« PreviousContinue »
produces such men, and is modified by them, and retains their impress when they are gone. First of all is the fear of God, an element that binds to universal rectitude, and pervades and gives solidity to the entire character. This is accompanied with kindness to man, showing itself in daily favors, in lending for the accommodation of others, and in giving to the poor. Next comes the element of sound judgment or discretion which discovers itself in the general ordering of his affairs, and keeps him back from disastrous mistakes. Then we notice a certain fearlessness of evil tidings, or of intimations of evil, or of plots on the part of the designing. And finally, as near akin to this, that decision of character which is denoted by the expression, “his heart is fixed.”
It is not strange that in the shading off of such a portrait, we should find “light arising out of darkness,” or a ready recovery from reverses-great and immovable prosperity, and wealth, power and distinction, such as are expressed by “riches in his house”_coffers ever full-and “his horn exalted with honor." Such a man will make his influence felt in any sphere, and will be remembered when he is gone. There is an obvious tendency to this in the nature of things, and it is rendered sure by the ordination of Heaven. And there is a value in such remembrances to those who inherit them. They are a stimulus to every noble aspiration, and a check upon every tendency to degeneracy. Childhood gathers from them lessons of wisdom, and germs of enterprise and virtue. Youth is inspired with manly sentiments, and strengthened to resist temptation. The public mind is formed, moulded and impelled by influences emanating from the monuments and remembrances of departed worth. New England would not be what it is, without the memories of Plymouth and Bunker Hill. IIad our nation no such history as that of '76, and no such names on the scroll of the past as those of Washington, and Henry, and Franklin, and Adams, its subsequent career had been widely different, and its prospects quite other than they are. Better blot out our capital, than change our history.
Thus too it is with smaller communities, who have an early bistory that is redolent of virtue. And thus it is even with a remote kindred, who can point to a distinguished and worthy ancestry. And it is worse than a sacrilegions neglect with either, to suffer such memories to go to decay. They lose with them a portion of healthful energy-an element of vitality, that is potent to resist corruption and moral disease. This place bears the name and many an impress of the intellect and heart of one, who is now gone from this world. It is fit that we should improve the occasion to gather up such remembrances and lessons from the past, and especially froin his history, as may have a value for us.
As giving a sketch of the life and death of a most distinguished and devoted Christian merchant, this discourse can scarcely fail to interest and profit the general
This village is young, but it will not always be young; and facts that are now within our reach, if suffered to escape us, may be irrecoverably lost, and every salutary influence they might have exerted upon the generations to come, forfeited and thrown
The first thing which we have to record, then, as appropriate to this crisis, is the fact that our village does not bear the name that has been given it, without good and sufficient reason. It is not a mere thing of taste, or accident. It is a thing of nature and of right: a legitimate inheritance: the name of the father descending to the child. Anson G. PHELPs was, in the largest sense, the father of this village. It owes its whole existence to him. It was his enterprise, his capital, his determined perseverance, that erected this into a business centre, and presented the attractions that have drawn this busy population together. But for him, it had remained a mere agricultural district, of no unusual importance, and no peculiar promise. And yet the circumstances that led to this result were not all of his arranging. There is too obvious a trace of a higher Providence, to be overlooked.
The first outlay of enterprise on the part of Mr. Phelps, in this valley, was at Birmingham, in the year 1834-5. His efforts were attended with such encouraging success, and the place enlarged with such rapidity and thrift, that all his thoughts, as regards this region, centred there. Some four or five years after he made this beginning at Birmingham, he began to turn his thoughts toward a larger improvement of the water of the Naugatuck, for the benefit of that village. But nothing was actually undertaken until about ten years afterward. This brings us down to the year 1844. Previously to this time, he had contemplated building a dam about a mile and a half below the present dam, and all his purchases of land had been made with that view. But he had been withheld from carrying this project into effect. by the fact that he could not obtain the control of all the land that he would be obliged to overflow. At this time the present dam was completed; but its owners contemplated nothing further than a canal of moderate length, on the west side of the stream, giving them a fall of some fourteen feet. Mr. Phelps, laboring still under the same difficulty in regard to the low lands, which would be overflowed if he built the dam he had been so long contemplating, now conceived the gigantic scheme of substituting the dam already built, and continuing the canal on to Birmingham; thus securing the advantage of a large increase of power from the amount of water at command, and concentrating all the business it would create at that village. reader. Even its local bearing will enhance its public utility by exciting livelier feeling, and thus rendering more deeply impressive the sentiments so lucidly and happily presented by its author-sentiments of such vital importance to every village and people.—ED.
Had either of these plans prevailed, the village which we now inhabit would never have been built, and these churches and schools would have had no existence. But God had use for them, and other counsels must prevail. Mr. Phelps bought the dam in 1844, with the land necessarily appertaining to it, for twenty-four thousand dollars. He then attempted to purchase the land which he would need to occupy in carrying out his project. In these negotiations he was disappointed. Prices became suddenly inflated, and he judged it impolitic to proceed. But he was not the man to give up, and conclude that because a thing could not be done in one way, it could not be done at all. The river had two sides; and if he could not bring the water down on the one, what should hinder his trying the other? So he seems to have reasoned, and in a little time these heavy excavations and embankments were begun. In 1845 he commenced building a factory,* and a few dwelling houses, for which that wonld soon create a demand. From this, he went on building, and furnishing inducements for others to build, until the village has assumed its present size and importance.
But to furnish a water-power, lay out a village, and erect buildings, is not, as a matter of course, to lay a foundation for subsequent enterprise and prosperity. We have seen villages that are going to decay, and apparently soon to be deserted. This village would have been deserted, at its very beginning, had a species of manufacturing been cominenced here, for which there was little demand ; or had agents been employed who had no capacity to influence trade, or secure a market for our products. And even with all this, it were better that it had been deserted, if no adequate provision were made for the moral and educational wants of its inhabitants ; if it were to be filled with a population of bodies rather than souls—a village of mere human animals
, without intellectual or moral culture, disowning the Sabbath, and the God in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Of all this its founder was aware; hence his ready patronage of whatever looks towards the moral and religious welfare of the commiinity. And yet he seems never to have forgotten that the best way to aid a community in regard to these higher interests, is to induce them to aid themselves. To build houses of worship for them, and endow their ecclesiastical societies with ainple funds to meet all current expenses, would be to confer a very doubtful blessing. The true way is to aid them while they need it, just enough to encourage them to put forth their own strength for the founding and support of these institutions. Then they will prize them. Then they will feel that the guardianship of these institu; tions rests with them, and they will be disposed to take care of them. This has been the course actually pursued by our departed
* The Copper-Mill.
friend. Indeed, such was his discernment of human nature, that he saw the wisdom of this policy in regard to other than religious and public interests, and adopted it largely in his commercial transactions. If, in effecting a transfer, he made a purchase of real estate, which he could not oversee, he did not choose to assume the whole ownership himself, but he shared it with others, whose interest in it would lead them to preserve it from decay, and render it productive. Under this policy he has seen his worldly enterprises prosper; and he has lived long enough to see its wisdom proved in its application to the more important interests of religion. This community bad churches organized among them as soon, and in as rapid succession, as they were needed; and the worship of God was celebrated here in the very infancy of the place. And our institutions are now, to all appearance, planted on as substantial a foundation, and give as fair promise of answering well their end, as those of any similar community in the region. It is sufficient to say, in this connection, as illustrating the care of Mr. Phelps for the interests of religion among us, that he made a donation to this Society of the building spot on which this house is erected, and of the sum of one thousand dollars to aid in its construction. In addition to this, he has pledged, for a term of years, an annual donation, to aid in defraying the current expenses of this society.
Since his enterprise began to expend itself in this town, it has more than quadrupled its population, and the property within the same territorial limits has tripled since 1845. Hundreds of families are supported in this town by factories whose existence is to be traced to his enterprise; and not a few are to be found, who began in his employ, less than ten years ago, penniless, but have now comfortable homes, and can count their thousands.
Such is a brief survey of the claims which the barest justice to ourselves presents, for some improvement of the late dispensation of Providence, in removing from the ranks of the living, the founder and patron of this place. The village owes its very existence, and all its prosperity, under God, to him : it bears his name : and his whole policy in regard to it, has made him worthy of our veneration.
Let us inquire, then, in the light of his own personal bistory, what associations, and what lessons of practical wisdom, the name Ansonia should suggest.
In the statements that I may make, there will not, probably, be much that you have not already learned from the newspapers, or from other sources; it is not my office, on this occasion, so much to give you facts which you do not know, as to lead you to some improvement of those which you do know. The order which I propose to adopt, is, first, to submit a brief sketch of his life, and, secondly, to develope the more prominent traits of his character; pointing out, incidentally, their connection with his great achievements and his worth.
1. Anson G. Phelps was born in March, of the year 1781. His birth-place and his early home was in Simsbury, in this State. In early infancy he was bereft of his father, and at the tender age of eleven, of his mother. But in those early years, the forming hand of the mother had well done its work. Her eminently Christian spirit, her godly example, and her pious counsels, had breathed over his childhood an influence that was lasting as lifu. Hers was not an austere, ungenial, and repulsive type of religion ; but such as became a Christian mother. Hence he loved to be with her, and neglected the sports of other children, that he might render her such assistance as he could, and more than all, that he might enjoy her society. Besides promoting other and higher ends, this, doubtless, gave a practical turn to his thoughts in early life, and inspired him with a disrelish for trifles, and a taste for that which is substantial, and useful and enduring.* he became an orphan, by the death of his mother, he made his home with the minister of the parish, the Rev. Mr. Utley, with whom he remained a number of years. While living with him, he learned the saddler's trade of an older brother, and prepared to try the rough ways of life alone. He always looked back on this portion of his life with much satisfaction, and retained for “good Father Utley," as he called him, great veneration and affection. And this was well repaid, with corresponding sentiments of regard. The good man treated him ever as a son, and retained his interest in him as long as he lived. At about the age of 18, in connection with a powerful revival of religion, under the preaching of the Rev. Mr. Hallock, his mind became deeply penetrated and moved with a sense of divine things, and he was led to devote himself heartily to the interests of religion, and the service of God.
When his minority was past, he was led by a desire for enlarged enterprise to remove to Hartford, where he became an active member of the church under the care of Dr. Strong. In this city he married Miss Olivia Eggleston, the companion of his subsequent life. For several years, while carrying on in partnership with Mr. Cramton the trade which he learned in his youth, he passed his summers at the North, and his winters at the South; devoting the one more especially to manufacturing, and the other to the sale of his wares. After a time he sold out his interest in the business to his partner, and embarked in an exclusively mercantile traffic.
As his operations became extended, it was manifest that NewYork afforded the best facilities for carrying them on, and he removed in 1815 to that city. Here he became a member, and a most active and efficient officer of Dr. Spring's church. His membership was afterwards transferred to the Mercer Street
* Mr. Phelps has testified his own deep sense of his indebtedness to this early maternal influence, by erecting, in the latter portion of his life, a handsome monument over the grave of his mother.