The First African Church of Savannah in War with Herself, with the Savannah Baptist Church (White), and with the Sunsbury Association.
We have already referred to Rev. Alexander Campbell, who visited Savannah about this time, whose eloquent and profound sermons had telling effect upon the mind of Rev. Andrew C. Marshall, who partially, if not very largely, accepted the doctrine of Mr. Campbell and proclaimed his views. Deacon Adam Johnson, who was a very close thinker and well versed in the scriptures, took exception to this new departure from the old land-marks. This kindled a fire that was not soon nor easily put out, but which burned with a furious destruction for five weary years.
The "Third African Church" entered the association for the first time in the session of November, 1833, at Cowpen Branch Baptist Church, Effingham county, It was represented by T. Anderson, A. Johnson and Jack Simpson, with a membership of 155. This was the time and place that "The Third African Church" joined the association. In the minutes of the association for 1833 we read, "Application was made by the Third African Church to become a member of this association. Granted by a unanimous vote." In the minutes of the same session a resolution was adopted as follows:
"Resolved, That this association approves of the conduct of S. Whitfield, Joe Clay and others who separated from the First African Church, and recommend them to the fellowship of all the churches."
Notwithstanding the First African Church was expelled and declared corrupt and considered it as dissolved, she still existed and was styled and called the First African Church by even those who expelled her and considered her as dissolved. Truly, what God has blessed no man can curse.
Notwithstanding the Sunsbury Association, by the recommendation of the Savannah Baptist Church (white), passed resolutions condemning the First African Baptist Church as being corrupt, and considered it as dissolved; they sold to the First African Baptist Church their house of worship as First African Baptist Church after this, and received $1,500 in payment from the First African Baptist Church, and acknowledged payment accordingly.
In the conference of the Savannah Baptist Church, November 18, 1832, is the following resolution:
"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to suggest the best mode to this church of taking under their care the First African Church, and to report at the next discipline meeting."
Though the First African Church is considered as dissolved, a committee is appointed to consider the best way of taking her under the supervision of the white Baptist Church. This is an acknowledgment that the church did exist. This committee reported December 24, 1832, as follows:
"The committee appointed to devise plans for the reception of the First African Church as a branch of this, reported that they could not recommend any.
"Resolved, That they be dismissed.
"A petition of from three to four hundred members of the First African Church was offered, in which they requested to become a branch of this church. After considerable discussion it was resolved not to receive them on the conditions they proposed, but such alterations were made in their application as the church thought advisable, and it was agreed that if they would offer to place themselves under the supervision of a committee whom they would choose out of this church, then such a measure would be agreed to by this body."
Those who are now claiming to be the original First African Baptist Church were then called the minority of the First African Church, for we find in the minutes of the Conference of Savannah Baptist Church (white), December 24, 1832, the following:
"An application was made that the minority of the First African Church be received as a branch of this church, when it was decided that it was proper that they first be formed into a church, and afterward could come under the supervision of a committee, as also the Second African, should they wish to do so."
January 4th, 1833, the First African Baptist Church addressed the following letter to the Savannah Baptist Church (white):
"We, the subscribers of the First African Church, do solicit the aid and protection of our brethren, the Baptist Church of Savannah. We propose to come under the supervision of a committee of your body, provided you will receive us on the terms and conditions following:
"1st. That we be independent in our meetings; that is, that we receive and dismiss our own members, and elect and dismiss our own officers, and, finally, manage our own concerns independently; however, with this restriction--in case any measure is taken by us which shall seem to militate against our good standing as a church of Christ we shall submit it to a committee of five members, whom we shall choose out of the Baptist Church in Savannah, whose counsel we bind ourselves to follow, provided it be not contrary to the precepts of the Gospel.
"2d. We agree to hold no meetings for discipline or other purposes until we have duly notified, by writing, one member of the Baptist Church, selected by said church, to be present, and agreeing not to pursue any measure such delegated member shall deem improper until we shall have had council of the above-named committee.
"3d. We agree to relinquish to the minority of this body all our right and title to the old church so soon as they shall agree to give up and do relinquish to us all right and title to the newly-purchased one, and when we are put in full and free possession of it, and our trustees, viz., William H. Stiles, Peter Mitchell and John Williamson, shall satisfy us that they have good and sufficient titles.
"4th. We agree to dismiss all members and such as have been members of our church, that they may either join another or form a new Baptist Church, and as soon as such church shall be satisfied with and receive them then they shall be dismissed from us.
"5th. And we oblige and bind ourselves by these presents that whenever we break any covenant above named, then, on proof thereof, we herein empower our trustees to shut up our church and cause us to desist from public worship until we fully submit to the advice of our committee."
This petition was received with "a small alteration in the second article, and was accepted as the kind of connection which might exist between this church and the First African Church." Here, it will be observed, that the Third African Baptist Church is not yet organized. In the minutes of the Conference of the Savannah Baptist Church (white), January 28, 1833, is the following:
"Resolved, That inasmuch as the minority of the First African (now the Third) Church have conformed to the requirements of this church in constituting themselves into a church, be received under the supervision of this body upon the same terms as the First African Church."
It will be seen that the Third African Church was organized between December 24th, 1832, and January 28th, 1833.*
For in the conference of December 24th, 1832, the Third African Church was then called the minority of the First African Church, and was refused admittance into the Savannah Baptist Church (white) until they should be formed into a church. And in the conference of January 28th, 1833, they were received as Third African Baptist Church. This being the only condition (that they would form themselves into a church) upon which they would be received by said church as required by the conference of December 24th, 1832. In 1833 delegates were appointed by the Savannah Baptist Church to visit the First African Church. Notwithstanding the First African Baptist Church was received under the supervision of the Savannah Baptist Church, trouble kept brewing in its midst like a smoldering volcano; and July 22d, 1833, the Savannah Baptist Church decided that "It was thought advisable in consequence of the disorderly conduct of the First African Church not to appoint delegates to visit them this month."
Rev. Andrew C. Marshall was well acquainted with Baptist church government, and though he was a negro and had to succumb to his white brethrens' wish in everything else, he stubbornly and manfully refused to yield the freedom and independence of a Baptist church. And his people stood by him, and God raised up friends for him. The Second Baptist Church had more of the fear of the white man and perhaps more of the fear of God. The following communication will bear out that fact:
"THE SECOND AFRICAN CHURCH TO THE SAVANNAH BAPTIST.
"DEAR BRETHREN--We have witnessed with sincere regret the many serious difficulties which have for many months existed among some of our colored churches, and which have tended to destroy our harmony and remove from us the religious privilege which we now so richly enjoy. And we have regarded with approbation the efforts our white brethren have made to secure to us the permanent possession of our present enjoyment. We are decidedly of the opinion that great advantage will arise to the colored churches by their being under the protection and supervision of the white church. We do, therefore, respectfully request that the Second African Church may be taken under the care of your body in such manner as shall by you be considered expedient.
"Very sincerely yours in the Gospel,
"[Signed] HENRY CUNNINGHAM.
SAVANNAH, 23d June, 1833.
"Isaac Mooter, Licensed Preacher,
The Second Church made no conditions upon which they would be accepted. They left everything with their white brethren. They were received most unanimously, of course. Rev. Andrew C. Marshall insisted upon the right of a church; that if it had the right to be a church it should be governed by the New Testament and acknowledge no master but Christ the Lord; that if the church could not be a New Testament church it should not be at all. Having right on his side it is not a wonder that he conquered and made ardent admirers of his bitterest enemies.
The First African Baptist Church at this time is again walking alone. The white Baptist Church has again refused to recognize her, but she marches right along, winning souls for heaven and God.
January 25th, 1833, the officers of the First African Church met a committee of the Savannah Baptist Church (white) and asked the following questions:
1. What duties are proper that A. Marshall shall perform in the church at this time?
2. Has any thing been done since they have occupied the new building and come under your supervision which the committee think improper?
3. Would the committee recommend that the First African Church call Jack McQueen (who is licensed by the city authorities) to become its preacher?
To the first the committee advise that Andrew Marshall should not go into the pulpit and preach, nor administer the ordinance of baptism, nor the Lord's supper, but that there is no objection to his leading in prayer and exhortation in any meeting when such measure is consented to by the delegated brother. That there is no objection to his making pastoral visits, marrying, attending funerals and extending the right hand of fellowship, when requested to do so by the church.
To the second question the committee reply that they are gratified in receiving so good a report from the delegated brethren, and find no charge of impropriety against them. To the third question they answer, they do not think it their business to say who should preach for the church, but they can see no impropriety in any regularly licensed brother preaching, provided he has liberty granted by the city authorities. The committee advise that neither the church nor any part of it do hold any meetings except regularly notified ones in the church.
Signed: Henry O. Wyer, Thos. Clark, W. W. Wash, Holmes Tupper and D. Votee.
It is very remarkable that these poor slaves had such indefatigable Christian manhood. Their whole deportment seemed to have said to their white brethren: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." And when the command was made more emphatic, they seemed to have answered more emphatically: "We ought to obey God rather than men." In temporal things they hesitated not to obey those who had rule over them. In spiritual things they didn't feel it their duty to obey magistrates, but insisted upon worshipping God according to the dictates of their conscience. They were more consistent than their advisers. They had been advised by their white brethren that Rev. Andrew C. Marshall might lead in prayer, give the right hand of fellowship, exhort, preach funerals, marry and visit the sick. Is not it quite natural that they would have thought that if he was competent to do all this that there was no good reason why he should not be their pastor? And what is more praiseworthy, they had the courage of their conviction. They acted out what they believed.
Hence, on the 6th of March, 1833, we find the following in the minutes of the Savannah Baptist Church (white):
"The officers of the First African Church stated that it had called Andrew C. Marshall to be its pastor, and that they had thought it best for him to resume his pastoral duties, and wishes to know the opinion of the committee in relation to the matter. After mature deliberation, the committee can see no good reason for changing the advice given on a former occasion, and refer the church to their opinion given on the 25th of January."
But the church had arisen in the majesty of her might and acted for herself. This was as right as it was fearless and bold. It showed that she had a leader that was worthy of the consideration and respect of all men. It must be said in praise of the white people, that while it was in their power to use harsh means, and thus force their wish, they did not do so. They exhibited great patience, and used only persuasive means. Rev. Andrew C. Marshall was the bone of contention. The white Baptists were opposed to his being the pastor, because he had entertained and expressed the views of Alexander Campbell. They were zealous about "the faith once delivered to the saints." But for this great protest of the Baptists, white and black, it is quite likely that Rev. Marshall would have led thousands off after Mr. Alexander Campbell, and Savannah now, with her ten thousand negro Baptists, would have been a Campbellite city, so that even out of this great confusion good has come. The officers of the First African Church were advised at one meeting of the committee not to call Rev. A. C. Marshall as pastor, and reported at the next that they had called him as their pastor, giving as their reason that they thought it best that he should resume his pastoral duties. This was true manhood; they thought it best. They must be praised for contending for the independence of the Baptist Church in those dark days. At this meeting the committee (white) agreed upon and reported to the church (white) the following (March 22, 1833):
"The committee, after due deliberation, unwilling to take upon themselves the responsibility to advise that Andrew C. Marshall should resume his pastoral office in the First African Church, refer the matter to the trustees of said church and the city authorities.
"H. O. WYER,
"W. W. WASH,
It appears that Rev. Marshall had friends even among the white people. He was a wise, careful and most wonderful planner. The carefulness of his plans is seen in his success, even when the odds were against him. The learned whites seem to have been baffled by his adroitness and surpassing executive ability. He influences H. Tupper to give him a note expressive of his consent for him to enter upon his work once more which he so much loved. H. Tupper showed the committee the following note he had given to the pastor of the First African Church, which was not agreed to by the balance of the committee:
"I am satisfied there is no good reason that Andrew C. Marshall should be withheld from the pastoral office of the First African Church, and I believe that there is no objection on the part of the other members of the committee charged with its supervision except that which arises from the public prejudice against him. If, therefore, this can be removed, or it does not exist in such a degree as supposed by the committee, I think he ought to be restored as soon as the church gets permission from its trustees and the city authorities for him to be restored. But I am constrained to add that I verily fear the public is not in favor of such a measure.
"SAVANNAH, March 21st, 1833.
After getting this note; Rev. Marshall went to the trustees (who were already his friends) and obtained the following permission to begin his work of giving the bread of life to his people:
"Permission of Trustees.
"SAVANNAH, April 2, 1833.
"We, the trustees of the First African Church of Savannah, knowing of no reason why Andrew C. Marshall, the pastor, or other deacons or officers of the said church, should be inhibited or interrupted in the exercise of all or any of the rites, ceremonies or duties which to them or any of the congregation of said church, as disciples or seekers of Jesus Christ, belong, we do hereby give to them, to the extent of our power, every privilege which as Christians they can require.
"WM. H. STILES,
This gave the suffering pastor the right to enter the church once more as its leader. But the trouble was not over.
*It is quite clear that the "Third African Church" was organized in January, 1833, and is therefore only 55 years old.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved