A Circle of Friends: Reflections on a Letter from Fuller to Carey

By Steve Weaver

I love a letter from Andrew Fuller to William Carey contained in Andrew Gunton Fuller's 1882 biography of his father.[1] It illustrates beautifully the love and collegiality of the circle of friends among whom the modern missionary movement was birthed. In the letter, Fuller indicates that he had been visiting with John Sutcliff, Baptist pastor in Olney, "on missionary concerns" when a letter from Carey (dated October 10, 1798) had arrived, or as he put it, "while I was there, in bolted Carey!" Fuller’s response to the missionary includes updates on all the major characters associated with the early days of the Baptist Missionary Society. Carey, the Society's first missionary, was the recipient of the letter and Fuller, the secretary of the Society from its beginning until his death in 1815, was the author. Fuller knew that Carey would want to know about the welfare of their mutual friends—John Ryland, Jr. (1753–1825), John Sutcliff (1752–1814), and Samuel Pearce (1766–1799).

The fruits of Brother Ryland's labours at Bristol appear to good purpose, not only in a number of spiritual young men in the Academy, but in so charming a group of missionaries as are now going. Brother Sutcliffe has baptized nine lately. He is appointed to supply you with books, and I doubt not but he will magnify his office. Pearce is a wonderful Christian; he preached here last autumn like an apostle, from Psalm xc. 16, 17. Hall, who preached after him, was dismayed at the thought of following him; not so much at an idea of inequality of talents, but of spirit and unction. But whether we shall ever hear him again, God only knows.

There is also a reference to Robert Hall, the younger (1764-1831), the esteemed preacher and son of Robert Hall, the elder (1728–1791). The reference to Hall, who was well-known as a great orator, is striking. When scheduled to preach after Pearce, who Fuller calls simply "a wonderful Christian," Hall feared to follow Pearce due to the latter's "spirit and unction." This letter was likely written in late 1798 or early 1799. Pearce would die within the year on October 10, 1799. His obvious declining health was the reason Fuller added, "But whether we shall ever hear him again, God only knows."

[1]Andrew Gunton Fuller, Andrew Fuller. Men Worth Remembering (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1882), 150-151.


Steve Weaver serves as a research assistant to the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and a fellow of the Center. He also serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at his personal website: Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian.