Methodist founder John Wesley denounced human bondage as "the sum of all villainies," and detailed its abuses. Many evangelical leaders in the United States such as Presbyterians Charles Finny and Theodore Weld, and women such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth motivated hearers to support abolition. Finney preached that slavery was a moral sin, and so supported its elimination. "I had made up my mind on the question of slavery, and was exceedingly anxious to arouse public attention to the subject. In my prayers and preaching, I so often alluded to slavery, and denounced it. Repentance from slavery was required of souls, once enlightened of the subject, while continued support of the system incurred 'the greatest guilt' upon them". Abolitionist writings, such as "A Condensed Anti-Slavery Bible Argument" (1845) by George Bourne, and "God Against Slavery" (1857) by George B. Cheever, used the Bible, logic and reason extensively in contending against the institution of slavery, and in particular the chattel form of it as seen in the South. Individual churches throughout the North took up the cause.
The Congregational Church (pictured above) of Richfield, Ohio (the third church established in the new territories of what was then called the Western Reserve of Connecticut) declared that:
"This church believes slavery as it exists in the United States is a sin of the blackest dye: abominable in the sight of God, cruel and oppressive in the extreme to the enslaved and a blusting and mildew upon every branch of the church of Christ with which it is directly or indirectly connected. -That this church believes that if slavery is sinful then the slaveholders are sinners and ought to be treated as any other class of habitual sinners. -That this church can hold no fellowship with slaveholders or slave holding churches, or such ministers, or members, that are advocates of this wicked system."
When John Brown went to school in Connecticut he originally hoped to become a
Congregational minister but was unable to do so in part because of a health issue. When he later moved to Richfield he naturally attended the Richfield Congregational Church (along with his many good friends, including the Oviatt's). The church was to later develop a policy that anyone joining the church must first write, sign and deliver a letter testifying that they did not support slavery in any way.
In the years following the departure of John Brown from Richfield, it was reported in a church document of those times that John Brown's influence had continued to effect his former community and the Abolitionist movement had continued to grow.
At a membership meeting of the Congregational Church, that John Brown and his family had attended, the following resolutions were passed:
"Whereas American slavery had its origin in violence and wrong, and can be sustained in no way but in violence and wrong.
Therefore be it resolved --
First, that in the opinion of this church the enactment of Congress known as the Fugitive Slave Law is an enactment for the support and maintenance of violence and wrong, and is contrary to the teaching and the spirit of the Gospel of Christ, our Savior, and cannot have any binding force on Christians.
Second, that this church has no sympathy with aforesaid enactment, and the members under no circumstances will assist in enforcing it."
At that time the Congregational Church was the heart of Richfield. It was the religious, social and political center of the Township. Because the church was so important in the community, what this resolution did in effect was to declare that no one in Richfield would support slavery, or the capture or return to slavery of any individual who had escaped from slavery. And if anyone did, they would be ostracized from community life.
John Brown declared bankrupcy Sept. 28th 1842. Among his listed possessions were 11 Bibles, a copy of "Dick's Works, a Philosophy of Religion", written by Thomas Dick in 1839 (which contains chapters on improvement of society by the diffusion of knowledge, the moral improvement of mankind, and an essay on sin), "Balls Narrative, Fifty Years in Chains" written by Charles Ball, a fugitive slave from Maryland, and "Beauties of the Bible" written by Ezra Sampson in 1800. This is a profoundly interesting group of books to own.
One can easily imagine John Brown, after a long hard days work at the tannery or tending the Oviatt sheep or shearing Lord Farnum's flock, sitting up late in the stillness of night and reading by candlelight these books. One about the horrors of slavery, another about how to improve mankind, a third speaking of the magnificent beauty of the thoughts and words of the Bible. And, of course, hours spent reading the Bible itself. The words (reflected in all) speaking of, "The flower of the nation led away captive into a foreign land; and there suffering all the buffetings and insults, all the contempt and mockery of the basest servitude." And reading the "Sermon on the Mount" and "The Ten Commandments" and Matthew 25:44-46, which speaks of "ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me." And Matt 7:12, which he quoted again during his final words at his sentencing to death, "Whatsoever I would men should do to me I should do ever so to them." It is easy to suppose he read of the trials of Job (as recounted in "Beauties of the Bible") when he himself had lost four children in rapid succession to plague, and had to suffer the earlier taking from him by bankrupcy all his possessions except little more than "..wearing apparel for himself, his wife and children".
Reading these books for long hours, the long night discussions with his friends in Richfield, the smuggling of escaped slaves through Richfield while under constant fear of discovery, surely must all have contributed to his growing impatience with the sin of slavery and contributed to him wanting to put into action the Words of the Lord, that he held so dear. It is simply remarkable to picture him late of night, wrapped in a coverlet, his eyes glittering, giving final instructions to Mason Oviatt for his next stop on the Railroad. A man of the Bible. A man of books and learning, -and of action.
~~In the above picture the Congregational Church is pictured to the left. It was built in 1834, replacing the original log cabin church built in 1818. Next to the church is the buggy and horse building used during services. The large building to the right was the Oviatt Store. John Brown's tannery was a short distance to the north (farther right) of the picture. His house was a short walk just to the east (farther in the picture foreground) of the church. The Stagecoach Stop was between the Oviatt Store and the tannery. All were visible from John Brown's front yard.
~~more to follow
Copyright © Jim Fry 2018