Mr. Ward Cotton, Colleague -- Part I
The senior pastor's health continued to decline a few weeks longer, and on Sabbath day, the 25th of August, 1734, he fell asleep in death, at the age of nearly forty-eight years -- about one-half of his life having been spent in his ministry among this people.
During his ministry three hundred twenty persons were admitted to full communion with the church, and about nine hundred seventy-five, baptized.
On Monday, the next day after the death of Mr. Gookin, there was a meeting of the freeholders, when it was voted to raise £100 in money, one half of which -- if so large a stun should be needed, -- should be appropriated to defray the funeral charges, and the remainder of the £100 be expended in clothing for the widow and children of the deceased pastor. The whole matter was committed to the management of the selectmen.
A slab of fine slate, erected at the expense of the town, marks the grave where he was interred in the old Burying Yard. On the slab is the following inscription, still very legible after the lapse of more than one hundred fifty years:
"Here lyes Interred the Body of the Revd Mr. NATHANIEL GOOKIN, M. A. & late Pastor of the lst Church of CHRIST in HAMPTON, who died Aug. 25, MDCCXXXIV in the 48th year of his Age, & the 27th of his Ministry.
He was A Judicious DIVINE, A Celebrated Preacher, A most Vigilant & faithful PASTOR, A bright Ornament of Learning and RELIGION, An Excellent Pattern of PIETY, CHARITY & Hospitality."
Mr. Gookin's sermon in the afternoon before the "great earthquake," gained for him, in some quarters, the reputation of being aprophet. It is said that some of the Quakers reproved him for neglecting "to improve his gift." It is hardly necessary to add, that Mr. Gookin himself disclaimed any such gift.
One of the most striking characteristics of Mr. Gookin was the gravity and unassumed dignity of his manners. Several anecdotes are related, illustrative of this. On one occasion during his ministry, the royal governor of the province, when passing through the town, stopped at Colonel Wingate's for refreshment.[p.127] While there, he was called upon by Mr. Gookin. After he had retired, the governor remarked, that he had had interviews with his majesty, king George, and his ministers, and with many members of Parliament, but never before had he met with any man of equal dignity with this minister of the gospel.
The following obituary of Rev. Mr. Gookin was written by Rev. Ward Cotton, the surviving pastor of the church, and entered on the Town Records, August 28, 1734.
"On Lord's day morning, the 25th instant, died here Rev. Mr. Nathaniel Gookin, in the 48th year of his age. He was the son of the Rev. Mr. Nathaniel Gookin, minister of Cambridge, and grandson to the Hon. Major General [Daniel] Gookin. He had a liberal Education in the School and College at Cambridge; his natural powers were quick & strong, and his Improvements in Learning and Religion were very remarkable; and by his close Application to his studies, especially in Divinity, he made an early & bright appearance in the pulpit [in] 1710. Upon the death of the venerable Mr. John Cotton, our former pastor, he was called & ordained to the pastoral office in this town, in which station his natural and acquired abilities, in conjunction with his sincere piety and steady prudence, zeal & faithfulness in his Lord's work, rendered him truly great and good; a star of the first magnitude, highly esteemed & beloved by all that knew him. He was justly esteemed by the most judicious, a well accomplished Divine, a judicious Casuist excellently qualified both to feed & guide the flock of Christ; an eminent preacher, excelling in the most correct phrase, clear method, sound scriptural Reasoning, a masculine style, manly voice, grave utterance, and a lively, close application to his hearers, with great affection, and yet free from affectation. The classis of Ministers to which he belonged, placed much of their glory in him, and highly valued his judgment in all cases that came before them. He was a zealous asserter of the civil Rights, and Religious liberties of mankind. His temper was grave & thoughtful, yet at times cheerful and free; and his conversation very entertaining. In his conduct he was ever prudent, and careful of his character, both as a minister and as a christian. He was much given to hospitality, and took great pleasure in entertaining such as he might improve [himself] by conversing within; -- a gentleman of a generous and catholic spirit; a hearty friend to his country, and to our ecclesiastical constitution; And always approved himself a bright example of those Doctrines and virtues, which he so plainly preached and earnestly recommended to others.
For some time before his death, he was diverted from his beloved work by a sore malady that affected his throat or palate, which depressed his voice and obstructed his speech; whereby being taken off from that which was so much his proper element, he at length fell under the sad impression of a slow fever, under which he languished for three or four months, bearing all his trials within an admirable patience and submission, and at last with great peace and comfort, resigned his spirit to God that gave it, within him to keep an everlasting Sabbath.