Baptist History Homepage

Hezekiah Smith, D. D.
Annals of the American Pulpit, 1860
From Rev. Samuel F. Smith, D. D.
Newton Centre, Mass., August 30, 1858.

      Rev. and dear Sir: Dr. Hezekiah Smith was the paternal grandfather of my wife; and thus many facts and incidents of his life, and many an heir loom, have come into my possession. From the materials at my command, I am happy to furnish you such a sketch of him as I suppose the plan of your work contemplates. I ought to say, however, that he seems to have studiously avoided historical notoriety, and suppressed the means, if they ever existed, of any extended posthumous notice. He left no continuous nor even fragmentary record of his life, out of which his biography could be framed, nor would he ever permit a painter to delineate his features on canvass.

      Hezekiah Smith was born on Long Island, N. Y., April 21, 1737. He became pious in early life, and joined the Baptist Church in New York City, under the pastoral care of the Rev. John Gano, before he was nineteen years old. He commenced his classical education at the Academy in Hopewell, N. J., one of the earliest Academies founded by the Baptist churches for the education of pious young men for the ministry. From this Academy he entered the College at Princeton, N. J., then under the Presidency of the Rev. Samuel Davies. He graduated in 1762, and received the degree of Master of Arts in course, in 1765.

      After leaving College, it was deemed requisite for him to reinvigorate his health, which had become impaired by study, by a tour in the Southern

[p. 98]
Provinces. In a single year he travelled four thousand miles, and laid the foundation of lasting friendship with men whose intercourse and correspondence proved a delight to him in his riper years. At Charleston, S. C., he was ordained by several ministers of the Charleston Association, and resided in that Province some time afterwards. He supplied the pulpit of what was then known as the Cashaway Church, near the Pedee River, and preached, as he was able, in other places in the vicinity. His labours were both acceptable and useful. Not intending, however, to make South Carolina his permanent residence, he left in the spring of 1764, and came to New England. He was admitted to preach in several Congregational pulpits, and a Divine blessing attended his ministry. When he first visited Haverhill, the committee of the West parish in the town, which was then destitute of a minister, invited him to preach awhile in their meeting-house. An unusual attention to religion was then prevailing in the parish, and at this juncture he both enjoyed much satisfaction and was eminently useful. But, as the people were not Baptists, they desired, after a time, to settle a minister of their own faith. Hence, after a few months, they instructed their committee to procure a minister whose views of the New Testament were harmonious with their own.

      Mr. Smith now resolved to return to New Jersey, where several of his relatives resided. The day was fixed for his departure from the scene of his labours and successes. In the morning, several young persons came to visit him, deeply affected by the prospect of losing their loved and revered teacher, by whose instrumentality they had been brought to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. They exhibited their ardent affection towards him, and expressed the wish that he would baptize them. Still they found him fixed in his determination. Notwithstanding, they ventured to utter their conviction that he would soon return, and be their minister. He replied, "If I return, your prayers will bring me back." The same day he proceeded to Boston, and the day following commenced his journey to Providence. But, after he had advanced eighteen or twenty miles, the words were impressed with unusual weight upon his mind, - "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you." (Isaiah xxxv. 3, 4.) Stopping his horse, he mused a while on the occurrence. He soon proceeded, but was shortly after arrested again by the same passage. Yielding to the impulse, he turned his horse, and rode back to Boston. Here he found two persons, sent by his friends in Haverhill to solicit his return. He readily accepted their invitation, and went back the next day to Haverhill, where he was received with many expressions of affection and gratitude.

      The first time he preached, after his return, was from Acts x:29: "Therefore I came unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for; I ask, therefore, for what intent ye have sent for me?" The people at once erected a meeting-house for him, and thus commenced the First Baptist Church, in Haverhill, of which he was the honoured, beloved and successful Pastor for forty years. The church was organized May 9, 1765, and Mr. Smith was publicly recognised as the Pastor, November 12, 1766.

[p. 99]
The ministers who officiated on the occasion were the Rev. John Gano, of New York, Dr. Manning, President of Brown University, and Dr. Stillman, of Boston.

      He continued to maintain correspondence with his brethren in South Carolina, and to Mr. Smith, in connection with Oliver Hart and Francis Pelot,* of that State, is to be given the credit of originating a Society in Charleston to aid pious young men studying for the ministry.

      His life was now devoted to the care of his church and congregation, and great success crowned his labours. The church acquired, under his ministry, a commanding position and a leading influence in the town, which it has maintained till this day.

      Besides his labours at home, he performed very widely the work of a home missionary at his own charges. It was on one of these missionary tours that an occurrence took place which has often been related, and often without being accredited to the true actor in the scene. On a journey into Maine, he arrived weary at a public house, where he sought lodgings for the night. "A gathering crowd soon made him acquainted with the fact that a ball was to take place in the house that evening. Intending soon to seek the retirement of his room, he paid no attention to the gay party near him, but was warming himself by the parlour fire-side, in preparation for repose, when, to his surprise, he was waited upon by a deputation, with the request that he should join in the mirth of the evening. He politely declined; but they urged his acceptance. Again he begged to be excused, and again they insisted on having his company. At length, overcome by their entreaties, he accompanied them to the hall, where the assembly was waiting to commence the dance. His appearance being that of a gentleman, the company were desirous of showing him some marked respect; and united in inviting him to take the most prominent part in the performance. Finding himself, involuntarily, in this predicament, he resolved to make the best of it, and turn the whole affair, if possible, to some moral benefit. So, after having acknowledged, in his own easy and pleasant manner, the attention which had been shown him, he remarked that he had always made it a principle, through life, never to engage in any employment, without having first asked the blessing of God; and he presumed that the courtesy of the company would be farther extended to him, while he engaged in this imperative act of duty. Upon this, he immediately commenced a prayer. The singular turn which was thus given to the anticipated amusement of the evening, produced a remarkable effect. The commanding tones of his voice; his impressive style of supplicatory address; the fervour of his prayer, and the solemn allusions made in it, rivetted first upon himself every eye, and then upon his sentiments every heart, so that, before he closed, many were dissolved in tears.

      Finding, as he ended, the way quite prepared, he began a close and pathetic address to the consciences of his audience, and continued it some
* Francis Pelot, A. M., was born at Norville in Switzerland, March 11, 1720. His parents were Presbyterians. Having received a good education in his native country, he migrated to South Carolina in 1734, and ten years afterwards embraced the principles of the Baptists. Soon after the Entaw Church was constituted, he was called to be its Pastor, and held the place with much reputation and usefulness, until his death, in 1774. He possessed an ample fortune and a valuable library, and was a diligent student.

[p. 100]
length of time. The result was most happy. Suffice it to say, there was no music or dance there, that evening. The company broke up with pensive thoughts. Many, who, to that hour, had been immersed in the gay and dissipating pleasures of this life, now resolved to break off their sins by righteousness, and seek a more solid and substantial good. A work of grace, of uncommon interest, commenced in the neighbourhood, and, on the return of Mr. Smith in the following year to that region, he had the pleasure of receiving the blessings of many of this same party, who had been raised, through his instrumentality, to a new life, and who were exhibiting, in their deportment, the genuine virtues of the Christian character."

      In the year 1775, commenced the struggle of the American Colonies with the mother country. The Baptists had always been the friends of civil and religious freedom, and at this critical period were among the first to pledge their fortunes and lives in its defence. Their Chaplains were among the most prominent and useful in the army, and their spirit and principles were not unappreciated by Washington, as the following letter from the Commander in Chief, addressed to Samuel Harriss. Chairman of the Committee of the United Baptists in Virginia, will testify: -

"While I recollect, with satisfaction, that the religious Society of which you are members, have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious Revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe that they will be faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government. Under the pleasing expectation, I rejoice to assure them that they may rely upon my best wishes and endeavours to advance their prosperity.
George Washington."
      In 1776, Mr. Smith received appointment as Chaplain in the American army; and, notwithstanding the tender ties binding him to his flock, he left his people and home, and continued in the army four years. He became the intimate friend of Washington, and possessed the confidence and esteem of the officers and men of the whole army. Repeatedly did he expose his life in battle, and ever was he among the foremost in eneouraging the soldiers, and in soothing the sorrows of the wounded and dying. He was the humble, heroic, holy man, who would never compromise his principles in any station, but reproved vice, with a boldness of tone and mauner which, contrasting with his gentleness in the approval of virtue, awed the most hardened into respect and fear. Devotion to the interests of the army, above all, devotion to the God of armies, gave him a superiority of worth and of influence which all admired and confessed. The proofs which he gave of his disinterestedness, were constant and striking. In urging the necessity of pure morals, and dependance on a Divine arm for success in the great enterprise of freedom, he himself was the living example of what he recommended ; and, on every occasion, would he sustain the efforts of the patriot by his exertions, his sympathies, and his prayers.

     After the clouds of war had been dispersed, Mr. Smith returned joyfully to his family and his pariah, and to the sacred duties to which he had consecrated his life. In his work at home, and his missionary tours abroad, his time was fully occupied, and the even tenor of life flowed on.

[p. 101]
     He was also an ardent friend of education, and, in connection with Dr. Manning, used the most strenuous endeavours to secure the establishment and prosperity of Brown University. To obtain funds for its support, he travelled through various parts of the country, at much personal sacrifice. He was eminently fitted for the service, and his efforts were highly successful. He was, at an early period, elected one of the Fellows of the University, and in 1797 received from it the degree of Doctor of Divinity, - an honour not inappropriate to a man of great personal worth, extensive attainments, and a character venerable for age and sanctity.

     Dr. Smith was the Pastor of the First Baptist Church, in Haverhill, forty years. As he grew in years, he advanced in every excellence that could adorn the Christian and minister, and gained a deeper hold on all who came within the sphere of his influence. He often expressed the wish that he might not outlive his usefulness, and his desire was graciously fulfilled. He preached, for the last time, among his people, on the Sabbath, from John xii. 24 - "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." The sermon was unusually impressive, and a revival of religion followed, to which it seemed introductory. On the Thursday succeeding, he was seized with paralysis, and spoke no more. His life-work was finished, and its record complete. He lay a week in this condition, and died January 22, 1805, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, and the forty-second of his ministry. A Discourse was preached at his Funeral by Dr. Stillman of Boston, from Acts xiii. 36. His ashes repose in the village graveyard at Haverhill, surrounded by many of his parishioners and the fruits of his ministry.

     Dr. Smith was married, shortly after his settlement at Haverhill, to Miss Hepzibah Kimball, of Rowley, Mass, - (some testimony maintains of Boxford, Mass.) They had four children, - Hezekiah, who became a farmer, and died a few years since at Northumberland, N. H.; William, who was at one time engaged in marine pursuits; Jonathan Kimball, who died at my house, in Newton, in October, 1843, aged sixty-eight; and Rebecca, who became the wife of the late Thomas Wendall, for many years a highly respected Deacon of Dr. Sharp's Church in Boston. She died, nearly half a century ago, in great peace. Mrs. Smith died on the 9th of December, 1824.

     Dr. Smith was a man of commanding presence, large and well proportioned, inspiring respect by his dignity, and winning affection by his affability and grace. His voice was one of nnusual compass and power, and his genuine eloquence opened a way for his message. His views of truth were strictly evangelical, and his ministry combined, in due proportions, the doctrinal, the practical, and the experimental. He never wrote his sermons, but uniformly went into his study on Thursday morning, and devoted the residue of the week to careful preparation for the duties of the Sabbath. He left a large number of skeletons of sermons, which supply a general idea of his method; but the life of his ministry is among the treasured things belonging to memory and to God.

     Allow me to add an incident or two in Dr. Smith's experience, illustrative of the times in which he lived.

[p. 102]
     When his influence began to be largely felt in Haverhill and the vicinity, many members of the Standing Order, both clergy and laity, were not a little grieved at the progress of Baptist opinions, and of course looked somewhat coldly upon him, as their exponent and representative. Dr. Smith, however, took it all with meekness and dignity. When days of fasting and prayer were held, with reference to this peculiar state of things, he was often present, as an auditor, in the public assemblies. When less conscientious men annoyed him by petty physical persecution, he possessed his soul in patience. Once, when he was contemplating a missionary tour, his horse was brought to him in the morning, having been denuded, the preceding night, of his mane and tail. "Ah, old fellow," said the good man, "you may as well go back to the pasture till your mane and tail are grown." When a stone was thrown, with evil intent, through his window, and would have done him serious damage, had he been occupying his usual place in his study, he quietly laid it up, as a memorial of God's protecting providence.

     The most amusing instance of persecution, which occurred to him, was once when he went to a neighbouring town to preach. The Constable of the town, a weak and inferior looking person, was moved to go, clothed in the majesty of the law, and "warn him out of the place." The little officer, on coming into the presence of one of such commanding person, and bearing all the airs of a consummate gentleman, - on such an errand, was very naturally much confused, and, on opening his mouth to deliver his message, said, - "I warn you - off of God's earth." "My good Sir," said the preacher, "where shall I go?" "Go any where," was the reply; "go to the Isle of Shoals." It may be presumed that the expounder of the law was scarcely aware of the indignity done to the inhabitants of those seagirt rocks, in placing their geographical position so far out of the ordinary track of navigators. Dr. Smith was of course amazed, but did not feel himself under obligation to undertake so dubious a journey.

I am, my dear Sir, fraternally yours,
S. F. Smith.

From the Rev. Laban Clark, D. D.
Middletown, Conn., March 1, 1852.

     Dear Sir: There are certain incidents in one's life, which, though of no great moment in themselves, yet leave lasting impressions on the mind, and lead to important ultimate results. Such was the slight acquaintance I had with the Rev. Dr. Hezekiah Smith, concerning whom you ask for my recollections.

     My parents were born in the vicinity of Haverhill, where he was a settled Pastor, but migrated in early life, with the first settlers, to the Coos country, on the Connecticut River, some time before the Revolutionary War. In their religious views and attachments they were decided Congregationalists; but they entertained a high regard for Dr. Smith, and, in my boyhood, I often heard them speak of him, both as a man and a minister, in terms of high commendation. Dr. Smith occasionally visited that country. I remember hearing him preach in our parish church, when I was about eighteen years of age. The two congregations (Congregational and Baptist) came together; for all were desirous of hearing him. Though I was, at that time

[p. 103]
a stranger to the power of religion, I well recollect that I was much interested in the appearance of the man, and highly delighted with his eloquence.

     In the fall of 1800, when I was about entering the ministry, I made a visit to my relatives in Haverhill and its vicinity, among whom was my father's youngest sister, a member of Dr. Smith's church. She was a devoted Christian, and, as might be expected, warmly attached to her excellent Pastor. I was gratified to learn from her that the Doctor's fame was as good at home as it was abroad; and that, after a ministry of more than thirty years, his popularity and usefulness among his people remained undiminished. I availed myself of this opportunity of hearing him in his own church. When I arrived at the place of worship, the younger members were just concluding a prayer meeting; and the house seemed hallowed with the Divine presence. I took my seat, not only as a willing worshipper, but with an earnest desire to learn, if possible, the secret of the great popularity and unusual success of the preacher to whom I was to listen. The Doctor soon entered the pulpit, - a man of venerable appearance and stately form, - robust, but not corpulent; his locks white as wool; his eye-brows retaining their natural dark hue; his face full and fair, bearing almost the flush of youth, and beaming with intelligence and good-will; and his manner grave and dignified, and well befitting the office of an ambassador of God. He commenced the public service, after the usual form, with singing and prayer. The prayer was solemn, devout, comprehensive, and did not exceed six or eight minutes. He then announced his text; and, after a brief introduction, passed on to the exposition, which was clear, concise and full, while his illustrations were uncommonly natural and appropriate. His composition was chaste and manly, and his delivery earnest and impassioned. The sermon occupied about thirty minutes; at the close of which, he went off, for ten minutes more, into a highly impressive exhortation; and then concluded with an affecting prayer of about three minutes. The entire service did not exceed fifty minutes; and the congregation seemed to hang upon his lips, with eager attention, to the last, and left the church with a good relish for more. While I was edified and delighted with the service, I was at no loss as to the secret of the uncommon success which attended his ministry. While he laboured to keep his own heart imbued with the spirit of his Master, he fed, not glutted, his flock with the sincere milk of the word; not exhausting his subject, nor yet the patience of his hearers. I considered him a model preacher; and, during my own ministry of fifty years, I have never lost sight of his admirable manner of conducting the services of the sanctuary.

     Dr. Smith's superior talents and accomplishments, his remarkably well balanced character and untiring devotion to his work, undoubtedly placed him among the most prominent ministers of his day. Not by his own communion only, but by all evangelical denominations, he was held in the highest respect while he lived, and was tenderly and reverently mourned for, when his earthly labours were ended.

     I am, dear Sir, your most respectful and affectionate brother and fellowservant in Christ,

Laban Clark.

[From William Buell Sprague, editor, Annals of the American Pulpit, 1860, pp. 97-103. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage