Jonathan Edwards in Bolton and in Love

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, October 2005)

Jonathan Edwards was Bolton's first pastor, hired by the Bolton Ecclesiastical Society on November 11, 1723. The meetinghouse was built but the minister's house was not. For some very good reasons, Reverend Edwards hurriedly left Bolton to return to Yale in May of 1724. He arranged to have his classmate, Reverend Thomas White, take his place in Bolton starting October 25, 1725 when the Bolton Church was formed and the minister's farmhouse was ready. Reverend White then became the first ordained minister of the Bolton Congregational Church. That is why Jonathan Edwards is not listed as the first church pastor, because the church was not yet formed.

Jonathan Edwards had been troubled since childhood by the thought that God might reject people who through no fault of their own had not come to know God. In 1739 Edwards published "Personal Narrative." Edwards specifically links his religious epiphany and reconciliation to God to Bolton in the summer of 1723: "It was a comfort to think of that state, where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly, calm, and delightful love, without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of this love; where is the enjoyment of the persons loved, without ever parting; where those persons who appear so lovely in this world, will really be inexpressibly more lovely, and full of love to us. I continued much in the same frame--particularly, once at Bolton, on a journey from Boston, while walking out alone in the fields."

Reverend Edwards tried to put God first in everything he did. But as he studied for his Master of Arts from Yale that September, he wrote the following in one of his textbooks. Clearly he had fallen in love with a girl he had not yet met. "They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for any thing, except to meditate on Him. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; specially after this great God has manifested Himself to her Mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her."

He met Sarah in New Haven that September after passing his exams with flying colors. Edwards was 20 years old, and Sarah was then 13 years old. She was the daughter of James Pierrepont, the minister of the New Haven church, one of the founders of Yale. One of her great-grandfathers was Thomas Hooker who brought the first settlers of Hartford Connecticut. Another was the first mayor of New York City. When the tall, gawky, intense and studious Edwards first met Sarah, she was frightened but quickly fell in love. Edwards made an awkward beau, looking on as Sarah shined in social situations.

Now we can turn the tables on history and ask what attracted Jonathan Edwards so much to Bolton that kept him here for almost six months before he returned to Sarah and to Yale in New Haven in May of 1724. No doubt it is what attracts all of us to Bolton: our people and our great cathedrals of the outdoors.

The usually God-focused Edwards rebuked himself and felt guilty for his perplexing earthly love and distractions, but that did not stop his love. He wrote: "After I went to New Haven, I sunk in religion; my mind being diverted from my eager pursuits after holiness, by some affairs, that greatly perplexed and distracted my thoughts."

On July 28, 1727 in the year of his ordination, Edwards married Sarah Pierrepont (then age 17) in New Haven. She brought to him strength and a never failing sweetness for the next 30 years. The real Jonathan Edwards was a tender husband, and affectionate father, and a human soul quite unlike the image of him as the stern preacher of sermons about sin. Edwards described his happy marriage to Sarah as their uncommon union bonded to one another and also bonded to the living God.