REVEREND EBENEZER GAY (1718-1796)
Ebenezer Gay, the third minister of the First Congregational Church of Suffield, was born on May 4, 1718 in Dedham, Mass. His father was a substantial farmer, and his uncle was the famous minister, Ebenezer Gay of Hingham. Young Ebenezer graduated from Harvard in 1737, where he took the Hopkins Prize and had a speaking part at Commencement. In June 1740 he preached for the first time in the Third Church of Dedham and then went on to preach in neighboring parishes.
Gay became a candidate for the pastor at Cohasset and then at Suffield. On November 5, 1741, the church and congregation of Suffield called him, and the ordination was held January 13, 1742, which turned out to be a very snowy day. In spite of this, there was a most distinguished gathering headed by Uncle Ebenezer who preached the ordination sermon.
On July 9, 1742 he married Hannah Angier and on November 14, 1743 he moved into the house he had built-"The Gay Manse” on Main Street. They had no children, but their adopted black girl Sybil was baptized as the “child of Ebenezer and Hannah”. There were other black members in the Gay household in later years, of whom the best known was Ti.
Ebenezer’s sermons reflected a plain kind of preaching and the simplicity of his religion. “His religious sentiments were formed on the gospel; not on human creeds. Attached to no system, and calling no man master, he repaired directly to the fountain of truth . . . . He was steady in his principles; but, despising bigotry, he ever manifested an amiable liberality of spirit. He never was severe to censure, or forward to condemn those of different sentiments.” Many of his sermons have been preserved, including The Work of a Gospel-Minister (New Haven, 1755), the Sovereignty of God (Hartford, 1767), and Evangelical Preacher (Boston, 1763).
This tolerance led to his close relationship with prominent people of various political and religious convictions of the period. His line-a-day diary for the years 1738-1794 tells of frequent contact with Rev. Jonathan Edwards (Northampton), Rev. Stephen Williams (Longmeadow), Presidents Clap and Stiles (Yale), Rev. Eleazar Wheelock (Dartmouth), Rev. Cotton Mather Smith (Sharon), and other political and military leaders of the day.
When he was not traveling to preach in other parishes and visiting family, Gay supervised work on his farm, keeping slaves as was customary for ministers, magistrates, and tavernkeepers, who were freed by his sons after his death. Gay also found time to tutor students preparing for Yale College, including his own two sons, one of whom followed his father’s ministry in Suffield so that between them they served church and community for nearly 100 years. After the death of his first wife in 1762, Gay married Mary Cushing of Scituate. One of their five children, Mary, married Timothy Swan.
After a long and distinguished career, Reverend Ebenezer Gay died on March 7, 1796. His sermons and diaries have survived, a rich source of 18th century religious and social thought as practiced in what was then a leading town in New England.