Colportage-"Book Missionary," Pilgrim's Progress, and Milton Pierpoint
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Although undated, the rather tatty copy of Pilgrim's Progress I've recently come across has the copyright date of 1904 under the cover illustration of Evangelist pointing a burdened Christian toward the Wicket Gate, owned by the well renowned Fleming H. Revell Company. The Book is signed on the cover above the title by Milton E Pierpoint, his home address (presumably) under the title (a 6 bedroom house, built in 1870, according to realtor.com). The same hand signs the back cover too, although this time as M E Pierpoint. A seemingly younger hand has also put his name in the longer form of Milton E Pierpoint vertically up the compact closed face of leaves of pages (is there a collective name for the bound page surface?). I think I can detect faint initials too on the spine below the title 'Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress' vertically downwards, as well as on the lower bound pages face. This book is definitely owned!
The last page of the book lists 147 titles in the Moody Colportage Library: 'A series of books by well-known Christian authors, undenominational, thoroughly evangelical, for all classes of readers. All uniform in size and style, attractive paper covers, 4 3/fourths x 6 3/fourths inches. 25 cents each.' The publisher is 'The Bible Institute Colportage Association' of Chicago, founded by Dwight Moody in 1894, with help from his brother in law, Fleming H. Revell (handy for that copyright image?).
The Association explains it's origins after the title page and before the text begins (no Author's Apology or Conclusion in this edition of PP). Indicating that 'Previous experience [is] not essential' the blurb lists 'Some Reasons For Engaging in Colportage Work' (otherwise also mentioned as being a '"book missionary"', the first section of each brief sentence in bold:
It's God's work
A means is furnished for carrying the gospel
The work can be undertaken in various ways
The plan is workable and thoroughly tried
Employment is presented to you at the smallest outlay of money
The eye of faith sees the rapid extension of this work
and under this at the base of the page blurb panel:
WHAT MAY NOT BE ACCOMPLISHED?
In order to further the missionary work of the text, the first page of the printed book has a large, underlined, all caps title: PASS IT ON, with instructions, 'Write below the names of friends, and let this book pass from one to another in the order written.' Below are enumerated lines for names 1 through 10. Again the owner's signature at the top of the page as M. E. Pierpoint, but this is elaborately scribbled out with rotating curly squiggles, in a fainter ink. The numbered names indicate a younger hand, written in pencil - all the same hand - alternating between 'You' and 'Me' in well practiced but large cursive. It seems from the list at least that the book didn't deliberately make it out of a young Milton's hand to his friends.
Records online indicate that a Milton Eugene Pierpoint certainly lived in New York state as indicated by his address, dates 1897-1972. If his youthful colportage didn't take off among his childhood friends with this copy of Pilgrim's Progress, it is fun to read in records available online that he is in 1929 working as pastor of the Pilgrim Holiness Church - New York District, of Fredonia (his childhood home town). With 15 members but no previous records in the Official Record of the Eighth Annual Assembly of the church district, and District Superintendent A H Wilson reporting Fredonia as a new church, Milton is now a church-planting missionary. In the records of the Ninth Annual Assembly in 1930, a Wm. Beamish represents Fredonia, and Bro. Pierpoint is now attending as joint representative of Binghamton (the second largest of the District's church, by membership and finances), but the financial reports still have Milton associated with Fredonia (moving from 15 to 18 members). He was presumably already moved on by time of the Assembly, or between appointments. By the end of the Annual Report we see that Milton has been appointed to Brushton. A promotion in some senses, Fredonia has no church building to report in value, whereas Brushton does (still hosting services as per Facebook live, although I gather the present building dates from the 1950s), although no parsonage like Albany or Binghamton (it got the parsonage at some point, evidently, according to Google Maps!). In both reports Milton is listed as a Licensed but not an Ordained Minister of the denomination.
Moody Press have kept faith with The Pilgrim's Progress through to today. The 'undenominational' appeal of Bunyan might be attested by Milton Pierpoint's boyhood ownership. A testimonial to Milton has him quoted as saying that his Father was a 'jumping Free Methodist'! The denomination records, on his death, that 'Brother Pierpoint was a man of strong convictions. He believed God with a mighty faith and relied wholly upon divine power to unctionize his ministry. He was not only successful as a pastor, but as an evangelist. He witnessed some great revivals. When he preached there was an earnestness and an unction that was uncommon.' His son, Paul, born in Brushton, followed Milton into ministry and served for 52 years until retiring in 2009. The 1962 41st Annual Conference Report lists father and son as ordained ministers, and Milton has made it to Binghamton.