Samuel Porter Putnam

On this date in 1838, Samuel Porter Putnam, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was born in New Hampshire. He became a student at Dartmouth in 1858 and enlisted as a private in the Civil War, where, after two years of service he was promoted to captain. He became a Congregationalist minister in 1868 after three years at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Three years later he broke with that denomination and joined the Unitarians. After serving in various congregations, he then “gave up all relations whatsoever with the Christian religion, and became an open and avowed Freethinker,” as he recorded in his 1894 opus Four Hundred Years of Freethought.

During the Rutherford B. Hayes administration he was appointed to the Civil Service. He left that work in 1887 to head the American Secular Union. He was elected president of the California State Liberal Union in 1891 and the Freethought Federation of America in 1892. He noted that he visited all but four of the states and territories in his work for freethought, traveling more than 100,000 miles. His other writings include: Prometheus, Gottlieb: His Life, Golden Throne, Waifs and Wanderings, Ingersoll and Jesus, Why Don’t He Lend a Hand? Adami and Heva, The New God, The Problem of the Universe, My Religious Experience, Religion a Curse, Religion a Disease, Religion a Life, and Pen Pictures of the World’s Fair.

Putnam’s tragic death created a mild scandal. He and a young lecturer colleague, May Collins, had been touring in Boston. They returned after dinner to the home where Collins was staying and were found dead the next morning in her room, victims of leaking gas. Although they were fully clothed, and there was no “evidence of impropriety,” the religious press attacked Putnam, disclosing that he was a divorced man with two children. D. 1896.

Freedom From Religion Foundation