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July 2024
1min read

George L. Howe, a contributor to this magazine in the past and a long-time subscriber, took a look at the gravestone rubbings by Avon Neal and Ann Parker in our August, 1970, issue (“Graven Images: Sermons in Stones”) and was prompted to try to identify an old epitaph he had often seen quoted: “Young to the pulpit did he get, / And seventy-two years in’t did he sweat.”

As Mr. Howe puts it, “Even in that sudorific age, seventy-two years must have come close to the record for clerical perspiration.” He believes he found the holder of said record in the Biographical Dictionary compiled in 1809 by John Eliot, corresponding secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The man who fits the bill, Mr. Howe says, is the Reverend John Higginson, who was born in England in 1616 and came to the New World when he was twelve. The son of a minister, Higginson assisted the pastor of Guilford, Connecticut, from 1643 to 1659, when he moved to his father’s church in Salem, Massachusetts. He was ordained its pastor in 1660 and died at the age of ninety-two in 1708.

Assuming that he preached for seventy-two years, as per the epitaph, Mr. Howe surmises that this man of God must have been twenty years old at the time of his first sermon, sometime in 1636. That, he says, “doesn’t seem an improbably early age for his sweating to have begun.”

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