This interesting letter is an application by two congregations in Allegan County, Michigan, seeking supplementary funds from the American Home Missionary Society to pay the salary of Rev. Robert McMath. The proposal, submitted mutually by the two congregations, was to share the services of Rev. McMath. The churches involved were the First Presbyterian Church in Gun Plain township and the First Congregational Church in Otsego. The officers of each church have signed the application.
A note has been added to the application written by Rev. Ova Phelps Hoyt of Kalamazoo which supports the appropriation, but cautions the Society that giving these congregations the supplementary funds requested may be “casting bread upon the waters” as it is clear he does not think the 35 year-old Rev. McMath will be “the son of thunder” needed for these communities — particularly Otsego which he likened to Sodom.
Rev. Robert McMath (1815-1871) was a native of Romulus, Seneca County, New York, the son of Samuel McMath (1782-1826). He and his family are enumerated in the 1850 census in Otsego, Allegan County, Michigan. In 1860 he was a clergyman in Webster, Monroe County, New York. In 1870, he was a farmer in Webster, Monroe County, New York. In the footnotes below, I have included a transcript of a letter that Rev. McMath wrote to his wife from Chicago in 1851.
Rev. Ova Phelps Hoyt (1800-1866) — active in developing Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches in Michigan — came to Kalamazoo with his family in 1840. He built a home there where he and his wife conducted school and social activities for the young people of the village. Hoyt moved to Elkhart County in Indiana in the summer of 1860.
Addressed to Secretary of American Home Missionary Society, 150 Nassau Street, New York [City]
Gun-Plains. Allegan Co., Michigan
May 11th 1850
Rev. Charles Hall,
Dear Sir. Permit us to present through you to the Executive Committee of the A.H.M.S. the following application, which we feel constrained by our desire to enjoy the preached gospel, and by our necessities to make. The church is whose behalf we apply id the First Presbyterian Church of Gun-Plains. The number of members twenty-five. The average number of attendants on public workshop about seventy-five. There is a Baptist and a Methodist church situated among us, and a Congregational church at Otesego — three miles distant from our place of worship, and which is the only one of the Presbyterian or Congregational order in the vicinity. We propose to raise in all for the Rev. Robert McMath recently from Three Rivers — a member of the Kalamazoo Presbytery — now serving in Otsego which is his present P.O. address, and whose services we wish to secure, the sum of two hundred dollars for his labors one half the time; the other half to be devoted to the church in Otsego. Of this amount we shall be able to raise among ourselves about one hundred & ten dollars. For the remainder $90, we feel under the necessity of applying as we are encouraged to do to the A.H.M.S. If you can grant us this amount for the support of Mr. McMath one half the time for a year beginning the middle or the third Sabbath of April, we shall esteem it a great favor & feel laid under great obligation, and are persuaded that you will thereby support the interests of the cause of Christ in this vicinity.
Cyrenius Thompson, Trustee
D. D. McMartin, Trustee
D. A. McMartin, Elder
Cyrenius Thompson, Elder
Otsego, Allegan Co., Michigan
May 11th 1830
To the Executive Committee of the A.H.M.S.
The Congregational Church of Otsego in whose name & behalf we write you, are desirous to unite with the church on Gun-Plains in sustaining the Rev. Robert McMath so as to secure his labors among us one half of the time. For this proportion of his time for a year, we propose to make up for him the sum of two hundred dollars. Of this amount we can safely pledge ourselves to raise only about one hundred and fifty dollars. And we feel constrained by our poverty and our desire to enjoy the ministrations of the Gospel to ask your society for fifty dollars — the sum requisite to make the necessary amount. If you can aid us to this amount towards the support of Mr. McMath so that we may enjoy his labors half the time for a year beginning the middle or third week of April, we shall esteem it a great favor — shall hope to increase in strength & ability and trust we shall not be ever mindful of the obligations thereby laid upon us. We may add that this church numbers about forty-five members. The average attendance on public worship about 110 or 115. The Baptist Congregation in the village is about as large as ours. The Methodist is quite small. No other churches in the vicinity except one at Gun-Plain three miles distant.
William A. House, Trustee
D. M. Hall, Trustee
Henry Green, Deacon
N. Seeley, Deacon
Secretary of A.H.M.S.
The within application had been sent to me to be forwarded. It is one of those cases on which I am perfectly clear, when I take one view of the case, [yet] specifically in doubt when I take another. As this arrangement, however, has been made between the parties, I can do no less than recommend the appropriation as its refusal might work evil. Still from all I can learn of the case, I have my fears that no great amount of good will result from it. Br. McMath is an excellent man & good preacher. But it wants a “son of thunder” on that hard field — particularly Otsego, where the devil & their last minister know well nigh, introduced the style of civilization which prevailed in Sodom. On the whole, I am fully in favor of the appropriation. It may be casting bread upon the waters. I have not seen the rest of our Com’s since the application came, but from former conversations venture to speak in their behalf as well as my own. — O. P. Hoyt
Postmark: Red CDS: Chicago May 8 Ill.
Rate: Red Stamp: Circle: 5
Addressed to: Mrs. B. C. McMath, Otsego Allegan Co., Mich.
May 7, Wednesday afternoon, 1851
My Dear Wife.
After leaving home on Saturday I arrived in Niles about ten oclock where I spent the Sabbath preaching in the forenoon for Mr. Colton and in the afternoon for Mr. Bryant found our friends tolerably well. Came on in the cars Monday evening and Tuesday morning waked up in Chicago. I am now at Bro. Pattersons. Should have gone today towards Beloit, but found that if I started today I should be detained one day at Rockford on the way I besides I feel considerably not well this forenoon. Feel much better however this afternoon and intend, providence permitting to start for Beloit tomorrow morning going by rail-road to Elgin and thence by stage. Brother Patterson informed me that there are two churches one at Burlington & the other at Pikes-Grove near Racine where it is desired to get in a Presbyterian minister. If I can ascertain that I would probably avail anything, I shall make it in any way to assist them. I hardly know as yet whether I shall go after getting to Beloit. I shall feel anxious to hear from you. Be so good as to write me immediately at Beloit. Direct a letter to me also at Chicago, care of Rev. R. W. Patterson, and I shall probably get one of them without much delay. Bro. Patterson has written letters of inquiry for me to Galena and to Glovet of Jacksonville, and is going the latter part of this week to Milwaukee and will ascertain in regard to that region, so that if there is any place for me. I shall probably find where it is ere long. And yet from what I am able as yet to learn, I have not very confident anticipation. Don’t fail to let me hear from you. I shall expect at accounts to find a letter when I return to this place. Don’t give yourself any uneasiness about me. Trust in the Lord and enjoy yourself as well as you can. Tell Mary her Father talks of sending a dress &c when I return she can’t conveniently come out just now unless it is necessary. Kiss the children for me. Yours in love, — Robert McMath.