Edward Brooks Hall (1800 – 1866)

“Edward Brooks Hall, son of Nathaniel Hall and Joanna Cotton Brooks (a lineal descendant of Rev. John Cotton), was born in Medford Mass., on September 2, 1800, the third in a family of five children:…

He was named from his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Edward Brooks of North Yarmouth, Mass.  The characteristic of Dr. Hall’s boyhood, which is recorded in every account of his life, is a love of play, and especially all forms of outdoor sports.  He was not a born student.  But when he was fifteen years old, discovering that his mother had set her heart on his going t college, he at once changed his whole habit of life.  In spite of the discouraging opinion of his teacher, Mr. Covers Francis, who was convinced he could not possibly get into college with the next entering class, he so concentrated his energies on the work in hand that in nine months he was fully prepared, and entered Harvard in August, 1816.

In college he took little part in the social side of student life, but the few friends he made there were intimate companions for life.  Among there were his classmates, Rev. D. Furness, Rev. Dr. Gannett, and Rev. Calvin Lincoln.  Dr. Gannett, speaking of Dr. Hall’s intellectual characteristics, which began to manifest themselves during his college course, says: ‘He was one who grew, subjectively and relatively.  His mind was seldom rapid in its action.  He did not seize upon conclusions, but approached them thoughtfully, even cautiously.  His acquisition was not like the miner’s, who strikes on sudden wealth, but more like the farmer’s whose early and late toil is rewarded by the harvest.’

For a year after his graduation in 1820 he taught at Garrison Forest, about ten miles from Baltimore. He then returned to Cambridge to study for the ministry, graduating from the Harvard Divinity School in 1824, and in 1826 was ordained over the new Unitarian society in Northampton, Mass., where he preached for three years.  In October, 1826, he was married to Harriet Ware, by whom he had six sons.

Dr. Hall’s health broke down seriously in 1829, and he resigned his parish and went to Cuba.  Greatly benefited by his stay there, he returned, and took charge of the Unitarian society in Cincinnati for nearly a year, and afterwards formed a church in Grafton, where he was preaching when he received a call to the First Congregational Society in Providence, R.I., which he accepted, and was installed November 14, 1832.  Here his wife died in 1838.  In 1840 he married Louisa Jane Park, by whom he had one daughter.  Harriet Ware Hall, born September 15, 1841.  Both survived him, his daughter living until March 18, 1889, and his wife until September 8, 1892.

It is with Providence that his name is identified.  There his long ministry of thirty-four years bears abundant fruit in the lives of those he served and in the lives of their children and children’s children.  His life is wrought into the growing organism of the community in many ways.  The First Congregational Church is still knows as Dr. Hall’s church.  A stranger in the city, inquiring after its location, would find it most readily by that name.

In estimating the quality of Dr. Hall’s influence, after an interval of nearly thirty years, his work as a parish pastor would be placed first.  It has been well said of him that he took the pastoral view of every subject, and belonged rather to the Ware school of practical pastors than to the Charming school of preaching philosophers.  His chief instrument of service was in his intimate knowledge of the individual lives of his people.

His preaching was direct and simple, very rarely controversial.  But, whenever he took a stand on any controversial question, he was absolutely fearless,–a plain-spoken advocate of temperance, anti-slavery, and peace, and a strenuous opponent of the death penalty.  His peace principles, however, were broad enough to permit him to advocate the vigorous prosecution of the war for the suppression of the Rebellion.  Two of his sons served their country at the front.

Theologically, he was a conservative Unitarian; but he was never a harsh critic of those who differed from him in theological opinion, either those of the old orthodoxy or of the young radicalism.  ‘I believe I hold the truth,’ he once said.  ‘At least, I cannot see things differently; but I know that I am fallible, and that others may have got hold of some truth which I have not.’

His congregation steadily grew, and became one of the largest in the city.  He was especially attractive to young men, and it is significant that eight young men from the First Congregational Church were led by his preaching to enter the ministry.

His interest and influence were by no means confined to his own church and his own community.  The more general issues of the intellectual and spiritual life of America enlisted his wise sympathy and practical insight, and recognition of his services in these fields came from many directions.  From 1841 to 1866 he was a trustee of Brown University.  In 1848 he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard University, and at a still later date a professorship of mathematics and astronomy founded Antioch College, Ohio, by donations from citizens of Providence was named the Hall Professorship in his honor,  In 1850 he served as delegate to the World’s Peace Convention at Frankfort, Germany.  In 1858-9 he was president of the American Unitarian Association.

In November, 1865, increasing infirmity led him to resign his pulpit, the resignation to take effect the Following May.  He died Saturday, March 3, 1866.  After the funeral services, which were held in the church, the list of pall-bearers included the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Rhode Island and the ministers of the First Baptist, the First Universalist, and the Methodist Churches, and the Society of Friends.”

Source:  Herald’s of a Liberal Faith, Vol. 3, by Samuel Atkins Eliot, the American Unitarian Association, Boston, 1910, pages 150-3

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