Welcome back to another episode of Five Minutes in Church History. When was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter? When was the last time you got a letter?
Well, on this episode, let’s take a look at Jonathan Edwards’ first letter, the very first he wrote. Now, over the course of his lifetime, he wrote a boatload of letters, but his first one dates to May 10, 1716. He was 12 years old. Now, he very well wrote letters probably before this one, so I must qualify it. This is the first extent letter that we have. That is to say, this is the first known letter that we possess of Jonathan Edwards.
He wrote it to his sister, Mary. First, a word about Jonathan Edwards’ family and the family he grew up in. His father was Timothy Edwards. He was a pastor. Timothy Edwards’ father, that would be Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather, was a pastor. He was the Reverend Richard Edwards there in Hartford, Connecticut. Well, into the family of the Reverend Richard Edwards was born Timothy in 1669. Timothy went on to graduate from Harvard in 1691. In 1694, he married Esther Stoddard. She was the daughter of the famous Solomon Stoddard. He was sometimes called the Pope of the Connecticut River Valley and, of course, he was the longtime minister there in Northampton, Massachusetts. Well, Timothy would die in 1758. That was the same year as his son’s death. Esther Stoddard Edwards, she would live a remarkable 99 years of age, almost unheard of in these colonial times. She was born in 1672 and she made it all the way to 1771. Timothy and Esther had 11 children; 10 of them were girls and only one son. That’s right, Jonathan Edwards had 10 sisters. There was Esther, and Elizabeth, and Mary, then came Jonathan, and then Eunice, Abigail, Jerusha, Hannah, Lucy and Martha.
This letter is to Mary. She was the closest to age in Edwards. He was born in 1703. She was born in 1701. She was likely in Boston at the time he wrote this letter to her. Timothy and Esther sent their daughters off to Boston for finishing school, and so he’s writing to her to update her. He tells her about a revival that was taking place in the church there at East Windsor, Connecticut, where their father was pastor.
Through the wonderful mercy and goodness of God there hath in this place, been a very remarkable stirring and pouring out of the Spirit of God, and likewise now is, but I think I have reason to think it is in some measure diminished, but I hope not much. About 13 have been joined to the church in an estate of full communion.
So, there it is. A revival in East Windsor, Connecticut. Edwards goes on to say, “I think there comes commonly a Mondays above 30 persons to speak with father about the condition of their souls.” What he’s talking about there is the Mondays after the Sundays and the sermons that his father, Timothy, would preach. Commonly 30 persons, he tells Mary, would come to have pastoral counseling and to talk to Timothy about the condition of their souls.
Edwards goes on to mention that while there has been a time of general health in the town of East Windsor, five people have died since she’s been gone. Goodwife Rockwell, Goodwife Grant, Benjamin Bancroft. He writes about one young man that was drowned in a river, and he also talks about the death, sadly, of an infant.
Then he turns his attention to her sisters and he tells them that Abigail, and Hannah, and Lucy have had the chicken pox, but they’re recovering, and then he says, “I myself sometimes am much troubled with the toothache, but these two or three last days, I have not been troubled with it, but very little.”
Well, that’s all the news that was fit to print that Jonathan wanted to send along to his sister, Mary. I’m Steve Nichols. Thanks for joining us for Five Minutes in Church History.