According to his published obituary, Rev. Jacob Elihu Conrad (1814-1896) was born in Lincoln County, North Carolina, and moved with his parents, Peter Rudolph Conrad (1782-1843) and Sally Abernathy (1789-1847) to a farm in Perry County, Missouri about 1820. He was converted as a Christian when he was 16 by the influence of a local missionary and by religious books that he read. When he was 22, he left his home and rode 300 miles on horseback to Quincy, Illinois where he enrolled in a Mission Institute under the charge of Dr. Nelson. For nine years, he was immersed in collegiate and theological studies. Afterward, he spent a year in Lane’s Theological Seminary at Cincinnati.
In 1846, he married Miss Therina Jane Brockway (1827-1852), an orphan according to Rev. Conrad. They began their life together in Warsaw, Indiana, where he was ordained by the Presbytery of Logansport in 1847. He labored as a Presbyterian missionary in northern Indiana for seven years during which time his wife and two children died. It was during this period that Rev. Conrad penned the following letter to Rev. Charles Hall and Rev. Milton Badger of the Home Missionary in New York City asking for assistance. The letter is a poignant example of the hardships faced by itinerant ministers of all faiths who labored in the backwoods of frontier America.
In 1854, Rev. Conrad took Eleanor Margaret Slagle (1831-1873) as his second wife in Shiloh, Indiana. In 1856, they relocated to Rochester, Minnesota, and shortly after that, to a farm in Sterling, Blue Earth County, Minnesota. He remained there for forty years and is credited with establishing several Presbyterian churches in southwest Minnesota.
August 20th 1849
Brs. [Charles] Hall & [Milton] Badger,
I address you at this time for my own personal benefit and yet to a considerable extent ignorant of the propriety or impropriety of addressing you on this subject. But I draw my bar at a venture.
I see by the last and other Home Missionaries that at this season of the year the society is accustomed to transmit to the most needy of their missionaries boxes of clothing placed in their hands for this purpose. Now, not knowing how the application is required to be made in order to become a recipient of such a favor, I with delicacy present my own case.
I commenced my course of study with but 31 cents in my pocket and made “these hands minister to my necessities” unaided by any society until at the end of ten years I engaged in the blessed work of the gospel ministry. The condition of my wife was some what similar, being an orphan child. he had to labor for her support during her course of study.
We came to this field about a year and ten months ago. Our entire possessions consisted in what we brought with us in a one horse buggy — a small box of books and a few bed clothes. Since that time, for the first six months, our income — or rather the amount of what we received — was not more than 75 dollars. Since that time we have been under the care of your society and our people have made up the three hundred dollars per annum including the 150 received from you. Now, under these circumstances, we have it out of our [ability] to procure many of the articles of clothing (to say nothing about books) which would add much to our comfort.
We have also had considerable sickness in our family. On last Saturday, we buried our only child — a little girl 17 months old. We feel her loss very much. I have to be absent very frequently and my dear wife is lonesome. her health is very poor. If this had not been the case, we should have increased our stock of clothing much more than we have. I tell you, the wife of a minister in this sickly region has but little opportunity of earning much by her labour.
Now I do not wish to be understood as complaining of poverty for we are rich, nor as being cast down or burdened on account of these things. Far from it. We have kind friends here which minister to our necessities in times of affliction. My object in writing is simply to let you know our situation. Then if others are more needy, let them be the receivers and not us. I presume we shall not be great sufferers. Yet after paying 40 dollars a year for rent and 40 for horse and cow feed, and 20 for fuel, it seems rather difficult for us, out of the remaining 200 to get the other necessaries and pay all our doctor bills and medical accounts.
But brethren, I know that if we take care of God’s cause, he will take care of us. And hence, I have no uneasiness about this whatever. I leave it to you and to God, and continue my work.
Yours as ever in Christ, — J. E. Conrad
P.S. If you send us a box and there is one with a cloak in it, please send it. My wife has been destitute of a cloak for two years and she must have one the present winter and we do not feel able to purchase it here.