Biography of William Merrick Chapin

Missionary, educator, philanthropist, William Merrick Chapin was one of the most beloved clergymen of New England, where he had labored in the vineyard of God for more than forty years, his home having been in Barrington from the year 1879 until 1921. Sincere and devout, he was in the truest sense a lover of his fellowmen, delighting to serve them and giving prodigally of his time and strength to improve the conditions amid which he and his community lived and worked. He was hearty in his manner, genial and cordial to all, comforting to the afflicted, sympathetic with the sorrowing, generous to the needy. He always had a consoling word and a bright smile for those who sought his counsel or material aid and was happiest when doing some deed of kindliness. In every sense a manly man, he understood how to appeal to the better natures of men and how to teach them a religion of love that would make them more contented with life and happier in its living while they were at the same time bringing happiness to others through their works. A thorough believer in the axiom that “God helps him who helps himself,” he sought to train the youth of his district in occupational trades and during the years that he conducted St. Andrew’s School hundreds of young men were started upon careers that afterward illustrated, by their success, the efficiency of his instruction. He was a valuable citizen of Rhode Island and his loss was a great blow to his associates in the work he began and so successfully carried forward through the years.

He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, August 30, 1852, and was educated in private schools, at Shepard School, Saybrook, Connecticut, at Trinity College in Hartford, and at Berkeley Divinity School at Middletown, Connecticut, where he received instruction under Bishop Williams, who ordained him to the diaconate in 1877. Functioning in his office, he spent two years in the mission field of western Texas under Bishop R. W. B. Elliott, for whom he ever retained the deepest affection. On St. James’ Day, July 25, 1879, he was ordained a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church in St. John’s Church, Barrington, Rhode Island, by Bishop Clark, and entered at once upon his duties, which were to last for forty-one years. His first charge was the rectorate of St. John’s, where he was loved and admired and where he faithfully ministered not only to the members of his parish but to all the people of the town. When he took charge the Sunday school had a membership of thirty-five and the church a communicant list of fifty-three. He was small of stature but his capabilities were tremendous and within a year he had established a successful kindergarten which was operated in the chapel adjoining the church edifice, erected to the memory of J. C. Burrington, senior warden of St. John’s in Mr. Chapin’s first year there. St. Mark’s, Riverside, was taken in hand by him and St. Matthew’s Chapel, in West Barrington, was built for the double purpose of worship and to act as a meeting place for the social activities of the community, this being opened in 1891. He organized St. Andrew’s Industrial School in Barrington, which began its work by raising vegetables on the land of Mr. Walcott for St. Helena’s Rest. By December, 1895, however, the school having attracted favorable attention, funds became available for enlargement and the Josiah Bicknell homestead of about ten acres was purchased, Mr. Chapin going there to live and instruct; and there he died. He also started St. Luke’s Mission at Swansea, Massachusetts. Mr. Chapin served for twenty years on the library board of trustees and for several years was superintendent of schools in Barrington. Under his wise and efficient management the industrial school expanded and grew greatly in value. He died in Barrington, March 8, 1921.

William Merrick Chapin married twice. His first marriage was to Stella Walcott, daughter of Erastus Walcott, and they were the parents of three children:

  1. Harriet Mildred.
  2. Rebecca, who married Reginald S. Fisk; and they are the parents of: Stella P., Reginald C., and William Walcott.
  3. Walcott, of Providence, Rhode Island. Mr. Chapin married (second) Alice Briggs, daughter of Nathaniel Parker Briggs.

Mr. Chapin’s great work for young manhood was the more laudable in that during its early stages he met with great discouragement in soliciting funds for its prosecution. There were occasions when he was rebuffed with a gruff refusal by those who could not appreciate the unselfish and wholly altruistic aims of the smiling clergyman who sought only to help the rising generation. But he was not a man to be discouraged and kept at his self-appointed task with zealous tirelessness and finally realized his dream, as did the people of the whole countryside. His boys were his companions and his twinkling eye and keen sense of humor contributed greatly to form and cement these friendships and bring about a condition where he was looked upon with reverence and devotion. The church, the educational system, and the people of Rhode Island lost a priceless friend and worker when William Merrick Chapin passed on the road to infinity.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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