committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER IV.

        The Continuation of the Trouble--More about the Split--The Restoration of Rev. Marshall.

 

        We have said that the split occurred in 1832, and either the last of December, 1832, or the 1st of January, 1833, the final separation occurred. The trouble had been going on many months. The people carried clubs, brickbats and other such implements of war to the church with them. There was danger of a fight in the church at any time. On one occasion they had a terrible row in the church, and Mayor Warring went there with a lot of brickbats in his buggy and threw them in the church and succeeded in running the last one of them out of the church.

        The time had come when a split was inevitable; it had to come. After many councils and much deliberation the time was set when all of the members must be present and this trouble settled in an unmistakable manner. The time came when the members (most of them) met. Rev. Andrew C. Marshall went on one side of the building, and Deacon Adam Johnson on the other. Then it was said: "All who agree with Rev. Andrew C. Marshall go on that side with him, and all who agree with Deacon Adam Johnson go on that side with him." About one-eighteenth of the members went with Deacon Johnson, and seventeen-eighteenths went with Rev. Marshall, for the church then numbered 2,795 members. Out of this number 155 members agreed with Deacon Adam Johnson, and the remaining 2,640 members agreed with Rev. Andrew C. Marshall. The question came up that night as to which one should take the old name of the church. Deacon Johnson, the leader of the 155, said that "There has been so much disgrace connected with the First African Church that we don't want it. Let them have it."

        Subsequent to this Rev. Marshall and the church agreed to give these dissenters honorable letters of dismission if they would organize a church or join other Baptist churches. These brethren were soon organized as the Third African Baptist Church of Savannah.

        The Third Church continued by this name until 1866, when Rev. Alex. Harris (then a deacon of the Third African Baptist Church) offered a motion to change its name from Third African Baptist to the First Bryan Baptist Church, which was agreed to. For thirty-three years she remained under the name of the Third African Baptist Church. During all these years she did not increase very much, owing, perhaps, to the prejudice of the negro population because they accused her of being the cause of all this trouble by fighting the pastor. Even to-day she has not as many members as the Rev. Marshall had fifty-five years ago when he left the old spot. This trouble, perhaps, more than anything else, caused a careful study of God's Word and Baptist church usage.

        After this settlement, the bad feeling was kept up between the two churches in first one way and then another. Members would pass backward and forward; when they would fall out with the Third Church they would join the First Church, and when they would get dissatisfied with the First Church they would join the Third Church; and so for years the trouble was kept up.

        We have referred to the action of the officers of the First African Baptist Church reporting to the committee of the white Baptist Church that they had called Rev. Andrew C. Marshall to be their pastor. The following is the report of said committee to the Savannah Baptist Church, July 14th, 1833:

        "The committee of the First African Church finding that they can no longer be of use to said church, feel disposed to withdraw from it, unless it takes up the charges which we now make, and act upon them with promptness and decision.

        "1st. The compact or agreement entered into between this church and ours has been violated in several instances by holding frequent meetings without the presence of a brother delegated by our church.

        "2d. This church has disregarded the advice of their committee in electing Andrew C. Marshall to the pastoral charge of the church, permitting his continuance in office without the sanction of the civil authorities.

        "3d. The prevarication and evasion of Andrew C. Marshall respecting his faith and doctrine having been made manifest, the committee have lost all confidence in his character.

        "4th. The opposition of A. C. Marshall to be a member of the association, thereby virtually renouncing the government of the Baptist denomination, is esteemed by the committee a position extremely dangerous to the vital interest of the colored people.

        "5th. Satisfactory evidence that Andrew C. Marshall has fully, and now unequivocally, adopted the views and doctrine of Alexander Campbell, which the committee considers destructive to vital religion, and consequently ruinous to any people, and which our church has denounced as heresy.

        "6th. We now call upon all disciples of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, of the Baptist faith and order, in this church to come forward and have their names recorded that the committee may use their influence to restore them again to the association, but it is hoped and expected that all those of a different faith and order will peaceably withdraw from the church, or that the church, upon reorganization, will proceed immediately to purge itself of every disaffected member.

"(Signed)
"W. W. WASH,

"O. X. LILLIBRIDGE,

"T. VIRSTILL,

"T. DOWELL."

 

        Here was the combined wisdom and influence of the master against the servant's, learning against ignorance, and yet that grand old man, Rev. Andrew C. Marshall, out-generaled them all and held his people as by magic. The preceding document combined adroitness and learning, but the old man was equal to the task. In it the church is charged with restoring Andrew C. Marshall to the pastorate without consulting the civil authorities. What had the civil authorities to do with a Gospel church calling a Gospel minister to be their pastor? These men ought to have known that the church was established contrary to the wish of the civil authorities. They had Rev. H. O. Wyer as their pastor without consulting the civil authorities. Was their church any more of a church than the First African Baptist Church? It is surprising how far wrong men can go. They took this document to the First African Church and read it to the people and made an appeal to them, with the hope of winning them from Rev. Andrew C. Marshall, and finding themselves foiled in this cunningly devised plan, they addressed the following letter to the trustees of the First African Church:

"SAVANNAH, July 22, 1833.

"John P. Williams, Esq.:

        "DEAR SIR--We are constrained by a sense of duty to request that you will, for a time, have the First African Church shut up until the charges against Andrew C. Marshall for preaching false doctrine shall be cleared up to all concerned. You were present when the charges were made; you heard the defense set up by Mr. Dunning, and must admit that our charge was fully sustained or different religious denominations would have been called in to judge of the correctness of our views. A thousand souls are at stake and, we think it a matter of too much importance to be neglected, and as the power is vested in us to make this demand we do so in deference to you, sir, but we cannot recognize the authority of Mr. Dunning, or any other self-made Trustee, to interfere in this matter. We believe in a few weeks, by shutting up the church now, that matters can be satisfactorily settled by all parties. We appeal to you not only as a Christian but as a large property holder to aid us in checking false doctrine among our slaves. We are, sir, with great esteem,

"Your obedient servants,

"(Signed)
"W. W. WASH

"THOS DOWELL

"O. M. LILLIBRIDGE,

"Committee."

 

        Things were now getting serious. The committee having failed in their carefully devised plans to break Rev. Marshall's hold upon the hearts of his people, now appeal to the Trustees of the church with whom the power of closing the church rested. But God prevented this consummation and used Mr. Williams as his instrument to defend his cause and to protect this old Zion. His answer was wise and manly. God used the man as an instrument to protect His church. The man was not himself aware of the great good he was doing for the church of Christ and his enslaved servants. God has always reserved servants for special work. This man, by nature was no more of a friend to this church than those who urged that it be closed, but God had him in hand.

        The following is his able and remarkable reply. This was wonderfully strange to the committee of the church under the circumstances:

"SAVANNAH, July 26th, 1833.

"To Messrs. W. W. Wash, Thomas Dowell and Oliver M. Lillibridge:

        "SIRS--I yesterday received your communication of the 22d instant, at which I acknowledge my surprise as well from the singular and extraordinary request you make to shut up the First African Church, as also from the fact that you gave the Trustees to understand (on the Sunday they saw you at the church) your duty as a committee had been discharged, and therefore you had nothing further to engage your attention respecting the situation of the First African Church. Thus much for my surprise at the contents of your letter.

        "I must now be allowed to say that I am far from acknowledging your charge against Andrew C. Marshall for preaching false doctrine was established or supported in the least particular, unless your simple assertion is to be received as proof, for it was manifest to all present that you did not produce one testimony from the Scriptures or otherwise to support your views, and how you can with a due regard to propriety, state that 'our charge was fully sustained,' I have yet to learn, and so far foreign from my construction of duty as a Trustee, and of the plainest principle of the Gospel, is your request to 'shut up the First African Church' that I consider it incumbent on me, in connection with the other Trustees, to see the church kept open in order to afford Andrew C. Marshall, and the church of which he is pastor, the privilege of worshipping God to the best of their knowledge; and it is the deliberate intention of the Trustees to maintain them in the full enjoyment of all the rights and religious privileges which the laws of our country entitle them to receive.

        "I am aware that comparisons are sometimes odious, yet circumstances sanction their use, for it is proper to inform you that the remark you made of Mr. Dunning's being a self-constituted Trustee is incorrect, and I must be allowed to inquire by what authority you exercise the office of a committee of the Baptist Church. You need not be informed that you have no authority from the African Church to act in that capacity. It is an assumption, therefore, by you, as I think your own words will prove, and I must further be allowed to repeat my former verbal remark that there is an absence of all right on your part to interfere with the peaceful demeanor and worship of 'One Thousand Souls,' even if you were a regularly constituted committee, and, believe me, I shall not stop to inquire whether you acknowledge Mr. Dunning as a Trustee or not, it will be my pleasure to act with him in that capacity, together with Mr. Delyon, who is appointed by Mr. Stiles to represent him by a regular power of attorney, and I am authorized by them to inform you of our united determination to prevent the unauthorized attempts of others from depriving a large number of our fellow beings of their religious privileges which are guaranteed to them by the laws of our State, by the word of God, and by every principle of kindness which ought to be a prominent feature in the behavior of all those who profess the Gospel.

"I am, respectfully yours, &c., &c.,

"(Signed)
"JOHN. P. WILLIAMSON."

 

        This communication sounds as though this man was moved by a higher power and that his heart was indicting a good matter. He intimates that Rev. Marshall had carried his point, and so mighty was he in the Scriptures that he was an over-match for this committee. This, gentlemen, gave the committee an unwelcome cut respecting the independence of a church which Baptists, more than anybody else, love to parade. He very timely calls into question their right to interfere with a church worshipping God as they understand him. This would seem enough to put them to everlasting shame and eternal silence; but they were bent on ousting Rev. Marshall, and hence addressed the following letter to the Mayor of the city:

"SAVANNAH, 13th August, 1833.

"To His Honor William T. Williams:

 

        "SIR--We deem it our duty to address you on the subject of the First African Church--a subject in which our community is more or less interested. This church in a former difficulty, fearing that the public authorities would interfere with their privilege as a Christian society, applied to the Baptist Church in Savannah to be taken under their care, guidance and direction. Accordingly articles of agreement were entered into between the two churches and they were permitted to choose from our body five members as their Advisory Committee, which was accordingly done. The committee was to have all matters of controversy and difficulties arising in the church referred to them for settlement. With this arrangement our community appeared satisfied, but the time has arrived when we cannot be identified with them in any of their actions or doings. We have been compelled, though reluctantly, to give them up. This course has been deliberately and calmly considered, and our reasons for adopting it are: That Andrew C. Marshall has been preaching doctrines which our church cannot countenance. We have found by our proceedings with him that we can place no confidence in him--he deviates from the truth, and this, too, under the garb of his profession. We believe him to be a designing man, seeking only his own aggrandizement and the love of power, even at the expense of the peace and happiness of his own people. Our advice has been uniformly disregarded, and, though frequently asked, has on no occasion been followed. We should be doing violence to our own feelings by continuing longer with them. The majority of the church appear determined to go with Marshall at all hazards, and he has them so completely under his control that they are ready on all occasions to sanction his mandates, whether right or wrong. We are indeed satisfied that they are following the man, and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have for some time left them to themselves, in fact, our right to interfere with them at all has been denied by some men of high standing in this community, who seem disposed to support Andrew under any circumstances. We have felt great interest in the people under his charge, and have used all the peaceful means in our power to rescue them from their blind devotion to the man, but it is in vain. Under all these circumstances we give them up, and give notice to you as the head of our community that our church will not hold itself responsible for any act of which they may be guilty in future.

        "The individuals composing the First African Church are in part the property of our citizens, and it is for them, if they feel any interest in their everlasting or temporal welfare, to interpose and save them from the baneful influence of a designing man. We beg leave to refer you for details to Thomas Dowell, T. Virstill and O. M. Lillibridge, who will give your honor any information that may be in the possession of the committee not specially alluded to in this communication.

"We are, respectfully, your obedient servants,

"(Signed)
"W. W. WASH,

"THOS. DOWELL,

"OLIVER M. LILLIBRIDGE,

"T. VIRSTILL,

"S. A. PATOT,

"Committee."

 

        And still God was with the suffering church, and this attempt proved futile. There is no record that the Mayor answered this communication. If so, it could not have been favorable to the assailants, for the church kept on in its good work. Doubtless the Mayor answered in the same spirit which the trustees did, if he answered at all. We have from the committee's own mouth: "The majority of the church appear determined to go with Andrew C. Marshall at all hazard, and he has them so completely under his control that they are ready on all occasions to sanction his mandates, whether right or wrong. We are indeed satisfied that they are following the man, and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." A man, to carry his people contrary to the express wish of the white people in that day, and whom the people were determined to follow "at all hazards," must have been indeed a very wonderfully great man. There were members of the church who would have sacrificed their lives for Rev. Marshall.

 
 
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