Archive of Rev. James Means of Concord, gadfly of the Transcendentalists

Archive of Rev. James Means of Concord, gadfly of the Transcendentalists

Means, James (1813–1863). Archive of 111 manuscript sermons delivered chiefly at the Trinitarian Church, Concord, 1839–1844, with 7 later sermons, 1858–1862. Each sermon is written on paper folded to make booklets of uniform size (8 x 10 in.), numbered on the top sheet, and bound with string. The length of each sermon varies, but average about 15 pages each, with a total count of over 2000 pages. In keeping with Congregational tradition, the author has duly noted the dates and places where each sermon was delivered. The manuscripts are individually filed in a single bankers box. Some wear and staining to some sermons, but overall the condition is remarkably fine.

An important collection of manuscripts by one of Concord’s most influential intellectuals of the 1840s, and one of the most poorly documented. Rev. James Means was pastor of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, founded in 1826 by Henry David Thoreau’s aunts and other dissenters from Ezra Ripley’s First Parish Meeting House. Embracing the revivalist spirit of Lyman Beecher, the congregation was orthodox with respect to theology and radical with respect to politics, particularly in its fervent opposition to slavery. As Robert A. Gross demonstrates in his magisterial study of antebellum Concord, the world that gave rise to the American Renaissance was a fractious one: a town of some 2,000 souls connected by bonds of kinship and familiarity and riven by passionately held beliefs. Of the 118 sermons in this archive, all but seven were delivered in Concord during Rev. Means’s pastorate between 1839 and 1844. The archive restores to the record a singular and frequently contrapuntal voice defining the limits of the Transcendentalist movement.


James Means circa 1850 (Groton History Center)

Born in Amherst, New Hampshire, Means was a graduate of Bowdoin College (1833) and Andover Theological Seminary (1839). The Trinitarian pulpit in Concord – more formally  called the Second Parish Orthodox Society – was his first post. In 1826 the founders of the congregation resolved to “immediately hire a Calvinistic minister of the Gospel, or Preacher.” In 1839 they revised the church’s constitution to clarify their preferred theological cocktail:

It shall be the object of this Society to provide for, and support the preaching of the gospel of that denomination which is distinguishingly denominated Evangelical, and especially those doctrines which in a proper sense are denominated the doctrines of Grace. The worship of the one only living and true God – existing in the father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (Munroe, np)

Means was called in 1839 under this clear mandate. He succeeded Rev. John Wilder as the congregation’s third pastor at a salary of $600 per year. Limited income compelled the Church to reduce the minister’s salary when Means was hired, and he earned $100 less per annum than his predecessor. He was ordained by a council of pastors and delegates from churches in eight municipalities, including Boston and Amherst, NH. Drawing on the testimony of Means’s parishioners, a memorialist summarized his career thus:

Rev. Mr. Means was ordained in January, 1840. His ministry of four years was marked by a revival, during which meetings were held every afternoon and evening for a week. Forty-three were added to the chuch; twenty-nine by profession. To an unusual degree he won the respect of the community and the affection of his own people. (Grout, p. 17)

The revival was conducted in early 1843 – the sermons are well represented in this archive. Of the 35 baptisms Means performed during his tenure, 12 were of adults. In May 1844, he resigned from the Concord pulpit. He would later say that bronchial complaints that affected his public speaking compelled him to step down (see his obituary in Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, p. 522). But the church’s records make the real reason clear: “he could not live upon his salary.”

Means landed well, accepting the position of preceptor (i.e., principal) of Groton Academy (later Lawrence Academy), probably thanks to the intervention of his uncle, Amos Lawrence. He left Groton in 1853 to travel the world; several other teaching posts followed. In 1861 he moved to Auburndale, Massachusetts, to take an administrative position at Lasell Female Seminary. The town was so thickly populated with retired ministers that it was nicknamed “Saint’s Rest.” The outbreak of the Civil War shortly after stirred him deeply. In a sermon of September 26, 1861 included in this archive, he wrote:

We have been summoned by the Chief Ex[ecutive] of the nation to such as duty [as Jonah faced] to-day. Rebellion armed & boastful threatens to possess itself of the national capital & drive out our rulers, & thence push its conquests northward till the whole land is brought to submit to its infamous demands or is drenched in blood.

In 1862, he answered that summons, returning to active service as a chaplain to the Union Army stationed at New Bern, North Carolina. While there he also preached in the African Baptist Church, where he opened a school. In July 1862, Major General John G. Foster appointed Means to the position of superintendent of Black refugees in New Bern, which was widely known as a refuge for Contrabands. “There is perhaps not a slave in North Carolina who does not know he can find freedom in New Bern,” noted one newspaper. Means’s predecessor, Vincent Coyler, estimated a population of 7,500 contrabands in the area. By February 1863, his health was failing and Rev Horace James, chaplain of the 25th Massachusetts, took over some of Means’s preaching duties. He died in New Bern of yellow fever in April 1863.


James Means is appointed superintendent of Contrabands in North Carolina

(Newbern Daily Progress, 7 January 1863)


           There are some sermons in the archive from New Bern, but the vast majority date from Means’s time in Concord. His pastorate coincided with the heyday of the Transcendentalists. Thoreau was a local boy, but Emerson moved to Concord only in October 1834, and did not meet Thoreau until the fall of 1837. Barzillai Frost, who would take over Ezra Ripley’s pulpit, was installed in February 1837. Hawthorne moved into the Old Manse – Rev. Ripley’s former residence – in July 1842. Indeed, Means’s tenure is exactly contemporaneous with the publication of The Dial, which was organized in October 1839 and produced its last issue in April 1844. One of the earliest sermons here, dating from Means’s time at Andover, was delivered within a few weeks of Emerson’s 1838 Divinity School Address.

Although he was diametrically opposed to them in spirit, Means was in frequent contact with the Transcendentalists not only through their relations who were Trinitarian parishioners, but also through his involvement in Concord’s civic life. Means, Emerson, and Thoreau were among the small pool of 34 men who signed petitions in the winter of 1840 opposing the admission of Florida into the Union as a slave state and denouncing the Congressional Gag Rule against discussing slavery. (Means’s Unitarian counterpart Barzillai Frost declined to inscribe his name). As befitting his position, Means was a member of the Sunday School Union, the American Home Missionary Society, the Middlesex County Temperance Society, and other faith-based organizations. He occasionally referenced local events in his sermons. In a jeremiad on the evils of Sabbath-breaking (sermon CXII), he drew upon a recent tragedy for an example:

The occurrence of a sudden and most unnatural death in our own village the last Sabbath and while many of us were worshipping G. has made a discourse upon this subject particularly seasonable. A young man in the strength of his days was drowned under circumstances wh[ich] seem to render such a catastrophe quite improbable. To you I need speak no further of the event. The individual is beyond the reach alike of our blame & of our pity. But it becomes us to improve the providence of G. by an application of the lessons wh[ich] He teaches.

Significantly, Means also engaged with the larger community in his role as vice president of the Concord Lyceum; Thoreau was secretary, and Emerson, Orestes Brownson, Horace Mann, Wendell Phillips, and other luminaries were among the speakers invited during his tenure. Means was not as close to local leaders as Barzillai Frost (for whom Emerson had no respect). Unlike Reverends Ripley and Frost, Means was not invited to join Concord’s exclusive Social Circle. Nevertheless, he interacted with these other members of the cultural elite regularly, at least during the Lyceum’s seasons. 

Occasionally Means rued the fact that lecture halls drew larger crowds than churches. In sermon LXIV, delivered first on 24 January 1841, he laments:

Preaching is intended to do good to man & save him from spiritual suicide. … [But] indeed you find that haranguing public assemblies on other subjects than religion is most successful. How was this community a few months since moved to its foundations by popular lectures respecting political matters.

On March 6, 1844, Means offered a lecture at the Lyceum himself on “the Improvements of the Age” – was this a riposte to Emerson’s series on “The Present Age” and “The Young American”? As is demonstrated especially by Means’s late sermons, there certainly appears to have been a certain degree of cross-pollination. A close study of these sermons should further nuance the complex community of discourse that existed in Concord during this fertile period.

Means’s sermons offer a vital counterpoint to the development of the writers of the American Renaissance. His was the voice thundering in the background as Nathaniel Hawthorne, a fellow Bowdoin alumnus (class of 1825), penned the tales that comprise Mosses from an Old Manse and Emerson wrote his first and second series of Essays (1841, 1844). In 1843, Emerson recorded his arguments with the pastor of the Trinitarian church:

            I told Mr Means that he need not consult the Germans, but, if he wished at any time to know what the Transcendentalists believed, he might simply omit what in his own mind he added from the tradition, & the rest would be Transcendentalism.

The Church affirms this and that fact of time and place; describes circumstances; a circumstantial heaven; a circumstantial hell. The way of the Spirit is different. It never antedates its revelations, it does not tell you when or how; but it says, Be thus and thus, and in our doing, it opens the path, shines in the way we are to go, and creates around us new unpredicted relations.  (Emerson, Journals, 6: 380-81)

Was Means one of the sources of Thoreau’s virulent anticlericalism? The naturalist, four years younger than the minister, would have heard much about him. His aunts, Elizabeth, Jane, and Maria Thoreau were among the Trinitarian Church’s charter members. Other members of the Thoreau clan, including Sarah Thoreau, and Louisa and Charles Dunbar, also numbered among the pews. The orthodox Thoreaus were highly active in the church, participating in its missionary work and political committees. Thoreau’s mother Cynthia flirted with joining her sisters-in-law and secured permission to leave Ripley’s congregation, but she stayed loyal to him in the end. “Discussions of faith must have been at times a topic of intense conversation in the family parlor,” notes Gross.

The young rebel may have had the preacher’s revivalism in mind when he excoriated organized religion in an 1842 entry in his journal:

            These men are sick and of diseased imagination who would toll the world’s knell so soon. Cannot these sedentary sects do better than prepare the shrouds and write the epitaphs of those other busy living men? The practical faith of men belies the preacher’s consolation, This is the creed of the hypochondriac.

            There is no infidelity so great as that which prays, and keeps the Sabbath and founds churches. . . . The church is the hospital for men’s souls, but the reflection that he may one day occupy a ward in it should not discourage the cheerful labors of the able-bodied man. Let him remember the sick in their extremities, but not look thither as to his goal. (Thoreau, Journal, I: 308-309)

It is possible that Thoreau held a personal antipathy towards Means. Thoreau was first elected to the position of secretary of the Lyceum in October 1838, and renewed the following year. He resumed the position when the officers of the Lyceum reconvened on November 4th 1840, but on November 20th, the committee chose Means – who had been serving in Concord for almost a year – as a Vice President. Thoreau resigned shortly after. In December 1856, Thoreau lectured in Amherst, New Hampshire. Why Amherst of all places? Did he remember that this was Means’s hometown, or know that the pastor still had family there? “Lectured in basement (vestry) of the orthodox church,” he wrote afterwards, “and I trust helped to undermine it” (Thoreau, Journal, IX: 188)

However contemptuous Thoreau may have been, Means surely regarded the Transcendentalists with a parallel disdain. He was a product of Andover Seminary, which Rev. Jedediah Morse founded in 1807 to counter liberal tendencies in church. His niece Anne Means recalled a letter he sent to a close relation “in which he pointed out to her with affectionate firmness that unless she forsook her Unitarian belief, she could not hope to be saved” (Means, Amherst, p. 113). For James Means, moving to Concord, known for its liberalism, was tantamount to descending into a pit of vipers. Franklin Benjamin Sanborn credits Emerson with infecting Thoreau with his enthusiasm for Eastern mysticism shortly after their first meeting. One of Means’s first sermons after his installation (XV, of 16 February 1840) offers an Edwardsian vision of a wrathful God and takes pains to single out “the worshippers of Brahma & Vishnoo [who] put their faith in declarations which are destitute of all evidence to sustain them.” The Reverend’s disapprobation notwithstanding, Emerson introduced a regular feature on “Ethnical Scriptures” in the July 1842 issue of The Dial

That same month, in sermon on keeping the Sabbath (CXII), Means refers directly to the Transcendentalists, whom he refers to as “Perfectionists”:

In these latter days there has come into vogue among a few, a specious doctrine aimed, but not intentionally in all instances, against the Lord’s holy Sabbath. It is generally expressed under a zeal for holiness, in words like these, “It is our duty to keep every day holy.” But occasionally it degenerates into the more offensive expression that “the Sab[bath] is no more holy than other days.” A zeal for holiness, I w[oul]d not doubt, often prompts the opinion. The Perfectionists adopt it generally I believe. Tho[ough] it seems easy to us to detect the sophistry of the doctrine, yet it is not easy to convince others of it.

The final sentence is especially suggestive. It speaks not only to the young minister’s efforts to combat pantheism, but also to the domestic sorrows of such members of his flock as the Thoreau sisters, whose difficult nephew uttered such terrible blasphemies.


Garrisonites excoriate Means and other Concord clergy for insufficient zeal

(The Liberator, 29 October 1841, p. 1)

            In addition to crossing swords with the Transcendentalists, Means clashed also with those whose sensibilities he shared. He was unusual among Concord pastors in being unwilling to surrender his pulpit to guest speakers. “The lyceum is my pulpit,” Emerson once wrote, and so far as other lecturers were concerned, Means may have regarded that as a sufficient forum. His insistence on delivering the weekly sermon at Second Parish himself earned him the opprobrium of William Lloyd Garrison and his followers. A notice in The Liberator read:

The ministers [in Concord] are not abolitionists – they occasionally mention the subject of slavery on particular days. ... The Orthodox [Trinitarian] church, under Mr. Wilder’s administration, passed a vote, excluding slaveholders from communion; but, recently, they have voted to exclude all lecturers from the house, except those delivered by the minister, or such as he approves. 

However, as these sermons and Means’s Civil War service suggest, declining to share the pulpit with Garrisonians did not mean complacency in the face of slavery. As Gross points out, “The Trinitarian parish was a hotbed of antislavery sentiment. It denied membership to anyone ‘claiming property in human beings,’ closed its pulpit to defenders of slavery, and supported its own activist group.” Means’s congregation included such Black citizens of Concord as Susan Robbins Garrison, a member of the church since 1828. His predecessor John Wilder was the sole resident of Concord to attend the founding meeting of the Middlesex County Anti-Slavery Society, and a steady voice for abolitionism. The church hosted the Grimké sisters during their tour in 1837. When local women founded the ecumenical Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society (CFASS) shortly after, Trinitarians outnumbered liberals 28 to 23, and the founding president was the pastor’s wife. Under Means’s pastorate, the women of the Trinitarian Church formed the Ladies Emancipation Society, which “spent one evening a week in prayer, discussion and work, in behalf of the slave,” raising funds to send to escaped slaves in Canada.” Elizabeth Means, the pastor’s wife, was active in all of the church’s voluntary societies.

As Gross notes, the ecumenical Middlesex County Antislavery Society began to break down in 1840. Gross suggests that the blame lay with Means, who encouraged “Trinitarian congregants [to] cut ties to their freethinking sisters, lest they be infected with dangerous ideas.” But it seems that the blame may fall more on the side of radicals who subsumed all other considerations to their worthy cause, riding roughshod over the spiritual commitments of their pious colleagues. “I can no longer follow such a leader [as Garrison],” complained Thoreau’s aunt Maria, a charter member of Means’s church. “He has mixed up everything with [abolitionism], even the doing away with the Sabbath.” While clearly committed to social justice, Means recognized his primary function to be focused on the individual souls of his flock. It was one’s Christian duty to oppose slavery, but that was for other days of the week. Sundays were consecrated to strengthening one’s devotion to Jesus.

            Means’s profoundly Christocentric focus did not prohibit him from occasionally referencing temporal concerns, particularly on fast days and days of thanksgiving, which Congregationalist practice of long standing reserved for spiritual reflection on public issues. In sermon XXIX, Means quotes William Paley’s abolitionist prophecy: “[Christianity] has triumphed over the slavery established in the Roman empire; it is contending & will one day prevail against the worse slavery of America.”  In another fast day sermon (LXXIX, 8 April 1841) he upbraids civil leaders for their inaction:

Another particular in wh[ich] I see a lack of principle in public men is their mode of treating the subject of slavery. No one can deny that it is a subject wh[ich] imperatively demands … examination. It has claims upon the attention of our Legislator & public men, perhaps more urgent than any other subject whatever. But how do they attend it its claims? The consign it to oblivion & contempt.

Rather than do their duty to address the sin of slavery, “public men” devote themselves to party politics:

There is an evil wh[ich] is noticeable in our public men & not only in them, but in every corner of our country. I look upon it with alarm. I have lifted up my voice against it & w[oul]d do so again. I mean the spirit of party. …

Indeed, a number of these sermons, while deeply evangelical in their presumption of human sinfulness, their focus on Jesus’s vicarious sacrifice, and their emphasis on Christian regeneration as requisite to salvation, nevertheless engage political matters.


The Republic of Texas in 1844

            Take for example sermon CLII, a 16-page jeremiad in two parts. Delivered on April 4, 1844, it addresses the national iniquity of slavery and in particular the proposed Tyler-Texas treaty (which would be signed on April 12). Annexing Texas threatened to expand significantly the number of slave states – the territory was expected to be divided into at least four new states (Means thought six or seven more likely), and this would put an effective end to the hopes of abolitionists for a legislative end to the institution. Means opposed annexation wholeheartedly:

In casting my eye around the horizon I see no cloud so dark & threatening as that which hangs upon our southern border. I see no event which is so much to be desired, none which promises so great a brightening of our national prospects as the removal of servitude & oppression from the midst of us. I shall therefore, on this day consecrated to a sorrowing & repentant view of our sins & woes, ask your attention prominently to this topic . . . 

And I tremble for my country when I look within & see her sins – when especially I see millions of our brethren, & fellow-beings, held in an unrighteous bondage – when I see a real danger of increasing rather than diminishing the number of slaves by an unhallowed act – I say I can but tremble lest G shd give us up to the destruction wh[ich] we seem to court. …

The African or his descendants have the claim of brethren upon all other persons. The poor [N]egro is as good by birth & natural inheritance as the proud white man. …

Slavery is an outrage upon the rights of man which is enough to provoke the vengeance of heaven. ... It is a monstrous evil. It can be defended by no argument. An unmitigated evil. No right or claim wh[ich] will bear the test of a moment's examination can be set up in its defense – all wrong, wrong, wrong from beginning to end. And then under this wrong, how much of cruelty is contained no tongue can tell. Could the sounds of the whole world be stilled for a half hour now & our sense of hearing quickened sufficiently, what noise shd we hear from the slave states of this Union? We shd hear the sharp crack of the lash as it cuts deep into the back of the poor victim. We should hear his stifled cry, or groan - We shd hear the wail of families forced asunder forever, by merciless buyers and sellers of human flesh & blood. We shd hear the husband calling for his wife, wife her husband – parents, children, & children par[ticularly]. We shd hear the clanking of the degrading chain, and every sound of woe which wretched slavery could send up. … [S]lavery must answer for millions of victims treated thus. …

The selfish & proud & unscrupulous spirit of the slaver holding part of the country may suddenly bring down on us the vengeance of G. A long series of acts bear testimony that nothing which stands in the way of its abomination or lust for power will be an obstacle to the action of the South. And for a particular illustration of this I call your attention to the project of annexing Texas to this union by treaty. Some time since the … alarm was sounded upon this subject, but almost no one heeded it. Mr. Adams (J.Q.) made a particular representation to the public upon the point – declaring that such a project was entertained seriously by Southern men and arrangements had been made for consummation of it. The motives appear to have been two-fold. Sales of Texas scrip had been made and large sums invested in that territory of rogues & runaways, and in order to give them a value the Country was to be annexed to the U.S. Another motive was the extension of slavery. While the North slept upon the subject of slavery, the South was able to accomplish all her purposes & virtually to rule the nation by adroit management. But when the North began to reflect upon the inconsistency of slavery with a free constitution, and to perceive what a detriment it was to the national prosperity and to watch the movement of the South, then it became necessary to extend slavery - For the free States can out vote the slave states & always will be – unless some design shall be accomplished to give greater political power to the South – Thereupon the annexation of Texas was conceived of - This would give a large accession of territory, enough for 6 or 7 states of large size, which in all probability wbe slave states. There was a further motive for this in the apprehension that Texas sought to become a free country thru the intervention of Great Britain and thus afford unspeakable trouble to those states wh[ich] border upon it by giving an asylum to their slaves who ceasily cross over the boundary & be safe. 

Thus the project was secretly matured – yet few heeded it – a chimera, etc. Not conceived to be possible, etc. But within a month it have proved to be an undoubted certainty. There can be no reasonable doubt that the Presof the U.S. and several of his cabinet advisers & many members of Congress & nearly the whole Southern Country are both in favor of the Annexation & determined to compass it if possible. It is said that the outlines of such a plan are not only drawn up but virtually agreed to by the executive offices respectively of the U.S. & Texas. It is to be accomplished by Treaty – The sudden & dreadful death of several members of the Cabinet and some other considerations checked the proceedings. But it wd be no surprise to me any day to hear that such a Treaty had been laid before the Senate for ratification. Nothing I think but the knowledge of the unwillingness of that body to confirm such an instrument can hinder or deter the Presfrom proceeding in the business. It is said however that at present the Senate of the U.S. wd not ratify such a treaty. …

What wd be the harm in receiving Texas to the Union? It is a question which should be answered . . . 

[I]f our Territory were to be enlarged we shd desire to receive a virtuous population & not a vicious one to a share in our Govt. Texas is proverbial as the refuge of vice & crime. Much of the discontented, the criminal, the debauched, the wicked portion of our population for S[outh] & West went to Texas. And tho there might be much hope th[at] they wd thus reform & become good citizens, yet such a hope is no reason why we shd have 50 or 60,000 of such people thrown into our Union. Indeed, it is a most pressing & imperative reason why we should not receive Texas to ourselves. … 


Party success is placed in the estimation of many above principle – every thing is made to kneel to it. There are some honorable exceptions. But the unfaithfulness of Northern politicians is sufficient to encourage the South in such a project as this. …

This might lead to a disastrous war. Mexico has already intimated th[at] she shd have no alternative but to declare war against the U.S. Possibly Grt Britain might feel called upon to join with her or in some way to mingle in the quarrel. And if so what a terrible judgment from G wd already be upon us!...

Another evil is the danger of an internal kind, a civil war, and a state of wretched anarchy for a long series of years. …


And this is the conclusion to wh[ich] we are bro[ugh]t. The nature of our pop[ular institutions may be our ruin. We must awake. So long as te Southern minority can rule the northern majority we are not safe from the Annexation of Texas or any other evil wh[ich] slavery may bring upon us. Give slavery the reins & soon the judgment of heaven will be upon us. Give heaven the reins and soon slavery shall be abolishd from among us…

Let us all devote ourselves to repentance. … Our repentance may save the poor slave from the lash – the country from [the] wrath of G.


Means’s sermons offers insight not only into his own particular blend of social and theological consciousness, but also into the larger community of discourse in which he was embedded. Two weeks before he delivered his jeremiad on the annexation of Texas, Means had attended a lecture on the subject by James Freeman Clarke at the Lyceum. Indeed, what is most interesting about the sermons are the parallels between the Trinitarian preacher and the Unitarians with whom he regularly associated. His sermon XVII (8 March 1840) takes as its text Gen 24:63 (“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the even tide”) and focuses on the “advantages of a meditative piety.” Sermon XXXVI (12 July 1840), on performing right action as the source of happiness draws heavily on the moral philosophy of Dugald Stewart, an important source also for Emerson. Other Emersonian themes resonate throughout these sermons, some of which (on brotherly love, self-examination, etc.) afford only glancing notice to the Almighty. Emerson was elected Curator of the Concord Lyceum in October 1843, while Means was still serving as Vice President. One imagines that by this point the two men, who worked closely on developing the program (see Emerson, Letters, 3: 243-44), had discovered much of common interest. Even the Garrisonites made amends of sorts. Some twenty years after complaining that Means had declined to surrender his pulpit to one of their speakers, they reprinted a notice from the New York Tribune on his appointment as supervisor of Black refugees in New Bern. “The Rev. Mr. Means is a sympathetic, kind-hearted man, and takes a deep interest in the unfortunate people under his charge. No man would have been chosen more suitable for the place, and great good must result from his labors” (The Liberator, 9 January 1863).


Means was inspired by this story of an enslaved girl who sprinkled powder on food because “she wished her mistress to love her.” (Buffalo Morning Express, 16 March 1858, p. 2)

Means retired from the Concord Trinitarian church in 1844 to pursue a career in education. This effectively put his preaching on hiatus, which is why so few of these manuscripts are dated after 1844. As the notes inscribed in each sermon reveal, he recycled his earlier talks on those occasions when he returned as a guest to the pulpit, generally in New England but several times in Detroit, where he preached at the Fort Street Church and elsewhere in 1857 and 1858. Some of his sermons were dramatically repurposed. Sermon LVIII, on government and political contention, was delivered originally on 6 December 1840, at the conclusion of a fractious presidential election. He delivered the sermon a second time on 19 July 1862, revising it to address the immediate conflict. Means first delivered Sermon CXIX, a meditation on a passage from Joshua 24:15 (“Choose you this day whom you serve”) in Concord on 16 October 1842. When he dusted it off for two occasions in March and April 1858 in Detroit, he extended the sermon with a reference to a news story of an enslaved girl who sprinkled a love powder on her mistress’s oysters. “Choose God for your Master,” wrote Means, “whose love has been prepared by the sprinkling of the blood of J[esus] C[hrist].”

The 118 manuscripts in this collection are numbered from III to CLIII, with several unnumbered, which suggests that it constitutes perhaps 75 percent of Means's total literary output and very likely all that have survived. With the exception of a single letter in the Concord Free Public Library, which holds the records of the Trinitarian Church, we have found no other examples of his work in any institution.

The archive will be a crucial resource for all future research on the Transcendentalists and their world.

Selected References


Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, for the year ending December 31, 1866. Augusta: Steven & Sayward, 1867. [Obituary, pp. 522-23]

Cameron, Kenneth Walter. The Massachusetts lyceum during the American Renaissance: materials for the study of the oral tradition in American letters: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and other New-England lecturers. Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1969.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes. 10 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Ralph L. Rusk. 6 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.

Frank, Douglas Alan. The history of Lawrence Academy at Groton: 1792 to 1992. Groton: Lawrence Academy, 1992.

Gross, Robert A. The Transcendentalists and their world. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.

Grout, Henry M. Trinitarian Congregationalism in Concord: An historical discourse, delivered at Concord, Mass., June 4, 1876, on occasion of the completion of the first half century of the Trinitarian Congregational Church. Concord: Thomas Todd, 1876.

Means, Anne M. Amherst and our family tree. Boston: privately printed, 1921.

Munroe, Mary. Historical sketch of the Second Congregational Church & Society, Concord, Mass, 1826 – 1876. Typescript. 1876, Tri-Con of Concord records, Concord Free Public Library, Box 12, fol. 17.


Order of exercises at the ordination of Mr. James Means, over the Trinitarian Church and Society in Concord, January 8, 1840. [Concord, 1840].

Reid, Richard M. Freedom for themselves. North Carolina's Black soldiers in the Civil War era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Second Congregational Church Records, 1826 – 1867, manuscript, Concord Free Public Library.

Thoreau, Henry David. The journal of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen. 14 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

Walker, Williston. A history of the Congregational Churches of the United States. New York: Christian Literature Co, 1894.

Watson, Robert A. A history of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, 1826 – 1998. Concord, MA: Trinitarian Congregational Church, 2000.


Obituary in the Cleveland Daily Leader, 13 May 1863

We are grateful for the help generously offered by Professor Robert A. Gross and Jessie Hopper of the Concord Free Public Library, and claim sole responsibility for any errors that may vermiculate our description.

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    Archive of Rev. James Means of Concord, gadfly of the Transcendentalists