committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER V.

        THE last chapter closes the history of the church as we find it up to 1812, under an administration by Mr. Bryan of twenty-four years, though he was actually preaching four years previous, making his labors in the gospel twenty-eight years. Rev. A. C. Marshall was supplying the church as assistant pastor, and was expected to fill the place of his honored uncle whenever the church should call a pastor. This did not take place, however, for over two years after Mr. Bryan's death. Mr. Marshall seems to have become disqualified in some way. He was now a man of business in draying, and had the patronage of most of the first merchants of the city. It was a time when this country had just become engaged again in war with England, so it may have been a matter of his business that prevented his continuing his service to the church. However, we find Rev. Evans Grate supplying the church for over two years, yet never called as the pastor; but some time in the latter part of the year 1814, or the beginning of 1815, the church did set apart a Sabbath-day in which to fast and pray that the Great Head of the Church would direct their choice of a successor to their deceased pastor, whose memory they


Rev. Andrew C. Marshall

still revered. There was no preaching on that day. Mr. Grate was present, and as a meek and humble Christian man, though not very learned or able as a minister, he had won the love and confidence of a large portion of the members of the church; and so, for the first time in her history, having to make choice between two candidates for her pulpit, there was very naturally an event of some moment among them that day. Rev. Mr. Marshall seems to have had confidence in the wisdom of the church, and that his call was in the hands of God and his brethren. He absented himself on the occasion and went to the Presbyterian Church. At twelve o'clock the church proceeded to the business of calling a pastor, and many strong appeals were made in behalf of the latter from the standpoint of the wish of their old shepherd, his uncle. Great fears were entertained by those of his friends who really desired Mr. Marshall as their pastor that Mr. Grate would defeat him; but when the vote was taken, though a large body rose in his favor, Mr. Marshall was found to have received a majority, and became their pastor.1

        It is commendable to the spirit of all that there was no bad feeling engendered by the defeat of Mr. Grate, as he continued an assistant in this church, and performed evangelistic work many years after; and no division or dissension ever arose out of this or any later work of the ministry on his part. The church at this period was strong and prosperous. Many young men and women of natural ability and intelligence became connected with the church, and the number of her members largely increased. Yea, this seems to have been a time when the Lord favored his Zion, the set time had come, though we can only draw these facts from the figures given at a subsequent period, having no statistics to guide us until 1818, when it became necessary for the Savannah River Association to dissolve the union which was organized in 1802. The division was mutual, the South Carolina churches withdrawing to form an organization of their own in that State, and the Georgia churches to meet at Sunbury, in Liberty County, on the 7th of November, 1818, to organize a new Association, which took the name of the village in which it was held and the church with whom they met, the Sunbury Baptist Church, Rev. Charles O. Screnen being the pastor. The churches at this organization were the First Colored, the Savannah (white), Second Colored, Great Ogeechee, and Sunbury, mixed membership.

        This church was represented by Deacons Adam Johnson and Josiah Lloyd, and reported her membership as 1712. The Second Colored Church reported 538, and the Great Ogeechee 460. The First was represented by Rev. Henry Cunningham, Deacons Thomas Anderson and George Carter; the latter by Deacon John Cubbage. So we may clearly see that this church had continued increasing her numbers; doubtless the largest portion were from the river plantations near the city, but her popularity as the mother church--the Jerusalem of the colored race--kept her, of course, in the lead, as has been said; so that in 1810, when the three colored churches' membership combined was about 1500, this church comprised over half. So now it may be seen by comparing the figures above,--which continued for many years,--as the records of the Sunbury Association, which we have in full, will show.

        At the time of organization of this Association Mr. Marshall had been the pastor of this church about three years. He seems to have inherited the power and popularity of his uncle; was prosperous in his ministry of the gospel and in his temporal affairs; was dearly beloved by his own people, and was greatly respected by the whites, among whom he had many warm and influential friends, who aided him materially in his business as a drayman of their mercantile goods. Thus favored of God and man, is it not natural that he should become a shining mark for the adversary's spirit to shoot at? Yet we will see that his "bow abode in strength, though the archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him."2  Mr. Marshall ever showed great deference for the laws and institutions of the country, combined with a high measure of self-respect, and frequently held to his own opinions with decision and inflexibility. With no education, having barely by his own persistent efforts learned to read, but never being able to write, he became by practice a good reader, and procuring such books as he could, under the circumstances, became an earnest student, as we have often heard him tell. A lover of truth, he sought it with his soul. "Get wisdom, get knowledge, but with all thy getting get understanding," was his motto; thus he essayed to dive deep into theology, and the Bible became his principal study, and Dr. Gill's Commentaries one of his main guides. It will be observed that he did not represent the church at the organization of the Sunbury Association and for several years after. This was about the time when he became somewhat unpopular with the white brethren of his own denomination, on account of what they termed his extreme views of theology, or the doctrines which he then preached, which bordered on Antinomianism, or, in the plainer sense of the term, against law,--a doctrine which held that the law is not a rule of life to believers under the gospel dispensation. The appellation is generally given to those who carry the doctrine of justification by faith without works to such extreme as to separate practical holiness from true believing, and injure, if not wholly destroy, every obligation to moral obedience. This was not the purpose of Mr. Marshall, by any means; but the construction his jealous opponents put upon his efforts to explain to his people the difference between the law and the gospel of faith in the atoning merits of Christ, by which we obtain salvation. Of course, while among the white people he was unpopular on account of the doctrines he essayed to preach,--and which only the learned in the Scriptures could understand,--he became the more popular among his own race and people, because he was able to preach such doctrines, whether sound or not. They felt a just pride in his ability to compete with the whites, to the extent that they were jealous of his power in expounding the Scriptures, and so drew his church so near to him that they were willing to suffer all things with him rather than give him up. But this was not the only trial the tempter made him undergo. About the same period (from 1819 to 1821), while engaged in his secular avocations, and having accumulated a goodly portion of money (he was building himself a two-story brick house,--a rather lofty undertaking for a man of color in that day), in an unguarded moment he violated the law (unintentionally, no doubt) by purchasing from slaves having no tickets with permission to trade or sell; and though many white people had laid the foundation of great success in business before, as many others have done since, by contraband trade with the blacks, the advantage was taken of Mr. Marshall's inadvertency, it happening at the period of his temporary unpopularity, and he was prosecuted for buying some bricks said to have been stolen from Mr. McAlpin, and was sentenced to be publicly whipped in the marketplace. But here also we may witness the power of God and the means of his grace to save, by using man against man, even as steel will foil steel. Mr. Richard Richardson, the partner in commercial business with Mr. Robert Bolton, to whom Mr. Marshall belonged about the time he was converted, had bought him that he might become free, and now further showed his true friendship and deep interest in him by coming forward at this time of trouble. He interceded in the courts, and put in his claim as master in behalf of a valuable servant whose interests he was determined to see should not suffer; and though he failed in an effort to release him by the payment of money, as he was fully able and willing to do, seeing it was the determined purpose of the prosecutors to punish and disgrace this servant of God, Mr. Richardson, by his influence, enlisted the sympathy of several of the best citizens, who declared they would not allow him to be cruelly punished, and they went to the place of execution of the sentence, and the constable was instructed that he should not scratch his skin or draw his blood. His old master stood at his side to see that these precautions were faithfully and humanely carried out,3 and thus the whipping was only a semblance.

        These severe trials of his own faith, and the attempt made by the devil and his agents to injure the church through his disgrace, wholly failed; she stood firm in these evil days. The people said but little on so momentous an occasion, but drew nearer together, it seems, and shielded him with prayer; and he soon came forth again brighter and stronger for having come through the fire, as his old uncle and revered predecessor had done before him, and to whose memory he and the church this very year erected the tablet and wrote the epitaph mentioned in the last chapter. Doubtless this trial called his mind to the duty he and they owed to the memory of Mr. Bryan after nine years,--now that

                         "He knew what sore temptations meant,
                         For he had felt the same."

        The church could not be held responsible for what the pastor did, and though he was crippled in his ministry for awhile, they managed to go right on, Brother Evans Grate again coming to their aid and Rev. Henry Cunningham assisting them. She was not reported in the Association in 1819, but in the year 1820 was again represented by Deacons Adam Johnson and Adam Sheftall, and reported her membership 1836, showing a gain in the two years of 124 members, notwithstanding the trials through which she had passed. The Second Colored Church in this year reported a larger increase, her membership being 736, a gain of 198; Rev. Henry Cunningham and Deacons Thomas Anderson and John Devoux representing her. The Great Ogeechee was not represented, but the membership was the same as at the last report, 460. In 1821, Rev. Evans Grate alone represented the church in the Association, and the membership had increased to 1916, a gain of 80 for the year, while the Second Church membership increased to 822, a gain of 96, and the Ogeechee reported the membership at 497, a gain this year of 37. While there was a small increase in each of the three colored churches this year, there seems to have been a lethargy in their associational interest. Rev. Messrs. Grate and Cunningham represented the First and Second Churches alone, respectively, and the Ogeechee had no representative.

        We have given but the names of the pastor and the brethren who represented the church at the associational meeting heretofore, yet there were many others of weight and intelligence fully equal to the task of filling the several offices of the church assigned to them, and were ever zealous for the cause of their Lord. Nothing but their condition of moral bondage prevented them from displaying their gifts and accomplishing much good to his glory, and, so far as they were permitted, they did what they could. The church always had good choirs of singers, good committees of deacons, assisting the pastor in looking after the welfare and godly walk of the members, visiting them at proper times, and counselling them in love for their temporal and spiritual welfare, at such times as circumstances would safely permit, for these were indeed times when the injunction of our Saviour, "Behold, I sent you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,"4 applied with much force to them. Among the most intelligent men and women, and the earnest workers with influence among the people, who could drop a word of caution at times among their fellows, and prudently allay the suspicions of wrong in the minds of the whites here mentioned, in distinction from the more general class of members, too numerous to be named, yet who did their full share cheerfully for the good and upbuilding of their Zion and the glory of Christ, we may name of those times Adam Johnson, deacon; Adam Sheftall, deacon; Josiah Lloyd, deacon; Jack Simpson, deacon; Isaac Beard, Sampson Walls, Wm. Campbell, Jack Bourk, Samuel Cope, Joseph Clay, Adam Anderson, Benjamin Renier, Jack Cohen, Benjamin Verderee, Benjamin King (deacon, and a native African), Emanuel Wand, Goldsmith Lloyd, Abram Wallace; and among the noble women, also, Bash Devoux (who attended the females at baptism), Grace Hague (who was baptized by Mr. Bryan, and lived in great preservation up to 1885), Sarah Nelson, Betty Williamson, Elizabeth Beard, Lesse McFarland, Rachel Marshall (wife of Deacon Johnson), Hetty Campbell, Sally Verderee, Sarah Span, Sarah Wallace, Lucretia Dolly, Diana Wallace, Martha Monger, and Sophia Simpson.

        These, with perhaps others, were persons whose circumstances enabled them to do most for the building up of the cause of Christ, and whose Christian life and zeal brought them most conspicuously before their brethren and the world. Some among them had worked out their time, as was then expressed for those who had purchased their freedom, or had procured it by gift from their owners on account of blood relationship or faithful and important services rendered. Some were allowed to hire their time, because their owners were among the middle or poorer classes of whites, who invested their money in this species of property as an investment that paid the best interest upon the capital surer and sooner. Yet out of each and all of these conditions in which the members of the church were situated, they were doing something for God's glory, as the only glory they had in the world, the advancing of the light and liberty of the gospel among their race; and thus they very naturally vied with each other who should shine brightest in the affairs of the church and as the light of the world.

        Among the officers of the church Adam Johnson early became a man of commanding influence. His fine stature, over six feet high, and otherwise proportionately well developed, facial features regular, a head poised upon square shoulders, high, broad forehead, denoting intelligence and reverence, with always a grave demeanor, a dark-brown complexion, showing some slight mixture of white blood, but in all a fine specimen of the negro men from the West India islands, he being born in the British West India island of New Providence. Like Mr. Marshall, and others among these brethren, he was only able to read, but was a man of profound thought and judgment, who had much more concealed in the depths of his mind than was seen upon the surface by his actions; thus he ever stood more prominent in the church than any other out of the pulpit, and while Jack Simpson, Josiah Lloyd, Adam Sheftall, and others before named, held prominent places in the church, Mr. Johnson is thus particularly mentioned on account of the part he performed in this church's history for over forty years. Adam Anderson and Joseph Clay were perhaps better learned in letters than any others in the church at that time, for each was able to both read and write tolerably well, and what little record of the church's early doings found were made by them as clerks. The pride in their ability to do this service, too, was shared by nearly the whole people, and clothed them with great dignity in their day and made them the objects of emulation.

        Among the females who prominently figured in the history of these days were: first, the three sisters baptized by Rev. Mr. Leyle with Father Andrew Bryan,--his wife Hannah, Kate Hogg, and Hagar Simpson. We have little history of the work done by these mothers in the church. No doubt they did what they could, judging from the progress made in that early day; but the most authentic history we have of the work of these latter named is that of old Mother Bash Devoux, who occupied the old first house of worship on "Buncombe Hill," where the candidates for baptism were prepared as long as she lived. She was a pattern of good works to many who have followed her example to the present day as spiritual mothers of the church. Of this group of thorough Baptist women, all of whom distinguished themselves in some way in the building up and perfecting of the work of the church, and most of whom lived to remarkable ages, but more especially of the number, was Mother Grace Hague, whose long life and preservation, mentally and physically, is worthy of notice. She gave many of the incidents of the early history of the church, corroborated by written history. When very young she was baptized by Mr. Bryan in his later days. She lived until the summer of 1885, mention of which was made in the minutes of the Zion Association, by resolution that year. Sarah Nelson, Diana Wallace, and Sarah Wallace, each in turn, became the successors of Mother Bash in officiating at the water during the baptism of females, and were therefore highly respected as pious mothers of the church by all, male and female members.

 

Footnotes:
1
Memoirs of two old members actively present on the occasion, Samuel Cope and Jack Bourke, corroborated by Sisters Grace Hague and Dianah Wallace.
2 Genesis xlix. 23.
3 "Memoirs of A. Marshall," by J. P. Tustin, D.D.
4 Mathew x. 16.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved