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One's grampa was struck by lightning,
another was locked in his house

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Rev. John Emerson--Rev. William Shurtleff--Trials of a Pastor--Rev. Job Strong and his successors at the South church.

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AT the residence of Capt. Charles E. Blunt, in Gardner street, is a finely executed portrait of Rev. John Emerson, who was the first minister settled at Newcastle, in 1703, after it was separated from Portsmouth. He was a man of fine countenance, and, in the full wig of the day, of very commanding appearance. It is no wonder that such a man, when in the city of London in 1708 (when this portrait was painted), should have received the marked attentions of Queen Anne. He returned to Newcastle and preached there till 1712, when he was dismissed. In the course of a year, when the old meeting house below the south bridge, in Portsmouth, was vacated by Mr. Rodgers' society for the occupancy of the new North Church, Rev. Mr. Emerson became the pastor of those who did not wish to remove, and in 1715 was installed over the society. He continued to preach there very acceptably and with good results during his life. His last public service was a prayer on the frame of the new South Church, when it was erecting in 1731. He died June 21, 1732, aged sixty-two. His wife, Mary Barter of Salem, whose portrait stands near her husband's, was not possessed of much personal beauty, but her rare virtues are treasured in the memory of her descendants. She was the mother of five daughters: Mary was the wife of Francis Winkley, of Kittery; Ann, of Stephen Greenleaf of Portsmouth; Sarah, of Mr. Davis of Portsmouth ; Dorothy, of Elihu Gunnison of Kittery; and Martha, of Mr. Flint of Plaistow.

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The Rev. William Shurtleff was ordained at Newcastle the same year in which Mr. Emerson was dismissed, 1712. He was a son of William Shurtleff, of Plymouth, in Massachusetts. His grandfather, William Shurtleff, of Marshfield, was killed by lightning in 1666; while two children in his lap and one between his knees, and his wife by his side remained uninjured. The Rev. Mr. Shurtleff married Mary Atkinson, sister of Theodore Atkinson, but had no children. As he succeeded Mr. Emerson at Newcastle, so upon Mr. Emerson's death he became his successor at Portsmouth, and was installed over the South Church, Feb. 21, 1733; his connection with Newcastle having been dissolved the year before. He spent the remainder of his days at Portsmouth, and died May 9, 1747.

He was eminent for piety aud pastoral fidelity. During his ministry in Portsmouth, he baptized more than seven hundred, and admitted one hundred and thirty communicants to the church.

Mr. Alden remarks, that "his name will long be mentioned with respect, for his uncommon meekness and patience under great trials, and for his distinguished piety, talents and pastoral fidelity." His troubles were of the domestic kind. Mrs. Shurtleff might have been beautiful in person, but was far from possessing that amiable disposition which is the better ornament. Neglectful in attendence on his wants, see the devoted pastor patiently bending over the coals of his kitchen fire, broiling a fish for dinner, which she has told him should not be cooked.

"Has this been salted, Mr. Shurtleff?" she enquires. He replies, "It has." "Well, it needs peppering, then, said his prim wife, and taking up a shovel of ashes, the fish and his hopes of dinner disappear beneath the liberal peppering. One Sabbath, he in a retired room is in close study to the last minute before the church service, in preparation for the duties of his holy office. He is ready to depart--but lo! the door is fastened, and no one is in hearing. The bell tolls and tolls to thrice the usual time; the lady of the pastor is sitting primly and quietly in her seat, and the audience are all wondering what delays the pastor's attendance. The deacon enquires of the lady; she says he was at home when she left. A committee is despatched; the barricade at the study door is removed, and the whole matter at once explained. The indulgent pastor asked that the matter might be kept quiet, and it is left for the rambler, about one hundred and twenty years after the event, to give to-day the matter to the public--even at the risk of incurring censure for having and expressing no very exalted opinion of one of the departed. It is said that Richard Baxter married that he might receive discipline and have his virtues brought into exercise. Mrs. S. would have been an excellent wife for such a man. We are informed by one who knows, that, when her husband died, she appeared at his funeral in deep mourning, whereupon her brother, Hon. Theodore Atkinson, seized hold of her dress with some violence, and tore it, telling her that she who had been such a thorn in his side, should not now add to the offense the hypocrisy of pretending to mourn for him.

In the Historical Rooms in Boston is a well executed portrait of Mr. Shurtleff, in surplice and bands. The characteristics of the expression of his countenance are gravity, devotion and apostolic meekness.

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Rev. Job Strong, a native of Northampton, Mass., was the successor of Mr. Shurtleff as pastor of the South Church, over which he was settled June 28, 1749. Was married December, 1750, to Abigail, daughter of Peter Gilman of Exeter. Their infant son died Sept. 28, 1751. The next forenoon he preached from these words: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil." At noon he was seized with bilious colic, and on Monday died, at the age of twenty-seven. His widow, in 1755, married Rev. Woodbridge Odlin of Exeter, and was the mother of Dudley, Woodbridge, Peter, John, Elizabeth, Abigail, (first wife of Hon. Nathaniel Gilman,) Mary Ann and Charlotte.

The successor of Mr. Strong was Rev. Samuel Haven, D.D., in 1752. From 1799 to 1805, Rev. Timothy Alden was his colleague, Rev. Nathan Parker, D.D., was pastor from 1808 to 1833, in which year Rev. A. P. Peabody, D.D., was ordained.* The three last pastorates have thus extended over a full century, after deducting those years in which a colleague was employed. A striking illustration of the affection of a people, and the correspondingly strong attachment of their spiritual teachers.

*Rev. Dr. Peabody was succeeded by Rev. James DeNormandie in 1862, who is still the pastor, in 1873.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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