Baptists and the American Civil War: March 5, 1864

Daniel Sharp Ford

Daniel Sharp Ford

Daniel Sharp Ford (1822-1899) is a Northern Baptist newspaper publisher. Born in Cambridge in a Christian home, as a young man Ford apprenticed in the printers’ trade in Boston, soon becoming a partner in the newly-founded Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Baptist newspaper that becomes a leading voice for American Baptists.

Ford’s publishing enterprises did not stop there. In 1857 the business partners founded the Youth’s Companion, a publication aimed at young Christians. In a matter of time, a falling out between Ford and his partner led to his giving up his part in the Watchman and Reflector while assuming full ownership of Youth’s Companion. From this point forward Ford focused his attention fully and unselfishnessly on the youth periodical (his name never appearing within the publication which bore the imprint of the fictitious “Perry Mason & Co.), while not neglecting other needs within his church and city.

Committed to publishing “entertaining, wholesome and inspiring literature,” Ford inherited 5,000 subscribers and in time grew Youth’s Companion to 500,000 subscribers at its height, in the process obtaining great wealth.

Among the recipients of Ford’s generosity are Boston’s Ruggles Street Baptist Church (founded by Ford), through which the publisher supports many missions and community services programs that collectively impact thousands of lives during his own lifetime, including a health clinic that becomes New England Baptist Hospital.

Ford also provides the funding for a citywide Baptist organization that is formed this day: the Boston Baptist Social Union.

Composed of laymen, the Boston Baptist Social Union is founded as a men’s organization for the “object of counsel and combined work” and for “promoting love among all people.” There is no other organization comparable to it at the time. The promotion of love amidst war is a statement to Ford’s Christian commitment.

During the war years and for decades afterwards, Daniel Sharp Ford invests his wealth throughout the city of Boston. Ella Ford Hartshorn, Ford’s daughter, assists in the publisher’s charity work in the city.

In the middle of Ford’s endeavors to uplift humanity and celebrate democracy is Youth’s Companion. In 1888 the magazine begins a campaign to place an American flag in every school. The flag movement proves quite popular. In an effort to further expand the influence of the program, Ford in 1891 hires a Baptist minister and social gospel advocate by the name of Francis Bellamy to work with Ford’s nephew, James B. Upham, for Youth’s Companion.

In 1892 Upham comes up with the idea of celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas by including a flag salute as a part of official Columbus Day celebrations in America’s public schools. On September 8, 1892–the beginning of the new school year–Youth’s Companion publishes a pledge of allegiance to the American flag written by Bellamy. Bellamy promotes the pledge to a national meeting of school superintendents. The administrators like the idea and create a committee to coordinate the program, electing Bellamy as chair. With the blessing of America’s educators, Bellamy thus leads in the creation and promotion of the program.

Bellamy’s flag day program for America’s schools in the fall of 1892 is structured around a flag raising and his pledge, which reads as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

Bellamy’s pledge makes no reference to God, an extension of his (and that of Ford and Upham) Baptist commitment to the separation of church and state. Not until the 1950s are the words “under God” added to America’s pledge of allegiance in the midst of a communist threat to the West; “under God” becomes a way of positioning America in opposition to the atheism inherent within communist ideology.

Daniel Sharp Ford, successful businessman, also serves as an advocate of the Christian social gospel movement at a time of industrial growth and worker discontent. His vision for future city churches includes benevolent and educational work, as well as an employment bureau. His particular interest is to uplift working class men, a mission of the Boston Baptist Social Union. Upon Ford’s death in 1899 the Union receives a $350,000 endowment from his estate to construct a building for “the betterment of mankind,” especially the working class. The edifice is to be constructed near the center of the city’s business district with goal of helping Christian businessmen to develop “closer personal relations with the working-man.” Ford’s hope is that Christian businessman would be able to turn the tide of worker unrest fomented by common perceptions of business as the enemy of the working class. His endowment is used to construct the Ford Hall Forum, opened in 1908 as the nation’s first free public lecture series, providing adult educational opportunities for the working class for whom Ford was so concerned.

Ford’s faith, generosity and patriotism remains as a legacy to the present day. The city of Boston is an ongoing recipient of Ford’s faith-driven generosity while the Pledge of Allegiance (albeit the 1950s version) is recited nationwide by America’s school children, at sporting events, and on many other occasions.

In 2013 a Boston theater company, Good Company, performed a play honoring the life and contributions of Baptist layman and newspaper publisher Daniel Sharp Ford. Entitled “None But the Best,” it was commissioned by the Boston Baptist Social Union in recognition of the organization’s 150th anniversary, and performed in Ford Hall Forum.

Sources: Mitchell Mannering, “An Unknown Man, Known to Millions: The Lat Daniel Sharp Ford, The Real ‘Perry Mason & Co., Publisher of the “Youth’s Companion,'” The National Magazine, Vol 11 No. 5, February 1900, Boston, pp. 476-477 (link); “Daniel Sharp Ford Dead: Editor and Proprietor of the Youth’s Companion Passes Away in Boston–His Modesty and Ability,” New York Times, December 25, 1899 (link); Ruggles Baptist Church website (link); The Baptist Home Mission Monthly, Volumes 5-6, New York: American Baptist Home Mission Society, p. 75 (link); Boston Baptist Social Union website (link); “Franis Bellamy” (link); “Boston History in Song: ‘None But the Best,'” Edge Boston, October 20, 2013 (link); Arthur S. Meyers, Democracy in the Making: The Open Forum Lecture Movement, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2012, pp. 27-43 (link); Ford Hall Forum website (link); New England Baptist Hospital website (link)