A plaque attached to a large boulder in 1928 honored the peacemaking endeavors of William Ladd in Minot on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Peace Society. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

MINOT — In this little out-of-the-way town in rural Maine, a spot barely noticed beyond its borders, one of America’s greatest apostles for peace once tended his fields.

In 1822, delighting in the fertility of his harvest, William Ladd gathered up his turnips and found three of them so large that when placed on the scale they collectively weighed 60 pounds.

“Beat this who can,” declared the Portland Gazette, always happy to find extraordinary bounty in Maine’s rocky soil.

Grand as the turnips must have been, Ladd is remembered today, when he’s recalled at all, not as an admirable farmer but as one of the earliest advocates for international cooperation.

A fierce foe of war, Ladd took the idea of peace so seriously that in 1823 he took a “silver-hilted dress sword” that he had inherited from his father and, in keeping with biblical precepts, had its blade converted into a pruning hook.

He promoted the idea of a Congress of States and an international court to keep the peace at a time when such thoughts seemed impossibly pie in the sky.


A drawing of William Ladd included in an 1872 biography of the famed “Apostle of Peace,” written by John Hemmenway.

Ladd formed the American Peace Society in 1828 that drew together many religious and academic leaders, mostly in New England, and led to the issuance two years later of its first circular explaining its goal of a congress of nations.

The society, with Ladd as its president, declared, “We hope to increase and promote the practice, already begun, of submitting national differences to amicable discussion and arbitration, and finally of settling all national controversies by an appeal to reason as becomes rational creatures, and not by physical force as is worthy only of brute beasts.”

His endeavors to bring that vision to fruition – through essays, speeches and constant organizing — earned him respect across the land and laid the foundation for both the League of Nations and the United Nations in the century that followed.

Years after Ladd’s death, The Public Ledger, a daily in Memphis, Tennessee, mentioned him in passing as “the famous old peace man of the past generation,” which is not a bad legacy for anyone.

In Minot today, there remains a lasting symbol of its most famous resident: a bronze plaque on a boulder found on the Amos Giddings Farm and moved in 1928, as the Minot Historical Society put it, “by several strong men and eight horses to the top of Center Minot Hill Road and placed in front of the Center Minot Congregational Church,” where it remains as a largely overlooked monument to Ladd.

The last words on the plaque honoring Ladd sum up the everlasting hope that has kept his spirit alive even as memory of him has dimmed: “Blessed Are The Peace Makers, For They Shall Be Called The Children Of God.”


A New Hampshire native who settled in Maine

Born in 1778, in the middle of the Revolutionary War, Ladd grew up in Exeter, New Hampshire, the eldest son of a wealthy Portsmouth merchant.

He graduated from Harvard University in 1797 and headed to sea on one of his father’s trading ships, first as a common sailor on a voyage that took him to London, then as a mate venturing throughout the Atlantic trade routes.

At the age of 20, Ladd captained one of the largest vessels to sail from Portsmouth, which he did off and on for another dozen years. He once said the salt water washed out his memory of most everything he’d learned at Harvard.

In 1800, newly married to a London woman, Ladd briefly took up as a merchant in Savannah, Georgia, before giving that up to try to establish a plantation in eastern Florida where he hoped to hire European immigrants to show that slave labor wasn’t a necessity.

Unfortunately, the Dutch indentured servants he hoped to rely on instead ran away. Ladd chose to buy enslaved people of African origin. That didn’t work out either after a hurricane swept through and destroyed his crop.


He gave up on the plantation in 1806 when his father died, a development that brought him back to Portsmouth and back on the waves, seeing much of the world as he raked in a small fortune trading goods between countries.

When war broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, though, the English navy gave Ladd no choice but to furl his canvas and give up on further voyages.

A rendering of William Ladd’s farm done long after his death in 1841 but well within the memory of some of his former neighbors in Minot. Minot Historical Society

Ladd lands in Minot, Maine

About 1814, Ladd and his wife moved to a 400-acre farm that his father had purchased in Minot. He bought out the shares of his three brothers and took possession of it for himself.

Biographer John Hemmenway said that in the years that followed “he appears to have employed himself very diligently in building, planting trees, erecting stonewalls, cultivating his land, and raising stock, principally sheep.”

A drawing of the church published in 1928 showing where William Ladd worshiped in Minot. Lewiston Evening Journal

Ladd loved farming – and must have been good at it because his holdings constantly grew to at least 600 acres, one of the largest in Maine.


The Lewiston Falls Advertiser in 1844 described Ladd’s farm as radiating for hundreds of acres from a large frame home on Minot Center Hill, one of the high points of Androscoggin County.

“Everything about the place was kept in ship-shape condition,” it said, and in order to supervise better, Ladd built a platform on his roof where, “like a captain of the bridge of a ship, he could see all that went on about him.”

A clump of pines grew on the west side of the house, the paper said, and from his study’s window Ladd could see “a long line of apple trees growing at the side of the road where he had planted them so that the weary traveler might have all the fruit he wished.”

Ladd’s vision of a world without war

It was on his farm in about 1820 that Ladd’s life veered into legend.

According to many stories, Ladd’s inspiration came one day when he stopped to rest after a long day in his fields.


The Ladd Oak, pictured in 1928 in the Lewiston Evening Journal.

He sat against a large oak, the Lewiston paper said, and “conceived the gigantic proportions of his plan for world peace” and immediately consecrated himself to “the one work of impressing upon the minds of men the principles of peace.”

The truth, though, is that Ladd had been thinking about war and peace for a long while.

In 1819, Ladd had visited with the dying Rev. Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, who told him, as Ladd later put it, of “his joyful anticipations of the growing improvement of the world and the enumeration of the benevolent societies of the day,” including peace societies, apparently the first time Ladd heard of them.

“The idea then passed over my mind as the daydream of benevolence,” Ladd said, and perhaps it would have passed him by except that his attention focused on it “in a very singular way.”

Ladd said his attention came to be so riveted on the issue “as to make it the principal object of my life to promote the cause of Peace on Earth and good will to man.”

In 1823, Ladd had begun writing essays under a pen name, Philanthropos, for the Christian Advocate, a newspaper based in Portland, where he told of the horrors of war and the necessity of peace.


He formed the Peace Society of Minot that same year, one of the first groups devoted to the notion of stamping out war.

Ladd’s passion for the issue was so strong that he opposed the creation of the Bunker Hill Monument near Boston. He argued that someday people would look at it as a “monument to the barbarism and anti-Christian spirit of our age.”

In 1828, Ladd gathered local peace societies under one umbrella, the American Peace Society, and became its first president, an honor that followed from his writing and his ever-increasing time on the lecture circuit, beating the drums for peace instead of war.

The purpose of the new national group, laid out in its founding documents, was to “promote permanent international peace through justice; and to advance in every proper way the general use of conciliation, arbitration, judicial methods, and other peaceful means of avoiding and adjusting differences among nations, to the end that right shall rule might in a law-governed world.”

Ladd proposes a Congress of Nations

As Ladd traveled around pushing for peace, he made quite an impression.


The Journal of the Times in Bennington, Vermont, praised him in 1829 for his years of pressing for peace “with a zeal which no obstacles can baffle and a spirit which overtops the Alps.”

Ladd, the paper said, “has all the qualifications which go to make up a public reformer: a strong assurance of ultimate success, contempt of ridicule and reproach, steady perseverance, great intellectual vigor, unabated and intense devotion, a heart of extraordinary dimensions and a strength of reasoning which is irresistible.”

Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison noted after taking a steamboat down the Hudson River with Ladd that the Minot man, who had become an ardent abolitionist, was a “huge, and good-humored, and kind-hearted and worthy friend.”

As Ladd talked and thought, he came to realize that war would stop only when peace prevailed in ordinary life, that nations reflect the opinion of the people who live within them.

He first laid out the idea of a Congress of Nations in a special issue of the American Peace Society’s publication Harbinger of Peace in 1831, then refined and expanded on the idea until its publication as a book in 1840.

Ladd called for a system of international law enforced by a high court, what amounted to a World Court that would arbitrate disputes between nations after the Congress of Nations sought its intervention.


In his Essay on a Congress of Nations, Ladd wrote, “I consider the Congress as the legislature, and the Court as the judiciary, in the government of nations, leaving the functions of the executive with public opinion, ‘the queen of the world.'”

Many have noted since that his words undergirded the many peace conferences and international organizations that have sprung up in the almost two centuries since he first proposed the idea in his widely circulated writings and well-attended lectures.

Ladd kept speaking out until the end

In August of 1840, Ladd noted that “I am more devoted to the cause of Peace than ever, and I think I see in it all the great leading principles of the Gospel.”

He headed off on a speaking tour that he hoped would take him, one town at a time, all the way to Ohio. On Christmas, Ladd spoke to three different churches in Auburn, New York, drawing packed houses despite a big storm.

But he got sick in nearby Rochester, New York, early in 1841 and never again had the strength to stand and lecture.


Though chairbound, he kept trying until March, when he recognized his limitations.

He hoped to return home to Minot but died in April at his brother Alexander’s house in Portsmouth. He never made it back to Maine, even in death. He is buried in New Hampshire.

Thirty years later, Garrison recalled Ladd in a sonnet he wrote for him that included the idea that his old friend had enlisted in “a cause divine, which yet shall fill all the earth and heavens with joy” and “calm the passions of a hostile world.”

A photo shows the July 1928 ceremony in Minot where the memorial marker honoring William Ladd was unveiled by a host of dignitaries in front of a large crowd. Minot Historical Society

On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Peace Society, the occasion that led to the boulder placed in Minot, the Lewiston Evening Journal said Ladd was never forgotten “but succeeding generations heard far less” of him “than of the generals who have led armies to battle.”

But, the paper said, in the wake of World War I, with its wanton slaughter in the trenches, “the time came when a war-weary world was ready to follow a leader, if one could be found, who could straighten out its tangled affairs without the use of a sword.”

“And then it was, from above, the clash of arms and the roar of battle, the memory of William Ladd brought to perplexed souls one word, which held more promise than all the armies and navies of the world: Peace.”

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