“Folks don’t write Sundays.”
Lavinia Goodell to her father, early 1840s
According to the unpublished biography of Lavinia Goodell written by her older sister, Maria Goodell Frost, Lavinia’s first experience attending church was in Whitesboro, New York. The minister was Rev. Beriah Green.
Green was born in Connecticut in 1795. He became the pastor of a Congregational church in the early 1820s. By the 1830s he became acquainted with William Lloyd Garrison and became a staunch abolitionist, a calling shared by Lavinia’s father, William Goodell. In 1833, Green became the president of the Oneida Institute, a Presbyterian institution in Whitesboro, New York. Green, along with William Goodell and Alvan Stewart, were founding members of the New York Anti-Slavery society.
In 1836, in a sermon at the Whitesboro Presbyterian church, Green called American slavery “a system of fraud, adultery and murder,” and argued that the slave had been “robbed of inalienable rights.” By the late 1830s, 59 members of that church seceded over the issue of abolition and formed the Congregational Church of Whitesboro. Green served as the church’s pastor from 1843 to 1867. This was the first church that little Lavinia attended. According to Maria Frost Lavinia was excited to see Rev. Green:
A little trill of joy escaped her as her sole known friend appeared in the pulpit, for that goodly man, so like his master, who “suffered the little children to come unto him,” knew all the lambs of his flock and none better than Lavinia.
Lavinia was not a quiet, well-behaved child, even in church. Maria reported:
When the choir had sung the first piece, she overflowed in a little complimentary speech, whereupon her father took her home. Great indeed was her indignation, but making the best of it she commenced a series of gymnastic exercises, so obviously inappropriate to holy time, that her father called her at once to order.
“Rhoda (Lavinia’s given name), you must not play Sundays!”
“Only leap frog,” said this incorrigible little child, continuing her gyrations. Her father took her up by one arm and seated her in her chair more firmly than was agreeable.
The Goodell family kept holy the Sabbath day and refrained from working. Lavinia kept this custom into adulthood. In 1875, she noted in her diary that she had to go to the office because she had so much legal work to do but justified the situation by saying, “If an ass falls into a pit, it is lawful to get him out on the Sabbath.” After scolding his young daughter for playing on Sunday, William Goodell took up his pen, to which Lavinia promptly responded, “Folks don’t write Sundays.”
Soon after this event, the Goodells moved from Whitesboro to Honeoye Lake, where Lavinia’s father became the pastor of a new congregation.
Like William Goodell, Rev. Green had a close relationship with Gerrit Smith, one of Lavinia’s mentors. In his later life, Rev. Green became disillusioned with politics and voiced his frustrations with the new Republican party and President Lincoln for attempting, early in his presidency, to preserve the Union at the expense of Black freedom. Rev. Green died in 1874 while giving a speech on temperance in Whitesboro.
Sources consulted: Life of Lavinia Goodell, unpublished manuscript by Maria Goodell Frost, housed at Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Kentucky; Lavinia Goodell’s diary (November 14, 1875); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beriah_Green; https://www.nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org/beriah-green.html
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