Saturday, April 20, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History   April 21

F. Y. Vail, Colporteur for American Tract Society Offers Wares in Houston, April 1845.

Several blog posts have noted the activity of the agents of the American Bible Society in the Republic of Texas.     The American Bible Society was an interdenominational organization in which Methodists participated with much enthusiasm.  The ABS was founded in 1816 in New York City.    David Ayres picked up a shipment on English and Spanish Testaments on his voyage to Texas, and Shuyler  Hoes of the New York  Conference of the MEC organized a Texas Chapter of the ABS in November 1838.
There was a similar organization with parallel history which also operated in Texas.  That was the American Tract Society or ATS founded in New York City in 1825.   The use of the word “tract” has fallen into disuse, having been replaced by “brochure” or “pamphlet”.   The distribution of tracts rather than fully bound books made a great deal of sense in frontier regions such as the Republic of Texas which were hundreds of miles away from the heart of the publishing industry in New York City.     It is also possible that tracts were preferred to book because of different tariff rates placed on the different items.   

Both the ABS and the ATS used agents called colporteurs, probably from the Latin by way of French  comportare “carry with one.”   The first recorded colporteur in Texas was Sumner Bacon a Cumberland Presbyterian.    The ATS colporteur  who brought tracts to Texas in 1845 was F. Y. Vail, already a veteran of the organization.  His name appears in the ATS reports as early as 1824 and in 1826 was the agent for Mississippi and Louisiana.  In 1830 he was in Cincinnati as Secretary of the American Educational Society. 

Vail brought a veritable library of tracts to Houston in April 1845.   Titles were in English, German, and French and included devotional literature, spiritual memoir, adolescent literature, apologetics, and biography of religious figures. 

Both the ABS and the ATS still exist—the ATS’s offices are now in Garland, Texas.


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