Friday, June 7, 2013


Evanston, Illinois used to be a staunchly Methodist city.  Founded by Methodists, as was Northwestern University, many of the streets of Evanston were named after famous Methodists:  Asbury, Dempster, Foster, Hamlin, Haven, Hinman, Judson, Simpson and Wesley, to name a few.  So when I happened upon the graves of Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell (1842-1928) and his wife Jennie Culver Hartzell (1844-1916) in Rosehill Cemetery, I recognized their name as being the same as another Evanston street.

I assumed that having been a Methodist bishop at an interesting time in American history that there were probably a few good stories buried under his tombstone and I was right. 

Joseph Crane Hartzell was born in Moline, Illinois on June 1, 1842. His parents were Michael Bash Hartzell (1810-1898) and Nancy Worman Stauffer (1817-1909).  He joined his brother John Wesley Hartzell (1838-1906) in the family.  Later there would be another son, Harry Frank Hartzell (1859-1909).  The Hartzell family were ardent Methodists, and Joseph decided at a young age to attend seminary. In 1862, Hartzell received his B. A. from Wesleyan University. He went on to receive a B. D. from Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois.

In 1864, while a student in Evanston, he rescued, in the face of grave danger, four survivors of a schooner wreck near the shore of Lake Michigan.  A vessel went ashore, by the name of "Storm", opposite the university building.  This was several years after the wreck of the Lady Elgin.   The vessel came ashore about a mile below, opposite South Evanston, on the evening of May 9th.  The masts were gone, and the five men on board the vessels were nearly frozen.  Early in the morning of May 10th, after seeing the foundering vessel and its crew hanging on for their lives, Hartzell took a rope to the vessel and helped the men off. Local residents built up fires on the shore, took blankets down to warm the survivors, gave them provisions, and the lives were saved of all but one.  Hartzell was able to accomplish this feat because he had been accustomed to practice swimming in the breakers after storms as a part of his physical exercises.  In recognition of this heroic feat, the citizens of Evanston presented him with a full set of the New American Encyclopedia, and subsequently Congress recognized his act of heroism as well.

He was ordained for the Methodist ministry in 1866, and his first pastoral charge was at Pekin, Ill.  In November of 1869, he married Miss Jane Culver in Chicago.

The Hartzells were blessed with five children:  Joseph Culver Hartzell (1870-1936), John Wesley Hartzell (1873-1873), Jennie Culver Hartzell (1874-1875), Morton Culver Hartzell (1876-1916) and Robert  Culver Hartzell (1879-1933).

In February, 1870, Hartzell was transferred to New Orleans and for three years was pastor of St. Charles Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in that city.  For nine succeeding years he was superintendent of church, educational, and editorial work in New Orleans, and largely directed the evangelistic and educational work of his church throughout the Southwest.  In 1873 he founded the "Southwestern Christian Advocate", which later was made an official organ of the church, a weekly publication of extensive influence.  The twelve years from 1870 to 1882 covered a most important period in the reconstruction era throughout the South, and Hartzell exerted his influence in favor of the newly freed slaves as well as the rights of free blacks by serving two terms as Corresponding Secretary of the Freedmen's Aid and Southern Education Society.

But Hartzell's greatest works were still before him.  

When the retirement of Bishop William Taylor made necessary a successor, the 1896 General Conference of the Methodist Church elected Joseph Hartzell Missionary Bishop for Africa.  For the next four years, Bishop Hartzell traveled 70,000 miles performing the duties of his office.  He presided over four Annual Sessions of the Liberia Annual Conference.  On July 9, 1897 he organized the Congo Mission Conference.  He also laid the foundations of the Mission in New and Old Mutare in present day Zimbabwe.  He received, as donations from the British South Africa Company, valuable lots in New Mutare. These came with appropriations of funds for the maintenance of a school among Europeans, and a tract of several thousand acres with twelve buildings (worth over $100,000 at that time) at Old Mutare, for the establishment of an industrial Mission.  The school established by Bishop Hartzell over one hundred years ago, still exists and fulfills Hartzell's dream of "a place of education for people from all over the continent." 

Bishop Hartzell by Henry Ossawa Tanner  (1902)

Bishop Hartzell held the first sessions of the East Central Africa and West Central Africa Mission Conferences, where were each formed in 1901 from the Congo Mission Conference. He dedicated the St. Andrew's M.E. Church 20 September 1903, the first Methodist Episcopal Church erected for the use of white people in Africa. In the spring of 1910, Bishop Hartzell organized the American Mission in North Africa.
Bishop Joseph C. Hartzell - 1906

At one time when a crisis arose with Germany over Liberia, in which Bishop Hartzell was especially interested, he was made the republic's special envoy to the United States and England, and, as the result of consultations with President McKinley and Lord Salisbury, a joint diplomatic note was addressed to Germany which settled the difficulty. For his service in this regard, Bishop Hartzell was made a Knight Commander of the Order for the Redemption of Africa by the Republic of Liberia.

The year 1916 was the year that Bishop Hartzell, aged 74, retired.  He made his home in Blue Ash, Ohio.  It also proved to be a year of great sorrow and trials for him.  His beloved wife for over 46 years, Jennie Culver Hartzell died on January 27, 1916.

While grieving for his wife, he received notification that his son, Morton, who had been fighting tuberculosis for nearly eight years, was dying. He rushed as best as he could to Morton's bedside in Chicago.  Morton lived long enough for his father to arrive, dying on February 17, 1916, his 40th birthday.

The bad news continued for the Hartzell family in 1916, as another son, Dr. Joseph Culver Hartzell, went through a bitter divorce.

Bishop Hartzell remained active and healthy in his retirement. In 1920, at the age of 78, Bishop Hartzell dedicated the Morton Culver Hartzell Social Center, built and named in honor of his son at the Park South Avenue Methodist Church in Chicago. Park Church was largely an African American congregation with more than 3000 members.

Retirement did not stop his literary contributions.  In 1923 he published "Methodism and the Negro in the United States" in the Journal of Negro History.  Anyone wishing to read Bishop Hartzell's article can find it here:

Some time after 1920 Bishop Hartzell moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with his son Dr. Joseph Hartzell.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of September 7, 1928 brought sad news to the fans and friends of Bishop Hartzell (and there were many):

He was buried in the family plot at Rosehill beside his beloved Jennie:

It is sad that a man who had devoted his life to the service of mankind should be struck down by street thugs.

Bishop Joseph Crane Hartzell (1842-1928)

Joseph C. Hartzell - Bishop, Humanitarian, Husband, Father - may he rest in peace.

Next week I will tell more about the wreck of the schooner "Storm" and Bishop Hartzell's heroic rescue of its crew off of Evanston, Illinois.


  1. What a sad and senseless end for someone who gave so much. And at 86 years of age, it's not like he posed a grave threat to his attackers.

  2. Really interesting post, as always. I had an opportunity to visit Rosehill just this past weekend and I'm already looking forward to going back.

    I always enjoy how much information you have in your posts -- makes for fascinating reading!

  3. I have been researching Bishop Hartzell as well...nice to see my research agrees in large part with yours. I also have been researching his son Rev. Morton Culver Hartzell, a Methodist minister whose firs charge was my church, Epworth UMC in Elgin, Il. He was also an amazing man, full of courage. He died on his 40th birthday in Pasadena CA. Thank you! Ted Whittington, Local Church Historian, Epworth UMC, Elgin, Il

  4. Wow nice read. I was named after him. My name is Mashona Hartzell Marsh. My grand Father gave me my name. He was from Mississippi.