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Sixty Years With Plymouth Church by Stephen M. Griswold


The great metropolis of the East has ever had a great attraction for the sons of rural New England, and I was no exception to the rule. In 1851 I made known to my parents my ambition to see and know more of the world, and to this end I purposed to make my way to New York in search of fame and fortune -- a wider horizon and a larger life. I had spent my uneventful days thus far on my father's farm, and both he and my mother were filled with dismay at my determination to go to what was, to them, a city of untold lawlessness and full of pitfalls, where an unsophisticated country youth like myself would be beset with many temptations on every hand, and be led away from the straight and narrow path of his upbringing by his godly parents. And truly the change would be great from the quiet home at Windsor in the beautiful valley of the Connecticut to the stir and bustle and crowds of a great city. So far as success in any business I might undertake or material gains were concerned, my parents were quite sure that the possibilities for advancement were hardly commensurate with the danger of discouragement and complete failure.

However, I had not spoken without careful thought, and when they saw how strongly I felt, and that I could not be content to live out my days on the farm, they consented to my going, though rather reluctantly; but it was what I wanted, and I did not feel that I was erecting a wall of separation which would shut me out of the home of my childhood; though I little thought how hard it would be to leave it when the time for my departure really came. My mother, following the custom of most New England matrons of those days -- I wonder sometimes whether they are as careful now to do the same -- placed in my satchel a Bible; and with that and her blessing, on the fourth of August, 1851, I started out to make my way in the world, arriving in New York, a lonely country boy, with no introductions and no one to hold out a helping hand.

Business opportunities were not so varied in character then as they are now, and mercantile pursuits seemed to loom up above every other; American ships were winning fame and fortune for merchants and seemed to me to offer the greatest prizes. For a few days I wandered about the city, going from office to office seeking employment, and before a week had passed I had secured it; going from New York over to Brooklyn and there continuing my quest, I secured a position as clerk in a business house on Atlantic Street.

For a time all went well; the hurry and bustle of the city, all so strange and fascinating to me; the new occupation, calling into play an entirely different line of thought; the new surroundings, all combined to ward off any feeling of loneliness or homesickness. A few weeks of this, however, sufficed to wear away the novelty, and a full sense of my solitary condition rushed over me; I had made few acquaintances and had practically no society. I began to look around for companions, or at least for some place where I could spend my evenings, when the time dragged most heavily.

It was fortunate for me that just at this point where so many young men are tempted to wander into questionable or even harmful ways, my thoughts were turned in a truly helpful direction. Like every newcomer, I had studied the notices in the papers and on the fences and bulletin boards, and of them all, the one that had the greatest attraction for me was that of Plymouth Church and Henry Ward Beecher, and I determined that the next Sunday I would find my way to the church and hear him preach, which I accordingly did. The large auditorium of the church was thronged, but I received such a cordial welcome as to make me feel at home, and was at once shown to a seat. That service was a revelation to me, it was in every respect so very different from anything I had ever seen or heard. The singing by the great congregation, the eloquence and withal the helpfulness of the preacher, made a deep impression on me -- an impression that stayed with me throughout the week, and I determined to go again the next Sunday. This time I was so fortunate as to meet a young man whom I had known in Hartford. He was a friend of Dr. Henry E. Morrill, the superintendent of the Sunday School, and through him I was invited to become a member of a Bible Class, an invitation which I was very glad to accept. From this time on I had no reason to complain of any lack of social life. No young man or woman who was in Plymouth Church at this time could fail to find the very best type of society; under the leadership of Mr. Beecher this feature of church life was especially emphasised. The next year I became a member of the church, and from that time, during more than half a century, Plymouth Church has been more to me than I can possibly express.

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