Plymouth Church, Brooklyn New York
Plymouth Church, on Orange Street near Hicks Street in Brooklyn, New York, was built in 1849. According to Noyes L. Thompson's History of Plymouth Church, the plot on which it was built measured 88 feet by 200 feet, and was made up of 7 lots which extended from Orange Street to Cranberry Street and which originally were a part of the Hick's Estate. There were church buildings on this property prior to the erection of Plymouth Church. In the Life and Work of Henry Ward Beecher, by Thomas W. Knox, 1887, page 134, we find this passage:
"A "blessing in disguise was the destruction by fire of the original church buildings in January 1849, as it enabled the society to rebuild on a larger scale......Mr. J.C. Wells, an English church architect, reduced Mr. Day's plan (Mr. Day was one of the committee) to exact proportions, the society adopted it, and May 29, 1849 was the day appointed for the laying of the corner-stone."
The necessity for a church of greater size was no doubt due to the fact that Henry Ward Beecher was the pastor, and that the congregation, due to his oratory, had grown considerably since his arrival on October 10th, 1847. Refering to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 3, 13th Edition, page 639, we find this assumption substantiated. "Eight years later (1847) Beecher accepted a call to the pastorate of Plymouth Church (Congregational) then newly organized in Brooklyn, New York. The situation of the Church, within 5 minutes walk of the chief ferry to New York, the stalwart character of the man who had organized it, and the peculiar eloquence of Beecher, combined to make the pulpit a national platform. The audience room of the church, capable of seating 2000 to 2500 people, frequently contained 500 or 1000 more."
That the pulpit of Plymouth Church was a national platform cannot he denied. Probably the first national recognition it, and Beecher, gained, was due to his sermon regarding the Kansas trouble. Harper, in his Encyclopedia, of the United States Vol. 1, page 304, says "During the Kansas Trouble Henry Ward Beecher declared that for the slave holder of Kansas, the Sharpe Rifle was a greater moral agency than the Bible, and so those rifles became known as 'Beecher's Bibles'."
This however, does not appear to be accepted by other authorities, for in Thompson's History of Plymouth Church, this statement is found, and it appears to be more logical than the explanation of Harper. "Throughout the Kansas Settlement struggle, the right of every 'free state' settler to defend himself and his rights, with arms if necessary, from the 'border ruffians' was vindicated from Plymouth Pulpit. The pastor himself subscribed a sufficient amount for the purchase of a Sharpe's Rifle and a Bible, and the congregation expressed its hearty concurance by a liberal subscription to aid in supplying all settlers with those commodities."
While Beecher may have mentioned a Sharpe Rifle from the pulpit, it is doubtful if that is the make of rifle that he sent in quantity to the settlers, as there are to be found in the basement of Plymouth Church today, many cases of very rusty Mauser Rifles of that period.
During the succeeding years, Plymouth Church was one of the few temples of free thought, opinion or speech. So bitter was the hatred for Abolitionists that at one time it was impossible to find a hall in Brooklyn or in New York wherein Wendell Phillips might speak. Beecher, becoming cognizant of the fact, immediately visited the trustees of the Church in person and obtained permission for Mr. Phillips to speak there. (see Thompson's History of Plymouth Church)
Just prior to the Civil War, in January, 1860, The Rev. Bishop Faulkner invoked Beecher's aid in raising the sum of $900 for the purchase of a little mulatto girl, about ten years of age. Faulkner had brought her from Washington, D.C. with him, and he had obtained the consent of the owner of the slave to make the sale. Knox, in the Life and Work of Henry Ward Beecher, page 158, relates -- "On Sunday February 5th, 1860 she accompanied Mr. Beecher to the church and was placed by his side in the pulpit. Mr. Beecher presented her to the congregation, stated the facts of the case, and asked for a contribution sufficient to effect her purchase.
Among the audience was a lady named Rose Terry who, when the contribution box was passed to her drew a ring from her finger and dropped it in.....The amount contributed that morning, together with a collection taken up in Sunday School was $1000."
A short time later, another slave girl, about twenty years old, was brought into Plymouth Church dressed in white, and after an impassioned plea by Beecher the congregation contributed in Jewelry and cash more than $2000 with which to effect her release.
During this time, many notables attended the services in Plymouth Church, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Thackery and Louis Kossuth being among them.
Beecher remained as pastor of the Church for forty years, from 1847 until 1887, the year of his death.