Thursday, January 8, 2015

Congressman Samuel Brenton of Fort Wayne

by Tom Castaldi

A Gallatin County, Kentucky native, the Reverend Samuel S. Brenton was born in 1810, ordained a Methodist minister at the age of twenty, and began his career as a circuit rider in southern Indiana. When his health failed in 1834, he became a local preacher, studied law and was admitted to the bar, and twice was elected as a representative from Hendricks County to the state legislature. At the end of his second term in 1841, his health had sufficiently improved to permit his return to the active ministry.

Reverend Brenton came to Fort Wayne after accepting an appointment of pastor of the Berry Street Church and the following year was named presiding elder of the Fort Wayne district. In 1848, he suffered a debilitating paralytic stroke and lost the use of the right side of his body. By May 1849, however, he was able to move about on crutches and had recovered sufficiently to be named Registrar of the United States Land Office in Fort Wayne.

Samuel Brenton declared his candidacy for Congress as representative from the Tenth Congressional District in 1851. A man of strong convictions, his speeches cried out in opposition to the extension of slavery outside the old South and urged that the western territories be preserved as “free soil.” He also called for, “the entire and unconditional repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, believing it immoral, unnecessary and uncalled for.” One consistent theme was his assertion that, “he was independent of all parties, always thought and acted for himself, and that no party could or should dictate to him.” Brenton went against the Democrat Party tide and won. During his first term in Congress he purchased the lot on the northwest corner of Wayne and Van Buren streets now 802 West Wayne Street where he erected the town’s first Italianate-style residence.

In his bid for reelection in 1852, Brenton was defeated in the wake of the disintegration of the Whig party. Soon afterwards, he was named president of the Fort Wayne College. (See Fort Wayne Monthly, March 2006) Five years before, Brenton had given the principal address at the laying of the cornerstone of the college, and he had been tireless in recruiting teachers. In 1849, he had urged the trustees to establish a “male department,” which soon became the Fort Wayne Collegiate Institute; a month after Brenton assumed the presidency, these two institutions were formally merged to become the Fort Wayne College.

In 1854, Brenton entered the race for his former seat in Congress as a Free Soil candidate and won the election. In 1856, under the banner of the newly founded Republican Party, he was reelected. Brenton’s deteriorating health, however, did not allow him to return for the opening of the Thirty-Fifth Congress. He died in Fort Wayne on March 29, 1857, at the age of forty six, and is buried in Lindenwood Cemetery.  

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – February 2010 No. 63. 

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm.  Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at

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