13 Feb 2007

Pardee Butler: A Stone-Campbell John Brown

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Church, Church History, Contemporary Ethics, Ministry, Pardee Butler, Preaching, Race Relations, Restoration History

Pardee Butler (1816-1888) is not a name often introduced to new students of the Stone-Campbell Movement. His name is not even mentioned in Earl West’s encyclopedic Search for the Ancient Order. He is overlooked by James North’s Union in Truth. He did not make the cut for Richard Hughes Reviving the Ancient Faith. His name appears James DeForest Murch’s Christians Only. We get a better introduction to Butler in Leroy Garrett’s Stone-Campbell Movement and David Edwin Harrell’s Quest for a Christian America. Harrell has also published a very informative article in the Kansas Historical Quarterly 34.4 (1968), 386-408. There is a very, very, brief article on PB in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement by Robert Rea (p. 104) but does not mention Harrell’s essay. But for students who are often wondering what “use” is their history then including men like Butler is a step forward.

Butler’s story is fascinating and even inspiring. His family was early converts to the reforming ways of Alexander Campbell. Pardee himself was baptized in 1835 and he desired to preach. He hoped to attend Bethany College but was never able to afford formal education. Thus he spent his time herding sheep and literally memorizing the New Testament.
Pardee Butler probably never knew what God had in store for him. In 1855 he moved to Kansas to evangelize and to vote with his body against the “sin of slavery.” He started the first Stone-Campbell congregation in Mt.Pleasant.
Shortly after his arrival in Kansas life became rough for Butler. During his ministry he was mobbed twice. He was tarred and feathered (actually “cottoned”). And he was “rafted.” Pardee had objected to an editorial in the Squatter Sovereign in Atchison. The next night a group of 30 to 40 men presented him with a series of pro-slavery resolutions and demanded that he cease his anti-slavery sermons. He was accosted and threatened with various punishments, including hanging. When Butler refused to be intimidated the mob deliberated and decided that he would be rafted. Two cottonwood logs were fastened together, Butler was placed aboard this craft in the middle of the Missouri river. A huge “R” was painted on his forehead to signify that he was a rogue. His vessel was commissioned with a flag which portrayed Butler as a “nigger thief” on a galloping horse with a black lady on behind. The flag read: “Eastern Aid Express Rev. Mr. Butler agent for the underground Railroad. Greely to the Rescue I have a nigger.” Butler’s response to these men as they towed him away from the bank was “Gentlemen, if I am drowned I forgive you; but I have this to say to you: If you are not ashamed of your part in this transaction, I am not ashamed of mine. Good-by.”
News of Butler’s rafting quickly spread throughout the “west.” But things could have been worse for Pardee. Kelly a newspaper man for Atchison wrote of the event “We have just finished ‘tar and feathering’ the Rev. Pardee Butler … He escaped hanging by only one vote. Butler, you know, is a rank abolitionist, and was promised this treatment should he visit our town. In the event of his return, he will be hung.”
Butler was not deterred by mob violence. He continued to preach in Kansas especially Acts 10 where God taught it was wrong to regard any human as “unclean.” In 1858 he sought support from the American Christian Missionary Society of which Isaac Errett was secretary. Errett was anti-slavery in word but not deed. He placed a stipulation on support for Butler that he could not “agitate” against slavery because it would cause trouble in the Southern churches. Errett wrote “As an anti-slavery man, I sympathize much with you. I share your feelings, but in the missionary work I know nothing of slavery or anti-slavery.”
Pardee Butler was enraged by ACMS’s position. He replied that the brethren in Kansas had made no stipulation on him. Further he insisted that “this matter of slavery is a Bible question – a question of justice between man and man – of mercy and humanity. For myself, I will be no party, now or hereafter, to such an arrangement as that contemplated in your letter.”
Ben Franklin, legendary editor of the American Christian Review, joined Errett’s attempt to stymie Butler. Franklin thought Butler and other abolitionists were extremists and divisive. Franklin thought he could silence Butler by refusing to publish his reports in ACR and even publicly calling him down. But the man who refused to back down to the mob in Kansas refused to be intimidated by the powerful Editor Bishop. He wrote a booklet called Reply of Elder Pardee Butler to Attacks by Elder Isaac Errett and Benj. Franklin in Recent Numbers of the American Christian Review. His accusers had claimed he was not preaching the gospel. He responded by saying they were compromising moral right for economic convenience and he asked “what is the gospel.”
To this he answered:
What is the gospel? … ‘Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.’ Is the slave traffic in harmony with this law of love? Now, Brother Franklin, the point is not that you and I differ in our answer to a question of Christian morality, but it is that you dare not answer at all. If you affirm, you lose your popularity in the North; if you deny, you lose your popularity in the South. You, therefore, very prudently say let no answer be given.”

Butler, the Stone-Campbell John Brown, continues, sounding like a 19th century Amos,

“I would not make this ‘Reformation of the nineteenth century’ a withered and blasted trunk, scattered by the lightnings [sic] of heaven, because it took part with the rich and powerful against the poor and the oppressed.”

Butler continued to work for the gospel of the kingdom in Kansas for another thirty years. He baptized. He challenged. He set the captives free. He was mocked. He was attacked. He bore on his body the marks of Jesus. And if his own fellowship did not celebrate him, others did. At his death the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church wrote: “I am moved to lay a wreath of tribute upon the grave of an old hero. He was a man of most invincible courage … Here lies one who never feared the face of man. Mr. Butler was a John Knox sort of man.”

We need stories like Pardee Butler’s. We need to know that “we” as a people have heroes who can inspire us to face the anti-kingdom forces of this world with faith. Oh, how I wish I would have learned of Pardee Butler in my college days. He is an Amos. He is a hero. I am proud to have such a man in my family tree. Father, may you raise up others with like Brother Butler to lead the way toward your kingdom.
P.S. One of my prized possessions is The Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler With Reminiscences by His Daughter, Mrs Rosetta B. Hastings, and Additional Chapters by Eld. John Boggs and Eld. J.B. McCleery (1889). And the picture at the top of this post is the actual flag used when Butler was “rafted.”

17 Responses to “Pardee Butler: A Stone-Campbell John Brown”

  1. Joel Solliday Says:

    This is excellent. I love stories that recover heroes from obscurity. They are a bit of a taste of heaven aren’t they?

  2. Greg Says:

    Very interesting … and challenging. Thanks for sharing it. I don’t read a lot of restoration history (I have read Garrett and Hughes and a couple of other books to have at least some exposure to it), but I always find what you’ve written to be interesting.

  3. MommyHAM Says:

    It’s people like Pardee Butler that make me proud of the name outside my church; knowing that men such as him have been foundational.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ben Overby Says:


    What a story! Thanks for taking the time to get that down in writing.


  5. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby – Great post — these “modern day” heroes who have the faith to put their lives on the line to proclaim Jesus are inspiring — and make me realize how limitied my own faith can be at times. Pardee Butler seems to be a good example of one who had love, wisdomand courage as described in the quote from Ammon Hennacy (Catholic activist, 1893-1970)(see Larry James post a few days ago)

    God Bless
    p.s. -15F and sunny here this a.m. Milwaukee is likely getting parts of a big snow storm hitting Chicago – The desert is appealing to-day.

  6. ses Says:

    This gets my day off to a good start.

  7. John Roberts Says:

    Butler’s name is familiar (I love Rest. Hist.) but only as a footnote. Thanks for making him come to life. Inspiring and humbling.

  8. Raymond Perkins Says:

    A very good summary of Bro. Butler’s life. As a historian, and a member of the Stone-Campbell Movement, it is my opinion, and encouragement to you, that his is a story that ought to written and published. He was indeed a bold voice of God crying out in the wilderness. I find especially interesting Isaac Errett’s comment concerning the agitation of southern churches. The Stone-Campbell Movement as a whole would benefit greatly from the knowledge that sectional issues were more of a factor in the division of our movement than instrumental music and a missionary society.

    • Al Price Says:

      Your last sentence is obviously correct. Yet we hear virtually nothing about it. Even the compliments say nothing about the issue that brought Pardee Butler such grief. Even to this day, we are still reluctant to use the word slavery or to acknowledge that it was his opposition to this immoral institution that brought havoc to his life. Or the role it played in the division.

  9. Vonnie Says:

    Thank you for that story. I am looking forward to more stories like this one.

  10. Orange Grover Says:

    Thanks for sharing a really neat story–especialy this particular month!

  11. Joel Solliday Says:

    Butler’s story can inspire us all. And what are the great moral needs of our day? We still have work to do in fostering racial reconciliation and we also have tons of work to do as those called to higher levels of moral courage in speaking out for the biblical definition and model of marriage (‘male and female,” Matthew 19:4-6) and for the sacredness of human life. These days it takes courage to preach biblically against the rising tide of deadly sexual chaos.

  12. Carisse Says:

    Bobby, where did you get the image of the raft flag? That’s amazing.

  13. deckman Says:

    I am an “old Disciple” planing on giving the opening of the North-East Disciples of Christ district in Kansas. I will portray Pardee Butler. I even look a little like him, I have been told. This material and others I have found on the web, are invaluable for both my portrayal and for my knowledge of our churches early leaders.

    Thanks much.

    PS the original flag is in the Kansas Historical Museum in Topeka Kansas.

  14. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    Thanks Bobby. I haven’t visited your blog enough lately. Truly inspiring post!

  15. JT Says:

    Yes, I am commenting on a very old blog that you posted in February 2007!!!! That’s because I’m new here. And, because I started from the most recent, then decided to go to the beginning, so I’m exposing myself to some “ancient” writings. 😉
    Pardee Butler is now yet one more of my hero’s from our past. Such resolve the man displayed! If only men of today could muster such a “righteous resolve”! Not with respect to IM, “women”, baptism, ad nausea, but for the sake of the “weightier matters” of love of “neighbor”, tending to the needs of the poor, the neglected, the smelly, the vile, the ones in the gutters. Thanks Bobby for this contribution from 15 years ago. Maybe my comment here and now will alert someone who, like me, was completely unaware of such one in our fellowship history.

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