Annual Meeting of the City Missionary Society

10/28/1860 |

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The annual meeting of the City Missionary Society was held at the Center Church.

Neat little tidbit

The annual meeting included reports on the work done by the city missionary and four Sunday schools in Hartford.  It’s likely that the society’s secretary, E. S. Cleveland, read all of these reports, but the city missionary and the Sunday School superintendents were all there and all gave addresses.  The city missionary, David Hawley, did double duty as the superintendent of one of the Sunday Schools.

Trust but Verify

According to Atwood Collins in 1915, David Hawley, gave a speech describing the need for the establishment of a Sunday school to serve the population living between Albany Avenue (n) and Park Street (s) and between West Hartford (w) and the railroad station (e).  This speech is credited as the first call for a church that would become Asylum Hill Congregational Church. 

Marie Metcalf claimed that she had been at this meeting, and she was inspired by Hawley’s speech to survey her neighbors as to their agreement with the call for a Sabbath School in Asylum Hill.

The problem is, the Courant didn’t record Hawley’s remarks at this meeting.  A report on his work during the year was given, although it was more likely given by E. S. Cleveland than it was by Hawley.  The meeting ended with addresses by Hawley and the other Sunday school superintendents, but the Courant said only that they “[gave] note of the progress of their work, and [urged] its claims and necessities.”  If Hawley mentioned the need for a Sunday school in Asylum Hill at this meeting, it was probably one of the claims and necessities he mentioned, but it also is highly unusual that the Courant wouldn’t report on a direct or specific call for a new Sunday school in Hartford.

Put into Context

There are some clues in the article that maybe Hawley did mention the need for a new Sunday school during his address to the society.

First, the secretary’s report noted that Hawley had visited 328 families “who seldom attend church.”  This fits with the substance of the reported conversation between Calkins and Bartlett, which described the difficulties families had getting downtown to attend church. 

Second, the Union School had received $40 in contributions of pennies during the year, and these funds were used mainly to help start a Sunday school in LaCrosse, WI.  The Courant article noted that a new Congregational church resulted from this Sunday school – which would be the same order of events for Asylum Hill Congregational Church.

Third, Hawley also served as the superintendent of the Albany Avenue School, and Albany Avenue was the northern border of the area that Hawley had described as needing a new Sunday school, the southern boundary being Park Street.  As superintendent at the Albany Avenue School, he would have been aware of children not attending, and as city missionary he knew there were 328 families not attending church and where they lived.

Last, at least part of the story about Hawley’s speech is that he told his audience that they needed to “do some of it themselves,”L3 as in he already had enough to do and it was up to them to get a new Sunday school started.  His remark, as quoted by Atwood Collins, has struck me as curt, but perhaps Hawley’s curtness on this matter was well earned.  Based on the report on his work during the year, he was extremely busy:  on Thanksgiving alone, he distributed 2,500 pounds of turkey to 315 families, and even the Courant seemed to take note of how busy he was, but there’s no direct, contemporary evidence that he said he was too busy to start a new Sunday school.  The closest I’ve found so far is a separate item in the Courant titled “Employment Wanted,” which said “[i]f somebody would furnish Mr. Hawley with employment to engage his leisure hours, no doubt he would feel grateful.  Time must hang heavy on his hands.”  

Questions to Pose

What was the City Missionary Society?  As near as I can tell, the City Missionary Society was a joint venture of the Congregationalist churches in Hartford.  The society employed the City Missionary, and his job was to meet with people, to provide them with encouragement, and to distribute alms as needed by individuals or families.  The society also oversaw the Sabbath Schools, at least indirectly, as each school sent a representative to the annual meeting and made a report on their work for that year.  Beyond that, however, I’m not entirely certain.

Speculating without Facts

Although the Courant did not report Hawley’s speech as having mentioned the need for a school in Asylum Hill, it’s entirely plausible that he did:  the majority of reporting done was on the Sunday schools, and then the only speakers other than the society’s secretary were the Sunday school superintendents.  It is interesting to note, however, that the society reported that it would be meeting with the church pastors to discuss how to expand the society’s efforts – there were 328 families, with their children, who were no longer active in church.  The society may not have intended that a new church would be established, but it had to be lurking in the back of their minds that a new church could be the culmination of these efforts.

Sources

Swartz, Melva J., “Hill Church Will Observe Anniversary,” Hartford Courant, March 18, 1940, page 1.

Unattribued, “Employment wanted,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 29, 1860, page 2.

Unattributed, “Rev. Dr. Joseph H. Twichell Honored at Anniversary of His Church,” Hartford Courant, March 24, 1915, page 16.

Unattributed, “The Annual Meeting of the City Missionary Society …,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 29, 1860, page 2.

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