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The Great Awakening and the Hawley Family of Northampton, Massachusetts

by Pam Hawley Marlin
August, 2014

On Sunday morning, June 1, 1735, Lieutenant Joseph Hawley II cut his throat in his bedchamber and died soon after, having committed suicide in a fit of "religious despair." This desperate act had a profound effect on the Northampton community, the pastor of the First Church, Reverend Jonathan Edwards, and the Hawley family, especially Joseph's son, Major Joseph Hawley III. On a recent visit to Northampton during the 2014 Hawley Family Society Reunion, I was able to visit a few of the sites related to the Hawley family of Northampton and the Great Awakening time period.

The Great Awakening was a spiritual renewal that swept the American Colonies, particularly New England, during the first half of the 18th Century. Certain christians began to disassociate themselves with the established approach to worship which had led to complacency among believers, and instead adopted an approach characterized by great fervor and emotion in prayer. This new spiritual renewal began in England and crossed over to the American Colonies during the first half of the 18th Century. Unlike the somber, largely Puritan spirituality of the early 1700s, the revivalism ushered in by the Great Awakening allowed people to express their emotions more overtly in order to feel a greater intimacy with God.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (photo left), a moving force in the Great Awakening, is often remembered as the stern Puritan who preached fire and brimstone sermons such as his notorious "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", but he was also a speculative scientist, an acute psychologist, and a world famous theologian and philosopher.

Edwards first came to Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1726 to assist his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in his ministry. When Stoddard died in 1729, young Edwards took his place as pastor of the First Church of Northampton. Edwards was impressed with John Locke's, a philosopher and physician, notion that all knowledge comes through the senses. Although Edwards delivered his sermons in a controlled monotone, the vivid images he created in the minds of his parishioners unleashed a religious revival in the 1730s, preparing the way for the Great Awakening that swept through all of British North America in the 1740s.

As effective as Edwards' preaching was, he made serious enemies in the community. Some resented him for setting aside the more liberal doctrines of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. Others feared that the emotions released by revivals were dangerous. These controversies eventually led to his dismissal in 1750.
The First Churches of Northampton, built in 1877 (photo above), is the fifth building to occupy the site where Jonathan Edwards held services in the early 1700's. The first "Meeting House" was built in 1661, Edwards built the third meeting house in 1737, and in 1812 it was replaced by the fourth meeting house. The latter burned down in 1876 making way for the present structure seen above.

Inside the present First Churches is a memorial bronze relief of Jonathan Edwards by Herbert Adams which was installed in 1900.

It was during our visit (above photo) that we attended a talk and book signing by Susan Stinson, author of Spider In A Tree, a novel about the life of Jonathan Edwards.

The Hawley Family of Northampton, Massachusetts

This line of Hawleys is descended from Thomas Hawley of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and is referred to as the Massachusetts line of Hawleys. Thomas' descendants in Northampton are all named Joseph so in this blog I refer to them as Joseph I, Joseph II, and Joseph III (father/son/grandson). Thomas Hawley of Roxbury is brother to the patriarch, Joseph Hawley who first came to America in the 1600's.

Joseph Hawley I (Captain)

Three generations of the Hawley family lived in Northampton, Massachusetts. The first was Captain Joseph Hawley I (signature right). Joseph I graduated from Harvard College and became employed by Northampton as a school teacher in 1675. In addition to school teacher, he was preacher of the Gospel, employed in public business, and became a Representative of Northampton as well as Justice of the Peace. Joseph I married Lydia Marshall and their first born son, Joseph Hawley II, was born in Northampton in 1682.

Joseph Hawley II (Lieutenant)

Joseph II is written about as a "man of more than ordinary ability, greatly respected, and a leading citizen."1 Many important offices had been conferred upon Joseph II, he was "fifteen times chosen townsman and was annually elected town clerk and county treasurer for nineteen years."1 Joseph II married Rebekah Stoddard (Rebekah was aunt to Reverend Jonathan Edwards through her sister, Esther) and they would have two sons, Major Joseph Hawley III and Captain Elisha Hawley.

Joseph II was a merchant and for many years appears to have been principal trader in the town of Northampton. He owned an interest in a sawmill, carried on boating on the Connecticut River, and managed a large farm. He also kept a store which included such staples as rum, gunpowder, pipes, and luxuries like silk handkerchiefs. He was also the first person in town who sold knives and forks. It is not known where his business was located, but it is thought to have been in a small building on his homestead. The Hawley family lived on "Pudding Lane" which was first homesteaded by Joseph II's dad, Captain Joseph I. In 1723 Joseph II bought property across from his father's house on Pudding Lane and it would eventually be renamed Hawley Street.

Photo right is of Hawley Street (Pudding Lane) in Northampton, where the Hawley family lived.

Spiritual Awakening and Despondency

Northampton was one of the first towns to experience the initial stirrings of the Great Awakening revival. Reverend Jonathan Edwards convinced his parishioners of their need for salvation by Jesus Christ and to develop a new sense of spiritual conviction. Church members conversions and convictions were often expressed in dramatic fashion by crying out, weeping or fainting. Joseph II was much moved by Edwards' sermons and became exceedingly concerned about the state of his soul. As aptly described in the book, "Spider in a Tree" by Susan Stinson (excerpt below), many parishioners were deeply moved during the church services.

"In a prominent seat Joseph Hawley hung his head. He crossed arms tightly across his chest as his shoulders started to shake. His wife, Rebekah, leaned forward to look at him from the women's side of the aisle. Sheriff Pomeroy, a stern man of seventy, began weeping with his mouth open. All around them, people forgot themselves. An old woman drew her lips awry, as if convulsed. Mr. Hawley collapsed with his chin on the knee of the man beside him. It was, as everyone knew, the outpouring of the spirit from the unusually near presence of God."12

Joseph II continued to be concerned about the state of his soul, so much so that his anxieties brought about extreme sleeplessness. He was convinced that he was corrupt, could not be saved, and thus doomed to inexorable damnation. Jonathan Edwards tried to counsel his uncle Joseph II, but came to the conclusion that he "was in great measure past a capacity of receiving advice, or being reasoned with to any purpose."9 Given the anxiety of some of parishioners, Edwards did not change his message, "and so he preached, as he believed he must, that those who despaired were indeed unworthy." 9

The feelings of unworthiness would finally overtake Joseph II and on Sunday morning, June 1, 1735, he cut his own throat, giving way to a "fit of extreme melancholy and in a moment of temporary insanity, put an end to his life."3 He was forty-two years old, and his eldest son, Joseph III, was only eleven. At the coroner's inquest, Joseph II was "judged as delirious."9

Satan on the Loose

On the day of the suicide, June 1, 1735, "the town suddenly was struck directly, and the reverberations sent people scattering down from the spiritual peak they had ascended."9 Jonathan Edwards called for a fast day to clarify for his stunned parishioners what God was teaching them in this event. Edwards would explain, "Satan seems to be more let loose, and raging in a dreadful manner." 9 Edwards continued to emphasize Joseph II's mental condition and family as "being exceedingly prone to the disease of melancholy",10 saying that the "real danger of psychological weakness was that it opened the door for a Satanic attack and once Hawley was overpowered by the melancholic distemper, the devil took the advantage and drove him into despairing thoughts." Edwards would later write, "Satan had struck when the euphoria of the Awakening was at its height and had turned what should have been a means to salvation into destruction."9

In the following writing entitled, "A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God" written by Jonathan Edwards in 1737, Edwards gives his own account of his uncle Joseph Hawley's fate.

"In the latter part of May, it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to be more let loose, and raged in a dreadful manner. The first instance wherein it appeared, was a person putting an end to his own life by cutting his throat. He was a gentleman of more than common understanding, of strict morals, religious in his behavior, and a useful and honorable person in the town; but was of a family that are exceedingly prone to the disease of melancholy, and his mother was killed with it.

He had, from the beginning of this extraordinary time, been exceedingly concerned about the state of his soul, and there were some things in his experience that appeared very hopeful; but he durst entertain no hope concerning his own good estate. Towards the latter part of his time, he grew much discouraged, and melancholy grew again upon him, till he was wholly overpowered by it, and was in a great measure past a capacity of receiving advice, or being reasoned with to any purpose. The devil took the advantage, and drove him into despairing thoughts. He was kept awake at nights, meditating terror, so that he had scarce any sleep at all for a long time together; and it was observed at last, that he was scarcely well capable of managing his ordinary business, and was judged delirious by the coroner's inquest. The news of this extraordinarily affected the minds of people here, and struck them as it were with astonishment.

After this, multitudes in this and other towns seemed to have it strongly suggested to them, and pressed upon them, to do as this person had done. And many who seemed to be under no melancholy, some pious persons who had no special darkness or doubts about the goodness of their state-nor were under any special trouble or concern of mind about any thing spiritual or temporal-had it urged upon them as if somebody had spoke to them, "Cut your throat, now is a good opportunity. Now! now!" So that they were obliged to fight with all their might to resist it, and yet no reason suggested to them why they should do it.
" -Jonathan Edwards

Beside the grave of Captain Joseph Hawley I at Bridge Street Cemetery, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Above photo is the graves of the Hawley family in Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton. Starting with the closest (forefront), Captain Joseph Hawley I, his wife Lydia (smallest), Lieutenant Joseph Hawley II, his wife Rebekah, and the table top monument is that of Major Joseph Hawley III.

Beside the grave of Joseph Hawley II who committed suicide in 1735.

Joseph Hawley III (Major)

The son of Joseph II and Rebekah Hawley was born in Northampton in 1723. The oldest son, he was named Joseph being the third Joseph in this line of Hawley's. He was educated at Yale and graduated at the age of nineteen. Joseph III had all intention of becoming a minister, but eventually gave up preaching to study law. He took up the profession of law in Northampton and "as a lawyer he was possessed of great learning, able as a reasoner, and a very manly, impressive speaker."4 Like his father and grandfather before him, he became Northampton Town Clerk, Justice of the Peace, and was often made moderator of town meetings. Active in the French and English wars, he would earn the rank of Major in 1754.

The Patrick Henry of Massachusetts

Joseph III became so prominent in his ability to influence judgments on the separation of America from British rule, that it is impossible not to include some of his involvement in politics at the time.

In the mid 1700's Joseph III was one of the leading political figures in western Massachusetts and would become a radical patriot and ardent leader of the American Revolutionary War. Elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Assembly in 1766, he electrified the assembly by asserting, "The Parliament of Great Britain has no right to legislate for us." 5 While attending court at Springfield, Massachusetts, Joseph III would meet founding father, John Adams, and this would be the beginning of a long friendship between them. John Adams would later write in his diary, "So critical was the state of affairs that Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Thomas Cushing and all their friends and associates could carry no question upon legal and constitutional subjects in the house without the countenance, concurrence, and support of Major Hawley."5 Many of Joseph III's letters are in the published correspondence of John Adams (National Archives).

In 1774 Major Joseph Hawley III was elected to the First Continental Congress, but due to the condition of his mental health (supposedly inherited), he declined to attend, and John Adams was chosen instead. Though not at the Congress meetings, Joseph III continued to correspond with Adams with instructions for the delegates. In his writing, Broken Hints (National Archives) Joseph exclaimed “We must fight, if we can't otherwise rid ourselves of British taxation, all revenues, and the constitution or form of government enacted for us by the British parliament. It is evil against right-utterly intolerable to every man who has any idea or feeling of right or liberty."6 Upon reading this Patrick Henry exclaimed, "By God! I am of that man's mind."6

Joseph III and Jonathan Edwards

As a young man, Joseph III greatly admired his cousin, Jonathan Edwards, especially after the tragic death of his father, Joseph II. It seemed there was a mutual feeling from Edwards, for when Joseph III left for his schooling at Yale, his education would be secretly funded by Edwards. In time, however, Joseph III would feel differently about Edwards. By 1749 he was one of Edwards most outspoken opponents and lobbied vigorously for an immediate separation between the pastor and church.

The Departure of Jonathan Edwards

After the suicide of Joseph II, many felt that Edwards had led his church members into fanaticism and the Great Revival began to wane in Northampton. In the subsequent years, religion went into decline and the morals of some seemed to be lacking. In 1744 newly admitted young members of Edwards' church were accused of reading immoral books. At once Edwards took measures to suppress the evil and punish the offenders. He proceeded to read from the pulpit the names of the young people implicated, requesting they appear before an investigative committee. The list of names evidently did not descriminate between those accused and those who were just witnesses. As a result, the situation escalated with the innocent protesting against such publicity and the guilty refusing to appear before the committee.

Not long after the incident, Edwards began to feel doubts about admitting members into the church who "made no pretense to true godliness" 2 and "refused to admit a certain person to the church unless he made a profession of faith in accordance with the new views of the pastor." 2 When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to a more strict Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’ innovation was a direct threat, "the town was put into a great ferment and before he was heard in his own defense, or it was known by many what his principles were, the general cry was to have him dismissed."8

Town meetings followed each other in quick succession and it was when the council of ministers met to deliberate concerning Edwards' dismissal that Joseph III, one of the leaders in the opposition of Edwards, went to the house in which the meeting was held and stood a long time at an open window listening to the debate. At length, overcome with excitement, he leaped through the window and made a violent criticism against Edwards that lasted for an hour and a half. Joseph III was selected to represent the First Church committee in their resolve to have Edwards dismissed in the upcoming hearings that were held. At first Joseph III declined, but later changed his mind and decided to represent the council. Edwards would be hurt by this change of heart, as stated in the following letter from Edwards to Joseph III:

"Your forwardness especially appeared on this occasion, that after you was chosen as one of a committee to plead their cause before a council, you came to me, and desired me to stay the church, on purpose that you might have opportunity to excuse yourself from the business, which was accordingly done, and you did excuse yourself and was excused. But yet when the matter came to be pleaded before the council, you (I think very inconsistently), thrust yourself forward, and pleaded the cause with much earnestness, notwithstanding. 'tis manifest, that what you did in the affair, from time to time, not only helped the people to gain their end in dismissing me, but much encouraged and promoted the spirit with which it was done; your confident, magisterial, vehement manner had a natural and direct tendency to it."13 -Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards would say of Joseph III and the situation:

"The people in managing this affair have made chief use of a young gentleman of liberal education and notable abilities and a fluent speaker of about seven or eight and twenty years of age, my grandfather Stoddard's grandson, being my mother's sister's son, a man of lax principles in religion, falling in, in some essential things, with the Arminians, and is very open and bold about it. He was one of the agents for the church and was their chief spokesman before the council. He very strenuously urged an immediate separation." -Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards delivered his last sermon, "A Farewell Sermon" (in below photo from the Northampton Museum) July 1, 1750 and he and his family left Northampton. Edwards spent the rest of his life as missionary to the Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, eventually receiving an offer to be President of Princeton University.

Remediation of Joseph Hawley III

It is not known whether the suicide of his father had provoked Joseph III to such outspokenness against Edwards, but four years after Edwards' dismissal he would have a change of heart. Joseph III felt ashamed for his role in encouraging the dismissal of Edwards and repented for his part in the controversy. He opened a correspondence with Edwards and asked forgiveness for his behavior,

"I freely confess, Sir, and own, that the air and language, in which considerable of what I said was delivered, was irreverent, immodest, derisive, magisterial and savouring of haughtiness and levity, and such as ill became me, Sir, when arguing with you, who was so much my superior in age, station and accomplishments, for which I humbly and sincerely ask your forgiveness and am very sorry. In the course of that melancholy contention I now see that I was very much influenced by vast pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity, ... and do in review whereof abhor myself and repent sorely."5 -Joseph Hawley III

Jonathan Edwards would respond to Joseph III in a letter dated November 18, 1757 (this letter was found in Joseph's papers):

"And, therefore, Sir, I think you made yourself greatly guilty in the sight of God in the part you acted in this affair; becoming, especially, towards the latter part of it, very much their leader in it; and much from your own forwardness, putting yourself forward as it were, as though fond of intermeddling and helping, which were the less becoming, considering your youth and considering your relation to me."

"On the whole, Sir, (as you asked my opinion) I think, that that town and church lies under great guilt in the sight of God; and they never more can reasonably expect God's favor and blessing, till they have their eyes opened to be convinced of their great provocation of the Most High, and injuriousness to man, and have their temper greatly altered till they are deeply humbled, and till they openly and in full terms confess themselves guilty, in the manner in which they are guilty in deed, (and what my opinion of that is, I have in some measure declared, ) and openly humble and take shame to themselves before the world, and particularly confess their faults and see forgiveness where they have been peculiarly injurious."13 -Jonathan Edwards

Forgiveness for Joseph III?

Edwards would continue in the same letter to Joseph III:

"Thus, Sir, I have done the thing which you have requested of me. I wish you may accept it in as Christian a manner as you asked it. You may possibly think that the plain way in which I have given my judgment, shows that I am far from being impartial, and that I show a disposition to aggravate and enhance things, and set them forth in the blackest colors, and that I plainly manifest ill will to you. All that I shall say to this is, that if you think so, I think you are mistaken. And having performed the disagreeable task you desired of me, I must leave you to judge for yourself concerning what I say. I have spoken my judgment with as great a degree of impartiality as I am master of, and that which is my steady and constant judgment of this awful affair, and I doubt not, will be my judgment as long as I live. One thing I must desire of you, and that is, if you dislike what I have written, you would not expect that I should carry on any farther a letter controversy with you, on the subject. I have had enough of this controversy, and desire to have done with it. I have spent enough of the precious time of my life in it heretofore. I desire and pray that God may enable you to view things truly, and as he views them, and so to act in the affair as shall be best for you, and most for your peace, living and dying. "13 -Jonathan Edwards

Public Confession and Resolve

Joseph Hawley III decided to make a public confession (after Edward's death) which was printed in a weekly newspaper in Boston, May 19th, 1760:

"...yet I beg leave to say that I really apprehend that it is of the highest moment to the body of this church, and to me in particular, most solicitously to enquire, whether like the Pharisees and lawyers in John the Baptist's time, we did not reject the counsel of God against ourselves in rejecting Mr. Edwards and his doctrine which was the ground of his dismission. And I humbly conceive that it highly imports us all of this church, most seriously and impartially to examine what that most worthy and able divine published about that time in support of the same, whereby he being dead yet speaketh. . . .The most criminal part of my conduct was my exhibiting to the Council a set of arguments in writing. . . .which writing by clear implication contained some severe, uncharitable, and, if I remember right, groundless and slanderous imputations on Mr. Edwards expressed in bitter language. Indeed I am fully convinced, that the whole of that composure, excepting a small part thereof. . . . was totally unChristian, a scandalous, abusive, injurious libel against Mr. Edwards and his particular friends, especially the former, and highly provoking and detestable in the sight of God, for which I am heartily sorry and ashamed, and pray that I may remember it with deep abasement and penitence all my days." -Joseph Hawley III    Full Document14

With a new nation being formed in the fall of 1776, Joseph III would continue to be plagued by melancholy. Whether inherited or as a result of his family experiences, he seldom left the house and would sit for hours in his great chair by the fire, smoking furiously.

"His eye had a wild and piercing look which might well have frightened all but those who knew him well. Friends like Seth Pomeroy, Doctor Mather and Doctor Hunt would often visit him but their efforts to break through the clouds were seldom successful. Occasionally they persuaded him to ride with them into the meadows or over the beautiful hills beyond the town, but if for a moment they diverted him, he soon fell back into utter gloom."11

Though his battle with mental illness would keep him from true greatness, his more "lucid" moments would result in numerous personal and political achievements. Not all these achievements are fully expressed in this blog, but his character, and community and political involvements, are briefly summed up by author Francis E. Brown in his biography of Joseph III, titled "Joseph Hawley, Colonial Radical", as noted in the following discourse.

"Joseph Hawley was one of the most remarkable men produced by western Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. Although born and reared under what were practically frontier conditions and influences, he surpassed most of his contemporaries in breadth of vision and liberalism in matter of politics and religion. In the struggle between the royal power and the Massachusetts radicals he played a leading part. Unafraid of the circumstances, he urged all measured which seemed to make for political liberty, and was not frightened by the possibility of actual fighting with, or separation from, Great Britain. Small wonder that by his contemporaries he was called a "river god." Unfortunately at the height of his career, he was overwhelmed by the family taint of insanity and retired from public life forever. If health had been permitted to him, it seems almost certain that he would have played a leading part after 1776, not only in Massachusetts, but in the country at large."

Image right is of Joseph III desk with the shaving mirror and old china once used by him.7

In March 1788 Joseph Hawley III passed away and all of Northampton would crowd into the meeting house to show him a final honor.

"The Lord has taken away from Jerusalem - from Judah the stay and staff, the mighty man, the counsellor and the eloquent orator."
From the Hampshire Gazette March 19, 1788. Full Document

The gravesite of Major Joseph Hawley III, erected by his adopted son, Joseph Clarke.

Joseph III and his wife, Mercy Lyman, did not have children, however, they did raise Mercy's nephew, Joseph Hawley Clarke, to which the following was written.

   -Massachusetts quilts: our common wealth By Lynne Z. Bassett

Me with Hawley Family Society genealogist, Trudy Hawley, in the Northampton, Massachusetts Cemetery.

Letter from Joseph Hawley III to John Adams


1History of Northampton, Massachusetts: From Its Settlement in 1654 Volume 2 James Russell Trumbull
2History of Northampton Massachusetts from its Settlement in 1654 James Russell Trumbull
3A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Works of God Jonathan Edwards
4 Historical Sketch of Major Joseph Hawley of Northampton, Massachusetts Elias S. Hawley 1723-1788
5The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries, Volume 22 edited by John Austin Stevens
6Correspondence between Joseph Hawley III and John Adams Founders Online, National Archives.
7Early Northampton Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution Betty Allen Chapter
8The Works of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards
9Jonathan Edwards, A Life George M. Marsden
10A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, Jonathan Edwards 1737
11Joseph Hawley, Colonial Radical Francis E. Brown
12Spider in a Tree Susan Stinson
13Biblical Original Letter of President Edwards
14Papers of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, Volume IV, 1888