Thursday, April 21, 2011

Inaugural post - the reverend Thomas Carter

Starting this blog with the good reverend, Thomas Carter of Woburn. He's the guy in the center of the portrait below, the one with the with elders' hands on his head. The portrait hangs in the Woburn (MA) Public Library; I've visited in all its humble splendor--perfectly befitting a man who was splendidly humble.
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 comment: The characters represented in the painting are as follows:  Beginning at the left (standing) is John Cotton, Minister of the First Church of Boston;  Richard Mather, Minister of the First Church of Dorchester;  John Elliot, Apostle to the Indians from the First Church of Roxbury;  Capt. Edward Johnson, one of the founders of both the church and town of Woburn;  Thomas Carter, one of the lay members of the church;  John Wilson, Minister of the First Church of Charlestown; and finally, a visiting minister, unnamed.  Seated on the bench with his hat beside him is Increase Nowell, Magistrate from Charlestown.  The others are members of the church.
source: Carter, a genealogy of the descendants of Thomas Carter of Reading and Weston, Mass., and of Hebron and Warren, Ct. Also some account of the descendants of his brothers, Eleazer, Daniel, Ebenezer and Ezra, sons of Thomas Carter and grandsons of Rev. Thomas Carter, first minister of Woburn, Massachusetts, 1642 (Compiled and Published by Howard Wilton Carter, Norfolk Connecticut, 1909)
Our Carter family line, which I'll flesh out in subsequent blog posts, goes:
1.   Thomas Carter
2.   Thomas Carter
3.   Thomas Carter
4.   Thomas Carter
5.   Thomas Carter
6.   Berry Carter
7.   Thomas Carter
8.   William Lafayette Carter
9.   Helen Carter Tiffany
10. John Mason Tiffany
11. Joan Tiffany Doran
12. me

Rev. Thomas Carter was the first minister in Woburn, and continued in that position forty-two years. He died, in Woburn, 5 September 1684, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. He matriculated at St. Johns College, University Cambridge, England, at which he took degree of A.B. and M.A.
According to History of Woburn Thomas Carter came to this country, "while yet a student of divinity, in 1635." 

"When Rev. Thomas Carter was first invited to preach at Woburn 3 November 1641, it is mentioned, as a reason for his not being applied to earlier, that it had been doubted whether Watertown would be willing to part with him.” 
He was appointed minister of the Church in Woburn in 1642, and was ordained 22 November 1642. 

There is an account of his ordination in The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 by John Winthrop, Esq., First Governor of Mass., and also in Capt. Edward Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence, where he is as a “reverend, godly man, apt to teach the sound and whole some truths of Christ,” and one who had “much encreased with the encreasings, of Christ Jesus.” 

And in the following lines addressed by him in the same work to Mr. Carter, he is represented as a plain, but very faithful and successful minister, a pastor of distinguished humility and meekness, and in gentleness toward his flock as rather exceeding than otherwise:  
Carter, Christ hath his wayes thee taught, and thou Hast not withheld his Word, but unto all With's word of power dolt cause stout souls to bow, And meek as lambs before thy Christ to fall: The antient truths, plain paths, they fit thee best, Thy humble heart all haughty acts puts by; The lowly heart, Christ learns his lovely host, Thy meekness shows thy Christ to thee is nigh.
Yet must thou spew, Christ makes his hold to be As lions, that none may his truths tread down; Pastoral power he hath invested thee With, it maintain, leest he on thee do frown. Thy youth thou hast in this New England spent, Full sixteen years to water, plant, and prime Trees taken up, and for that end here sent; Thy end's with Christ; with's saints his praises time.
From the time of his ordination he ministered thirty six years constantly without aid till Rev. Jabez Fox was invited to assist him, and from that time he ministered, in connection with Mr. Fox, about six years more, till his death.  

Sewall's History of Woburn says: 
Mr. Carter appears to have lived secluded in great measure from the world; and hence he is seldom if ever named in history among the eminent clergymen of his day. 

Still there is abundant evidence that he was a very pious, exemplary man, an able and sound preacher of the gospel, and one whom God honored and prospered in his work. 

Under his ministrations the church was greatly enlarged and built up, and the town flourished, and was for the most part in peace.  Mr. Chickering in his dedication sermon thus speaks of him: 'During his ministry, which was prolonged more than forty two years, there appears to have been the greatest harmony between him and the Society.' 

"In 1602-3, John Maningharn, a student at law of the Middle Temple, London, kept a diary that has been preserved in the British Museum, which contains this grim definition of a Puritan: 'A Puritan is one who loves God with all his soul, and hates his neighbor with all his heart.' 

"This appears to be disputed by the life of Rev. Mr. Carter, who followed rather the command of his Divine Master to love his neighbor as himself, never joining in persecution of Indians, Quakers, Baptists, Churchmen, or poor old women charged with witchcraft.  (emphasis mine; and why I love the Reverend Thomas Carter)

One time, about 10 years ago in DC, an older colleague (who I realize now was at a female age where if you're not careful you turn into a cranky old cat swatting at kittens, but which I didn't recognize because she seemed so cool and smart and awesome, so how could she possibly be insecure?) once said--at a networking cocktail event I was just about to wade into--"It's so interesting, Susan, you're always among the players, and you're known by players, but you're not really a player" (player, not meaning "playa," but someone in the mix competitively, jockeying for power, position, or hierarchy--which she considered important, and I didn't and still don't). 

This winter who I am and my context was similarly sized up by a Southern gentleman of my age--whose slightly awkward, gentile Southern affect would be impossible not to find charming--and whom I intellectually respect. He's an archivist and a scholar. 

His family has been kicking around America almost as long as mine, but his family charted an appreciably different course than mine. 

His family has traveled in the tradition of "The Academy" or "academe," essentially carrying on and upholding the great learned traditions of the library of Alexandria. 

After chatting about our family histories, he looked at me levelly after his assessment--we peered at each other, over the centuries, one oldster to another--and made this pronouncement: "You," meaning me, my heritage, and all the peeps who come with it, "are an Idealist." I told him he was right.

For almost 4 centuries in America (390 years)--not all of them, god knows--but a pretty high percentage of my forebears have been Idealists.  We're oriented toward, and find most interesting, that which is possible.

Like my old-school Southern friend's lineage, mine is not made up of people motivated to emblazon their names in history books--nor to charge into and reap the spoils of what have traditionally been considered the "Big Three" tiers of the hierarchies of Society:

1. Politics (i.e., power)
2. Commerce (i.e., money)
3. Military (i.e., might)

My friend's family chose the 6th of possibly 7 acceptable paths of the worthwhile life of a civilized gentlemen in Western culture:

4. Law (i.e., reason)
5. Ministry (i.e., virtue) nominally acceptable unless comingled with #1 or #2 above
6. Scholarship (i.e., intellect) includes teaching
7. The Lively Arts (i.e., creativity) usually only barely acceptable

Idealism isn't an acceptable path by the forementioned status quo.  But it's what does resonate with me. Not airy-faery dreams. Ideal-ism.

Even my ancestors who were inventors, and there are a few of them, invented for the sheer joy of invention--taking ideas and transforming them into something that's never existed before. 

Their motivation wasn't market viability, becoming a Successful Business, or even primarily financial gain. It was the act of creation itself, and what could be done with those inventing things, and how to make the world better.

So, this sentence from the quoted matter above is notable in its apparent ambivalence:
"Carter appears to have lived secluded in great measure from the world; and hence he is seldom if ever named in history among the eminent clergymen of his day. Still there is abundant evidence that he was a very pious, exemplary man, an able and sound preacher of the gospel, and one whom God honored and prospered in his work."
In the 1860s, when this was written, it's likely that being "secluded from the world"--i.e., the Biblical notion of "worldliness," the corporeal, the material, material things--would be seen as virtuous, but hopelessly quaint, or as clueless cynic once referred to me, "congenitally naive." 

Does his mention that Thomas Carter wasn't a big Name speak to his esteem for Carter, pity for him, or a lack of respect?  The line "Still..." seems to imply that Carter was not fully of the material world, unaligned with earthly conceptions of power and glory, and was therefore not rewarded by the material world--being good and pious led only to having God "prosper" him with His non-worldly rewards. 

Which, in the Age of Reason, when this was written, would have been about as appealing and palatable as it would be now, in the Age of Profit.

I think it's pretty clear. The author considered my ancestor a sap.

I remember reading about Thomas Carter as a young teenager. I so was ashamed of him. I wanted badass Robber Baron forebears--whose spoils I was still feeding off! I didn't care what they would have done-or wouldn't have done to leave me a fat trust fund! I wanted to be from Those On Top. 

And as my mother giddily spoke of how wonderfully meek and humble Thomas Carter was--I wondered why couldn't he even be as cool as Cotton or Mather, who were at his ordination in the portrait? They weren't meeke, god knows!

But now...I love what was written about him: "Christ makes his hold to be As lions, that none may his truths tread down" when coupled with the reality that the Reverend Thomas Carter would not persecute poor unfortunates as witches. 

Which both Cotton and Mather did do. Those two and many others do have buildings named after them. They are remembered. But they, in part, made their living (and their legacy) by cynically pandering to people's fear, ignorance, and hatred--rather than to love and, yes, idealism, of who we can be. 

These men of God stirred up mob mentality to persecute and even murder "unfortunates." And Indians. And Quakers. And any other weirdos. In the name of God? In the name of nailing down the status quo and defining normalcy? Punishing outliers by death? How godly is that? Where is their Christlike love and humility? How is this like "the lamb"? 

And, the well-known Reverend Thomas Shepard, and Henry Dunster, President of Harvard, also attended my forebear's Ordination in 1636--and they are remembered by history--but where do these men come out on: intolerance, bigotry, personal ambition and reward, and whipping their folds into hateful furies?

So, as said, I now find the meeke humble Thomas Carter quite wonderful, and would like to be more like him.

March 2010 - on whim I requested any records on my great great great great great great great great great grandfather's from his college, from 1626.

Two months later St. John's College,  Cambridge, heard from Ryan Cronin, Librarian's Assistant,replying to a "biographical research enquiry" on Carter, Thomas, sending me everything they have on file relating to Thomas Carter. Mr Cronin confirmed "He matriculated at St. John's College in 1626, gaining his BA in 1629-30 and his MA in 1633." (see below)
The librarian at St John's also sent this document. I don't know who the author is - who the self-referred  "I" is. 

Eventually I'll transcribe these documents so Google can index it, and they'll be findable.

There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of descendants of this man. Here's a nice write-up about the Reverend Thomas Carter by one of them.

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