Russell, Charles Theodore
Retained Copy of his Letter, dated Boston, September 24, 1841 to Rev. Dr. Rufus Anderson, Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions

quarto, 2 pages, folded, docketing information on last page, in very good clean and legible condition.

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Russell in this letter gives a far-sighted view of American missionaries as first sources of “intelligence” from distant lands. It is Russell’s retained copy, possibly in the hand of his wife Sarah, with her initialed note on the second page.

       “Rev. Dr. Anderson

         Dear Sir,

            I have just been reading the account of the proceedings of A.B.C.F.M. at their recent meeting in Philadelphia and saw with much regret the painful embarrassment of the Board in its pecuniary affairs.  This called up anew a scheme, a wild one perhaps, that entered my mind some time ago, and I now with diffidence suggest it to you. If you deem it impracticable, or if carried into effect of no utility, the suggestion will do no harm, save the trespassing upon your time in making it known, which I hope good intentions will excuse. My idea was to get up a ‘young men’s missionary society’, not confined to the limits of any one of our churches, but embracing all the young men of the City … the object of the Society to be the spread of Missionary intelligence, a knowledge of the Heathen world, and the general cultivation of a Missionary spirit. This end I would accomplish by stated meetings of the Society and courses of public lectures perhaps each winter, before the Society, by men of talent interested in the cause of missions. I would assimilate it in this respect to societies for the diffusion of useful knowledge… a vast amount of useful and intensely interesting matter might thus be communicated; our missionaries are weekly sending us information from all parts of the world and many parts from which we get little else. All this may be most interesting matter for lectures. How interesting would be a lecture on the Druses, the Nestorians, the Chinese in their religion, and the past and present state of the Sandwich Islands etc … thrown into this popular form our whole community would be brought into contact with Missionary intelligence … How natural and easy for a young man to invite a less serious companion to some popular lecture room, to hear a lecture on some department of missionary labor… this matter strikes me … as one means of augmenting the receipts of the Board. Are there not five hundred young men in the City who will now join the Society, and pay 2 or 3 dollars, and agree to pay it each year? … how many go to our Lyceum, to listen to lectures upon a subject, who would never take up a book to read upon it? There is a fascination … about addresses and lectures that books do not possess…”

           Charles Theodore Russell (1815-1896) was a noted Boston attorney, Massachusetts state Senator, Mayor of Cambridge during the Civil War, his son became a Governor of Massachusetts. He was also a founding father of the Boston YMCA – which may have been as close as he came to realizing the proposal he laid out in this letter. But his view was a far-sighted one. American missionaries were indeed the first sources of information about the “Heathen World”, sent home in letters, correspondence and reports in the first decades of the 19th century, from many parts of Asia, the Middle East, and, present day Hawaii. A century later, during World War II, when the United States first began to officially gather “intelligence” from distant corners of the globe, missionaries proved to be among its best secret agents.