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Christopher Toppan (1671-1747)

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Full nameEdit

Rev. Christopher Toppan

Vital StatisticsEdit

Paternal PedigreeEdit


SiblingsEdit

SpousesEdit

  1. Sarah Angier (?-1738/9) dau. of Edmund Angier (1612-??); md. 13 December, 1698
  2. Elizabeth Pennhallow Dummer (?-?) dau. of Samuel Penhallow and Mary Cutt, previously married to Mr. Dummer of Newbury; md. 28 June, 1739

Children (by Sarah Angier)Edit

BiographyEdit

Early Life and EducationEdit

Rev. Christopher Toppan, A.M. D.D., was born in Newbury on 15 December, 1671. He graduated from Harvard College in 1691, and was ordained pastor of the First Church in Newbury on 9 September, 1696. He remained the church's pastor - the church's fourth - for 51 years.

Joshua Coffin, in his "History of Newbury," records: "Dr. Toppan was a man of talents, energy, and decision of character, and 'would speak his mind.'" He notes that once, he announced to the congregation that he was baptizing an infant on the mother's account only, since he was unsure of the father's sincerity.

Toppan was a theologian and a classical scholar, but it was also said that he inherited his father's love of science and medicine. It was said that he did not ask for any fees for surgeries he performed.

His sense of fairness and justice is exemplified by a letter he wrote calling for natives to "have convienient lands allowed them for themselves and thier posterity as they were the first proprietors of the lands in this country." While it could be said that this was simply the early version the reservation system he has in mind, the cultural sensitivity of this statement, for its time, should be noted.

Cotton Mather and the snakeEdit

One of his frequent correspondences with the theologian Cotton Matter was later made the subject of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892).

Mather, who had an interest in the supernatural, was attracted to stories that a two-headed snake had been seen in Newbury, and wrote to Rev. Toppan about the matter. Toppan's response to the "Amphisbena" (the mythological snake with a head on each of its ends) was:

"Concerning the amphisbena, as soon as I received your commands I made diligent enquiry of several persons who saw it after it was dead, but they could give me no assurance of its having two heads."

Later, after finding someone who did see it, he adds to his letter:

"This person is so credible that I can as much believe him as if I had seen it myself. He tells me of another man that examined it as he did, but I cannot meet him."

The resulting poem, The Double-headed Snake of Newbury, recounted the (supposedly) fictitious account of a double-headed snake, and Mather's use of the tale to inspire religious zealotry.

Far and wide the tale was told,
Like a snowball growing while it rolled.
The nurse hushed with it the baby's cry;
And it served, in the worthy minister's eye,
To paint the primitive serpent by.
Cotton Mather came galloping down
All the way to Newbury town,
With his eyes agog and his ears set wide,
And his marvellous inkhorn at his side;
Stirring the while in the shallow pool
Of his brains for the lore he learned at school,
To garnish the story, with here a streak
Of Latin, and there another of Greek:
And the tales he heard and the notes he took,
Behold! are they not in his Wonder-Book?

Modern-day examples [1] [2], the latest in early 2006, have been found of snakes with two heads (albeit on the same end.) In the Singapore Zoo, a turtle with two heads is on display.[3], all leading to the conclusion that perhaps a two-headed snake had been seen after all.

Later lifeEdit

On 28 June, 1739, Rev. Toppan married Elizabeth Penhallow Dummer (?-?), the daughter of Samuel Penhallow and Mary Cutt. She had previously been marredi to a Mr. Dummer of Newbury, and had one child from this previous marriage. Both she and this child were living as of 1764. No children were recorded from her marriage to Rev. Toppan.

On 24 July, 1744, a council composed of eight local churches acted on the complaint of "aggreived brethren" of Newbury's First Church to condemn Rev. Toppan on nine charges that had been written against him on 7 July and presented to him on 10 July. In response, a council was called on 31 August by friends of Rev. Toppan to review the charges. They acquitted him of nearly all of them, and censured the aggreived brethren for their, "disorderly walking," advising them further to, "return to the bosom of the churhc and to the pastoral care of him, who has been so faithful and useful as pastor over you for nearly fifty years," The problem was partially solved when Rev. John Tucker was called to serve as "colleague," or assistant pastor, to Rev. Toppan on 10 Nov. 1745. (Coffin, p.214)

Joshua Coffin records in his history of Newbury that in later life, Rev. Toppan, "was at times partially deranged, and on one occassion, carried a whip into the church under his cloak, in order, as he said, to scourge out the enthusiasts - or 'schemers' as he called them - during the period of excitement at the time known as the 'Great Revival'" Today, we refer to this period as the "Great Awakening.") (Coffin p.377)

DeathEdit

Rev. Christopher Toppan died 23 July, 1747, and is buried in the graveyard opposite the church on High Street. The gravestone's incription reads:

Here lies buried the body of the Rev. Christopher Toppan, Master of Arts, fourth Pastor of the First Church in Newbury; a gentleman of good learning, conspicuous for Piety and Virtue, shining both by his Doctrine and Life, skilled and greatly improved in the Practice of Physick and Surgery who deceased July 23, 1747, in the 76th year of his age, and 51st in his Pastoral Office." (see photo below)

GalleryEdit

ContributorsEdit

Nhprman

SourcesEdit

  • Tappan–Toppan genealogy: Ancestors and Descendants of Abraham Toppan of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1606-1672, by Daniel Langdon Tappan (1855-?). 1915. p. 54-55.
  • A Sketch of the History of Newbury. by Joshua Coffin. 1845.
  • Memoir of the Penhallow Family in NEH&G Register, Vol. 32. 1878. p. 30.

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