committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER VIII.

        THE aged senior deacon of this church, whose watchful care over her interests was unceasing, was one of the strictest disciplinarians in any church in this city; and under his guidance the moral tone of the church was truly commendable. Well informed in the rules of debate upon the questions which naturally arose in the church conferences,--a qualification which but few of the pastors possessed,--he, as a general rule of the church, presided at all business meetings unless necessarily absent, and from the discession of Dr. Marshall he was in deed and in fact the ruling spirit of this church; and it may be positively asserted that he watched over its welfare as a father over a loving household family; and equally so did the church revere and love him, though at times they murmured at the strictness of his discipline; but his love to God and humanity, with the ripe experience he possessed, guided them rightly, and he was instrumental in the saving of many from the snares and difficulties in this life and into the haven of eternal rest above.

        In 1852 the church called to ordination Brother Garrison Frazer, a Baptist from the State of Virginia, a man of fair natural ability and good delivery, with a limited degree of education, lately brought to this city by his owner. He was ordained pastor in December, 1851. There became attached to the church this year another brother, Andrew Neyle, a man of fine natural attainments, who, from the opportunities with which he had been blessed, in coming in contact with learned and generous masters, had acquired some education, and was, like Mr. G. Frazer, of high-church principles. He came from the First African Church by letter, having been baptized by Mr. Marshall before the division, and departed with him when he left. Both of these brethren were of pure African blood, and they added great strength to the church and its cause. Rev. G. Frazer became the pastor this year and Brother Neyle a deacon. Thus the delegation to the Association was Rev. G. Frazer, Deacons A. Johnson,1 A. Harris, and Quives Frazer; membership, 208. In 1853, G. Frazer, Q. Frazer, and A. Neyle; membership, 205. In 1854, G. Frazer and Deacon Alexander Harris; membership, 213. In 1855, G. Frazer, S. Boles, and A. Harris; membership, 203. In 1856, Deacons A. Harris and S. Boles; membership, 223, a gain, this year, of 20. In 1857, Rev. G. Frazer, A. Harris, and A. Neyle; membership, 241. In 1858 the church was not represented in any way in the Association. In 1859 by Rev. G. Frazer; membership, 197, a loss, this year, of 44. It may be here observed that these figures do not in all cases show the actual increase of the church, as many of the members at times were taken away from the city and the country and sold by their owners, and could not be accounted for to the Association in its assessment upon the churches for missionary funds to pay the white brethren who preached to the slaves at times. Each of the colored and white churches were taxed according to their membership as reported to the Association at each yearly meeting. Thus our colored churches often only reported those members residing in the city, and from whom it was possible to collect this tax.

        In 1860 the delegates were S. Boles and A. Neyle; membership 199. In 1861 there was no meeting of the Sunbury Association; but in May of that year the Southern Baptist Convention (white) met in Savannah with the Baptist church. There was great excitement throughout the country on account of the breaking out of the civil war between the States. It was a time for great caution in our churches. "Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves" came home with much force to every negro Christian's heart, and especially those who stood in the awfully responsible position of officers of the colored churches. The pastor, Mr. G. Frazer, gave notice of a desire to resign his charge. Deacon U. L. Houston had been licensed to preach in 1855. He was in every sense a son of the church. Born in 1825, in South Carolina, he came to the city when a child, the slave of Mr. James B. Hogg, a thorough Baptist, and a deacon of the Savannah Baptist Church until his old age. He had raised Ulysses in his home with much care and piety; thus he became converted in 1841, and joined this church at the age of sixteen; so, like Samuel of old, he grew in the house of the Lord. He became early a member of the singing choir, in 1851 a deacon, and, as has been said, was licensed in 1855, often aiding the pastor in the meetings of the church and country societies; and now, as he was about to relinquish his charge, he advised the church to ordain for her service this young son of her own spiritual raising. Having resolved to carry out this advice, and the time seeming auspicious, the Southern Baptist Convention being in session here, and no ordination of negro preachers being possible without the presence and sanction of the white brethren, the church, through the pastor, made application to the executive board of the Sunbury Association, who came to the church and examined him and took the opportunity of the presence of the convention to have him ordained by that body. Rev. S. Landrum, the chairman of the board, so invited the convention, and in the midst of the excitements of that ever-memorable month and year, a Presbytery of the white members of that convention repaired to the church on the 12th of May, 1861, and set apart to the gospel ministry, by the laying on of hands, Ulysses L. Houston. Six months after, on the 20th of October, the church called him to the pastoral care, and he became the ninth from Rev. Andrew Bryan, and, like the old founder, he was born in Carolina, raised in Georgia, a slave of a kind master, with like privileges; and he is the only one ever pastor that was a son of that church since the first, and has proven a veritable prototype.

        In 1862 the delegation to the Association was Rev. U. L. Houston and Deacon A. Harris; membership, 106. We were now in the midst of a terrible strife throughout the country, and the South being the principal battle-ground, the danger to the church was very great and her sorrows also. Many of her members were run off up the country by their owners, fearing to lose them, causing sad separations and the breaking up of family ties. Again, some of the male members absconded rather than be carried away, some of whom, later, went into the lines of the Northern army for freedom. All of these incidents had a fearful effect upon the church; yet she was kept by the power of God, through faith unto her salvation, in the even tenor of her way, and at no period during the war was her worship interfered with or her officers held to account for the private acts of her members. Their service to the church and its members as individuals being strictly religious, gave no cause for offence to the owners. Whatever were the thoughts upon the questions and results of the war, there was no allusion to them in the services of the sanctuary. Yet a careful private council was held frequently among the official brethren relative to the course to be pursued in extremely critical periods; but the secret thoughts belong to God, and from the beginning of the war to its close there was an abiding hope in every breast that God would in the end grant us freedom. By the grace of God prudence never forsook nor did patience fail in the church. It was in this year that the first ray of freedom's dawning broke upon our hearts in the proclamation issued by President Lincoln on September 22, 1862. It reached our city very soon after being issued. At first it was only whispered around by the white citizens, but it was soon openly spoken of to the servants, accompanied with the assurance that this emancipation proclamation could never be enforced. Who, then, could estimate or describe with tongue or pen the struggle in their hearts between hope and fear? Who can measure the prayer offered in secret at this period and know its effects? Neither men nor angels could, we think, be equal to the task. Only the divine mind of Jehovah knows. The one hundred days passed and the old year also passed into the annals of time, and, as had ever been the custom of the church for some years, by permission from the mayor of the city, they assembled in their house of worship and held a watch-meeting, singing and praying until the new year came in; then greeted each other with a happy new year, and then separated. Oh, there was a secret meaning in this greeting on the first of January, 1863, that could not then be expressed, and should never be forgotten! But with all this outward turmoil and the inward panting for the long-looked-for and often-prayed-for freedom now promised by that decree, a perfect equanimity was maintained. All moved along as empty pitchers,2 but the glowing lamp of prayer was burning brightly in their hearts. It was not yet time for these gospel trumpeters to blow "the year of Jubilee had come," though the church and her choir were wont to sing of it on many communion days in the past. She now refrained at this peculiar day. The tongue must be dumb upon that theme; it was the soul that sung. The music was not for earth's ears, but it was heard in heaven; and who can say that Fathers George Leyle and Andrew Bryan, Mothers Hannah Bryan, Kate Hogg, and Hagar Simpson, and the hosts who with them and by their labors and prayers came through the great tribulations of moral bondage, did not up there repeat the song in joyous strains before the Lamb above on that New Year morning of 1863?

        This year the delegation to the Association was U. L. Houston, pastor, and A. Harris; membership reported, 225; and in 1864, Rev. U. L. Houston and Deacon Andrew Neyle; membership, 261.

        The meetings of the Association have ever convened in the month of November; and this session is notable in two or three particulars. The first is that whereas there were thirteen of the churches known as colored, but three (the First African, Second African, and this church) met with the body that year.The absentees were the Ogeechee, Abercorn, White Bluff, Oakland, White Oak, Bethlehem, St. Catharine's, Skidaway, St. Marys, and Clifton. It is true that though these were negro churches, six of them had white pastors and all but two were country churches. Again, their absence was caused, no doubt, by the demoralized state of things here at that time. The meeting was held with Salem church, about twelve miles west of Savannah, on the Louisville road. The Federal army, in command of General W. T. Sherman, was marching through Georgia and approaching in the direction of this city. There was a vigilant patrol-guard in the vicinity of the church at night, and the house in which the colored brethren lodged was entered after dark, and tickets from their owners demanded, permitting them to be absent from home. Some of the men of this patrol-guard were in the session of the Association during that day. The colored brethren went to the meeting of the Association carrying only their letters of credential, which they had handed to the clerk of the body, Rev. D. J. Daniel; they had nothing to show but their railroad tickets. Without saying what was their intention, the squad rode away from their lodging-place and returned no more that night. The brethren could sleep no more then; but in the morning they reported it to the Moderator of the Association then convened; and it is due to justice and truth to record that some of the white brethren, more especially the Moderator, Rev. Silvanus Landrum, on receiving the report, were indignant. A committee was appointed for the protection of the colored brethren, but they took no further risks; they nearly all left and returned to the city that day. This was the last session of the old Sunbury Association. In about thirty days thereafter the Federal army of occupation entered Savannah, and then they realized what our fathers desired, prayed, and looked for in faith,--"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect." When the morning light of the 22d of December, 1864, broke in upon us, the streets of our city were thronged in every part with the victorious army of liberty; every tramp, look, command, and military movement told us that they had come for our deliverance, and were able to secure it to us, and the cry went around the city from house to house among our race of people, "Glory be to God, we are free!"

                         "Shout the glad tidings o'er Egypt's dark sea,
                         Jehovah has triumphed, his people are free!"

        This old Zion of God resounded with praises and thanksgiving to God for his great deliverance of his people; but while doing this our people were mindful of charity; and, save maintaining and enjoying their freedom in a proper, modest manner, they acted with courtesy and decorum towards their owners and employers, as formerly, many remaining for long periods with them without remuneration. If any disagreements arose, it was not on the part of the members of the church; and if there were any exceptions they were remarkably few, as many yet living well know.

        Two days after the army entered the city, the colored ministers and some of the other officers of their churches called upon Major-General Sherman, the commander, to pay their respects, and offer humble thanks for their deliverance from bondage. They were received very cordially, and were each personally introduced by name and position in their church: among whom were the pastor and the deacons of this church. It so happened that the Secretary of War under President Lincoln, Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, was present at this interview, and also received an introduction. Both himself and the general gave many kindly expressions relative to the changed condition of themselves and people, with assurances of protection and provision until settled; but enjoining industry and sobriety. The brethren with thanks sent their message of gratitude to Mr. Lincoln by the Secretary, and modestly retired. This interview took place at the residence of Mr. Charles Green, Madison Square, then the headquarters of General Sherman, on the 23d of December, 1864. Rev. Garrison Frazer, ex-pastor of this church, introduced the brethren. The war-cloud seemed to be passing away, and some of the scattered and wandering members found their way back to the fold. Many Baptists who had left their homes in the upper part of the State, and had followed in the wake of the army marching through from Atlanta to this city, now located themselves here in Savannah, seeking a place where they might find rest. They were welcomed and taken under watchful care of the church, until they became settled in the fold of Christ; and by these wandering Christian pilgrims the numbers in the congregation were considerably augmented. All who could properly account for themselves were welcomed to share in the privileges and blessings of this old Zion of God until they could return to the church of their membership, some of whom were well-known in the former days of peace. These duties and the continuous service of our Lord in his house every evening but Saturday, and four meetings on the Sabbath, the praises of the God who had with a strong hand and outstretched arm delivered his people, was heard for months while the Union soldiers occupied the city and its suburbs, guarding the peace and liberty of all who prayed for the peace, unity, and prosperity of these United States; and this did the churches with fervent zeal. But their joy and thanksgiving met a sudden and serious check: the skies of hope, that seemed so clear and beautiful to faiths vision, were overshadowed, as it were, in a moment by the terrible announcement that President Lincoln had been assassinated on the evening of the 14th of April. The gloom was for a moment paralyzing. What did it mean? was the question. Like Luther in the Reformation, the leading brethren soon recovered their faith in God, and felt that what he commands is certainly wisest and best, and that what he permits he is able to overrule for the greatest good to those who love and trust him. So, in the midst of this gloom and sorrow for the death of this great and wonderfully-gifted man, whom God in his providence had raised up to be the great emancipator of our race in North America, they did seem to feel and believe that, notwithstanding his death, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed and though mountains be carried in the midst of the sea." God is in the midst, and we shall not be moved.

 

Footnotes:
1 The church was now called to mourn the loss of her aged and faithful deacon, Adam A. Johnson, the ceaseless watchman over her interests for about forty years, who now was called to yield up his trust and lay down his cross. He died March 19, 1853. The following testimonial, by one of the members of this church who knew him well, expresses the feelings of the church and community towards him:

        OBITUARY.--Died, on the 19th of March, 1853, ADAM ARGUILE JOHNSON, aged seventy-seven years. Thus, after long suffering, it hath pleased the Giver of all good to take unto himself one of the loveliest of his creatures. His mission on earth seems to have been to afford an assurance to men that even amid the sinfulness of this world native goodness might bloom and ripen into stainless and exalted virtue. Meekness and humility walked with him, and he took no thought of self; he envied not another's lot, nor triumphed in his own. As an elder he was blameless, loving; as a husband, devoted; as a brother, affectionate and ever kind; as a friend, sincere and unchanging; as a Christian, true and faithful; as a man, noble and lovely, shining with a gentle and perpetual radiance, dispensing kindness unto all around him, and teaching by the loftiness of example. He is not dead,--God hath recalled him to his native heaven. His voice will be heard no more on earth, for it mingles with the sacred choir which sing around the throne,--his form will no more be seen among us, for it shines an angel amid angel bands. And yet he is not dead,--in every heart that knew him is a shrine to his memory, a place where he will live forever. Weep not for him! he is an angel now, and treads the floors of Paradise! All darkness wiped from his brow, and sorrow and suffering banished from his eyes, victorious over death, to him appears the joys of heaven's eternal years! Weep not for him!

        "AUG. BENJAMIN."

2 Judges vii. 16, 17, 18.
3 We mention these churches incidentally as evidence of the increase of churches of our race in the lower part of the country up to this time, as it closes the control of our white brethren.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved