Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History



Reverend Horace James, Commencement speaker

The Commencement address was given by the Reverend Horace James, A.M., pastor of the First Congregational Church in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The same year, he addressed the Mills Theological Society at the Williams College Commencement, 24 June 1868.

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, James attended Andover and in 1840 graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. Later he was an Honorary Member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

During James' tenure as pastor of the Old South Church in Worcester, MA, he was a staunch abolitionist and supporter of the so-called "Great Liberator", John Brown. On 2 December 1859, James was one of "the officers" of a mass meeting to mourn Brown's hanging, and his was one of four churches that tolled their bells from ten until noon and again at seven in the evening on that day.

James resigned from the Old South to serve as Chaplain of the Worcester County Infantry Regiment (Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers), enlisting on 28 October 1861, and being one of its last officers mustered out on 27 April 1864. It was said James had "Kindness of disposition, strong common sense, great willingness for and capacity for work and clear insight into the character of men were among his predominant characteristics... but in, through and above all, [he] lived to glorify God as a Christian minister."

In May 1863, James was made Superintendent of the Poor in the Department of North Carolina. When the number of runaway slaves exceeded the available housing, James was appointed by General John G. Foster to establish a camp for them on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. James believed that freedmen could eventually support themselves, and hoped the colony could become self-sufficient. He went North to gain support for a "New Social Order in the South", raising $8,000, and to recruit missionaries to educate the colonists and distribute supplies.  However, freedmen who had joined the Union Army continued to send boatloads of women and children to the Island, completely overwhelming the facilities. Smallpox appeared in January 1864, when the population had reached 3,000. James proclaimed the success of the colony, which had provided housing, supplies, and employment for the families of enlisted freedmen, but after the war, the former owners of the Island returned and demanded their property, leaving many freedmen homeless. Eventually the majority were transported to freedmen's colonies on the mainland. Although nothing of the colony remains, it is now a National Historic Site, part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

After the War, worked for the Freedman's Bureau, was an editor and proprietor of The Congregationalist and was ordained pastor of the First Congregational Church in Lowell in 1867. He later served three years at the Pawtucket Congregational Church, resigning in 1870 to become secretary of the American and Foreign Christian Union in New York.

While working at the Freedman's Bureau, James suffered an attack of yellow fever, leading to hemorrhage of the lungs in 1873, which forced him to retire to Hillside Cottage, in Boylston, where he surrounded himself with an "atmosphere of tropical warmth and extreme purity".  There he died 9 June 1875. His comrades testified to

the faithful service he rendered as a comrade in the line of duty, in the camp, the field, the hospital—whose voice, and pen, and arm were ever ready in the cause of loyalty and human rights—whose inspiring presence and cheerful greeting have served to help us bear the discomforts and discouragements incident to army life.

[Wearing the Blue in the Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, by J. Waldo Denny, Worcester: Putnam & Davis, 1879, p. 441-442; It Happened on the Outer Banks, by Molly Perkins Harrison, Morris Book Publishing, 2005, p. 30-37]

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