Gravesite of Charles Chilton Moore at Lexington Cemetery. Note the “Devil’s Advocate” hosta at the base of the marker, planted in 1984 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
While we were in Lexington, Kentucky over the Independence Day weekend, we made a brief pilgrimage to visit the gravesite of one of the lesser-known luminaries of the freethought movement.
Charles Chilton Moore (1837-1906) was, ironically, the grandson of Barton W. Stone (1722-1844) an influential preacher during the Second Great Awakening and a founder of the Restoration Movement.
Moore was born to a well-to-do Kentucky family, graduated college, became an itinerant preacher, was a military nurse during the Civil War, and even served for a time as pastor at Versailles First Christian Church.
As Moore himself told it, he invited a distant cousin to read and discuss with him a selection of books both for and against religion, in hopes of converting his cousin to Christianity through intellectual debate. In the end, the cousin embraced Christ and Moore became an “infidel.”
He resigned his church position and in 1884 began publishing the freethought newspaper the Blue Grass Blade. The Blade, although sporadically published, was a sensation in Lexington, and attracted subscribers from around the United States. Moore railed against religious bigotry, political corruption, and argued for the abolition of the “liquor trade.”
In 1899 he was convicted under the Comstock Act of publishing “obscene” material (namely, articles and letters concerning birth control and “free love”). During his months as a federal prisoner at the Ohio State Penitentiary, he was well-treated by the warden and his fellow inmates, and wrote a rambling autobiography called Behind the Bars; 31498 (referencing his prison number). Moore’s sentence was commuted by President William McKinley, and his return to Lexington was celebrated at banquets and parties.
The Blade struggled on for a few years after Moore’s death, and copies are very hard to come by today. Moore, along with several members of his family, is buried at the beautiful and historic Lexington Cemetery, not far from the main entrance and a stone’s throw from the imposing monument to the famous 19th century statesman Henry Clay.
Moore is mentioned -briefly- in Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, and was the subject of Kentucky’s Most Hated Man, a somewhat flawed, but still useful, biography by amateur historian John Sparks. American Atheist Press has reprinted Moore’s books; indeed AA founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair honored Moore in 1984 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Blade) by planting a “Devil’s Advocate” hosta at the base of his gravestone.