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07.07.04 Bachman, C. L., John Bachman, the Pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Charleston. Published in 1888.

Notes Concerning the Author

This biography of John Bachman (1790-1874) was published by his daughter Catherine L. Bachman, using material compiled by Bachman’s grandson Rev. John Bachman Haskell, who died before he could complete his biography.

Our Review

John Bachman was an important, internationally known naturalist and a beloved Lutheran minister of Charleston, S.C. Born in New York, he became the minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1815 and remained its pastor until about 1870. Bachman collaborated with the renowned naturalist John James Audubon to produce The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (published in three volumes 1845-1849), providing much of the scientific data which informed Audubon’s beautiful paintings.  

(To see our review of Audubon’s most important publication, click here: )

The following facts about Bachman’s life are taken from Appleton’s Cyclopedia (1888):

“He was associated with Audubon in the preparation of his work on ornithology, and…also wrote ‘Two Letters on Hybridity’ (Charleston, 1853); ‘Characteristics of Genera and Species, as Applicable to the Doctrine of the Unity of the Human Race’ (1854); ‘Notice of the Types of Mankind by Nott and Gliddon’ (1854); and ‘Examination of Prof. Agassiz’s Sketch of the Natural Provinces of the Animal World,’ etc.  (1855), and was a contributor to the ‘Medical Journal’ of South Carolina.”

Bachman’s book on the unity of the races was written in opposition to current scientific thought on the subject of race by such men as Dr. Samuel George Morton of Philadelphia, and his protégé Louis Agassiz of Harvard. Agassiz, one of the most famous scientists in the world at the time, theorized that the races came from separate origins (that is, separate creations) and were endowed with unequal attributes; this theory was known as polygenism, or polygenesis. Bachman maintained the orthodox Christian view that humankind had a single origin, and that all the human ethnic groups were the descendants of Adam and Eve.

Dr. Bachman was also the professor of Natural History at the College of Charleston from 1848 to 1853, and helped to found Newberry College as well as the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C.  In December 1860, he was one of the ministers chosen to offer the opening prayer at South Carolina’s Secession Convention.  He regretted the dissolution of the Union, but thought it was better for the two sections of the country to separate, like Abraham and Lot, when they could no longer live together amicably.

  A valuable collection of books on natural history collected by Dr. Bachman, along with journals he kept, was destroyed when General Sherman’s forces burned Columbia, S.C.  In February 1865, when Sherman’s army proceeded to Cheraw, S.C., Bachman was in the area, staying at a place called Cash’s Depot, where he was robbed of his watch by Federal soldiers. The soldiers repeatedly questioned him about the location of other valuables, and when he did not answer to their satisfaction, one of them brutally beat him, so severely that one of his arms was paralyzed for the rest of his life.  A few weeks later, Dr. Bachman happened to encounter this same soldier, now a captive held by outraged Confederate militia who, as Bachman described it, “thirsted for revenge.”  When the man begged for mercy, the clergyman chose not to identify him as his assailant, and thus probably spared his life.     

Largely overlooked as an significant and influential figure of his time, Bachman’s importance as a scientist has been recognized relatively recently in a book published in 2000, Science, Race and Religion in the American South, by Lester D. Stephens, and his major writings have recently been collected and published by the Southern Texts Society, but to date there has been no full length biographical study of Bachman’s life since this biography of the 1880s.

Availability of this Book

Original copies of this book are rare, but it is available as a facsimile reprint on Amazon and other online vendors.  To read the on-line pdf, click below: