Rev. Dr. Samuel Robert Calthrop



Rev. Dr. Samuel Robert Calthrop



Rev. Calthrop, our third minister, was born in Swineshead Abbey, Lincolnshire, England,

October 9, 1829. His Father was Richard Calthrop and his mother was Elizabeth Turfitt

Everard. Growing up he was an excellent student at St. Paul’s School in London, and excelled

in chess, crew, cricket, rugby, and tennis. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge. Having

been raised in the Church of England, Sam’s desire was to become a minister in that church.

However, to graduate from Cambridge you had to sign the 39 Articles of the Athanasian Creed,

an exact Roman Catholic statement on the Trinity and Reincarnation. This was the Church of

England’s official creed. Sam believed the creed was not the work of St. Athanasius, the Bishop

of Alexandria (361-373 a.d.), but was written by an unknown monk some 400 years after the

Bishop’s death. He refused to sign the 39 Articles and left Cambridge without a degree.


He then decided to move to America in 1851 and was a teacher and administrator in a school for boys in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for six years. Within a few years of living in the United States he met Ralph Waldo Emerson and became interested in Unitarianism. He married Elizabeth Alison Primrose in 1857. He became minister of the Universalist Church in Southold (Long Island), New York, for three months. He was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1860. First he was a minister at Unitarian churches in Marblehead and Newbury­port, Massachusetts. He moved to Syracuse and became minister of the Church of the Messiah in 1868 and then continued at May Memorial when it was built in 1885. He received the L.H.D from Syracuse University in June, 1900. He became Pastor Emeritus in 1911.


Always interested in science, he patented the “air resisting train” in 1865, the country’s first notion of a bullet train. Needing funds to support a growing family, he sold his interests in the patent in a few years, thereby loosing out on later profits resulting from subsequent developments related to the train idea. Financial problems followed him to Syracuse, so he accepted many invitations to lecture in addition to his ministerial activities. He spoke before numerous civic groups in Syracuse, Ithaca, New York City, and many other places giving lectures singly or in series on education, physical training, and various scientific subjects. News articles of that time described his talks as “forcible, striking, original, profound, and entertaining” (Hoefer & Baros-Johnson, 1988, p. 18).


While at May Memorial he often held classes in a variety of subjects, such as “astronomy, botany, geology, chemistry, Roman history, and the Hebrew prophets. The Syracuse Botany Club was formed by his students” (Hoefer & Baros-Johnson, 1988, p. 19). Using a telescope he received as a gift, Sam studied sunspots and became adept at predicting the weather from these observations. He often issued widely quoted reports related to the weather. He also organized chess tournaments, kept a large garden, and actually grew the first tomatoes ever shown at the New York State fair.


He was also a gifted poet, writing dozens of wonderful poems. Click here for a sample.


Sam was legendary, too, for being absent minded, leaving horses and even one of his children behind once while doing errands. He even forgot a wedding at which he was to officiate, until anxious members of the wedding party found him reading a book in the library.


Here is a biography of his early years compiled by his daughter, Edith Calthrop Bump. Finally, read this very delightful article written by a man who remembers Rev. Calthrop as a very important mentor: Recollections of the Old Master: Rev. Samuel Robert Calthrop.


Sam was a character, a scientist, and a beloved minister. He died in Syracuse in 1917. Here are photos of headstones of Sam and several family members.




Hoefer, J. M., & Baros-Johnson, I. (1988). May no one be a stranger: 150 years of Unitarian presence in Syracuse. Syracuse, NY: May Memorial Unitarian Society, 3800 East Genesee Street.



Prepared for web page display on August 23, 2008