Rev. Moses How

I’ve been reading through the diaries of Reverend Moses How, who served as chaplain of the Seamen’s Bethel from 1844 to 1859. Reading How’s diaries (there are several in the collection) isn’t as interesting as one may think – they read straightforward, more like a planner than the source of secrets. How visited jails, Sunday schools, Port Society meetings, and traveled around the south coast of Massachusetts to talk to numerous people.

As I first skimmed through the diaries, I saw tallies at the top of each page. Sometimes there were two or three lines – sometimes there were a few dozen. I didn’t think about those tallies until I started reading.

He was keeping track of the number of funerals he had attended.

I found this devastating at first, how depressing it must have been for him. But then again, I couldn’t think much of it – he was a chaplain and reverend, it was regular responsibility in his line of work. How kept records of lots of things in each year of service – how many marriages he had performed, how many births in his congregation, how many sermons he had given and where they took place. But funerals were the only ones that are left with a permanent mark in his diary – a physical remnant of his counting.

I’ve been reading How’s diaries to get a sense of his interactions with the seamen, though he doesn’t go into much detail. He was there for 14 years, but the strongest interactions he records are ones with dead men. It seems he struggled with his duties at the Bethel, trying to work for both the Port Society and to also carry out assistance to the seamen:

I am more and more convinced that any man who will be a true friend to the sailor and look out honestly for his temporal welfare will be unpopular with most of this — community. If I had known as much about the duties and difficulties attending as a pastor at the Seamen’s Bethel, as I do now, I am confident I should have never consented to go there, and now I see the wants of seamen, and their need of a friend they can confide in. I cannot bear the thought of leaving them, and yet, I sometimes think I cannot stay there any longer. I hope my heavenly Father will teach and guide me in the way I should go. (December 8, 1855)

Apparently, How was guided to stay, because he didn’t announce his resignation until late 1858:

I shall retire from my field of labor at the time you may designate, but not without feelings of deep anxiety for the prosperity of the Bethel, the Ladies’ Branch, and the Mariner’s Home, and earnest prayer that the abundance of the seas may be yet converted unto God. (October 21, 1858)

But I’m moved by that first passage I came across – wondering what had happened for How to commit this to paper. Was this an outburst? Or was it a decades’ worth of experiences finally coming out? What are the “wants of seamen” that he was unable to provide?

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