BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF THE PASTORS.
REV. ANDREW BRYAN.
THE FIRST PASTOR.
REV. ANDREW BRYAN was born a slave upon a plantation near Goose Creek, South Carolina, and about twenty miles from Charleston. Nothing is known of his early life or who his owners were at his birth; he is only brought into notice and history as he is born of God through Jesus Christ, and only from his second and new birth do we know him and what has brought him so very prominently before mankind and the world. From his superior natural qualities, mental and physical, we judge that he has come from that line of his race that was brought from Africa early in the history of this country and landed in Virginia, which State in time sold them to others of later settlement, especially the Carolinas; and, of course, coming in contact with the civilization of the whites for several generations, were more enlightened and improved than the later importations of slaves from that country. It is a part of history that the first slaves in Georgia came from South Carolina, and the most intelligent, with some exceptions, are those and their posterity. Thus, in the planting of this first church of the negro race, the prime actors and instruments in the hands of God we trace back to Virginia and South Carolina,--Brother George Leyle from the former, and Fathers Andrew Bryan and Andrew C. Marshall, both from the latter.
Mr. Bryan in early life may have worked in the fields among the common laborers until his better qualities were developed; but this is only supposition, we do not know it. He might have been--and it is more than probable that he was--about the house with his parents, and as he grew up became waiter, etc.; but when introduced to us, he was coachman and trusted body-servant to his owner, to whom he was sold from Carolina, or perhaps received as part of an estate by marriage, as was frequently the case.
He seems to have been of unmixed, pure African blood, with a smooth, smiling face, bright inquiring eyes, and pearly white teeth,--characteristics of the pure and best tribes of Africa. He was slightly above the medium height, had a finely-poised head upon broad shoulders, somewhat rounded, with muscular limbs, and was moderately corpulent. In delivery his speech was clear and deliberate, his voice musical, his manner in preaching impressive and persuasive. At times his soul seemed to knit itself to other souls, and enabled him to draw them to Christ by his gospel, to comfort them in affliction, to strengthen them when in trouble, to warn them when in danger, and to guide them in the discharge of their duties. No man of his day was more trusted by his owners or more loved by his people; and he became then, and lives in memory now, an example of manhood, purity, and piety.
All we know of his marriage relations is that he had a wife, Hannah by name, and that she must have been in loving harmony and concord with her husband. As they went down in the water together and received baptism, it is fair to suppose, as they received Christ together, so walked they in him. They had but one child, as we know, a daughter, from whom came the family of the Whitfields, of Savannah, and whose son, Sampson Whitfield, was a representative of the church at times in the Association, and died but a few years previous to this writing, leaving also a daughter, Mrs. H. J. Ward. It seems that in the vicissitudes of life his religious change came quite late. How long he had been converted before his baptism we do not know; but he must have been about sixty years of age when he was baptized, as he died in about his ninetieth year, having labored in the Lord's vineyard for twenty-nine years, and served as pastor from 1788 to 1812, twenty-four years. He was certainly of a healthy body, and seemed to enjoy that blessing nearly to the end of his life.
Mr. Bryan's style of preaching must have been very admirable, as some of the older ministers of a later day, whom we have heard preach, often alluded to him in their discourses, and seemed very desirous to emulate him. By the favor of Almighty God he was instrumental in converting many to Christ among his race, and founded for them the greatest institution for their good in the world. "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars, forever and ever." And this truly may be applied to his glorious life in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
REV. ANDREW C. MARSHALL.
THE SECOND PASTOR.
ANDREW COX MARSHALL says that he was born in the year 1755. His mother, in determining his age, always referred to the year of Braddock's defeat by the French and Indians. She was an unmixed negro. His father was an Englishman, the overseer upon a plantation in South Carolina, where Andrew was born. His father went back to England, where he died soon after Andrew was born. He was sold to Colonial Governor John Houston, of Georgia, who died when he was about twenty-one years of age.
Mr. Marshall was twice married, the first time when he was sixteen years of age. By his two marriages he had twenty children, only one of whom survived him.
Governor Houston bequeathed him his freedom at his death, on account of having at one time saved his master's life. The executors failed to carry out the bequest, and he was again sold, being separated from his wife. He had run away to evade the decision of the executors, and was bought by Judge Clay while at large.
While in the service of Judge Clay he accompanied his master, who several times visited the Northern States in the capacity of member of Congress, and perhaps on other occasions. On these visits he was the coachman, and was enabled frequently to see General George Washington, of whom he was fond of relating striking incidents. At a later day, when General Washington visited Savannah, Mr. Marshall was honored with the appointment of body-servant to the President.
He was an eye-witness to many of the scenes around Savannah during the Revolutionary war, and had distinct recollections of General Nathaniel Green, who removed to Savannah in 1785, possessed valuable grants of land near the city, and died the next year, June 19, 1786. He frequently gave incidents of his great funeral.
Mr. Marshall's force of character seemed to have been chiefly expended on worldly interests until he was about fifty years of age, when he became converted to Christ, and soon after his conversion he also acquired his freedom. He was at that time owned as a slave by Mr. Robert Bolton, of Savannah. The venerable mercantile partner of Mr. Bolton, Mr. Richard Richardson, advanced him two hundred dollars, which, with what he had saved by economy, enabled him to purchase his own freedom; and by diligence and economy he purchased his whole family, consisting of his wife, four children, his wife's father, and his own stepfather.
He became converted through the preaching of a white minister in the Savannah Baptist Church from the text: "But now they have no cloak for their sins."--John xv. 22. Upon conversion he joined the Second Colored Church, and was baptized by Rev. Henry Cunningham. Shortly after that event he began to preach, and frequently he would drive his mistress to church in her carriage, then drive the carriage to his own church, get some one to look after his horses, go in and preach a sermon, leaving the closing service to the pastor, return to the Episcopal Church with the carriage, and drive Mrs. Bolton home,--such was his anxiety to serve his heavenly Master after his new birth. In 1806 he became the assistant pastor of the First Colored Church under his uncle, Rev. Andrew Bryan. The church then had about one thousand members. In his religion he was entirely free from superstition, and gave no countenance to marvellous relations of experience, even in a work of grace. He could penetrate beneath disguises, and few men, white or black, of any age could surpass him in reading human character.
There was a period of about two years--from 1819 to 1821--when Mr. Marshall became somewhat unpopular with the whites of his denomination, on account of his extreme views of theology which bordered on antinomianism (or denying the obligation of the moral law), and again, later, he receded to the opposite extreme of sacramentalism in baptism, as held by Dr. Alexander Campbell.
During that time, and while engaged in his secular avocations as a drayman, he violated the laws by contraband dealings with the negro slaves. He purchased from them without having tickets with leave to sell and trade, and, though it was common for the whites to lay the foundation of a fortune by this illicit trading, advantage was taken of Mr. Marshall's inadvertency, together with his temporary unpopularity, and he was prosecuted and sentenced to be whipped in the market-place; but his kind friend, Mr. Richardson, who had before assisted him in getting his freedom, with the sympathy of many of the best citizens by whom was employed, would not allow him to suffer; and many of those who witnessed the execution of the sentence attest that the whipping was only a semblance, his former master being at his side to see that the constable did not scratch his skin or draw any blood.
Mr. Marshall delighted in alluding to his uncle, Rev. Andrew Bryan, as a preacher, and his great deference to the white people; yet he never hesitated in his firm and respectful declaration of the rights of conscience in matters of religion. Mr. Marshall owned a considerable number of books, and among those evidently the most used were Dr. Gill's commentaries. The bent and tone of Mr. Marshall's mind were of the old Calvinistic order. His clear intellect was equal to the best distinctions of theology. In his treatment of a subject in some of his pulpit performances there was observable the grasp of a mind which would be deservedly called great.
Very often, indeed, in preaching he intermingled incidents of his personal experience, and then would seem to run into a rambling style, but even then these discursive qualities served to keep alive the attention of his simple flock. His voice was so deep, sonorous, and tender, that its capacity for the expression of pathos was unsurpassed. His favorite hymns and selections of Scripture were sometimes pronounced with such effect that the most highly educated and discriminating persons would never forget the impressions of such readings.
His appearance was commanding, though neither stout nor tall, compared with the average of well-formed men. His partly African skin and hair were compensated by a face of intelligence superior to the limitations of race. His hair was of the clearest white, and though leaning to the African, it rose in unwonted profusion, giving him the presence of a venerable patriarch. His teeth were sound and beautifully clear. In some of his glowing pulpit efforts, his face and whole person were irradiated with intelligence, and one could not hear him at such times without feeling himself within the influence of a superior mind. He was pastor of this church from 1815 to 1832,--seventeen years.
"EXTRACT FROM 'ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN PULPIT,' BY WM. SPRAGUE, D.D. A LETTER WRITTEN BY REV. JOHN M. KREBS, D.D.1
"NEW YORK, June 4,1859.
"MY DEAR SIR,--You ask me for my recollections of the Rev. Andrew C. Marshal, the centenarian colored preacher of Savannah.
"On a certain Lord's Day in May, 1855, I was in Savannah on my way to the General Assembly. After preaching in the morning for the late Rev. Dr. Preston, then pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church, I attended in the afternoon, in company with a respected Ruling Elder of the First Presbyterian Church, and several other Christian friends who were lodging at the same hotel with me, the worship in the African Baptist Church, which was under the pastoral care of Mr. Marshall, celebrated for his great age, his protracted evangelical labors, and his genuine Christian eloquence.
"On entering the church, which was a neat, substantial structure, accommodating, as I supposed, from eight hundred to a thousand persons, we were conducted to the pews reserved for white visitors in the middle tier (immediately in front of the pulpit), which were occupied by some twenty or twenty-five white persons. The house was crowded in every part with colored people, whose neat and appropriate dress and decorous behavior could not be surpassed by any congregation. It happened to be their communion service, and the exercises were just beginning with a hymn, which was nobly read by the pastor, and nobly sung by the people. The venerable minister was seated under the pulpit which was only a few feet from us. His locks were gray with age, but his form was apparently robust, though the furrows were in his checks. As he rose to offer prayer, he steadied himself upon his cane, while gradually he attained an erect position, every feature and every limb trembling, it may be not more with the weight of years than with powerful emotion. The prayer uttered with clear articulation and with strong voice was somewhat long, but it was rich with Christian thought and feeling, appropriate in expression, and attracting the sympathy of the worshippers. The aged man of God proceeded with an address bearing upon the special service in which he was engaged. He made a modest remark in reference to his own illiteracy; but, although there was here and there a quaintness and homeliness of expression, neither out of place nor out of taste, which, nevertheless, I could not here repeat without exciting a smile, it was not for a moment deficient in force or devotion, nor left any other impression than that of deep and tender solemnity. And if the preacher modestly estimated his own ability, it was clear to his hearers that he was a 'man of one Book,' mighty in the Scriptures and taught of God. The subject of his address was the indispensable importance of the death of Christ and the astonishing results which it accomplished. There might occasionally seem to a very fastidious critic to be a slight incoherence of fragmentary observation; but it was not so, there was a clear, full, consistent vein of thought running through the whole.
"I do not attempt to give more than a specimen of his utterance. Referring to the promise of the Saviour's coming, couched in the declaration,--'As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come,' he said, 'My beloved brethren, when I read this promise, my poor, trembling heart sometimes sinks within me. The Lord shall be revealed in all the grace and glory of the Redeemer, and the King; but these aged eyes of mine will not continue their sight until that day. I am a hundred years old, and these tottering limbs of mine shall be laid in the dust long ere that bright vision shall gladden the face of his redeemed people. But I check myself and rebuking my impatient fear. Do I not read in his sure promise, that though I sleep in the dust of the earth, I shall lose nothing of the perfect grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, even because he shall lose nothing of all that the Father has given him, for he shall raise it up at the last day. My dead body shall arise in the vigor and immortality wherein it shall be fashioned like the glorified body of Jesus. And these dull ears shall hear the archangel's trump, and these dim eyes shall see the King in his glory as clearly and to as good advantage as any that shall be alive and remain upon the earth to hail that glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ!' Could anything have been more inspiriting, more adapted to rouse up the faith and hope of the believer?
"Again, in allusion to the plotting of the great adversary to destroy Christ, he said, 'At last he succeeded. He was nailed to his cross in agony and shame. Satan had bruised his heel, and thought that he had crushed his head. The fool! It was his own head that was broken then, and he has been a fool ever since; and the proof of all his wicked madness and folly in compassing the death of Christ became apparent. It was Christ that triumphed then and spoiled the spoiler. The thief was rescued from the kingdom of darkness. The heathen centurion acknowledged the Son of God. His death multiplied his disciples. The thousands of Pentecost bowed before the salvation of the cross. Myriads upon myriads that no man can number have been delivered from the kingdom of Satan and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. That great salvation has made its way through the world; its blessed fruits are gathered abundantly on these Western shores. Our skins are dark, but our souls are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Nor is he the propitiation for our sins only. My brethren, the time was in this city and through this Southern country when you would scarcely ever see the face of our white masters in a house of prayer; but how is it now? How many of those to whom we are subject in the flesh have recognized our common Master in heaven, and they are our masters no longer? They are fellow-heirs with us of the grace of life. They sit with us at the same table of our common Lord. They are our friends, our brethren, our guardians, our fathers, and we are travelling together to that blessed land where we shall dwell together in the presence of Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.'
"Who could but be affected with such stirring gospel eloquence; and my only regret was this: When the old man was surrounded by the deacons, some ten in number, a body of fine-looking men, the most of them intensely black, to receive from him the elements for distribution, I felt a pang, because I supposed the Baptist principle of close communion would exclude me from sharing in that feast of love. But this apprehension was quickly dissipated. Before proceeding to distribute, the aged servant of God announced, that that was not a Baptist table, but Christ's table, and that all who loved Him were welcome there. And when the bread and wine were handed round first to the white occupants of the pews, all of whom appeared to be communicants in Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, and perhaps Episcopalian churches, and then to the six hundred colored communicants--as devout and tender as any congregation I ever saw,--I declare to you that never did I administer these emblems of my Saviour's love, nor never did I receive them from the hands of other ministers of Christ, with whatsoever canonical or apostolical authority ordained, with greater joy than I received them that day from the trembling hands of that poor bowed-down weeping negro minister of Jesus Christ.
"The service continued about two hours and a half, consisting variously of hymns, prayers, reading of the Scriptures, and exhortations. It was refreshment by the way, and it was all conducted by Mr. Marshall. But it was not long nor tedious, but food and strength for many days. And when at the close, as the assembly orderly broke up, yet seeming loth to part with each other, I went forward to introduce myself to this aged father, I could rejoice, as speaking through tears, with steady, cheerful voice and happy heart, we exchanged the mutual prayer that it might be ours, with all the Israel of God, at our next probable meeting, to sit down together with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God at the marriage supper, when the Lamb himself shall preside.
"This, however, was not our last interview. Among the respectful friends who gathered around him was the captain of a Philadelphia steamer regularly plying between that city and Savannah, who seconded my invitation to the venerable man to visit the North, by heartily offering him free passage in his ship both coming and going. I encouraged him to expect some help in building a larger and more commodious church, which his congregation were projecting. About a year afterward he made the visit. He spent some months in this city, lodging with a respectable religious family of his own race, but freely welcomed to the tables and pulpits of the brethren whose acquaintance he made (among whom was the family of a noble-hearted and wealthy Georgian, then residing here), who provided for his support while here and for his getting about from place to place,--for, of course, he was too feeble to walk or even to travel alone in omnibuses. Perhaps the long journey and the change of climate and habits contributed to bring upon him a disorder from which he never recovered. He preached once for me to a large concourse of people which the occasion attracted. The subject of his discourse was the fierce demoniac who had his dwelling among the tombs, out of whom Christ cast the unclean spirit by which he was possessed. Applying it to his own history he described his own early life as a careless sinner until the grace of God visited and rescued him from the power of Satan and led him from step to step until he became a preacher of the gospel. He detailed many interesting incidents of the Revolutionary war, including the siege of Savannah, and his own career as a servant, and his journeys as an express-rider, bearing dispatches from officers of the army to and fro between military stations, and eventually the purchase of the freedom of himself and family and his acquisition and then the loss of property. These incidents were wrought into his discourse not as a mere narrative, but as illustrations of the ways of Providence toward him. The sermon was richly evangelical, and experimental. But it had not the glow and copiousness, nor perhaps the stricter connection, which would have characterized it but for the evident pressure of increasing infirmity and unusual disorder of his bodily system. The audience, however, was deeply interested, and responded to his appeal for aid to rebuild his church, with a generous collection. But he did not live to accomplish his object. Returning homeward by easy overland travel, his illness increased upon him, and he died on the way at Richmond. He had but little learning,--hardly beyond the knowledge of his Bible,--but he was shrewd, intelligent, and fervent in spirit, unpresuming, but zealous, and useful among his own people, and greatly respected by all.
"The following account of his 'trial' which I received from the lips of Dr. Preston, may be repeated in this connection: There was, and perhaps still is, a law of Georgia which requires that a preacher shall procure a recommendation from three reputable citizens of his own denomination, and upon it obtain a license from the county court before exercising his office. Mr. Marshall applied to Dr. Preston for a testimonial, which the doctor informed him would be useless inasmuch as he was a Presbyterian and Marshall a Baptist. For some reason--most likely because he did not understand the law--Mr. Marshall proceeded to preach without the license. Some officious person caused him to be indicted. When the day of trial came, it appeared that in his ignorance of the method of proceeding he had retained no counsel for his defence. Several of the lawyers in their kindness towards him solicited one of the most eminent of their brethren, Mr. McAlister (afterwards Judge McAlister, of California), to appear for him, as he was incompetent to plead his own cause. Mr. McAlister immediately undertook the case, which looked very hopeless indeed. The prosecution proved the offence fully. At the proper time for introducing his witnesses, Mr. McAlister, observing Dr. Preston in the court, called him to testify. On the doctor's entrance upon the witness-stand the presiding judge interposed, inquiring of counsel for the defence what he expected to prove by Dr. Preston. The reply was: 'That Andrew Marshall was qualified to preach the gospel.' 'That,' said the court, 'is not the question. The accused may be never so well qualified theologically, but he is indicted for preaching without the legal qualification prescribed by the statute.' A little argument took place which resulted in, as a matter of course, the judge's decision to exclude the witness. Mr. McAlister immediately called another well-known citizen to the stand, when the previous scene was repeated. The counsel offered a third equally prominent witness, who was also rejected for irrelevancy. Meanwhile, the attention of the jury was fastened in this series of overtures, which was just what the astute counsel designed. On 'summing up,' he made an ingenious and eloquent speech in his defence, particularly and plausibly arguing 'the very embarrassing and disadvantageous predicament in which his poor client was placed by the remarkable ruling of the court, which on his offering, on behalf of the accused, the testimony of several of the most respectable witnesses that the city could furnish, had refused even to let them be sworn. The prosecuting attorney made a few brief remarks commenting upon the law and the testimony, and clearly established the guilt of the accused preacher in his breach of the laws of the State. The judge as pointedly charged the jury against him, for the fact was undeniable. The jury retired, and in a very little time returned with a verdict of 'not guilty.' The court gravely received it. The clerk quietly smiled as he recorded it, and the spectators a little more audibly tittered in token of their satisfaction. The prisoner was discharged and the jury dismissed. As they came out of the box some person present inquired of one of them, 'How it was possible for them to bring in such a verdict in the face of the law and the fact and their own oath?' 'Easily enough,' replied the juror; 'you will never catch a Georgia jury convicting him of crime for preaching the gospel.'"
REV. THOMAS ANDERSON.
THE THIRD PASTOR.
THOMAS ANDERSON was born in Chatham County, Georgia, of unmixed African blood, and a slave to the family from which he takes his name. He was apprenticed and learned the carpenter's trade. He became a convert to the Baptist faith early in life, and was baptized by Mr. Bryan as a member of this church. He was dismissed to form the Second Church in Savannah, and became a deacon under Rev. Henry Cunningham, in which office he served until set apart to the ministry as an evangelist by that church.
He was a man of high moral character, grave of demeanor, and of strict piety. He married a manumitted slave, by whom he reared a large family of children. One of his sons, Adam Anderson, was for several years clerk of the First Church, until he left the State for Africa. Rev. Anderson was possessed of an intelligent mind, and could read very well. As a preacher, he was not fluent of language, but profound in doctrine and ardent in delivery. As a pastor, he was fatherly to his people, being well advanced in years before being called to that position. He was ever reverently honored for the purity of life and the high position he occupied more than for the ability he possessed.
He was called to the pastorate of this church in 1833, succeeding Mr. A. C. Marshall, and served the church until 1835, two years; when he resigned, to become the pastor of the Second Church, on the death of Rev. H. Cunningham, in which position he served very acceptably and with much success until he died.
REV. STEPHEN McQUEEN.
THE FOURTH PASTOR.
STEPHEN McQUEEN was born a slave, upon the plantation of the white family from whom he took his name. As he grew he was selected as a house-servant, and becoming a favorite of his mistress, on account of his strict honesty and pleasant disposition, she taught him to read in her leisure moments. Removing to the city, he attended the church, and soon became converted to Christ. As a young man, he joined the church and was baptized by Rev. Andrew C. Marshall. Being intelligent and able to read tolerably correct, he would exercise his gifts among his fellow-servants upon the McQueen plantation, some five miles from Savannah, and the church approved of his preaching; and for a number of years he thus labored, as opportunities permitted, at different points around the city and country. It was late in life, about the age of fifty, before he was ordained as an evangelist. He was a man of fine physical appearance, above the medium stature with very pleasant countenance, but slow of speech, and very deliberate in preaching. He was called to the pastorate of the church in 1835, and served five years without any remarkable results. He was a man of strict piety and sound in the doctrines so far as he was able to understand them. He continued to labor as an evangelist as long as he was able; but a few years after retiring from the pastoral care of this church he became much enfeebled, which compelled his retirement. His memory to the latest years of his life was good, and he furnished much information of the early days of this church, and of the others that were organized from it. He died rich in the faith of a glorious resurrection, to an inheritance among the saints in light, while his works do follow him.
REV. JOHN BENJAMIN DEVOUX.
THE FIFTH PASTOR.
REV. JOHN BENJAMIN DEVOUX was born in Savannah, Georgia, in a state of slavery, on October 15, 1774, and was thus fourteen years of age when this church was constituted. He was of mixed blood, and possessed, as among his race, rare qualities of natural ability. Though born a slave, he seemed to have been greatly favored by his owners. He was taught the trade of a house-carpenter and worked at it generally until his later days. As most of the young of his day he early became a professor of religion, joined the Savannah white church, and was baptized by Dr. Holcombe.
When the Second Colored Baptist Church was organized he was dismissed to it, and became one of the first deacons. He also organized its choir, and through his perseverance acquired for himself and associates a very fair knowledge of the theory of music, and thus became at that early day somewhat celebrated as a leader of church music. He became the father also of one of the most distinguished colored families in the city in his ability to partially educate his daughters, two of whom were his assistants in the church choir, and led the singing after his death, until the days of emancipation. He was a man of strict piety and upright deportment; a pattern of good works to all around him, yet very modest and seemingly diffident in his actions; and among the fathers he may in an eminent degree he called the Barnabas, for he was truly a good man and "filled with the Holy Ghost and of faith, and much people was added unto the Lord by his labors in the church." He was often a representative of his church in the Sunbury Association while a deacon, and was licensed to preach, among others, about the year 1831. He was called to ordination by this church in 1842 as their pastor, and served two years. Though he did not possess much of force in preaching, he was, nevertheless, a good reasoner of the faith that was in him, and sound in the doctrines of his church. He lived to a good old age, and died on September 16, 1845, honored and regretted by the whole community, and greatly loved and revered by his brethren and the church.
It is written, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." He also was one among the meekest of the Baptist fathers; and under his roof and by his noble wife and daughters, who were always nominally free, many colored children were clandestinely taught to read the Scriptures, which gave young Christian men a better knowledge of God and religion than they would otherwise have possessed; and also left their posterity in the possession of knowledge that at this day makes them possessors of prominent positions, with power to benefit their race,--and a living testimony of what faith in God, hope in immortality, and charity towards mankind can accomplish in the world, even after we sleep in death. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," as did Father Devoux.
REV. ISAAC ROBERTS.
THE SIXTH PASTOR.
REV. ISAAC ROBERTS was born in Savannah, of free parents. He learned the trade of a cooper, and, in connection with John Cox, for many years carried the principal business of making barrels or tierces for marketing the rice grown upon the plantations near the city. Both himself and partner learned to read after they had grown to manhood, and, like all colored persons, were limited in their education. He was a man of great energy and industry. He was converted, and became a member of the Second African Church when about thirty years of age, and soon after was licensed to preach, exercising his gifts among the country churches. He was called as pastor of this church in 1846, and served three years very successfully and acceptably to the members. He did much to build up the church and arouse the spirit of its members to work for the Master's cause. Mr. Roberts was a very forcible preacher of the gospel, and was practical in his application of the Scriptures to the wants and condition of his people,--a thorough Baptist, whose principles he believed to be right and give the largest liberty consistent with righteousness. He, therefore, more than any other of our colored brethren, ever exhibited restlessness under the slave system. In our associational meetings and ministerial councils he frequently chafed under the humiliation of restraining what he and all our brethren felt was their due and dare not express relative to our Christian work; and many were the times when his colored brethren had fears that some sudden outburst of his feelings (which in private he gave vent to) would bring trouble upon them, and be the cause of silencing them from preaching; and among them all his was the most intense suffering of a suppressed manhood.
He married early in life a Miss Bourke, and had an interesting family of children, whom he greatly desired to educate, and therefore often encountered difficulties in procuring clandestine instruction for them. He was ambitious to become the successor of the aged pastor of the church of his first membership, which was then a body highly favored in the Savannah community, and, therefore, upon the death of Rev. Mr. Anderson, in 1849, he resigned the pastoral charge of this church, to the regret of all the members, with the belief expressed that as a son of that church they were most entitled to his services; but his church, upon making the call of a successor, chose his less brilliant partner in business, John Cox, as their pastor, who served them acceptably until his death. Rev. Mr. Roberts sold out his property and went to Liberia, Africa, where he continued in the ministry for many years.
REV. BRISTER LAWTON.
THE SEVENTH PASTOR.
REV. BRISTER LAWTON was born and raised in Beaufort District, South Carolina, and was little known in Savannah previous to his call to the pastorate, in 1850. He served the church only one year, and there were added to its membership, whom he baptized, twelve. He was an humble, godly man, of moderate talents, very little education, and did not seem suited to the wants of a city church. He was, too, unfortunate in having to become the successor of the brilliant Mr. Roberts, whose eloquence the church had sat under for three years previous; and so, when the year expired for which he had been called, he returned to Carolina, with a peaceful and pleasant parting.
REV. GARRISON FRAZER.
THE EIGHTH PASTOR.
REV. GARRISON FRAZER was born in Virginia. He and his wife were brought to Georgia about the year 1850. He had been converted in that State and joined the Methodist Church, but becoming convinced that the Baptist faith was according to the Bible, as he expressed it, he was baptized, and this church ordained him to the ministry as her pastor in 1852.
He was endowed with fair natural gifts, a commanding presence, and a good voice. As a preacher he was plain and impressive, and, while not learned in theology, he understood and could explain the doctrines of Christ quite clearly; and so served the church very acceptably for about seven years.
Upon the occupation of Savannah by the Union army, he was chosen by his ministerial brethren to speak for and introduce them to the commander, General W. T. Sherman. Soon after he became somewhat enfeebled from age, and, though he did some missionary work among the country churches a few years, died in 1873, triumphant in Christ.
REV. ULYSSES L. HOUSTON.
THE NINTH PASTOR.
REV. ULYSSES L. HOUSTON was born in South Carolina in February, 1825, and is therefore now sixty-three years of age. He was raised as a house-servant by his master, James B. Hogg, a Baptist, who treated him with much care and kindness; and under whose pious teaching he early gave evidence of a new birth, and became a member of this church June 27, 1841, being baptized by Rev. J. B. Devoux at the age of sixteen. He married his first wife when he was twenty-three. He was then a member also of the church's choir. He was called to the deaconships, November 3, 1851, and served four years, and until he was licensed to preach the gospel, in April, 1855. He was ordained in May, 1861, and was called to the pastorate of the church in October following. Though a son of the church he has ever been also a man of the people, loving and beloved; and since the death of Rev. Mr. Bryan, the only pastor directly from the membership of the church. In appearance, power of prayer, and preaching, Mr. Houston is the very counterpart of him.
In his public ministrations he has been remarkably successful, having the utmost confidence of his race and people, and also of the whites who know him. He became moderator of the Zion Baptist Association in 1872, and has held that responsible position successively to the present time. He has served a term in the State legislature, and has been three times elected vice-president of the Baptist Missionary Convention of Georgia, which office he yet holds; he is also vice-president of the Foreign Missionary Convention. He is possessed of fair executive ability for a man self-educated, like all the other pastors born in slavery; reads well and writes a fair hand; and the present prosperous and highly blessed condition of the church is due largely to his energy, strong faith in God, and his call to the ministry of Jesus Christ, which he glories in. He is a forcible preacher, with much of the revival turn, and when in prayer thrills the souls of his hearers, his voice being sonorous but very smooth in tone, and his words clearly articulated. Under his ministry have been converted and baptized a greater number of persons than under any other in the State excepting that of Revs. Andrew Bryan and Andrew C. Marshall. He is the only pastor left who fitly represents that old school of fathers who labored in this part of the vineyard of Jesus our Lord.
1 The letter of Rev. Dr. Krebs is given as an evidence of Mr. Marshall's recovery from past errors, and how glorious was his closing years. He was by far the most highly gifted and successful in his ministry of all his contemporaries; and so continued to his death, and full ydeserves the extended space in this biography.
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