In Vol. 1, No. 1, published on January 3, 1816, the paper's editor, D.J. Burr, announced that one of the paper's specific missions was to sell tracts, including “The Dairyman’s Daughter,” Dr. Watts’ Advice to Young Men,” and “Intemperance, Its Gradual and Insidious Progress.” Shortly, there were ads for the New England Tract Society: “Ten Pages for One Cent, or a cheap way of doing good.” As one ad goes: “Thousands, and hundreds of thousands of these silent preachers might be sent, at a small expense, to the poor and destitute, with the best prospect of promoting their good.”
On October 22, 1816, a Recorder news story boasted that a leader of the Presbyterian church at Pine Ridge, Mississippi Territory, had “performed a missionary tour through the western and southern states and territories” distributing “near fifteen thousand tracts” from the New England Tract Society. The piece quoted someone who called them “winged messengers of salvation.” On a second tour, the same churchman distributed 8,000 more. In the same issue, another piece was titled: “Deplorable Superstition among the Catholics.” For of course the Catholics were the Presbyterians' rivals. Christianity was one thing, Catholicity, complete with its "idols" was another.
Willis's son, Nathanial Parker Willis (1806-1867), known as N.P., was born in Portland, Maine, where Willis senior had tried and failed to establish a religious newspaper before successfully launching The Recorder. N.P. attended P.A., arriving in Andover at age fifteen in 1821 and graduating with the class of 1823. According to Henry A. Beers's 1885 biography, American Man of Letters: Nathaniel Parker Willis: “Of the two great fitting-schools founded by Samuel and John Phillips respectively at Andover and at Exeter, [P.A.] remained an insoluble lump of Calvinism, a wedge of defiant Orthodoxy.”  Beers recounts that as a student N.P. dated young woman named Polly D. Low, who was about eighteen, i.e., his senior by three years, and a textile-factory worker. They kept company on Sunday, her one day off, but when N.P. went away for four weeks, he returned to find she had become engaged to a butcher’s son, and he was warned to stay away from the factory.
In his last year in Andover, N.P. joined the church, but biographer Beers expresses skepticism about the genuineness of the young man's religiosity: “Any one who has witnessed one of those spiritual epidemics, called ‘revivals,’ in some school or college needs no description of the kind of pressure brought to bear on the thoughtless but easily excited young consciences there assembled."  It might be set in motion “by the death of a fellow student, by a general sickness, or the depression of gloomy weather in winter term. . . the movement at Andover was taken in hand by the ‘Seminarians’ . . . the unregenerate are visited in their rooms by classmates who are already church members, and are prayed with and urged to attend the meetings and summit themselves to the outpourings of the Spirit. Under this kind of stimulus there follows a great awakening. . . Momentous choices are made in an instant and under the stress of contagious emotions.”  In Beers's account, N.P. wrote to his father on January 12, 1823, that after a prayer meeting for the unconverted, he went into “Cutler’s room, and Allen and I stayed there till almost eleven o’clock. There were several of the Seminarians there, and we prayed and sung, prayed and sung, till it seemed a little heaven on earth.”  The son wrote to his father again three days later to say he had gone to meeting, where “[s]obbing and weeping was heard all round the room." 
N.P. went to Yale after Andover. (Of the choice, Beers wrote that Willis senior “would almost as soon have sent his boy into the jaws of hell as into such a hot-bed of Unitarianism as [Harvard].” ) In the end, however, N.P. lost the fervor of his faith in New Haven. In Beers's words: “The religious impressions which had been stamped upon Willis’s mind by the Andover revival were gradually obliterated by the preoccupations of undergraduate life.”  Of that loss, Willis wrote to his parents: “My own experience makes me very much alive to the frequent fallacy of the hopes which are experienced in revivals.” 
All of which brings up these questions in my mind: In any age, why do some people convert and others not? What is the motivation of those who do convert? And how often does the conversion experience have staying power? That is, how often does it change one for life? Is anyone keeping statistics on this sort of thing?
Of N.P.'s Andover class of forty-four, seventeen went on to become clergy.  N.P. himself became a poet and editor, who worked with Poe and others whose names are better known than his today. In 1844, the elder Willis sold The Recorder to a Reverend Martin Moore. In 1885, Beers wrote, "“It still lives as the ‘Congregationalist and Boston Recorder.’” 
1. Henry A. Beers, American Men of Letters. Nathaniel Parker Willis (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885), 18.
2. Beers, 22-23.
4. Ibid., 27.
5. Ibid., 28.
6. Ibid., 17.
7. Ibid., 58.
8. Ibid., 59.
9. Claude M. Fuess, Men of Andover: Biographical Sketches In Commemoration Of The One Hundred And Fiftieth Anniversary Of Phillips Academy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928), 184.
10. Beers, 9.