THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE
and "PASTOR" RUSSELL
(Investigator 123, 2008 November)
A libel suit against a New York newspaper by a "pastor" in 1913 exposed the finances, doctrines, and activities of a disreputable cult.
THE BROOKLYN DAILY EAGLE regularly reported on the activities of "Pastor" Russell.
Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) was the founder of the cult known as Millennial Dawn (and as "Russellism") which in 1931 morphed into Jehovah's Witnesses.
Some of The Eagle headlines were:
- GIRL KISSED PASTOR AND SAT ON HIS KNEE (Oct. 29, 1911)
- "PASTOR" RUSSELL'S IMAGINARY SERMONS (Feb. 19, 1912)
- "PASTOR" RUSSELL LOSES LIBEL SUIT (Jan. 11, 1913)
- RUSSELL FOLLOWER ON "FALLEN ANGELS" (Jan. 22, 1913)
- RUSSELL FINANCES BARED BY FOLLOWER (Jan. 24, 1913)
- CALL "PASTOR'S" WIFE IN RUSSELL TRIAL (January 25, 1913)
- "MIRACLE WHEAT" LOW IN GOVERNMENT TESTS (Jan. 27, 1913)
- RUSSELL IN COURT AS LAWYER SUMS UP (Jan. 28, 1913)
- PASTOR RUSSELL LOSES LIBEL TRIAL (Jan. 29, 1913)
- "PASTOR" C. T. RUSSELL DIES BURIAL HERE (Nov. 1, 1916)
The headlines can be briefly explained as follows:
- The "girl on his knee" was a foster daughter who Russell thought (or so he said) was 10-13 years old, but who was nearer 25. Knee-sitting and "fondling" continued for years and became evidence in a suit for separation brought by Mrs Russell.
- The "imaginary sermons" were sermons Russell gave on tropical islands during his around-the-world cruise in 1911 some of which, The Eagle alleged, never took place.
- The lost libel suit (January 11, 1913) was against Baptist Rev. J J Ross of Canada who had published an anti-Russell booklet.
- The "fallen angels" referred to Russell's doctrine that supernatural demons could assume human shape and impersonate him and make "improper advances" to women.
- "Miracle wheat" was a wheat seed advertised in The Watch Tower as superior to other brands, and proceeds from sales were donated to the cult.
- The headlines of January 22-29 related to the libel suit by Russell against The Eagle.
The "Pastor" (in inverted commas because he never studied theology at a college) and The Eagle had been at odds for years.
For example in 1911 (December 26) The Eagle under "Giving Up Their Homes Following Russellism" published the following letters:
25 Fairland Road, Stratford, London, England.
"Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
"I learn with considerable interest of the articles your paper is publishing relative to the notorious Pastor Russell, late of Allegheny, Pa., and now of Brooklyn. I have not had the pleasure of reading your strictures, but should very much like to do so, as would very many more in this country. Will you kindly send me all that you have published on this matter and keep me posted with the accounts of the coming action for slander that I have been told Mr. Russell has lodged against you?
"Mr. Russell has a pretty good following in this country, but numbers have left him owing to his extraordinary and insane teaching that he and his followers are dying in behalf of the world. That of course means that he is dying for the editor of The Eagle too!
"He has also deluded thousands of followers into believing that Christ returned to this earth in 1874, though in a spirit body and therefore invisible to the natural eye. Very many have gone so far as to sell their homes over here, expecting to die before 1914 (at the latest), and many others have so arranged their affairs as to last till that date only.
"I myself was connected with his movement for twelve years, but my eyes, thank God, are now opened.
"When one leaves their society because of enlightenment, Mr. Russell at once advises his followers to shun such an one and counsels his followers never to read anything emanating from any other source but his own pen!
"I could write to you for a week telling of the bitterness and sorrow that this man Russell has left in many a Christian home here in England. With best wishes for your success in your fight against hypocrisy and humbug."
The provocation for the "Pastor's" libel suit against The Eagle was a cartoon lampooning one of his alleged money-making scams. After Russell died in 1916 The Eagle explained:
The Rev. John G. Briggs, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Owatonna, Minn., writes under the date of December 11, 1911:
"Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
"The articles in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle concerning C.T. Russell of last Monday and a few weeks before are bound to do good. Whether he is self deceived or not, his works, to say nothing of his preaching, only bring confusion, rather than light and moral and spiritual strength, wherever I have seen them. In ten cases of which I know in our city the past year his works have brought first confusion and later disgust. Surely, P. T. Barnum's maxim still holds.
"JOHN G. BRIGGS"
Money flowed into this Hicks street headquarters from nearly every country on the globe, and the "Pastor's" personal headquarters overflowed from 124 Columbia Heights into the building next door, and then a great seven-story building, on hotel lines, was built on the plot of ground in back.
After the "work" had been well started here [New York], "Pastor" Russell's Watch Tower publications advertised wheat seed for sale at $1 a pound. It was styled "Miracle Wheat," and it was asserted that it would grow five times as much as any other brand of wheat. There were other claims made for the wheat seed, and the followers were advised to purchase it, the proceeds to go to the Watch Tower and be used in publishing the "Pastor's" sermons.
The Eagle first made public the facts about this new venture of the Russellites and it published a cartoon picturing the "Pastor" and his "Miracle Wheat" in such a way that "Pastor" Russell brought suit for libel, asking $100,000 damages. Government departments investigated the wheat for which $1 a pound was asked and agents of the Government were important witnesses at the trial of the libel suit in January 1913. The "Miracle Wheat" was low in the Government tests, they said, The Eagle won the suit. (1916, November 1, page 22)
Many of "Pastor" Russell's followers got involved with him because they were impressed with his prophecies which he confidently promoted as part of the "Christian gospel". For example he claimed the "time of the end" began in 1799 and is 115 years long climaxing in 1915 with the end of all governments and religions. For example:
Be not surprised then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the "battle of the great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14) which will end in A.D. 1915, with the complete overthrow of earth's present rulership, is already commenced. (Studies in the Scriptures, Volume II, 1889, page 101)
Such predictions explain why Russellites were selling their homes and either donating the proceeds to Russell or using them to finance their own preaching activity until 1915.
"Pastor" Russell created disturbance almost until he died. The Eagle's 1916 article continued with:
For several years Pastor Russell has done little if any preaching in Brooklyn. Last year he won some more undesirable publicity because of charges by Mrs. Elizabeth Galbraith of Atlantic City, N. J. that he had spirited away her 17-year-old daughter, Ruth, an heiress, and was preventing the girl"s return home. Mrs. Galbraith won out in habeas corpus proceedings instituted to get back Ruth.
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