Thornton Chase’s Long Season of Suffering 1

‘BY ALL ACCOUNTS, THE first thirty-three years of Thornton Chase’s life were a torrent of suffering, heartache, and failure.

He was born James Brown Thornton Chase on February 22, 1847, in Springfield, Massachusetts. His mother, Sarah Thornton Chase, died of complications from childbirth sixteen days later. His father, Jotham Chase, remarried, but his new wife had no affection for the young boy. By the age of thirteen James was in the care of a Baptist minister in nearby Newton. His father and stepmother had started a new family.

James entered the Union Army at the age of sixteen, fought in two battles in the final year of the Civil War, and went deaf in his left ear from a cannon blast. After the war he entered college, only to drop out in his freshman year. Then, at the age of twenty-three, he secured his first taste of happiness.

He was now going by the name “Thornton,” taking his mother’s maiden name as his first. He married a young teacher, Annie Allen, and they bought a home in Springfield. Ten months after the wedding they welcomed their first daughter, naming her Sarah Thornton Chase after Chase’s mother. He started a business dealing in timber.

Within a year, the business went belly up. …

California 2

On Friday, October 17, when friends from Seattle and Portland came to supplicate Him to visit Oregon and Washington, He replied, “‘… tell them that I am always with them. Bodily meeting is nothing compared with spiritual connections.’”

Later that day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá boarded the train for Los Angeles, taking with Him Mrs. Goodall, Mrs. Ralston, and the Persian friends. In Los Angeles, inquirers, reporters, and friends crowded around Him. To the many people seeking to arrange speaking engagements, He replied, “‘I have no time. I have come here to see the tomb of Mr. Chase and to meet some friends.’” Thornton Chase, the First American to become a Bahá’í, had died on September 30, while ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was enroute from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, to California.

Meeting physically is as nothing compared with spiritual bonds. What is important is spiritual nearness. 3

At the time of His departure for Los Angeles, He said to the friends from Portland and Seattle who had begged Him to come to their cities:

Send my love and good wishes to all the friends in Portland and Seattle and tell them that I am always with them. Meeting physically is as nothing compared with spiritual bonds. What is important is spiritual nearness.

When the message of the Master reached those eager friends, they telegraphed their acquiescence and instead requested permission to visit Him. They arrived during the last days of His stay in San Francisco and attained the blessing of His presence, their eyes ever filled with tears and their hearts burning with the fire of love at their nearness to the Master.

At the railway station several believers asked to be permitted to accompany ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Los Angeles. Among them was Mrs Goodall. The Master had a very pleasant journey on the train. When various newspaper accounts were read to Him, He said, ‘These revolutions in Turkey are the preliminary stages for my return.’ In the afternoon a resident of Los Angeles received permission to visit the Master in the train and entered His presence with the utmost sincerity and reverence.

Early in the evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived at the Hotel Lankershim and the friends from that city, in transports of joy and happiness, gathered around Him. Several church and society leaders invited Him to speak at their meetings but He replied: ‘I have absolutely no time. I have come here to visit Mr Chase’s grave and to meet the friends. I will stay here one or two days and then I must leave.’

12 October 1912, Talk at Temple Emmanu-El, 450 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California 4

Christ ratified and proclaimed the foundation of the law of Moses. Muḥammad and all the Prophets have revoiced that same foundation of reality. Therefore, the purposes and accomplishments of the divine Messengers have been one and the same. They were the source of advancement to the body politic and the cause of the honor and divine civilization of humanity, the foundation of which is one and the same in every dispensation. It is evident, then, that the proofs of the validity and inspiration of a Prophet of God are the deeds of beneficent accomplishment and greatness emanating from Him. If He proves to be instrumental in the elevation and betterment of mankind, He is undoubtedly a valid and heavenly Messenger.

  1. Sockett, Robert. “Thornton Chase’s Long Season of Suffering.” 239 Days in America, 18 Oct. 2012, [return]
  2. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 169. [return]
  3. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. [return]
  4. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 366. [return]