Pliny Fisk Letter, Andover 1818

In this letter, Essex County resident Pliny Fisk writes to his brother and asks why Christians never pray for people who are enslaved. He also discusses a conversation with Rev. Dodge of Haverhill after the minister expressed surprise at Fisk mentioning enslaved people in his prayer.

Although the letter seeks to advocate for enslaved people, its language demonstrates prejudiced assumptions about the inferior intellect of African Americans. Fisk also identifies Jewish and Native American people as other groups that Christians must pray for. The letter praises the work of a mission in a Cherokee community.

Rev. E. H Newton

Theol. Sem. March 10, 1818

Dear Br.

I have a specific object in writing to you at this time and have strong hopes that my letter will be the means of doing good. You know there are in our country many slaves, it is said more than a million in the U.S. This is a solemn, a shameful, a distressing fact. Why are they not liberated? It is said it would not do to liberate them till they are instructed. Why then are they not instructed?

The answer I apprehend would not be much to the credit of Christians. But I have another question to propose. Why do ministers and christians never pray for slaves? Is it not a fact that they are seldom or never mentioned in prayer? We pray for Heathens, jews and almost all classes of men but never for slaves. What can be the cause of this strange neglect? There are more than a million of slaves & most of them ignorant as Pagans in the heart of our own country, and yet nobody prays for them. But what can be done? Br. Newton let me tell you what & I wish you would do after looking soberly at the subject & remembering the slaves in private I hope you will pray for them in public and that too very frequently. And let me ask would it not be well to propose this to christians at a monthly [concert?] as an important object of prayer? Would it not be well to mention it in your sermon on the fast? Can you not mention it to other ministers, & to the association as an object of special prayer[?]

I attended meeting the other day in Haverhill & in one of the prayers mentioned the slaves. Rev. [???] Dodge said he did not recollect ever hearing them mentioned before, nor did he recollect that he had ever in his life prayed distinctly and particularly for slaves. He expressed a design to mention the subject at fast and to pray often for the slaves. Several of my brethren here feel deeply on the subject. Do unite your prayers and efforts with ours and see if something cannot be done, perhaps the S??d will hear our prayers and bless our endeavors. – I have now said what I had to say on this subject and it gives me some pleasure to reflect that I have for a few moments been the Negroes’ advocate. –

I will fill up my sheet by mentioning some interesting facts relative to the state of things in this vicinity. We have at present seven catechetical societies around us in [which] a large number of youth and children are studying the scriptures.

We have lately formed a society in the Seminary to promote our own acquaintance with the bible & to engage others in the work. One object is to learn what methods have been adopted and with what success.

Hon[.] Br. H. I am going to lay a tax on you. We wish you to write in your next letter a particular history of your Catechetical Society, your Sabbath Schools &e. &e. Suggest any good thoughts [which] may in some bright moments have sprung up in your mind. –

There is some unusual attention in this town. Several have obtained hopes. Prayer meetings and conferences begin to be more frequent & more fully attended. –

A spirit of activity is increasing among the students. They seem quite disposed to exert themselves in various ways to do good. Pray that our efforts may be judicious, & successful. –

The Rev. ? Oliphant is happily settled at Beverly where ? Emerson was.

HW. Emerson will open a school at Byfield in July to qualify young gentlemen & Ladies to teach school. This is one of the good things of the present day. Have you seen the Christians [orat???] It is a collection of religious speeches designed for reading & speaking in schools, academies & colleges. I am [persuaded] it will be useful.

The Mission to the Cherokees prospers wonderfully. The cause of the ? is advancing gloriously in many parts of the earth. Set us ? our hands and our hearts to the work.

– – – I ? the ? Such. Rep. to be sent to you. Have you received it? How do things go at Wilmington?

With much affection I am dear brother most sincerely yours &e
P. Fisk

Love to ? H. Br. W. &e.


Pliny Fisk, “Letter concerning prayers for slaves and religion in Andover, Letter to Rev. Ephraim H. Newton” (March 10, 1818). Ms s 551. Andover Center for History and Culture, Andover, MA.