Rev. John Reed, Chaplain

John Reed. The Rev. John Reed is one of five Continental Navy Chaplains listed in Mess Night Traditions by Charles J. Gibowicz (2007). According to genealogical sources, Reed was born on 11 November 1751 in Framingham, MA, son of the “zealous new-light preacher” Rev. Solomon Reed (1719-1785) and Abigail Stoughton (1714-1763). He was the second of five children and oldest of four sons. In 1756, John Reed moved with his parents from Framingham where his father had been minister of the Second Congregational Church for ten years to Titicut, a parish in the northwestern part of Middleborough and the southwest part of Bridgewater. Reed’s mother Abigail died when he was just twelve years old. According to Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College by Franklin Bowditch Dexter (1903), John Reed’s father Solomon was a strict Calvinist who preferred the “soundness… of the theological doctrines” inherent in the Yale education he arranged for his son over his own alma mater Harvard. The elder Reed also maintained an “intimate friendship” with Yale President Naphtali Daggett. John Reed entered Yale College in 1768 and graduated in 1772. Also according to Dexter, “after graduation John Reed continued in New Haven and vicinity for two years as a student of theology, and was admitted to membership in the First Church of Milford, of which the Rev. Samuel Wales (1747-1794) was pastor, on November 6, 1774. Wales eventually left this church to become Professor of Divinity at Yale in 1782. During this time Reed’s doctrinal beliefs underwent a change, and he abandoned strict Calvinistic views for an Arminian perspective. Afterward, he returned home and continued his professional studies with his father. He was licensed to preach, and held for a year or two the appointment of Chaplain in the naval service of the United States, but was not called on to undertake any sea duty.” At the time of his service, John Reed was a resident of Middleborough. By virtue of his 1777 assignment as Chaplain on the frigate Warren under Commodore Esek Hopkins, Reed is only sometimes credited with the honor of being named the first chaplain of the Continental Navy, a claim also attributed to Edward Brooks whose April 1777 warrant is extant. The Warren was the flagship of the United States’ first naval squadron and Reed was among a number of her officers who in February 1777 subscribed to a petition to the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress against their captain which led to his dismissal; lending credence to his claim as first chaplain. Commodore Esek Hopkins “broke his pennant” in the frigate Warren in December 1776. Earlier that year in February, Hopkins sailed in command of the first U.S. Navy fleet operation to seize Nassau from the British. The successful raid which also included the first U.S. Marine amphibious landing occurred on 3 March 1776. By 8 April, the fleet had returned to New London where despite the benefits secured by the operation, Commodore Hopkins was censured by the Continental Congress on 12 August for not strictly following orders. For the balance of Hopkins tenure as senior Naval officer, his fleet including the Warren was blockaded in the Providence River by the superior Royal Navy commanding Narragansett Bay. It was during this period of inactivity that John Reed served as chaplain to the frigate Warren. He was among the number of disgruntled and disloyal officers belonging to the ship who made unsubstantiated allegations concerning their commander’s character and competence which raised additional suspicion of Hopkins in Congress. Eventually, the Continental Congress voted on 2 January 1778 to relieve the Commodore of all duties. Author Edward Field reveals something of Reed’s role in Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy (1898) ; “Rank, that great source of contention in all services in which it is not clearly defined and rigidly regulated, appears to have created endless heart burnings. The dissensions of the officers, naturally communicated themselves to the men; and, in time, this difficulty was added to the others which existed in obtaining crews. ‘They are jealous of him’ alleged Chaplain Reed, in his complaint against Hopkins to the Marine Committee, and he sounded the key note in the whole miserable plot when he subscribed his name to these words. Combined with the jealousy of the officers in the fleet, and the revengeful spirit that pervaded the minds of those men outside, together with the petty politics that pervaded the Continental Congress during the earlier period of the war, there was fuel enough to start a fire which no one could tell what it would consume before it was quenched. The moral status of the navy in its early days undoubtedly was not of the highest. The rules of the service provided for a chaplain, but it was not until long after the navy was organized that such an officer was enrolled. The first to be appointed was John Reed, and he seems to have been more willing to lend his influence to underhand methods against his superiors than to pursue a course more in keeping with his profession.” Field follows up his scathing criticism by aiming innuendo at Chaplain Reed by quoting a letter Hopkins wrote to the Reverend Samuel Hopkins of Newport, “I received yours of the 20th September yesterday, and am very much obliged to you for your address and advice; and as to your complaints of the people belonging to the navy, I am now to let you know that I did not enter into the navy as a divine and that I am not qualified to act or give directions in that matter. The Congress whom I serve, made provision for a chaplain to perform that necessary duty, but to my mortification I have not been able to get a single man to act in that character, although I have applied to many. If you know of any one that has the good will of mankind at heart sufficiently to expose himself to necessary danger of that service, should be glad if you would send him, who you may depend will be treated with due respect; and if none can be procured, I cannot but condole with you the depravity of the times.” The frigate Warren, now under the command of John B. Hopkins, finally slipped the British blockade on 8 March 1778. The ship took two prizes before putting into Boston just two weeks later on 23 March 1778. The Warren also cruised in company with the Massachusetts ship Tyrannicide in September 1778. It is not known if Reed sailed with the ship for these two short cruises; however, the length of his tenure as chaplain suggests the reverend may have gone to sea briefly despite the claims of his chroniclers otherwise. The Warren spent the winter of 1778 in Boston and did not leave port again until 13 March 1779, still under the command of Captain John B. Hopkins. The frigate returned shortly thereafter in April. A crew list for the Warren, for the time period just after that brief cruise, dated May through June 1779 is among the collection of papers associated with Dudley Saltonstall sold at Bonham’s auction sale of 4 December 2007. It does not appear likely that Reed would be included on the list of officers and men at that time. Soon after fulfilling his duty as a chaplain in the Continental Navy, John Reed was ordained as a minister in the First Congregational Society at Bridgewater on 7 June 1780, “the sermon on that occasion being preached by his father.” The Rev. John Reed was ordained as an associate or colleague to the Rev. Daniel Perkins (1696-1782) who served the church from 1721 until his death two years after Reed’s arrival. Just four months after his ordination, on 14 October 1780 the Rev. John Reed was also married to Hannah Sampson, daughter of Uriah Simpson and Anna White. Hannah was born in Middleborough on 15 April 1755. The couple shared eight children: John, Jr born 2 September 1781 who married Olive Alger in 1809, became Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts and died in 1860; Daniel born 1783 who married Nancy Foster in 1812 and died 1866; Hannah born 1785 and died the following year; Solomon born 22 March 1788 who married Abigail Howard in 1811 and died 1820; Hannah born 7 July 1790 who married Jonathan Copeland in 1818; Sally born 1793 and died 1797; Caleb born 1797 who graduated from Harvard in 1817; and Sampson born 10 June 1800 who graduated from Harvard in 1818. Rev. John Reed was elected as a Federalist to represent the Sixth District of Massachusetts and also as a Representative at-large for the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Congresses (March 1795-March 1801), choosing not to run for re-election in 1801. Reed was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree during the graduation ceremony of his oldest son John, Jr. at Brown University in 1803. He also delivered the Dudleian Lecture at Harvard in 1812. After his first wife’s death on 13 November 1815, the Rev. John Reed was married a second time to Mrs. Phebe Sampson Paddock (1769-1855) in November 1822. Phebe was the widow of Josiah Paddock of Freetown, MA and the youngest sister of Reed’s first wife. According to Annals of the American Pulpit: Unitarian Congregational by William Buell Sprague (1865), the Rev. Dr. John Reed “spent the last ten years of his life in total darkness, having irrecoverably lost his sight by means of cataracts. The last time that he could avail himself of the aid of a manuscript in preaching, was in November 1820, at the Funeral of his friend and neighbor, the Rev. Dr. Sanger. He, however, continued to preach regularly until a short time before his death,” committing his texts to memory by his hearing them read. Sprague continues, “As an illustration of the remarkable accuracy and discrimination which he attained in his hearing, after he became blind, he stated that he was riding, at a certain time, in Middleborough, where he lived when a boy, and he met a man driving a team. He stopped and spoke to him, saying that he could not see him, and had never seen him, but he could tell whose son he was, by the sound of his voice; and he actually told correctly.” John Reed remained in the pulpit of the First Parish at West Bridgewater until his death of lung fever after a brief illness in the fifty-first year of his ministry on 17 February 1831. According to Dexter, “In his last hours, he expressed a deep sense of his own unworthiness, and a grateful sense of the Divine goodness, and then took leave of his family with great composure and tenderness. The devotional services at his Funeral were, by his own request, conducted by the Rev. Pitt Clark, of Norton; and a Sermon, commemorative of him, was preached the Sabbath after his Funeral, by the Rev. R. M. Hodges, minister of the First Congregational Society in Bridgewater.” In his funeral sermon later published in 1831, Reed is described, “in his private character so sedate, and at the same time so childlike and free from guile and ostentation; in his intercourse with his fellow-men so sober, sincere, and kind, and so ready always to give a reason for his faith,―he exerted a healthful and moral power, and won attention and esteem.” He is interred in the Old Graveyard at West Bridgewater and his gravestone can be viewed at Almost two decades after his death; colleague, neighbor and friend Rev. Dr. James Flint was asked to share recollections of the late Rev. Dr. John Reed. He responded with the following, “In person, Dr. Reed was of more than medium size, of a firm, well-built frame, limbs and muscles well covered with flesh, though not corpulent; formed rather for strength than agility; with a large, well-shaped head; five feet and eight or ten inches, I should judge, in height; slightly bending and slow in his gait. His features were regular, and his eye black and penetrating. His countenance was indicative of intelligence and benignity, wearing, in a state of repose, a grave and meditative aspect; but, when engaged in earnest conversation, it was lighted up with a pleasant and cheerful smile. Though naturally sociable in his disposition, yet, finding but little congenial society in his immediate neighbourhood, he passed much of his time in silent self-communion, in abstract thinking and metaphysical speculation. When, however, the opportunity offered, no man delighted more in conversation with his brethren or other intelligent friends. His domestic affections were strong, and in his domestic relations and in quiet home enjoyments, he was eminently favoured. He was but sparingly endowed with the imaginative, or else he kept his imagination in rigid subjection to his reason―certainly he was no dealer in tropes. He expressed his thoughts in plain, unaffected phraseology; in words from “the pure well of English undefiled.” He rarely, if ever availed himself of a striking image or metaphor, either for ornament or illustration, in conversation or writing. He was chiefly distinguished for his strong good sense, a clear and discriminating judgment, and close and cogent reasoning; indeed, I think be had few superiors in conducting an argument, especially on an abstract subject. Dr. Reed’s manner in the pulpit was marked by unaffected seriousness, a distinct and deliberate utterance, seldom very animated, with no great variety of emphasis or modulation, his voice being of a pitch too much above the grave key to be very commanding, or suited to fill a large space. The sound sense and vigorous reasoning which characterized his discourses never failed to secure the attention of the intelligent hearer… A man so accustomed to profound and abstract thinking, we should expect, would occasionally betray that unconsciousness of what was passing before him, which, in common parlance, we call absence of mind; and so it really was. His lady used to illustrate this by a pleasant anecdote. While his children were reading the chapter in connection with the morning worship of the family, some word or sentence awakened a train of thought, in which he remained absorbed some time after they had finished the chapter, when, recollecting himself, he called out to his young readers, much to their amusement,―” Come, get your Bibles, and read your chapter for prayers….Dr. Reed was ranked, by his contemporaries, at the close of the last century, amongst the ministers who were Anti-Calvinistic or Arminian, in their theological views. In regard to the character of Christ, I think he was a high Arian…His general bearing in society was quiet, affable, unassuming, indicative of a cheerful and serene spirit, of great candour and freedom from prejudice, and he regarded as his Christian brethren all good men, of whatever sect or creed. He enjoyed, in a high degree, the affectionate respect of his people, and of his brethren in the ministry, and exercised a wide influence in the community at large.” For those unaccustomed to the theological subtleties of doctrinal differences that Rev. Flint is describing, Chaplain John Reed would be today simply referred to as a Unitarian. The Rev. John Reed was followed in death by his second wife Phebe on 5 July 1855.

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