It is the 29th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1882.
Today we will tell the story of one man. Frankly, with all the cross-references to church history, American history, and popular culture, any additional context would just get in our way.
Today I am going to introduce you to Endicott Peabody. He is of the Massachusetts Peabodys, one of the elite Boston brahmin families of his day. His father was a founder of the Merchant Bank that is today called J.P. Morgan. His great grandfather was a famed spice trader, and he was related to an early governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Endicott Peabody gave his name to several ancestors such that an internet search for his name comes back with results for generations of different "Endicott Peabodys," some of whom have become quite famous in their own right.
Peabody's great-granddaughter is the actress Kyra Sedgwick. And you know what that means, Endicott Peabody has a Bacon number of two, Sedgwick being married to Kevin Bacon. But this, also, is not the most interesting thing about him.
Peabody was born in 1857 in Massachusetts and spent time in England attending school. He graduated from Cambridge and came back home to work in financing. And then, he had a religious conversion and decided to abandon this family's Unitarianism and embrace an evangelical faith in the Episcopal church. He attended seminary, and later in life would start the Groton school, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in America. It was there that he would become what Time Magazine called "the most famed headmaster of his generation." Franklin Roosevelt attended Groton and became good friends with Peabody. Peabody presided over the marriage between Franklin and Eleanor.
And the relationship with the Franklins was natural as Endicott had been especially good friends with Teddy Roosevelt. He was an usher as a young man in TR's wedding, and the two had a lifelong friendship as they were bound by a love of football and a curious religious fad known as "muscular Christianity."
But all this pales compared to the time he convinced Wyatt Earp to build him the first Protestant church in Arizona, just outside the OK Corral where the famous battle took place in 1881. Here's the story:
During his first year in seminary, Endicott was offered the opportunity to work as an itinerant preacher in the Wild West. Always one for an adventure, Endicott took the call to Tombstone. The New York Times wrote that it was "the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." Peabody took a seven-day train ride from Boston and an overnight in Sandy Bob's stagecoach. The young minister arrived in the town, also known as "Helldorado," on the 29th of January in 1882.
Peabody immediately ditched his Boston attire and any hint of being an East Coast elite. As he ministered as he could to the rowdy bunch, he won them over with his boxing skills, the local baseball team he started, and his tireless door-to-door ministry. A local paper wrote of the new minister: "Well, we've got a parson who doesn't flirt with the girls, who doesn't drink behind the door, and when it comes to baseball, he's a daisy."
Attempting to raise funds for a proper church building, he called on Wyatt Earp and his fellow gamblers at a saloon. Peabody asked Earp if he would donate any of his winnings to the church fund. Wyatt Earp is said to have pushed a large stack of chips to the minister. Whether then coerced or not, the other players contributed more chips. With the help of the town, that led to the building of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tombstone, the first protestant church in Arizona, and a historic landmark still standing today. Peabody would soon leave, finish his education, and begin his career as a Headmaster. But he had a brief foray to Tombstone there helped with the expansion of the church into the roughest parts of the Wild West. He arrived on a stagecoach on the 29th of January in 1882.
The last word for today comes from Dorothy Sayers from her "Creed or Chaos":
"For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man of whom his parishioners say, "Well, we've got a parson who doesn't flirt with the girls, who doesn't drink behind the door, and when it comes to baseball, he's a daisy," Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.