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Christmas is a special time around Hanby House. Of course, the Hanby family would have regarded the spiritual significance of the day as paramount. Visitors today bring their own spiritual perspectives and combine it with their interest in history and the search for Christmas spirit in their busy lives.
Christmas 1864 found Ben Hanby and his wife Kate living in New Paris, Ohio, near the Indiana border. Son Brainerd was 5 years old and little Minnehaha had turned 2 just the month before. The country was in its fourth year of a civil war. Political controversy was a daily event.
Spiritually, Ben had had a difficult year. Earlier that year, after much soul-searching, Ben had decided to leave the pastorate. He had returned his preaching credentials to the Miami Conference of the United Brethren Church. His goal now was to support his family while trying to make a name for himself in the music industry. He continued doing work for music publisher John Church and Company of Cincinnati. He had also opened a singing school in New Paris. It was located in a small storehouse next to the railroad tracks on the west side of town. This was Ben’s way of ministering to young people of the area. Indeed, it was often called Ben’s “singing church.”
As part of Ben’s charitable work, he had built a relationship with a group of Quakers in Richmond, Indiana (only 7 miles away) who reached out to the poor children of the area. The Quakers were planning a Christmas party for those children. Ben was invited to bring his singing church to provide entertainment. As Ben prepared his students, he introduced a new song he had written entitled “Santa Claus.” In it, he included the name of Nell (a name found in several of his songs since his first success with “Darling Nelly Gray”) and the name of Will (Ben’s little brother). The song was performed to great cheers. One report says that Ben’s brother Will actually came from Westerville to visit and was on hand to hear his name sung in this new song.
Sometime in 1865, Ben was offered a job at Root and Cady music publishing house in Chicago. They were the largest music publisher in the United States. Ben was happy to move his family to Chicago and join such a prestigious firm. While there, he published his Christmas song “Santa Claus.” Ben died in Chicago in March 1867 and just 4 years later the Great Chicago Fire destroyed Root and Cady. Despite the loss of the publishing house, Ben’s song carried on as a folk tune. We know it today as “Up on the Housetop.”
Here are Ben’s original lyrics:
Up on the house top, no delay, no pause
Clatter the steeds of Santa Claus;
Down thro’ the chimney with loads of toys
Ho for the little ones, Christmas joys.
O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go.
O! O! O! Who wouldn’t go,
Up on the house top, click! click! click!
Down thro’ the chimney with good St. Nick.
Look in the stocking of Little Will,
Ha! Is it not a “glorious bill?”
Hammer and gimlet and lots of tacks,
Whistle and whirligig, whip that cracks.
Snow-white stocking of little Nell,
Oh pretty Santa cram it well;
Leave her a dolly that laughs and cries,
One that can open and shut its eye
In October 1865, Ben Hanby wrote an editorial for the Religious Telescope. He was apparently responding to an earlier article that complained about the limited number of Otterbein University (now Otterbein College) graduates who chose the ministry as a vocation. Ben shared from personal experience the challenges of attending college and then going into a field with limited income. By the time Ben wrote this editorial, he had given up working as a pastor and had sought to serve God in another way. Ben was working in Chicago for George F. Root, "living the dream" of becoming a full time composer and lyricist.
"A Word from One of the Graduates"
An article appeared in our Missionary paper a short time ago with regard to the limited number of graduates from Otterbein University who are in the ministry. The article was ably replied to by the editor, but with his permission I will add a statement or two
I draw from actual experience of myself and others the facts I here present.
To become a "graduate" of the kind referred to requires six years patient study. It is impossible for a young man to spend that length of time in college without pecuniary assistance, unless he occasionally lays by his books and goes out and earns money. This is apt to prolong his course to a discouraging length. In my own case nine years were necessary to reach the goal, and by that time, in spite of all my efforts and economy, I found myself so much in debt that there seemed to be a very fair prospect of reaching the gaol [jail] as reaching the goal. And the same has been true of most of the other graduates.
Now imagine a young man, or rather a middle aged, for nearly half his life is probably behind him—imagine such a one starting out from his Alma Mater to "do something." He would like to enter the ministry, but how would he ever get these depts. Wiped out with a minister's salary?
Supposing the debts disposed of, where would he get a library? A horse? He ought to me a married man at that age, if he ever intends to marry, but how is he to furnish even the rickety old crib of a house into which he is likely to be thrust? He would like to give all his time to the great work before him. He knows that men in all other vocations only make the most of themselves by giving their entire energies to their calling--that ministers in other churches do this, and that in the M. E. church they take their families with them and live among the people for whose hearts they labor. He would like to do this too, but he sees ministers who have been in the work some ten or twelve years ceasing to move about and retiring to a small, or in some cases a large farm. "This will not do," he says. "Half farmer and half preacher is not the way to succeed. This retiring the family to a farm arises, perhaps, from the difficulty in obtaining a house on the charge. Perhaps that can be remedied by pressing reform upon the people. Let us cry out for parsonages." On inquiry, however, he learns that the day for parsonages in the U. B. church is over--that one of the largest and wealthiest conferences in the church has built parsonages on quite a number of her charges, and those parsonages are vacant, or at least not occupied by the preacher. Where is the preacher? On his farm. It was not the want of parsonages then in this case, at least, that drove the minister into exile.
What is the matter? Simply this. The minister at first starts out with great zeal to his Master's work. He accepts the pecuniary hardships so long as they affect only himself and his companion as a necessary evil to be meekly borne. But after a while the wants of a rising family become imperious. He can not bear to see his children growing up in ignorance around him. He can not bear to see old age approaching with infirmities and helplessness in one hand and dependence upon the church in the other. If that church only yields him a niggardly and grudging support when he is giving her all the energies of his prime, what can he hope for when his is worn out and exhausted?
Now I submit that a sensible young man will think seriously on these things and his conclusion will be about thus: "I must make up my mind if I enter the ministry to retire in a few years to a cabin and a ten-acre potato patch, in some out-of-the-way region where land is cheap, or I must stick to the work, to the neglect of my family, praying heaven to spare me the ills of an old age by removing me when I shall have become incapacitated for active duty.
If he starts with the latter resolution--he enters an ordeal through which few have ever yet succeeded in passing. The difficulties increase at every step. I know personally many ministers now in the prime, whose courage is failing them, and the temptations to withdraw from the active work and provide for their families and for old age are becoming daily more and more powerful.
It is hard, hard to start out with a resolution as deeply fixed as was theirs, and find it after awhile growing every day more difficult and try to adhere to.
As for myself, I started out with this resolution firmly fixed, impracticable as it appears to be. That I am not today in the regular itinerancy is not fault of mine, nor did I leave it on account of the trials referred to, for the works that I had charge of were pleasant and interesting, and there were many good friends on them who would not have seen me suffer. But Providence opened the door and led me into a field of usefulness for which I was better qualified, and in which I am very happy, and I hope, so some extent successful. These personal reference would be entirely improper were it not that the number of graduates referred to in the article in the Missionary paper, is so small as yet, that reference to them almost a mounts to a personality. And when it is state of them in relation to the itinerancy that they are not there, I suppose it is proper for them to state in an equally public way why they are not there.
And now a word to the laity. Some of you are doing your share and a great deal more. You are comparatively few, however. The majority are not doing anything like their duty; but you all find yourselves somewhat solicitous about conference time, and are anxious for a minister who is "up with the times." Pretty choicy in fact. Some of you going so far sometimes as to advise the stationing committee not to send such and such ministers to your work. These objectionable ministers are honest, you admit, and faithful perhaps, but their abilities are limited, their education defective, and they spend a part of the time on their farms or at the work-bench. But how can it be otherwise? If we refuse to sustain young ministers in their attempts at improvement, and back them up in their resolution to give all their time to their work, how can we expect them to meet our demands? The truth is the United Brethren everywhere are getting as good as they pay for, and that is a good as they deserve. A few young men will be able by fortuitous circumstances to obtain a pretty thorough preparation in our ministry, but the majority can not and possibly will not ever be able to do so, and perhaps it is not desirable that they should.
When a humble, zealous, truly Christian man comes to your work, and proposes to give you just as much time as he can possibly spare from the labor that is necessary to provide for his family, receive him kindly, give him the accustomed half rations ungrudgingly, and don't complain if the work does not go on as fast as you could wish. The means of grace you will enjoy even under such unfavorable circumstances are far better than nothing, and worth vastly more than you are paying for them.
Meanwhile some few congregations will awake to this matter and give liberal salaries. Their works will be supplied accordingly, but these will be the exceptions.
B. R. Hanby
THE RELIGIOUS TELESCOPE, JUNE 23, 1880
V46, #46, PAGE 3
Rev. Wm. Hanby was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, April 8th, 1808, and died in Westerville, Ohio, May 17th, 1880. His childhood was spent in a home of poverty and want. In his youth he had, for several years, the sad experience of being under a wicked and cruel master, to whom he was bound to learn the saddler-trade.
In 1828, under great difficulties, he escaped from his ungodly master, and came to Ohio, where he found a home in the Christian family of, and formed a partnership with, Samuel Miller of Rushville. In 1830 he was married to Miss Ann Miller, the daughter of Samuel Miller. Amid those new associations and influences a new career opened before him, and a new life began in him. The holy examples and godly counsels here found soon had their desired effect, and he became a penitent, overwhelmed with guilt, and having a great desire to be saved. On the 3d of May, 1830, at a school-house in Perry County, near where the Otterbein Church now stands, at a Sabbath-service held by Rev. Nathaniel Havens, he was converted.
Shortly after this he felt, called to preach. With this call he had a long and hard struggle, before consenting to go. Finally the Lord conquered, and he was made willing to go as an ambassador of the cross. He received his first license in 1831, and in 1833 was admitted into Scioto Conference, of the church of the United Brethren in Christ, and appointed to Wolf Creek Circuit, which had twenty-eight appointments, and was 270 miles around. The salary was $35.00. His labors were rich in results. One hundred net increase was reported this first year.
The next year he was elected presiding elder. His district was the whole Scioto Conference, aggregating 4,000 miles' travel for the year. He served as presiding elder three years, during the last of which he and John Coons were elected to represent Scioto Conference in the General Conference.
At this General Conference, In 1837, he was elected book agent and treasurer of the Telescope Office, and is 1839, at the resignation of W. R. Rinchart, the additional work of editing the Telescope was given him.
The General Conference in 1841 continued him in 'the editorial chair four years longer. At the following General Conference he was elected Bishop, in which office he continued four years, when in 1849 he was again elected editor of the Telescope for four years.
While editor he wrote a continuation of Spayth's History of our church, covering a period of twenty- five years.
Our historian estimates his financial labors in the publishing office by saying that "as a financier he probably saved the Telescope Office from a disgraceful wreck." As a bishop, the same author says that he introduced law and order into the annual conferences.
He was one of the first trustees of Otterbein University, and the one who secured its charter from the legislature, being associated with it during the greater part of its history as trustee, member of the presidential committee, or financial agent. He also gave liberally to its funds.
During the time of the agitation of the slavery question he was a true and zealous friend of the slave; and in the different relations which he sustained to the public, he did much to secure the black man's freedom. So zealous was he for freedom that he acted as agent and kept a station on the "Underground Railroad."
His religious influence in private is best illustrated by the fact that all his children, —eight in number,—whether living or dead, have been Christians.
His last years, though clouded by financial misfortune and embarrassment, were irradiated by the Son of Righteousness and fulfilled the prediction, "But it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light."
Devoted to the Church for half a century, he has left it a precious legacy; for "the memory of the just is blessed." This blessing is enjoyed most fully, and appreciated most highly by his most intimate circle of friends.
J. S. MILLS.
Friends of Freedom
The United Methodist Church as a Heritage Landmark
National Park Service as a Network to Freedom Site
National Register of Historic Places