Jared Sparks

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Jared Sparks around 1831, by Thomas Sully

Jared Sparks (May 10, 1789 - March 14, 1866) was a historian, editor, and Unitarian Minister.

Early life

Jared Sparks was born May 10, 1789, in Willington, Connecticut. He was by trade a carpenter, but, being eager of education, he put himself under the tuition of the Reverend Hubbell Loomis, the minister of Willington, and as payment for tuition shingled the minister's barn. Mr. Loomis subsequently became the first president of Shurtleff College in Alton, Illinois, and to his helpfulness Mr. Sparks always held himself much indebted.[1]

A neighboring minister, the Reverend Abiel Abbot, of Coventry, Connecticut, making a morning call on Mr. Loomis, was told of the remarkable young carpenter then at work on the barn. Mr. Abbot saw at once that the carpenter had the making of a scholar, and wrote to his cousin and brother-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Abbot, master of Phillips Exeter Academy, to bespeak for Sparks a place on the beneficiary list of the academy. The application was successful, and at the beginning of the next term Sparks made his appearance at Exeter, having walked the entire distance from Willington, one hundred and twenty miles, in four days. His worldly goods, packed in a small trunk, were carried to Exeter by Mr. Abbot appended to the axle of his chaise.


In 1811 Sparks entered Harvard College, and his record there bears testimony at once to unusually robust health, to strength of purpose, and to the vigorous mental fibre that made him master of his opportunities. Graduating in 1815, he became tutor to the sons of the Reverend Nathaniel Thayer, of Lancaster, and under the direction of that famous minister began his studies for the ministry, with his wonted industry doing double work. He remained at Lancaster till 1817, when he was called to Cambridge as tutor in mathematics. This office he resigned early in his second year to accept the invitation to become the first minister of the Unitarian church in Baltimore.


Mr. Sparks's Baltimore pastorate lasted a little more than four years, and during part of the time he acted as chaplain of the House of Representatives at Washington. His parish multiplied and prospered under his ministry, and his name is a cherished tradition in Baltimore to a generation that never saw his face.


He conducted in Baltimore a monthly periodical entitled The Unitarian Miscellany, and published several controversial writings in defence of the theological position of his society. He also entered into negotiations for the purchase of the North American Review, of which he assumed the editorship on his return to Boston in 1824. In the six years during which he had charge of the magazine he doubled its estimated pecuniary value.


From 1824 till his death in 1866 Mr. Sparks made his home chiefly in Cambridge, with several prolonged periods of European travel. He has become well known for the large volumes of history written about the Founding Fathers, including George Washington in twelve volumes, Gouverneur Morris in three volumes, and of Benjamin Franklin in ten volumes.

In 1838 he was chosen Professor of Ancient and Modern History in Harvard University, and in 1849 succeeded Edward Everett as president, - an office which he held for four years.



Sparks died on March 14, 1866.


  1. Heralds of a Liberal Faith, Volume 2

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