1863 Autograph Letter Signed by Princeton Theological Seminary Director, John Michael Krebs.
Unemployed ministers during the American Civil War
How do you prevent a “...a host of ministers begging for introductions to vacant pulpits”? In 1863, Princeton Theological Seminary Director, John Michael Krebs (1804–1867) is writing about “unemployed ministers.” At this time, Krebs was serving as a director of Princeton Theological Seminary, of which school’s board he subsequently became president from 1865 until his death in 1867.
Krebs writes to his Presbyterian church colleague, A. G. Fairchild, with whom he served that year on a national church committee on ministers without charge, licentiates, and vacant churches.¹ Krebs opens his letter by quoting from the Presbyterian General Assembly’s minutes concerning the committee’s task. Krebs then describes the present situation:
I confess that I have no plan to propose, other than for the Presbyteries to appoint their unemployed ministers and licentiates to supply vacant churches, and to authorise or require the Board of Domestic Missions to send such ministers or licentiates as their own Presbyteries may recommend the Board to the vacancies which may be reported to the Board. The former is conformable to old usage. The latter might be impracticable. A great difficulty is that there are ministers and licentiates whom nobody wants—and the same may be said of some churches. If we could borrow the system of the Methodists and find some place for every body, it would no doubt relieve the case. But Presbyterians are not likely to adopt the system. We need, if it is possible to accomplish it, deliverance from the humiliating spectacle of a host of ministers begging for introductions to vacant pulpits. (pp[2–3])
Krebs goes on to solicit Fairchild’s views and, in a postscript, asks him to share the letter with two other committee members: minister Rev. William C. Roberts of Chambers, Ohio and Ruling Elder Charles Crosby of Dixon, Illinois.²
Rev. John Michael Krebs was born in Hagerstown, Maryland. In 1827, he graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and subsequently taught at Dickinson Preparatory School from 1827 to 1829. He was licensed to preach by the Carlisle Presbytery in 1829 and appears on the rolls of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1830.³ By November of 1830 he had been formally ordained and became pastor of Rutgers Street Church in New York City.⁴
“Krebs’ qualities attracted the leaders of the church and he was appointed as the permanent clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1837. He filled this post until 1845 when he served as Moderator of the General Assembly. By then he had been awarded a doctorate of divinity from his alma mater, in 1841, and had been a director of the Princeton Seminary; he later became president of the seminary board in 1866. Also in 1866, he was chairman of the committee charged with the reunion of the Old and New Schools in the north. This was an interesting appointment considering his early education with the firebrand, “new light” revivalist Duffield. He had to turn over much of this last work to others on the committee, however, as his health was beginning to fail precipitously.”⁵
A good Civil War-era content letter of the workings of the Presbyterian church.
Description: 1863 Autograph Letter Signed by Princeton Theological Seminary Director, John Michael Krebs.
New York. December 18, 1863. pp. 8vo. Bifolium. Transmital folds; some creases; very good.
Note. 1. The Presbyterian Historical Almanac and Annual Remembrancer of the Church for 1864 (Philadelphia, 1864), p85. 2. Ibid. 3. General Catalogue of the Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey (Princeton, 1847), p15. 4. and 5. John Michael Krebs (1804-1867) | Dickinson College accessed online.