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A Missionary Letter From Ira Chase to the
Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts

History of Harrison County, West Virginia, 1910
     The following is an extract from a letter from Clarksburg, WV in 1818, by the Reverend Ira Chase, a Baptist missionary from New England to Dr. Sharp of Boston, Secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, which gives a description of the condition of the town from a religious standpoint:

"Rev. And Dear Sir:-

     As I mentioned in my communication to you, I arrived at this place on the 27th. of December, 1817. Clarksburg is the shire town of Harrison County, and situated on the West Fork of the Monongahela River, which

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affords water carriage to Pittsburgh and thence down the Ohio. The distance from that city by land is upwards of one hundred miles.

     A Baptist church had once been constituted here, but many years ago the Pastor went to the West. No successor was secured and the flock was scattered. Nothing but the graveyard appeared where the meeting house once stood. A learned and Independent Minister from England, had, for nearly twenty years, supported himself principally by teaching in the Academy (the only one in this part of the State) and preached some of the time in the village to a few hearers, but with no visible success. About two years ago he was called to a better world. The people were now destitute. There were indeed residing here two Paedobaptist Preachers, but there was no preaching and no religious meeting. One of the men was in the practice of physic and the other a licentiate from New England, was teaching a school. He had come out with the prospect of taking charge of the Academy, and preaching in the place. But he had found it necessary to relinquish the Academy for the present. It was not now in operation and for want of encouragement he had suspended his ministerial labors. There was no church of any denomination and there were but few, very few, professors of religion, and some of these were not very correct in their morals. It was painful to see a village, containing so many immortal souls, thus abandoned to ruin. Perhaps, thought I, it is my duty to stop and endeavor to excite the attention of the people to their eternal interests. In this I was encouraged by two Baptist brethern who reside in the place.

     On Lord's Day I preached in the Court House to a very small assembly, and again in the evening. The next day one of the brethern, an amiable young man, undertook to ascertain the wishes of the people with regard to my stopping, and for this purpose circulated the following paper:

Clarksburg, December 29, 1817.
We, the subscribers, as an expression of our desire to have the gospel preached among us, promise to contribute to the Rev. Ira Chase for the use of the Missionary Society by which he is employed, the sums annexed to our names, if he will continue his ministerial labors in this place five weeks.
     The amount of the subscription was upwards of thirty dollars. The brother himself contributed my board, a deacon who resided a few miles in the country, my horse-keeping, and the sons of the late Rev. Mr. Towers, the clergyman whom I mentioned as having come from England, generously opened to me their father's study and supplied me with other conveniences.

     My duty was plain. I stopped. The assemblies, instead of dwindling away, as some had represented they would, increased constantly.

     Though I endeavored to make the apostle my model as to the matter and plainness of my discourse, yet instead of going away offended, they seemed conscious that what I preached was true and came again. In private I was generally received with politeness and affection, and sometimes found an unexpected willingness to converse on religion.

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     Yesterday was the last Sabbath I was to continue here, and to me it was a most interesting day. As I was returning from the first service I was requested to call at a house and converse with a woman under deep concern for her soul. Upon leaving her and returning to my chamber I found a servant waiting for me, and wishing to know if I would wait until this evening so that he and some other blacks could come and talk to me on religion. I readily told him I would and I expect them soon.

     Last evening I met my audience for the last time. The house was crowded, and all were attentive. I closed my message and bade them adieu. O, my God, will not Thou bless my feeble labors?

     9 o'clock P. M. The blacks have just gone. I am fatigued but I have had a very pleasant season. There were fifteen in all, male and female. I conversed with them all individually. Six or seven of them were entertaining a hope in Christ and had entertained one for years. They gave a brief relation of the work of grace upon their hearts, and a heavenly joy beamed in their countenances. Others were inquiring with different degrees of anxiety the way of salvation. The tears stole silently down the cheeks of some and all were serious. I directed them to come immediately to Jesus Christ, as "the way and the truth and the life."

     After endeavoring to impart to each the instruction they severally needed and then making an address to the whole, the interview was closed by singing and prayer. I expect to depart on the morrow.

Ira Chase."

[From Henry Haymond, History of Harrison County, West Virginia: from the early days of ..., 1910, pp. 281-283. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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