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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,258

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This is the grave of Ovid Butler.

Born in 1801 in Augusta, New York, Butler grew up around there until he was sixteen, when the family moved west to the fresh territory of Indiana, just wrested from the tribes through genocide.

Butler became a lawyer and opened a practice in the town of Shelbyville, Indiana in 1825 (jokes write themselves here). He did that for about eleven years. While he was engaged in his law practice, Butler became a staunch abolitionist. He moved his practice to Indianapolis in 1836 and became among city’s most well-known abolitionists and general reformers. In 1849, he started the Free Soil Banner, which became an important abolitionist newspaper. He was vociferous in his attacks on the Fugitive Slave Act in the paper, which became law a year later and which galvanized much of the north against slavery, if not against white supremacy. As part of this, he engaged in the long move from being a big Democrat early in his life to being a Republican. In fact, it was often the disaffected Democrats who became the real anti-slavery activists in the new party, much more so than the old business oriented Whigs who mostly wanted to continue to talk about slavery much.

Like many abolitionists, Butler was a deeply religious man. Being a prominent citizen of the state, he was able to lobby the state legislature to found a new university based on Christian values in the capitol of Indianapolis. This was a popular idea among the legislature and not only did they found North-West Christian University in 1855, but the school was renamed after Ovid Butler in 1877. He actually didn’t want that, but the school was going to honor him whether he wanted it or not. Butler was on the board of directors until 1871 and he made it a liberal Christian school that recruited students not just from Indiana, but from around the region. He also made sure that the school hired women as professors, which was far from common at the time. Butler generally supported women’s rights, although he wrote about it more privately than made public statements in favor of such a wild and controversial position, which it really was seen as during this era.

Butler died in 1881. He was 80 years old.

Ovid Butler is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

If you would like this series to visit other abolitionists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Elijah Lovejoy is in Alton, Illinois and Arthur Tappan is in New Haven, Connecticut. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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