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Jacob Frieze

Jacob Frieze (1789-1880), a Universalist minister from New England, was an early missionary to North Carolina. After retiring from the ministry he became a Rhode Island political journalist, reporting on, and participating in, the events culminating in the Dorr War, 1842.

Jacob, the son of Jacob Freese and Vashti Thayer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His father died when he was ten years old. In early adulthood he was a schoolmaster and a musician. He married Betsey Slade. They had two sons, Henry and Lyman. Henry Simmons Frieze (1817-1889), a professor of Latin, served as Acting President of the University of Michigan, 1869-71, 1880-82, and 1887-88. Gen. Lyman Bowers Frieze (1825-1917) was a member of the Republican National Committee, 1868-72.

In 1822 Frieze was granted Universalist fellowship and ordained by the Southern Association (the Southern Association included churches and ministers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut). He was for several years active at their meetings, serving as clerk, 1823-24. He was minister at the Universalist church at Milford, Massachusetts, 1822-24, following Thomas Whittemore and preceding Adin Ballou. He then moved to the church in Marlborough, Massachusetts, 1824-26.

At the request of Hosea Ballou and Abner Kneeland, in 1826 Frieze traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he preached for a circuit of societies in Wilmington and in rural areas in the eastern part of the state. In 1827 he made an evangelical visit to South Carolina, organized the Southern Convention of Universalists, and founded a Universalist newspaper, the Liberalist. Neither the convention nor the newspaper survived long after Frieze departed. Universalism in North Carolina languished for decades afterwards due to lack of preachers.

Because of family health problems in 1828 Frieze returned to his native Rhode Island and settled in Pawtucket, serving the year-old Universalist church there for about a year. During 1828-29 he assisted his Providence colleague, David Pickering, editing the local Universalist newspaper, the Christian Telescope, and organizing the Providence Association. Frieze engaged in a controversy with the Baptist revival preacher, Calvin Philleo (later the husband of Prudence Crandall, who was persecuted in the 1830s for teaching black students at her Canterbury, Connecticut school). Philleo declined debating with Frieze, but made an unwelcome evangelical call on Frieze's family and thus earned himself the epithet, the "Pawtucket Fanatic" in the Universalist press.

In 1829 the failure of the Farmers and Merchants Bank put a number of Pawtucket textile mills out of business. In consequence the Universalists there could no longer make the payments on the debt for their new building. After selling their sanctuary to the Baptists, the society disbanded.

Holmes Slade, a Universalist minister ordained in Pawtucket in 1842, later blamed Frieze for the demise of the Pawtucket church, saying that Frieze had "turned infidel." 1829 was the height of the "infidel" scare amongst Universalists—Abner Kneeland and Orestes Brownson were both driven out that year—and the Providence minister Pickering was a leading voice decrying Kneelandism. It may well be that Pickering, who had preached at Frieze's installation the year before, had fallen out with his Pawtucket colleague and spread the rumor that Frieze had fallen away from Universalism. Thomas Whittemore, an ultra Universalist opponent of Pickering and editor of the Trumpet and Universalist Magazine, did not doubt that Frieze remained a good Universalist. Between 1829 and 1831 he featured four of Frieze's sermons on the front page of the Trumpet.

Frieze did not seek another ministry. His early retirement was caused, at least in part, by health problems. By the evidence of his published sermons he may have done supply preaching for several years. A Mason, he was Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island in 1831. He published a few religious tracts—A Dissertation on the Subjects of Death, the General Judgment, and Future Interminable Punishment, 1831, and An Inquiry into the Causes, Extent, and Present and Final Consequences of Clerical Influence in This Country, 1833—but gradually shifted his energy to politics and political journalism. During the 1830s he was a writer for the Republican Herald in Providence. In 1837 he held the office of Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. In 1840, during the presidential campaign, he edited a pro-Democratic political poetry newspaper, the Extinguisher.

Rhode Island had long been governed under a charter granted the colony by Charles II in 1663, under which only landowners could vote. Frieze supported a movement to create a new state constitution and to extend the franchise, but became disillusioned with the other members of the Suffrage Party when it became clear to him that they did not intend to work within the existing system to produce reform, but planned to violently overthrow the established government. During the ensuing Dorr War, he was one of the most severe critics of Thomas Dorr, the governor chosen by the Suffrage Party's People's Constitution.

After the failure of Dorr's revolution, Frieze's testimony on the crisis was included in an 1844 report to the United States House of Representatives. He also wrote his own account, A Concise History of the Efforts to Obtain an Extension of Suffrage, 1811-42, 1842. Included in this was an explanation of his own political principles: "With hundreds of others, [Frieze] boldly advocated, and still does, the original sovereignty of the people, the source of all political power. But he has also recognized the great principle, that force is never to be exercised for redress of grievances, till in the last extremity, all peaceable remedies shall have been applied, and proved ineffectual."

In 1844-45 Frieze co-edited the Christian Warrior, a Universalist weekly in Richmond, Virginia. While there he revisited his old preaching circuit in North Carolina and subsequently urged northern Universalists to send a new clergy mission to the South. He made another visit to the South in 1857. Late in life he served as private secretary to the United States Senator from Rhode Island, William Sprague, for a part of his term, 1863-75.

There are references to Frieze's work as a minister in the Edward Turner Letters in the Universalist Special Collections at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in the records of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Milford, Massachusetts. Many of Frieze's publications can be found at the Rhode Island Historical Society and in the Brown University libraries, in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to the works mentioned in the article above, he wrote Divine Providence and Human Agency, a Sermon (1826); Two Discourses on the Subject of Religious Excitements (1829); Letter to Rev. Mr. Philleo (1829); Address Delivered before the Grand lodge of Rhode-Island, (1832); Facts for the People: Containing Comparison and Exposition of Votes on Occasions Relating to the Free Suffrage Movements in Rhode Island (1842); An Address Before St. John's Lodge no. 96 at Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina (1844); and The Elements of Social Disorder, A Plea for the Working Classes in the United States (1844). Information on Frieze can be found in Russell Miller, The Larger Hope, vol. 1 (1979); James B. Angell, A Memorial Discourse on the Life and Services of Henry Simmons Frieze (1890); and Edward Field, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century: A History, vol. 2 (1902).

Article by Peter Hughes


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