I apologize for the delay in blogging. I’m trying to finish up my dissertation this semester, so I’m afraid my posts might not be as often as I’d like. I’d also like to thank members of the Miller family who have been amazing in helping me find information on Clara Wetherald.
Who was LeGrand Buell? In the story of Clara Wetherald he was the second husband who died three years into their marriage. He was the man that Clara supposedly left John Wetherald for and caused a scandal in the community. He was the drunkard who Clara married to reform. However, I no longer believe this is the narrative of LeGrand. The New York Times in 1895 noted that Clara married LeGrand the same week her divorce was finalized from John Wetherald. Clara was an active temperance advocate and served at various times as the President of the Montrose and Holly Woman’s Christian Temperance Unions. Yet, I doubt her marriage to LeGrand was solely based on a desire to reform him. She could have done that without marrying the man.
The New York Times article appears to have come from the society pages, a section of the paper where scandal and gossip abounded. Clara did not divorce John and marry LeGrand in the same week. She filed for divorce from John in Feb. 1891 when he confessed to visiting a brothel during a visit to Saginaw. The divorce was finalized in July of 1891 and she did not marry LeGrand until February of 1892.
So, who was LeGrand and what role did he play in her story?
LeGrand lived in the shadow of his prominent father A.W. Buell who served in the Michigan House of Representatives and was a prominent businessman in Holly, Michigan. Upon A.W. Buell’s death in March 1862 the Michigan legislature took time to acknowledge his accomplishments in the local community and credit him with the growth of the Holly and bringing the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad to the area.
LeGrand was a brilliant boy, finishing high school in Holly by the time he was thirteen. He went on to Lansing to study music, but enlisted in the Seventh Michigan Calvary as a bugler. Some local residents criticized A.W. Buell for enlisting LeGrand in the war at such a young age. As Bingham Michigan Biographies notes A.W. Buell was an ardent Union supporter and told critics that, “If I had a hundred sons old enough to carry a sword they should all fight for the American flag.” (p.135)
While his father might have viewed LeGrand’s service as positive experience, LeGrand’s military career was the beginning of his life long struggle with alcohol. Clara notes in his funeral sermon that he became a pet of the officers and was constantly being offered champagne and other liquor. He struggled with it his entire life, managing to quit at times but again succumbing to his addiction. However, Clara explained that despite his struggles he was at the same time “trying to be a Christian.”
LeGrand appears once in Free Methodist history. In May of 1891 Clara is asked to preach the Sunday sermon at a Free Methodist revival in the Holly/Germany area. LeGrand wrote the report sent in to The Free Methodist about the revival. Clearly he was supportive of her ministry, even prior to their marriage. After Clara left the Free Methodist Church LeGrand supported her desire to become ordained in the Congregationalist Church.
When he died in 1895, after only three years of marriage to Clara, he asked her to preach his funeral sermon in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Holly – the church that his father A.W. Buell helped build. The Jackson Citizen Patriot provides a wonderful description of the funeral. The church was packed and Clara walks to the front of the crowd to preach the sermon that LeGrand had asked her to share. It was not just a memorial; it was his personal testimony.
“My dear friends, you will realize, as I do that I am not standing here of my own individual strength, but with the help of God. Were it not for His gracious help, I would never be able to face this ordeal. But friends, there is a great responsibility to be performed, one from which, with God’s help, I cannot shrink. I promised my dear husband, whose body lies here cold in death before you if I outlived him I would preach his funeral sermon and point out the lessons of his life. I am simply fulfilling that promise. How it pains me, you will never know.”
Clara goes on to share LeGrand’s life story, concluding with a passionate plea for others to resist the temptations her husband had struggled with most of his life. “I implore you, I entreat you, young men, old men, yes, boys of the coming generation to suppress this traffic (sale of alcohol). Fathers, sons, brothers, I pray to you, save your dearest relatives from the awful curse. Put a stop to it, I beseech you to stop it.”
After she spoke Clara collapsed into a chair, letting the local pastor conclude the sermon. While LeGrand’s time in Clara’s story was short. He clearly had an impact. He was part of the three of the most crucial years of her ministry. He saw her gain ordination, something she had wanted since being a Free Methodist evangelist, and he supported her work. His personal struggles with alcohol most likely fueled Wetherald’s passion for temperance work, something she continued to pursue until her death. A passionate preacher and reformer, LeGrand served Clara’s great supporter and she his friend, wife and accountability partner.