1851: Rev. Lemuel Foster to Rev. Henry Cowles

Lincoln visited Foster’s Church at Atlanta, IL on 4 July 1859

This letter was written by Rev. Lemuel Foster (1799-1872), the son of Phineas Foster (1763-1812) and Hannah Kilbourn (1768-1851) of Litchfield County, Connecticut. Foster was an 1828 graduate of the Yale Theological Seminary. He married Lydia Cowdrey in 1831 and became a pioneer minister in western Illinois in the 1830s. He is credited with starting the first Presbyterian church and school in Bloomington, Illinois (1833). Foster’s beliefs in Sabbath observance, temperance, and his strong stance against slavery often put him in danger of his life. In the mid 1840s, he edited a quarterly publication called the Truth Seeker in which he defended his anti-slavery beliefs.

Not long after this letter was written, Rev. Foster relocated to Atlanta, Logan County, Illinois, where he started a Congregational Church and was instrumental in the formation of the Atlanta Seminary — a free school. It is reported that when Abraham Lincoln accepted an invitation from his friend Sylvester Strong of Atlanta to attend the village’s Fourth of July Celebration in 1859, Lincoln attended the ice-cream social being held at Rev. Foster’s church that same evening following the public celebration. The social was being held to raise money for pews in the newly constructed church. [See: Lincoln in Logan County]

Rev. Henry Cowles, D.D.

Rev. Foster wrote the letter to Rev. Henry Cowles, D.D. (1803-1881) — a biblical scholar, teacher, anti-slavery advocate, and a founding member of Oberlin’s Theological Department in Oberlin, Ohio. Cowles, like Foster, also graduated from the Yale Theological Seminary. He came in the late 1820s to the Western Reserve of Ohio where he labored as a missionary for the Connecticut Home Missionary Society. In 1835, he came to Oberlin College as a professor languages. From 1844 to 1848, Cowles assumed part-time editorial work for the semimonthly religious periodical, the Oberlin Evangelist. In 1848, he took over as editor full-time, having relinquished his position at the seminary due to a redistribution of teaching responsibilities. “Under Cowles’ direction, the paper served as a journalistic pulpit for Oberlin theologians, whose views on abolitionism, moral reform, missions, religious revivalism and Oberlin’s controversial doctrine of Sanctification were spread throughout the northeastern states and western New York. Cowles served as editor until 1862 when financial constraints, brought about by a decrease in subscriptions during the Civil War, forced the paper’s suspension.” [Source: Oberlin College Archives]


Addressed to Rev. Henry Cowles (Editor of Oberlin Evangelist), Oberlin, Ohio

Upper Alton [Illinois]
March 16th 1851

Dear Brother Cowles,

I send you this particularly to enquire about a letter from me which should have reached you some two months since containing one dollar from John H. Knostman ¹ of this place on your paper. I did not pay the postage on the letter as I sent it merely to send the dollar for him, & that may be the reason why you have not received it as it has not been acknowledged one dollar sent by me for him before. Also, he says was not acknowledged & he knows not how he stands with your publisher.

I mentioned in that letter in reply to your last that I not make any claim of pay for those articles & did not wish to — that I referred to what you had written proposing to pay as a reason why I called on you for 3 or 4 copies of your paper gratis for some of my friends, not expecting any charge therefor. That matter is now all straight; the call for pay here, it seems, an oversight.

I do not wish you by any means to present the matter of paying for those commotions to the business association of your paper, or the men united in conducting it as you speak of doing in your letter. I hope you have not done that. I would, however, esteem it a favor done to myself if you would remit to Bro. J. H. Knostman (above mentioned) any dues from him for your paper up to the date as he is a pious, good man — tho’ poor — [and] has intended to pay promptly, & has been greatly afflicted with sickness in his family the past year. I have not your letter now in hand, but remember you said something as a reason for not publishing my last article — a review of Bro. [James] McGready’s sermon on infant salvation. I have not room to enlarge, but would just say I have no sympathy with him in his views given in that sermon. I believe the atonement of Christ was as necessary to the salvation of infants as anybody. But in your efforts for promoting Christian beliefs, I am with you — though perhaps more practically than theoretically.

Yours truly, — Lemuel Foster

P. S. I did not take down the time of sending that letter with the dollar for Bro. Knostman & only recollect the writing it, putting the bill in, & dropping it in the Post Office box, which I since have heard was left open & exposed at that time. Perhaps, therefore, I ought to pay the amount myself. I stand ready to do so if your publisher requires it. Please remit it to Bro. K. — L. F.


¹ John H. Knostman (1824-Aft1890), a German immigrant, married Chistiana Lebold on 28 December 1842 in Madison County, Illinois. It appears that Knostman came to the U.S. in September 1836 when he was only 12 years old. An 1890 Directory shows him still residing in Upper Alston, Illinois, and working in a carpentry shop.


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