Born: October 6, 1816, York, Maine.
Died: January 7, 1868, Montclair, New Jersey.
Buried: Bloomfield Cemetery, Bloomfield, New Jersey.
William was the son of David Bradbury and Sophia Chase, and husband of Adra Esther Fessenden (married 1838)
Though fond of music from an early age, he was unable to devote much time to its study until age 17, when, with help from friends, he attended the Academy of Music in Boston, run by Lowell Mason and George Webb.
About this time, says Theodore Seward,
an incident occurred which was a great source of mortification for the young enthusiast. His parents, both of them old fashioned singers, were, of course, greatly interested in their son’s progress.
He went home from school one night, full of ardor and excitement, and undertook to demonstrate the new method of singing and beating time. His gestures were so extravagant, swinging his arm nearly its whole length, that his parents were far more amused than edified.
However, they restrained their mirth, not wishing to check his enthusiasm, but at last the scene became too much for them, and they burst into a peal of unresistible [sic] laughter. This was too much for the eager performer.
His rapture was turned into fiery indignation, and slamming his book shut in a rage, he declared that they knew nothing at all about music, and marched out of the room.
Another disappointment occurred in his first class for a singing school. After issuing many circulars and ads, he anticipated a great crowd, but at the specified time, not a single soul was there to greet him.
After a while a young man appeared, and still later five more came to witness the embarrassment of the young teacher, who sat on the platform in a clammy perspiration,
inwardly longing for some blessed knot-hole through which he might disappear.
This magnificent fizzle is spoken of as great value to him in bringing him down from the clouds, and was probably more service than a grand success would have been.
Through the influence of his former teacher, Lowell Mason, he secured a position as a singing school teacher in Machias, Maine, and afterward in St. John, New Brunswick.
At length a position was given him as music teacher at the First Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, and later at the Baptist Tabernacle in New York City.
In 1841, Bradbury turned his attention to children, and first held his free singing classes, which became very popular. At his annual
Juvenile Music Festivals, one could see a thousand children on a rising platform, the girls wearing white, with white wreaths and blue sashes, and the boys in jackets, with collars turned over in Byron style.
These efforts among the young gave Bradbury great celebrity, a host of warm friends, and eventually led to his life work of providing Sunday School songs. Over three million copies of his Golden Trio, Golden Chain, Golden Shower, and Golden Censer were published.
When Bradbury was about 15 years old, he joined the Charles Street Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In New York he joined the Baptist Tabernacle, and for many years later in life, he attended the Presbyterian Church of Bloomfield, New Jersey.
His widow related,
He was not strictly sectarian in his views, often saying he belonged to the children’s church, meaning that wherever he could meet with children and do them good he felt at home.
In 1847, Bradbury went to Europe to study music under the best German masters. While crossing the Alps, he related this incident: Having met a German, who was so enraptured, as he beheld the Alpine peaks bathed with the golden glories of the rising sun, that he sang for joy.
Not wishing to be outdone by a This captivated the
foreigner, especially in my own profession, I commenced singing.
foreigner so that he would not rest till he was taught the same pieces.
This was the only music-lesson I gave on top of the Alps.
Bradbury was a very generous man. A theology student once wrote him for a loan of five dollars, that he might buy himself a pair of boots. Bradbury sent him a check for $25, and a note saying he could not spare $5 at the moment, but that he might manage to do without the $25 until he could send $5 later.
In the rear of one Bradbury’s New York warehouses was a small office where he often went to
renew his strength and
mount up with wings as eagles. Whenever he had to leave his house without sufficient prayer time, it was said, he would go to this private sanctuary and spend time in his devotions.
Nor did he allow business to intrude on this habit. His much loved Bible occupied a prominent place on the table, and was well worn and filled with marked passages that had illuminated in his own experience.
In his private journal he wrote,
The 37th Psalm has been to me a never-failing source of comfort and consolation. My little Bible frequently opens to it of its own accord. The 27th is also a favorite when the enemy comes in like a flood.
Bradbury suffered from tuberculosis the last two years of his life. A few weeks before his death, he said to Theodore Seward,
I long to be free from this evil body, which does so much to drag me down. I feel that I want to do right, that I want to love my Saviour, and act to please Him, but this busy brain and hasty nature lead me oftentimes to things that are contrary to the real feelings of my heart.
A week before his death the children of Montclair visited him, each bringing an oak leaf, which were woven into a wreath which was laid on his coffin and buried with him.
The Saturday before his death he remarked to a friend,
My soul seems to have gained the victory. I am so happy now. I rest wholly upon Christ. May God give me the grace to die. I am going to see mother.
He was buried beside his mother, and Asleep in Jesus was sung as it was at his mother’s burial.
Philip Bliss wrote these words after Bradbury’s death:
We love him, though his friendly hand
Has never clasped our own;
His gentle voice and loving smile
We never yet have known.
We love the sweet, the blessed songs
That he to us has giv’n;
We know he loved us here on earth;
We love him though in heaven.
We love the sparkling
Shower of beauties rare;
Censer full of joyous praise,
Fresh Laurels, green and fair.
We love to sing his songs of heaven,
Of Jesus and His love;
They make us happier here below,
And raise our thoughts above.
We love the things that he has loved;
We love his earthly name
And when we know his angel form,
We’ll love him just the same.
We’ll love each other better then,
Our Father more;
We’ll roll a sweeter song of praise
Memoirs of Philip P. Bliss, 1877