Thursday, February 18, 2021

Romanus Emerson's Self Written Eulogy 1852

As I wrote in my blog post last week, my 4th great grandfather, Romanus Emerson (1782 - 1852) wrote his own funeral eulogy, with instructions that he NOT be given a Christian funeral or burial. This was ignored by his family, who had Rev. Capen of the Hawes Place Church give a sermon and he was laid to rest in the Hawes Burying Ground in South Boston. Later he was reinterred at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan where he lays beside his wife, Jemima (Burnham) Emerson (1783 - 1868).  The newspapers across Boston, and Massachusetts, and even across the country, all carried his obituary and the scandalous nature of his funeral where his final wishes were not carried out by friends and family. 

His final wish was to have a simple burial, and for the editor, Horace Seaver, of the Boston Investigator (a progressive newspaper) to read this self written eulogy or statement.  Romanus was an avowed atheist, or as they were known at the time, an "infidel". This was considered quite improper in Boston.  Horace Seaver was his friend, and Romanus Emerson had written several articles for the Boston Investigator.  Horace Seaver carried this funeral address in the 20 October 1852 issue of the newspaper. 



                                     Boston, June 17, 1849

To all my nearest relatives who may be my survivors, and to ALL who are relatives or friends who may be my survivors: -

      Being in good health and sound mind, calm and composed, I do hereby, in pursuance of a long and well settled intention, request, order, and direct, that, at the time of my decease, funeral, or burial, or at any time thereafter, there shall be no funeral sermon or other religious discourse delivered at any place on the account of my decease, either by the consent or request of any of the forenamed relatives or friends.  Also, that no priest or minister of the Gospel or pious religionist of any kind be allowed to speak, address, or exhort at the time or during any part of the funeral ceremonies.  And further - that honest, liberal, free-thinking men be selected to take charge of the order of the proceedings, in pursuance of the advice and request of my nearest relatives, my survivors.  All which I soberly and seriously enjoin.

      Whereas it is a fact, that daily experience and observation corroborate, that all who are born must die, I have thought it most fit and proper that I should write my own funeral address, inasmuch as I am decidedly opposed to the services of a clergyman of any denomination at my own funeral; and also, that I may leave to my survivors my own own sentiments in regard to the order of Nature and what is commonly called Theology.

      I consider that death and decomposition leave us just where we were before we were born; that there is no identity to any of mankind after death and decomposition; that mankind were formed from the elements, or composed of the elements, and as certainly return to the elements; that there is no part or parcel of the creature man that survives his decomposition.

     This, I consider to be the inflexible, unalterable, and universal order of Nature.  To this, mankind must all arrive, without single exception, whether their imaginations are wrought up to a high pitch, in anticipation of future bliss beyond the grave, or whether their reason and philosophy confine their speculations to this world and the system to which it belongs.  "In this warfare there is no discharge."

     I consider Theology, so called, a system of deception and fraud, whereby one class of citizens obtain a rich living by exciting the hopes and fears of their fellow beings in regard to a place of happiness and a place of misery somewhere away from this globe or world which we inhabit; and also, in regard to beings or existences not material, nondescripts, residing nowhere and yet everywhere present.

     Also, said Theology maintains that one of these wonderful beings has written a book called the Bible, and that mankind are bound to believe what that Bible says, upon the penalty of eternal damnation.

     Out of this Theology, whether Christian, Mahomedan, or Hindoo, have arisen all those belligerent and contending sects, who have in turn destroyed each other and even desolated the fair face of Nature.

     The morality of said book, the Bible, I believe will not compare, as a whole, with the writings of the ancient philosophers.  Let everyone impartially examine both, and render his own verdict.

     My relatives and friends are hereby exhorted to reject every system of Theology which may be offered for their acceptance, as tending only to distract the mind and lead it away from the cause of humanity. To do as you would wish to be done unto, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is better than all the religious systems of the world put together.  As one who speaks to you from the grave, I exhort you to live peaceably with all mankind; view the whole human family as a universal brotherhood; maintain inflexibly, on every occasion, the truth; and set it down as an invariable consequent, that deception and fraud work their own ruin and give no peace and comfort to the mind.

     The individual interest of each is advanced in proportion as each advances the good of the whole.  Seek, therefore, to establish and perpetuate a rational, practical, and useful education for the masses, so that no child shall be without a competent education for the transaction of any business in the ordinary concerns of life.  And as children are not responsible for their birth, or the time or place of their birth, or the circumstances which may surround them, the generation who conduct the affairs of the world for the time being are responsible and should give to every child, however poor it may be, a good, rational, and practical education.  Furthermore, as many children are left with relatives to protect them, the State should establish institutions which should feed, clothe, and educate them so that they may be equal to their fellows of the same generation.

    Nothing will elevate the masses, and raise them to their proper position in the world, but an equal education for one and for all.  Nothing, to my mind, is of so vast importance as this, for the well-being of society and the good of the world.  Nothing but this will preserve the free institutions of these United States from decay and corruption.  This being done, free institutions will grow and flourish and improve with their age, and root out the evils which through ignorance they my labor under.

N.B. - This, my funeral address, is to read at my funeral by a liberal-minded, well-disposed freethinker, and either he or some other liberalist may address the audience as occasion may serve; and this my funeral address, I wish to have published, after my decease, in as many of the newspapers of the day as choose to do it.

    And furthermore, I order that my grave-clothes shall be of the most common and cheap kind, and my coffin of pine and the most ordinary sort.

    In testimony whereof, I subscribe my name in my own hand-writing,

                   ROMANUS EMERSON"

For the truly curious:

"Romanus Emerson's Boston Obituaries 1852", published February 9, 2021:   

"Romanus Emerson's Obituaries 1852" (published across the United States), posted on this blog on October 1st, 2020:    

My Surname Saturday post on the EMERSON family:    


To Cite/Link to this post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Romanus Emerson's Self Written Eulogy 1852", Nutfield Genealogy, posted February 18, 2021,  ( accessed [access date]). 

1 comment:

  1. I can feel how passionate he was when he wrote this. But, it’s one of the saddest eulogies I’ve ever read.