Reverend Abraham Pierson

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Reverend Abraham Pierson, whose ancestry is unknown (or not traced here), was born perhaps at Bradford, West Riding, Yorkshire, England, between 1612 and 1614.1,2 He died at Newark, Essex Co., New Jersey, 9 August 1678.3,2

Abraham married Abigail Mitchell, daughter of Matthew Mitchell and Susan Wood, about 1641.4,5,6,3,7

At age 19, Reverend Abraham Pierson graduated from Trinity College at Cambridge, 2 January 1632/3 . Years later (1666), John Winthrop wrote in his medical journal that Pierson was 54. 8

The year he graduated, he is found to be an unlicensed curate at All Saints' Church, Pavement, York. He was ordained a deacon at York in September 1632.9

He arrived in Boston sometime before 1640, and was ordained to the ministry in the Congregational Church. In his memoir dated November 1640, the Rev. Hugh Peters wrote that [at some undetermined date] he attended "the formation of a church at Lynn," and participated "in the ordination of Abraham Pierson as their guide in the spreading of Gospel knowledge and influence." 10

While at Lynn, he became the leader of a group called the "undertakers," who, on 10 March 1639/40, made a compact to leave Lynn and establish a new home on the western edge of Long Island. A month later, 17 April 1640, they received a grant from the agent of the Earl of Sterling to take up eight square miles at Cow Bay, now North Hempstead. However, the Dutch at New Amsterdam also claimed that area, and drove off the English. 11

The company went east to Southampton and settled there. The form of government is said to be a theocracy where Church and State were united: Offenses were tried first by ecclesiastical courts and then by the General Court of Freemen, all property was taxed to raise the salary of the minister, and the right to vote was restricted to members of the church. 12

In 1644, the Southampton church split over the issue of the theocratic rule of the town. Rev. Pierson had hoped to establish an "Island of the Innocents," but many of the newcomers had more liberal views of religion and civil affairs. Also that year, Southampton formed a union with Connecticut and the laws of that colony allowed full voting privileges to all freemen. In 1647, Pierson and many of his faithful abandoned Southampton and united with Branford, then closely associated with New Haven, which was then a separate colony from Connecticut. "Pierson was anxious to unite with the New Haven Colony, where the clergy and the members of the churches were the only electors . . . possess[ing] the entire civic power of the colony." 13

While at Branford, and as early as 1651, he began studying the Indian language, and "continuing with much seriousness therein . . . concerning the things of their Peace." Shortly after, he was known to be preaching to the Indians, and also preparing a catechism for them in their native tongue. A missionary society in England, "The Commissioners for the United Colonies of New England," voted, 17 September 1656, to have Rev. Mr. Pierson, assisted by Thomas Stanton, to translate the catechism into Pequot, and prepare it for publication.

The pamphlet was published in 1659, entitled "Some helps for the Indians, showing them how to improve their natural reason, and to know the true God and the true Christian Religion." It was a short statement of the fundamental principles of monotheism.

Cory reported [in 1937] there were only two original copies: one in the British Museum, the other in a "New York free public library." The New Jersey Historical Society also had a reprint. 14

Rev. Pierson was paid a regular salary by the commissioners, who apparently had high regard for his work. Twice they made extra appropriations to aid his preparation of the pamphlet, and several times special awards were given for his extraordinary efforts. 15

He also served as an interpreter during negotiations between the Indians and the colony of New Haven to build a fence to keep the English cattle out of the Indian's corn field. 15

War was declared between England and the Netherlands in 1652, and the Dutch made advances on Manhattan in 1654. Branford furnished it's quota of eleven men, and also appointed "Chaplain" Pierson to accompany the force as their minister "for their incouragement, spirituall instruction, and comfort." Hostilities soon ended, apparently without bloodshed. 16

The pleasant times at Branford were not to last, however. In 1662, Charles II issued a new charter to Connecticut which incorporated New Haven into the new, larger colony. Under the new charter, the requirements for church membership for various civil rights, including voting, were abolished. Led by Pierson, in 1666, many from Branford, New Haven, Guilford, and Milford left their homes and migrated to Newark, New Jersey. Branford was deserted for a number of years, and Pierson had even taken the town and church records with them. It appears the town records were later returned, but the church records were lost.17

He was held in such esteem that the settlers agreed to provide his parsonage, dig a well for him, and pay him eighty pounds a year, payable in equal installments in October and March. They also agreed to "pay Him Yearly a pound of Butter for every Milch Cow in the Town in part of his pay." He was exempted from all ordinary taxes for life, excepting "the Lords' half-penny rent," and a proportion charged to his estate "for ways and drainings in the meadow." 18

Based on his will, he was apparently ill in the summer of 1671. On 4 March 1671 [probably 1671/2] the town asked his son Abraham to assist him as pastor. They both received firewood; the father continued to receive his £80 annual salary; the son received £40. 8

His health finally failed in the summer of 1678 and he passed quietly on the 9th of August. Reportedly he was buried in the churchyard, on a knoll west of the church, but over a century before the early settlers' remains were removed to Fairmont cemetery in Newark, all trace of his and Abigail's graves had been lost. 19

Cotton Mather wrote a tribute to Rev. Person: 8
"'Tis reported by Pliny, but perhaps 'tis but a Plinyism, that there is a fish called Lucerna, whose tongue doth shine like a torch. If it be a fable, yet let the tongue of a minster be the moral of that fable. Now such an illuminating tongue was that of our Pierson."

Mather concluded with:
Terris discessit, suspirans Gaudia caeli Piersonus patriam scandit ad astra suam.20,21
[Leaving this earth for the joys of heaven, father Pierson mounts to the stars.]


Reverend Abraham Pierson left a will dated 10 August 1671, and proved 12 Mar 1678:
[10 August 1671]

If God takes me away by this sickness, or until I have made a more formal will of a future date, then I do make and constitute this, my last will and testament, being firmly persuaded of the everlasting welfare of my soul's estate and my bod's resurrection to eternal life by Jesus Christ, my dear and precious Redeemer.

Imprimis: I will that all my debts be duly and truly paid, as they are expressed and recorded in my broad book for reckoning, which I brought from Branford, being carefully understood because of imperfections of the writing, or whatever else shall appear due to any thought not there recorded.

2ndly, That my wife shall have the thirds of my whole estate, to whose love and faithfulness I commit the bringing up of my children, and do appoint her my sole executrix, and give her my great Bible, and what other English books she pleaseth to choose.

3dly, For my choice and precious daughter Davenport, I will that her hundred pound [s] be made good, which I promised her upon her marriage, always provided that if upon just account of mine estate and debts, my other daughters have above an hundred pounds a piece, that she shall be advanced as much as any.

4th[ly], For my son Abraham, I do will that, besides what he has had, or any horse kind he hath, [---] he shall have all my books [except what, by particulars, I give to any], together with the frame belonging to the books; upon which consideration I will that he sh[all] pay back again to the estate eight pounds, in part of the portion my daughter Mary[shall have] upon her marriage day, or two mo[nths] after.

For my next three sons Thomas, Theophilus and Isaac, I will that they sh[all] have my whole accommodation of lands layed out, or to be layed out, within the limits of this plantation, always provided that my wife's thirds shall be at her sole disposal during the continuance of her natural life. For my son Thomas I do not bring in on his account either the home lot, which the town gave him, or any horse kind, which, in former times, I gave him. I will that he have a sufficient house lot upon his home lot in part of [his] portion, and do give him Dr. Hall his paraphrase upon his Bible, as a token of my love. For my two youngest sons I would have the, in due time, to have each of them half of the homestead.

Finally, all my just debts paid, and my wife's thirds kept entire, I would have the whole of my remaining estate to be divided, as portions to the rest of my children, to wit: my three sons and four daughters, according to equal valuations and proportions, the same to be payable on the day of their respective marriages, or one month after; but if they be not married, then the male children---their portions sh[all] be payable when they are of the age of twenty.

Furthermore, I would have my lesser boys to be taught to read the Eng[lish] toungue and to write a legible had, and all my ch[il]dren that be at home with me to have, each of them a new Eng[lish] Bible, and a good Eng[lish] book out of the library, such as they, by the advice of their mother, sh[all] choose.

Likewise, I do request and hereby ordain my trusty and well-beloved brethren and friends, Mr. Jasper Crane, Mr. Rob. Treat, Lieut. Swaine, Brother Tomkins, Bro. Lawrence and Bro. Sergeant Ward to become supervisors of this, my last will and testament, to be helpful unto my wife and to see that this, my last will, be faithfully executed, and when any one of these sh[all] die, or depart the place, the rest sh[all] , with my wife's consent, appoint some faithful man to fill up the empty place. In witness whereunto, I have set my hand, the day and year first above written-witness Thomas Pierson
                                   (signed) Abraham Pierson

John Ward, Michael Tompkins and Thomas Pierson made the inventory, 12 March 1678/9, valued at £854 7s 7d. Among the inventory was his library of 440 volumnes, valued at £140, doubtless the largest library in East or West Jersey at the time. As shown above, most of the the books were given to his son Abraham, and as he later became the first president of Yale, they may have become the foundation for the Yale library.

Letters of administration on the estate were granted to the widow, Abigail Pierson, 18 March 1678/9.22

Family

Abigail Mitchell b. 26 Apr 1618, d. bef. 5 Jun 1696
Children
  • Thomas Pierson+2,3 b. 1642, d. bef. 1684
  • John Pierson2,3 b. 1643, d. bef. 1671
  • Abigail Pierson2,3 b. 1644, d. 1718
  • Abraham Pierson2,3 b. 1645, d. 7 Mar 1707
  • Grace Pierson+2,3 b. 31 Jul 1650, d. bef. 1690
  • Susanna Pierson2,3 b. 10 Dec 1652, d. 4 Jan 1707
  • Rebecca Pierson2,3 b. 1654, d. Nov 1732
  • Theophilus Pierson2,3 b. 15 Mar 1657, d. 1717
  • Isaac Pierson2,3 b. aft. 1658
  • Mary Pierson2,3 b. aft. 1658

Citations

  1. [S27] C. H. Cory, Lineal Ancestors of Susan (Kitchell) Mulford, Mother of Mrs Susan (Mulford) Cory, Vol IV, Pt 1 ([New Jersey]: s.p., 1937), 111, further cited as Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell.
  2. [S290] Merlin J. Stone, History and Genealogy of Pierson Families from 1550 to About 1900 (1909; reprint, [Ogden, Utah]: Pierson Family Association, 1972), 2-3, further cited as Stone, Pierson Families.
  3. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 95-115.
  4. [S2053] Robert Charles Anderson, George F. Sanborn Jr. and Melinde Lutz Sanborn, The Great Migration: Immigrants To New England, 1634-1635, 7 vols. (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999-2011), 5:127, further cited as Anderson, et al., The Great Migration.
  5. [S26] Donald Lines Jacobus, "The Wife of Rev. Abraham Pierson," The American Genealogist 9 (July 1932): 37-40, further cited as Jacobus, "Wife of Rev. Abraham Pierson."
  6. [S5] Donald Lines Jacobus, History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, two vols. (New Haven, Connecticut: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1930-1932), 415, further cited as Jacobus, Families of Old Fairfield.
  7. [S1872] Clarence Almon Torrey, New England Marriages Prior to 1700, 3 vols. (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011), 1194, further cited as Torrey, New England Marriages (2011).
  8. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 106.
  9. [S1323] Wikipedia Contributors, "Abraham Pierson, the elder," https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Pierson%2C_the_elder, (accessed Dec 2015)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
  10. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 95.
  11. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 96.
  12. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 97.
  13. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 98.
  14. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 99.
  15. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 100.
  16. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 111-112.
  17. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 102.
  18. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 103.
  19. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 106-7.
  20. [S290] Stone, Pierson Families, 2.
  21. [S2040] N. Grier Parke II and Donald Lines Jacobus, editor, The Ancestry of Rev. Nathan Grier Parke & his wife Ann Elizabeth Gildersleeve (Woodstock, Vermont: s.p., 1959), further cited as Parke, Parke-Gildersleeve.
  22. [S27] Cory, Ancestry of Susan Kitchell, 107-108.