Rev. Jesse Appleton, 1772-1819

Nov. 17, 1772 - Nov. 12, 1819

Dictionary of American Biography

Edited by Allen Johnson, Volume I, 1928, Page 328

APPLETON, JESSE (Nov. 17, 1772 - Nov. 12, 1819), theologian, educator, born at New Ipswich, N.H., was the fourth son of Francis and Elizabeth (Hubbard) Appleton, and a descendant of Samuel Appleton, who came to this country from Suffolk, England, in 1635. His father was a farmer, so limited in means that he felt unable to give Jesse an education and planned to make a mechanic of him. His interest in books was such, however, that a brother promised to aid him, and he prepared for college at a local academy. Entering Dartmouth at the age of sixteen, he graduated in the class of 1792, and spent the next two years teaching at Dover, N. H., Aurean Academy, Amherst, N. H., and Leominster, Mass. He studied theology under Dr. Joseph Lathrop of West Springfield, Mass., supplied different churches for some time, was called to the church at Leicester, Mass., but finally accepted the pastorate of the Congregational Church at Hampton, N.H., where he was ordained Feb. 22, 1797. His salary was ninety pounds a year and the keep of his horse, twenty pounds to be paid in provisions with corn reckoned at three shillings a bushel, and pork and beef at three pence and two pence per pound respectively. Later it was increased to ninety-five pounds with house and firewood, and provision for a horse, two cows, and six sheep. In 1800 he married Elizabeth Means, daughter of Col. Robert Means of Amherst, N.H., by whom he had six children. The third of these, Jane, became the wife of Franklin Pierce, president of the United States.

Appleton was pastor at Hampton ten years. Extremely thorough and methodical in everything, he carefully planned out each day's work, allowing ample time for study. In his agreement with the church he had stipulated that he be permitted to exchange frequently that he might not have to write but one sermon a week. Soon he had acquired a reputation for sincere devotion, kindly spirit, sound judgment, and extensive learning. Although not a controversialist, he came to be regarded as a leader of the conservative element in the church. He was one of the group, which included David Sewall, Joseph Buckminster, and Benjamin Abbot, who initiated The Piscataqua Evangelical Magazine, and was put forward as a candidate by the conservatives of the Harvard Corporation when Dr. Henry Ware was elected to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity. He was also a frequent contributor to the Panoplist, founded by those who were broadly Calvinistic rather than Hopkinsian.

In 1807, Appleton was elected president of Bowdoin College. At this time he was thirty-five years old, and is described as a little under six feet in height, of commanding figure, his head very bald and of brilliant whiteness, his complexion remarkably fair. To the difficult work of his office he gave himself unsparingly. Besides struggling successfully with the financial problems of the day, he had a large share in the work of instruction, and prepared himself in minute detail for every recitation. Tutors contemplating the ministry were instructed by him. For long periods he allowed himself but four hours a day for sleep and ate a scant diet that the need of physical exercise might be lessened. He had an almost morbid sense of responsibility for the religious and intellectual welfare of the students, which increased his labors and anxiety. Under the strain he broke down physically, and died of pulmonary affection at the age of forty-seven.

Appleton's publications were chiefly sermons and addresses. Many of these and a bibliography of all may be found in the The Works of Rev. Jesse Appleton, D.D., with a Memoir of His Life and Character, by Alpheus S. Packard, 2 volumes (1837).

[Benj. Tappan, A Sermon Delivered at the Interment of the Rev. Jesse Appleton (1819); Wm. B. Sprague, Annals Am. Pulpit, II (1857); I. A. Jewett, Memorial of Sam. Appleton of Ipswich, Mass., with General Notices of Some of His Descendants (1850); G. T. Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth Coll. (1867); Gen. Cat. of Bowdoin Coll., with hist. sketch by Geo. T. Little (1894); Jos. Dow, History of the Town of Hampton, N.H. (1893).]