Archibald Alexander on the State of New England Congregationalism in 1801

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
I'm currently reading The Life of Archibald Alexander, written by his son J. W. Alexander. In 1801, young Alexander made his first trip to New England. The following is what he records as the state of the churches in that region.

The first quote is about the ministers of Boston:
[T]here was as yet no public line of demarcation [i.e., denominational division] among the clergy. One might learn with ease what each man believed, or rather did not believe, for few positive opinions were expressed by the liberal party. Dr. Kirkland was said to be a Socinian, as was Mr. Popham; and Dr. Howard was an Arian. Dr. Eckley had professed to be an Edwardean, but came out, after my visit, a high Arian. Mr. Eliot was an Arian, and Mr. Emerson a Unitarian of some sort, and Dr. Lathrop a Universalist. Dr. Freeman, one of the first who departed from orthodoxy, was the lowest of all, a mere humanitarian. ... Dr. Morse was considered a rigid Trinitarian. Dr. Harris, of Dorchester, was reckoned a low Arminian, and became a thorough Unitarian.

Regarding Harvard:
Harvard College was not yet fully under Unitarian influence, but was leaning in that direction. President Willard was thought to hold old Puritan doctrine, but had no zeal for orthodoxy. Dr. Tappan, professor of theology, was in his writings a Calvinist of the school of Watts and Doddridge; a very amiable man, of prepossessing manners. Dr. Pierson was professor of Hebrew; he was much opposed to Unitarianism, but did not possess great influence. All were making little of doctrinal differences. As soon as the liberal men had caused this to be settled as a principle, they devised a way to introduce the ablest Unitarians into the college, as fast as vacancies occurred. When Dr. Willard died, Kirkland, a man of genius and eloquence, was put in his place. Even at the time of my visit, all the young men of talents in Harvard were Unitarians.

Regarding the minsters of Newburyport:
I was informed my Mr. Dana [his host], that although there were eight Congregational churches, no two ministers agreed in their theological system. One, an Englishman, was an old-fashioned Calvinist; another, a disciple of Gill, was called an Antinomian; a third was a moderate Calvinist; a fourth an ultra Hopkinsian; a fifth an Arminian, and a sixth a high Arian. These are all that I remember, and I preached for them all. Indeed, they kept me so constantly at work that I broke down towards the last, and was obliged to cease on account of a pain in my breast.
 
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TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
On a humorous note, he remarks upon entering the town of Westminster, NH: "At Westminster, we found, very appropriately, an Assembly of Divines. The Congregational ministers of New Hampshire were met in General Association."
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
It did not take long for disarray to set in, did it? (Or maybe things were in disarray from the beginning in the colonies.) “All were making little of doctrinal differences.” Sounds sadly familiar.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
There was a similar pattern in the Church of Scotland by the early 1700s as well.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
The "Mr. Emerson" mentioned in the first quote was William Emerson, father of Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who of course ceased to identify himself as a Christian of any sort.
 
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TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
It did not take long for disarray to set in, did it? (Or maybe things were in disarray from the beginning in the colonies.) “All were making little of doctrinal differences.” Sounds sadly familiar.
I think it shows that the Great Awakening had few lasting effects. The area he was traveling in was the one most profoundly affected by it, just a generation or two before.

On a similar note, he mentions several times the surprise of New Englanders upon meeting a Virginian who was an orthodox Calvinist--the general assumption was that all of the educated people of Virginia were Deists.
 
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