Bentley, Rev. William

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William Bentley (June 22, 1759, Boston, Massachusetts – December 29, 1819, Salem, Massachusetts) was an American Unitarian minister, scholar, columnist, and diarist.

Bentley graduated from Harvard University in 1777 (he entered when only 14 years old) and worked as a schoolteacher and then a tutor of Latin and Greek at Harvard. On September 24, 1783, he was ordained as a minister and became pastor of the Second Congregational (Unitarian) Church in Salem, known as the East Church, where he remained until his death of a heart attack in 1819.

He was extremely well read, having a personal library of over four thousand books, and could converse in seven languages and read twenty-one. Bentley contributed frequently to the Salem Gazette and Register and kept a daily diary. These diaries, later published in a four volume set, are widely used to study Salem's history during the great East India Trade era.

Bentley was well liked by his parishioners because of his philosophy of emphasizing good works over rigid doctrine. He himself lived modestly, and was a boarder at the Crowninshield-Bentley House from 1791 until his death in 1819. He gave almost half his salary to help the poorer members of his congregation. He often shared the East Church pulpit with pastors of other sects. He was a strong supporter of public education and frequent tutor and substitute teacher; among the students he taught was Nathaniel Bowditch. The Bentley School in Salem is named for him.

Though he was solicited many times to enter the politics, he preferred life in Salem with his parishioners and community. He twice declined Thomas Jefferson's offers of prominent positions, first as chaplain of the United States Congress, and then as first president of the University of Virginia.

Bentley was a founder of East India Marine Society - which later became the Peabody Essex Museum - and he donated his massive library to various schools, including Tufts and Harvard Universities and Allegheny College and Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

He is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.

See Also

Vertical File in Salem Collection - Bentley, William

Rev. William Bentley Salem Tales,

The diary of William Bentley, pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts Essex Institute, 1905-1914.

North Shore Literary Trail by K. Bierfelt, p. 116-7

Rev. William Bentley Find-a-grave, Harmony Grove Cemetery