The Bentley Lecture series was created by the First Church in Salem to honor the Rev. William Bentley, minister of the East Church of Salem from 1783 to 1819. The East Church existed for almost 250 years, splitting from the First Church in Salem in 1717 and later reuniting with it in 1956. The lecture was founded in 1983 and made possible from a bequest by Mrs. Mary Ellen Beane, a descendant of the Rev. Samuel Beane, minister of the East Church from 1865 to 1878 and an admirer of William Bentley. The First Church and The Salem Athenaeum are proud to be co-sponsors of this event. For more information on William Bentley, please see below.
William Bentley was Pastor of the East Church in Salem for 36 years. Born in Boston, he entered Harvard College at the age of 14 and graduated with high honors in 1777. With a demonstrat
ed gift for languages, he quickly became a senior
Latin and Greek tutor at Harvard after his graduation. It was later said that he could read with facility some twenty different languages, including Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, French and Arabic. After his studies and teaching at Harvard, Rev. Bentley was called to the East Church in Salem. As both a scholar and minister he immediately brought a sharp intellect and fresh perspective
to the pulpit of the East Church. He was one of the first avowedly Unitarian ministers in this country and distinguished himself as being a voice of reason and tolerance in and around Salem. He is well-known locally for being the only Protestant minister in Salem to welcome a young Roman Catholic priest to Salem in 1790, thereby assisting in the founding of the first Ca tholic church north of Boston. A passionate Republican (i.e., Jeffersonian) in a region known for its Federalist sympathies, Bentley corresponded with likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. During the Jefferson Administration, he acted as a translator (of Arabic) and informal advisor to the President on Mediterranean affairs. Later Jefferson offered
William Bentley the Presidency of the newly formed University of Virginia. The inimitable Rev. Bentley declined the offer, stating simply that he did not wish to leave Salem .