Rev. Richard Pearson Greaves
Churchman and Genealogist
Richard Pearson Greaves 1862-1948: not related to our Roll family
Pearson Greaves was five years old when his parents brought him to Westfield in 1867. He was born in the confines of the city of Brooklyn and this neighborly country town seemed a wonderful place - a new world - to him. People lived here as one large family, just as their revered forefathers had lived more than a century before. No change to speak of - a few more houses, a few more aunts and uncles to visit.
Pearson was a studious little fellow, with a long memory for names and places. His contempories say that he seemed happier in the company of his elders than in taking part in the sports of the times. He liked to visit, was a good listener and by the time he had come of age, he knew more about the old folks than the old folks knew about themselves.
The tasks which engaged his interests from youth to old age were difficult and exacting and seemed to his comtemporaries, who preferred romance to research, a waste of precious time. But Pearson found pleasure in doing them, and while others were courting, he traveled about the countryside, holidays and weekends, usually on foot, gathering data about old families and the pre-Revolutionary houses in which they lived, and visiting burial grounds to obtain a name or date on a brown stone slab. He also had access to early church records and the deeds in the archives of county and state.
As a result, he made a scroll of the pioneers who settled her before 1750, which was published (1937) in "The Olde Towne", a narrative history of this locality from 1700 to 1894. A map designating the location of old houses built between 1740 and 1800 published in the same history, also was prepared by him.
His most important contribution to New Jerseyana, however, is the chronology of colonial families in the township - the names, dates of birth and death of the founding fathers and their descendants. The names arranged chronologically on cards; a card for each generation - several hundreds of cards, all told. It is the work of a life time. The last entry was made April 19, 1948, eleven days before his death, at the age of eight-five years, eleven months. At his request his nephews, Horace and Richard Hatfield, gave the original manuscripts to the New Jersey Historical Society.
Pearson Greaves was an exceptional minister's son, a devout churchman; he followed in his father's footsteps. His father, the Rev. Joseph Greaves, was a retired Baptist minister, a commuter, engaged in a mercantile business in New York. With John J. Coger, Charles F. Conant, Leonard Beebe, and other recent arrivals, he helped organize the Baptist congregation, and when its first church was completed, consented to become the pastor, serving in the office for six years (1871-76) without pay. he performed a like service at Locust Grove Chapel, Mountainside, directing the re-organization which resulted in the change from a Baptist to a non-sectarian congregation.
While the father preached, the son taught in the Sunday School - first the primary, then the adult Bible class - sixty years of continuous service. For thirty - five of these years he was superintendent. The oldest parishioner cannot recall his having missed a day. Under date of March 1, 1914, he writes in his diary: "The most destructive snow storm since the blizzard of March 12, 1888 - nearly all telephone poles down, electric wires down, no teams or trolleys moving. I spent the day alone in the Mountainside Chapel. There was no Sunday service."
A frail - looking, stoop shouldered little man, slow and deliberate in his movements, he was endowed with remarkable vitality. From 1879, when he was graduated cum laude from Miss Julia Ladd's Westfield Seminary, until 1948, two years before his death, he spent at least a third of his ten hour day on the railroad, took the same train for sixty years, and gave his nights to extra - curricular activities. "I want to go as long as I can," he said, when he retired at 84. He would not apply for a pension.
During the blizzard of '88, he arrived in the city in time to secure lodging "in a church". he spent two nights and a day there. he was sick "once or twice - not seriously". In the depression years, funds were low at the chapel and he took over the duties of janitor. Twice a week, in the long summer evenings, he could be seen sweeping off the front walk, cutting the grass, dusting the pews and pulpit, in preparation for the mid - week and Sunday services. In the winter, he arrived early to make certain the church was well heated. He was then seventy - five. Observing him at his self - appointed tasks, the late James E. Buck, a boyhood friend, became interested, and in his will bequeathed a larger part of his estate to The Chapel. This generous gift, which made possible needed additons and improvements, was unsolicited.
A Life of Service
Religion was life to Pearson Greaves. His interest in biographical research was essentially religious - the church was the heritage of the founding fathers. He kept a "Day Book" [Where is it now?] and a diary [Location?] which he called a "Summary" - an itemized account of his daily activities - where he went, what he did and every penny he spent. He went to distant places to investigate : he remained to worship. He collected stamps from the missionaries he corresponded with.
His memorabilia are remarkable for their impersonal nature. He is without opinions - let the fact plead its own cause. He does not censure, he does not praise. He is the only bachelor of record who lived fifty years in boarding houses and failed to comment on the food or service.
He was objective, always seeking. In the summer of 1906, he spent his vacation at Waterville, L.I., and "visited libraries at Bridgehampton : Easthampton, and South Hampton." On vacation in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914 he "examined the records of births and deaths of former Westfielders in the court house and cemetery and worked all day and evening at research at Lebanon" and adjoining towns. He took dinner at the home of Charles Ludlum and called on John Squire Pierson, former Westfielders. He walked ten miles.
In the following summer, again in Cleveland, "I was taken sick with nausea and dizziness in the morning, so that I could not attend the Centennial of the Old Bethel Church, at Millville" : but the following day, "I went to the Children's Day service at Westminster Presbyterian Church and visited Woodlawn Cemetery in the evening."
He was a tither: never gave less, sometimes went without himself and gave more than a tenth of his income to worthy causes. His contributions are listed under the general head of "benevolence" in his diary. Here are typical entries:
August 16, 1907 - Lunch, $.10; board $5.00; paper $.01;benevolence, $1.50*** July 25, 1908 - no lunch; P.O. Box $.65; postage $.02; benevolence $.50*** March 4, 1914 - No benevolence; lunch $.20; postage $.02; supper, $.10; crackers $.10*** January 25, 1939 - Breakfast, $.40; lunch $.13; supper $.60, stationery, $.10; medicine $1.75; witchazel, $.69; benevolence $.73.
Pearson Greaves was frugal, but not ungenerous; his tastes were simple, his wants few; he used money sparingly because he has little of it. He gave freely of himself - a long life of devoted service to the church and to the community. He was without pretension, a good man, a Christian.
Source: (1) "Richard Pearson Greaves, I. The Researcher," 4 Dec 1952, p. 5; (2) "Richard Pearson Greaves, II. The Churchman," 11 Dec 1952, p. 5; (3) "Richard Pearson Greaves, III. A Life of Service," 18 Dec 1952, p.5, in The Westfield Leader online in the Local History Collection of the Westfield Memorial Library. I have prepared a PDF file with all three parts clipped from the newspaper: Richard Pearson Greaves Biography.