Our Legacy: The Line of John Stark Edwards Includes a Vice President | News, Sports, Jobs

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series on our area’s history coordinated by the Trumbull County Historical Society.

In 1799 John Stark Edwards first arrived in what is now Trumbull County with very few possessions to his name, but with much land given to him as an inheritance to grow upon and on which prosper. Twenty-two at the time and single, Edwards certainly fits what we now consider pioneer adventurers.

Many people are familiar with the white frame house on Monroe Street, which now bears witness to Edwards’ legacy in Trumbull County. The 1,300 square foot home features features that reflect many generations of Trumbull County residents who have shaped our rich history. Many people, however, are unaware of the nationally significant family into which Edwards was born and how his lineage shaped New England thought, religion, and growth in the pre-revolutionary period.

Professor George Marsden is deeply committed to this dynamic. A professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, he has spent decades studying the influence of the Edwards family on American culture. He is the author of “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” which explores the influential role of John Stark Edwards’ grandfather during the Great Awakening.

“Jonathan Edwards was a minister in New England and one of the leaders of the first great revivals which set the pattern for much of the Protestant religion in America”, Marsden explains. “Not only was Jonathan a famous preacher, he was also a great thinker. He is still America’s leading world-class theologian and his books are widely studied today.

Many will recall reading Edwards’ sermons at school, the best known of which is arguably “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” He became interested in science and philosophy at a young age and drew on the Enlightenment as a strong influence in his theory. At a time when many European and some American clerics were turning to deism, Edwards argued that natural beauty proved God’s interference in daily life. He was known to spend a lot of time in the woods to find a spiritual connection.

As Marsden notes, however, Edwards did not just study theology. Before taking up ministry as a full-time profession, he studied Isaac Newton, John Locke, and theories of scientific and natural philosophy. He was particularly fascinated by flying spiders and wrote pamphlets on light and optics. Given his inquisitive and civic nature, it’s no surprise that his grandson, John Stark Edwards, made his mark in early Trumbull County by investing in the first Trumbull County Courthouse, sitting to the committee responsible for building the first bridge over the Mahoning. River, and became Trumbull County’s first recorder.

John Stark Edwards’ drive seems to run in the family. Given his college background, it’s no surprise that Jonathan Edwards and his wife, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, raised academically-minded children. notes Marsden, “The Edwards family produced dozens of clergymen, 13 presidents of higher education, 65 professors and many other people of remarkable achievement… John Stark Edwards was among their accomplished descendants.”

John Stark Edwards was not the best known of the Jonathan Edwards family, however. John Stark’s first cousin, Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States and infamous for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, is arguably the best known.

Other relatives include Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, who married John Stark Edwards’ sister, Henrietta, and John Stark Edwards’ father, Pierpont Edwards. A delegate to the Continental Congress and the first grand master of any Masonic lodge in Connecticut, Pierpont originally purchased stock in the Connecticut Land Company, giving his son the purchased land in Trumbull County as an inheritance.

Recently, “Hamilton: A Musical” gave some resurgence to the history of the Edwards family. A line detailing Aaron Burr’s family reads, “My grandfather was a preacher of fire and brimstone”, referring to Jonathan Edwards. The musical also notes that Aaron Burr lost both parents. His mother, Esther Edwards Burr, was Pierpont Edwards’ sister. Letters that remain in the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Yale tell us that after the death of his parents, Aaron Burr sought advice from the father of John Stark Edwards. A letter from Pierpont to Burr even urges him to invest in “New Connecticut”, here in the Western Reserve of Ohio. For reasons lost to history, it seems Aaron Burr didn’t take his uncle’s advice.

Very few members of the Edwards family remain in Warren today. Although John Stark Edwards’ house still exists, only a few family artifacts remain. The Trumbull County Historical Society holds in its collection two black and red chairs that belonged to Jonathan Edwards who came to Ohio with John Stark Edwards on his first trip here in 1799. The collection also includes the original blue porcelain dishes and white that they ate and letters written to and by John Stark Edwards. His unexpected death in 1813 and the subsequent sale of the house to Thomas Denny Webb, a lawyer and journalist, explain why so little remains today.

The John Stark Edwards House is open for public tours Thursdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on appointment. Tours are $5 per person. For more information, visit our website at www.trumbullcountyhistory.org or call us at 330-394-4653.

Reed is the executive director of the Trumbull County Historical Society.

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