Rev. William Scott Ament


Son of Owosso pioneers, who settled here in 1840, even had a street named for them... Ament Street. Rev. Ament was born and raised in Owosso and graduated from Andover Seminary in New York with a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1877. He married Mary Alice Penfield of Ohio.

He gained fame as a missionary in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. His heroic defense and and rescue of missionaries and native Christians from Tung Chow, near Pekin, brought him national acclaim. Tung Chow was surrounded by howling Boxers, threatening the outnumbered missionaries by 50 to 1.

There was no help to be had from Pekin, so the Rev. Ament gathered about a dozen carts with mules and drivers and under his personal escort, proceeded to Pekin and safety with the missionaries and Christians in his care.

"It was as if the flaming sword of an angel had guarded them on their way, for no sooner were they out of Tung Chow than the fury of the mob broke loose and both college and mission homes were quickly laid in ruins," wrote on observer.

There was even a book written about him called, William Scott Ament, Missionary of the American Board in China, by Henry D. Porter, M.D.D.D., printed in Toronto, London and Edinborough in 1911.

A New York paper wrote a scatheing article about Ament, who proported that he extorted money from the Chinese villagers in order to free the missionaries. In 1901, several Detroit pastors defended Rev. Ament in newspaper articles there.

Earlier in his life, Ament was no stranger to Owosso, he would return to his home town in 1885 and on one occasion incurred the wrath of the City Council by scourging Owosso as on of the worst cities in the State of Michigan..... "14 saloons - a prevalence of harlotry - and infamous women".

He was, for a short time, pastor of the First Congregational Church and published an article in the Owosso Times in which he attacked the city's morals, or lack thereof.

In his article, "Owosso, Morally Considered", Mr. Ament said the city was "spreading in every direction", but that 'it is well known that Owosso is speedily acquiring the reputation of being the worst town in the State." There was force to Rev. Ament statements, for Owosso residents recognized him as a man of keen mind. He subsequently acquired national recognition.

"Fourteen saloons furnish more school rooms and teachers of vice than the city can furnish for purposes of useful instruction," he wrote. "Of pool rooms there are enough...small boys puffing big cigars can be seen at most any hour of the day..."

"Not only do these displays indicate the moral character of the city, but much more does the prevalence of harlotry. This is something which should cause every citizen's check to burn with shame. Yet to the eternal disgrace of this city, infamous women can be seen in open day, and by night they infest the streets...."

"Owosso.....has all the vices of the large, but few of the the virtues of the small cities. If the city fathers were awake to these things, many of the evils could be rectified. The reasons for this state of things are found largely in the rapid growth of the town, its material, easily outstripping its moral development."

Unless effort was to be made so Owosso "as comfortable as possible for pure minded citizens", wrote Rev. Ament, " becomes a good point to depart from rather than for permanent residence."

Three days after the article appeared, the City Council condemned the article, its writer and the paper which published it.

The following resolution was adopted, 6 to 1 on Sept. 7, 1885.

"Whereas a certain evil disposed article written by the Rev. W.S. ament and published in the Owosso Times September 4, 1885, entitled 'Owosso, Morally Considered', is erroneous in every particular and has been widely circulated with a tendency to cast opprobrium upon the fame and fair name of our city and it is a positive fact that Owosso is one of the most moral manufacturing towns of its size in the United States and that its saloons are admitted by all to be the best conducted in the state and drunkenness and lewdness are almost unknown upon our streets and that our officers are efficient and active in the duties of affairs exists from those represented in the said article, therefore be it resolved: That we condemn the article, the writer and the paper that published it."

At that time The Times was published by George M. Dewey, prominent in political activites of Owosso and its mayor in 1868.

When the Times Published its next issue -- Sept. 11, 1885 -- the question precipitated into more of a political battle than a moral one. Under a black heading, "Condemned", the publisher quoted the resolution of the council and launched an attack on the council itself.

"By the way," Editor Dewey wrote, "no Alderman had so lost his sense of decency as to father this resolution and so it was presented by Cleck Turner --Jerry, the one who sued for $4.50 due for printing by V.M. Moreau of Corunna, and the one who has issued licenses to wheel-of-fortune men..."

"The main charge brought by Rev. Ament was that Owosso was a resort for 'infamous women", and it was this statement which so roused the ire of the Council. That it is true is beyond cavil and we are much surprised that Mayor Nelan should permit his administration to appear as an apologist of this disreputable state of affairs. A resolution of the Council cannot change the facts," the reply stated.

When Rev. Ament died in San Francisco in 1909, his body was returned to Owosso by his wife and buried here from the First Congregational Church. A week after the funeral, memorial services were held for him both here and throughout the country as well as in China.

It should also be noted that Rev. Aments son, William Sheffield Ament served on the English faculty of Pomona College in Claremont, California and helped to found Scripp's College and chaired the English Department.

Shiawassee County History