The Reverend Samuel Eaton Army Recruiter From the Pulpit

12 Apr
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colonial_churchReverend Samuel Eaton was born in Braintree, Massachusetts and he graduated from Harvard in 1763. He actually spent most of his life in Maine. Besides being an ordained minister, he had considerable knowledge in medicine, acted as a doctor, and had considerable knowledge in law and many coming to him for advice hardly ever needed to consult a lawyer.

When the hostilities between the Colonies and the Mother Country began, he strove to arouse the people to active resistance. He frequently took his texts in reference to the coming struggle, and spoke of it as a religious war. He directed his hearers to look to the Lord of Hosts for aid in carrying it forward. He declared the people of New England were a chosen generation and it was God’s purpose, if they depended on Him and obeyed his laws, to make them successful in securing the freedom they had made such sacrifices to establish in this new hemisphere.

Following the battle of Lexington and Concord the safety committee called a meeting for all those capable of bearing arms in the towns of Harpswell and Brunswick.  They gathered at the meetinghouse to discuss a course of action in the impending crisis.

Mr. Eaton sat silently and listened to the business discussed that was getting quite heated in conflicting opinions. Some were doubtful and hesitating, and advocated mild measures in order to leave them uncommitted. Others openly opposed anything that looked like revolution. Mr. Eaton silently stood up and moved amid the crowd, talking with the disaffected convincing them of the right and duty of resistance.

The chairman of the meeting, a zealous patriot, kept an eye on the pastor as moved among the people and asked him to speak to the people. He consented. Mounting the pulpit and addressed them in eloquence and pathos that bore down all opposition and each heart leap as to a trumpet call. The flashing eyes and compressed lips on all sides told that doubt and indecision were over.

The chairman worked to a frenzy, as many other were, he could no longer control himself, arose and rushed the leader of opposition and seized him by the collar and demanded he renounce the king.  That leader refused and with strong epithets denounced the chairman as a rebel.

The chairman strung to madness by the insulting epithet, he cried out. “Away with him to the grave-yard—let us bury him alive!” The crowd shouted in agreement with the proposition and they rushed the terrified victim and hurried him away.

The crowd would have succeeded in burying the trembling wretch if it was not for the pastor calling them and calming their passions. Humbled and terrified the opposition leader turned and fled.

Two months later, the enemy burned Falmouth, now Portland. Again, the country was at once aroused, and safety committees dispatched messengers in all directions summoning the people to arms. A recruiting officer was sent to Harpswell to raise volunteers, but to his surprise, no one responded to the call. Discouraged, the recruiter went to Mr. Eaton to ask for his influence on the matter. It was Sunday, and the recruiter met him on his way to church he laid his case before Mr. Eaton, urging him to speak to the people to come to the rescue.

“Sir,” said Mr. Eaton, “it is my communion Sabbath, and I must not introduce secular subjects during the day. I will think of the matter, and see what I can do. Perhaps I will invite the people to assembly in front of the meeting-house at the going down of the sun.”

Therefore, after service he informed the congregation to meet at the church green at sunset. He then dismissed the church and retired to his study to meditate on how to handle the matter.

It was a warm August evening as the sun set behind the western hills, closing the New England Sabbath, and while his beams still linger on the glittering spire, men began to gather singly and in groups at the meetinghouse. When the crowd had assembled, in the early twilight, Mr. Eaton left his study and thoughtfully proceeded to the meetinghouse.                                                        

He mounted the box and pausing for a moment casting his eye over the crowd, he said, “Let us look to God in prayer.” The scene became strangely solemn and lifting his voice to the heavens with the assembly bowing their heads standing motionless and reverently listened. When he had closed, he stood for a minute as if lost in thought, and then burst forth, “Cursed be he that keepth back his sword from blood!” [Jeremiah 46:10]

Suddenly a thunder peal breaking from the clear heavens would not have startled those quiet farmers more that the unexpected deliverance of this fearful anathema. All this coming from the minister of God, and uttered there under the shadow of the sanctuary, on the evening of the solemn Sabbath, it carried with is a strange, resistless power. A silent profound as that, which came from the neighboring graveyard followed.

Mr. Eaton then began to describe briefly the circumstances under which it was pronounced – drew a parallel between God’s people in the Colony , and making a direct application of the subject to those present, then closed with a powerful appeal to them as men, as patriots, to gird on the sword without delay, and strike for God and liberty.

The minister was able to accomplish what the recruiting office failed to accomplish. That night forty men enrolled their names as volunteers.

After the war, his life move faithful in his duties, never failing to warn on in the even tenor of its way to its close in 1822. Courtly in his manner, rebuke, and instruct the highest as well as the lowest whenever a proper occasion presented itself. He lived to the good old age of eighty-five, and like a shock of corn fully ripe, was gathered to his fathers in peace.

Adapted from: Joel Tyler Headly, The Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution, 1864

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