Alcoholics Anonymous & History of AA
A.A.’s Vermont Roots in St. Johnsbury, Manchester, and East Dorset to Be Studied By International Christian Recovery Coalition Participants in September 3-8, 2012, Workshops
International Christian Recovery Coalition participants and other interested individuals from the United States and Canada will gather together from September 3 to September 8 at key locations in St. Johnsbury, Manchester, and East Dorset, Vermont. They will participate in workshops, tours, investigations, reviews of historical records, discussions of A.A.’s Christian roots and today’s Christian Recovery Movement, with talks by Dick B. and Ken B., A.A. historians from Maui, Hawaii.
The average participant in Alcoholics Anonymous, recovery programs, counseling, and even Christian recovery fellowships knows little or nothing about most of the extensive inspirations and influences for Alcoholics Anonymous. A large number arose from or were centered in individuals, churches, academies, and organizations in several Vermont towns and villages.
The source locations include: (1) St. Johnsbury, where A.A.’s co-founder Robert H. Smith (“Dr. Bob”) received what he called “excellent training” in the Bible as a youngster; (2) East Dorset, where A.A.’s younger co-founder William G. Wilson (“Bill W.”) was born and raised in a Congregational Church setting; and (3) Manchester, Vermont, where Bill W. received further Christian instruction at Burr and Burton Seminary.
But the Vermont confluences of resources did not end in the three towns. Important too were Emerald Lake, Glastenbury, Bennington, and Northfield, Vermont. Moreover, the better known individuals who figured in the picture were: (1) The Griffith and Wilson families in East Dorset; (2) The Burnham and Thacher families of both Emerald Lake and Manchester; (3) Bill W.’s boyhood friend Mark Whalon, a postman from East Dorset; (4) A wealthy businessman, Rowland Hazard, who carried the message of the necessity for a conversion experience from Dr. Carl Jung in Switzerland to several AAs-to-be, and who settled on a large acreage in Glastonbury; (5) Two others. who helped carry the message of deliverance to Bill Wilson’s long-time friend and sponsor Ebby Thacher, who were: (a) F. Shepard Cornell, a New Yorker who regularly summered in Manchester, and (b) Cebra Graves, an attorney, who lived in Bennington.
The George Thacher family (parents of Ebby) owned a large home in Manchester and a cottage at Emerald Lake. The Clark Burnham family—from which Bill’s wife-to-be, Lois, sprang—owned a home in Manchester and two bungalows at Emerald Lake—the latter just a stone’s throw from East Dorset. The Thachers and the Burnhams became good friends. So did Bill W., Ebby Thacher, and Lois Wilson, after a time
Both Ebby Thacher and Bill W. (Ebby’s sponsee-to-be, and long-time friend and drinking buddy) had a thorough Christian grounding in their youth. Ebby Thacher got his in at least five ways. First his parents were involved in Episcopal, Presbyterian, and First Reformed churches. And perhaps a Congregational church in Manchester. Second, Ebby specifically remembered his parental grounding in later years, and as he attended Burr and Burton Seminary at Manchester. And Ebby was exposed to the strong Congregational influences at the Seminary. Third, Ebby attended Burr and Burton during the period Bill W. was a student there. Burr and Burton Seminary, as it was then called, required—as did Dr. Bob’s St. Johnsbury Academy--that students attend daily chapel (with sermons, Scripture, and hymns) as well as the local Manchester Congregational Church. Fourth, this was a period when Bill W. and his girl-friend Bertha Bamford were going to daily chapel together. Bill and Bertha were both involved with the “Y” and its activities while Bill was president of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and Bertha was president of the Young Women’s Christian Association; and Bill was taking a required four-year Bible study course. Finally, during his time at Burr and Burton, Ebby boarded with the pastor of the Manchester Congregational Church where students were required to attend. That pastor was Reverend Sidney K. Perkins, who lived in Manchester, allowed Ebby to live with the family while attending the seminary, and brought about discussions which Ebby considered to be the high point of his life.
Bill’s girl-friend and first love, Bertha Bamford, was the daughter of Reverend and Mrs. W. H. Bamford. Bamford was rector of Zion Episcopal Church in Manchester, and lived with his family in Manchester. Bill met the Bamfords on a number of occasions.
The important A.A. links from the Christian upbringing of Dr. Bob in Vermont were numerous. They were largely confined to St. Johnsbury. And they took several forms. First, in the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury with which the entire Smith family were deeply involved. Second, in the church’s Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. Third, in the Young Men’s Christian Association of which Bob’s father was president. Also, the strong Congregational influence of the Fairbanks family in St. Johnsbury. Finally, the Congregational St. Johnsbury Academy’s strict requirements of daily chapel, weekly church attendance, and weekly Bible study.
The Christian links from Dr. Bob’s youth in St. Johnsbury were quite similar to those for both Bill W. and Ebby Thacher. This was with respect to the East Dorset Congregational Church; the Manchester Congregational Church, Burr and Burton Seminary’s religious requirements; and, in Bill W.’s case, the seminary’s required four-year Bible study course, and its required daily chapel. Add to these Bill’s, presidency of the seminary’s YMCA.
Four other major Vermont-AA topics will be reviewed, discussed, and documented by the early September Vermont workshops. The first concerns the importance in the co-founders’ youth of salvation and the Word of God. The second is “A First Century Christian Fellowship” known as the Oxford Group. And with which all the named young Vermonters would eventually become associated—those being Bob Smith, Bill Wilson, Ebby Thacher, Rowland Hazard, Shepard Cornell, and Cebra Graves. The next topic has to do with the precursor East Coast Christian organizations and individuals that developed techniques of deliverance for alcoholics; and also espoused personal work with others. These were: (a) the Young Men’s Christian Association; (b) the great Evangelists like Dwight Moody, Ira Sankey, K.A. Burnell, and Allen Folger; (c) the Rescue Missions; (d) the Salvation Army; (e) the United Society of Christian Endeavor; and (f) the Oxford Group, its leaders, and activists. (4) The final major topic will include Christian recovery’s and early A.A.’s immense emphasis on abstinence, First Century Christian principles and practices, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, relying on God, holding old fashioned prayer meetings and Quiet Time periods; Bible study; and personal work with, and in love and service to, God, Jesus Christ, and others.