mage: A young Phoebe Palmer, from her book, Economy of Salvation
When I left off last time, I had stopped blogging about the Rev. Benjamin Adams’ attendance at camp meetings because I had stumbled over something that made me scratch my head.
I wrote: “There appears to be a connection between Adams and Methodist evangelist and writer Phoebe Palmer. Palmer was one of the founders of the Holiness Movement of the mid-to-late 1800s. I think she had something to do with where he went next in his life as a pastor.”
So here is the story. Or at least as much of it as I have managed to uncover in my spare time.
We’re going to start with Phoebe Palmer. Most people today do not recognize her name – unless they have been to a Methodist theological school, that is. But in Palmer’s day, according to “Methodist History: Revivalist Phoebe Palmer,” she was referred to as “the Mother of the Holiness Movement Revival.” Palmer was a tireless leader of Bible study groups, an author of multiple books, and “preached at more than 300 revival camp meetings.” (www.umc.org) While women generally were not supposed to preach, they could exhort (or encourage) a congregation. I’m not sure whether Palmer used the “no, I’m exhorting” excuse, but today we recognize her as a preacher.
Although Methodist denominations a smaller group than they were in the 1800s, nineteenth-century Methodist laity and clergy made the rounds of camp meetings and it was possible that Palmer and Adams not only bumped into each other there, but might have become acquaintances, if not friends. Furthermore, Adams and Palmer both were part of the New York Annual Conference, where Palmer was an active presence in the Conference. With the Methodist Ladies Home Missionary Society (LHMS), she was one of the founders of Five Points Mission in New York City. (www.umc.org) Since Adams was moving through the ordination process, he might have come into contact with her at the yearly conference, too.
The LHMS's dream of having a mission did not go smoothly. The Hedding Mission at Five Points had trouble getting off the ground, for one thing. Among other challenges, the LHMS had difficulty finding a location for the proposed mission (Roberts, 204). In May of 1850 the Rev. Louis M. Pease, an “innovative Methodist minister from Lenox, Massachusetts,” was appointed as missionary to the Five Points. (Tyler, Kindle Location: 4,355 ) Pease and an advisory board then moved forward and rented “a twenty-by-forty-foot storefront at the corner of Little Water and Cross Streets that could accommodate as many as 200 in evening meetings, a Sunday school, and a day school.” (Roberts, 204)
Sadly and predictably, a new wrinkle emerged. “Louis Pease had a different mission for the Five Points Mission than his sponsors, an issue that created significant tension over the coming years. The LHMS wanted him to attend to the spiritual needs of the neighborhood, but Pease identified intemperance and unemployment as pressing temporal impediments that needed to be addressed first.” (Roberts,204)
The traditionalist LHMS and the innovative Pease finally parted ways in 1852 and the New York Methodist Conference went on to reorganize the mission. (Roberts, 205) Part of the reorganization involved finding a better building. “Not wanting their former minister to upstage them, the mission’s leaders in early 1852 announced to the press their own bold plan—to buy the infamous Old Brewery tenement and make it the society’s headquarters.” (Tyler, Kindle Location: 4,421.)
And now we come to what caught my interest. Check out this sequence of events.
Adams was ordained as an elder in the New York Methodist Conference in 1852.
Phoebe Palmer took things into her own hands in 1852 when she learned that the New York Conference was dragging its feet appointing a new missionary for the Hedding Mission. She “invited her own candidate to dinner at her house with two visiting bishops of the national church. An appointment was made soon after.” (Roberts, 203)
The new Hedding Mission building was opened on June 17, 1853: “The four-story facility covered three large lots and included a chapel that could seat five hundred worshippers, a parsonage for the missionary and his family, two schoolrooms, and twenty three-room apartments.” (Tyler, Kindle Locations 4436 & 4438)
Adams was appointed in July of 1853 as Superintendent and Pastor to serve at the Hedding Mission Methodist Episcopal Church. (The Monthly Echo, 4)
So… did famous revivalist Phoebe Palmer have a hand in Adams’ appointment to the Hedding Mission in New York’s Five Points? It looks as if that might be the case, although it also is possible that she suggested another minister to the two bishops at her little dinner party and that pastor served until July 1853, at which time Adams became the new missionary.
On a more sobering note, after a year's service at the mission, Adams “was compelled to retire from the work, the strain upon his nervous system and sympathies having nearly prostrated him.” However, he continued to support the mission later in life and, in his later life, Adams served for many years as a member of the Advisory Committee for Five Point Mission. (The Monthly Echo, 4)
It was fun chasing this story down. My only regret is that I couldn’t go directly to the Methodist Archives and look at the Five Points Missions records that are housed there. But it sounds like a good project some day when I have the time!
Another project: transcript the photocopies of Adams' handwritten stories about life at the Five Points Mission.
“Methodist History: Revivalist Phoebe Palmer.”
Roberts, Kyle B. Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.)
“The Five Points Mission.”
The Monthly Echo of the Original Five Points Mission, January 1903, p. 4
Tyler, Anbinder. Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum (New York: Free Press, 2001).