William Taylor Missionaries

William TaylorBy the 1870s, the Methodist revivalist and missionary William Taylor had already established an impressive reputation for evangelistic success on five continents. In 1849, he had joined the California gold rush as a pioneer Methodist missionary. In the late 1850s and early 1860s he led revival campaigns in eastern North America, the British Isles, and Australia. In South Africa, he played a catalytic role in the revival of 1866 that led to several thousand Africans joining mission churches in only a few months. In the early 1870s, his revivals in India led to the organization of Methodist churches in Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras), and Bengaluru (Bangalore). In 1875, Taylor returned to America for the first time in over a decade to visit his family and recruit new missionaries to serve in India.

Taylor believed that the most effective missionaries were those who followed the “Pauline track.” He understood this to mean that missionaries should have experienced a second spiritual crisis following their conversion in which they fully sacrificed their will to and placed their complete faith in God. In addition, just as the apostle Paul had supported himself as a “tent-maker,” Taylor believed that missionaries should support themselves from indigenous financial resources rather than by drawing support from a foreign mission board. Also following the example of Paul, who worked first among the Jewish Diaspora in the common language of Greek before evangelizing the Gentiles, Taylor believed missionaries could begin mission work in English among Anglo and American expatriate communities.

In 1877, Taylor turned his attention to South America because he believed it represented an opportune context to expand Methodist missions on his Pauline model. In September of that year, Taylor visited New England, addressed the Boston Preachers Meeting, and preached at Methodist churches in Boston, Lynn, and Malden. While visiting the School of Theology he asked a graduating student, Alexander P. Stowell, to act as a “recruiting sergeant for the enlistment of first-class workers for South America.” On October 16, Taylor left for western South America to reconnoiter potential missionary placements in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. At several cities along the coast, he gathered pledges of English-speaking expatriates to support ministers and school teachers that he promised to send.

When Taylor returned to the U.S., Stowell sent him a list of eight School of Theology classmates “who were ready for orders” as Taylor missionaries. Taylor visited Boston in June 1878 to meet with these candidates. One student who became a Taylor missionary, Ira LaFetra, described his interview with Taylor.

It was in the parlor of a friend’s house that I first met Mr. Taylor. After a brief conversation he said to me, “I want you to go to open the work at Valparaiso.” His words came to me as a call from the Lord. I bowed my head on the chair before me in a moment of prayer to make sure I was not mistaken, and said to him: I should like to see my parents before I go.

LaFetra had not considered missionary work before meeting Taylor, and he never got the chance to visit his family as he and the first group of missionaries soon left for South America.

LaFetra was one of three School of Theology students to make up the first party of Taylor missionaries to sail for South America. He, Stowell and his wife, and William A. Wright were joined by Cora B. Benson, J. W. Collier, J. W. Higgins, Sarah Longley, and Lelia H. Waterhouse. Taylor recalled that the departing missionaries were heard singing the Charles Wesley hymn, “Jesus! The Name High Over All,” and other hymns as their ship pulled away from New York harbor.

Taylor appointed Stowell, his wife, and Benson to Tacna, Peru, to found an English language school. After one year, Stowell became sick and was advised to return home. His heath recovered at sea, but is wife took ill and died soon after their return to Massachusetts. While back in Boston, Stowell studied medicine at Boston University, and in 1880 returned to missionary work at Copiapo, Chile. Taylor sent LaFetra to Valparaiso, Chile, where he lived with the pioneer Presbyterian missionary David Trumbull and ministered to sailors in the port. In 1881, he relocated to Santiago to start the school known today as Santiago College. Wright, Longley, and Waterhouse went to begin a school at Concepcion, Chile. Wright and Longley married and eventually moved to Santiago to teach at the college there.

Two School of Theology graduates, Alexander T. Jeffrey and Lucius C. Smith, and their wives were in the second party that set sail on August 30. Jeffrey and his wife were appointed to start a school in Antofagasta, in Bolivia. The War of the Pacific forced them to leave, however, and Jeffrey took over LaFetra’s work among seamen in Valparaiso. The Smiths settled in Copiapo, Chile. Within one year he began to preach in Spanish. His wife, Ellen, died. Smith remarried and in 1883 transferred to missionary work in Mexico.

Over the next few years, Taylor made several return visits to Boston University to recruit additional missionaries. In addition, several Taylor missionaries to South America later returned to the School of Theology to continue their education. Israel Derrick, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, graduated in 1879 and went to serve a mission Taylor organized in Panama. His classmate Justus Henry Nelson went with Taylor to start a new mission in Para, Brazil. George M. Jeffrey graduated in 1881 and joined his brother in South America in 1881. The Wrights returned to the U.S. in 1882, and William A. Wright completed his education at the School of Theology in 1884. Philip Price went to Guayaquil, Ecuador in the fall of 1879, but located in Port Limon, Costa Rica, for some time before enrolling in the School of Theology and graduating in 1886.

By Douglas D. Tzan