Historic Northampton

Historic Highlights

Solomon Stoddard

The Manse, 54 Prospect Street, Northampton, Massachusetts

Solomon Stoddard preached his first sermon in Northampton in 1669. From then until his death sixty years later in 1729, he maintained a position of influence that went far beyond the boundaries of Hampshire county and left a lasting imprint on New England Puritanism. A graduate of Harvard College and its first librarian, Stoddard entered the ministry in a time of crisis for the Puritan community in New England. The first generation of church members was passing away, and their children showed little interest in meeting the rigorous requirements for church membership. Since church membership was a perquisite for citizenship, the foundations for a New England theocracy was undermined. Stoddard was champion of the "Half-Way Covenant," a means by which children of members could be baptized and remain as half-members until they were able to demonstrate religious conversion. But Stoddard went even further. By 1677 he was no longer recording whether his parishioners were full members or half-way members, thereby opening the privileges of membership, including citizenship, to all who would join.

Stoddard's charity had its limits, however. In 1703, he wrote the Governor to suggest that that "if dogs were trained up to hunt Indians as they do bears: we should quickly be sensible of a great advantage thereby." If Indians, argued Stoddard fought "fairly after the manner of other nations, it might be looked upon as inhumane to pursue them in such a manner. But they are to be looked upon as thieves and murderers...."

When Stoddard came to Northampton, he married Elizabeth Mather, the widow of the former minister. In 1684, they built their house on Round Hill at the site of what is now known as "The Manse" (pictured above). The Stoddard family maintained their influence in the valley through intermarriage into the area's leading families. Stoddard's hand-picked successor to succeed him in the Northampton pulpit was none other than his grandson, Jonathan Edwards.

Sermon by Solomon Stoddard, The Way to Know Sincerity and Hipocrisy Cleared Up