Civil War Clergy at Mount Auburn Cemetery: Rev. William Channing

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William Henry Channing

By Bill McEvoy

In honor of Memorial Day, local historian Bill McEvoy has compiled histories of some of the Civil War clergy who are buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery. This is part three of 15.

Reverend William Henry Channing was born May 25, 1810, in Boston. He died December 24, 1884, in London, England.

Dorothea Dix lived with the William Ellery Channing family for six months, traveling with them and tutoring the Channing children.

Reverend Channing graduated from Harvard College in 1829, and at the  Cambridge divinity school in 1833. 

After preaching in several places for brief periods, and spending a year in Europe, he was a minister-at-large in New York during the year 1837. In 1839 he went to Cincinnati as minister of the Unitarian church, but he remained there for only two years. He wrote for and helped edit “The Western Messenger,” and his contributions to “The Dial” were written during this period. He then passed through a period of critical mental and spiritual agitation, during which he questioned the fundamental truths of religion…

In 1842, Channing went to Brooklyn and preached for a short time. In April of the next year, he organized a Christian Union Church in New York and had in his congregation such persons as Horace Greeley, Christopher Cranch, and Henry James. This movement was abandoned at the end of 1845, and the next year he preached at Brook Farm. Reverend Theodore Parker was also at Brook Farm. While in New York Channing edited “The Present,” during 1843-44; and he discontinued it in order to write the biography of his Uncle the Reverend William Ellery Channing which was published in six volumes, in 1848, and was very popular. 

In 1847, Reverend Channing organized in Boston the Religious Union of Associationists, to which he preached until 1850. Many of the members of Brook Farm, and other socialists, joined it, and the congregation was interested and even enthusiastic. 

In 1849, Reverend Channing conducted an Associationists journal called “The Spirit of the Age.” He joined with Ralph Waldo Emerson and J. F. Clarke, in 1850, in preparing a biography of Margaret Fuller. He not only wrote a part of it, but he was the editor of the whole. In 1853, he became the minister of the Unitarian church in Rochester. In the autumn of the next year, withdrew, and a year later he went to Liverpool and settled over one of the leading Unitarian churches in that city.

American Transcendentalism Web, George Willis Cooke, II, pp. 25-29

During the Civil War Channing returned to the United States and preached in Washington until 1865. He was the chaplain of Congress, labored in the hospitals, gave much of his time to the work of the Sanitary Commission and the Freedman’s Bureau, and did valiant service in the cause of the union and for emancipation. He returned to England at the close of the war, and preached for a time in London, and also in other places. 

During the rest of his life, he was always interested in the socialist movement.

Find the gravesites of the Civil War Clergy by entering their name here: Bill McEvoy can be reached at

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