Rev. Josiah Chase

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Josiah Chase, Sr., Rev.

Birthdate: (65)
Birthplace: Newbury, MA, United States
Death: December 10, 1778 (65)
Kittery, ME, United States (Drowned in Spruce Creek during snowstorm)
Immediate Family:

Son of Deacon Thomas Chase and Sarah Chase
Husband of Sarah Chase
Father of Bradstreet Chase; Col. Josiah Chase, Jr.; Thomas Chase; John Chase, Sgt.; Cotton Chase and 2 others
Brother of Thomas Chase, III; Abel Chase; Roger Chase; Sarah Bartlett; Ezekiel Chase and 4 others

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About Rev. Josiah Chase

Among his eight children was Josiah (1713-1778), who departed from family tradition in two significant ways. First, he moved from Newbury. By the early eighteenth century all the farmland there must have been allotted, and the amount of acreage per farmer, because of division among heirs, had become too small to support a family. Hence Josiah, like many other young men from his town, moved to the nearest frontier, which was in central New Hampshire and southern Maine. However, Josiah did not become a farmer; rather, he continued his father's interest in religion and became a minister. New England Puritans had high expectations of their clergy and required them to have a good education, including a good knowledge of Greek and Latin. As a result, Josiah was the first of his family to acquire some university education (and the last, until Thornton attended Brown University). New England had only two colleges in the mid-eighteenth century, Harvard and Yale, and Yale was far away in another colony and little known. Virtually every minister in eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine was Harvard educated; hence Josiah went to Cambridge. He graduated from Harvard in 1738 and subsequently obtained his master's degree there.[7]

     Josiah prepared for the ministry during a difficult time for New England's Puritan churches. The early eighteenth century has been called the "glacial age" because piety was reputedly at a very low level. Religious pluralism was also on the rise. The use of the death penalty against heterodoxy had been stopped by the king, and Quakerism spread in Massachusetts. Many New England Puritans became interested in Baptist theology, which was identical to their own except that it rejected infant baptism and insisted that only those who had had a born-again experience should be baptized. The first Baptist church in Massachusetts had been opened in Boston as early as 1665.[8]
     To revive the piety of their congregations, many ministers began to preach fire-and-brimstone sermons and to stress the importance of experiencing rebirth. These sermons sometimes produced revivals, which were local, short-lived, and brought a dozen or so converts. But in 1734--the year Josiah Chase entered Harvard--Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant theologian who was pastor of the Puritan church in Northampton, Massachusetts, started a revival that lasted several years and spread to most towns in central Massachusetts and Connecticut. It was to transform New England Puritanism; thousands professed conversion. For religious-conscious New England, it was the greatest event of the century.
     It also proved one of the most controversial. As quickly as the Awakening--as the event came to be called--acquired advocates, it also acquired critics, who charged that emotion, not religion, was being spread. Their view was reinforced in 1740 when a brilliant but impetuous young preacher named George Whitefield toured New England. Although initially received favorably by virtually every minister, Whitefield's comments that most New England clergy were probably unconverted and that Harvard and Yale were sources of darkness instead of light soon alienated many, including Josiah Chase. When Charles Chauncy, leader of the opposition against the revival, published his chief anti-revival book in 1743, Josiah Chase was one of the work's subscribers. The one comment on Chase's theology that has survived indicates that he, like Chauncy, tended toward a liberal interpretation of Puritan principles.[9]
     Josiah also became involved in a local church split that was partly caused by the Awakening. In 1750 he was called to be the minister of a new church that was forming in Kittery, Maine. Its members were leaving the Middle Parish Church in Kittery, which was presided over by a revivalist minister; neither the minister nor any delegates of the old church attended the ceremony marking the creation of the new church.[10] At least both churches remained part of the same denomination; in other towns, the revival was provoking bitter church splits, and new Protestant sects were arising. As a result, the established Puritan churches lost their monopoly on religion and became one church among many in town. They now needed a name--they came to be called Congregational churches.
     Josiah's ministry was undistinguished. Family legend has it that his faith was "literal and childlike." It is said that one day, while preaching a sermon, he had a premonition that a shoal of fish was entering the creek nearby; all the men of the congregation went down to the water and were able to make a big catch.[11]
     Chase married Sarah Tufts in 1743 and fathered six sons and one daughter. He was known for his rum drinking--about a quart a day--but the Colonial Period was a time of high alcohol consumption. (Protestants did not begin to consider drinking a sin and to call for abolition of alcoholic beverages until the early nineteenth century.) He died on 10 December 1778, as a result of falling into a creek while walking home in a snowstorm after attending a wedding.[12]

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Rev. Josiah Chase's Timeline

November 30, 1713
Newbury, MA, United States
January 19, 1744
Age 30
April 15, 1746
Age 32
Kittery, ME, United States
August 14, 1747
Age 33
Kittery, York, Maine, United States
June 15, 1749
Age 35
Kittery, York, Maine, United States
February 21, 1751
Age 37
Kittery, York, Maine, United States
January 8, 1754
Age 40
Kittery, York, Maine, United States
May 31, 1757
Age 43
Kittery, York, Maine, United States
December 10, 1778
Age 65
Kittery, ME, United States