History Highlight April 2021
Reverend Daniel Emerson - Part II
This is the second of a three-part series about Reverend Daniel Emerson, first pastor of the what is now the Congregational Church of Hollis (see April Chimes for Part I). Part I ended with Rev. Emerson being ordained in April 1743, building his home (Emerson House) on the 40 acres of land he was given as part of his contract (overlooking the town common of Monument Square located on the east side of Main Street across Cleasby Lane from Hollis Town Hall), and marrying the love of his life, his second cousin, Hannah Emerson, on Nov. 11, 1744.
Pastor: Since his primary reason for moving to West Dunstable (eventually Hollis), NH was to be their settled pastor, it makes sense to start there. In a 1925 publication created as part of the dedication of the new Meeting House (replacing the one that burned down in 1923), Professor Charles Darwin Adams of Dartmouth College wrote the following about Rev. Daniel Emerson as preacher :

"Of the preaching of the first past we have only scant reminiscence. Like his master, Whitefield, he preached without notes, depending on the inspiration of time and audience for his effectiveness, rather than on books and minute preparation. He believed in revivals, and time and again the church was blessed with them. He preferred the warm emotionalism of Whitefield to the cold logic of the Salem and Boston divines, and there is no trace of their cruel intolerance toward dissent. I think of his ministry as kindly, conscientious, gentle, and filled with a deep yearning for the salvation of all his people. And his influence spread far beyond the parish. His connection with the Concord Emersons (i.e. Ralph Waldo Emerson) and with his Harvard friends gave him a certain prestige which was sustained by his own ability as preacher and adviser."

By all accounts, Rev. Emerson was an extremely popular preacher, not just in Hollis, but throughout the area. Some additional quotes found in my research about him include:
  • “Mr. Emerson was ordained April 20, 1743, and he continued a faithful, venerated and popular minister of that society till November 27, 1793, a period of more than fifty years, without a change ‘or wish to change his place.’”
  • “Rev. Mr. Emerson was a man of large and active intellect, a convert of Whitefield, and partaking largely of his spirit, he was uniformly evangelical, and often a very eloquent preacher. His chief excellencies in preaching were sound doctrine, deep feeling and zeal at times almost overwhelming.”
  • "He was one of the ablest advocates of the ‘New Light’ doctrine and for many years a leading and most influential minister in his section of the country."  Note: The 'New Light' doctrine was an outgrowth of "the First Great Awakening" discussed in Part I.
  • “He was a kind of Congregational Bishop in his region. No man in southern New Hampshire was so extensively known, whose influence was so powerful on the surrounding ministers and churches.”
  • “An able counselor, he was often called from home to aid feeble churches.”
Changes to the Meeting House during his tenure are certainly, in part, a testament to how well-liked he was. Within just three years of his 1743 ordination, and five years since its construction in 1741, the original 1-room Meeting House (22’ x 20’ x 1 story high) had been outgrown. In 1746, construction of the Second Meeting House began (taking around 3 years to complete).
Built in the same location as the First Meeting House, the Second Meeting House (pictured) was more than double the size of the First Meeting House (50’ x 44’ x 2 stories high with a 2nd floor gallery). In 1799, just two years before Rev. Emerson’s death, the construction of an even larger Third Meeting House began (68’ x 54’ x 2 stories high with a 2nd floor gallery). He would not live to see the completion of the Third Meeting House (finished in 1804), but from the original 30 families/residents that saw him ordained, the town of Hollis had grown to 1,441 residents in 1790 (the year of the first census), and he played a significant role in that growth.
The Third Meeting House (pictured, click on image to see in larger scale) ended up burning down in 1923, but in 1890, stained glass windows were added to it and the citizens of the town, through donations, raised money to have one of the new stained-glass windows be a memorial window to Rev. Daniel Emerson. And now, the current (fourth) Meeting House has a side chapel named in honor and memory of Rev. Emerson. As in life, Rev. Daniel Emerson will forever be highly regarded, and he is commemorated for the significant impact he had as first-ordained and longest-serving preacher of the church.
So Much More Than Preacher
Given how important the role of preacher was in any town of Colonial New England, if Rev. Emerson did nothing more than that, he would still be considered a very important person in Hollis’ history. However, the fact is, his labors were by no means confined to the pulpit, and included teacher, soldier, public servant, and supporter of the Hollis Social Library.
Teacher: Rev. Emerson was a great supporter of education and did much to provide and enhance education in Hollis and the surrounding region. In the town records for 1771, when Mr. Emerson had been pastor for twenty-eight years, there was a note that he should keep the grammar school as usual "to teach all those in the town that shall present themselves in the languages." This implies that he had thus taught for years, if not during the whole of his past ministry. Scholars came from other towns to prepare for college under Mr. Emerson. So respected was he in that endeavor, in 1770, the Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire (pre-Revolutionary War, so not a state yet), John Wentworth, sent his son to Mr. Emerson for instruction. In fact, as a result of Rev. Emerson's preaching, teaching, and inspiring of young minds, there were, before the Revolutionary War, twelve young men from the town that graduated from college, of whom eight became clergymen. For a small, agricultural town, this was an incredible accomplishment!
Soldier: Rev. Emerson served in the French and Indian War as chaplain of Colonel Joseph Blanchard's regiment in the Crown Point expedition of 1755 (Crown Point was a French fortress built in the 1730s with 12-foot thick limestone walls which British forces targeted twice during the French and Indian War)Nearly two-thirds of the Company of his regiment were also Hollis’ men, including, Peter Powers (first western settler of Hollis) who was Captain. While chaplain in the army at Crown Point, when the men of his regiment were asked to present their arms for inspection, Rev. Emerson presented his Bible to the inspecting officer and commented on it being "his weapon”. During this time, he was chaplain to the famous "Roger's Rangers", of which Robert Rogers and John Stark were the officers. Coming home unscathed, Rev. Emerson served again as chaplain for another regiment of New Hampshire troops raised in 1758, commanded by Colonel John Hart of Portsmouth. He was occupied about six months in each of his two services. Teaser: During his 1755 service, he wrote a heart-felt love letter to his wife, Hannah, delivered to her from Lake George, NY to Hollis, NH by his dog! More on that in Part III!
Public Servant: Further demonstrating Rev. Emerson’s commitment to the town of Hollis, he served as Town Clerk and Selectman for two years: 1780 and 1781. This may well have been because many of the younger men of Hollis were fighting in the Revolutionary War during those years, including four of his own sons, but he stepped up as needed. 
Friend of the Library: The Hollis Social Library has its own rich history which Rev. Emerson shares a part of. It was originally incorporated in 1799, just two years before Rev. Emerson’s death. As someone who believed strongly in education, it’s no surprise that Rev. Emerson was one of the original four “Friends of the Library”. At that time, it involved paying a $2 initial fee and annual dues of 50 cents. In 1879, the library (at the time, housed in a room in the vestry of the Meeting House) was sold to the Town of Hollis for $1.00, becoming one of the first public libraries in New Hampshire. The Hollis Social Library has over 220 years of history thanks to the many “Friends of the Library” over the years, including Rev. Daniel Emerson, a founding “friend”!
Grave: In colonial New England, the grave markers of Reverends and other important people were placed lying down (not standing as other grave markers would have been at that time). As such, Rev. Emerson’s gravestone (pictured, click on image to see in larger scale) is easy to find in the churchyard cemetery. Also in the churchyard cemetery lie the graves of his wife, sister, and 6 of his 13 children, as well as 16 other descendants and their spouses.
The epitaph on his gravestone nicely sums up
all that he meant to so many:

Beneath this Monument lies the Mortal parts of
 Rev. Daniel Emerson.
 He was born at Reading, Mass., May 20, 1716.
 Graduated at Harvard University, 1739.
 And was ordained April 20, 1743, to the Pastoral care
 Of the Church and Congregation in Hollis,
 Which then consisted of only 30 Families.
 He was an honest man, given to Hospitality;
 An affectional Husband and tender Parent;
 A faithful Friend and Patriotic Citizen;
 An Evangelical, zealous and unusually successful Preacher
 Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 Highly Esteemed by his people, his praise was in all the Churches.
 A.D. 1793, he voluntarily relinquished one-half his Salary
 To promote the settlement of a Colleague,
 From which time his pious walk and occasional labors
 Evinced an unabating love for the cause of Christ,
 Until nature failed and he fell asleep in Jesus,
 September 30, 1801, aged 85 years.
Tune in next month to learn about Daniel Emerson: husband and father.
Read about the love story of Rev. Daniel & Hannah Emerson, including excerpts from Daniel’s famous love letter to Hannah in 1755 carried to her from Lake George, NY to Hollis, NH by his dog! Their love survived well over 50 years of 1700s hardship, including Hannah’s eventual deafness, and having 6 of their 13 children pre-decease them. A story you won’t want to miss!
"History does not belong to us; we belong to it"
Hans-Georg Gadamer