The New Site at Franklin Ward, or Square--The Purchase--New Building, and more about Rev. Marshall's Efforts to Get Money to Build the Church and to Bring it to a Higher Plane of Usefulness and Intelligence, and his Death.
It appears that before the split of 1832 that money had been raised to purchase the old site of the Savannah Baptist Church at Franklin Square, and before the contract had been closed the trouble commenced. When the trouble was settled the First African Baptist Church agreed to relinquish its claims to the old church property to the minority so soon as they would relinquish their claims to the new. Hence it must be that they had helped to raise some of the money before the split with which to buy the new church property.
The First African Baptist Church bought this property for $1,500. They were required to pay this amount from April 28th, 1832, by November 1st, 1832. The terms were rigid, considering those days. The bargain was authorized to be made in the Conference of the Savannah Baptist Church (white) April 28, 1832, and in the Conference of the same, May the 10th, 1832, the First African Baptist Church is credited with $1,000. The poor slaves had paid in less than thirty days this amount of money. They worked all day for the white people and paid them whatever money they made at night or between times. The church (white) ordered their Trustees to give the First African Baptist Church possession of the building as soon as they had paid the balance due. From this statement we learn that they were not to have possession until they paid all. If it be asked, Was this right and just? we answer, yes and no. Yes, because if that was the contract it was right for them to comply with the contract before they could expect possession. If they were men capable of making a contract they ought to have been compelled to keep it. No, because they were slaves, and all they had and were belonged to the white people. They owned them as slaves and ordinarily they were not allowed to make a contract. It was the duty of the white people to look out for the religious welfare of the negroes, build their churches and pay their preachers. How could the white people have expected these slaves to have money? They worked them all day and hired patrols and police nights and Sundays to see that they did not go out, except to church. Still they exacted of them $1,500 just as rigidly as if they were free men. This thought is enough to chill the blood of a liberty-loving people. The First African Baptist Church is almost the price of blood. Just how the money was raised to buy this property we can not see. God helped His people, and to Him be all the glory. We may stand on the Mount of Liberty to-day and very well exclaim, "The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad!" Perhaps the church will never be called upon to suffer what she has suffered, and perhaps will never produce a set of members more earnest, more determined and more liberal.
These hardships developed wonderful characters. Whatever the negroes have learned they have paid for it dearly. About November 1st, 1832, the First African Baptist Church took charge of the building at Franklin Square. This was very providential that they should have obtained a site in so prominent a part of the city. From this place her glory commenced to be known the world over. No church has been more favored of the Lord than this church. Not long after they had settled down in their new quarters the First African Baptist Church begun to bestir itself to put up a large brick building, to stand as a palace built for God to show His milder face. This was a great undertaking for slaves, but they were led by a great man, who was capable of undertaking great things, and who knew no such thing as fail. The church begun this hard task under adverse circumstances. It will be remembered that for about ten years there was no special things that transpired in the church worthy of note, except that the church grew and thrived under the faithful, pious and aged Andrew C. Marshall.
It was in the heart of Rev. Mr. Marshall to build a fine house of worship. For this purpose he begged money from his church and friends in Savannah, but seeing this was not sufficient and that he could not prosecute the work as rapidly as he wished, and seeing that the church was greatly put to it to raise money, Rev. Mr. Marshall went North to beg money. He had some success, but nothing like what he had hoped, perhaps. This trip was taken in 1856. He was cordially received by Northern Baptists and invited in the leading pulpits of New York, crowds greeting him wherever he preached. But declining health and old age caused him to return homeward. Not being able to procure a passage on the steamer, owing to a law of the free States that a slave could not return to a slave State, he had to undertake the trip by land and such conveniences as that day afforded. He got as far as Richmond, Va., and there breathed his last, full of years, faith and good works. Rev. Mr. Marshall hoped to finished the church building with the finishing of his days. But God called him to his reward without letting him return to see his people and report the results of his labors. When he died the work kept right on.
God had a man prepared to take up the work where Rev. Marshall laid it down, and whom the people would love just as much, and who would wield the same, if not greater, influence over them. A man of practical judgment and wonderful executive ability. That man was Rev. William J. Campbell. Under him the work did not lag. He did not leave the city to raise money to any great extent, but so great was his influence that he raised money at will. The building cost twenty-six thousand dollars ($26,000). It was completed in 1859. It being the only brick building owned by negroes in the, city, or in the State, it attracted great attention. It was called the brick church, and by many is still known by that name. The building is a plain, neat one. There is nothing showy about it. Not a brick is put in it that might have been left out. Economy and taste were displayed in the erection of this edifice. It was built simply for the glory of God and He blessed their efforts. The church continued in favor with God and man. Anything she undertakes never fails. It is true that Rev. W. J. Campbell was not so able as Rev. A. C. Marshall, but somehow he had an unbounded influence over people. They simply obeyed him as king. The church was orderly and dignified.
The building has a basement in which services are held during the week and prayer meeting early Sunday morning, and Sunday school Sunday afternoons. The main audience room has a gallery running around the front and both sides. In this room is preaching at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning and at night. On the first Sunday in the month, at 3 P. M., the Lord's Supper is celebrated here also, and on the third Sunday in each month, at 3 P. M., the Church Conference is held in this room. Otherwise this room is not used except on special occasions, such as marriages, concerts, etc. The church has a large choir and a large pipe organ, which afford music morning and night on Sunday. The building is surrounded by an iron railing, except the rear, with the inscription, "First African Baptist Church, Rev. W. J. Campbell, Pastor." It stands a lasting monument to the greatness of Revs. A. C. Marshall and W. J. Campbell. As this building was completed in 1859 it stood until 1888 without any remodeling.
Rev. W. J. Campbell was a wise planner. He knew how to divide his forces and to concentrate them whenever this was necessary. When the church decided to tear down the old frame building and to erect a new brick edifice he appointed a building committee, of which he was chief director. As best we can learn, this committee consisted of Deacons Murry Monroe, C. L. DeLamotta, John Verdier and James M. Simms. These were members of the church and took personal interest in the work. The work was executed with great pride, exquisite taste and energy. Many men and women worked at night free of charge, and hence the work was pushed forward with wonderful rapidity. "The people had a mind to work." Mr. James H. Hooker, now a deacon of the church, boasts of having laid the first and last brick when the church was built. Many of the members loaned the church money on this occasion.
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