The Rev. Joseph Dana served the Second Congregational Church at the South Green from 1765 until his death in 1827 at age 85.
Rev, Dana’s tombstone in the Old South Cemetery reads:
“In memory of the Rev Joseph Dana D.D., for sixty-two years, Minister of the South Church. His protracted life was eminently devoted to the cause of God and man. As a preacher he was evangelical, instructive and faithful. As a pastor affectionate and devoted.”
In his later years the Rev. Dana had many wakeful nights in which he would look from his pillow through the window to the starry sky and compose hymns in his mind. At the breakfast table the next morning he would ask his daughter to get the quill, and the devoted daughter would record the fresh stanzas as the elderly man precisely recalled his midnight musings.
Surely one of the more sorrowful events in the long ministry of Rev. Dana was the funeral service for fifteen-year-old Samuel Woodbury, who drowned on March 19, 1802 after he went down to the river and stepped out onto the ice on the Ipswich River in front of from his parents’ home. Young Samuel lived in the ancient Stephen Boardman house at 67 Turkey Shore Road. His body was not immediately found, but was later recovered.
The hymn copied below ends oddly as an instruction to Samuel’s younger sister Maria (who went on to live a full life) that she will join her brother Samuel someday.
How yearns the parents hearts with love!
How dear an only son!
And yet how frail these comforts prove
And, ah! how soon are gone!
Sure the blest power who formed the mind
Delights not in its pain
But, Sorrow’s needful, and designed
For man’s eternal gain.
Come see the hopes of man destroyed,
When, to the Gate of Death,
An unsuspecting youth decoyed,
And yielding up his breath.
In early morn he took his way
Down to the river side,
Lured by the charms of opening day,
And streams that gently glide.
There on the floating ice embarked,
The youth his pleasure sought
No friend his dangerous progress marked,
Or timely succor brought.
Let floods of tears relate the rest,
And sighs that pierce the skies.
” Samuel!” the mother smites her breast
Gone! gone! the father cries!
The neighbors flock with feeling hearts,
Blest be the heavenly power
For all that sympathy imparts
To soothe a doleful hour!
All day they search the waters o’er,
Yet none can find the place
Where sleeps the youth to wake no more,
Wrapped in their cold embrace.
Ah! how reduced is human hope,
One favor now implore
Let the cold clay be wafted up,
And find a grave on shore!”
But how mysterious that power,
Which thus assuages grief,
That naught on earth could comfort more
Than now this strange relief.
It comes, more precious by delay
Parents, with grateful hands,
Shroud and inter the lifeless clay,
As tender love commands.
And thou, O Sovereign of the mind,
Now set these hearts at rest,
In pure subjection, all resigned,
And make their sorrow blest.
Let their weaned hearts to Thee ascend,
To pay the homage due
And never more on reeds depend,
Which break and pierce them through.
Be Thou henceforth their All in all
Their joy, their hope, their trust
And soon the wormwood and the gall
Shall lose the bitter gust.
Come young Maria, learn to die
Come love and seek your God
The vanities of life deny,
And tread the heavenly road.
Thus you’ll console your parents dear,
Live happy while you stay
And your’s is “Heaven’s Eternal Year,”
Whene’er you’re called away.