Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury, Part One

(According to articles in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian newspaper)

By Ken B.
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Part One
The February 12, 1875, Issue of the St. Johnsbury Caledonian

When my dad (Dick B.) and I made our second research trip to Vermont in June 2008, we spent eight days doing research in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It is the town in which A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob was born on August 8, 1879. And he received his strong Christian upbringing there until he graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in the summer of 1898. After he graduated from the academy, he left the state to go to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He soon thereafter descended into the abyss of alcoholism, where he remained until he finally got sober in June 1935, through the help of God and A.A. cofounder Bill W. 

The St. Johnsbury of Dr. Bob’s youth was an amazing place—largely because of what was called by a number of sources “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. My dad and I wrote our title Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont after our initial research trip to St. Johnsbury in October 2007. We based the book on our early historical discoveries there, combined with follow-on research done in books and Internet sources. In our book, we provided the testimony of a number of sources as to the nature and magnitude of the impact of “the Great Awakening” on St. Johnsbury. Those sources included: 

1.      Minutes of the Eighty-First Annual Meeting of the General Convention of Congregational Ministers and Churches of Vermont, Held at Barton, June, 1876.

2.      John E. Nutting, Becoming the United Church of Christ 1795-1995. [North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury—in which Dr. Bob’s entire family was actively involved—eventually became, and still is today, a member of the United Church of Christ.]

3.      Arthur Fairbanks Stone, The History of the North Congregational Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

4.      Claire Dunne Johnson, “I See by the Paper . . .”: An Informal History of St. Johnsbury.

5.      “History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saint Johnsbury.”

6.      Edward T. Fairbanks, The Town of St. Johnsbury, VT: A Review of One Hundred Twenty-five Years to the Anniversary Pageant 1912.

7.      Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Convention of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of the United States and British Provinces, Held at Richmond, VA., May 26-30, 1875.[1]

 One source that we did not quote from in our book was the St. Johnsbury Caledonian newspaper. That was because I did not get into the archives for the newspaper, which are kept upstairs on microfiche in the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, until our June 2008 research trip to St. Johnsbury. The Athenaeum was the school library for the St. Johnsbury Academy during the years Dr. Bob attended and still is the library for the Town of St. Johnsbury to this day. During our 2008 trip, I was able to print out many of the relevant pages of the issues of that newspaper for 1875, as well as for several years before and after that date. We gave one complete set of those print-outs to North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury, for the “Dr. Bob Core Library” we founded there in 2008 with the help of the then-pastor, Jay Sprout. And we kept a set for ourselves—which we have never quoted from to date. In the meanwhile, issues of the St. Johnsbury Caledonian dating back to “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury have become available online. And I will be quoting below from the first issue of the paper to be published after the initial meetings of “the Great Awakening” took place February 6-8, 1875. And please see our title Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous for the relevance of the “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury to Dr. Bob’s parents (Judge Walter Perrin Smith and Susan Amanda Holbrook) and to the town of St. Johnsbury in which Dr. Bob was born and raised shortly thereafter.

Now on to the Friday, February 12, 1875, issue of the St. Johnsbury Caledonian and its reports concerning the first events of “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. Here is the first quote: 

“Religious Meetings”:

“Free Baptist Church.—Meetings in hall of Caledonian Block—(Rev. O. Roys, pastor.)
Methodist Church.—(Rev. D. E. Miller, Pastor.)
North Cong’l Church.—(Rev. Chas. M. Southgate, Pastor.)
South Cong’l Church.—(Rev. E. T. Fairbanks, Pastor.)
Church of the Messiah, Universalist.—(Rev. B. M. Tillotson, Pastor.)
Baptist Church.—(Rev. J. H. Marsh, Pastor.)”

. . . 

The next union religious meeting will be held at the North Church this (Thursday) evening, at half-past seven. It is not expected there will be another mass meeting until next Tuesday evening, although there will be meetings for the young people, and enquirers after …… both Friday and Saturday evenings.”[2]

 There were five Protestant churches in St. Johnsbury at the time of “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury:

1.      North Congregational Church, St. Johnsbury;

2.      South Congregational Church;

3.      The Methodist Church;

4.      The Baptist Church; and

5.      The Free Baptist Church.

All five of those Protestant churches had been holding “union meetings” for about six months prior to “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. The purpose of the “union meetings” was to bring about a revival in St. Johnsbury.

And here is the second quote: 

“The Gospel Meetings.

The religious meetings held in this place the past week by the committee of young men, were very largely attended, and pervaded by a deep religious feeling. The leaders were Geo. Davis of Burlington, Mr. Cook of Ludlow, Messrs. Remington of Fall River and Moore of Boston. These men were ably seconded by Mr. John Sewell of Norwich, and local workers, both clergy and laymen. The plain, simple and attractive way these men had of presenting the Gospel, won the attention and respect of all, and the hearts of many. The town hall was packed with earnest listeners on Sunday afternoon; over eight hundred crowded the South Church in the evening, and nearly as many met at the North [Congregational] Church on Monday evening. Probably as many as seventy arose for prayers, and a goodly number of these declared that they had already given themselves to the Lord. This included heads of families, young men and women, boys and girls.

A most touching incident occurred in the meeting at the North Church Monday afternoon. William Robinson, a man who, as he expressed it, had ‘walked in sinful channels all his life,’ arose, and in the most penitent and broken manner, told his experience, his hope and his joy. The case of this man is most remarkable. A drinker and fighter, those who know him best have considered him a dangerous character. Since the Avenue House riot last fall, in which he was prominent, he has been in jail. The Spirit of God seems to have visited him in prison, and he is now a new creature. Although under the condemnation of the law, he is free in the liberty whereby Christ makes all free who come unto him. He is the happiest man in town. His prayers and praises have opened the prison doors to him as they did to Paul and Silas at Philippi. Sheriff Preston allows him to attend these meetings, fully believing in his sincerity. It is apparently one of those wonderful exhibitions of the power of the Holy Spirit of which we read sometimes, but which few are permitted to witness.[3]

The meetings which comprised “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury continued over many months following the initial meetings February 6-8, 1875. These meetings were referred to by various sources as the “Gospel meetings.” The leaders/presenters of these meetings fell into four groups: 

1.      Members of the State of Vermont Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association;

2.      Christian laymen from Massachusetts—known as “the Massachusetts brethren”—which was where the statewide “canvasses” had begun several years earlier;

3.      Another visiting helper; and

4.      Local workers helping with the “Gospel meetings.” 
The State Committee of the Y. M. C. A. was represented by:

1.      Geo. Davis [= George Evans Davis; Capt. George E. (Geo. E.) Davis] of Burlington, Vermont;[4] and

2.      Rev. S. P. Cook (= Silas Parsons Cook) of Ludlow, Vermont.[5],[6]

The Christian laymen from Massachusetts—known as “the Massachusetts brethren”—were: 

1.      R. K. Remington (Robert Knight Remington) of Fall River, Massachusetts;[7] and

2.      H. M. Moore (= Henry Martyn Moore) of Boston, Massachusetts. [H. M. Moore (a member of the State of Massachusetts committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association beginning in 1871) and lay preacher K. A. Burnell of Illinois launched the Gospel canvasses of the New England states beginning in 1871 in Massachusetts.]

The other visiting helper was Mr. John Sewell of Norwich, Vermont.

And the local workers who helped with the “Gospel Meetings” included both clergy and laymen. (As I mentioned above, the five Protestant churches of St. Johnsbury had been meeting in “union meetings,” and the clergy had been meeting to plan for a revival in St. Johnsbury, for about six months prior to the initial “Gospel Meetings” of “the Great Awakening” of 1875 in St. Johnsbury. At the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in June 2008, I was able to read the handwritten “Minutes” of the Caledonia County Ministerial Association beginning at least six months before February 6, 1875, and continuing until some time after “the Great Awakening.” Although the notes were fairly clearly written, they were somewhat hard to read in that they were in pencil and more than 125 years old. The “Minutes” spoke about planning for a revival around the beginning of 1875.)

A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob stated in his last major talk: “I had refreshed my memory of the Good Book, and I had had excellent training in that as a youngster.”[8] Dr. Bob spoke about some of that “excellent training” in his personal story in Alcoholics Anonymous, but he put a somewhat negative “spin” on it. He wrote: “From childhood through high school I was more or less forced to go to church, Sunday School and evening service, Monday night Christian Endeavor and sometimes to Wednesday evening prayer meeting.”[9] Our book, Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont helps to balance what Dr. Bob called, on the one hand, his “excellent training in” the Bible “as a youngster”; and called, on the other hand, having been “more or less forced to go to church, . . .”

[1] Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2008), xvi-xvii, 1-7:; accessed 8/31/2015.
[2] St. Johnsbury Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vt.), Friday, Feb. 12, 1875, page 3; left hand/first column:; accessed 8/28/2015.
[3] St. Johnsbury Caledonian (St. Johnsbury, Vt.), Friday, Feb. 12, 1875, page 3; left hand/first column:; accessed 8/28/2015.
[4] Capt. Geo. E. Davis was a Medal of Honor winner during the Civil War. [See: “George E. Davis (Medal of Honor)” in Wikipedia:; accessed 8/31/2015]. See also this short biography, which mentions some of his work on the State Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Vermont: “Davis, George Evans”:; accessed 8/31/2015.
[5] On Rev. Silas Parsons (“S. P.”) Cook, see, for example: (1) “Silas Parsons Cook” in N. F. Carter, The Native Ministry of New Hampshire (Concord, N.H.: Rumford Printing Co., 1906), 659-60:; accessed 8/31/2015; and (2) Minutes of the Eighty-Second Annual Meeting of the General Convention of Congregational Ministers and Churches of Vermont, Held at Bradford, June, 1877. Fifty-Ninth Annual Report of the Vermont Domestic Missionary Society, and Fifty-Seventh Annual Report of the Vermont Education Society. (Montpelier: J. & J. M. Poland, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1877), 88-89:; accessed 8/31/2015.
[6] Franklin Fairbanks of St. Johnsbury was also a member of the State Committee of the Y. M. C. A. at this time. He was elected to the committee at the state convention of the Young Men's Christian Associations of Vermont held at Norwich, Vermont, November 19-20, 1874. See: The Rutland Daily Globe (Rutland, Vermont), Saturday, November 28, 1874, page 2:; accessed 8/31/2015.
[7] “Robert Knight Remington” in Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts, Volume 1 (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1912), 173-75:; accessed 8/31/2015.
[8] The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 11-12.
[9] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 172.

A Reply to a “Critique” of My Article about Christ in the Big Book

By Ken B.
Copyright 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved
John, in reply to your response to the article I posted titled "Christ, the Cross, and the Holy Ghost in the Big Book? Yep.", I have some questions and comments for you: (1) When you spoke of "you people," to whom were you referring? (2) You spoke of "the first 164 pages." Could you please provide your definition of the phrase "the basic text" as it is used: (a) on the front cover of the dust jacket of the hardback fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous; (b) on page xi of the Preface in the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous; and (c) on page 17 of the Foreword in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions? (3) You spoke of "Your opinions" (i.e., my "opinions"). I provided 18 footnotes in my article, some of which contained multiple sources for the statements I made. Please identify my "opinions" to which you alluded. (4) You mentioned "the original program of Alcoholics Anonymous." The "original program of Alcoholics Anonymous"--as of late February 1938--was summarized in seven points on page 131 of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. (5) You claimed: "Your premise that earlier, unused versions of Bill's Story should now be given the prominence and treatment of the original is flawed." Your asserting that that is what I did is not the same as proving that that is what I did. I made no such claim. My article provided A.A. history-related facts for which I provided the sources. (6) Your claim that "Just as gold is refined by removing the impurities found in common ore, Bill's Story was refined by removing immaterial items that distracted from the primary purpose of recovery from alcoholism." is your unproved assertion. It is an analogy. It is no more valid in this case than the analogy summed up in that old "saw": "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." (7) You said: "Is yours or anyone's sobriety improved by gratuitously injecting a Christian angle into the program . . . " implying that I was "guilty" of "gratuitously injecting a Christian angle into the program." I provided A.A. history-related facts and documented those facts with sources. Your implying that something is a fact doesn't make it so. (8) You stated: "If all that extraneous information regarding Bill Wilson's experience with Christianity was crucial to recovery from alcoholism, don't you think they would have included it in the original publication?" Your statement implied that "Bill Wilson's experience with Christianity" was "extraneous information." And you referenced "the original publication." I provided A.A. history-related facts and related documentation concerning information A.A. cofounder Bill W. himself provided in his personal testimony (i.e., "Bill's Story") in chapter one of Alcoholics Anonymous ("the Big Book"). Let the readers of this post judge from the following statement made by Bill W. whether Bill believed that his "experience with Christianity" was "extraneous information": "I am always glad to say privately that some of the Oxford Group presentation and emphasis upon the Christian message saved my life." [Source: The A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, 'PASS IT ON,' 171]. (9) You put forward the possibility (you said: "It is possible that . . .") that Bill W.'s ". . . intent was to spread the solution, recovery from alcoholism through "God as we understood Him," . . " A.A.'s solution for overcoming the problem of alcoholism ""is stated clearly on page 25 of the chapter titled "There Is a Solution," chapter two in the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous: "The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves." (10) You stated "Perhaps . . ." and then ". . . I think not." Those words are not statements of fact. Here is a statement of fact from the mouth of A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob as found in ". . . Dr. Bob's last major talk, as transcribed from a recording made at Detroit, Mich., in December 1948"--as found in the A.A. General Service Conference-approved pamphlet The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks on page 13 " (Item # P-53): "In early A.A. days, . . . our stories didn't amount to anything to speak of. When we [A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob] started in on Bill D. ["Alcoholic Anonymous Number Three"], we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions. But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book." And in that same talk, Dr. Bob also stated: "It wasn't until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystalized in the form of the Twelve Steps. . . . We already had the basic ideas []of the Twelve Steps, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said, as a result of our study of the Good Book." [The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, 14.] Those are facts, not opinions. As stated in the "Foreword to Fourth Edition" in Alcoholics Anonymous: ". . . our literature has preserved the integrity of the A.A. message, . . ." Ken B.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christ, the Cross, and the Holy Ghost in the Big Book? Yep.

By Ken B. (based on research by Dick B.)
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Did you know that there have been at least five (5) versions of A.A. cofounder Bill W.’s personal testimony known as “Bill’s Story” in the current (fourth, 2001) edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”)?

1.      Bill Wilson, “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story.”[1]

2.      “Another ‘pre-original manuscript’ draft of chapters [one and two] in the Big Book.”[2]

3.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in what Bill W. called the “prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories,” also known as the “Multilith Edition” and as the “Original Manuscript.”[3]

4.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in the printer’s manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous.[4]

5.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism (New York City: Works Publishing Company, 1939).[5]

A number of people have pointed to Bill W.’s mention of Christ in the current (fourth, 2001) edition of the Big Book:

To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching—most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult; the rest I disregarded.[6]

But they have often failed to note several important points relating to Bill’s comment about Christ: (1) The context of Bill’s statement; (2) Bill’s Christian upbringing and the Christian training he experienced in common with Ebby T. at Burr and Burton Seminary during Bill’s senior year there (1912-1913); and (3) Bill’s life experiences up to the time of his late-November 1934 meeting with his old school friend Ebby.

As to the context of Bill’s statement, on page eight, Bill discusses his release from Towns Hospital after his third stay there in September 1934 for treatment of alcoholism by Dr. Silkworth. He then moves on to “the end of that bleak November [in 1934],” when he received a telephone call from his “old school friend,” Ebby T. And Bill continues writing about his late-November 1934 interaction with Ebby until page 13, at which point Bill moves on to discuss his fourth and final stay “at the hospital” for treatment of alcoholism by Dr. Silkworth—an event which took place from December 11-18, 1934, at Towns Hospital. His discussion of his interaction with Ebby and his (Bill’s) thoughts about that meeting occupy about one-third of “Bill’s Story.” His reunion with Ebby and what they discussed made up a very important part of what Bill hoped to get across through his story about A.A.’s proposed solution for overcoming the problem of alcoholism.

As to Bill W.’s Christian upbringing, see, for example: Dick B.’s The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator's Role in Early A.A.[7] As to some of the Christianity in Ebby’s upbringing and family, see Mel B., Ebby.[8] And as to Bill’s life experiences up to the time of his meeting with his friend Ebby, it is important to remember that—despite Bill’s Christian upbringing—after the unexpected death of his Burr and Burton Seminary school mate, and “girl friend,” Bertha Bamford, in November 1912 during Bill’s senior year at Burr and Burton, Bill blamed God for Bertha’s death and turned his back on God. And, with the exception of Bill’s brief-but-profound spiritual experience with God at Winchester Cathedral in England in August 1918 on his way to fight in France during World War I, he had not really thought much about God since. That is, until Dr. Silkworth had discussed with Bill during Bill’s third stay at Towns Hospital for treatment of alcoholism in September 1934 that the Great Physician (Jesus Christ) could cure Bill of his alcoholism.[9] And then, about two months later, his friend Ebby showed up sober at Bill and Lois’s house at 182 Clinton St. in Brooklyn talking about how he (Ebby) had been saved (Ebby said, “I’ve got religion.”[10]) and that God had done for him what he could not do for himself.[11]

Now let’s look at an earlier version of Bill W.’s discussion of Christ found in “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story,” an account which would seem to be the earliest version of what has come to be known as “Bill’s Story” in the Big Book.

Late one afternoon near the end of that month of November I sat alone in the kitchen of my home. As usual, I was half drunk and enough so that the keen edge of my remorse was blunted. . . . Just as I was trying to decide whether to risk concealing one of the full ones within easy reach of my side of the bed, the phone rang.

. . . Over the wire came the voice of an old school friend and drinking companion of boom times. By the time we had exchanged greetings, I sensed that he was sober. This seemed strange, for it was years since anyone could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I had come to think of him as another hopeless devotee of Bacchus. Current rumor had it that he had been committed to a state institution for alcoholic insanity. I wondered if perhaps he had not just escaped. Of course he would come over right away and take dinner with us. A fine idea that, for I then would have an excuse to drink openly with him. . . .

The door opened and there he stood, very erect and glowing. His deep voice boomed out cheerily - the cast of his features - his eyes - the freshness of his complexion - this was my friend of schooldays. There was a subtle something or other instantly apparent even to my befuddled perception. Yes - there was certainly something more - he was inexplicably different - what had happened to him?

We sat at the table and I pushed a lusty glass of gin flavored with pineapple juice in his direction. . . .

"Not now", he said. I was a little crest fallen at this, though I was glad to know that someone could refuse a drink at that moment - I knew I couldn't. "On the wagon?" - I asked. He shook his head and looked at me with an impish grin.

"Aren't you going to have anything?"- I ventured presently.

"Just as much obliged, but not tonight" I was disappointed, but curious. What had got into the fellow - he wasn't himself.  

"No, he's not himself - he's somebody is else - not just that either - he was his old self, plus something more, and maybe minus something". I couldn't put my finger on it - his whole bearing almost shouted that something of great import had taken place.

"Come now, what's this all about", I asked. Smilingly, yet seriously, he looked straight at me and said "I've got religion".  

So that was it. Last summer an alcoholic crackpot - this fall, washed in the blood of the Lamb. [H]eavens, that might be even worse. I was thunderstruck, and he, of all people. What on earth could one say to the poor fellow.

So I finally blurted out "That's fine", and sat back waiting for a sizzling blast on salvation and the relation of the Cross, the Holy Ghost, and the Devil thereto. Yes, he did have that starry-eyed look, the old boy was on fire all right. Well, bless his heart, let him rant. It was nice that he was sober after all. I could stand it anyway, for there was plenty of gin and I took a little comfort that tomorrow's ration wouldn't have to be used up right then.

Old memories of Sunday School - the profit temperance pledge, which I never signed - the sound of the preacher's voice which could be heard on still Sunday mornings way over on the hillside beyond the railroad tracks, - My grandfather's quite scorn of things some church people did to him - his fair minded attitude that I should make up my mind about these things myself - his convictions that the . . . spheres really had their music - but his denial of the right of preachers to tell him how he should listen - his perfect lack of fear when he mentioned these things just before his death - these memories surged up out of my childhood as I listened to my friend. My own gorge rose for a moment to an all time high as my anti-preacher - anti-church folk sentiment welled up inside me. These feelings soon gave way to respectful attention as my former drinking companion rattled on. Without knowing it, I stood at the great turning point of my life - I was on the threshold of a fourth dimension of existence that I had doubtfully heard some people describe and others pretend to have. 

He went on to lay before me a simple proposal. It was so simple and so little complicated with the theology and dogma I had associated with religion that by degrees I became astonished and delighted. I was astonished because a thing so simple could accomplish the profound result I now beheld in the person of my friend. To say that I was delighted is putting it mildly, for I realized that I could go for his program also. Like all but a few . . . human beings I had believed in the existence of a power greater than myself. True atheists are really very scarce. It always seemed to me more difficult and illogical to be an atheist than to believe there is a certain amount of law and order and purpose underlying the universe. The faith of an atheist in his convictions is far more blind then that of the religionist for it leads inevitably to the absurd conclusion that the vast and ever changing cosmos originally grew out of a cipher, and now has arrived at its present state through a series of haphazard accidents, one of which is man himself. . . .

Such was the picture I had of myself and the world in which I lived, that there was a mighty rhythm, intelligence and purpose behind it all despite inconsistencies. I had rather strongly believed.

But this was as far as I had ever got toward the realization of God and my personal relationship to Him. My thoughts of God were academic and speculative when I had them, which for some years past had not been often. That God was an intelligence power and love upon which I could absolutely rely as an individual had not seriously occurred to me. Of course I knew in a general way what theologians claimed but I could not see that religious persons as a class demonstrated any more power, love and intelligence than those who claimed no special dispensation from God though I granted that Christianity ought to be a wonderful influence I was annoyed, irked and confused by the attitudes they took, the beliefs they held and the things they had done in the name of Christ. People like myself had been burned and whole population put to fire and sword on the pretext they did not believe as Christians did. History taught that Christians were not the only offenders in this respect. It seemed to me that on the whole it made little difference whether you were Mohammedan, Catholic, Jew, Protestant or Hotentot. You were supposed to look askance at the other fellows approach to God. Nobody could be saved unless they fell in with your ideas. I had a great admiration for Christ as a man. He practiced what he preached and set a marvelous example. It was not hard to agree in Principle with His moral teachings but like most people, I preferred to live up to some moral standard[s] but not to others. At any rate I thought I understood as well as any one what good morals were and with the exceptions of my drinking I felt superior to most Christians I knew. I might be weak in some respects but at least I was not hypocritical. So my interest in Christianity other than its teaching of moral principles and the good I hoped it did on balance was slight.

Sometimes I wished that I had been religiously trained from early childhood[12] that I might have the comfortable assurance about so many things I found it impossible to have any definite convictions upon. The question of the hereafter, the many theological abstractions and seeming contradictions - these things were puzzling and finally annoying for religious people told me I must believe a great many seemingly impossible things to be one of them. This insistence on their part plus a powerful desire to possess the things of this life while there was yet time had crowded the idea of the personal God more and more out of my mind as the years went by. Neither were my convictions strengthened by my own misfortunes. The great war and its aftermath seemed to more certainly demonstrate the omnipotence of the devil than the loving care of an all-powerful God

Nevertheless here I was sitting opposite a man who talked about a personal God who told me how he had found Him, who described to me how I might do the same thing and who convinced me utterly that something had come into his life which had accomplished a miracle. The man was transformed; there was no denying he had been reborn. He was radiant of something which soothed my troubled spirit as though the fresh clean wind of mountain top blowing through and through me I saw and felt and in a great surge of joy I realized that the great presence which had made itself felt to me that war time day in Winchester Cathedral had again returned.

As he continued I commenced to see myself as in as in an unearthly mirror. I saw how ridiculous and futile the whole basis of my life had been. Standing in the middle of the stage of my life's setting I had been feverishly trying to arrange ideas and things and people and even God, to my own liking, to my own ends and to promote what I had thought to be true happiness. It was truly a sudden and breath-taking illumination. Then the idea came – “The tragic thing about you is, that you have been playing God.” That was it. Playing God. Then the humor of the situation burst upon me, here was I a tiny grain of sand of the infinite shores of God’s great universe and the little grain of sand, had been trying to play God. He really thought he could arrange all of the other little grains about him just to suit himself. And when his little hour was run out, people would weep and say in awed tones—“How wonderful.”

So then came the question – If I were no longer to be God than was I to find and perfect the new relationship with my creator – with the Father of Lights who presides over all ? My friend laid down to me the terms and conditions which were simple but not easy, drastic yet broad and acceptable to honest men everywhere, of whatever faith or lack thereof. He did not tell me that these were the only terms – he merely said that they were terms that had worked in his case. They were spiritual principles and rules of practice he thought common to all of the worthwhile religions and philosophies of mankind. He regarded them as stepping stones to a better understanding of our relation to the spirit of the universe and as a practical set of directions setting forth how the spirit could work in and through us that we might become spearheads and more effective agents for the promotion of God’s Will for our lives and for our fellows. The great thing about it all was its simplicity and scope. [N]o really religious persons belief would be interfered with no matter what his training. For the man on the street who just wondered about such things, it was a providential approach, for with a small beginning of faith and a very large dose of action along spiritual lines he could be sure to demonstrate the Power and Love of God as a practical workable twenty four hour a day design for living.

This is what my friend suggested I do. One: Turn my face to God as I understand Him and say to Him with earnestness - complete honesty and abandon that I henceforth place my life at His disposal and direction. forever. . .  [13]

It is intriguing to note Bill W.’s references in his personal testimony to “the blood of the Lamb;” “salvation and the relation of the Cross, the Holy Ghost;” “Christianity;” “the name of Christ,” and “Christians” that did not make it into later versions of “Bill’s Story.” But their presence in this very early—perhaps “original”—version of his personal story begins to make sense once one has an understanding of Bill W.’s and Ebby’s shared Christian experience at Burr and Burton Seminary during Bill’s senior year there in 1912-1913. During that school year:  

1.     Bill and Ebby attended Burr and Burton Seminary’s required Bible study course;[14]

2.     Bill and Ebby attended Burr and Burton Seminary’s required daily chapel (which included hymns, prayers, Bible reading, and sermons);[15]

3.     Bill was president of the seminary’s Young Men’s Christian Association;[16]

4.     Bill’s “girl friend,” Bertha Bamford, was president of the seminary's Young Women’s Christian Association;[17] and

5.     Ebby lodged for the entire school year with Rev. Sidney K. Perkins, minister of the First Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont (where Burr and Burton Seminary was and still is located).[18]

In closing this article, it is also important to remember that A.A.’s cofounders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, were Christian laymen, not ministers or theologians.

[1] Bill Wilson, W. G. Wilson’s Original Story, no date, typescript, Stepping Stones archive, Katonah, New York. Dick B. was given permission by the Stepping Stones archivist at the time, Paul Lang, to photocopy this unpublished manuscript. Each line in the manuscript is numbered, with the lines numbers going from 1 to 1,180. And Dick B. discussed this document in a number of his published titles, including: (1) Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, new, rev. ed./3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1995, 1998), 373 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]; (2) Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1998), 327-28 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]. Dick B. states in footnote 31 (on page 28) concerning this manuscript: “The author obtained a copy of this manuscript from Bill’s home at Stepping Stones during his October, 1991, visit there.” (3) Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1994, 1999), 580 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]. (4) Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, Calif.: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 82, fn. 1 (continued from page 81) [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”];
Here are two places on the Internet where (purported) reproductions of this manuscript may be seen currently: (1); accessed 8/29/2015; and (2) “Message 6500 . . . Original draft of Bill’s Story; From: bbthumpthump . . . 5/1/2010 3:47:00 PM;; accessed 8/28/2015.”
[2] In this (purported) document, the chapter titled “There Is a Solution”—now chapter two in the book Alcoholics Anonymous—is chapter one. And the chapter titled “Bill’s Story”—now chapter one in the book Alcoholics Anonymous–is chapter two. Bill W. said about these two chapters: “Some time in March or April [1938] I began to work on what was to become the book Alcoholics Anonymous. [—Bill’s wife Lois, who kept a diary, stated in her memoir, Lois Remembers, that the start date for the Big Book was actually in May 1938.] By the time our big money push was under way {“from early summer to early fall [1938]”—page 152 in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age} I had completed my own story and had roughed out what is now the second chapter of the A.A. book. Mimeographed copies of these two chapters were part of the paraphernalia for the money-raising operation, . . .” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 153.
This (purported) document—with no accompanying explanation as to where it came from—appears in several places on the Internet; e.g.: (1); accessed 8/29/2015; (2) “Pre-Original Draft of Chapter 1 & 2”:; accessed 8/29/2015; and (3) “‘There Is A Solution’ & the 2nd Draft of ‘Bill's Story’”:; accessed 8/29/2015.
[3] “‘Chapter One: Bill’s Story’ in the ‘Original Manuscript’”:; accessed 8/29/2015. Bill W. stated concerning what he called “a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories”: “By January [1939] the Akronites had produced eighteen fine stories. . . . With somewhat more difficulty the New York group produced ten stories. . . [T]he story section of the book was complete in the latter part of January, 1939. So at last was the text. . . . But someone . . . sounded a note of caution. . . . ‘. . . Had we not better make a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories and try the book out on our own membership and on every kind and class of person that has anything to do with drunks?’ . . . Four hundred mimeograph copies of the book were made and sent to everyone we could think of who might be concerned with the problem of alcoholism.” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 164-65.
[4] See “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in The Book That Started It All: The Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2010): For additional information on the printer’s manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous, see, for example: “The ‘Holy Grail’ of Alcoholics Anonymous”:; accessed 8/29/2015. Bill W. stated about the preparation of the printer’s manuscript: “By now great numbers of the 400 mimeographs which had been sent out had been returned. . . . Nothing now remained except to prepare the printer’s copy of the book. We selected one of the mimeographs, and in Henry’s clear handwriting all the corrections were transferred to it. [“Henry” was Bill’s business partner and first “successful” sponsee in the New York area, Henry (Hank) P., who later got drunk around September 1939.] There were few large changes but the small ones were very numerous. The copy was hardly legible and we wondered if the printer would take it, heavily marked up as it was.” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 167, 169.
[5] The first printing of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in April 1939. Its copyright date was April 10, 1939. On April 10, 2014, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., published the 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous , an exact reprint of the first printing of the first edition of the Big Book: See also: Alcoholics Anonymous: “The Big Book”: The Original 1939 Edition, with a new Introduction [23 pages] by Dick B. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011).
[6] Chapter One, “Bill’s Story,” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 11.
[7] Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006).
[8] Mel B., Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1998).
[9] Dick B., “A.A., Dr. William D. Silkworth, and the ‘Great Physician’”:; accessed 8/30/2015.
[10] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9.
[11] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 11.
[12] Bill W.’s comment here about his wishing he “had been religiously trained from early childhood” is misleading. Dick B. has written about Bill’s Christian upbringing and training in several of his published titles and in numerous articles. Bill’s Christian upbringing included: (1) Bill’s mother’s recounting to him from his earliest childhood days his paternal grandfather  William C. (“Willie”) Wilson’s religious conversion experience which freed Willie from his alcoholism; (2) Bill’s attendance at Sunday school at East Dorset Congregational Church; (3) Bill’s reading the Bible with his maternal grandfather, Gardner Fayette Griffith; and (4) the various Christian activities in which Bill participated at Burr and Burton Seminary. Here’s just one example: Bill Wilson's pastor, D. Miner Rogers of East Dorset Congregational Church, awarded Bill a New Testament for one quarter-of-a-year’s perfect Sunday school attendance right after Bill and his sister Dorothy returned from Rutland in 1906. There is an inscription in the New Testament Bill received. It reads:  “Will Wilson, for perfect attendance at Sunday School, Fourth Quarter 1906 from his pastor D. Miner Rogers East Dorset Vt. Jan 1, 1907 II Tim.3/14.15.” See: “The Library of Books found at Stepping Stones, the historic home of Bill and Lois Wilson”: [This information is found near the end of the document under the listing for “various” (i.e., miscellaneous/otherwise unclassified items)].
[13] “Bill’s Original Story”:; accessed 8/30/2015. Please note that I have corrected a few obvious typos, but have left several of the typo’s in the text—some of which were in the typed manuscript, and some of which were introduced by the person who attempted to reproduce my dad’s (authorized) copy of the typed manuscript.
[14] Ken B., “A.A. Cofounder Bill W.'s Four-Year Bible Study Course While Attending Burr and Burton Seminary”;; accessed 8/30/2015.
[15] Dick B., “A.A. Cofounder Bill W.: His Younger Years at a Glance”;; accessed 8/30/2015.
[16] Bill W., My First 40 Years (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2000), 29.
[17] Manchester Journal [Manchester, Vermont], Number 31, Thursday morning, November 21, 1912, Volume LII, page 3 (unnumbered) under “Manchester Center”:; accessed 8/30/2015.
[18] Mel B., Ebby, 51.