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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Friday, May 20, 2011

From the Field--

by H. Scott Wolfe*

I am perhaps the last surviving mortal to regularly utilize a road map. I was so engaged…while sitting beneath the bronze statue of the pre-assassinated President William McKinley which graces the old Massachusetts mill town of Adams. (The martyred President had visited that community twice, assuring his constituents of his support for the protective tariff and his disdain for those dastardly European imports.)  My wife sat contentedly beside me, having just conducted a successful raid upon a local antique shop…blissfully unaware that I was mulling a descent upon yet another benchmark in the life of John Brown. As my finger traced the sinuous Route 116 through the Berkshire highlands of Hampshire County, it fell upon the town of PLAINFIELD. And when the name of the Reverend Moses Hallock came to mind, the decision was made.

The story is familiar to all those who seek to know John Brown. It was the spring of 1816 when young Brown was admitted to membership of the Congregational Church in Hudson, Ohio…this after making a “formal profession of religion” and becoming a “convert to Christianity & ever after a firm believer in the divine authenticity of the Bible.”

Later that same year, Brown, in company with his brother Salmon and a Hudson friend named Orson M. Oviatt, traveled to Connecticut to seek counsel from the Reverend Jeremiah Hallock. Beset with a religious zeal, the young tanner was contemplating entering the ministry and yearned for advice upon what educational preparation would be required to do so. There was talk of entering Amherst College, but first, because of Brown’s spotty education in the Ohio Western Reserve, it was suggested that he enroll in a preparatory school…specifically, in the classical school at Plainfield, Massachusetts overseen by Jeremiah’s brother, the Reverend Moses Hallock.

Jeremiah Hallock
The brothers Jeremiah (1758-1826) and Moses (1760-1837) Hallock loom like granite pillars of the Congregational faith. The former, known as the “Godly Pastor,” labored at West Simsbury (now Canton), Connecticut for nearly forty years…and the latter, at Plainfield, Massachusetts for over forty-five years.  Both had served briefly in the American Revolution, but their principal service was as soldiers of the Lord. Both were “laborers in the great revival of the work of God,” and “the one object of both was the glory of God in plucking sinners as brands from the burning, and raising them to heaven.”

Jeremiah had once been the practical and spiritual mentor of Owen Brown, father of John Brown. Young Owen had lived with him “at different times,” receiving much in the way of “good instruction and good examples.” And when Owen married Ruth Mills, Hallock had performed the ceremony, feeling “all the anxiety of a parent that we should begin right.” Said the groom, “He gave us good counsel, and, I have no doubt, with a praying spirit.” Now, the very same Jeremiah Hallock had given good counsel to their son John.

"Hallock Memorial School," Plainfield, 
Mass. (Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)
The Reverend Moses Hallock had established his Plainfield Academy in 1793, both to supplement his meager pastoral salary and to provide educational opportunities for local young people. During his thirty-one years as “Headmaster,” 304 students matriculated at his school…30 of whom were young ladies. Hallock beamed with pride over the fact that 132 went on to enter college, 50 became ministers of the gospel, and 7 ventured forth as “missionaries to the heathen.” Among his more prominent students were the editor and romantic poet William Cullen Bryant…and Marcus Whitman, physician, missionary and pioneer of the Oregon Trail.

The curriculum was rigorous, consisting of the study of grammar, rhetoric, mathematics and the Latin and Greek languages. Many of the students, residing in the Master’s own household, received solid preparatory educations at an expense “little exceeding one dollar a week.”

During the late summer or early autumn of 1816, John Brown and his two companions enrolled at the Reverend Hallock’s Academy. Brown took to his studies with “diligence.” The Master’s youngest son, Heman Hallock, remembered him as “a tall, sedate, dignified young man,” who “had been a tanner, and relinquished a prosperous business for the purpose of intellectual improvement.”

It is fascinating to contemplate the young John Brown at a New England classical school…particularly after his rudimentary education in Ohio. By his own admission, he had been “sometimes sent to School,” where he found the activities of running, jumping and knocking off “old seedy Wool hats” as “the only compensation for the confinement & restraints” of the schoolhouse.

The term “culture shock” comes to mind as one pictures a youth whose practical experience embraced the tanner’s and currier’s trades…now struggling with the more cerebral tasks of absorbing the Greek alphabet or Latin declensions.  But the stay was brief, for within a few months the three students transferred to the Morris Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut…to study under the Messrs. Weeks and Vaill. This too was short lived, for an “inflammation of the eyes,” perhaps the result of overstudy, sent Brown back to the tannery in Hudson…and his potential career upon a wholly new course.

The drive through the hills of western Massachusetts is a beautiful one. Majestic hemlocks lined Route 116, and periodically one passed tranquil wetlands, the trees reflected in still waters. It was mid-April, and snow lingered on the shaded, north-facing slopes. And then one enters the small community of Plainfield, perched on a southern spur of the Green Mountains.

Congregational Church and Town Hall, Plainfield, Mass.
(Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)
The place seems the imagined prototype of a New England village. The residents have obviously been allowed to paint their public buildings any color they desire…as long as it is white. There is a stately Congregational Church (ca. 1840s), whose towering steeple is golden-tipped and weather-vaned…a Greek Revival Town Hall…and a sprawling frame structure shared by the “Shaw Memorial Library” and the “Hallock Memorial School,” a latter-day monument to the teacher of John Brown.

My wife, like most females, possesses that recessive gene which allows them to calmly ask strangers for directions. So we were soon within the town cemetery, just north of the highway. It was only a matter of moments before I found the final resting place of the Reverend Moses Hallock. This tall slab of marble no doubt provided a local stonecutter with a bad case of writer’s cramp, for the inscription is lengthy…but also of interest, and I provide a transcription:

Born Brookhaven, L.I., Feb. 16, 1760
Reared by Godly parents, Goshen, Ms
Graduated Yale College 1788
Ordained and installed first Pastor of the church in Plainfield, July 11, 1792
Ministered to a confiding and united People 45 years
Died July 17, 1837 aged 77

At 70 he requested a colleague, having Received to the church 358 members
Instructed 304 pupils 50 became ministers 7 Missionaries
A man of patriarchal simplicity, integrity, sincerity, kindness. Without an enemy.
He loved, studied, preached, exemplified the Bible and Gloried in the Cross.

The burial place of the Rev. Moses Hallock, Plainfield, Mass. 
(Photo by H Scott Wolfe)
At the funeral of Moses Hallock it was noted that “to the church at large he has been of eminent service, especially in the number of young men whose education he aided, and who are now employed in useful spheres in this and foreign lands.” Among those “young men” was John Brown. The recorded last words of the Reverend Hallock could very well have been uttered by his famous protégé: “From all I have done, and all my sins and short-comings, I wish to fly to Christ. I am nothing. Christ is all.”

* H. Scott Wolfe is the Historical Librarian of the Galena, Illinois, Public Library District. We are pleased to introduce him as a correspondent and contributor, noting his many years of grassroots research on John Brown, the Harper's Ferry raiders, and related themes.

Principal Sources:

1) Sanborn, Franklin B. “Life and Letters of John Brown,” Boston, Roberts Brothers, 1891
2) Yale, Rev. Cyrus, “The Godly Pastor: Life of the Rev. Jeremiah Hallock of Canton, Conn., to which is added A Sketch of the Life of the Rev. Moses Hallock of Plainfield, Mass.,” New York, American Tract Society, 1854.
3) My eyeballs.

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