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:

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rev. William Emerson

William Emerson was born in Concord, Mass. on May 6, 1769. His father, also Rev. William Emerson, recorded in his diary the opening shots of the American Revolution in Concord and was the first to appear after the alarm was sounded, gun in hand. The senior Rev. Emerson contracted fever on the field of battle and died on a homeward march when the younger Rev. Emerson was only seven.

Young Rev. Emerson entered Harvard at age 16 and was once suspended for refusing to testify about the misbehavior of others. He graduated from Harvard in 1789 and taught school in Roxbury for a couple of years before embarking on theological study. He also played the bass violin, but gave it up upon entering ministry. In 1792 he accepted a call to preach for the Society at Harvard.

He was hired away to be the minister of First Church, Boston on October 16, 1799, with the church purchasing his services from Harvard for $1,000. While there, his intellectual and literary pursuits took flight and he both started and largely maintained the Christian Monitor and was a member of most of the prominent literary and religious societies of Boston.

His son, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote of his father’s faith: “My father inclined obviously to what is ethical and universal in Christianity; very little to the personal and historical. Indeed, what I found nearest approaching what would be called his creed is in a printed sermon ' at the Ordination of Mr. Bedee, of Wilton, N. H.' I think I observe in his writings, as in the writings of Unitarians down to a recent date, a studied reserve on the subject of the nature and offices of Jesus. They had not made up their own minds on it. It was a mystery to them, and they let it remain so.”

Just days after the death of fellow founder Rev. Joseph Eckley, William Emerson joined him in death on May 12, 1811. Fellow founder Joseph Buckminster preached his funeral sermon.

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