Samuel Davies Passed Into Glory on This Date in History

Readers of this blog will recall that on January 1, 1761, Samuel Davies (1723-1761) preached "A Sermon on the New Year" (see Sermons on Important Subjects, Vol. 2, Serm. 34, pp. 139 ff), based Jer. 28:16: "This year thou shalt die." In that sermon, he said:

"Thus it appears very possible, that one or other of us may die this year. Nay, it is very probable, as well as possible, if we consider that it is a very uncommon, and almost unprecedented thing, that not one should die in a whole year out of such an assembly as this. More than one have died the year past, who made a part of our assembly last new year's day. Therefore let each of us (for we know not on whom the lot may fall) realize this possibility, this alarming probability, 'this year I may die.'" 

As it turned out, less than three weeks later, Davies, who is known to history as "the Apostle of Virginia," caught a severe cold, and under the care of his physician, was bled with leeches. He seemed to improve briefly, and was able to preach again, but by January 23, he relapsed and was overtaken by a fever and chills. At that point, in and out of delirium, he spoke of his earlier sermon as "his own funeral sermon." (In a remarkable providence, this was the exact text that Aaron Burr, Sr. (1716-1757, the second President of the College of New Jersey) preached as a New Year's sermon right before his death, which Davies knew, yet which inspired him somehow to choose for his own text. The same was also true, by the way, of both Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758, the third president of the College of New Jersey) and his son, Jonathan Edwards, Jr. (1745-1801).)

After 13 days of illness, at 38 years of age, at 2 pm on February 4, 1761, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he served as fourth President of the College of New Jersey, Samuel Davies passed into glory, leaving behind his bereaved second wife (Jane Holt Davies, known to readers of Davies' poetry as "Chara") and five living children, and many others who lamented the loss of a remarkable man. The story of his life and final days is well told by Dewey Roberts in Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia (2017). 

What he once wrote to his brother-in-law, John Holt, who lived in Williamsburg, from his rural retreat in Hanover, Virginia, has special meaning for those who appreciate the work of Log College Press: "I am as happy as perhaps creation can make me: I enjoy all the necessaries and most of the conveniences of life; I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals. I very much question if there is a more calm, placid, and contented mortal in all of Virginia." (Letter dated Aug. 13, 1751)