Edmund Hamilton Sears, Unitarian minister, abolitionist (1810-1876)


Born in Sandisfield, MA, he studied law and taught at Brattleboro (Vermont) Academy before deciding to study for the ministry under Addison Brown, minister of the Unitarian Church in Brattleboro. Sears went on to study at the Harvard Theological School 1834-37 and began student preaching in Barnstable, Massachusetts, where he met and married Ellen Bacon. By late 1838 he supplied the pulpit for the First Parish in Wayland, Massachusetts, Unitarian. This church was impressed by his character and his preaching, ordaining and installing him as minister in February, 1839. He was drawn by "the quiet beauty of Wayland with its sylvan life and little parish."


Sears soon learned that to provide for his growing family he needed to serve a larger, more prosperous church, and became minister of the Unitarian Church in Lancaster from 1840-47. The ministry was cut short by illness and depression. Unable to preach loudly enough for that congregation, Sears resigned and returned to Wayland for a year of rest and recovery. With improved health, he was recalled to the Wayland ministry and served there 1848-65. A lighter load allowed him to spend much of his time writing and to serve on the School Ctte. and is credited with raising the standards of the local schools. He had always loved poetry and wrote hymns as well, several being sung to this day (especially It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, which was first performed in Wayland in 1849).


Sears's friend, Lydia Maria Child, who lived in Wayland liked to discuss world religions with him and shared his interest in Swedenborgian mysticism. She was not a Unitarian but sometimes attended his services. "I love and reverence Mr. Sears," she wrote, "though I cannot quite agree with all his conclusions." Child observed that he was not a reformer, but "He had no reluctance to incur obloquy in vindication of the right." Sears preached the equality of women and men and was outspoken in his views against slavery. His 1856 sermon against slavery was widely circulated and he spoke against the Fugitive Slave Law and in favor of Emancipation until it became a reality. He composed several Civil War songs, including one often quoted on the death of John Brown. His church was active in work on soldier‘s relief and aid work.


After the Civil War, Sears was not able to preach two services and resigned his Wayland ministry in order to spend all his time writing. In 1866, however, he  became minister in nearby Weston, Massachusetts. From 1859-71 he was also associate editor of the Monthly Religious Magazine. He died in 1876 after a long and painful illness. 



Information from UUA website, Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography, Peter Hughes Contributor and Appendix to the Annals of Wayland.