Out of a Small Green Box: A Rediscovered Manuscript on John Kline

The manuscript, “Original Penciled Manuscript of book LIFE OF JOHN KLINE by Funk,” recently rediscovered at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives by archivist Terry Barkley. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Shortly after assuming the directorship of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) on Nov. 1, 2010, I examined a small green box in my office labeled, “Original Penciled Manuscript of book LIFE OF JOHN KLINE by Funk.” I quickly realized that I was looking at Benjamin Funk’s original hand-written manuscript (partial) for his book, “Life and Labors of Elder John Kline.”

Elder John Kline (1797-1864) was a Civil War-era Brethren leader and martyr–a preacher, healer, and moderator of the Brethren Annual Meeting from 1861 until his murder in 1864. He was ambushed and killed on June 15, 1864, near his home in Rockingham County, Va., after falling under suspicion for making frequent trips across the lines between north and south, as he served the Brethren on both sides during the war.

As the story goes, Benjamin Funk reportedly destroyed John Kline’s original diary shortly after publishing his book in 1900. Why Funk felt that he needed to do this has always been open to speculation and controversy. What was in Elder Kline’s diaries that Funk didn’t want others to see? Thus, this “discovery” of Funk’s partial penciled manuscript and additional data is cause for celebration and scholarly examination.

Notations in the box indicate that the manuscript is incomplete, covering only the diary entries that Elder Kline wrote from March 1844 to August 1858. There is also some additional material in the manuscript, which apparently was not included in Funk’s book. This additional material includes sermons (at least one by Peter Nead) that are incomplete in beginnings and endings.

Jeffrey Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, is presently working with the Funk/Kline material. Dr. Bach will give a presentation for the John Kline Homestead on April 9 regarding the history of the Brethren and slavery. In his presentation he plans to touch on the Funk/Kline manuscript. Bach also is the speaker for an insight session sponsored by the Brethren Historical Committee at the 2011 Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., on July 4.

— Terry Barkley is director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.