Stearns [2/2]

Samuel^6 (Rev.), the fourth minister of Bedford, was the fourth son of Rev. Josiah^5 of Epping, N.H., and grandson of John of Billerica and Esther Johnson of Woburn. He was b. at Epping, N.H., April 8, 1770, and m. May 9, 1797, Abigail, dau. of Rev. Jonathan French of Andover. Ch. Abigail F. b. and d. 1798. Abigail F. b. Jan. 7, 1800, m. Jonas Monroe, d. Jan. 1833. h Samuel Horatio,^7 b. Sept. 12, 1801, d. in Paris, France, July 15, 1837. Sarah Caroline, b. April 15, 1803, m. Sept. 27, 1827, Rev. Forest Jefferds. h William Augustus,^7 b. Mar. 17, 1805, d. June 8, 1876. Maria H. b. Nov. 14, 1806, d. June S, 1881. h Jonathan French,^7 b. Sept. 4, 1808, d. Nov. 11, 1889, Elizabeth W. b. July 29, 1810, m. Dec. 8, 1831, Dea. Charles James. Josiah Atherton^7 and George Washington, twins, b. Sept.

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1, 1812; Josiah d. Sept. 8, 1883; George d. in infancy. Charlotte Esther, b. Sept. 17, 1814, m. Rev. Jonathan Leavitt, q.v. Ann Catherine, b. Oct. 10, 1816. h Ebenezer S.^7 b. Dec. 23, 1819, d. April, 1887.

The public life of Rev. Samuel Stearns has received extended comment in the ecclesiastical and general chapters, and the following biographical notice is in part the same as found in the appendix to Shattuck’s history of Concord, published soon after the death of Mr. Stearns. [*1] It was gathered from the sermon delivered by Rev. Samuel Sewall at the funeral of his honored friend and brother in the ministry. [*2]

Rev. Samuel Stearns was born at Epping, N.H., April 8, 1770, fitted for college, after his father’s death, at Exeter Academy, under the patronage of Hon. John Phillips, its founder, and graduated at Harvard College in 1794. [^1] His theological studies were pursued under the direction of Rev. Jonathan French of Andover. He was ordained over the Church and Society in Bedford, April 27, 1796. A new religious society having been legally formed, Nov. 9, 1832, by the name of the “Trinitarian Congregational Society,” and the church having voted, at a meeting, May 9, 1833, to dissolve its connection with the First Parish, and to accept an invitation given it to unite with the new society. Rev. Mr. Stearns was solemnly constituted the minister of that society, June 5, 1833. He died Dec. 26, 1834. It is worthy of remark, that, during the whole of his protracted ministry, almost thirty-nine years, he was never absent from his people at any communion season but one, — viz., that which occurred about two weeks before his death.

More than a half century has passed since Rev. Samuel Stearns entered into rest, and but few remain who received early instruction from him; yet his influence for good is still active.

When the church was repaired and newly furnished, in 1886, a memorial window was consecrated to his memory. In this, the extended hand, holding the uplifted cross, is artistically represented, and the following inscription is seen:

In Memoriam.

Rev. Samuel Stearns 1796—1834.

Samuel Horatio was the oldest son, and second child that survived infancy, of Rev. Samuel Stearns and Abigail French. He was a feeble child, of a serious, thoughtful mind. His early education was obtained in the village school, under the careful direction of his thoughtful parents. He entered Phillips Academy, Andover, December, 1816, then a little more than fifteen years of age. He united with the church in Bedford, of which his father was pastor, June 1, 1817. He entered the freshman class in Harvard University in the autumn of 1819, and taught school at times during his course, which was pursued with difficulty, because of physical weakness, graduating in August, 1823. His part in the commencement exercises was the Latin salutatory.

“On taking his second degree, three years after, he delivered the master’s valedictory in Latin.”

Mr. Stearns spent some months as teacher in Phillips Academy, and joined the junior class in the Theological Seminary at Andover, in December 1825, completing his course there in the autumn of 1828. [^2][^3] He preached in Philadelphia during the following winter, as an assistant to Rev. Dr. Skinner, and paid much attention to recruit-

ing his health. [*3] After seasons of preaching in the Federal Street Church of Newburyport, Park Street Church of Boston, and elsewhere, he was ordained as pastor of the Old South Church and Society of Boston, April 16, 1834. His health, which at that time seemed to be well established, soon began to fail, and he was able to preach but two Sabbaths and one sermon. He returned to Bedford, spent some months journeying by carriage through New England and elsewhere, and in all ways endeavoring to renew his strength so as to be able to resume his pastoral work, but received no permanent benefit. He asked a dismission from the church and society where his beautiful spirit and brilliant talents had been manifested so short a time. Being persuaded of the recuperating influence of a sea voyage, and a journey abroad, he sailed for London, June 8, 1836. He spent months journeying through the mild latitudes of the continent, during which time strength and weakness were alternating, and was on his homeward journey, having reached Paris, when strength failed, and he passed away July 15, 1837. His remains were brought to this country, and deposited in Mount Auburn, Dec. 26, 1837, the fourth anniversary of his father’s death.

William Augustus, D.D., LL.D., was the second son of Rev. Samuel Stearns and Abigail French. He was taken to the parish church and baptized on the day of his birth, which was a cold Sabbath in March. The custom then prevailing of baptizing an infant on the first Sabbath after its birth was rigidly adhered to by the pastor of the town. The luxury of a fire was never known in the first meeting-house. Such an act of religious form when viewed from present custom seems presumptuous, but no harm befell the infant. William Augustus was a precocious scholar. At the age of six years he recited the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism entire at one lesson, in the church, and agreeable to rule was afterwards allowed to occupy the “spectators’ seat” during recitation, and see companions of twice his years struggle with this ancient compendium of religious instruction. At fourteen years of age he committed the entire Gospel of Luke in one week, working in the hay-field with the men the while through the day. He carried his Testament in his pocket, and stole a verse now and then as opportunity was afforded. He was equally forward in the study of the Latin language. He seized the opportunity one afternoon, when the book which served several of the brothers was not in use, learned his first Latin lesson, and presented himself before his astonished father for recitation.

William A. Stearns, looked upon as so saintly in after life, was a boy among boys, as were the others of the parsonage. They were forbidden to engage in fights with companions. This family rule became known to others, and a stout, swaggering fellow, of twice the size of William, took advantage of it, and began to bully and torment him beyond endurance. He went home to his mother with the grievance, and declared that he could not stand it any longer, and that his companions would regard it cowardly in him not to stand up in self-defence. After listening to his impassioned story, the mother asked, “Do you think you can handle him.'” “Yes!” was the boy’s positive reply. “Well,” she rejoined, “I do not like to have boys fight.” This did not veto his plan, and the next time he was attacked in the company of his mates he caught the big fellow, thrashed him thoroughly, and threw him over the nearest stone wall.

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H. A. Stearns

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He received the same course of training that his brother Samuel enjoyed, and was obliged to practice the most rigid economy while pursuing his studies at Andover and at Cambridge, as were his brothers. He graduated from Harvard College in 1827. During his college course he never hired a conveyance in all of his journeys between his native town and Cambridge. [*4] He taught school each winter, earning thereby some twenty or twenty-five dollars a month. He spent the year after his graduation in teaching, as principal at the Duxbury Academy, and there formed the acquaintance of the lady who afterwards became his wife. His course of theology was taken at Andover. Of his class, six have been editors, eight professors in colleges or theological seminaries, two presidents of colleges; seventeen have been made doctors of divinity, or of law, or of both.

He was ordained and installed pastor of the First Evangelical Congregational Church, in Cambridgeport, Dec. 14, 1831, and remained in the position twenty-three years, lacking only a few days. He saw his church grow from an unpopular remnant to a strong, influential, and popular church, and his annual salary increased from $700 to $1,500.

Mr. Stearns left this flourishing position with much reluctance, to enter upon a broader field of labor as president of Amherst College, in November, 1854, where he remained until his useful life was terminated by death, June 8, 1876. The growth and general prosperity of the college, during the twenty-two years of Dr. Stearns’ presidency, is sufficient proof of his ability and faithfulness. Shortly after he entered upon the presidency, he was appointed a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and was an active member for eight consecutive years. He was a leading light among the members of the corporation of Phillips Academy and the Theological Seminary at Andover. In 1853 the honorary degree of doctor of divinity was conferred upon him by Harvard College. In 1862 the College of New Jersey added to his honors the title of doctor of laws.

During the war, Dr. Stearns was wise in his counsel to the young men of the college who felt called upon to enter the army. [^4] Among the members of the college who gave up their lives for the Union was his own son, who fell fighting within the enemy’s lines at Newbern.

“One of the guns which he and his comrades captured, and near which he fell, presented to the college for that purpose by the commanding general [A. K. Burnside], is an expressive trophy at once of the bravery of Adjutant Stearns and of the patriotic devotion of his father.” [*5]

Among the many published works of Dr. Stearns was that inspiring book for youth, “The Life of Adjutant Stearns.” [*6] The Amherst College Church, or Memorial Chapel, was erected during the presidency of Dr. Stearns. The three rose windows were given as testimonials of regard for the president. The donors were Dea. Eckley Stearns of Woburn, Gov. Onslow Stearns of New Hampshire, and the Church of Christ at Bedford.

Dr. Stearns was president of the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society for seventeen years, 1859 to 1876.

The history of his native town, and of others in the immediate vicinity, was of much interest to him. He inaugurated the centennial celebration of the battle of Lexington, by preaching an admirable sermon in Hancock Church on the Sabbath and day preceding the great convocation. He

gave an historical address, in July, 1868, at the half-century celebration of the organizing of the first Sabbath school in Bedford, of which he was an original member and his father the founder. [*7] The people of Bedford who were the associates of William A. Stearns in their youth, with their children and grandchildren, have each in turn delighted to honor this distinguished son of the town, and rejoice that he found here a birthplace and early home; that he loved to turn his steps to this town when active service permitted, and that the cherished hope of his declining years was to complete his life where it began. But this was not so ordered; death met him in the midst of activity, with his baccalaureate sermon partly finished.

Jonathan French, D.D., was the seventh child and third son of Rev. Samuel Stearns and Abigail French. Rev. David H. Frazer, D.D., said of the subject of this sketch, in a memorial sermon delivered in Newark, N.J., Dec. 1, 1889:

“Although character is a growth, the qualities which underlie character are received by inheritance; hence there is much in every man’s life that is directly traceable to his ancestry. In this respect Dr. Stearns was peculiarly favored.” [*8]

He fitted for college at Phillips Academy. While there, he, in conjunction with Horatio B. Hackett, Ray Palmer, and others, organized the Philomathean Society. His preparatory education was chiefly obtained through his own efforts; he boasted that he earned with his own hands the money that paid for his first Latin grammar. He entered Harvard College in 1826, and there had the aid and companionship of his two older brothers, who had preceded him in classical study. The Hon. Charles Sumner was his classmate, and for a time his room-mate. The friendship then formed lasted until the death of the statesman. In order to meet his own expenses while at college, he taught country schools, and served as tutor to students needing such help; among those thus aided was Amos Lawrence, his lifelong friend. He assisted William H. Prescott in the preparation of his life of Ferdinand and Isabella, by translating Spanish manuscripts. He and Charles Sumner were founders of “The Nine,” a literary society connected with the college. His theological studies were pursued at Andover Seminary, and under the direction of his father and older brother, William.

He was licensed to preach in October 1834, and was ordained and installed pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, Sept. 16, 1835. [^5] He remained here fourteen years, and secured for himself a well-deserved and enviable reputation in the profession. He accepted a unanimous call from the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, N.J., and was installed as pastor of that church on Dec. 13, 1849. He compiled the history of the First Church in that city in the early years of his second pastorate. [*9] This has proved to be invaluable, both to the church and city; upon it all subsequent works of local history have been based. In 1850 he was made a director in Union Theological Seminary. In the same year the honorary title of doctor of divinity was conferred upon him by Princeton College, and in 1864 he was made a trustee of that institution. Drs. Stearns and Poor were instrumental in forming the German Theological Seminary at Bloomfield; [^2] the former was president of the board of directors for many years.

In 1879 Dr. Stearns was selected by the people of his native town to deliver an historical address, on the occa-

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sion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of the town. This service required many months of careful preparation, and was given as a labor of love. It was published in connection with a detailed account of the celebration, and is treasured as a lasting memorial of this honored son of Bedford. [*10]

Dr. Stearns was relieved from active duty after thirty-three years of faithful service in this his second charge. He was made pastor emeritus April 1, 1882, and given a liberal support for life.

He died Nov. 11, 1889, having been in the pastoral office fifty-four years, which, with the exception of seven and a half years, were full of the most active service. In 1843 Dr. Stearns was united in marriage with Miss Anna Prentiss of Portland, Me. She died Jan. 2, 1869. Children who have inherited grand qualities from both parents are doing valuable service in the world.

Josiah Atherton, A.M., Ph.D., was the ninth child of Rev. Samuel Stearns and Abigail French (a twin mate died in infancy). His advantages for early education were the same as those of his older brothers, but he did not take a collegiate course; yet in advanced life he received the honor of the title of Master of Arts from Harvard College, and is erroneously credited in the ecclesiastical section of this work, and in other publications, as having taken the same course of classical study that his brothers did. The absence of this training was an occasion for regret to himself, but seldom noticed by others. After his academic course Mr. Stearns entered upon the life of a bookseller and publisher; but this was neither in accordance with his taste, nor a financial success. He soon found employment, more in the line of his early training and inherited tendency, in the public schools of Boston, where he spent the remainder of his active life, retiring from service in 1882, one year before his death. He was honored near the close of his school service with the title of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Nashville, Tenn., of which his younger brother was the chancellor.

A notice of the death of Mr. Stearns, published in “The Boston Journal,” Sept. 8, 1883, contained the following:

“Josiah A. Stearns, A.M., Ph.D., was one of the veteran schoolmasters of Boston, whose intelligence, conscientious and untiring, though perchance not conspicuous, efforts, have done so much to build up and perpetuate the excellency of our common school system.”

He was for thirty-nine years in the service of the city of Boston, as usher in the Adams and head-master of the Mather, Lawrence, and Norcross schools. (See epitaph.) [*11] The system which prevailed at one time gave him the additional responsibility of ten primary schools and a boys’ grammar school of eight hundred pupils. His former pupils, numbering tens of thousands, remember him as a careful, thorough teacher, and a genuine, open-hearted friend. The testimony of many is that of one involuntarily uttered while leaving the village church at Bedford, where the funeral services were held:

“I owe all that I am as a successful business man to the one whose body rests in the casket yonder.”

The following memorial is self explaining:—


In School Committee, Sept. 26, 1882.

Resolved, That in accepting the resignation of Josiah A. Stearns, master of the Norcross School, this committee is glad to place upon the records a recognition of the many admirable qualities with which Mr. Stearns has advanced his office through a teaching service in the employment of the city of more than thirty-nine years.

Resolved, That his most fitting memorial is in the love and veneration of the hundreds of men and women whose youth he helped to train in high and noble ways, and who in his old age will continue to call him blessed.

Resolved, That we extend to him most cordial wishes that he may live long to enjoy the satisfaction of honor, love, obedience, and troops of friends, which he has earned in his public work and private worth.

Resolved, That these resolutions be entered upon the records of the board, and a copy thereof, properly engrossed, be sent to Mr. Stearns. [*12]

Adopted unanimously.

Attest: Phineas Bates, Jr., Secretary.


Josiah A. Stearns was actively identified with the Masonic fraternity for more than twenty-nine years. He served his brethren in important and influential positions, and always with a deep sense of the responsibility of office. As chaplain of several bodies he was best known. For years he presided at the altars of the lodge, chapter, and commandery. In prayer he was especially gifted; his words were happily chosen, and his thoughts appropriate. Seldom absent from the meetings, genial in manner, wise in council, eloquent in speech, he was greatly beloved by his associates; his companionship was delightful. His services were gratefully appreciated by his brethren, who, in two of the bodies with which he was connected, unanimously elected him an honorary member.

He was proposed for the degrees in Columbian Lodge, March 2, 1854, by Bro. J. W. Barton, was initiated May 4, 1854, and raised a Master Mason, Oct. 26, 1854. Within three or four years from that date his brethren learned of his peculiar fitness to serve the lodge as chaplain, and by 1860 he was duly installed in that position. In 1863 he had gained the confidence of his brethren so fully as to be elected junior warden, from which position he was regularly advanced till he became master of the lodge in 1866-7. Having served the body faithfully and efficiently, he again became its chaplain, and continued to hold that position till the day of his death.

He was also chaplain of Abourdour Lodge from its organization till his death. Of this body he was an honorary member.

He was exalted in St. Paul’s Royal Arch Chapter, May 11, 1859, and was made a member of that body April 20, 1874. In this body he also officiated as chaplain for several years.

On June 7, 1869, he received the order of the red cross in Joseph Warren Commandery, that of the temple June 22, 1869, and the Malta in the following September. Here again he was called to the important office of chaplain or prelate as early as 1871, which position he retained till Nov. 1, 1882, failing health compelling him to withdraw from further activity, much to the regret of his brother sir knights. His attendance upon the meetings of the commandery, during the twelve years he served the body as prelate, was constant and uninterrupted; so say the records of the body to-day.

He early applied for the degrees of the ancient accepted Scottish rite. He is on record as having received the thirty-second degree in Boston Consistory, April 17, 1863, and affiliated with Massachusetts Consistory, thirty-second grade, Feb. 15, 1871, when the latter body united with Boston and De Witt Clinton Consistories. In the subordinate Scottish bodies he retained membership until the date of his death, Sept. 8, 1883.

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Eliza (Bacon) Webber.

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In the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts he acted at one time as chaplain, and also filled the office of grand steward for some time.

An elegant and life-like portrait in oil of Wor. Bro. Stearns adorns the walls of the ante-room of Sutton Hall, Masonic Temple, Boston. [*13] It was procured by his numerous friends in Columbian Lodge. It is a just tribute to the memory of a brother whose active interest in, and enthusiastic regard for, the Masonic institution endeared him to the hearts of all with whom he came in contact. That memory will continue a vivid thing with the various Masonic bodies he served so well.

His funeral took place in the Congregational Church of Bedford. It was largely attended by the fraternity, Columbian Lodge conducting the impressive burial service of the fraternity, and Joseph Warren Commandery performing escort duty on that occasion.

Mr. Stearns was also a member of the Order of Odd Fellows. He was a veteran Odd Fellow, having been a member of the order more than twenty-five years. He was not particularly active in the order, his Masonic relations being so pressing as to absorb his hours of leisure.

Mr. Stearns always manifested a citizen’s interest in the town of his nativity, and was liberal in support of the church of which his father was pastor during the whole of his ministerial life.

The old homestead at Bedford, established by the third minister of the town, and purchased by Rev. Samuel Stearns (father of the subject of this sketch), became the property of Josiah A. Stearns after the decease of his mother. He lavished much of his ample salary in transforming the rocky acres into productive fields. Every rod of upland and meadow was precious to him. He religiously cherished the Lombardy poplars in front of the mansion that had given their best service to his parents, and the graceful elms that had shaded the play-grounds of a noble family. In conjunction with his sister, Miss Ann C. Stearns, he carefully preserved the chambers where great and good men had studied and slept, and where a generation had been born and trained. During seasons of active labor Mr. Stearns retired to his ancestral home for the refreshing quiet that is only found in a typical New England village, and spent the greater part of his vacation seasons here, surrounded by the children and grandchildren of his brothers and sisters, all of whom enjoyed the respect of the people of the town. In all of his arduous labors Mr. Stearns never forgot his native town; and it may truthfully be said that the children of Rev. Samuel Stearns never lost an opportunity in which to honor, by word or deed, the town of Bedford. Mr. Stearns prepared a sketch of the history of the town for Drake’s “History of Middlesex County,” and was spending his leisure hours on a prospective work of local history when his health failed. [*14] His manuscripts are sacredly cherished by his family for an extended work by some future historian.

The grand celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the incorporation of the town was in a large measure due to his leadership, although scores of the sons and daughters of Bedford contributed freely towards the enterprise, which for conception and execution was a marvel of success. Mr. Stearns planned and conducted the first “Memorial Day” service, and was active

on each succeeding day of national memorial. He wrote several occasional hymns, one of which is found on p. 70.

Eben S., D.D., was the youngest of thirteen children of Rev. Samuel Stearns and Abigail French. [^6] He graduated from Harvard College in 1841, studied theology, and was ordained as a minister of the gospel. During his ministry at Epping, N.H., he did faithful work in rescuing the records from oblivion, and in putting them into a condition to be of future use; but his life work was that of a teacher in several institutions for higher education. He taught in the Ipswich High School, and Free Street Female Seminary in Portland, and was principal of the Female High School in Newburyport for a term of five years. This experience prepared the way for him to do valuable work in the normal school in its experimental years. He took charge of the State Normal School of Massachusetts in September 1849. [^7] It was then located at West Newton (was first established at Lexington in 1839). He was the third principal of the school, his predecessors having been Rev. Cyrus Pierce and Rev. Samuel J. May. The historical sketch prepared for the semi-centennial of the school, by Mrs. Electa N. L. Walton, has the following:

“Mr. Stearns was devoted, earnest, exact, and gentlemanly, and won the cordial support of teachers and pupils. He had a nature of unusual gentleness, and a winsome humor that made him a delightful companion. As a teacher he inspired confidence in his pupils to do their best, while his recognition of any lady-like refinement in them was an inspiration to be true to his expectations. It seemed impossible to be rude or heedless under his observant eye. He impressed his pupils with the dignity of the teacher’s work, and his influence upon them was lasting.” [*15]

Printed diplomas were first given at the close of his first year of work in this school.

Mr. Stearns was in the South, on account of a throat trouble, when the spring term of 1851 opened, and he addressed the school thus by letter:

“Outspread before us lies its page of unsullied purity. . . . New hopes are the blossom wreaths that surround it, and guardian angels whisper encouragement and peace as they hold out and beckon us to write, and write we must and ever shall; there is no escape. We write with the blood of the soul, indistinct, pale at first it may be, but ere long to blaze forth in brightness more dazzling than the sun, and more enduring than if engraved on marble. Each letter, well formed or ill, each attempted erasure, each careless spot, each foul blot, remains. . . . Is it not, then, of the utmost importance that you begin rightly?” [*15]

In September 1855, Mr. Stearns resigned, to take charge of the female academy at Albany, N.Y. [^8] He was chancellor of the State University and principal of the State Normal School of Nashville for several years. [^9] He died while performing these double duties, in 1887. He was honored with the titles of D.D. and LL.D. in the last years of his useful life. He was twice married, and a widow and three children survive him.



  1. Hon. John ∨ Hon John
  2. Seminary at ∨  Seminary, at
  3. December 1825, ∨ December, 1825,
  4. the war, ∨ the war
  5. October 1834, ∨ October, 1834,
  6. D.D., ∨ D.D.)
  7. September 1849. ∨ September, 1849.
  8. September 1855, ∨ September, 1855,
  9. and ∨ of and


  1. cf. Shattuck’s “History of Bedford” (1835)
    in his History of the town of Concord (pp 255-273)
  2. cf. Sewall’s Sermon delivered . . . at the funeral of the Rev. Samuel Stearns (1835)
  3. “recruiting”: renewing
  4. “conveyance”: vehicle
  5. cf. Tyler’s Discourse commemorative of the late President Stearns (1877) pp 44-45 [ no scan ]
  6. cf. William A. Stearns’ Adjutant Stearns [1862]
  7. cf. (in this work) pp 54-55
  8. cf. Frazer’s Jonathan F. Stearns [1889] p 4
  9. cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ Historical discourses, relating to the First Presbyterian Church (1853)
  10. cf. Jonathan F. Stearns’ “Historical discourse” (1879)
    in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration (pp 5-59)
  11. cf. (in this work) p 92
  12. “properly engrossed”: in a large, formal script
  13. “Wor. Bro.”: Worshipful Brother
  14. cf. Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
    in Drake’s History of Middlesex: Vol I (pp 241-251)
  15. cf. Fifty-third annual report of the Board of Education (1890) pp 102-103 [ no scan ]
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