REV. WILLIAM H. LESTER. If this honored gentleman's right to a place among the representative men of Washington county may not rest upon his birth, it is well established by his continuous and useful life as a pastor of one of our leading Christian congregations, and his devotion as a citizen to the best interests of the community. His descent is from a Puritan ancestry, which, coming from England, settled near Stonington, Conn., in the early history of the country. David Lester, the grandfather of Dr. Lester, belonged to a branch of the family which established themselves at Easthampton, L. I., about the time of the American Revolution. About the close of the war he was married to Lois, daughter of Deacon David Tallmage, and so became the father of ten sons and four daughters, all of whom lived to mature life. Richard Lester, the youngest but one of these fourteen children, was born in 1796, and in 1817 was married to Sarah F., daughter of Esther and Gordon Havens, of a Welsh family, which as early as 1665 settled on Shelter-Island, N. Y. In this marriage, the fifth American generation of the Havens family was represented, five children crowned it, and of these the youngest but one, was William H., the subject of this sketch. His father was a farmer by occupation, and for many years a member of the Presbyterian Church of Bridgehampton, L. I., prior to his death in 1879. His wife had been called from him by death thirty-six years before, when their son, the future minister, was but a lad, but the memory of a sainted mother's piety and instruction was among the effective instrumentalities which determined the course of his life.
After the usual studies of the common school, a year of classical study under his pastor, Rev. Amzi Francis, and another at Southampton Academy, our young student entered Amherst College, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1845. He was graduated from that institution in 1849, after which he taught in the academy at Southampton for two years, before commencing his theological studies. He entered Princeton Seminary in 1851, and was there a student until 1854, having been licensed to preach in January of that year by the Presbytery of Albany. A visit in the spring following, by invitation, to the Church of West Alexander, Penn., soon after the resignation of Rev. John McCluskey, D. D., closing a pastorate of twenty-six years, resulted in a unanimous call to Mr. Lester by that church to become its pastor. Accepting this call, he was ordained and installed by the Presbytery of Washington the following October, and thus commenced a relation which has continued in happiness and usefulness unto this day. In the interval between the call and installation, in August 1854, the young minister was married to Miss Julia Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas B. and Harriet R. Hand, of Bridgehampton, L. I. The bride of twenty-four years had been thoroughly educated, first in the select school of Mrs. Sophronia Burnett, and then at Mount Holyoke Seminary for three years under the sainted Mary Lyon. She, too, rejoices in the memory of a pious ancestry of many generations, running down through two and a half centuries on American soil. Her father, a Christian and ruling elder, died in 1872, her pious mother following in 1888, and side by side they sleep in the cemetery at Bridgehampton, waiting the Resurrection.
The tender conjugal tie dating with the pastoral relation, has extended in a parallel line with it through thirty-eight years of happy home life and of mutual support in the work of the Lord. Of the three children of this marriage two remain at the parental home: Nathaniel Talmage and Hadassah Elizabeth, the latter of whom is a graduate of Washington Female Seminary. The eldest, William Hand Lester, followed his father into the ministry, and consecrated his life to the work of a foreign missionary. He was graduated from Amherst College in 1878, also from Auburn Theological Seminary in 1882. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Cayuga, 1881, and ordained by the same in the following year. He then sailed for Santiago, Chili, which has been ever since the scene of his missionary labors. The wife, Sarah M. Anderson, who accompanied him to the mission field, died in July, 1884, leaving an infant who bears his name. He was again married in 1887, this time to Miss Carrie M. Fields, daughter of the late Rev. A. B. Fields, who, together with their two children - Sarah and Robert McElery - brightens his home and cooperates in his work. The writer of this sketch is quite familiar with the life work of Dr. Lester as the pastor of an important church, and quite as familiar with the sensitive modesty which keeps him from public proclamation of what he has done for the Master. He has behind a record of nearly four decades of wise, earnest evangelical efficient service, among a people of intelligent appreciation, with and for whom he labors both in and out of the pulpit in unabated strength. Coming to them without ministerial experience, at a time of division and bitterness incident to the agitation of the slavery question; when the church, whose care he assumed - itself divided by the line which separated the free from the slave States of the Union - was depleted by the formation of a rival organization, he was confronted with discouragements to be overcome only by the utmost fidelity, guided by the greatest prude nce and patient endurance, under the stimulus of a holy consecration to Christ. This church like many others has suffered largely from emigration. Many years ago the drift was to the newly settled parts of the West. In later years it has been to the large towns and cities. The academy, also, which had flourished for many years under his predecessor's oversight, had come to a crisis of depression, and, under the advanced methods, and spirit of the times, demanded a different management. It is no wonder, therefore, that the first year of the pastorate was burdened with the serious question of continuance. But this question was settled by the Lord, by a gracious outpouring of the Spirit upon the church, which united and encouraged the people, and brought seventy converts to the Lord's table, two of whom became ministers, and several ruling elders. Another work of Divine power in 1861 added greatly to the membership, as well as to the beneficence and praying force of the church. Other special gatherings occurred in 1869, 1875 and 1889. But the steady progress which comes from the Divine blessing upon thorough and steady Gospel preaching and faithful pastoral work has been a distinctive feature of this church in these years. There have not been more than two or three communion seasons without additions to the membership. The Sabbath-school, prayer-meetings, pastoral visitations, and all the accustomed agencies have been kept up, and happy pastoral relations, a united people, and church strength have been the fruits. While emigration has annually removed families and members in considerable numbers to other places and churches, the loss has found its compensation in the wide diffusion of benefits from the common center. In no direction has the influence of this beloved pastor been greater than in the introduction of young men into the ministry, not only during the few years of the academy's continuance after his settlement, but ever since, as occasion offered, by private instruction. Fifteen ministers, including two foreign missionaries, have gone forth from the pastorate into the work of the Lord, to extend and perpetuate its power.
During all these years, Dr. Lester has been regarded by ministerial brethren, and by the churches, as one of the active and reliable of the members of the Presbytery of Washington, ever vigilant and efficient in the management of ecclesiastical affairs. One element operating toward all these happy results deserves special mention. It is the work of a devoted life. Mrs. Lester, ever active in all the duties of her sphere, until failing health made her a confirmed invalid, has since, in the seclusion of her home, by her polished and consecrated pen wielded an effective influence through the churches of the Washington Presbytery. She was one of the organizers of the Presbyterian Female Foreign Missionary Society, and has through years of its effective work been its faithful corresponding secretary. She has each year written to every mission helped by the Society, and from the return letters made her report, which has been one of the enjoyable features of the annual meeting.
The aim and life-work of this couple has been to promote the spiritual interests of the church and the advancement of Christ's cause. (From the pen of Rev. J. I. Brownson, D. D.)
Text taken from page 180 of:
Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893).
Transcribed March 1997 by Bobbi Steele of Indianapolis, IN as part of the Beers Project.
Published March 1997 on the Washington County, PA USGenWeb pages at http://www.chartiers.com/.
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