This letter was written by Rev. William Ripley Downs (1810-1880), a New School Presbyterian (NSP) clergyman sponsored by the American Home Missionary Society, who moved to Illinois from New York in the 1840s. He was the son of James Brewster Downs (1779-1835) and Sarah Gould of Valley, Pleasant County, New York. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1842. Prior to his service at Dupage, Illinois, Downs established a ministry in Jefferson, McHenry County, Illinois. It seems that Downs was Principal of the Greewood Academy in Macoupin County, Illinois in the early 1850s as well.
Rev. Downs was married (1845) to Sarah Holley (1824-Bef1880) of Auburn, New York. He later (1860) worked as a “Water Inspector” in the City of Chicago. In 1863, William appears in the Chicago Director as a Reverend with a residence at 10 DuPuyster. In the 1870’s his occupation is given variously as “Collector” or “Water Inspector.”
From the post script of the letter we learn that Augustus Gay Downs had already established himself on Lake Street in Chicago where he entered the mercantile business. He was a younger brother of William’s.
The town of Dupage was settled in the early 1830s near the junction of the east and west branches of the DuPage River in Will County.
Addressed to Rev. Charles Hall, Office of American Home Mission Society, 150 Nassau Street, New York City
Dupage, Will County, Illinois
October 8th 1849
Rev. Chas. Hall
I hereby forward my 2nd Quarterly Report embracing July, August & September.
There is no manifestation of change in the religious state of things among us since my last report.
The usual interest exists in regard to preaching, prayer meetings, monthly concerts, & Sabbath Schools. Our Common Schools continue in a flourishing state.
Whilst Cholera has been all around us & in close proximity, we as a people have been permitted to sing of God’s mercy in exempting us from its ravages.
I spoke in my last of my hope that this people would erect a house of worship by the first of next March but as regards the time, there will be a failure. We are exclusively an agricultural community & the wheat crop is the main dependance of nearly all, & the whole support of more than one half. The last crop proves to be less than an ordinary yield, which the expectation has been general among us, that it would be large; and hence there must be a delay in the completion of a sanitary & also a change in the kind of structure it shall be. No doubt it is a good providence.
A failure in the crop has made it necessary — if it be put up within 12 months — that it be done with little money. To meet our present necessities then, we must abandon the former idea of a wood structure which would demand an outlay of $700 or $800 in cash beside the labor of hauling the materials; and resort to the plan of a stone church which will require not over $300 in cash & in labor about $00 to enclose it. And “the people” have “a mind to work.”
The Lord has given us the stone in the quarry, the sand in the bank, the wood in the grove to burn the lime, & the bone & the sinew & the will to convey the necessary materials to the elected spot. The Building Committee is appointed, the site is fixed on, & committee has determined to prosecute the work as rapidly as possible.
A new school house within the bounds of our Society was finished in July 3½ miles west of our present place of worship where I have preached regularly once in two weeks to an attentive audience of about 70 souls. More than one half of these do not steadily meet with us on the Sabbath at our usual place of workshop, while if we had a Meeting House, nearly all would attend regularly on Public Worship.
In view of the present increase of settlers on the south & west parts of this Parish, & a House for Worship soon to be commenced & finished which will tend to unite more firmly the Church & Congregation & to stimulate the people of God to more permanent religious effort, there is a good prospect after another year that the amount of missionary aid needed will annually diminish till we shall be able to support the Gospel without foreign help & to share in the more blessed work of giving to others who shall be destitute.
I desire an immediate remittance of this Quarter’s dues which is $37½ for June, July & August.
Yours Fraternally, — Wm R. Downs
P. S. Mr. Halt will please send a draft of ($23) twenty-three dollars on the Treasurer of the Am. H. Miss. Soc. to George Holley, Seminary St., Auburn, N.Y. and also a draft of ($14.50) fourteen dollars and fifty sents on the same to A. G. Downs, 108 Lake St., Chicago, Ill. & greatly oblige yours respectfully, — Wm. R. Downs