Joseph Palmer: Perscuted For Wearing The Beard

Joseph Palmer: Persecuted For Wearing The BeardRecently, I made a special trip up to Evergreen Cemetery in Leominster, Massachusetts to see the grave of Joseph Palmer, a veteran of the War of 1812 and a member of the short-lived Utopian community “the Fruitlands”. I’m not much of a history buff, so why would I drive halfway across the state to seek out the grave of a man who died a century before I was born? It was too interesting of a story not to investigate.

The “Crime”

He was described as a kind and tolerant man, but life was not easy for Joseph Palmer after he moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1830. People would openly insult him, throw rocks at him, regularly break the windows of his home, and even cross the street so as not to be near him when he passed by. Even though he was deeply religious man who regularly attended church services, Palmer was publicly denounced during sermons by his pastor, Rev. George Trask, and even refused communion.

What awful thing had this small town butcher done to warrant such persecution? Joseph Palmer’s crime was that he was the only citizen in Fitchburg, Massachusetts who chose to wear a full beard, which (contrary to my vision of the 1800’s being a beard grower’s paradise) had been out of fashion in the United States since the time of the Pilgrims.

The Assault On Beard Mountain

Joseph Palmer: Persecuted For Wearing The BeardIn fact, Palmer was so reviled that in 1830, while walking out of the Old Fitchburg Hotel, he was attacked by four men who attempted to forcefully shave his beard on the grounds that his beard was immoral. Palmer was thrown on the stone stairs, and even though he was a muscular, 200 pound farmer, he was unable to repel the four men and resorted to stabbing two of his assailants in the legs with his jackknife. His attackers were only hurt badly enough to curtail their efforts, but Palmer was arrested and fined for committing an unprovoked assault. Even though he had the resources, he refused to pay the fine on principle, and was jailed as a debtor in the Worcester city jail. He spent over a year in prison, during which time he repelled two more attempts by jailers and prisoners who sought to shave his beard against his will.

Palmer would be quietly released thanks to the large amount of bad press that was generated by his story as it wound its way through the national newspapers, but he would refuse to leave until he could secure a proclamation that it was perfectly acceptable to wear a beard. He was never given that assurance, and he was eventually tied to a chair and carried out of the jail against his will.

The Aftermath

Joseph Palmer achieved national celebrity status at the time, and used his position to contribute time and money to the Temperance and Abolitionist movements. He would go on to circulate in New England intellectual circles with Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, and even appears as the character, Moses White in the Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats.

Palmer died in 1873 at the age of 84, and on his grave in Leominster, Massachusetts is a picture of a man with long, flowing beard and the words, “Persecuted for wearing the beard”. He was one of the most ridiculed and persecuted men of his time simply because he chose to stand up against the herd in support of his right to wear a beard. Not ten years before Palmer’s death, Abraham Lincoln would be the first president of the United States to wear a beard in office.

The next time you’re feeling like a freak and thinking about giving up your individuality for a spot in the herd, remember: resistance is not futile, and sometimes freaks are only freaks because they’re ahead of their time.

Joseph Palmer: Persecuted For Wearing The Beard

58 thoughts on “Joseph Palmer: Perscuted For Wearing The Beard

  1. I love hearing of the more obscure figures from history. And FH, being an avid fan of history, will love this – I emailed this post to him.

  2. You should write up an article and post it on I couldn’t find any information out there about him, but he definitely sounds like someone who should be there.

  3. In your Life of Riley post I went searching for this guy, and Jacob is right, there really isn’t much info on him at all regarding his persecution.

    I’m not big on history, but this was actually quite interesting.

  4. Wow, that was inspiring! I’m almost tempted to grow out my own beard now. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to shave my neck any more…

  5. I think I’ve found a new hero – “carried out of jail against his will” !

    Joe Palmer, the man, the beard, the legend.

  6. WOW!!! Now there’s an entry. I am a history buff so stuff like this gets my blood flowing. He wasn’t just persistent but determined to be who he needed to be. How shameful that where ever he went someone told him who he should be but how inspiring it is to know he didn’t listen, in fact he boldly stood up for himself. Very, very nice entry as an example of individual integrity.

    Austin of Sundrip Journals

  7. I thought you might like this quote here:

    America wasn’t founded so that we could all be better. America was founded so we could all be anything we damned well pleased.
    P. J. O’Rourke

  8. …and today his great-great grandson continues to face persecution for “wearing a beard”.

    Poor Tom Cruise. When will they ever learn the error of their ways?

  9. And I just thought I was lazy, I vote for the Joe Palmer Society. P. J. O’Rourke was a great man.

  10. Sounds to me like they let him off easy. Beards are the devil’s way of hiding a sinful face.

  11. A sad yet inspiring article. I love anyone who will go against the herd. The sheeple that ridicule people that don’t conform to the stupidity the herd lives in.

    Rock On ZZ Top!!!

  12. Thats an awesome story…I am growing a beard now! I love history like this, unfamiliar, unconventional…

  13. Little glimpses of historical information like this make it worthwhile surfing. Thanks so much.

  14. I have turned down several positions with companies because they required me to shave off my full beard. One prospective employer told me that the reason they do that is because beards indicate you are trying to hide something and not trustworthy. I told him, “Yeah… that’s why they crucified Jesus and Santa is a pedophile” as I left his office. Joseph Palmer needs a postage stamp and an apology.

  15. This was well written and enjoyable, most of the great men of history wore beards. Only politicians like Bush and company dare not for they fear it would prevent them from telling so many of their blatant “bald-faced-lies”.

  16. I am especially appalled at the ridicule he endured by his fellow church-goers.

    As a man with a full beard, here is my personal story and belief:
    Growing up, I was always unhappy with my lack of a predominate chin.
    Once, as a young adult, while looking in the bathroom mirror,
    I cursed my chin and popped it with a hair brush. It was then that I heard
    that “small quiet voice within” say to me, “But, I gave you whiskers.”
    And I remember saying aloud, “Ah-ha! so you did!!!”
    From then on, I have had moustaches, goatees, etc., and 90% of the time
    I have had my chin designed in some fashion with “fur” of various length.
    I have often thought about the fact that only from the neck up does hair
    continually grow to excessive length. No where else on the body does
    hair do this. It has a sort of encoded length and stops there.
    But above the neck, man can create all manner of appearances by the
    length and style of hair and whiskers he chooses. So, therefore I look
    upon whiskers and head hair as a “make-up” kit from God. I believe he
    designed us and gave us a few options in how we choose to appear.
    One is to view God’s designs as perfect so therefore having hair follicles
    on the male face cannot be viewed as a mistake to be eradicated.
    I never saw any commandment: Go forth and shave!

  17. This mans courage and strength is so awesome! Why do some ppl have to be so lame and evil! Its a beard! Everymale grows hair there, its only natural and yea- where did god ever say-“Face hair is a sin!”

    Its so messed up that so many ppl can think like this and hurt someone over such small insignificant choice differences. He wasnt hurting anyone! Stuff like this still happens all the time 🙁 Is this world ever gona grow up!!

  18. This is such a great post. Thanks for the story.

    I’ve been wearing a man-beard ever since the 9th grade, so for about 11 years now (shaved only once in 10th grade…for some reason, amateur boxing requires no facial hair). I detest the though of looking at myself in the mirror without hair covering my chin and surrounding area. I guess I have a little spirit of Joseph Palmer inside of me.

    Perhaps he should be made the Patron Saint of Beards, because I am pretty sure there isn’t one yet.

  19. For those wishing to learn more about Joseph’s Palmer courageous struggle for the simple right to wear a beard in the intolerant New England of the 1820s and 30s, “Chapter IV” of Clara Endicott Sears book “Bronson Alcott’s Fruitlands” tells the story nicely. It is also a very interesting book in general and explains fully how and why the great “Fruitlands” project of founding a “second Eden” failed so quickly. Oh poor MRS. Alcott!!

  20. Yeah, everyone was shocked some years back when I grew me a Van Dyke -type of beard. The fact is, without it I’d be a babyface, and given I’m approaching 30 and employed in charge of a big unit, it not only makes me feel good and look more like I want me to, it gives me credibility. Thanks goes to mr. Palmer & co who’ve made having a beard not so sinful. Also, given my music taste and my way of viewing life, it sort of indicates in a way who I am. The beard is not going, at least for a good while. And if it ever should the reason will have to be a damn good one.

  21. Have you guys seen
    It’s an awesome charity in Australia to raise awareness for men’s health issues like prostate cancer and the like.

    I live in Germany now, so can’t fundraise from here (they wear moustaches for other reasons here)

    So any Ausies out there might want to check it out, or it could be another great topic…

    Thanks for posting…

  22. The man is an inspiration. We are all individuals and unfortunately, for the most part, you would never notice. As a society, we still frown upon those who dare to show their “unique individuality” . How many times have you looked down at some one that was dressed in a gothic style or perhaps wore some type of clothing which reflected their religious beliefs? Livig so close, I may visit his grave and give him an appause.

  23. I made a little thing (an Ode to Joseph Palmer) on my art program and placed it on my myspace with a link to this blog! I average about 10,000 hits per year on my MySpace site…. thanks for the information on this quiet hero!

  24. We should form the National Association of the Advancement of Bearded Men (NAABM)! This guy is my hero, I also am bearded and proud!

  25. Wow, what a great article. I was only mildly interested until I realized the length of the page was from comments. Anyways, I love how you took the entire history and condensed it so well. A great article Joe, Cheers from Middletown, CT.

  26. amen to that – “carried out of jail against his will” – is one of the funniest & most inspiring things i’ve heard in far too long! (raises flagon to Palmer)

  27. Very well written. Genealogy is a hobby of mine, and wouldn’t you know it, Joseph Palmer my GGGG Uncle!! Their is a museum called Fruitlands in Harvard, MA that still has their actual home and furnishings from the time they decided to try the transdental living with the Alcotts, Thoreau, and Emerson. I have been to both the cemetary and the “museum”. I have a very similar photo of me standing next to Joseph’s gravestone. One thing I can say for sure, stubborness still runs in the family!!

  28. There is a film about this. Believe it or not, it’s a drama which tells the story of this man:
    Telephone Time (1948) -a early TV series-watch it on DVD!

  29. I’m originally from Leominster. Joseph Plamer is why I have whiskers to this day. This past Memorial Day I took my teenage son back there with me to put flowers on my parents’ graves. While there, I also took him to Evergreen Cemetary to show him Plamer’s stone and tell him the story behind it. The Vets had rightly put a little American flag on the grave to designate Palmer as someone who served his country, a country in which he was not free to sport facial hair. A guy you’d probably be fascinated by if you had dinner with him.

  30. I’ve never been one to name a personal “hero” but Joseph Palmer makes a damn good case! EVERY time some knucklehead (yes Dear, that means you too) tries to convince me to shave my beard I will think of Joseph, struggling with his attackers and, later, tied to a chair and carried out of jail! What could be more inspiring?

    I’m at the bushy stage now – part terrorist, part homeless mental patient. Plenty of external pressure to “shave off that ridiculous beard” but now I can say to myself WWJPD? That’s right, he’d say “Just go with the grow!”

  31. what an inspiration this guy is, dealing with those cracked numbskulls that continue to haunt society and never backing down. I’ve been increasing my beard an inch per decade since 15 (now 30) and plan on keeping going till my number is up with VERY full beard

  32. I was led to this post because I remembered being inspired by the Telephone Time broadcast when it was first broadcast. I have worn a beard for many years and identify with it as a symbol of freedom and resistance of conformity. Thanks for the information and for furthering these valuses.

  33. I put my name in google which is Joseph Palmer and this came up… Sounds funny but this is me all over only I don’t have a beard…. Lol

  34. Jospeh Palmer’s gravestone is easy to find if you know where to look.
    It is in the front row of stones in Evergreen Cemetery, facing Main Street (also known as Rte. 13), across the street from a 2-family gold-colored house (appx house #248 according to googlemaps). You can actually see the stone from the road and on GoogleMaps, but the image quality on GM is not good enough to discern the face. There is an evergreen tree towering behind the gravestone.

  35. I’ve read this story before, and I’ll probably read it again in the future.
    It amazes me how closed minded people are, not just about facial hair but about most issues.
    Thank you Joseph Palmer.
    Long live the beard!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.