The Bible in America

History From its founding in 1816, the American Bible Society has grappled with the task of making the Word of God available to Christians and churches in America. From its earliest days, it has worked to provide scriptures to the men, and later women of the military, to local and international bible societies, and to translate the Holy Bible to other languages used by peoples in the United States so that they could not only possess scripture, but could understand its importance in their own lives.

Leaders Starting with a leader of the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and going right down to the most recent president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.


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Enoch Lewis Fancher

President of the American Bible Society, 1885-1890

Church Affiliation: Methodist Episcopal

Black and White Portrait of Enoch Fancher from a color portrait by George Burroughs Torrey

Enoch Fancer was born 10 January, 1817, the son of Samuel Newman Fancher. He served as a New York State Judge and was active with New York religious and charitable organizations. He was briefly a Methodist Episcopal minister to the Lenox (Mass.) circuit and later studied law at Poughkeepsie. He came to New York City “with little money and no friends,” but was able to enter the office of Mr. David Graham, then a leading lawyer of the city, and was admitted to the Bar. He established his own law practice in New York City (his office burned in 1866 and none of his personal records from before that date survive) and became a judge on the New York State Supreme Court and later on the Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration - his acquaintances all called him Judge Fancher. He was elected president of the American Bible Society in 1885 and he resigned in 1890 but held the title honorary President until his death on 9 February, 1900. The best biographical sketch we have found comes from the February 22, 1900 edition of the Christian Advocate, notice of his passing:

A life which connects the years 1817 and 1900 affords abundant time for the achievement of honor and usefulness. It furnishes opportunities for the steady pursuit of a primary purpose, for the mastery of one's profession, and for cumulative friendships. When time and strength for labor are past it still admits of service as an adviser, and an oral transmitter of traditions which the slow-moving pen would never record. Such possibilities in fourscore and four years have been illustrated by the career of Enoch Lewis Fancher.

He was born in Dutchess County, NY and was familiar from childhood with the most enchanting scenery; and those who knew him only as a lawyer and jusge may be surprised to learn that by nature he was gifted with imagination, pathos, and poetic feeling. They may also be astonished on being informed that he began his public career as a ministor of the Gospel; yet in the Minutes of the New York Conference for 1836 among those who are admitted on trial his name appears. His first and only station was Lenox.

Turning from this experiment (perhaps begun in the ardor of youthful experience and found ill adapted to the cast of his mind) he applied himself to the study of law, and on being admitted to the bar, settled in this city (NYC), where he speedily built up a remunerative practice. Industry, shrewdness, deep penetration into the meaning of laws, familiarity with precedents, a keen scent in hunting up less obvoius points, and tenacity and self-possession were the main mental elements of success. After his reputation was established he assumed an air of authority, and as his assertions, if assailed, were valiantly and cogently defended they were often accepted without investigation by younger and less experienced men, - and sometimes by indolent judges. This incensed those who were opposed to him, but they seldom succeeded in showing him to be in fundamental error. In 1872-1874 he was one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, having been appointed to fill a vacancy. When the Court of Arbitration of the Chamber of Commerce, given by the Legislature jurisdiction contingent upon consent of the parties, was established, he was appointed judge and filled that position for eight years.

In the action of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South against the Book Concern, to compel a division of the property, there were two suits, one brought in Ohio, the other in New York. In the one instituted here HB Bascom and others were plaintiffs, and the Book Agents defendants. The counsel for the Church, South were Daniel Lord, Reverdy Hohnson and Reverdy Johnson, Jr., and the counself for the Book Agents were Rufus Choate, George Wood and EL Fancher. The hard work of collecting and authenticating facts devolved to the junior counsel. The decision in the New York case was against the Book concern, Justice Nelson, of the Supreme Court of the United States, reading the opinion. The suit in Ohio was decided by the circuit judge in favor of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Church, South appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which revered the decision in 1854 after which the matter was finally settled.

After the decision in New York by the Circuit Court of the United States, in favor of the Southern claimants, an interlocutory decree was made directing a fererence to Mr. Nelson (son of the judge) as a Master in Equity, to take and state the account showing the profits and moneys due to the Southern claimants.

Daniel Lord, Esq., counsel for complainants, made up an account which, as he insisted, was according to the rules of “fellowship;” and EL Fancher, counsel for defendants made up another, on different principles. These counsel argued the matter for several days, together, before the master, who, after deliberation, decided in fabor of Mr. Fancher's method of accounting, and against that of Mr. Lord. The difference in the result was upward of eighty thousand dollars. From this desicion of the master Mr. Lord, on behalf of the Southern claimants, appealed to the court in banc, and the appeal was argued by the same counsel before the court, Judges Nelson and Bettes presiding. The judges did not decided, but granted a certificate of division of opinion, by which the case of the accounting question was removed to the Supreme Court of the United States for determination.

While the case was before the Supreme Court, and before it was reached for argument, an amicable arrangement was acceded to, by which Mr. Justice McLean, one of the justices of the Supreme Court, should come to New York and, informally, hear and decide the accounting matter in dispute. That hearing was accordingly had; both parties accepted the findings of Mr. Justice MCLean, and the Book Concern paid to the Southern claimants the amount awarded. Those findings did not substantially differ from the report of the master, and that was the end of the New York case.

From that time until his death, Judge Fancher was counsel for the Book Concern, and was paid for his services - thous as a rule his bills were smaller than they would have been in dealing with outside parties.

Judge Fancher was a member of the Board of Managers of the Missionary Society for more than fifty-one years, and vice president for a large part of the time. He was also its chief legal counsel. In that capacity his services were invaluable. Had they been paid for, it is probable that they would have been worth in the aggregate more than thirty thousand dollars. But for this time, study, experience, and work he steadfastly refused to accept a penny. Many years ago attempts were made to prevent the Missionary Society from receiving moneys left to it by persons not residing in this State. Judge Fancher pushed the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States, and settled it for all time.

Judge Fancher was a member of the famous Cape May Commission, consisting of three ministerial and two lay delegates from the Methodist Episcopal Church and a similar number from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The purpose was to remove existing difficulties and provide a basis for formal fraternity. Thouroughly acquainted with our history and all preceding litigatin, and having attended as a spectator the General Conference of 1844, he was of the greatest service. As a trustee of St. Paul's Church he survived all his original colleagues, and was at all times a controlling member. Being a man of great decision and positiveness, those who thought differently from him sometimes cosidered him arbitrary, but whether this was the fact or only a prejudice, it did not appear to diminish his influence. “What does Judge Fancher think?” was a question and factor that had to be considered in every body to which he belonged.

A man of large means, he gave systematically and regularly on some law of proportion known only to himself.

His summer home was at New Windsor, NY; though in New York he was a stanch Methodist, there he regularly attended a Presbyterian church. Twenty-five years ago he was bereaved of his wife, which, as there were no children, left him alone. In this city he lived with his wife's niece, who was to him as a daughter. She married Mr. William H Harris, Judge Fancher's partner and the son of Bishop William L Harris, of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1863 Wesleyan University honored itself and him by conferring upon Judge Fancher the degree of Doctor of Laws. At the time of his death he was, and had been since 1885, president of the American Bible Society. He was also president of the Board of Managers of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, and was one of the original incorporators of Drew Theological Seminary. For all these he performed many legal services gratuitously.

He was a remarkably chaste and perspicuous writer. For The Christian Advocate through many years he wrote articles of such beauty, and sometimes of such spritual quality and radiance, that only those who knew his early experiences in the ministry could reconcile them with his didactic style and dispassionate manner in public speech.

At the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther, celebrated in St. Paul's Church by the Evangelical Alliance,- the speakers were Judge Fancher, the Rev. S. Irenaeus Prime, D.D.,Editor of “The New York Observer,” Dr. James M. King, and J.M. Buckley. The last named had procured the loan from the American Tract Society of an immense volume printed and illustrated under luther's direction. It was designed to expose the excesses and superstitions of Romanism. This work the speaker described as the most extraordinary relic of those days.

As soon as the benediction was pronounced, Judge Fancher solemnly walked to the stand, and placing his hand upon the ancient tome, reverently said, “I worship no relics, but it strengthens my faith to touch this book.”

He was a firm believer in divine Providence, and narrated to us an incident which he could account for in no other way. Many years before, weary with a troublesome case, after much hesitation he went on a stormy night to a town in New Jersey, to fulfill an engagement. There were few there, and he wished that he had not exposed himself to the storm; but a client of his, who had a fine country seat not far away, though not a Methodist, heard that he was to speak and had driven over, and insisted on his spending the night with him. This he did, and in the morning was taken through his host's greenhouses. Returning to his office, he found on the table a letter from a law firm in London - of whom he had never heard - informing him that a florist who came to this country a long time ago had fallen heir to a great fortune, and asking him to make search for him.

Knowing no one of whom to inquire, he thought of declining to do anything in the matter. Immediately it occurred to him to ask his friend. His florist was the man, who, as age was coming on and he was without means, greatly needed relief. Said the judge, “What but the fact of merciful Providence can account for so unlikely a coincidence as that!”

The Providence in whom he so devoutly believed allotted to him a long life and many blessings. Though he may not have attained unto the spotless piety of the patriarch whos name he bore, it is hoped that when summoned before the Judge of all the earth his faith secured the services of Jesus Christ the righteous, and the only Advocate who acknowledges both the responsibility and guilt of His clients, yet has never lost a case.

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