The Last Will and Testament

Can a church have a will? Well, recently we acquired a remarkable document, full of sarcasm, in which the Second Society of Lyme did just that. Or was it, in fact, members of the Society, or was it someone totally disaffected by this particular church or by religion in general? Continue reading

Rev. William Weston Patton

It isn’t too often that I start cataloging a collection and find that the subject has his own Wikipedia entry. That was the case yesterday as I worked with the diaries of Rev. William Weston Patton. Patton was born in New York on October 19, 1821. He graduated from the University of the City of New York (now New York University) and Union Theological Seminary. After being ordained, Patton served as pastor of Phillips Congregational Church in Boston (1843-1846), of Fourth Congregational Church in Hartford (1846-1857), and in Chicago (1857-1867). His professional career also included Editor of  a Congregational newspaper, The Advance, lecturer at Oberlin and Chicago seminaries, and President of Howard University. Patton was married first to Sarah Jane Mott (d. 1850) and secondly to Mary Boardman Smith (d. 1880). He was the recipient of two honorary degrees, a member of several organizations, and a published author. He died on December 31, 1889.

The diaries have entries ranging in length from two words to ten pages. Patton writes about his daily life, including his reading and ministering, as well as the larger events in his life. His Christian beliefs are quite strong,  and his desire for everyone to be Christian is prominent in many entries. On January 28, 1849 he opened his entry with, “Today my wife’s sister Julia who is visiting us from New York, told my wife that she had decided to be a Christian.” The entry from April 27, 1850 reads, “Called to see the children of Mrs. Pond, now without father & mother, the youngest about ten years of age. Found only the two sisters at home. Conversed with the eldest & urged her to become a disciple of Jesus.”

There was certain behavior Patton did not tolerate among the members of his church. Several times he expressed his displeasure. “Many of the young members of the church have lately attended dancing school, balls, etc.” (February 26, 1846) The next month two of those young members were called before the Prudential Committee. “Silas Golpin & Samuel Porch two young members, who have been guilty of worldly conduct, attending at balls, absence from communion etc, were present for conference, by request. The former seemed somewhat moved, the later not at all. They evidently came in company in order to sustain each other & keep each other in countenance.” (March 2, 1846) The next day, Golpin visited Patton. “Conversed freely & kindly with him on his evil course & prayed with him. He seemed much more subdued than on the interview with the committee. Have hopes that he may yet be ‘gained’.” (March 3, 1846)

By July 5, 1851 Patton had softened somewhat and allowed Jenny Lind to perform in the church. “We consented to let her in, (although the evening did not seem suitable, nor are we pleased to use the house for such purposes) because of her pure character & because she could sing only on this evening, & no other house was to be had at all convenient. ” Unfortunately, people who were unable to attain tickets caused a bit of a disturbance. Patton commented, “the whole scene was disgraceful to our city.”

Patton noted all family deaths, and the anniversaries of those deaths. The death of his first wife, Sarah, hours after giving birth to their son Charles, was entirely unexpected and particularly difficult. Patton wrote a ten page entry describing the events of the day and his reaction to  them. Though still strong in his faith, the following lines indicate just how upset Patton was at the potential loss of his wife. “From the first all my hope was in prayer, for I knew how fatal these cases generally prove. Oh how I pleaded with God to spare me this blow + vowed that if he would as a simple ‘thank offering’ I would give $100 this year to Foreign Missions – not that God was to be hired, but to evince my gratitude.” (March 29, 1850) A year later Patton began visiting with Mary Smith. He continued to document their courtship, marriage,  honeymoon, and life together.

Before writing the catalog record for the collection, I wanted to verify that the writer of the diaries was indeed the subject of the Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia states that Patton’s lyrics to the song John Brown’s Body were published in the Chicago Tribune on December 16, 1861. I turned to the volume covering 1861 and found the following entry:

Rev. William W. Patton diary

December 23, 1861, Rev. William W. Patton diaries and account book, 1835-1889, Ms 68129. CHS, Hartford, CT.

Rev. William W. Patton diary

December 23, 1861 cont.

Not only does Patton mention the publication in the Tribune, he also expresses his displeasure with President Lincoln and slavery. “Our President is ruled by Kentucky influences, & there the war is waged to put down the rebellion & preserve slavery! Oh fatal infatuation! I dread the judgments which God may need to inflict before we are willing to give freedom to the oppressed.”

While I have concentrated on Patton’s time in Hartford, he started his diaries in 1835 and continued writing until his death in 1889. Though I would love to sit and read each volume in its entirety, at this point I have only been able to skim them. As I reached the final volume, I found a sheet tucked in the back. It was a list of pros and cons made by Patton as he considered whether to stay in Boston or move to Hartford. The sixth entry for Hartford is one of my favorites. “Hartford is much pleasanter than So. Boston as a place of residence.”

Patton's pros and cons

Pros and cons of moving to Hartford, Rev. William W. Patton diaries and account book, 1835-1889, Ms 68129. CHS, Hartford, CT

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