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“A Very Bad Subject of the Crown”: William Emerson, Concord’s Patriot Minister

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The holiday season is here; time for awkward family gatherings! And if you were Concord resident Phebe Bliss Emerson, you might find yourself in the middle of one. Born in 1741, Phebe was the second child of the Reverend Daniel Bliss. Her family lived in Concord, MA, where Rev. Bliss was the pastor of the Congregational Church from 17381764. Rev. Bliss’ fire and brimstone sermons left his parishioners quaking, crying, and praying for salvation. Like his father, Rev. Bliss’ oldest son, Daniel, was a driven man, passionate about his beliefs and work. Daniel graduated from Harvard College in 1760 and became a lawyer. Upon passing the bar, Daniel took an oath swearing allegiance to the English Monarch and the laws of England and her Colonies. Daniel took the oath seriously; in his mind, to disobey would be treasonous. When Daniel and Phebe’s father died at age 50, his pulpit was filled by a revolving cast of visiting ministers, including a young man named William Emerson. Born in Boston in 1743, William graduated from Harvard and became a teacher and then minister. When 30

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it was his turn to fill the deceased Reverend Bliss’ pulpit, William boarded with the widow Bliss. It was here that William met – and courted - Phebe. In 1766, the Church of Concord officially made William Emerson the new minister. Shortly thereafter, William married Phebe and purchased property next to Concord’s North Bridge, where he built (or renovated) the Manse (now a museum, which can be visited by the public). Over the next nine years, William and Phebe had five children, the eldest of whom became the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Around the time that Phebe and William settled into the Manse, Phebe’s brother Daniel married Isabella Murray, daughter of an English loyalist. The couple bought a house in Concord center, a half a mile from the Manse. Despite the proximity of

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BY JAIMEE LEIGH JOROFF

their homes, Phebe’s brother and husband were not close. He didn’t, but Daniel could have described William as his “Holy Brother-In-Law from Hell”, because William was a man of God, and an ardent patriot. While Daniel frequently hosted British officials and officers in his house, William was preaching from the pulpit about freedom from England and false idols. Yet, this same minister owned several slaves. The irony of this was not lost on his brother-

The Old Manse

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Discover Concord Winter 2019