Too much history to read

There is no way to read the complete written history of anything other than trivial subjects. The history of Unitarian and Universalists is so rich and deep enough to keep the most scholarly reader busy for a lifetime. Fortunately, we can get a good sense of our history by reading the most salient selections, with a few samplings of other writings for some added spice.

I ran across such a tasty morsel when doing some research into my maternal grandfather’s family. I chanced across an autobiography (of sorts) of a Rev. John Todd (1800-1873). It is an excerpt from a diary, which lacks some of the detail and backstory that would make the whole story complete. But it is quite interesting:

March 29th. {1830}

“The Unitarians here are quite humble. They have compromised with Doctor Chaplin’s family by giving fifteen hundred dollars, and paying the costs, which will be at least four hundred dollars more. It is a sore pill for the Unitarians, but they see they must take it. The Universalists — for fully half who have sailed under Unitarian colors are in fact Universalists — have moved somewhat, and talked of forming a society and building a meeting-house. I think they will probably not do either. Just for the present time it would be well to have them drawn out by themselves, and I could wish it; but in the long run I should deprecate having such a cage built. The fowl that would flock to it out of the Unitarians would be unclean indeed.” 1

Apparently, the settlement with Doctor Chaplin’s family had something to do with the allowed use of some farm land, if the entry from a year prior is indeed related.  In the entry from February 22, 1830, on the same page 214 with the above quoted entry, Rev. Todd writes about a woman who had gotten drunk and sustained mortal burns when she fell into a fire. He said:

“A few weeks ago I called on her, and warned her most solemnly against this sin {of drinking}. All her relatives are either cold Universalists or bitter Unitarians.” 1

In another passage in this book, Rev. Todd wrote about a new congregation that was in formation, and had resolved all of their difference except the issue of temperance.

I am tucking this one away in my seemingly endless “to read” list, as it gives a colorful, if grainy, portrait of the life of one of our ministers. While it was a very different time and place, I can see our heritage echoed, or at least some of our most persistent caricatures!


1   John Todd (1800-1873), John Todd; the Story of His Life Told Mainly by Himself, ed. John Edwards Todd (1833-1907) (New York: Harper, 1876),, 214.