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FOR THE ANTHOLOGY.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF THE LATE
HON. SAMUEL DEXTER.
THE decease of the honourable SAMUEL DEXTER has been recently announced to the publick. The worth of this patriarchal sage ought not to be forgotten, for wisdom and virtue are most successfully taught by example. That of Mr. Dexter deserves a more durable record: he was truly one of the memorable men of our country.
When a youth, it was the intention of his father, who was a respectable clergyman, to educate him for his own profession. This was the natural effect of discovering in his child uncommon powers of mind and contemplative habits. The reverend gentleman was able to instruct, and he faithfully qualified his son for admission into Harvard College. But about the time when he was to have entered the university, he manifested a strong disinclination for the profession his father had chosen. In consequence of this the plan of his education was changed, and he became an apprentice to a merchant in this town.
It is not easy to account for this event, as he had no avarice in his nature, and still retained a strong taste for literature, which he carried with him through life. He was at this time advanced a little beyond the age at which students usually enter college, with a mind more mature than ordinary, and naturally investigating and confiding in its own strength. It is known that soon after this period he applied himself to examining with assiduity the foundation on which the advocates
for Christianity rest its pretensions to divine authority; and that his parents were anxious, lest the son of their fondest hopes should become an infidel. These circumstances have induced a belief, that the entire change in the plan of his education, at a period of life when a bold inquisitive mind naturally asks questions on theological subjects, which it wants information to answer, arose from some doubts respecting religion.
The father's creed was marked with the austerity of Calvinism; but the mind of the son was not formed by nature to receive on authority opinions that might appear to him irrational and unfounded. The probability of this conjecture is increased by the known fact, that the result of his examination into the evidence of Christianity was a firm belief of its divine original, accompanied with a rejection and zealous disapprobation of the dogmas of the famed theologist of Geneva; which he considered as unsupported by scripture, and doing violence to the moral attributes of God. These opinions he retained through his long and exemplary life; but in the latter part of it he became less confident in the results of all human investigation, and used to say, that he found it much casier to state with precision his doubts and difficulties, than the articles of his creed. This turn of mind never inclined him to scepticism, but rendered him catholick towards all from whom he differed. Ever after his early examination of the evidence of Christianity, he appears to have had a firm belief of its divine original.
On the expiration of his apprenticeship he commenced business in this town, and soon after married. Strength and activity were the characteristicks of his mind, and he became eminent in every thing to which he applied himself. At the age of thirty-six years he found himself possessed of property sufficient to satisfy his moderate desires. At this time his business was more profitable than at any former period, and free from hazard. But he had accomplished the purpose for which he engaged in commerce. He knew the necessity of a competency for the maintenance of his family, and felt the obligation of endeavouring to acquire it; but he had no relish for the glitter of wealth, and no avarice to lead him to hoard it. His mind had never been limited to his comptingroom and ledger. By his mercantile education the objects of his pursuit had been less changed in fact, than in appearance.
Possessing literature as well as talents, and thirsting for more knowledge, he abandoned commerce, and retired to Dedham, his native town, where his widowed mother still lived. Towards this excellent parent he was remarkably affectionate. Eminent for knowledge, justice and charity, he soon became the common friend, and almost the father of his native village.
He was chosen a representative in the provincial assembly; there his talents and merit were immediately conspicuous, and he was elected a counsellor ; but the choice was negatived by the governour, as he had become conspicuous in opposing the claims of the British government. This was repeated a number of years. He was constantly elected till it was thought imprudent to persist in negativing him. He continued in the council six years, and until negatived by governour Gage, in company with the late governour Bowdoin and doctor Winthrop; the British administration having expressly ordered those three gentlemen to be negatived, in case they should be re-elected into the council. This was supposed to have taken place in consequence of the formal controversy between governour Hutchinson and the council on the right of the British Parliament to tax the colonies; which had been conducted, on the part of the council, by those three members. It will readily be believed that neither the zeal of Mr. Dexter for the principles of the revolution, nor his popularity was impaired by this circumstance. While he was a member of the provincial assembly, he was appointed commissioner for settling the disastrous business then known by the name of the Land Bank, and also treasurer of the province. The former office he accepted, but the latter he declined.
At the beginning of the war he was an active member of the provincial congress, though in a very weak state of health. Being one of a committee, whose duty it was to report a plan of defence at that critical juncture, he differed in opinion from the majority; they were in favour of raising an army immediately, before any regular system of supplies had been organized; he contended that some establishments for arming, feeding and clothing an army were first to be made; that to collect together in the neighbourhood of a formidable, hostile regular force, a large body of men without discipline or supplies, was offering them up as a sacrifice, and furnishing a
fatal triumph to the enemy; and that the battle of Lexington had demonstrated the nature of our country and the enthusiasm of the people to be an adequate security against any extensive hostile operations until necessary arrangements could be made for supplying an army. The anxious caution of his patriotism was mistaken by some zealous men for disaffection to the revolution, and produced a momentary murmur against him. Haughty integrity cannot endure suspicion. He retired from publick employment, feeble from disease, exhausted with fatigue, indignant for himself, and trembling for his country. Yet he was speedily and repeatedly solicited to accept offices of honour and emolument, to some of which he was in fact appointed, notwithstanding he had declined all publick employment. Distrust had vanished; there was a native frankness in his character that confuted suspicion. The profits of office would then have been very convenient to him, as he was for a time reduced to poverty by a depreciating paper currency. But his constitution appeared dangerously impaired, and he longed for the quietude and leisure of retirement. Health gradually returned, but he had acquired a relish for solitude.
Secluded from the society of all but his family and a very few friends, the last thirty years of his life were devoted to reading, meditation, and writing. Theology was his favourite subject; on this he read much and thought more. He once intended to publish the result of his labours; but whether he finished the work is uncertain; a short time before his death he burned his manuscripts. His faith in Christianity became stronger, as by advancing towards the grave he had more need of it: These are his own words.
His economy was the dictate of principle; he neglected nothing, he squandered nothing, that he might increase the fund for beneficence. His charities were numerous; and as the occasions for the use of his property diminished, he many years before his death divided the principal part of it among his children. The common foible of old age never overtook him. He saw nothing lovely in money, but the means of enjoyment and kindness.
With the preceding biographical notices, the prominent features of his character have been so blended that a distinct account of this is unnecessary. Nature formed him on a large scale. His body, his mind and his feelings were strong and