Rev Hosea Ballou
(creator: Ernest Cassara)

Ernest Cassara
The Rev Mr Hosea Ballou (often addressed as Father by his admirers) was a real historical figure, one of the leading preachers of the Universalist church in the 19th century. He was pastor of the Second Universalist Society in Boston from 1817 until his death in 1852. Ernest Cassara not only wrote about the real Hosea Ballou, but also involved him in two fictitious detective stories, as described below. Hosea comes across in these stories as a living person, as Casssara has used his knowledge of the real man to bring him to life.

Hosea Ballou and his wife raised 9 out of the 13 children that were born to them. In the first story, he has recently turned 71 and, having long moved away from his Calvinistic Baptist upbringing, was convinced that "the salvation of all souls was the true message of Jesus and the New Testament". (There was no need to believe in the Trinity or original sin.) But he was well aware that "someone who put such a great stock in the use of reason and logic in religion never would be ranked among the saints". He does not look forward to retirement, but is very careful to do nothing to criticise his potential successor who is up for consideration by the congregation. He had long been a celebrated writer and preacher but "never wrote out his homilies, unless, after the fact, there was a demand for publication".

He thoroughly enjoys theological arguments (on such subjects as to whether, as he believes, absolutely everyone will be saved), but is against so-called theological education "on the very solid ground that a theological faculty cannot channel the Holy Spirit". But he admitted, "One of the regrets of my life has been that my father was able to afford such a meager education for me. Just one term at an academy. What I have learned I have had, on the whole, to learn on my own."

He has "a deeply-lined face and full head of long white hair", and had got into the "habit of talking to himself with bowed head as he walked - debating a theological point, as if with an opponent" so that the townspeople had begun to call him "Old Ballou". However, he has an outgoing personality, and since he had acquired the dog Spot and begun talking him walks, he "was no longer stooped .... He now seldom pondered theological questions, but, rather had a warm response for all who spoke to them." And he noticed what was happening around him. It is this, and the chance discoveries of his dog Spot, that makes him such an effective detective.

Ernest Cassara (birth date?) is the retired Professor Emeritus of History at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. He had studied at Tufts University, Boston University, and the University of Cambridge. He published articles and books about history and/or Universalism, including a biography of the real-life Hosea Ballou (see the photo on the upper left). His two mystery novels, both featuring Hosea Ballou, seem to have been written in his retirement and may have been regarded as a sort of academic joke. But they amount to more than this.

Murder on Beacon Hill (1995)
Murder on Beacon Hill
is set in Boston in 1842. It starts with the promising comment,"She was a bitch". The reference is to Hosea Ballou's new dog, Spot (so-called because she is "a little white dog with a large black circle around her left eye"). Meanwhile Hosea is reading about the strange disappearance of Mr. Benjamin Corey, a prominent Boston banker. Foul play is a possibility. Then Hosea has a visitor, a robust young Irishman whom the Ballous had looked after when he was a boy. He has now returned to Boston as Inspector Sean Timothy O'Riordan of the local Watch and Police. It is to him that Hosea turns when Spot picks up a piece of leather that turns out to be a clue to Corey's murder.

Meanwhile Hosea has come across a 12-year-old beggar boy called Sam, who seems strangely reluctant to accept any help. He had his arm in a cast, and this was still there weeks later, when Hosea noticed that he also had a bruised face and head. When Hosea discovered that he was one of a gang of such boys, he suggested to O'Riordan that this might be worth looking into. Sam is rescued but not before O'Riordan invites Hosea and Spot to accompany him on a visit to the murder scene. It was Hosea who had seen three men digging up the cobbles where the body had later been found, and it was Spot who now found a footprint. And at the end of the book, it is Spot who finds the final body.

The story may not be wildly exciting but it is rich in period detail. Hosea, for example, "was becoming a slave to his pipe" which Doctor Thompson "had prescribed .... for health reasons", so as to help settle his stomach! And he and his wife always address each other as "Mr. Ballou" and "Mrs. Ballou". The Watch and Police "did not as yet wear distinctive uniforms, and badges were a feature yet to be introduced, but one could tell an officer from the band with the inscription 'police' around his top hat." At that time, the police were equipped with rattles not with whistles. And we are told that Hosea "arranged for air conditioning of the upstairs of the house" by opening several windows and closing shutters "thus providing for a cross ventilation".

"The Puritan founders of New England had considered a woman's mind a fragile thing, and this attitude was only gradually changing in mid-nineteenth-century Massachusetts" so, Hosea being one of "the old school", felt his wife Ruth had to be shielded from all knowledge of his detective work. Of course, women like Ruth "had much more to say about the course of events than their spouses ever recognized". It all makes a fascinating picture of life at the time.

Hosea himself can sound pompous, saying things like, "I regret that I have disturbed your ruminations", and even the author writes in this sort of period style: "There was no question that such perambulation was also good for his constitution". It really does not read like a book first published in 1995. But Hosea is a force to be reckoned with, and will not let a stranger threaten Sam: "Ballou, who as a lad had taken on all comers in wrestling, was a man of peace who preferred to avoid fisticuffs, but still could not allow the man to harm his charge. He instinctively raised his elbow to ward him off" while Spot gave the attacker a good bite! But, however stuffy Hosea may sound, he is a kindly, considerate man who comes across as a interesting and very real person. Typically, he gives all the credit for solving the mystery to Inspector O'Riordan - or, failing him, to Spot.

Recommended for its portrayal of Hosea and of life at the time.

Murder on Boston Common (1998)
Murder on Boston Common also starts in Boston in 1842. Old Father Hosea Ballou is dozing off on Boston Common when he is woken by his young friend Sam who tells him that his dog Spot won't leave a rubbish pile alone. Hosea investigates - and discovers that Spot has found a human hand. It being 1842, Hosea does not hurry off to tell the police but writes a letter to In
spector Tim O'Riordan telling him of his discovery, with the result that a man's body is uncovered. Hosea (and Spot) do much of the ensuing detective work and succeed in identifying first the victim, and then the murderer, who is caught, of course, by Spot herself.

Although it is not a very exciting story, Hosea himself is still of interest, whether he is deciding it would not be seemly for him to be seen in the Smokers' Circle on the Common ("The city fathers had long since banned smoking anywhere else in public") or deciding to ignore Timothy's mild swearing (such as "Bedam!").

He is not usually one to compromise. Years ago he had given one of his sons (the one who had agreed to bring up Sam as a member of his own family) the names Massena Berthier. He had named him "after two of Napoleon's marshals whom he had admired". And he always called him, and his other children, by both their names. He still writes occasional (not very good) poetry. Years before, it seems, he had been "given the task of putting together a hymnbook more acceptable to Universalist sensitivities than that of Calvinistic Isaac Watts", and had written 193 of the hymns himself!

When trying to identify the victim, Ballou enlists the help of Timothy's landlady, Mrs McGillicuddy, to enquire whether any guest has suddenly gone missing from boarding houses run by her fellow landladies. "Perhaps you may feign a poor memory as to the gentleman's name - since, in any case, we haven't the slightest idea what it may be."
"You would have me lie, Farther Ballou?" she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
"Discretion, Madam ... discretion ... in the good cause of good citizenship!"
And "they both chuckled."

The trail takes Hosea to the seaside resort of Nahant where he had arranged that he should get an invitation to preach, even though it is in a Unitarian church. This gives Hosea plenty of opportunity for theological discussion as "most Unitarians, while sharing much with Universalists, on the whole still did not share the optimistic view that a God of Love was bound to save the souls of all His children." He quotes St Paul's letters to prove his point, but the Unitarian pastor challenges him, "I suppose you think that St. Paul was the greatest Universalist?"
"By no means," responded Ballou with conviction. "Jesus Christ was the greatest Universalist!"

In his sermon, Ballou argued that God "is necessarily 'the author of sin'". He had "eliminated Satan from the Christian's stable of convenient excuses forty years before .... His challenge to the liberals was in this: if they believed that God was Omnipotent, Omniscient, and All Loving, how could they escape the logic that He was in control of all things, and, therefore, the 'author of sin'." But his Unitarian colleague felt that if you followed this argument to its logical conclusion, "there could be no such thing as free will", and, during the sermon, his wife had to whisper, "Shush, my dear!" All this Universalist material is, as you would expect from such an author, really well handled.

The author may write in a deliberately dated style, using sentences like, "The room overflowed with pulchitrude", but this does not seem out of place. More seriously, less seems to happen than in the first book. But, for anyone at all interested in Hosea Ballou and his theological arguments, it still has something to offer.

Right at the end, Hosea's church, The Second Universalist Society, "saw fit not to extend a call to Dr. Adam as his associate", so "with the full burden of responsibility gain on his shoulders, Ballou found himself constrained to give up his interest in detection." There must also have been the point that no major publisher seemed interested in taking on the books. A pity, I think.

There is little about the author on the web, beyond references to his historical books.

It is difficult to find reasonably priced copies of Murder on Beacon Hill, but Murder on Boston Common is much more readily available.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


Hosea Ballou
This was the real-life Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), a famous Universalist preacher, the subject of a bigraphy by Ernest Cassara. Cassara then "borrowed" his identity and made him the hero in his two mystery novels.
Murder on Beacon Hill cover
Murder on Boston Common cover
The covers do not look at all professionally designed. The word Murder on the first book (which was published by a writers' co-operative) is not even horizontal. But it is well worth reading.
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