This article by Allston-Brighton historian Dr. William P. Marchione appeared in the Allston-Brighton Tab or Boston Tab newspapers in the period from July 1998 to late 2001, and supplement information in his books The Bull in the Garden (1986) and Images of America: Allston-Brighton (1996). Researchers should, however, feel free to quote from the material, with proper attribution.
Noah Worcester: Brighton's Apostle of Peace
An historical marker at 437 Washington Street at the site of his former residence at the northwest corner of Foster Street near Brighton Center, identifies Noah Worcester merely as Brighton’s first postmaster. But Noah Worcester was much more than a simple village postmaster. He was also a distinguished Unitarian clergyman, the co-founder of the American peace movement, and the author of A Solemn Review of the Custom of War, the first significant work of American pacifism, described by one historian as "an epoch-making classic in the history of peace literature."
The Noah Worcester House, which stood at the northwest corner of Washington and Foster Streets, at the western edge of Brighton Center. The house was demolished in 1915
According to historian Peter Brock, author of Radical Pacifists in Antebellum America, Dr. Noah Worcester of Brighton and David Low Dodge of New York were "the real founders of the American peace movement, each at the beginning working independently without knowledge of the other."
Noah Worcester was born in Hollis, New Hampshire in 1758, the eldest son of Noah Worcester, Esq., a prominent farmer "of an active and energetic mind," who would later help write the New Hampshire state constitution.
Noah received little formal schooling. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the sixteen year old marched off with his father’s company of New Hampshire militiamen to join the patriot army then massing at Cambridge. A few weeks later Worcester experienced war for the first time at the Battle Bunker Hill, where he barely escaped death. He also fought in the bloody 1777 Battle of Bennington. Of the latter episode he would write that "he felt much worse in going over the ground the next day than during engagement" itself. The carnage he witnessed on both of these Revolutionary War battlefields helped mold the pacifist convictions to which he would later give eloquent expression in A Solemn Review of the Custom of War and on the pages of the pacifist journal, The Friend of Peace.
In 1778, at age twenty, the young veteran returned to his native state where he married Hannah Brown, settling eventually in Thornton, N.H., in the mountainous north central part of the state. Here he supported his growing family through a combination of school teaching and shoe making. The rural schoolmaster also subjected himself to a course of vigorous mental discipline. As one commentator noted, Worcester "always had his pen in hand to note down every thought that occurred to him."
It was Reverend Selden Church of Compton, N.H., who first suggested to Worcester that he should become a preacher of the Gospel, with the result that the young man submitted to examination by the local ministerial association, and in 1786, was granted a license to preach.
The members of the Thornton Congregational Church soon after elected him their minister. Worcester served this tiny White Mountain community during the almost quarter century that followed as minister, schoolmaster, selectmen, town clerk, justice of the peace, and state legislator, while supplementing his small ministerial salary through a combination of farming, shoe making, teaching, and itinerant preaching as an agent for the New Hampshire Missionary Society.
In 1810, however, Worcester relocated in the more southerly town of Salisbury, New Hampshire to assist his brother, Reverend Thomas Worcester, who had been incapacitated by illness. It was while living in Salisbury that he wrote his first book, Bible News of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, which was a vigorous defense of the central tenets of the Unitarian creed. This led to an "earnest controversy" with the Congregationalist Hopkington Association, of which he had long been a member, which condemned him as an apostate. Having alienated the religious right of his day, however, the New Hampshire minister immediately became the darling of the religious left.
Worcester’s spirited and closely reasoned defense of Unitarianism had attracted the attention of a group of Boston-area clergymen that included such eminent figures as William Ellery Channing of Boston’s Federal Street Church and John Lowell of Boston's West Church. These liberals were about to establish a publication to defend their point of view, called The Christian Disciple. Worcester was offered the editorship of this journal, which he eagerly accepted.
Why did Noah Worcester choose Brighton rather than Boston as a place of residence? Boston was the focal point of the religious controversies of the day. His Brighton residence, by contrast, offered few advantages, situated as it was adjacent to the crowded, noisy Brighton Cattle Market.
Worcester’s decision to locate in Brighton was probably taken as an economy measure. His salary as editor of The Christian Disciple was meager. Lacking an independent source of income, he lived essentially from hand to mouth. Indicative of his poverty is the fact that he never owned the Washington Street house that he occupied for the last twenty-four years of his life, but rented it from Gorham Parsons, the owner of the adjacent Oakland Farms estate. Despite the sometimes inconvenient conditions under which he lived, the years in Brighton were by far the most productive of Noah Worcester’s life.
Noah Worcester was presented with a number of honorary degrees by New England colleges in recognition of his contributions to theology and reform during his years in Brighton, including a master’s degree from Dartmouth, and a doctorate from Harvard, conferred in 1818.
Events of great historical interest transpired in Worcester Brighton residence. Here the liberal clergyman edited, in the period 1813 to 1819, The Friend of Peace, one of the most influential religious publications of his day. Here, in 1814 (at the low point of American fortunes in the War of 1812), he penned his celebrated pacifist tract, A Solemn review of the Custom of War, thereby inaugurating the American peace movement. Here he helped to found the Massachusetts Peace Society, the oldest such organization in the nation, which he served faithfully as secretary for many years.
In 1817, Noah Worcester received an appointment from the federal government as postmaster of Brighton, though the actual work of sorting and tending to the mail was apparently performed by his unmarried daughter, Sally. Thus the Worcester House also served as the community’s first post office.
In 1914, incidentally, The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities considered adding Brighton’s historic Worcester house to its growing collection of museums, but finally decided against the acquisition. After the building’s demolition, the SPNEA Bulletin noted significantly: "The house was of interest mainly from the point of view of Brighton (as the home of Noah Worcester and the first post office), and local people and local patriotic societies should have preserved it. The loss is chiefly theirs and no future building however fine can ever give them back what they lost in the Worcester house."
What manner of man was Noah Worcester? George Blagden, minister of Brighton Center’s Evangelical Congregational Church, remembered him as physically imposing, but mild-mannered. Worcester stood over six feet in height and was large-framed, Blagden recalled, and wore his hair long, under a broad-brimmed hat. He carried a staff, and usually dressed in a roomy black gown. "His habits of living were very simple, partly, I have no doubt, from taste and partly from necessity; for I have always understood that his means were quite limited.... I seem to see him and hear him now,---an unusually kind and meek and modest but courageous and conscientious old man."
Dr. Channing, a close associate for many years, remembered Worcester for his gentleness of spirit and great intellectual curiosity. "On leaving [the Worcester] house and turning my face towards the city," noted Channing, "I have said how much richer is this poor man than the richest who dwell yonder."
The Rev. Dr. Noah Worcester, Brighton's celebrated Apostle of Peace, died in his Washington Street home on October 31, 1837. Funeral services were held at Brighton's First Church, of which he had been a member since 1813, and he was laid to rest in the Market Street Burying Ground. In 1838, however, the organizers of the newly-established Mt. Auburn Cemetery furnished a free seventy square foot burial plot for the celebrated pacifist, whereupon his remains were moved to Mt. Auburn in Cambridge.