The earliest notice of our ancestors that we have is contained in the will of Governor Arnold, dated 1677, in which he gives to his daughter, Damaris Bliss, wife of John Bliss, a parcel of land in the precincts of Newport. Governor Arnold also mentions the name of George Bliss as one of whom he had bought land, and whom he named as one of the first purchasers of the island of Quononicut: Beginning, then, with John Bliss - who, with his brother George Bliss, and, tradition says, one other brother, came from Wales with their widowed mother and were early settlers of Connecticut - we have the following genealogical table, which, with one exception, we know to be correct: John Bliss married Damaris Arnold, 1670. Josiah Bliss, their son, died 1748. William Bliss, son of Josiah, born 1728, married Barbara Phillips, October 20th, 1750. They had seven sons and five daughters. The third son, John Bliss, was born January 17th, 1760, and was the grandfather of the writer. He learned the trade of a shoemaker, and on the fourth day of November, 17--, married Reliance Babcock, of Dartmouth, Mass. In 1788, he moved to Greenfield, Saratoga County, New York, and purchased a farm of one hundred acres; there being at that time but one log hut at Saratoga Springs, situated near High Rock Spring, seven miles from his house. In February, 1801, he walked from Greenfield to Newport, Rhode Island, for the purpose of submitting to the ordinance of baptism.
John Bliss had sixteen children. Twelve were sons, all but two of them survived. My father, Isaac Bliss, was one of twins. He, with his brother Josiah, was born April 29, 1757. He was married to Lydia Doolittle, June 7, 1831. They had five children: Phebe, born May 27, 1832; Reliance, born May 14, 1834; Philip Paul, born July 9, 1838; Elizabeth, born May 1, 1842; James D., born July 10, 1846. Reliance died November 4, 1847; James D., February 15, 1847.
Under date of January, 1864, in Mr. Bliss' diary is this note: "January - Pa Bliss died, the best man I ever knew." Mr Bliss had great affection for his father, and dearly loved his memory. I have often heard him speak with great tenderness of his simple, child-like faith. "He lived in continual communion with his Savior; always happy, always trusting, always singing. Mother used sometimes to say to him, laughingly, that all his hymns commenced with the word 'Come;' and I can remember many of them that he used to sing. There were 'Come, ye sinners, poor and needy;' 'Come on, my partners in distress;' 'Come, ye that love the Lord.' He was always a poor man, but early in the morning, and after the toil of the day, in the evening, sitting in the porch of his humble home, his voice would be heard in song, and I can almost hear him now, singing upon the other side, 'Come to that happy land, come, come away.' He was a diligent reader of the Bible, and had the most implicit faith in its teachings, and a deep reverence for its commands. My first recollection of him is his daily family prayer. Devout, tender and child-like; repeating over and over again, year after year, about the same words, until we all knew them by heart, his prayers were very real, very holy to me in my childhood. It was very hard for father ever to punish us children, and when he did, he suffered more than we. He would talk to us with great solicitude, and when we would say we were sorry, and would do better, he would be full of joy, and would say, 'That is right; that is right.'"
In addition to this testimony of Mr. Bliss, all the recollections of his sisters and neighbors go to show that he was a man of lovely simplicity and tenderness of nature, and of devoted piety. His character and example had much to do in molding the character of his son. This father died at Rome, Pennsylvania, in the home of Philip, and was buried in the village cemetery.
His wife, Lydia Bliss, and her two daughters survive to mourn over the loss, to them, of the son who had taken for many years the place of husband and father, but also to rejoice that father and son, who were so dear to each other on earth, are reunited in Heaven. The last words of the dying father were, "Philip, take care of your mother;" and most unselfishly was the charge fulfilled until death called him away, and most fitting does it seem that the writer of these lines should be penning them to fulfill the loving task from which the son is forever removed in bodily presence, but which shall still be performed by his memory, cherished and perpetuated in these pages. The work is thrice hallowed in the memory of the dying father's charge, the tender associations connected with this dearly loved brother and friend, and the privilege of a ministry of love to "his mother and mine."
Philip P. Bliss was born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, July 9, 1838, in the usual log home occupied by the early settlers of the mountain and forest region of Northern Pennsylvania. In February 1844, the family moved to Kinsman, Trumbull County, Ohio, where they resided for three years. In 1847, they returned to Pennsylvania, residing in Espeyville, Crawford County. In November, 1848, they removed to Tioga County. During these years of his boyhood, Philip had few advantages in the way of schooling. Moving from place to place and in sparsely settled regions, he had to take such teaching as he could get. His father's singing and praying and reading the Scriptures, his mother's daily lessons, with the contact of the grand scenery around his home, the mountains, valleys, forests and streams of which were ever dear to him, made up, for the most part, the influences that were brought to bear upon his first ten years of life. He early developed a passion for music, and would sit and listen with delight to his father singing, when but a child, and very early sang with him. He would readily catch up a tune, and whistle it or play it upon some rude musical instrument of his own manufacture.
Here's a little true story about Philip P. Bliss which I know you'll enjoy. When Bliss was a barefoot boy about six years of age, he went to a little country schoolhouse for the first time. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the teacher. She was very petite, had bright red hair, blue-green eyes and her name was Miss Murphy. Bliss fell in love with her.
One of the first things she did with the class was to take her own Bible and from it teach them to memorize the 23rd Psalm. As the class progressed in the Psalm, they came to "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Little Bliss thought for sure it said, "Surely good Miss Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life!" What a joyous prospect for his little heart - of course, it wsn't long before he found that it didn't say that at all.
The recalling of this quaint incident gave us the seed-thought for a song. I remarked to John W. Peterson, who was working for me at the time, "John, that would make a good title for a song - not 'Surely Good Miss Murphy,' but 'Surely Goodness and Mercy.'" He agreed, and before the day was out, together we had written a song.
Mr Bliss has told me of the impression made upon him, when he was about ten years of age, by the first piano he had seen. He was a large, overgrown boy, and one day, down in the village, as he was passing by a house, he heard music, sweeter than anything he had ever before listened to. The door stood open and he was irresistibly drawn toward the sweet sounds that came from within. He was barefoot, and entered unobserved and stood at the parlor door, listening, entranced, as a young lady played upon the piano. As she ceased playing, he exclaimed, with an intense desire, "O lady, play some more." She looked around, surprised, and with no appreciation of the tender heart that had been so touched by her music, said, "Go out of here with your great feet," and he went away crushed, but with the memory of harmonies that seemed to him like heaven.
In 1849, at the age of eleven years, he went away from home to work upon a farm. His sister says: "I remember well the morning he left. All of his clothing was done up in a handkerchief and carried in his hand. When he went out of the gate, he threw back to us children two pennies and went on down the road and would not look back."
In 1851, he had this memorandum: "Worked on farm for Marvin at nine dollars a month." He was then only thirteen years of age. The next year, he was in a lumber camp, on Pine Creek, as assistant cook. In 1853 he was on Dyer's Hill, in Covington, cutting logs. The next year, he worked in a sawmill in Portage, New York. Thus five years of his life, from the age of eleven to sixteen, passed on the farm and in the lumber camp, in toiling for bread. With a great desire for education, a portion of the seasons during this period was passed in school, and every opportunity that presented for improvement was eagerly taken advantage of.
In 1850, while at school near Elk Run, a revival commenced among the scholars, conducted by a Baptist minister, and he at that time made his first public confession for Christ. A short time after, he was immersed in the creek near his own home, some four miles from the school, by a minister of the Christian Church, which was at the time holding meetings in the neighborhood. He became connected with the Baptist Church near the school. His own recollection of his Christian experience has always been that he never had any marked period of conversion; that he could never remember the time when he did not love the Savior - when he was not sorry for his sins, and when he did not pray. He undoubtedly experienced regeneration in answer to the prayers of a godly father at a very early age, and all through life manifested that he was a child of God.
In 1855, he spent the winter in a select school at East Troy, Bradford County, Pennsylvania. In 1856, he worked on a farm in the summer and taught school in the winter, at Hartsville, Allegany County, New York. He was then but eighteen years of age, and his quickness of mind for learning, and his industry in the improvement of opportunities, are in a marked way indicated by the fact that he was fitted to become a teacher. It was, to be sure, a humble position, but still it was a position, and indicated aspiration. The place sought him because, in the judgement of the School Board, he was the man for the place.
The following winter he passed at Towanda, Pennsylvania, and at Towner Hill. Here he met for the first time Mr. J.G. Towner, who was afterward associated with him in concerting, and received that winter, in Mr. Towner's singing school, his first systematic instruction in music. The same winter, he attended a musical convention at Rome, Pennsylvania. This was the first convention he ever attended, and it did much to strengthen his growing passion for music, and to develop his native talent in harmony. In the providence of God, the convention was in charge of W.B. Bradbury, then in the commencement of his life-work as a composer of sacred music for the children. From the time of this meeting, Mr. Bliss cherished a deep affection for Mr. Bradbury and a reverence for the gifts God had bestowed upon him as a composer. How much this meeting had to do with the moulding of his future life, in the turning of his thoughts, almost unconsciously to himself, in the direction of a work similar to Mr. Bradbury's, we can never know. How appropriate now to Mr. Bliss is the song written by him upon the death of the lamented Bradbury: