Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Abolitionist Origins of Hanover Seminary

"good classical education (is) essential to a full development of the human mind and to that discipline of its powers."  - John Finley Crowe
Kentucky Presbyterians played a central role in the efforts to use local, regional and national Church governing bodies to implement steps that would put slavery on the road to extinction. Central among these Kentucky Presbyterians was Reverend James Blyth President of Transylvania University in Lexington and later President of the seminary in Hannover (see also article by Andrew Lee Feight).


By 1835 the Presbyterian Church in the US harbored six theological seminaries: Princeton in New Jersey, Auburn in New York State, Western in Pennsylvania, Lane in Ohio, Columbia in South Carolina and the school founded in Indiana which later moved to Chicago.

In may 1822 the first issue (of 12) of the Abolitionist Intelligencer and Missionary Magazine came out. One of only two national abolitionist papers in the US. It's editor, John Finley Crowe, was to be the founder of Hannover Theological Seminary (1825,1826), a log college, the predecessor of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. In the history of this seminary in Hannover we can read that John Finley(Many of his line believe he added Finley later to have a middle name.) Crowe, after two years of private study,
'entered Transylvania University at Lexington, from which he was duly graduated in 1813, at the age of twenty-six. During his student days Mr. Crowe devoted a part of his time and energy to the rather irregular publication of an abolitionist paper, which did not contribute to his popularity in the Blue Grass country. He also became a member and an elder in the church of Rev. James Blythe whom he later induced to become the first president of Hanover College.'
In the Kentucky context 'John Finley' obviously refers to the Scots-Irish pioneer who explored Kentucky at the end of the 18th century together with Daniel Boone.

Reverend James Blythe was a graduate of Hampden Sidney College (1789) and studied theology under the direction of Reverend Dr. James Hall of North Carolina, who had graduated at Princeton under John Witherspoon in 1774. He was, for fifteen years, the president of Transylvania University in Lexington. In 1814/1815 John Finley Crowe studied at the Princeton theological Seminary and became pastor and teacher in Shelbyville in Kentucky. This would mean he studied under Archibald Alexander. The before mentioned Rev. James Blythe was the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1816.

David Rice wrote a letter to James Blythe in 1799 which is mentioned here:
'he (David Rice) was educated at the College of New Jersey at Princeton before undertaking further studies under John Todd, who had spent a great deal of time working with Samuel Davies among slaves. Rice would eventually follow in Todd and Davies’ footsteps, working among slaves as an ordained Presbyterian minister in Virginia for over twenty years. After being forced out of Virginia, Rice joined the efforts of the Kentucky Abolition Society, serving also as a member of the 1792 Kentucky Constitutional Convention. It was as a member of the convention that Rice pleaded for a gradual emancipation initiative, giving an address entitled, Slavery Inconsistent with Justice and Good Policy. Ultimately, Rice saw the institution of slavery as not only unconstitutional, but as that which violated the most basic tenets of a natural, moral law. He believed, moreover, that it was especially the responsibility of the church to lead the cause for emancipation, expressing in 1799 in a letter to a friend that he wanted Christians to adopt “a rational plan for the gradual abolition of slavery; and do it under the influence of religion and conscience, without any regard for law” (Letter to James Blythe, 1799).'
At his graduation from Hampden-Sidney college in 1789 James Blythe had angered some attendants with his 'plea for black men' speech. James Blythe helped Barton W. Stone take over as minister the congregations of Cane Ridge and Concord in Bourbon County where Princeton educated Robert W. Finley had been expelled from the pulpit for drunkenness. Robert W. Finley, a biography by his son can be read here, had freed his slaves and moved to Ross County Ohio (where he became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church). In similar fashion James Blythe emancipated his slaves when he moved to Hanover Indiana to become President of the seminary 'which was primarily supported by anti-slavery migrants'. He stated in 1833 in his inaugural address: 'Christianity has taught the world to abhor slavery'. He however resigned in 1836 likely over his commitment to gradualism (writes Andrew Lee Feight). Hanover sacrificed it's President instead of having it's abolitionist scolars leave to Oberline, as had happened at Lane Seminary in 1834.

Three years later, november 7th 1837  a mob killed Elijah Parish Lovejoy in Alton, Illinois, who had moved the press for his abolitionist paper from St Louis to Alton in 1835. Abraham Lincoln referenced Lovejoy's murder in his Lyceum address in January 1838. James Blythe was succeeded by Dr. Erasmus Darwin MacMaster, one of the strongest anti-slavery men in the Old School Presbyterian Church. November 7th 1838, exactedly one year after the murder of Elijah Parish Loveoy, Erasmus D. MacMaster delivered his inaugural Address as new President of Hanover College. Macmaster had graduated from Union College in 1827, the school where Knox College founder George Washington Gale had studied under Eliphalet Nott.

In 1846 MacMaster had presented his views at the Presbyterian General Assemmbly and was there identified by the Princeton Review as one of two abolitionists. In 1847 New Albany Seminary was established. MacMaster became it's first President (1849-1857) Two of it's first students were sons of John Finley Crowe: James and Thomas. The school closed and moved to Chicago: the McCormick Seminary, a history.

An 1835 alumni of Hannover College, Jonathan Edwards, was President of Hannover College from 1855-1857 and went on to become President of Washington and Jefferson College, of Pennsylvania from 1866-1869. This Jonathan Edwards was a son of US Vice-President Aaron Burr.

John Finley Crowe stayed on the faculty of the College until 1857, but died january 17 1860. The rich McCormick taking over the seminary in 1859 to counter it's abolitionist teachings might have had something to do with Crowe's death. His son Samuel S. Crowe became member of the Indiana 93rd Infantry during the Civil War.

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