by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Gerhardus Langdon Demarest was the minister of our First Universalist Society during those tragic years of the American Civil War. Reverend Demarest was born in New York City in 1816 and was raised as a Methodist. However, his father played the organ at a Universalist Church and the young Gerhardus found his spiritual identity while accompanying his father to those Universalist services. As an adult, he worked for 21 years with Harper Publishing in New York City, helped found the first Universalist Church in Brooklyn and then moved to Cincinnati to become a partner in a book firm.
However, Universalism called to him, and while in Cincinnati he completed his training to become a Universalist minister. Our church on Plum Street was his first assignment where he served from 1861 to 1865. He then left for a short stint in his native New York City and then moved on to New England. While we have no indications of what his approach to the ministry may have been in Cincinnati, some insight is offered by the fact that he maintained a journal of his church activities for 42 years beginning with his calling to the Milford, Massachusetts church, some 40 miles southwest of Boston. That calling commenced on June 21, 1867. The journal is in our archives, probably as a gift from one of his children who lived in Cincinnati.
His first service in Milford was attended by 400 and he preached his sermon around the scripture Romans XV:29. Typically, services were in the afternoon and Sunday morning he spent in Sunday School. Attendance was usually between 200 and 300 for the pm services. Whenever attendance fell below 200, the journal contained an accompanying negative weather report. Eventually, Reverend Demarest added a Sunday evening lecture to his schedule.
Here is an example of a typical Sunday, April 2, 1870. “A. M. Sunday School; p.m. preached Romans I:16 to 100; Evening, 11th lecture of the news (Pray for Boston) to 180. Snowstorm am, sloppy, pm.” He followed this pattern of a sermon centered on a short Bible passage for his regular Sunday service and an evening lecture on either a timely news topic or a religious interpretation for the remainder of his career. On October 15, 1871 he lectured on “The Chicago Calamity”. The great fire of Chicago had occurred five days earlier. On May 19, 1872 he lectured on “The Beer Vote in Milford.”
Reverend Demarest performed many marriage ceremonies. On January 22, 1868, he married his daughter Emma to George C. James, a bookkeeper from Cincinnati. On October 13, 1875 he married his daughter Pauline to Malcolm Bradley, a roll coverer of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Along with weddings goes the duty of funerals. One is struck in reviewing the numerous funerals conducted by Reverend Demarest at the youth of so many who passed away. From March 1870 to July of that year: Freddie Brown, aged 2; Nathan Chilson Bellingham, aged 74; Tirilla Sumner, aged 69; Bertha Knight, aged 5; J. Harding Smith, aged 38; Josey Aldeman, aged 4; Frank Chaflin, aged 23; Harry W. Hale, aged 3 months; Bertha Cook, aged 4 months; Harry C. Chamberlain, aged 4 months.
In 1872, Reverend Demarest left Milford for the pulpit in Manchester, New Hampshire. His opening pm sermon delivered on August 28 was entitled “What I Am to Do.” His evening lecture was entitled “What We Are to Do.” Reverend Demarest’s great calling came in 1877 when he was appointed general secretary to the Universalist Conference. This duty required him to travel extensively throughout the United States, attending state and regional conventions as well as managing the affairs of the national convention. He continued to preach regularly, serving a number of different churches in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on a rotating basis. An example of his travel would be June, 1883. June 1-3 Racine, Wisconsin; 9-10 Tecumseh, Nebraska; 15-17 Rochester, Minnesota; 23-24, Olinda, Ontario; 27-28, Dexter, Maine. Reverend Demarest remained in this position until 1905 when he retired and was named secretary emeritus. At his retirement, he was 88 years old.
On March 2, 1902 Reverend Demarest noted the passing of his wife. Services were held in the home in Manchester and she was interred at Greenwood Cemetery, New York City on March 7.
The final passage in the journal notes a marriage ceremony he conducted at this home, 54 Blodgett St., Manchester, New Hampshire in 1909. He married George Dearborn, aged 68 and Miss L. Smith of South Weare, aged 60. Reverend Demarest died later that year and was buried beside his wife.