Jonathan French, the Revolutionary war surgeon and pastor, had a son of the same name. He spent his professional life as the minister to the congregation in North Hampton/ Northampton.
Here, in succession, are two period accounts of his life.
There is a third– It can be found in a modern book titled, The Way It Was in North Hampton: Some History, Sketches, and Reminiscences That Illuminate the Times of a New Hampshire Seacoast Town, by
History of Rockingham and Strafford counties, New Hampshire : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men
by Hurd, D. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton), publ. 1882
REV. JONATHAN FRENCH, D.D. (b.1778)
John French, one of the progenitors of the subject of this sketch, came from Thorndic, Scotland, when about twenty years of age, and was admitted a freeman in 1639. He lived to be about eighty years of age, dying Aug. 6, 1692. His early married life was spent in Dorchester, but subsequently he removed to Braintree. He was the father of eight children, the seventh of whom was Thomas, who was born in Braintree, Jan. 10, 1657. Thomas was married and had ten children, the third of whom was Moses, who was born Feb. 16, 1700. He married Esther, daughter of Ephraim and Sarah Thayer, Dec. 24, 1730. and continued to make his home in Braintree. Their children numbered seven, the sixth of whom was Jonathan, the father of the .subject of this sketch. He was born Jan. 30, 1740. When about seventeen years of age he entered the army employed against the French and Indians, and in March, 1757, repaired to Fort Edward. Debilitated by the smallpox and the fever and ague, he returned home in October. He was afterward stationed at Castle William, where, in the capacity of a sergeant, he often had the chief care of the garrison. In that situation his life was twice in great jeopardy. An Indian servant at the castle, to whom he had refused rum, assailed him with a drawn knife. With great presence of mind and agility he avoided the weapon and brought his antagonist to the earth. The Indian, completely vanquished and surprised that his life was spared, was ever after grateful and obliging. In the other instance, at great hazard, he seized an Indian prisoner who had escaped from confinement, and, armed with a large club, threatened the life of any one who should attempt to take him. Contemplating the practice of physic and surgery, his leisure was employed in the study, and so much did he enjoy the confidence of the faculty that the medicines and care of the sick were often intrusted solely to him. It is related of him that in an emergency calling for medicines that could be obtained only in Boston, when no one could be induced to make the perilous trip because of the dangerous condition of the ice, he crossed and recrossed the harbor, carrying a long pole horizontally, and making a safe trip, although often in great danger. It is gratifying to know that the patient in whose behalf the trip was made was restored to health by means of the medicines procured.
Mr. French prepared for college, and on leaving the army entered Harvard University, from which institution he graduated in 1771. He was ordained a minister of the gospel in the South Parish in Andover, Sept. 23. 1772. His manner of preaching is described as ” serious, solemn, and impressive.” He was an industrious worker, a cheerful man, and “given to hospitality.” His house was frequented by visitors of all ages, and he was ever a favorite with both old and young.
In religious sentiment he was such a Calvinist as the first fathers of New England. He had a strong attachment to the Assembly’s catechism, in which he regularly instructed the children in the seven districts of his parish. He was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and being a wise, prudent, and judicious counselor, was called to attend a great number of ecclesiastical councils in all parts of New England.
Aug. 26, 1773, a little less than a year after his ordination, he was married to Miss Abigail Richards, a daughter of Dr. Benjamin Richards, of Weymouth. To them were born five children. The third of these was the only son, and took his father’s name. Rev. Jonathan French, of Andover, died of a paralytic affection, July 28, 1809, in the seventieth year of his age, and the thirty-seventh of his ministry. A sermon was delivered at his funeral from John xiv. 28, by Rev. Mr. Stone, of Reading.
We come now to speak of Rev. Jonathan French, of North Hampton. He was born Aug. 16, 1778, at Andover, and, as stated above, bore his father’s name. He also followed in his father’s footsteps, and became a minister of the gospel. Both his parents were direct descendants from John Alden, the first man who stepped his foot on Plymouth Rock, and one of the most prominent and influential men in the Plymouth Colony. Growing up in a Christian family and highly favored by the religious influences which surrounded him, his life-work was early determined upon. In- deed, it is said that he formed the purpose in his fourth year, during a distressing confinement from a deep scald, to become a preacher of the gospel, a purpose which he never afterward relinquished. He made a public profession of faith in Christ at the age of sixteen years, and during his first year in college. Always of a studious nature, he was given the best opportunities for education to be enjoyed in New England, which opportunities he improved to the utmost. At sixteen years he entered Harvard College, and when at twenty he graduated with the highest honor of the class, the opportunity to deliver the valedictory oration was proffered him, but declined. After leaving college he was employed for a time as a teacher in Phillips’ Academy, at Andover. He studied theology under the direction of his father, and began to preach at North Hampton in July, 1801, being ordained on the 18th of November, in the same year, as pastor of the Congregational Church. He is described as being at that time “youthful in appearance, small in stature, of a florid countenance, and quick and nervous in temperament.” His record as a minister is a most remarkable one in this, that for fifty-five years he labored with this one church, and for fifty-one years was its sole pastor. It is said, too, that in this long ministry he was prevented by sick- ness from attending public worship only eight and a half Sabbaths.
In 1804, three years after his ordination, a new parsonage was built at North Hampton for the “young minister,” with the expectation that he would shortly occupy it with his bride. But the lady of his choice became infatuated with a sea-captain, and refused to marry the minister, tartly remarking that she pre-erred a ship with three masts. Mr. French subsequently married Rebecca, only daughter of Deacon Samuel Farrar, of Lincoln. Deacon Farrar was a captain at the battle of Lexington, and his father was a member of the -Continental Congress. Mrs. French’s brothers were Samuel Farrar, Esq., one of the founders of the Theological Seminary at Andover; Prof. John Farrar, of Cambridge; and Deacon James Farrar, of Lincoln, who spent his days at the home of his ancestors in Lincoln.
In the early days of his pastorate there was a lack of harmony in the parish, largely growing out of political differences. In fact, one of the factions finding that the others were favorable to him objected to his being settled at all, and he hesitated about taking the place. But the Ecclesiastical Council upon investigation decided that the opposition to him was not at all personal, and promptly ordained and installed him. Time vindicated their action, for in a little while he became popular with the men of both parties or factions, and brought the church into entire harmony in its work. He entered heartily into all neighborhood work, and took a lively interest in township affairs. He enjoyed the confidence of the people to a remarkable degree. It was a common thing for them to consult him in their business plans, and in sickness he was as frequently called as the physician, and often he made the first visit and was advised with as to whether or not a physician should be called. He studied human nature to good purpose, and was able to deal with the eccentricities of his parishioners in a manner to win them to the better way without giving lasting offense.
He was among the first to comprehend the evils of intemperance, and to engage actively in the reform movement. Even while it was considered a mark of disrespect not to set the decanter before one’s guests, he resolved to banish it from his house and espouse the cause of reform. To those engaged in the liquor traffic, he said, ” Your business is counteracting the influence of mine. Serious thoughts instilled into the minds of our people on our Sabbath, appear, with a considerable class of men, to be dissipated at the store or the tavern before another Sabbath comes.” He was not only a man of strong convictions and fixed principles, but of deep, earnest piety as well. His church was never numerically large, but it was a working church, and frequently blessed with religious revivals. Few changes except by birth or death occurred in the community, but nevertheless it was his privilege to receive into the church two hundred and eighty-five members during his pastorate. Other communities were also blessed by his labors, for he aided and encouraged them in the building of churches and the sustaining of public worship. More than once he was called to preach the election sermon before the State Legislature, and he was invited to attend one hundred and seventy-three ecclesiastical councils. He joined the Piscataqua Association when there were but twenty members. For a long time he was the youngest, and always one of the most active and most deeply interested. Dartmouth College conferred upon him the degree of D.D. in 1851. The Sabbath-school and the Bible-class early awakened his attention and interest. The prayer-meeting was always a place of interest when he was there. During the fifty-first year of his ministry, and when the shadows of life were rapidly lengthening, there came a season of especial interest to the aged pastor and his people, and some fifty or sixty persons devoted themselves to the cause of religion.
He was a happy man in his family, and lived to see his eleven children — five sons and six daughters — grow to manhood and womanhood, and all occupying useful positions in society. One has said of him that ” he was a good man and just, being sound in judgment, well informed in ecclesiastical events, orthodox in his theology, a scriptural preacher, loyal to his convictions, affable in his manners, and, with- out studied effort, inviting the confidence of his people.” He wrought well for the Master. He was a bright and unblemished example of Christian and ministerial life, uniformly devout and prayerful, eminent for gravity, simplicity, and sound speech. In doctrine he was incorrupt, in labors abundant and successful. His death, which occurred in his seventy-eighth year, was peaceful and triumphant.
History of Rockingham County, New Hampshire, and Representative Citizens
by Hazlett, Charles Albert, 1874
The parish chose a committee to look up another minister, and Col. Thomas Leavitt, chairman of that committee, went to Andover, Mass., with the purpose of inviting Mr. Jonathan French, son of the beloved pastor of the South Parish in that town, to preach as a candidate. He gave up the prospect of another field of labor, and agreed to spend a few Sabbaths in town. The people were well pleased with him, and without delay he was requested to become their minister. He was ordained on the 18th of November, 1801, being twenty-three years of age, and having graduated at Harvard College three years before. Little then did he realize the work which God had marked out for him in North Hampton. Little did he think that he would be instrumental in moulding the character of more than one generation in the same parish. Little did he suppose he should write a history on human hearts that would cause his name to be fragrant in memory long after he should rest from his labors. It is well that he could not divine the future. He proved to be the right man in the right place.
Party feeling in politics ran high in the beginning of the present century, and as the parish included the whole town, this feeling was expressed in ecclesiastical as well as civil affairs and was pronounced in an apparent opposition to the settlement of Mr. French. Great wisdom was needed to meet such a state of things, but the young pastor was equal to the occasion, and so deported himself as to command the respect of all classes.
It was one condition of the call for settlement that the parish should repair the parsonage-house or build a new one. They found it advisable to build. The work was undertaken in earnest, and in 1803 they completed a substantial and commodious house after the style of those days. About this time the pastor was married to Miss Rebecca Farrar, of Lincoln, Mass., a lady fair to look upon, lovely in spirit, and possessed of sterling virtues. As he was returning to his home with his bride, after having taken a short vacation, the people, desirous of showing their esteem, sent a delegation to meet him just beyond the border of the state, while the greater part of them went out to escort him from the Hampton line to the recently finished and furnished parsonage-house, and to make the occasion complete a grand reception was held in the evening. This auspicious beginning was followed by years of peace and prosperity, the pastor continuing to receive that high respect, and sometimes reverence, which people of those days were accustomed to give to ministers of the gospel, while his words of instruction and counsel were received without much serious questioning or even mental dissent. In those days it required great boldness, and certainly it was a violation of the sentiment of the people, to make a public issue with the minister. In such a state of society the pastor’s influence was potent and usually prevailing. He was consulted on temporal as well as spiritual interests, and often became the final arbitrator when parties disagreed….
…As the town ceased to provide ministerial support after the sale and transfer of the parsonage, Mr. French was employed by the Congregational Society. So strongly attached was he to his people that in their period of trial he proposed to relinquish one-fourth part of his salary, when the entire amount was scarcely sufficient to maintain himself and family. But the people never knowingly allowed him to be in want…
…During Reverend Mr. French’s active pastorate of fifty-one years 285 were admitted to the church, increasing the actual membership to 145. One year before having a colleague the pastor was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Dartmouth College. On the 13th of December, 1856 he died among his beloved people and surrounded by his large family, until this time unbroken by death, at age of seventy-eight years, having been ordained over this church a little more than fifty-five years before.
(All of these sermons are currently available on Amazon)
- French, Jonathan. A Discourse Delivered At Northampton, New Hampshire, November 18, 1821: Being Twenty Years From The Author’s Settlement (1822)
- French, Jonathan. A sermon preached at Concord before His Excellency Samuel Bell, governor, the Honourable Council, Senate, and House of Representatives, of the state … June 6, 1822, being the anniversary election.
- French, Jonathan. Reminiscences of a Fifty-Years Pastorate: A Half-Century Discourse, Delivered in North-Hampton, N. H. November 18, 1851 (Classic Reprint)