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Plymouth Church – Henry Ward Beecher
In 1847, Plymouth Church entitled Rev. Henry Ward Beecher as its first pastor. During this time in history, the members of Plymouth Church began one of the most influential ministries in the 19th century America.
Henry Ward Beecher was born in 1813 in Litchfield, Connecticut. He was the eighth child out of eleven children of the Rev. Lyman Beecher. He grew up in a busy church house with his father, who in that era was one of the most prominent clergymen. Henry was in particular close to his sister Harriet, who later wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henry and Harriet’s sibling relationship carried on throughout their lives and she was still listed on the membership rolls of Plymouth Church when she passed away in 1896.
Henry was not a great speaker as a child, he was actually, shy and inarticulate. He started his oratorical preparation at Mt. Pleasant Institution, a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1834, he graduated from Amherst College and in 1837 from Lane Theological Seminary outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. After preaching Presbyterian churches in Lawrenceburg, Indiana and in Indianapolis, Henry and his wife, the former Eunice Bullard and their three children resided to Brooklyn in the fall of 1847. This was when Beecher took on the creation of a new Congregational church.
Beginning with Beecher’s first sermon, he had made it clear that one keystone of his ministry at Plymouth Church would be his disagreement to slavery. Soon enough, Beecher’s powerful preaching quickly turned Plymouth Church into the most prominent Protestant church of that time. Henry’s preaching’s described as original, logic, pathos and humor. He in addition spoke out in opposition to U.S. superiority toward Mexico, and against mistreatment of the Indians, however it was his antislavery preaching which made him legendary.
Beecher held ridicule “auctions” in which the congregation purchased the freedom of real slaves. The most famous of these former slaves was a young girl named Pinky. She was auctioned during a regular Sunday worship services at the Church on February 5, 1860. That day, a collection takes up raised $900 to buy Pinky from her owner. A gold ring was also placed in the collection plate and Beecher presented it to Pinky to honor her day of freedom. In 1927, Pinky returned to Plymouth Church during its 80th Anniversary to give the ring back to the Church with her gratitude. Today, Pinky’s ring and a copy of the bill of sale are still for observation at Plymouth Church.
Regardless of the highly exposed activities, Beecher was viewed as modest in contrast to other abolitionists, and those insights greatly contributed to his influence. Beecher by no means expected that a war would be necessary to free the slaves in the South, but when it came, the impact of his persistent antislavery attitude on public outlook helped the North endure terrible bloodshed.
In the early on days of the Civil War, Beecher pushed President Lincoln to issue a proclamation of emancipation. Beecher then went on a speaking tour in England to enlighten the North’s war aims and to weaken support for the South among the English. Just as the war was coming near, Beecher was the main speaker when the Stars and Stripes again rose at the site of the warm’s first battle.
Henry Ward Beecher is remembered today for his social activism, in his own time, he was at all times a minister of the Christian gospel. He was one of the leaders in the movement known as Romantic Christianity. He was preaching not the harsh judgment of God but rather than the loving existence of God. Beecher also supported the perception of freedom of the individual. After the war, Beecher championed causes such as women’s suffrage, temperance, evolution and he spoke out against anti- Semitism.
In the March of 1887, Beecher suffered a stroke and passed away in silence during his sleep two days afterward. Brooklyn which was still an independent city declared a day of mourning. Telegrams of condolence were sent by national figures which include President Cleveland. Beecher’s funeral procession to Plymouth Church was led by a Black commander of the William Lloyd Garrison Post in Massachusetts and a Virginia Confederate general and former slaveholder.
March 11, 1887 Henry Ward Beecher was put down to rest in Brooklyn’s Green- Wood Cemetery by his wife Eunice and four of the nine children born to them, Harriet, Henry, William and Herbert.