Thursday, February 12, 2009

Plymouth Church and Henry Ward Beecher

Plymouth Church, located in Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, was founded in 1847 by transplanted New Englanders who wanted a Congregational church like those in which they had been raised, with a simple order of worship, governed by the congregation. The 21 men and women who founded the church in Brooklyn Heights called as their first pastor Henry Ward Beecher , thus beginning the most prominent ministry in the second half of 19th century America.

Beecher's powerful preaching and outspoken opposition to slavery filled the pews to overflowing, and his sermons were so wildly popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed “Beecher Boats.” Under Beecher's influence, Plymouth Church developed connections with the Underground Railroad - the secretive network of people who helped slaves escape to the North and Canada.

Beecher was also a master at creating public events to strengthen the fight against slavery. He staged mock “auctions” at Plymouth, urging the congregation to purchase the freedom of actual slaves. During one service, he trampled the chains that had bound John Brown. He invited famous anti-slavery advocates to speak at the Church, including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Frederick Douglass.

Beecher's sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, also joined in the anti-slavery movement and penned the century's bestselling book "Uncle Tom's Cabin"in 1852.

President Abraham Lincoln worshiped at the church twice in 1860, the only church in New York City Lincoln ever attended.

The Beecher Garden is a formal garden on Orange Street, and is located between the Church House and the Sanctuary. It contains a statue of Henry Ward Beecher and a bas-relief of Abraham Lincoln, both by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculpted Mount Rushmore.

Many celebrated Americans became a part of Plymouth history. In 1867, a group from the Church undertook a five-and-a-half month voyage aboard the steamer Quaker City to Europe and the Holy Land. Joining them as a journalist was the young Mark Twain. His satiric account of this pioneering tour group," The Innocents Abroad," was Twain's best-selling work throughout his lifetime.
Twain spoke at Plymouth, as did many other famous writers and activists, including Clara Barton, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Horace Greeley, and William Thackery.

More recently, in January 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave an early version of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at Plymouth. Later that August, “I Have a Dream” was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Source

Henry Ward Beecher - Cadman Plaza, Columbus Park at Johnson Street, Brooklyn, New York

Unfortunately Beecher's career was rocked by allegations of adultery. In 1872 Theodore Tilton, his longtime friend and sometime journalistic collaborator, accused the preacher of committing adultery with his wife, Elizabeth. A salacious trial resulted which became the most widely covered event of the century, garnering more newspaper headlines than the entire Civil War!

There was a hung jury, and Beecher survived and was ultimately exonerated by the church, but his reputation and some of his causes suffered devastating setbacks.

Beecher suffered a stroke in March of 1887 and died quietly in his sleep two days later. Brooklyn, which was still an independent city at that time, declared a day of mourning. The state legislature recessed, and telegrams of condolence were sent by national figures, including President Cleveland.

Henry Ward Beecher was laid to rest in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery on March 11, 1887, followed by his wife Eunice in 1897.

To learn more about Beecher you can read a fascinating book entitled "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher" by Debby Applegate, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.


Vee said...

This is just weird. We bought that book last weekend. At first, I was quite disappointed because I thought that it was about the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe and not her brother. Now I'm inspired to read it again even if I will be reading about a "lesser" character (in my opinion). Now that doesn't sound nice, but hope you know what I'm saying. ;>

Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
What a fabulous history lesson and tour! Brooklyn Heights is so beautiful with all it's wonderful old buildings. So quaint. I will really need you to help Chris & I what we are going to see in the short time we are there. First on my list is the statue of Liberty. I'm not sure I would be able to climb to the top. Is it worth going to the island if you're not going to do that? Oh I need some guidance!
Hugs, Sherry

Camille said...


That was really great information. I'm going to have my boys read it as soon as they finish their math this morning. I know they will enjoy learning about this.

Sort of on topic: We live in VA and it drives my boys absolutely mad everytime they see the confederate flag flying, so I know they will appreciate this story about Beecher.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Fascinating, Pat! I never realized he was in NYC! I'm going to have to check out his biography. Sounds like something I would really enjoy reading.

It's sad that his career was toppled by the adultery allegations. I can remember that Billy Graham said how hard it is for men in power because women throw themselves at them. That seems particularly true of politicians and men of the cloth.
Did they go into the details of the trial? I would interested to read that trial transcript.

There was a famous Confederate Civil War general who was shot dead by a jealous husband (a doctor) who thought the general and his wife were having an affair, but weren't. Jealousy is certainly a green-eyed monster.

If I'm not mistaken, I think that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in Florida during her later life.


Sheila :-)

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I love reading your blog. It's my daily (or almost daily) history lesson and armchair tour.

Junie Moon said...

Oh, I'd love to see all this for myself. One day...that's what I tell myself.

Mmm said...

I had no idea about the trial even though I know lots about Beecher. Without people like him and other's like Harriet Beecher Stowe and those in England like William Wilberforce and crew, there would have not been an end to slavery in a very log time. Our thanks forever for these brave souls that ricked humiliation and mockery for cause greater than themselves--the respect of life--ALL of it, regardless of who that person is, however weak or without voice!!

Great pics too, btw. Thx.

Mmm said...

I had no idea about the trial even though I know lots about Beecher. Without people like him and other's like Harriet Beecher Stowe and those in England like William Wilberforce and crew, there would have not been an end to slavery in a very log time. Our thanks forever for these brave souls that ricked humiliation and mockery for cause greater than themselves--the respect of life--ALL of it, regardless of who that person is, however weak or without voice!!

Great pics too, btw. Thx.

Strider said...

Wow...that was excellent. Thanks so much.

Judy said...

I can always count on learning something over here! Most interesting...thanks for sharing.

steviewren said...

Pat you always have the most interesting things to share. New York and all of its boroughs would be a heavenly place to home school children. History and culture lessons would abound.

me said...

Good afternoon, Pat. Thanks for the history lesson. I really liked it. I didn't know all that stuff about Harriet Beacher Stowe. How cool! :)

Miss you and sending you tonnes of love! xo

Arlene Delloro said...

I enjoyed this post immensely. I'm a quilter and always loved the stories about various blocks having meaning relative to the Underground Railroad. Recently, however, there has been research that seems to disprove any connection between these historical blocks and the UR. In any event, I enjoyed learning more about this family.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and very imformative post, Pat!

Rhonda Hartis Smith said...

Sounds like I need to visit Brooklyn on my next trip to NYC--a very interesting place. Thanks for the wonderful story.

Tara said...

Hi Pat

I love the tour! I had no idea about Harriet's brother, thanks for the info!

Sue said...

Hi have saved me so much money on travel expenses by your wonderful tours around town...I always enjoy them...How is little Leo??

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Another great post! So much history...and such a great teacher!!

Helen said...

Thought about going back to school ... but maybe I should just keep reading your very informative and entertaining posts. If I could go out and purchase a new or used car today, it would have to be a Subaru Outback. EVERYONE in Bend drives one because they are so good on snow, ice, rain, etc. So many people cart equipment around with them I suspect this is also part of the allure. But there is the tiny part of me that covets another topless number too. Driving with the top down is the most freeing feeling in the world.

Lavinia said...

He sounds like a champion, a true champion of the underdog. The stories of those who fought so valiantly against slavery are always so fascinating to me.

Lavinia said...

Pat I love those grandson pics!!! I notice that he has a very alert expression, I think this is a highly intelligent baby who doesn't miss a thing going on around him. How wonderful to be able to cuddle him and kiss his baby cheeks!!

GailO said...

Thanks for giving me my Brooklyn fix!..I will have to depend on you now that my daughter is leaving - she is getting upset with me for saying too often how much I will miss visiting Brooklyn!
This was a fun read! Keep it up please!

..On another subject...I love the name Leo...and he is super cute!

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

I didn't realize the Beecher connection to Brooklyn, to be honest. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of my earliest idols so now I'm fascinated by this whole story!

And...thank you for the birthday wishes. :-) I had a wonderful weekend surrounded by love, talent and good times.