Wednesday, November 23, 2016

“Found Dead in His Study With Heart Riddled With Shot” – The Death of Rev. Milligan

On August 28, 1908, Rev. O. Brown Milligan “was found dead in his study…with his heart riddled with bullets from a shotgun.” Rev. Milligan has a Bovina connection, though a relatively brief one. In June 1887, he was hired as the pastor of the Bovina Reformed Presbyterian Church, where he served barely a year before leaving in September 1888 for Pittsburgh.

He made news a couple of years later in 1890 when, with four other clergymen, he was suspended by the Pittsburgh Reformed Presbytery. The Delaware Gazette for December 17, 1890, reported on the case: "Five young clergymen, of whom the Rev. O.B. Milligan, recently of Bovina, seems to be a leader, were suspended by the Pittsburg[h] Reformed Presbytery last Friday. Their offense is in the setting forth their belief that the exercise of the right of suffrage is not sinful, and that they will not forbid members to vote. They made a powerful defense and will appeal to the synod. They claim that they will be supported there by about one third of the clergy. If they fall they will join the U.P. church, and claim they can take their congregations."

The Reformed Presbyterians believed that because the U.S. Constitution had no mention of God that members should not participate in any government activity, including voting. Milligan and his clergy colleagues continued their fight to allow members of the denomination to vote. In January 1891, members of his former congregation in Bovina presented him with $500 in gold to help him in his appeal of the suspension. He ultimately was not successful and after his appeals and two tribunals, he was expelled from the church in June 1891. Milligan carried out his threat and became a minster in the United Presbyterian church. At his death was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Canton, Ohio. The local paper noted he was “an intimate friend of the late President McKinley.”

The Ohio Courier Crescent for September 1 reported his death. When Milligan was found, “he was seated in an easy chair with his feet resting on a child’s wicker chair. The butt end of the gun was braced against the back of the child’s chair, and the muzzle of the weapon pointed toward the dead man’s heart.” The circumstances were investigated to determine whether or not this was suicide, murder or an accident. “Just before noon Mr. Milligan told the maid to take care of the children in the afternoon, as he intended going to the Country club. Ten minutes later he lay dead in his study….” The maid noted that Dr. Milligan “had spent most of the morning cleaning his shotgun and that she supposed the shooting was accidental. Coroner March inclines to the same opinion.”

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