Somehow I missed it. John Buescher published a biography of John Murray Spear, the first minister of First Universalist Church of New Bedford, back in 2006. I had read Buescher’s The Other Side of Salvation: Spiritualism and Nineteenth Century Religious Experience, with its chapter on Spear, and had known then that Buescher was preparing a full-length biography of Spear. But somehow I missed the fact that Buescher had published The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land a year and a half ago.
Spear’s tenure at First Universalist here in New Bedford was remarkable in of itself. Spear was an ardent abolitionist, and managed to attract the prominent African American Nathan Johnson to join the Universalist church — Johnson was active with the Underground Railroad, and is probably most famous for providing shelter and a new name for Frederick Douglass when Douglass finally made it to the safety of New Bedford in 1837.
In midlife, Spear left Universalism to become a spiritualist — and perhaps it because of this that today’s Unitarian Universalists don’t talk about him much. But that doesn’t mean that you have to ignore Spear. You can buy his biography here.