Pliny H. White

Memorial of the Life and Services of Rev. Pliny H. White

by Henry Clark

Pliny Holton White, son of John and Bethiah Holton White, was born at Springfield, VT, Oct. 6, 1822. He was left fatherless and in poverty when but little more than 3 years old. His early opportunities were limited, and he had very little assistance in procuring an education, except what his mother gave him before he was 15 years of age. He had always a predisposition to learning, and a great thirst for knowledge. His early education was given at Limerick, Maine, Academy, where he was a student from his 8th to his 15th year. He spent a few years as a clerk in a store at Walpole, N. H. His leisure hours were devoted to reading and study, which developed those peculiar traits of industry that characterized his future life.

He studied law with Hon. William C. Bradley, at Westminster, VT. His association with Mr. Bradley, and having access to his well selected library, gave him rare advantages for the cultivation of his taste for reading in every department of history and literature, and the well known historical tastes of his instructor undoubtedly gave direction and development to his own natural inclination toward historical inquiry.

Mr. White was admitted to the Windham County Bar Nov. 24, 1843, it being the first session after his arriving at the age of 21. He practiced profession in West Wardsboro from April 15, 1844, until March 31, 1848; from this latter date until February 1, 1851, in Londonderry, and in Brattleboro from that time until Dec. 25, 1852. While in the practice of law in Londonderry, he commenced to write for the Brattleboro Eagle. The conducting of a newspaper being more congenial to his tastes, he abandoned the law and became the editor of the Eagle, now the Phoenix, in February, 1851, and continued his connection with the paper until December 1852. He removed to St. Johnsbury in January 1853, engaging as a clerk and assistant in the manufacturing establishment of Messrs. Fairbanks, in whose employ he remained until August, 1857. From St. Johnsbury, he went to Amherst, Mass., where he was connected from August 15, 1857, to May 7, 1858, with the publication of the Hampshire and Franklin Express. Having for a long time pursued privately theological studies, he was licensed to preach. He preached his first sermon at Westminster, Vt., April 18, 1858; and was licensed at Amherst, Mass., May 11, 1858, by the Hampshire East Association.

After preaching a few Sabbaths each at Bernardston, Mass., and Putney, Vt., he went to Coventry, Orleans County, and commenced his labors as acting pastor of the Congregational church. He continued its pastor until his death, which occurred April 24, 1869. The church greatly prospered under his ministrations. He had many opportunities offered for settling with increased salary, of which he declined to avail himself, considering it his duty to remain with that people, as his labors were being blessed to such a degree that he felt elsewhere they might not accomplish the results that were attending his efforts in Coventry. He spent much time in collecting the statistics of his denomination, and in writing for religious papers, magazines and reviews. A few months previous to his death, he published a history on the Congregational churches in Orleans County. He also had in preparation a history of the Congregational churches in Vermont, which it was his intention to have published at an early day. He had contributed many valuable religious and historical articles to the Congregational Quarterly, and the Vermont Chronicle and Boston Recorder.

He was appointed Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs under the first administration of Gov. Erastus Fairbanks, in 1852. He represented Coventry in the House of Representatives in 1862 and ’63. At the session of 1862, Mr. White took little part in the debates, only upon a bill relating to marriage, which was subsequently considered by a special committee on domestic relations, consisting of A. B. Gardner, Dugald Stewart, Geo. W. Hendee and Mr. White, who reported substantially the existing law upon that subject, as the amendment which ought to be made. He was chaplain of the Senate in 1864, ’65 and ’66. He was superintendent of recruiting in Orleans county from 1863 to the close of the war, and rendered efficient service in raising men to crush out the rebellion.

He was an untiring and enthusiastic friend and laborer in the cause of temperance, seeking every opportunity to promote it. He was appointed Chief Templar of the Independent Order of Good Templars in Vermont in 1867, and held the position until his death.

He was probably better acquainted with the personal history and peculiar characteristics of more Vermont men than any man now living, and his materials for the biography of individuals were far more exact and voluminous than any other collection in this country, a large portion of which was devoted to Vermonters at home and abroad. His love of history and research led him to become associated with the Vermont Historical Society, whose objects he fully appreciated, and for its prosperity he assiduously labored, and contributed more than any other one individual to its upbringing and in additions to its valuable collection. On the retirement of Ex-Governor Hall from the Presidency of the Society, in 1866, Mr. White, with great unanimity, was chosen its President, which position he held till his death.

Mr. White was a resident member of the New England Historic Genealogic Society, and corresponding member of most of the local and State Historical Societies in the United States. He was a member of the corporation of Middlebury College. The honorary degree of Master of Arts had been conferred upon him by Amherst and Middlebury Colleges and the University of Vermont.

He married, May 11, 1847, Electa B. D. Gates, of Belchertown, Mass., who survives him now, and resides in Amherst, Mass. He had three children- 1st, Margaret Elizabeth, born at Londonderry, Vt., March 21, 1849, and who graduated at the Tilden Female Seminary in 1868, with the highest honors. 2d [sic], John Alexander, born at Brattleboro, Feb. 15, 1851, and who died at Brattleboro, Aug. 12, 1861. 3d, William Holton, born at St. Johnsbury, Aug. 1, 1855.

Mr. White died at his residence in Coventry, Apr. 24, 1869, after an illness of paralysis of the brain, undoubtedly occasioned by overwork, at the age of 46 years, 6 months and 18 days. He was buried at Westminster on Tuesday, the 27th of April in a lot selected by himself for his last resting place.

From the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. Coventry Chapter:  Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co, 1877. Pg 160-164.

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