The Historian - The story of the Rev. Doctor Benjamin Schneider: Part III

We have been following the life of a missionary from Swamp, New Hanover, Reformed Church, Rev. Benjamin Schneider D.D. He was sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to Broosa, Turkey in 1833.

In 1844, he was taken under the care of the German Reformed Church, and in 1850 was awarded a Doctor of Divinity (D.D) by Franklin and Marshall College. He moved to Aintab, Syria in 1849 where he labored, it was said, with much success until 1868 when he went on sick leave and taught at a theological seminary in Turkey, wrote and translated.

Rev. Schneider was ordained into the Presbyterian Clergy, and one has to wonder why not into the German Reformed Church of his heritage. It seems in the second and third decades of the 19th century there were no German Reformed Academies where a young man could get the preparatory education that he could get at parochial schools of the Presbyterian Church. While in Norristown as a young man, he boarded with a well to do family and attended school at the Old Academy. He finished his education in prestigious Boston colleges.

Schneider graduated from Amherst in 1830, and then from Andover Theological Seminary in 1833 as an ordained Presbyterian Minister. Also in 1833, he married Eliza Cheney Abbott of Framingham, Massachusetts. She accompanied him on his missionary work. They had five children: Susan Eaton Schneider married the Rev. James H. Dwight of Boston and died Feb. 13, 1860; Elizabeth Howe Schneider married William Buck Dwight of Boston, who was a professor of natural history and an inventor; James Henry Schneider, Chaplin, Union Army, died of yellow fever in Florida, in 1864; William Tyler Schneider; and Edward M. Schneider, of the Union Army, died of wounds at Petersburg, Virginia in 1864.

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Eliza died in Antab, Turkey in 1856; Benjamin was remarried to Eliza’s sister, Susan Maria Abbott.

Of special interest are five letters written home to his father, Henry Schneider, in Swamp, New Hanover. The letters show the joy and satisfaction Schneider received from his missionary work but also the sacrifices and danger that it entailed.

Rev. Schneider spent his missionary effort in Asia Minor developing a community of protestant churches while separated from his children. Three of the letters are from 1852-53 when he is making arrangements for his wife to take his children to Boston to be placed in appropriate families and to receive an education.

One letter details her intention to travel to Swamp, meet her father-in-law and ask him for help in financing the children’s education in Boston where they were placed in homes near her family. The children did not accompany her. Henry agreed to pay $200 per year, not a princely sum considering there were four children, but it appears there was almost no regular communication at all between father and son. Notably, Benjamin found it necessary to list the children’s names in the letter and also the name of Eliza’s father to whom Henry was to send the money. There is no indication that Henry ever met Benjamin’s children.

In addition to being estranged from home, family and country, there was danger involved in being a Christian missionary in that part of the world. One letter recounts a mugging where he almost lost his life:

“Antab, Dec. 7, 1853. I was going to Morash with Mrs. Pratt, and on the road we were attacked by robbers. They took all the money I had, which was nearly $20, and my watch, a very excellent and valuable one, which I have used 20 years... They also took some money from Mrs. P. They struck me on the head with a club and gave me a wound which bled freely. I also received a violent kick into my side, which pains me still, though the pain is, I think diminishing. They also threatened to kill me frequently; and at one time one of them who had a sword drew it and seemed resolved to kill me. Mrs. P., seeing his movements, said to me ‘... He is going to kill you,’ and I was... Expecting to feel the deadly weapon in some part of my body. But thanks to God the ruffian was restrained. They offered no insult or violence at all to Mrs. P. She manifested much coolness and fortitude, thus sustained no injury from fright or alarm. I am now well and you need not feel concern about me. My side pains me still, but I think it is slowly improving. We have greatly to thank God for his goodness to us.”

He remained in Turkey and Syria spreading the Gospel, preaching, teaching and writing. Schneider was the author of books, tracts and other things, in English, Armeno-Turkish and Arabic; he also translated many works into these languages. He died at age 70 in Boston on Sept. 14, 1877.

So, that’s a sketch of the life of Rev. Benjamin Schneider, D.D. His life’s work was spreading the Gospel in foreign lands and the salvation of souls. His faith was unshakable, and he seemed to gladly endure the labor and sacrifice required.

The Historian is produced by the New Hanover Historical Society. Call Robert Wood at 610-326-4165 with comments.