Solomon Parsons, the Deed Rock, and God’s Acre

As a reminder, the Greater Worcester Land Trust is hosting a National Trails Day event tomorrow, Saturday, June 4, from 4-7pm, at God’s Acre.

While you can find much about the area on this website, there are some items on it which are inaccurate (or at least do not reconcile with other accounts of Solomon Parsons’ life) and there is a faux-spooky aspect to it that I find offensive.  (That is, creepy trees don’t cause people to kill themselves, but depression does.  Making suicide out to be something that only happens to people who are susceptible to “evil spirits” does nothing to help folks who are headed in that direction.)

In case you want a shorter read, here’s a summary:

Solomon Parsons was born in 1800.  His father, also named Solomon, was a Revolutionary War veteran.  In 1812, the elder Solomon moved his family from Leicester to a farm in Valley Falls (that is, the area around what is now South High School) and became one of the founders of the First Baptist Church in Worcester.

Their house was located on Apricot Street (though it is no longer standing).  Here’s a picture courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society:

Our Solomon (that is, Solomon, Jr.) served in the local militia for much of the 1820s, married in 1828, and had seven children.  In 1833, he left the Baptist Church and the following year helped to found the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Worcester.  [FYI for those interested, First M. E. would later morph into Trinity Church, which was later merged into what is now Wesley United Methodist Church.]

Sometime before 1840, Parsons became a follower of the preacher William Miller, who famously preached that the end of the world would occur sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.  When that time came and went, he predicted that it would occur on April 18, 1844.  Finally, he said that the end of the world would really, definitely occur on October 22, 1844.

When Parsons became a Millerite, he left the Methodist Church, became a pacifist, and also became what we would today call a vegan-leaning vegetarian (that is, he didn’t eat meat and didn’t use leather; he may or may not have used dairy products).

In 1840, Parsons bought the land we know as God’s Acre, which is on Rattlesnake Hill (roughly the area between Goddard Memorial Drive and Swan Avenue today), from a man called William Hall.

He did not want the land deeded to himself, though, but to God, and he had Sylvester Ellis inscribe the following onto a large, flat rock (the Deed Rock):

“Know all men by these presents that I William G. Hall of Worcester in the County of Worcster and Commonwelth of Mass in consideration of 125 dols. paid by the hand of Solomon Parsons of the same Worcester the receipt whereof I do heareby acknowledge, do heareby grant sell and convay unto God, through the laws of Jesus Christ, which are made known to man by the reckord of the New Testament recorded by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John the evangelist, this land to governd by the above mentioned laws and togather with the spirit of God.”  [sics abound]

Here’s a beautiful picture of the Deed Rock, again from the AAS:

Solomon Parsons erected a temple to God on the site (which has now long since fallen apart) and spent the time before the predicted end of the world selling off property.

When the Great Disappointment happened in 1844, Parsons, too, must have been disappointed, but it did not ultimately shake his faith in God, as he continued to use the site for worship at least until the 1870s.

He had a son, Solomon, who was killed in the Civil War, and that profoundly affected him.  He became more of a pacifist, and spent some of the next decade traveling to the Caribbean, Middle East, and South America.

Solomon Parsons died in 1893 and is buried at Hope Cemetery.  (The next time I’m at the Hope office, I’ll try to find where his grave is so that I can pay my respects.)

I won’t go into what happened to the property when it was illegally taken over by Abel Swan Brown of Denholm & McKay or about the marbled salamander, which makes its home in God’s Acre — perhaps I can save those subjects for further posts!

Wherein I talk of my love for Solomon Parsons

Solomon Parsons is someone who means a great deal to me.  I have a great admiration for his faith in God, his pacifism, and his anti-slavery work.

I knew very little about Parsons when I began my cleanup efforts.  I had a vague sense of some hermit who lived in the woods, the Deed Rock, a salamander, and a pond with a lot of crap in it.  I didn’t really start reading up on Parsons until we’d made some headway on the trash, and the more I read about him, the more I like him.

For the past four years, it has been a great honor and privilege to take care of this land that was bought 171 years ago for $125.  It has been a joy to introduce people to this land, to have met so many great folks and made friends through my work here.  My work has been very small in comparison to theirs, and I am extremely thankful that so many folks have put in so much time to clean up and work on trails.

There is still work to be done, and there will always be maintenance, but it will always be worth it, to preserve both a green space in this city and the memory of  a unique individual in our city’s history.

I am terribly grateful to Solomon Parsons for his gift to God.  I pray that I will always act as grateful as I feel.

Further Reading

If you come to the National Trails Day event tomorrow, we’ll have a binder full of articles and reading about Solomon Parsons and God’s Acre; to whet your appetite, I’ll provide some of them below:

Here’s the entry for Solomon Parsons in Historic homes and institutions and genealogical and personal memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts, edited by Ellery Bicknell Crane:

Solomon Parsons, son of Solomon, of revolutionary fame, was born October 18, 1800, less than a year after the death of Washington.

Born on a New England farm, Mr. Parsons’ long life was devoted to the cultivation of the soil, an occupation in which he took delight. In 1812 his father bought the farm near Valley Falls, in Worcester. Here the elder Parsons and his son spent the remainder of their days, and the latter’s son, Samuel B. Parsons, still occupies the place.

Solomon Parsons married, April 16, 1828, Sarah Hasey Child, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. She died 1876.

During the last years of his life, Mr. Parsons had a strong aversion to war and all connected with it; but in his veins ran patriotic blood that has never failed to manifest itself in every generation of this good old Worcester family. Among the family keepsakes is a ribbon badge, worn in 1824, when he acted as military guard in escorting General Lafayette through Worcester. It bears a fine likeness of Lafayette and the outline of Bunker Hill monument. Solomon Parsons was one of the founders of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Worcester.

One of his peculiarities was the fact of his being a consistent vegetarian, and he attributed his robust constitution and long life to the fact of his not being a meat eater. He was a strong advocate of the anti-slavery movement, and, when the civil war came on, he gave up his son, named after him, to the service of his country.

He was fond of travel; in 1865 he sailed for the West Indies, and in 1869-70 made a journey to the Holy Land and traversed the section once so familiar to the feet of Christ and his apostles. In 1877, when long past three score and ten, he made an ocean trip to South America.

But time finally caused his earthly travels to cease, and December 16, 1893, he died on the old homestead. He lived to pass his ninety-third birthday, surviving nearly all who began life’s race with him.

“Uncle Solomon”, as he was called by many both in and outside the family, loved peace and loathed passion. He loved and prayed, and when his mission ended his mortal remains were placed in the finest shades of Hope Cemetery, where he sleeps by the side of his wife and son.

His children were: 1. Sarah Frances, born January 24, 1829; married, July 4, 1849, Samuel H. T. Bennett, of Pepperell, Massachusetts. 2. Solomon, born June 9, 1830; married, April 21, 1856, Mary Smith Gilbert, of Windsor, Connecticut. He entered the Union army as a member of Company F, Fifty-first Massachusetts Regiment, and died January 18, 1863. They had one son Albert Gilbert, born June 7, 1857, died April 13, 1882. 3. Samuel Bloomfield, born February 24, 1832, married Elizabeth L. Gibbs, December 11, 1861. 4. Mary Elizabeth, born October 1, 1833, married, March 29, 1853, Elmer Woodward, of Orange, Massachusetts. 5. William Augustine, born October 30, 1836, died July 2, 1859. 6. Lucy Mason, born July 19, 1840; married Nathaniel H. Bryant, of Boston. 7. Anna Eliza, born June 21, 1843; married Angus Henderson, of Provincetown, Massachusetts. He died December 21, 1897.

Here are some related articles from the Telegram; click here first for access:

October 11, 1991: a completely wonderful Jim Dempsey column on God’s Acre.

June 10, 1992: yet another completely wonderful Jim Dempsey column about Solomon Parsons.

June 15, 1994: and still another great Jim Dempsey column on the area.

October 16, 1995: brief mention of Solomon Parsons in an article about the cider mill parcel.

October 26, 1997: The city’s then-marketing director, Kevin O’Sullivan, sees God’s Acre and says, “Just look at this. The idea that all the economic development is downtown isn’t the complete picture. No other city can offer this. This is product,” he said, referring to the potential for outdoor experiences offered by the trail.

July 22, 1999: an REC-led walk for inner city kids, featuring wild blueberries.

May 26, 2002: discussion of how the city could reduce illegal dumping in the area by the excellent Roger Leo.  After this article was published, the city did close off part of Paris Avenue, and that was cleaned up last year.

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3 thoughts on “Solomon Parsons, the Deed Rock, and God’s Acre

  1. Tracy Novick says:

    Tangentially related: does anyone know what was on the site of South High before the school went up in 1978?

  2. chris says:

    Hi Nicole! I am presently writing a book on the Denholm and Mckay Company. I saw this post regarding Abel Swan, and was wondering what it is referencing? I haven’t been able to find anything in my research about him in any regards other than his line of work?

    Thanks!
    Chris
    http://www.denholms.blogspot.com

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