Now in Actual Work

China, the Sea, and the South

Or, Heathens All


Rev. Joshua Leavitt,

Dear Sir, – I noticed in a recent number of the ‘Emancipator,’ a proposition to furnish gratuitously for a year, that paper to such clergymen as lectured and took up collections among their people, in the course of the year, for the Anti-Slavery Society.

My course of procedure, although it does not conform strictly to the letter of the proposition, yet, in fact, secures to the cause a greater amount of attention and effort, in my view, than would a solitary lecture in the course of the year.

At my monthly concert of prayer for the conversion of the world, which I hold on the Sabbath evening previous to the first Monday in each month, a distinct portion of time is allotted to the cause of the oppressed slave. I portion out to brethren distinct missionary grounds, with the understanding that each is to prepare himself with the latest information relative to his own station. One has, for instance, China; another Ceylon; another the Seamen’s cause; another that of American slavery: which last cause being in two zealous friends of the slave, has, I think according to their ability, due justice to it. Our custom is, that each cause shall be followed by addresses at the throne of grace in their behalf.

As to contributions, the frequent visits of your agents and those of the State Society does not suffer what he ave to give to remain long idle in our purses.

My object in this communication is two-fold, –1st. That of communicating my plans, believing, as I do, that there are many brethren who might introduce it with profit to their people, and with little or no opposition. I think it profitable, as it brings the subject up for serious meditation more than it would be in any other way, unless a distinct concert is held for the slave. And further, the subject is brought before the minds of many that would not attend an anti-slavery concert or a regularly announced anti-slavery lecture.

If you agree with me in sentiment, you may be able to concoct a brief paragraph on the subject that will, I think, be useful. Or you can use such portions of this letter as you please, if you will leave blank my name and the date.

My second object in this communication is, to request that if my measures come up to the spirit of your proposition, in your view, you will please forward to me the Emancipator.

Yours, &c.,

~”Another Response from a Minister,” The Emancipator and Free American (New York), 8 August 1839, p. 58

Once you get past the overcrowded syntax here, this is a fascinating letter. While I’ve certainly heard of church groups convening to hear a lecture on slavery, or about happenings in the mission fields, it never occurred to me that the two would be grouped together in this way. Never mind how Chautauqua this is. Can you imagine hearing a sermon, and then getting a regular news round-up like this?

The list of topics that the good reverend assigns his parishioners – China, Ceylon, Seamen’s Bethels, American slavery – is a great reminder of the wonderful scope of Jacksonian evangelicals’ interests. A bit less happily, it reaffirms who’s at the edges of their world: people far away, people from home but of a radically different occupational class, and people who are property.

And, while I don’t think this is sufficient cause to give interest in missionary endeavors the same weight as the anti-slavery movement (I don’t think it would be wrong to say that missionary news reached a wider audience in anti-slavery newspapers like the Emancipator, rather than in missionary-only magazines like the Missionary Herald), it’s certainly a good indicator of the frame, or frames, within which such news was received. I do wonder if slavery is the controlling metaphor here, or if it’s something bigger about Christian civilization and the perfecting of society.

Thoughts, as always, welcome.

Image cite: Woodleywonderworks, “Earth, courtesy Apollo 17, and probably the most reproduced image of all time,” Flickr, CC License

Now in Actual Work

Eureka! Er, sorta.

in small doses
in small doses

I often begin these posts with some kind of appreciation of the serendipity of the archives; much of what’s appeared here are things I didn’t expect; or, more often, things that don’t fit into the project I’m working on as my main occupation, but that were just too interesting (for a given value of interesting) to forget completely. All well and good, I suppose.

But sometimes … sometimes you find what you’re looking for. Yesterday was one of those times. Continue reading “Eureka! Er, sorta.”