Sunday, October 18, 2015


Update: The articles are in the Feb 14 and Feb. 23, 1882, Dispatch. We're trying desperately to shepherd our research funds. A month subscription to the Dispatch archive is about eight dollars. Any kind soul out there want to buy the Coovert and Russell articles for us?

            I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapter entitled “Food for Thinking Christians.” We wrote most of it months ago, but as with all first draft writing it has bumps, pimples and just plain bad writing.
            We need some help from someone living in Pennsylvania. William R. Coovert (also spelled Covert), a Winbrennerite clergyman living in Pittsburgh, challenged Russell to a debate through the pages of The Pittsburgh Dispatch. We do not have the original newspaper article. We need it.  The article would have appeared between August 1881 and December 1882. Can you help?

Here’s that bit of the story as we have it now:

William R. Coovert, [alternately spelled Covert] [1] a clergyman with the Church of God (Winebrennerites), challenged Russell to a debate. Coovert saw himself as an expert debater, and printed copies of several of his debates are available. He was less than stable and was involved in the Harlem Commons Swindle, serving for a while as manager of the syndicate claiming damages from New York City. He issued false claims about the involvement of prominent men, changing his story as every false claim was exposed.[2]
            He eventually went insane. Heavily involved in a controversy among the Order of Solons, a fraternal order, he demonstrated “pugilistic qualities” by slugging “Ex-supreme Secretary [G. A.] Mundorf.” He called in a reporter from The Pittsburgh Press to make a statement, and the reporter found him delusional and rambling:

When a Press representative entered the hotel, he was informed by the clerk that Mr. Covert had a vision during the night and was very much wrought up over something … Mr. Covert was found in an excited state of mind. His hair was disheveled and great drops of sweat were standing on his forehead. He was walking the floor in an excited manner, and papers and manuscripts were scattered in confusion about the floor.[3]

He had a spotty reputation among his own denomination, being admired as a debater but was also seen as a “vehement and disturbing.” A denominational history charitably calls him “a man of indefatigable energy, but of a volatile and flighty fancy.”[4] Why Coovert remained in favor with the Church of God despite his involvement with questionable activities, his pugnacious behavior, and his mental instability is unknown.
            Coovert challenged Russell through the pages of The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dispatch, “to discuss in a public debate the Creed of the Church of God, which is the inspired revelation known as the word of God.”[5]  The History of the Church of God reports that “‘Mr. R failed to come to time,’ so Covert published him in the Pittsburg [sic]’Times’ as having virtually ‘conceded that my position is true.’”[6] Given Coovert’s known instability, it is not surprising that Russell failed to debate him. Coovert was content to declare victory without an actual debate, setting a pattern for others in the general community to which the Church of God belonged. Decades later various Disciples elders would follow suit, declaring victory over J. F. Rutherford without a word of actual debate passing between them.[7]

[1]              Covert was born December 17, 1853, in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Mercer County, Pennsylvania.  He was married three times. Covert was enrolled at the Edinboro State Normal School, but did not graduate. In 1872 he moved to Wappello, Iowa and was ordained at Harmony, Iowa, in October 1874. He attended Grove City College, but did not graduate. He was pastor of the Townsend Street Church in Pittsburgh from about 1880-1886. He was a member of the Prohibition Party. There is some indication that he spent the first few years of his religious life associated with H. V. Reed and The Restitution and the last few years in association with the SDA church. An article signed “Wm Covert” appearing in the Lake Union Herald, a Seventh-day Adventist Journal, of January 27, 1915, makes this possible. We’re uncertain if this is the same person. Covert spent much time writing about crank science theories. Few accepted them in his lifetime and no-one takes them seriously today. See John M. Gresham: Biographical and Historical Cyclopedia of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, page 576ff.
[2]              Claiming New-York City Lands, The New York Times, August 22, 1885; Harlem Commons, The New York Times, June 17, 1886; The Harlem Commons Heirs: One of them Declares that a Swindle is Being Attempted, The New York Times, June 9, 1886; The Harlem Commons: Roscoe Conklin Said to be Retained, The New York Times, June 17, 1886;
[3]              His Mind Impaired: Rev. Covert Succumbs Under a Mental Strain, The Pittsburgh Press, December 8, 1892. See also Pittsburgh Dispatch, December 31, 1892, page 10; The Rev. W. R. Coovert Seriously Ill, The New York Times, December 9, 1892.
[4]              C. H. Forney: History of the Church of God in the United States, Churches of God, 1914, pages 209, 715.
[5]              Quoted by Forney, History of the Church of God, page 206.
[6]              Forney, page 206.
[7]              For a rather stupid and silly example see O. C. Lambert, Russellism Unveiled, Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1940.  See also the letters from John A. Hudson to J. F. Rutherford as published in the second edition of Russell-White Debate, Old Paths Book Club, no date, appendix.


Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

Sorry, I arrive late to this post but I found the following that could be of interest. Russell is mentioned as "Second Adventist". I am sure you have this quotation but...

“Rev. W. R. Coovert, of the ‘Church of God,’ has challlenged C.T. Russell, editor of ‘Zion’s Watch Tower,’ Second Adventist, to a debate on their respective religious.” (Pittsburgh Daily Post [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], 1882, February 23, p.4

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

We have similar material from other sources, but I would like to see this. Will you please attach it to an email and sent it to me?

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

Please, confirm me that you have received it. I sent to the email rmdevienne. But, there was only the phrase I wrote you.

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

As newspaper page was so plenty of information, brief Coovert's quotation is at the beginning-middle part of the fourth column from the left.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Received one article, but not the Coovert article. Also please send the von Zech article.