Rev. Lewis Bodwell (1827-1894)

Son of: Anson 1801

Lewis Bodwell

In 1855, Louis was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Truxton, New York. A year later he left for Kansas with his brother Sherman. They pushed on to Topeka where Louis established a church, later becoming Superintendent of Missions in Kansas. Louis was present at the Quantrill Raid on Lawrence, Kansas, August 20, 1863. He is mentioned and revered often in Reverend Cordley's "Pioneer Days in Kansas." This is a wonderful little story about the early days in Kansas and chronicles Louis' life and work during this period. For the readers convenience I have excerpted Rev. Cordley's sketch of Louis:

"Louis Bodwell was born in New Haven, Connecticut, September, 1827. He was of genuine Puritan stock, one of his ancestors having been chaplain of the parliamentary committee which treated with Charles I of England, who lost his throne and his head in consequence of Cromwell's victory at Naseby. Those who knew Mr. Bodwell will not hesitate to affirm that he retained all the force and firmness of his Puritan ancestry. At the age of twenty he was converted to Christ, and two years later gave himself to the gospel ministry. He undertook to prepare himself for this work by alternately studying and teaching. His health gave way under the double strain, and he was never able to complete the course he had marked out for himself. But he was an incessant student all his life, and in many lines he was a very thorough scholar. In 1855 he became pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Truxton, New York. A year later, however, the Kansas excitement came to its height, and the question at issue took a profound hold on Mr. Bodwell.

[The family is grateful to Henry Hassell, Amelia, Va. For these photos of the Rev. Lewis Bodwell his wife Elizabeth Ives Bodwell and Lewis’ Topeka, Kansas church]

The Kansas conflict had come to its climax. The Missouri River had been blockaded by the Missourians, and all Free State men coming up on steamboats were turned back. The highways through Missouri were also guarded at every point. But where there is a will there is a way, and in this case there was a tremendous will, and a way was found through Iowa and Nebraska. Mr. Bodwell and his brother Sherman overtook a company of emigrants at Iowa City, and proceeded with them. When they reached Tabor, Iowa, they stopped for several days and rested. On Sunday Mr. Bodwell preached on the village green, from the text: " In your patience possess ye your souls." On Monday they moved on, crossing the Missouri River into Nebraska. Then they turned south, and on the 10th day of October reached the Kansas line. They were met here by the United States marshal and three hundred United States cavalry, and put under arrest. The following day they were marched twenty-seven miles under a strong military guard. The next day, October 12th, was Sunday, and they were marched fifteen miles to Straight Creek, where they encamped. There in the evening by the camp-fire, Mr. Bodwell, a "prisoner of the Lord," like Paul, preached to his fellow prisoners his first sermon in Kansas. His text was " Lo, I am with you alway." The sermon has not been handed down to us, but it would be safe to venture the assertion that it had the Puritanic ring. No painting has been made of that " night scene" on Straight Creek. They were making material for the historian and scenes for the painter; but it has often been noticed that the historian and the painter seldom happen around on such occasions.

On Monday they moved on, still under guard, and on Tuesday they reached the ferry over the Kansas River near Topeka. Here Governor Geary met them, and becoming satisfied in regard to their peaceable intentions, released them from custody, and let them go their several ways.

Mr. Bodwell pushed on to Topeka, and on October 26 he preached his first sermon in his new " parish." He had an audience of about thirty, sitting on boxes and slab benches in "Constitution Hall." November 1 he gave the "Preparatory Lecture " in the same hall to three hearers, increased to six before the close of the service. The next Sunday headministered the communion, the first time it had been administered in the State capital. Ofthe nine members of his church, two were absent from the territory; one was lying very ill; two were in prison at Lecompton; and three only were present. But there were others who joined with them, strangers and members of other churches. "They had a very precious season," the record says. Mr. Bodwell was one of those unique characters who leave their mark wherever they go. He was full of vigor and energy, and true as steel to his principles and friends. He was a stalwart of the stalwarts, a radical of the radicals, yet clear in judgment and safe in counsel. He was ready for an emergency, and " brave as any soldier bearded like a pard." yet he was gentle as a woman, full of tender sympathies and quick to respond to any call of need or sorrow. He could be in more places in a given time, and push more things along, than almost any man I over saw. He worked with an energy that never flagged, and with an enthusiasm that never cooled. He never flinched from any responsibility. If there was a bold thing that ought to be said, he said it. If there was a daring thing that ought to be done, he did it. When John Brown led his last company of slaves toward the North Star, Mr. Bodwell was one of the few who volunteered to see him safely over the Nebraska line. Whenever men were needed for defense, he was among the first to mount his pony and hasten to the post of danger.

I can give a pen picture of Mr. Bodwell as he appeared about this time. It was my goodfortune to be along in December, 1857, when the Free State tribes gathered for the first time at Lecompton. They came to take possession of that stronghold of border ruffianism; they came prepared for emergencies; they came in squads and companies; they came from all quarters. From the west came the Topeka company, and with them Brother Bodwell. He was riding his faithful pony " Major," whom all old Kansas ministers will remember almost as well as they do Brother Bodwell himself. I did not see his Bible, but if you had searched him, I have no doubt you would have found, in his right-hand coat-pocket, a well thumbed Greek Testament, which he always carried with him, and used in leisure moments. He was wont to lament that he had not been able to complete his college course, but no man in the Kansas ministry was as familiar with the Greek Testament as he was.

Mr. Bodwell was twice pastor of the Topeka Church, his two pastorates being separated by some several years of service as Superintendent of Missions for Kansas. His first pastorate extended from the forming of the church until about 1861, and involved the various and manifold labors which a new enterprise on the frontier always involves, and to which Mr. Bodwell devoted himself with rare fidelity. Besides preaching, holding prayer-meetings, visiting the sick, and burying the dead, he took a vigorous hold of the work of church erection. He was collector and treasurer, architect, " boss carpenter," head mason and laborer; in the woods cutting and hauling timber, in the quarry getting out stone,at the kiln hauling lime, at the building superintending the work, around the parish collecting subscriptions, at the East raising funds, his labors were as various and apparently conflicting as often falls to the lot of man. Twice he saw the walls of the church blown down, and twice he rallied his people to rebuild them. In 1860 he resigned his pastorate and accepted the agency of the American Home Missionary Society. After several years in this service he was recalled to the pastorate of the church at Topeka, in which he continued until the health of his family compelled him to resign."

Lewis died at Clifton Springs, Ny, in 1894 having been chaplain of the Clifton Springs Sanatorium for more than 25 years. ("In Memorium Rev. Lewis Bodwell", book published by C.S.N.Y. Press)

Washburn College.--This institution was incorporated on the 6th of February, 1865, under the name of "Lincoln College." In the fall of the same year a stone building for the use of the preparatory department was completed on the southeast corner of the capitol square. The buildings had recitation rooms sufficiently commodious for 150 students, and the first term of the college opened January, 1866, with five teachers and about thirty pupils. The number of students the first year was ninety-two. Trustees,--Lewis Bodwell, president; S. D. Storrs, J. D. Liggett, Ira H. Smith, Richard Cordley, Harrison Hannahs, John Ritchie, H. D. Rice, William E. Bowker, J. W. Fox, H. W. Farnsworth. William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas.



8 Sep 1827

4 Apr 1892

New Haven, Ct

Clifton Springs, Ny

See"Pioneer Days in Kansas", Cordley


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