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ME QUARTERLY REVIEW.
ART. I.-ROBERT LAURENSON DASHIELL, D.D.
Robert L. DASHIELL, son of Robert and Mary R. Dashiell, was born at Salisbury, Maryland, June 25, 1825. His ancestry on his father's side were of French Huguenot extraction, and, settling in Somerset County in 1665, have always been prominent citizens. In 1691, when the Church of England was established by law in Maryland, the Dashiell family became Episcopalians, and Green Hill Church, Stepney Parish, built in 1733, now moldering in ruin on the bank of the Wicomico, shows on its records that two thirds of the wardens and vestrymen were named Dashiell.
His mother, Mary Rider, was of that class of English colonists dominant in the settlement of Maryland, with, perhaps, an infusion of the strong Puritan element which was driven from Virginia into the adjoining State, and which made Maryland somewhat like New England in blood, ideas, and religion; although the economic conditions, such as the parceling of the land in vast plantations, tobacco-raising, and slave labor, gave the State a resemblance to the South.
Nowhere had Methodism a more auspicious beginning than in Delaware and Maryland. Particularly on the Eastern Shore it found a clear field among a fine population, chiefly English and Scotch, free from Roman Catholic influence. In ministry and laity, Methodism in this section was fortunate. Strawbridge, Freeborn Garrettson, Asbury, Coke, and a grand host
FOURTH SERIES, Vol. XXXV.-27
who came after, laid foundations upon which rose a Church built of the best elements of an excellent population, including many influential families like the Goughs, Bassetts, Whites, and Barretts, whose opulence and social position "gave material strength to the Church, while their exemplary devotion helped to maintain its purity and power.” The stateliest homes, like Perry Hall, which Coke calls “the most elegant house in the State," and the spacious and splendid Bassett mansion at Bohemia Manor, were homes, refuges, and preaching-places for the early ministers : and from the time of Governor Bassett, of Delaware, down to the days when Governor Hollyday Hicks held Maryland to the Union, in 1861, many governors, senators, judges, and prominent citizens of both States have been ardent Methodists. Quite equal to the high social rank of Methodism here was its spirituality and fruitfulness, in which quantity kept pace with quality. On the Peninsula it has been exceedingly productive from 1772, when Robert Williams founded the first society on the Eastern Shore, until now, when Methodism is estimated to have one third of the population, all other Churches together not having equal strength. A great array of ministers of strong character and talents this soil has produced. The first Society, formed by Strawbridge, of twelve or fifteen persons at Sam's Creek, early furnished five preachers. A single church in a small village has been known to send nine of its boys almost simultaneously into the itinerancy. The region which has reared such men as Bishop Emory, Lawrence M’Combs, Robert Seney-father of George I. Seney, Esq.George Pickering, Ezekiel Cooper, Solomon Sharp, James Nichols, William Phoebus, Bishop Scott, B. H. Nadal, the two Dashiells, J. A. Roche, H. B. Ridgaway, Bishop Hurst, R. II. Pattison-father of Gov. Pattison, of Pennsylvania--and many others eminent in usefulness, may be justly proud of its sons.
When Freeborn Garrettson was preaching in a wood at Broad Creek, Sussex County, an aged couple, named Ryder, heard him, and invited him to their house at Quantico. He went, and, with this couple for a nucleus, formed the first Methodist Society in Somerset County, in 1778; since which, Lednum says, “there have been many valuable Methodists of the Ryder family about Quantico and Salisbury.”
These “dear old people,” as Garrettson called them, living on a large
plantation on the Mantico, in a home of abundance, thrift, and religion, were the maternal great-grandparents of Robert L. Dashiell. Their house was a home and a church for Asbury and other early preachers, and Jesse Lee there baptized Dashiell's mother, whose life-long fidelity to early vows entitled her children to Hooker's benediction, “ Blessed forever be that mother's child whose faith hath made him the child of God." Although Mary Rider married an Episcopalian, she maintained her devotion to her Church, so that her children were born into positively Methodist atmosphere.
In the spring of 1826, Rev. Lawrence Laurenson, then Presiding Elder of the lower district, old Philadelphia Conference, so captivated Robert Dashiell, as well as his wife, that their babe, about one year old, being named Robert for his father, was named Laurenson for the minister who baptized him, and who was one of the most eloquent and attractive of the preachers on the Peninsula. Around the early life of the boy thus baptized, the power of such men as Levi Scott, T. J. Thompson, Henry White, George G. Cookman, and Matthew Sorin shed its illumination.
“Larry," as he was called, had a genuine, full-blooded, frolicsome boyhood. He was amiable, handsome, jubilant, playful, irrepressible, but not addicted to vices of any kind; so full of pranks, that almost every mischievous thing was laid to his charge. Strong health, active mind, and exuberant spirits made him a leader among his comrades. He early showed a passion for public speaking, for which he found exciting occasions in political campaigns, notably that of 1840, when he figured as champion Whig stump-speaker among the boys of his village, pitted against a Democratic boy, named Collins. These two rallied the juvenile partisans of Salisbury, and hot debates sometimes passed from words to fisticuffs. This merry boyhood went on until he was fifteen, when all at once life exploded its great realities about him, and he stood startled, flushed, thinking fast, and feeling intensely, as one who hears suddenly close at hand the opening thunders of a battle. His father's failure in business, his own conversion, the return from college of his elder brother, John Huston, embodying to the eye and imagination of the boy the results and value of a collegiate education—these events ended boyhood for him, and brought in the period when youth begins to reach for its resources and stretch consciously toward manhood and an earnest future.
His father, a man of integrity, had been prosperously engaged for years in mercantile business in Salisbury. John H. Dashiell, on graduating from Dickinson College, was elected Principal of the academy at Salisbury, and also taught a Sabbath-school class, of which his brother, Robert, was a member. The entire class was soon converted under the pastorate of Rev. James Hargis. Dashiell ever cherished the memory of his spiritual father, and in manhood told how Hargis patted him on the back as he wept at the altar, saying, “Pray on, Larry," until the work of renewal was done. Many years after, Dashiell, when college president, found opportunity to pay this debt by bringing to God James Hargis' son, then a student at Dickinson, now Rev. J. H. Hargis, of the Newark Conference.
Soon after his conversion “Larry” felt ambitious, in view of his father's situation, to be independent, and secured a position as teacher in a primary school. Six months' teaching resulted in one hundred and twenty dollars, and a desire for a college education. With his brother's assistance he was prepared for college by September, 1843. He desired to enter Sophomore, but being found rusty on some studies was taken on trial for three months. If in that time he could overtake the Sophomores, well; if not, he must fall back with the Freshmen. When Dr. Durbin read off the standing after the Christmas examination, Dashiell's name was highest among the Sophomores, and when, a few moments after, he met the president on the campus and asked if he might be admitted to the Sophomore class, Dr. Durbin, smiling, said, “I think we'll risk it." That first toilsome year in college he always looked back upon as the most important of his life in the formation of character. He records that his entrance at Dickinson marked the beginning of a completer religious life, and says: “From the commencement of college life I made punctuality in all religious and college duties the supreme rule. I was never absent from church, prayers, or recitation, unless sick or out of town.”
He was popular with the faculty, and also with the students, among whom he went by the name of “ Dash." He was so poor that sometimes he fled out of one door as his