Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

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Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Litchfield, Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
Death: March 8, 1887 (73)
Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxana Ward Beecher
Husband of Eunice White Beecher
Father of Harriet Eliza Scoville (Beecher); William Constantine Beecher; Arthur S? Beecher; Constantine Beecher; Stillborn Beecher and 5 others
Brother of Catharine Esther Beecher; William Henry Beecher; Edward Beecher; Mary Perkins; George Beecher and 2 others
Half brother of Frederick Porter Beecher; Isabella Beecher Hooker; Rev. Thomas Kinnicut Beecher; Col. James Chaplin Beecher and Frederick William Beecher

Occupation: American Congregational preacher, orator, and lecturer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Burial: Greenwood Cemetery


BEECHER, Henry Ward, clergyman, was born at Litchfield, Conn., June 24, 1813; fourth son and ninth child of Lyman & Roxana (Foote) Beecher, grandson of David, and sixth in descent from John, the first American ancestor, who came with his mother, the widow Hannah Beecher, to Connecticut from Kent, England, in 1638. His paternal ancestors were of sturdy yeoman stock, noted for their physical strength -- honest, God-fearing men; his mother was the daughter of Eli and Roxana Ward Foote, (p.249) Episcopalians and loyalists, Eli being descended through Nathaniel Foote, who came to Connecticut with Hooker's company, in 1636, from James Foote, who was knighted for his loyalty to King Charles. His mother died when Henry was three years old, and he found an excellent and careful parent in his father's second wife, Hannah Porter. His early environment was such as to foster independence and sturdiness of character. There were no indulgences in the large, simple household; plenty of work, much wholesome fun, strict discipline -- the whole steeped in an atmosphere of theology. The little boy at four years of age attended the district school, and at ten was sent to the school kept by his sister Catherine, where he was the only boy among thirty or forty girls. There was nothing precocious in his development; he was not particularly apt as a scholar; but was a healthy boy, full of fun and spirit, having a faculty of repartee which delighted his schoolmates. In 1826 his family removed to Boston, his father being appointed pastor of the Hanover street church in that city. Henry attended the Mount Pleasant institute, where he made a special study of mathematics, incited thereto by his desire to enter the navy. His religious convictions at this time were deepened while attending some revival meetings, and he resolved to become a preacher of the gospel. He entered Amherst college in 1830, where he made his mark chiefly outside the class-room, drawing and leading his fellow students by that personal magnetism which was afterwards so large a part of his power us a preacher. In logic and in class debates he outshone his class-mates, being especially noted for the quality of his extemporaneous speeches he took a course of elocutionary training, specially needed because of some slight defect in his utterance, and also became interested in the science of phrenology, which he always regarded as useful to the preacher in enabling him to understand just how to impress certain people. His college life was a time of religious ferment; opinions which had long been growing reached their culmination, and resulted in the division of both Congregational and Presbyterian churches into two parties. "My whole life," wrote Mr. Beecher, "has more or less taken its color from the controversy which led to the division of the old-school and the new-school Presbyterians" . He was graduated from Amherst in 1834, and pursued his theological course at Lane Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father was professor of systematic theology. While a student here, his first editorial work was done on the Cincinnati Journal, in the columns of which he advanced his antislavery views. Here he first witnessed the fierce partisan feeling between the Abolitionists and the upholders of the "divine institution" of slavery. He saw the freedom Of the press imperilled and the city in danger of mob law, and he patrolled the streets himself for some days armed as a special policeman. He also taught a large Bible class, and begun to formulate his plans for pastoral work. He completed his course in 1837, and was given the pastorate of a church at Lawrenceburgh, Indiana, where he had a congregation of nineteen women and one man. He was here subjected to a rigorous examination on "doctrines" by the elders of the church, and was pronounced orthodox, but was rejected because he would not subscribe himself as belonging to the old-school Presbyterians. The matter was adjusted by the congregation affiliating with the new-school Presbyterians, and the young pastor maintained his relations with it for two years. In 1839 he accepted the pastorate of a church at Indianapolis, Indiana. Here he conducted several revivals, preaching daily sometimes for eighteen consecutive days. He found his recreation in horticulture, and was editor of the agricultural department of the Indianapolis Journal. He established a depot of the underground railway at his house, where he succored and comforted runaway slaves, and at night drove them on to the next place of refuge. In 1847 he assumed pastoral charge of the Plymouth Congregational church, Brooklyn, New York. His first sermon preached there, June, 1847, was an exposition of his views in regard to slavery, which he considered a thing altogether accursed; abolitionism was a principle not yet popular at the north, and because of his vigorous and caustic utterances against slavery, Mr. Beecher found his life endangered, and was obliged to walk in the middle of the street after dusk, though fear of ambushed assailants, and at one time a mob was organized to tear down his church, but was diverted from its ourpose by some trifling circumstance. His genius as an orator increased the church, and rapidly brought him into prominence. He was an omnivorous reader, and his mind was stored with mines of information and apt illustrations. He was unconventional in the pulpit, and moved men to laughter as well as tears. "All the bells in my belfry shall ring to call men to God," he said. He minimized law, and magnified love as the chief factor in the religious belief. He (p.250) taught God as the Father of the whole human race -- a pitying, loving Father. Frequently he brought to the platform on which he preached some poor victim of the cruel laws of slavery, and held an auction to procure the price of ransom. In 1848 the Plymouth church adopted a strictly evangelical creed. In 1849 the original edifice was destroyed by fire, and a new one was erected with a seating capacity of three thousand, the regular members at the time of Mr. Beecher's death numbering 2,400. Mr. Beecher early became engagements at five hundred dollars a night. On the organization of the Republican party he affiliated himself with it. He delivered many political sermons, and was particularly active in 1856 in addressing political meetings throughout the northern states. He paid his first visit to England in 1850, to recuperate his health. In 1861 Mr. Beecher became the editor of the New York Independent. He was the pioneer in catholicity of thought in religious journalism, his editorial writings being extremely characteristic; he chose, as subjects, matters interesting to the people, believing in God's action in the common affairs of life, and wrote so as to awaken inspiration, treating of his subjects from the Christly standpoint of responsibilty for and helpfulness to others. He wrote at this time his famous article, "Shall we Compromise?" being absolutely against any measure of compromise himself; and he bitterly denounced Webster for his retrogression. In 1863 he visited Europe and did inestimable service to the northern cause by his speeches before large audiences in England, Scotland, and Ireland. He took an active part in the presidential campaign of 1864, when Mr. Lincoln was the candidate for a second term. In April, 1865, he delivered an anniversary address at Fort Sumter, at the request of the government . In 1870 The Christian Union was established in New York, and Mr. Beecher became its editor. During the years 1872, 1873, and 1874 he delivered three courses of lectures on preaching in the Yale divinity school. In 1874 his sometime friend, Theodore Tilton, the editor of the Independent, brought gross charges of immorality against him, from which he was exonerated by the church, and on the civil trial the jury failed to agree. In 1878 Mr. Beecher openly stated that the doctrine of eternal punishment was opposed to his belief, and in 1882 he withdrew from the Congregational association of churches, followed by the entire congregation of Plymouth church. He gave his hearty support to Mr. Cleveland in the presidential campaign of 1884, by which action he antagonized many of his political friends. In 1886 he again visited England, where he was overwhelmed with kind attentions, and where he delivered numerous addresses. Many of the papers contributed by him to the New York Independent, the New York Ledger, etc., were afterwards collated and issued in book form. The following is a list of his more important works:

"Lectures to Young Men" (1844, 2d. ed., 1850); "Star Papers; or Experiences of Art and Nature" (1855);"New Star Papers" (1858. These were republished in England under the title "Summer in the Soul"); "Freedom and War:Discourses Suggested by the Times" (1863);

"Eyes and Ears" (1864); "Aids to Prayer" (1864); "Norwood; or , Village Life in New England" (1867); "Overture of Angels" (1869); "Lecture-Room Talks" (1870); "Jesus the Christ; Earlier Scenes" (1871); "Yale Lectures on Preaching" (1872-1874); "A Summer Parish" (1874); "Evolution and Religion" (1885). The second volume of "Jesus the Christ" was published after his death. He edited the Plymouth "Collections of Hymns and Tunes" (N.Y. 1855), and "Revival Hymns" (Boston, 1858). Twenty volumes of his sermons were published, as well as many separate addresses and sermons: "Army of the republic," "The Strike and its Lessons," "Doctrinal Beliefs and Unbeliefs" (1882); "Commemorative Discourse on Wendell Phillips," "A Circuit of the Continent" (1884); "Letters to the Soldiers and Sailors" (1866-1884). He received a place in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, New York University, in October, 1900. See the "Authentic Biography, " by William C. Beecher and the Rev. Samuel Scoville in collaboration with Mrs. Beecher. A mural tablet was erected in his honor in Plymouth church, Brooklyn, Jan. 13, 1893. He died in Brooklyn, New York, March 8, 1887.

An 1875 adultery trial in which he was accused of having an affair with a married woman was one of the most notorious American trials of the 19th century.[1] In the highly publicized scandal known as the Beecher-Tilton Affair he was tried on charges that he had committed adultery with a friend's wife, Elizabeth Tilton. In 1870, Elizabeth had confessed to her husband, Theodore Tilton, that she had had a relationship with Henry Ward Beecher. Tilton was then fired from his job at the Independent because of his editor's fears of adverse publicity. Theodore and Henry both pressured Elizabeth to recant her story, which she did, in writing.

The charges became public when Theodore Tilton told Elizabeth Cady Stanton of his wife's confession. Stanton repeated the story to fellow women's rights leaders Victoria Woodhull and Isabella Beecher Hooker.

Henry Ward Beecher had publicly denounced Woodhull's advocacy of free love. She published a story in her paper (Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly) on November 2, 1872, claiming that America's most renowned clergyman was secretly practicing the free-love doctrines which he denounced from the pulpit. The story created a national sensation. As a result, Woodhull was arrested in New York City and imprisoned for sending obscene material through the mail. The Plymouth Church held a board of inquiry and exonerated Beecher, but excommunicated Mr. Tilton in 1873.

Tilton then sued Beecher: the trial began in January 1875, and ended in July when the jurors deliberated for six days but were unable to reach a verdict. His wife loyally supported him throughout the ordeal.[1]

A second board of enquiry was held at Plymouth Church and this body also exonerated Beecher. Two years later, Elizabeth Tilton once again confessed to the affair and the church excommunicated her. Despite this Beecher continued to be a popular national figure. However, the debacle split his family. While most of his siblings supported him, Isabella Beecher Hooker openly supported one of his accusers. - Wikipedia

Henry Ward Beecher

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | 2008 | Copyright

Henry Ward Beecher 1813-87, American Congregational preacher, orator, and lecturer, b. Litchfield, Conn.; son of Lyman Beecher and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe . He graduated from Amherst in 1834 and attended Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati. After two pastorates in Indiana, he accepted a call in 1847 to the newly organized Plymouth Church (Congregational) in Brooklyn, N.Y. There Beecher became famous for his advocacy of an emotional "gospel of love" Christianity instead of the strict Calvinist doctrine that then characterized much of American Protestantism. Every important issue of the day was discussed from his pulpit and in his lectures. He was a leader in the antislavery movement, a proponent of woman suffrage, and an advocate of the theory of evolution. Beecher became editor of the Independent in 1861 and of the Christian Union in 1870.

Preaching style

Thousands of worshipers flocked to Beecher's enormous Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Abraham Lincoln (who said of Beecher that no one in history had "so productive a mind") was in the audience at one point, and Walt Whitman visited him. Mark Twain went to see Beecher in the pulpit and described the pastor "sawing his arms in the air, howling sarcasms this way and that, discharging rockets of poetry and exploding mines of eloquence, halting now and then to stamp his foot three times in succession to emphasize a point."

Beecher himself had this to say of his preaching style: "From the beginning, I educated myself to speak along the line and in the current of my moral convictions; and though, in later days, it has carried me through places where there were some batterings and bruisings, yet I have been supremely grateful that I was led to adopt this course. I would rather speak the truth to ten men than blandishments and lying to a million. Try it, ye who think there is nothing in it! try what it is to speak with God behind you,--to speak so as to be only the arrow in the bow which the Almighty draws."

"He obtained the chains with which John Brown had been bound, trampling them in the pulpit, and he also held mock 'auctions' at which the congregation purchased the freedom of real slaves," according to the Web site of the still-existing Plymouth Church. The most famous of these former slaves was a young girl named Pinky, auctioned during a regular Sunday worship service at Plymouth on February 5, 1860. A collection taken up that day raised $900 to buy Pinky from her owner. A gold ring was also placed in the collection plate, and Beecher presented it to the girl to commemorate her day of liberation. Pinky returned to Plymouth in 1927 at the time of the Church's 80th Anniversary to give the ring back to the Church with her thanks. Today, Pinky's ring and bill of sale can still be viewed at Plymouth."


Grave at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Henry Ward Beecher died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 8, 1887. Brooklyn, still an independent city, declared a day of mourning. The state legislature recessed, and telegrams of condolence were sent by national figures, including President Cleveland. His funeral procession to Plymouth Church - led by a Black commander of the William Lloyd Garrison Post in Massachusetts and a Virginia Confederate general and former slaveholder, marching arm in arm - paid tribute to what Beecher helped accomplish. Henry Ward Beecher was laid to rest in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery on March 11, 1887, survived by his wife Eunice, and four of the nine children born to them: Harriet, Henry, William and Herbert.


The New Hampshire Sunday News; Nov. 3, 2013 (from an article by Jennifer LaRue Huget for the Washington Post):

...Known as "The Great Divine", my daughter and I visited his spritual home base in leafy, brownstone-lined Brooklyn Heights where, in Columbus Park, a big honkin' statue of the man, wearing this enormous signature coat, looms. He looked old and grumpy to me. Over at Plymouth Church there is another statue (created by Gutzon Borglum, who also scuplted Mount Rushmore) showed a younger, happier-looking Beecher. I was startled to see the appeal. Beecher's heavy-lidded eyes, land hair and teddy bear build are oddly alluring.

At Plymouth Church my daughter Sophie was happy to hold a copy of the revolutionary Beecher hymnal, the first to present music and lyrics together rather than as separate elements. Beecher designed it that way, to make it easier for the congregation to sing along. (the Plymouth Church, where Henry Ward Beecher delivered dramatic abolitionist sermons, was designed with no center aisle, affording all congregants clear views of the pulpit; the stained glass windows feature historical figures--including Beecher---associated with freedom, and there the roughly 4000-pipe organ). Some of the 19th century luminaries who'd been to Plymouth Church include Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, Mark Twain, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Sojourner Truth.

On Feb. 26, 1860, before he announced his candidacy for president, Abraham Lincoln attended Beecher's service at Plymouth Church. He'd been invited to speak at the church, but at the last minute, organizers opted to move the event to the new Cooper Union in Manhattan, where Lincoln ended up delivering the career-making address in which he voiced his opposition to slavery. To our knowledge Lincoln attended church in New York only twice, both times at Plymouth. His pew, marked with a silver plaque, has been reupholstered umpteen times.

Our guide explained that while there's little hard proof that the church was a stop on the Underground Railroad -- participitation was, after all, illegal, so few records were kept -- its spacious basement probably served as a haven for slaves fleeing to freedom. The church's reputed role as "Grand Central Depot" helped land it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Althouhg our guide ended her presentation without mentioning the salacious scandal that roiled Beecher's life (see above references to the accusation of having an affair with Elizabeth Tilton), the ensuing kerfuffle, culminating in Beecher's civil trail in 1875, riveted the nation for months. According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "The Most Famous Man in America: by Debby Applegate, it earned more headlines than the whole Civil War. Beecher's jury wasn't able to reach a verdict,but the spector of adultery (and not just with Mrs. Tilton) shadowed him until his death in 1887.

Beecher, his wife Eunice, and four of their children, are buried a few miles from Plymouth Church in the historic Green-Wood Cemetery.

Their marker, a rectangular hunk of granite with the potentially ironic inscription "He Thinketh No Evil," would be ostentatious for the likes of you or me. But in this cemetery packed with monumental monuments, it looks downright modest. Founded in 1838, Green-Wood was a fashionable resting place for the well-heeled; its lush grounds made it a prime picnic spot, too, and for a time it attracted about a half-million people a year. The cemetery has 560,000 "residents," including Elizabeth Tilton, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse, and F.A.O. Schwartz.

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Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's Timeline

June 24, 1813
Litchfield, Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
May 16, 1838
Age 24
Lawrenceburg, Dearborn, Indiana, United States
- 1847
Age 24
Indianapolis, IN, United States
July 8, 1841
Age 28
Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana, United States
October 18, 1844
Age 31
Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana, United States
August 1, 1846
Age 33
Indianapolis, Marion, Indiana, United States
January 26, 1849
Age 35
Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States
December 20, 1852
Age 39
Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States
December 20, 1852
Age 39
Brooklyn, Kings, New York, United States