Without Purse or Scrip

Arriving in Salt Lake City in 1898, a young preacher named James Hart tested the generosity of the people among whom he had landed. He called upon a hotelkeeper and introduced himself as a minister of the gospel, newly arrived from Tennessee. He had met a number of Mormon missionaries who relied on the generosity of strangers, and he had adopted the same method of preaching without purse or scrip. “Mr. Hampton,” he said, “I should like to obtain entertainment from you for the night, if you can provide for me on these terms.” The Salt Lake innkeeper agreed to provide a room to the preacher.

Hart explored downtown Salt Lake, introducing himself to a number of businessmen as a minister dependant upon the kindness of strangers. Several merchants chatted with him about their own views of the gospel. A barber gave him a shave and a haircut. A jeweler repaired his watch, and a dentist repaired his tooth. One man gave him $2.50 for train fare. A manager at ZCMI fitted him with a $5 pair of shoes. Wherever he asked, the Mormon businessmen of Salt Lake readily filled his needs.

The thing is, Hart was no Protestant minister come to proselytize among the Mormons of Utah. He was a Mormon himself, who had served more than two years as a missionary in Tennessee and North Carolina. “Be it said to the credit and kind hospitality of the people of the south,” he said, “I never had occasion to sleep out of doors, and very seldom lacked for food. Friends were raised up through the kind providence of God. … Nor was it the poor alone whose hearts were opened to provide for us. We had free access to the best hotels in some of the larger cities, and were entertained by the wealthiest and most influential citizens wherever we chose to travel. I had conductors on the railroad take me free of charge and pay my hotel bill on reaching my destination.”

He wondered whether his own people would be so generous to a stranger, so, on his way home to Idaho, he stopped in Salt Lake where he was unknown, and conducted his experiment. Everything he asked for, he reported, was freely given. (To Elder Hart’s credit, after each merchant had agreed to provide assistance, Hart identified himself for who he really was.)


9 comments for “Without Purse or Scrip

  1. Sounds like human subjects research to me. I wonder if he had approval of an IRB?

    Actually, this story reminds me of that classic Christian novel, In his Steps.

  2. Interesting. . . I’m grateful that people were so kind and generous to him back then, but I’m doubtful the same thing would happen today. (I also strongly doubt that the good people of the South today would be so generous to Mormon missionaries today.) It seems to me we live in too different a world today – we are not trusting and ever skeptical.

  3. My Gr-Gr grandfather (E.D. Jones) served a mission in the Southern States Mission without purse or scrip the same time Elder Hart did (1896-1898). According to his mission journal, my grandfather did find generous people to give him food and shelter. Generosity (if enough people were asked) seemed to be the rule from his experiences. However there were many exceptions where he and companion slept under the stars or in barns. There were occasions when frustrated and rejected missionaries cursed and threatened strangers with damnation if they refused to entertain the missionaries. Sometimes the missionaries were successful with this bold approach and the strangers “repented”.

  4. The details are sketchy to me, but it kind of reminds me of a story I heard in Ephraim. I young man that left and only returned when he was quite old and bearded walked around downtown pointing at people and revealing things of their childhood, e.g., “I know you peterson…” I guess people thought he was one of the three nephites or something. Good times.

  5. I’ve heard so much about how difficult it was for missionaries in the Southern States that I was pleasantly surprised to find an acknowledgement of much generosity.

    As charity, it certainly pales next to giving bed and board to a stranger, but I suppose the motive is the same: How many of us are less impatient, less rude than we might otherwise have been, when Jehovah’s Witnesses or others interrupt us at home, because we think of the treatment given to our own elders and sisters?

  6. Unfortunately, not everyone in the South was quite as generous. Remember the Standing murder (1878, IIRC) and the murders of missionaries and members in Tennessee, and then the Geoge Canova murder in 1898?

    Of course, Mormons shouldn’t throw stones — unfortunately there were a few murders of outsiders by Mormons in Utah, including my own ggg uncle, Howard Spencer, who literally got away with murder.

    It seems both generosity and hate are found on both sides.

  7. Kent — One difference between your Uncle Howard and the the killer of Elder Standing was that Elder Standing hadn’t previously used his rifle as a club to bash in the skull of his future killer. Joseph Standing was no Ralph Pike.

  8. RE: Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the missionaries with whom I served told me his father always invited in the JW’s. He generally would do business with door callers if he they brought what he wanted, or would send them on quickly if not so they could find someone who needed what they offered. With JW’s, however, he always felt it best to bring them off the streets so they wouldn’t find so quickly someone who would “buy” from them.

    After the initial small talk, as the conversation turned to dogma, he would ask them if they liked to sing. Usually they agreed so as not to give offense. He then gathered them and his family around the piano join in “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning,” “We Thank Thee, Oh God, For a Prophet,” and a few similar hymns, then would thank them for their visit, and send them on.

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