Thomas K. Beecher

Thomas Kinnicut Beecher (10 February 1824 - 14 March 1900) was a Congregationalist preacher and the principal of several schools. As a Congregational minister, his father took the family from Beecher's birthplace of Litchfield, Connecticut, to Boston, Massachusetts, and Cincinnati, Ohio, by 1832.

Thomas Kinnicut Beecher
Thomas Kinnicut Beecher.jpg
Thomas Kinnicut Beecher
Born(1824-02-10)February 10, 1824
DiedMarch 24, 1900(1900-03-24) (aged 76)
OccupationProtestant Clergyman
Union Civil War Chaplain
Spouse(s)Olivia Day (desc.)
Julia Jones
Parent(s)Lyman and Harriet Porter Beecher

After college and some teaching experience, Beecher later settled in Elmira, New York, where he was minister of a Congregational church. His services became popular and he presided over construction at a new church to accommodate the large congregation. Beecher became a close friend of writer Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) and presided at Clemens' marriage to Olivia Langdon. A memorial statue was erected to him in Elmira, where he worked and lived most of his life.

Early life and educationEdit

Thomas K. Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut to Lyman Beecher and his wife Harriet Porter. His father was a minister in the Congregational Church and the family was raised as observing Christians. Thomas Beecher was one of thirteen children, including Henry Ward (who became a noted minister and abolitionist activist), William, Catherine, Edward, Mary, George, Harriet (later known as an anti-slavery activist and author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), Charles, Isabella, and James Beecher. Following Lyman Beecher, their father, Thomas' brother Henry Ward and later Thomas also became ministers.

In 1826 the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Several years later, their father was called to another church and they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832.[1]

From 1836 to 1839 Beecher went to preparatory school in Marietta, Ohio. In 1839 he attended college in Jacksonville, Illinois; he graduated in 1843.[2] He spent a year with his father in Cincinnati and a year with his brother and minister, Henry Ward Beecher, in Indianapolis, studying theology. Beecher worked for a year at the Ohio Medical University, as an aid to the professor of chemistry and pharmacy.

Work as a teacherEdit

Beecher worked formally in several educational institutions. In 1846 he became the principal of the North-East Grammar School in Philadelphia. From 1848 to 1851, he was the head of the High School in Hartford, Connecticut.

Beecher married Olivia Day in 1851; she died two years later.

Thomas Beecher was ordained at age 28, and he began his preaching career in Brooklyn, in the area of Williamsburg. His brother Henry Ward Beecher had a congregation in Brooklyn.

Home on Watercure HillEdit

Beecher moved to Elmira, New York, in 1854 and took residence at the Gleason Sanitarium on Watercure Hill. This was an area of sanitariums established for treatment of tuberculosis (TB), which had no known cure. A combination of rest and good, cold, dry air was considered beneficial. In 1857 a cottage was built for him near the Sanitarium. It was a Victorian home with its own library; it had an artesian well in the basement, where Beecher would take plunge baths.

Professional lifeEdit

After teaching in public schools in other places, in 1854 Beecher moved to Elmira, New York, to preach at a local Congregational church. There he became a close friend to the famous author Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain").

In 1857 Beecher married his second wife, Julia Jones. She was his deceased wife's cousin, and granddaughter of Noah Webster, author of Webster's Dictionary.

Civil WarEdit

"When war broke out, Thomas Beecher worked indefatigably on behalf of the Union cause. He delivered numerous sermons denouncing secession and defending the Union.He also travelled throughout upstate New York to recruit badly needed troops for New York regiments. ...Beecher's joining the 141st New York Regiment in September of 1862—he was mustered in as chaplain on 12 September 1862 and discharged on 10 January 1863—was the culmination of his efforts on behalf of the Union cause."[3]

In 1863 to aid the cause of the Union in the Civil War, which had been underway for two years, Beecher started a regiment with A.S. Diven (the Army depended on wealthier private individuals to recruit men and outfit them with arms, horses, and uniforms), the 107th regiment, which was soon sent to the front. Later, Beecher aided Colonel Hathaway in raising the 141st regiment and would go into the field with them as a chaplain, serving into 1864.

Return to civilian lifeEdit

He sailed to South America due to depleted health in November 1866. He returned 1 May 1867, feeling rejuvenated. Beecher was intimately involved with both teaching and preaching, as was typical of clergy. He also participated in a range of sports when his health was good enough: Baseball, target shooting, battledore (similar to badminton), cycling, cricket, and croquet. Beecher also enjoyed indoor games of euchre and billiards.

In 1870, along with the Rev. Joseph Twichell, he officiated over the marriage of Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain") to Olivia Langdon.[4]


In 1854 Beecher went to the town of Elmira, New York to preach at the Independent Congregational Church. When his services became overcrowded, Beecher held the service at the newly constructed opera house and, weather permitting, at Eldridge Park.

When Beecher arrived, the church was a moderate-sized wooden structure. Now known as Park Church, it is located on the west side of Wisner Park on North Main Street in Elmira. The growing congregation overwhelmed it. After one of his popular services, he asked the congregation if they felt a new church was necessary. Estimates were that a suitable one would cost fifty thousand dollars. The vote was almost unanimous in favor of a new church, and total pledges of about eighty thousand dollars were given toward that goal.

To support its community, the new church also had a facility for social gatherings and events such as banquets and parties, as well a large hall where the children could play. Beecher started a public library at the church, donating his personal collection. The church held two services; one in the morning, the other in the evening. (Beecher also ministered to the prisoners of the Elmira Prison Camp).

Later in life two services conducting two services was too taxing on Beecher's health, and he cancelled the evening service. To provide another forum, Beecher founded a club of male youths, who would meet on Tuesday nights. Beecher would ask them to report on something interesting they observed during the previous week. He also sent his pupils to mechanics, locomotive shops and other places, in order to learn through observation.

During his preaching career in Elmira, Beecher was the head of the Sunday school run by the Park Church. It had about 700 members, ranging in age from five to past fifty. Different classes were led by volunteers.

Death and legacyEdit

Thomas K. Beecher died 14 March 1900, aged 76 years. At his funeral service both a priest and a rabbi spoke. His wife Julia survived him.

  • A statue in Beecher's honor was erected at Wisner Park.
  • T.K. Beecher Elementary School, located in Elmira, was named in his honor.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Beecher Family". Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  2. ^ Wood, William Dustin (1925). "Illinois College at the Half Century". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 18 (1): 213–217. JSTOR 40187260.
  3. ^ Glenn, Myra C. (Winter 1996). "Political Intrigue and Family Conflict During the Civil War: The Beechers of Elmira". Biography. 19 (1). pp. 41–56. JSTOR 23539680.
  4. ^ Emerson, Everett (1985). "Mark Twain's move to Hartford". Mark Twain Journal. 23 (1): 18–20. JSTOR 41641260.


  • Jim Peebles, pastor “Beecher Stories”, Elmira, NY
  • “True to History”, Twin Tiers homes, The Star Gazette, January 27
  • Barbara Cunningham, “The Past Lives”, The Star Gazette
  • The Elmira Gazette, 1873, volume 1 issue 6
  • W.S.B. Mathews, “A Remarkable Personality” (essay)
  • Dorothy Holt, 1951, “Elmira’s First Citizen”
  • Arthur Booth, “Thomas K. Beecher and some personal recollections”
  • “Recollections of Mr. Beecher”, by a former member of the Tuesday night club

External linksEdit