A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

A perfidious wretch: Hitchcock’s sermon on Arnold’s treason

Reverend Enos Hitchcock, pastel on paper. RIHS 1970.23.1

By you probably know how much I like the Reverend Enos Hitchcock in all his forms and centuries. We are fortunate indeed to have  a collection of his papers, and in going through them folder by folder looking for clues to the Reverend’s waistcoat habits, I came upon the seemingly innocuous Folder 57: Notes, untitled and undated sermons, commonplace book. You won’t find receipts for pink satin in there, but every folder is worth a look.

This folder was worth every minute I have spent on it, and every other folder in that box.

I found an undated sermon, but was able to date it by the content: October 1, 1780.

In his diary, Hitchcock notes the days of divine service, and the verses he used.

Diary of Enos Hitchcock, published by the RIHS, 1899.

Diary of Enos Hitchcock, published by the RIHS, 1899.

PS 122, 6,7,8 refers to the text he used, Psalms 122, A Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. He quotes it at the very end of the sermon.

As I read this manuscript, I was struck by the anger in it, and wondered if the “perfidious wretch” could really be who I thought it was, and yes, it was true: I had found Hitchcock’s sermon on Arnold’s treason.

...faithfull to the trust reposed in us...

…faithfull to the trust reposed in us…

Here is the full transcript of the text:

MSS 78 Enos Hitchcock Papers
Box 1 Folder 57 Sermons: Notes, not titled and undated sermons

While some are called to the Council board to direct the affairs of State other[s] are called to the more arduous & dangerous task of defending it by arms- as their genius or opportunity directs them- and in whatever way we undertake to serve our Country,  therein might we be faithfull to the trust reposed in us by the public.

The Legislator should study the things of the peoples [sic] peace that they may lead quiet lives in all Godliness & honesty The Magistrate under the equal administration of Government. The Magistrate distribute [sic] Justice with an equal hand, that he may be a terror to Evil doers & security to them that do well.

Those who take on them the Military Character & are set for the defence of their Country, are under every possible obligation to be faithful to their trust—for the immediate safety of their country depends on it. They have committed to you their liberties & their all & they look up to their Army for protection & security- and your own is connected with theirs in common—that in betraying your trust, you might would involve your country in all the miseries consequent upon the invasion of an unbridled Enemy- reduce Millions to absolute subjection to British Tyranny- ages & generations yet unborn to all the wretchedness of Slavery. What then can tempt the Soldier to desert his colours & treaterously [sic] betray the trust reposed in him – besides being guilty of perfidy, he must share in the consequences with them, must be afraid of the face of his Countrymen- or if he take refuge with the Enemy, must live an Exile in a State of Banishment & despised by every noble Spirited Friend to their interest. A Deserter- A Runaway- a perfidious wretch who has once betrayed his trust & therefore no confidence can ever be placed in him again! detestible  [sic] Character! May every American Soldier have a Spirit above it.

If this be the danger & disgrace of Soldiers  [sic] deserting his Country’s Cause & perfidiously betraying his trust- What Language will convey a Just Idea of the magnitude & blackness of that horrid plot, laid, by the Commander of a Department, for the tame Surrendery of the most important fortress in America? here language fails us! A design, black as Hell! a plot laid at the root of American Liberty! Millions of Subjects bartered away for a little shining dust!

“What chosen curse, what hidden vengeance in the Store of heaven Thunderbolt red with uncommon wrath, shall blast the man who owes his greatness to his greatness to his Country’s ruin?”

O Lucifer how art those fallen! Arnold, lately proclaimed, by our Orators, the thunderbolt of war, now a vile perfidious refugee with the Enemy, must live despised & die accurst by every generous Lover of his Country! May that day ever be remembered by America in which the discovery was made of the plot which must have nearly determined its fate!

While we regret the Treason, let us with gratitude acknowledge the goodness of providence in effecting the discovery. The train of minute circumstances which led to it, at once shews a superintending providence guideing [sic] the affairs of mankind, and that the justice of our cause challenges the divine patronage.

The Annals of history don’t afford a more striking instance of baseness & ingratitude, nor a more special interposition of divine providence. Tis the language even of the infidel, that the hand of providence is visible in this event, and indeed how can he do otherwise when he considers all the steps that lead to the discovery. A combination of circumstances, small in themselves, wholly independent of each other and yet necessarily connected in producing this Event & could all these take place in their proper order by merely chance or accident? Most certainly they shew an observant Eye penetrating thro’ all the secret machinations of vile, designing men- & a wise hand skillfully conduct the little adventitious events which opened the way to this important discovery.

Let us, my candid and generous fellow Soldiers, acknowledge with gratitude & the goodness of divine providence in this event- and express the sense we have of it by resigning ourself [sic] & all our concerns to the service of that God who governs all things in wisdom. & by a steady & uniform adherence to the cause & interests of our Country-

It often happens that the worst & most wicked designs of men are overruled in such a manner as to be productive of the greatest good. What advantages we shall derive from this cruel & vilainous [sic] act may be more clearly seen a twelvemonth than at present.

We have so often experienced the secret but powerful operations of divine providence concerning itself for our good, producing event very different from the designs of our enemys, leaving us no room to dispond but to hope its continuance to work out out [sic] real good & happiness & doubtless it will if we are not wanting in duty to God, our Country, & ourselves.

Pray, then with humble confidence in divine providence, for the peace of America: they shall prosper that love thee.

Peace be within thy walls and prosperity within thy palaces.

For my Brethren & Companion’s sake, I will now say peace be within thee.

Because of the house of the Lord, I will seek thy good.

Amen

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections

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One comment on “A perfidious wretch: Hitchcock’s sermon on Arnold’s treason

  1. Pingback: Election Sermon Series: “An Oration in Commemoration of the Independence of The United States of America” by Enos Hitchcock (July 4, 1793)

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