Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston on May 25, 1803, the fourth of eight children of the Reverend William Emerson, pastor of the First Church in Boston, and Ruth Haskins Emerson. He moved permanently to Concord in 1834, by which time he had established himself as a lecturer and turned his thoughts to writing.
Rurally, peacefully beautiful and yet convenient to the cultural and commercial advantages of Boston, Concord provided the ideal home for Emerson as Transcendental philosopher and man of letters. The fact that his ancestors had been connected with the town since its settlement and that he still had family here made it the natural choice when he began to think about a home life of his own.
Emerson descended from Puritan minister Peter Bulkeley, who left his position as rector at Odell in Bedfordshire, England, and immigrated to New England in 1635 with his second wife, Grace Chetwode, and family. Cotton Mather wrote of the learned and pious Bulkeley in his Magnalia Christi Americana: “To New-England he therefore came, in the year 1635; and there having been for a while at Cambridge, he carried a good number of planters with him, up farther into the woods, where they gathered the twelfth church then formed in the colony, and called the town by the name of Concord.”
In 1665, Peter Bulkeley’s granddaughter Elizabeth (daughter of his son Edward) married the Reverend Joseph Emerson, son of Thomas Emerson, a settler of coastal Ipswich. Joseph’s grandson Joseph (son of Edward and Rebecca Waldo Emerson) married Mary Moody in 1721. The couple produced a large family of children, among them William Emerson, Ralph Waldo’s grandfather, who was born in Malden and graduated from Harvard in 1761.
William Emerson succeeded the evangelical Daniel Bliss as minister of the First Parish in Concord in 1765, married Bliss’s daughter Phebe in 1766, and in 1770 moved Phebe and their first child, William (Ralph Waldo’s father) into what is now known as the Old Manse. They had four more children—including Mary Moody Emerson, later a great intellectual influence on her nephew Waldo—after moving to the Manse.
The elder William Emerson went to Fort Ticonderoga in New York in 1776 to serve as chaplain to the Revolutionary army. Soon after, he became ill and died attempting to return to Concord.
In 1778, Connecticut-born Harvard graduate Ezra Ripley followed William Emerson as minister of Concord’s First Parish, a position he held for more than sixty years. In 1780, he married Emerson’s widow Phebe and became master of the Manse. After Ripley’s death in 1841, the Manse was rented (1842-1845) to Nathaniel and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne.
Samuel Ripley—Ezra and Phebe Bliss Emerson Ripley’s son and half-brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s father William—also became a minister. He married the learned Sarah Alden Bradford, served as pastor in Waltham, and with his wife’s assistance ran a preparatory school for boys in the Waltham parsonage. The Ripleys left Waltham and moved into the Manse in 1846. Sarah remained in the old house after Samuel’s sudden death in 1847, keeping alive Emerson’s family connection with the place.
As a boy, Emerson had spent long periods at the Manse.
Thus, his move with his mother into the Manse as Ezra Ripley’s boarders
in October of 1834 was something of an emotional homecoming. Soon
afterward (November 15, 1834), he wrote in his journal, “Hail to the quiet
fields of my fathers! Not wholly unattended by supernatural friendship
& favor let me come hither. Bless my purposes as they are simple
and virtuous … Henceforth I design not to utter any speech,
poem, or book that is not entirely & peculiarly my work.” This
passionate invocation revealed Emerson’s keen awareness of the power of
Concord—the town his ancestors had established, shaped, and made famous—to
sustain and nurture him.
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