I WAS born in Adams, Jefferson County, New York. I have paid little attention to the subject of genealogy, but I account it a cause for gratitude that, so far as I know the history of my family, it has numbered a goodly line of God-fearing men and women who have been loyal and useful in their devotion to Church and State. Sixteen of my kinsfolk were officers in the Colonial and Revolutionary wars. Brigadier-General Whipple was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The mother of Stephen Hopkins, another signer of the Declaration, was a Whipple.
My grandfather, Benjamin Whipple, was in the navy of the American Revolution, which was then in its infancy but honored for the heroic bravery of Paul Jones and his associates. He was taken prisoner and confined in the prison-ship Jersey, and came out of it a paralytic.
My father, John H. Whipple, was born in Albany, New York. He was baptized in St. Peter's Church of that city, and in the year 1820 married Elizabeth, daughter of the Hon. Henry Wager, one of the electors of Thomas Jefferson.
My childhood was as happy as a tender mother and a blessed home could make it. The one fore-shadowing, at that early period, of the battles which I was to fight for my poor Indians was upon the occasion of a quarrel between a boy much older than myself and another half his size. Indignant at the unrighteousness of an unequal fight, I rushed upon the bully and in due season went home triumphant, but with clothes torn and face covered with blood. My dear mother, with an expression of horror upon her fine face, ran toward me, and putting her arms around me, cried:--
"My darling boy, what has happened? Why are you in this dreadful condition?"
"Yes, I know it's bad," was my answer; "but mother, you ought to see the other fellow!"
I feel, even now, the gentle hand on my head as she said, after hearing my story,--
"My dear boy, it is always right to defend the weak and helpless."
I owe much to my holy mother, from whom I learned the blessedness of God's word, and whose unfaltering voice in speaking of Divine truth saved me from scepticism. At that time there was no Episcopal Church in the western part of the state of New York, and my parents had become communicants of the Presbyterian Church, although they were afterward confirmed in the church of my grandparents. As a child I read the Prayer Book to my blind grandmother, who was a devout Churchwoman, and unconsciously the lessons of Christ and His Church were impressed upon my heart.
An idea of the changes which have taken place in that part of the country may be given by an incident which occurred when my father as a young man was making the journey by coach from Albany to Utica, ninety-six miles, in company with the Patroon Van Eensselaer, Martin van Buren, Daniel D. Tompkins, and Chancellor Kent. Mr. van Rensselaer, in response to Mr. van Buren's remark, "that he must have seen a great development in the country during his lifetime," gave a description of his early journeys by canoe and horse. Judge Kent also gave his experience, and then boldly added:--
"I have been reading of a road, invented by a Mr. Macadam, made of pounded stone. And I see no reason, if the country is ever rich enough to build such roads, why it would not be practicable, by using relays of horses, to make the journey from Albany to Utica in one day."
This seemed no less a flight of the imagination than did that of a statement made to me upon my first visit to Washington, in 1844. After visiting the places of interest in the city I went to the Capitol to say good-by to a friend who was a member of Congress. As I was leaving the room he said: "By the way, the sergeant-at-arms has given a room in the basement to a man who claims that he can send a message by wire in less than a minute. I do not believe in it. It is probably one of the many schemes to get an appropriation from Congress. But it may amuse you to see it."
I went to the basement, and found a tall, thoughtful-faced man who received me courteously, and in answer to my queries said, with a smile: "There is no possible deception. I can convince you in one minute of the value of this invention. You see that battery? It is connected with a wire the other end of which is near the Relay House. I will send the message, ' Mr. Whipple of New York is here.'" In a moment the answer came back. It was before the day of reading by sound, and the alphabet consisted of a series of dashes on a coil of paper. Mr. Morse--for it was he--tore off the slip of paper, and making the alphabet on another slip, said: "You must read this. What is the first letter? "" T," I answered; and so on until I was able to read the message, "Tell Mr. Whipple that he is looking upon an invention which will revolutionize the commerce of the world."
At ten years of age I was sent to the boarding-school of the late Professor Avery in Clinton, and afterward to the school under the charge of those cultured Christian men, the Rev. Dr. Boyd and the Rev. John Covert, whose kindness and wisdom won my heart and influenced my life. I next became a student at Oberlin where I resided with my uncle, the Rev. George Whipple, professor of mathematics. The Rev. Charles Finney, president of the college, was a remarkable man. His kindness and consideration toward me I shall never forget, and his loving interest in my career gave him a sacred place in my memory.
While pursuing my studies my health failed, and my physician said the only hope of saving my life was to enter upon active business. This was a deep disappointment to my father as well as to me, but following the physician's advice I accepted an offer from my father, and for a time was connected with him in business. From earliest youth I had been deeply interested in political affairs, and had tried to follow the teachings of the founders of the Republic. I felt that if good men were to be nominated for office, good men must attend the primary meetings. My influence was beyond my years, for I believed in the lessons of my saintly mother, "Never hesitate to defend the weak and never be afraid if God is on your side." My father belonged to the old Whig party, but he was one of those broad-minded men who would never interfere with the conscientious convictions of others. I became a Democrat of the conservative school. Through the influence of Governor Dix I was appointed by Governor Marcy, Division Inspector, with the rank of Colonel, on the staff of Major-General Corse, having been previously appointed Major by Governor William L. Bouck. It afforded many pleasant hours of recreation with the fuss and feathers of military equipage. During the scare of the Patriot rebellion in Canada we were ordered to the defence of the frontier, but the Government had wisely sent out some regulars who settled the matter before we entered upon actual service, and our military reputation was saved. My last service in the political field was as secretary of a state convention.
Thurlow Weed and Edwin Croswell, two of New York's political leaders, said when I became a candidate for Holy Orders that they "hoped a good politician had not been spoiled to make a poor preacher."
Many of these political friends became my helpers in my struggles to secure justice for the Indians. Governor Seymour, General John A. Dix, and others, never failed to give me their influence with the authorities at Washington.
It was while I was confined to my room by illness that my mind turned irresistibly toward the truths of the Holy Gospel, and the needs of a dying race. After many and deep heart-searchings I decided, with the advice and sympathy of my dear father and of Bishop de Lancey, to prepare myself for Holy Orders. I pursued my theological studies with the Rev. Dr. W. D. Wilson, and I have always felt it a rare blessing that I had that great scholar for my friend and teacher.
I was ordained to the diaconate in Trinity Church, Geneva, New York, August 26, 1849, and to the priesthood in Christ's Church, Sackett's Harbor, the following February. I was called to Zion Church, Rome, New York, where I preached my first sermon on Advent Sunday, 1849.
Mrs. Whipple, to whom I was married by the Rev. Mr. Fisk of Trinity Church, Watertown, New York, was the daughter of Hon. Benjamin Wright, and of the family of Wards and Pells of Westchester, New York.
A happier life God never gave to man than that of a shepherd of Christ's flock. Mrs. Whipple was all that a Christian wife could be as friend and counsellor, and no pastor ever had a more loving and devoted parish. In the suburbs of Rome there was a large population of extreme poor who became my parishioners, and in work for and with them I learned the hopefulness and helpfulness of the Gospel. My parish numbered many men and women of culture and note. Hatharway, Stryker, Bissell, Ingersoll, and many others, whose faces are imprinted on my heart, have gone to their rest. Among Christians of other communions I found dear friends and helpers.
It has always been a cause for thankfulness that God has given me the ability to put aside the petty annoyances which fret out life. It is worry, not work, that kills men; and the man is happy who can shut out troubles when the day's work is done, for burdens are not lightened by hugging them to the heart.
I remember a lesson learned from a dear friend of my boyhood, the mother of Chief Justice Swan. Aunt Swan was a gentlewoman of the old school,--a Quakeress,--who possessed rare wisdom. She lived on Lake Cayuga, New York. Upon one occasion one of her neighbors gave a party to which all the distinguished families of the county were bidden save Aunt Swan, against whom a fancied grievance was cherished. The night of the festivity arrived, and stately Aunt Swan, in her Quaker garb of mode satin and sheerest muslin, stepped into her carriage and was driven to her friend's house. Making her way through the throng to the hostess, she said with her sweet dignity:--
"Friend Clarissy, thy servant forgot to leave me thy invitation, and it is out of such little things that friendships are often marred. So I have come as thy old friend to enjoy thy hospitality." The difficulty was healed.
Among my parishioners was a man of strong fibre but with little reverence, apparently, for Christian truth. His wife was a communicant of the Church. Upon her death-bed she sent for me, and in the agony of parting from her only child, begged me to be a friend to her husband, that I might influence him in training their son. Her last words, "If you lose sight of John, my boy will be lost," continued to ring in my ears, and I tried to win the man's affections. Late one stormy night I returned from a visit to a dying woman to find the man waiting for me in a state of great excitement. He began his sad story at once, saying: "You know Mr.------! The woman with whom he is living is not his wife. She is the daughter of an Englishman, and ran away to marry this man. Some day they will quarrel and that woman will die of a broken heart. Will you marry them to-night? "
"Do you ask me to go to a man's house at midnight, and tell him that I have come to marry him?" I exclaimed.
"Yes," was the answer, "and I know you will do it."
It was God's Spirit which led us to the house, where we found the man and woman sitting by the cradle of a sick child. They were naturally surprised when told of my errand, and not inclined to listen to my pleading, but finally their hearts were touched by the thought that I was there to save their child from shame, and an agonized outburst of tears showed me the woman's overburdened heart. The laws of New York required no marriage license, and just as the clock struck twelve I pronounced them man and wife. The next morning poor John------was burned to death so suddenly that he had hardly time to say, "God have mercy." At his burial there was a look of incredulity upon the faces of many in the congregation, when I spoke of a noble and loving act of the departed brother such as few would have dared to do. It taught me a lesson of charity which I have never forgotten.
One cold night in midwinter I was awakened by the distressed voice of a poor German woman under my window, begging me to go to her dying husband. I dressed quickly and went to the wretched home, where I found the man very near death, and the house lacking the common necessities of life. I realized for the first time the meaning of illness where gaunt poverty dwells in the home. I sent one child for a physician, another to my house for blankets and spirits, and then knelt down and commended the dying man to the Saviour. There was a family of seven children to be cared for. At my first visit after the burial I found the house in an untidy condition. I said to the woman: "If you want my help I will give it to you on one condition,--you must keep your house and children clean. Water is plentiful, and without cleanliness you are not respectable." I bought two pigs--one to pay for the next year's rent, and the other for the use of the family. In the spring, places were found for the older boys, and in season the whole family gathered hops and berries to sell. Once a week I visited them to give advice and counsel. It was a practical seed-sowing which yielded practical results. The family grew prosperous and independent, and all became useful communicants of the Church. It taught me that the poor need our brains more than our alms.
A prominent member of the Presbyterian Church married a communicant of my parish. They agreed to attend alternately each other's place of worship. The husband said to me one day: "I do not like to turn my back on the Lord's Table. May I go to the Communion with my wife?" I replied: "It is not our Communion Table, it is the Lord's; if you have been baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity, hear the invitation, ' Ye who do truly repent and desire to come;' it is your privilege." It was my custom to seek counsel of my bishop. When I laid the matter before Bishop de Lancey, he said, "You have done right"; and then he added, "When Bishop Hobart was the rector of Trinity Church, a man came to him and said: ' Bishop, it gives me great sorrow to leave your church before the Holy Communion. May I come? '" The bishop asked, ' Were you baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity?'
"'Yes,' was the answer.
"'Do you believe in the Apostles' Creed?' asked the bishop.
"'Yes,' was the reply, 'I believe it with all my heart, but I am not sure that I interpret it exactly as you do.'
"The bishop replied, 'The Church has not bidden you to accept Bishop Hobart's interpretation.' "
Forty years ago Christians were not as ready to see the image of Christ in those from whom they differed as now. During my rectorship a noted clergyman came to Rome to preach upon the folly of celebrating Christmas. A few years ago a letter written from Europe by that same clergyman told of the comfort which he had found in the services of the Church of England on the continent, and the blessedness of the Church's Year.
It was always my custom to hold a third service on the Lord's Day at some village or hamlet in the country. After one of these services a note was brought me saying: "My husband is very ill and in great distress, for he is not ready to die. Will you bring some of the brethren and pray for him?"
It was one of the coldest nights of midwinter, and it was a drive of many miles to the home of the dying man. As I entered his room he exclaimed, "I am a great sinner; I am not ready to die; can you help me? "
I told the poor soul of God's love and prayed with him. He seemed much comforted, and begged me to come again, which I did two days later. As I entered the room the man turned his dying eyes upon me and cried: "You are what they call Episcopal. You pray out of a book. You don't let other ministers preach in your pulpit." He glibly repeated every stale objection against the Church, and when he had finished I said quietly:--
"When I came here two days ago, I did not tell you that I was an Episcopal clergyman, nor did I tell you about the Church and its ministry. I tried to lead you to the Lamb of God, and I told you of His love in asking you to believe and be baptized." But all my words fell upon dumb ears; some one had poisoned the poor wanderer's mind, and he died unbaptized. It was a sad lesson of the way in which strife and bitterness shut men out of the joy of believing. Like most young clergymen I was overconfident of my theological attainments and of the soundness of my philosophy. The Rev. Dr. George Leeds, my neighbor in Grace Church, Utica, had asked me to preach for him. I selected the sermon which I considered my best. The following day I met Judge Beardsley, who had known me from childhood, and, laying his hand earnestly on my shoulder, as I supposed to commend my eloquence of the preceding day, he said: "Henry, no matter how long you live, never preach that sermon again! I know more philosophy than you have learned. You must not try to preach to the judge, but to the tempted, sinful man. Tell him of the love of Jesus Christ and then you will help him." It taught me that God's message in Jesus Christ is to the heart. My aunt, Mrs. George Whipple, a niece of Daniel Webster, told me that when her uncle was staying at John Taylor's, in New Hampshire, he attended the little church morning and evening. A fellow-senator said to him, "Mr. Webster, I am surprised that you go twice on Sunday to hear a plain country preacher, when you pay little attention to far abler sermons in Washington."
"In Washington," Mr. Webster replied, "they preach to Daniel Webster the statesman, but this man has been telling Daniel Webster, the sinner, of Jesus of Nazareth, and it has been helping him."
In 1853 Mrs. Whipple was very ill, and the physician said that she must go to a warm climate. My brother-in-law, Hon. George R. Fairbanks, invited her to spend the winter at his home in St. Augustine, and on the way we stopped in New York, where the General Convention was in session. There I met Bishop Rutledge, who said to me: "I have no clergyman in East Florida. Do come and help me this winter." Bishop de Lancey offered to supply my parish, my vestry gave me a leave of absence, and I accepted the temporary cure of Trinity Church, St. Augustine, where my brother-in-law, the Rev. Benjamin Wright, had had a short but blessed ministry, entering into rest in 1852. At that time much of Florida was terra incognita. It had not recovered from the desolation of the Indian Seminole war, and the great freeze had destroyed tropical fruits, while the population was small and scattered. I held missionary services on plantations at Picolata, Palatka, and many other places. Jacksonville was a small village, and the church was vacant. The Bishop invited me to preach the Convention sermon at Tallahassee. I left Jacksonville for this journey of two hundred miles at eleven o'clock Sunday night, and was travelling, or trying to travel, until three o'clock the following Sunday morning, when I reached Tallahassee. It is now a six hours' journey by rail. All through that part of the country I held services at the old plantation homes--often truly patriarchal--where master and slave were united in bonds of affection, and where black and white children were baptized at the same font. After one of these services at Mr. Dupont's plantation, an old slave woman brought me a large basket of eggs, which were then selling for fifty cents a dozen. Turning to my old sexton, David, I said, "David, you have done wrong to beg these eggs of these poor people." "Massa," broke in one of the women, "David done ask fur no eggs. We done ask him down ter de quarters what youse doin' fur de Lord at St. Augustine. David say youse done fixin' de church bigger. We says, we'se guine ter have somefing in dat us selfs. So I done gives ten eggs, an' Clarissey, five eggs, an' Sally, fifteen eggs, and Cloey, two eggs, an' so along; an' Massa, please takes um; dey's fur de Lord."
Old David was a devout man who believed in Jesus Christ as if he had put his finger in the prints of the nails. Jesus walked with him, was in his home and heard his prayers. He believed implicitly in "Apostolic Secession," as he called it. In those days black and white were members of one household of faith and knelt beside one altar. I had a large class of black servants preparing for confirmation, and David always stood at the door listening to the lessons, which he afterward repeated to others. At the close of my last instruction, I said, "I am glad to hear from your masters that you are trying to live Christian lives, and next Sunday I will present you to the bishop for confirmation." David stepped forward and said respectfully, "Massa, tell dem ef dey done comes in ter dis yere church, deys got ter stick. Dis yere church don' take in nobody ter go off ter Mefodist an' Presbyterian; here deys got ter stick,
I missed David one Sunday, and finding that he had gone to the Dupont plantation to hold service, I said to him the next day, "David, I hear that you were preaching yesterday." He looked surprised, but answered solemnly: "Massa, I isn't no such man es dat. I done knows all about dat blessed doctrine of Apostolic Secession. Nobody preach in dis yere church except he's sent. Nobody send me; I goes myself. But, Massa, dere's one ting done puzzlin' ni6)--why so many fokes Christ died fo' done have nobody sent ter 'em. So I says, I'se guine myself and done tell 'em all I knows 'bout Jesus. Now, Massa, when de dear Lord sees 'em comin' home in white robes, singin' dat song dey done can't sing 'less deys redeemed, doesn't yer tink, Massa, He'll done be jes' as glad ter see 'em as ef dey'd come de reglar way? "
When David died, Bishop Whittingham and Bishop Alonzo Potter officiated at his burial.
I held the first service of our church at Palatka in an old tumble-down warehouse. There I found the learned jurist and statesman, Hon. Isaac H. Bronson, Judge of the United States Court. He was an invalid, unable to attend public service, and although not a communicant of the Church, he always welcomed my visits, and seemed deeply interested in the subject of religion. I well remember our first conversation upon the Fatherhood of God, when I was asking myself what I could say to touch the heart of this ripe scholar. Suddenly he exclaimed, "Mr. Whipple, tell me of Jesus Christ as you would tell my black boy Jim, and I shall be grateful. I am bewildered by the theories of men! "
It unsealed my heart and lips, and later I had the great joy of receiving this noble soul to the Communion. It was a pleasure that I was able to raise the means to build the church that now stands in Palatka, in which many invalids have found comfort in the winter months.
The Crackers, a name given to the poor whites of the South, formed a large part of the population at that time. They were a rude, uneducated class, but often possessing strong common sense and ideas of justice. On one of my journeys I came to a Cracker's cabin, where a tall, gaunt man in hunting shirt and slouch hat was smoking his pipe and caressing the head of a deerhound.
"Hallo, stranger," came the salutation, "be you a preacher?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Then I want to know if dogs kin go to heaven. I can't read, but I've a friend what kin, and he says he's read in the Bible, plain print, about white horses and black horses in heaven. Now, stranger, this yar dog knows more'n any horse on earth, and ef he can't go to heaven, it ain't no place fur me, an' I don't want to go thar."
At the request of Bishop Rutledge I visited Charleston to secure aid for missionary work. Nothing could exceed the open-handed generosity, the hospitality and warm-hearted sympathy of its citizens, and I returned to St. Augustine with an offering which gladdened the heart of the good bishop. At that time Charleston was the most generous contributor to Foreign Missions of any city in the United States.