Reference Entry

Beman, Amos Gerry

Clifton H. Johnson

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Beman, Amos Gerry

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clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received a basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended the Oneida Institute in New York.Beman was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1839. At about this time he married a woman whose name is not known. In 1841 he became the first named African American pastor of Temple Street African Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he remained for seventeen years. Here he gained respect and support throughout the city from both blacks and whites. The church became a center for social, educational, and benevolent activities for the African American community. The Temple Street Church became the Dixwell Avenue Church and in the early twenty-first century was the oldest existing African American Congregational church in the nation.Beman was an avid supporter of temperance throughout his life. His father had organized the Home Temperance Society of Middletown African Americans in 1833, and the younger Beman served as its secretary. He was also a participant in the founding of the Connecticut Temperance Society and served two years as its president. He was a leader in 1842 in effecting a merger of the African American temperance associations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey into the States' Delavan Union Temperance Society of Colored People and was the principal speaker at its convention in 1845. For about a year, in 1842, Beman edited Zion's Wesleyan, a newspaper that provided a voice for temperance, abolition, and other reforms.Beman was an ardent abolitionist and a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society from its founding in 1833. In 1840, with the great schism among antislavery supporters resulting from differences on women's rights, politics, and the role of the churches in the antislavery movement, Beman withdrew from the American Anti-Slavery Society. He then became one of the eight African Americans—his father was another—at the founding convention of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, for which he served as assistant secretary. In great demand as an antislavery speaker, Beman traveled more than five thousand miles between January and August 1856, crisscrossing the Northeast and making trips into Canada and Illinois. In his churches he held regular concerts for the enslaved, which combined protest, agitation, and prayer. Beman also was a frequent contributor to Frederick Douglass's newspapers, the North Star and Frederick Douglass' Paper.Civil and political rights for free African Americans also received Beman's attention and energy. He carried on a long campaign to get suffrage rights in Connecticut, and he was a leader in the Negro Convention Movement. He served as president of the national conventions that met in Buffalo in 1843 and in Philadelphia in 1854 and as vice president of the meeting that met in Rochester in 1853. It was at the Buffalo meeting that Henry Highland Garnet gave his famous address in which he called on the slaves to rise in revolt. Beman stepped down from the chair and spoke for more than an hour against Garnet's address. Beman carried a majority of the convention with him in not endorsing force and violence. However, after John Brown's raid and capture, Beman assisted in a prayer meeting for him at the Siloan Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York.In 1841 Beman was one of the founders and served as the first secretary of the Union Missionary Society, established by African Americans to support antislavery missionary work at home and abroad. When that society joined with other organizations in 1846 to organize the American Missionary Association (AMA), Beman became a supporter and active worker for the new evangelical abolitionist organization.In the winter of 1856–1857 Beman's wife and two of their four children died from typhoid fever. After about a year he remarried, this time to a white woman whose name is not known. As a result he lost favor with his New Haven congregation and submitted his resignation in 1858 to accept a call to the Abyssinian Congregational Church in Portland, Maine. This church was small and poor, although it was the only church serving a community of four hundred African Americans. To supplement the small salary pledged by the church, the AMA commissioned Beman as a city missionary. When the church failed to raise the pledged salary, and he again encountered resentment against his wife, he petitioned the AMA for a full-time commission and received an appointment in 1859 as the association's fundraising agent for New England. That year at a meeting in Brooklyn he was elected president of the Evangelical Association of Colored Ministers of Congregational and Presbyterian Churches.Beman was a hard worker for the AMA, covering a territory from Maine to Sag Harbor, Long Island, and visiting both white and black churches of any denomination that would admit him as an agent of an abolitionist society. He usually prefaced his appeals with lectures on such topics as “The Origin and History of the African Race” and “What the Colored People Can under God Do for Themselves.” Nevertheless his collections were small. Either he resigned or his commission was allowed to expire, and in 1863 he became pastor of a struggling Congregational church in Jamaica, Long Island. There his second wife died. In 1865 he went to be pastor of Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He married again in 1871.Beman died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he was pastor of the Second Congregational Church, which he had helped in establishing a quarter-century before.

Reference Entry.  1113 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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