Samuel’s father William was a congregational minister in Dorset, Vermont, and Sam seems to have studied for a time at Middlebury College. By March 13, 1825, Sam Jackson was enrolled at the Andover Theological Seminary. It was a Sunday, and like a good son, he wrote his mother:
My dear Mother,
I know not how the evening of a birthday can be more agreeably and dutifully employed than in speaking a word of the goodness of God toward me during the 23rd year of my life to one who deeply sympathizes in all my joys & sorrows, hopes & fears. I was glad that this anniversary occurred on the sacred day of rest, when, free from secular concerns, I could without interruption review the past & look forward to the future…eternal consequences hang upon a single year…It will no doubt bring unspeakable pleasure to a kind and solicitous mother to learn that her son, who was lost & wandered far from his father’s house, has been found & restored…
There is more than a hint, in Jackson’s emphasis, that he hadn’t always been a well-behaved altar boy. Still his letter is insightful and thoughtful as he reflects on the year gone by. He does not close, however, without asking for money. He explains that tuition costs $3.60 per quarter, room, board and washing another $1.75, and an extra forty cents for lighting.
By April of 1840, John Smith was boiling with resentment over a “gag law” that West Parish had imposed upon itself by majority vote. It was now not allowed to discuss the issue of slavery in the West Parish Church, and John Smith – a staunch abolitionist – did not appreciate his right to free speech hindered by a clergyman with reputed “pro slavery” tendencies. Jackson later commented, “I had objections to church action on the subject…[but] my great objection had been [to] the evils of debates and contentions among brethren…” As any pragmatic leader during tumultuous times, Jackson was accused by one side of not taking enough sincere action, and by the other of going too far. John Smith eventually moved on, in 1846, with his family to worship at the Free Christian Church where Smith became a deacon. But for now, Smith was stuck with West Parish and West Parish was stuck with Smith. Jackson commented privately that he pitied Smith, “for no other place will have him.” Still slavery was too big an issue to avoid altogether, and by the next year, 1841, it was clear that the church would have to adopt some official and public resolution on the subject. Jackson’s famous “New Year” sermon, which always drew the biggest crowd of the year, would have to wait until Sunday January 3rd. This business would be tended to before then. On Friday the 1st, the West Parish Church unanimously adopted a resolution written by Jackson himself, and he read it out to the entire parish. Here are some highlights:
Resolved, that we regard American Slavery as a great physical, political, social, and moral evil…oppressive to men & offensive to God…that buying and selling men for gain, holding and treating them as mere property…disregarding and sundering their domestic relations, keeping them in involuntary ignorance…is a sin against God, & ought, like every other sin, to be repented of & immediately forsaken. While we are constrained to “receive one another” as Christ has received us, we nevertheless can have no fellowship with this unfruitful work of darkness, but must rather reprove it, and rebuke those who encourage and persist in it.
Resolved, that we view with surprise and regret the painful fact that, in this day of light, some professed ministers and followers of Christ justify involuntary servitude as a permanent condition of society and a scriptural institution which we regard as obviously contrary to the principles of natural justice…& which is condemned by the opinion and example of nearly the whole civilized world.
Attest. Samll C. Jackson
If Reverend Jackson’s dressing gown could only tell us what it was like to hear Jackson speak…still, he has left us his graceful words.