On a whim I googled the name, John Chase Lord, a name from a list of early graduates found in the Granite Monthly, A New Hampshire Magazine 1883. There on the web was a memoir honoring his life written after his death by Order of the Church Session. Along with this portrait, I found these words in the chapter, Biographical Sketch, “… at the age of twelve, he entered the Union Academy of Plainfield, N.H., which was founded by his uncle, the Hon. Daniel Kimball.” In another chapter, Memorial Paper, I learned that his mother, Sarah Chase, was a cousin of Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase, both born in Cornish, NH. Sarah, I later discovered, was Hannah Kimball’s youngest sister.
John Chase Lord was born in Washington, NH, on August 9, 1805, to the Rev. John and Sarah Lord. They moved to Burlington in Otsego County, New York, when he was five and there he attended the “common school” before entering Union Academy. He is listed as one of 40 male graduates (along with five ladies who attended) of the class of 1819 although he could only have been 14 years old when he graduated. From here, Lord went to Madison Academy, in, I believe, New York State, and at the age of 17 he entered Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, and studied there for two years. His biographers wrote that he became tired of the routine of college life and left suddenly with a classmate for Canada where he became editor-in-chief of The Canadian, a newspaper available throughout the provinces. With barely any money in his pockets, he left Canada in 1825 for Buffalo, NY, and found employment in a prominent law office, Love & Tracy. At the same time, in part to improve his finances, he started a school so successful that many of his former students became the prominent men of Buffalo.
Lord married Mary Johnson, the daughter of Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, who later was the first mayor of Buffalo. By 1828 he had been admitted to the Bar, had formed a partnership with Judge Love and held a number of civil and military commissions. He had, “… talent, health, and ambition…. also, in an extraordinary degree a faculty for accumulation, and a stimulating love of property … and the pluck, which … lead to fortune.” However, to the surprise of everyone, in the middle of all his great success, “… he heard the voice which arrested Paul on that journey to Damascus, and obeyed it. From that hour he turned his back on all the allurements of a worldly ambition, for the labors and sacrifices of the ministerial office.” Lord abandoned the law and entered the Auburn Theological Seminary; he graduated in 1833 and was soon ordained. He became a preacher in the Presbyterian Church in Genesco, NY, but left for Buffalo in 1835 when he was called to the newly formed Pearl Street Presbyterian Church. This small, wooden church was replaced a year later by a much grander $30,000 building known as The Central Presbyterian Church. Lord loved books and was quick to share his vast knowledge at a moment’s notice; he became famous for his original thought and was called upon to give lectures from many literary associations in New York and neighboring states; some of his lectures were published in 1851. Hamilton College conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity on him in 1841.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1850, Lord gave his most memorable sermon. It addressed the Fugitive Slave Law that had been enacted on September 18, 1850; it allowed slave owners to arrest and seize fugitive slaves in any State. He had spent some time in the South and his hosts had concealed the horrors of slavery from him and may have influenced his reaction to this law. Lord “had the most intense reverence for ‘the powers that be’” and believed that “the action of civil governments within their appropriate jurisdiction, is final and conclusive upon the citizen.” His sermon was printed and widely distributed; some people believed it “opened the doors for governmental anarchy; that it would authorize a government in making theft, and arson, and murder, legal or obligatory.” People jumped to the wrong conclusions and he was called a Judas, and a Benedict Arnold. “He maintained in that sermon the divine character of government and the duty of the citizen because it was divine, to obey the laws…. By the one side he was accepted as a prophet, by the other as an apostate from the principles of liberty.” The sermon gave him a national reputation, but his beliefs were, in fact, those of a great many highly respected men of the country. President Fillmore responded to Lord’s sermon with the following letter.
Washington, D.C., Jan. 13, 1851
Rev. J.C. Lord,
My Dear Sir: “The cares of state” leave me no time for general reading, and it was not till this evening, that I found leisure to peruse your admirable sermon on the “Higher Law and Fugitive Slave Bill.” I return you my thanks, most cordially and sincerely, for this admirable discourse. You have rendered the nation a great and valuable service, and I am highly gratified to learn, that thousands and tens of thousands have been reprinted in New York, and sent here, and are now being distributed under the franks of members of Congress. It cannot fail to do good. It reaches a class of people of excellent intentions, but somewhat bigoted prejudices, who could be reached in no other way. Again I thank you for the service you have done my country, and am
Lord and all his sympathizers, 10 years later, reversed their conclusions when the South seceded from the Union. “With his reverence for law, he could not but condemn those men of the North, whose zeal had led them into deeds which were unconstitutional and unlawful; but when the roar of the first shot fired on Fort Sumter came to his ears, from that moment his love of law made him a firm supporter of the flag which rebels had sought to tear down. From this position he never wavered.” Lord remained pastor of The Central Presbyterian Church for 38 years. He died on January 21, 1877, a much loved and honored pastor.
Next time: The early Principals of KUA and the challenges they faced.