Charles Force Deems (1820-1893)

Charles Force Deems

Charles Force Deems was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 4, 1820, the son of George and Mary Roberts Deems. The family was very pious - his mother was the daughter of a Methodist minister - and from a young age Deems exhibited signs of his future calling, once preaching temperance in public at the age of thirteen. He entered Dickinson College in 1835 with the intention of a career in the law. By the time he graduated in 1839, however, he was well on his way to joining the clergy and entered the Methodist ministry in Asbury, New Jersey.

Soon after, however, Deems began his sojourn in the South when he accepted a post in 1840 as general agent for the American Bible Society of North Carolina. This led to a professorship at the University of North Carolina, teaching logic and rhetoric from 1842 to 1848. He moved on to Randolph-Macon College in Virginia for a year in 1849, teaching natural sciences. At the end of that year he was named as pastor of the Methodist chapel at New Berne, North Carolina. He had barely taken up his duties when he was elected to the presidency of Greensboro (N.C.) Women's College and served there until 1854. He then returned to the New Berne district, concentrating on his pastorate and beginning his writing career in earnest.

Secession and the Civil War brought rifts in Methodism as well, and Deems chose to remain loyal to North Carolina and the South. His eldest son was killed in action in the service of the Confederacy. In late 1865, nevertheless, he removed his family to New York City where his career as an author blossomed with the editorship of a newspaper called The Watchman. He also began to preach independently in halls he hired himself, founding a congregation he called The Church of Strangers. His popularity grew, as did his connections among the wealthy of the metropolis. Cornelius Vanderbilt, for example, despite his life-long resolve against philanthropy, broke down at last in 1870 and built a permanent church for "the Strangers"; Deems may well have been the main influence behind the tycoon's 1873 gift of a million dollars which helped found Vanderbilt University.

Although he had been writing since he left Dickinson, Deems' time in New York City produced his most notable works. His writing in opposition to the theory of evolution was particularly well known, especially his 1885 effort Scotch Verdict in re Evolution.

In June 1843, he married Annie Disoway of New York. After an energetic life of ministry, writing, and travel, Charles Force Deems died in New York City on November 18, 1893. He was three weeks short of his seventy-third birthday.

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Dickinson College Archives
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