George Newton Cressy, Baltimore Colporteur

This carte de visite portrait of Mr. George N. Cressy was taken at the Baltimore studio of Thomas Parker Varley, corner of Baltimore and Holliday streets, probably in the mid to late 1860s.

Born in 1827 in Jamaica, Vermont to Alpheus Cressy and Lydia (Cass) Cressy, George Newton Cressy devoted most of his life to “home missionary” work in Baltimore (The Cressy Family, created and maintained by LeRoy Cressy). He  had a small income from a farm he owned in South Londonderry, Vermont, and earned a little from his work with the Maryland Tract Society.

He was commissioned as a “colporteur,” an itinerant seller of tracts and Bibles, by the American Tract Society of New York in 1849.

In the 1850s, he settled in Baltimore, where in 1860 he married fellow evangelical Christian missionary and member of the Maryland Tract Society Mary Bayley, daughter of Vermont-born attorney John M. Bayley or Bailey.  They took rooms at 102 Hanover Street, near West Conway, along with Mary’s sisters, Jane and Eliza Bayley. The neighborhood of small row houses is long since gone to the wrecking ball; the Baltimore Convention Center and the Baltimore Hilton now occupy the site.

According to a posthumous memoir of Mrs. Cressy published ca. 1870 by the Baltimore Tract House, George Cressy attended the Congregational Church on Eutaw Street, while his wife was a member of the South Baltimore Presbyterian Church, a mission of the First Presbyterian Church overseen by Rev. J. H. Kaufman (William Reynolds, A Brief History of the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, 1913, pg. 67).

They must often have been apart. During the Civil War, George Cressy joined the Maryland Committee of the United States Christian Commission. The Commission’s aim was to bring religion to the soldiers, but the best of these workers did so through compassionate generosity. Commission members supplied food, clothing, books, letter-writing paper along with prayers, exhortations, religious tracts and Bibles.

Cressy spent a good portion of his time visiting wounded and sick soldiers in the Washington hospitals. In 1864’s annual Commission report, Cressy related that “we held two prayer meetings weekly at the National Hospital on Thursday and Sabbath evenings. Some have been well-attended; others, thinly” (Second Annual Report of the United States Christian Commission, 1864, pg.94).

They passed out copious quantities of “tracts, books, etc.,” and Cressy reported a few spiritual successes. “We have been encouraged by several instances of hopeful conversion from these efforts, through the blessing of our Heavenly Father” (USCC Annual Report, pg. 95).

Cressy and his fellow committee members also visited the fortifications and encampments around Baltimore, finding great need for basic supplies, and distributing to the troops “boiled hams, bread, crackers, cheese, condensed milk, tea, sugar, coffee, lemons, etc.,” paying special attention to the sick (Cross, The Civil War and the US Christian Commission, 1865).

Cressy stressed the urgent need for supplies at the hospitals: “Your Committee are of the opinion that the Christian Commission could not do a better work than to obtain from the proper authorities, to all our hospitals, the much needed suitable nourishment for the sick and convalescent” (Cross, pg. 149).

To his nephew, Nelson Newton Glazier of the 11th Vermont Infantry, son of John Newton Glazier and Phoebe (Cass) Glazier, Cressy was simply “Uncle George,” a welcome face from home. Cressy visited Glazier in camp near Fort Lincoln several times in 1862, bringing news from home as well as comestibles including:

“a nice loaf of wheat bread not yet cold from the oven in Baltimore, a splendid sponge cake made by Aunt Mary – Uncle George’s wife – some nice cookies; a lemon pudding and a cocoa pudding; two nice apple pies; a frosted fruit cake . . . three glasses of jellies or preserves; some very nice apples; and a lot of excellent pickles; a chicken already cooked; besides a lot of papers, tracts, etc. To be sure one man no larger than Uncle George could not bring everything, as he had to bring it by hand from the depot” (from the letters of Nelson Newton Glazier, part of Vermont in the Civil War).

Mary Bayley Cressy died in 1868. According to LeRoy Cressy’s Cressy Family website, George spent 35 years in Baltimore, beginning in 1854,  then returned to Vermont. The 1900 census finds the old missionary living with his sister Hannah Cressy in the home of their niece, Betsey Kingsbury.

According to the Baltimore American newspaper, George Newton Cressy died on 20 April 1905, in Bondville, Vermont.

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