While the mass distribution of Food for Thinking Christians via messenger service boys and through cooperating periodicals drew the most attention, the work that mattered was done by committed individual Christians. It was this work that set the pattern for much of the evangelical activity that followed.
Few names of the earliest workers survive, and of those names we do have many are now obscure. There was already a very small base of active workers. Sunderlin, Mann, Keith, Jones, and a few others were the foundation of this work. None of them were colporteurs in the sense that they devoted their time to the sale of tracts. They were preachers, lecturers, visiting speakers.
Three others received some mention in the June 1881 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. Russell mentions two of them in such a way that he seems to have expected many of his readers to know them.
Robert Bailey of Howardsville, Michigan, entered the work that month as a “proclaimer of the same ‘Glad tidings’ entirely consecrated to the Lord and his work.”[i] Almost nothing is known of his life. The 1880 Census shows him living Saint Joseph County, Michigan, and gives his occupation as “minister of the gospel.” Bailey was born about 1853 in Canada to an American mother and Canadian father.[ii]
A letter from him appears in the July/August 1881 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower. It suggests that he entered the ministry four years previously: “About four years ago I forsook the paths of sin, and gave up all for Jesus; since then I have been striving to follow Him. I studied His word faithfully in order to know my duty, and can say, to the praise of our Heavenly Father, that He permitted me to see many precious promises, and faith claimed them mine.”[iii]
He explained that during the year previous to his letter he had prayed earnestly for “greater light” from God’s Word. He felt his prayer was answered by a visit from J. H. Paton in February 1881: “My daily prayer was for wisdom, and an understanding of His Word. … Accordingly, in February, 1881, He sent one of His messengers (Brother Paton,) who, by the grace of God, ‘opened our eyes to behold wondrous things out of His law.’”
That May he was in Pittsburgh for the Lord’s Supper. He was introduced to Russell, Sunderlin, Mann, Jones and to [insert first name] Adamson who like himself was new to the message: “I was privileged to meet and hold sweet converse on these precious and exhaustless themes with our beloved brothers … . It is needless for me to tell you that it was a delightful and profitable season. These precious truths thrill my whole being. I am willing to spend and be spent, in telling the ‘story of Jesus and His Love.’ Pray for me, that I may have wisdom to ‘rightly divide the word of truth,’ and grace to enable me to suffer with Christ, and with you share the glories of the world to come.”[iv]
The letter was dated at Howardsville, Michigan, a place so small it had no post office of its own. The 1880 Census placed him in Flowerfield, a few miles distant. Frustratingly, a contemporary Gazetteer notes that there were two church organizations in Flowerfield, but neglects to name them. So there is no way to identify Bailey’s previous religious affiliation. He quickly drops out of the record. He isn’t mentioned again in Zion’s Watch Tower, and he isn’t found in later census records.
His preaching seems to have been local to St. Joseph’s County, Michigan. The small congregation there seems to have followed Paton and his Universalist sect after the fragmentation of 1881-2. Other individuals from Howardsville are mentioned only in Paton’s The World’s Hope. [v]
In the same article through which Russell announced Bailey’s entry into the ministry he wrote: “Brother McGrannor, [sic] of Pennsylvania, has also gone forth recently to give his entire time and labor in the "harvest" field; may his labors also be crowned with such success as may seem good to the Lord of the harvest and gain finally the ‘Well done good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things.’” [vi] Other notices of “Brother” McGranor have his name spelled with one “N”, and that appears to be the correct spelling.
When Food for Thinking Christians was published, he played a part in its circulation, and he is listed as one of the principal evangelists engaged in that work. Russell explained that McGranor was working principally in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, “distributing tracts … as he goes preaching.”[vii]
When Tony Willis, writing as Timothy White, prepared A People for His Name (1968) he seems to have made no effort to discover the identity of McGranor and others.[viii] By a process of elimination principally using census records we can identify “brother McGranor” as Patrick McGranor or one of his sons. The most likely of these is his son William J. McGranor. William was born in about 1851 according to the 1880 Census.[ix] His middle initial isn’t given in the census record but in a brief newspaper mention in the August 7, 1895, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Progress. The article has him living in Deckers Point, Pennsylvania at that time.[x] Only a tenuous bit of evidence point to him as the “brother McGranor” of the Zion’s Watch Tower article. The article newspaper article continues with a mention of a Mrs. Jerry Keim. At least one from the Keim family was also an active evangelist in the early days of The Watch Tower.
One should not consider the fact that his initials fit those of a contributor to Zion’s Watch Tower as evidence. The W.J.M of the Watch Tower article is a misprint for W.I.M. This is seen by comparing the initials at the end of the initial article signed “W.J.M.” and its continuation which is signed “W.I.M.” for William I. Mann. .[xi]
The question of who “brother McGranor” really was, is not resolvable in any sort of satisfactory way without further evidence. When Food for Thinking Christians was published he participated in its distribution. In the October/November issue of The Tower, Russell reported that the tracts “Have … been distributed in the medium and larger cities, and at the principal camp meetings, Brothers Adamson, Keith, Keim, McGranor and others, being still engaged in the work of distribution. Only about 65,000 yet remain.” Tony Willis took this to mean that McGranor and the others took charge of hiring and supervising the boys who distributed the tracts. Russell added: “Brother McGranor is distributing tracts, and as he goes preaching in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The Lord has been blessing him greatly.” While it appears that McGranor’s preaching was incidental to his tract distribution, nothing in this comment suggests anything more than a personal circulation of the booklet Food for Thinking Christians in the small towns and villages of Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
This is the final notice of “brother McGranor.” Identifying him further requires a more ingenious researcher than I am.
J. B. Adamson
Adamson was an Ohio businessman who seems to have been a shopkeeper. There is some confusion as to his real occupation, but Russell described him as having “a profitable and increasing business paying about $1,500 a year as well as other things.” One presumes Russell meant he had other sources of income. In terms of 2009 dollars, his income from his business amounted to about forty-three thousand dollars. How much beyond that he had in “other things” is impossible to calculate.
He was introduced to Watch Tower readers in the same issue as the two men mentioned above, but only by the initials “J.B.A.” A brief letter of greeting from him and some introductory words by Russell form the basis of most of what we know of him. His first name is unknown, and a search of Census records, while it provides some possibilities, does not provide a definitive result. Russell introduced him as a “very dear saint” and “brother in Christ” and explained that Adamson had decided to “give up all that he has of time, reputation and ability … for the Crown of Life.”[xii]
Adamson explained later that he had “always” been religiously inclined because he had “godly parents, but “I failed to get as clear an idea of consecration as I wished. I never believed in lukewarm or disobedient Christians, but I had no wise, loving saints to confer with in my early religious experience. Few or none thought of the Bible as the only rule; therefore, I was sometimes cast down and discouraged. I never could join a church, or enter the ministry, though I had tempting offers of the necessary funds. .. Yet, I always worked heartily in all churches, Y.M.C.A., or other revival work.”[xiii]
Sometime early in 1880 while on a trip to Columbus, Ohio, he found a copy of Zion’s Watch Tower. “I was attracted at once,” he recalled, “finding in it so much gospel … and better than I had.” By mid-year he traveled to Pittsburgh to find Russell. He seems to have mislaid the watch Tower address and visited the office several of the religious press in Pittsburgh. He found that Zion’s Watch Tower was in less than high favor among them, but he cast the insults in a positive light seeing them as imparting “Scriptural marks of saintship – being ignored, ‘cast out,’ and ‘suffering reproach’ for Christ’s sake.”[xiv]
Adamson impresses one as vague. His letters leave an indistinct trail He uses a vocabulary common to them all, but one is occasionally left wondering if he meant exactly the same thing as did everyone else. His description of his first meeting with Russell falls into this category. At first it appears plain and straight forward, but on analysis it becomes imprecise. He summarized their meeting this way: “I could hardly follow Bro. Russell in his explanations and see at once that there is a plan of God in the Ages, and that all the Scriptures fall into line and harmonize with it. I was too good. Men are sometimes dazed by a bright natural light, and so also by bright unfoldings of the world. This was my case.”[xv]
We are left wondering if he was confused by Russell’s explanation or if he found it “too good to be true.” Which ever was so, he left Allegheny unconvinced and sought out Charles Cullis in Boston and enrolled in his Faith Training College.
Cullis, a graduate of the University of Vermont and a Holiness oriented Episcopalian, was a homeopathic physician in Boston. He advocated Faith Cures and founded among other agencies the Faith Training College (1876) to advocate his views.[xvi] Adamson enrolled in 1880, but terminated his studies there, finding the college “unsuitable for me.” He doesn’t explain if he had a doctrinal difference or if he found he was not an apt scholar.
He left Boston for Providence, Rhode Island, where he “acted with the Y.M.C.A. in a revival.” Again, his statement lacks specifics. He doesn’t say if he merely handed out tracts or if he picked up litter, or explain in anyway what “acting with” the YMCA meant. From there he made his way to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to attend “the Mission revival services.” He “proposed to return to Boston again, but there was no opening except toward Pittsburgh.” Again, the lack of specifics is maddening. What, exactly, does he mean by the phrase “no opening except toward Pittsburgh”? That he had no more money than a fare to Pittsburgh? That makes no sense because Boston is far closer to Bridgeport than is Pittsburgh. Business took him toward Pittsburgh? Who knows? The man is frustratingly vague.Nevertheless, six months after he’d visited Russell (December 1880 or January 1881) he returned for another conference
 The phrase Story of Jesus and His love is quoted from the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” by A. Katherine Hankey, first published in 1866. It is found in Joyful Songs, Nos. 1 to 3 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Methodist Episcopal Book Room, 1869).
[i] To the Readers of the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1881, page 8.
[ii] 1880 United States Census: Flowerfield, St. Joseph, Michigan, National Archives Film T9-0603, page 331B .
[iii] A Letter From Yours and Ours to His and Ours, Zion’s Watch Tower, July/August 1881, page 5.
[iv] A Letter From Yours and Ours to His and Ours, Zion’s Watch Tower, July/August 1881, page 6.
[v] Letter from A.P.S to Paton in Extracts from Letters, The World’s Hope, December 15, 1886, page 302. Letter from Mr. and Mrs. M. B. to Paton in Extracts from Letters, The World’s Hope, May 1, 1897, page 143.
[vi] To the Readers of the Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1881, page 8.
[vii] In the Vineyard, Zion’s Watch Tower, October/November 1881, page 5.
[viii] White, Timothy (Tony Willis): A People for His Name: A History of Jehovah's Witnesses and an Evaluation , 1968, page 26.
[ix] 1880 United States Census: Greene, Indiana, Pennsylvania, National Archives Film number T9-1135, page 238D.
[x] I identify the W. J. McGranor of this newspaper article with Peter McGranor’s son instead of the younger Dr. William J. McGranor, a physician on the basis of where he was visiting. The McGranor family was centered in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
[xi] W.J.M.: The Day of Judgment, Zion’s Watch Tower September 1879, page 8; W.I.M.: Day of Judgment, November 1879, pages 4-5.
[xii] To Readers of The Watch Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1881, page 8.
[xiii] Letter From Bro. Adamson, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1882, pages 1-2.
[xiv] Letter From Bro. Adamson, Zion’s Watch Tower, February 1882, pages 1-2.
[xvi] Taves, Ann: Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, Princeton University Press, 1999, page 227; Randall Herbert Balmer: Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, page 166; See also the article Faith Cure: McClintock and Strong, eds, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Supplement, Volume 2, 1889, page 372.