Willard McKinstry is remembered even in the year 2016 by his descendant Pamela Morey Okolita Sherrill. Her email to me says it all
“Please share, and post. He was a newspaperman. This was published in the Fredonia Censor… 1 Feb 1899.”
A newspaper man that was revered by his colleagues, family, friends, and a society that was under Civil War. Willard McKinstry, to quote his great granddaughter, “Was an awesome role model, for sure.”
The following is a transcription of E. P. Cleveland’s address at Willard McKinstry’s funeral 29 Jan 1899. It was published in the Fredonia Censor 1 Feb 1899, Fredonia, Chautauque, New York.
Willard McKinstry Funeral Oratory
Rev. E. P. Cleveland’s address.
AT THE FUNERAL SERVICE FOR WILLARD MCKINSTRY, IN THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, FREDONIA, JANUARY 29, 1899.
When a good man dies, who for more than half a century has exercised a formative influence upon the thought and life of a community, it is both fitting and profitable for the living to do honor to his memory by laying emphasis upon those strong traits in his character that may help to explain the high place that he held in the public esteem, and the wholesome influence that it was his privilege to exercise. No small part of the secret of such a man’s character and achievements must be sought for in that spiritual legacy that he received at birth from a worthy and godly ancestry; and as we unite this afternoon in paying a tribute of respect and love to our beloved friend, Willard McKinstry, I ask you to consider briefly that sturdy ancestry from which he sprang.
Probably you all know that he was of Scotch extraction. His great-great-grandfather, Roger McKinstry, was living near the city of Edinburgh when the religious persecutions arose under Charles II, and he was compelled, in the year 1669, in order that he might secure that religious liberty and that independence of thought and conscience which are so dear to the true Scot, to remove to the province of Ulster, Ireland. There, in the county of Antrim, Mr. McKinstry’s great-grandfather, John McKinstry, was born in the year 1677. This young man went back to the land of his birth for his education and was graduated with the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Edinburgh. He was educated and ordained for the Presbyterian ministry, and in the year 1718 sailed to America, and settled in Worcester County, Mass. He was pastor during all of his active life over Congregational churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Mr. McKinstry’s grandfather was born in Worcester County, Mass., was graduated at Yale College in 1746, and was ordained in 1752 as the first pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Springfield, now in Chicopee, Mass. He continued in this relation, either as active pastor or as pastor emeritus, during all of his long life. He is described, and I think that we shall recognize the family likeness, “as having been a man of exemplary piety, of a candid spirit, of a modest and humble disposition.”
Willard McKinstry, the seventh of eleven children of Perseus McKinstry and Grace Williams was born at Chicopee, Mass., on May 9th, 1815. His early life was spent on his father’s farm. His father died when he was 14 years of age, and at the age of 16 he, in company with two other young men, became apprenticed in the office of the Northampton Courier to learn the printer’s trade. These three young men were ambitious for learning, and eagerly embraced every opportunity for acquiring useful information, and for the buying and reading of good books. They were indeed destined in a remarkable way to magnify and adorn their chosen profession, following it through life; and to-day the last of the trio, Mr. Prat, of Watertown Times, is bearing no small part of the grief incident to this sad occasion. [Paper torn here] _e first break in this little circle of ___g friends was made by the ______ Brockaway, the late edi__ __tertown Times.[editor of the Watertown times]. In an ex_____ ____nching tribute to Mr. _____ ____lished in the editorial _____ _____ Watertown Times on ______ Pratt says of him, at _____ ______f his apprenticeship, _____ _____ or 17 years of age: _____ __der than writer,_____ [blanks due to torn paper.]
Seemingly intelligent beyond his years, remarkably sedate in demeanor and serious in conversation, and never frivolous in conduct or speech, he made an early and deep impression on his then youthful associate-apprentice, which ripened and solidified into a life-long friendship that has known no estrangement or abatement in all the intervening sixty odd years.”
After working as a journeyman printer in the cities of New York and Hartford, and for three years in the famous publishing house of the Merriams, in Springfield, the publishers of Webster’s Dictionary, he came in 1839 to Chautauqua County, and in 1842 to Fredonia upon purchase of the Censor. Of the details of his career since he came to this village, where for more than half a century his life has been known and read of all men, I need not speak. We all may recall the stirring and critical events in our national history through which he passed, and in which he bore a part as an editorial writer of ability and of earnest and honest convictions. The Mexican War and the territorial expansion resulting therefrom, the Civil War and the wiping out of the curse of African slavery, the reconstruction of the South after the war, and all questions deeply affecting the public weal which have come up during the last fifty years, engaged his deep and serious interest. He enjoyed the confidence and friendship of such leaders of public opinion as Thurlow Weed and Horace Greely, and was regarded by them as one upon whom they could count for great things in the battle for human rights and for the preservation of the Union, and they were not disappointed. His interest in public events was not political, but patriotic, and he gave practical evidence of his patriotism and of his board Christian philanthropy as well, by going to the front during our Civil War, under the auspices of Christian Commission and engaging in the work of caring for wounded and dying soldiers. In all his public and private life he exhibited that absolute integrity which belonged to his Scotch him, and to which he tenaciously adhered as one of his most cherished principles. No true Scotchman like Mr. McKinstry can be accused of ever having lacked the courage of his convictions, but yet his uncompromising character did not make him and enemies. He was magnanimous in his treatment of those with whom he differed. I have heard him tell with satisfaction and delight how grandly on of his friends, to whom he was radically opposed in politics, rose to the demands of a great occasion in the eulogy that he pronounced upon Gen. Grant.
There is not time this afternoon to speak of all the strong points in Mr. McKinstry’s character; but there are a few that deserve to be specially emphasized. The first of these is his strong democratic principles and sympathies. I suspect that he did not greatly reverence that nobility which is determined only by blood. To him the only true nobility was nobility of character. He could endorse heartily the familiar sentiment of Burns:
“The rank is but the guinea-stamp, The man’s the gowd for a’ that.”
And this also from Tennyson:
“Plowmen, shepherd, have I found, and more
Than once, and still could find,
Sons of God, and Kings of men in utter nobleness of mind.
Here and there a cotter’s babe is royal born by right divine:
Here and there my lord is lower than his oxen or swine.”
He had a hearty contempt for that cheap aristocracy, sometimes found in this country that seemed to him to be utterly at variance with national character and institutions. He felt, with Lincoln, that God must love the common people or He would not have made so many of them. And in this intense sympathy with those that make up the great body of society he felt that he was in harmony with the spirit of Him whose words the common people heard gladly. The legend that stood out in letter of iron o the front of the press on which the CENSOR was originally printed, expressed a sentiment with which Mr. McKinstry was in the heartiest accord: “A Free Press. The Tyrant’s Foe; the People’s Friend.”
But there is one thing that I am sure Mr. McKinstry would rather have said of him to-day than almost anything else that could be said. That is, he was ever the friend of the down trodden and oppressed. Nothing else could rouse his indignation as a tale of oppression or wrong. This trait in his character was the secret of his intense moral enthusiasm in the interests of the abolition of African slavery. He was the black man’s friend, however, not only before but also after he was set free. He made generous donations every year to the American Missionary Association for educational work among the freedmen of the South, and it was only two years ago that by a donation of #30 to this society he constituted his pastor a life member of it. But these glowing words from Mr. McKinstry’s own pen reveal his sympathy with the oppressed more clearly than can any words of mine. In his editorial on “The modern Martyr Age,” published over 30 years ago, he said: “Of all the martyrs of this century, none may wear a brighter crown than those who made such great sacrifices for the benefit of a helpless and oppressed people, who for 200 years had worn the shackles of slavery. When such men as Gerrit Smith and Wendell Phillips, cradled in affluence and surrounded with a;; the comforts which wealth can give, devote their great talents, time and wealth in behalf of the down trodden and oppressed-such men as Garrison, Lundy and John Brown, the noblest martyr of the century—and scores of others, who gave themselves to the cause of a people who were helpless in themselves, and struck hard blows for those who could make no return but their gratitude, such men will wear the martyr’s crown, and the brightest pages of history will herald their praise, and the richest breathings of poetry will perpetuate their renown.” During almost the last call that made upon Mr. McKinstry, only a few days since, he spoke with a glow of enthusiasm, his rugged features radiant with that benignant smile that all his friends knew so well, of the monument in Washington, erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln, representing the emancipated slaves kneeling amid their broken shackles at the feet of their deliverer, expressing gratitude for their freedom, and he felt and said that no grander monument had ever been erected.
Still another characteristic of Mr. McKinstry was his open mindedness; his readiness to accept truth from whatsoever quarter it might come. I do not mean by this that he was inclined to take up with present-day, so-called liberal fads, or to chase intellectual will-o’-the-wisps. He had too much good strong common sense for that. I simply mean that he believed in truth and in its invincibility. He believed that true progress consists in the discovery of new truth, or of old truth newly discerned, and that it is our duty ever to be struggling towards light. It is remarkable that at an age when most men become conservative, his tendency was toward broader views of truth and more tolerant spirit. He was already well advanced in years when, writing to one who he hoped would become his pastor, of the temper of the church to which he belonged, he said: “We believe that not all the light which has come into the world has been exhausted. “The world moves’ and no earthly power can stop it.” The statement that his mind was in an unusual degree open to the reception of truth is still further justified by his own closing words in his lecture on “The weapons of truth are not those of war and bloodshed. It asks no penal statues for its protection, though hecatombs of victims have been offered at its shrine when the arm of political power has been arrayed against it. ‘Let truth and error grapple,’ only let the field of contest be free and open and we need not fear the results. ‘The toleration of error is safe, if truth is left free and unrestrained action. Let the schoolmaster be sent abroad to develop and awaken its latent powers, and the press teem with new thoughts, thrown forth for examination and investigation. Let the mind be free, and we cannot be slaves. He whose soul is in bondage to his passions and prejudices is most abject of slaves. Then let us cherish freedom of the mind as the basis of civil and religious liberty-ever remembering that he whom the truth makes free is free indeed.” It was this trait that gave him his hopeful view of life. He had little use for pessimism or pessimists. He looked not backward but forward. He believed that the golden age is yet to be.
But any attempted sketch of Mr. McKinstry’s character would be strongly incomplete, if emphasis were laid upon that which was his crowning glory and the secret of his usefulness and nobility of life. I refer to his simple religious faith. When but 14 years of age he joined the church to which his grandfather had preached long before he was born. He joined the Presbyterian Church in this village in the 1848, and was for 45 years one of its ruling elders. During all his life, until within the last two years, when his feeble health would not permit, he was identified with the Sunday-school. In this church his presence was a tower of strength. The simplicity and child-like confidence of his faith made those of us who heard him speak and pray and saw him live, turn with greater simplicity and devotion to his God and ours. I remember the dep emotion with which Mr. McKinstry, within the last year, at the funeral of a friend, listened to this illustration of Christian confidence: One of Garribaldi’s generals had suddenly been ordered to advance. Some of his subordinates asked him: “Where are we going?” The general replied: “I don’t know, but Garribaldi knows.” Was it not this same Christian confidence that led our venerated friend and brother to answer the surnames of his Divine Master, and to breathe as his final prayer of praise in this world, the last words that ever fell from his lips, “WE THANK THEE, HEAVENLY FATHER.”