It is quite impossible to indulge in even a brief review of Mr. Burton‘s advent into Norwich from Preston, Conn., without repeating something of what is said of him in other places in this volume.
Mr. Burton came to Norwich, to reside, in the latter part of 1765, bringing with him his sons, Elisha, John, Josiah, Isaac, and Asa, and his eldest daughter, Anna, who, soon after, married Simeon Carpenter. For some time she was the only young lady in town.
Before locating in town, Mr. Burton had purchased two one hundred acre lots of land, which embraced the greater part of the present Norwich village, and built his dwelling-house (the first one erected in town) on the southern and eastern part of his purchase, and tradition has it that it was built directly over a large pine stump, which protruded through the floor, and its top having been smoothed off and recesses made in its sides for cupboards, it was used as the family table.
Elisha, one of the sons, built the house where Samuel A. Armstrong resides, and John, another son, built the house now the home of Thos. A. Hazen.
Mr. Burton‘s political record is given under its appropriate head in another part of the book. 1
Of Mr. Burton it may be said that he was literally and truly one of the fathers of the town.
Reverend Doctor Asa Burton
Was born at Stonington, Conn., August 25, 1752, and was the sixth of the thirteen children of Jacob Burton. His parents removed to Preston, Conn., when he was about one year old. Here his childhood was mostly spent under the ministry of Reverend Doctor Levi Hart. In his fourteenth year his father removed to Norwich. From that time till he was twenty years of age, his work was “to fell trees, cut them into logs, and then by hand roll them with levers into heaps to burn them, and help carry logs to make into log fences, as they had no oxen for two or three years.”
By these severe labors his health was much impaired, and he resolved, if possible, to get an education. This his father opposed but his mother favored.
Two months after he was twenty years of age, he began the study of Latin and on his twenty-first birthday he was admitted to Dartmouth College.
The same autumn (1772) a malignant fever entered his father’s family and his mother, a brother, and two sisters died within a few weeks. His father was so much embarrassed by the expenses of this sickness and the death of his son, whose assistance he had greatly depended on, that he thought it necessary to remove Asa from college, and visited the president of the college for the purpose of procuring his dismission. After a long interview the president persuaded the father to allow him to continue his studies, which the son was only too happy to do.
He was a hard student in College. He says of himself: “I pursued my studies with greediness through a college course. I was always inclined to go, as we say, to the bottom of everything. Though I knew not what was meant by first principles in a science, yet I now see that it was my desire to trace everything back to first principles.”
At college he excelled in mental and moral philosophy, and especially in English composition.
After graduation he spent a few months in the study of theology with Doctor Hart of Preston, Conn., and preached occasionally in various towns in Vermont and Connecticut until January, 1779, when he was settled over the church in Thetford, Vt., where he spent the remainder of his life.
His success here was marked in building up from what he regarded as very unpromising material, a large and flourishing church. At the time of his ordination the church numbered only sixteen members, and when he preached his half century sermon in 1859, four hundred and ninety members had been added and three hundred and twenty were still members.
His “Essays,” published in 1824, had a slow sale and their publication proved a pecuniary loss to him.
He began taking students in divinity into his family in 1796, and continued doing so until 1816. During this period he had constantly from two to four students under his charge. About sixty young men were prepared for the ministry under his instruction, many of whom became able and successful ministers.
Doctor Burton was no bookworm, but a man of original and independent thought. His library was of modest dimensions. He did not seek to cram the minds of his students with theological lore, but rather teach them to think and reason for themselves.
The first sermon preached by Doctor Burton was at Norwich, on the subject, “Justification by Faith.”
He died at Thetford, Vt., May 1, 1836.
Consult Further on Asa Burton:
- Asa Burton Papers
The papers of Asa Burton, Congregational minister and theologian, consist of religious, autobiographical, and historical writings. Several of the essays record the religious, social, and political history of Thetford, Vermont, particularly the rise of political parties. The papers also include a published version of Burton’s memoirs (1973).
- Essays on some of the first principles of metaphysicks, ethicks, and theology