It is the 18th of September 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1884.
It was the year that “Huckleberry Finn” was first published. Ernest Hemingway said of the book, “All modern American literature comes from [it]” and “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” The sort-of sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” the story of Huck and Jim, the runaway slave, lampoons antebellum America while questioning the role of individual conscience. A climactic scene in the story takes place when supposing the church was right in condoning slavery, Huck thinks he has abandoned his soul to a future hell as he decides to not turn Jim in to the slave catching vigilantes.
The book has repeatedly been banned. It has been banned for its pervasive use of the “N” word, despite its subversive anti-racist themes. It has also been banned for its use of colloquial American English. It was also banned because people didn’t like Mark Twain, who enjoyed collecting and responding to negative reviews.
It was also in 1884 that America saw a first: the first female candidate for President. Marrieta Stow ran on the Equal Rights Party ticket. The fact that Stow ran for President when her sex was not even allowed to vote is one interesting story. But the tradition of the party itself is one of a wonderfully named group, and tragically forgotten bit of 19th-century history. Generally speaking, the Equal Rights Party was part of a movement known as Loco-focoism. These rabble-rousers were for radical equality and freedom. Their name came from a self-lighting match, which came from a similarly self-lighting cigar. I don’t know how any of that would work, and there are various stories about how the Locofocos got their name. Ralph Waldo Emerson said of the group, “The new race is stiff, heady, and rebellious; they are fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost all laws.”
And it was in this context of a rough-and-tumble America in a stage of growing pains that one of the more colorful characters and domestic missionaries in the history of the American church died. It was on this, the 18th of September, in 1884, that the Irish born American and convict turned missionary Jerry McCauley died.
Born in Ireland in 1839, McCauley lived with his grandmother until he was sent to live with his sister and brother-in-law in New York. Once there, Jerry picked up a reputation as a petty criminal, an idle good-for-nothing, and a ne’er-do-well. Petty crimes led to more serious ones, and soon McCauley found himself serving 15 years in the notorious Sing-Sing prison. It was there that he heard a conversion testimony from a fellow criminal associate. McCauley did not become a Christian then but tucked the story away in his head for later. Upon his release and relocation back to the Water Street district in New York, he attended a home bible study and was baptized. Here he met his wife Maria, a former prostitute, and they opened what is considered the first rescue mission in the United States. The ex-con married to an ex-prostitute opened what they determined to be a “helping hand” for the destitute and spiritually lost. They clothed and fed New York’s poor and homeless. Through bible studies and witnessing, it became a center of evangelistic activity. The oldest rescue mission in America has outlived its founders and is today known as the New York City Rescue Mission. And today, we remember its founder, Jerry McCauley, who died on this, the 18th of September in 1884.
The reading for today is an excerpt from the poem “the Missionary” by Charlotte Bronte.
…Protected by salvation’s helm,
Shielded by faith–with truth begirt,
To smile when trials seek to whelm
And stand ‘mid testing fires unhurt!
Hurling hell’s strongest bulwarks down,
Even when the last pang thrills my breast,
When Death bestows the Martyr’s crown,
And calls me into Jesus’ rest.
Then for my ultimate reward–
Then for the world-rejoicing word–
The voice from Father–Spirit–Son:
“Servant of God, well hast thou done!”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of September 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a Ne’er-do-well and Roustabout, a Rakehell, and a Franion! Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.