George Richards, Chaplain

George Richards. Born near Newport, RI about 1755, little is known about the early years of George Richards. One source suggests his father was a lawyer named David who probably died at Newport on 29 March 1761 at the age of 49 and was a Quaker. Congregationalist pastor of East Church in Salem, MA; William Bentley writes in his diary published one hundred years after this 1814 entry that George Richards “had a brother who died in Salem, in humble condition, whose sallies of wit were known to persons of every name, & they were sure upon first notice. I have repeatedly noticed him in my Journal, administered the charities of his brother, & performed the last offices for him at the close of his life.” This brother David died on 20 November 1810 at the age of 58. The Richards brothers also had a sister Agnes who died on Sunday 16 September 1792 in Boston at the age of 33. From the style of writing, it is likely George wrote her obituary appearing in the Columbian Centinel on the following Saturday. According to the “Dictionary of Literary Biography,” early Universalist Church preacher Rev. John Murray wrote that the young Richards “studied the common and some of the higher branches of learning, under the private tuition of a clergyman in Newport, who gave him, as he afterwards felt confident, ‘as extensive advantages as he could have enjoyed under Dr. Manning, President of Brown University’.” The same source indicates George Richards was first introduced to his life-long passion for verse-making there, recalling “in later years the ‘imbecile lays’ he had then produced.” The first evidence of Richards’ career as an educator emerges in the 2 May 1774 edition of the Newport Mercury promotional advertising “GEORGE RICHARDS, Hereby informs the public, THAT he has opened a SCHOOL, at the House directly opposite to Mr. John G. Wanton’s, in Broad street, where reading, writing, arithmetic, the Latin and French tongues, are taught: All who please to favor him with the care of their children, may depend upon the strictest fidelity, in discharging the trust reposed in him.” It is not known how long Richards’ school operated but certainly would have closed prior to the British occupation of the city on 9 December 1776. Between 1776 and 1778, George Richards appears to have served as Quartermaster with the Artillery Regiment from Providence under the command of Col. Robert Elliot. The reorganization of the Rhode Island Militia in late 1774 included formation of the Company of Providence Fusiliers and Company of the Train of Artillery. In April 1775, both volunteer companies were merged together creating the largest military unit in Rhode Island. This combined artillery unit with light infantry support responded to the Boston alarm in Spring of 1775 and subsequent siege of Boston with four brass field pieces, gun crews and ammunition. According to “The War of the Revolution” by Christopher Ward, the Rhode Island artillery was deployed on 8 July 1775 in the successful attack on a British outpost. After the British defeat at the Siege of Boston on 17 March 1776, the four guns and supporting infantry of the United Train of Artillery were sent to New York where they saw action during the Battle of Long Island on 27 August. The first major battle of the war and its largest, the engagement exacted a bloody toll out of the men from Providence. One two gun battery under the command of Banajah Carpenter fought “gallantly and with fair effect until (Lord) Stirling was overwhelmed and Carpenter killed.” The surviving gun crews retreated some distance and continued “harassing fire” until they were evacuated across the East River to relative safety. As a result of the heavy casualties suffered, the United Train of Artillery was absorbed into Col. Henry Knox’s Massachusetts Regiment of Artillery, serving at the Battle of Saratoga in the Fall of 1777 and the Battle of Rhode Island and Siege of Newport in August 1778. Richards’ precise activities with this unit are not yet documented, however, it is highly likely he participated in the action at Newport. According to pension application S-22167 of Josiah Chandler of Connecticut, George Richards recruited him to join the frigate Providence under Captain Abraham Whipple (1733-1819) at Boston in January 1779. Chandler identifies Richards as the Chaplain and Purser of the ship. Not to be confused with the Sloop-of-War of the same moniker commanded by John Paul Jones and Hoysted Hacker, the 28 gun frigate Providence was launched in May 1776 at the Rhode Island port for which she was named. Blockaded in the Providence River for a year, the ship referred to as the second Providence sailed on the stormy night of 30 April 1778 under the command of Captain Abraham Whipple, ordered by the Marine Committee to deliver important dispatches to France. After escaping the cannons of two British warships patrolling Narragansett Bay, the frigate Providence sped across the North Atlantic, arriving at Paimboeuf on 30 May 1778. Former Lieutenant of the Ranger Thomas Simpson, recently paroled after his unwarranted arrest by Jones Paul Jones, wrote to the American Commissioners in France on 18 July 1778 to report that he intended to board the Providence for his return to America at Nantes, about thirty miles upstream from Paimboeuf on the Loire River. Simpson instead was appointed to command his former ship. Sailing from that port on 8 August 1778 conveying guns and supplies for Continental Navy vessels under construction, the Providence met the frigate Boston at Brest on 14 August. Sailing for home eight days later, the frigates took three prizes on the return leg. An agreement drafted onboard the Providence between the three captains of the homeward bound convoy on 27 September 1778 and published in “The Life of Samuel Tucker, Commodore in the American Revolution” authored by John Hanibal Sheppard (1868) was penned by George Richards and is evidence he was with the vessel on her first cruise. Whipple, Tucker and Simpson wanted to formalize their agreement to cruise on the Banks of Newfoundland in search of prizes until 5 October before continuing to an American port. Her mission completed, the frigate Providence reached Portsmouth, NH on 15 October 1778. The vessel later transited to Boston in order to man a crew, where Josiah Chandler was recruited by the twenty-something chaplain. George Richards sailed next with the frigate Providence under Commodore Whipple in company with the Ranger and Queen of France on 18 June 1779. Cruising again off the Newfoundland Banks during mid-July, the little squadron fell in with the Jamaican fleet of about 150 ships undetected in the dense fog of early morning. Masquerading as British vessels, the three American warships sailed amidst the enemy fleet all day dispatching boarding parties manning small boats. Taking eleven prizes while not firing a shot or raising any alarm, the Continental Navy vessels and their prizes slipped away from the fleet under the cover of night. Eight of the prizes were sent into port with their aggregate cargo valued over one million dollars, the Providence returning to Boston with the squadron. Eight days prior to Commodore Whipple receiving a commendation from the Marine Committee congratulating him on the success of his cruise and urging speedy preparation of the Providence for another, George Richards was assigned to be judge advocate for the court martial of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall to be held on the frigate Deane then lying in Boston Harbor on 11 September 1779. Saltonstall, known to his detractors as Commodore “Sit and Stall”, was on trial for his role in the Penobscot Expedition debacle that resulted in the loss of many ships in Massachusetts and Continental Navy service. Charged with “not having done the utmost of his power to destroy the enemy,” “neglect of duty” and “Incapacity, Irresolution and Timidity highly unbecoming the Commander of any force”; Saltonstall was presented the indictment by Richards. Tried on 28 September 1779, the defendant was found guilty and cashiered out of naval service on 25 October 1779. One month later the frigate Providence sailed on her ill-fated final cruise from Nantasket Roads on 23 November 1779. Commodore Whipple and the frigate would arrive for the relief of Charleston, SC in late December, only to be lost to the British when that city fell on 12 May 1780. Letters in Folder 1 of the Abraham Whipple Collection (catalog #CS71 W574 1779) at the Rhode Island Historical Society, all dated between the ship’s departure from Boston and her loss, suggest Richards continued with the Providence, was captured in May 1780 and paroled to join the Deane later. A letter book which is described as more an orderly book contains correspondence from George Richards to Commodore Whipple dated 12/5/1779 and 4/6/1780; from Whipple to Richards dated 2/9/1780, 3/12/1780, and 4/6/1780; and a letter from Whipple to Messrs. Richards, Ash and Gooch dated 29 February 1780. William Ash was purser of the frigate Boston since October 1778. James Gooch, former Steward on the ship Raleigh under Thomas Thompson and Captain’s Clerk on the Ranger under Jones between September 1777 and June 1779, was Purser on the Ranger under Simpson between June 1779 and his capture with the balance of Whipple’s fleet in May 1780. Assuming Purser Richards was indeed captured with the Providence, it is likely his release was as timely as the July 1780 release of his peer Gooch. An examination of Whipple’s letter book should confirm details of Richards final months of service with the Providence. It appears that like James Gooch who went unexchanged but free on parole from July 1780 until sometime in 1782, George Richards also waited some time for an exchange and with it- freedom to serve again. It was during this hiatus from hostilities that George Richards was married to Jane Day on 15 January 1781 at Old North Church in Boston. Stephen Lewis was the rector of the church at that time. Six weeks later on 28 February 1781, the American Journal commenced advertising “GEORGE RICHARDS BEGS Leave to present his respectful Compliments to the LADIES and GENTLEMEN, of Providence, proposing to open a SCHOOL for Teaching the FRENCH TONGUE grammatically… Terms of Instruction made known at Col. AMOS ATWELL’S, on the West Side of the Great Bridge.” Formerly commander of the 1st Providence Militia Regiment, by this time Atwell was placed in charge of the Senior Class Regiment of Providence County. An advertisement in the same newspaper dated 10 March 1781 indicates the school was operating between “9-12 in the Forenoon” and “6-9 in the Evening… in the House of William Wheaton, Esq,” also “on the West Side of the Great Bridge.” Wheaton was a founding sponsor of the Train of Artillery where Richards likely first served in the military. His wife pregnant with their first child, George Richards was engaged as Chaplain to the frigate Deane under Captain Samuel Nicholson beginning 2 November 1781, serving for six months two days until 31 May 1782 according to “Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War” (1896). He clearly did not have the rate of Purser during that time as Richard Langdon was already in service on the ship in that capacity for at least six months prior and appears to have remained in that position continuously on the Hague under Manley until August 1783. During the winter of 1781 and again in 1782, the Deane cruised with the frigates Confederacy and Saratoga in the West Indies. When the frigate Deane returned to Boston from this second nine week cruise during which four valuable prizes were taken, she also brought back a number of enemy prisoners “among whom a virulent fever prevailed.” Almost certainly the surgeon’s work among the sick would have been matched by the chaplain’s work among the dead. It was about this time when George Fredericks Richards (1782-1846), the chaplain’s oldest son was born. George Richards joined the frigate again at Boston about August 1782 after the ship was renamed Hague and appears to have remained with her until the Hague was put out of commission at that city in 1783. Recently returned from British imprisonment, respected Continental Navy Captain John Manley (or Manly) was given command of the Hague on 16 September 1782. Certainly George Richards was present for the new commander’s introductory address to the ship’s commissioned, warrant and petty officers or “Gentlemen” and her “Good Lads and Jolly Seamen” recorded in Isaac John Greenwood’s biography “Captain John Manley” (1915). Chaplain Richards and the familiar frigate with a new name probably sailed for the West Indies in October 1782. Manley’s Hague captured a number of valuable prizes during that winter cruise, all of which made port safely. According to pension application S-30257 of Josiah Barker (1763-1847) who was with the ship from his enlistment in August 1782 until the following spring when “peace was declared”, George Richards was Chaplain of the vessel. A deponent in Barker’s pension application, Marine Oliver Holden also names Richards as Chaplain in his own pension testimony S-29899, recording that the man of God acted also as assistant Captain’s Clerk to Manley. Brother of Richard Holden who served as Orderly Sergeant of Marines on the same ship, Oliver notes that the Hague captured four prizes prior to making port at St. Pierre in Martinique. Shortly after departing Martinique about Christmas Day 1782, the American frigate captured the 340-ton British privateer Zac. Bailey of 20 guns under the command of Captain William Paxton on 1 January 1783. Oliver Holden testified he was placed on the vessel with prizemaster Daniels and mates Audebot (Midshipman Isaiah Audeburt) and Dana (Midshipman Luther Dana) of the Hague who sailed the prize into Boston. This is the same vessel of which Greenwood writes was originally bound from St. Lucia to St. Martin’s with 1800 barrels of rum, sugar and coffee and which arrived in Boston on 29 January 1783. About 300 miles east of Antigua on the morning of 9 January 1783, the frigate Hague was sighted by Captain Robert Manners-Sutton in command of the 44-gun British frigate Dolphin. In short order, the enemy warship was joined in the chase by four 74-gun vessels belonging to Admiral Pigot’s Leeward Island’s fleet. Making for the safety of French Guadeloupe, the Hague grounded on a reef where she was bombarded mercilessly by the Hercules under Captain Henry Savage. Manley reported “I have been drove on shore, after a thirty-six hrs chase, by a 50 gun ship, and lay at the mercy of her incessant fire for two days; who, with the assistance of a seventy-four and two other sail of the line to back her, were not sparing of a heavy and brisk cannonade; however, without a man killed, and only one slightly wounded.” Manley’s report may not have been completely accurate. Chaplain Richards may have officiated the burial of one of the Hague’s men as a note in the Essex Institute Historical Collection suggests twenty-eight year old Moses Richardson of Cambridge died as a result of the engagement. After several attempts to negotiate the reef and a failed attempt to attack the Hague with small boats, the enemy ships abandoned their efforts to board her and sailed off to join the British fleet. Escaping destruction of both crew and vessel, the following day and fourth since her detection, the Hague was floated, towed off the reef and taken upriver twelve miles for repairs. Sailing from Guadeloupe to Martinique in late January 1783 for additional repairs, the Hague departed the West Indies for America on 19 February and arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday 23 March 1783. It is probable Chaplain Richards offered a prayer of thanksgiving on the quarterdeck at the noon hour in celebration of the ship’s safe return. A short time later in April 1783 according to testimony in his pension application, prize crewman Oliver Holden- already home for several months, received his discharge from the frigate Hague from George Richards, presumably acting as Captain’s Clerk. The last word we hear from the chaplain concerning his wartime service is a 3 May 1784 formal request with others to have their “pay made good.” Commenting after George Richards’ death in 1814, Congregational minister William Bentley of Salem, MA makes an intriguing entry in his diary which suggests some of Richards’ shipboard writings survived the war, “my first knowledge of him was from some manuscript sermons said to have been delivered in one of our ships during the American war. He was then excentric. His imagination was active, his learning was not deep, his style inflated, but his tongue flowed with a torment of words. It was not like the sturdy pines over a water fall, but like the loosened rocks of Niagara when a new burden of the swelling lake refused the old path of waters, & wears a passage for the rocks. His endless ministrations will display the language of his eloquence.” After the war, George Richards established residency in his wife’s hometown of Boston and began teaching school. The 2 October 1784 edition of the Massachusetts Centinel advertises “An EVENING SCHOOL is now opened, at the room late occupied by Master SAMUEL HOLBROOK, opposite the Friends Meeting House, Leverett’s Lane, where Apprentices and others, will be taught English, Orthography, Reading, Grammar, Writing and Arithmetick.” Operating his start-up business between 6-9 on weekdays, Richards’ appeal to the Boston tradesmen who were obligated to provide for the education of their apprentices is straight-forward- “the price for instruction is much cheaper than at any other school in town.” The following spring both the Massachusetts Centinel and the Continental Journal published the mortuary notice of Mrs. Jane Richards, wife of George Richards, who died on Tuesday morning 12 April 1785. The funeral of the twenty-eight year old mother of three was held at five o’clock on Thursday afternoon 14 April at the couple’s dwelling house on Fort Hill. Her death was the first of a number of personal losses which left Richards widowed three times. The names of their younger two children, as well as George Richards’ entire family are recorded in a family Bible said to be in the archives of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. According to one published account, the Bible was found in a brush heap at Arlington Heights, VA in April 1864 by a soldier attached to the 11th Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteers who presented his find to the NEHGS at the close of the Civil War. The 27 April 1786 edition of the US Chronicle of Rhode Island announces the second marriage of George Richards to the “amiable” Mrs. Sarah Wallis (or Wallace) in Boston one week earlier on Thursday 20 April. The couple’s intentions were published three weeks earlier on 30 March. Despite the American Recorder marriage announcement of 26 April 1786 naming his new bride as Miss Sally Wallace, genealogical sources indicate the widow Wallace was Sarah Baldwin born on 28 January 1759 in Weston, MA. George Richards’ advertisement “SCHOOL for MISSES, is now opened from six to eight o’clock, in the morning, eleven A.M. To one P.M. And from five to six in the afternoon” appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel on the same day as his wedding announcement. It is assumed the location was at the same “school at Quaker Lane” Richards operated which was noted five weeks earlier in the same newspaper on 11 March 1786. That earlier article advertising the sale of tickets for the dedication of Warren Hall at King Solomon’s Lodge in Charlestown, MA also first reveals Brother George Richards’ association with freemasonry. According to one genealogical source, Richards served as Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts as early as 1787. The 30 September 1786 edition of the Centinel, reminded Richards’ patrons that his established “EVENING School is now opened” after the Summer break and while likely no longer the cheapest in town, “the price will be very moderate.” In 1787, the couples’ first child Rebecca Parrot was born. The following summer in 1788, the poet published “Anniversary Ode on American Independence” in celebration of the country’s birthday. In early October of that year, George Richards advertised in two newspapers regarding his relocation and the grand opening of his “NEW SCHOOL, NORTH END.” His solicitation continues, “THE Subscriber has removed to the House between Mr. William Cunningham’s and Deacon Sharps, and nearly opposite to the Rev. Dr. Lathrop’s Meeting House, where he has opened A DAY SCHOOL…also, an EVENING SCHOOL.” Marketing to a familiar audience, Richards advertises “he hopes to merit the kind patronage of the respectable Mechanicks at the North part of Boston.” One old source indicates that Sarah and George’s second child Sarah Ward Richards born on 27 October 1788, his fifth offspring, was “the first child dedicated by the Rev. John Murray.” Just about this same time, it appears former chaplain George Richards commenced preaching in the fledgling Universalist Church of John Murray. Two months later the Massachusetts Centinel of 27 December 1788 reports “MR. GEORGE RICHARDS will officiate at the Universal Meeting-House, to-morrow.” An excerpt from a 9 April 1789 letter penned by the early Universalist Church preacher published in the “Dictionary of Literary Biography”, describes Murray’s first impression of George Richards; “I heard a gentleman preach last Sunday morning in the meeting I labour in, in consequence of my being ill, who for matter and manner, exceeded any I had ever heard. I have no acquaintance with him, that is personal. I had heard of him. He has been sometime a school mister in this Metropolis, and before they get a settled minister in the North Episcopal Church, he officiates there. He is young, a man of great natural and acquired abilities, and I hope, a man of principle; so that he may be indeed a burning and shining light. I had often heard of Mr. George Richards, as a very able school master, a man of abilities, &c, but never till last Christmas day, did I hear of him as a preacher of the truth as it is in Jesus.” It was about the same time that Murray first recognized his gift for preaching when George Richards also burst onto the Boston literary scene with the anonymous April 1789 publication of “The Political Passing Bell: An Elegy Written in a Country Meeting House”, a parody of Thomas Gray’s 1751 “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”. Richards’ personal copy of the poem’s printing was sold at Philadelphia in 1910 for $15. A long poetic history of the American Revolution “The Zenith of Glory”, also published without attribution in eighteen installments over the next several years by Massachusetts Magazine, commenced within months. Commenting on his penchant for publishing anonymously, the librarian of the American Antiquarian Society wrote of him in 1869, “Richards seems to have had a modest estimate of his own poems, and to have generally preferred to remain in the shadow of his literary productions… he is said to have possessed agreeable manners and is always referred to with respect.” Not neglecting his teaching duties, a Richards’ advertisement in the Herald of Freedom on 22 September 1789 again reminds his tradesmen customers that the “Evening School, Middle Street nearly opposite Dr. Lathrop’s Meeting-House is now opened” for the Fall semester. While that class was in session, the prolific writer composed odes to honor President Washington’s arrival and departure from Boston on 15 October 1789. Preaching on the following Easter Sunday, Mr. George Richards is reported in the 15 April 1790 Independent Chronicle as having presented original hymns and delivering animated discourses to his Universalist congregation. That same year, the Federal Census of 1790 counted ten members in the Middle Street household of George Richards including three boys under the age of sixteen, three males sixteen years old or over and four females. In addition to himself and his wife Sarah, the three known children of his first marriage and the four known children of his current marriage account for only nine of the ten household members reported. In fact, it is suspected that two of the household members are not Richards’ children as Sarah and George’s youngest of four was reputedly born after the census in 1792. Welcoming another year with verse, in January 1791 Richards composed a New Year’s Ode which he set to music and later published. In 1792, Murray’s church in Boston formed a committee to compile a new hymnal which included George Richards and Oliver Wellington Lane (1751-1793), a respected teacher who operated the West Boston Academy, a writing school. Lane, a Harvard graduate and deacon in the First Universal Church where George Richards occasionally preached had just recently in April 1791 established an affiliated Sunday School where poor children who could not attend public school because they worked were offered a basic education in addition Biblical studies. The pair drew largely on the 1770 English publication of James Relly’s “Christian Hymns” which had first been printed in America by their pastor John Murray in 1776, who added five of his own hymns to a 1782 second edition. Richards and his partner Lane advertised heavily in the General Advertiser newspaper of Philadelphia for subscribers for their new hymn book between June and September of 1792. Published that year in Boston, their collaboration produced “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs; Selected and Original. Designed for the Church Universal, in Public and Private Devotion”, with fifty-two of George Richards’ original compositions among the 328 hymn collection. Providentially that same year, Oliver Holden (1765-1844) published “American Harmony” at Boston which included music entitled Coronation applied to lyrics authored by Edward Perronet and first published thirteen years earlier. The resulting composition is known by its opening stanza “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and today is often referred to as the “National Anthem of Christendom.” Composer Oliver Holden is the same Marine who served on the frigate Deane/Hague with Chaplain Richards who issued Holden’s discharge from Continental Navy service. George Richards’ familiarity with the French language, first acknowledged over a decade before in Providence, is evident in a Massachusetts Mercury 14 March 1793 advertisement. “George Richard, Vincent’s Alley near the Exhibition Room, Board-Alley, HAS accommodations for four BOARDERS- French Gentlemen will be preferred, His accurate knowledge of that polite language, must render their accommodations agreeable.” Sometime in 1793, “American Poems, Selected and Original” edited by Elihu Hubbard Smith, the first collection of American poetry of note was published in Litchfield, CT. Included in the anthology is George Richards “Elegiac Ode to General Greene”. During this period of intense creative activity, Richards was also working on “The Declaration of Independence,” a sixty-six line Spenserian poem which recognized every signer of the historic document in metronomic rhyme. Dedicated to his sponsor John Hancock, the poetic tribute was delivered to the Boston public by George Richards at “Faust’s Statue, 45 Newbury (now Washington) Street” to the accompaniment of music in July 1793. At the same time, this former Continental Navy officer was working on a major work concerning the American Revolution which appears never to have been published. Both the 4 June edition of the (Massachusetts) Argus and the 10 July edition of the (Philadelphia) General Advertiser advertised for “PROPOSALS for printing by subscription by George Richards, Purser in the American Navy” a 300-400 page biography titled “Memoirs of the Life of the late John Manley, Esq.” The proposal was advertised heavily through January 1794, apparently with unsatisfactory response. Discovery of Richards’ draft would be of extraordinary significance to modern research and interpretation of the history of the Continental Navy and one of her most accomplished commanders. George Richards’ unsuccessful attempt at publishing the book was concurrent with a most difficult personal time in his life as alluded to in the following Columbian Centinel article dated 30 October 1793 apologizing for any misconception concerning his taking compensation from former Sons of Liberty for a public eulogy of John Hancock. “Their benevolent design of doing him (Richards) good and not evil is acknowledged with gratitude. That his hands have ministered to his necessities, will be granted. At this moment, G.R. is unfortunately destitute of any employ. A beloved family are affectionately commended to the tender compassion of his fellow citizens. The mind of sensibility is agonized at begging Charity. It is sufferance in the extreme. G.R. Is reduced to that necessity. He has humbly implored employment as a common Clerk. It has been out of his power to obtain it. The severity of winter is approximating in all its rigors. Destitute of private friends, a last appeal is made to a generous public.” On 27 December 1793, George Richards delivered an address at St. Andrew’s Lodge and on 11 January 1794 the Columbian Centinal reported on his poetical eulogy honoring Hancock, perhaps his last public appearances in Boston as it was precisely at this time when Mr. George Richards left the city to became minister of the Universalist Parish at Portsmouth, NH. Originally founded by John Murray who preached there sporadically between 1773-1777, the Portsmouth church had been led by parishioner Noah Parker between 1777 until his death in August 1787. A house of worship, later known as the Cameneum, was built on Vaughan Street in 1784 by Parker’s congregation. Prior to Richards’ arrival, the meeting was served by occasional pulpit supply. By this time, George Richards was well known among the greater Universalist fellowship having served as clerk under moderator John Murray of the General Convention of 1793 at Oxford, MA. Invited to become minister of the congregation in August 1793, Portsmouth was not Richards’ only option. According to records in the Philadelphia Universalist Convention collection at Andover-Harvard Theological Library, George Richards was known to the Philadelphia congregation since at least December 1789. Richards communicated to them on 25 February 1792, just prior to his advertising campaign there, concerning his collection of hymns to be published. A letter in the hand of lay leader James Moore dated 14 March 1792 indicates the Universalist Church in Philadelphia offered George Richards a call to that congregation over one year earlier than the invitation from Portsmouth. Apparently, Richards did not find the situation a mutually good fit at that time despite the Philadelphia church’s overture extolling theological purity, “No doubt Brother Gordon mentioned to you a Mr. (Elihu) Palmer who was preaching with us when he left this city for Boston. This young man offered himself to become a member of our church, but before the time for admitting him his sentiments were suspected of being Socinian, if not Deistical. He was accordingly examined, and confessed that he did believe Jesus to be the natural son of Joseph and Mary, begotten by ordinary generation. This made his membership with us inadmissible at that time. He still continues the same, and hath withdrawn from us, and hath gotten other places to preach in, where he can preach that sentiment freely, and that to crowded audiences.” Soon after his arrival at Portsmouth, George Richards opened a school for girls. With just a hint of braggadocio an article appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette on 6 November 1794, following its printing in the Boston papers one week earlier, highlighting the talents of Richards’ students. It reads, “On Wed the 8th instant (8 October 1794), Master George Richards held a public examination of his Female Scholars, at the Universal Meeting House, in Portsmouth…the Junior class, led by Miss Sally Williams, were then examined in stops and pauses…to this succeeded, the examination of the Grammar classes, led by Miss Ann Jeffrey Wentworth, and Miss Betsy Salter…” The article concluded, “They received the warmest plaudits of a crowded assembly, dignified by masculine Genius, and graced by feminine Beauty.” This event was followed a week later on 15 October 1794 with a local advertisement in the newspaper Oracle of the Day promoting the opening of his “DAY SCHOOL…for the reception of a second class of 30 Misses” for the winter season at Portsmouth. Operating between 9 to 12 AM and from 2 to 5 PM, Richards invited “those gentlemen and ladies who please to honor him with the tuition of their children,” including ‘the customary allowance of wood’, “to leave their names at his house (near Mr. Payson’s School).” Tragedy struck George Richards again that month as reported in the New Hampshire Gazette of 28 October 1794, “In this town, last evening, very suddenly, of the mortification, the amiable consort of Mr. GEORGE RICHARDS, speaker at the Universal Meeting-House, in the 36th year of her age.” The (Massachusetts) Federal Orrery printed her mortuary notice two days later, “At Portsmouth, Mrs. Mary (sic) Richards, wife of the rev. George Richards.” Two months after his second wife’s death, on Christmas Day 1794 the mourning preacher delivered a message to his flock from the Book of Jeremiah entitled “The cry of the watchmen of Mount Ephraim!” One cannot help but wonder if he was speaking more to himself or his parishioners when he implored the people of God to come together- weeping as they come- and seek the LORD. As Richards struggled with personal loss, the Universalist Church movement he was associated with grew in America, drawing persecuting opposition from the uneasy alliance between church and state in New England. In his 1850 memoirs “Life of Rev. Nathaniel Stacy”, the Universalist pastor reminds his readers that the Presbyterians and Congregationalists of George Richards’ New Hampshire possessed the legal right to tax every individual in their parish community for the support of their clergy, whether or not they were participating members of those congregations. The only relief from that obligation was to present a certificate identifying themselves as a member of another state recognized sect or religion. Owing to Universalist distaste for human creeds which might offer such a distinguishing profession of faith, the New Hampshire Supreme Court initially compelled Universalists to pay taxes in support of the “Standing Order” of the religious establishment. Many of the Universalist faith believed “the Bible was a sufficient creed- it was all the creed they wanted- all they needed…They felt no inclination to take upon themselves a ‘yoke, which neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear’.” In the vanguard of those offering a solution to this controversy, George Richards authored a lengthy profession of faith which was adopted by his Portsmouth fellowship in May 1796. Richards’ creedal bent can be traced to his Boston church roots whose “Articles of Faith and Uniting Compact” were adopted in February 1791 and published in the Richards and Lane hymn book. Richard Eddy in “Universalist Conventions and Creeds” (1878) reprints the “Testimony of Belief and Fellowship in Union of the Universalist Society in Portsmouth, NH” which states in part “First. We believe that all Scripture, as contained in the Old and New Testaments, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Second. We believe in one God the Father, of whom are all things and we in him, manifested in one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him, revealed in one Spirit of Truth, who receives of Jesus, shows the Redeemer unto us, and glorifies the Saviour. Third. We believe it a faithful saying that they who believe in God should be careful to maintain good works, for these things are good and profitable unto men. And more, As the Seal of Faith can only be impressed by Practice, we mutually desire that a good confession may be witnessed, by meeting together on the First day of the week, to Read the Scriptures, Sing Praises, and Hear the Preached Word, accompanied by Prayer, Supplication and Thanksgiving. Secondly. In the fellowship of one Spirit of Charity and judging no man’s conscience, every man is to be fully persuaded in his own mind whether he cometh unto or abstaineth from Baptism or the Lord’s Supper; and whensoever a Minister or Elder is requested to administer the one or celebrate the other, let not him who receiveth or eateth judge his Brother. Thirdly. As members of Society and of Families, in the Social and Relative Connections we mutually desire to be found in practical fellowship with the Precepts of the Lord Jesus Christ, the pattern he hath set before us, and the admonitions of his Apostles and Evangelists; and every Brother or Sister who walketh not orderly is to be admonished in meekness and love for the adorning of the doctrine of all things.” Six months after authoring this corporate statement of faith, George Richards was married for the third time to Mrs. Alice Ayres Simes of Portsmouth on 23 October 1796. Daughter of Alice Sherburne and Jonathan Ayres, Alice was previously married to John Simes who died seven years earlier. Alice and George’s first surviving child together, Alice Jane Richards was born the following year on 22 June 1797. She is reported to be the first child dedicated by the Rev. John Murray in the Universal Meeting House at Portsmouth on 25 October 1797. Sometime in 1799, a second daughter was born to the couple named Mary Ann who married Daniel Payton Conrad and died at Ohio in 1882. Also that year Richards was ordained at Portsmouth as reported in the Massachusetts Mercury, “on Thurs last (11 July 1799), the brethren of the Universal Society in this town, publicly set a part their Brother GEORGE RICHARDS, as their Teacher, Instructor and Minister.” The article further described the ceremony where “simplicity and gravity were visibly present.” When George Washington died in December of that same year, the wardens of Richards’ Portsmouth meeting entreated their minister to prepare a commemorative address. Reverend Richards responded with the lengthy two part “Historical Discourse on the Death of General Washington” which the author tenderly dedicated to the “greatly beloved, virtuous and amiable” widow Mrs. Washington. The address was afterward published with the ‘Masonic hymn’ and ‘Solemn dirge’ that Richards composed and sang at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve 1799 along with additional hymns and odes the minister sang at his own church on 26 January and 22 February 1800. The 1800 Federal Census counts nine members living in the Portsmouth household of the Reverend Geo. Richards. In addition to the preacher and his wife are one boy under ten and one ten through fifteen, two girls under ten, two girls ten through 15 and one young woman between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. Also in 1800, the Rev. George Richards was elected moderator of the Universalists’ General Convention held in Orange, MA. Richards also served as clerk for the General Convention of the following year meeting at Swanzey, NH. George’s third daughter by his third wife Alice, Elizabeth Foster who married Jesse Scott Wilson and died in 1880, was born in 1801. Finally that same year, George Richards published “A Collection of Hymns” at Dover, NH which included among its 444 selections, his compositions published earlier in 1792 along with six additional original hymns. Richards published another edition of this hymn book in 1806, expanded to include another twenty-six original pieces. Owing to copyright concerns presented by the Dover publication, a 1802 second edition of the Richards and Lane collaboration omitted all of the reverends’ original compositions. When the Boston songbook went to print for yet a third edition in 1808, acquiescing to public demand, Richards granted permission for his works to again be included. George Richards opened the new year of 1802 with a 6 January discourse on “The Scripture Doctrine of Election” delivered at the ordination of Thomas Barnes at Portland, ME. Meeting later during September 1802 at Strafford, VT; the General Convention of the Churches and Societies of Universalists of the New England States appointed a special committee including George Richards and Hosea Ballou to formulate a statement of essential belief that could be agreeable to the diverse fellowship. Just weeks after the convention closed and his return to Portsmouth, Rev. George Richards officiated the wedding of Dr. Lyman Spalding to Elizabeth Coues on 9 October 1802. A celebrated surgeon and one of the founding fathers of Dartmouth Medical School, Dr. Spalding was instrumental in the development of the “Pharmacopoeia of the United States.” The following year on 21 September 1803 at Winchester, NH, Richards’ committee offered for adoption the “Profession of Belief, and Plan of the General Association of the Universal Churches and Societies of the New England States.” It reads, “Article I. -We believe in one God, whose nature is love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one holy spirit of grace ; who will finally restore the whole human family to holiness and happiness. Article II. — We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, contain a revelation of the character of God, of the duty, interest, and final destination of mankind. Article III. — We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected ; and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order, and practice good works ; for these things are good and profitable to men.” Within one month of the close of this pivotal convention, George Richards established himself as editor of a new weekly literary paper at Portsmouth to “be adapted particularly to female entertainment.” In 1804, George and Alice Richards were blessed with the birth of their fourth and last daughter Clementhia, who died at Aldie, VA in October 1821. Six months later, eighteen year old daughter Rebecca was married to James Ferguson on 28 April 1805 in Portsmouth, presumably by her father. During this time, George Richards was working on an “improved” American edition of William Preston’s 1772 “Illustrations of Masonry,” the handbook for Masonic history and practice of the time. Advertisements that appeared beginning June 1804 in newspapers soliciting subscriptions for the publication were apparently successful as Richards’ “First American Edition” was printed that same year. George Richards joined St. John’s Lodge, No.1, reportedly the oldest continuously operating Masonic body in the Americas, upon his relocation to Portsmouth. Long active in masonic activities, Brother Richards’ oratories delivered at the Columbian Lodge at Nottingham,NH on 27 December 1800 and the Tyrian Lodge, XVI at Gloucester, MA on 24 June 1806 were both published. In 1807, he was elected Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire. Also that year, to a crowd of over five thousand, Richards delivered a “Masonic and Social Address as Pronounced before the Most Worshipful Thomas Thompson Who Attended the Laying of the Corner Stone of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ample Form on the 24th of June 1807” that was later published. The following year on 14 July 1808, the reverend was the keynote speaker for the consecration of the Ancient Land Mark Lodge at Portland. Between 1808 and 1809, the year of his relocation to Philadelphia, Rev. George Richards also served as Master of St. John’s Lodge No. 1. However, just one year after his Portsmouth congregation dedicated a new meeting house on the corner of Pleasant and Rogers Streets overlooking South Mill Pond in 1808, George Richards’ sixteen year ministry there came to an end and he was succeeded in the pulpit by friend and colleague Hosea Ballou. Some clues regarding his decision to leave Portsmouth may be found in Matthew Hale Smith’s scathing and misguided attempt to discredit Richards and his faith in “Universalism Examined, Renounced, Exposed” (1843). Smith writes “Mr. George Richards, formerly settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and one of the early advocates of Universalism in this country, was often deeply depressed on account of the tendency of his faith. On one occasion, while he resided in Portsmouth, he wrote a letter to some of the principal men in his society, making them acquainted with his feelings. He told them that he was a miserable man, and that he had often deceived them. He had kept back a part of the truth. He had misapplied Scripture. He had not given them the true meaning of the Bible, but had “handled the Word of God deceitfully.” The scriptures which he applied to Universalism he knew did not teach that sentiment, and he was a most wretched being. The letter was read by persons not belonging to Mr. Richard’s society, and at the time produced a deep sensation. His friends came around him, and induced him to stifle his convictions, and quench the Spirit of God. He did so, and his end was what might have been expected.” Minister of the Second Congregational Church of Salem, MA known as East Church; William Bentley reflectively suggests a different motive behind the move in his diary entry of 20 March 1814 upon hearing the news of George Richards’ death, “The scene of his labours was Portsmouth, N. H. & it was exactly suited for him, if any point could be for a man who had no settled point at all. He began in a small house & soon had a handsome one but a love of change carried him from home. He has not distinguished himself in controversy, but he has been popular, & had printed orations, dissertations, newspapers & pamphlets… Nothing could prevent G[eorge] from trying his fortune in Philadelphia. His imagination was more alive on this subject than on any other, & he had followed it all his days without rest. His reception was kind & his expectations great. But nothing could feed his imagination.” A contemporary entry in that same diary dated Sunday 25 June 1809 focuses on more pragmatic issues. Bentley writes of his dinner with Richards at a Mr. Vincent’s home where George “tells me he is under actual engagements to go to Philadelphia in September & to quit his former flock. When he went to Portsmouth he was pennyless. He preached in a low building which they enlarged & furnished with Galleries & he supported himself in part by Schoolkeeping. Last year they had courage enough to build a brick meeting house but it seems have gone beyond their strength. Mr. Richards has gained a comfortable house for which he assures me that he owes nothing & which he intends to keep for his family should anything befall him. He has for sometime relinquished his School. Mr. Richards says these schools were patronized well for 18 months & then the Preceptors were left to shirk for themselves.” Other insight regarding the Universalist preacher’s ministry there may yet be revealed by additional research in the George Richards materials in the South Church Papers at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. The Rev. George Richards agreed to move to Philadelphia in the Summer of 1809. The details of his invitation to preach there again seventeen years later are not known, however, research among the records of his first year at Philadelphia in the Universalist Church Papers housed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania may prove revealing. The 4 June 1809 entry in Bentley’s diary reveals “We are told G. Richards, not withstanding his new house in Portsmouth, has accepted a call to a better Universal Church in Philadelphia. G.R. Has not had a generous support in Portsmouth, nor has he shown that inflexibility which was expected from him.” The 16 September 1809 edition of the Democratic Press in Philadelphia announced that the Rev. George Richards was “to preach at the Universal Church next Sunday morning.” The Universalist First Independent Church of Christ meeting-house at 412 Lombard Street in Society Hill where Rev. George Richards came next to preach had been built fifteen years before. Historically significant Dr. Joseph Priestly launched the Unitarian movement from its pulpit in 1796. Founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith also spoke at the church. Now settled in Philadelphia’s North Ward, the Federal Census of 1810 indicates the household of George Richards and his wife include one male and one female between the ages of 26 and 44, two young girls under ten, two girls between ten and fifteen and one young woman between 16 and 25. George’s twenty-two year old daughter Sarah Ward Richards was married to Paul Laighton in Boston on 8 February 1811. It is not known if her father attended the wedding. Beginning that Spring and continuing for about one year, George Richards edited the Freemason’s Magazine and General Miscellany. William Bentley writes in “The Diary of William Bentley: 1811-1819” published in 1914, “He wrote to me of his Masonic Magazine. The Ceremonial of this Order was exactly in the style of his thoughts. It was never out of the Lodge any thing but what his imagination made it. He never could copy himself & he was here at full liberty. But the Magazine was soon tiresome to him & he had no fit materials for it, as he had nothing but his own imagination to fill it.” On the evening of 16 February 1812, the Rev. George Richards delivered a lecture admonishing his Philadelphia audience to “Repent! Repent! Or Likewise Perish!” using the “late calamity” of a deadly fire in a crowded theater house at Richmond, VA as his subject. The sermon “Salvation Explained” was published in Boston and widely circulated. Later that same year in the fall of 1812, Richards and about 115 members “went out” from the First Independent Church of Christ and established the competing Universalist Church of the Restitution. According to John Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott in “History of Philadelphia 1609-1882, Volume 2” (1884), the catalyst for secession lay in anti-British sentiment swirling around the War of 1812. Richards’ church meeting at Lombard Street refused to admit three foreign-born couples to membership despite their intention to pursue citizenship. These families decided to form a new fellowship which was supported by a large contingent of the First Church congregation, including their pastor. Meeting first on 19 October 1812 at the courthouse at Sixth & Chestnut Streets and later at the Hall of the University on Fourth Street below Arch, the new congregation evidently was not able to support their preacher and his large family. Still owed compensation from his former parishioners, Richards “could not stand the strain and excitement of controversy” generated by the church split. Just when it seemed circumstances couldn’t be worse, the Democratic Press sadly reported on 15 December 1813, “died on Sunday evening last, after a lingering illness, which she bore with Christian fortitude, Mrs. Alice Richards, wife of the Rev. George Richards.” Emotionally hard-pressed, Richards’ spirit was broken under the weight of schism in his pastorate, loss of his eyesight and finally the death of his third wife. “His mind having given way,” George Richards was admitted to Pennsylvania Hospital where he died by his own hand in early March 1814. Abel C. Thomas in “A Century of Universalism in Philadelphia and New York” (1872) recites the poet’s final stanza, “though it was well known that no one was with Mr. Richards in his dying moments, and that he told his son, who saw him the last of any one, and others who were with him the afternoon before his death, that he could believe in nothing else than that which he had always preached, but that his mind was broken up.” A letter from Episcopal clergyman James Milnor (1773-1845) to Dr. Lyman Spalding published in James Alfred Spalding’s 1916 biography of the celebrated doctor details the care afforded their mutual friend and his children. Milnor was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania when George Richards served as Grand Chaplain in 1811. “Philadelphia, March 16, 1814. Dear Sir: Previous to the unfortunate death of Rev. Mr. George Richards, several of us exerted ourselves to relieve those necessities, which, as well as mental uneasiness, combined to sink him into a despondency that resulted as I presume you know in suicide. Immediately after that event farther measures were taken for supplying the immediate needs of the family and a liberal contribution for the same purpose is now going on in the different Lodges of the City, under such auspices as to promise a sum sufficient for present objects as well as to carry them back to Portsmouth, where it is their intention to go in two or three months, as I understand from this time. I am, Dear Sir, your Obedient Servant, James Milnor.” Patriot and poet, author and composer, preacher and pastor, leader of the faith, friend of freemasonry, champion of womens’ education, loving father of twelve and faithful husband of three; Richards was remembered by his friend and colleague Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) in “A sermon designed to notice, in a religious manner, the death of the Rev. George Richards, of Philadelphia, formerly of this town: Delivered in the Universalist Meeting House in Portsmouth, on the evening of the 4th Sabbath in March 1814” afterward published by S. Whidden. The Reverend George Richards’ suicide left several of his young daughters orphaned and ended congregational activities at both of his former churches. Several years later, First Church alone of the two would be revived by Abner Kneeland. George Richards was interred in the Universalist Burial Ground at the rear of the Lombard Street church. By the 1870’s however, this structure was in disrepair and after the remains of Richards and others buried there were relocated elsewhere, Congregation Chevra B’nai Jacob purchased the building in 1889. Today, the historic sanctuary is occupied by Congregation Kesher Israel Synagogue. The author gratefully acknowledges the genealogical contributions of Rev. George Richards’ descendant Rich Capen to this post.

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One Response to George Richards, Chaplain

  1. Hugh C. Pickering says:

    This was a wonderful read. My G-G-G Grand parents were married my George Richards in Portsmouth, NH on May 16, 1808. William Pickering and Abigail Hanson. Abigail was the daughter of Isaac Hanson and Sarah Church. I am not sure who William’s parents are. Isaac and Sarah were members of the Universalist church until Isaac was disowned by the church for fighting in the Revolutionary War. He was asked to ask for forgiveness but said that he would do it again. I don’t know if William Pickering was a member or not. William and Abigail had one son that I know of in Rockingham County, NH on July 14, 1811. The son’s name is Isaac Hanson Pickering. Does anyone have marriage records of George Richards? If so I would like to see if William Pickering’s parents are listed.
    Thank you,
    Hugh Pickering
    1907 Turnstone Road
    Redmond, OR 97756
    or 541-306-0470

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