To My Children

After recuperating from a wound suffered during the Saratoga Campaign at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, Major General  Benjamin Lincoln of the Continental Army was well enough to rejoin George Washington in New York in early August 1778.  Although he did not yet know it, he would be given the command of the Southern Division of the Continental Army in September 1778.  He would not be home again for any period of time for five years.

When General Lincoln left Hingham, his wife Mary was recovering from smallpox.  His eldest son, Benjamin, Jr., was 22 and away from home, studying the law.  Six children were at home:  Molly, 20; Elizabeth, 19; Sarah, 17; Theodore, 15; Martin, 9; and Hannah, 5.  Molly, the oldest daughter, who is referenced in this letter, was intellectually disabled and lived with her parents throughout her adult life.

On July 28, 1778, en route to New York, the General penned this letter to his children:

My Children:

The ill health of some of you, joined to my great hurry, prevented my making some general observations to you relative to your future conduct before I left home—some of which are of the greatest importance.

In the first place you will never forget your God—the duty you owe to him as your creator, preserver and best benefactor.   The duty you owe to your neighbor and to your selves you will learn from divine revelation, which you will attentively study, and the example of our dear redeemer.

I must mention to you the peculiar state of your mother whose cares and burdens are greatly increased by my absence. I need not urge; I am sure your own feelings will always suggest to you the propriety of your lessening her cares, lightening her burden, and treating her with every mark of tenderness, duty. and respect.  Never wound her by doing a wrong action. You may safely confide in her advice.

I must in the next place recommend to your constant notice your sister Molly. Consider who made you to differ.  You owe her every attention.  Make her life as happy as in your power. Some are made strong to bear the infirmities of the weak.

You will love each other.  Those of you who are grown up will counsel those who are not. Never set an ill example before the little ones.  Encourage them to every act of goodness, charity, and benevolence by precept and example.

As our happiness is connected with the happiness of those about you, always watch over yourselves; let your deportment at all times be such, if possible, that even the malicious shall be constrained to acknowledge its fitness.

I am in haste, must close ,but cannot do it without saying again remember your God, love your fellow creatures, injure no person.

I am, with every wish for your present and future happiness, your affectionate father,

B. Lincoln

 

The Rev. Phebe Hanaford

March is Women’s History Month and a perfect time to talk about the Rev. Phebe Hanaford, a fascinating woman whose connection with Hingham is not widely known.

First Universalist Church and Society, Hingham. 

This photograph from our archives is of the Meeting House of the First Universalist Society in Hingham.  The building remains standing as a private home on North Street—albeit without the wonderful “crown.”  It was built in 1829 by a group of Hingham adherents of Universalism, a liberal Protestant Christian faith which, like Unitarianism, gained adherents in New England as a reaction to the strict Puritanism of the area’s early settlers.  Universalists believed in universal salvation:  that all human souls—not just the Elect—achieve salvation through Christ.  Their liberal theology was matched with liberal social views, and in the mid-19th century, the Universalists were one of the few Protestant denominations to ordain women to the ministry.

Phebe Hanaford, born Phebe Ann Coffin on Nantucket, was the first woman ordained to the ministry of any Christian denomination in Massachusetts–and only the third in the United States. That signal event occurred on February 19, 1868 at the Universalist Meeting House pictured above in Hingham, after Hanaford had served as that church’s pastor for around 18 months.  Sermons were preached by the Rev. Olympia Brown, the first woman minister in the United States and at that time pastor of the Universalist church in Weymouth, and the Rev. John Greenleaf Adams who preached on the text, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bound nor free, there is neither male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Hanaford was popular as the part-time pastor in Hingham.  The Star in the West, a monthly Universalist publication, wrote at the time of her ordination:

Educated in the good old fashioned way, she had the bible from Genesis to Revelation at her tongue’s end; having common sense and a good heart she understood our faith. And when the question about pastoral labor was put [in the examination for ordination], the chairman of the committee of the Hingham society, where she has been preaching for a year, stated she had done it more effectually than any man they had had for the last twenty years!

She stayed in Hingham (while also preaching at the Universalist Church in Waltham) until 1870, commuting by horse and buggy from the Reading home she shared with her husband and two children.  In 1870, she accepted a call to the First Universalist Church and Society at New Haven, taking her children with her but leaving her husband behind.  From then on, in parishes in New Haven and Jersey City, New Jersey, she shared her home with a woman named Ellen Miles.

hanaford

Phebe Hanaford

Hanaford had been active in the abolition movement in the 1860s and after the Civil War became an increasingly well-know activist in the women’s suffrage movement.  She lost her pulpit in Jersey City in a controversy that stemmed partially from her outspoken involvement in the suffrage movement but also partially from her then-unorthodox domestic arrangements (contemporary newspaper articles referred to Miles as “the minister’s wife”).  She did not have a parish of her own again, but she wrote and spoke and remained active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements.  In the public sphere, she presided at the funerals of both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  Closer to home, she had the opportunity, unprecedented for a woman of her time, to give the blessing at her son’s ordination to the Congregational ministry and to perform her daughter’s marriage.