This letter was written by Rev. John W. Lawton to Rev. Absalom Peters concerning his request for dismissal from a commission with the American Home Mission Society. It seems that Rev. Lawton was arrested for failure to pay his debts in Marysville, Ohio, were he labored as a Presbyterian minister in 1834. Lawton claimed the entire matter was due to a misunderstanding and suggested that “wicked men” conspired to have him removed from his charge.
Addressed to Rev. A. Peters, 150 Nassau Street, New York [City]
March 17, 1835
Rev’d A. Peters
Secretary American Home Mission Society
Your letter dated Feb. 12 was duly received & my only apology for thus far delaying an answer is the circumstances in whic I have been placed, having long expected a communication from Presbytery in answer to a request for dismission dated Dec. 24th. Firmly believing Presbytery would not keep me long in doubt respecting the course they would pursue & having written them on the above mentioned date, it certainly was very reasonable to expect a communication weeks before I received yours, which acknowledged the communication mailed to you the same day of the one to Presbytery. I fully believed Presbytery were imposed upon & that as soon as I were informed (which I had long expected) of the complaint, I could immediately testify & prove to you my innocence not only of charges preferred but of insincerity in all my conduct with you. I may astonish you, but it is nevertheless true that no man could have been more surprised by similar tidings because no member of Presbytery ever more friendly & conscientiously felt himself unworthy of such complaint & treatment. On leaving the people of my charge I was fully aware, as reported by the committee of investigation, that my enemies had been exceedingly industrious in circulating reports calculated to injure my character & influence. I was desirous that before leaving, the truth might be known, whatever it might be. Accordingly, I earnestly requested Presbytery to send a committee to investigate upon the very ground, affording my enemies as well as my friends the opportunity of presenting everything that was or could be embraced in reports which had been or might be circulated.
The Committee was appointed & met agreeably to request. I notified the congregation from the pulpit and publickly requested all who had aught against me to attend & confer with the committee. At the meeting of the committee I again & again urged the congregation to present any & everything to my prejudice without regard to my feelings agreeably to convictions of justice which I had cherished from the first — convictions abundantly proved by my calling the committee, &c. The committee wholly exculpated me from all blame. Judge, Sir, would a man who believed himself guilty court investigation & urgently request a committee to come upon the ground & publickly develop his crimes? Would he urge the congregation to cooperate with that committee to make exposure & conviction the more certain? And why should I not feel myself perfectly clear & act in all good conscience in all my transactions with your board when I had taken so much pains to have everything brought to light & adjudicated before leaving? When you informed me of the resolution of Presbytery, I could not but believe it was the efforts of the same wicked men who had before troubled me & I fully believed it would all be quashed.
Although I wrote informing Presbytery my location last December, I have not received nothing from them. You will recollect that on my receiving a commission, I placed all the above-mentioned facts before you. I chose to hide nothing. On coming to the West, two trunks of clothing were left in New York thro’ misunderstanding. It became necessary to hide our nakedness to procure clothing on credit. I contracted a debt of $50 with an Elder in the Church of Marysville who as soon as I showed him your letter immediately took out a copias & before the whole world ___ my horse. I had from necessity contracted sundry other little debts for the payment of which I depended upon my salary. Seeing an Elder in the church pounce upon me, they immediately determined to lock me up in jail where I must have remained for life had it not been for the interposition of friends.
After receiving your commission, I received a request from the Springfield, N. J. church for one year, salary six hundred & a commodious parsonage. I did not come here from necessity but to do good. I believed it duty & still believe God will sustain me, & make my trials promote His glory. I would especially inquire whether, as I have in all this acted in good conscience towards God & towards you, may I not intercede with you to allow me one hundred dollars for the first quarter which had expired before I received any information of the difficulty? I commenced at Marysville the last week in October & received a letter from Br. Little the last of February. You speak of publishing the reason of not accepting my drafts in case I do not transmit the commission. The truth will never injure me. I am already before the world & anything which will develop facts will gratify me. I have labored faithfully for one quarter. I ask to labor no longer under the commission. No one more deeply regards the whole transaction than myself. I am exceedingly sorry I have been the cause of pain to you. It was not designed. I did not design Br. Pioneer should present the order I gave him until I made my first report. He was out of his way & not me. I sincerely respond to your concluding prayer that God may sanctify affliction to my good. The condition you express — “if in all this I have acted wickedly” — of course I accept. Those debts are still unpaid. I have no means of supporting my family until I can attend Presbytery at a distance of 600 miles & much less can I sustain the expense unavoidable to such a journey. I have not, however, the least doubt of a favorable result. I believe that in all this, the Lord reigns [and] that it is my duty to rejoice. Pardon this liberty.
Will you write me immediately? Your humble servant, — J. W. Lawton