committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER VII.

        WITH the going out of Mr. Marshall and his followers from the Sunbury Association, the record of which we gave in the preceding chapter, and their return to that body, is fully given also his going out from this church and the causes, notwithstanding the church have no special records to show of her own keeping; but there is only this difference in his leaving the church: he never did return to it; and it must be recollected also that while he had been its pastor for about sixteen years, he never was a member of the church, his membership ever remained with the Second Colored Church, which he originally joined and where he was baptized. This church, therefore, could not discipline him. Seeing by these records of the Sunbury Association that the First African Church went away from and was declared by them "dissolved" on account of its corrupt state, and also that it is "readmitted" a member of the body about five years after under the same title, the question naturally presents itself, Is it still the church which, under God, Mr. Bryan planted in the year 1788, which is existing still, and which has never been rooted up, neither have the gates of hell prevailed against it? By carefully analyzing the preceding chapter we gather the facts which must determine the question, and we will now endeavor to set them in their order.

        Then, 1st. By the blessing of God, Rev. Andrew Bryan founded this the first negro Baptist church in the United States of North America, in the city of Savannah, of the State of Georgia, and after its journeying in a wilderness of tribulation, doubts, and fears, from Buncombe Hill to Brampton, and from there back to the city, they finally rested on Lot No. 7, Oglethorpe Ward, and erected a house for God. To secure it, he, by faith--no doubt looking for this day--in the promises of God, placed it in trust of those whom he believed would keep the property securely in possession of the worshippers of God of his race until God should deliver them from their moral and physical bondage. Having proved himself and followers sound in the faith of the Baptists, and as such associated with others of the State and country, he died, leaving the church in a comparatively peaceful and prosperous condition, with the hope of continuing so.

        2d. Mr. Marshall became his successor, finding the church still progressing, and it continued so until he departed from its faith and was deposed. He had never represented the church in the Association, though its pastor until the year 1825, seven years after the organization of that body at Sunbury; but Johnson, Simpson, Lloyd, Sheftall, and others had, and the church had overcome all obstacles to her peaceful worship and ordinances by her good conduct, with no serious disturbance until Mr. Alexander Campbell's visit, in 1832. She had grown strong through the grace of peace. Then all these troubles of the last five years were but the fruit of the ambition of her pastor; and when the troubles came, it was Mr. Marshall and his followers who withdrew and went away from the old ground and buildings, surrendering all in possession of the trustees to those who held to Mr. Bryan's faith and practice, and contended against him for the same,--and these were to a man those who had ever represented her in the Association, and who in 1833 received the commendation of their brethren in that body for having done right; not, as they say, in "separating from the First African Church," but rather should have said in not going out from the faith with Mr. Marshall and his followers, when they left them. These being truly the church, because they had the faith and doctrine, were recommended to full fellowship with all the churches; but why give them a new number of recognition among the African churches, then? This seems inconsistent.

        3d. There is no evidence that there was a new organization of the church when Rev. Thomas Anderson, Deacons Adam Johnson and Jack Simpson attended the session of the Association as representatives in 1833, the year after the schism. They went as a part of the same body of which they had ever been consistent members, stating their position, and asking true Baptist recognition; but they allowed their designation to be made by the white brethren, who, of course, controlled all these details, and who, having already declared that strongest and most popular of all the Baptist churches in the Association corrupt and demoralized, and having by resolutions shown their purpose to revolutionize the African churches, changed the title of recognition of this church. It is plain that the stigma upon the First African Church and the desire to control the religious privileges of colored preachers hereafter advised this apparent new organization and new number, for it was still called African by them; but in fact it was the old First Colored Church who assisted in their organization as an Association, and whose faith, principles, order, and city location had never changed for any time since it had been founded to the present day.

        4th. It is true that this church as an independent body, as every Baptist church properly is, might have demurred or protested or made demands for what they knew were their rights in the premises. Among our white brethren this could be done at that day; but with colored delegates it was very different. We presented our letters of credence, petition, or statistics, and took a back or separate seat in the body. We had a vote, and at most times timidly used it, but never had a voice in the body unless answering some question asked. The church was in great trouble now, and wanted the union she ever held with her white brethren for that protection from the laws of the State which menaced her religious liberties continually. Her independence was nothing without union, and our colored brethren, no matter what they knew of their rights as Baptists, would think it prudent for their people's benefit, whom they represented, not to oppose the will of these white brethren of power in the land. They desired to have another colored pastor, and unless recognized by the Association in some way, they could not get his recommendation to the courts signed or indorsed by these white ministers, as required by law, as here given.

 

        "WHEREAS, by an act of the Legislature, assented to by the Governor, on the 23d day of December, 1833, it is enacted, 'That no person of color, whether free or slave, shall be allowed to preach to, exhort, or join in any religious exercise with any persons of color, either free or slave, there being more than seven persons of color present, without a written certificate being first obtained, from three ordained Ministers of the Gospel of their own order, in which certificate shall be set forth the good moral character of the applicant, his pious deportment, and his ability to teach the Gospel, having a due respect to the character of those persons to whom he is to be licensed to preach. The said Ministers to be members of the Conference, Presbytery, Synod, or Association to which the Churches belong in which the said colored preachers may be licensed to preach; and also the written permission of the Justices of the Inferior Court of the county: and in counties in which the county town is incorporated, in addition thereto, the permission of the Mayor or Chief Officer or Commissioners of such corporation. Such license not to be for a longer term than six months, and to be revocable at any time by the persons granting it.'--And whereas, the following certificate has been presented to us, in compliance with the stipulations of the foregoing recited clause of the fifth section of the act aforesaid, viz.:

        "We, the undersigned, ordained Ministers of the Gospel, being members of the Sunbury Baptist Association, for the year of our Lord eighteen hundred & fifty-five do hereby certify to the Justices of the Inferior Court of Chatham county, and to the Mayor of the city of Savannah that Ulysses Houston is of good moral and pious deportment, and that he possesses the ability to teach the Gospel to the persons belonging to the third African Church in Savannah a constituent of the Sunbury Baptist Association, of which he is a member, and therefore pray that he may be licensed accordingly.

"ULYSSES HOUSTON
"Licensed Preacher

"A. HARMON
"F. R. SWEAT
"THOMAS RAMBOUT

"GEORGIA,
"COUNTY.

 

        "Now be it known, That we, the Justices of the Inferior Court of _________ county, do hereby license the said _________ to teach the Gospel to the people of color of the _________ African Church, in _________ for the term of six months from the date hereof, the Mayor of the _________ first agreeing thereto: this license to be revoked at any time, good and sufficient cause being shewn therefor.

"Witness Our hands, at _________ this
day of _________ 185

"WM. H. CUYLER J. I. C. C. C.
"JAS. E. GODFREY J. I. C. C. C.
"MONT. CUMMING J. I. C. C. C.

"COUNTY,
"CITY OF

 

        "LICENSE is hereby granted to _________ in terms of the law of the 23d day of December, 1833, to teach the Gospel to the people of color belonging to the _________ African Church in _________ for the Space of six months, unless sooner revoked.

"In witness whereof, I have hereunto affixed my hand, in the City of _________ this _________

 

"EDWD. C. ANDERSON
"Mayor."

 

        If some of these brethren of the Association felt more respect for the independent usages of Baptists than was accorded the colored brethren, the fear of the slave censorship and of being suspicioned of having a secret principle of abolitionism would keep them from expressing their true Baptist sentiment in their behalf. Thus the representative brethren of this church could but passively submit to what they were advised, and this was certainly the state of the case at that time, but which could not take place in this day, under any circumstances, among intelligent Baptist brethren; but the circumstances then governed the case. The advice of a white council in any of our colored churches, or from the Association, was then equivalent to a command.

        5th. The resolutions as passed by the Association, and referred to in the last chapter, of minutes of 1833 (page 6, pars. 27 and 28), and reiterated in 1834, give us the spirit and intent of a majority of the Association, at least, and but for the strong Baptist principle ever held by this old church in all her previous history, which must have strongly appealed to their sense of justice and charity, the hopes of all the colored churches were gone; but our brethren no doubt privately appealed to such old and influential brethren as J. S. Law, H. O. Wyer, and a few others like them, with high Baptist principles and some charity, which saved them, and modified the tone of their resolution of 1834 (on page 5, par. 30). They say, "This Association being an advisory body, and having no power to dictate to or bind any church or churches of which it is composed, Resolved, That it be respectful for any church differing as to the expediency or propriety of any resolution of this Association to submit their views in their annual letter or instruct their delegates with regard to the ground of their objections."

        At the period when this change of purpose is seen this church was again in the Association, represented by Anderson, Johnson, and Simpson. The church had again procured a license for her pastor, Rev. Mr. Anderson, to preach for her, by her acquiescence in the advice given. These licenses had to be renewed each year as evidence of good behavior on the part of pastor, preacher, and people, and so this favorable change affected all the colored churches who had negro pastors. It is to be noticed, too, that during the year of this modification, Rev. J. S. Law, the best friend the colored churches and pastors ever had in this Association, became pastor of the Savannah Baptist Church, and was thus often in counsel with our brethren, and, having an opportunity of observing the true state and needs of our churches, could do much to aid in the troubles and soften the feelings against their freedom. All are willing to bear testimony to his noble, loving heart and sympathetic feelings towards HIS COLORED BRETHREN, as he often expressed it, and this feeling extended even to Mr. Marshall, though he was under interdiction for heterodoxy and schism. So that, in 1835, Mr. Marshall made bold to send a delegation with a letter to the Association, asking that they be recognized and received; and though they were refused, they nevertheless had a committee appointed, all of whom resided in Savannah, with Rev. J. S. Law as chairman, to endeavor to remove the difficulties in their way.

        6th. The astute mind of Dr. Marshall was not idle. Among his friends were some of the most wealthy, wise, and influential citizens, some of whom were merchants who patronized him in business, he having bought the property for his people through their aid. He held it under a new trusteeship; two of these trustees (Messrs. John P. Williamson and William H. Stiles) greatly aided and protected him at this time, and their influence and power in the community were excelled by none at that day. His religious independence, which he exhibited in bringing about these very troubles, gave him some popularity among other denominations in the city. He was not a man to remain passive under his interdiction, and thus we see him at the Association in 1836, not in person, but by a letter from one of his trustees, that commanded the admiration of the committee who reported upon the contents of that letter and the petition accompanying it, and which also drew from them affectionate advice (page 5, par. 20); and while the letter did not alter his condition at that session, it nevertheless had great influence in bringing about a settlement later; and while this grand but mistaken old man and minister was struggling to extricate himself from the dilemma in which he had placed himself and people, panting to use that great power he felt moving within his heart, and, like a caged eagle, beating itself against the bars of the cage that confined it, so he, looking from the bars of the interdiction which his own Baptist brethren had placed around him because he essayed to deviate from sound doctrine, and seeing other colored ministers of less ability and influence in possession of those ministerial privileges he could not use, he then yielded to the inevitable, and sought reconciliation with this church and his late officers.

        The committee of the Association's appointment--namely, Messrs. J. S. Law, J. McDonald, and Abram Harmon, with Rev. F. R. Sweat, Deacons Adam Johnson, Jack Simpson, and Adam Sheftall, of this church, Dr. Marshall, Benjamin King, Robert McNish, and Samuel Cope, from the second party--met in the Savannah Baptist Church. There were a few other brethren present, yet these were principals in the council. After the usual preliminaries, this church, through Deacon A. Johnson, reiterated the charge against Mr. Marshall, of proclaiming from his pulpit the erroneous doctrines of Mr. Campbell, thereby creating a schism in the church and all the attending evils arising in the church and among the people since; that Mr. Marshall had denied that he had so preached from the pulpit, and that from said denial a question of veracity existed, which, as the representatives of this church, he and his brethren thought should be settled; that they had no malicious feeling against him, neither did they desire to hinder the good among his people that he was so capable of doing; that they appeared there simply in the defence of truth, and all they asked, on their part, was that Mr. Marshall would make confession that they had not misrepresented or wronged him. The clear, profound, and dignified manner in which Mr. Johnson delivered his charge made a deep impression upon the whole council, and was spoken of by the fathers many years after this event.

        Mr. Marshall, being called upon by the council to answer, rose with grave submission and, with his native eloquence, confessed. He said that what Brother Adam and the other brethren had said about this matter was true, only with this difference,--that he did not say from his pulpit that he agreed with Mr. Alexander Campbell's doctrine, but that being favorably impressed from hearing him expound them, when he had examined the doctrines for himself, if he found them true according to Mr. Campbell's views of them, then he should join him; but upon a more thorough examination of the Scriptures, he saw no reason to change his faith in the doctrines as now held by his Baptist brethren. With this confession Mr. Johnson rose and stated that himself and brethren present, to whom the church had intrusted the settlement of this long-pending difficulty, were now satisfied, and had only desired the peace of the churches and the progress of the Lord's Zion, and that they might prove that the Church of God is the pillar and ground of truth. These two brethren, Marshall and Johnson, by far the ablest colored Baptists of their day, and then standing as the leaders at the head of separate parts of the First Colored Baptist Church, then approached each other and extended the hand of fellowship and peace; and the matter, so far as this church was concerned, has so remained settled; and it was upon this basis that, at the session of 1837, the committee reported to the Association, "That they have reason to believe the long-existing difficulties between the several African churches are brought to a close. . . . Andrew Marshall having made full renunciation of holding the peculiar sentiments of Alexander Campbell with which he has been charged, there seems to be no difficulty in his holding full fellowship in the church to which he belongs."

        It will not fail of notice, the peculiar wording of this report and its vagueness. Mr. Marshall and one of his deacons presented a letter asking to be readmitted as members, and stating that the difficulties heretofore existing were removed. The committee of the Savannah white church said: "After laborious service we are now able to report;" but with all that their labor has removed there remain some important questions in this difficulty not settled, and which ought to have been at the time,--abstruse questions, it must be admitted, but yet susceptible of a solution by earnest Christian brethren, zealous for truth and the glory of God. Which is the original body or church? The majority, who withdrew and set up in another place, upon new doctrines, or the minority, who remained and held the faith of the church? The divergence has been clearly shown from the testimony and reports; yet they were left untouched so far as we know or from anything we have seen in the records of this difficulty and its settlement. It will not suffice here only to see that a majority went away. In our Baptist polity the majority rules; but if they would rule, they must stay. Can they run away and rule? If in the right they can well afford to stay. Majorities are not always God's power, or carry out the divine purpose. Ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel seceded, but the sceptre still remained with Judah until Shiloh came; and unto him is the gathering of the people, and in the history of this church we shall perhaps see a parallel.

        7th. The right to the use of the property held in trust for this church since the third day of July, 1797, as shown in a preceding chapter, had some bearing upon this question of the original church. By right of succession under the original conveyance of Father Bryan, in 1824, Moses Cleland, Josiah Penfield, and Edward Coppee became co-trustees with the one survivor of the original number, William Matthews, and so held the trust through all the period of these difficulties. They seem never to have been called in question during that time, except, it may be, by individuals in a private way; but after the settlement, Mr. Marshall laid claim to the property as heir and successor of his uncle, Andrew Bryan, and employed able counsel; but he failed to recover on his own account or that of his church. The trustees decided that the property was held for this church, as it had ever been in possession and was peaceably enjoying its use at the time; and it has so continued to the present day, as will appear in a new charter received from the State at a later period. From these several points of fact must the impartial judgment of our brethren of the present day, and posterity hereafter, decide for themselves the question, and when they have so done the verdict is of small import, save for the truth of history.

        Rev. Thomas Anderson served the church as pastor but two years, and in 1835 the church called Rev. Stephen McQueen, and was represented in the Association by himself and Brother Sampson Whitfield, who reported baptized, 10; received by letter, 8; and the total membership, 224, a gain for the year of 28. In 1836, Rev. S. McQueen, S. Whitfield, and John Harris; baptized, 10; by letter, 16; membership, 183. In 1837, Rev. S. McQueen; baptized, 6; membership, 189. In 1838 represented by Rev. S. McQueen, Deacons Lloyd and Sheftall; membership, 223. In 1839, Rev. S. McQueen, July Ward; membership, 240. In 1840, Rev. S. McQueen and A. Sheftall; membership, 234.

        In 1841 the church was again without a regular pastor, but was represented in the Association by Deacons A. Johnson, Charles Newell, and July Ward. Rev. John Devoux, a former deacon of the Second African Church, was called to ordination by this church as its pastor, and in 1842 represented the church in the Association, with Deacons Samuel Boles, A. Sheftall, and Brother Benjamin Verderee; membership, 212. In 1843 the delegation was John Cuthbert and Quives Frazer; membership, 252, a gain, this year, of 40. In 1844, Rev. J. Devoux, J. Cuthbert, and S. Boles; membership, 272, a gain of 20 for the year. In 1845, Delegate J. Cuthbert; membership, 282, a gain of 10. Rev. J. Devoux resigned the pastorate, and the church called Rev. Isaac Roberts, also a member of the Second African Church, to the pastorate; and it is remarkable that this church, peacefully organized in 1802 with members of this parent body and those who had received letters of dismission, has furnished her with pastors each time from the death of the old patriarch, Father Andrew Bryan. This year (1846) the delegates to the Association were Rev. I. Roberts, the fifth pastor called from the Second Church, and Deacons A. Johnson and July Ward; the membership, 300, a gain of 18. In 1847, Rev. I. Roberts, A. Johnson, S. Boles; membership, 298, a loss of 2. In 1848, Roberts, Boles, and Frazer; membership, 305, a gain of 7.

        Rev. Mr. Roberts was the most energetic of all the pastors since Rev. Mr. Marshall. In the second year of his pastorate he made a change in the house of worship, by making an entrance on Bryan Street, and the building was put in thorough repair and painted, for, from its erection, in 1794, it had never received any paint until 1848. The pulpit was remodelled, the inside ceiled and painted, galleries were put in, and the Old Jerusalem, as the old church was then familiarly called, had put on her new dress, which revived her greatly. In addition to Mr. Roberts's energetic spirit, he was a man of much intelligence and a bold and spirited preacher, and in all his duties of pastor was very acceptable to the people. Unfortunately for this church, the pastor of the Second African Church, Rev. Thomas Anderson, who had also been pastor here, and had left to accept a call from that congregation, died this year, and the Second Church was without a pastor. Much to the regret of this mother-church, and against her earnest entreaties, Rev. Mr. Roberts resigned the pastorate and returned to the Second Church in the belief that that church would tender him the pastorate whenever she again made a call, and again this church was left without a pastor. Thus, in 1849, she was represented only by Deacon S. Boles; her membership being 301, a loss of 4 for the year. The church now made a call for Rev. Brister Lawton, a brother from Beaufort District, South Carolina, who accepted the call, and preached for her only about a year. The delegates for 1850 were Rev. B. Lawton and S. Boles, and the membership 315, a gain of 14 for the year. The Second African Church made a call for a pastor also this year, but chose Rev. John Cox, another of her sons, greatly disappointing Brother Isaac Roberts. He and Brother Cox were business partners. The effect upon him was such that he soon after left the country and emigrated to Liberia, Africa. Thus this church had to suffer for the second time from the ambitious pride of her pastors. Rev. B. Lawton was only called for a year, and the church did not renew the call at its expiration, and in 1851 the church, for the seventh time since the demise of Father Bryan, was without a pastor, but was represented in the Association that year by Deacons S. Boles and Q. Frazer; membership 205, a loss of 110. In November of this year they called to the deaconship Grant Simpson, Alexander Harris, Ulysses L. Houston, and Lewis Ross, four of her sons of zeal and ability, which gave much strength to the cause and aid to the old senior deacon, Johnson.

 
 
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