SECCOMBE, JOHN (while in Nova Scotia he used this spelling, although as a young man he had omitted the final “e”), Congregationalist minister; b. 25 April 1708 at Medford, Massachusetts, third son of Peter Seccomb, merchant, and Hannah Willis; m. 10 March 1736/37 Mercy Williams at Weston, Massachusetts; they had at least five children; d. 27 Oct. 1792 at Chester, Nova Scotia.
As a student at Harvard College (AB 1728, AM 1731), John Seccombe was known for his practical jokes, skirmishes with college authorities, and ready wit, rather than for his scholarship. Among the literary productions of his student years the best known is “Father Abbey’s will,” a 15-stanza nonsense verse celebrating the college sweeper, Matthew Abdy. First published in the Weekly Rehearsal (Boston) on 3 Jan. 1732, it was reprinted in London in the same year and in broadsides and periodicals as late as 1850. A reply from the sweeper at Yale, frequently printed with it, has sometimes incorrectly been attributed to Seccombe.
In 1732 Seccombe was invited to settle as the first minister of the new town of Harvard, where he was ordained on 10 Oct. 1733. His entry into the Congregationalist ministry was a movement upward socially, as was his marriage to the daughter of the well-connected Reverend William Williams of Weston. Seccombe’s magnificent estate at Harvard rendered showy statement of the position he had attained by the late 1730s. His ministry, however, was not without controversy. Although he and his congregation agreed in accepting the principles of the Great Awakening, his relations with ministerial associations were sometimes strained on this account. His years at Harvard were also clouded by rumours of marital infidelity, which apparently led to his offering “Christian satisfaction for his Offence” in January 1738/39 and which may have been the cause of his requesting dismission from the church in 1757.
One of the original proprietors of Chester, Seccombe preached there in 1761 and settled his family there in 1763. His congregation of new settlers afforded him little support, but with money brought from New England he developed a family farm. His “very necessitous Circumstances” of 1769 were subsequently relieved by a family inheritance. Seccombe also preached at Mather’s (St Matthew’s) Church, Halifax, as early as 1761 and regularly thereafter for a quarter-century. Why he was never given an official call to Mather’s is unknown. He had been warmly welcomed by the congregation, and in 1771, having preached there more often than any other dissenting minister, he found it “so natural to be with this people, that it Seemes almost as if I were their Pastor.” An inclination to Presbyterianism at Mather’s or his own evangelical spirit may have excluded him but, since he was an educated, clever man and a good preacher, it is more likely that his troubles at Harvard made him unacceptable to an influential segment of the congregation, which claimed pre-eminence among the dissenting churches of the province and which sought to compete for status with the Church of England establishment at St Paul’s. In the 1780s schoolmaster Joseph Peters thought that Seccombe had been imposed upon, but also blamed him for being “too easy.”
In July 1770, when the first Presbyterian-Congregationalist presbytery in Nova Scotia ordained Bruin Romkes Comingo*, a Lunenburg fisherman, as pastor of a dissenting congregation in that town, Seccombe preached the ordination sermon on the theme of the necessity of sanctifying grace to the ministry. Elsewhere his highly structured, articulate sermons, for the weekly pulpit as for the bereaved, pursued the Calvinist doctrine of faith. Although he abhorred the doctrinal confusion of the followers of Henry Alline, in 1786 he welcomed “the awakening & concern which some among us are under.” Two years later he led his congregation to accept open communion with Baptists, but he himself did not join the reorganized church.
Seccombe’s summons before the Nova Scotia Council in December 1776 on charges of preaching a seditious sermon locates him clearly within the New England Congregationalist tradition, but tells more about governmental fears and Chester’s proximity to the capital than about revolutionary sympathies on Seccombe’s part. He was not only required to give security for his future good behaviour but forbidden to preach until he had signed a formal recantation. There is no record of his having done so, but he is known to have preached in Halifax in June 1777. Having visited New England in 1769 and having once considered returning there in case of war, Seccombe nevertheless remained in Nova Scotia during and, as one of only three Congregationalist clergymen, after the American revolution.
“A very godly man” to the Baptists, “a true Gospel minister . . . not after the Loaves nor the Fishes” to an Anglican, and “the first Character in this Province” and “the Father of all . . . [its dissenting] Churches” to a Presbyterian, Seccombe was regarded as “a great lover of good men of all ages, ranks and denominations.” The contrasts and struggles of his own life bear witness to his conviction that “Christ is the thirsty Sinner’s only foundation.”
John Seccombe is the author of Father Abbey’s will . . . (Cambridge, Mass., 1854), first published in Weekly Rehearsal (Boston, Mass.), 3 Jan. 1732; “The diary of Rev. John Seccombe,” ed. C. B. Fergusson, PANS Report (Halifax), 1959, app.B, 18–45 (the original is in PANS, MG 1, 797C); A sermon preached at Halifax, July 3d, 1770, at the ordination of the Rev. Bruin Romcas Comingoe to the Dutch Calvanistic Presbyterian congregation at Lunenburg . . . (Halifax, 1770); A sermon occasioned by the death of the Honorable Abigail Belcher, late consort of Jonathan Belcher, esq . . . delivered at Halifax . . . October 20, 1771 (Boston, Mass., 1772); A sermon, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Margaret Green; consort of the late Honourable Benjamin Green, esq; delivered at Halifax, in the province of Nova-Scotia, February 1st, 1778 (Halifax, [1778?]).
Acadia University (Wolfville, N.S.), Atlantic Baptist hist. coll., [John Seccombe], A sermon on Isaiah 55:1 preached at Halifax, April 24, 1779 . . . . [A note on the sermon wrongly attributes it to the Rev. James Munro. s.b.] Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (New Haven, Conn.), George Gilmore to Ezra Stiles, 12 Nov. 1788. PANS, MG 1, 797C (Rev. John Seccomb(e) docs.); RG 1, 212, 23 Dec. 1776, 6 Jan. 1777. Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., Archives and Hist Coll. – Episcopal Church (Austin, Tex.), Samuel Peters papers, I, no.95; II, nos.7, 56; III, no.118, in the custody of the Hist. Soc. of the Episcopal Church (Austin) (mfm. at PANS). United Church of Canada, Maritime Conference Archives, Pine Hill Divinity Hall (Halifax), McGregor papers A, Seccombe-Comingoe letters. “Congregational churches in Nova Scotia,” Mass. Hist. Soc., Proc., 2nd ser., IV (1887–89), 67–73. Shipton, Sibley’s Harvard graduates, VIII. H. S. Nourse, History of the town of Harvard, Massachusetts, 1732–1893 (Harvard, 1894), 178–95. Baptist Missionary Magazine of Nova-Scotia and New-Brunswick (Saint John and Halifax), I (1827–29), 317.