Who were the Beechers of Litchfield?
Photo from Litchfield Historical Society
Lyman Beecher was born in New Haven on October 12, 1775. Two days later, his mother died and Lyman was adopted by his aunt and uncle Catherine (Lyman) and Lot Benton of Guilford. Despite Lot’s attempts to make Lyman a farmer, he gave up “in despair, and sent him to college as a last resort.” The last resort was Yale and Lyman graduated in 1798 from the Divinity School.
Lyman Beecher became a respected minister, theologian, and social reformer. He outlived two wives and was married three times. From 1800 to 1828 he fathered 13 children, 11 surviving infancy. In 1810, The Beechers moved to Litchfield where Lyman became the minister of the Congregational Church until 1826.
All of the Beecher men became ministers. The family played significant roles in educational reform, abolition, and women’s suffrage. Most notably:
Catharine Esther Beecher founded several women’s educational institutions and was an early adopter of physical education for women. Edward Beecher helped to organize Illinois’ first anti-slavery society. George Beecher was an abolitionist and member of the Anti-Slavery Society. Harriet Elisabeth Beecher Stowe, an abolitionist and author, received international attention for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Initially the book was criticized as propaganda, so Harriet followed up with A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, documenting the facts contained in the original. Henry Ward Beecher, a celebrated Congregationalist preacher, used his position to advocate abolitionism and encouraged his parishioners to buy freedom for slaves at commonly held auctions. Isabella Beecher Hooker founded the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association.
Not all Beechers could attain lofty credentials. William Henry Beecher was described as a poor student who took many jobs and had difficulty keeping them. He was known as William, the Unlucky, and lived a peripatetic life until settling down as a minister.