This is the day that … John Mason Peck set out on his missionary tour to St Louis, Illinois.
It was 1817 … and St Louis was “a rough river town with a few clusters of houses. A Christian witness was almost unknown.”
Peck had been born 27 years earlier (on 21 October, 1798) in Connecticut. Brought up in Congregationalism, he was converted at the age of 17 – and “almost immediately was propelled by a whole constraining love for the lost that drove him relentlessly the rest of his life seeking souls for Christ” (Biblical Evangelist, Volume 16/4).
In 1811 he joined the Baptist Church and soon entered Dr William Staughton’s Baptist College – the only school in America at that time for training Baptist preachers. It met in Dr Staughton’s own home! And there were only five students.
Here Peck wrestled with “Latin, Greek and Hebrew, philosophy, theology and English.” It was a 12-month course! (Tales of Baptist Daring, page 91).
Then came the Baptist Triennial Convention that appointed Peck as missionary to Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. “Peck threw his hat in the air for sheer joy!”
They set out in a one-horse wagon – Peck, his wife and three children, one of whom was still a baby. Some give the date as 25 July, others 26 July.
They arrived at their destination 125 days later, with Peck himself “a sick man, dangerously stricken”.
They were in the midst of a “hard-drinking, uneducated, uncouth, profane people. Saloons abounded. Knifings, killings, shootings were commonplace.”
But with a co-worker, James E. Welch, Peck devoted every fibre of his being to spreading the gospel.
Within two months the first baptisms were held. A church was erected. In three years there were 50 schools established in Illinois and Missouri.
A Bible Society came into being as the result of his labours.
He would ride for months, from one lonely cabin to another, telling the good news of salvation. “In blinding blizzards, drenching rains, bone chilling cold, scorching sun, fording rivers … and finding his way through uncharted wilderness,” Peck pursued his God-given task.
There were troubles with the mission board back in the East. New leaders who opposed missionary work “as contrary to Scripture”(!) were able to terminate his support!
But Peck stuck to his post. The work continued to prosper. He founded a Bible college that saw “hundreds of men enter the ministry or missionary service.”
And he commenced and edited a religious journal – The Western Pioneer.
The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia tells us that he deserves the epithet of ‘father’ of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
He was truly a remarkable man of God whose zeal never abated.
He died in Illinois on 14 March, 1857. He had lived to see “2000 flourishing Baptist churches” born during his ministry.
His 53-volume diary was destroyed, but Rufus Babcock preserved much of it in an early biography.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.