Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.