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THE REV. WILLIAM HENRY BEECHER

    by Anya Laurence

   In continuing our set of articles about the celebrated Lyman Beecher family, it is time to examine the life, or rather the existence, of William. Born in 1802 In East Hampton, NY, William was the second child and first son of Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher. Finding that the young boy had difficulty learning, Lyman shipped him off, at the age of twelve, to Rev. Daggett of New Canaan. William returned home with very little learning and a good case of the family 'dyspepsia'.

   Apprenticed to a cabinet maker in Hartford, the mechanically-minded boy became so unhappy that Lyman was forced to go to Hartford and rescue him. As he matured he tried many jobs but was unsuccessful in his efforts to keep them. He returned home at the age of twenty-one and after several months tried his hand at being a clerk in a hardware store in Boston.


William Henry Beecher


South Congregational Church,
Middleton, CT

   Apparently during his time in Boston he became 'converted' and expressed a desire to become a minister. Although he was happy to hear of William's conversion, Lyman tried to steer him in another direction. But William was adamant, and in spite of Lyman took off for Andover to study theology. In 1830, after graduation, he assumed a parish in Rhode Island. Feeling ready to marry, he asked Katherine Edes, whom he had courted for years, to become his wife. His words about the wedding: “was married at Mrs. Edes in Bowdoin Street in the forenoon by my father. Harriet was bridesmaid, no company, no cake, no cards – nothing pleasant about it.”

   This just about sums up William's life. He accepted a call to the Congregational Church in Middletown, Connecticut, and only lasted there for several months. At that time, the previous minister, wanting to return, forced William out. After that he went to Putnam, Ohio, to a new church, which promised to be the right place for him. When after 5 years he asked for an increase in his paltry salary, he was forced to resign.

   There were other places, but William always found himself up against a brick wall where parishioners were concerned. They took advantage of his sensitivity and lack of self-esteem and he ended up getting fired or being forced to resign. After Katherine died in 1870 he moved to Chicago, where he lived with his daughters until he died in 1889. He was forever after known as 'William, the Unlucky', an unfortunate reputation for a man whose only sin was not living up to his father's stringent expectations.

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