Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recently Catalogued: The Life, Experiences, and Incidents of Rev. Gardner Dean

The Life, Experiences and Incidents of Rev. Gardner Dean, Written by Himself, Together with Genealogies of the Gardner, Dean and Hinds Families, by Ebenezer W. Peirce. New Bedford, Mass. : Paul Howland, Jr., 1883.
According to the preface, "Everybody wants to read this book, for it is full of facts stranger than fiction." By his own account, the Rev. Dean lived an exciting life. His book claims that he was "a school-teacher, a preacher, a Son of Temperance, a 'come-outer,' a Baptist, a Freemason, an Odd Fellow, a Congregationalist, a Christian, a lecturer, a revivalist, full of faith, full of hope, full of zeal, full of dignity, full of humor, full of drollery."

Rev. Dean (1816-1882) was a Baptist minister who preached in various states from Maine to Illinois. During the Civil War, he served for three months in a Pennsylvania regiment. The History of Bristol County, Massachusetts (1883) described him as "A man of culture, Gardner Dean, an evangelist, well known in almost every State from New England to Illinois, somewhat eccentric, but had many admirers."

In 1853, he claimed to have been abducted in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His sudden departure prompted search parties, police investigations, and the offer of $300 for information. He reappeared two weeks later in Albany, New York, with little explanation for his disappearance. The New Bedford Standard expressed frustration about the time and expense of searching for him, concluding, "The most charitable construction we can put on such conduct is that the reverend gentleman went off in a fit of insanity!"

Rev. Dean eventually gave a full account of his supposed abduction in a letter to the mayor of New Bedford, writing that he had been abducted by three men, robbed, and taken to New York. His captors threatened to kill him and made him swear to change his name and occupation, and write letters to his friends pretending that he had run away. The public remained skeptical of his account. An editorial in the New York Weekly Herald read, "In fact, the whole story is so incoherent that we do not profess to reconcile its circumstances or to account for its incongruities." Dean's friends in New Bedford assembled a committee to investigate the case and clear his name. They published resolutions expressing confidence in Rev. Dean's integrity and character, accompanied by letters of support from the Freemasons and Odd Fellows of Pennsylvania.

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