Elijah Lovejoy Visits Pocahontas, Missouri

Oct 10, 2017

It seems like Almost Yesterday that Elijah Parish Lovejoy visited Apple Creek Presbyterian Church near Pocahontas, Missouri. It was May 22, 1835 when Lovejoy visited the frame church one mile south of Pocahontas.

Lovejoy was born in Albion, Maine in 1802, graduated first in his class at Colby College and came to St. Louis as a school teacher. In 1831 he joined the Presbyterian Church and returned east to study at the Princeton Theological Seminary, returning to St. Louis in 1833 as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of that city.

Between 1834 and 1837 Lovejoy became an ardent opponent of slavery, started a newspaper The St. Louis Observer, and pushed for the immediate abolition of slavery. In 1835 and 1836 he attempted to visit every Presbyterian congregation in the region to urge an end to slavery and which brought him to the church near Pocahontas. At the time the congregation had the highest membership in Missouri.

The church was described by Lovejoy as “deeply embowered in the woods” of northern Cape Girardeau County. But most of the 206 members were Scotch-Irish who had migrated into Missouri from southern states – many with slaves. Lovejoy was sharply critical of those in the congregation who owned slaves, and left the Apple Creek congregation convinced that he had dishonored them, as well as the fathers of the nation.

Criticism of Lovejoy’s abolitionism grew and his newspaper became a target of attacks. His St. Louis office was destroyed and in 1836 he moved across the river to Alton in the free state of Illinois to resume publication, but there on November 27, 1837 his printing press was destroyed and Lovejoy murdered. His violent death and his dedication to freedom made him a national figure; America’s first martyr to the freedom of speech and press.

It seems like almost yesterday…