REV. ABEL CHANDLER by Barb Chandler

“I’m now, preaching & lecture ing on Spiritualism, & find good success & plenty to hear me – Strainge as you may think, yet the spirit friends can controll me, & impress my mind to speak the glorious things of truth that these things are so – It is in vane for you, or any one else to contradict me in what I know, therefore, time can be saved by learning this New philosiphy your self. I would write you on this matter, & show you the laws of Nature on this momentous subject, but I think it would be time thrown away, unless you have learnt that God is not a God of wrath. – Portion of letter from Abel Chandler to his brother dated Dec 31st: 1857

When I read the copy of this letter my cousin sent my interest was piqued. I had to find out about Abel. What was his involvement with Spiritualism? Was he a licensed minister? Did he publish any sermons or tracts? These questions filled my head so I went on a quest to find answers.

After years of searching through resources on Spiritualism, I hit a dead end. The resources had nothing about Abel. I gave up and started going through Google Books to see if I might find other Chandlers. I could not believe my eyes when I saw an article about Abel. Abel was licensed but not as a minister of Spiritualism. He was a Universalist and was credited with planting the first seeds of the Universalist faith in New Salem, IL. There was not a date attached to the article, however, I surmised it had to be sometime after 1836 since he was fellowshipped to the ministry in the last half of 1836.[1]

I searched everywhere for more information about Rev. Abel and found nothing. I turned to general articles thinking I might learn more about the religion. and get a idea of what Universalism was like in the years which Abel ministered.

“Universalist theology developed from the dislike to the Calvinist idea of predestination – that some people were born to go to heaven, and some to hell, and nothing you did on earth could change that outcome. Universalist ministers were convinced that God loved his creatures too much to send them to suffer in hell forever.[2]

Early Universalists, both laity and clergy, had a distinctive character that set them off from other liberal religionists. Unlike the typically urban and urbane Unitarian clergy, many of the early Universalist preachers were rough-hewn circuit riders with little formal education who worked the frontiers, where they challenged the theology that Calvinist hellfire-and-brimstone preachers were spreading across the continent at tent meetings and revivals. In fact, the 19th-century Universalists took such pride in their ministers’ humble backgrounds that it was an article of faith among them that the best way to ruin a good minister was to send him or her to theological school. With their quick wits, their talent for improvisation, and their radically democratic bent, the circuit riders and their followers were quintessentially American, and their lives were the stuff of which good stories are made.[3]

When I put together these general facts about Universalism the letter from Abel to his brother became clear to me. I learned that Universalist ministers helped shape the Spiritualist movement, and were among the public promoters and lecturers.[4] Besides his belief in Spiritualism, I’m guessing that Abel’s used the word ‘strange’ because of the some of the liberal ideas he embraced like; women’s rights, anti-slavery, and temperance.[5]

I can only imagine the history my great great uncle must have seen.



[1] Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate Vol. 8 and

History of Pike County, Illinois page 629

[2] New Garden Community Church Unitarian Universalist Faith Community, Where did Unitarian Universalism come from?, http://www.newgardenuu.org/what_is_unitarian_universalism.htm

[3] Of Sand Bars and Circuit Riders, Reich David, http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/2745.shtml

[4] Spiritualism, http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/spiritualism.html

[5] Universalists on the Praire, http://www.psduua.org/heritage/bring/part1/1a_brigham.html

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