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Thomas Barton


Barton, Thomas, was born in Ireland, in the year 1730. He received his education at Trinity College, Dublin. Shortly after he graduated, he came to this country, and engaged as an assistant tutor in the Academy of Philadelphia, where he remained for two years. In January 1755, he went to England with letters testimonial from the Professors of the College, and the Clergy of the Province of Pennsylvania, and with an earnest petition from the inhabitants of Huntingdon, Pa., that he might be appointed their Missionary. After the necessary preliminaries had been attended to, he was ordained, and came back to this country as itinerant Missionary for the counties of York and Cumberland.

Having reached Philadelphia about the 10th of April 1755, he immediately wrote to the people of Huntingdon, apprising then of his arrival; whereupon they sent a number of wagons to remove his effects. He reached the field of his labors about the close of May, and his first business was to make himself acquainted with the condition and the numbers of the three congregations of York, Huntingdon and Carlisle; and, after he had settled Wardons and Vestrymen in each, they all met, and according to their numbers, agreed mutually that he should officiate three Sundays in six at Huntingdon, two at Carlisle and one at York; and, having ascertained that there were, within the limits of his Mission large numbers of the communion of the Church of England in Shippensburg, and some four or live other settlements in that region, he determined to visit each of those places four times a year, to prepare them for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and to baptize their children.

Scarcely had Mr. Barton commenced his labors, before his attention was drawn to the wretched condition of the poor Indians, some of whom resided at no great distance from him; and, having heard that a number of them had come clown from the Ohio to Carlisle to dispose of their fur and doer-skins, he took occasion to go among them, and to endeavor to secure their good will, in the hope of making himself useful to them. He invited them to church, and such of them as had any knowledge of English, came, and seemed very attentive. These, subsequently, brought their brethren to shake hands with him; and the result of the interview was that he had great hope of being able to bring them under the influence of Christianity. But, just at that time, the tidings came that the forces under the command of General Braddock had been defeated, as they were marching to take Du Quesne, a French fort upon the Ohio; and this was soon succeeded by an alienation of the Indians, which put an end to all hope of prosecuting successfully any missionary efforts among them.

Mr. Barton, now findings himself exposed to the incursions of the French and the Indians, was compelled to organize his own people for defense against their enemies; and such were his zeal and activity, that he even put himself at the head of his congregations, and marched, either by night or by day, whenever there was an alarm. In 1758, the young men within his Mission offered to join the army if Mr. Barton would accompany them; whereupon he proposed himself to General Forbes as Chaplain of the troops, and his services were thankfully accepted. he was, however, absent from his ordinary duties but a short time, though it was long enough to give him the opportunity of making the acquaintance of Washington, Mercer and other distinguished officers in the army.

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For nearly twenty years, Mr. Barton resided at Lancaster, and was Rector of St. James' church there; but he divided his Sunday labors between that church and two other churches-one at Carnarvon, about twenty miles from Lancaster, the other at Pequea, nearly the same distance in a different direction. In addition to these stated duties, he officiated occasionally at the churches of New London and White Clay Creek---the one distant thirty-five, the other sixty miles from his residence. So great was the amount of labor that he performed, and such the fatigue and exposure to which he was subjected in his missionary excursions, that he became sensible that his constitution was greatly impaired; but he still kept on laboring to the extent of his ability; and the letters which, from time to time, he wrote to the Venerable Society, show that he was resolved to persevere in his labors until his health should entirely fall, or Providence should, in some other way, hedge up his path.

Mr. Barton had never lost, in any degree, his interest, in the Indians; and was actually planning an excursion of a few months among them, in or about the year 1704, when his hopes were again blasted by the breaking out of the Indian War, which rendered any approach to them utterly hopeless. In 1770, Mr. Barton received the honorary degree of Master of Arts, from King's College, New York.

As the War of the Revolution came on, Mr. Barton found himself not a little impeded in the discharge of his ministerial duties, and was ultimately obliged to retire front his field of labor altogether. In a letter dated November 25, 1770, he thus describes his situation;

"I have been obliged to shut up my churches, to avoid the fury of the populace, who would not subtler the Liturgy to be used, unless the Collects and Prayer for the King and Royal Family were omitted, which neither my conscience nor the declaration I made and subscribed, when ordained would allow me to comply with; and, although I used every prudent step to give no offence even to those who usurped authority and rule, and exercised the severest tyranny over us, yet my life and property have been threatened, upon mere suspicion of being unfriendly to what is called the 'American cause.' Indeed, every clergyman of the churches of England, who dared to act upon proper principles, was marked out for infamy and insult, in consequence of which, the Missionaries in particular have suffered greatly. Some of them have been dragged from their horses, assaulted with stones and dirt, ducked in water, obliged to flee for their lives, driven from their habitations and families, laid under arrests and imprisoned. I believe they were all (or at least most of them) reduced to the same necessity with me of shutting up their churches. It is, however, a great pleasure to me to assure the Venerable Society that, though I have been deprived of the satisfaction of discharging my public duties to my congregations, I have endeavored (I trust not unsuccessfully) to be beneficial to them in another way.

"I have visited them from house to house regularly, instructed their families, baptized and catechized their children, and performed such other duties In private as atoned for my suspension from public preaching."

Mr. Barton, refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth, was permitted to sell his property, leave the Colony, and pass within the British lines. He arrived at New York in November 1778. Having, before leaving Lancaster, first been placed on the limits of his county, and afterwards, for a long time, confined to his house, his health, which had been reduced by his severe labors, now became much more impaired by his confinement. A dropsy ensued, under which he languished until the 25th of May 1780, when he died at the ago of fifty years.

Mr. Barton was married, in 1753, to a sister of the celebrated David Rittenhouse, at Philadelphia. He loft a widow and eight children, one of whom, Benjamin Smith, was a distinguished Professor in the University of Pennsylvania, and died in 1815. The eldest son, William, was the author of the Life of Rittenhouse. Mrs. Barton, the widow, passed her last years in the house of her nephew and niece, Dr. Samuel Bard and his wife. Within a few days of their decease, she also died, at the age of ninety.

Mr. Barton published a Sermon on Braddock's Defeat, In 1755.

John Penn, the Proprietary of Pennsylvania, speaking in a letter of the important services that Mr. Barton rendered in resisting the attacks of the French and Indian', says:

"Mr. Barton deserves the commendation of all lovers of their country. Had others imitated his example Cumberland would not have wanted men enough to defend it; nor has he done anything in the military way but what hath increased his character for piety, and that of a sincerely religious man and zealous minister. In short; he is a most worthy, active and serviceable Pastor and Missionary, and as such, please to mention him to the Society."

Source: An authentic history of Lancaster County, in the state of Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pa.: J.E. Barr, 1869, 813 pgs.


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