Mr. Samuel Goddard was born at Sutton, Massachusetts, July 6, 1772. We have no information concerning his early life. His opportunities for education are said to have been scanty. After coming to manhood he was for several years in trade with a brother in Royalston, Massachusetts. Here he married his first wife (Abigail Goddard of Athol, a town adjoining Royalston), and here his older children were born.
The mercantile business ended in failure, and Mr. Goddard‘s thoughts were turned strongly towards the subject of religion. The result was that he became a student for the ministry with Doctor Seth Payson, D. D., of Rindge, New Hampshire. 1
After being admitted to preach, Mr. Goddard was employed part of a year at Gilsum, New Hampshire. In the year 1809 he removed to the town of Concord in northern Vermont, a new town in a thinly settled district, a town whose first settlers were largely from Royalston and other neighboring Massachusetts towns.
He was then a man thirty-seven years of age and had a family of six children. A small church had been gathered in Concord previous to the coming of Mr. Goddard, largely through the efforts of Deacon David Hibbard, who had emigrated to that town from Norwich, Vermont, in 1799.
Over this church Mr. Goddard was ordained the first pastor September 7, 1809 which relation was maintained about twelve years, until his dismission June 6, 1821. The church consisted of but seventeen members at the settlement of the new pastor, and received about eighty additions during his ministry. The ordination services were held in the open air (at Concord Corner), and were largely attended by citizens of Concord and adjoining towns. The ordination sermon was preached by Rev. Joseph Lee of Royalston, Massachusetts, from Jeremiah 3:15. A handsome meeting house was built for the church in 1816, large and costly for the time, at an expense of about $3,000. It was furnished with an excellent bell “the first in all the region round.”
Besides building up a flourishing church at Concord, Mr. Goddard performed considerable missionary labor for the Vermont and New Hampshire Missionary Societies during his residence at Concord. At least three new churches were organized by him during this period at Barnet in 1816 and at Glover and Barton in 1818.
It is claimed that he established the first Sabbath School in Vermont, composed of the young people of his church, in 1811 or 1812. This he called his “Bible School” and it was modeled after similar schools then recently started in England. 2
An invitation to preach as a candidate for the North Congregational Church at Norwich, Vt. (then without a minister) in the autumn of 1821, was followed by his settlement there January 23, 1822, as successor to Reverend John W. Woodward, who had been dismissed the preceding summer. The North Church at this time numbered about one hundred members; and almost immediately there were large accessions. March 3, 1822, twenty-nine new members were admitted; in May, sixteen and in July, ten; so that before the end of the year sixty new members were added to the church.
“During a ministry of a little over seventeen years” wrote Mr. Goddard in 1838:
“there have been five revivals of religion of greater or less extent in this church. In 1821 and 1822 there were added to the church eighty-eight. In each of the years 1826, 1831 and 1835, there were revivals and about forty added to the church as fruits at each season. In the winter of 1836-37, there was a revival in several school districts, chiefly among the Sabbath School children, and sixteen were added to the church. . . The present number on our list is now (1838) 247, some of whom are non-resident. The society is small and much scattered, and the usual number at public worship is considerably less than the number of church members.”
The prosperity of the North Congregational Church under the ministrations of Mr. Goddard, as above outlined, is certainly remarkable. He found it weakened in numbers and resources by the recent organization of a new church at Norwich Plain, less than two miles distant, the seat of a flourishing seminary around which the business, population and wealth of the town were gathering to build up a new and thriving village. At the close of ministry of over twenty years, during which period his parish was still further depleted by the removal of many families and individuals to the West, he left the church stronger and more united than he found it.
Outside of the special duties of his calling, Mr. Goddard proved himself a valuable citizen in the promotion of the best interests of the town and community. In 1825 he assisted in organizing a town committee for the supervision of the common schools of the town, of which committee he was a member (with Colonel Alba Stimson and others), and chairman for several years. This was before there was any state legislation requiring town supervision of common schools in Vermont. He was instrumental in organizing a Temperance Society in connection with his church and society. July 4, 1827, at the very outset of the temperance movement in this country, a society was formed from members of the North Church, with others, “on the principle of voluntary abstinence from the use of ardent spirits.” On the third of May, 1833, the church, by a solemn resolve, declared “that the traffic and use of ardent spirits, as a drink, was inconsistent with church membership.” Early the following year Ralph Waterman, who persisted, after repeated appeals, in selling spirituous liquors to intemperate persons, was expelled from the church.
About thirty years ago, Reverend S. W. Boardman, then preaching for the South Congregational Society at Norwich, reviewed the history of that church in town in a series of historical sermons. His estimate of Mr. Goddard is copied in part below, slightly condensed, but mostly in his own words:
“Mr. Goddard deserves to have a full narrative of his life written. It seems to me, all things considered, that no better or more useful citizen has ever lived in this place. More than any other man ever settled here he might say, I think, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.” His opportunities for early education were exceedingly limited. I have understood that three months completed all his time at school. In mature life he became a merchant, but it was impressed upon him that he ought to preach the gospel. Still he felt that he could not leave his business, but the Lord sent upon him calamity and his store was burned to the ground. Still he pursued his business till reverse following reverse left him nothing more to lose; and being thus divested of all earthly treasures he was ready to enter the Lord ‘s vineyard. He was now thirty-seven years of age, with a family of six children. It is not probable that many are called to preach the gospel under such circumstances, but in Mr. Goddard’s case there can be but little doubt that he followed the path of duty. After a brief period of study he commenced preaching .
“At the close of his first settlement of twelve years at Concord, Vt., he was called to Norwich in 1821. His equipment of learning was probably less than that of any other man ever settled over this church. He had, however, a clear, ready mind, a good knowledge of the bible, and he was a man of prayer.
“While he made no pretensions to scholarship he had, above all, the Lord’s work at heart. He preached generally without notes, and though wanting perhaps in the logical method secured by thorough training, he had an aim before him in every sermon, the conversion and sanctification of souls. The earnest manner and godly devotion of the man commanded universal reverence. People were glad to see him in all the neighboring pulpits. He was a favorite at Hanover, where the students never criticized him. They saw in him something higher than the rules of rhetoric or mere human culture, something that silenced and overawed criticism. Speaking in this simple, artless manner he would nevertheless, often rise to a high degree of natural eloquence. A remarkable man, eminently consecrated to his work, he combined every gift of piety and talent directly to glorify God.
“He was settled on a salary of $600; in some years, I am told, receiving not more than one half of it. In his later years he became nearly or quite blind.”
In his domestic life Mr. Goddard seems to have seen many sorrows. He buried two wives, and it was his lot to stand at the graves of several grown up children. His first wife, Abigail Goddard of Athol, Mass., died at Norwich, Jan. 23, 1823, aged 48, just about one year after his settlement. His second wife, Prudence Hayward of Lunenburg, Vermont, died at Freedom, Portage County, Ohio in 1840, after a sickness of four and one half months, where she had gone the previous year with Mr. Goddard to care for his sick daughter Elizabeth. Her age at death was 60 years. 3
Eunice Hutchinson of Norwich, his third wife, whom he married in 1841, survived him 36 years, dying in 1880 at the age of 88.
Of Mr. Goddard ‘s eight grandchildren, the oldest is the daughter of his youngest son. She recalls with marvelous clearness the loving expression of his countenance when he told her the story of Jesus, and as the years go by that impression grows more vivid in her memory.
Rev. Samuel Goddard was known to his friends in Norwich, it is thought, for almost anything rather than as a writer of poetry. In his early years, however, he seems to have given many leisure hours to the composition of verses. One of his grandchildren, Miss Ellen Goddard, has in her possession a small manuscript volume containing about fifty short pieces, written, with few exceptions, previous to his entering the ministry.
All are pervaded by a deep religious tone and express the spiritual longings of one whose whole nature was strongly moved by the contemplation of the great problems of duty and destiny. They embody the private experience of a man earnestly engaged in working out for himself a solution of these ever recurring questions of the inner life. After entering upon his life work as a minister he seems to have seldom indulged his early fancy for rhyming.
Samuel Goddard, Jr., removed to Ohio with his family in 1841.
- Doctor Payson was father of Reverend Edward Payson, the eminent divine of a later day.
- It is interesting to note in this connection, that the successor of Mr. Goddard over the church at Concord, Reverend S. R. Hall, is credited with being the first to establish educational institutions for the training of teachers for common schools, substantially our modern Normal Schools. This was about the year 1825.
- Mr. and Mrs. Goddard left Norwich for Ohio, July 14, 1839, and he did not return until May 23, 1840. During his absence Mr. Goddard preached a part of the time at Freedom, Ohio, where he was invited to settle.