Ohio Watchman (1834-1837)

Ohio Watchman (1834-1837)

Prospectus: The extraordinary, systematic and persevering exertions of clerical and fanatic leaders and politicians, to usurp the powers of government, and crush the liberties of the people, by assuming an inquisitorial control over all Colleges and Schools of learning, and associations for benevolent purposes; over public opinion, the press, the ballot, our halls of legislation, and courts of justice, have alarmed the friends of civil and religious liberty, and caused the cautious Watchman to mount the walls of its fortress, and sound the tocsin, to warn the unwary of the near approach of clerical despotism, that most subtle, and most formidable foe of human liberty.


Watchman.  1:1 (Nov. 1834) – 1:3 (Jan. 1835).[1]

Ohio Watchman. 1:1 (Jan. 31, 1835) – 2:12 (Dec. 24, 1836); Extra (Jan. 18, 1837).[2]

Ohio Watchman, and Liberal Enquirer. 3:5 (May 13, 1837) – 3:7 (June 10, 1837); 3:9 (July 8, 1837) – 3:10 (July 20, 1837).

Editor: John Harmon.

Publication Information: Ravenna, Ohio.

Frequency: Monthly and later Semi-Monthly.

Subjects/Features: Secularism, Revivalism and Fanaticism (Lucius Foote, Jedediah Burchard, Charles Finney),  Abner Kneeland – Blasphemy Case, Abolition, and Poetry.

Periodical Reprints from: Boston Investigator, Free Enquirer (N.Y.), Gospel Advocate, Herald of Reason (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.), Temple of Reason (Philadelphia), World as it Is (Rochester), Cleveland Liberalist, and The Beacon (N.Y.).


The Movement

Debate – Knowlton and Thatcher[3]

Charles Knowlton. “Opening Speech.” 3:5-7 (May 13- June 10, 1837): 1-2, 1-2, 1. This speech was delivered during the debate between Knowlton and Rev. Tyler Thatcher at Hawley, Massachusetts in September, 1836.

Rev. Mr. Thatcher’s Reply to Dr. Knowlton. 3:7, 9 (June 10, July 8, 1837): 1-2, 1.

Dr. Knowlton’s Rejoinder. No. I. Is there any being or agent in existence that is not Material?” 3:10 (July 20, 1837): 1.

Church and State

Servetus. “Church and State!!” 1:1 (Nov. 1834). This broadsheet begins, “Freemen awake! No longer sleep upon your posts while your rights are invaded! A subtle, sly, but insidious foe is abroad in the land, and without our united efforts, our liberties are lost forever! ‘Tis no chimera! ‘tis no illusion of the brain! ‘tis no fancy! It is dread reality – and unless we awake, and resist, resistance will soon be in vain. The wary politician and political Christian, who love ease, and office more than their God, or their country, may cry “peace, peace, but there is no peace,” unless it be the peace of religious despotism. It is resistance, and resistance now, or, for us, it is slavery forever.”

Servetus. “Church and State.” 1:2 (Dec. 1834). Warning readers of the ambitions of the “religious party in politics,” the author writes, “Look at the vast strides for political power taken by the clergy in the United States! Congress, year after year, teased with the incessant importunities of the “Sunday Mail” petitioners, and when the clerical instigators of it meet with a “Thames defeat” from the immortal Johnson, they openly proclaim that they will reform Congress, by placing men there who will sanction their creed by a public Act! To effect this, slander, reproach, and every term of contempt have been lavished on the man who dare resist this unhallowed attempt to sanction a religious creed, by an act of Congress. The whole vocabulary of clerical abuse has been searched, and its contents heaped on the immortal Johnson. But a still more alarming fact is that on this first attempt to Unite Church and State by an act of Congress, there were found in that body men to stand forth, as its advocates!”

Servetus. “Church and State.” 1:3 (Jan. 1835). In this broadsheet, the author exposes clerical beggars announcing “No- it is not the Savior that is calling for pecuniary aid- it is the clergy. It is not the interests of the Lord that are suffering for want of money, it is the clerical “benevolent operation” fund. It is not the work of salvation that moves slowly for want of money, it is sectarianism. It is the clergy, and for the clergy, that the constant cry of “give, give, give unto the Lord” is made.”

A letter to the editor from “J.C.” 2:5 (May 14, 1836): 1. The letter begins, “I congratulate the friends of liberal principles and equal rights, upon the spread of those principles which we cherish. They have caused the complete prostration of the State Priest Law, and destroyed, I hope forever, the union of Church and State.”


“State Priest.” 1:3 (Mar. 28, 1835): 1. This editorial opposes the legislative appointment of a chaplain to preach in the prisons.

M.R. “State Prayers.” 1:3 (Mar. 28, 1835): 3. Reprinted from the Reformer, this is a short opinion piece opposing the use of public funds to pay for prayers in the U.S. Congress.

Sabbath Observances

A reprinting of a letter from J.C. Dean Jr. to the editor of the Herald of Reason. 1:3 (Mar. 28, 1835): 4. Dean reports on the conditions of Litchfield jail where he was imprisoned for fishing on a Sunday.

Tax Exemption

“Religious Corporations.” 1:2 (Feb. 28, 1835): 1. This article points out how tax payers are indirectly made to support the priesthood by laws that exempt church property from taxation.

“Church Incorporations.” 2:8 (Aug. 20, 1836): 1. The editor reports, “Property to the amount of two and a half million of dollars annually is withdrawn from taxation, and placed in the hands of the clergy! Disguise it as we may it is church and state united. As well might a direct tax be laid upon us to support the clergy – or tithes be taken, as to withdraw property from taxation, and allow them to use it without contributing to the support of Government.”

Freedom of Speech


“Kneeland’s Case.” 1:12 (Dec. 26, 1835): 2. The editor opines, “It’s hard to believe that civilly expressing one’s opinions, is punishable as blasphemy, in any state of this republic. And if there is such an antiquated law in the books, it is singular if in this age of the world, in the very cradle of liberty, men can be bigoted and foolish enough to suppose they are doing Gods service, and advancing the cause of religion by raking up such an old law from its slumbers in the old statute book, and using it to persecute for years, an aged man . . . .”



“From a Choctaw Boy.” 1:2 (Feb. 28, 1835): 2. Reprinted from the Reformer, the author, a Christian convert and interpreter, writes, “When our Yankee missionaries first come to our nation, they told us that they loved red people’s souls, and all they wanted was just permission, and they would clothe, feed, and school our children for nothing! Well, we tho’t this a good thing, and that the spirit had moved the hearts of our fathers, the white people, to come and do us poor starved and naked savages good- but we soon found to our sorrow that it was our property and money they loved, and not the souls of the red men . . . .”

G.V. “Abuse of Religion.” 1:6 (June 27, 1835): 4. Reprinted from the Citizen of the World, Vale remarks, “We are not Catholics nor Presbyterians, we have no partialities for either, neither have we any disposition to annoy unobtrusive piety in connexion with any creed – but we regard as vicious any obtrusive religion, and view with dissatisfaction the bitter cup which fanaticism, or interested cunning is preparing for us.”

P.T.B. “Priestcraft Personified or the Devil with his cloven hoof fully Visible.” 1:7 (July 25, 1835): 1. Reprinted from the Herald of Reason, the author contends that, “Priestcraft has been correctly likened to the poisonous Bohon Upas of the Indies, which scatters blight, desolation, and death, over all within its influence.”

Religion and Science

A letter to the editor from “P.” 1:5 (May 23, 1835): 1-2. The author commences his letter, “That the advancement of science has been greatly, if not principally instrumental in the amelioration of the condition of man, few if any at this day, will venture to deny. That a nation is prosperous, powerful and happy in proportion to its progress in science; and weak and wretched in proportion to its lack of scientific knowledge, can hardly admit of doubt. Yet, have not those sciences to which we are so deeply indebted, struggled into birth almost by miracle, in opposition to that spirit of intolerance and monkish superstition which by fraud or force, would usurp the scepter of reason and banish all freedom of thought from the face of the earth?”


“Abolition.” 1:8-9 (Aug. 29-Sept. 26, 1835): 3, 3. The editor refers to Theodore Dwight Weld and the Tappans as “religious fanatics and abolition incendiaries” and their anti-slavery message as “mad folly.”

Holding Library: Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library.


[1] There were only 3 numbers of the Watchman issued; each was a single broadsheet.

[2] The number of subscribers: 1st issue (38), 2nd issue (less than 400), 3rd issue (665), 5th issue (842), 6th issue (1,000), 12th issue (1,100), 29th issue (850). See, “Our Prospects.” 1:3 (Mar. 28, 1835): 1; “To Our Patrons.” 1:4 (May 23, 1835): 1; “To Our Patrons.” 1:6 (June 27, 1835): 1; “To Our Patrons.” 1:12 (Dec. 26, 1835): 2; “Our Prospects. 3:5 (May 13, 1837): 2.

[3] Tyler Thatcher, an ultra-Calvinist, challenged Knowlton to a public debate. According the History of the Town of Hawley, “The challenge was accepted, the parties met and a great forensic battle was fought between the theism of the Puritan fathers and modern materialism, Dr. Knowlton taking his turn in occupying the pulpit in the old church, from which, up to that day, nothing had emanated but the pure unadulterated theism of the pilgrim fathers. Mr. Thatcher was assisted by a man named Batchelder, who made it his business to travel the country and hold public meetings with infidels. A large audience gathered from the surrounding towns to hear the debate, and the result was the friends of both sides claimed the victory.” See, William Giles Atkins, History of the Town of Hawley 92 (1887).