Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie was the son of Mr. John Duffie, a respectable merchant of this city. He was born on the 30th or 31st of March, 1789, so near the precise point of division between the two days, as to have always rendered him doubtful which to consider as the anniversary of his birth. Of his boyhood nothing more is known by the present writer, than the uniform and affectionate testimony of the elder branches of his family, that the characteristic amiableness, modesty, purity, and seriousness, of his subsequent life, began very early to appear. Having duly qualified himself under proper instructors, he entered the freshman class of Columbia college, in November, 1805; the examination for entrance having been that year postponed, on account of the prevalence of the yellow fever at the usual period of opening the college. And then, when we met together in the college-hall, as candidates for admission into that venerable institution, commenced an acquaintance, which immediately became the strong and intimate friendship, that continued, not only without interruption, but, as far as my memory serves, without any abatement, arising from either word or thought bordering on coldness or unkindness, up to the period when God was pleased to take him to Himself.
At college, he distinguished himself for the uniform propriety of his conduct, for the industry with which he pursued his studies, and for the respectability with which he acquitted himself at the private and public recitations. When in the freshman class, he was among the founders of the Peithologian Society, one of the two associations of students of the college, which still contribute, in no small degree, to its reputation, and to their literary advancement.
Among his fellow students, he was, I believe it may be said without reservation, universally esteemed and beloved; while he enjoyed, in the highest degree, the confidence, regard, and approbation, of the president and professors. There are those now present, and many others, who share with me in the delightful, but now melancholy, recollections, attached to the period of our college connexion with the deceased. These recall a general series of intercourse, and very many special occasions of friendly meetings, and mutual participation in duties and in pleasures, than which nothing contributes more to memory's joys. He is gone, to whom we are indebted for recollections so pleasing and so soothing in the various changes and chances of this mortal life: but the recollections themselves will still be dear while memory performs its office. They will still, from time to time, remove, for a while, all that has intervened, bring us again in the beloved society of our early friend, carry us again to the bright days in which we were cherished by our alma mater, and engage us in the delightful pursuits and recreations which were rendered still more delightful, because friends, the beloved of our bosoms, were there to share them. And when the sweet illusion will be passed, and we return to the painful reality of seeing no more on earth one of the best and most valued of those friends, we will still indulge the hope--and be animated to the faithful use of the proper means--of meeting him again in the region of life, and light, and joy eternal.
Having passed, with great credit, through the regular college course, my friend received the degree of Bachelor of Arts, at the commencement in 1809. He immediately began the study of the law under his distinguished relative, the present chancellor of this state. In about a year after this, he had the misfortune to lose his worthy father. By the advice of friends, he then gave up his professional studies, and entered on the flourishing mercantile business which his father had left. He continued a merchant for several years. During the last war, he faithfully performed the share of military duty, which was then required of every citizen not legally exempted from bearing arms. The circumstance is here mentioned, simply because it afforded another, [1/2] among the many proofs, of the uniform excellence of his life, and how, in every situation, he endeared himself to all connected with him. Many are the testimonies to the respect, attachment, and in many instances, warm friendship, which were then formed for him by his brother officers; and the fidelity and punctuality with which he discharged all the duties devolving on him.
Although engaged in merchandise, he was not neglectful of literary pursuits, or of his privileges and obligations as an honoured son of his college. At the commencement of 1813, having complied with the requisitions of the statutes, he received the degree of Master of Arts.
In the year 1816, he formed a matrimonial connexion with Helena, daughter of Mr. James Bleecker, of this city. This, as long as it lasted, was to him a source of the purest happiness. Always, in joy and in sorrow, that excellent woman was, in every respect, and help truly meet for him. During her life, it was obvious to all who knew them, as far as that knowledge can be shared, which personal experiences only can impart in its blessed fullness, how truly she was, in the beautiful language of Addison, the "kind and faithful friend," in whom is "doubled all" our "store" of "worldly bliss." And when it pleased God to take her to Himself, not by noisy and officious professions, but by a deeply settled remembrance of her virtues, her piety, and excellence, and a dearly cherished meditation on her blessed change, and anticipation of being united with her in the kingdom of heaven, all who knew him intimately saw reason to say, with the greatest respect and admiration for affection so sincere and unbroken, Behold, how he loved her.
For a few years after his marriage, his lot in life seemed blessed indeed. Peculiarly domestic in his dispositions and habits, he loved his home, and had a home every way deserving of his highest love. His business prospered. And he had every earthly promise of a long, a successful, and a happy life.
That wise Providence, however, to whom he had looked and trusted, with the confidence of a child, and the faith of a Christian, thought proper to order it otherwise. He experienced in business the reverses which, at that time, occurred in our mercantile community, with such mournful frequency, and painful consequences. He was ultimately obliged to bring to a close every concern of that nature. And here, too, by the strict integrity and honesty, which, reaping their rewards in his prosperity, did not desert him in the dark hour of his adverse fortune, he still farther illustrated the uniform excellence of his character and life.
About this time, in May, 1821, his good mother was taken from him. This afflictive event entailed on him, towards an amiable and interesting family of orphan sisters, the duties and obligations at once of brother and parent--duties and obligations, the discharge of which is evinced by a grief, and a sense of bereavement, which it were sacrilegious to attempt to describe. About three months after his mother's death, on the 17th of August, in the same year, he was deprived of the object of his tenderest earthly affection--the beloved wife who had added so much to the joy of his happiness, and taken so much from the grief of his misfortunes. She left four lovely children, one a babe but a few weeks old, now the only surviving son; the eldest, also a son, having followed his mother to the paradise of God, in June, 1824.
A few months after the death of his wife, our dear departed friend finally, and after much most serious and conscientious deliberation, and much earnest prayer for the divine guidance, determined to carry into effect an inclination and desire, long ardently cherished, of preparing for the holy ministry. And this seems to be a proper period for pausing, and taking a distinct view of his history and character in that most excellent and valuable feature of them--his religion.
His parents were pious and respectable members of the Baptist communion; in the principles of which, of course, he was, in early life, instructed. And never could devout parents wish more gratifying and encouraging evidence of the blessed effects of early attention to religious instruction, than appeared in the seriousness, conscientiousness, and piety, of this excellent son, as soon as his mind was capable of manifesting any character. When I first knew him, I loved him for these qualities, although I knew and saw that he was not a little tinctured with the ordinary prejudices against our church, arising often from ignorance of her real character, and therefore conscientiously and honestly cherished. Having been placed next to each other in our class, and continuing in that relative situation throughout the whole college course, it will not be surprising that among the many subjects of conversation that would naturally be introduced, our respective views of religion should form a part. From the peculiarities of the Calvinistic system, I believe he differed, as soon as he knew what they were. Never shall I forget the joy I felt, when once he asked me if the funeral service of our church was always the same. He had, the day before, heard it for the first time; and it made a deep and most favourable impression on his mind. Soon he purchased a Prayer Book, and would often comment to me on the beauty of many of its parts. He began occasionally to attend the services of our church; and continued to do so, with gradually increasing frequency, while he remained in college. Having satisfied his mind that there were peculiarities in the system in which he had been educated, that would prevent his ultimately adopting it as the religion of his choice, he commenced, soon after leaving college, an inquiry into the distinctive principles of several religious denominations. The result was a deliberate conviction of the duty of connecting himself with the Protestant Episcopal Church. It was the conviction of a mind deeply imbued with pious sentiments, and a just appreciation of religious responsibility; a mind which had been swayed by prejudices against us; and a mind, raised by natural strength, and the improvement of a liberal education, above the influence of any other motives, than the clear and deliberate decisions of an enlightened understanding. He connected himself, as a pewholder in St. John's chapel, with the parish of Trinity church, in this city, and soon gave to him, who now mentions it with recollections of most sacred and interesting character, the high gratification of receiving him, [2/3] by baptism, into the congregation of Christ's flock. This was, to him, far from being a matter of mere form, or cold dependence on outward rites. He immediately showed his sincerity and consistency by becoming a communicant of the church; and as soon as opportunity offered, manifested his humble and faithful disposition to fulfil all righteousness, by receiving the apostolic ordinance of confirmation. Immediately after his connexion with the church, he became a member of our Tract Society, was soon appointed one of its officers, and was, as he continued to the last, one of its most faithful and efficient friends. In 1816, he united heartily with others in establishing, and has ever since continue faithfully to serve, the Auxiliary Bible and Common Prayer Book Society; and at a subsequent period, was one of the active founders, and remained to the close of his life one of the most efficient friends, of our Missionary Society; of which, as a mark of respect and affection, his parishioners, within the last year, paid the requisite amount for constituting him a director for life. He, too, was one of the first, and most zealous, in the establishment of Sunday schools connected with our church in this city, and in organizing the Sunday School Society which is represented in this meeting.
Such was the respect in which he was held, and the confidence cherished in him, that very soon after his connexion with the parish, he was elected a member of its vestry. In this station, also, he acted with his characteristic fidelity and conscientiousness. He ever bore in mind the spiritual character of the church, and decided and acted with a view to that; while he was also, in the most exemplary manner, careful of the temporal trust committed to the corporation of the parish. He loved his pastors, both personally, and from a due appreciation of the character, importance, duties, and responsibilities, of their high and holy functions.
It was truly gratifying to know, that when, in his adversity and his sorrows, we saw in him the serious and pious Christian, faithful in the discharge of all the Christian duties, and alive to every view of Christian responsibility, he had been equally so when enjoying the bright beams of the sun of prosperity. This, of course, gave us, at once, the highest confidence in the sincerity and reality of his Christian professions; and prepared the way for cheerful acquiescence in the desire which he expressed, of connecting himself with the Christian ministry; because it was obvious that this was not the mere resource of disappointed prospects, and of a gloomy and joyless mind.
Having, of his own will, gone beyond the then ordinary terms of candidateship, especially for persons of his age, previous attainments, and standing in the church, and satisfactorily passed the canonical examinations, he was admitted to deacons' orders, by the bishop of this diocese, in Trinity church, in this city, on Wednesday, August 6th, 1823; and then, as one of the resident clergymen of this city, commenced, according to its constitution, his connexion with the board of managers of the New-York Bible and Common Prayer Book Society--a connexion, to the duties and responsibilities of which he ever manifested a proper and practical sensibility. Having a family dependent on him, he was under the necessity of declining the acceptance of several parishes, then vacant, which would have rejoiced in his ministry, and in one of which, but for the circumstance just mentioned, he would have gladly settled. While, however, he remained without any parochial connexion, a few gentlemen, anxious to have a parish established in the upper part of Broadway, in this city, solicited his consent to officiate in apartment which they would obtain, and fit up for the purpose. His consent was given; and in a hired upper room, in a house at the corner of Broadway and Broome-street, he commenced his pastoral ministrations in the month of October, 1823. The little congregation here fathered by his labours, experiencing such an increase in numbers, and attaining to such a character for respectability and efficiency, as to warrant the expectation of its permanency, was duly organized as St,. Thomas's church, New-York, on the following Christmas-Day. Soon after, the wardens and vestrymen of that parish elected, as its rector, the lamented subject of this memoir. He continued to minister among them with the most exemplary zeal, devotion, and industry. By no arts of popularity, for he had too elevated and too honest a mind to have recourse to them; by no adapting of doctrine or ministration to popular sentiments and popular liking, for he had too Christian a conscience for this; and by no sacrifice of the most perfect consistency as a minister of our own church, for he understood too well, and prized too highly, her distinctive principles, in their connexion with the best interests of the Gospel of Christ; but by his faithful devotion to the several functions of the ministry, and the commanding and winning excellence of his life and character, added to the manifestation of talents and learning of a superior order; he had the pure and holy satisfaction of seeing his little flock growing daily in numbers, until, rejoicing in their ability and encouragement to commence so good a work, they resolved to build an house of habitation for the Lord, where they might meet and enjoy him in the holy services and ordinances of his religion. The result was that splendid monument of the divine blessing on his assiduity and success, which should never fail to recall his memory, and to excite devout thanksgivings for the spiritual blessings which attended his ministry--St. Thomas's church. The corner stone of this truly beautiful edifice, and this edifice with which, now the most interesting and affecting associations will ever be connected, was laid, in the absence of our own beloved diocesan, on a voyage and journey for his health, by the venerable senior bishop of our church, the Right Rev. Dr. William White, of Pennsylvania, in the presence of several of his brethren in the episcopacy, and a large number of clergy from various parts of the Union, then assembled in this city on the concerns of the General Theological Seminary. The laying of this stone was on the 27th day of July, 1824.
While the church was building, viz. on the 11th of October, 1824, in St. Luke's church, in this city, Mr. Duffie was admitted to the holy order of priests, by the Right Rev. Bishop Croes, of New-Jersey, acting for our still absent bishop.
The mentioning of this event recalls to my mind one of the very many evidences on which [3/4] memory loves to dwell, of the characteristic humility and conscientiousness of our deceased friend. Although he had been longer than the appointed time in deacon's orders, and had been, for fourteen months, a preached of the Gospel, and nearly a year in parish minister, he trembled at the thought of receiving the solemn exhortations, and taking upon him the solemn obligations, prescribed in the "Ordering of Priests." With him who new relates the circumstance, he had a conversation on the subject, which filled him with admiration of traits of character that seemed to come nearer than any he had ever seen, to the most self-subduing and humbling requisitions of the Gospel.
On the 23d of February, 1826, our diocesan, restored, by God's blessing, in renewed health, to his diocese and friends, consecrated St. Thomas's church; and there our beloved friend then began those holy, unwearied and faithful services, which ended but with the short malady that closed his life. Sunday, the 5th of August, 1827, was the last on which he ministered within its hallowed walls. Then, it being a stated monthly communion day, he presented the bread of life, and the cup of salvation, to such as were present of 160 communicants of the parish increased to that number from five, who, less than four years before, were all that belonged to his charge; and then he preached his last sermon from a text which, I am sure, will henceforward have connected with it, in the minds of his friends, the most deeply interesting and affecting associations--"Here we have no continuing city; but we seek one to come." Hebrews xiii. 14.
It is impossible, and would be unpardonable, to notice my beloved friend's ministerial career, without dwelling, with delighted emotions, on the affectionate, parental, and unwearied care which he took of the lambs of the flock of Christ. He loved to bring little children to their Saviour, and by making them acquainted, in the most interesting and winning language, level to their comprehension, but still interesting to all, with God the Father who made them, God the Son who redeemed them, and god the Holy Ghost who sanctifieth them. His well known, and it is believed, universally approved and admired, "Sermon for Children," preached at the anniversary of one of the societies here represented, is one of many which he wrote for the same truly interesting and vastly important object; and the good effects of which, it is reasonably to be expected, and devoutly to be wished, will be manifested in many whom he has left behind, as lambs of his flock, when they shall have taken the place of their parents, and be themselves responsible and influential members of society and the church.
Unhappily, I have hardly begun to speak of the very creditable and exemplary ministry of my brother, in the parish of his own forming, and the holy and beautiful house of his own rearing, before the afflicting call is made to notice the speedy and melancholy termination of that ministry in his early and unlooked for death. On this sad event, all who hear me have dwelt with the most poignant, but it was a sacred grief, and a grief, God be thanked, which has in it, if ever grief can have, the joy which cometh of the hopes and consolations of the Gospel.
That death was calm, holy, peaceful, and triumphant: and calm, peaceful, and triumphant, not from the meagre and miserable motives which are the best that false philosophy can hold out, but from the sure and certain hope of that Gospel to which true philosophy clings, as man's only guide, support, and comfort, in the natural yearnings of his heart for more of spiritual knowledge, and more of spiritual happiness, than worldly wisdom can impart.
But neither would the time to which I have been unavoidably limited in preparing this memoir, nor that, I fear already exceeded, to which I could be at all entitled from this respected meeting, allow me here to enter into particulars. They probably have been, or probably will be, brought to the notice of all who now hear me. Suffice it to say, that in every view of it, its humility and its triumph, its faith, its hope, its charity, its peace, it dictates the fervent prayer--and should lead to a consistent frame of character and conduct--Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.