AUBURN – The life of Oren B. Cheney, first president of Bates College and an ardent abolitionist, will be the topic for the monthly meeting of the Androscoggin Historical Society at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, in the Society’s headquarters, on the third floor of the County Courthouse at 2 Turner St.
Jean Flahive will discuss her most recent novel, “Railroad to the Moon, Elijah’s Story,” which is based on Cheney’s career. Trent Boyd, pastor of the First Freewill Baptist Church in Buxton and an avid genealogist, will discuss Cheney’s remarkable role in securing access to education for emancipated slaves, which is highlighted in the novel.
Flahive and Boyd worked closely in defining an authentic voice for Cheney in the book, which is set in post-Civil War Maine. Using historical realities, the book weaves a tale around Cheney, a Freewill Baptist, helping runaway slave Elijah fulfill his dream.
Flahive is a former dean of students at Central Maine Community College and has worked as a grant writer for numerous non-profits. She’s the author of “Billy Boy, The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine,” “Remember Me, Tomah Joseph’s Gift to Franklin Roosevelt,” which won the Moonbeam Gold Award for Best Multi-Cultural Children’s Picture Book in 2009, and “The Galloping Horses of Willowbrook,” which was a finalist in the 2012 Maine Literary Awards competition.
Cheney was born in Holderness, N.H., son of a paper manufacturer who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1836, Cheney spent several years as principal of academies in Maine and New Hampshire. In 1843, he became principal of the Parsonsfield Seminary where he both taught and preached; his home became one of the stations of the Underground Railroad.
In 1844 Cheney was ordained as a Freewill Baptist minister and served as a church pastor and member of the Maine Legislature. In 1852 he became pastor of the Freewill Baptist Church in Augusta. After much perseverance, he obtained a charter in 1855, solicited funds and opened the Maine State Seminary in Lewiston.
In 1864, with the financial support of Boston businessman Benjamin E. Bates, a charter was obtained turning the seminary into Bates College. Cheney served as president of the college until his resignation in 1894.
The meeting is open to the public without charge. Donations will be accepted. An elevator is available.
This talk will substitute for an earlier-scheduled program about how high school students view history.