December 10: Rev. Samuel Blair, Jr.

This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Second U.S. House Chaplain was a Presbyterian

As a matter of fact, the first three chaplains to the United States House of Representatives were all Presbyterian, with the Rev. Samuel Blair, Jr. being number two.

Samuel was born at Faggs Manor, Cochranville, Pennsylvania.  Immediately our readers should recognize the name of Samuel Blair as being related to the New Side pastor and evangelist of that famous church in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Now called Manor Presbyterians, its history goes back to 1730.  It is now a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. But Samuel Blair Sr. was one of the leaders of the First Great Awakening in the colonies.  This is his son.

Attending the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), Samuel Blair Jr. graduated with honor at age nineteen.  Staying in the town of Princeton, he tutored for several years.  licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Castle in 1764, he was called to Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts in 1766.

In one of those “hard providences” of history, on his way up to Boston, he suffered a shipwreck, being actually cast into the Atlantic Ocean. His lost all of his clothes in that tragedy and all of his sermon manuscripts. This incident greatly depressed him and brought some major health problems to him.

He stayed on as one of the two pastors of Old South until 1769, when due to ill-health, he resigned and moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania, where he planned to devote his remaining years to study. But God wasn’t through with him yet in active service. On December 10, 1770, he was appointed as the second Presbyterian chaplain to the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.  He would stay in that post for two years.

What a fitting close of ministry for a theologian, preacher of the Word, evangelist, and pastor.

Words to live by:  God always gives sufficient grace to those who need it in His work.  We may  have great weakness, but He is ever strong.  We may feel utterly inadequate, but He is all-sufficient.  Believer, trust in His strength always and then push out into His kingdom.  He will provide what you need for your effective ministry to the saints of God, and to say nothing for those who are in need of saving grace.

Through the Scriptures:  Colossians 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  Proof texts for church censures

1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”  (KJV)

Hebrews 13:17
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”  (KJV)

1 Corinthians 5:1, 3, 5, 7
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you . . . For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already . . . concerning him that has so done this deed . . . To deliver such as one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus . . . Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.”  (KJV)




  1. Nathan Stockwell’s avatar

    A few of the dates seem wrong for this event. Chaplains for the House of Representatives started in 1789. The House of Representatives started in 1774. However, the date you list is December 10, 1770. Also, the Office of the Chaplain website lists the date of appointment for Samuel Blair as being January 4, 1790.

  2. archivist’s avatar

    You are of course correct about the 1790 date. Our entry of 1770 was a typing mistake. But the discrepancy between December 10 and January 4 is going to take a bit more research. Back later.

  3. archivist’s avatar

    Update on our question about the appointment of the Rev. Samuel Blair, Jr. to the chaplaincy of the U.S. House of Representatives. It took some research in a local rare book room to locate this.

    On page 1791 of The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an appendix, containing important state papers and public documents and all the laws of a public nature; with a copious index, Volume II, comprising (with volume 1) the period from March 3, 1789 to March 3, 1791, inclusive. Compiled from authentic materials, by Joseph Gales, Senior. (Washington: printed and published by Gales and Season. 1834), there is this entry:

    “On Friday, December 10, 1790, George Partridge, from Massachusetts; Jonathan Trumbull and Jeremiah Wadsworth, from Connecticut; Thomas Sinnickson, from New Jersey; and William Smith, from Maryland, appeared and took their seats.

    CHAPLAIN. The House, according to the order of the day, proceeded by ballot to the appointment of a Chaplain to Congress, on the part of this House; and upon examining the ballots, a majority of the votes of the whole House was found in favor of the Rev. Mr. Blair.”
    (Other actions taken that Friday on December 10, 1790 were on electors for electing president, uniform militia, eulogium on Franklyn, and an Address to the President).

    Now, given that authority, the question remains how to explain what is posted on the official Chaplaincy web site? It might be that the January date reflect when Rev. Blair actually began his duties, but even there the January date would then have been in 1791, not 1790. I really have no explanation for what appears on the chaplaincy web site. For those who might want to look at the Debates and Proceedings book by Gales, there are a number of digital editions over on, though I’m uncertain as to which of those is the volume in question, and don’t have time right now to search that out.

  4. Nathan Stockwell’s avatar

    Thank you for your efforts to check out what you have access to. The main part, for me, was the year. Like you said, the official Chaplaincy web site doesn’t go into detail about what they mean by “appointment date” so it’s quite possible that the terms have slightly different meanings. Thank you for clarifying yours! Thank you for running this daily blog as well.


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