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Church, William Conant (1836-1917)

Biographer, Editor, Journalist

Born in Rochester, New York on August 11, 1836 and son of New York Chronicle’s editor, Rev. Dr. Pharcellus Church, William Conant Church's first brush with the world of journalism occurred at age nineteen when he began helping his father edit the New York Chronicle . It seems that Church originated from a vibrant genetic stock of other well-known military men. In his obituary in the New York Times, Church’s parentage is traced, linking him to previous American wars and the more genteel life of politics: “his grandfather was a native of Mansfield, Connecticut, a soldier in the Revolutionary War and a relative of Colonel Benjamin Church, who took part in Indian wars. His mother's father's mother was a Miss Davis, a member of a well-known Connecticut family, and came from the same stock as Jefferson Davis. Colonel Church was likewise the eighth descendant of Roger Conant, Governor of Cape Ann Colony in 1825, who was founder of the town of Salem, Massachusetts” (“Col. W. C. Church”). Five years after helping at the Chronicle , Church moved on to become editor of the New York Sun . In 1861 he traveled to Europe, but returned to the United States after the start of the Civil War. As a volunteer soldier he served under General W. T. Sherman and wrote about Sherman's victories for the New York Evening Post . Church rose quickly through the military ranks, eventually becoming a lieutenant-colonel. In 1863 he left the fighting behind to start the Army and Navy Journal . During this time he married Mary Elizabeth Metcalf (Kasten).

In 1866 William and his brother, Francis P. Church, started Galaxy Magazine . After twelve years Galaxy merged with the Atlantic Monthly . The first stories of Henry James and early writings of Mark Twain appeared within the Galaxy's pages.

Louis Starr identifies Church as one of the "Bohemian Brigade," a group of reporters who "were men of energy, style, and perception. If they lacked the magic touch, all of them wrote well enough to bring a sense of participation in the war to their readers, and at times they did it superbly. Through the reprint circuit the work of each, in varying degree, elevated standards of reporting the country over" (266). Starr also connects Church and fellow members of the Brigade to the changing possibilities within the Bohemian group, placing Church and others inside the walls of the Cave: “Soon O'Brien, Aldrich, Thomson, Williams, and Stedman, together with others in Clapp's happy coterie--Charles G. Halpine (who stammered to fame at Pfaff's, speaking inadvertently of 'H-H-Harriet Beseecher Bestowe'), William Conant Church, William Swinton, E.H. House, Charles Henry Webb, a couple of artists, Frank H. Bellew and Thomas Nast: in all more than half of the identifiable clientele at the Cave--would take the field along with hundreds of other youths of like mind to participate in the greatest undertaking in the history of journalism" (9). Mark Lause also names Church in a long list of war correspondents that “had spent time in New York” and who “had passed through Pfaff’s and Clapp’s circle” (110). This brings Church potentially into the group at Pfaff’s, but does not label him as a permanent fixture.

In his New York Times obituary, Church was lauded as one of the greatest journalists in the nation (“Col. W.C. Church”). He published in the Century , Scribner's , the North American Review , the New York Times and others. He also wrote biographies of John Ericsson and Ulysses S. Grant. Outside of the journalistic world, Church is best known as a co-founder of the National Rifle Association. He also helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was a longtime member of the New York Zoological Society.