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THE REV. JOSEPH HOPKINS TWICHELL: One of Connecticut’s Finest Preachers

    by Anya Laurence


Rev. Twichell and Mark Twain


Twichell's birthplace

   Twichell, born in Plantsville, a neighborhood of Southington, Connecticut, on November 30, 1838, became the pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford in 1865, and remained there for almost fifty years. The son of Deacon Edward Twichell and Selina Delight Carter, Joseph attended Yale from 1855 to 1859, and from 1859 to1861 he studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. When the Civil War broke out the staunch abolitionist enlisted in the Union Army and became chaplain to the 71st New York Volunteers, one of the five regiments of the Excelsior Brigade, under the command of General Daniel Sickles.

 

  Twichell, a very handsome man with a strong physique, became a friend of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and the two were very close for forty years. It seems that Twichell was a confidante, adviser on literary affairs and inspiration to Clemens, who used Twichell as the character ‘Harris’ in A Tramp Abroad. Twichell officiated, along with the Rev. Thomas Beecher (see archives) at the wedding of Clemens to Olivia Langdon and later christened the Clemens children. Joseph Twichell was described as a devout man, a scholar and ‘a man with an exuberant sense of humor.’ He was also credited with having a deep understanding of the frailties of humankind. A contrast to Clemens indeed.

Twichell-Ward House, Southington, CT

Clemens and Twichell followed, with great interest, the famous adultery trial of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, which took place in Brooklyn, New York. Clemens obviously decreed Beecher to be guilty, saying “Mr. Tilton (the wronged husband) has never been entitled to any sympathy since the day he heard the news & did not go straight& kill Beecher& then humbly seek forgiveness for displaying so much vivacity.” One wonders if Joseph Twichell took the same view as Clemens. Whatever Twichell thought of the scandal, he attended the trial with Clemens.

   The Asylum Hill Congregational Church cornerstone was laid on May 5,1866, and the church was dedicated on June 15,1866. The cost of the church was $116,000, including the land, and the architect was Patrick Keely. Samuel Clemens referred to it as “the Church of the Holy Speculators.” Twichell was the pastor from December 13, 1865, until August 1,1912.

  Joseph married Julia Harmony Cushman in November of 1865, and sired 11 children, including Burton Parker Twichell, who married Katherine Eugenie Pratt, daughter of the Standard Oil industrialist and philanthropist, Charles Miller Pratt.

Their daughter, Harmony Twichell, married the celebrated Connecticut composer Charles Ives. (See archives). After a satisfying career and apparently happy life, Twichell died on December 20, 1918, in Hartford.

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