In an earlier story (http://ramblinrussells.blogspot.com/2016/05/afs-hillary-clinton-and-my-ancestors.html) I talked about the history of Brooklyn Heights and the role that one of my ancestors, Hezekiah Pierrepont, had in establishing that community. In one of the reference articles (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Heights) it noted that prior to the Civil War, Brooklyn Heights was a locus of the abolitionist movement, primarily due to the speeches and activities of Henry Ward Beecher.
My great*3 grandfather, Austin Pierpont, married a woman named Sally Beecher. Hezekiah’s son Henry (a contemporary of Austin) would have been Austin’s 3rd cousin. But on the other side of the family, Henry Ward Beecher and his older sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, were both 5th cousins of Sally. So that means that Hezekiah, Henry, and Harriet are also cousins of mine (with a few extra “removed”s added in).
Both Henry (1813-1887) and Harriet (1811-1896) were born in Litchfield, CT, where their father, Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) had moved in 1810. Lyman was then a Calvinist preacher, having received his education at Yale under the tutelage of Timothy Dwight, then the president of Yale. And with yet another family connection, Timothy was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards and Sarah Pierpont, the daughter of the founder of Yale, James Pierpont (my great*7 grandfather).
That means that two of the most well-known leaders in the abolitionist/anti-slavery movement are not only my cousins, but the religious basis for that was passed to them from the Pierpont family – starting with the Rev. James, to his son-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, then to Jonathan’s grandson Timothy Dwight, then to Lyman Beecher, then to Lyman’s children Henry and Harriet – everyone in this chain being my ancestors/relatives!
In his later life Lyman was known as “America’s most famous preacher”. Harriet of course is well-known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was written in 1852. But I want to focus a little more on the activities of Henry.
Henry Ward Beecher was the first pastor of the Plymouth Church which was founded in 1847 in Brooklyn (then a separate city from New York). He preached at that church for over 40 years until his passing in 1887. Plymouth Church was known as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad” for the number of slaves it was said had passed through on their way to freedom in Canada. Henry once brought a female slave to the church and held an auction, with the highest bidder purchasing not the slave, but her freedom.
In 1859, the church offered Abraham Lincoln $200 for coming to Brooklyn and giving a lecture to the congregation, Lincoln accepted and participated in the church service on Sunday February 26, 1860 – remember that he was not elected President until that fall. His actual address the next day was moved to Cooper Union because of the high demand. This tie to Lincoln continued over the following years.
In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sent Beecher on a speaking tour of Europe to build support for the Union cause. Beecher's speeches helped turn European popular sentiment against the rebel Confederate States of America and prevent its recognition by foreign powers. At the close of the war in April 1865, Beecher was invited to speak at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the first shots of the war had been fired; Lincoln had again personally selected him, stating, "We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise."
I am happy to have such individuals in my family tree – Hezekiah and Henry Pierrepont who were instrumental in the founding of Brooklyn; James Pierpont, Jonathan Edwards and Timothy Dwight who helped make Yale one of the premier institutions in the US; and Lyman, Henry Ward and Harriet Beecher who had such key roles in the Civil War.