Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Schools and American Public Education

Cincinnati Water Front on the Ohio River (1838)
America is no longer as it once was in terms of educating our children. This is more fact than judgment.

Prior to the 1840's, wealthy Americans used private tutors to educate their children, or paid to send their sons and daughters to private schools. Children of the urban poor worked in factories, even as young as five and six years of age, their parents unable to afford their education. Farming families usually sent their children to the fields to work, or in some cases, to neighboring villages to learn skills through apprenticeships. Only children of the privileged received formal education. Abraham Lincoln, born into Kentucky backwoods poverty in 1809, would later describe his lack of formal education as "the short and simple annals of the poor."1

Cincinnati Water Front on the Ohio River (2015)
But during the late 1700's and early 1800's Christians on both sides of the Atlantic grew burdened for the uneducated children of the poor.

Robert Raikes, a Christian businessman in Gloucester, England, started "schools on Sunday" in July of 1780 to help educate the children who spent twelve hours a day, six days a week, in the factories of Gloucester, England.  The story of how God led Raikes to start Sunday Schools is inspirational on many fronts.  "We'll teach the kids to read and write part of the day and teach them the Bible for the rest of the day," Raikes pledged.  After three years of success, Raikes published a series of articles in the Gloucester Journal on the success of Sunday Schools in transforming the character of an entire community,

The enthusiasm for the Sunday School system of education quickly spread across the Atlantic. For the first one hundred years of our American republic, children of the poor learned to read, memorized the Bible, and studied history from a Christian world view in Sunday Schools. Not many Americans realize that the great forefathers of our country who rose up from poverty, men like Abraham Lincoln, received their only education through effective Sunday Schools. I still believe the two greatest political speeches ever given by a United States politician were Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, both written by Lincoln himself. Read those speeches and marvel at the education given to the poor through Sunday School.

The American Sunday School Union

During the early 1800's American population rapidly expanded westward toward the Mississippi River Valley.  By 1830 an estimated four million Americans lived on the western frontier of the Mississippi Valley. However, these western pioneers had very little access to the books used as curriculum for American Sunday Schools in the east. In 1830, the American Sunday School Union (Philadelphia) sent out a plea to England for help in establishing "a Sunday school in every destitute place where it is practicable, throughout the Valley of the Mississippi."

My maternal grandfather (3x), Charles Tinsley Cherry, answered the call and became one of the Sunday School missionaries sent from England to the United States to help fulfill the Mississippi Valley Emphasis.

Shoreditch Church, London 1830
Charles was a product of Sunday Schools himself. Born to a poor family in Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire in 1801, Charles attended the Sunday School sponsored by his Anglican parish throughout his childhood. He moved to London in his early twenties, and on December 26, 1824, he married Mary Foreman at Shoreditch Church in London. Anglican curate Robert Crosby performed the marriage ceremony. For the next five years, Charles and Mary Cherry volunteered their time at Shoreditch Church, their home parish, instructing the poor children of London in Sunday School.

The couple's pastor, Robert Crosby of Shoreditch Church, was known for his ecumenicism and zeal for the gospel. While many Anglican clergymen sought to segregate from other denominations, Crosby allowed the Shoreditch Church building to be used by Methodists and other dissenters for all occasions. Crosby's charitable spirit brought him criticism from some of his fellow Anglican clergy, but his love for reaching the poor put Shoreditch Church at the center of Sunday School missions.2  From the beginning, Sunday Schools were advocated by "Christian laymen of different creeds, aided here and there by clergymen who had the grace to perceive, and the grit and greatness to declare, that Christ's kingdom was larger and more important than anyone or a score of sects into which Protestantism had divided."3 

America's plea to Great Britain for help in establishing Sunday Schools in the pioneer areas of the Mississippi Valley reached the British Sunday School Union during their 1830 preparations for the Jubilee Anniversary (50th) of Sunday Schools. Charles and Mary Cherry responded to that plea, and with funds raised by members of Shoreditch,  Charles, his wife Mary, and their only surviving child, five-year-old Mary Ann, sailed across the Atlantic to the United States in the spring of 1831.

To commemorate the British Sunday School Jubilee and the sending of Sunday School missionaries to America, British poet James Montgomery wrote the following poem, published the year the Cherrys came to America:

For the 1831 Sunday School Jubilee
Love is the theme of saints above;
Love is of God, for God is Love;
With love let every bosom glow: --
Love, stronger than the grasp of Death,
Love that rejoices o'er the grave,
Love to the Author of our breath,
Love to His Son, who came to save; --
Love to the Spirit of all grace,
Love to the Scriptures of all truth,
Love to our whole apostate race,
Love to the aged, love to youth; --
Love to each other -- soul and mind,
And heart and hand, with full accord,
In one sweet covenant combined,
To live and die unto the Lord.
Christ's little flock we then shall feed,
The lambs we in our arms shall bear,
Reclaim the lost, the feeble lead,
And watch o'er all in faith and prayer.
Thus through our isle, on all our bands,
The beauty of the Lord shall be;
And Britain, glory of all lands,
Plant Sabbath schools from sea to sea.

After arriving in America, Charles Cherry received help from Rev. Crosby's brother, who lived in Zanesville, Ohio. With Mr. Crosby's assistance, Charles T. Cherry arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio in the summer of 1831. Charles took the very important position of Western Agent for the American Sunday School Union. Over the course of the next several years, Charles T. Cherry headed the American Sunday School Union's efforts to establish Sunday School's throughout the Mississippi Valley. Charles established the western ASSU office and book depository at 186 Main Street, Cincinnati, Ohio (see above map with red dot), an address that now marks the location of Joe Morgan's statue in the plaza of Cincinnati Red's All-American Ballpark (see picture of ballpark at top of page).

After establishing the western American Sunday School Union's office less than two blocks from the Ohio River, Charles T. Cherry set about recruiting some of the leading businessmen, politicians, and preachers to help him establish Sunday Schools along the Mississippi Valley.

The Mississippi Valley Enterprise

Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1830's was called The Queen City of the West. People from the east desiring to get to St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, would  have to pass through Cincinnati via steamer on the Ohio. Following the Ohio River to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, the steamship would then turn north and go up the Mississippi 160 miles to St. Louis. Traveling by steamship on riverboats during the 1830's was much faster than going by old fashioned stage coach. Cincinnati was the destination for all those traveling to the Mississippi River Valley from the east.

The ASSU library shipped by Charles Cherry to pioneer schools
Charles T. Cherry built wooden bookcases at his American Sunday School office on the riverfront in Cincinnati. He then filled those bookcases with 121 specifically chosen books, and shipped them down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River Valley to pioneer school districts, families, or churches. The individual books in the libraries had uniform bindings, and each volume was numbered to correspond with its number in the American Sunday School Union catalogue:  C. S. L. stood for common school library; P. S. L. for public school library, F. L. stood for family library, and C. L. stood for children's library.  The case would be shipped with a lock and key and all the necessary hangings and fastenings. Upon the door would be painted the words SCHOOL LIBRARY, words which the book agent could change upon request.

 On the inside of the door Charles Cherry would paste a catalogue sheet with the entire 121 volumes listed by title and author. Charles  he would also enclose another fifty catalogues which could then be passed out to families in the community where the bookcase was shipped, so that Sunday School teachers could know which individual books in the community library had been checked out.

The library case was placed into a shipping container and packed so that it could be transported safely down river. The entire library was sold for THIRTY-THREE DOLLARS which included shipping. When the book case reached its destination, the entire case would be removed from the shipping container, taken to the building where the Sunday School children would gather, and be suspended from the wall. The books, having been be approved by a  committee of two Baptists, two Episcopalians, two Methodists, and two Presbyterians, would be ready for immediate use and loaned freely to students and their families.

The Men of Cincinnati Who Served on the ASSU Board

As Charles Cherry worked hard to establish new Sunday Schools and to provide curriculum for those living all along the Mississippi Valley, he also began recruiting others to assist him. In January 1836, Charles established the Western Board of Agency for the American Sunday School Union (see picture left). He asked 22 Cincinnati civic leaders to serve on the board, promising to help him raise funds, prepare Sunday School bookcases for shipping, and work on recruiting volunteers to establish and strengthen Sunday Schools up and down the Mississippi Valley.

The men who served with Charles T. Cherry on the Western Board of Agency of the American Sunday School Union reads like a "Who's Who" of early American leaders. The fact that these men were involved in the establishment of Sunday Schools in pioneer areas shows how important early Americans considered the education of children from a Christian world view.

Though each of the twenty-two men listed as officers and members of the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union has a unique story, I would like to highlight just four men and the influence they have on American history.

Salmon Portland Chase (1808 - 1873)

In 1830 Salmon Chase moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became well known as an abolitionist lawyer. He was asked by Charles Cherry to work with the American Sunday School Union, a position which he accepted (see above chart - S.P. Chase). By 1840 Chase had been elected to the Cincinnati City Council, the beginning of what would become a long and illustrious political career.  In 1849 Chase was elected to the U.S Senate from Ohio. During his service in the United States Senate (1849–1855), Chase was an anti-slavery champion. He spoke ably against the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Chase sought the Republican nomination for president in 1860, but lost to Abraham Lincoln. However, Lincoln chose Chase to be his Secretary of Treasury, and so Salmon P. Chase became a member of Lincoln's legendary Team of Rivals Presidential Cabinet.  Chase's Treasury Department created the U.S. Greenback (the American dollar) to fund the Civil War. It was Chase's picture, not George Washington's, that framed the first American dollar bill. After his service as U.S. Secretary Treasurer, Lincoln chose Chase to be the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. One of the largest banks in America today, Chase Bank, is named in his honor. Charles Cherry and Salmon Chase worked closely together in establishing Sunday Schools throughout the Mississippi Valley during the 1830's.

Benjamin Jennings Seward (1793-184)

Benjamin Jennings Seward was the brother of the more well known William Henry Seward (picture left). The Seward brothers were very close, and when William Seward decided to enter New York politics in 1838, he contacted his brother Benjamin (see above chart - B.J. Seward) and asked him to leave Cincinnati, Ohio and return to Westfield, New York to take over the family land business.  Benjamin was eight years older than his brother William, and had worked with Charles Cherry in Cincinnati to establish Sunday Schools all along the Mississippi Valley during the mid-1830's. But when his brother was elected Governor of New York, Benjamin Seward moved from Cincinnati to the Seward farm in upstate New York to take over the family business. William Seward moved to Albany and served effectively as the abolitionist governor of the largest state in the Union. William Seward was the odds on favorite to win the Republican nomination for President in 1860, but like Salmon Chase, lost to Abraham Lincoln, Seward also became part of Lincoln's Team of Rivals Cabinet, being appointed as Lincoln's Secretary of State. It is said that nobody was closer to William Henry Seward than his brother Benjamin Seward and the President, of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, the conspirators targeted William Henry Seward as well, brutally stabbing the Secretary of State and several members of his family. Charles Cherry's close relationship with the Seward family began in the 1830's while living Cincinnati and continued throughout the 1840's and 1850's when Charles T. Cherry also left Cincinnati and moved to New York to become the eastern Agent for the American Sunday School Union in Rochester, New York.

Thomas Brainerd (1804 - 1866)

Thomas served as pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian church in Cincinnati during the 1830's, and was a close personal friend to Lyman Beecher and Albert Barnes. His ancestors were the famous Indian missionaries David and John Brainerd, and Thomas would write The Life of John Brainerd, the Brother of David Brainerd.  Thomas gave up the study of law for theology, and graduated from Andover Seminary in 1831. He served as pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati from, 1831 to 1837 and then pastor of the Pine Street (Third) Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1837 until his death. He was a leader of the New School branch of the Presbyterian Church and distinguished himself for his patriotic ardor and services during the Civil War. He was an excellent writer and published many articles in religious periodicals, served as editor of the Cincinnati Journal, a Presbyterian religious paper (1833 - 1836), Thomas Brainerd and Charles Cherry worked together for four years to establish Sunday Schools along the Mississippi Valley, and their friendship continued throughout the 1840's and 50's, when Thomas lived in Philadelphia and Charles in Rochester, New York.

Edward Deering Mansfield (1801 - 1880)

E.D. Mansfield was born in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated from West Point in 1818, but he declined to enter the army and chose rather to study at Princeton, from which he graduated in 1822. In 1825 he was admitted to the Connecticut bar, but then moved to Cincinnati in 1835 to become professor of constitutional law at Cincinnati College. However, shortly after arriving in Cincinnati, he abandoned the legal profession and took up journalism. He became editor of the Cincinnati Chronicle (1836–49), Atlas (1849–52), and the Railroad Record (1854–72). E.D. Mansfield also wrote and published several books including Political Grammar of the United States (1835); Life of Gen. Winfield Scott (1848); History of the Mexican War (1849); American Education (1851); Memoirs of Daniel Drake (1855); A Popular Life of Ulysses S. Grant (1868) and Personal Memories (1870), an interesting social and political chronicle reaching to the year 1841. While editing the Chronicle and Atlas E.D. introduced many young writers to the public, including Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher Stowe (1811 –  1896)  was an American abolitionist and author. At the age of 21, Harriet Beecher moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 to join her father, who had become the president of Lane Theological Seminary. There, she also joined the Semi-Colon Club, a literary salon and became friends with E.D. Mansfield. Harriett came from a prominent religious family, but is best known for her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). It depicts the harsh life for African Americans under slavery. It reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and Great Britain. It energized anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. She wrote 30 books, including novels, three travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. She was influential for both her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day, and it is said that when Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet, he remarked, "So there's the little lady who started this war." E.D. Mansfield and Harriet Beecher Stowe worked with the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati for the establishment of Sunday Schools along the pioneer areas of the Mississippi Valley.

The above four men and one woman only represent the more than  22 Cincinnati civic leaders who served with Charles T. Cherry on the Western Board of Agency for the American Sunday School Union. All of them were devout in their Christian commitment.

The greatest change in the education of American children may be the declining interest and involvement of civic leaders in the moral and intellectual instruction of children from a Christian world view. Everyone sees the world through mental prism. Educating children from a secular viewpoint without reference to God will reap generations of leaders with broken moral compasses. 

We may be actually reaping what we have sown since the 1870's and the cessation of Sunday Schools in favor of free, public, secular education.


1 William Lee Miller,Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography (New York: Random House/Vintage Books, 2002), p. 17.

2 Melanie Barber and Gabriel Stewell and Stephen Taylor, eds., From the Reformation to the Permissive Society (London: Boydel Press, 2010), p. 309.

3Edwin Wilbur Rice, The Sunday School and the American Sunday School Union, (Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1917), p. 3.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The American Sunday School Union and the Law

Sometimes the charge "antinomian" is leveled at me for my believe that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, and the only righteousness that counts before God comes to us via our faith in Him (Philippians 3:8-9). In my preaching and teaching I emphasize Christ and His fulfillment of the Law for His people. Thus, personal blessings come to us via the obedience of faith, not our obedience to the Law. However, I also believe that national prosperity comes from corporate obedience to a set of laws based on the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments.

This belief of mine is why-- in spite of my conviction that every day is a Sabbath rest in Christ for the believer (see Romans 14:5)--I have a deep admiration for early America and the time when the laws of the land reflected Sunday as a "Sabbath day of rest and worship." Laws were passed to enforce limited commercial transactions on Sunday. Efforts were made to copy the new organization in England called "Sunday School" (est. by Robert Raikes in 1781). Most people don't realize that children did not begin attending schools during the week in England until the year 1870. They were too valuable in the factories. The Sunday Schools became the only means of educating children, both in England and pioneer America. The influence on society was great. In 1736, prior to the establishment of Sunday Schools in London, London's population was 630,000 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses was an astonishing 15,839. By 1835, thirty years after establishing Sunday Schools to instruct London children during the only day they had off from the factories, the population in London had tripled to 1,776,500 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses had decreased three-fold to 5,000. There's merit to Sabbath instruction of the general population.

My maternal great-great grandfather, Charles T. Cherry, was the Agent for the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1830's.  He owned a bookshop where the Cincinnati Reds stadium now stands (186 E. Main), and his job was to build and ship wooden cases filled with 121 books down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for "Sunday Schools" on the western frontier. The book case would be hung in either a pioneer church, home, or in one of the few 'public' frontier schools, and the books inside would be used to teach the children during "Sunday School." The books, designed for children in the 1830's, would make difficult reading for modern college students. They covered all subjects, including ancient and American history, theology and poetry, biographies of great men and women of Europe and America, geography, ancient literature, and more.

Some of the men who served with Charles Cherry on the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati during the 1830's would later become famous. For example, Salmon P. Chase, would go on to become U.S. Treasury Secretary and a member of Abraham Lincoln's famous presidential cabinet. He then served as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Chase, whose picture framed the American dollar bill when it was first issued and whose name to this day graces Chase Bank, was a devout Christian, strong supporter of the American Sunday School Union, and a firm believer that nothing should be done on the Sabbath (Sunday) but worship and rest. Mr. Cherry, Mr. Chase and the other 21 members of the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati published a song that the children memorized and sang on Sundays in their schools:
This day belongs to God alone
He chooses Sunday for his own;
And we must neither work nor play
Upon God's holy Sabbath day.

Tis well to have one day in seven
That we may learn the way to heaven;
Or else we never should have thought
About religion as we ought.

And every Sabbath should be past
As if we knew it were our last;
For what would dying people give
To have one Sabbath more to live.
Other than the first four lines of that song, I could sing this song with gusto! There is something to be said about a nation that sets Sabbath Laws to keep people focused on worship, rest and instruction about "the way to heaven."  Every country must live by law, and there's no greater example of the best laws under which any country should live than the Judeo-Christian 10 Commandments.

However, the problem becomes when modern evangelicals equate personal righteousness with keeping the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath, as our forefathers in America did, was a functional, practical way to govern the land. The Sabbath "Blue Laws" have since been overturned. Our Christian faith is not in jeopardy, but there's a whole bunch of little children out there who may never know the way to heaven.