by Ken Raymond
Seth Payson was born September 30, 1758 in Walpole, Massachusetts, the youngest son of Rev. Phillips and Kezia (Bullen) Payson. Seth was one of four brothers that became ministers, all of which were Harvard educated as was their father. Little is known of Seth’s early life except that he suffered a feeble constitution and was subject to epilepsy. In his adult life he was free from this malady during the greater part of his life. He entered Harvard College in 1773 and was graduated with high honors in 1777. He was ordained at Rindge, NH in 1782 and received the Doctor of Divinity from Dartmouth College in 1809.
The call to the pulpit in Rindge was first offered in 1781 after the vacancy created by the departure of the Rev. Seth Dean. Rev. Payson had supplied the pulpit for a few Sabbaths when the call to settle in Rindge was first offered. The offer was declined by Rev. Payson for reasons unknown but he continued to supply the pulpit. The next year the call was renewed, and Rev. Payson then accepted the unanimous request of both church and town. His letter of acceptance was dated October 17, 1782 and his ordination was held on December 4, 1782.
As was the custom at the time his ordination was a notable event attended by many, including invitations to the churches of Chelsea, Dedham, Fitchburg, New Ipswich, Wilton, Ashburnham, Winchendon, Royalston and Fitzwilliam. From the clergy present it is known that Rev. Stephen Farrar of New Ipswich and Rev. Phillips Payson of Chelsea were among those who officiated at the occasion. The long 37-year ministry of Rev. Payson in Rindge was one of growth, not only the increase of the congregation but the building of the second Meeting House in 1795.
Dr. Payson built and owned the house in which he resided. After his death, his son Henry Payson, administrator of the estate, sold the house and thirty acres of land to the town, which soon became the property of the Society of the Congregational Church and has been maintained as a parsonage to the present day. Rev. Seth Payson was married, September 19, 1782 to Grata Payson, the daughter of Deacon John and Thankful (Howe) Payson of Pomfret, CT. The Paysons had eight children in the coming years, and two of their sons would become ministers as well as three of their grandsons. Rev. Payson was highly respected in the local community and his influence extended beyond his local parish.
Rev. Payson was a member of the NH state Senate in 1802-3 and 4 where he was recognized as an able legislator. Many reports and papers of the time are of his authorship. In 1802 Rev. Payson published a volume entitled “Proofs of the Real Existence and Dangerous Tendencies of Illuminism” this work was well read with flattering notices at the time and remains in print to this day. A good number of his sermons from various occasions over the years of his ministry were published as well. In 1799 he preached the annual sermon before the NH Legislature and the discourse, titled “One sinner destroyeth much good” was well received.
He was one of the founders of the academy at New Ipswich, and a trustee of that institution for more than 30 years. In 1813 he was chosen a trustee of Dartmouth College, a position he continued till his death. In 1815 he represented the General Association of New Hampshire at an important Ecclesiastical Convention held at Philadelphia. For several years he was vice president of the New Hampshire Bible Society, and he was a member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. After his long and notable career, Rev. Payson had a short period of declining health in 1819. Rev. Seth Payson DD died on February 26, 1820, aged 61 years.