William Ladd Chaffin was born in Oxford, Maine, on August 16, 1837. His father died when he was eight months old, and he was raised by his father's sister in Concord, New Hampshire. After graduating from high school, he worked in his uncle's trunk and harness shop and as a clerk in the office of the Northern Railroad. At the age of 20, he decided he wanted to study for the ministry, and, with the financial support of seven men in his church in Concord, he enrolled in Meadville Theological School. After graduating in 1861, he supplied in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was ordained by the Second Unitarian Church in Philadelphia on October 17, 1862, and served this church until October 1, 1865. From July to September in 1863, he served in the 58th Pennsylvania Infantry. In 1866, he was called to the Unitarian Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, but illness forced him to resign. On January 1, 1868, he became the minister of Unity Church in North Easton, Massachusetts, where he served until his death on January 7, 1923.
He was the author of History of the Town of Easton (1886), A Biographical History of Robert Randall and His Descendants (1909), and History of Robert Chaffin and His Descendants and of the Other Chaffins in America (1913). He was a trustee of Meadville Theological School (1881-1906) and the first secretary-treasurer of its alumni association (1892-98). He received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Meadville in 1915.
He met his future wife, Rebecca Huidekoper Bagley (January 5, 1840-December 15, 1922), while a member of the choir of the Independent Congregational Church in Meadville; she was the church organist. They were married on August 12, 1862.
For more information, see Heralds of a Liberal Faith, ed. by Samuel A. Eliot. Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1952. Vol. 4, p. 82-87. [Photo: bMS 1446/27]