The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1975, Volume 21, Number 3
James E. Moss, Editor

Book Reviews

David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Renegade, Outcast, and Maverick: Three Episcopal Clergymen in the California Gold Rush. By Lionel U. Ridout. San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1973. Notes. 127 pages. No price listed.

Reviewed by William M. Kramer, Professor in Religious Studies at California State University, Northridge. Dr. Kramer is the editor of The American West and the Religious Experience. He is a member of this society and a contributor to its journal, as well as to the California Historical Quarterly and numerous other publications.

This is going to be a strange review because this is a strange book. First, to consider the book rather than its contents: The title of the book is different on the spine than it is on the cover, and for the sake of consistency it appears in a third form on the title page. The same may be said for the author’s name, which given these three opportunities results in three different presentations. The feel of the paper is comparable to that of the old Bronco Brand from the public WCs of London. The copy in my hand has a page pierced by a paper punch; I can only assume that this was done for tying it on the clothesline when the ink was wet. The title page is poorly laid out and there is ink where none should be. On the other hand, there is no ink where ink should be. The printing might well have been done by illiterate children in an underdeveloped country learning a hardly negotiable skill under an inebriated missionary. Still, the letters left out in one place may well be found in another. Couple this information with the fact that it comes from, or at least is copy-righted by a university press, and you have boggle time for the bibliophile.

And now for the contents: It is something of a miracle that the book exists. The reviewer would be a fool to judge the book by its cover, because we find here a more than worthwhile contribution to what should be a sub-specialty of American history, religion in the West. Lionel U. Ridout has brought new information and insight to his previous research which appeared in scholarly journals. Though there is no separate bibliography, the author’s more than four hundred footnotes demonstrate his mastery over the literature, which includes histories, biographies, learned and confessional articles, and journalistic accounts.

The three Episcopal clerics in this study are labeled by the author as follows:

Thaddeus Leavenworth, who was also a physician and a politician, is the “renegade” of the title; he was a physician who could not heal himself of the gold fever.

John Leonard Ver Mehr, an immigrant from Belgium is called the “outcast.” He was a colorful character who in college followed the way of the French Walloon, served in the army, studied math and natural philosophy in the university, worked as a tutor, decided to study theology, and did so acquiring Hebrew, earned a law degree, opened his own private school, later determined to become a minister of the Gospel, finding himself pressured by his government for his opinions set out for America in 1843, taught in New York, became an Episcopalian, was ordained to the priesthood, and after all these commas, headed for California to become a missionary Ver Mehr was a man who emerges from this work as sincere, brilliant, weak, stubborn, irrascible, dictatorial, headstrong, and impractical, and all these commas seem necessary because all these adjectives appear appropriate. As his colleague Leavenworth had a penchant for bad associates, he exhibited a predilection for bad bookkeeping.

The third of Ridout’s three is Ferdinand Cartwright Ewer, denominated the “maverick.” He sampled Christianity in its various forms and even a little dab of atheism did for him. Ridout calls him “mystic, dreamer, questioner, to all appearances a dilettante [who] flitted from one occupation to another like a slightly inebriated moth seeking the light,” and he was, besides being an Episcopal priest, “a gold seeker, draftsman, newspaper writer, editor, . . schoolboard member, and literary hoaxer.”

As a matter of fact, there was a bit of renegade, outcast and maverick about all three of these Episcopal clergymen in the California Gold Rush. The book has facts, important facts. The occasionally archaic language seems to give it a period flavor. An index would have helped. Since this is a book that deals with religion, it might be well to conclude that given the neglect of the field and despite the weird bookmanship of its construction, having the book at all is something of a revelation about the problems of the God of the Argonauts and some of His strange servants.