UU Minute #93

Hosea Ballou, part 1

After George de Benneville, itinerant preacher of universalist ideas, the first generation of those who built the institution and denomination of the Universalist Church in America was headed by John Murray. We come now to the second generation, the leading light of which was Hosea Ballou.

The second generation brought some innovations in Universalist teaching. First-generation leaders like John Murray held that there was no hell -- but there was purgatory: a temporary period of punishment, of duration proportionate to one’s wickedness, before promotion to heaven. John Murray was also trinitarian.

In the second generation, Hosea Ballou preached that there was neither hell nor purgatory: straight to heaven for everyone. Ballou also dropped trinitarianism for a more unitarian conception of God.

Hosea Ballou was born in 1771 on the family farm outside Richmond, New Hampshire -- his parents’ 11th child. His mother, Lydia, died when Hosea was two. With the tools they had, and the stony ground, and the short growing season, only the scantiest of living could be wrung from the land. And on Sundays, his father Maturin “preached without pay in the plain little meetinghouse where the members of his own household provided a large portion of the congregation” (Clinton Scott, These Live Tomorrow).

Hosea was 19 years old before he first went to school. And the only reading matter in the house was a Bible, a dictionary, an almanac, and a religious pamphlet.

Maturin was a strict Calvinist Baptist who preached that God willed eternal damnation for most of the human race. Hosea began to have doubts about that, and to see how those doubts unfolded, catch our next thrilling episode.

NEXT: Caleb Rich

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