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Letters of
James Madison West
An Abolition Preacher

Furnished by : Diana Bryson-Brooks
James Madison West
Born : 1815
Married : Sarah Mark (~1823~) on December 23, 1841, Lewis County, Kentucky
Died : May 4, 1868 in Richview, Washington County, Illinois

James M. West was a farmer and preacher. His special work was that of preaching for the American Missionary Association; aside from his mission work and the care of the farm, he found time to preach the Word through his native county. An abolitionist, he engendered the most bitter hatred from the slave-holders, and they tried to drive him out. So in 1855 he removed to Pope County, Illinois, where he followed the occupation of farming during the week and preached on Sunday. The following year, in 1856, he was one of four men in that county who voted for Gen. John C. Fremont for president. After remaining in Pope County for five years, he moved to Richview, Washington County, Illinois, where he died on May 4, 1868.

 

Taken from a copy provided by Wayne Wandmacher

Elizabeth Ruth (Stephenson) Fitt, 3036 Perry Street, Denver, Colorado, had some old clippings relating to her grandfather, James M. West, and the following are copied from the original clippings. It seems that be reason of his abolition activities, he was forced to leave Kentucky and went to Pope County, Illinois, and from there and for the same reason, was driven out and settled at Richview, Washington, Illinois. The following appears to be an editorial taken from the Golconda Herald of the 9th or 16th of March 1860:

Golconda Herald
9th or 16th of March 1860

We have been credibly informed that an Abolition preacher named West has been engaged in circulation incendiary prints throughout this and adjoining counties, and he has even gone so far as to send some over to gentlemen living in Kentucky. If he has no particular desire to wear the martyr's garment--tar and feathers--he had better decist. Look out for yourself you imp of Baal; for you will be dealt with roughly, if you don't attend to your proper calling, more closely.

At the request of our Kentucky contemporary, the Uniontown News, we publish a description of Jas. M. West, the abolition preacher whom we noticed last week. Rumor says that once upon a time he was tarred and feathered up in the neighborhood of Uniontown for the same offense of which we accuse him, i.e., circulating abolition prints. We have been informed that said West is agent for an abolition book and document publishing house of Boston, and received $25 per month for his services. We are in favor of the free toleration of all religious and political opinions; but when a traitor comes among us wrapped in the sincere garb of a minister of Christ, and endeavor to rob men of their property, we feel bound to expose him, that those most interested may be on the watch for him. He is about 9 inches over 5 feet high, slenderly made, stooped, sunken breast, long visaged, with Roman nose, light black eyes, dark hair and complexion, free spoken, and is about 40 years old. We don't think he has sufficient courage to steal a negro, but he'll bear watching.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Reply: 
 Broad Oaks, Pope Co., Ill.
March 22d 1860
Mr. F. H. Hinan, Dear Sir:

In your editorials of March 9th and 16th, in Golconda Herald, you seem disposed to crush the reputation of a Civil, law-abiding citizen, without any just grounds on which to base the abuses therein contained against me. You base some false statements on what you call "credibly informed," rumor, &c.

1st.--I have never sent what you call "incendiary prints to gentlemen living in Kentucky," within one hundred miles of Golconda, Illinois.
2d.--I was never "tarred and feathered up in the neighborhood of Uniontown," nor at any other place, for circulation abolition documents, nor for any other offense against the law of God or man.
3d.--I am not an "agent for an abolition book and document house of Boston," and never was.

But if believing slavery to be a sin against God and a crime against man, and as such, ought not to be tolerated in church, and proclaiming this from the pulpit and the press, is a crime, then am I a criminal. And if this renders me worthy of wearing the "martyr's garment" then bring on your tar and feathers, and bring those "gentlemen" with you, to put it on, to whom I sent those "incendiary prints living in Kentucky." Find a certificate below of my standing among my neighbors: also refer to Geo. Waters and John Gilbert:

"We the undersigned citizens of Pope County, do hereby certify that we are personally acquainted with James M. West, the abolition preacher you spoke of in the Herald of the 9th inst. as circulation incendiary books and papers. We regard James M. West as being a good, moral, law-abiding citizen, respected and beloved by all his neighbors."

      John A. Holloway
      Jas. F. Crawford
      John A. Eskew
      Wm. C. Belcher
      Andrew J. Belcher
      Harvey C. Belcher
      John M. Triplett
      Thos. A. Williams
      William A Loyd
      T. M. Ditterline
      Mat. Holloway
      L. G. Simpson
      Jesse H. Belcher
      E. M. Palmer
      Henry Hardin
      Thos. McCoy

 

I send also a statement of Jas. H. Davis who was well acquainted with me while living in Kentucky. Please do me the justice to give this a place in the columns of the Herald. In haste, yours for Christ and human elevation.

 Jas. M. West
Colp. A. M. A.

Sirs:--I have known Mr. James M. West for more than five years past, in Kentucky and this State, and do most cheerfully certify that he has always conducted himself, within the spheres of my observation, as a faithful and earnest Christian gentleman. He operated for several years in Kentucky in the capacity he now acts in here, and by his courtesy and prudence won the esteem of friends, and commanded the respect of foes.
 Yours &c.
Jas. S. Davis

 

The following seems to have been taken from the Chicago Tribune and throws a little light on the situation; James M. West died at Richview not long afterward.

Chicago Tribune
May 1861

Letter from one of the Persecuted.
(The following is from a worthy and excellent man, who with his family was expelled from Pope County, Ill., for the crime of being a Republican.)

                         Richview, Ill., May 1st, 1861

Editors Chicago Tribune:
The losses which we have sustained, connected with our expulsion from Pope County, Illinois, including robbery, damage, sacrifice, and removal, amounts to much more than we at first supposed it would be, say from $1,200 to $1,500, about half of what our pecuniary worth was: and in case that we should fail to make collections for articles sold, it will still be more. This has reduced us to circumstances of great necessity; but Christ said, "blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

It is very gratifying indeed, to know that our persecutors had nothing to charge against us that is immoral, or that which the law of God, or the law of the land condemns. Our hearts have been cheered, in the time of distress, by strange friends expressing their sympathies, and feeling it a privilege to share with us in our losses. Our kind Christian sister, whom I never saw, sent her blessing, with $5; two ministers, $2 each, and one $1, a Christian brother, $1, and several sympathizing Christian friends, about $5 more. This is more than giving a "drink of cold water." May God's richest blessings be their reward.

The secessionists in this part of "Egypt" are growing more mild, and many of them have abandoned their disunion principles, and with the exception of four or five of the Southern counties, our State may be said to be a unit against secession.

The cloud of gloom overhanging this part of the State, is fast disappearing, and we trust the Union States may adhere to the principles of justice, love, and mercy, and avert the evil with which we have been threatened. May God speed the right.

It may be gratifying to you to learn that I have no disposition to relax my efforts to promote the cause of Christ, and of Liberty and human elevation.

                         In haste, yours truly,
                        Jas. M. West, Colp. A.M.A

 

Letters written by James Madison West,
correspondence in the American Missionary Association Archives at:
Amistad Research Center
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
6823 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70118
(504) 862-3229
Research and transcription done by Wayne Wandmacher

Introduction to the A. M. A.
The American Missionary Association Archives is one of the largest and most historically significant collections at the Center. The American Missionary Association (A. M. A.), an abolitionist and interdenominational organization, was formed in 1846 from several early missionary groups. Most of the organization's founders were involved in the defense of the Amistad Africans from 1839-1841. It had a strong commitment to social justice and focused its efforts on abolishing slavery, assisting formerly enslaved people, improving the treatment of Native Americans, assisting immigrant populations, and meeting the needs of peoples in foreign lands. Between 1847 and 1865, the A.M.A. founded and/or supported 285 antislavery churches and commissioned 45 abolitionists as itinerant ministers in the United States. During and after the Civil War, the A.M.A. established hundreds of schools for freedmen, including institutions of higher education such as Fisk University, LeMoyne-Owen College, Atlanta University, Tougaloo College, and many others. The organization's commitment to education and social justice continued into the 20th century.

The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste
The Life and Times of John G. Fee

By Victor B. Howard (Cranbury, New Jersey: Susquehanna University Press, 1996)

      This book is a biography of John G. Fee, who was a product of the Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, the economies of the small slaveholding farm, and the intimacies and comradeship of black and white children. Born in Bracken County, Kentucky, in 1816, Fee is a unique and rare figure in the antislavery movement. Most abolitionists were northern born, but they were assisted and supported by many antislavery men who left the South and worked against slavery from the northern states....
      Fee's life, writings, and thoughts offer insights into the major problems and issues concerning race relations in nineteenth-century America.

Chapter 4 Crisis of Freedom of Speech and Information
Page 68
      As a result of the tension growing out of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in northern Kentucky, James West, the colporteur who had replaced Haines, was ordered to leave Kentucky by a meeting of proslavery men, but West was able to evade the order. Fee saw some good in all of this, because he was convinced that the proslavery expansionists were awakening people to read more on the subject of slavery and to listen to the antislavery lectures and ministers.

Chapter 4 Crisis of Freedom of Speech and Information
Page 71
Like most antislavery evangelists, Fee felt it was necessary for blacks as well as whites to learn to read the Bible. Each must understand the word of God for himself in order to have a personal relation with his Creator, which was considered essential for salvation. Fee and the colporteurs would give Bibles to slaves if they asked for them and would even give them one to pass on if they knew of other slaves who wanted a Bible. James Gillespie and James West regularly passed out Bibles to free and bond blacks when they met them on the road, and Matilda Fee, on at least one occasion, gave a Bible to a slave who came to her door. Fee regarded the gift of the Bible as requiring only the consent of God, and the missionaries were commissioned to put the word of God in the hands of slaves.

Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives
American Missionary Association archives. Illinois
Illinois Reel 8

Richview, Ill. August 11th, 1862
Rev S.S. Jocelyn, 61 John St, N.Y.
Dear Bro in Christ,
      You may think that another report is a long time getting in. All right if you do. By the absence of our eldest son in the government service, since the 7th of Feb last, much of the domestic duties devolves on me, & more so during the croping season than at other times. Up to the 17th of June I was laboring much to defeat the Bogus Constitution. In this, we succeeded admirably giving a clear majority against the swindle of over 12000. In this village we have a number of exile & refugee families. Some of them, very destitute. Besides these we have a number of the families whose husband & father is in the Army, or are the widows & orphans of such as have fallen on the battle field, or died of camp life. The destitution of these have called out our sympathies & drawn heavily upon our effects until we are in straitened circumstances. With these & others I have labored much without any charge to the Association. Three of these refugees are M.E.C. Ministers. Another a man, who has undergone much exposure before he could leave the hotbeds of Missouri, came with his family (wife & child) last winter, very destitute & has been confined to the house nearly all the time since their arrival. They are Baptists & occupy the most worthy position in regard to Slavery, the War & that is readily to be met with in Southern Illinois. And yet, the lady, is a slaveholders daughter. She is able to tell of some of the horid treatment of slaves by their masters. They think what is wrong to a white man is wrong to a colored man.
      I expect soon to enter the Colportage duties more vigorously. There is much excitement here just now in relation to the two last government calls of 30,000 each.
      Volunteering has been going on much ly in this region. If all the country turns out as well as this region, the first call will be responded to by the 1 5th inst, & perhaps much more. Many have volunteered since the last call rather than be subject to be drafted who have been warm Southern sympathisers. Perhaps half of these are office seekers.
      Of late, some fears have been entertained that much of southern Illinois would yet be subject to be overrun by guerilla bands. Perhaps these fears are not well founded.
May God speed the right. For Christ, Liberty, & the right.
Yours in haste,
Jas. M. West

P. S. I send a copy of an account of the horrible murder of my father at his residence in Kentucky which found its way into the papers.
J.M.W.

I send you a copy of the slip that Wm P included with his letter from Rutherford, Tenn.
"Horrible Murder"
On last Sunday night an old man, named West, was murdered in Lewis County, about five miles from Mt Carmel. Some young men who had been living with him left him alone at home that night & were horror struck on their return next morning to find him in his bed, dead, with a bullet hole through his body. Circumstances attached suspicion to his son-in-law, named May & a possee went to his (May's) house & near it found a letter revealing a conspiracy on the part of five strong secessionists to murder old man West who was a Union man for his money, some $600, & also to murder Capt Brown & Major Hambrick for their political sentiments. The letter stated that the assassins would send their victims to Lincolns hell, while they would go to Dixie. Four persons strongly suspected were arrested near Mt Carmel yesterday & another was caught near Lewisburg last night. This is Southern rights. (Shelby (Ky) News).

The foregoing conflicts considerably from what Mr. May wrote me.
J. M. West

Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives
American Missionary Association archives. Illinois
Illinois Reel 8
Written to S. S. Jocelyn

NOTE: First page is too dark to read.
Richview, Ill
September 8, 1862
      I just returned home last Saturday night after an absence of nearly two weeks during which time I was laboring in the counties of Pope, Johnson, Union, Jackson, Franklin, Williamson, Perry, & Washington.
      I am sorry that I have nothing more definite relating to the brutal murder of my Father. All that we have goes to prove the certainty of the foul deed, but all accounts conflict with each other in many respects. My brother-in-law, J.S. May, wrote me on the 10th of July, that the rebels failed to find the money after committing the murder & that they found $754, & this morning we received a letter from my sister, & her husband living in Marion Co., Iowa, containing a copy of a letter sent to them by said May dated July the 6th, stating that they found $557.80. In other respects the two letters harmonise.
      I have wrote two letters to Ky for further particulars, but have no response. My Brother-in-law (Miles Wallingsford) writes me that he has wrote for further particulars, but without success.
      I send you the blank annual but partially filled as it relates more particular to the duties of regular missionaries.
NOTE: Correction - Wallingford

Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives
American Missionary Association archives. Illinois
Illinois Reel 8

Richview, Ill
Dec 17th, 1862

Dear Bro Jocelyn,
      We have purchased a little farm, 45 acres if a farm it might be called, for $675. It lies at the edge of the prairie, chiefly in the timber, however, which is none the less valuable on that account.
      We are on the east side of the Ill. C. R. R., three miles from Richview and 1 miles North by east of Ashley, a nice little thriving town on the I.C.R.R.
      We are in much straitened circumstances, but feeling a deep interest in the welfare of the 'Freedman of the South' that it seems to be a duty & a privilege to lend a helping hand. On the condition that the A.M.A. will pay the amount & charge the same to my account of what is due me on the last quarter reported. My mite is small, but perhaps it is as large as the "Widows mite," & may be the means of making glad hearts or rather to feed the hungry. May God's blessing go with it.
      If my feeble efforts could be rendered more useful, it would do my soul good to labor among these 'Freedmen' in the 'South'' but I cannot urge this as there is much more to do in "Egypt" than can be accomplished for a long time to come.
      You will notice that, after appropriating $3.90, there will remain due me on last quarter closing on the 10th of October last, $20, which may be sent if the Treasury will justify it, & if not, we will try to do without for the present.
      I have contracted a deep seated cold which has settled on my lungs & fear that I shall be able to do but little in the colportage work during the winter, but I trust the worst of it is past. Bro Goodell remarks on the Presidents Message is quite logical, & by right, should be widely circulated.

I give you a diagram showing where we are in the township. Pray for us in Egypt.
Yours As ever
Jas. M. West

       N
6  5   4   3    2   1
7  8   9  10   11  12
18 17 16  15   14  13   E        
19 20 21  22   23  24  
30 29 28  27   26  25
31 32 33  34   35  36 
       S                

We are in the S.W. of the N.W. quarter of section 24 & have acres in Section 23.
Note: The diagram shows a rail line (ICRR) running from section 2 through section 34. Richview is shown in section 2, and Ashley in section 22

Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives
American Missionary Association archives. Illinois
Illinois Reel 11

For The Executive Committee A.M.A.
Ashley, Ill.

Oct 16th, 1867
Rev Lewis Tappan,
53 John St, N.Y.

Dear Bro in Christ,

I have now been nearly confined to the house since the 20th of July with pulmonary affection, and for the last 3 weeks entirely so, not being able to keep up but the larger part of the day. The primary cause for this is largely, if not entirely, my exposures while in the colporting work. Our family now numbers 7 children, from 3 to 17 years, all girls but one little boy of 10 years. From the present prospect I should not survive the winter. My family has been nearly entirely dependent upon my efforts for a support. This support has now been cut off nearly 3 months. Now for the last three weeks the care of our little stock, & in a word, all outdoor cares devolves upon my wife & elder children. Now if a barrel of clothing could be sent us, without robbing the necessities of the Freedman of the South, I can assure you that it would be a greater blessing in but few places.
For Christ and the right,
Yours as ever,
Jas. M. West

P.S. I have great use now for scriptural injunction, "Prepare to meet thy God."
J.M.W.

Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives
American Missionary Association archives. Illinois
Illinois Reel 11

Correspondence from Sarah Elizabeth "Lizzie" West

Ashley, Ill,
May 14th, 1868
Rev George Whipple

Dear Sir

I write you these lines to inform you of the death of my dear father James M West.
He died last Saturday, May the 4th - his disease was Consumption and oh how he suffered-but during all his suffering, he never murmered nor seemed to wish his suffering less. He was a life member of the A.M.A. and has served as Colporter for a number of years, he was an earnest laborer in the cause of Christ and was ever willing to do the duty assigned him.
      He died in the full triumph of faith, and I feel that our loss is his eternal gain. What a comfort to know he is far happier now than we. He leaves a wife with four little ones to support. We all miss Pa sadly, but we mourn not as those who have no hope left to comfort them in their afflictions. We can only commend ourselves to Him who healeth the broken in heart and say thy will be done. Pray that we may make an unbroken family in Heaven.

Yours Truly,
Lizzie West
Ashley, Ill.

 


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