Thornton Chase (February 22, 1847 – September 30, 1912) was a distinguished officer of the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War, and the first western convert to the Baháʼí Faith.
Chase was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to parents of English background and Baptist religion. After being schooled for college by Rev. Samuel Francis Smith he instead enrolled as an officer in the American Civil War serving with two regiments of United States Colored Troops, mostly in South Carolina, where he was wounded. For his service Chase was included on the Wall of Honor of the African-American Civil War Memorial completed in 1997. After the war he worked as a businessman, performed as a singer, and was published as a writer of prose and poetry while living in several states after leaving Massachusetts. He married twice and fathered three children.
Long a seeker in religion, when he was nearly 50 he joined the Baháʼí Faith in 1894-5 –almost as soon as possible in America– and is commonly recognized as the first convert to the religion of the western world. After having organized concerts and businesses in his earlier days, he advanced the organization of communities of the religion especially in Chicago and Los Angeles, serving on early assemblies and publishing committees, the first national attempts at circulating news and guidance for the religion, and an elected national council. He also aided in the founding of other communities, gave talks for the religion in many places including Greenacre in Eliot, Maine, in the northeast and Seattle in the northwest, and authored early books on the religion including an account of his Baháʼí pilgrimage in 1907 and an introductory review of the religion in 1909. During his journeys to the West, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, singled Chase out and identified his gravesite as a place of religious visitation. Ultimately Chase was named a Disciple of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Collections of his papers began, posthumous articles by him were published, biographical articles about him appeared and his place in the history of the religion in America was contextualized. In 2002 a full biography on Chase was published by Robert H. Stockman and websites have had entries about him since.
He was born James Brown Thornton Chase on 22 February 1847 in Springfield, Massachusetts to parents who traced their family back to Britain, and Baptist religion. His father was Jonathan,or Jotham, G and mother Sarah C. G. S. (Thornton) Chase. His father was a singer, amateur scientist, and wealthy businessman, and was a descendant of Aquila Chase who migrated from Chesham in 1630 and of many other colonial families (such as Thomas Dudley). Chase's mother, who was of similar pedigree, died about two weeks after he was born, an event that profoundly shaped Chase's subsequent development. Chase's father remarried three years later and the couple adopted three girls. But instead of being raised at home the United States 1850 census shows that he was living with a foster family in West Springfield at the three years old. Chase himself describes his childhood as "loveless and lonely," and from it he pursued a personal mystical relationship with God.
For four years, aged thirteen to sixteen, Chase lived in Newton, Mass., with the well known Baptist Rev. Samuel Francis Smith.In July 1863 Chase was accepted to Brown University but soon was off to serve in the Civil War.
Just before his seventeenth birthday in early 1864 Chase went to Philadelphia to attend the "Free School for Military Tactics" set up to graduate potential officers specifically for black infantry units.He passed the government officer exams in April.
The school opened around December, 1863.Attendance at the school was strictly segregated, but it did pass over 400 students through while 21 blacks attended an auxiliary school, and received positive comments from Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin McMasters Stanton. The school also helped train troops and eleven African American regiments in one year were raised and was supported by several abolitionists.
By May, 1864 Chase was first lieutenant, second in charge under the captain, of Company K, with 100 men,of the 26th Regiment Infantry U.S. Colored Troops. He claimed to be 19 years old but was in fact two months passed his 17th birthday. A company would normally be 60 to 80 privates, a wagoner, 2 musicians, 8 corporals, 4 sergeants, 1 first sergeant, 1 second and 1 first lieutenants, and 1 captain. About 1000 men, the regiment was mustered and practiced on Rikers and Hart Islands and would have received its "colors" (its flags) on March 26, 1864, however, a severe storm struck. On July 5 and 7 the unit fought two battles south of Charleston, S.C. in and around John's Island, especially around Fort Pringle; two officers were wounded during battles in South Carolina during this first deployment – Chase was wounded by an exploding cannon, permanently injuring the hearing in his left ear, (the other was the commander of the regiment who was killed December 17, 1864.) Chase is listed returning to New York in November as "James B Chase".
Richard Walter Thomas, black scholar of race relations, observed that the relationship between white and black soldiers in the Civil War was an instance of what he calls "the other tradition": "… after sharing the horrors of war with their black comrades in arms, many white officers experienced deep and dramatic transformations in their attitudes toward blacks."We do not know Chase's personal views, but in 1865 Chase started service in another black soldier unit. He was promoted to captain and commanded Company D of the 104th United States Colored Infantry. That unit was organized at Beaufort, S. C., April–June, 1865, and did guard duty at various points in South Carolina through February, 1866. Meanwhile news of the surrender of Lee and days later of the assassination of Lincoln arrived in late April. Chase's resignation from the military was accepted November 7, 1865, in Beaufort, SC, and thus honorably discharged and because of the manner of his resignation from service he was later denied pay for returning home which was restricted to being discharged from service by the military, (though he was given "in kind" travel back to New York.)
Nearly two decades later he contributed a poem to a magazine noting the dying off of the Civil War veteran with the poem "Lo! The Ranks are Thinned and Thinning".Lines of it were used in veteran memorials. Robert Stockman, a scholar on Chase, draws attention to two stanzas of the poem as having a biographical tone to them:
Gettysburg and Vicksburg's trenches,
At whose memory courage blenches,
And the dreadful Wilderness;
Carolina's swamps, and Georgia,
Like a hydra-headed Borgia,
Send their armies bodiless.
From the beds of rolling rivers,
From the woods where moaning quivers
Thro' the shivered, creaking trees;
From each battlefield and prison,
Myriad martyr-souls have risen,
Risen to an endless peace.
For his service in U. S. Colored Troops and U. S. Colored Infantry regiments his name was included as "James B. Chase" among the 7000 white officers on the Wall of Honor at the African American Civil War Memorial.
Chase began to attend Brown University in September 1866, and was elected class secretary,but left school before completing the second semester. He returned to Springfield, where he became a worked for his father's lumber business – and joined the Mendelssohn club. On 11 May 1870 he married Annie Elizabeth Allyn of Bristol, Rhode Island, and they had two children: Sarah Thornton (1871–1908) and Jessamine Allyn (1874–1947). Chase's activities in work in society multiplied: he started his own specialty lumber business, directed the choir of First Baptist Church, and served as an officer in one of Springfield's musical organizations, and performed in a local concert.
In 1872 Chase's business failed.Unemployed, he moved to Boston leaving his wife and children, where he obtained a meager and unsatisfying living as an actor and singer. In 1873, amidst the Panic of 1873 and subsequent Long Depression and its privations, Chase described having what he called a mystical experience of God's love, of love "unspeakable," of "absolute oneness," which set him on a path of renewed hope in a religious search. Not finding sufficient work to support him and his family in Boston, Chase moved to Fort Howard (Green Bay, Wisconsin), where he taught school. The first high school graduates of the city ever were in 1875. He moved to Chicago briefly and then he moved to Kansas with teaching and music tutoring jobs and was visible in the local newspapers in 1879 in a regional music convention. However the school broke up. Next Chase settled in Del Norte, Colorado as an early mining town but was not successful. Meanwhile, Annie remained in Springfield living with her mother and their two daughters, waiting for her husband to provide his family support. However in March 1878 she moved back to Rhode Island and filed for divorce. He wrote a certified letter responding, and despite family pressure to reconcile, Annie persevered and the court granted the divorce. Chase had little to do with the family after that. Annie lived the rest of her days in Newport, Rhode Island, dying in 1918. Chase's older daughter, Sarah, married in 1895 and had five children before dying suddenly in 1908. Chase's last daughter, Jessamine, never married and became a school teacher and musician; she died in 1947. A letter from some family in New York looking for him was published looking for him some years later in South Dakota. Meanwhile he met and married Eleanor Francesca Hockett Pervier on 6 May 1880 and they settled in Pueblo, Colorado.
Once again he became active in music. He returned to Kansas for a concert in mid-February, 1881, held despite a blizzard stranding rail travelers.He bought an advertisement for music students in the March. In May Chase assisted in the production of two concerts in Pueblo, and also took various jobs over the summer/winter, while continuing in music performances. He began to publish poetry in local newspapers and magazines; one poem focuses on Jesus's love for humanity, thereby highlighting Chase's devotion to Jesus. He also had some success in mining. He invented and patented a prospector's pick in 1881. In October 1883 newspaper articles mentioned his pursuing gold mining, and in December he hoped to open a mining company named "Amity Company". A mine of his was producing well decades later.
In early 1882 Chase served on a city government committee investigation of setting up lead works in Pueblo as its secretary.In later 1882 Chase moved to Denver and was noted contributing poems to local papers. He was also visible singing at various events the end of that year and into the next, known as a "leading basso".
He was called one of the leading poets of Pueblo in 1884.A brief mention in 1885 says both he and Mrs. Chase went into the mountains for the summer. He joined the local Swedenborgian church in 1883, attached to its emphasis of a metaphorical interpretation of the Bible and stressed a mystical approach to Jesus and Christianity and its sense of Christianity was much less doctrinal that the Baptist Church of Chase's childhood. However he didn't like the church's view on the Virgin birth of Jesus, and the Denver church was wracked by doctrinal disputes five years later. About that time Chase abandoned it and all other Christian churches. He initiated a broader religious search and began to read a wide variety of books about religion; Chase read James Freeman Clarke's classic Ten Great Religions, later said he had taken an interest in Hinduism and for a time accepted the idea of reincarnation.
In the summer of 1886 Chase was mentioned in theatrical productions in Denver.In March 1887 he was hired by the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company as an agent and soon promoted as manager for all of Colorado. In June 1888 they promoted him again and moved him to their California office where he was listed as "superintendent" for the company. The move was noted back in Pueblo, and his career lauded. On 28 June 1889 Chase and Eleanor had a son, William Jotham Thornton Chase. Chase published a booklet called Sketches that explains why people should purchase life insurance for themselves, using biblical and religious stories to illustrate its major points. According to Stockman, it reveals Chase as a religious seeker familiar with all the major religions. His wife was visible in the Santa Cruz community up to 1892. Thornton Chase was visible entertaining at a reception in April, 1893.
In June 1893 Union Mutual promoted Chase to superintendent of all agencies west of the Appalachians.This necessitated a move to Chicago. In May he was in Omaha, NE, and Salt Lake, UT, for business, and in early September the president of his company was killed in a train accident back east. He may have been able to attend the first Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago in mid-September which was organized by a Swedenborgian. Stockman considers it likely Chase at least followed the reports in the newspapers which did include a quote of Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, and Chase could have followed up with the then available books and journal articles by Edward Granville Browne available in the library. The next president of the company was elected in October. In early 1894 Chase was elected to the Insurance Underwriters Association there. Stockman quotes Carl Scheffler offering an anecdote of how Chase learned of a teacher of the religion in Chicago:
While writing a poem about God one day he was interrupted by the visit of a business acquaintance who expressed an interest in his activity, perhaps because he was so busy typing. Mr. Chase read a portion of what he was writing and he was astounded when his friend told him that he had recently come upon a man who had declared that God had “walked upon the earth.” Immediately Mr. Chase expressed interest and asked to be conducted to this person.
Chase was then put in touch with Ibrahim George Kheiralla, recently immigrated to the United States and the second Baháʼí in America after Anton Haddad.A small group began to study the religion with Kheiralla. Stockman indicates that 5 June 1894 was probably the day the class began. A week later he was noted in Pueblo, CO, and then attended a memorial observance for Bunker Hill back in Chicago. Chase's status as a Baháʼí is accepted pointing to this time though several others accepted the new religion before him, but did not stay with the religion. Thus Chase should be considered the first American to become and remain a Baháʼí, and not the first American Baháʼí chronologically. In January 1897 his speech at an insurance agents convention was described as "beautiful…, bright and sublime in its imagery", about attaining to noble ideals above "killing time". In February Chase used an editorial commending of the insurance agent association for "inviting men in various walks of life to its banquets to speak to the members on topics that inspire, elevate, and encourage", and expands on the theme, quoting his words:
If we are only business seekers, traders, worshipers of the calf of gold, Caesar is our tax assessor and God to us is nothing; but if we are teachers and bearers of "good will to men," we shall keep the laws of humanity with heart and act, helping men to help themselves, teaching them the beauty and wisdom of unselfishness, of laboring for others, of providing a certain hope for their own futures, of protecting those dependent on them, even after earthly interests shall cease.
Let us hope that we may urge their minds so close to the border land of the life to come that they may look across the line of division between earthly affairs and eternal ones, and grasp ideals of the greater beauty and grander wisdom of striving for the fulfillment of God's promises to men, and of providing for a permanent home in the kingdom of their Creator.
In early 1899 Chase submitted an essay to the association's competition,and raised awareness of the religion in Cincinnati as well. Baháʼís including Chase were also known to frequent a restaurant named "Kimballs' Restaurant" in Chicago.
Classes on the Baháʼí Faith were organized in Chicago, and later in Enterprise, Kansas; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Ithaca, New York; New York City; Philadelphia; and Oakland, California.By 1899 there were many hundreds of Baháʼís in Chicago itself and close to 1500 among those cites. There had also begun to be some public attention to the point that it drew a public rebuke in the person of Stoyan Krstoff Vatralsky – and to whom Chase stood up in public to retort and there followed newspaper articles going back and forth.
In 1899 other American Baháʼís went on pilgrimage to Akka, Palestine, where they met ʻAbdu'l-Bahá.Chase was invited but could not go. They brought knowledge of the Baháʼí organizational system to the United States but it took time to develop. Chase became one of the leading organizers of the Chicago community, being elected to its first council, then one of its officers in 1899, and then in a reformulated "Board of Council." At the time it was thought the institution should be restricted to men, a position Chase accepted. Meanwhile the very nature of organization and community was threatened as Kheiralla became increasingly alienated from the Baháʼís in 1899 and 1900. Chase made a leading effort to find bridges with Kheiralla but it became impossible and then Chase was a leader of the effort to distinguish Kheiralla from the religion. Among those earliest Baháʼís who retained belief and membership in the unity with ʻAbdu'l-Bahá were Louisa A. Moore (known after marriage as Lua Getsinger), Howard MacNutt, Arthur P. Dodge and Helen S. Goodall. However at the turn of the century the American Baháʼí community still lacked a coherence nationally. This began to be addressed in 1900 and 1901 when ʻAbdu'l-Bahá sent ʻAbdu'l-Karím-i-Tihrání, Hájí Mírzá Hassan-i-Khurásání, Mírzá Asadu'lláh, and Mírzá Abu'l-Faḍl to the United States to more fully educate the Baháʼís on the teachings of the religion. Chase arranged for their housing and himself moved into the Baháʼí center with some of them while his wife was away. A third institution for Chicago was called for in May 1901, initially called the Chicago House of Justice and then the Chicago House of Spirituality. By 1902 and through 1909 Chase was serving as chair, and was noted for being a champion of the Baháʼí principle of consultation. Chase's background in writing served the initial stages of developing Baháʼí literature in America. A publishing company for Baháʼís was started in 1900 with Chase among its members; and in the quickly shifting situations legally incorporated as the "Bahai Publishing Society" in 1902. It became the principal publisher of Baháʼí literature in the English-speaking world, and the standardization of the spelling of Middle Eastern Baháʼí names and terms. Chase was the principal editor of the publisher's literature in this early period and one of its principal financial supporters. In 1904 a letter of a pilgrim to Chase reported ʻAbdu'l-Bahá seeing the American community in a dream as lacking coherence and harmony and the community was characterized by scholar Gayle Morrison as "lacking a wide selection of sacred literature, the study of which forms the basis of individual spiritual responsibility, and without a functioning (national) administration… (and) remained individualistic, even idiosyncratic, in their communal relationships," (such as in race relations amidst a segregated America.) About that time the House of Spirituality began to send out newsletters to Baháʼí communities throughout the United States and Canada, informing them of Baháʼí Holy Days and the fast, which began their observance in North America. Scholar Marzieh Gail indicates her father, Ali Kuli Khan, asked individuals in 1906 if translations of letters to individuals could be copied and sent to Chase in particular so that they were then more widely circulated, (about 4 years before the first national periodical.)
Meanwhile Chase set out on further travels for the religion. In 1902 he went to Johnstown, NY,and Manitoba, Canada, as well as Louisville, KY, in 1903. In 1904 and 1906 Chase presented at the Monsalvat School at Greenacre and other conferences there.
In 1907 Chase went on Baháʼí pilgrimage though only for three days but still a pivotal experience for himand he wrote a book about it. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, highly impressed by Chase's qualities, conferred on him the title thábit, "steadfast." A picture of Chase in Egypt among Baháʼís was published in 1908.
On returning home Chase presented again at Greenacreand Cincinnati, about his 1907 pilgrimage. In 1908 he joined an association to aid to the poor.
During his pilgrimage, he had asked ʻAbdu'l-Bahá about the community building a temple and was directed to work with Corinne True, later appointed as a Hand of the Cause, as "complete directions" had been given to her.This was a step in the process of implementing the Baháʼí teaching of the equality of women and men. A series of articles in the fall of 1908 including Chase among a set of women in several newspapers about the aim of the Baháʼís to build a House of Worship. And a photograph including Chase in 1908 at the home of the Trues was published in 1976 – he's the tallest man in the picture. This interaction led to the next development of a national sense of community: The election of the first national council of the religion, with delegates present from across the US and Canada, in the spring of 1909. Thirty percent of the members elected were women; there was still some confusion over the issue of female membership until 1912.
In February 1909 Chase addressed the University of Chicago International Club students on the imminence of the age outlining a number of expected changes coming: The downfall of nationalism/rise of internationalism, universal peace instead of battleships, and war becoming seen as a "deed of inhumanity",and in March appeared listed as a Baháʼí publicly in Chicago.
Chase then wrote an introductory book on the religion, The Bahai Revelation, in 1909.According to Stockman "this work was one of the most comprehensive and accurate introductions to the Baháʼí Faith written by an early American Baháʼí." The work emphasized the Baháʼí Faith and its teachings as a vehicle for personal spiritual transformation.
The Union Mutual Life Insurance Company didn't like the publicity linking their company with Chase's publicity for the religion, and transferred him to Los Angeles.Stockman says "Chase considered resigning from the company, but at the age of sixty-two he found it impossible to obtain another job, and he had to support his wife, his son in college, and his elderly mother-in-law, none of whom had become Baháʼí." Chase still traveled for the religion. Indeed he reached Victoria, British Columbia in 1909. In 1910 a talk entitled as his introductory book was offered in Los Angeles. In 1911 Chase spoke to a public meeting of the religion in Portland, Oregon. He helped to organize the Los Angeles Baháʼís; in 1910 they elected a five-member governing board that included Chase as a member, which then included a majority of women, with a general community of some 30 people. They also established their first monthly meetings. Though he could not attend the national convention of Baháʼís in 1910 he did send a letter. In 1911 he was listed as the contact address for the assembly, participated in attempts by the community to coordinate internationally, and was credited with assisting to organize the Denver Baháʼí Assembly along with Corinne True. That summer Chase received a copy of the proceedings of the First Universal Races Congress to which ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had sent a representative with a message. Chase observed a distinction between ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's message of promoting spiritual unity as a higher calling than that of simply recognizing partisanship among nations vying for priority or advocacy of a race and stressed that the transformation of the time required accepting the influences of the "new heaven". In November he summarized the presence of the religion in California for the first major Baháʼí periodical of the country, Star of the West, noting excitement in San Francisco because of the visit of Dr. Fareed and Lua Getsinger in advance of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá coming west, regular meetings in Los Angeles as well, and the hospitality provided by Mrs. Goodall and Cooper in Oakland. In May 1912 Chase was present at garden party observance of Ridván in San Francisco. The San Francisco Assembly had been founded in 1910. Stockman observed circa 1990 that Chase used to include mention of how many Baháʼí there were in the early days of the religion in his letters to people in a period well before the first accounting done inside the religion.
Thornton Chase died on 30 September 1912 in Los Angeles, of complications following unsuccessful surgery.Chase managed a note to his friend John Bosch while in the hospital. The surgery was not successful and Chase was in pain some 5 days before dying, probably of cancer. ʻAbdu'l Bahá was on a train en route to California at the time; He immediately changed his plans and went to Los Angeles to visit Chase's grave. There he praised Chase's qualities highly, instructed the Baháʼís to hold a commemoration of Chase annually at his grave, and encouraged Baháʼís to visit the gravesite. It a site of many Baháʼís visited that year and a more permanent memorial was to be raised. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá wrote a prayer for Chase that includes:
Verily he guided the people to Thine ancient pathway, and led them to Thy way of rectitude.
Verily he held the chalice of guidance in his right hand and gave unto those athirst to drink of the cup of favor."
A letter from the Los Angeles community published in Star of the West in October noted his many meetings along the last trip he took along the coast perhaps as far as Vancouver and that signs of his illness had appeared during the trip.The outline of his life offered by Frank G. Tyrrell included mention of being a student of Rev. Samuel F. Smith, joining the military at 17, his Civil War service and rising to Captain, but not the detail of it being with black regiments, did include briefly of his life in Colorado and then as an insurance agent. They had held a prayer vigil for him while he was in the hospital which transitioned directly into a memorial on hearing of his death. The funeral was held a few days later with contributions from some ministers as well as friends and a memorial a couple days after that. A friend outlined his life including his Civil War service and that he had not spoken of this as well, as well as his career. Mrs. Chase spoke at the memorial as well.
An obituary article was published in the Brown University Alumni periodical in Feb 1913 by Brown alumnus Alfred G. Langley,it emphasizes his relationship with the Bahá´í Faith though it all but skips his military career in how quote of Chase's presents his life. Another mention came a month later by alumnus Wilfred H. Munro commenting on the incompleteness of a text of Brown university students who had served in the Civil war by adding that Chase was Captain of Company D of the 104th US Colored Infantry.
The October issue of Star of the West made room for remembering him while news continued of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's travels and speeches and dedication of the cite for the Baháʼí House of Worship near Chicago. It included a long poem Chase composed.This poem arrived in Egypt and was read to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá July 4, 1913. The Star of the West edition also published letters from various communities memorializing him. Tributes from Portland, OR and Chicago were also published, followed in March, 1913, by one from Beirut which included remembrance of those who were on pilgrimage and met him in 1907. A letter/poem/ode from him to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was published in September, 1913 dated from August, 1912, published as a one year anniversary of the visit of ʻAbdu'l-Baha to his gravesite and was re-printed in 1922. The editors noted the observance held for what was called "The day of Thornton Chase". It also reported more of the words ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had said on the visit to the gravesite:"…During his lifetime he bore many trials and vicissitudes, but he was very patient and long-suffering. He had a heart most illuminated, a spirit most rejoiced; his hope was to serve the world of humanity; during the days of his life he strove as much as he could – he never failed…" There was an article then published including a picture marking Chase among the people standing at a Ridván meeting in May, 1909, who lead the services that day and compared the tent raised as a precursor to the eventual building. It also included a short article by Chase "The Greatest Name". An account of that first anniversary followed in the November edition. 10 Baháʼís attended the gravesite Sep 30th with flowers and prayers for an hour and a service was held the following Sunday in a hall which was also the anniversary of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's visit and the assemblage again returned to the gravesite at sunset. A memorial comment was then published from Thomas Kelly Cheyne. In February 1914, an excerpt from Chase's book The Bahai Revelation was published in Star of the West. The anniversary was noted again in 1914, and then an article briefly reviewing the history of the religion in America by Chase was published in early 1915, and again noted the anniversary in September. A more enduring gravestone was placed in 1918. A memoriam article in 1918 noted 21 Baháʼís attended the anniversary meeting which also saw the new stone marker. Mrs. Chase attended and shared anecdotes of his life. A picture of the gravestone was published in 1920.
In 1920 Martha Root refers to distributing Chase's book The Bahai Revelation in various libraries on her tour around South America.Memorials of others began to be published in 1922 recalling the contact they had had with Chase.
The memorial meeting in 1924 noted that inquirers were informed of "the truth of the Oneness of Mankind and the fatherhood of God, for which Mr. Chase had given his heart and life."The writer of the article, Willard Hatch, was requested to gather materials on the life of Chase in 1927. He updated attendees at the national convention of Baháʼís over the next few years, and was joined in the work by John Bosch. Bosch was in fact an inheritor of Chases' literary material and a collection of some Baháʼí materials Chase had not already sent to Chicago for archival purposes. A survey of the materials gathered was published in April 1930. Then a previously unpublished letter of Chases' was published in Star of the West 1930. Howard MacNutt, another very early Baháʼí, was photographed visiting the gravesite before his death in 1926. In 1930 a dinner was held for the poor commemorating his death followed by a talk on his life. A 5 page letter of Chase's was published in The Baháʼí World series for 1928–30, part of a major series of volumes covering world wide aspects of the religion, entitled Before Abraham was, I am; written in 1902 to a Christian. Further scholarly work on Chase appeared in a 1932 article which included several excerpts from letters and papers of Chase, and gathered materials were being sent to the national archives (and Hatch was perhaps on pilgrimage.) A letter to Chase from ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was central to a question of Baháʼí involvement in the political rights and responsibilities of being a citizen and a Baháʼí communicated specifically in 1933 and was further discussed at the convention and lead to a fuller clarification in 1934. Hatch held a meeting with African-Americans in August 1933 and there was the memorial meeting in September. In 1935 there were several actions remembering Chase:
In 1937 at the memorial service it was clarified by official translation that the commemoration of visiting the gravesite was on the anniversary of the death of Chase.In 1938 some further materials Chase had had were given to the national archives of the Baháʼís including a seal and ring made with a gem given to him. The certificate from the State of California of the incorporation of the Los Angeles Spiritual Assembly updated in 1938 notes ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's visit to Chase's gravesite in 1912 and the annual memorial for Chase as part of its mandate. By 2005 it was noted the Bosches had donated 11 boxes of materials for the Chase collection of the US Baháʼí national archives. The 1944 Centenary of the religion was observed partially with a text The Baháʼí Centenary which included Chase's early history of the religion incorporated into a broader summary – uncredited, but noted in the second generation national Baháʼí newspaper, the Baháʼí News , that it was by Chase.
In 1945 Chase was mentioned in the Pittsburgh Courier , a noted African-American newspaper, but only his status as the first American Baháʼí and his gravesite visited by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá.Hatch was visible in May again at an interracial meeting and a brief comment was also made of the memorial meeting in the Baháʼí News, followed by a picture of the memorial published soon after. A further scholarly work on Chase was published in August 1945 in the World Order magazine of the religion. In it Scheffler mentioned he had known and traveled with Chase including his pilgrimage but "I had then practically no knowledge of his early life." Scheffler comments on small experiences of Chase mentioning his early life but nothing about the civil war service was mentioned – though he did understand Chase was a singer some time in his early life. Scheffler mentions Chase's deep abiding interest in religion and his finding Swedenborgianism. Scheffler speaks also of some correction of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá of Chase's thought at the time. The memorial was the lead mention in the summary of activities in Los Angeles in 1948 published in the Baháʼí News. In October 1949 Hatch received a clarification to a question he had addressed Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion; it was clarified that the gravesite could be called a shrine but that it was not important what to call it or if the memorial meeting is held Sep 30 or Oct 1 (since Chase had died after sunset and Baha'i calendars mark the change of day on the sunset.) Memorial observances continued to be published in the Baháʼí News over the years and the responsibility of maintaining the event shifted from Los Angeles to the Inglewood community and with broadening attendance (for example in 1963 it was reported there were some 70 adults and 15 children from a range of communities and in 1965 there were 350 attending.) In 1966 a tree was donated to a nearby park and has been the site of a social reception after the memorial.
In 1972 a review of pilgrimages noted Chase's across a few paragraph's in some detail taking from his In Galilee and Scheffler's comments.In 1973 O. Z. Whitehead wrote a biographical article on Chase published in Baháʼí News. The work identified him specifically as a Captain serving in the Civil War as well as his life as an insurance salesman and his singing voice, refers to Scheffler's essay, and in general to the process by which Chase came to the Baháʼí Faith, and adding an anecdote of Chase meeting John Bosch. In 1974 it was mentioned that John Bosch was Chase's "literary executor" and in general Chase's papers and collected material was willed to Bosch – including calligraphy by a Baháʼí specialist, Mishkin-Qalam, and noted that Mrs. Chase had burned some material before Bosch could arrive. In November 1974 Hand of the Cause Dhikru'llah Khadem called Chase "the Mullá Husayn of the West", (the first believer of the religion founded by the Báb and accepted as a precursor to the religion by Baháʼís.) In 1974 the Pittsburgh Courier again notes Chase, this time in a profile of a major Baháʼí conference, noting he him as the first Baháʼí in America. In 1979 Roger White, called a poet laureette of the religion, albeit unofficially, published a volume of work called Another Song, Another Season: Poems and Portrayals which included a 7 page creative nonfiction story "Graveyards Are Not My Style; Thornton Chase 1847-1912" centering on that first graveside memorial visit with ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. It was written from the point of view of a Catholic man in love with a Baháʼí and their struggle over unity being of different religions and their resolution at the interaction of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Thornton Chase's gravesite, and them.
Chase scholar Robert Stockman's 1985 book Baha'i Faith in America: Origins 1892–1900 acknowledged Chase had served in the Civil War (and as a teenager) though not that his service was with black Americans.Neither did volume two in the series. An excerpt from a forthcoming book by Stockman was published in 1987 in the Baháʼí News. It noted Chase was 6' 2" and some 260lbs late in life, had suffered medical trouble some 20 years including a surgery in 1911 and held correspondence between Chase and Bosch. It also included a tribute by Stockman for Chase. It noted Chase was "exceptionally even-tempered and mild-mannered…scrupulously avoided arguing…. His capacity to love anyone, especially those who disagreed with him, is especially demonstrated in his words and actions.… He is perhaps the only person before 1912 who had a thorough understanding of the Baháʼí concept of consultation.… was the prime mover behind many of the (local council)'s activities." Yet none of these refer to his Civil War service being with African Americans. In 1989 Bob Quigley, a Baháʼí television producer who had worked closely with Hand of the Cause William Sears from the 1960s was buried in a grave very near to Chase'. So is that of Kazem Kazemzadeh, the first trustee of the Huququ'llah in the West, the father of Firuz Kazemzadeh.
In 1994 several centennial observances were noted. In January it was announced, in the third generation of Baháʼí national news, The American Baháʼí, that a massive granite monument was placed at the gravesite after a 7 year fundraising campaign. As of June it had cost $26,000. Contributions were sent from Baháʼís all over the United States and from Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum. The black granite was specially ordered from India and is engraved with gold lettering.The architect who conceived and designed the monument was Arsalan Mottahedin then of Beverly Hills, California. The dedication and unveiling of the monument coincided with the annual memorial service for Thornton Chase. The sculptor for the eagle was Frederick ("Rik") Sargent, a Baháʼí then from Littleton, Colorado. Firuz Kazemzadeh was the keynote speaker at the dedication. A choir directed by Russ Garcia performed. At a June reception on the centennial of the religion in the West the Baháʼís presented a "family album" video narrated by Sylvia B.P. Parmelee which publicly mentioned Chase had served in the Civil War as an officer of black soldiers. The event was attended by over 500 people including dignitaries. A September centenary memorial at the gravesite of Chase's joining the religion was also advertised.
In 2002 Stockman published Thornton Chase: First American Baháʼí and it mentions Chase's war service in detail and with African-American troops. In 2009 an encyclopedic article published by Baháʼís written by Stockman includes his service and addressed Stockman's views of Chase's importance as an early North American Baháʼí thinker, publicist, administrator, and organizer being still underappreciated and that in many ways Chase's death left a gap in the North American Baháʼí community that remained unfilled until the rise to prominence in the early 1920s of Horace Holley, the chief developer of Baháʼí organization in the United States and Canada and included the picture of the 26th Colored Troops on parade as above.
A couple 2012 presentations recalled Chase's correspondence and activity in the religion,one of which included very early picture of Chase from 1884 as well as a picture with his son in Los Angeles. This presentation was republished separately in 2013.
The Baháʼí Faith is a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions, and the unity of all people. Established by Baháʼu'lláh in 1863, it initially grew in Persia and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. It is estimated to have between 5 and 8 million adherents, known as Baháʼís, spread throughout most of the world's countries and territories.
Sources such as Encyclopædia Britannica or the World Christian Encyclopedia have listed Baháʼí membership as over 7 million. More conservative estimates produced by the Baháʼí World News Service reports a Baháʼí membership of more than 5 million worldwide, in "virtually every country" and many territories. As such, the Baháʼí Faith is recognized as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity, and the only religion to have grown faster than the population of the world in all major areas over the last century.
Baháʼí literature, like the literature of many religions, covers a variety of topics and forms, including scripture and inspiration, interpretation, history and biography, introduction and study materials, and apologia. Sometimes considerable overlap between these forms can be observed in a particular text.
Green Acre Baháʼí School is a conference facility in Eliot, Maine, in the United States, and is one of three leading institutions owned by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the United States. The name of the site has had various versions of "Green Acre" since before its founding in 1894 by Sarah Farmer.
The Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois is a Baháʼí temple in Wilmette, Illinois. It is the second Baháʼí House of Worship ever constructed, the oldest surviving, and one of eight continental temples, constructed to represent all of North America.
The Baháʼí Faith in the Philippines is a community of Filipinos, who like their fellow Baháʼís living in other parts of the world, view the world's major religions as a part of a single, progressive process through which God reveals His will to humanity. They recognize Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, as the most recent in a line of Divine Messengers that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. It is composed of Filipinos from various ethnic and religious background. The religion first reached the country in 1921 with a Baháʼí first visiting the Philippines that year. By 1944 the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly in the country was established in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. In the early 1960s, during a period of accelerated growth, the community grew from 200 in 1960 to 1000 by 1962 and 2000 by 1963. In 1964 the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of the Philippines was elected and by 1980 there were 64000 Baháʼís and 45 local assemblies. The Baháʼís have been active in multi/inter-faith developments. The Association of Religion Data Archives estimates the Baháʼí population of the Philippines at about 272600.
The Baháʼí Faith is a diverse and widespread religion founded by Baháʼu'lláh in the 19th century in Iran. Baháʼí sources usually estimate the worldwide Baháʼí population to be above 5 million. Most encyclopedias and similar sources estimate between 5 and 6 million Baháʼís in the world in the early 21st century.
The Baháʼí Faith in Egypt has existed for over 100 years. The first Baháʼís arrived in 1863. Baháʼu'lláh, founder of the religion, was himself briefly in Egypt in 1868 when on his way to imprisonment in ʻAkká. The first Egyptians were converts by 1896. Despite forming an early Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly and forming a National Assembly, in 1960 following a regime change the Baháʼís lost all rights as an organised religious community by Decree 263 at the decree of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. However, in 1963, there were still seven organized communities in Egypt. More recently the roughly 2000 Baháʼís of Egypt have been embroiled in the Egyptian identification card controversy from 2006 through 2009. There have been homes burned down and families driven out of towns.
Louise Aurora Getsinger, known as Lua, was one of the first Western members of the Baháʼí Faith, recognized as joining the religion on May 21, 1897, just two years after Thornton Chase. Born into the rural countryside of western New York state and initially with a heterodox understanding of the teachings of the religion, by her fervor she corrected many understandings and grew to become a prominent disciple of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá with an international reputation, being named “Herald of the Covenant” and "Mother of the believers" by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, head of the religion 1892-1921, and “mother teacher of the American Bahá‘í Community, herald of the dawn of the Day of the Covenant" by Shoghi Effendi in 1942, head of the religion 1921–1957. Nevertheless, she faced trials of reputation among the Bahá'ís in America during a period of time when rumors were spread if a woman traveled with a man other than her husband which she did as she took part in promotional tours across multiple regions of America, into Canada and Mexico, and it became such that her husband grew doubtful, their relationship changed, and he sought a divorce. She was defended by the leadership of the religion and her reputation expanded after her sudden death in Egypt. A number of later leaders of the religion were directly affected by her, including members of the high office of the religion, the Hands of the Cause, Louis George Gregory, and John Henry Hyde Dunn, as well as May Maxwell, another prominent woman of the religion and mother of another Hand of the Cause Rúhíyyih Khánum, who had her own direct effect on Agnes Alexander, William Sutherland Maxwell, and Mason Remey and thus had an effect on the promulgation of the religion in America, England, France, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, in addition to her own direct contact with many thousands of people all before the completion of the first World War.
Thomas Breakwell (1872–1902) was the first Englishman to become a Baháʼí and the first to make the pilgrimage to ʻAkká. He was also the first western Baháʼí to give the Huqúqu'lláh contribution to the head of the religion. He was taught the Baháʼí Faith by May Bolles in the summer of 1901 in Paris, went on Baháʼí pilgrimage to meet ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in ʻAkká that same summer. At ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's request, Breakwell took up permanent residence in Paris, where he worked enthusiastically to teach the religion and help develop the Paris Baháʼí community. Thomas Breakwell died of tuberculosis on 13 June 1902, not quite a year after joining the religion.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's journeys to the West were a series of trips ʻAbdu'l-Bahá undertook starting at the age of 67 from Palestine to the West from 1910 to 1913. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the son of Baháʼu'lláh, founder of the Baháʼí Faith, was imprisoned at the age of 8 and suffered various degrees of privation most of his life. At 50, he was appointed as the successor and head of the Baháʼí Faith upon the death of his father on 29 May 1892. Sixteen years later he was suddenly freed at the age of 64 as a ramification of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. At the time of his release, the major centres of Baháʼí population and scholarly activity were mostly in Iran, with other large communities in Baku, Azerbaijan, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The Baháʼí Faith in Madagascar begins with the mention by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, who asked the followers of the Baháʼí Faith to travel to Madagascar. The first Baháʼí to pioneer to Madagascar arrived in 1953 and following native converts the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1955. By 1963 in addition to the one assembly there were groups of Baháʼís living in four other locations. In late July 1967 Rúhíyyih Khanum became the first Hand of the Cause to visit the country. In 1972 the Malagasy Baháʼís gathered to elect the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of Madagascar. By 2003 there were 33 local assemblies and the Association of Religion Data Archives in 2005 estimated there were about 17,900 Baháʼís in the country.
The Baháʼí Faith was first mentioned in the United States in 1893 at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Soon after, early American converts began embracing the new religion. Thornton Chase was the most prominent among the first American Baha'is and made important contributions to early activities. One of the first Baháʼí institutions in the U.S. was established in Chicago and called the Baháʼí Temple Unity, incorporated in 1909 to facilitate the establishment of the first Baháʼí House of Worship in the West, which was eventually built in Wilmette, Illinois and dedicated in 1953.
Jakob Kunz was an American physicist who pioneered the development and application of photoelectric cells. Born in Brittnau, Switzerland, he earned his bachelor's degree in 1897 and his Ph.D in 1902 from the Eidgenossisches Polytechnikum in Zurich, and active in the Baháʼí Faith from 1921.
The Baháʼí Faith in France started after French citizens observed and studied the religion in its native Persia in the 19th century. Following the introduction of followers of the religion shortly before 1900, the community grew and was assisted by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's trip to France in 1911 and 1912. After growth and tribulation, the community established its National Assembly in 1958. The community has been reviewed a number of times by researchers. According to the 2005 Association of Religion Data Archives data there are close to some 4,400 Baháʼís in France and the French government is among those who have been alarmed at the treatment of Baháʼís in modern Iran.
The Baháʼí Faith in Algeria began about 1952. In 1954 the first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Algiers was elected. In 1963 a survey of the community counted 2 assemblies, 2 organized groups of Baháʼís and hosted a regional National Spiritual Assembly for Algeria and Tunisia in 1967 however pioneers were expelled in late 1968 during the period of the independence of Algeria when the country adopted Islamic practices in rejection of colonial influences. However more recently the Association of Religion Data Archives and Wolfram Alpha estimated 3.3–3.8 thousand Baháʼís in 2005 and 2010, however these data are based on false estimations, therefore the number is hundred times less.
The Baháʼí Faith in Greater Boston, a combined statistical area, has had glimpses of the religion in the 19th century arising to its first community of religionists at the turn of the century. Early newspaper accounts of events were followed by papers on the precursor Bábí religion by Dr. Rev. Austin H. Wright were noted, materials donated, and lost, and then other scholars began to write about the religion. The community began to coalesce being near to Green Acre, founded by Sarah Farmer, who publicly espoused the religion from 1901. From then on the institution would progressively be associated with Baháʼís - a place where both locals and people from afar came to learn of the religion, and who officially took over controlling interest from 1913. Leaders rising to national prominence with a national level of organization soon arose after ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, traveled through the area for about 40 days and across the United States for some 239 days. Most prominent were Harlan Ober, William Henry Randall, and Alfred E. Lunt, who served in events in the Boston area, Green Acre boards, and national institutions of the religion. In addition to national leaders in the religion, a number of notable individuals joined the religion and were increasingly visible - such as Urbain Ledoux, Sadie and Marby Oglesby, James Ferdinand Morton, Jr., Nancy Bowditch, and Guy Murchie. The community moved from beginning to host public meetings to systematically support a presence in a Center in Boston with services and presentations on the religion as well as a racially integrated community since 1935. Starting about the 1950s and broadening into the 1960s there was wider recognition of the Baháʼís themselves. Sometimes this took the form of noting their persecution in Morocco and then Iran and other times noting local concerts and fairs with their participation. The modern community, albeit a tiny fraction of the wider population, is present in some concentrations and thin areas throughout the greater Boston area. Over the last couple of decades it has been systematically pursuing programs of neighborhood community building activities of study circles, children's classes, junior youth groups, and devotional meetings among the activities and observances of the religion.
Ibrahim George Kheiralla was a founder of the first American Baháʼí community along with Anton Haddad. He was born to a Christian family in a village on Mount Lebanon in 1849 and later studied medicine at the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut.
Robert Stockman is a scholar specializing in Baháʼí studies who has been called "the foremost historian of the Baháʼí Faith in America." He received his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University and a doctorate in religious studies from Harvard University.
Sadie and Mabry Oglesby were early African American Baháʼís. The couple married in October 1901 and became interested in the Baháʼí Faith in 1913, subsequently joining the religion in 1917. Mabry was visible in newspaper coverage first as a Baháʼí from 1920. Mabry was a railroad Pullman porter all his life and president of the Boston chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1936. Sadie went on Baháʼí pilgrimage and met Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Baháʼí Faith, in March 1927. Issues of race were a prominent part of the conversations during the pilgrimage in addition to conversations regarding Sadie taking a more engaged effort in encouraging whites toward race unity as well as blacks. Sadie was the third black pilgrim, the first black woman pilgrim, and the first black pilgrim to meet Shoghi Effendi as head of the religion. Following this experience, Sadie devoted her later years to giving talks and urging Baháʼís towards the race unity that Shoghi Effendi called for. Sadie had also worked and taught as a nurse. The Oglesbys were both elected to the Boston Spiritual Assembly where Sadie often served as secretary and occasionally as treasurer. Prominent Baháʼí Louis G. Gregory commented that the Boston Baháʼí community was integrated by 1935 with a large proportion being colored and largely through the work of Sadie.