Minister turned freethought lecturer Charles B. Reynolds (1832-1896) first achieved prominence as a Rochester resident. But he is best known as the plaintiff in an 1887 New Jersey blasphemy case at which he was memorably defended by Robert Green Ingersoll.
An Adventist minister, Reynolds converted to freethought (or as he called it, the "religion of humanity") in his late forties. In September of 1883, he made his debut as a freethought lecturer at Rochester's Corinthian Hall/Academy of Music. There addressing a meeting of the New York State Freethinkers' Association, he delivered a well-received eulogy for the late D. M. Bennett, publisher of the influential freethought paper The Truth Seeker.
Reynolds's star rose rapidly. At an 1884 convention of the National Liberal League held in Cassadaga, New York, he was elected chairman of that organization's executive committee. (The following year the organization renamed itself the American Secular Union.)
Early in 1885 Reynolds made a public appeal for funds to purchase a tent of the type favored by tent revival preachers. This would enable him to offer freethought lectures at locations where no hall was available. Owing mostly to a national campaign in the pages of The Truth Seeker, the leading freethought paper of the day, the needed funds were raised, including one $300 gift from a William Smith of Geneva, New York. Reynolds first pitched his fifty-foot-diameter round "Liberal tent" in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1885 and 1886 he kept a crowded lecture schedule, sometimes accompanied by his wife, as he was when lecturing at Hornellsville's Metropolitan Hall in March, 1886. He lectured in Palmyra on June 25, 1886.
In July 1886, later on the same tour, Reynolds pitched his tent in Boonton, New Jersey. There he would receive a hostile reception. Over three nights of lecturing, vandals damaged his tent and the local constabulary arrested him for blasphemy. At last he was rushed by a mob and forced to run for his life, his tent suffering a total loss.
Provocatively, Reynolds returned to New Jersey, lecturing without a tent at Morristown on October 13, 1886. He was again arrested for blasphemy; this time the case went to trial. In a bold move, Reynolds recruited famed agnostic orator (and attorney) Robert Green Ingersoll to conduct his defense.
Ingersoll's involvement made the trial -- held on May 19, 1887 -- a national media sensation. Ingersoll called no defense witnesses, relying instead on a summation several
Reynolds moved to Washington state in 1889; he lectured actively in Walla Walla, Tacoma, and Seattle. He died in a fall at his home on July 3, 1896.