George Burley Spalding by Rev. A. H. Quint. D. D.
George Burley Spalding, the present pastor of the First church in Dover,
was born in Montpelier, Vt., August 11, 1835, son of Dr. James Eliza
(Reed) Spalding. The line of American descent on the paternal side as
follows: Edward, of Chelmsford, Mass., immigrant; Benjamin, whose will
was proved April 5, 1670; Edward, of Canterbury, Conn.; Ephraim, of
Connecticut; Reuben, of Connecticut; Reuben, who married Jerusha
Carpenter, and lived in Sharon, Vt.; Dr. James; and Rev. George Burley.
Deacon Reuben Spalding, grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was
one of the early settlers of Vermont, whose life was not more remarkable
for his toils, privations, and energy as a pioneer in a new country,
than for his unbending Christian integrity. He entered Sharon in 1769,
and lived on the same farm eighty years. He was a member of the church
sixty-one years, and deacon forty-two years. He was distinguished for
"the best qualities of the old New England Puritanism."
Dr. James Spalding was the third of twelve children, and for many years
a successful practitioner of medicine in Montpelier, Vt., but especially
eminent in surgery. He graduated at the Dartmouth Medical School at the
age of twenty years. He was more than forty years a member of the
Vermont Medical Society; its secretary over twenty years, its president
in 1866, 1867, and 1868. "His life," says a printed sketch, "was that of
the good Samaritan, a life of toil, prayer, and sympathy for others."
By the line of Reed, the family is of the same blood with Rev. Dr.
Gardiner Spring and Rev. Dr. Edwards A. Park. The grandmother of Dr.
George B. Spalding, and the grandfather of the late Senator Matthew H.
Carpenter, were sister and brother.
George Burley Spalding was the seventh of nine children. He fitted for
college at the Washington County Academy, Montpelier, and graduated at
the University of Vermont in 1856, being twenty-one years of age. He
read law one year in Montpelier, with Hon. Charles W. Willard, and then
went to Tallahassee, Fla., where he read law another year with Judge W.
C. M. Davis. While in the South, he was a regular correspondent of the
New York Courier and Enquirer, of which his brother, James Reed
Spalding, was one of the editors. As such he attended the noted Southern
commercial convention in Savannah, in 1858, where Yancey, Rhett,
Barnwell, and DeBow poured out their hot invective. In the following
year he mingled with the great southern leaders, on the eve of the great
events which were soon to burst upon the country. Doubtless in his law
study and in his intercourse with men in different phases of society, he
acquired that practical acquaintance with human nature which makes
available his instinctive and common-sense power of meeting all classes
Flattering offers were made him by Judge Davis to remain and enter into
practice with that eminent lawyer, at a large assured income. But Mr.
Spalding had already changed his purpose for life. He returned North,
abandoned the law, and began the study of theology in the Union
Theological Seminary in New York city in 1858. Here he remained two
years. Here, also, he did regular editorial work on the New York
World, of which his brother was founder, and subsequently wrote for the
columns of the New York Times. This experience enabled him, later, to
write, for five years, a large portion of the editorial leaders of the
Watchman and Reflector. While in Union Seminary, his spirit of
independence and industry was so strong that he supported himself
entirely by his literary work. Leaving New York, he entered Andover
Theological Seminary, where, after one year's study, he graduated in
1861. On the 5th of October of that year he was ordained pastor of the
Congregational church in Vergennes, Vt., a position to which he had, in
fact, been called before his graduation, as well as to another field. He
resigned his successful pastorate at Vergennes, August 1, 1864, to
accept a call to the Park church, Hartford, Conn., formerly Dr.
Bushnell's, where he was installed September 28. He resigned that
charge, and was dismissed March 23, 1869, and was installed pastor of
the First church in Dover, September 1, following.
This church is the second in point of age in this state, being organized
in December, 1638, and preceded by Hampton only. The old Exeter First
church itself later, became extinct in 1642, and the present First
church of Exeter dates from 1698 only. The Dover First parish dates
from October, 1633, and is unquestionably the oldest in New Hampshire. A
long line of able men has been on the roll of the pastors of that
venerable church. Under none has it been so strong and so influential as
under Dr. Spalding. Its numbers have largely increased; its pews are at
a constant premium; its pew-occupants number men of the highest
distinction in the state. Three years since, the whole of the handsome
church edifice was refitted at an expense of over twelve thousand
dollars, besides the amount necessary to purchase the pew property, and
no debt remains. An elegant and commodious parsonage has also been
purchased and paid for. Without disparagement to others, it is safe to
say that public opinion accords to Mr. Spalding a foremost place among
the ministers of New Hampshire. Certainly no pastor of the ancient First
church ever had a greater public respect or a deeper personal affection.
His administration of a strong and thinking society goes on without even
a ripple. He has been frequently called to attend distant councils, some
of great and even national interest, and some where delicate questions
required the wisest consideration; and in all cases his calm and
deliberate judgment has had an influence inferior to none. One of these
was the great Brooklyn Council, of national interest, in 1876.
In his preaching, one has to study him to get the secret of his
influence. There is nothing in it to startle. There is no dramatic
exhibition. It is the farthest possible from the sensational. There are
never any protruding logical bones. He never indulges in any
prettinesses of diction. But a critical analysis (the last thing one
thinks of in listening to him) reveals the elements of his power. His
themes are always elevated themes. One sees the most earnest convictions
held in perfect independence and honesty; a natural development of
thought in an always fresh and orderly way; a diction as clear as a
pellucid brook; illustrations drawn from wide observation, always simple
and frequently beautiful; a genial, sometimes intense, glow pervading
his whole discourse; and a dignified but simple manliness throughout.
Fully six feet in height, and with liberally developed physique, he
impresses one at first mainly with the idea of manly strength. But it
takes no great time to see that commanding intellectual abilities are
fully parallel with his physique; and those who hear him, and especially
those who know him, find an equal development of a generous nature which
inclines always to sympathy, and with which he answers, in public and
private, to every appeal to his helpful power. In doctrine he is
understood to hold the main tenets of what is called old theology, but
as forces rather than dogmas, and liberally instead of severely applied.
Mr. Spalding's literary work has been extensive, but mainly upon current
newspaper periodicals. This has given him, of course, a valuable
directness and clearness of expression. A few sermons and other
productions have been published: A sermon on God's Presence and Purpose
in the War, November 26, 1863; a discourse commemorative of Gen. Samuel
P. Strong, February 28, 1864; a discourse on the 250th anniversary of
the settlement of Dover, May 18, 1873; a discourse commemorative of the
character and career of Hon. John P. Hale, November 27, 1873, which the
poet Whittier characterized in the highest terms,—a fine specimen of
judicious analysis, in which he does justice to the pioneer of the
anti-slavery cause in the United States senate,—a justice now lately
apparently purposely ignored out of a desire to magnify a brilliant but
later laborer. The Relation of the Church to Children, November 6, 1873.
The Dover Pulpit in the Revolution, July 9, 1876,—for which he searched
and well used the manuscript of his eminent predecessor, Dr. Jeremy
Belknap. The fiftieth anniversary of the organization of the Conference
of Churches of Strafford county, June 18, 1878. The Idea and Necessity
of Normal-School Training, December 26, 1878. Annual Report of the
Trustees of the State Normal School, June, 1879. Memorial on the Death
of Garfield, September, 1881. Historical discourse on the one-hundredth
anniversary of the Piscataqua Association, October 26, 1881. On the
death of Wells Waldron, November 13, 1881. On the death of John Riley
Varney, May 5, 1882.
In addition, however, to his other work, he has been, and is, the editor
of the New Hampshire Journal, a successful weekly in the interest of
the Congregational churches, from which some of his keen editorials have
met with favor throughout the country.
Mr. Spalding was a member of the constitutional convention of New
Hampshire which met January 8, 1877. He represented Dover in the New
Hampshire house of representatives in 1877. He is also a trustee of the
state normal school, by appointment of the governor and council, his
first appointment, for two years, being made in 1876, and his
chairmanship of that board commencing soon after and now continuing. He
became a member of the school committee of Dover in 1875, and still
continues, having been its chairman from 1876. He was chosen trustee and
one of the executive committee of the New Hampshire Missionary Society
is 1873; and still retains each position. He received the degree of
Doctor of Divinity from Dartmouth College in 1878.
Dr. Spalding married Sarah Livingston, daughter of Rev. Dr. John W.
Olmstead, manager and editor of the Watchman and Reflector; her
mother, Mary, was daughter of Richard Montgomery Livingston, a lawyer of
Saratoga, N.Y. Their children are Mary Livingston, Martha Reed,
Catherine Olmstead (who died August 29, 1881, aged fourteen), Gertrude
Parker, and George Brown.