The roots of the Talmage genealogical tree may be traced back to the year 1630, when Enos and Thomas Talmage, the progenitors of the Talmage family in North America, landed at Charlestown, Massachusetts, and afterwards settled at East Hampton, Long Island.
Dr. Lyman Beecher represents the first settlers of East Hampton as "men resolute, enterprising, acquainted with human nature, accustomed to do business, well qualified by education, circumspect, careful in dealing, friends of civil liberty, jealous of their rights, vigilant to discover, and firm to resist encroachments; eminently pious."
In 1725 we find Daniel Talmage at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Daniel's grandson, Thomas, during the years between 1775 and 1834 shifts his tent to Piscataway, New Jersey, thence to New Brunswick, thence to Somerville, where the stakes are driven firmly on a farm "beautiful for situation." Thomas Talmage was a builder by trade, and erected some of the most important courthouses and public edifices in Somerset and Middlesex Counties. He was active in the Revolutionary war, holding the rank of major. It was said of him, "His name will be held in everlasting remembrance in the churches." He was the father of seven sons and six daughters.
The third son, David T., the father of John Van Nest Talmage, was born at Piscataway, April 21, 1783. He was married to Catharine Van Nests Dec.19, 1803. David T. Talmage was rather migratory in his instincts. The smoke of the Talmage home now curled out from a house at Mill stone, now from a homestead near Somerville, then from Gateville; then the family ark rested for many years on the outskirts of Somerville and finally it brought up at Bound Brook, New Jersey. Though the family tent was folded several times, it was not folded for more than a day's wagon journey before it was pitched again. The places designated arc all within the range of a single New Jersey county.
In 1836 David T. Talmage was elected a member of the State Legislature and was returned three successive terms. In 1841, he was chosen high sheriff of Somerset County. Four of his sons entered the Christian ministry, James R., John Van Nest, Goyn, and Thomas De Witt. James R., the senior brother, rendered efficient service in pastorates at Pompton Plains and Blawenburgh, New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, Greenbush, and Chittenango, New York. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Rutgers College, New Jersey, in 1864. John Van Nest gave his life to China. Goyn, a most winsome man and eloquent preacher, ministered with marked success to the churches of Niskayuna, Green Point, Rhinebeck, and Port Jervis, New York, and Paramus, New Jersey. He was for five years the Corresponding Secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions of the Reformed Church. Rutgers College honored herself and him by giving him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1876.
Thomas De Witt, the youngest son, still ministers to the largest church in Protestant Christendom. What a river of blessing has flowed from that humble, cottage well-spring. The wilderness and the parched land have been made glad by it. The desert has been made to rejoice and blossom as the rose. The courses thereof have gone out into all the earth, and the tossing of its waves have been heard to the end of the world.
In November, 1865, Dr. T. De Witt Talmage preached a sermon on "The Beauty of Old Age"[*] from the words in Eccles. xii.5, "The Almond Tree shall flourish." It was commemorative of his father, David T. Talmage. He says: "I have stood, for the last few days, as under the power of an enchantment. Last Friday-a-week, at eighty-three years of age, my father exchanged earth for heaven. The wheat was ripe, and it has been harvested. No painter's pencil or poet's rhythm could describe that magnificent sun setting. It was no hurricane blast let loose; but a gale from heaven, that drove into the dust the blossoms of that almond tree.
[Footnote *: This sermon gives so graphic and tender a portrayal of the father of one of America's most distinguished ministerial families, that the author feels justified in making so lengthy an extract.]
"There are lessons for me to learn, and also for you, for many of you knew him. The child of his old age, I come to-night to pay an humble tribute to him, who, in the hour of my birth, took me into his watchful care, and whose parental faithfulness, combined with that of my mother, was the means of bringing my erring feet to the cross, and kindling in my soul anticipations of immortal blessedness. If I failed to speak, methinks the old family Bible, that I brought home with me, would rebuke my silence, and the very walls of my youthful home would tell the story of my ingratitude. I must speak, though it be with broken utterance, and in terms which seem too strong for those of you who never had an opportunity of gathering the fruit of this luxuriant almond tree.
"First. In my father's old age was to be seen the beauty of a cheerful spirit. I never remember to have heard him make a gloomy expression. This was not because he had no conception of the pollutions of society. He abhorred everything like impurity, or fraud, or double-dealing. He never failed to lift up his voice against sin, when he saw it. He was terrible in his indignation against wrong, and had an iron grip for the throat of him who trampled on the helpless. Better meet a lion robbed of her whelps than him, if you had been stealing the bread from the mouth of the fatherless. It required all the placidity of my mother's voice to calm him when once the mountain storm of his righteous wrath was in full blast; while as for himself, he would submit to more imposition, and say nothing, than any man I ever knew.
"But while sensitive to the evils of society, he felt confident that all would be righted. When he prayed, you could hear in the very tones of his voice the expectation that Christ Jesus would utterly demolish all iniquity, and fill the earth with His glory. This Christian man was not a misanthrope, did not think that everything was going to ruin, considered the world a very good place to live in. He never sat moping or despondent, but took things as they were, knowing that God could and would make them better. When the heaviest surge of calamity came upon him, he met it with as cheerful a countenance as ever a bather at the beach met the incoming Atlantic, rising up on the other side of the wave stronger than when it smote him. Without ever being charged with frivolity, he sang, and whistled, and laughed. He knew about all the cheerful tunes that were ever printed in old 'New Brunswick Collection,' and the 'Strum Way,' and the sweetest melodies that Thomas Hastings ever composed. I think that every pillar in the Somerville and Bound Brook churches knew his happy voice. He took the pitch of sacred song on Sabbath morning, and lost it not through all the week. I have heard him sing plowing amid the aggravations of a 'new ground,' serving writs, examining deeds, going to arrest criminals, in the house and by the way, at the barn and in the street. When the church choir would break down, everybody looked around to see if he were not ready with Woodstock, Mount Pisgah, or Uxbridge. And when all his familiar tunes failed to express the joy of his soul, he would take up his own pen, draw five long lines across the sheet, put in the notes, and then to the tune that he called 'Bound Brook' begin to sing:
'As when the weary trav'ler gains
Thus, when the Christian pilgrim views,
"'Tis there," he says, "I am to dwell
"But few families fell heir to so large a pile of well-studied note-books. He was ready, at proper times, for all kinds of innocent amusement. He often felt a merriment that not only touched the lips, but played upon every fibre of the body, and rolled down into the very depths of his soul, with long reverberations. No one that I ever knew understood more fully the science of a good laugh. He was not only quick to recognize hilarity when created by others, but was always ready to do his share toward making it. Before extreme old age, he could outrun and outleap any of his children. He did not hide his satisfaction at having outwalked some one who boasted of his pedestrianism, or at having been able to swing the scythe after all the rest of the harvesters had dropped from exhaustion, or at having, in legislative hall, tripped up some villainous scheme for robbing the public treasury. We never had our ears boxed, as some children I wot of, for the sin of being happy. In long winter nights it was hard to tell who enjoyed sportfulness the better, the children who romped the floor, or the parents who, with lighted countenance, looked at them. Great indulgence and leniency characterized his family rule, but the remembrance of at least one correction more emphatic than pleasing proves that he was not like Eli of old, who had wayward sons and restrained them not. In the multitude of his witticisms there were no flings at religion, no caricatures of good men, no trifling with things of eternity. His laughter was not the 'crackling of thorns under a pot,' but the merry heart that doeth good like a medicine. For this all the children of the community knew him; and to the last day of his walking out, when they saw him coming down the lane, shouted, 'Here comes grandfather!' No gall, no acerbity, no hypercriticism. If there was a bright side to anything, he always saw it, and his name, in all the places where he dwelt, will long be a synonym for exhilaration of spirit.
"But whence this cheerfulness? Some might ascribe it ail to natural disposition. No doubt there is such a thing as sunshine of temperament. God gives more brightness to the almond tree than to the cypress. While the pool putrefies under the summer sun, God slips the rill off of the rocks with a frolicsomeness that fills the mountain with echo. No doubt constitutional structure had much to do with this cheerfulness. He had, by a life of sobriety, preserved his freshness and vigor. You know that good habits are better than speaking tubes to the ear; better than a staff to the hand; better than lozenges to the throat; better than warm baths to the feet; better than bitters for the stomach. His lips had not been polluted, nor his brain befogged, by the fumes of the noxious weed that has sapped the life of whole generations, sending even ministers of the Gospel to untimely graves, over which the tombstone declared, 'Sacrificed by overwork in the Lord's vineyard,' when if the marble had not lied, it would have said, 'Killed by villainous tobacco!' He abhorred anything that could intoxicate, being among the first in this country to join the crusade against alcoholic beverages. When urged, during a severe sickness, to take some stimulus, he said, 'No! If I am to die, let me die sober!' The swill of the brewery had never been poured around the roots of this thrifty almond. To the last week of his life his ear could catch a child's whisper, and at fourscore years his eyes refused spectacles, although he would sometimes have to hold the book off on the other side of the light, as octogenarians are wont to do. No trembling of the hands, no rheum in the eyes, no knocking together of the knees, no hobbling on crutches with what polite society terms rheumatism in the feet, but what everybody knows is nothing but gout. Death came, not to fell the gnarled trunk of a tree worm-eaten and lightning-blasted, but to hew down a Lebanon cedar, whose fall made the mountains tremble and the heavens ring. But physical health could not account for half of this sunshine. Sixty-four years ago a coal from the heavenly altar had kindled a light that shone brighter and brighter to the perfect day. Let Almighty grace for nearly three-quarters of a century triumph in a man's soul, and do you wonder that he is happy? For twice the length of your life and mine he had sat in the bower of the promises, plucking the round, ripe clusters of Eshcol. While others bit their tongues for thirst, he stood at the wells of salvation, and put his lips to the bucket that came up dripping with the fresh, cool, sparkling waters of eternal life. This joy was not that which breaks in the bursting bubble of the champagne glass, or that which is thrown out with the orange-peelings of a midnight bacchanalia, but the joy which, planted by a Saviour's pardoning grace, mounts up higher and higher, till it breaks forth in the acclaim of the hundred and forty and four thousand who have broken their last chain and wept their last sorrow. Oh! mighty God! How deep, how wide, how high the joy Thou kindles" in the heart of the believer!
"Again: We behold in our father the beauty of a Christian faith.
"Let not the account of this cheerfulness give you the idea that he never had any trouble. But few men have so serious and overwhelming a life struggle. He went out into the world without means, and with no educational opportunity, save that which was afforded him in the winter months, in an old, dilapidated school-house, from instructors whose chief work was to collect their own salary. Instead of postponing the marriage relation, as modern society compels a young man to postpone it, until he can earn a fortune, and be able, at commencement of the conjugal relation, to keep a companion like the lilies of the field, that toil not nor spin, though Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these -- he chose an early alliance with one, who would not only be able to enjoy the success of his life, but who would with her own willing hands help achieve it. And so while father plowed the fields, and threshed the wheat, and broke the flax, and husked the corn, my mother stood for Solomon's portraiture, when he said, 'She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet. Her children arise up and call her blessed, her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.' So that the limited estate of the New Jersey farmer never foundered on millinery establishments and confectionery shops. And though we were some years of age before we heard the trill of a piano, we knew well about the song of 'The Spinning-wheel.' There were no lords, or baronets, or princes in our ancestral line. None wore stars, cockade, or crest. There was once a family coat of arms, but we were none of us wise enough to tell its meaning. Do our best, we cannot find anything about our forerunners, except that they behaved well, came over from Wales or Holland a good while ago, and died when their time came. Some of them may have had fine equipage and caparisoned postillion, but the most of them were only footmen. My father started in life belonging to the aristocracy of hard knuckles and homespun, but had this high honor that no one could despise. He was the son of a father who loved God, and kept His commandments. What is the House of Hapsburg or Stuarts, compared with being son of the Lord God Almighty? Two eyes, two hands, and two feet, were the capital my father started with. For fifteen years an invalid, he had a fearful struggle to support his large family. Nothing but faith in God upheld him. His recital of help afforded, and deliverances wrought, was more like a romance than a reality. He walked through many a desert, but every morning had its manna, and every night it's pillar of fire, and every hard rock a rod that could shatter it into crystal fountains at his feet. More than once he came to his last dollar; but right behind that last dollar he found Him who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and out of the palm of whose hand all the fowls of heaven peck their food, and who hath given to each one of His disciples a warrantable deed for the whole universe in the words, 'All are yours.'
"The path that led him through financial straits, prepared him also for sore bereavements. The infant of days was smitten, and he laid it into the river of death with as much confidence as infant Moses was laid into the Ark of the Nile, knowing that soon from the royal palace a shining One would come to fetch it.
"In an island of the sea, among strangers, almost unattended, death came to a beloved son; and though I remember the darkness that dropped on the household when the black-sealed letter was opened, I remember also the utterances of Christian submission.
"Another bearing his own name, just on the threshold of manhood, his heart beating high with hope, falls into the dust; but above the cries of early widowhood and the desolation of that dark day, I hear the patriarch's prayer, commending children, and children's children, to the Divine sympathy.
"But a deeper shadow fell across the old home-stead. The 'Golden Wedding' had been celebrated nine years before. My mother looked up, pushed back her spectacles, and said, 'Just think of it, father! We have been together fifty-nine years!' The twain stood together like two trees of the forest with interlocked branches. Their affections had taken deep root together in many a kindred grave. Side by side in life's great battle, they had fought the good fight and won the day. But death comes to unjoint this alliance. God will not any longer let her suffer mortal ailments. The reward of righteousness is ready, and it must be paid. But what a tearing apart! What rending up! What will the aged man do without this other to lean on? Who can so well understand how to sympathize and counsel? What voice so cheering as hers, to conduct him down the steep of old age? 'Oh' said she in her last moments, 'father, if you and I could only be together, how pleasant it would be!' But the hush of death came down one autumnal afternoon, and for the first time in all my life, on my arrival at home, I received no maternal greeting, no answer of the lips, no pressure of the hand. God had taken her.
"In this overwhelming shock the patriarch stood confident, reciting the promises and attesting the Divine goodness. O, sirs, that was faith, faith, faith! 'Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory!'
"Finally, I noticed that in my father's old age was to be seen the beauty of Christian activity. He had not retired from the field. He had been busy so long you could not expect him idle now. The faith I have described was not an idle expectation that sits with its hands in its pockets idly waiting, but a feeling which gathers up all the resources of the soul, and hurls them upon one grand design. He was among the first who toiled in Sabbath-schools, and never failed to speak the praise of these institutions. No storm or darkness ever kept him away from prayer-meeting. In the neighborhood where he lived for years held a devotional meeting. Oftentimes the only praying man present, before a handful of attendants, he would give out the hymn, read the lines, conduct the music, and pray. Then read the Scriptures and pray again. Then lead forth in the Doxology with an enthusiasm as if there were a thousand people present, and all the church members had been doing their duty. He went forth visiting the sick, burying the dead, collecting alms for the poor, inviting the ministers of religion to his household, in which there was, as in the house of Shunem, a little room over the wall, with bed and candlestick for any passing Elisha. He never shuddered at the sight of a subscription paper, and not a single great cause of benevolence has arisen within the last half century which he did not bless with his beneficence. Oh, this was not a barren almond tree that blossomed. His charity was not like the bursting of the bud of a famous tree in the South that fills the whole forest with its racket; nor was it a clumsy thing like the fruit, in some tropical clime, that crashes down, almost knocking the life out of those who gather it; for in his case the right hand knew not what the left hand did. The churches of God in whose service he toiled, have arisen as one man to declare his faithfulness and to mourn their loss. He stood in the front of the holy war, and the courage which never trembled or winced in the presence of temporal danger induced him to dare all things for God. In church matters he was not afraid to be shot at. Ordained, not by the laying on of human hands, but by the imposition of a Saviour's love, he preached by his life, in official position, and legislative hall, and commercial circles, a practical Christianity. He showed that there was such a thing as honesty in politics. He slandered no party, stuffed no ballot box, forged no naturalization papers, intoxicated no voters, told no lies, surrendered no principle, countenanced no demagogism. He called things by their right names; and what others styled prevarication, exaggeration, misstatement or hyperbole, he called a lie. Though he was far from being undecided in his views, and never professed neutrality, or had any consort with those miserable men who boast how well they can walk on both sides of a dividing line and be on neither, yet even in the excitements of election canvass, when his name was hotly discussed in public journals, I do not think his integrity was ever assaulted. Starting every morning with a chapter of the Bible, and his whole family around him on their knees, he forgot not, in the excitements of the world, that he had a God to serve and a heaven to win. The morning prayer came up on one side of the day, and the evening prayer on the other side, and joined each other in an arch above his head, under the shadow of which he walked all the day. The Sabbath worship extended into Monday's conversation, and Tuesday's bargain, and Wednesday's mirthfulness, and Thursday's controversy, and Friday's sociality, and Saturday's calculation.
"Through how many thrilling scenes had he passed! He stood, at Morristown, in the choir that chanted when George Washington was buried; talked with young men whose grandfathers he had held on his knee; watched the progress of John Adams' administration; denounced, at the time, Aaron Burr's infamy; heard the guns that celebrated the New Orleans victory; voted against Jackson, but lived long enough to wish we had one just like him; remembered when the first steamer struck the North River with it's wheel buckets; flushed with excitement in the time of national banks and sub-treasury; was startled at the birth of telegraphy; saw the United States grow from a speck on the world's map till all nations dip their flag at our passing merchantmen, and our 'national airs' have been heard on the steeps of the Himalayas; was born while the Revolutionary cannon were coming home from Yorktown, and lived to hear the tramp of troops returning from the war of the great Rebellion; lived to speak the names of eighty children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Nearly all his contemporaries gone! Aged Wilberforce said that sailors drink to 'friends astern' until halfway over the sea, and then drink to 'friends ahead.' So, also, with my father. Long and varied pilgrimage! Nothing but sovereign grace could have kept him true, earnest, useful, and Christian through so many exciting scenes.
"He worked unwearily from the sunrise of youth, to the sunset of old age, and then in the sweet nightfall of death, lighted by the starry promises, went home, taking his sheaves with him. Mounting from earthly to heavenly service, I doubt not there were a great multitude that thronged heaven's gate to hail him into the skies, -- those whose sorrows he had appeased, whose burdens he had lifted, whose guilty souls he had pointed to a pardoning God, whose dying moments he had cheered, whose ascending spirits he had helped up on the wings of sacred music. I should like to have heard that long, loud, triumphant shout of heaven's welcome. I think that the harps throbbed with another thrill, and the hills quaked with a mightier hallelujah. Hail! ransomed soul! Thy race run, -- thy toil ended! Hail to the coronation!"
At the death of David T. Talmage the Christian Intelligencer of October 25, 1865, contained the following contribution from the pen of Dr. T.W. Chambers, for many years pastor of the Second Reformed Church, Somerville, New Jersey, now one of the pastors of the Collegiate Church, New York:
"In the latter part of the last century, Thomas Talmage, Sr., a plain but intelligent farmer, moved into the neighborhood of Somerville, N.J., and settled upon a fertile tract of land, very favorably situated, and commanding a view of the country for miles around. Here he spent the remainder of a long, godly, and useful life, and reared a large family of children, twelve of whom were spared to reach adult years, and to make and adorn the same Christian profession of which their father was a shining light. Two of these became ministers of the Gospel, of whom one, Jehiel, fell asleep several years since, while the other, the distinguished Samuel K. Talmage, D.D., President of Oglethorpe University, Georgia, entered into his rest only a few weeks since. Another son, Thomas, was for an entire generation the strongest pillar in the Second Church of Somerville.
"One of the oldest of the twelve was the subject of this notice; a man whose educational advantages were limited to the local schools of the neighborhood, but whose excellent natural abilities, sharpened by contact with the world, gave him a weight in the community which richer and more cultivated men might have envied. In the prime of his years he was often called to serve his fellow citizens in civil trusts. He spent some years in the popular branch of the Legislature, and was afterwards high sheriff of the County of Somerset for the usual period. In both cases he fulfilled the expectations of his friends, and rendered faithful service. The sterling integrity of his character manifested itself in every situation; and even in the turmoil of politics, at a time of much excitement, he maintained a stainless name, and defied the tongue of calumny. But it was chiefly in the sphere of private and social relations that his work was done and his influence exerted. His father's piety was reproduced in him at an early period, and soon assumed a marked type of thoroughness, activity and decision, which it bore even to the end. His long life was one of unblemished Christian consistency, which in no small measure was due to the influence of his excellent wife, Catherine Van Nest, a niece of the late Abraham Van Nest, of New York City, who a few years preceded him into glory. She was the most godly woman the writer ever knew, a wonder unto many for the strength of her faith, the profoundness of her Christian experience, and the uniform spirituality of her mind. The ebb and flow common to most believers did not appear in her; but her course was like a river fed by constant streams, and running on wider and deeper till it reaches the sea. It might be said of this pair, as truly as of the parents of John the Baptist, 'And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.' Hand in hand they pursued their pilgrimage through this world, presenting an example of intelligent piety such as is not often seen. 'Lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their death they were not (long) divided.' Exactly three years from the day of Mrs. Talmage's death her husband received the summons to rejoin her on high.
"These parents were unusually careful and diligent in discharging their Christian obligations to their children. The promise of the covenant was importunately implored in their behalf from the moment of birth, its seal was early applied, and the whole training was after the pattern of Abraham. The Divine faithfulness was equally manifest, for the whole eleven were in due time brought to the Saviour, and introduced into the full communion of the Church. Years ago two of them were removed by death. Of the rest, four, James, John, Goyn, and Thomas De Witt, are ministers of the Gospel, and one is the wife of a minister (the Rev. S. L. Mershon, of East Hampton, L.I.). Without entering into details respecting these brethren, it is sufficient to say that, with the exception of the late Dr. John Scudder's, no other single family has been the means of making such a valuable contribution to the sons of Levi in the Dutch Church.
"Mr. Talmage was not only exemplary in the ordinary duties of a Christian, but excellent as a church officer. Shrewd, patient, kind, generous according to his means, and full of quiet zeal, he was ready for every good work; one of those men -- the delight of a pastor's heart -- who can always be relied upon to do their share, if not a little more, and that in things both temporal and spiritual. He was a wise counselor, a true friend, a self-sacrificing laborer for the Master."
We find the following allusion to the life and death of his mother, in a sermon by Dr. T. De Witt Talmage:
"In these remarks upon maternal faithfulness, I have found myself unconsciously using as a model the character of one, who, last Wednesday, we put away for the resurrection. About sixty years ago, just before the day of their marriage, my father and mother stood up in the old meeting-house, at Somerville, to take the vows of a Christian. Through a long life of vicissitude she lived blamelessly and usefully, and came to her end in peace. No child of want ever came to her door, and was turned away. No stricken soul ever appealed to her and was not comforted. No sinner ever asked her the way to be saved, and was not pointed to Christ.
"When the Angel of Life came to a neighbor's dwelling, she was there to rejoice at the incarnation; and when the Angel of Death came, she was there to robe the departed one for burial. We had often heard her, while kneeling among her children at family prayers, when father was absent, say: 'I ask not for my children wealth, or honor; but I do ask that they may all become the subjects of Thy converting grace.' She had seen all her eleven children gathered into the Church, and she had but one more wish, and that was that she might again see her missionary son. And when the ship from China anchored in New York harbor, and the long absent one crossed the threshold of his paternal home, she said, 'Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.'
"We were gathered from afar to see only the house from which the soul had fled forever. How calm she looked! Her folded hands appeared just as when they were employed in kindnesses for her children. And we could not help but say, as we stood and looked at her, 'Doesn't she look beautiful!' It was a cloudless day when, with heavy hearts, we carried her out to the last resting-place. The withered leaves crumbled under wheel and hoof as we passed, and the setting sun shone upon the river until it looked like fire. But more calm and bright was the setting sun of this aged pilgrim's life. No more toil. No more tears. No more sickness. No more death. Dear mother! Beautiful mother!
"'Sweet is the slumber beneath the sod,