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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on June 24, 1813. He was the eighth of thirteen children born to the outspoken Presbyterian preacher Lyman Beecher. His siblings included Uncle Tom's Cabin writer Harriet Beecher Stowe and educator Catharine Beecher.

Henry had a childhood stammer and was considered slow-witted; his less than stellar performance at Biston Latin school earned him punishments such as being forced to sit for hours in the girls' corner wearing a dunce cap.

In 1837 Henry Beecher received a degree from Lane Theological Seminary outside Cincinnati, Ohio, which his father then headed.

Daguerreotype of Beecher as a young man

Henry Beecher was named the first pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York in 1847. Thousands of worshipers flocked to Beecher's enormous church and he became one of the most influential public figures in America.

An advocate of Women's suffrage, temperance and Darwin's theory of evolution, and a foe of bigotry of all kinds (religious, racial and social), Beecher held that Christianity should adapt itself to the changing culture of the times.

An abolitionist, he raised funds to buy weapons for those willing to oppose slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, and the rifles bought with this money became known as "Beecher's Bibles".

Beecher held mock 'auctions' at which the congregation purchased the freedom of real slaves. 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.

An 1875 adultery trial in which Beecher was accused of having an affair with a friend's wife, Elizabeth Tilton, was one of the most notorious American trials of the 19th century. He was acquitted but the whole affair has scandalized America as Beecher was an immensely popular and respected Christian public figure.

Beecher's fame on the lecture circuit led to his becoming editor of several religious magazines, and he received large advances for a novel and for a biography of Jesus.

One of the great preachers of the age, amongst the many thought-provoking quotes in his Life Thoughts was, “There are many people who think that Sunday is a sponge to wipe out all the sins of the week.”


Thomas J Barrett, a pioneer of modern advertising, popularized the “phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness,” which was used in the writings of Phinehas ben Yair, a rabbi. On a visit to America he sought a testimonial from a man of distinction. Henry Ward Beecher agreed to help and wrote a short text, which started “If cleanliness is next to godliness…”. Beecher merely received Barratt’s “hearty thanks” for his labor.

Henry Beecher developed a passion for jewels, which he carried, unset, in his pockets, taking them out for comfort when he was tired or in low spirits.

Beecher suffered a stroke and died in his sleep two days later on March 8, 1887. Brooklyn, still an independent city, declared a day of mourning. He is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Source Wikipedia 

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