Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

“in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d”

As the daughter of a fairly well-to-do merchant family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY received the typical education for a girl at the time while her brother had a tutor to prepare him for entrance to Harvard. To make up for her perceived educational deficiency she read widely on her own from books in her father’s library. At age eighteen she married John Stevens; it was considered a good match.
When her father became interested in the new theology of Universalism Judith met the English preacher John Murray who visited Gloucester in 1774. She struck up a correspondence with him that continued through the Revolutionary War. Eventually she and her family broke with the Congregational church and established a new religious society called the Independent Church of Christ choosing Murray as their pastor.
Finding himself so burdened by debt because of the war and trade embargoes John Stevens, Judith’s husband, was forced to leave the country for the West Indies in 1786. He died soon thereafter and John Murray asked Judith to marry him. At age thirty-nine she became pregnant; sadly, the child was stillborn and Judith herself nearly died. Here is the poem she composed expressing her sorrow. In 1791, at the age of forty-one, she became pregnant again and was delivered of a healthy girl, Julia Maria.

LINES, Occasioned by the Death of an Infant.

Soft—tread with care, my darling baby sleeps,
And innocence its spotless vigils keeps.
Around my cradled boy the loves attend,
And, clad in smiles, the dimpling graces bend:
While his fair Angel’s talk, so late assign’d,
Assumes the charge of the immortal mind.

Hail guardian spirit! Watch with tender care,
And for each opening scene my child prepare;
Shield him from vice—to virtue stimulate,
Around his every step assiduous wait:
Not one weak moment thou thy post resign,
Implant the gen’rous wish—the glow divine;
Warn if thou canst—or, ‘gainst the bursting storm,
His little frame with growing firmness arm;
Teach him to suffer—teach him to enjoy,
And all thy heavenly influence employ.
Attendant spirits, hear my ardent prayer,
In paths of rectitude my infant rear;
Trust me, his mother shall her efforts join,
To shield, and guide, her utmost powers combine.

‘Twas thus I plann’d my future hours to spend,
With my soft hopes maternal joys to blend;
But agonized nature trembling sighs!
And my young sufferer in the struggle dies:
As the green bud though hid from outward view,
On its own stem invigorated grew,
Yet ere its opening leaves could look abroad,
The howling blast its latent life destroy’d:
So shrieking terrour all destructive rose,
Each moment fruitful of increasing woes,
And ere my tongue could mark his natal day,
(With eager haste great nature’s dues to pay)
Its native skies the gentle spirit sought,
And clos’d a life with early evil fraught.
For me, the clay cold tenement I press’d,
And sorrow’s keenest shafts tranfix’d my breast;
Dear pledge of love—all tremulous I cry’d—
Fair hope, full many a week thou hast supply’d;
To give thee life, I would endure again—
And every pang without regret sustain!
But icy death thy pretty features moulds,
And to no mortal gaze thy worth unfolds.
Thy funeral knell with melancholy sound,
Borne on the heavy gale—diffusing round
A dirgeful gloom—proclaims I must obey,
And bears thy beauteous image far away;
To the absorbing grave I must resign,
All of my first born child that e’er was mine!
And though no solemn train of mourners bend,
Or on thy hearse with tearful woe attend,
Too insignificant thy being view’d,
To be but by thy father’s steps pursu’d;
Yet thy pale corse the hand of beauty grac’d,
When on thy urn the new pluck’d flow’rs she plac’d,
The purple blow when her soft hand enwreath’d,
And o’er my dead the sigh of pity breath’d.

And still to shade and deck thy early tomb,
Fancy’s rich foliage shall forever bloom,
Embowering trees in stately order rise,
While fragrant sweets the damask rose supplies;
The drooping lily too shall lowly bend,
And none but genial showers shall e’er descend,
Say white rob’d Cherub—whither dost thou stray,
Mid what celestial walk pursue thy way;
To some sequester’d bower hast thou repair’d,
Where thy young hopes may be to knowledge rear’d;
Where the untutor’d, the infantile mind,
With sacred joy the path of truth may find;
Where guardian Angels wait the glad employ,
The latent seeds of evil to destroy;
Where wisdom blending, innocence entwines.
With infant sweetness; where improvement shines;
Where all thy little powers thou mayst expand;
Where unassuming, thou mayst understand[.]
Those laws, by which the Great First Cause directs,
And from eventual ruin man protects.
Go on my Son—thy radiant path pursue,
In paradise I trust thy face to view,
To mark thy progress my Celestial makes,
That virtue, which my soul to transport wakes;
And, my sweet boy, prepare the flowery wreath,
For yet a little, and thy air I breathe;
Misfortunes frequent, will reduce this clay,
Will bear the animating spark away:
And sure thy gentle spirit will descend,
With some blest choir my parting soul attend,
My dying requiem studious to compose,
To lead me where each sacred pleasure flows.
While here—alas—thou mock’d my ardent grasp,
For in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d:
But there, I shall enjoy the dear embrace,
Amid the infant host my cherub trace.

Nor smile ye censurers that I thus lament,
A being scarce into existence sent;
What said the rock of ages—while he wore
This mortal coil—and all our sorrows bore:
“Regard those innocents—their worth reverse,
“Their Angels in the court of God appear;
“Immortal denizens of Heav’n they are,
“And in that kingdom radiant honours share.”
August decisions—and my heart believes,
With humble joy this truth receives;
Nor fears to err, when in the Just One’s path,
Howe’er mysterious may be its faith,
For God himself descends, with light divine,
And an eternal day shall yet be mine.


The poem can be found HERE. For more information about Judith Murray’s life check this SITE.

posted June 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Education,Murray, John,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,Religion

The Public Universal Friend

I received a most unusual book for Christmas. Titled The Public Universal Friend—Jemima Wilkinson and Religious Enthusiasm in Revolutionary America by Paul B. Moyer (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015), it was given to me by a family member who knows of my interest in American women who lived in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Jemima Wilkinson, the subject of the book, was born in Rhode Island in 1752. She was the first American-born female religious leader. (Mother Anne Lee who founded the Shakers emigrated from England.) Raised as a Quaker, she was attracted to a splinter group called the New Light Baptists whose emphasis was on a more emotional religious experience. As a result she was disowned by her Quaker meeting.
Wilkinson fell ill in 1776 and was near death. She revived and claimed that she had in fact died and been returned to life by God as a genderless prophet to preach about the imminent Final Judgment and the need for repentance. Wilkinson no longer answered to her name but called herself The Public Universal Friend. She wore men’s clothing, her hair hanging long and loose, and she rode a horse. Traveling throughout southern New England and as far south as Philadelphia, the Friend attracted a following. Ruth Pritchard, a convert, had this to say in a reminiscence about the Friend’s early ministry.

The Friend of Sinners began to serve In the year 1777 When this Nation was still in arms and America had embroiled her hands in human blood. There appeared the Messenger of Peace going from City to City and from Village to village proclaiming the News of Salvation to all that would Repent and believe the Gospel. The Friend was not staid by guards of armed men. She went through to visit the poor condemned prisoners in their Chains. Naked swords shook over the Friend’s head, she was not in terror because of the mighty Power of the Lord. No storms or severity of weather could hinder the Friend’s journey to speak unto Souls like the unwearied Sun, Determin’d its faithful race to run, spreading heavenly benediction far abroad that wandering sinners might return to God.

There was a mystical element to the Friend’s teachings—she put great stock in the interpretation of dreams—and she advocated though did not require sexual abstinence. In 1788 her followers purchased land in western New York and established a settlement called Jerusalem (now Penn Yan), where they could be sheltered from the temptations of the “wicked world.” There the Friend exercised considerable control over her followers, including men, requiring obedience and deference as befitted an exalted leader. She lived a comfortable life amid many material possessions in a house constructed for her. The image shows the symbols which adorned her carriage. When the Friend died in 1819, the religious movement without its charismatic leader declined in numbers and eventually disappeared.
Jemima Wilkinson is a strange and fascinating character who went beyond the bounds of social norms in the period in which she lived. She greatly expanded on the Quaker tradition of female leadership, indeed was a gender nonconformist who advocated equality of the sexes. As Moyer puts it: “While not a self-conscious effort to upend the social order, the Universal Friend’s ministry provided a space for the renegotiation of what it meant to be a man and a woman. In particular it created new opportunities for the latter to exercise authority, achieve personal independence, and transcend the traditional roles of wife and mother.”
Quoted passage from Moyer’s book, p 23. The portrait is by J.L.D Mathies, 1816, Wilkinson Collection, Yates County History Center, Penn Yan, NY, also from Moyer’s book p 191.

posted February 1st, 2016 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Religion,Wilkinson, Jemima

“On a SURVEY of the HEAVENS.”

Another poem from Mercy Otis Warren, patriot, dramatist, poet, historian, and correspondent, to mark the end of Poetry Month, this one with a religious bent. See another poem by MOW in the previous post.


DOES there an infidel exist?
Let him look up—he can’t resist,
These proofs of Deity—so clear,
He must the architect revere,
Whene’er to heaven he lifts his eyes,
And there surveys the spangled skies;
The glitt’ring stars, the worlds that shine,
And speak their origin divine,
Bid him adore, and prostrate fall,
And own one Lord, supreme o’er all.

One God this mighty fabrick guides,
Th’ etherial circles he divides;
And measures out the distant bound,
Of each revolving planet’s round;
Prevents the universal jar,
That might from one eccentric star,
Toss’d in the wide extended space,
At once—a thousand worlds displace.

What else supports the rolling spheres;
Nought but Almighty power appears,
The vast unnumber’d orbs to place,
And scatter o’er the boundless space,
Myriads of worlds of purer light,
Our adoration to excite;
And lead the wandering mind of man,
To contemplate the glorious plan.

Not even Newton’s godlike mind,
Nor all the sages of mankind,
Could e’er assign another cause,
Though much they talk of nature’s laws;
Of gravity’s attractive force,
They own the grand, eternal source,
Who, from the depths of chaos’ womb,
Prepar’d the vaulted, spacious dome;
He spake—a vast foundation’s laid,
And countless globes thereon display’d.

His active power still sustains
Their weight, amidst the heavenly plains;
Infinite goodness yet protects,
All perfect wisdom still directs
Their revolutions;—knows the hour,
When rapid time’s resistless pow’r,
In mighty ruin will involve,
And God—this grand machine dissolve.

Then time and death shall both expire,
And in the universal fire,
These elements shall melt away,
To usher in eternal day.

Amazing thought!—Is it decreed;
New earth and heavens, shall these succeed?
More glorious far—still more august!
In his omnific arm we trust.

But how this system ’twill excel,
Nor Angel’s voice, or tongue can tell;
Nor human thought so high can soar;
His works survey, and God adore.

The poem is from Mercy Otis Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (Boston: I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, 1790), pages 198-199. It can be found HERE. The image is from Abner D. Jones, ed., The Illustrated American Biography, Vol. 3 (1855) p 107.

posted April 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Poetry,Religion,Warren, Mercy Otis,Women Writers

“avoid . . . the bucks, the fops, the idlers of college”

Lest you should be put off completely by Martha Laurens Ramsay, her religious temperament and the self criticism she constantly engaged in, note what her husband in the introduction to her Memoir has to say about her as a mother.

[She] exerted herself to keep [her children] in good humour; gave them every indulgence compatible with their best interests; partook with them in their sports; and in various ways amused their solitary hours so as often to drop the mother in the companion and friend; took a lively interest in all their concerns, and made every practical exertion for their benefit. . . . [A]s a mother [she] was very moderate in urging her parental rights, and avoided, as far as was consistent with a strict education, everything which might provoke her children to anger.”

According to her husband, Martha as a parent felt it wise to “make proper allowance for indiscretions and follies of youth . . . and to behave . . . in the most conciliatory manner, so as to secure their love and affections on the score of gratitude.” It should be noted that “She . . . on proper occasions, used the rod, but always with discretion and judgment, sometimes with prayer, often with tears, but never with anger.”

Martha Ramsay persisted in advising her children on the proper paths they should take and how they should behave. To conclude this series, here are some excerpts from letters she wrote to her son David who was sent to Princeton at a young age.

God has given you an excellent understanding. Oh, make use of it for wise purposes; acknowledge it as his gift; and let it regulate your conduct and harmonize your passions. Be industrious; be amiable. . . . I am glad you like your room-mate. I hope he is one who will set you no bad example, and with whom you may enjoy yourself pleasantly and innocently. . . . From the tenor of your last letter, it may be fairly inferred that you are dissatisfied with the strictness of a collegiate course; and if you should not go through a collegiate course, what then? Can you go through any virtuous course without economy, industry and self-denial? Can you fit yourself for usefulness on earth, or happiness in heaven, in any other way than doing your duty in the station in which God has placed you? And if your chief ambition is, without caring whether you are as wise and good, to wish at least to be richer than your father and mother, will not a diligent attention to collegiate studies and duties be the readiest method to fit you for such eminence in whatever profession you choose, as shall enable you to attain this golden treasure. . . .

Your vacation is now at no great distance. I hope you are not trifling away this prime of your days, content with such attainments as will excuse you from censure; but emulous of ranking with the most studious, most prudent, and most virtuous of your companions. I wish I could inspire you with a laudable ambition, and with feelings that would make you avoid any unnecessary intercourse with the bucks, the fops, the idlers of college; and think that the true intention of going to a seminary of learning is to attain science, and fit you hereafter to rank among men of literary and public consequence. . . . [I]n order to accomplish all, or any of these purposes, you must be frugal, and not attempt to vie in wasting money with the sons of rich planters, who only go to college for fashion’s sake, and whose lives are as useless as their expenses.

David seemed to need/want more money than his parents had agreed to provide. His mother chided him for that

The real expense of boarding and tuition in colleges is a matter well known from printed statements; it is easy, therefore, to calculate what beyond it is necessary for the clothing, pocket money and conveniences of a young man, who does not go to college to be a fashionist, to support various changes of apparel, to drink, to smoke, to game, but to lay in a sufficient stock of knowledge, and to attain such literary honours, as may be the foundation of future usefulness, a fortune to him. . . . Your last letter was written in a strain of affection and good resolution, which gave me great pleasure. . . . May God bless you, my dear son, and make you a son of comfort and honour to your dear father, and your most affectionate mother and friend, Martha Laurens Ramsay

David Ramsay words describing his wife as mother are taken from her Memoir pages 28 and 45-46. Passages from Martha Laurens Ramsay’s letters to her son David can be found in her Memoir on pages 246, 247-48, 251-252, 264, 265, and 266. At the end of the exchange of letters between mother and son, Dr. Ramsay pointed out that the David was never censured by the the college, nor was he ever accused of immoral conduct. His standing in his class remained reputable and his prospects for graduating from college were fair.

posted March 16th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Education,Ramsay, Martha Laurens,Religion

“deeply exercised in soul”

Martha Laurens Ramsay (see previous post) was a very religious woman who, according to her Memoir and diary, was given to constant self-examination and deep contrition for unnamed sins. Abasement, shame, remorse—all a kind of self-flagellation which is difficult to read and harder to understand from a woman who seems to have been the model of goodness, duty, and propriety.

She made a commitment to live her life in the service of God when she was a little more than a child.

Thursday Dec 23, 1779Being this day Fourteen Years and seven weeks old

I do this day, after full consideration, and serious deliberation, and after earnest prayer for the assistance of Divine Grace, resolved to surrender and devote my youth, my strength, my soul, with all I have, and all I am, to the service of that great and good God, who has preserved and kept me all my life until now, and who in infinite compassion has given me to see the folly of my ways, and by faith to lay hold on a dear Redeemer, and obtain peace to my soul through his precious blood.

Following are some revealing passages from her Memoir, diary, and religious exercises that her husband Dr. David Ramsay published shortly after her death in 1811.

[October] 21st. Nanny, our servant, died in an instant of apoplexy. Lord, make it useful to the young people in our family, and may we all improve by the warning.

Contrition for Mispent Time, and Resolutions to Improve it in Future. . . . What a great portion of my time, is devoted to sleep and meals; to outward adornings; to provisions for the flesh; to vain visits; to unprofitable conversation; to idle curiosity; and ten thousand other trifles, which too often occupy the greater part of the day.

November 25. [1791]
[This day] my dear little Patty [her daughter] fell into the parlour fire; but by God’s good providence I was enabled to snatch her out, and smother the flame, before she had received any considerable injury; may God’s goodness deeply affect me; and may I show forth his praise in a holy life. Lord, pluck her as a brand from everlasting burnings, and make her thine own child.

September 7th. [1795] Three things I have particularly desired of the Lord at his table yesterday; 1st. that my easily besetting sin might receive its death’s wound. . . . 2d. The thorough conversion of a very near and dear friend. . . . 3d. that my dear husband maybe preserved from worldly entanglements, and enabled so to manage his earthly affairs, that they may never interfere with his heavenly business; and more especially, that we may rather be satisfied with a smaller portion of this world’s goods, than run the risk of being greatly involved. . . . my wish is to manage my family affairs with discretion; to avoid extravagance; to make no unnecessary demands on my dear and affectionate husband, that the desire of largely supplying my wants or wishes, may not be a snare to him, to make him engage in large schemes for riches. . .

November 29. 1797. since the death of my dear little Jane, which happened the last day of July, after two months of anxiety and suspense, I have been in great weakness of body, and sadness of mind. During the last three weeks of her sickness, I was deeply exercised in soul. Some very especial sins and failures in duty, were set home on my conscience, and in her sickness I felt the rod due to may departures from God, and the unevenness of my walk.I endeavoured to seek the Lord, by deep contrition, confession of sin, repentance, faith, and prayer. I sought the Lord by day, and spent almost every hour of the night, that I could spare from nursing, prostrate before him, taking hardly any bodily rest. I thought if the life of the child should be granted me. it would be an evidence, that the Lord, for Christ’s sake, had forgiven me those things, which with so many tears, and with such brokenness of spirit, I had bewailed before him; and there were appearances of her recovery; but, alas, how vain were my hopes. My child was taken, and I was plunged into the double sorrow of losing a most cherished and beloved infant, and of feeling the stroke, as a hiding of the Lord’s face, and a refusal to be entreated by so great a sinner. . . . Show me any unrepented sin; discover to me any indulged or hidden iniquity, which may have provoked thee to hide thy face from me; and give me that true repentance , which consisteth, not only in confessing, but in forsaking sin.

The above passages can be found online HERE, pages 65, 110, 112, 124, 127, 166-68.

posted March 9th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Death,Ramsay, Martha Laurens,Religion

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