Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little by Russell M. Lawson is published by St. Polycarp’s Publishing House.
One of the amazing features of book publishing today is the number of small, independent publishers. Of course, the big names such as Random House (no relation to me), Harper & Row, Penguin, and others still produce many books. Of course, university presses are pouring out more books than can possibly be comprehended. Of course, the best sellers and the books most commonly found in the chain bookstores are from the New York based big companies.
But behind the scenes, off the main book interstates, and obscured by their very obscurity, small publishers are producing fine quality works on topics that will never break through the charts, reach the New York Times book reviews, or make millions for their authors or publishers. Small niches–they are. But they are filling in some vital gaps, reaching remnants of people who can search through the thousands of books at Books-A-Million and find nothing worthwhile. Some of these small presses focus on reprints of classic works of literature, history, or theology. Some focus on theology. Some on history. Some produce works of fiction and poetry.
When we discover one of their books, we often realize that we not only had heard of the publisher, but we may not even remember where we first heard of the book. Perhaps it was on Facebook that I first stumbled across a book by an author I did not know, about a man I had not heard of, and published by a Christian group I was not aware of.
But the results of those fortuitous finds, or we might say providential blessings, can be quite rewarding.
Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little filled in a wide gap (of which there are many) in my understanding of colonial, Revolutionary, and post-Revolutionary American history. We hear so much about the 13 Colonies on the eastern seaboard. It was only by a few encounters with George Grant’s lectures that I realized that there were far more than 13 colonies, many of which chose not to join in the fracas of the 1770’s.
The current state of Maine is identified on the colonial maps as being part of Massachusetts colony and state. In fact, it did not become a state until 1820 when it was brought in to maintain the slave and free state balance due to Missouri’s quest for statehood. The narrative flow of history books focuses on the westward movement which then leads to the Northwest Ordinance, Manifest Destiny, the settlement of the states beyond the Appalachians, and then to the cultural divides between the northern, southern, and western states.
Maine crops up with the Missouri Compromise. Perhaps, if one if reading about General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, either in biographies or in the novel Killer Angels, his service as an educator, soldier, and politician will relate back to Maine. Then there is the famous quip made during the 1936 election campaign where Franklin Roosevelt trounced Alf Landon. The statement was “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.” (Sometime prior to that, the saying was “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”) One cannot forget that Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican and a woman who showed up in the fight for the Republican Presidential nomination fight in 1964, was from Maine. (Barry Goldwater won that contentious fight, and it would be interesting to consider how history would have been different if he had put Sen. Smith on the ticket instead of William Miller.) Later, Ed Muskie, another Senator, Vice Presidential candidate, failed Presidential primary candidate, and Secretary of State was from Maine.
The state is obscure to me, and its early history was a total blank. But it was an outlet for the many thousands of people on the eastern coast. Why, with New England winter’s and rugged soil, they ventured even further north is a puzzle to me. But they did. And there, they encountered various Indian tribes, particularly the Penobscot tribe. These settlers were the children of the folks who settled the established New England colonies, but the distance they moved separated them from the culture, religion, and civilized ways of Boston and its environs.
Apostle of the East tells the story of one man’s experiences in bringing the Gospel to settlers and Indians in Maine. Daniel Little lived from 1724 to 1801. He lived, therefore, during such events as the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, the prelude to the American War for Independence, the war itself, and the time when the Constitution was written, ratified, and put into effect. Most of these events were outside of his own direct involvement, but he was not without contact with them.
Although he pastored a couple of churches in the Maine territory, he spent a good many seasons traveling throughout the region working to spread the Gospel, evangelize Indians, and establish churches and schools. Most of the English colonists were folks who had drifted far from places where churches were found. Prone to squabbles and deviations from Christian practices, they were–to use Flannery O’Connor’s words–Christ-haunted if not Christ-centered. Dealing with the Indian tribes was a harder challenge. For one thing, there was the continual problem of land dealings. Dealings is a nice way to describe the efforts of the stronger white ruling folk to impose boundaries on the Indians. Along with that, many of the tribes had been influenced by French Catholic mission works. Trying to differentiate between French Catholicism and British Protestantism was a challenge, and many Indians were plenty satisfied with their own beliefs.
Although missions were his main passion, Little was also interested in science and exploration. In the area he was in, that meant scaling mountains. As a trained minister, he was a teacher and educator, a theologian, and a scientist in the tradition of the day.
In several cases, Dr. Lawson, the author, describes how Little’s theology changed. He writes, “Little’s simple piety in a God who blesses all of the Creation led him to move increasingly from New England Calvinism to a more Universalist mindset. Feeling that anyone could be saved spurred Little on to bring the Good News to the ignorant, the wayward, the Catholic, the Indian.” I find this passage both troubling and unclear. I think the author did a fine job of recounting the many journeys of his subject, but a better theological analysis is missing from this book. I would have preferred an approach more like a George Marsden could have given.
Universalist is not explained, nor do I think that New England Calvinism is understood. Jonathan Edwards was very much the Calvinist who preached the Good News to all sorts of people and even did mission work among the Indians. There are too few excerpts from sermons and letters for the reader to make any judgment on Little’s theology. (And Calvinism, although mentioned several times, is not in the index.)
Anyone wanting to grapple with the theological developments in New England will find little help in this book. On the other hand, it is a interesting and enjoyable account of a man who gave himself unstintingly to church planting and missions. As I said earlier, it does turn the focus from the westward movement of the nation to the most north-eastern portion.
Also, there is another fine point of interest in the book. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a powerful short story called “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Little was taught for a time by a Harvard-trained pastor named Joseph Moody, who was overwhelmed by the emotional weight of his work. The author writes, “He felt completely completely inadequate to represent the Lord of the Universe to his small parish. This inadequacy translated into an overbearing weight of sin upon him. Unable to look his parishioners, or anyone else, in the eye, as if he were looking God Himself in the eye, Moody veiled his face in public, ate alone, and eventually decided he could no longer serve as pastor.”