1906, The Herald Company of Binghamton, Printers
A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF
Julia Anna SHEPARD
Submitted by Deborah HUNTINGTON Smith
No Unauthorized Commercial Use may Be Made of This Material
Photo of the Susquehanna River by Joyce M. Tice Feb., 26, 1999
It has been well said that the lives of those only should be written who have contributed to the well-being of mankind; who have by precept and. example endeavored to elevate, and influence for good, any coming within their reach. Surely those who have led lives of devotion to others are well worthy of commemoration. Few, if any, have lived in as small a degree for personal glory, or for self-adulation, as did she whose memory it is now our happiness to recall.
Anna Shepard, daughter of John Shepard, was born in Athens township, November 11, 1799. Her father, who had removed from Plainfleld, Conn., in 1784, had at this period attained to circumstances of prosperity and comfort; and her infancy was bright and joyous, until she was five years of age, when the greatest calamity that can befall a young family suddenly overwhelmed them.
The mother of this unsuspecting circle was thrown from a carriage and the following day breathed her last, with the words upon her lips, "I am going to the world of Spirits." With profound grief did the stricken husband, and father of the terrified group of seven little children, exclaimed, "Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow."
This melancholy event doubtless left a deep and lasting impression upon the child whose course we trace today. She was represented as unusually considerate and thoughtful. Very early her affections were placed upon the treasures of heaven, where her most precious earthly friend had gone, and with the steadfastness of purpose which distinguished her through her career, she early consecrated her life to the service of God. She gave to Him the first fruits, and He granted her an abundant harvest.
We find in the earliest records of this Church on the 8th day of July, 1812, when she was twelve years of age, the name of Anna Sliepard with twenty-one others, her father among the number. "The members first constituting a Congregational Church, having individually subscribed their names to the articles of faith." She was at this time baptized. This step was not taken with the thoughtlessness of a child, as we may judge by a letter, dated September 12, 1812, written by the new and loving mother who had come the year previous to gladden this home which had been for six long years motherless. She speaks "particularly of our little Anna Shepard, it is all we can ask of a child or any one else to give himself to the Sovereign of the universe unfeigned, which I have no doubt is the case with her. She is to me a charming child and I promise myself great satisfaction with her if our lives are spared."
Not long after this a friend and relative, Miss Julia Prentice, visited the family, and being much pleased with this interesting little girl, wished her to be called for her. Without formality, therefore, Julia was prefixed to her name, which subsequently was usually written Julia Anna.
Mr. Shepard was extremely anxious for the education of his family, and in their early years established a school near his residence where they were carefully trained and instructed. In 1814, however, an exceptionally fine teacher was engaged in the person of Mr. Sylvanus Guernsey, a liberally educated young man from Harrisburg," and the first school was opened in the Athens Academy. Mr. Shepard was one of the patrons, and his daughter Anna, who was then fourteen years of age, was among the first of those who availed themselves of the superior advantages of this historical institution of learning. An old school friend, an aged clergyman, remarked not many years since that she was always acknowledged among her companions even at an early age to be intellectual and a conscientious student. After two or three years of diligent work, and hearing of Miss Pierce’s celebrated school at Litchfield, Conn., the leading institution of that date for young ladies, she became exceedingly anxious to avail herself of that opportunity to obtain a broader and more thorough education; consequently in a letter of November 26, 1817, to Miss Pierce, her father makes application for her, and speaks of the desire his daughter has for an education, and adds, "I have thought proper to place her under your tuition, deeming it all important to give my children such advantages." She evidently prepared for the long journey hastily, for a letter from a friend of her father’s, Mr. Jesse Gilbert, of New Haven, written the January following, says, "Julia Anna and I arrived at Litchfield yesterday afternoon in good health and found all things agreeable. Left her in fine spirits. She boards with a Mrs. Bull, where Mrs. Beecher, mother of Dr. Lyman Beecher, and Esther Beecher, his sister, and my particular friend, live; who have agreed to send me a line if she should be sick, in which case I shall write you, and pay every attention as if she were my own daughter." This must have been very comforting indeed to a father whose child was as far distant in point of time, compared with now, as if beyond the seas.
She was left in good hands. The various members of this celebrated family, who were most attentive and kind during her stay in Litchfield, were always by her borne in grateful and pleasant remembrance. Dr. Lyman Beecher, the leading clergyman of the town, was then at the zenith of his popularity and power, and the members of his family who subsequently became so distinguished were interesting young people, her congenial companions.
The school was all that it was represented to be, yet with these many advantages we may read-ily imagine a touch of homesickness when we read in a letter from the young school girl so far from home to a dear friend, "Were I not as pleasantly situated as heart can wish, with the best of friends and associates, and my mind engaged and interested with my literary pursuits, I should be inclined to think I was forgotten. I will hasten to tell you something of Litchfield. It only wants the Tioga and Susquehanna rivers to make it the most delightful place I have ever seen. The society far exceeds the local situation with all its beauty and there are schools where every science may be studied, charitable institutions for the dissemination of knowledge are established, and every one appears to be engaged in the instruction of the indigent. We have this summer a very interesting school; there are about a hundred pupils"
A letter to her parents dated July 25, 1818, shows what unusual attainments she had made in her spiritual and intellectual life for a girl of her years. She wrote, "I am now in my dear little chamber, where I spend the most of my time in studying and knitting. It is indeed a pleasant place, a little out of the bustle of the village, where, we have a beautiful prospect, and a fine society of little girls. I am peculiarly privileged, I acknowledge, but I feel the want of a warm heart to whom to express my gratitude to the bountiful ‘Giver of every good and perfect gift.’
"My faithful monitor, Miss Perry, has left, and I have no one in the family upon whom I can depend to reprove me when I err. My conscience hope is not so seared but that it resists the strivings of the wicked one. How diligently employed the enemy, and how varied his artifices to deceive the souls of men.
" I must hasten to tell you that a few days since I saw a Christian die. It was Mrs. Beecher, mother of the minister. She met death as a welcomed guest, like the calm summer sun her spirit gently retired to shine in another world. The house was filled with silent tears, but they were not tears of grief. How desirable to live the life of the righteous, that we may die his death. Another affecting and interesting death was that of Mr. Holmes, a young man about the age of twenty-two. He was preparing for the ministry, studying at An-dover. He was taken ill there and obliged to return to his home at Litchfield. I never saw a more affecting scene than was exhibited on the Sabbath when he was buried. Mr. Beecher’s text was, ‘For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.’ He showed why it is better to die than to live. ‘First, because there is rest after death if we reach Heaven; secondly, there is no sin in Heaven; thirdly, the society is better, being made up of angels and spirits of the just.’ He spoke in the most energetic and interesting manner to the young people. The congregation was generally melted to tears. Mr. Holmes was greatly beloved and lamented by all. The procession was very solemn. Four young men of his particular friends, dressed in mourning, and eight young ladies, dressed in white, followed the bier, and as nearly as could be estimated six hundred were in the procession." In this letter she sends messages to various friends, and says, "tell Flora [a colored servant] not to be weary in well doing, for in due time she shall reap if she faint not: let our services be what they may or if we are ever so apparently useless, we can sometimes do much., Don’t you remember ‘The Lion and the Mouse’? Our school is very interesting, all united like sisters. To-day we have received religious instruction from Miss Pierce. With how much tenderness and affection did she address us. I can never extol her too highly; many will undoubtedly arise and call her blessed. When shall we all be a flame of love, of love to our Father? How strange is that we should so grovel in the dust. You cannot think how much I should love to see you, but I enjoy my studies too well to leave them if it is possible for me to stay.
"One question (in class) Mr. Brace could not answer was, What is the physical cause of blushing? Our subject for composition this week is, What is the disposition, is it innate or acquired? This exceeds my faculties for reasoning. It is more than I can answer."
A few years previous to this there had been a great uprising in New England in regard to the subject of missions. The saintly Samuel J. Mills had prepared for college at the Litchfield Academy, and had gone to Williams, where he and his few friends had made memorable the locality of the hay-stack, and their influence had extended over the land, and later was destined to be felt over the known world. Judson, Hall, Nott, Newell, and Rice had, February 12, 1812, under auspices of the American Board, sailed for Ca1cutta to carry the gospel tidings. This example was followed by five others who sailed for Cey1on the following October; two embarked Bombay in the fall of 1817, and four sailed for Cey1on soon after. The destitute and ignorant of our own country were not neglected; the mission among the Cherokees of Georgia and Alabama was instituted by the Board about 1816. It received the patronage of our Government, was personally visited by President Monroe, who made appropriations for its assistance and expressed an enthusiastic interest in the enterprise. A number of the natives were brought North to be educated, and were placed in the Foreign Mission school at Cornwall, Conn., a very short distance from Litchfield. Representatives of various nations were received, for training and education, to return to their own lands as missionaries. Perhaps the most interesting of these students was Henry Obookiah, a native of the Sandwich Islands, and a distant relative of the king. He had fled from his own country in a time of insurrection, found his way to our shores and his subsequent career elicited profound interest. His conversion and life following were most remarkable, and his death, which occurred in Cornwall February 17, 1818, was that of a triumphant Christian. On the occasion of his funeral Dr. Lyman Beecher preached one of his most powerful sermons from the text, "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitudes of the isles be glad thereof," etc. Throngs attended the funeral, among others, the young student at the - Litchfield seminary. With her tender years, her intellectual and spiritual attainments, and broad ideas, it is not strange that a lasting impression was made upon her mind, and that an interest in missions was awakened which lasted through life. She always valued her little volume, "The Life of Henry Obookiah," and on the flyleaf is written in a dainty hand, "Subscribed for it before it was published in Litchfield, Conn., 1818." In a letter to a friend she again writes, "Five young men of the Cherokee tribe have just arrived here from the South, and to-day are going to the mission school at Cornwall. We now begin to see the effects of our contributions. The heathen are made acquainted with the true God, savages becoming civilized and agreeable to the prophecies, the wilderness budding and blossoming as the rose. What can be more pleasant than to see natives come out of the wilderness, and rank with the civilized world. It is owing to the dread darkness of mind and a savage education, that we do not see rising among them kings and priests unto God.
"Well may we prize the calmer skies we claim, and well may pity when we look at them." She speaks of the fact that the school girls were going to make a bed-quilt for the mission at Cornwall, although the Indians could not yet be persuaded to sleep on beds. The letter closes, "Late at night; I must bid you adieu."
Her superior privileges for an education are frequently alluded to with happiness and gratitude. The scientific branches, such as Chemistry, Philosophy and Astronomy, were her especial delight. Her standing as a scholar was of such a character that when she had been there but six months, and was only eighteen years of age, Miss Pierce offered her a situation to teach in the school. Miss Catherine Beecher had been the assistant, but Miss Pierce remarked, "Miss Shepard, as Miss Beecher is about to leave, I would like you to take her place." This she did with great credit. Later an opportunity presented for her to go to Georgia as a teacher, "where ample funds were provided," but this was like going out of the world, and we may easily believe that her friends objected to one of her youth being so far separated from home.
However, not long after that a situation was offered her as preceptress in the Academy of Ithaca, N. Y., and this position was accepted. The duties were in accordance with her tastes. Here she endeavored to arouse an interest in the subject of missions, which had become very dear to her heart during her residence in New England.
Among her papers is still found a receipt for six dollars, sent by her, from certain young ladies of Ithaca, and signed by the distinguished Jeremiah Evarts, for many years Secretary and Treasurer of the American Board. The social atmosphere at Ithaca at that time must have been charming, and there it was her happy lot to meet the one who was to be "A dearer one still, and a nearer one yet than all others." There were those who had sought her hand, and sung her praises, but in George A. Perkins, a young man of good birth and education, who had recently come from New England, were all the desires of her heart realized. He had made a specialty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, and learning of a desirable situation at Athens, and that within a radius of fifteen miles there was no one answering to his profession, he was readily induced to locate in this place, which was in those days a town of considerable importance. Hence in March, 1823, he removed to Athens and established himself in business. We read in the old record of this church dated April 14, 1823 "Voted, that George A. Perkins be admitted as a member by letter," dated April 7, and at the same meeting, he and two others were appointed a committee to transcribe the church records, and at the next meeting, April 16, John Shepard resigned as clerk, and George A. Perkins was appointed to fill his place. The church had recently been changed from Congregational to Presbyterian, and April 28 he was chosen ruling Elder, being but twenty-four years of age, was very soon ordained, and May 1, 1823, he was married by the Rev. James Williamson to Julia Anna Shepard, at the home of her father, situated on the banks of the Susquehanna, the last. house Mr. Shepard built and where he resided twenty years, "the old place" on the Howell tract.
Events of importance had crowded in quick succession. It was not pleaded, "I am engaged in business," or "I have married a wife" and "therefore I cannot come," but religious duties went hand in hand with the affairs of life, which are usually so absorbing and interesting during the happy days of youth. We can hardly appreciate the joy to those who were endeavoring to sustain the struggling church, to welcome a young man of such culture, piety, zeal, and efficiency. These offices as Elder and Clerk of the Session, were assumed at an early age, and faithfully sustained for an almost unparalleled period of time.
And the bride of 1823, did her religious and intellectual attainments, her enthusiasm in the work of carrying out the Saviour’s last command, diminish in her new and happy relation? Far from it! With sympathy and encouragement they were fostered and intensified, and the cause of missions was not left without a witness, watching in earnest expectation.
We of to-day when this work is more popular; when intelligent Christian women are giving their attention to the subject to so great an extent; when those not interested are the peculiar ones; and much money and time formerly wasted, are being consecrated; can hardly appreciate what it was for her in her early married life to endeavor to arouse an interest in a subject which had received so little attention in this part of the country. Yet in all the years that followed, with family cares and increasing responsibilities, a little society was sustained with a few faithful co-laborers. The altar fires were kept burning, and the hand of faith reached out and grasped the promises of the "King of Nations."
"Let us gently glide adown the stream of time."
We find after the reunion of the two branches of the Presbyterian Church in 1871 a season of development and prosperity; the smiles of Heaven seemed to bless this union. Many were aroused to more diligent service, and the power of the women who had faithfully "kept silence" began to be felt. This was a joyous day to those who had labored in prayerful hope for so many years, and with the new societies forming throughout the land, this little church was among the first to arise and send a ray of brightness to lighten the world.
Mrs. Perkins was made the President of the new organization in 1871, and retained the position for about five years, when she laid her mantle upon younger shoulders, feeling confident that the work would be faithfully carried forward.
Her advancing years were passed in quiet, comfort and peace. From time to time, articles of value which dropped from her pen found their way into leading magazines and papers. And when seventy years of age she published the little historical volume, "Early Times on the Susquehanna," which was mostly kindly received. She was lead to this work, in part, by the remembrance of the "Old Settlers’ Meeting" which was held at the Presbyterian Church of Athens, February 20, 1854, when many distinguished men were present, among them a number of descendants of the early inhabitants. It was then strongly urged that history relating to the settlement of this valley be collected and preserved. Fifteen years passed with no response to this important suggestion; and having in her possession papers and correspondence belonging to her father, as a basis, she began and completed this work, which is of so great value, and which will be of incalculable service to the future historian.
All through life, with a strong inclination toward religious subjects, Mrs. Perkins was of a singularly peaceful and happy temperament, with a relish for pleasantry, and an appreciation of all that was bright and beautiful. Music had for her especial charms, and she was endowed with an unusually sweet voice, which was well preserved until late in life.
Ever truly hospitable, and gracious in the society of congenial friends, hers was a broader, a heaven-horn love and sympathy, which knew no limitations, but embraced all the world, and went beyond the confines of temporal existence into that of life eternal. (Of her family of eight children, Lucy, Isaac, Rebecca, Edward, and John have been called to their eternal home. Anna, George, and Sarah are still in the active walks of life.)
The domestic life of Mr. and Mrs. Perkins was one of exceptional congeniality and happiness. It was passed in "The unity of Sprit, in the bond of peace." Much time was spent in reading and the study of favorite topics, historical and scientific, and in general intelligence they were alert and thoroughly abreast with the times.
Their Golden Wedding was celebrated May 1, 1873, and they survived until 1884, examples of patient waiting, and a benediction to the world.
To give in detail an account of their lives, for so many years passed in usefulness and Christian activity in this valley, would be an impossibility. They were refined, quiet, and unostentatious, but as the strongest forces of nature are invisible, so the power of the influence of these lives God alone can estimate.
Their record is in Heaven. But that of Earth is written "He served the Church of Christ as Elder sixty-one years, and she was a faithful member seventy-two years." They had early in life chosen that Wisdom, whose "ways are ways of pleasantness," and all whose "paths are peace." And, as when the sun is setting, and his golden rays gild the horizon with brilliancy and beauty, giving promise of a still brighter day; so, as the shadows of life began to draw gently around them, they who had been made beautiful by the reflection of His image, almost hand in hand were ushered into His presence, where is "fullness of joy," and at whose "right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
Submitted by Deborah (Huntington) Smith