Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Romanus Emerson's Boston Obituaries, 1852


The Boston Investigator (1831 - 1904)
The first American newspaper for freethought

A few months ago I posted a story about my 4th great grandfather Romanus Emerson's 1852 obituaries that were carried in newspapers across the country.  I was surprised that an ordinary citizen of Boston would have his obituaries copied and reprinted in so many cities.  However, Romanus Emerson was an avowed "infidel" or "atheist", which was highly unusual at that time, which was probably very newsworthy.  His request to NOT have a clergyman preside over his funeral was ignored by his friends and family, which was probably more of a news story than his unusual thoughts about religion.

You can click on the link above or below to read the short obituaries in cities outside of New England, but I've included a few obituaries from Boston here today.  

 South Boston Gazette: (date unknown)

"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 reside here 43 years, engaged as a 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 buy it for 1/4 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, was a member of the Common Council in 1843, and 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 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 left a Will.  He gave to the Infidel Relief Society five hundred dollars, but as they are no 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; and he retained all his mental faculties to the last, and though at times in great distress, died calmly, without a struggle."

And from The Boston Herald, Thursday, October 14, 1852, page 2:

"ROMANUS EMERSON, Esq. one of the oldest citizens of South Boston, and for many years, one of the leading infidels of this city, died on Saturday last, aged 70 years.  In early life he was a firm Baptist, and has three brothers who are clergymen.  The Traveller learns, that it was his dying request that no clergyman should officiate at his funeral, but that an address should be read, which was written by himself, explaining his religious principals.  His request was not complied with.  Mr. Emerson has been esteemed as an upright and valuable citizen by all who knew him." 

And from The Boston Investigator, Wednesday October 13, 1852, page 3

"Obituary   Died - South Boston, on Sunday evening last, of illness, Romanus Emerson, Esq. aged 70 years.  His funeral will take place this (Wednesday) afternoon at 2 o'clock.

   Mr. Emerson possessed in a very remarkable degree all those qualities which render a man estimable in society.  He was truly a philanthropist; and by his unaffected manners, excellent judgement, and fatherly counsel, solicited the affection and respect of all who enjoyed the pleasure of his acquaintance.  A high sense of honor extended itself in the minutest transactions of his life, and his integrity and truth were beyond the shadow of suspicion. He was a strict lover of justice, bordering on enthusiasm, and by his associates in the cause of Free Enquiry he was held as a honor and ornament.  We thin we may say with the utmost confidence, that if ever a person lived of whom it might be said he was a pure-minded and honest man, it was ROMANUS EMERSON.  His many virtues endeared him in the hearts of a large circle of friends, who, while they regret his decease, will cherish and venerate his memory.

    Mr. EMERSON, on the subject of religion, was a materialist and a member of the Boston Infidel Relief Society. Possessing an uncommon mind, improved by much reading and reflection, he was led in former years to examine and eventually reject the religious opinions of the church.  He was decidedly opposed to the religious dogmas of the day, and being a man of great decision and firmness, he maintained and preserved his opinions to the last against all opposition.  And although without the Christian's faith and hope to support him in the final hour, he met the change with perfect composure and resignation, affording another proof that an honest and useful life is a sure guarantee of meeting with dignity and submission the approach of death.  Having practiced when in health those virtues which adorn human nature and impart purity and serenity to the mind, his long and painful sickness was borne without repining, and his last hour was calm and tranquil.

    Not long since, and before his strength and faculties began to fail him, Mr. EMERSON wrote with his own hand an address to be read at his burial, this address we shall publish in our next paper."  

I found the eulogy written by Romanus Emerson himself in the October 20, 1852 issue of The Boston Investigator newspaper.  I'll post the entire piece in the next installment of my blog posts on Romanus Emerson! 


For the truly curious:

My blog post from October 2020 "Romanus Emerson Obituaries, 1852" contains many links to other stories written about my "infidel" ancestor! 



To Cite/Link to this post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Romanus Emerson's Boston Obituaries, 1852", Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 9, 2021, ( https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2021/02/romanus-emersons-boston-obituaries-1852.html: accessed [access date]). 

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