The Beecher Monument

2013-06-28 11.30.30

The monument sits prominently on the eastern end of where Route 63 passes through the Litchfield green, a fitting location for the monument to Litchfield’s most prominent family.

Lyman_Beecher_-_Brady-Handy

Lyman Beecher (1775-1863)

Lyman Beecher was born in New Haven in 1775 and graduated from Yale in 1797.  The following year he became the pastor of the East Hampton (Long Island) Congregational Church at an annual salary of $300.  He remained there for twelve years before he was hired by the Litchfield Congregational Church, where he remained for sixteen years. (It is interesting to note that the monument sits at the site of Beecher’s church; the current Congregational Church was moved to its site in 1929).

DSC_0028

Beecher remembered his time in Litchfield as the most “active and laborious” of his life.  In his autobiography he wrote that he “found the people of Litchfield impatient for my arrival and determined to be pleased, if possible, but somewhat fearful that they should not be able to persuade me to stay.  The house yesterday was full, and the conference in the evening, and so far as I have heard, the people felt as I have told you they intended to.  Had the people in New York been thus predisposed I think I should not have failed to give them my satisfaction.  My health is good and I enjoy good spirits, some time past, am treated with great attention and politeness and am become acquainted with agreeable people.”

S4859-lgTimothy Dwight, the president of Yale University, preached the sermon at Beecher’s installment service.  Beecher very quickly established himself as one of the nation’s most important religious leaders.  He was central to the establishment of the Litchfield County Foreign Mission Society, and from the pulpit at the Congregational Church gave the Six Sermons on Intermperance, that when published in book form in 1826 were widely circulated on both sides of the Atlantic and were “among the earliest and most effective” statements on behalf of the temperance movement.

stowe-crop

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Lyman Beecher’s achievements have largely been eclipsed by those of his children; in fact, Theodore Parker, the noted writer and abolitionist said that Lyman was the father “of more brains than any other man in America.”  Harriet Beecher was born in Litchfield the year after Lyman was installed as pastor.  One townsperson shared a recollection of Lyman Beecher serving as the judge of an essay contest among the students of Sarah Pierce’s academy.  Upon hearing one essay he immediately brightened and asked who had written it.  He beamed when he learned it was his daughter’s work.

230px-Henry_Ward_Beecher_-_Brady-Handy

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher, soon to surpass his father’s fame as a minister, was born in Litchfield in 1813.  He was  remembered by his classmates for building a pulpit out of hay and impersonating the elder Beecher’s sermons.

beecher_008

Catharine Beecher

Catharine Beecher, Lyman’s oldest child, would become a reformer and leading proponent of the cult of domesticity.  While not born in Litchfield, she had fond memories of the annual “minister’s wood sled” when members of the congregation would bring Beecher wood for the winter and in return the Beecher children would serve them cider, hot cakes and doughnuts.

DSC_0030

The Beechers’ time in Litchfield ended in 1826 when Lyman moved to a congregation in Boston.  Harriet achieved her fame in Cincinnati and Maine, Henry Ward headed the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and Catharine opened a school for girls in Hartford.  Still, they had a great impact on Litchfield, as remembered by this monument which was erected by the University Club in 1908.

The Original Site of St. Michael’s Church

2013-08-06 11.34.16

This small, difficult to find marker stands along Route 202 between the ABC Music Shop and the Tapping Reeve Condominiums.  It marks the first location of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

peppercorn_black

Peppercorns

The church was founded in November 1745 at a meeting of the heads of thirteen Litchfield families.  While the numbers of Episcopalians in colonial Connecticut paled in comparison to the number of Congregationalists, Litchfield’s families were fortunate to have a strong leader in John Davies.  Davies, who had been born in England, donated money to build the church and leased the land on which the first church stood.  The terms of the lease between Davies and the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts called for the parish to pay Davies one peppercorn annually on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel.  Thus, the parish got its name.

GeorgeWashington

The Revolutionary War was a particularly trying time for the church, as parishioners took an oath of loyalty to both the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The church closed completely between 1777 and 1780, and American soldiers allegedly threw stones at the structure as they passed through Litchfield until they were stopped by George Washington, himself an Episcopalian.  Approximately 20% of Connecticut’s Episcopalians fled to Canada as a result of the war.

In 1784, the Connecticut General Assembly officially recognized the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Society of Litchfield was organized.  Further stability came the following year when Rev. Ashbel Baldwin was installed at the pulpit in Litchfield.

St.Mich.Litchfield

St. Michael’s Church today

These developments, coupled with the cessation of Episcopalian loyalty to the King, led to the need for a larger church. This resulted in the parish’s move to South Street, the site where the current church built between 1918 and 1920 still stands.

Hidden Nearby: Henry Obookiah’s Cornwall Grave

220px-Henry_Obookiah,_memoir_illustration_(cropped)

Henry Opukahaia (spelled Obookiah in his lifetime) was born on the island of Hawaii in 1792.  His parents were killed in a civil war and as a fifteen-year old, Henry was taken aboard the merchant ship Triumph, commanded by Captain Britnall and bound for New Haven.  While on board the ship, Henry befriended Thomas Hopu, a Hawaiian cabin boy who taught his fellow islander English.

DSC_0206

Henry Obookiah’s grave in the Cornwall Cemetery along Route 4.

While in New Haven, Opukahaia studied under Reverend Edwin Dwight, a recent graduate of Yale.  In addition to the traditional curriculum of tutors and pupils of the time, Opukahaia focused especially on English grammar.  During the course of his education, Opukahaia was exposed to Christianity and he not only converted but asked for training so that he could spread the gospel on his home islands.  This resulted, in part, in the founding of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall.  Over its ten years of operation, the school educated 100 students, including 43 Native Americans and 20 Hawaiians.

While a student in Cornwall, Opukaiah worked on farms in Torrington and Litchfield to support himself.  The Litchfield community encouraged Henry to systemize the Hawaiian language through the writing of a dictionary and books on common grammar and spelling.  Opukaiah also wrote his memoirs.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah's gravesite.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah’s gravesite.

Unfortunately, before these projects could be completed, Henry fell ill.  Diagnosed with typhoid fever by Dr. Calhoun of Cornwall, Henry died in February 1818.  He last words were reportedly “Alloah o e,” which translates to “My love be with you.”

Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher

The Reverend Lyman Beecher of Litchfield presided over Opukahaia’s funeral, stating:

He came to this land and hearing of Him on whom without hearing,

he could not believe, and by the mouth of those who could never

have spoken to him in Owyhee.

DSC_0204

Opukahaia was buried in the Cornwall Cemetery, but in 1993 family members in Hawaii had his body reinterred at the Kahikolu Congregational Church in Kona, Hawaii.  The Cornwall gravesite is marked with a plaque thanking the community for caring for Henry, and is topped with his words, “Oh ! How I want to see Hawaii!”

Hidden Nearby: Bethlehem’s Joseph Bellamy Monument

2013-06-29 08.52.55This monument on the Bethlehem green marks the location of the church where Joseph Bellamy preached.  Bellamy was one of the leading Congregationalist pastors and theologians – as well as a prominent educator and writer – of the late 18th century.  Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1719, he graduated from Yale in 1735 and studied for a time under the famed minister of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards.

Muddy_roadBellamy was licensed to preach in 1738, at the age of nineteen.  That same year Bethlehem, a community of fourteen families, was granted “winter privileges.”  Because of the poor nature of 18th century roads, settlements were given the privilege of hiring their own minister for the winter months instead of traveling to the nearest established church.  Bellamy began preaching on November 2nd of that year and 1740 formally became the town’s minister.

BarberJohnWarnerBethlehemCT

Bethlehem, 1836. The Congregational Church is on the right.

Initial services were held in a barn, but by 1767 the townspeople had voted to tear down the old meetinghouse and hired workers at four shillings a day to construct a new meetinghouse, with dimensions of 60 by 43 feet.  The new meetinghouse would have a “good decent bell” and a “lightning-rod” and the interior would be arranged for “men not to infringe on women’s pues.”

2013-06-29 08.51.52It has been stated that no theologian of the time – except for Edwards – had the impact  that Bellamy had.  This was due largely to his teaching of theological students and the publication of his twenty-two books, which laid out the basic ideas of New Light Congregationalism.  New Lights largely accepted the revival movements of the Great Awakening and as such brought political divisions to largely Old Light New England.  In response to these divisions minister Gideon Hawley, wrote to Bellamy in 1763 that he didn’t “know of but two clergymen however in the country that appear to like your principles.” In spite of his controversial views, Bellamy served as the pastor in Bethlehem for more than half a century, until his death in 1790.

A future post will examine the history of Bellamy’s house, now maintained as the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Gardens.

West Cemetery’s Civil War Effigy Graves

IMG_3402Memorial Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the staggering statistic that forty percent of all Union dead in the Civil War were unidentified.  While this was a marked improvement from the Mexican War fifteen years earlier – in which 100% of the American dead were buried in unmarked graves – it nonetheless posed a particular problem for Americans.

death-george-washington

The Death of George Washington – a classic representation of the idea of the “good death.”

Death held a central place in the culture of Victorian America.  Society dictated that there was such a thing as a “good death,” in which the deceased expired in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.  To such a religious society, the dying individual was closer to God, and therefore his final words were dutifully recorded as being of great importance.

TimeCivilWar_p139_Embalming_slideshow

A Civil War embalmer

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the prime of their lives at great distances from their homes and families was therefore at variance with the notion of the “good death.”  While thousands of dollars were spent on embalming bodies to return them home for burial,  many families were left without even a place to mourn their fallen soldiers.

IMG_3403A solution was the effigy grave, a memorial stone for a victim whose body – because it was unidentifiable or for financial reasons – was unable to be returned home.  The Civil War graves grouped together in Litchfield’s West Cemetery (with a monument of a drum labeled “Mustered Out) are a good representation of these graves.

IMG_3405These men fought on some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War.

IMG_3406Others suffered through unimaginable horrors in prisoner of war camps.

Perhaps these memorials gave some comfort to the families of these soldiers in the aftermath of the war.  One hundred and fifty years later, the stones continue to remind passersby of these soldiers’ service to our nation.

Horace Bushnell’s Birthplace

At the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 202 and 209 in the borough of Bantam lies a small marker noting the birthplace of one of the most important theologians in American history.

Horace Bushnell was born at this site on April 14, 1802. He was raised on the family farm – some accounts say he grew up in New Preston – and lived the difficult life of a farmer in early America, often working from sunup to sundown. While his family lacked both wealth and social status, they had always hoped he would become a minister, and he therefore enrolled at Yale University. Bushnell would spend ten years at the New Haven school, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Following graduation, he served as the editor of a literary magazine in New York City, and studied law and was admitted to the bar.

Yale Divinity School

Bushnell maintained religious doubts during his adolescence. These doubts, however, dissipated and in 1833 he returned to Yale and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, was ordained as a Congregational minister, and was named the pastor of Hartford’s North Congregational Church. He would remain at this post for more than twenty years, until poor health forced his retirement.

He became Hartford’s most respected citizen, and was one of the leading American theologians of the nineteenth century. The author of twelve books, Bushnell was a transitional figure in American religious history, standing between the conservative traditions of American Puritans, and the more emotional or romantic views being put forth by Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. Bushnell’s centrist views were laid out in his 1839 work, A Discourse on the Slavery Question, in which he put forth a moderate approach to the controversy that was beginning to rip the nation in two.

Bushnell’s moderate approach still managed to draw critics; this was especially so following the publication of God in Christ (1849) which argued that the lack of historical context for the language of the Bible prevented its readers from truly understanding the work. Conservative preachers saw the threat posed by Bushnell’s ideology, and responded with savage criticism. Bushnell answered his critics in Christ in Theology (1851).

The Civil War posed an additional challenge to the moderate Bushnell; however, when the firing began, he was a vehement supporter of the Union cause. He was also among the first to ascribe larger purposes to the war, writing three months after Appomattox: “It is the ammunition spent that gains the battle, not the ammunition brought off from the field. These dead are the spent ammunition of the war, and theirs above all is the victory. … Here it is that the dead of our war have done a work for us so precious, which is all their own – they have bled for us; and by this simple sacrifice of blood they have opened for us a new great chapter of life.”

Bushnell married Mary Apthorp in 1833 and together they raised three children. Declining health forced him to give up his pastorate in 1859. He never again held a formal position, but continued to preach and write until his death in 1876.

Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall

Today, Bushnell is likely best known as the namesake for Bushnell Park or the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. Reverend Bushnell was a determined advocate for the creation of urban parks. Speaking to the Hartford City Council in 1853, he said, “an opening in the heart of the city itself, to which citizens will naturally flow in their walks. A place where children will play and the invalid go to breathe the freshness of nature. A place for holiday scenes and celebrations; a green carpet of ground, where high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks; an outdoor parlor opened for the cultivation of good manners and a right social feeling. A place of life and motion that will make us more conscious of being one people.” The Council responded by allocating $105,000 for the purchase of the park that today bears the minister’s name. The Bushnell Memorial Hall opened in 1930, built as a living memorial by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer to her father.

Bushnell Park

These institutions remain as tributes to one of the preeminent figures in American theological history, who traveled a long road from the difficult life of a Bantam farmer to the nation’s leading philosophical parlors.