BUCKMINSTER, JOSEPH STEVENS (26 May 1784, Portsmouth, NH-9
June 1812, Boston, MA). Education: A.B., A.M., Harvard College, 1800, 1803.
Career: Minister, Brattle Street Church, Boston, 1805-12.
Joseph Stevens Buckminster was an early leader in bringing the German higher criticism of the Bible to America and was also the most eloquent of the early liberal preachers in Boston. Son of the clergyman Joseph Buckminster, the younger Buckminster entered Harvard at the age of thirteen and received an A.B. in 1800. After a period of teaching and tutoring, he was called to Brattle Street Church in Boston in 1804 and launched an almost legendary career of eloquent preaching, biblical scholarship, and literary production. He in many ways set the tone for the pattern of the minister as a man of letters, which prevailed in nineteenth-century Boston Unitarianism. In addition to preaching, he contributed to the Monthly Anthology and Boston Review, one of the earliest literary periodicals in America. Buckminster preached a distinctly liberal message of rational religion and character development, themes that his contemporary William Ellery Channing would later develop. He also influenced the denomination heavily in his adoption of the attitude of rational investigation into the Bible, a stand that insisted that the scriptures be read in their historical context and be subjected to the same scrupulous scholarly investigation given other texts from antiquity. Buckminster suffered a tragic early death by epilepsy when his powers were only reaching their height, and his death was an enormous blow to Boston Unitarianism.
A. The Works of Joseph Stevens Buckminster 2 vols. (Boston, 1839).
B. AAUP, 384-406; DAB 3, 233-34; Heralds 2, 134-53; Eliza Buckminster Lee, Memoirs of Rev. Joseph Buckminster, D.D., and of His Son, Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster (Boston, 1849); Jerry Wayne Brown, The Rise of Biblical Criticism in America, 1810-1870 (Middletown, CT, 1969); Daniel Walker Howe, The Unitarian Conscience: Hanard Moral Philosophy. 1805-1861 (Cambridge, 1970); Lewis P. Simpson. The Man of Letters in New England and the South (Baton Rouge, LA, 1973); Lawrence Buell, "Joseph Stevens Buckminster: The Making of a New England Saint." Canadian Review ofAmencan Studies. 10 (Spring 1979), 1-29.