Early American Faith: Sophronia Farrington, Missionary to Liberia

Presbyterian minister Robert Finley founded the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color of the United States in 1816, convinced that free black people would never be able to fully integrate into American society.  Instead, they would be returned to the “land of their fathers” following manumission. One of the most distinguished members of the society’s founders was Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay who, unlike his fellow Southerners, believed slavery to be a drag on the South’s economy.  Attended by other influential men such as Daniel Webster and John Randolph, the first meeting was held on December 21, 1816 in Washington, D.C.  These men had a goal in mind of ultimately ending slavery by sending free persons of color to Africa, although some of the slave owners like John Randolph were more outspoken about their views.  To Randolph, free blacks were “promoters of mischief.”1 The group, comprised of both slave owners and early abolitionists, were all of the same opinion as Finley:  there was no way for free blacks to integrate fully into American society.  The newly formed society continued to meet over the course of several days and on January 1, 1817 elected its first slate of officers.  George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, was chosen as president.  Thirteen vice presidents, including Clay and Finley, were joined by a roster of managers, the most prominent being Francis Scott Key.  The first order of business would be presenting their case to Congress. The federal government consented to the provision of funding for the society, assisting in the purchase of land along the coast of West Africa which would eventually...

Early American Faith: The Wild Man of Goose Creek

By the late eighteenth century John Wesley’s Methodism, having spread to the American colonies, was formally established as the Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore in 1784.  While the Congregationalists and Episcopalians remained along the Eastern seaboard of America, Methodism began to spread with the push into uncharted territories to the west. Methodists weren’t shy about their faith as circuit-riding preachers accompanied patriots who received land grants for their war service, crossing the mountains and heading to Tennessee and Kentucky.  Often the first person settlers met along the way was a man on a horse with a Bible in his hand.  While Francis Asbury is widely credited as the most famous circuit rider and responsible for Methodism’s early exploding growth (1784-1816), there is another man who made his mark in a much briefer period of time (1800-1804). John Adam Granade, a descendant of French ancestors, was born near Newbern, Jones County, North Carolina to parents John and Ann (Ward) Granade.  While some have published his birth date as May 9, 1763 others claim the exact date is unknown.  Although taught the fear of God by his mother early in life and embracing faith at the age of thirteen, John, a gifted poet, soon lapsed and gave “all his energies to the service of Satan”.1 Although not much is known about the first thirty years of his life, Granade later confessed intemperance to his fellow Methodists.   A journal entry indicates he would spend as many as seven consecutive days dancing and frolicking, although he hadn’t much of a taste for alcohol.  His father had died in 1791 and when John returned...

Early American Faith: Reverend Ezra Stiles (Part Two)

The study of the Hebrew language was a long-held tradition at Yale since its founding in 1701. It had, however, fallen out of favor with students and Ezra Stiles was determined to change that.  As noted in last week’s article (read it here) he wasn’t entirely successful in mandating the study of Hebrew since by 1790 it had become a voluntary course offering due to student protestations and a lack of interest. Still, Ezra was a great admirer of the Semitic languages, Hebrew in particular.  He wrote his presidential inaugural address in Hebrew, translated it into English and then delivered it in English.  Three years later he gave an address entirely in Hebrew, and not just “casual” Hebrew.  He endeavored to deliver his Hebrew orations in the rabbinical tradition. His skills as a Hebrew orator were not derived from merely studying language and grammar books.  Rather, he became a “participant observer” amongst the Jews of Newport.  He attended prayer services and spoke at least once to a Jewish congregation.  As Shalom Goldman pointed out in his book God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination, Ezra “made the study of Hebrew and its cognate languages the focal point of his rich intellectual life.” After receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from The University of Edinburgh, upon the recommendation of his friend Benjamin Franklin, Ezra relearned the Hebrew alphabet at the age of forty, determined to become an “Hebrician”.  In 1773 he began a close relationship with Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal who was in-residence in Newport for six months.  Through that relationship his Hebrew language skills improved and he...

Early American Faith: Reverend Ezra Stiles

The subject of today’s Early American Faith article was a minister, a lawyer for a brief time, one of the founders of Brown University, the president of Yale University and an aspiring scientist who corresponded with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  His list of accomplishments are many; Edmund Sears Morgan called him “the gentle Puritan”. Ezra Stiles was born on November 29, 1727 to parents Reverend Isaac and Kezia (Taylor) Stiles in North Haven, Connecticut.  His mother died five days later and Ezra was nursed by Mrs. Abigail Ray, a neighbor until the following year when Isaac married Esther Hooker, great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut. Soon after Ezra was born Isaac attempted unsuccessfully to farm the valuable piece of land he owned.  According to Edmond Morgan in his book The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles 1727-1795, Isaac had little interest in learning how to farm and his family relied only on his yearly salary as a minister, until in 1739 he purchased a Negro couple and put his wife in charge of directing the affairs of the farm.  With Esther’s oversight the farm was successful, but Isaac was still critical of her, according to Morgan. Ezra’s memoir written in 1760 noted that his father was hard to live with, so it must have been a relief for Ezra to leave home and enter Yale College.  His mother Kezia had bequeathed him a piece of land in Glastonbury which would pay for his tuition.  Morgan points out that Ezra, conversant in Latin, was well-educated enough to have entered Yale three years earlier at the age...

Early American Faith: Reverend Jonathan Lee (Part Two)

Connecticut had been a colony for one hundred years yet much of the land had never been explored or settled – it was wilderness.  To the west of Hartford were what seemed like impenetrable forests, the area known as the “Western Lands”.  Up until 1732 the land, never surveyed, had been occupied only by Indians and four Dutch families. After the surveys and development in the last 1730’s and early 1740’s, the town of Salisbury began to expand rapidly.  As Julia Pettee, author of The Reverend Jonathan Lee and His Salisbury Parish, pointed out, “Minister Lee made no mistake in casting his lot in this rapidly expanding town.” From the beginning the townspeople of Salisbury wanted a church, but until such time as one could be established and a minister called, those who were devout had their daily family prayer time.  David Brainard, missionary to the Indians, passed through a few times, but those who counted themselves as devout Christians wished to have a church of their own where they could worship and pray together. The matter was discussed at the first town meeting held on November 9, 1741 and three months later a committee was appointed to find a minister.  In June of 1742 they found Mr. Hesterbrook and engaged him to preach for three months, although there was as of yet no church building.  Throughout the summer services were held at various locations or in private homes.  Hesterbrook was paid off and the search continued. In May of 1743, the committee engaged the services of Thomas Lewis, but he only lasted sixteen weeks.  Whether his ministry wasn’t...

Early American Faith: Reverend Jonathan Lee (Part One)

I came across Reverend Jonathan Lee’s tombstone recently  – the impressive epitaph definitely caught my eye: In Memory of the Rev. Jonathan Lee, this Stone, the fruit of conjugal affection and filial gratitude, is erected. He was born July 4 AD 1718; Graduated at Yale College, 1742; was a settled minister in the Gofpel in this town 45 years; and died Oct. 8 AD 1788, in the 71 year of his age. To the faithful discharge of the paftoral office he united the private virtues of the hufband, the parent and the friend, and expired in the bleffed hope of that Gofpel to which he had freely devoted his life. My flesh fhall flumber in the ground Till the laft Trumpet’s joyful found, Then burft the chains in fweet furprife, And in my Savior’s image rise. I had never heard of him, but with an epitaph like that I wanted to know more about Jonathan Lee. Early Life Jonathan Lee’s immigrant ancestor, grandfather John Lee of Essex, England, had come with a group called the Hooker Company, adherents to the ministry of Thomas Hooker, a prominent Puritan who later dissented and helped found the colony of Connecticut.  John, at the age of thirteen, had been sent by his father under the guardianship of William Westwood.  Although his father had planned to immigrate as well, he never made it to New England’s shores. Jonathan Lee was born on July 4, 1718 in Coventry, Connecticut to parents David and Lydia Lee, the youngest of seven children.  His mother, however, died six days following his birth on July 10.  David had become...