Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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To say that the author experiences a degree of diffidence in writing upon the theme and subject of these pages, would but inadequately express his true feelings on taking up the pen for this object. But he does it with a purpose of strict adherence to facts, nor will any matter be suppressed or one iota added to the truth. No one who shall read a dozen pages herein relating to the early life of Rev. Hosea Ballou, but will at once acquit the author of any false pride as it regards chronicling the events and circumstances of the subject's life. He is most happy to state the facts literally, and he is satisfied as to the verdict that every unprejudiced mind will render.

It may be said that a son cannot write a faithful history of a parent – that such a production must needs be partial, – though we have numerous instances of the contrary. To such an objection the writer would reply, that there is but one side to truth, and it is this, and this only, that the reader will find in these pages. He offers no labored extenuation or defence, – there are no circumstances that require it; no appeal or pleading for a verdict of acquittal, – for there are no charges to refute; but he gives a simple, unvarnished biography of a true Christian and a faithful disciple of the gospel, whose whole life, even from earliest youth, has been a beautiful and consistent tribute to truth. For some time previous to the decease of the subject of this biography the author contemplated the present work, and for this purpose has, at various times, kept minutes relative to dates of his father's movements; and he has also been briefly assisted by memoranda and short articles from his father's pen, which are embodied herein, relative to his feelings concerning himself and his doctrine. The framework, so to speak, of the book, has therefore been in hand for a considerable period; and the placing of it in a proper form for the printer has been all the author has attempted since the death of his respected father.

M. M. Ballou.

Boston, Sept., 1852.


The gratitude of mankind has not failed to record with honor the names of those who have been the inventors of useful improvements in the arts, or the authors of scientific discoveries, of brave warriors and wise statesmen; ancient history reveals to us the time when the inventors of letters and the plough, were revered as divinities. If there are any who are actually worthy of being remembered by the world, they are those who have proved themselves, by the lives they have led, and by their holy teachings, to be benefactors of the human family, and true followers of Christ.

It is conceded by all, that biography is a most important species of history. Through its agency, men who have been distinguished for merit, talent, or any peculiar virtue, are remembered, and, though they may be personally lost to us, yet the good influence they exerted during their lives, is made to continue for our benefit.

The biography of any eminent individual must be, in some degree, a chronicle of the times in which he lived, and thus, though the production may be of the most humble character, the pages of history are enriched, and the records of the past perfected. We think it was the Rev. John Ewart, M. A., a noted English divine, who set it down as one of the most interesting reflections relative to biographical reading, that we may see and know in heaven, those whose life and excellent works we have read of here. This is, perhaps, rather a peculiar argument, but not inappropriate in this connection.

For our own part, we have ever perused, with the liveliest satisfaction, any book of a biographical character, and believe that such works are almost universally read with avidity and profit. With living men and present measures, there is generally some prejudice or passion connected. But when death has set his seal upon a worthy character, and he has departed from the din and conflict of the world, then we can receive the full benefit of his example. For it is very true that genius rarely shines with full lustre until death hath unroofed it of envy. It will, therefore, be my object in these pages to adhere to those facts best fitted to illustrate the personal character of Mr. Ballou, and to furnish the means of estimating aright the services he rendered to his own and subsequent times, that his memory may remain to us in evergreen freshness and beauty, and thus renew to posterity the savor of a good life.

It is the usual practice with biographers to dwell at length and in explanation upon the discoveries and doctrines of the object of their labors, forgetting, apparently, that these things are almost universally known already, and that the main design of a biography should be to make public and illustrate the private life of those whom the world already knows as philosophers, statesmen, divines, or otherwise. It is said of Mallet, that he wrote the life of Lord Bacon, and forgot that he was a philosopher. But this is rarely the case, for it is the prevailing custom, and has ever been, to forget the man in the remembrance of the philosopher. It is the traits of personal character, those slight, yet important incidents and anecdotes which mark the individual's every-day life, that, when preserved and recorded, form the great interest and charm of biography. Plutarch, the writer of half a hundred lives, in that of Alexander says: – "As painters labor the likeness in the face, so must we be permitted to strike off the features of the soul, in order to give a real likeness of these great men."

Hence, biography written in a true spirit, while something quite different from history, is, nevertheless, an important supplement and aid to it, throwing light into its dark corners, and explaining its obscurity. For the historian, in the spirit of the painter or poet, must dispense with all the minuti? of detail which would interfere with the effect of his conception. He has a broad canvas, crowded with many figures, and in the grouping of these, the bringing out of strong points, the handling of the light and shade, many minor points must be obliterated, or thrown into the background. He presents us with truth, indeed, but not with the whole truth. The historian shows us the warrior in the hour of battle, on the field of review, or in the pomp of a military triumph; the statesman in the light of a senatorial victory, as he appears before the broad gaze of the world; the divine clad in his sacerdotal robe, at the high altar, or in the pulpit, at the moment of addressing listening crowds, and swaying the hearts of men by the fervor of his eloquence.

The biographer, on the other hand, dealing with individuals and not with masses, painting portraits and not groups, is permitted a more elaborate finish in the treatment of his subject. He shows us the soldier not only in the hour of battle, but in the privacy of his tent, or in the bosom of his family; the statesman in his study, or unbending from his public tasks in social intercourse; the divine in the daily walks of life, in the discharge of parochial duties, amid the toils and trials common to all humanity. The biographer is often at variance with the historian in treating the same subject. He often shows us the littleness of the great; for many a prominent actor in the world's great drama wears a mask upon the public stage that conceals his real features. Few men are found abroad, beneath the searching light of heaven, with the same aspect of soul, the same undisguised native promptings, visible in every act and word, as characterize them at their own firesides, and surrounded by those who know them most intimately. It is truly going "behind the scenes" to enter the domestic circle, for there the artificial man must be dropped, the cloak that is sometimes worn before the eyes of the world is laid aside, and we have the soul unmasked indeed.

It will be our endeavor, in the following pages, to illustrate the perfect harmony of a Christian character, the daily beauty of whose private life accorded with that of his public career; through whose existence religion ran like a silver thread, linking all its component parts together, – who "showed the path to heaven and led the way." The world is anxious, when it contemplates the memory of such an exalted character, to know the steps by which the subject rose to the situation which he filled, as well as the incidents by which he terminated his noted career. We are gratified to observe such characters in the private walks of life, to follow them into their families and closets, and to discover thus how those who challenged the respect and admiration of the times in which they lived, conducted themselves amid those cares and duties common alike to the humble and the exalted. These remarks will introduce the reader to the plan of the present work.


Hosea Ballou was born, April 30th, 1771, in the town of Richmond, New Hampshire, a small village situated in the county of Cheshire, in the southern part of the State; at that time little more than an uncleared wilderness. The site of his birth-place is now a most attractive and lovely valley, scooped out from the rough hills and mountains of the Granite State, and known as Ballou's Dale; surrounded by the most romantic scenery, the beauties of which he used to dwell upon in after years, and to sing their praise in verse. The neighboring country is of a bold and rugged character, and is to this day but thinly settled. It was here that he first drew breath in an humble cottage-home among the hills.

The influence of nature in the formation of character has been much insisted on by metaphysicians, and not without ample reason. The qualities of men are found to assimilate very closely to the characteristics of the country they inhabit. Thus the mountaineer is bold, rugged, hardy, independent, and fond of liberty. In Europe, surrounded on every hand by despotism, Alpine Switzerland has preserved its political independence for ages. But especially is the power of natural scenery witnessed in the nurture of deep religious feeling.

"The groves were God's first temples."

The first prayer uttered by man was breathed to his Creator in a garden, among the olive trees of Eden. The disciples of our Saviour listened to their Lord in the deep wilderness, in the awful solitude of rugged mountains. In the heart of mighty forests and by the shores of ever-rushing rivers, the littleness of man, contrasting with the grandeur of creation, speaks to his awakened soul of the omnipotence and goodness of God. Where men are banded together in great cities, in the midst of splendors and triumphs of art, they are apt to feel a pride and self-reliance which abandon them in the face of nature. Apart from the frequent spectacle of man's handiwork, the dweller in the country learns how all human skill is impotent to imitate the smallest feature in the great work of creation; to create the lightest blade of grass that bends in the summer breeze; to fabricate even the minutest grain of sand that sparkles by the river shore. Then, as he lifts his eyes from earth to heaven, and beholds at night the starry host above him wheeling unerringly upon their appointed courses, his mind cannot but acknowledge the existence of God, and the immeasurable greatness of his attributes.

It will be seen, in the course of this narrative, that the influences we have alluded to must have produced a powerful effect upon a mind constituted like that of the subject of this biography.

In relation to the genealogy of the family, we have it in detail as far back, on the paternal side, as his great-great-grandfather, Matteaurian Ballou, – so the name was spelled by him, – who came from England, though a Frenchman by descent, about the year 1640. He occupied a portion of a royal grant of land, about that time purchased from the Narraganset tribe of Indians, by the agent of the crown. This tract was situated in the present State of Rhode Island, where descendants of the family still reside. This Matteaurian Ballou's oldest son was named John, whose second son was named Matteaurian, who, also, had a son named Matteaurian, who in turn had eleven children, – six sons and five daughters. The youngest of the family was named Hosea, the subject of these memoirs.

His father, Rev. Maturin Ballou, was remarkable for his unostentatious manner, his forgiving spirit and meekness, and the strict consistency of a life devoted, as he truly believed, to the service and glory of his Divine Master. He remained a highly respected and influential member of the Baptist church until the time of his death, at the age of eighty-two years. When his son differed from him so materially in faith, though it sorely grieved the parent's heart, it never for one moment influenced him in his affection for his child. His conduct towards him was uniformly kind and solicitous, as was also the son's regard for his father of the most loving and respectful character. Whenever referring to his father, the subject of this biography never failed to do so with that respect and honor for his memory that was ever cherished by him, and which formed a beautiful trait of his character.

In this connection it may not be inappropriate nor uninteresting to say a few words concerning the brothers and sisters of Hosea, the youngest member of the family. Benjamin, the oldest, was a man of strict integrity, and possessed a penetrating and powerful intellect. For some years the power of early influences and associations moulded his life, and he preached the Baptist religion, but was subsequently converted to Universalism, by his younger brother, Hosea, and lived and died in its faith, continuing to the good old age of eighty-two years. This was the grandfather of Rev. Dr. Ballou, of Medford, Mass.; Rev. William S. Ballou, of Strafford, Vt., and Rev. Levi Ballou, of Orange, Mass. Maturin was the second son, who was also a Baptist minister, of strict morality and honorable career, but who died at the early age of thirty-five years. In his manuscript, Mr. Ballou says, relative to this brother: "He grew very liberal in his sentiments towards the last of his labors, and was one of the most loving and devout Christians that I ever knew." David was the third son, and he also preached the Baptist faith, but, like the eldest brother, was ere long persuaded of the truth of the doctrine of universal salvation, which he preached for many years, possessing a strong and well balanced mind, and powerful argumentative abilities. He died at the age of eighty-two. This was the father of Rev. Moses Ballou, of Bridgeport, Ct. The fourth son was named Nathan, a man of remarkable mental and physical strength, who gave his attention mainly to agricultural pursuits, and who lived to be nearly eighty years of age. This was the grandfather of the present Rev. Russel A. Ballou, of West Bridgewater, Mass. Stephen was the fifth son and combining many of the best qualities of his elder brothers, and possessing a most upright and conscientious disposition, was yet remarkable for the endowment of a large degree of native wit and good humor. He also devoted himself to agriculture, and lived to nearly the age of seventy. All of these brothers were possessed of a handsome competency, realized by their own economy and industry. The daughters were variously espoused, and lived, all but one, who died at the age of twenty, to be venerable and honored in years, and with a numerous offspring.

On the maternal side, these children were descended from Lydia Harris, daughter of Richard Harris, who, like his ancestors, was a Quaker. His forefathers came to this country to escape the persecution of the seventeenth century in England, when the infatuated and tyrannical Charles was oppressing his subjects by restricting the freedom of industry, and billeting soldiers upon the people in times of peace; when the private papers of citizens were searched on mere suspicion, and when the bigoted Laud ruled with as high a hand and reckless a purpose in the church, as his royal master did in the state. Citizens claiming the right of freely uttering what they honestly believed to be true, on the subject of religion, were fined, whipped, and imprisoned. Ministers and educated citizens were branded on the forehead, their noses slit, and their ears cropped, for dissenting from Popish rites and ceremonies. To escape such intolerable persecution, Quakers crossed the ocean. But, alas! persecution followed them even in the wilds of America. Individuals who had left home, friends, country and all, to gain the privilege of worshipping the Almighty after the dictates of their own consciences, did not hesitate to deny others that privilege for which they had themselves sacrificed so much, simply because they differed from them in form of faith.

We should not omit to mention in this place the remarkable degree of affection that ever actuated the subject of this biography towards each and all of the members of his father's extensive family; and this feeling was reciprocal too; especially have we personally observed this on the part of the brothers, whom he frequently visited, through the entire period of their lives. Much older than himself, as far back as our memory of them extends they were venerable and grey-haired men, and treated Hosea more like a son than a brother. Their meetings together, from time to time, were reunions of great satisfaction and happiness. Fully admitting his superior scriptural knowledge and judgment, they delighted to converse upon the theme of religion, and mutually to express the strength of their faith and the joy they found in believing. It was this younger brother who converted them to the belief of God's impartial and free grace, and they died at last with their minds freed from every doubt as it regarded the subject. One or two of these brothers had believed what was called Universalism quite as early as had Hosea, but they had believed it as it was then taught on the old Calvinistic principle, which made it in reality anything but Universalism. It was from this ill-defined platform, this faith of inconsistencies, that Hosea brought their minds to embrace that creed which is now acknowledged as the doctrine of the Universalist denomination. When he spoke to them and of them, it was with that tender and affectionate regard with which his heart was ever filled to overflowing.

I have taken some pains to state the foregoing facts of genealogy thus carefully, merely for the sake of completeness, and not for the purpose of establishing the fact that the family is "an old one." The idea that to be able to trace back one's pedigree any great length of time, imparts any degree of merit or distinction in itself, is a palpable absurdity, inasmuch as the further back we refer ourselves in our origin, the more nearly do we approximate to the same ancestry with the veriest serf in the world. Sir Thomas Overbury said of a man who boasted of his ancestry, that he was like a potato plant, – the best thing belonging to him was under ground! Mr. Ballou was no pensioner upon the dead. The laurels that surrounded the brow of his riper years were self-earned, and worthy of emulation.


The life of Hosea Ballou may be said to have commenced with one of the saddest of bereavements, for at the tender age of two years he had the misfortune to lose his maternal parent, who died, leaving him the youngest of eleven children. Thus it was his unhappy lot never to know the fond regard and pure affection of a mother, that holiest tie of humanity. Concerning this matter, Mr. Ballou says, in the brief memoir or outline of his life with which he has furnished us, "My mother died when I was about two years old, and, of course, I do not remember her; but from all I can learn of my mother, I am satisfied that she was of a most tender and kind disposition. But the treasure was gone before I could realize its value." The care and guidance of the family then fell upon the father, whose means for providing for his children's necessities were of the most simple and limited character. This parent, a pious and devout preacher of the Calvinistic Baptist denomination, endeavored, to the best of his ability, to bring up his large family to fear and serve a God who was merciful to those whom from all eternity he had elected to be heirs of eternal life, but who was full of holy wrath towards the greater portion of mankind; – a faith which the honest parent little thought, at that time, his youngest son, through the instrumentality of Providence, would so successfully battle against in the spiritual warfare of after years.

In this connection, Mr. Ballou says: – "We were all taught, and in our youth all believed, that we were born into the world wholly depraved, and under the curse of a law which doomed every son and daughter of Adam to eternal woe. But at the same time God had made provision for a select number of the human family, whereby they would be saved by the operations of the divine Spirit, which would result in what was called conversion, sometime during the life of those elected. Those who were not elected would remain without any effectual calling, die, and be forever miserable. When I was a youth it was the sentiment of all Christian people, as far as I knew, that not more than one in a thousand of the human family would be saved from endless condemnation.

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