Rev. Thomas F. King
Father of Starr King and Pastor of the Universalist Church — His Death and Funeral — The First Sermon of Doctor
Chapin in Massachusetts.
IN October, 1835, an invitation was extended by the First Universalist Society in Charlestown to Rev.
Thomas Farrington King, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to become its pastor, the situation having been made vacant
by the resignation of Rev. Linus S. Everett in December, 1834. The invitation was accepted, and the installation
services took place January 10, 1836. Those of us who were privileged to know Mr. King can never forget the faithful,
warm-hearted Christian minister, the father of Thomas Starr King. It has been well said of him that “he was a friend
of truth and humanity,” and certainly his generous nature claimed acknowledgement from all who came in contact
with him. After his acceptance of this call he removed from Portsmouth to Charlestown at once, with his wife and
family of young children, among them his eldest son, Thomas Starr, then ten years of age.
The ministry of Thomas F. King was successful. His character was marked by openness and honesty. In his intercourse
with his fellow-men he was confiding and agreeable. The grasp of his hand was so warm and his greeting so cordial
that he easily gained the confidence and esteem of the whole community. He was broad in his views and open to the
influence of light as it should be thrown upon the world for its instruction and growth; a good speaker and a fine
reader of hymns, always in earnest with his work, — as some of us, who were interested parties in the marriage-ceremony
as conducted by him, well remember. Yet he was full of humor, and remarkable for his imitative powers, which he
was ever ready to put into exercise and make interesting when the proper time for mirthfulness came round. In a
word, he was an able, cheerful, good man.
But his health failed, and after great suffering from a deep-seated disease he died in September, 1839, at the
age of forty-two years, at his home on Main Street, in the wooden building which now makes the corner of Main and
Dunstable streets. His funeral, which took place from the church in September, was very largely attended; all the
business places in the town were closed in testimony of the respect and regard felt for him in the community, and
a long procession followed his remains to his grave in the old burial-ground.
The death of Mr. King took place at a time when there was an unusual gathering of Universalist clergymen in Boston,
who were on their way to a general convention of the denomination at Portland, Maine. Many of them attended the
funeral and were present in the church, which was opened for religious services in the evening of that day. Among
these clergymen was a young man who, two years before, had been ordained and settled over the Independent Christian
Society in Richmond, Virginia. He had been invited by the church committee, at the suggestion of Rev. A. B. Grosh,
of Utica, New York, with whom he had been a student, to preach the sermon. The congregation was large, and they
listened with constantly increasing attention to the preacher as he discoursed on faith, “the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The preacher was Rev. Edwin H. Chapin, and this was his first introduction to a Charlestown audience, his first
sermon in New England. The rapt attention of all who were present was easily held by him, as in eloquent tones
he delivered a sermon which was at once a source of consolation to the recently bereaved, of profit and enjoyment
to his hearers, and the promise of future eminence for himself. To hear more from this stranger, to listen again
to the rich tone of his voice, to be stirred and charmed by his earnest, vigorous thought and unmistakable sincerity,
was the general desire, and, by a unanimous vote at a meeting of the society soon after, its committee was instructed
to extend an invitation to him to occupy the pulpit again as a candidate for the vacant pastorship. The correspondence
resulted in his promise to preach three Sundays in the February following. His return was looked forward to with
almost impatient interest, and when it was announced February 1, 1840, that he had arrived and would occupy the
pulpit on the following Sunday the expression of gratification and pleasant expectancy was intense. A single sermon
by a young stranger, unknown to fame, had produced this state of feeling. But his soul had been stirred to its
depths with his own thought, and there was magnetism enough about him to attract and hold the attention and interest
of every listener.
The church was thronged when Sunday came, and as the young divine passed through the aisle to the pulpit, everything
but the outward expression of applause was manifest in the congregation. But what was to be the outcome of all
this? To meet this expectation was a large demand upon a young man who had just entered the ministry. Would he
be equal to it? There was no disappointment. The services were successful from the first to the last. The scripture-lesson,
the reading of the hymns, the prayer, each touched the head, the heart, the soul; and the sermon was full of the
earnestness and irresistible eloquence which always afterwards characterized the preaching of Doctor Chapin.
It had been arranged with Mr. Chapin that there should be a morning and an afternoon service on each of the three
Sundays. When he left Richmond he had just delivered a course of six lectures to young men. They had given great
satisfaction and called out much favorable newspaper criticism. A desire was expressed by some of the Boston Universalists,
especially Abel Tompkins, whose book-store in Cornhill was at that time the headquarters of the Universalist ministers,
that he should repeat these lectures while here and allow them to be published in book-form. The society hesitated
before meeting this desire, on the ground that it would be asking too much, imposing too great a burden upon the
young man. But the request was made, and the lectures given Sunday and Thursday evenings of his stay. Twelve sermons
in three weeks, and to hear each one of them a church filled to its utmost capacity with delighted listeners —
listeners to a man of unmistakable genius, to the earnest expression of a noble soul, whose influence was as natural
and cheering as the sunlight, as potent and refreshing as the rain.
On Sunday, February 23, after the service in the afternoon, a general meeting of the society was held, and this
resolution was passed: “We hereby extend to Rev. Edwin H. Chapin a frank, cordial, and unanimous invitation to
assume the pastoral charge of this society.” This resolution was presented to him by the committee at the residence
of one of its members on the evening of the same day, and it was confirmed at a legal meeting which had been notified
previously but could not be held until the 8th of March.
A long time elapsed before a full acceptance of the call was given, but during this time an interesting correspondence
was kept up between Richard Frothingham, Jr., chairman of the standing committee, and Rev. Mr. Chapin, which from
time to time was communicated to the society. To fulfill faithfully his obligations to the society in Richmond
had first to be considered and completed by Mr. Chapin. Then he must be sure that the Charlestown society understood
fully his position as a minister of the gospel, a seeker after truth. His views of Universalism were not in full
accord with some of its teachers, but his “reason and hope, bound together with golden cords of scripture teaching,
held to the sublime and beautiful doctrine of universal salvation.” He looked upon the society as an independent
one and he would be an independent preacher. With the full understanding of his views and feelings he would gratefully
accept the call. Mr. Frothingham’s reply in behalf of the society was as follows:
We would have our minister an Independent Preacher; one who would not be bounded by creed or sect; one who would
yield to no dictation but that of his own conscience; one who would make duty his principle of action, and truth
his guiding star; one who would stand ready to reflect whatever of new light he may receive upon the people of
his charge. Robinson, two centuries ago, charged his people never to be afraid to receive new truth from God’s
Word. Shall we refuse to accept a liberty that is two centuries old?
In this spirit the re]ation of pastor and people was formed between Edwin H. Chapin and the First Universalist
Society in Charlestown. On the, first Sunday in December, 1840, he greeted his people from his own pulpit, as pastor
and preacher, and on the 23d of the same month his installation took place in the presence of a large and happy
At this time all the religious societies in the town were in a state of prosperity, and their standing with their
respective denominations was such as to make them worthy of the attention of the most prominent young clergymen
looking for places of settlement. Doctor Walker had just given up the pastorate of the Harvard Unitarian Society
to take a professorship in Harvard College, and a call had been accepted by Rev. George E. Ellis, August 8, 1840,
to fill his place. The First Church was without a pastor, and Rev. Wiffiam Ives Buddington had been called there;
and Rev. E. H. Chapin, as we have said, had become the pastor of the Universalist Society. These three young men,
each then only twenty-five years old, and all born within six months of each other, were to commence their career
of usefulness and eminence in Charlestown. Fortunate Charlestown! But more of this, with further notice of Doctor
Chapin’s life here, in a future article.
JUNE 4, 1892.