Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Beautiful and Dead Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels LXVIII

A word or two remains to be said about the Reverend Jedidiah Mills, the "first and faithful minister of the Gospel of Christ at Ripton".  My earlier post neglected to pieces of local lore about the good Reverend (who in an ironic twist was often called "the priest" while his Anglican opposite, the Rev. Newton, was called "parson") noted by Ripton's great historian, Jane de Forest Shelton in her master-work The Saltbox House.

The first anecdote about Reverend Mills concerns the French and Indian War.  Apparently, when news of the British Victory came by errand-rider to the village green, the Reverend was in the middle of a baptism.  The ceremony paused for a moment of general celebration, but when the elderly Reverend went back to the baptism his mind was slow to follow: he accidentally christened the baby "Victory".  The name stuck, and was even passed on to a younger cousin.

The second anecdote has an odd personal connection.  When an enthusiastic David Brainard was kicked out of Yale (probably for calling his professors "unregenerate"), he was sent a days ride westward to the sleepy town of Ripton and put under the personal care of Reverend Jedidiah Mills.  Mills counseled Brainard through the discernment process that led to the young man's missionary efforts among the Native Americans at Stockbridge.  Members of this tribe served as missionaries in their turn, some of them taking the gospel to the Oneida.  The second part of this story was a favorite of my friend and mentor, Charles Smith, a member of the Oneida tribe.  David Brainard had for him the sort of status that Saint Patrick has for us Irish-Americans.  What I never realized until Mr. Smith had passed, was that I drove by the rock where Brainard kept his prayer vigils and by the grave of his friend and mentor at least once a day all through my childhood.

I met an old Oneida in the land
Of broken promise
And he spoke of David Brainard
And a little of John Eliot.
Here we were across the world
Far from both our lands and fathers
And I’d bless him by Saint Patrick
If I were still a papist.

You see I drove by Brainard’s Rock
At least three times a day
And the gas station marks the
Place
Where he wrestled with discernment.
So in the end we both love something;
Our affinities unite us
And I’ll gladly show you round the
Place

When I cross your side of Jordan.

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