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THE BEQUEST OF
EVERT JANSEN WENDELL
(CLASS OF 1882)
OF NEW YORK
THOMAS ROBBINS, D.D,
fl OBiogtavi^ical ^6et(l^
Reprinted from Volume III. of the Memorial Biographies of the
New England Historic Genealogical Society
INCREASE N. TARBOX, D.D.
to which is added
THE FUNERAL ADDRESS
HON. HENRY BARNARD, LL.D.
JOHN WILSON AND SON
^ >H^ ^C 1 ."2
HARVARD COLLCQE LIBRARY
THE REQUEST QF
KVERT JAN8EN WENDIkk
Thomas Bobbins was born in the town of Norfolk,
Litchfield County, Connecticut, August 11, 1777.
This township lies in the northwestern portion of the
State, touching Massachusetts on its northern line, and
separated from New York only by the towns of Canaan
and Salisbury. For more than a hundred years after the
. first English settlements in Connecticut, this section of
the State remained comparatively unoccupied. The whole
region is elevated and rough, partaking in this respect
of the character of the Eastern Berkshire towns in Massa-
chusetts. But the soil has a good natural strength, and is
especially fitted for grazing. Norfolk was not incorpo-
rated as a town until 1758. The Congregational Church
was organized in 1760, and in 1761 the Rev. Ammi Ruha-
mah Robbins, the father of Thomas, was ordained as the
first minister of the town. He remained in this office for
fifty- two years, until his death. He was twenty-one years
old at his settlement, and there were at that time about
sixty scattered families that had planted themselves on
the hills and in the valleys of this large township.
The young minister, thus introduced to his life-work,
was himself the son of a minister, and he was prepared
for his sacred office by good native abilities, by choice and
careful culture, and by a special urbanity and refinement
of manners. He had been graduated the year before at
Yale College, and meanwhile had studied theology in the
4 THOMAS ROBBINS
family of the famous Dr. Joseph Bellamy, of Bethlem, Con-
necticut. The year after his settlement he was united
in marriage to Elizabeth Le Baron, of Plymouth, Massa-
chusetts, she being then in her seventeenth year. The
acquaintance was formed while he was teaching school in
Plymouth, where his brother Chandler had just been set-
tled in the ministry. When he brought his young wife
to Norfolk, in the autumn of 1762, over the rough roads of
that half-primitive region, he established a household
which, in its immediate as well as in its remoter influ-
ences, was destined to be one of great importance to that
town and to all the region round about. A civilizing and
refining power was at once to go from it into those
scattered dwellings among the hills, and by various and
successive links of connection was to reach on into the
generations to come. The young pastor was indebted
for the singular name he bore to the intensely Biblical
character of the age in which he was bom. The ground-
work of this name may be found in the book of the
prophet Hosea, second chapter and first verse : " Say ye
unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Euha-
mah ; " these two proper names meaning, " Thy people
have obtained mercy."
Into this household were bom thirteen children, five of
whom died in infancy, and eight — six sons and two
daughters — lived to mature life, and some of them to
a ripe old age.
Going back now to the earlier generations and briefly
tracing the family lines meeting in Thomas Bobbins, we
find them as follows. On the paternal side the earliest
ancestor in this country was Richard Bobbins, who had
his home in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1639. He
and his wife Rebecca were admitted to the Charlestown
church. May 24. 1640, and on the following Sunday, May
31, their son John was baptized. The family soon re-
moved to Cambridge. We have the record of a son
Samuel, who was born in Cambridge, May 22, 1643. Two
other children, Nathaniel and Eebecca, were baptized at
Cambridge, though the dates of their baptism are lost.
But we know by the records that thi^ son Nathaniel died
in 1719, at the age of seventy, so that the year of his
birth seems to have been 1649. The family made Cam-
bridge its home for generations. Richard Bobbins shared
in the division of the church lands in 1652, receiving as
his portion eighty acres. In 1678 Richard gave deeds
of land to his sons, — to Samuel thirty-six acres, to Na-
thaniel thirty-four acres, and a year or two later to Re-
becca and her husband, John Woodward, thirty acres.
The names of the family through the early generations
are found in Harris's Cambridge Epitaphs.
Nathaniel, the son of Richard, married, August 4, 1669,
Mary Brazier, and had eight children, of whom one bore
his father s name.
This second Nathaniel, born February 28, 1677-8, mar-
ried, first, Hannah Chandler, probably in 1695, and upon
her death, in 1718, he married Mrs. Mary Prentice. Han-
nah Chandler was the mother of his nine children, unless
the youngest daughter, Sarah, be an exception. The date
of her birth is not given. He died January 26, 1761-2.
Among his sons was Philemon, born September 19,
1709. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1729, and
afterwards studied theology with Dr. Nathaniel Appleton,
of Cambridge. On the 7th of February, 1732, he was
ordained pastor at Branford, Connecticut, where he con-
tinued in the ministry forty-nine years, till his death,
August 13, 1781. Of his nine children three were sons,
all of whom were set upon a course of public education.
One of them died while in college, and the other two
were the Rev. Dr. Chandler Robbins of Plymouth, Massa-
chusetts, and the Rev. Ammi Ruhamah, the Norfolk pas-
tor, already spoken of.
On the maternal side Dr. Robbins was descended from
6 THOMAS BOBBINS
the illustrious William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth
Colony, by his second wife, Mrs. Alice Southworth, whose
maiden name was Carpenter.
Their son, William Bradford, was born June 17th,
1624. He was three times married, his last wife being
Mrs. Mary Holmes, widow of the Rev. John Holmes, min-
ister of Duxbury. Her maiden name was Atwood.
David Bradford, their son, was born when his father
was well advanced in life, making the interval longer be-
tween the birth of the father and the son than is usual.
He was the fourteenth child in the family. He married,
in 1714, Elizabeth Finney.
Lydia Bradford, daughter of David and Elizabeth, was
born December 23, 1719. She was first married, in 1740,
to Elkanah Cushman, who soon died. In 1743 she was
again married to Dr. Lazarus Le Baron, of Plymouth.
He was the son of Francis Le Baron, a surgeon on board
a French privateer, which was wrecked in Buzzard's Bay.
Thrown thus upon a strange , shore, he settled as a physi-
cian in Plymouth in 1696.
Elizabeth, daughter of Lazarus and Lydia Le Baron,
was born December 21, 1745, and became the wife of
the Norfolk minister, as already mentioned.
Thus we find Dr. Bobbins, alike on the paternal and
maternal lines of descent, in the sixth generation from
the first settlers in this country.
He was born in the time of the Revolutionary struggle.
In 1776, the year before his birth, his father went as
chaplain in the Northern army to Canada. He was with
this army when the small-pox made such ravages in it.
As years passed on, the boy Thomas was fitted for col-
lege in his father's house, having for his companions in
study other young scholars, who came to the parsonage
at Norfolk for their college preparation. This house was
like a little academy for that northwestern portion of
Connecticut. In the tribute which the son, in later years,
THOMAS ROBBINS 7
prepared for Sprague's Annals, he says of his father :
"With his ministerial labors he connected those of a
teacher, having almost always a greater or less number
of students with him fitting for college." At the age of
fifteen, in 1792, he entered the Freshman class in Yale
College, and was there during the last years of President
Stiles's administration. At the end of his Junior year he
left Yale and entered the Senior class at Williams Col-
lege, where he was graduated w^ith honor in 1796. Wil-
liams College was then in its very infancy. Only one
class had been graduated at the time Mr. Robbins entered
the institution. This new College was so located as natu-
rally to attract the interest and sympathy of Northwest-
em Connecticut. It was not, therefore, from any dissatis-
faction with Yale, or from any trouble which arose there,
that young Robbins went thence to Williams, but rather
to testify, on the part of himself and family, an interest
in the new enterprise. His father had already become
one of the Trustees of the institution, elected in 1794.
There were but six members in his class at Williams
His graduating day was September 7, 1796. The com-
mencement at Yale was one week later, September 14.
After finishing his course at Williams, and receiving his
diploma, he went back to New Haven, and was also gradu-
ated with his class at that institution. His name stands
on the Triennial Catalogues both of Yale and Williams for
the year 1796. His class at Yale numbered thirty-four,
and was the first class graduated under President D wight,
who had been inaugurated at the Commencement the
year before. Some of the more conspicuous of Mr. Rob-
bins's classmates at Yale were Professor Benjamin Silliman,
LL. D., the Rev, Henry Davis, D. D., President of Hamilton
College, and Professor Bancroft Fowler, of Bangor Theo-
logical Seminary. One member of his class, noted for
his longevity, was the venerable Timothy Bishop of New
Haven, who died in 1873, seventy-seven years after his
8 THOMAS BOBBINS
For several years after leaving college, Mr. Robbins
was chiefly employed as a teacher, at the same time pur-
suing theological studies. He went in June, 1797, to
reside in the family of Dr. Stephen West, of Stockbridge,
Massachusetts. He was licensed to preach by the Litch-
field North Association, September 25, 1798. He still
continued to teach and also to supply vacant pulpits. He
had charge of the academy at Danbury, Connecticut,
from 1799 to 1802. Meanwhile he had declined invita-
tions from several parishes. In 1803, he accepted an
appointment from the Missionary Society of Connecticut
to labor among the new settlements in Ohio. That so-
ciety, organized in 1798, was supporting some twelve or
fifteen missionaries among the new settlements, in Ver-
mont, New York, Michigan, and Ohio. From the report
of this society for the year 1803 we take the following
" Mr. Thomas Robbins, of Norfolk, was appointed a mission-
ary, in May last, to supply the place of Mr. Chapman in New
Connecticut. On the 20th of July following, he was ordained
by the North Consociation of Litchfield County, as preparatory
to his entering upon his mission. He set out from Norfolk for
New Connecticut on the 25th of August. A letter h,as been
received from him dated Carlisle (Penn.), October 10th, about
forty days from the time he left Norfolk, in which he writes,
*Rode 470 miles, — preached 39 times, — attended two confer-
ences, administered the sacrament of the Lord's Supper once,
— visited sick persons, — catechised children, and endeavored
to give much instruction.'
" Mr. Robbins will labor in concert with Mr. Badger, and with
a third missionary who is soon to be sent there. "
He labored in this field three years, and in co-operation
with his fellow-workers organized several of the early
churches of Ohio. It was while here that he preached
the ordination sermon of his cousin, the Rev. Samuel Prince
Robbins, son of Dr. Chandler Robbins of Plymouth. A
THOMAS BOBBINS 9
brief notice of this service is found in the sixth volume of
the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, as follows : —
*' Ordained on Wednesday, the 8th day of January last (1805),
over the first religious Congregational Society in Marietta, Ohio,
the Rev. Samuel Prince Robbins. The pubUc services of the
occasion were performed in a solemn and impressive manner.
The Rev. Jacob Lindslymade the introductory prayer. The
Rev. Thomas Robbins, of Connecticut, preached the sermon."
He returned from this missionary life in 1806, with his
health considerably impaired, by reason of the hardships
and exposures of such a work. Preaching for three years
in various places, in 1809 he accepted a call from the First
Ecclesiastical Parish in East Windsor. This was the par-
ish where Timothy Edwards commenced preaching as the
first minister, in 1694, continuing sixty-four years, till his
death in 1758. Here the celebrated Jonathan Edwards
was bom, in 1703, and was fitted for college in his father's
house, as were also a large number of young riien from the
surrounding towns. The memories of the past clustered
about the parish at the time Mr. Robbins began his labors.
Here Roger Wolcott had lived, one of the distinguished
Colonial Governors of Connecticut, and from his family
men were raised up from generation to generation for
distinguished public service in state affairs and in national
affairs, as well as in the Church of Christ.
The writer, bom in East Windsor, in the North (or Sec-
ond) Parish, where the Rev. Shubael Bartlett was minister
for fifty years, well remembers Dr. Robbins, as he used to
appear in the pulpit from 1820 to 1827. At that time,
his brother, the Rev. Francis L. Robbins, was the pastor in
the adjoining town of Enfield, on the north, so that these
two brothers were more convenient for exchanges than
almost any other of the neighboring ministers. They
were both very frequently in Mr. Bartlett's pulpit. One
sermon preached by the Rev. Thomas Robbins, about the
10 THOMAS BOBBINS
year 1825, from Romans ii. 4, for some reason, made a
peculiar impression upon the childish mind. There was
a tenderness in the train of thought and in the manner
of the preacher that awakened the emotions and drew a
half tearful attention to the sermon.
From early life Dr. Robbins was a lover of books. As
a young man, he discovered an antiquarian taste far
more rare in his generation than at the present time.
He was in some sense a pioneer in a class of studies and
researches now shared by many persons. It was about the
time of his settlement at East Windsor that the plan of
forming a large and carefully selected library began to
take a practical shape in his mind. It was this turn of his
life that led Mr. Bartlett, his brother minister in the North
Parish, to say, with his Christian gentleness and patri-
archal simplicity, " Brother Robbins thought he could have
either a wife or a library, and he very unwisely chose
the latter, — very unwisely'' The Hon. Henry Barnard
was President of the Connecticut Historical Society at the
time of Dr. Robbins's death. The obituary notice which he
prepared, and which was published in the eighth number
of the third volume of the American Journal of Educa-
tion, gives a brief history of the growth of this library,
" He commenced his collection while in college, by preserv-
ing his text-books, and in 1809 made a formal beginning of a
permanent library, by making a catalogue of his entire stock,
consisting of one hundred and thirty volumes, with a determina-
tion that he would add at least one hundred volumes a year as
long as he should live. He consecrated his design by invoking
the blessing of God upon it From this small and pious
beginning, in 1809, by denying himself all superfluities out of a
modest income, Dr. Robbins persevered, adding year by year at
least one hundred volumes to his collection, till, instead of a few
shelves in a single case, we now see this spacious hall filled
with many thousands of choice and valuable books."
Mr. Robbins was, at his own request, in 1827, dis-
THOMAS BOBBINS H
missed from his parish in East Windsor. After three
years of miscellaneous preaching, he was installed pastor
of the First Church in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1830.
He remained here but one year. In 1831, he accepted a
call from the Congregational Church at Mattapoisett, a
pansh in the town of Rochester, Massachusetts, where he
remained thirteen years.
It was in 1844 that the process began by which his
valuable collection of books and pamphlets eventually
became the property of the Connecticut Historical So-
ciety at Hartford. Some movement had been made in
the Rhode Island Legislature toward the purchase of the
collection as a foundation for a StatQ Library. Mr. Bar-
nard, from whom we have quoted, was at that time Com-
missioner of the Public Schools of Rhode Island. He
was thoroughly in the plan for purchasing the Ubrary for
that State, and wrought earnestly to bring about that re-
sult. But the scheme proving unsuccessful before the
Legislature, he, being a native of Hartford, and interested
in its public institutions, now felt himself at liberty to try
and secure the treasure for the Connecticut Historical
Society. We quote from a note appended to the obituary
notice to which we have already made reference.
" On the same day Mr. Barnard drove over to Mattapoisett,
and after an interview of an hour, finding that Dr. Robbins's
health required a cessation of pastoral duties, gave his personal
obligation for a salary for five years, equal to that which he was
then receiving as pastor, if he would remove to Hartford with
his library, and become librarian of the Connecticut Historical
Society. In the course of the week following, he visited Hart-
ford, raised among the members of the Society and the personal
friends of Dr. Robbins the sum required, and presented the
matter to the sanction of the Society, which was promptly and
cordially given. The annual payment for five yeara was sub-
sequently converted into an annuity, in consideration of which
Dr. Robbins, of his own accord, transferred his library to the
It may be added, that he also gave the Society the sum
of $3,000, to aid in the care of the books and enlarge-
ment of the resources of the institution. This library is
rich in old and choice pamphlets, in a large collection of
Bibles, and in many fine editions of the works of the early
He greatly enjoyed the new life upon which he had
now entered. His library was deposited in the Wads-
worth Atheneum, at Hartford. He was already sixty-
seven years old, and it was a great pleasure thus to find
a secure home and resting-place in his old age. He Uved
with his books, which for so many years he had been
laboriously gathering, and which had now been pro-
moted to a place of honor and dignity. He took delight
in the society of students and scholars, and nothing gave
him greater satisfaction than to unfold to them the choice
riches of his collection. Dr. Barnard says of him, in this
connection : " Here, for ten years, with gradually failing
strength, he might be seen at our monthly meetings, and
day by day welcoming, with courteous attentions, the citi-
zen and stranger to these rooms, and explaining, with
almost the personal interest of an eyewitness to the reality,
these memorials of a past age, — himself an object of no
less interest to the visitor.'*
Dr. Robbins inherited from his father and mother an
uncommon gentleness and courtesy of manner. He was
patient and free from all irritability, so that the stranger
was at once at ease in his presence.
He received his title of D. D. from Harvard College in
1838. He was, from 1842 to 1853, one of the Trustees of
He was in some sense, perhaps, the originator of the
Connecticut Historical Society, as he seems to have made
the first suggestion of such an institution in an address
given at Hartford, in 1822. Three years later the Society
was formed, and he was among the first incorporators,
THOMAS BOBBINS 13
with such men as John TrumbuQ and the Hon. Thomas
Day as associates. He was also a member of the Ameri-
can Antiquarian Society of Worcester, and of the New
England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston, to which
he was admitted a corresponding member, February 18,
1847. He was deeply interested in the charitable insti-
tutions of Hartford, — the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb,
and the Retreat for the Insane, and others.
Dr. Robbins was not known as a public writer, to any
large extent, but in the course of his long life he fur-
nished much miscellaneous matter for the press. The fol-
lowing may not be a complete list of his publications,
though it is as nearly so as we have been able to make it,
and embraces certainly the chief of his works.
1. An Oration occasioned by the Death of General Washing-
ton, delivered at Danbury, Connecticut, Jan. 2, 1800, with a
Sketch of his Life. Danbury. pp. 16.
Two or three editions were published. This was four years
after leaving college, and while he was Principal of the Dan-
2. A Century Sermon, 1801. Danbury.
3. Fast Sermon. Middletown, 1815. pp. 21.
4. Sermon at the Interment of the Rev. Nehemiah Prudden.
Hartford, 1816. pp. 19.
6. Sermons on the Divinity of Christ. Preached at East
Windsor. Hartford, 1820.
6. Sermon at Installation of the Rev. E. L. Clark, 1820.
7. Sermon to the Military at Hartford, 1822.
8. Sermon on the Death of E. B. Cook, 1823.
9. View of all Religions. 3d edition, 1824. 12mo.
10. The Dying Believer committing his Soul to Christ. Ser-
mon on the Death of Mrs. Cynthia Fairchild. Hartford, 1824.
11. Sermon at Installation of the Rev. E. Burt, 1825.
12. Sermon at the Funeral of the Rev. Lemuel Le Baron.
New Bedford, 1837. pp. 20.
13. Historical View of the First Planters of New England.
Hartford, 1st edition, 1816 ; 2d edition, 1843, pp. 300.
This work was first published in twenty successive numbers
of the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine. They were written
at the suggestion of Dr. Nathan Strong, of Hartford, the editor of
the Magazine, and were commenced in the eleventh volume of
14. Dr. Robbins was also the editor of the first (1820) and
second (1853) American editions of Mather's Magnalia. He
wrote the prefaces and explanatory notes. Before the Ameri-
can edition of 1820 was published, we had no copy of this work
except the large English edition of 1702, which was becoming
rare and costly.
15. He furnished the articles upon his father, Ammi Ruha-
mah, and his grandfather, Philemon Robbins, in Dr. Sprague's
Annals of the American Pulpit. In addition, he assisted Dr.
Sprague, by original letters, in illustrating the lives of the Rev.
Cotton Mather Smith, Dr. Chandler Eobbins, Eev. Nathaniel
Taylor, Dr. David McClure, and Dr. Nathan Strong.
16. He also revised and continued Tytler's Elements of
General History, 1815.
With regard to published writings illustrating his life,
we know of nothing so complete as the obituary article of
Dr. Barnard, already freely referred to. The Connecticut
Evangelical Magazine contains frequent references to him,
as well as articles from his pen. There are many para-
graphs to be found there illustrating his earlier public
With his library at Hartford may be found a set of
interleaved almanacs, now bound in twelve handsome vol-
umes, in which he kept a record of his life for fifty-eight
years. This work was begun just as he was ready to
graduate from Williams College. The first entry is Sep-
tember 1, 1796, and is as follows : " Engaged in commit-
ting my pieces for Commencement. " The last entry was
March 6, 1854, when, at the age of seventy-six, the infir-
mities of years were fast settling upon him. The record
is as follows: "Received a dividend from the Phoenix
Bank of |60. I have been a member of that body from
its beginning. They do poorly at Congress, favoring sla-
THOMAS ROBBINS 15
very. The South generally prevail." For a minute study
of his life there is nothing, of course, which can compare
with this diary. Moreover, the record will be found ex-
ceedingly useful for any historian who is threading his
way through the events of the first half of the present
There are two pictures of Dr. Robbins at the rooms
of the Connecticut Historical Society j one, of moderate
merit, taken in his early manhood ; the bther, a superb
painting, which the. Society had taken while he was in a
vigorous old age.
We have already had glimpses of his tastes and pecu-
liarities. In addition, a few sentences from a letter,
written by one of his nieces, will suffice. She says : —
" My Uncle Thomas always dressed in the old-time black-
satin tights, silk stockings, knee and shoe buckles, or with white-
topped boots. These he always wished to have brushed with
particular care, lest the white leather should become soiled.
His courtesy of manner, prompted by the kindness of his nature,
was such, that all who came in contact with him took great
pleasure in serving him. Those who had personal relations with
him could not fail to love him He watched the educa-
tional progress of his nephews and nieces with great interest."
It has been implied throughout this article, though not
perhaps definitely stated, that Dr. Robbins was never
married. Whether wisely or unwisely, he deliberately
gave up the pleasures of domestic life, that he might fol-
low out his favorite scheme of a great library. He well
knew that the small salary of a country minister would not
suffice to cover the expenses of both, and he chose the
But in this connection it is proper to say, that a de-
lightful home in his native town was always ready for
him until the day of his death. Whatever his outward
fortunes might be, he was sure of a hearty welcome from
16 THOMAS ROBBll^S
his kindred. His sister Sarah, two years younger than
himself, had married early in life Joseph Battell, Esq., of
Norfolk, and in this home of wealth and culture, where
nephews and nieces abounded, a generous hospitality was
ever extended to him. One of the nieces became the wife
of the Rev. Joseph Eldridge, D.D., another life-long min-
ister of Norfolk, (1832-1874,) and the cheerful parsonage-
house of Norfolk stood invitingly open. Had he been
more of a stranger and outcast in the earth, he would
doubtless have suffered more from the absence of domes-
tic joys, for his nature was one craving sympathy and
He faded away, at last, in a cahn and serene old age.
There was no sharp crisis of disease. For four or five
years, the powers of his mind and body gradually weak-
ened and decayed. He died in the town of Colebrook,
adjoining Norfolk, at the house of his niece, Mrs. Eliza-
beth Robbins Allen, September 13, 1856, at the age of
HON. HENEY BARNARD'S ADDRESS
The funeral of Dr. Robbins took place at the Centre Church,
Hartford, Connecticut, at 5 o'clock p.m., Sept. 16, 1856. The
venerable Rev. Joel Hawbs, D.D., officiated. A half hour
before the funeral, the members of the Connecticut Historical
Society assembled at their library, preparatory to going in a
body to attend the funeral services ; and there the President of
the Society, Hon. Henry Barnard, made the following just
and fitting address : —
Gentlemen, — We have assembled on this occasion,
by special summons, to join in an appropriate expres-
sion of our grateful remembrance of the Rev. Thomas
Robbins, D.D., — one of the earliest and best friends of
the Society, — whose decease and funeral have been
almost simultaneously announced to us. The departure
of this venerable Christian pastor, whose ministrations for
a half century have been familiar to the pulpits of this city
and State, and whose life, presence, and teachings have
seemed a connecting link between the present generation
and the Puritan period of New England history, would at
any time have arrested the sorrowing attention of all
who seek in the past the roots of our present prosperity.
But in this venerable Christian pastor we, brethren, recog-
nize a pioneer in historical and antiquarian research in
this State, — one of the founders of this Society ; one
named in the act of its incorporation ; one of its earli-
est office-bearers ; and one whose valuable collection of
18 THOMAS BOBBINS
books, pamphlets, and historical memorials constitute the
treasure and attraction of our library and museum.
And to add to his claims to our grateful remembrance,
Dr. Robbins has by his will made the Connecticut Histori-
cal Society the trustee of his property (a no inconsid-
erable sum), by which his valuable collection of biblical,
ecclesiastical, and antiquarian literature will be preserved
and gradually augmented, — an ever-enduring monu-
ment of his piety, patriotism, and zeal for learning, and a
source of ever-widening mstruction and pleasure to gen-
eration after generation. A brief notice of the library,
and of his and its connection with the Connecticut His-
torical Society cannot be considered an inappropriate
introduction to the resolutions which will be submitted
to your consideration.
The books which fill these numerous alcoves and
shelves, and these interesting memorials of " the piety,
bravery, and domestic life of the fathers of Connecticut
and New England," were the gatherings of nearly fifty
years' explorations of the garrets, chests, and libraries of
the old families of Connecticut and the " Old Colony,"
as well as the purchases of antiquarian booksellers and
collectors. Many of these pamphlets are very rare and
valuable, and are often consulted by scholars interested
in the literary, ecclesiastical, and civil history of New
The books were not purchased at once, out of the
abundance of a largely inherited fortune, or from year to
year out of the surplus of a large salary. Nor were they
collected for the owner's sole or temporary gratification.
Dr. Kobbins has always been a home missionary, or the
pastor of a country parish. He began his collection
while in college, by preserving his tex<>books ; and in
1809 made a formal beginning of a permanent library,
by making a catalogue of his entire stock, consisting of
one hundred and thirty volumes, with the determination
THOMAS BOBBINS ' 19
that he would add at least one hundred volumes a year
as long as he should live. He consecrated his design by
invoking the blessing of God upon it, and declared in
writing on the first leaf of his catalogue the following to
be his objects : —
" Fint^ To assist the divinity student in the investigation
of the Holy Scriptures, in the study of the history of the
Church of Christ, and in such general services as may enable
him to become an able and faithful minister of the gospel of
" Second^ To assist the lover of history in his researches to
discover the character of the Most High, and of man in the
various events of Divine Providence. The design is now
committed to God. I pray for His holy approbation and
From this small and pious beginning in 1809, by
denying himself all superfluities, out of a modest in-
come Dr. Bobbins persevered, adding year by year
at least one hundred volumes to his collection; till in-
stead of a few shelves in a single case, we now see this
spacious hall filled with many thousands of choice and
How much purer and higher has been his satisfaction
from year to year, in adding to the glorious company of
the great and good coming to him across oceans of space
and time, — his instructors in the noble themes which
have occupied his meditation, his pen, and his voice for
nearly half a century; his resort in hours of solitude,
his recreation after severe labor, and his solace in pe-
'^ riods of trial and affliction, — than if he had expended
his earnings and savings on things that perish with the
It was his intention from the start, that his collection
should be kept entire after his death, and pass, with such
conditions as should appear best calculated to secure its
20 * THOMAS BOBBINS
preservation and gradual increase, into the safe keeping
of some chartered institution; and by arrangement en-
tered into twelve years ago, his long-cherished purpose
was consummated by this Society's becoming at first the
trustee, and afterward the owner, of his valuable collec-
tions. By this arrangement he had the satisfaction in
his own lifetime to see his entire library displayed, as it
had never been before, in one of the noblest rooms of the
most substantially built edifice in the State, — safe from
the hazards of fire, and from the vicissitudes which attach
to the property of individuals, and committed forever to
the custody of a Society which, under the laws of the
commonwealth, and in the patriotism of its citizens, is
destined, we trust, to a permanent existence and an ever-
widening usefulness. And more than this : he was able
to retire from his chosen field of labor, when he could
no longer serve his Master as a Christian pastor from his
failing strength, and, without any apprehension that the
evening of his life would be clouded by want or neglect,
here, in our midst, where he was imiversally respected,
with those facilities and helps which his zeal and self-
denial had collected, to give himself up to those his-
torical and antiquarian studies and pursuits which he
loved so well, and which he hiad begun so early in his
Dr. Robbins was for a long time almost the only col-
lector in the State of pamphlets and memorials of the
past; and as far back as 1811, in the Connecticut " Evan-
gelical Magazine,*' he began a series of papers on the
divines and statesmen of our early history, which were
afterward collected and published in a volume entitled,
" First Planters of New England." In every place where
he ministered, he devoted himself to the elucidation of
its local and ecclesiastical history.
In 1822, in an address delivered in this city on. the
Fourth of July, before a number of military companies.
THOMAS ROBBINS 21
he urged the formation of an " Historical Society as a
depository of ancient books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and
temporary publications," and that it should be done here,
^* in this, the oldest town in the State." Whether grow-
ing out of this suggestion or not, I cannot say ; but three
years later he had the satisfaction of seeing his name
among the incorporators of the Connecticut Historical
Society, and of being associated with the venerable John
Trumbull and the Hon. Thomas Day among the ofl&cers of
the institution. Called a few years later out of the State,
he was not permitted to labor here in behalf of its objects ;
but he carried his antiquarian taste and labors with him,
which were recognized by his being elected a member of
the American Antiquarian Society, at Worcester.
In 1844, it was my good fortune to consummate on my
own responsibility an arrangement by which Dr. Bobbins
became the librarian of our Society, and removed to these
rooms, as has been before stated, his valuable library, and
gave to us his entire collection of pamphlets, amounting
to the number of over five thousand. And here, for ten
years, with gradually failing strength, he might be seen
at our monthly meetings, and day by day welcoming,
with courteous attentions, the citizen and stranger to these
rooms, and explaining, with almost the personal interest
of an eye-witness to the reality, these memorials of a past
age, — himself an object of no less interest to the visitor.
But by degrees the failing memory, the hesitating step,
the dim eye, satisfied him, as well as his best friends,
that his work on earth was finished, and he retired to the
country, — to the neighborhood where he was born ; and
there his spirit gradually passed away, like the twilight
of a long summer-day, into that solemn darkness which
mortal eye cannot pierce, but which to him, we doubt not,
is lit up by the radiance of a never-ending noon.
It would be unjust, even in these brief remarks, not
to notice his life-long interest in the prosperity of our
22 THOMAS ROBBINS
New England colleges, and his constant care of the
common school in every place where he ministered as
pastor. He was seldom absent from the Commencement
exercises of Yale and Williams, and never failed to visit
once, and generally twice, every district school in his
parish during each season of schooling. He was a mem-
ber of the first society formed in this country to improve
common schools; and, on the nomination of Governor
Everett, was appointed a member of the Massachusetts
State Board of Education, on its establishment in 1837.
Dr. Bobbins took an active part in all the religious and
benevolent movements of the day, and in the foundation
of most of the institutions of charity which adorn and
bless our city. He was particularly active in commend-
ing the cause of the insane to individual and legislative
aid, and was invited by Dr. Todd and the Trustees to
pronounce a discourse on the dedication of the Retreat
for that class.
Before we go out hence to pay our last tribute of re-
spect to our deceased brother and venerable friend, by
joining in the funeral services and following his body to
the tomb, let us unite in placing on our records our high
appreciation of his pure, useful, and Christian life, as
also our grateful remembrance of his many services to
the cause of sound learning and intelligent piety, espe-
cially in opening to the student of history and the Bible
this valuable and, we trust, ever-increasing library.
The following resolutions were then adopted : —
Whereas^ It has pleased Almighty God to call from his earthly
labors our late librarian, the Rev. Thomas Robbins, Doctor of
Resolved^ That in his death the Connecticut Historical Society
has lost one of its original projectors, founders, and office-
bearers, whose antiquarian zeal did much to enlist others in
the promotion of its objects, and whose reverence for God's
THOMAS ROBBINS 23
Word and ways has led to the acquisition of a valuable library,
and of large historical material, into the possession of which
this Society has entered, with the raeans bequeathed by him to
make the same still more valuable " to the student of the Holy
Scriptures, and the lover of history, in his researches to dis-
cover the character of the Most High, and of man in the
various events of Divine Providence."
Resolved^ That as a Christian pastor we honor his memory as
at once devoted and exemplary, — firm in his own convictions,
and candid and liberal towards those who differed from him
in opinion, and in all transactions with others eminent for his
Christian courtesy and kindness.
Mesolved, That as a Society we will proceed hence to the
Centre Church, to assist in the funeral solemnities, and to
follow his body to its last resting-place.