Aratus Kent – The Apostle of Northern Illinois

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How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man? Perhaps, just as the popular ballad proclaims, the exact answer is blowing in the wind. Whatever the precise quantity, Reverend Aratus Kent’s travel in quest of the salvation of his fellow man far exceeds the minimum requirement. Even at the age of 65 he often trudged alone 10 or 15 miles at a time across the treeless prairie in mid-February so that some destitute congregation would not miss a sermon on the Sabbath. The “Apostle of Northern Illinois” deserves a prominent place in the annals of the Prairie State.

Aratus Kent had a tangential connection with Geneva, Illinois. Geneva’s founder was Daniel Shaw Haight. Haight left Geneva in 1835 after selling his extensive Geneva claim to James Herrington. Haight founded east Rockford where he had discovered a mill site superior to Geneva’s. West of the Rock River Germanicus Kent claimed the land. Kent and Haight had the good sense to cooperate with each other (but not without some friction). Germanicus was the brother of Aratus Kent. Aratus travelled through Rockford and preached there. Doubtless, he was acquited with Haight.  Kent founded Rockford College which was the women’s school that was created in parallel with Beloit College for men.

Jane Addams was a Rockford graduate, Nobel Prize winner, and classmate of Hannah Wells of Geneva, whose Geneva home Jane visited. Another Rockford student of the time was Julia Lathrop, Addams’ later collaborator at Hull House, who, along with Geneva’s Julia Harvey, was instrumental in the founding of the Geneva School for Girls. Aratus Kent would have been proud!