Reverend Joseph Badger, Faith, Navigation, and Temperance Pioneer

by Kathy Warnes

Reverend Joseph Badger kept his faith firmly in his heart and whiskey firmly away from his lips, but he did bend his Temperance principles a little for some of his thirsty parishioners. Local histories also list some other firsts for him.  He was the first missionary of the Ohio Western Reserve and the first to take his boat from Lake Erie to the mouth of the Ashtabula River and navigate it.

Born into stalwart New England Puritan stock on  February 28,1757, Joseph Badger moved with his family to Partridgeville , Connecticut in 1766. As the Revolutionary War progressed, Connecticut contributed numerous supplies to the Continental Army, including beef, salt, flour and gunpowder. Connecticut contributed so much to the war that General George Washington named Connecticut “The Provision State.”  Connecticut also contributed Joseph Badger. In February 1775, he joined the company of Captain Nelson Watkins and the regiment of Colonel Patterson, stationed at Litchfield, Point.

After active and faithful Army service, Joseph Badger married and went to Yale College to study for the ministry. In October 1784, Reverend Badger married Lois Noble in Connecticut, and they eventually had six children:  Henry Langdon; Julia; Lucia; Sarah; Lucius; and Joseph, who died in 1816 and is buried in Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Ashtabula.

  After graduating from Yale College in 1785 at age 28, Reverend Badger studied theology with Reverend Leavenworth in Waterbury, Connecticut, and he received his preaching license in October 1786. He settled as a pastor at Blanford, Massachusetts.

Besides his ardent love of Christ and his strong faith, Reverend Badger held firm views on the leading issues of his day, including American Slavery and Temperance. He opposed slavery as a moral and natural evil, a sin, and he believed that harsh measures and severe condemnations would never convince the slaveholder to surrender the right to own another human being that the Constitution had given him. Reverend Badger was convinced that if mild means and moral arguments wouldn’t convince the slaveholder of the evil of slavery, it must remain until Divine Providence should interfere.

When the subject of Temperance arose, he heartily agreed that excessive drinking of alcohol caused many evils in society and he actively worked to form a Temperance Society. He pledged himself and the Society members to abstain from drinking ardent spirits, and faithfully kept his pledge except in this instance a that local historian recorded.  In 1810, when he was raising his house in Ashtabula, he encountered a problem. The local historian noted that “it took whiskey to get the hale and able-bodied men of the village out to a house raising in those days.” Reverend Badger compromised and gave his helpers light beer.

In his History of Ashtabula County, Solomon Spalding notes that Reverend Badger exchanged land with Nehemiah Hubbard and raised a good garden, some corn, and settled in quite comfortably.

The last Sabbath of 1800, Reverend Badger preached his first sermon in the Western Reserve at Youngstown and immediately began visiting the little settlements and preaching to their inhabitants. Local historian Darrell E. Hamilton wrote that when Reverend Badger arrived at the mouth of the Ashtabula River in 1800, his was the first boat to actually enter the Ashtabula River from Lake Erie, and in order to enter the River he had to get out of the boat and shovel out a channel.

He visited the northern and western settlements of the Western Reserve, and toured the settlements of the Indians on the Maumee River to explore the possibilities of establishing a mission there.  Returning to Hudson in October and later wending his way to Austinburg, he organized a church at Austinburg, consisting of ten male members and six female members on October 24, 1801. This was the first church that a New England minister organized on the Western Reserve and only the second church, with the Youngstown Church being the first, to be organized in this field before 1802. The Youngstown Church was Presbyterian and the church at Austinburg Congregational.

The Trustees of the Connecticut Missionary Society reported on Reverend Badger’s tour, saying that the call for missionaries to the Western Reserve would increase and that another missionary would be sent as soon as a suitable person could be found for the service and two or more missionaries would be kept their permanently. They reported that Reverend Badger visited every settlement and almost every family and all of the schools daily and performing all kinds of ministerial service. He also occasionally went into Pennsylvania where he attended two Presbyteries, preached, and visited families.”

The Connecticut Missionary Society offered Reverend Badger the compensation of seven dollars a week to continue his missionary endeavors and move his family from New England to Ohio. He returned to New England, loaded a wagon with all of the furniture and goods that could be transported. He and his wife and children started for Austinburg, Ohio on February 23, 1802, following the northern route to the Western Reserve. They made their way through dense snow-covered forests, and waded in knee deep snow to hunt and make camp. They chopped the ice in frozen streams and rivers for drinking and washing water.  They felt the jagged icy edges of streams of uncertainty about uprooting their comfortable, settled lives to come to an unsettled country beyond the reach of schools and churches with little money to provide food and clothing.

The Badger family reached Austinburg about the last of April, 1802, and he secured a lot and built a cabin of round logs without a chink and floored only half over with split logs. He partly covered the roof with boards from Austin’s Mill, but built no chimney. He worked and toiled until he had money to buy ample provisions and buy a cow.

When he had finished winterizing his family, Reverend Badger, prepared for another missionary trip through the settlements. This time his path wound through Painesville, Cleveland, Hudson, and then east to the settlements where he had first preached, and then home. He built bridges, cut roads, blazed trees and guided his flock through unexplored country, his being the first wagon west of Buffalo, New York. His salary was seven dollars a week at a time when living expenses were high and he was expected to support himself and his family on this small salary.

In January 1803, the Trustees of the Connecticut Missionary Society voted to reduce his pay to six dollars per week. According to William Kennedy, in The Plan of Union, the Trustees held “a mistaken view of the destitution and trials of missionaries on the Reserve,” providing the rationale for reducing the salaries of the missionaries.”

As he established churches and missions throughout the Western Reserve, Reverend Badger found it increasingly difficult to support his family on his meager salary. Finally, Reverend Badger, by letter and through friends, informed the trustees of the Connecticut Missionary Society that he couldn’t possibly support his family on such a small salary, but the Trustees persisted in their “blind and cruel policy.” He persisted in his labors and underwent difficult trials and hardships until January 1, 1806, when he ceased laboring for the Missionary Society of Connecticut and went to work for the Western Missionary Society at Pittsburgh. Under the patronage of the West Missionary Society at Pittsburgh, Reverend Badger served as a missionary to the Wyandot Indians in the Sandusky region where he toiled faithfully for many years.

In 1810, Reverend Badger established a permanent home for his family in Ashtabula, but he continued to travel his missionary circuit as well as churches nearer home, including preaching at the Kingsville Presbyterian Church on a rotating minister basis. When the War of 1812 broke out, Reverend Badger was appointed chaplain in the Army and spent much of his time in caring for the sick in the Army near Ashtabula. Since his ministerial duties had often taken him through the country in Michigan, General William Henry Harrison chose Reverend Badger to pilot the army through from Ohio to Fort Meigs, which he did well and thoroughly.

During Reverend Badger’s sojourn in Ashtabula, the Missionary Society sent him an invoice of Bibles to be sold to those who were able to pay for them and to give to those that were not able to pay. An Ashtabula woman sent her small boy on horseback with a cheese to purchase a Bible. Reverend Badger weighed the cheese and dedicated that it fell short of the price of the Bible. The boy remounted his horse and then told the minister that he was a mean old fellow. Then the boy put the spurs to the old mare, fearing that the Reverend would produce a couple of she bears to deal with his sass, Elisha fashion. He survived long after Reverend Badger to tell the story.

While on his missionary circuit in Harpersfield, Reverend Badger found himself treed by a bear and remained in the tree all night. The next morning, the bear started off in another direction to hunt his breakfast. Reverend Badger descended from his tree and made his way to his home in Austinburg without a scratch, but somewhat the worse for his night’s lodging.

In 1829, Reverend Badger preached his last sermon in Kingsville in the old Presbyterian Church. After that, he lived in Gustavus for a time, acting as postmaster during his stay. He believed that it was wicked to transport the mail on Sundays and wrote a letter to the Postmaster General, (either William T. Barry or Amos Kendall) instructing him to stop Sunday mail delivery. The Post Master General wrote back, “I cannot stop the mail, but I can you from acting as postmaster.”

Reverend Badger preferred not to be stopped.

Reverend Badger’s wife Lois shared his Christian faith which she had developed since early childhood. Early in life she joined the Christian Church where her father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters were also members, later transferring to the church in Blanford, Massachusetts after her marriage to Joseph Badger, and later to the Austinburg. From Austinburg she transferred to Ashtabula where she finished the days of her earthly pilgrimage.

Lois Badger died on August 4, 1818, just two years after their son Joseph. Her death was a shock, because in. July 1818, she suddenly fell ill and died after a few days of painful sickness. In his tribute to her, Reverend Badger said that his wife endured the ordeals of leaving her beloved friends in Connecticut and moving in 1802 to the almost unbroken wilderness of the Western Reserve.

The grieving minister wrote of his wife that she was “a discrete wife, an affectionate mother, a consistent Christian, beloved as a friend and neighbor. She bore with Christian fortitude and patience the trials we had to encounter. On her devolved, almost exclusively, the task of forming the minds of our children, and storing them with the principles of piety and virtue; and this she performed with unwearied fidelity.”

After Lois Badger died, Reverend Badger married Abigail Ely. In the Winter of 1844, he moved to Perrysburg, still preaching and praising God. He was asked a few hours before his death, if the Savior was still precious to him and he answered in the affirmative. At ten o’clock on Sabbath evening in his 89th year, without a struggle, and with a smile on his lips., he died on April 5, 1846. He is buried in Fort Meigs Cemetery, Perrysburg. His wife Abigail survived him by six months, leaving the Badger children to carry on his legacy.

 In the tradition of their missionary parents,    Reverend Joseph and Lois Badger, their daughters   Lucia and Sarah carried their faith into a second generation. Reverend Badger and his life of missionary diligence established churches and attracted converts in the Western Reserve. Lois Badger’s life and legacy is interwoven with that of her husband. She moved from place to place with him bravely bearing and overcoming frontier hardships while caring for and teaching her children.

  The Ashtabula Telegraph, April 4, 1874, page 3  reported that the Conneaut Reporter contained an extended notice of the death, at Maumee City, in February of 1874, of Mrs. Lucia B. Van Tassel, daughter of the late Reverend Joseph Bader, known to some of the early settlers of Ashtabula, as one its pioneers. She died at age 80 years. She was married to the Reverend Isaac Van Tassel, and like her father began missionary work with her husband among the Ottawa Indians of the Maumee Valley.

Lucia Badger Van Tassel’s  devotion to the Master’s service led her to contribute regularly one tenth of her income for the spread of the truth. They remained at the station 12 years. Her labors at the station were arduous, consisting of teaching and instructing and aiding the Red Man and ministering to his physical and spiritual wants. During her labors among them, as many as 80 embraced Christianity,

Upon leaving the Station, Reverend Van Tassel purchased a homestead in Plainwood County, where the resided until 1848. When Lucia had to depend on herself after Reverend Van Tassel’s death, she attended a medical college in New York State, thoroughly qualified herself, and went to Memphis, Tennessee, where she successfully practiced the healing art for five years.

She possessed great energy. She once rode on horseback from Ashtabula County, Ohio, to Massachusetts. Love for her fellow creatures was the most marked trait in her character. She died as one falling asleep. Her body sleeps beside her aged father in the cemetery at Perrysburg.

Sarah Badger

Sarah Badger, daughter of Reverend Joseph Badger, married Reverend John Hall, who came to Ashtabula in 1809, and whose contributions to the history of the county had helped preserve the early days. She was beloved and respected by all who knew her, and well merited the devotion which her husband ever accorded her.

Reverend Joseph Badger

In the 1880s, the Kingsville Tribune published a series of historical sketches signed by PIONEER. He wrote a sketch about Reverend Joseph Bader, naming him as the first pioneer missionary in the Western Reserve. Reverend Badger graduated from Yale College, and then he served in the Revolutionary War as a common soldier. After he fought in the Battle of Saratoga, the church sent him to minister to the Indians on the Maumee River as well as to the Western Reserve in general.

In 1801, Reverend Badger settled his family in Austinburg, and traveled on horseback through the wilderness of the Western Reserve to and from his Mission on the Maumee. When the War of 1812 broke out, he left the Maumee Mission and settled in Ashtabula where he remained for some years, preaching in the Ashtabula County region of the Western Reserve.

During Reverend Badger’s sojourn in Ashtabula, the Missionary Society sent him an invoice of Bibles to be sold to those who were able to pay for them and to give to those that were not able to pay. An Ashtabula woman sent her small boy on horseback with a cheese to purchase a Bible. Reverend Badger weighed the cheese and dedicated that it fell short of the price of the Bible. The boy remounted his horse and then told the minister that he was a mean old fellow. Then the boy put the spurs to the old mare, fearing that the Reverend would produce a couple of she bears to deal with his sass, Elisha fashion. He survived long after Reverend Badger to tell the story.

While on his missionary circuit in Harpersfield, Reverend Badger found himself treed by a bear and remained in the tree all night. The next morning, the bear started off in another direction to hunt his breakfast. Reverend Badger descended from his tree and made his way to his home in Austinburg without a scratch, but somewhat the worse for his night’s lodging.

In 1829, Reverend Badger preached his last sermon in Kingsville in the old Presbyterian Church. After that, he lived in Gustavus for a time, acting as postmaster during his stay. He believed that it was wicked to transport the mail on Sundays and wrote a letter to the Postmaster General, (either William T. Barry or Amos Kendall) instructing him to stop Sunday mail delivery. The Post Master General wrote back, “I cannot stop the mail, but I can you from acting as postmaster.”

Reverend Badger preferred not to be stopped.

A Church Difficulty

In the 1880s, the Kingsville Tribune published a series of historical sketches signed by PIONEER 

Pioneer wrote a story about a minister by the name of Reverend Phelps, stating that between 60 and 70 years ago, the Presbyterian Church in Kingsville employed Reverend Phelps. According to PIONEER, Reverend Phelps was badly deformed physically and was not quite congenial enough for the liking of some, although he was well qualified for the ministry. Consequently, part of the church with some outsider help, campaigned to dispense with the services of Reverend Phelps. Their actions created quite a commotion, and the congregation and parts of the town took sides, for and against him. Finally, Reverend Phelps left.

Shortly after Reverend Phelps left, an unsigned letter began circulating throughout the church and Kingsville community. In the letter, its author described a dream, stating that he dreamed he had died and went to heaven and soon was invited to go and visit hell. Hell proved to be a large valley surrounded by immense walls with a large throne in the center. The enclosure had only one well-guarded gate, and no one could go out or in unless a primate who sat on the throne granted permission.

A company of cavalry stood before the throne, receiving instructions to go to Kingsville and help fight off Reverend Phelps. About that time, a bugle call sounded, the gate flew open, and a horseman galloped up and presented a letter from Kingsville to the primate. The primate read the letter and turned to the soldiers. He said, “Your services are not required in Kingsville. The job is done. The dung-fork I sent to old Roger Nettleton, Bill Corwin, and Tom Cheney has effectually done the work. Phelps is done. You may disband and hold yourselves ready for the next call.

Time eventually smoothed over the acrimonious feelings, members became united, harmony restored, and all apparently satisfied that the same selfish blood has ceased not run through similar veins.


References

[1] Clipping file. Reverend Joseph Badger. Genealogy and Local History Room, Ashtabula County Public Library.

[2] https://solomonspalding.com/SRP/saga2/1878Ast3.htm

[3] Darrell E. Hamilton.  Ashtabula Star Beacon. Sunday, October 7, 2001.

[4] The Plan of Union or a History of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of the Western Reserve, with Biographical Sketches of the Early Missionaries by William S. Kennedy, author of “Messianic Prophesies. Pentagon Steam Press, 1856.page, 21.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Plan of Union or a History of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of the Western Reserve, with Biographical Sketches of the Early Missionaries by William S. Kennedy, author of “Messianic Prophesies. Pentagon Steam Press, 1856, page, 21.

[7] Pioneer .November 20, 1888.The Kingsville Tribune,.

[8] Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve,” Part I, Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, Editor [published under the auspices of the Women’s Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission, July, 1896], p.p. 17-21:

[9] Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve,” Part I, Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, Editor [published under the auspices of the Women’s Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission, July, 1896], p.p. 17-21: