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The Incredible Story of Ephraim Nute

The Incredible Story of Ephraim Nute

Scandal, Bloodshed and Unitarianism on the American Frontier

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The story of a Civil War era minister who helped shaped the destiny of the Kansas Territory, the outcome of the Abolitionist movement, the inevitability of the Civil War, and the future of the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

Author: Bobbie Groth

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In the spring of 1855, a young Unitarian minister and his brand new flock found themselves in the midst of an undeclared civil war over slavery in the Kansas Territory. Members of Ephraim Nute's church were shot at, scalped, burned out of their homes, impoverished, and imprisoned. Their faith and pacificism were sorely tested. Through it all, Nute nurtured his growing congregation, fought ardently for abolition, helped escaped slaves, and struggled with the American Unitarian Association to secure the financial support he had been promised. His written accounts of the violence in "Bleeding Kansas" rallied abolitionists and the Unitarian denomination. Although he was a household name in his own time and a key figure in the founding of the University of Kansas and the Western Sanitary Commission, which tended to wounded Union soldiers, few today remember him.

Nute comes to life again in his letters and the correspondence of those who knew him. Sometimes funny, sometimes painful, and always poignant, the story of Nute's ministry illuminates what it means to do the work of justice in the face of violent resistance. Nute and his parishioners helped shaped the destiny of the Territory, the outcome of the Abolitionist movement, the inevitability of the Civil War, and the future of the Unitarian Universalist denomination.

Additional resources for this title are available at no charge on the Skinner House Companion Resources page.

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Preface

A Man with a Mission

Bibles and Breechloaders

A Free-State Flock

Cries for Help

High Treason and Legal Marauders

Taken Prisoner and Under Siege

Scandal, Missing Funds and a Sham Election

Deepening Rifts

The Underground Railroad and Harper's Ferry

Civil War

Epilogue

Notes

This is the story of how the Reverend Ephraim Nute Jr., a young, upright Unitarian minister from New England and my great-great-grandfather, attained a national presence in the 1850s as an abolitionist missionary to the Kansas Territory. His life was a dynamic thread in the tapestry of the fledgling Unitarian movement, pioneer emigration, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the soldiers' homes of the Sanitary Commissions, the birth and growth of frontier newspapers, and the origins of higher education in the West.

The years of Nute's active ministry called on Unitarianism's highest moral aspirations and theologies but also revealed turmoil within the American Unitarian Association. While the AUA was forged in the pure values of liberal Christianity, the denomination was divided in its support of abolition. Some of its wealth stemmed from industries that depended on slavery. As a result, Nute was forced to fight for the financial support his denomination had promised him and his church when he set out as a missionary.

By the time of his old age, Ephraim Nute-whose name was a household word in the 1850s and whose adventures had been reported in newspapers all over the United States, Canada, and Europe-was remanded to near obscurity. Despite these obstacles, my family's research, begun for the same reasons any other family explores its genealogy, has turned up substantial writings from Nute's own hands, supported by the writings of contemporaries who knew him. In the correspondence and journals recording Nute's day-to-day life, we find the stuff of legend: a young idealist who was shot at, imprisoned, attacked, and almost lynched as he stood by his parishioners in Kansas. He performed pioneer weddings in cabins with dirt floors. He stood by graves and preached the funeral sermons of family and friends who had been murdered by Border Ruffians. He rode horses across the prairie at night to lead runaway slaves to safety. He opened the foundations of his unfinished church to be used as a fort by men armed to protect the town of Lawrence, Kansas, and their families from attack. Nute's dear friend Edward Everett Hale later wrote of him that he "was a good fighter when the fight was on."

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