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Lion of the Forest

Lion of the Forest: James B. Finley, Frontier Reformer

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Lion of the Forest
    Book Description:

    James B. Finley -- circuit rider, missionary, prison reformer, church official -- transformed the Ohio River Valley in the nineteenth century. As a boy he witnessed frontier raids, and as a youth he was known as the "New Market Devil" In adulthood, he traveled the Ohio forests, converting thousands through his thunderous preaching-and he was not abovebringing hecklers under control with his fists.

    Finley criticized the federal government's Indian policy and his racist contemporaries, contributed to the temperance and prison reform movements, and played a key role in the 1844 division of the Methodist Episcopal Church over the slavery issue.

    Making extensive use of letters, diaries, and church and public documents, Charles C. Cole, Jr. details Finley's influence on the moral and religious development of the Ohio River area.

    Cole evaluates Finley's writings and focuses on his ideas. He traces the important changes in Finley's attitudes toward slavery and abolition and provides new insights into his views on politics, economics and religion. For anyone with an interest in early life and religion in the Ohio River Valley, Lion of the Forest supplies a critical but sympathetic portrait of a complex, colorful and controversial figure.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5068-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Kenneth L. Gladish

    The impact of the Ohio River in the context of the larger American story gained widespread public attention as a result of the “Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience” project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities councils of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, with a mix of private and public organizations.

    The Ohio River Valley Series, conceived and published by the University Press of Kentucky, extends the work of the Always a River project through the publication of an ongoing series of books that examine...

  5. Editors’ Preface
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. Author’s Preface
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  7. Chronology of James B. Finley’s Life
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  8. 1 The New Market Devil
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the fall of 1808, at a time when ninety percent of Ohio was covered with trees, two brothers in their mid-twenties set out on their usual hunt. On horseback they followed a narrow trail through the woods near their homes. The one in front carried his gun carelessly on his shoulder. While they were riding through the dense shrubbery, the gun suddenly fired. Feeling an overwhelming burden of suspense, the youth stopped his horse and waited, expecting to hear his brother fall to the ground. After his brother had recovered from the shock, he called out, “Brother James, I...

  9. 2 The Expansion of Methodism in Ohio
    (pp. 14-39)

    The significance of James Finley’s role in the early 1800s is more readily appreciated in the light of the development of Ohio and the expansion of Methodism in the state during this period. Ohio’s rapid population growth after 1787 resulted from the Northwest Ordinance, which provided for an orderly establishment of law and civil rights in the area, the future admission of states on the basis of equality, and the prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude northwest of the Ohio River. It also was speeded by Wayne’s military victories over Indian tribes that resulted in the Treaty of Greenville in...

  10. 3 Encounter with the Wyandots
    (pp. 40-72)

    The Ohio Annual Conference that met in Cincinnati in August 1819 took a significant action in approving the sending of a missionary to the Wyandot Indians at Upper Sandusky. Finley was appointed presiding elder of the Lebanon district, which that year comprised eight circuits including the mission. Seventy dollars was collected for the mission support from the fifty-one preachers attending the conference.¹

    The Wyandot Indians were once a proud and powerful nation. Originally they called themselves Wendats or Ouendats. The name probably means “islanders” or “dwellers on a peninsula.” Their earliest known location in the sixteenth century was on the...

  11. 4 Fight against the Federal Government
    (pp. 73-100)

    Throughout his career, James B. Finley was one of the most outspoken critics of the federal government’s Indian policy. This policy sometimes reflected and at other times was in opposition to prevailing white attitudes on the rapidly moving western frontier. Decades of white-Indian hostility, a tradition of almost constant warfare as settlements moved westward, and a deep-seated fear of attack expressed by many in the Ohio River area ultimately influenced the shaping of government policy. Residents in the West could recall that it was the Wyandots who, during the American Revolution, defeated General Edward Hand’s troops, unsuccessfully attacked Fort Henry,...

  12. 5 Power and Struggle
    (pp. 101-115)

    In 1827, as he turned forty-six years of age, Finley returned to being a full-time presiding elder. Although roads were better then than they had been and towns were increasing in size, the hardships of the traveling preachers continued to be severe. Finley observed the changes around him, regretted the loss of wilderness areas, and sought to adjust to the physical and economic developments he witnessed. After two years on the Lebanon district, he was assigned at the 1829 Annual Conference to the Cincinnati circuit along with Wesley Browning and William B. Christie, an assignment that he considered “anything but...

  13. 6 Crusade for Temperance
    (pp. 116-128)

    No subject received more vitriolic attack from James B. Finley than drinking and drunkenness. His crusade against alcohol consumption lasted his entire career. The fact that when he was a boy his father probably drank too much doubtlessly accounted for some of the intensity of his campaign. His father was deposed by a Kentucky presbytery because of drunkenness in 1795, although the official reason given was for contumacy, preaching after being suspended, and failing to attend his trial. His own church members had initiated the charge of drinking.¹

    James encountered plenty of heavy drinking as a fun-loving youth rollicking in...

  14. 7 A Hero in Spite of Himself
    (pp. 129-161)

    If James B. Finley was well known and respected as an effective church leader in Ohio, after the fateful day in June 1844 when his substitute motion in the general conference led to the division in the Methodist Episcopal Church between North and South over slavery, his fame spread throughout the nation. It must have seemed to him that year as though all his life experiences had prepared him for what he faced in confronting the issue of how to respond to a slaveholding bishop.

    Finley grew up in Kentucky surrounded by his father’s fourteen black slaves. The slaves had...

  15. 8 The Prison Years
    (pp. 162-181)

    On Thursday, April 2, 1846, James B. Finley, not quite sixty-five years old, walked along Spring Street in Columbus toward the Ohio Penitentiary. He was accompanied by his fellow minister, Granville Moody, and Dr. Gard. It was a cool spring morning and the sun must have glistened on the imposing walls that rose twenty-four feet high. He was about to start a new venture in ministerial service.

    He had two official notices of his appointment, made partly because of his health and distance from his family and partly in response to the urgent pleas of the penitentiary’s board. On March...

  16. 9 The Occasional Historian
    (pp. 182-212)

    James Finley had a great interest in history and recognized its importance. He started saving documents and letters early in his career and never stopped. The thirteen hundred letters he saved during his lifetime constitute a valuable resource of early nineteenth-century religious and social history. He encouraged his colleagues to preserve records and keep journals, and he devoted much of his time and energy to writing historical accounts.

    He wrote many articles, some of them in the form of letters to the editor, for periodicals such as theWestern Christian Advocate, Methodist Magazine, andLadies Repository and Gatherings of the...

  17. 10 The Last Years
    (pp. 213-219)

    Finley’s last years were spent in Eaton, the site of Fort St. Clair, which is about as far west as one can go and still remain in Ohio. He still traveled and preached and, on occasion, raised money for special causes, but his circuit riding habits were far behind him. He took pleasure in seeing his eleven grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His wife was still living as was his daughter and her husband, John C. Brooke, a fellow Methodist minister. The evils of slavery and drinking continued to get his attention, but the fires were ebbing, the pace was...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 220-248)
  19. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 249-261)
  20. Index
    (pp. 262-271)