was impossible, too, so he came to South Boston and watched his farm become the center of a large, growing city.  Those compiled genealogies didn’t mention one other important thing about Romanus.

Sometime after his mother’s death he became a progressive, and must have followed in his cousin RWE’s footsteps in questioning the status quo.  Only one book mentions “He was especially peculiar in his views of religion.  Toward the end of his life he renounced all religious opinions whatever, deliberatively holding to his speculative belief.” [History of South Boston (It’s Past and Present) and Prospects for the Future with Sketches of Prominent Men by John J. Toomey and Edward P. B. Rankin, Boston, Massachusetts: 1901, pages 224 – 225]

Romanus Emerson, Katherine’s 9th child, was a self-proclaimed infidel.  He was the head of a large society of Boston infidels, otherwise known as atheists.  In Puritan Boston between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, this was a very peculiar thing to be, as well causing legal problems.  Since this is a blog post about Katherine’s obituary, I won’t go into details here, but I’ll post links below to stories about Romanus Emerson you can read later.

Suffice it to say, I’m glad Katherine pre-deceased her son, because if she knew she would be rolling over in her grave. 

And so would the author of the obituary!


Here are some links to blog posts about Romanus Emerson, the infidel:

The “Odd” Romanus Emerson

Romanus Emerson died an Infidel, 1852

Romanus Emerson, buried in a Christian Cemetery, whether he liked it or not!

Romanus Emerson, In His Own Words

Romanus Emerson- Part 5- A few words from the Infidels

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Copyright © 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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