It is a year this October that our new pastor, Reverend Scot McCachren arrived from Morristown, NJ to be the 21st pastor of the Presbyterian First Presbyterian Church in East Hampton. Turns out something else made the same journey from Morristown to East Hampton over 230 years earlier….a letter from the 1st pastor of the Morristown Presbyterian Church, Rev Timothy Johnes, was sent to East Hampton’s 3rd pastor, Rev Samuel Buell, in 1783. The letter was recently discovered by the Morristown church’s archivist Jan Frazier and forwarded to Rev McCachren.
The letter, now faded brown with age, is written in flowing script and of a colonial style now foreign to today’s reader. It is not easy to interpret. In the future, letters like this will be more difficult to decipher as most schools no longer teach cursive handwriting. Several lines of the letter are illegible, worn away by creases in the paper. The letter, addressed to “Rev and very dear brother”, was sent to Rev Buell over the loss of Buell’s second wife, Mary Mulford-Buell. Rev Johnes, who had also lost a wife, writes: Tis a theological maxim, that meditates on prayer and temptation makes a divine, a character, most to be desired by a minister of the glorious gospel of a crucified savior, who thereby is furnished to speak as an interpreter one among a thousand a word in person to the weary, & to comfort others with the same consolations with which we ourselves have been comforted of God. Throughout Rev Buell’s 82 years, he had three wives and nine children, only one living to old age. He was noted for his piety in preaching at his children’s funerals, that their deaths might serve as opportunities for his congregation's spiritual enrichment.
Rev Buell’s wife Mary died on May 15, 1783, at the age of 47, leaving two children Mary, age 15 and Samuel, age 12. Rev Johnes writes: But oh little did I think faithfulness that God is chastising, & that it will work out for you a far more exceeding & eternal weight of glory. And I doubt not you, stand guarded against excessive sermon that unfits for the service of god and man. Though your dear consort has been taken from you, she yet lives in your dear offering, the partner of your loves & in the hearts of your grieving friends. Rev Johns ends the letter with a message for Buell’s children to keep their faith: Know to that god who styles him, a father to father motherless children & now after to put them among his own children now therefore to remember their creator, & from their time to cry My father, My father that has been thy guide of my youth shall be the governor of my days, and follow their dear Mother as she followed Christ. And remember Doc. Young’s remark: for the spirit walks of every day deceased, & smiles an angel, or a fussy frown. Rev Johnes’ signs the letter: My D. T. M. Johnes joins in sympathetic affection & present our best loves to yourself & to your Dear Children.
Born in Coventry Connecticut in 1716, the son of a wealthy farmer, Rev Samuel Buell graduated from Yale in 1737. Rev Buell was headed on a journey south when he was lured to East Hampton during a divisive time in the church’s history and the subsequent retirement of Rev Nathan Huntting. After preaching several sermons, Rev Buell received a unanimous call and was ordained on September 17, 1946. He successfully reunited the divided church and preached for the next 51 years. One biographer quoted years ago: “Few have stood so long or been so eminently successful in the vineyard of the Lord”’. Imagine Rev Johnes thoughts upon mailing the letter in 1783, if he were to have known that Rev McCachren, a member of the Morristown Presbyterian Church, would follow the same path as the letter, from Morristown to East Hampton, and be ordained in the East Hampton Presbyterian Church in October 2016, over two centuries after Rev Buell.