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Lawman tried in court of public opinion for horsewhipping pastor

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:34 PM

However, only once in our history has a reverend been horsewhipped due to an accusation. The man was the Rev. Joseph Anderson, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Grand Haven.


It happened on Dec. 28, 1860, when Edward W. Parks, accompanied by his brother, William H. Parks, paid an unexpected visit to the home of 59-year-old Anderson. 


According to the Grand Haven News, Edward Parks knocked on the pastor’s front door and asked Anderson if they could speak for a moment on the porch. Parks assured him “his intentions were of a peaceful nature.” When Anderson stepped outside, Parks then pulled a horsewhip and commenced giving the reverend a brutal lashing.


Moses Everett, a neighbor who happened to be at the Anderson home, rushed out to the porch and placed himself between the pastor and the Parkses, thus ending the beating. Anderson’s wife, Lucy, and three of his children witnessed the assault. 


According to reports, Edward Parks claimed weeks earlier — when he was away on business — Anderson had visited his home and made improper advances to his 36-year-old wife, Maria Parks. The Parks were members of First Congregational Church, which had looked into Maria's complaint and determined nothing inappropriate had taken place. No action was taken against Anderson. 


Equally shocking as the attack was the stature of the perpetrators. Edward W. Parks was Ottawa County Deputy Sheriff, and his brother, William H. Parks, was once prosecuting attorney for Ottawa County and currently an attorney at law. Both men, whose jobs were to uphold the law, had broken it. 


Edward and William Parks, along with two other brothers — John and George — were affluent and influential men in Ottawa County. But the assault on the Pastor quickly turned public opinion against the family, whom in defense of Maria Parks, lashed a verbal assault against Anderson.


It appears Edward Parks never spent a day in jail for the assault, likely because as Deputy Sheriff, he was “the jailer” — a job taking place outside of a cell, not in one. However, Pastors from various West Michigan churches spearheaded an investigation into the matter. 


Local newspapers, such as the Ottawa Clarion and Grand Haven News, showed personal bias and facts depended whose side one was on. James and John W. Barnes, publishers of the Grand Haven News, were pro-Anderson. John W. Barnes was a deacon in Anderson's church. Henry Clubb, publisher of the Clarion and a close friend of the Parks families, vigorously defended Maria Parks’ dignity.


From January to February 1861, it appeared the horsewhipping was all anyone was talking about. Citizens began to cry conspiracy and claim the coverage itself was scandalous. It appeared judgment of the case would take place in the court of public opinion.


Then Edward Parks had a letter published in the Grand Rapids Enquirer attempting explain his actions and defend his wife.


“He (Anderson) attempted improprieties with my wife, unworthy of a man much less (if possible) a minister, thereby insulting her as well as an insult to myself,” Parks wrote. “A committee of young men from his church called to settle the matter, I told them that Mr. Anderson must do one of three things, either make a public confession, leave town or be horse-whipped.”


Upon hearing of Anderson’s denial in the first internal church investigation, Parks became enraged.


“I heard of it, then determined to, and did, horsewhip him,” Parks wrote.


Edward’s other brothers, George and John, soon had letters published in area newspapers defending their sister-in-law. George Parks was Ottawa County Treasurer, and John B. Parks was a former Ottawa County Sheriff. The brothers were essentially calling the church investigation a cover-up. 


On January 30, 1861 the Grand Haven News reported the matter between the Parks brothers and Anderson had been resolved.


“The assault on the Rev. Joseph Anderson by Edward W. Parks, aided and abetted by William H. Parks, at Mr. Anderson’s own house, on the night of the 28th of December last, was unprovoked, wanton, cowardly and brutal,” the News reported. 


The News also stated the accusation of “inappropriate behavior” by Anderson in the presence of Maria Parks was “totally unworthy of credit, and amounting to nothing.”


The investigation found Anderson had committed no wrong doing and the Grand Haven Congregationalist church voted in a series of resolutions in support of Anderson and his family, which included a $200 yearly salary increase.


Edward Parks and his brothers had received a lashing in the court of public opinion.


“A strong attempt has been made to crush me and my family,” Parks wrote.


Although scorned for a time, the Parks families remained affluent and influential. George Parks became Grand Haven’s first Mayor in 1867.


The Rev. Joseph Anderson took a leave of absence in 1862 to serve as chaplain for the 3rd Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. He died at age 80 at his home in South Haven on April 2, 1882, and is buried at Lakeview cemetery there.

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