Plymouth Church was born in days of strife. It was natural that the militant element should be dominant. The very way in which the church was organised was illustrative of their methods. The prompt improvement of the opportunity to buy the property, the meeting one week, the opening of services the next week, the organisation of the church, the calling of the council, the invitation to Mr. Beecher to be their pastor, all in quick succession, were characteristic.
Mr. Howard was one who naturally foresaw the possibilities for the future, and thus came into leadership in the origin of the enterprise. Once started, however, the initiative and the dominating influence belonged to a group of men, of considerable note at the time as being closely identified with the anti-slavery agitation, and who were out of patience with what they considered the time-serving policy of too many of the churches, and particularly of the various benevolent and missionary societies: Henry C. Bowen, Richard Hale, Arthur and Lewis Tappan. These were in business, chiefly dry goods, and had large connections with the South. As the strife grew more severe, complaints grew, and finally the Southern merchants drew up a list of Northern merchants with whom they would have no dealings. All four of these men were on that list. Mr. Bowen's partner, Mr. McNamee, was one with him, but it was Mr. Bowen in particular who sent the famous retort, when urged to cater to his Southern constituency:
|Our goods are for sale, but not our principles.|
He, as others, suffered for this, but the only effect it had was to strengthen them in the position they had taken. The American nation owes a debt of gratitude to the patriotic New York merchants who stood for liberty and their country in these perilous times. Among the first were A. T. Stewart, Simeon B. Chittenden and H. B. Claflin.
It was natural under the circumstances that the early history of the church should have been very much controlled by these men. Of them all, Mr. Bowen was perhaps the most aggressive and the most of a leader. He was the first superintendent of the Sunday School, and had much to do with the plans for and the erection of the present church building. A man of very positive convictions and great executive ability, he did what he did with his might. The same characteristics went into his conduct of The Independent, of which he was one of the founders in 1848. While the fame of its editors, Henry Ward Beecher, Joseph P. Thompson and Richard Salter Storrs, went far and wide, not a little of the success of the paper was due to his general management, and to his hearty indorsement of the position of his editors, however radical they were -- indeed the more radical the better. Later, when he acquired entire control, these characteristics were still more manifest.
Another prominent man was Austin Abbott, brother of Dr. Lyman Abbott, a well-known lawyer, and one who was closely identified with the defence of Mr. Beecher in his famous trial. Well do I remember him as he first came, a boy, and took his seat in the west gallery. Then there were Henry M. and Augustus Storrs. The former was an intimate friend of Horace Greeley and used to travel about with him in his political tours. Both were warm friends of Mr. Beecher, but Augustus was specially active; it was at his house in Sidney Place that many of the meetings for consultation were held. Robert R. Raymond came to Brooklyn from Boston and brought the classic atmosphere, combined with a most emphatic manner, to his professor's work in the Polytechnic Institute. He was one of the comparatively few who took part in the prayer meetings, which generally were really lecture talks by Mr. Beecher. He seemed to think that a literary atmosphere would certainly do no harm, for his favourite subject was Shakespeare, and he frequently read lengthy extracts from his plays. He became widely known as a student and reader of Shakespeare. His son, Rossiter Raymond, will be mentioned later.
Robert S. Bussing was specially interested in the Bethel Mission; at first it was independent, but afterwards became a regular part of Plymouth Church work. General Horatio C. King was among the leaders in somewhat later days. A son of Horatio King, United States Postmaster-General under Buchanan, he always identified himself with the various reform movements, especially the anti-slavery ones, and was thus in hearty sympathy with Mr. Beecher and Plymouth Church in its activities, and has for many years served as clerk of the church. Always interested in music, he was a fine organist and helped materially in that department of church worship. Another whose name became very widely known, especially at the time of the trial, was Thomas G. Shearman. He was also identified with every phase of church life, was clerk for many years, and an active and most loyal upholder of pastor and church.
For the most part these were not very wealthy men, though Augustus Storrs was esteemed such, and Mr. Bussing at one time had a large income. There were a few, however, of large means, and they gave most liberally: Horace B. Claflin, Rufus R. Graves, and Henry W. Sage. Mr. Sage will long be remembered for his generous gifts to Cornell University, and was always looked to for cordial support of any good cause in Brooklyn. Horace B. Claflin as founder of the great H. B. Claflin Company was not less munificent, though often in ways less prominent before the public, and the same may be said of Mr. Graves. These with Mr. Storrs were always bidders for the highest priced pews, paying premiums varying from [USD]3000 to [USD]5000 each.
While present days are not so strenuous as those early years, and modern conditions scarcely develop individual influence in church life of as great intensity as the times of conflict, Plymouth to-day has a large and influential company of men identified with its life. Among them General Horatio C. King, already spoken of, and Professor Rossiter W. Raymond, are some of the links connecting the present with the past. No one who has listened to Professor Raymond's explanations of Scriptures or heard his talks in the meetings fails to realise his power in the church life. |Deacon| Stephen V. White has long been a well-known member, as liberal as he is loyal; so too are John Arbuckle, the coffee merchant, Henry Hentz and Henry Chapin, Jr. Mr. Beecher is represented by his son, William C, and the Howard family is still well known in Plymouth.
Mention of even a few would include Benjamin F. Blair, Walter L. Wellington, F. G. Corning, son of Rev. J. L. Corning, one of the early members, George W. Mabie, T. W. Lauterdale, Philip M. Knight, Geo. W. Bardwell, Elijah R. Kennedy, Frank M. Brooks, Horace D. Sherrill, Jas. A. Brodie, Chas. N. Judson, Terance Jacobson, Dr. Wm. Morris Butler, Chas. H. More, Clarence B. Wisner, Wm. Foster, Benjamin F. Webb, H. Edward Dreier, Amos D. Carver, Wm. E. Davenport, W. F. Osborne, H. A. Garthewait, A. K. Powell, Frederick W. Starr, Louis N. Chapin, Dwight Studwell, Henry Sanger Snow, A. Stanwood, Seabury N. Haley, Wm. Tupper, Frederick W. Heinrich, H. W. Wheeler, M. C. Ogden, John H. Jackson, George A. Price, W. P. Long, Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Ramsay, Mr. Kenyon, Mr. Smith, Mr. Bingham, Mr. Ayers, Mr. Aderley, and many others.