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Tract Societies

The first Methodist tract was John Wesley's A Word in Season, or Advice to a Soldier, published in 1743. This was followed by A Word to a Smuggler, ...to a Drunkard etc. Initially, these four-page tracts were printed to make up a full sheet when printing long works, and it is only by their conjunction that they can be dated. They appeared without any indication of author, date or printer and went through numerous editions. In 1782 Wesley, with the help of Thomas Coke, issued proposals for establishing a tract society. Subscribers received a number of tracts of their own choice for free distribution. Later tracts were more substantial and many of Wesley's sermons were published in tract form. Coke himself published a number of tracts in 1806-8.

The Tract Society was re-organized by the 1828 Conference. By 1871 there were 1,250 different titles and the number of copies issued ran into millions. In the second half of the nineteenth century local circuits and churches often had their own tract society. The tracts were slipped inside a stiff cover containing details of the local church's activities and these were distributed from house to house and exchanged for another a week or so later. The Religious Tract Society, following the Methodist lead, was founded in 1799. A Primitive Methodist tract society was launched by Hugh Bourne in 1813, and other branches of Methodism followed suit.

Sources

  • Albert H. Hall, 'John Wesley's Tract Society', in WHS Proceedings, 12 pp.136-38
  • Frank H. Cumbers, The Book Room (1956) pp. 7, 50
  • Michael Sheard, 'Methodist Tract - Visiting Societies in the Early Nineteenth Century', in WHS Proceedings, 39 pp.34-40

Entry written by: OAB
Category: Subject

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