Early Life of a Religious Student at Princeton University:  John Witherspoon, Religious Education, Social Life, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., The Well-Meaners Society

 Seven Unpublished Letters of Moses Allen and His Brother Thomas

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Note on provenance: These letters were acquired by our firm directly from the heirs of Thomas Allen and have never before been seen by the public or offered for sale.

Moses Allen was born in 1748, the son of Joseph Allen and Elizabeth Parsons.  His neighbor was Jonathan Edwards, the famed revival...

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Early Life of a Religious Student at Princeton University:  John Witherspoon, Religious Education, Social Life, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., The Well-Meaners Society

 Seven Unpublished Letters of Moses Allen and His Brother Thomas

Note on provenance: These letters were acquired by our firm directly from the heirs of Thomas Allen and have never before been seen by the public or offered for sale.

Moses Allen was born in 1748, the son of Joseph Allen and Elizabeth Parsons.  His neighbor was Jonathan Edwards, the famed revival preacher.  Joseph was one of the few to come to Edwards defense.  He was Presbyterian by upbringing and was educated at the college in New Jersey [Princeton College], where he graduated in 1772.  At the college, Allen joined the Well-Meaning Club, one of the two rival literary clubs.  After the banning of these clubs, the Well-Meaners, led by Allen, formed the Cliosophic Society.  Allen was a classmate of James Madison, who was in a rival club.  In Madison’s “Clio Proclamation,” he identified Allen as the “founder of the crew.”  Allen was also a correspondent with Aaron Burr.  From there, he became the principal at an elementary school in Lower Freehold, NJ, before his ordination, at which point he was sent south to South Carolina, near Charleston.  The patrons of this school included William Tennent, also a trustee of the college.  In May 1773, Allen went to Philadelphia to apply to the Presbytery and, in spite of the objection of Madison and others, received his license.  Allen was one of the earliest clergyman in Wappetaw, Christ’s Church Parish. His ordination took place at Christ’s Church on March 16, 1775, by the Rev. Zubly, Mr. Edmonds, and William Tennent.   Allen was incarcerated on a British ship for Patriot activities during the American Revolution and died trying to escape.

Moses’s older brother was Thomas Allen, who graduated from Harvard College in 1762, and in 1764 became the first settled minister in Pittsfield, MA where he was ordained. Twice he served as a volunteer chaplain during the Revolutionary War and fought as a combatant in the Battle of Bennington, in which battle he earned the name the “fighting parson”.


Thomas inspires the young Moses for his life in religion

Autograph letter signed, Pittsfield, February 5, 1765. From Thomas to Moses.

“Me thinks I hear you calling me in the moving Language of patient Job, have Pity upon me, have Pity upon me. O my Friends, for the Hand of God hath touched me: & of what Kind of Marble must my Heart be were it not tenderly affected at your disconsolate state. O were it the Will of Heaven that it could not only be the Means of comforting your Mind under inward darkness but of relieving you under sore Distresses of body: or might bear a part in your sorrows. But Father thy Will be done: – all things work together for good, to them that love God; who are called accounting to his Purpose. God in his wise Providence has laid his Hand heavy upon you wearisome. Days and Nights have been allotted to you; Months of Sorrow & Pain you have been made to possess & you are now brought low (if yet in the Land of Living ) almost within Light of the Grave. And doubtless are ready to adopt the Word of the Prophet I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of ye residue of my years. Mine Age is departed, & removed from me as a Shepherds Lamb. The Lord will cut me off with spinning Sickness. From Day even till Night will thou make an end of me. I shall behold man no more with the Inhabitants of the World. But be not discouraged dear Brother, distrust not divine Power, if God only speaks the Word, you shall be healed. He that hath Power to raise the Dead, has Power to raise to Health and sprightliness your withering Limbs, and speak an End to your insufferable pains, whereby you are consumed away and almost worn out. But what will be ye issue of this Malady, God only knows. You know not what is before you. Your demands are set beyond which you cannot grasp. How long God will continue you under such grievous pains knoweth no Man. Our Time & Seasons are with him. You are God’s creature; and a sinful creature; and under your most grievous Pains you must acknowledge that God punishes you less than your iniquities, and that it is of ye Lord’s mercies that you are not long ago concerned. Be humble therefore dear Brother then, under this great affliction and acknowledge God’s Justice, say unto him righteous art Thou O lord, & upright are Thy Judgement. If there be any wicked Way in me, show it unto me. But be not cast down, although you are a sinful Creature, & although your burden is exceeding grievous, God has laid Help upon one mighty to save. Fly therefore to him. Believe in him trust & hope in him. Renounce yourself. Expose no confidence in the Flesh. O make Christ your all in all. Make sure of an interest in him. O cast your eye beyond the vanishing Delights of this World, to the spiritual and eternal World. Realize eternal Things. Consider yourself as a stranger & sojourner as were all your Father. Consider ye cloud of witnesses that have gone before who have died in the Faith of Gospel, & be willing if God calls you away from this World by Death to give Testimony to divine Truths with your dying breath. O fear not, dear brother, to go down into Egypt, to the grave, for God will do down with thee, and will also quietly bring thee up again….”

Detailed descriptions of life at Princeton

Autograph letter signed, Princeton, February 16, 1769, Moses to Thomas.

“… The labours of our President [Witherspoon] to promote the happiness of those who are committed to his care, I need not write you. The acquaintance you have with him, convinces you, I doubt not, that they are great. I shall only add, that his is universally esteemed as a preacher, a gentleman & a scholar. And is, (if one, who knows but little of the qualifications of a President, may be allowed to spend his opinion) as well qualified for the station, as any Person on this, or the other side of the Atlantic. Our _ are patterns of virtue, learning, and good manners possessed of the greatest mildness & familiarity & pare no pains to uphold good order; & be faithful to their trust. The students live in perfect peace & harmony, I know of no uneasiness amongst them from any quarter whatsoever. We live well & in health.

“Religious meetings are upheld in College, both public & classical, weekly. The tutors attend the public meetings & join with the scholars in the exercises. There is also a club in the College held every Tuesday evening & known by name of the Ath Society [perhaps a reference to Well-Meaners]. This hath been upheld from some years by respectable students & their exercise are kept a profound secret to all, but themselves and the Tutors. We however conclude, the scheme is laudable and improving. They admit none, but such as, upon examination, they find good scholars & such as sustain a good character & if any one that belongs to this Society; behaves himself unbecomingly he is expelled it.

“I have for my room Mate a young gentleman named Smith, a member of the junior class, the same Person I expected when you was here, he came the same day you left me. A scholar of the greatest diligence & application to learning, he is not only willing to help me in my studies, but also to body & anything that I can reasonably desire… I would not be persuaded to leave the college for the wealth of both the Indies.

“We all attend prayers at five in the morning. That we may be in the Hall precisely at the time, a Man, by the President’s orders, is sent every morning to see that we are all up before the ringing of the Bell. To prevent nightly disorders in college, the Tutors go to all rooms, once or twice every evening. If we are found out of our own rooms, we are sent home with a severe reprimand. If we are not found in college, are sent for next day to give an account where we were & what our business was…. P.S. As I am now writing now Mr. [Jonathan] Edwards, [Jr.] comes in, gives me a letter from you. I receive your instructions kindly and desire to obey them perfectly, likewise a letter from my father and some money… I have no need to run in debt for nothing yet except for a cap and black gown, which we are obliged to wear whenever we appear before the president. I spent nothing at taverns or frolics that is out of fashion or rather was never in fashion here.”

Autograph letter signed, Nassau Hall, July 11, 1769, Moses to Thomas.

“… I have not seen a sick day; Did I know that it were so with my Relations & yours, it would give me unspeakable pleasure; & if on the other hand, any are affiliated by sickness or death; it would give me satisfaction to hear of it that I might condole with them. Whole families have come to dissolution in the space of six months. I have no news to write; we live in the greatest peace and harmony. We love and look upon our President [Witherspoon] as a kind & tender Parent, & I think he perfectly discharges the office of one to us. Our tutors give the greatest satisfaction. And there has no crime been committed by any of the Students since I come here that deserved a fine, or to have been made a public example of. All our classes were examined before vacancy, & all kept our standing; except two Juniors who went back into the sophomore class; one sophomore & three freshmen were put upon conditions, one of which offered for sophomore last fall, but they cleared their conditions in the vacancy, & are like to stand until next fall; I cannot say but that they will then, together with some more of us a class or two lower. There is a summer school of upwards thirty scholars kept in college. I spent last vacation at the steward free from company; none of the student; but the Tutor was with me, eighteen or twenty scholars boarded in town. We were obliged to attend prayers in the Hall as before vacancy [summer break], but one hour later in the morning. I should have lived with a certain Gentleman & saved the expense of boarding; if he had not enoculated his family for the smallpox…. And if when I come home I should find my father unable to support me at College the time out, my studies will be such next winter, that I shall rather tarry away then, than any time. I am in hopes you will see Halsey, either at Pittsfield or Barrington, by whom I send this, & do so greatly desire you to improve that opportunity of writing to me; & to acquaint me whither you will be here at commencement or would have me come home….

Thomas writes for news from his brother and hopes Moses will, after graduation, join him

I “rejoice to read the account in it of a general seriousness prevailing in the College hope it may continue.”

Autograph letter signed, Pittsfield, November 12 1770. Thomas to Moses.

“Dear Brother, I have been waiting with impatience of hearing from you for some time: have had no Letter from you since the 12 of July last. Hope you’ll write more frequently than you have done. Our friends at Northampton are all well & here. I want to know where you spent the Vacation. I hear Mr. Wallace [Caleb Baker] was not at home at the Time…

“I desire you would make Enquiries after Doctor Lee; he went from us for South Carolina and some of the back settlements. If you should see anybody from those parts desire you would feel for information. We can hear nothing from him since he went away some Months since. Mr. Munson was ordained at Leonix last Week. Mr. Strong Prolocutor, Mr. West ordaining prayer. Mr. Binswell gave the Charge. I the right Hand of Fellowship; Mr. Collens made the concluding prayers all performed with Decency. Here are openings for Candidates & will be I trust years home hope God in his Providence will order you a place near me. Mr. Hunt, Northampton, is now preaching at the South Boston. Some prospect of his Settlement.

“… I would have you write to Father respecting your accounts & what need of Money you are in. This Letter enclosed in mine I sent and rejoice to read the account in it of a general seriousness prevailing in the College hope it may continue.

“Mr. Edwards was up from Newhaven at the aforementioned Ordination who has lately married Esqr Porters Sister of Hartley… My compliments to all acquaintance with you: the young gentleman your ClassMate.

“I must not earnestly recommend to you a holy or heavenly Life. That you daily walk with God in all the Duties of the Christian Life & prosecute your Studies with commendable Diligence & incessant application that you may be eminently useful in the World, obtain a peaceful Death let it come sooner or later & a happy eternity.”

The graduated Allen reflects on his experience and moves to admittance to the Presbytery

Copy of a letter, the original having been gifted to a collector generations ago. June 12, 1773

“The order of being admitted into the Presbytery here is very long & tedious. They have examinations at a half year’s distance each generally. Mr. Tennent, as soon as returned, advised me to go immediately to Philadelphia, as the synod was then sitting there, to offer myself to them for the sacred office. I persuaded the gentleman, who had the care of my School in the vacancy, to continue in it, and the week after my return I attended synod. I passed two examinations, & expect in the fall to pass another two & take license, if it appears expedient , in the spring at farthest. God grant, that I may preach Christ from right views, motions & ends, nor suffer me, after I have preached to others, to be myself a cast away. They gave me a text to write a sermon from: Titus 3:5…. I am much pleased with Pomeroy. He behaves manly & honorably; is much respected in the neighbourhood & beloved in the school and appears well pleased…. My business _ hard. I have engaged to submit one sermon in a fortnight to Mr. Tennent for criticism, to attend 2 religious services in a week, besides the business of the school & other studies appointed by the presbytery…”


Courtship for Moses

At a time when women were often lesser educated or illiterate, the Allen family was different in this regard. The women all literate and the gaining and sharing of knowledge was common & encouraged.

Autograph letter signed, Freehold, August 12, 1773, Moses to Thomas.

“… I long for the time which is fast approaching when I expect to wait upon a Dear Brother in this distant Country, but am not without fear, something will intervene to disappoint me. I beg you would set out the last of this month and be with me as soon as possible; make no visit at NYork till you return & I will go there with you. The news of a religious concern prevailing at Stockbridge gives me very sensible pleasure and glad God has not forsaken all parts of the work, & pray that it may spread to the salvation of your people, & the joy and happiness of their minister… Mr. Tennent is with us from South Carolina, urges greatly that I return with him in October. His offers are great. But more of this when you come…. The Ladies of good education, in this country, are few; consequently much thought of… & certainly where they have members of the first gentlemen under their yoke & are dupes to their smiles, there is little danger of their accepting a hint as Design of matrimony, tho news so broad; I am told they must have ”the question proposed plumply” before they know you they mean, they are full of apprehensions in those matters. I am far from thinking that never any bad influences attend too frequent visits of the kind you mention; but I imagine the parties must be young, or very inconsiderate when frequent visits are not attended with good consequences. Were women made for nothing but wives? Are they not capable of friendship before marriage? Reason and providence shall lead me in this matter, out of the reach of the reflection of dishonour. I have schemes in view that are incompatible with a married state therefore harbour no such thoughts but keep them at a distance. There must be a great alteration in my present plan or you will not have the pleasure to see me married next month. Cupid has not got me so much under his thumb yet; This is no disparagement to the ladies of this country; for they are very agreeable, good companions & truly polite. What wives they will make I cannot say, but observe they are very sweet, keep clean houses, being mostly of Dutch extraction and I hear little scolding now; but was told by a man the other day that his wife was good natured when he courted her, but as soon as married she commences a notorious “ her clack is never quiet”. Upon the whole I think a female friend is much more agreeable for my present situation than a wife….”

With John Witherspoon’s Blessing, Moses Accepts a Position and Heads South

Autograph letter signed, Freehold, December 21, 1773. Moses to Thomas.

“You will be surprised when I tell you that yesterday, I gave an answer to a packet of letters from Mr. Tennent & Mr. Thomson in Carolina; that I would sail with the first vessels after our presbytery, to assist Mr. Thomson in his school & supply a vacant congregation that is near them. I am to live in CharlesTown. It is a healthy & pleasant place. Greatly agreeable from their description. Mr. Tennent gives encouragement that I may save my board with good accommodations, by serving as a chaplain in a gentlemans family. Mr. Thomson engages me 100 sterling, for my assistance, & I am to preach for my own improvement & the good of mankind. I have settled my affairs here in such to a manner that I expect near prise from this school… I think duty calls. They are perishing from lack of vision. I have received letters again and again and denied them. They have now wrote to four or five different persons to use their influence with me & not take a denial. Dr. Witherspoon declares it is my duty to go, & he will not try for another. I believe he will be a friend to me when he has got me at the distance of [many] leagues from him.

“The gentleman I leave in this school [Princeton] is recommended as [very] qualified for the trust Pomeroy the prospect of lettering sophmore next fall if he continues. However I should be glad to know the Deacon’s determination concerning him. If there is an opening in Carolina that he may clear his way & go on with his studies, I will write to him. I shall be always ready to promote him I think he had better continue here for the present. And if Norman should come, he will be as well attended to as if I were here myself…”

Separation at folds to some of the letters.

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