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Finding Comfort in the "Valley of Affliction"

Hartford residents may have sought solace in the city’s churches to come to grips with the tragedy that rocked their community. Three of these sermons made their way into print, and reflect the differing visions of how the tragedy might be interpreted as both a sign of God’s will and a lesson for the living.

Rev. Thomas M. Clark, the minister of Christ Church, preached on Samuel XX. 3: “There is but a step between me and death.” He recalled the 1766 schoolhouse explosion, and noted how much the world had changed since then. The new technologies that caused the terrible explosion that had also taken several lives would have been entirely foreign to the Hartford residents of 1766. Like the official inquest, he did not blame the owners of the factory, but again turned to the carelessness of the engineer John McCune.

“Of course there is no criminal intent, no expectation of calamity,” Clark reasoned discussing McCune, “the official is merely careless for a moment, and in that moment, his own life and the lives of others are sacrificed, and years of agony are entailed upon society.” The only meaning he could find in this suffering was the capacity of the tragedy to strengthen the souls of the survivors, saying, “The spiritual fiber of the soul is often strengthened more in an hour of intense suffering, than it is by years of ordinary life.” Another lesson, he intoned, was the way in which the blast could bind together “the discordant family of man.” The days following the explosion were a time for the city to come together as a community, even using the language of family to imagine this bond. “We are drawn very near to each other,” he reminded those listening in the church pews and reading his words in the columns of the Hartford Courant, “when we meet in the valley of affliction.”