Before There was Amy Carmichael, There Was Cynthia Farrar…and Her Pastor


Cynthia Farrar was the first American spinster foreign missionary. She left the United States in 1827 to spend 34 years in Bombay, where she founded a girls’ school that had 400 students within 2 years. I came across Cynthia as I followed rabbit trails from some research about my ancestors. I hope to write more about that soon, but for now I’ll note that she was a member of the church of which my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a founding member, and he surely knew her, though he died two years before her departure to India.

Their mutual pastor, Halloway Fish, is the character who most fascinates me at the moment. Halloway was the second pastor of the the congregational church in Marlborough, N.H., the first having been dismissed thirteen years earlier due to “unfaithfulness” and “being unexemplary in walk, imprudent in conversation, unchristian in comparing, rash in judging and slandering,” and “profane.” Considering the long stretch during which the congregation had failed to fill the pulpit (which hardly reflects well on my ancestor), Halloway was a little wary. Here is the letter he finally wrote in response to the call:

To the Church of Christ and Congregational Society in Marlborough greeting.

I have taken into view the circumstances of the case before me; your broken situation for many years I have seriously considered and your goings toward your former minister and toward Candidates and their treatment of you. I have seen the situation of the Chh. I have viewed it is small and I fear that that discipline which is absolutely necessary to preserve a Chh. from contempt and reproach has not been observed in this place. Your offer I have taken under serious Consideration. To the union I have been an eye witness, and it is not so good as I could wish that it was. I have endeavored to let every circumstance have its proper weight, and to discover what will probably be the consequences of my accepting or rejecting your invitation. As for the Scriptures of truth I know of no particular direction in them which wall apply to my situation unless it be Christ’s general rule, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye even so to them.

By placing myself in the situation of an inhabitant of this town and by my placing him in my situation and then inquire what I should wish that he would do, affords me some light or assistance to understand my own way. In addition to these things I have represented the situation of matters in this place in as just a light as I possibly could to those who I have reason to suppose are friends to me and friends to religeon [sic.], and who are experienced, and judicious, and the best, and almost the only advice which I can obtain from them is this. Act like an honest man consult the good of the cause in which you are engaged. And to the throne of Grace I have often repaired for wisdom to understand my own way and a heart to do those things which shall be for the Glory of God and the interest of Zion. And what shall I do more, that I have not done in order to understand my own way. Shall I delay the matter? this will be disagreeable to you and to me for a state of suspense is a disagreeable situation and delays are often dangerous, though in some cases they are suitable and proper, but as almost four months have past since you gave me an invite to tarry with you, it appears necessary that matters should be brought to a point and if I understand my own way, or know what is suitable to be done, it is my duty to comply with your request. I therefore accept of your invitation to become your stated minister in Divine things, yet I must say it is with a trembling heart sensible of the work which is before me, sensible of the difficulties which always fall to the lot of ministers, and sensible of my own insufficiency for these things. But if I am one of Christ’s ministers. He will always be with me according to His promise to His Appostles and to His ministers, “Lo I am with you alway even unto the end of the world” and by His assistance I shall be enabled to do all things which shall be incumbent on me as one of His ambassadors.

What shall I say more? will it be improper to pray that the relation which will probably ere long be formed between us, may be lasting happy and profitable for Time and Eternity? may we live together in peace and be helpers of each other in the way to Glory? This I present you as my answer with the following exceptions, viz. That I should have the liberty of being absent from you two Sabbaths in the course of every year during my ministry with you.

Marlborough, May 19th, 1793

Don’t you just love this man? And there’s more:

He led the congregation out of the nonsense of the halfway covenant.

He was staunchly Calvinistic at a time when the Arminian element that would eventually veer off into Unitarianism was gaining a foothold in the New England churches. His father, Elisha Fish, was a pastor in nearby Upton, and moderator of the council of which both congregations were members, but a Mr. Goddard, leader of the Arminian faction, was the scribe (what we would call the clerk, I suppose), and he almost succeeded in blocking Halloway’s ordination to be the second called pastor of the Marlborough congregation. It played out in an odd way, though: after four of Goddard’s party voted against the ordination, which was never the less passed with a strong majority, the elder Fish, having consulted with the Calvinists, called for a reconsideration, the result of which was unanimously against the ordination. They had called the Arminians’ bluff. They “dared not consent” to denying the ordination “knowing that it would raise a storm of indignation against them.” Goddard called for a third vote with the result that the vote became unanimously in favor.

Halloway was “serious and devout in spirit, exemplary in his life, being faithful as a minister of Christ.” This was in contrast to the first pastor, Joseph Cummings, who was dismissed for having a poor character and neglecting his pastoral duties. He wasn’t a brilliant preacher or scholar like his brother Elisha, a pastor in Gilsum, N.H., but he had good sense and a good head for business. Their father noted the difference: “Halloway must teach Elisha farming, and Elisha must teach Halloway theology.”

But that doesn’t mean Halloway was a sloppy slouch when it came to doctrine: “Although a very blunt man in his speech, he was friendly toward other denominations, and always remained on good terms with them. He was a most vigilant and sagacious watchman on the walls of Zion. Very few man, if any, of his times, were possessed of keener discernment as to truth and error. He defended the truths and exposed the errors of his times with boldness and strength, to an extent not common to his contemporaries in the ministry.”

But that doesn’t mean he was always right. He preached against dancing (picture ballroom scenes from adaptations of Austen novels for the type of dancing likely in question), for instance. Some of his young congregants didn’t care for that belief, either, and expressed their displeasure by shaving his horse’s mane and tail. “To this he paid no attention, but rode his horse everywhere just as before. When any questions were asked, he replied ‘that it was not exactly to his own taste, but it was to the taste of some of his people, and so he submitted to it.'” So we know he had a sense of humor!

When the pastor of another nearby church died, Halloway was among those who took turns supplying the pulpit. Much comparison of the Calvinistic and Arminian preachers ensued. Congregants debated the relative merits of Fish and a Mr. Howe. Though Howe was generally not applauded, one church member said “Well, he will do to offset Father Fish of Marlborough.” His friend rejoined, “Pooh! I’d rather have Father Fish’s great coat stuffed, in the pulpit, than Mr. Howe.” The appellation “Father” suggests that this was later in his life and that he was well and affectionately known in the region.

His ministry was fruitful. During his nearly 31 years as pastor (1793-1824), he baptized 303 children and the congregation received 178 people by profession of faith — significant numbers for a town that, in 1794, had just 28 voting citizens (including my ancestor and Cynthia’s father).

Halloway appears to have excellent taste in wives. Hannah (nee Brigham) Fish is described thus: “To her few acquaintances who still remain, no words of eulogy are necessary, to add to their estimation of her life and character. Her pure and useful life, her consistent example, winning deportment, and earnest piety, shed a beautiful halo and a gentle radiance over her husband’s long pastorate. To that beloved and venerated pastor, she was truly a helpmeet in all home duties, and a most efficient aid in winning souls to Christ. Many rise up to call her blessed.”

Here is a drawing of the unheated (until 1823) meetinghouse where the congregation worshiped:

The First Meetinghouse in Marlborough, N.H.

I can join my source’s first-person account in saying, “Here our ancestors worshipped God; many of them coming the distance of four or five miles, and sitting on a cold winter’s day while the Rev. Halloway Fish, with the collar of his [aforementioned] great coat turned up about his ears, and striped mittens on his hands [every well-dressed minister should have such a pair of mittens], put forth his doctrinal views in sermons of not less than one hour in length. The morning service being over, during the intermission the women retired to the nearest house for a fresh supply of coals for their foot-stoves, the men repaired to the tavern, to warm themselves, and regale the inner man with a mug of warm toddy, while they discussed the principal events of the week, or expressed their views on the subject of the morning’s discourse.”

If you’ve read with me thus far, you’ve likely fallen as much in love with Halloway Fish as I have. And if you haven’t, well, then you shall remain blissfully ignorant of the slight contempt in which I now hold you. 😉

Source: Charles Austin Bemis, History of the Town of Marlborough, New Hampshire (1881)

Robert Fowler Lawrence’s The New England Churches: Comprising Histories of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches in the State, with Notices of Other Denominations (1856) also has a bit on Halloway Fish. It has a few facts slightly different from Bemis’s book, but Bemis obviously drew from it, as his description of Fish’s character is a near quote of Lawrence’s.

Anther source tells me that Halloway was a life member of the American Tract Society

And I got the quote about Joseph Cummings, the first pastor, from A History and Description of New England, General and Local, by Austin Jacobs Coolidge and John Brainerd Mansfield.

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