Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pierson, Abraham

PIERSON, ABRAHAM (d. 1678), New England divine, born in Yorkshire, graduated B.A. from Trinity College, Cambridge, on 2 Jan. 1632–3. He went out to America, as member of the church at Boston, between 1630 and 1640. In 1640 he and a party of emigrants from Lynn in Massachusetts formed a new township on Long Island, which they named Southampton. There Pierson remained as minister of the congregational church for four years. In 1644 this church became divided. A number of the inhabitants left, and, uniting with a further body from the township of Weathersfield, formed under Pierson a fresh church at a settlement at Branford, within the jurisdiction of New Haven. In 1666 Pierson migrated yet a fourth time. The cause of this last change is among the most significant incidents in the early history of New England. When, by the order of Charles II, a new charter was granted to Connecticut, incorporating New Haven with that colony, several of the townships of New Haven resisted. This resistance, based on the exclusive tenacity with which the New Englander regarded the corporate life of his own community, was intensified by the peculiar conditions of the two colonies in question. Newhaven, rigidly and severely ecclesiastical from the outset, had, like Massachusetts, made church membership a needful condition for the enjoyment of civic rights. No such restriction was imposed in Connecticut. The men of Branford, supported by Pierson, opposed the union with Connecticut. When their opposition proved fruitless, they forsook their home, leaving Branford almost unpeopled, and, taking their civil and ecclesiastical records with them, established a fresh church and township at Newark, within the limits of New Jersey. There Pierson died on 9 Aug. 1678. His son Abraham was the first head of Yale College, Connecticut. In 1659 Pierson published a pamphlet entitled ‘Some Helps for the Indians, showing them how to improve their natural reason, to know the true God and the true Christian Religion.’ It is a short statement of the fundamental principles of monotheism, with a linear translation into the tongue of the Indians of New England. A copy of verses by Pierson on the death of Theophilus Eaton [q. v.] is published in the ‘Massachusetts Historical Collection’ (4th ser. vol. viii.)

[Winthrop's Hist. of New England; Trumbull's Hist. of Connecticut; Savage's Genealog. Dict. of New England.]

J. A. D.