Founders of the Massachusetts Bible Society - 1809

The Massachusetts Bible Society began on July 6, 1809 and is an ecumenical, Christian organization dedicated to promoting Biblical literacy, understanding, and dialogue. This blog lists brief biographies of our founders who gathered in the Massachusetts State House Senate Chamber on that historic day to sign the Charter founding MBS. Please visit our website: www.massbible.org.

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Location: Newton Centre, MA, United States

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rev. Eliphalet Pearson, DD

Nicknamed “elephant” by his students, Rev. Pearson was born in Newbury, Massachusetts on June 11, 1752. He graduated from Harvard in 1773, taught at Andover and studied theology, but was prevented from taking a charge due to his poor eyesight. During the Revolution he manufactured saltpeter and gunpowder for the Patriot army.


In 1778 he became the first preceptor at Phillips Andover Academy, a post which he held for eight years before becoming the Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at Harvard in 1786.


When Harvard President Samuel Willard died in 1804, Professor Pearson became the acting President as they embarked on a search for a new President. Shortly after taking over as the interim President, the vacant chair of the Hollis Professor of Divinity was filled by the liberal minister and fellow MBS founder Henry Ware. That appointment set in motion the chain of events that would tear the fabric of the Congregational Church into “Orthodox” and “Liberal” factions.


Pearson himself was on the Orthodox side of that fault line and, although he went back to his professorship for a brief time once fellow founder Samuel Webber was named the new President in 1806, he found he could no longer abide the religious climate at his alma mater.


In 1807 he left Harvard, returned to Andover and helped to found the nation’s first seminary there, making sure that orthodox theology was the rule. He was ordained to the Congregational Church in 1808, and his ordination sermon also served as the opening sermon for Andover Seminary. He served as a professor of sacred literature there for just one year before retiring.


Of his teaching it was said that he had more severity in his discipline than would suit modern feelings, but he cherished genius, excited emulation, and gave tone and character to minds under his tuition, and thoroughly grounded his pupils in the true elements of letters and morals.”


He was part of many religious and benevolent societies and devoted most of his retirement years to agricultural pursuits. Rev. Pearson died in Greenland, NH on September 12, 1826.

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