Material History of American Religion Project

Report of the Book Steward

American religious institutions have created not only dedicated members, but also large businesses. Given Protestantism's word-centered faith, the first business founded by most denominatons was a publishing house. This 1854 report from the Book Steward of the African Methodist Episcopal Church outlines the finances of this business venture. The Steward's heartbreaking notes, however, also depict the trials of a denomination serving an oppressed community and the complexities of working within a denominational bureacracy. This report is reprinted from the denomination's newspaper, the Christian Recorder (13 July 1854).

Second Annual Report of the Book Concern of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, for 1854.

[The present fiscal &c., commences at May 3d, 1853 and ends May 16th, 1854]

Cash on hand at the close of last report, $12.70

Total receipts this year from all sources, have been, $1120.68

Cash in hand $52.23

Expenditures, $1068.45

Total debt, $189.54

Unpublished Stock.

There are 1000 Disciplines yet remaining unbound, but are printed and made up ready for being bound.

There are also 800 Hymn Books made up and ready to be bound.

To bind these 1000 Disciplines will cost $120.00

To bind 800 Hymn Books, at medium cost, will be. $128.00

Total cost of binding $248.00

If sold, the profits on them will be $630.00

Profits on them, when sold $600.00

Total profits $1200.00

So that the Book Concern, after deducting all its debts may be considered now worth $1780.00

Including in this estimate, the stock and furniture in the store, the stereotype and fixtures and, outstanding debts on stock.

The Hymn Book.

The committee appointed by the Bishop, the present year, to revise the Hymns, have, we understand, quite or nearly completed their task. The object is to publish a pew and a pulpit Hymn Book. To do this, there must be two new sets of stereotype--one for the pew, and the other for the pulpit Hymn Book--as the type must be of different sizes, and the books of different dimensions.

Stereotype for the pew Hymn Book will cost $300.00

" pulpit " $300.00

To make 500 Hymn Books of each kind, will cost $550.00

Total cost of the first 1000 books, $1210.00

Profits on 1000 books, at medium price, would be $700. Two thousand dollars would over-pay cost and type.

The present stereotype now used in printing our Hymn Book, has been considerably improved, so that the paging and print are clear and distinct and, and will serve until means can be raised to get out the new edition.

We would suggest the propriety of binding and selling the 2000 Disciplines referred to as early in this present year as possible. The reason is this: There remain but two years previous to the next General Conference; and if they remain unsold until the year next preceding that period, it will be difficult to dispose of them so near the time of the next revision.

The Christian Recorder.

One great object of the publishing committee has been, to prevent the accumulation of a heavy debt upon the Book Concern. Had they, the past year, finished, the 2000 Disciplines, the 800 Hymn Books, and published weekly, the Recorder, there would at this time be an additional debt of $2220, making the total debt, or nearly so $2400.

This fact occurring to the committee, suggested the necessity of suspending the paper; which they did, after having published three numbers in the beginning of the conference year, now ending—comprising 4500 copies. This measure was a cause of much regret, as well to the committee as to hundreds of others. The paper had attained a good degree of credit—carrying to hundreds, as it did, varied intelligence, and useful instruction, from the best stored in minds of both males and females among us. But, in considering the suspension of the paper, the committee were forced to choose between two evils—the accumulation of a heavy debt, without probability of payment, and the blame of suspension, until this Conference, whose prerogative it is to order the resumption of publishing the paper again, or sanction the course of the committee in suspending it.

The publishing business, as connected with any Christian denomination, is a great moral and religious enterprise, requiring as much talent and intelligence as any secular or worldly enterprise, to conduct its various operations. And in either, in the proportion as these obtain success, in that same proportion will the interests and usefulness of the enterprise advance. To a great degree, we fail to possess these essential prerequisites; and here is one of the causes, but not all, why our publishing operations move so tardily. The great and primary cause, of course, is traceable to our general condition as a people, in this country. Thrown as we are upon the outskirts of the business community, to gain a subsistence as best we can; to educate ourselves or not—and but few motives urging tbereto, and means but meager, even where there is a good will; and not being brought to a systematic, stirring business life—reason will teach that our people and ministers do as much in sustaining this great and useful enterprise of the church, as any other people in the world would do, if placed precisely, in all respects, in our condition. And it astonishes all reflecting minds, when the condition of our people is narrowly viewed, and the amount of means they annually give to sustain religion and religious objects among us.

There are 5000 families connected with our church—$25,000 is a low estimate for its annual support. Then they must help support the government, after that religion, at an annual cost of $25,000 more. Here is, then, an annual drain from their scanty labours, of upwards of $50,000 per year, within the limits of cur church. But still, with a well-directed and efficient agency, in every part of the church, the people could so be taught to economize their means, as to purchase all the publications which our publishing department could put forth, and in a few years accumulate a considerable revenue.

Before leaving this head, we would suggest a brief thought in regard to the republication of the paper. Nothing, in our opinion, ought to induce the Conference to resume publication, until, by some effort, the measure recommended by the late General Conference be carried out, in raising a capital to do business upon. Every trial without a capital, will prove an utter failure in the present state of things. All confidence is now lost in the permanent continuance of the paper, for several causes, which are apparent to all, and therefore, I need not enumerate. Let the public mind, in reference to our paper rest awhile; and in the meantime, while it is talking its balmy repose, let a capital be raised, and then resume under a fair prospect of restoring confidence, and a lasting continuance.


We humbly beg leave to tender to the Conference our resignation from the twofold office we have held, as Book Editor and General Book Steward, for the reasons following:

First. Believing it will add much to the interest of the Book Concern, to place the publishing business in the hands of the committee alone, and thereby cut off the sa1ary of the Book Steward, and turn it to the objects of publication, we feel it our duty to vacate the office, that every economy may be resorted to, so as to continue the publication of the Hymn Book and Discipline.

Secondly. In resigning our office we do but pursue that wise policy adopted policy by all ministers of state, when their measures are not sustained by the people and the government—to resign their place, and let it be filled by others. Should the Conference judge best to order the republication of the paper, we feel quite willing that some other, more capable than ourself, should fill the office, and who may find a more cordial support carrying out the measures of the Book Concern.

Third, having now served the church and the cause of humanity for a period of twenty years, we regard it an imperative duty to make some provision for the evening of life, that will secure us against want in a time of helplessness and superannuated age. At least secure a cage, and a bird to sing amidst the bowers of our declining days, and keep ourselves from becoming a burden, when we can no longer supply the wants of the church.

We therefore resign; and in doing so we tender our most sincere and cordial thanks to the General Conference, for that deference in placing us in the office; to this Annual Conference, for the respect they have shown us; and to the committee, for that cordial support they have rendered us, carrying out the best we could, the measures of our appointment.

We now return to the West, from whence we came, there to await, and receive instruction how to approach the East, the place of light!

M.M. Clark, Philadelphia, May 23, 1854.

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