Is This Man Jesse Engle?

Is this man pioneer Brethren in Christ missionary Jesse Engle?

Not very likely.

David Byer sent in this photo (click for larger version), discovered on Multiple users of the site have identified the subject of the photo as Jesse Myers Engle, a native of Kansas.

Could this “Jesse Engle” be the same pioneer Brethren in Christ missionary who helped to establish the church’s first foreign mission station in 1898? Such a find would be a great boon to Brethren in Christ historians, since the only known photo of the missionary Engle is a distant shot of the man that does not show his face.

Unfortunately, several aspects of the image suggest that the photo depicts a different Jesse Engle, not the Brethren in Christ missionary.

1. The pin. Notice the small pin on the subject’s jacket pocket. It’s shaped like a square and compass — the distinctive symbol of the Masonic Order. It’s extremely unlikely that a member of the Brethren in Christ Church in this era — especially a soon-to-be missionary — would also be a member of the Masons, since involvement with such “secret societies” (as the Brethren in Christ would have called them) was strictly forbidden.

2. The cut of jacket, “flashy” buttons, and hair parting. While there was no “official” dress code for the Brethren in Christ in this era, most observed a very similar style: “Men wore long-tailed coats and vests with erect collars, broad-fall trousers opening at the sides rather than in the middle, high-top boots or shoes, cape overcoats, and broad-brimmed hats.” [1] The photo of Engle shows no erect collar on the jacket — a sign of deviation from the church norm. Furthermore, the appearance of silver buttons on the jacket also suggests deviation from the norm, as most Brethren in Christ would have avoided such “opulence” for fear of manifesting pride, “the essence of worldliness.” And the hair of the subject also deviates from the Brethren in Christ norm: parted in the middle and combed flat against the head. Given his nonconformity to church standards, the individual pictured in the photo was probably not Brethren in Christ.

Thanks to David Byer for passing along the photo.


[1] Carlton O. Wittlinger, Quest for Piety and Obedience (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1978).


About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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