Hummer, Rev. Michael J.

“serious, intellectual character who did not quite fit into frontier life. He also was said to have an “ungovernable temper.” – Hamburg, Iowa Reporter – Sept 6, 1962

“He was a very talented man and was considered, for years, the ablest clergyman in the state; but he was very peculiar. He possessed a high temper and did not hesitate to show it if occasion required….. I was well acquainted with Mr. Hummer when he lived in Davenport and always had a great deal of charity for him, as I always thought him non compos mentis. When he left Iowa City he moved to Keokuk and, after creating a great deal of excitement in propagating his views on spiritualism, which he embraced in his latter days, he became so unpopular that he went to Missouri, not far from Kansas City, since which time I have lost track of him but have been told he is dead.” – J M D Powell

“The chain of episodes, ludicrous and dramatic, growing out of the strange infatuation which possessed Hummer, who had brilliant qualities and a deeply religious nature, form an interesting part of early Iowa history.” Hawkins Taylor, Washington DC – The Iowa Historical Record, Vols 4-6.

1802 – Born Fayette County, Kentucky, son of Micheal and Martha (Evans) Hummer. His mother was taken captive in Tazewell County, Virginia on July 14, 1786 and carted to Canada until rescued.

1810 –Father dies in Shelby County, Kentucky. Left in care of his mother and his eldest brother William. His older brother James Hummer would also be a Presbyterian minister.

ca 1822 – one year of education at the Academy of John I. Morrison in Salem, Washington County, Indiana

ca 1823 – one year of education at Oxford, Butler County, Ohio

1824 – May. Enrolled at Indiana College with 9 other students in first class at the college. He entered as a sophomore.

1825 – signed oath to renounce Christianity and be an atheist, focusing on money-making, but soon after converted under the ministry of “Father Martyn”. Rev. William L. Martyn, opened a school at Livonia, Washington County, Indiana (Presbyterian minister from West Lexington Presbytery, Kentucky. “he some way inspired his pupils with such an educational and missionary spirit, that perhaps no congregation in Indiana furnished more school teachers and more ministers than that congregation in Livonia”)

1830 – graduated from Indiana College with A.B. and A.M. degrees. In 1949, Hummer House residence was named for him because he was one of the first four graduates

1830 – student at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey. Appears that he attended one year and unclear if he earned a degree.

1833- licentiate at Madison, Jefferson County, Indiana — Presbytery of Madison

1833 –Terre Haute, Vigo, Indiana; second pastor Presbyterian Church in Terre Haute, following after Rev David Monfort. One source says “Hummer became involved in some trouble with his congregation and resigned” Another source suggests the congregation was split already – some followed Hummer to form new congregation which did not last long.

1834 – Feb 27. Married Vigo County, Indiana to Emmeline Booth, born in 1810 in New York state, daughter of Legrand Booth.

1834 – July 18. Ordained in the Presbytery of Crawfordsville.

1835 – member of Presbytery of Logansport upon its formation from Crawfordsville and Indiana Presbyteries

1836  – May 17. Part of committee who organized the Monticello, Indiana (White County) Presbyterian church

1836-7 –  stated supply for church at Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

1837-9 – supplied First Presbyterian Church of Monmouth, Illinois from founding in Sep 1837 to installation of a pastor in Oct 1839, along with L G Bell, James Stafford, Wm K Stewart and Joseph J Gray

1838 – Apr 3. Received at meeting of Schuyler Presbytery in Rushville. In the summer of 1838, was installed pastor at the Stephenson Church, (now Rock Island). (This is the same date when William K Stewart was installed at Macomb; The Presbyterian Magazine, Volume 6 edited by Cortlandt Van Rensselaer)

1838 – 1839. Taught school in Davenport in a frame building on the corner of the alley east side of Ripley street, between First and Second streets, in the fall of 1838 and ran through until summer 1839.

1839 – Spring. Davenport, Iowa. Pastor at First Presbyterian for 6 months (another reference suggests he was pastor from June 1837-Jan 1841)

1840 – Census at Scott County, Iowa (Davenport) – 1 male (Michael), 1 female (Emmeline)

6 Oct 1840 – served as moderator for formation of Presbytery of Iowa from Presbytery of Schuyler at Muscatine, Iowa

1840 – Dec 2. Organized church at Linn Grove, Iowa. Served quarter-time here in 1841

1840-1 – Served church at Round Prairie, Iowa

1841 – Organized churches at Berlin, Iowa, the Red Oak Grove Presbyterian, Tipton, Cedar County, Iowa, and the Scotch Grove Presbyterian, Jones County, Iowa

1841-1847 – Pastor of First Presbyterian of Iowa City

1842 – 25 Sep. Organized and was President of Bible Society in Iowa City, Iowa

1843 – authorized by Iowa City church to raise funds in the east to construct a magnificent building. Also authorized by the Presbytery to solicit funds for Des Moines College at West Point, Iowa. He was to receive expenses plus 10% of money collected.
1843 – May. Commissioner to General Assembly for the Presbytery of Iowa. Others from Synod of Illinois were Ithamar Pillsbury, William Fraser, Samuel Lowry and John G Bergen.

1846 – Organized church at Cedar Creek, Iowa

1847 – during his travels in the east (NY, Penna and Virginia), Hummer embraced Swedenborgianism (spirituality). His parishioners thought he had gone mad.

1847 – while in Troy, NY, secured a church bell from the Troy Bell Foundary, and brought it to Iowa City. Some references state he purchased the bell for $600, others suggest it was donated.

1848 – congregation leveled charges of misconduct against him. Tried at Presbytery, seemed to be going in his favor until he rose and dramatically announced that the congregation was a “den of ecclesiastical thieves”. After this they practically kicked him out the door. (may have occurred in 1850). Hummer obtained possession of the pulpit furniture, Bibles, and other movable property as part of church’s debt for unpaid salary, along with a note of $650.

1848 – moved to Keokuk, Iowa. Authorized by Presbytery of Iowa to organize a church in Keokuk which he did.  Elders were Col. William Patterson, General Ralph P. Lowe (a judge and later Governor of Iowa) and Squire Thomas Martin. The membership did not grow, and the Presbytery removed Hunter, but the congregation protested the case to Synod.

1848 – In Keokuk, with Dr. James W. Margrave and others building up a sect called the New Lights – their creed was a mixture of Mormonism, spiritualism and other isms of the time. Lowe came from Muscatine and Margrave had been an elder at Iowa City church. They chose a lot on Concert Street and began construction of a spiritualist church, guided by communications thru medium Mary Margrave (James’ sister).

1848 – stated supply pastor at Washington, Iowa

1848 – Hummer and a friend (Dr James W Margrave) went to Iowa City to retrieve the bell from Hummer’s former church. Hummer was in the belfry and let the bell down, when a crowd took his ladder leaving him stuck in the empty belfry. He hurled pieces of boards and loose bricks down on the observers. The bell was taken away, reportedly hidden in the river, and later transported to Salt Lake City.

1850 – March. filed suit against church in Iowa City for debts owed to him

1850-1861 – Hummer does not appear in the Presbyterian church records of ministers in these years.

1850 – census in Keokuk, Lee County, Iowa. O S P Minister, value of property $7000. Wife, Emmeline, daughter Emily Elisabeth Hummer, age 7, and Mary Margrave, the medium and sister of James W Margrave.  In the household of James W. Margrave, his wife and children is an infant recorded as Laura Hummer. Laura is listed with the Margraves in later censuses as Laura Margrave.

1850 – 23 Aug. “The Presbytery of Iowa recently suspended Rev. Michael Hummer for conemacy in resisting the authority of the Presbytery, and in the use of unchristian epithets toward the same.” Indiana American, 18:35, Brookville, Franklin County, Indiana

1851 – March 6. Hummer and Mary Margrave were convicted for adultery on evidence including late night walks. Hummer was declared “monomaniacal” and incompetent to manage his own affairs, so Col William Patterson, a Presbyterian elder in his Keokuk church, appointed his guardian. Mary Margrave was listed as the medium he used. Margrave family was tried for rioting.

1851 – March 21. “At Fort Madison, Iowa, Rev. Mr. Hummer has been arrested for an attempt to murder his wife by suffocation,under pretense of driving the devil out of her. She was rescued from his hands by neighbors. A very strong propensity was shown to lynch the black coat. – Indiana American, 19:13, Brookville, Franklin County, Indiana.  The story is more complex than this – while Hummer was out of town, Mrs. Hummer was reported to have become intimate with Mr. William J. Cochran. Upon Hummer’s return, he and Mrs. Hummer got into an argument.  Emeline went to Cochran’s when she left the Hummer household.

Cochran claimed the little girl about 10 years old (presumably the Emily Elisabeth listed in 1850 census). that Hummers were raising was being confined to a cold garret without fire, to keep her from joining Cochran and Emeline. Col Patterson, Gen. Reid and Col Graham went to see the child, who was anxious to stay w/Hummer and not go to Mrs. Hummer. They took the girl to Col. Graham who was Mayor.

1851 – April 17. “The Rev Michael Hummer, of Keokuk, indicted for adultery, was tried on Thursday. C. J. McFarland prosecuting for the state; Hon. Cyrus Walker of Macomb, Illinois and Archibald Williams, Esq. of Quincy, conducting the defense. It was anticipated that the council for the defendant would set up the defense of insanity, but they were forbidden to do so by Mr. Hummer. The prosecution was ably conducted and much credit is due to the perseverance of Mr McFarland. Mr Walker made a most able and eloquent effort the …..many disadvantages. The trial occupied nearly all day; late in the afternoon the jury retired, remained absent about a quarter of an hour, when they returned a verdict of guilty and assessed the fine of $200. Mr. Walker gave notice that he would make a motion for arrest of judgment and a new trial, which has not yet been heard.      The Margrave family are now on trial for riot. R P Lowe, Esq, testifying on the part of the state; a nolle prosequi [dropping the charge] as to Mr Hummer, who was indicted with them, was entered by the prosecutor. Mr. Hall and McFarland are prosecuting for the state, Cyrus Walker, Esq., is counsel for the defendants. (Burlington, Iowa Hawkeye)

1852 – Iowa census in Iowa City township, Johnson County, Iowa

1852 – Oct. His ex-wife returned to Indiana where she married William K Cochran in Tippecanoe County.

1853 – Rev Crozier negotiated a settlement between the Iowa City church and Rev Hummer

1854 – Nov 15. Settled in Topeka Township, Kansas ( Rev. Michael Hunter and another laid out a town and called it Fremont at the site of Topeka. Several other groups of men laid out similar towns. Hummer appeared at house of A. A. Ward of the Topeka Town Company, and proposed to buy portion of the land, held under squatter privileges. Hummer had a woman, possibly a wife, with him. Ward gave Hummer a paper, Hummer built a cabin. Ward got nervous about squatter rights. Ward involved the notorious Edwards Brothers, border-ruffians, who were afterwards lynched for their crimes. They went to Hummer’s, took and destroyed the paper and hit Hummer in the head with a rock. They loaded Hummer & woman & stuff in carriage, left them out on the prairie. Hummer made repeated attempts to hold parties responsible for maltreatment, but courts afforded him no relief.

1855 – Nov 13. Mare, etc, stolen from him in County of Calhoun (now Jackson) (

1857 – Kansas state census at Calhoun County, Kansas

1859-1860 – residence at Wyandotte, Kansas; granted restorations for horse and 2 acres of corn lost in disturbances of 1855-6.

1860 – Census Wyandotte, Kansas – age 58, OSP minister, $4000 real estate, $500 personal property – alone in household

1860 – pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Lawrence, Kansas for about 6-9 months. From the Minutes of Presbytery of Highland. “A paper signed by certain ministers and church members of Wyandot City, praying this Presybtery to take into consideration the propriety of receiving Michael Hummer into this Presbytery.”

1862 – “Being an appeal of Rev. M. Hummer against Highland Presbytery. It appears the General Assembly of 1862 passed the following order,* being Overture No. 17 as follows: A memorial of the Rev. George D. Stewart and others, that the General Assembly would take action and give relief in the case of Rev. Michael Hummer, who having been deposed by Iowa Presbytery, had been restored by Highland Presbytery, against the remonstrance of Iowa Presbytery, just as if he was an independent minister. It was Resolved that this General Assembly declare it is irregular and unconstitutional….”

1863 – Aug 21. Quantrill’s raiders and the Lawrence Massacre. “Mr. Hummer was a Presbyterian minister of the hardy stock which settled the Shenandoah Valley, and after his outrageous treatment at Topeka, he settled in Lawrence. When the revelry of death was at its height he appeared in the streets, and, like a prophet of old, proclaimed himself a preacher and called on the guerrillas to desist “in the name of Jesus Christ.” His boldness amazed the ruffians. He told them he was a Virginian and sympathized with the South, but condemned violence and murder under guise of civilized war. He saved a number of men from death. Finally the guerrillas warned him to get indoors or suffer the consequences. A poor German came at that instant sore beset and bleeding from wounds. Hummer threw himself between the monsters and their prey and was wounded and left for dead. The German was killed and his body burned to a shapeless mass by the fire of an adjacent building. (Mr. Hummer moved to Old Wyandotte, where he lived until his death. He often recounted to the author,  W.E. Connolly, the dreadful experiences of that awful Friday in Lawrence.)”

1864 – superintendent of public instruction in Wyandotte County, Kansas (an elected position for the schools)

1865 – church at Lawrence, Kansas, Highland Presbytery

1867 – Oct-Nov. Home missionary appointment at Wyandotte, Kansas

1870 – census Kansas City, Kansas Presby pastor, $1,500 real estate and $1,000 personal estate, with niece Merilla Wheeler, age 40, born Indiana

1870-77 – missionary pastor at Washington, Lawrence and Wyandotte,  Kansas

1870, 1872-3. Kansas City without call.

1877 – May. Presbyterian pastor in Kansas City, Kansas

1880 – census of Wyandotte, Kansas. Occupation “out of business” #38 Armstrong Street with his niece, Margaret Wheeler, age 47, born Indiana, parents born Kentucky & Tennessee.

1884 – died 9 Sept in Wyandotte, Kansas, buried on the 10th in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Wyandotte, Kansas, Gazette. Sept 12, 1884. Rev. Michael Hummer. Michael Hummer died on the 9th inst., and was buried on the 10th, at Oak Grove cemetery. Although very few of the present generation and present residents knew the man, yet he was at one time prominent in Wyandotte affairs. He was a man of remarkable physical power and endurance, as his late sufferings demonstrated. A cancer has for several years been consuming one side of his face, the flesh of one temple and an eye being literally eaten out. His long survival has been a wonder even to himself. When in his prime he was an intellectual giant. He was president of a college at West Point, Iowa, and later at Iowa City. For some years he managed Wyandotte Academy. Having been a Calvinist, and a Presbyterian minister, his mental food was not of a succulent vegetarian order. Hard, un-solvable and unknowable questions in theology and science were his daily food. His determination to know what to mortals is not revealed unbalanced his strong mind. After his mind became shattered, with his iron will still left, his vagaries made him sometimes a disagreeable neighbor. To the last he knew how to take care of his property, and had he not delved too deep in his library nor labored so hard in trying to reconcile the doctrines of free will and foreordination he would now require a much longer obituary in this and even in metropolitan papers.

The Lincoln County, New Mexico leader.  September 20, 1884, Image 4 — There are many old settlers (Lincoln County, NM) who will readily call to mind the erratic Hummer who spent some time here a few years since, and mined under “inspiration.” – We lived in the same Kansas city with the old gentleman for years and knew him well. He has gone to meet that God of whom he so often spoke so much of in life.

In 1929, Dr. Fred A Hummer of Kansas City, Missouri, grand-nephew of Michael Hummer, participated in ceremonies at Indiana University.


  1. The Wabash Courier, Volume 2, Number 34,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 8 March 1834
  2. On the Life of Absalom G. Knox“, Pacific Rural Press, Volume 30, Number 26, 26 December 1885
  3. John Irwin Morrison and the Washington County Seminary
    by Annie Morrison Coffin in Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 183-193 (1926) –
  5. Standard, Volume 5, Number 3,Madison, Jefferson County, 29 October 1835.
  6. Sketches and Anecdotes of the Old Settlers, and New Comers, the Mormon Bandits and Danite Band by Col. J.M. Reid.
  7. Burlington, Iowa Hawkeye Newspaper – March 6, 1851, April 17, 1851
  8. Hamburg, Iowa Reporter – Sept 6, 1962
  9. Iowa City Press Citizen – April 1, 1939
  10. Launching Spiritualism in Keokuk, Keokuk Gate City 28 Aug 1914.
  11. Hummer’s Bell. The Palimpsest. Vol. 3
  12. Leading Events in Johnson County, Iowa
  13. Reports of the House of Representatives in the state of Kansas, 1859
  14. A Tale of Two Bells: Nauvoo Bell and Hummer’s Bell by Ron G Watt in the Nauvoo Journal
  15. History of Davenport and Scott County, Iowa.
  16. Indiana University Alumni Quarterly, Vol. 16 (1929)
  17. The Lincoln County, New Mexico leader.  September 20, 1884
  18. Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas: Historical and Biographical…
  19. Presbyterian Home Monthly, Vol 3.
  20. William W. Cone’s Historical Sketch of Shawnee County, Kansas: Including an … By William Whitney Cone
  21. Journal of Presbyterian History, Volumes 34-35
  22. Thirty Years in Topeka: A Historical Sketch, Volume 3 By Frye William Giles
  23. Quantrill and the border wars by Connelley, William Elsey.

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