Alonzo Ames Miner by Rev. George H. Emerson
The subject of this sketch owes his name to the grace of one of
England's greatest kings. In the wars between England and France, to
which belongs the renown of Cressy and Poictiers, the English sovereigns
accepted such assistance in munitions and men as their subjects could
proffer. Henry Bullman of Mendippe Hills, Somersetshire, was a miner. He
fitted out a company of one hundred, armed with battle-axes, many of
them laborers in his mines, and presented the same to Edward III. for
his use in Continental conquest. In his gratitude Edward conferred upon
him a coat of arms and gave him the name of "Miner." This honored
subject, and the first of the name of Miner, died in 1359. From him
descended Thomas Miner, who came to Boston with the elder Winthrop in
1630. Charles Miner, of the fifth generation from Thomas, was a
Revolutionary soldier. At the close of the war he removed from
Connecticut to New Hampshire.
A descendant of King Edward's friend, seventh in descent from Thomas,
the grandson of Charles, Alonzo Ames Miner was the son of Benajah Ames
and Amanda (Cary) Miner,—an only son and the second of five children.
He was born at Lempster, Sullivan county, N. H., Aug. 17, 1814.
Grace Miner, granddaughter of Thomas, above named, married Samuel Grant,
Jr., of Windsor, Conn., April 11, 1688. From that union descended
Ulysses S. Grant, ex-President of the United States.
The subject of this sketch inherited neither fortune nor even health.
Mental powers, a constitutional integrity, and a lack of the lower
ambitions came as his only birthright. All else is his by conquest. Till
the years of late boyhood he was an invalid. His opportunities for
education in the village school were very intermittent. His feeble
health and a grave uncertainty as to his ever reaching mature manhood
constantly broke in upon the systematic training of the school. He
filled out the school studies in the invalid's chair at home. None
predicted for him length of days. Even the cautious physician made
thirty years the utmost limit of life allotted him. He, however,
supplemented his broken studies with academic training at Hopkinton,
Lebanon, and Franklin, N. H., and at Cavendish, Vt. Beginning public
life as a school-teacher at the age of sixteen, he took charge of the
village school, alternating this labor with his studies at the
academies. His pupilage at Cavendish was soon followed by promotion. Mr.
John Garvin was the principal. He was a very zealous Calvinist. Young
Miner was a no less zealous Universalist. It was at a time when
sectarian lines were sharply drawn. It was then a custom with zealous
Calvinists to regard Universalists, not simply as unsound in doctrine,
but also as wicked in life and conduct! But Mr. Garvin saw something in
the young pupil that dispelled the prejudice. He took him into
partnership in the management of the school in 1834. In this position
young Miner served a year.
In 1835, certain gentlemen of Unity, proposing to establish an academy
at that village, saw in Mr. Miner, now near his majority, their man. He
accepted their proposition. The school, named the "Scientific and
Military Academy," was for both sexes, with military training for boys.
Four years of his principalship were successful beyond expectation. In
some of the terms the number of scholars reached one hundred and fifty.
August 24, 1836, he was married to Maria S. Perley of Lempster, who
entered the school as preceptress. She has ever been his faithful and
Not a few of those who have strong sympathy with Dr. Miner's theological
belief are persuaded that there was something providential in his call
to the ministry of the Universalist church,—the service he has rendered
that body being so great, in several regards so exceptional. He does not
appear to have been converted to Universalism. He literally was a "born
Universalist." While anxious friends assigned but a narrow limit to so
frail a constitution, the invalid felt that his place was to be in the
ministry of the Universalist church. Of this he made no secret. It
became a matter of course that on reaching maturity he would become a
preacher of the faith he so deeply cherished.
The success of the Unity school might have fixed another in the
profession of teaching. It had no weight in diverting Mr. Miner from
what he deemed a higher call. Several of his patrons solicited him to
begin his ministry in Unity in connection with his school duties. He
complied. In February, 1838, he preached his first sermon in Chester,
Vt. In the following May he began a regular ministry, preaching half of
the time in Unity, and devoting the other half to a circuit which
included about twenty of the neighboring villages. After six months of
this twofold labor he resigned his principalship; but he was persuaded
to remain yet another year,—all the time filling his appointments on
Sunday. At the New Hampshire convention of Universalists, held at
Nashua, June, 1839, he was ordained to the sacred office. In the
November succeeding he was called to the pastorate of the Universalist
church at Methuen, Mass. Such was the success of his new labors that a
reputation for very exceptional gifts as an orator, logician, and
preacher, spread. It was seen that his call to a larger and more
exacting field of duty was but a question of early time.
In the city of Lowell, the Rev. Abel C. Thomas had met with
extraordinary success as pastor of the Second Universalist church. After
a pastorate of little less than three years he resigned to accept a call
to Brooklyn, N. Y. Certain of his parishioners said to him, in the
hearing of the writer of this sketch, that his withdrawal would be a
calamity to the Lowell parish. Grateful for this tribute he replied:
"Put into the pulpit the man I will name, and I pledge you that the
church shall go on prospering and to prosper." There was a pause and all
ears were both curious and anxious. Mr. Thomas added: "That man is A. A.
Miner." A unanimous call of the committee and of the congregation was
extended. On the first Sunday of July 1842, the Rev. A. A. Miner
preached his introductory sermon as pastor of the Lowell Second
Universalist parish. The prediction of Mr. Thomas proved true. In a
pastorate of six years Mr. Miner greatly strengthened, materially and
spiritually, the church to which he ministered. In cordial co-operation
with the pastor of the First Universalist church,—at first Rev. Thomas
B. Thayer, and afterwards Rev. E. G. Brooks,—he labored with eminent
success. The citizens soon discovered that the new minister was of
"many-sided talents." Then began that drain upon his strength, branching
off, according to his specialties, into as many channels, whereby he has
been, perhaps, as thoroughly and as variously "utilized" as any man of
this period. Then began trusts, official positions on school boards,
charity boards, and every other conceivable board, the faithful
performance of any one of which would have made an average
reputation,—all discharged by one person, and he never having a
thoroughly healthy day, presents simply a marvel.
During an early year of his Lowell ministry, a crisis came in the career
of the Universalist church; and Lowell happened to be its turning point.
There was a Universalist paper published at Lowell, the Star of
Bethlehem. It was edited by the Universalist pastors. A third parish
had been founded, and the Rev. H. G. Smith became its pastor. He was
associated with Messrs. Miner and Brooks in the management of the paper,
each contributing over his own signature. About the year 1842 the
Unitarian ministry was suddenly rent by one of its ministers, in
ability, magnetism, and rhetorical skill without a peer among his
brethren,—the Rev. Theodore Parker. He had adopted German rationalism
in regard to the Bible and Christianity, and by the boldness of his
utterances and the felicity of his manner was rapidly forming that
radical wing which to-day appears to dominate in the Unitarian body.
Such a leading was not likely to be restricted to any one sect. Was it
to enter and change the character of the Universalist movement? The Rev.
Mr. Smith showed that he was thoroughly imbued with the new doctrine;
and he was rapidly making converts among the younger members of his
ministerial fraternity. Rev. Messrs. Miner and Brooks, fully persuaded
that the new idea was a false one, thought that they foresaw that its
free acceptance by the Universalist ministry and people would at an
early day endanger the stability of their church. They met the issue
without reserve and with no regard to consequences personal to
themselves. In the pulpit and in the paper they vigorously protested
against the course of Mr. Smith. An anxious discussion followed, and it
spread. It was taken into the ecclesiastical body, the Boston
Association, where a resolution deprecating and protesting against the
"deistical innovation" was passed by a strong majority. This was in
1847. A few years later the writer of this inquired of the Rev. Thomas
Whittemore in regard to that rationalistic excitement. His answer was,
"Miner and Brooks took it in hand at Lowell and the Association killed
it." This episode apparently weakened the Universalist cause in Lowell.
The writer is one of the large number who have no doubt that the
promptness and thoroughness of the Lowell pastors averted a calamity.
May 1, 1848, Mr. Miner was called to the pastorate of the School-street
church, Boston. Having the entire confidence of his renowned senior, the
Rev. Hosea Ballou, he rapidly worked disaffection out of the parish,
thoroughly organized it, got the more than confidence of its leading
members; and he has carried it forward to the present day with a degree
of high success seldom paralleled in any denomination. In the early part
of the year 1851 his people decided to enlarge the edifice. The closing
of services while the reconstruction was in progress gave Mr. Miner an
opportunity to recruit his wasted strength by European travel. In June,
1852, Rev. Hosea Ballou died full of honors. Another call upon his
administrative ability as president of Tufts College led to the
settlement of associate pastors. But, apart from these interludes, Dr.
Miner has been the sole pastor since the death of Mr. Ballou.
In the movement to found Tufts College, of the very small number of
devoted friends, Dr. Miner has not occupied a second place. Subscribing
himself liberally, a few of his parishioners felt the contagion of
example and made generous pledges. The Rev. Otis A. Skinner, D. D., was
the first agent for collecting funds, and with heroic perseverance in
this pioneer work he raised the larger part of $100,000,—the minimum
upon which the work could begin. This, however, was but a beginning. The
assets to-day are not far from one million dollars. The influence of Dr.
Miner in reaching this result has been pre-eminent. The corner-stone was
laid in 1853. Mr. Miner giving the address. On the death of its first
president, Rev. Hosea Ballou, 2d, D. D., Mr. Miner was constrained to
accept the presidency. He was inaugurated, July 9, 1862. Previous to
this, the principal trust, he had served the college as trustee,
secretary, and treasurer. It was largely by his devices that the money
was raised to meet the current expenses during the infancy and the
poverty of the institution.
In 1863 Harvard College conferred upon him the honorary S. T. D. He had
received the honorary A. M. from Tufts in 1861; and that of LL. D. was
conferred by Tufts in 1875. His presidency continued till 1875, at which
date he acceded to the urgent call of his parish, and resigned the
presidency of the college and took the sole pastorate of his church,
which, in 1872, had dedicated the large and costly temple at the corner
of Columbus avenue and Clarendon street, in which it has worshiped from
that date to the present. Again his labor was effective. Out of the
pulpit as well as in it, giving his heart and energy to its interests,
the old parish entered upon a new era of prosperity. A pastor does well
who holds to himself one generation. Dr. Miner now has under his
influence a third generation, and the "spell" is not weakened. In the
period of his pastorates, he has conducted more than one thousand eight
hundred funeral services, and solemnized more than two thousand five
On removing to Boston, in 1848, Mr. Miner found himself in the center of
new calls upon his "many-sided" talents. He was seen to be financier,
organizer, popular leader, platform orator. Thence "missions" multiplied
and increased. The limits of this sketch permit but the baldest
statement of his labors, all of which he has rendered with singular
skill. Of course he was put upon the school board of the city. Then the
state made demands, and he is now serving a second term of eight years
on the state board of education. At a dinner given in his honor on
occasion of his departure for a short period to California, the then
Gov. Washburn bore testimony to the inventiveness and far-reaching
wisdom with which he was aiding to advance the educational interests of
the commonwealth. He has been six years chairman of the board of
visitors of the state normal art school. He has served as one of the
overseers of Harvard College. He is one of the "hundred orators," having
delivered the Fourth of July oration in Boston in 1855. Add to such
duties constant lecturing before lyceums, temperance meetings, and peace
societies, his frequent addresses at academic commencements, and
membership of various associations which we have not space to
mention,—how so many offices can be discharged, and all with
acknowledged fidelity, is a question that perplexes. In the way of duty
he has made enemies. But neither friends nor foes ever accused him of
seeking any of these high responsibilities. In every instance the
position sought the man. His pre-eminent gift has seemed to the writer
to consist in speaking to a point and with a view to a particular
effect. When he appeared before the legislative committee to plead for a
state grant to Tufts College, the committee unanimously reported in
favor,—one of the members adding that the eloquence with which the
claim had been urged had convinced the committee that it was a claim.
The late Samuel Burbank of Lowell gave the writer this incident: Dr.
Miner had occasion to address a meeting of stockholders of an insurance
company whose affairs had got into a bad way. When he was through, the
late Samuel Lawrence, turning to Mr. Burbank, said: "That is the
Universalist minister,—well, if he will abandon his pulpit he may have
charge of any of our manufactories at any salary he may ask."
Like his faith, Dr. Miner's interest in the temperance reform is a "born
conviction." From his youth to his present hour, he has never wavered in
his belief that the drinking curse is the giant evil. In the pulpit, the
lyceum, the caucus, on the platform, he has labored to create and
enforce law to resist the ever threatening danger. In politics he makes
it the chief state issue, and in 1878 was the candidate of the
Prohibition party for governor of Massachusetts. In 1867 he led before
the legislative committee the protest against the repeal of the
prohibitory law, in opposition to the efforts of Gov. Andrew. His speech
on that occasion has become an arsenal of facts pertaining to the ethics
and the practicability of the statute. Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, D. D.,
said to the writer of this: "Your Dr. Miner has made a great speech,—a
very great one: it will never be answered." For ten years he has been
the president of the Temperance Alliance. In token of his great service
before the legislature, the Alliance presented him a costly Dore Bible.
He also had another "token" in the shape of threatened violence and the
defacement of his house. This was meant as dishonor. Dishonor? Could the
apostle articulate his thought, for what titles Jerusalem could have
conferred would he exchange the "forty stripes save one?"
But in all these varied toils, his church and faith have had the
uppermost place. By instinct and habit an extemporaneous speaker, the
one field he has least worked is that of literature with the pen. An
occasional article for the church periodicals and a Sunday-school manual
have at times occupied him. But most of his published works were spoken,
and taken down by reporters. He is one of some half-dozen Boston
preachers who are favorites with the reporters of the Boston dailies.
"Old Forts Taken," his latest publication, was the rhetoric of his "off
hand" speaking, save as the transcript of the reporter may have been
revised. But, whether laboring by speech or pen, he has never permitted
any duty or position to hold other than a second place beside his duties
to the church of his love.
In the movement which has transformed the once scattered societies of
his denomination into a compact, organized, and working church, no one
has rendered a more effective service. Of its first Home Mission he is
literally the pioneer. No one more faithfully represents the
controversial and aggressive spirit of the doctrines of his Church; but
no one has done more to make that church effective for practical
righteousness and Christian worship. He has now reached the decline, not
of his powers, nor of his zeal, nor of his work, but only of his years.
May the evening of his days be as serene and pleasant as his youth and
maturity have been industrious, faithful, and true.