This letter was written by Orin Cook Thompson (1806-1890), the son of Isaac and Polly (Campbell) Thompson of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Orin married Alice Lucy Thompson (1807-1903), the daughter of Abraham and Susanna (Welch) Thompson.
As an educator, Rev. Thompson’s “students included a future governor, a future U.S. senator and the future “Pine King” — Michigan’s largest land holder. As a banker and businessman, he was closely connected to the Midwest’s wealthiest industrialist, a man whose father once served as lighthouse keeper at Fort Gratiot. As a pastor, he founded churches in St. Clair, Port Huron and Detroit. He also played an instrumental role in providing evangelical Protestant chaplains to serve on the battlefields, hospitals and prison camps of the Civil War. Thompson also should be remembered as an unflinching foe of slavery, a staunch abolitionist whose home in St. Clair served as an important station on the Underground Railroad.” [Attributed to Mike Connell]
Thompson’s letter chronicles his effort in the spring of 1840 to establish a church in the pioneer village of Port Huron in St. Clair County, Michigan.
Addressed to Rev. Charles Hall, Corresponding Secretary of American Home Missionary Society, New York
Port Huron [Michigan]
July 1, 1840
Rev. Charles Hall
Cor. Sec. of A. H. M. S.
I began a letter as soon as I received my commission in which I reported the two first quarters of my missionary labor for this year. It was laid aside unfinished and in consequence of sickness, I have been unable to take my pen in hand till today. And now I report the quarter ending at this time also.
When I began here last fall, it was like beginning in an entire wilderness. Nothing was organized and but very few sermons from clergymen of any order had ever been preached here. Three years ago, I endeavored to find a male professor of religion at Port Huron but could find none. Since then a few have moved in. A comfortable meeting house was built last year but the principle individual concerned in building it moved away before I came. The other principle man was elected Senator to the legislator of the State about the time I came and was absent all winter. But in the name of the Lord, and in his strength, I began to cultivate the field. I first went from house to house to search out and bring to light the scattering disciples and as the truth was preached on the Sabbath, they began to hold up their heads and take courage. The house that will hold about 200 was usually filled & is still. A good Sabbath School has been held every Sabbath since I came here and a weekly prayer meeting.
On the 17th of May, I organized a church of 20 members. Several of these were taken in on profession, and some of them hope they have been converted under the labors of your missionary the winter past. Since the organization of the church, another aged woman who has been compared to Mary Magdalen before her conversion has, I hope, experienced the grace of God in turning her darkness to light.
The weapons of our holy won
Of what Almighty force they are!
This village has been noted for profanity and kindred v____s. Some months since, I preached from the third com. I perceived soon after that the notice was pasted up around town that a meeting would be held for the purpose of forming an anti-swearing society signed by some of the most profane in the village who yet retained a very respectable standing. They had become ashamed of their profanity. The meeting was held and the Society formed and several fines for violation have been inflicted and the result is profane language is now scarcely heard except among the very lowest of the vile. This has encouraged me much.
There are several persons now wishing to unite with the church and I intend to give them an opportunity soon. I have given the legal notice for the formation of a Religious Society and expect that the organization will take place a week from today.
There has been considerable sickness here this Spring and we are expecting much more in August & September. Every member of my family have been sick with the ague and fever except the babe. Mrs. Thompson is now with her friends in Ohio and will probably stay there till the sickly season is past.
In your letter to me accompanying my commission you suggest that it may be best for me to write to you instead of making a draft for the quarterly dues on account of the possibility of your not being able to meet them promptly. I sold a draft for the two first quarters to Mr. J. Coffin who was at the Societies house and ___ you since my commission was sent, and said that you informed him that my draft to that amount could now be answered. It would be much more convenient if I could be allowed to make drafts and besides, they are worth from 6 to 8 percent premiums — the difference in the exchange of money. This difference is worth considerable to us in straitened circumstances. Perhaps I had better sell the draft for the third quarter to Mr. Coffin or Mr. H. Hoblock of Detroit with the knowledge of your suggestion about the possibility of not being able to meet it at sight and he will arrange the disposal of it accordingly. But I hope the grace hand of the Lord will be stretched out for the relief of the __ity which is almost the only hope of preserving to the churches in the new settlements the life-giving ordononus.
Yours in the bonds of the Gospel, — O. C. Thompson, Missionary at Port Huron, Michigan