by David Lister
The town of Rindge, and more specifically, the Rindge Historical Society, owes a very large debt of gratitude to Ezra S. Stearns. Locally he is best known today as the author of “Stearns History of Rindge, New Hampshire, 1736-1874”, just one of several town histories he authored.
Ezra Scollay Stearns was born in Rindge on September 1, 1838, to Samuel and Mary Fitch (Moore) Stearns. Samuel and his wife Mary relocated from Brattleboro, Vermont to a farm in Rindge shortly after their marriage in 1830.
Educated first at the public schools in Rindge, he later attended the Chester Institute, in Chester, New Jersey. While he did not attend college, his early education, bolstered by aggressive private study, was an asset that payed healthy dividends throughout his life. At the age of twenty he was appointed as an instructor at the Chester Institute, where he remained for four years, at which point he returned to New Hampshire.
Ezra Stearns was next employed as the editor and manager of the Fitchburg Daily Chronicle, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Later he worked in Rindge for many years at the Union Box and Lumber Company, but during this time he was also deeply involved in history, genealogy, and in politics.
Historian and Author
In 1875, Ezra Stearns published his first work, “Stearns History of Rindge, New Hampshire”. This was followed in 1887 by the his “History of Ashburnham, Massachusetts”. These two volumes, both extremely well respected for their form as well as their content, served as models for many town histories written during this era. In recognition of his unique skill as a historian and genealogist, in 1887 Dartmouth College conferred on him the honorary degree of Master of Arts.
Ezra Stearns also edited the genealogical volume of the “History of Littleton, New Hampshire” (1905); authored the “History of Plymouth, New Hampshire” (1906); and served as editor-in-chief of the “Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire” (1908). His final work, published during his lifetime, was “Early Generations of the Fouinders of Old Dunstable” (1911). At the time of his death in 1915 he possessed, in manuscript form and for the most part completed, a volume that brought his 1875 book on Rindge up to date.
He was a resident member of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and was a contributor to the publication for many years. New Hampshire possesses the papers, records, and maps of the Masonian Proprietors, donated in 1891 by Robert Cutts Peirce, primarily because of Stearns’s efforts. The state was able to obtain, also through his efforts, Provincial probate records, deeds, and court records and files that dated prior to the division of the Province into counties in 1771.
Ezra Stearns returned briefly to Rindge in 1899 after resigning as New Hampshire’s Secretary of State, where he lived until he relocated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1901.
In Fitchburg, he contributed greatly to the Fitchburg Historical Society. Stearns was a member of The American Antiquarian Society, The New Hampshire Historical Society, and, as previously mentioned, The New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Ezra Scollay Stearns never married. He died on March 9, 1915, and is buried at the Hillside Cemetery in Rindge, New Hampshire.