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George McKean Folsom

1869 - 1875


George McKean Folsom was born on February 6, 1837 to Charles and Susanna S. (MacKean) Folsom in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was secretary of his Harvard 1857 class and went on to get a doctorate degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1866. He married Susan Cabot Jackson on January 8, 1867 and was ordained in that year by First Parish of Groton. Folsom was called on February 1, 1869 to be minister for First Church Dedham which had been without a pastor for 1 1/3 years. 


One of Folsom’s Dedham parishioners described him thusly: “He was a man of the greatest purity and simplicity, honest and sincere. No offer of worldly profit or advantage could have made him swerve from the path of rectitude. He was a faithful friend, and wise counsellor, a lover of his kind, prompt to follow the dictates of generosity, a cheerful giver. He was ever ready to see the good in the character of others, while his extreme modesty led him to underestimate his own. Incapable of resentment, he was ready to forgive, although slow to perceive, the fault affording opportunity for forgiveness. He was more apt to take blame to himself than to take offense, a truly unselfish man.”


Folsom played an important role in First Church history, despite several obstacles with which he had to contend. First, he reportedly was a very mild-mannered man with a presentation characterized by a parishioner as one of “shrinking and reserve”. Secondly, for the first three years of his ministry, his wife was seriously ill and ultimately died in 1871, at which some would “marvel how, as pastor or preacher, he had time, strength or heart to accomplish anything.” Folsom’s First Church successor attributed his third challenge to “the very delicate and critical condition of things theological at that date prevailing.” Two theological developments come to mind. To begin with, the American Unitarian Association had rehabilitated the controversial abolitionist, social activist, feminist (and deceased) Boston theologian Theodore Parker by publishing a volume of his writings, Speeches, Addresses, and Occasional Sermons (1867) as “one of the recognized representatives of Unitarian thought.” Consequently, a congregant donated a considerable sum to First Church so long as Parker’s thought was welcome in its meetinghouse. To continue, as a recent graduate of divinity school, Folsom was familiar with state-of-the-art German theological scholarship on the origins, context, and textual history of Christianity.  German scholars had been probing ancient texts to corroborate the synoptic gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry. Folsom delivered “a very instructive class for Sunday-school teachers which Mr. Folsom conducted fortnightly at his own house. Hase's Life of Jesus was at one time the subject of study.” Karl August Von Hase wanted to reconcile modern culture with historical Christianity in a scientific way.” Hase applied the historical methodologies of examination of primary texts, i.e. sourcing, contextualization. corroboration, and close reading. Hase carefully applied the new scholarship tools to the synoptic gospels and where historical technique did not find sufficient support, he challenged some of Jesus’s miracles as lacking substantiation.  Folsom‘s lectures provide congregants with the opportunity to become aware the application of rationalism and historical methodology to traditional Protestant verities.


The last challenge of Folsom’s ministry concerned the actual structure of the church property. “It was," says the same witness, "while Mr. Folsom was with us that the need of a more commodious and convenient vestry was strongly felt and, though the building was not completed till a later day, moneys were raised from time to time for that purpose.” One way said moneys were raised was by means of Folsom’s eloquence: as a congregant reminisced, “Mr. Folsom himself contributed largely to the cause by giving public readings, which his remarkable talents rendered very enjoyable occasions, and which benefited us by considerable sums of money." It was gratefully remembered by many who have enjoyed our improved social and Sunday-school accommodations that the first contribution toward the new vestry was the proceeds of Mr. Folsom's readings.


Folsom served as a member and later chair of the Dedham school committee for several years. His service extended from March 1871 to March 1875, but according to the testimony of a Dedham teacher, about Folsom, she had " most delightful recollections." Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in in March 1875, after a ministry of six years, Folsom resigned the Dedham pastorate and accepted the office of supervisor of schools in Boston, a position for which many believed he was eminently qualified. Mr. Folsom died suddenly, in Boston, on May 20, 1882. In a notice of his death it was said, "He was as simple and true and genuine a man as ever lived. He loved his friends and his books. Certainly, his life was not a brilliant or noisy one, but it was rich in gentleness and unselfishness, and in the power of doing good to others, and the rare gift of diffusing happiness."


Filing Cabinet: Ministers-1688-1897: First Church Papers- 1627-1965; Dedham Museum and Archive

A brief history of the last three pastorates of the First parish in Dedham, 1860-1888 : a sermon preached November 11, 1888 : Beach, Seth Curtis, 1837-1932 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 -

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