Art Bradbury – Dr. Rev. Samuel Spring (1792-1877)
Before deciding on becoming a Congregational minister at the age of 29, Dr. Rev. Samuel Spring, had the varied experiences of a young man trying to see where he belonged in life.
Named after his father, Samuel was born in 1792 in Newburyport, Massachusetts as the 6th of 11 siblings. His father was a prominent Congregational minister and his mother was the daughter of one.
His father was very influential in a fundamentalist wing of Congregationalism, to the extent John Quincy Adams was quoted as saying he was “liberal with the enthusiasm of a bigot.” As a Revolutionary War minister, he served at the Siege of Boston and then under Colonel Benedict Arnold in the invasion of Quebec, Canada where he even recused a badly wounded Arnold from a field of battle.
Samuel began studying Latin at the remarkably early age of 7, and entered Exeter Academy at the age of 12 and then 2 years later went to Atkinson Academy. While there he was considered dependable enough to be put in charge in the absence of the principal. After he graduated from Yale in 1811, he studied law before deciding to clerk in the mercantile business.
But soon he and his brother, Lewis, ventured into coastal trade during the War of 1812 becoming part owners of several vessels, He was master of a ship in which he and his crew were captured by a British warship of the squadron blockading Chesapeake Bay. After the war he partnered in a trading company in Boston along with being an editor of the Journal of Commerce.
He married Lydia Norton in 1816 and then entered Andover Theological Seminary, founded by his father. Graduating in 1821, he was a Congregational minister in Abington, Mass. for 5 years before taking up the ministry at North Church in Hartford. Six years later, in 1833, he and his family, which eventually grew to include 9 children, moved to East Hartford to take up his post as minister of the First Society Congregational Church.
Three years later, in 1836, he was the first minister of the First Congregational Church that we see standing today. It replaced the old 2nd Meeting House that stood on the corner of Main and Pitkin Streets. A large boulder with bronze plaque marks the spot.
While minister here, his brother, Dr. Gardiner Spring, was pastor of the famous Brick Church of Manhattan and was one of the most influential Protestant ministers of the Union during the Civil War. His brother Charles was an especially influential figure in the Presbyterian Church movement in Illinois and Iowa.
In East Hartford, Rev. Spring became an important local figure in the growing temperance movement that began in the 1870s. In fact his daughter, Mabel Spring Walker, inspired by her father, became a widely read author of temperance-themed novels, didactic but ground-breaking, nonetheless, while while drawing heavily on local town citizens as models for her characters.
Rev. Spring served as a beloved and respected minister for some 29 years, He was cultured and well-educated, getting a degree of Doctor of Divinity from Columbia College in 1856. His noted tenderness was of great solace for his congregation and town during the strife and pain of the Civil War.
That he was held in high regard by a wide circle of fellow clergymen well beyond town borders is evidenced by his being a founder of the still respected Hartford Theological Seminary.
During the six years between retiring from his ministry and his death in 1877 he was the chaplain of the Hartford Retreat for the Insane, founded in 1822 as one of the first mental hospitals in America. An insight into Rev. Spring’s character was his strongly held belief in this institution’s forward looking mission of moral and nurturing treatment of the mentally ill.