After the Rev. John Murray, often called the founder of Universalism in America, the Rev. Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) is probably the second most famous and influential early Universalist minister.
Hosea Ballou’s father, the Rev. Maturin Ballou (1722-c.1804), was a Calvinist Baptist preacher. Calvinists believed that human beings were predestined by God to go either to heaven or to hell after death, and that the vast majority were going to hell. Hosea’s adoption of Universalist beliefs was influenced in part by his older brother David, who had converted to Universalism. Hosea Ballou began preaching Universalism around 1791.
At least twelve other descendants of the Rev. Maturin Ballou became Universalist ministers: David and one other son, three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-great-grandsons. Two of these descendants, James Henry Ballou and his son Willard Stephen Ballou, served the congregations in Athens and Sheshequin from 1898-1901.
James Henry Ballou was a great-grandson of the Rev. Maturin Ballou. Neither his father nor his grandfather has been identified as a Universalist, but their biographers hint that both men believed in universal salvation. James Henry was born near Norwich, N. Y., in 1836. His biographer wrote that “while yet in his teens, he read and thought himself into Universalism, from the study of the Bible alone, before reading any books or hearing any preaching on the subject.” It’s hard to imagine that a member of the Ballou family would not have heard or read anything about Universalism, but James’s father, and possibly the rest of his family, were apparently not regular church-goers.
J. H. Ballou graduated from the Universalist Theological School in Canton, N. Y., in 1865 and was ordained the same year. He started his ministry in Minnesota, “as a sort of missionary preacher.” Later he started and served congregations in Kansas and Iowa before returning to New York State, where he served in several upstate towns as well as in Southold on Long Island. He was also in Hop Bottom, Pa. – near Brooklyn – for a year in 1892.
About 1898, at the age of 62, the Rev. J. H. Ballou came to Bradford county. His son, the Rev. Willard Stephen Ballou, followed him about a year later. Willard Stephen, who was born in 1865, was licensed to preach in 1891 and ordained in 1895 at Huntington (Long Island), N. Y., where he served for four years. Both father and son lived in Athens during their time here. Athens was their primary pastorate, but our church records show that they also preached in Sheshequin. In 1901 James moved to western New York, and the following year Willard moved to Maine.
James H. Ballou finished out his 38–year career at Friendship, N. Y., retiring in 1905. He spent his last years in Johnson City and died in Binghamton in 1916.
Willard, after serving two years in Maine, returned to upstate New York in 1905. From 1908-1912, Willard lived with or near his parents. After 1912, he did not report his address to the denomination; he was listed in the Universalist Register as “unknown” after 1917. What became of him remains to be discovered.