“The father of more brains than any man in America”
Harriet Beecher Stowe née Harriet Elisabeth Beecher, was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and Roxana Foote Beecher (1775- 1816), the sixth of 11 children. The Beechers were one of the most influential families of the 19th century.
Roxana Foote (1775-1816), Lyman Beecher’s first wife and Harriet’s mother, was a granddaughter of Revolutionary General Andrew Ward, was literate, artistic, and read mathematical and scientific treatises for pleasure. She had seven children.
Lyman Beecher was among the best known clergymen of the first half of the 1800s. He began attracting national attention in the 1820s when he preached anti-slavery sermons in response to the Missouri Compromise. Lyman’s conservative beliefs, charisma and dynamic preaching affected all his children. He taught them that a personal commitment was necessary for their spiritual salvation, but he also taught them to think for themselves and to ask questions. The Beecher children grew into adults who shared their father’s love of God, yet they came to describe God in more loving and forgiving terms. Like their father, though, the Beechers believed the best way of serving was action to make a better world.
Lyman Beecher’s second wife, Harriet Porter Beecher (1790-1835), whom he married in 1817, had three children. Lyman married his third wife, Lydia Beals (1789-1869) in 1835; they had no children.
Catharine Esther Beecher (1800-1878)
Founder of multiple schools including the Hartford Female Seminary, Catherine Beecher was a prolific writer who co-authored The American Woman’s Home (1869) with her sister Harriet.
Catharine Beecher was the eldest Beecher child. She attended Miss Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, one of the best schools of its time for girls and young women. When Catharine’s mother Roxana Foote Beecher died in 1816, Catherine became responsible for her siblings.
In 1824, with the help of her brother Edward and sister Mary, Catharine opened the Hartford Female Seminary on Main Street in Hartford, CT. At first, Catharine and Mary were the only teachers. Harriet joined the staff in 1827 following the completion of her own education at the Seminary. Catharine found many of the textbooks unsatisfactory and decided to write her own. Students learned rhetoric, logic, natural and moral philosophy, chemistry, history, Latin, algebra and drawing.
Most 19th century girls expected to marry and manage homes, and parents felt their daughters needed little formal education. Catharine argued that running a home was as complicated as running a business, and that young women should be instructed in these responsibilities the same way boys received instruction for their careers. Catharine Beecher prepared young women for the future, training them to become teachers.
When Lyman Beecher became the president of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, OH in 1832, Catharine found a successor to run the Hartford Female Seminary and moved west with him. In Cincinnati she founded the Western Female Institute, and went on to establish schools in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Catharine Beecher was a prolific writer on topics ranging from education and religion to health and home economics. Her best known work was A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841). In 1869, she co-authored The American Woman’s Home with her sister Harriet.
William Henry Beecher (1802 – 1889)
A preacher with parishes from Rhode Island to Connecticut, Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, William Henry Beecher was an advocate of abolition and temperance.
William Henry Beecher was Lyman and Roxana’s oldest son. Less scholarly but more mechanically skilled than his siblings, William apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and clerk in Hartford and New Milford CT, and New York City before becoming a licensed preacher in 1830. His first parish was in Newport, RI. Over the next 20 years William worked at churches in Middletown, CT, Putnam, OH, Batavia, NY, Euclid, OH, and finally North Brookfield, MA, where he remained for nearly two decades. He was an advocate of Spiritualism and phrenology, publishing an article in Fowler’s Phrenological Journal.
He wed Katherine Edes of Massachusetts in 1830, and they had six children. Katherine shared William’s commitment to anti-slavery and temperance. When she died in 1870, he retired and moved to Chicago to live with his daughters. One of the least famous Beechers, William was an early advocate of abolition, and promoted temperance as a means to broader social reform.
Edward Beecher (1803 – 1895)
An abolitionist advocate, Edward Beecher believed that all of America was responsible for slavery since the entire society profited from it.
Edward Beecher entered Yale at 15, and worked his way through college by teaching, graduating as class valedictorian. More religiously liberal than his father, he blended Lyman Beecher’s old Calvinism with the newer tenets of Unitarianism, and explored Spiritualism. Edward was also more liberal on social reform. He embraced abolitionism, or the immediate end to slavery, as opposed to Lyman Beecher’s support of colonization. Edward was friends with abolitionist Rev. Elijah Lovejoy and left him just hours before Lovejoy was killed by a mob in 1837. In response, Edward published a Narrative of the Riots at Alton, an indictment of slavery and mob violence. Edward believed that all of America was responsible for slavery, since the entire society profited from it. His writing helped fuel the fire that would lead to younger siblings Harriet’s and Henry’s fame. The earliest known letter written by young Harriet Beecher was to her brother Edward in 1822 as he studied at Yale.
Edward’s wife, Isabella Porter Jones, wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe “If I could use a pen like you, Hatty, I would write something that would show the entire world what an accursed thing slavery is.” Edward and Isabella had 12 children, including one with special needs whom the Beechers incorporated into family life – an exception to 19th century practice.
Mary Foote Beecher Perkins (1805-1900)
Mary was the only Beecher sibling who elected not to pursue a public life.
Mary was the only daughter of Lyman Beecher’s who did not pursue public life, though she had a central role in the extended Beecher family. Mary received her primary education at Miss Pierce’s school in Litchfield, CT with her sisters Harriet and Catherine. She partnered with Catharine Beecher to open the Hartford Female Seminary, but disliked teaching. She married Thomas C. Perkins, a prominent lawyer in Hartford, and settled there for the rest of her life. She and Thomas had four children. She is the grandmother of author Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
George Beecher (1809-1843)
A minister and abolitionist, George Beecher held a strong interest in Perfectionism.
George Beecher, the fifth of Lyman Beecher’s children, attended Miss Porter’s Academy with his siblings and went off to Hartford Grammar School when he was 14. At 16, George enrolled at Yale College to study the ministry. He left Yale to go with Lyman and the family to Ohio in 1832. There he was ordained as a minister and accepted his first pastorate in Batavia, OH. George married Sarah Buckingham of Batavia in 1839, and they had a son. Like his older brother Edward, George was an abolitionist, and joined the Anti-Slavery Society.
Batavia, like many small churches, had difficulties paying their minister, and George relocated to Rochester, NY. Rochester was at the heart of the Burned Over district of western New York, so-named because of the repeated religious revivals and reform movements that swept through the area. As a Beecher raised to improve both himself and society, George found many new ideas here. He was particularly attracted to Perfectionism.
George and Sarah Beecher returned to Ohio, where George began writing about Perfectionism, teaching music, and studying plants. In July of 1843, he walked into his gardens to shoot some birds and was found dead of a gunshot wound. The Beechers believed that it was an accidental death and the family mourned their brother. Harriet Beecher Stowe confessed that “the sudden death of George shook my whole soul like an earthquake.”
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
One of the most famous U.S. men in of his time, Henry Ward Beecher shaped Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church into one of the most influential pulpits of the 19th century.
Henry Ward Beecher, the seventh child of Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote Beecher, became one of the most famous men in the United States during the 19th century. Among the Beecher family, only sister Harriet bested Henry’s lifetime celebrity and historical legacy.
Henry was only three when his mother Roxana died. The toddler formed a close reliance on five-year-old Harriet, and their bond remained throughout their lives. As a boy, Henry was more attracted to open pastures and wooded fields than schools or books. As an adult, Henry turned this early affinity for nature into visions of a loving deity.
Henry was barely 13 when his father Lyman and step-mother Harriet Porter Beecher moved from Litchfield, CT to Boston, MA. The city held only one attraction for Henry – sailing ships. Henry Ward Beecher, like many 19th century children, associated ships and the sea with adventure and freedom from the structure of schooling.
Lyman Beecher convinced him to study at Mount Pleasant Institute in Amherst, MA. Henry found Mount Pleasant’s military-type discipline difficult, but the school gave him the skills to become a powerful orator. By the time Henry graduated, the boy who had been embarrassed into silence by a childhood speech impediment presented speeches and performed in plays. This talent, coupled with a religious renewal, led to Henry’s determination to become a minister and admission to Amherst College in 1830. While at Amherst, Henry met Eunice White Bullard, the sister of a schoolmate and daughter of a physician. The two became engaged to marry, but it would be years before they wed.
After graduating from Amherst College in 1832, Henry joined his family in Cincinnati, OH and enrolled in Lane Seminary. After completing his studies, Henry married Eunice in 1837 and the newlyweds moved to Lawrenceburg then Indianapolis, IN. Henry and Eunice ultimately had 11 children, but only four lived to maturity. Neither parish could afford to pay well, and the young family struggled. In 1847, Henry and Eunice’s poverty ended when Henry was recruited by Henry C. Bowen, a wealthy merchant, newspaper editor, and anti-slavery advocate in Brooklyn, NY. Henry shaped Plymouth Church into one of the most influential pulpits in the United States. By 1850 the crowds coming to hear Beecher’s sermons on temperance and the wrongs of slavery could not fit inside the building.
Henry Ward Beecher actively used Plymouth Church to fight slavery. Staging elaborate mock auctions, Henry led his congregation to redeem enslaved individuals by purchasing their liberty. Following repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act, Plymouth Church paid to ship rifles to anti-slavery settlers in Kansas and Nebraska in crates marked “Bibles.” These rifles became known as “Beecher’s Bibles.”
President Abraham Lincoln sent Henry to London during the Civil War to persuade Great Britain to remain neutral. At the close of the Civil War, Beecher was given the symbolic prize of presenting a sermon at Fort Sumter when the U.S. flag was once again raised there.
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull, a controversial woman’s rights advocate, accused Henry of committing adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, wife of Theodore Tilton. The Tiltons were members of Plymouth Church, and Theodore was co-editor with Henry of The Independent, and a close friend. In 1875, Theodore Tilton sued his former friend for “alienation of affection.” The resulting trial lasted more than six months and became the most notorious scandal of the 19th century.
Opinions over Henry’s guilt caused rifts in society, Plymouth Church, and the Beecher family itself. Sisters Harriet and Isabella were temporarily estranged. Harriet was her brother’s supporter and advocate while Isabella believed Victoria Woodhull. Ultimately a civil jury was unable to reach a conclusion, and a mistrial was declared. Henry continued to work at Plymouth Church, and despite the controversy, remained a popular figure. When he died of a stroke in 1887, Brooklyn held a day of mourning, the New York legislature adjourned its session, and national figures led the funeral procession.
Charles Beecher (1815 –1900)
A natural scholar with a love for music, Charles Beecher moved to New Orleans in 1838. His letters provided sister Harriet with first-hand accounts of slavery which she later incorporated in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Lyman and Roxana’s youngest child, Charles, spent his earliest years in Litchfield, but at 11 he moved to Boston with his father and stepmother. There he attended Boston Latin School and Lawrence Academy before entering Bowdoin College. In 1834 he joined his family in Cincinnati to continue his theological training at Lane Seminary.
Charles was a tall athletic man, a natural scholar and gifted in languages, but his first love was music. He played the violin and organ and tried to support himself as a musician, giving lessons, playing in churches, and writing articles on music theory.
In 1838, Charles moved to New Orleans and supplemented his income as a church organist by collecting fees for a counting house. His years in New Orleans, and the letters he wrote home, provided first-hand accounts of slavery that sister Harriet Beecher Stowe later incorporated in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
In 1840 Charles married Sarah Coffin of Massachusetts. Charles and Sarah returned north in 1841 and joined his brother Henry Ward Beecher in Indianapolis where he ran the music program for Henry’s church, Henry’s sermons helped inspire Charles to become a minister. Charles brought his passion for music to his sermons and was immediately popular with the congregation. In 1844 he was installed as pastor of the Second Presbyterian church in Fort Wayne, IN. Charles also served as minister of churches in New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Some of Charles Beecher’s religious beliefs were controversial, and in 1863 while he was in Georgetown, MA, he was tried for heresy. When Charles was found guilty, his Georgetown church split between his supporters and his critics. Charles was asked to remain at the First Congregational Church and was subsequently elected to the Massachusetts General Assembly for 1864. The heresy conviction was later overturned.
Charles kept a journal when he accompanied his famous sister Harriet on her first trip to Great Britain and Europe in 1853. Harriet published Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands in 1854, crediting her brother for his keen observations. Charles was a successful author and his publications included works on the Fugitive Slave Act, theology, Spiritualism, and the autobiography and correspondence of his father, Lyman Beecher. Charles continued to write and publish until late in life.
The 1860s were difficult for Charles and his wife Sarah. In addition to his heresy conviction, their son Frederick was badly wounded at Gettysburg that same summer, two of their daughters, Hattie and Essie drowned in 1867, and Frederick, who had recovered from his war injuries and remained in the army, was killed in 1868 in a battle with the Cheyenne in what is now Colorado.
Weary of the duties of a small town pastor, Charles and Sarah moved to Newport, FL in 1870 where Charles served as Florida’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction for two years.
Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker (1822-1907)
An ardent member of the woman’s suffrage movement, Isabella Holmes Beecher Hooker joined in the cause along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Isabella was the first child of Lyman Beecher and his second wife, Harriet Porter Beecher. Isabella began her education at Catharine Beecher’s Hartford Female Seminary and lived with her sister Mary Perkins. In 1841 she married John Hooker, a descendant of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford. John Hooker was a lawyer and an abolitionist.
In the early 1860s Isabella got involved in the woman’s suffrage movement. Isabella joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as a member of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She was a founding member of the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association. Isabella’s ideas of equality were influenced by John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty and the Subjection of Women.
In 1871, Isabella organized the annual convention of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association in Washington D.C. and presented her argument before the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate. Her husband, John Hooker, believed in his wife and supported her activities. He helped Isabella draft a bill to the Connecticut Legislature giving married women the same property rights as their husbands. The bill passed in 1877. Isabella annually submitted a bill granting women the right to vote, but it did not pass in her lifetime.
Thomas Kinnicut Beecher (1824-1900)
A political and social conservative, unlike most of his siblings, Thomas Kinnicut Beecher was an educator and minister.
From a young age, Thomas Beecher had shown a disinterest in the ministry and an aptitude for natural sciences and education. He graduated from Illinois College, and helped his older brother Henry in his Indiana church for a short time. Like Catharine Beecher, he turned to education as a career. He taught in Philadelphia, and spent two years at Hartford Public High School. In 1850 he married Hartford native Olivia Day, who died in childbirth in 1853. By then Thomas had followed his older brothers and accepted a position at New England Church in Williamsburg, NY.
Thomas also differed from most of his Beecher siblings in being more politically and socially conservative. Up to the beginning of the Civil War he opposed abolition as too radical. He disagreed with the woman’s rights movement that his sister Isabella and brother Henry supported. These views led to his dismissal, and he accepted a call from the Independent Congregational Church in Elmira, NY in 1853. Among his parishioners were the Langdon family, whose daughter Olivia would marry Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Thomas officiated at their wedding at his church, joined by Twain’s friend, Joseph Twitchell. Thomas himself remarried in 1857. His second wife, Julia Jones, was his first wife’s cousin. Julia and Thomas adopted three daughters.
Despite Thomas’ anti-abolition stance there is evidence he participated in the Underground Railroad. He joined the Union army, serving as a chaplain in the 141st New York Volunteers, the same regiment where his brother James was an officer. He disagreed with the expansion of legal rights for women, yet acknowledged his wife’s crucial role in running his parish, and accepted a woman as his own minister after he retired. He was a temperance advocate who showed remarkable compassion to his sister-in-law Anne Beecher’s alcoholism.
Thomas died of a stroke in 1900. He is buried in Elmira, NY.
James Chaplin Beecher (1828-1886)
After serving as a ship’s officer in the East India trade, James Chaplin Beecher became a minister, eventually taking over brother Henry’s Plymouth Church.
James C. Beecher was the youngest child of Lyman and Harriet Porter Beecher. Like his half-sister Harriet, James lost his mother while he was very young. He was raised by Lyman Beecher’s third wife, Lydia Beecher. Less scholarly than his older brothers, James eventually graduated from Dartmouth, then pursued a life at sea. He served on a coaster trading along the eastern U.S. coast, before sailing on a clipper ship for Canton, China. James served five years as a ship’s officer in the East India trade.
James returned from sea and entered Andover Theological Seminary, saying “Oh I shall be a minister. That’s my fate. Father will pray me into it!” While attending Andover he married Anne Morse, a widow with a young child. The couple had no other children. James and Anne left Andover to become missionaries in Canton and Hong Kong. In 1859, Anne Beecher returned from China for what the family euphemistically called health reasons. She appears to have suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. She spent time in sanitariums, and the water cure facility in Elmira, NY, near her brother-in-law Thomas Beecher.
James remained in China until the onset of the Civil War in 1861. He enlisted in the army and served as chaplain of the First Long Island Regiment, then as a lieutenant colonel in the 141st New York Volunteers. He briefly returned to civilian life because of concern over his wife Anne. After her death in 1863, he rejoined the army and was appointed to recruit an African American regiment, the First North Carolina Volunteers. That same year Harriet Beecher Stowe designed the regiment’s banner. The regiment later became the 35th United States Colored Troops and fought at the Battle of Olustee, Florida and Honey Hill, South Carolina.
After the Civil War, James was as pastor at Thomas Beecher’s church in Elmira, NY for nine months. In 1864 he married Frances “Frankie” Johnson, of Guilford, CT. The two opened a school in Jacksonville, FL for newly emancipated people. James and Frankie were married for 21 years and adopted three daughters. In 1867 he became pastor of the Congregational Church in Owego, NY, and later moved to Poughkeepsie. James purchased land in Ulster County to build a home for his family and to preach to the farmers of upstate New York.
In 1881 Henry Ward Beecher asked James to take over Plymouth Church. James reluctantly agreed, as he preferred a more rural life. He soon suffered what may have been a nervous breakdown and eventually went to Dr. Gleason’s water cure sanitarium in Elmira, NY, where his first wife had sought help. While in Elmira, James took his own life.
Harriet Beecher married Calvin E. Stowe (1802-1886) in 1836 in Cincinnati. Calvin was a respected scholar and theologian who taught at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati and later at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, and Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, MA. Calvin’s Origin and History of the Books of the Bible was published in 1867. He encouraged his wife’s writing career, telling her she “must be a literary woman.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe and Calvin Stowe had seven children. Only three survived them.
Harriet Beecher (1836-1907) and Eliza Tyler (1836-1912)
Twins Hattie and Eliza were the oldest Stowe children. Lively Hattie was often her mother’s travel companion; the more reserved Eliza preferred to remain at home. Both daughters were well read and enjoyed political and intellectual discussion. Neither married; they lived with their parents, serving as correspondents and assistants for their mother, managing the family households and later taking care of their aging parents. After their parents died, the sisters moved to Simsbury, CT near their brother Charles.
Henry Ellis (1838-1857)
Stowe called Henry “the lamb of my flock.” At 18, Henry traveled to Britain and Europe with his mother and family. Henry died at 19, in a swimming accident near Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. Stowe’ grief at his death caused a crisis of faith and spurred her to write The Minister’s Wooing.
Frederick William (1840-1870?)
Frederick was “a smart bright lively boy – full of all manner
of fun & mischief, fond of reading more than of hard study,” according to his mother.
Fred attended Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, MA and Harvard Medical School. He left school to enlist in the army for the Civil War. Fred was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg (1863), but re-enlisted and fought through 1864.
He and his family struggled unsuccessfully with his alcohol addiction. Fred went to California in 1870 and disappeared. Historians believe he died shortly after his arrival.
Fred was the inspiration for the character Tom Bolton in Stowe’s My Wife and I and We and Our Neighbors. Stowe insightfully describes alcoholism as an illness, at a time when most people believed it was a moral failure.
Georgiana May (1843-1890)
The Stowe’s youngest daughter Georgie was mischievous, lively, and artistic.
In 1865, she married the Rev. Henry Freeman Allen, an Episcopal priest. The couple’s only child, Freeman, was the Stowes’ first grandchild. Harriet and Calvin relished their roles as grandparents and often visited the Allens in Stockbridge, Amherst, and later Boston, MA. As an adult, Dr. Freeman Allen served as an army surgeon in the Spanish-American War and later specialized in anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital.
As an adult, Georgie became addicted to morphine first given to her as a painkiller after the birth of her son. She died of septicemia in Boston at age 47.
Samuel Charles (1848-1849)
Harriet called her toddler Charley, “my sunshine child.” Charley died when he was 18 months during a Cincinnati cholera epidemic. Stowe was devastated. She said later her grief helped her empathize with enslaved families separated at the auction block. Her grief at Charley’s death fueled her descriptions of children and families in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Charles Edward (1850-1934)
The Stowes’ youngest son was rambunctious and gave his parents trouble. He ran away from school at 13 to become a sailor, but the Stowes found him before the ship set sail. His mother used his antics as a model for her story Our Charley.
Charles Stowe was ordained as a minister in 1878. He married Susan Monroe (1853-1918) and had three children. The young family lived at his parents’ Hartford home for a short time in 1883. From the mid 1880s until the late 1890s he was minister of the Simsbury, CT Congregational Church. Charles wrote a biography of his mother, The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, in 1889. Later editions were co-authored by his son Lyman.