In addition to his duties at Harvard, Pearson presided over the fledgling Massachusetts Missionary Society. Also known as the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, it was the first American association created strictly for the purpose of distributing religious tracts. During my research I have read dozens of these so-called silent preachers. They are uniformly saccharine cautionary tales designed for spiritually vulnerable people with unsophisticated reading palates. Among the best known and most widely reprinted and translated is The Dairyman’s Daughter: An Authentic Narrative written by Legh Richmond  for the London Religious Tract Society in 1809. Easy to denigrate, it should not be dismissed, no matter how egregious its literary failings. Historian Cynthia S. Hamilton puts The Dairyman's Daughter, the story of Reverend Richmond's parishioner Elizabeth Wallridge's piety and early death, on par with Uncle Tom's Cabin in terms of influence, having "moved countless readers toward religious conversion, and provided a model of effective narrative strategies for those seeking to reach a wide audience.” 
Pearson worked his connections to distribute the Society's tracts. On January 18, 1804, Francis Lightfoot Lee II of Alexandria, Virginia, a P.A. graduate, member of Harvard's class of 1802, and son of the Declaration of Independence signer Richard Henry Lee, acknowledged in a letter to Pearson the “pamphlets you were so good as to send me,” and gave him encouragement about his work: “There is no doubt the general utility of your plan of distributing moral and religious tracts where they can be circulated and read.”  He did, however, inform Pearson of the challenge that the plan presented: “In many parts of Virginia," distribution would be difficult “on account of the thinness of population,” and perhaps ineffective anyway, because of “the ignorance of some people.” Not that thickly settled, sophisticated areas, like Washington, D.C., would be any more receptive, he wrote. “The city Washington has drained Alexandria of much gaiety and idleness; for men of fashion and fortune [are] finding less amusement in the latter than the former place, which is the seat of courtly dissipation and splendor readily resort[ed] thereto.”
On June 7, 1804, another Pearson correspondent, Dr. William Hollinshead of Charleston, South Carolina, acknowledged his receipt of tracts with gratitude: “A numerous class of the citizens of S.C. have long been destitute of any regular means of instruction on the subject of religion, and owing to a variety of causes, continue in a lamentable state of darkness." Dr. Hollinshead sent Pearson money for one hundred copies of Dr. Watts's Hymns and Moral Sons for the Use of Children. He also enclosed money from the Ladies Society for 100 copies of the same, and requested "small bibles" if they could be "obtained at a suitable price." Another request of his was more tracts more likely to be read by “the inferior classes of readers.”
Did he mean enslaved people? Dr. Hollinshead had mentioned to Pearson that more "negroes" were coming into the congregation. “Poor creatures," he wrote, "— destitute of many of the privileges of civil life; they seem to be distinguished by the favor of Heaven above many of the wise, the learned, & the polite — What an exchange have they made from a state of heathenism to that of the light & liberty of the Sons of God — Thus their affliction has become a blessing, & the greatest good arrives to them out of what is generally esteemed one of the greatest evils. They have seen their days of sorrow; but they enjoy a present consolation, & in the end shall reap everlasting life.” It was the argument that had long been the standard way to justify slavery. Pearson used it himself when he engaged in his debate about slavery as a graduating senior at Harvard in 1773. On August 22, 1804, Dr. Hollinshead wrote to Pearson again, saying, “Since my last [letter] a considerable revival seems to be going on among the negroes — We have baptized 23 since January." He had not had comparable results with white people: "Among [them] I have never witnessed more coldness & indifferency [sic] — Yet we go on with spirit in building a fine church and providing elegant accommodations for public worship.”
1. Harvard University Archives, Records of the Board of Overseers, Vol. IV, May 22, 1788, to September, 12, 1805.
2. His name is sometimes erroneously spelled Leigh.
3. Cynthia A. Hamilton, “Spreading the Word: The American Tract Society, The Dairyman’s Daughter, and Mass Publishing,” Book History, Vol. 14, 2011: 25.
4. Phillips Academy Archives, Head of School Records, Eliphalet Pearson Papers, Box 2, Folder labeled “Papers Relative to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 1802-1818.” All subsequence correspondence quoted is from this source.