(NOTE: Dr. Bost’s doctoral dissertation at Yale University in 1963 was on "The Reverend John Bachman and the Development of Southern Lutheranism." He served terms as president at both Newberry and Lenoir-Rhyne--the two Lutheran colleges in the Carolinas. Dr. Bost will be a keynote speaker at the John Bachman Symposium at Newberry in April 2006.)
Christmas was approaching, and the streets of Charleston, South Carolina were filled with excited throngs of people. But it was not Christmas shopping or a Christmas parade that had drawn them into the City streets. A special State Convention had just voted unanimously to adopt an Ordinance declaring the union between South Carolina and the United States dissolved, and now the Governor, delegates to the special Convention and members of the Legislature were moving through the streets to Institute Hall where the official signing of the Ordinance of Secession would take place. The crowds cheered the procession on its way, and ladies in the packed galleries of Institute Hall waved their handkerchiefs in exultation as it entered.
The presiding officer called the assembly to order and invited the Reverend John Bachman, seventy year old pastor of Saint John's Lutheran Church, to deliver the invocation. These petitions were part of his prayer. "Grant O God, that this division of the government in our land may, under the influence of thy restraining power, be effected in peace. O gracious Father restrain, we humbly beseech thee, the efforts of our enemies and save us from the perils and evils of war, so that our southern union may not be cemented by the blood of those who once were brethren. But shouldest thou, to whom vengeance belongeth, permit these trials to befall us, we beseech thee O gracious Father to spread thine arm of protection over those who are contending for their liberties, their institutions and their chartered rights on their own soil. When these trials are over then we pray thee give prosperity to our southern land--May the sails of our commerce whiten every sea, may our agriculture and our manufactures be prospered and may the religion of our redeemer restrain the evil passions of men and render us a righteous and a virtuous people--who by their Industry, their temperance, their justice and their religion shall become a name and a praise in the whole earth."
To some it may seem strange that when South Carolina withdrew from the Union, a man who was a Yankee by birth and long considered himself "a Union man" was selected to deliver the prayer at the Secession Convention. The career of John Bachman includes a number of such realized Improbabilities. How often does one encounter a full-time clergyman and religious leader who, at the same time, is a practicing scientist of International renown? Who would expect that a man who never earned a college degree would teach on a college faculty and become the founding father of both a college and a graduate school?
The many facets of Bachman's life reflect not a fragmented personality but a settled and orderly person whose diverse activities were unified by a determined quest for knowledge and a loyalty to the motto he selected for himself, that motto being "Nature, Truth and No Humbug". He saw Nature as an important avenue to knowledge, and his love affair with Nature began quite early. His childhood home was In the picturesque Hudson River valley near Troy, New York, an area that still abounded in birds and wild life at the turn of the nineteenth century. His first tutor in nature studies was a Black, a family slave named George. George knew the nesting habits of birds and how four footed creatures stalked their prey. Decades later Bachman still recalled with gratitude his Black friend with whom he had spent so many happy hours in the out-of-doors.
Experience was also an early teacher. There was that memorable evening when, returning at dusk from a neighbor's house, he observed a small animal on the path ahead of him. The creature would stop, look at him, wait for his approach and then scurry on down the path ahead of him. After several such tantalizing approaches to the animal, the lad resolved to capture the seemingly playful little creature. When again it stopped in the path, the boy sped forward. The animal raised its tail and waited. An eager young hand grabbed the erect tail and there was a brief struggle; then, "Faugh! we are suffocated; our eyes, nose and face, are suddenly bespattered with the most horrible fetid fluid." Thus, John Bachman began to learn about the common American skunk!
The pursuit of knowledge took young Bachman to Philadelphia. A serious student of books, he did not neglect the study of Nature. Philadelphia was an exciting place for one with scientific interests. Here Charles Wilson Peale had established his famed museum containing thousands of preserved insects, stuffed birds and animals. Here John Bartram created his notable garden containing a great variety of indigenous trees. Here Alexander Wilson, the father of American ornithology, was busy capturing and studying birds, a task in which he enlisted the aid of young Bachman. Here world famous men of science like Baron Alexander von Humboldt stopped off to discuss their latest discoveries and theories with the scientific community and provide inspiration for future men of science like John Bachman.
In 1813 John Bachman left the City of Brotherly Love to enter upon his vocation as a Lutheran clergyman. Along with his vocation, he maintained his avocation as a student of Nature. After serving for a year and a half in New York, he moved at the end of 1814 to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was to make his home for the remainder of his life.
In his new environment Bachman found much to excite his scientific curiosity. While he did not claim to be a botanist, he soon familiarized himself with the variety of plants growing in and around Charleston. For example, he carefully collected various specimens of ferns growing in the low country, and when he published his work on ferns in 1834 he could list nearly a thousand varieties. Bachman gave considerable attention to entomology, the collection and study of insects, and was even interested in ichthyology, successfully raising fresh water fish from the ova, but after 1831 his studies were focused more and more on birds and animals. This grew out of the fact that in October 1831, he met the artist and naturalist, John James Audubon. Audubon stopped in Charleston while en route to Florida to paint species of birds with which he was not familiar. On meeting with Bachman, the two formed a friendship that was to be terminated only by death, and two of Bachman's daughters married sons of Audubon. Audubon had found a publisher for his paintings of American birds, and was now intent on discovering as many species as possible for inclusion in his work. Bachman was pleased to be selected as an ally in the project. His keen powers of observation enabled him to warn Audubon against many potential errors in his written descriptions of the birds he painted. Bachman discovered two species that had not been classified previously, the Bachman Sparrow and the elusive Bachman Warbler. He maintained an aviary behind his house on Rutledge Street where for months on end he carefully noted the changes in coloration and plumage of its occupants. In fact, his back yard was a naturalist's delight, for in addition to the usual vegetable garden and poultry pen, there were the special pens that from time to time included such visitors as a porcupine, a wildcat, a bear and an alligator. In addition to the aviary there were cotes for pigeons and a pond for fish and water fowl.
It was in the back yard, too, that he performed one of his notable scientific experiments. No doubt on occasion you have observed a group of buzzards circling in the air and have concluded that there must be a dead animal in the vicinity. How do buzzards detect the presence of the dead animal? Until the time of Audubon and Bachman it was usually assumed that buzzards discovered their prey through an extraordinarily sensitive power of smell, that odors were wafted heavenward from the dead carcass that attracted their attention. Audubon's observations led him to believe they discovered their food with their powerful eyes, and he published his views. Traditional ornithologists took this as proof positive that Audubon was no scientist; that he was merely an artist whose subject matter happened to be birds. How could one discover and demonstrate the means by which the buzzard locates its food? This is the way Bachman set about it. First, at the rear of his garden he built a square frame and attached it to stakes so that the frame was a foot from the ground. Then he placed on the ground within the frame several dead animals and birds along with a wheelbarrow full of leavings from the local slaughter-house. This savory repast was promptly hidden from overhead view by tree branches which were cut and placed on the frame. The sides were open so the air circulated freely over the decaying matter which for twenty-five days attracted the dogs in the neighborhood, but not a single buzzard alighted to partake of the feast or even seemed to notice its presence, even though a number were spotted in the skies overhead during those days. The second step in the experiment was to paint on a canvas a sheep that appeared to have been ripped open. This canvas with the picture turned skyward was then placed on the ground in another section of the garden, a procedure that was repeated more than fifty times. Each time the buzzards would promptly appear, land on the canvas and attempt to devour the picture. Bachman's experiment resolved the disputed question and rescued his friend Audubon from carping critics.
As early as 1840 Audubon and Bachman were discussing the joint preparation of a major study of American quadrupeds. It was decided that Audubon and his sons would provide the illustrations and Bachman the text. Careful scrutiny of animal skins that Audubon and his sons collected in various parts of the country and painstaking review of the writings of other scientists were the prelude to the publication of each volume of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. It was promptly recognized as a major work in its field; Louis Agassiz of Harvard said the work had no equal in all of Europe.
The study of Nature provided one important avenue to knowledge, but It was not the only one. Bachman believed that the God Who created Nature and filled it with so many evidences of his design and will was the essence of Truth, Truth that was to be discovered by probing Nature's secrets, but that was made supremely clear in God's revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. The Truth of revelation as he understood it was to significantly shape the life and career of John Bachman.
We have no detailed record of Bachman's religious development, but we know he was baptized on February 14, 1790, at the Lutheran church in Rhinebeck, New York. We know that as a teenager he received instruction and was confirmed In the Lutheran Church. It is said that he was thinking of the study of law when he picked up his father's copy of Luther's Commentary on Galatians and, on reading the book, decided he must study for the ministry. At the age of twenty-three he appeared before the New York Ministerium to apply for the official credentials of a Lutheran pastor. Called upon to deliver a sermon before that group, he selected as his text Paul's words to the Christians at Rome, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth .... " After a year and a half of serving three small congregations in New York, he suffered an attack of tuberculosis that forced him to take leave of his parish and spend several months in the Caribbean recovering. On returning to the United States he found an invitation awaiting him, an invitation to become pastor of Saint John's Lutheran Church, Charleston.
The congregation had been without a regular pastor for several years when Bachman arrived in January, 1815, and it is said that its membership had dwindled to a few families. The new minister was well received, however, and within six months the vestry was discussing plans for enlarging their modest house of worship. Bachman's second year at the Charleston church was a notable one. There were sixty-four persons who were confirmed that year. It was also the year that the young pastor asked his vestry for permission to begin religious work among the city's blacks. Complete records of Bachman's ministry at Saint John's are not available, but we know that he brought more than 2,500 white persons into the Church through Baptism and more than 2,000 blacks.
Parish responsibilities included leading in worship, catechizing the young, tutoring young man in preparation for ordination and supervising the Sunday School. There were individuals to be counseled, couples to be married, the dead to be buried. Many hours were spent visiting the sick and shut-ins. As the pastor set out to make calls, the back seat of his surrey often would be piled high with flowers and vegetables from his gardens and sometimes freshly killed game as well since he loved the out-of-doors and hunting. These provisions that made his surrey look like that of a street peddler were gifts for the sick and less fortunate.
In addition to his notable work in Charleston, Bachman's dedication to the Truth of revelation involved him in serving the Church at large. Last month the South Carolina Synod of the Lutheran Church in America celebrated its 150th anniversary. God's blessing and the labors of hosts of pastors and laymen down over the years made that celebration possible. But if any one person were to be singled out for special recognition, it would have to be the subject of this address who served continuously as President of Synod during the formative first decade of the 8ynod's life, and who was the most respected, influential and beloved member of that body for the first fifty years of the synod's existence. Under his leadership the South Carolina Synod became a viable organization and an enduring ecclesiastical body.
In Bachman's day, many South Carolina Lutherans saw no particular advantage in membership in a national church body. Bachman's perspective was much broader. He worked patiently to educate and guide his associates until they agreed to unite with the General Synod, a national body that had been created in 1820. In 1835 Bachman represented his Synod at the meeting of the General Synod and that body promptly elected him its President, an office to which he was returned the following year. He continued to play an important role in the life of the General Synod. In 1853 it appeared the organization would be rent asunder by what today might be characterized in popular parlance as a conflict between "liberals" and "conservatives". Most of the member bodies in the General Synod were inclined to stress the similarity of Lutheranism to other Protestant denominations rather than distinctive Lutheran teachings. Now four "conservative" synods had applied for membership, and, if accepted, they would give the "conservatives" a majority in the organization. There were grim predictions that the consideration of these applications for membership would produce a church fight long to be remembered. However, when the delegates assembled in Winchester, Virginia, they really wanted to find a solution to the difficult problem before them, so they elected as their President a man who had served in that office before and who was known to be moderate, conciliatory and respected by all, the Reverend John Bachman. The new synods were accepted as brethren in the faith without sarcasm and without schism. Bachman's understanding of Truth led him to the conviction that confrontation with Truth demands decision on man's part, and this was reflected in his preaching. In 1838 his health broke and he had to take leave of his Charleston flock for a time. In his parting sermon, Bachman noted that those who gathered for worship at Saint John's included many faithful Christians. "But," he said, "there is another class whom I am afraid I have not benefited; moral, just and honorable men, who have heard me from youth to age, and to this day have not taken upon themselves the Christian profession. Oh, my friend! my brother! my child! have I labored and prayed for you in vain? Shall the sun of my life go down and the shadows of evening gather around my last step of existence, and yet find you undecided? .... I beseech you all that this day you close with and accept of the offers of the Gospel. 'Seek then the Lord while he may be found and call upon him whilst he is near.' "
"Nature, Truth, and No Humbug! Humbug, as you know, has to do with deception, pretense, sham. For Bachman, the road to knowledge involved not only observation of Nature and openness to revealed Truth; it also involved unremitting battle against Humbug. Deception, pretense, sham, superstition, ignorance, old wives' tales; these are the foes that must be driven from the field, and the instrument for accomplishing that purpose is education.
Tutoring by clergymen provided Bachman's early education, and tutoring was the method employed also when he studied theology in Philadelphia. One of Bachman's closest personal friends and professional colleagues, Dr. E. L. Hazelius described Bachman as a "graduate of Union College" in New York, but his granddaughter who published his biography thought he attended Williams College in Massachusetts. Neither school has any record of his being enrolled or making tuition payments, so his contacts with colleges must have been fleeting indeed! When Bachman spoke at the laying of the cornerstone for the first building on this campus in 1857, he mentioned those persons who achieve greatness without formal college training. "True, he said, "they did not receive collegiate educations, but they educated themselves. The work was more laborious but they accomplished it. They acquired knowledge by the slow process of study--of thought and self-disciplines." Perhaps the words were autobiographical. At any rate, we know that he had an insatiable desire for learning. As a lad he trapped animals and sold their pelts for a few cents at the general store in a neighboring village, carefully hoarding his pennies until there were enough in hand to buy a book. Any teenager who of his own volition spends hours digesting Luther's Commentary en Galatians clearly has an appetite for learning!
In Charleston Bachman's aversion to Humbug led him to take a strong interest in the school sponsored by the German Friendly Society and in the public schools as they developed. He served many years on the Board of Education. In Europe in 1838, he devoted special attention to educational systems and institutions of higher learning. The following year he was appointed to the Board of Visitors for West Point, the Nation's military academy. When President Barnwell resigned as head of the University of South Carolina in 1841, Bachman was offered that prestigious post, but he was not willing to give up his Nature studies and his responsibilities in the life of the Church. For fourteen years he served as a Trustee of the College of Charleston, but in 1848 he terminated that service and joined the faculty of the College as its first Professor of Natural History. As early as 1843, Bachman called upon South Carolinians to establish an ". . . Agricultural School on the principles of science," but his call was not heeded at the time and nearly fifty years were to pass before Clemson was founded.
Today, there are two institutions of higher learning in South Carolina that owe special recognition to John Bachman. The older of the two is the Lutheran Seminary in Columbia, which enrolled its first students in 1831. The Seminary is a direct outgrowth of Bachman's conviction that well educated clergymen were necessary to the orderly growth of the Church and the improvement of society.
Many of the young men who wished to offer themselves for the ministry of the Church in the first half of the last century had had little opportunity to acquire formal schooling, so, in conjunction with the Seminary which was located in Lexington in the early years, the Church also sponsored an academy. The academy did not attract large numbers of students and the Seminary enrollment also remained small. Some saw the problem as one of location, while others believed the program of the academy must be significantly improved if a larger enrollment was to be anticipated. In 1854 the Synod directed the trustees to arrange for the re-location of the school and for its transformation into ". . . a regular College, with the power of conferring degrees." In December 1856, the State chartered Newberry College, and in January, 1857, the Board of Trustees held its first meeting. Appropriately, the Trustees named as their first Chairman the man whose life was shaped by the motto, "Nature, Truth, and No Humbug!"
The career of John Bachman is Instructive In many ways. Surely life would be richer for each of us if we had his passion for knowledge, If we were more observant of the natural world around us, If we were more open to God's revelation of Himself, and If we were more adamant In insisting that we will, in fact, tolerate "No Humbug!"
Please revisit this Web site at www.johnbachman.org often for updated information about "Nature, God & Social Reform in the Old South: The Life & Work of the Rev. John Bachman."