This letter was written by Rev. Aaron Foster (1794-1870). A native of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, Foster was the son Aaron and Mehitable (Nichols) Foster, the eldest of ten children. He was a student at Andover from 1822-25, was ordained an evangelist at Rutland, Vermont in 1825, and was sent to Laurens District in South Carolina to serve as a missionary under the patronage of the Charleston Missionary Society from 1828-1828. From 1828-1832, he served as pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Pendleton, South Carolina, attended by Senator John C. Calhoun. Conflicted over the morality of slavery, however, Foster thought it best to leave the South and return North, where he acted as an agent for little more than a year for the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society in connection with the Secretary, Rev. Dr. Storrs, collecting funds, and supplying a little church in Millville, in the town of Mendon.
It was during his time in Millville that Foster wrote this letter where Foster proposed the assignment of an agent to the Newport, Rhode Island – a town he characterized as “mission ground.” He even proposes himself as the man for the job although he admits it would be a challenge. He was instead, however, directed to Fort Covington in the St. Lawrence Valley of upper New York, and later East Constable. Foster returned to Massachusetts in the mid-1840s where he closed out his career.
Addressed to Rev. B. H. Rice, D.D., Corresponding Secretary of Home Mission Society, New York
January 29, 1833
Rev. Mr. Rice. C.S. of the H.M. Society,
Since I came to E.E., I have been occasionally trying my strength as agent under the Rev. R. S. Starrs. I have addressed perhaps 30 congregations. I find the subject takes well with patriot & Christian. My heart has unexpectedly become so deeply interested in the subject that I have almost become willing to turn Peter the Hermit. I have been through Rhode Island. At Providence the tw congregations will show an example of benevolence to Home Missions. So will Bristol & Little Compton. The theme, sir, is magnificent. There is not one more sublime in the world. I have just received an invitation from the Ex. Com. of Vermont to operate in that state for a year. Amidst other claims, I know not what to do. Can you give me any information how an agent ought to manage in his crusade against the avarice of Vermont. Can he organize a state into a 1000 societies in this society age? Shall he add a twentieth to the nineteenth societies already in living or dying existence everywhere? Or shall he make a speech, take a collection, a subscription, appoint collections, & pass on?
The country is inundated by sermons &c on the foreign cause, but if you have a tract or a sermon recently made on the Home cause, do send it me – with any long piece of your advice. I promised the Uxbridge folks the Home Missionary & forwarded gratis for a year in consideration of their late contribution of $46 reported to Mr. Storrs. They are reminding me of my promise. Will you have it sent to William Capron, Uxbridge, Massachusetts? Also me, Millville, Massachusetts.
My dear brother, the Lord is with the H.M. Society & it will procure the salvation of this country. A. Foster
Newport, Rhode Island has now become missionary ground. Both the Congregational churches are defunct. I have been written to by some of the Council that dismissed Rev. Mr. Beecher & by some members of the church in Newport to attempt the raising up of our society on middle ground out of the two, They say it can be done by divine assistance & think me the man fixed upon in the divine Providence. They say that the Episcopalians will form a society there very soon if we do not. Consider the important influence of the position in the state. 9 in 10 of the places which you sustain are less promising & less important/ The good people of the land cannot relinquish this post with impunity. There are men in Israel whose labours God will greatly prosper in that place. True, many good & able men have tried & have failed. This is very discouraging to my feelings, but hot hopeless. Times & seasons change, men & measures differ. Men in Newport have souls & can be made to understand & think of their immortality as well as in other places, infidel though they be. On the spot, you might perceive reasons, not hopeless of the future, why we the last efforts there have not succeeded. Perhaps the Lord has been training me to such a service. I have succeeded in difficult places. Look at Pendleton, South Carolina. 5 years ago they thought themselves irreconcilably divided & forever ruined, publishing pamphlets lawyer against lawyer, drinking at public meetings, & prosecuting & cross prosecuting for liebills when I came among them. In the name of God, the difficulties were encountered & overcome. The Church has increased four fold, divisions are at an end, & Pendleton in strength is now the 3rd Congregation in the upcountry. ____ under Camden only being stronger. She shall ______ like David. He that delivered me from the lion & the bear &c. A man to settle in Newport must be accustomed to wield & remove the most deeply rooted human prejudices, & he must have an eloquence that wil draw men to hear him on the Sabbath indifferent, skeptical, infidel men & be able to associate pleasantly in their families.
Now, sir, whoever goes to Newport must go soon. I can tell in 4 months whether I shall succeed probably & after the way is opened, might not Mr. Finney be induced to be there 15 days or so?
Sir, here are two opportunities connected with your department, Home Missions – each sufficiently self-denying to tempt anyone who is in love with self-denial. It is my impression that if I am qualified for anything better than other people, it is to be an agent in the H.M. cause. I can do 4 times as much for the cause of Zion in this department as in any other for a few years just now. My heart is here. I feel as though I could go to it & probably succeed after a long effort. It would be the business of my life.
Now, sir, for which of these services have you another person just qualified? And I will take the other. Mr. Hall may tell you something on this subject. If you have any information, send soon to Millville, Massachusetts. Yours, — A. Foster