committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER X.

        SABBATH morning, July 27, the church met and took steps to protest against the action of Brother Harris and others in locking the doors of the church against them, and against his entering their pulpit without their consent or permission. On motion, it was resolved that, if he made the attempt to preach on that Sabbath, Deacon William Green be instructed to rise in his seat and respectfully say to Brother Harris that the church protests against his entering their pulpit, as he is not their pastor; that he should repeat the expression three times in a peaceable manner, and then sit down quietly until after the church service was over. He did precisely as he was directed by the church in conference. Harris paid no attention, but conducted the usual service, a large majority of the members present taking no part, though quietly sitting, only the few followers of Mr. Harris joining him in the singing, etc. As soon as he had pronounced the benediction and had come down from the pulpit, Deacon Green, as instructed, requested the members to remain in their seats. He was called to the chair by vote, and Brother J. S. Habersham was requested to act as secretary. After resolving the meeting into a conference, on motion, the action of Brother Harris and those officers concerned in closing up the doors of the church-building was condemned, and they were also suspended from their office.

        The letters of acceptance from the new trustees-elect were read and received, and they were subsequently requested to take such steps as were necessary to recover and protect the church property. It was also resolved at this meeting that the regular communion services, which should have taken place that day, be suspended until the church settles her present difficulty and is again at peace. The conference adjourned to meet at the next regular conference, on the third Sunday in September.

        On Monday, the 28th, after the foregoing, Harris placed Green upon the information docket of the city, charged with a violation of law, by disturbing the public services of his church. He (Green) was cited to appear on Wednesday the 30th, and so did,--Harris and some others appearing against him before the mayor, and Green, by counsel, requested a postponement until the next Friday. On that day, the case being up, counsel for Green pleaded want of jurisdiction for the crime charged, it being a misdemeanor punishable only by the State courts, and, on motion of his counsel, the mayor dismissed the case. On Wednesday evening, the 30th, in which the case of Brother Green was before the court, the church held a called conference in the lecture-room of the Second African Church, by permission. Brother Green was called to the chair. After stating the object of the call, it was resolved to provide funds by a collection for feeing the lawyers who were to defend Brother Green. The letter of acceptance of Brother James M. Simms, as one of the trustees, was received, read, and a committee was appointed to call upon Brother A. Harris and request him to deliver up the keys of the church-building, who reported that they had so done, and that he refused to surrender them. The members present at this meeting, were counted, and numbered one hundred.

        While the case of Brother W. Green was being tried, on the following Friday, the trustees took in charge the church-building by having a new set of locks put on, and held the keys in their possession for the church, and subsequently applied to the judge of the Superior Court to enjoin Brother Harris from interfering with the church or entering the church-building until he should show his right as the pastor. It so happened that the judge was upon the eve of leaving the State, upon a summer vacation, at the time of granting the writ, and, the sheriff not serving the same until after his departure, there was no remedy for Brother Harris until his return, it seems, as the case was not argued until the following November. During the interval the church was in peaceful possession of the building, as the writ enjoined none but Harris. Yet it seems that the parties taking sides with him never entered the church services, with a few exceptions, perhaps, of those who had changed their views and left him finally.

        The church met in extra conference on September 10, 1871, calling Brother Quives Frazer to the chair, and the secretary-elect, Edward Wicks, who for a time seemed to have gone over to the Harris party, being present at this conference, made some explanation of his position upon the questions in dispute, which being satisfactory, on motion, he was permitted to resume his place.

        The branch of the church at Woodstock sent a letter, asking the privilege of withdrawing themselves, as they intended to reorganize the Great Ogeechee body. On motion, their request was granted. On motion, Brethren. Wm. Green and Edward Wicks were set apart for ordination as deacons of this church on the 14th inst., and that the day be observed as a day of fasting and prayer. A committee, composed of the two last-named brethren, was sent to call upon Sister Sarah Harrison, where the vessels and linen used in the communion service were kept, and requested that she deliver them to the church. Her house had been the depository of them for some years. The wine-pitchers, cups, and bread-baskets were of silver, with the name of the church engraved upon them. They have never been found.

        The church met on the 14th, pursuant to her adjournment on the 10th. Rev. Andrew Neyle was called to the chair, and three additional brethren (A. Denslow, P. Jackson, and G. B. Lewis) were set apart to the deaconship, having received the highest number of votes among six brethren nominated for the office; and agreeably to the resolution of the 10th, Brethren Green and Wicks were solemnly ordained the same evening.

        The church also in regular conference, on the 17th of September, adopted these resolutions:

        "WHEREAS, Brother Alexander Harris has as a member of this church assumed powers not delegated to him and unwarranted as a deacon, and by such assumption has inflicted great evils upon this church, he procuring by false representation his ordination to the gospel ministry, attempting to preside as the pastor of this church against the wishes and the protestation of two-thirds of its members.

        "Secondly, Making false reports to the authorities of the city relative to the good order of the church, and bringing police-officers within the grounds to intimidate us from the enjoyment of our corporate and spiritual privileges, and closing the doors of the house of God against us for three weeks, bringing reproach upon us as a Christian body, by indicting in the police-court of the city our brother, William Green, whom the church has appointed to the deaconship, and elected as its chairman to preside during her business conferences, and for other purposes, and whom they had empowered to protest against the illegal and irregular acts of Brother Harris.

        "Thirdly, And whereas this church on Sabbath, the 3d of September, 1871, met in solemn conference, and cited Brother A. Harris, who was then present, to answer for his unlawful actions, yet he, in the spirit of arrogance and contempt, ignored the authority of the church, and left the house and his brethren who desired, in the spirit of forbearance, to admonish him to heed their counsel.

        "AND WHEREAS, This church conceived it her duty to so far admonish Brother Harris, inflict the censure of suspension from his privileges in this church until he should reflect and repent of his actions, and notified him of this fact, and he, in a total disregard of this action of the church, met in the afternoon of the same day and essayed to officiate in and administer to a few of his followers the holy ordinance of the Lord's Supper, which act we feel was highly improper, if not sacrilegious; therefore,

        "Resolved, That this church do hereby declare that all these several acts herein cited are highly improper, wrong, and sinful in our brother, A. Harris, and not prompted by the spirit that should characterize a Christian member of the church; and for such actions we do declare Brother Alexander Harris expelled from our membership, praying his repentance and return.

        "Resolved, That we do hereby admonish those of our brethren and sisters, members of this church, who have by the ill advice of Brother A. Harris lent their aid to these illegal acts of his, to depart from their errors and return to their covenant relations and duties of the church on pain of expulsion for a failure so to do; and the deacons, acting in their capacity as such, are requested to seek out such of our members, and, in the spirit of Christian forbearance and brotherly love, notify them of the consequences should they neglect to comply with these requirements after hearing the reading of these resolutions."1

        These resolutions were unanimously passed in the conference; and by resolution Brother E. Wicks and Sister Elizabeth Edy were requested to resume the work of the Sabbath-school, which had been suspended since these difficulties began. At the conference of October 15, Brother William Rivers, one of the deacons, who was among the followers of Mr. Harris, returned, gave due satisfaction, and was restored to all of his privileges as a member and deacon; and at that of November 19, a letter was received from the Woodstock branch, notifying the church that they had become organized as a sister church, under the old title of the Ogeechee Baptist Church. At an extra conference, held on the 19th of December, it was voted that the last Sabbath in the month, being the 31st, be set apart as the day for calling a pastor by fasting and praying through the day. The church met in extra conference on the 28th, and unanimously reconsidered the vote she passed in March, declaring that she would not recall Rev. U. L. Houston, and on the afternoon of December 31, he was recalled to the pastorate by a unanimous vote of one hundred and thirty-four. It was also resolved that the time of service be not specified, but that he remain as pastor as long as agreeable to himself and the church.

        With this recall the pastor re-entered upon his duties with the year 1872. During all the conflict he was absent, serving the churches lately organized by him,--one at North Newport, Liberty County; the other near the Great Ogeechee, in Chatham County. The first is known as the Zion and the latter the Ogeechee; both of which are still thriving, prosperous bodies, with commodious and neat grounds and buildings for country churches.

        At the regular church conference, held January 21, 1872, Brother J. M. Simms, one of the lately-elected trustees, was received as a member of this church by letter from the First African Baptist Church of this city. He had been a member of that church from early youth, and gave her much service in his more mature manhood. He had been clerk of the church from 1858, and also acted as deacon until 1863, when he was licensed by the church to preach. He was master-builder in the erection of her new brick edifice, and organized the Sabbath-school of the church, she having had none from the separation from this body, in 1832. Born and reared in Savannah, Brother Simms was well known to all, and, like the pastor of the church, had taken an active part in seeking to secure the political rights of his people. He was also elected to the Georgia Legislature, and served during the same term with Rev. Mr. Houston; thus they were intimate in their relations. He was ordained a minister of the gospel by the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston, Massachusetts, while sojourning there during the late war, and returned to his church at its close, in 1865. But, his church taking offence at his becoming ordained in his absence from her, he fell under disfavor in the body through the influence of the pastor, Rev. W. J. Campbell; and thus took his letter and removed back to this old church, whose roof sheltered him when Mr. Marshall was its pastor, and in whose Sunday-school he received his earliest religious teachings. The church, on receiving him into membership, passed a resolution recognizing his office as a minister of the gospel and welcoming him to her pulpit, and he at once became a timely auxiliary to the church and pastor.

        The church in extra conference, on February 11 of this year, took measures looking to a reconciliation with all of her revolting members, if possible, and so appointed committees to call upon them and endeavor to bring the same about. Her communicants had been suspended on account of the disturbances arising out of the usurpation of the church's powers and prerogatives by ambitious brethren and their deluded followers; and the church was continuously in a feverish state of excitement, with the feeling then existing, and which had existed for several months, and now some of the more conservative suggested the calling together of all of the male members of the church, without reference to what had been done, and consult in order to harmonize.

        The meeting was held February 22, in the lecture-room of this church. There was considerable argument before a chairman was selected, each wing of the division desiring to have the honor of presiding, feeling they had the right; one side by virtue of being the majority, with the rightful pastor, and the other claiming they were the church by virtue of the recognition of Mr. Harris as the pastor by the Association, and a council of ministers. They finally submitted the question to a vote, and Brother Q. Frazer was elected the chairman, he being with the majority and one of the oldest trustees, but a mild, conservative Christian brother, in whom all had much confidence. As a basis of settlement it was insisted upon that the meeting should decide who was the church and on which side was its power and authority. It was resolved that the church was in itself the sovereign power, and independent of all other powers in her spiritual affairs; subject only to Christ, and that in a Baptist church the majority of the members, in any matters of the church rules, must be obeyed, and what they do must be sustained, and that we so recommend to the church. When this resolution passed, the party with Mr. Harris walked out of the meeting, and the effort at reconciliation became a failure. The report of this meeting was submitted to the church in her conference, and was received and adopted March 3, 1872. The trustees reported also at this meeting that they had called upon Brother Harris, informed him of their appointment, and desired him to deliver to them any books, papers, or other property he held belonging to the church, and that he declined either to recognize their authority or to surrender what he held until he should see further into the matter. At this conference two more of Brother Harris's most violent partisans, namely, Isaac Butler and Edward Harden, were expelled for gross and improper temper and language in the meetings of the church; also at the same meeting Brother John Williams, under watch-care, and licensed to preach by this church, was dropped from her fellowship, and his license was revoked.

        It will be remembered that in September, 1871, the newly-elected trustees procured an injunction, restraining Brother Harris from interfering with the rights of the church, as shown in the preceding chapter. On the 14th of this month (March) he with counsel appeared before the judge of the Superior Court that granted the Trustees the injunction, and it appears that they satisfied his Honor of his election to the pastorate of the church. Neither the trustees nor any one on the part of the majority having received notice to appear, however, his Honor the judge dissolved the injunction granted in September last, and granted Harris a temporary injunction against the Trustees.

        The church resolved to set apart Sunday, the 18th, as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, not knowing the deep trial and sorrow she would be called to pass through on that day. The morning opened clear and beautiful, and at early dawn the members met and opened their meeting with singing and prayer, led by the several official and lay brethren; and so continued until about eleven o'clock in the day, when, to the surprise of all, Brother Harris, who had not been in that house for more than six months, entered the eastern front door, stately walked up the aisle, followed by about twenty odd of his adherents, who, as he stepped into the pulpit, took seats in the pews, grouping together as closely as it was convenient for them. Mr. Harris sat down in the pulpit, his large, full eyes gleaming with defiance as he glanced over the assembly; his face, rigid with resolve, and lips compressed together, indicative of a firm determination, seemed to paralyze the Church for a few minutes; but as he arose, hymn-book in hand, to announce the number and recite the stanzas, the death-like stillness of the moment was broken by a brother sitting in the front pew nearest the pulpit, and of course nearest the speaker, who was seized with a violent fit of coughing. This in itself would not appear strange in any church at this time, but it instantly became contagious, and soon nearly every one in the house, excepting those with Mr. Harris, was violently coughing, so that when the little flock who followed in his lead raised their hymn of victory, it was really like the chirping of birds on a very windy day in March, and could not be heard; and, as it was incessant, the thwarted brother in the pulpit beckoned with his finger to the tallest deacon he had among his party, William Washington, who left the house for a few moments, and returned with a city police-officer as tall as himself (over six feet), in full uniform,--helmet, red-top boots, and large brass spurs,--armed with pistol and club in his belt. As he stalked into the church, and up to the pulpit, he was saluted with this strange chorus of coughers, who otherwise sat still in their seats. Mr. Harris leaned over the pulpit-rail and spoke to the officer. What he said of course was not known, but in a slight lull in the chorus, led by the brother in the front pew, who seemed to regulate the pitch (now down to a "pianismo," or the softest tones), the officer was heard to say, as he gazed around and his eyes rested inquiringly upon the brother in the front pew, "I see nothing disorderly, only that everybody seems to have a bad cold;" and with this he went out and left the band which had entered so victoriously half an hour before quite in a dilemma. It is thought that the officer, fearing to take so weighty a responsibility upon himself at this crisis, referred Harris to the barracks where his chief was. He left a few moments after the police-officer, followed by his members, and the chilling blast of his presence being removed, the coughing ceased; the tempest of the hearts in the church was stilled, and the legitimate service of the meeting was resumed, and it was good to be there to hear the Christians then sing and pray.

        The service of fasting and prayer was timely and proper, in the highest sense, on this occasion, if ever, for the church was even, as twice before, "low down in the valley of humiliation;" but she seemed to remember in this day and hour, though her way was dark, that sure promise of her God, "Call unto me and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not;"2 and surely it was to be. The service continued without the slightest incident to mar its solemnity during the afternoon, and the singing and praying waxed warmer as the sun sank in the western horizon, when the meeting closed with a solemn-sounding doxology, as it is the Baptists' custom to sing on parting; but down in the vale at sunset the acclaim was solemn and low; it was as the soft bleating of the sheep instinctively feeling the coming of a storm at night when the sun goes down in a dark cloud. So, as they sang this doxology and received the parting benediction, with injunction to return in the evening after they had broken their fast, they separated.

        Although the late service was calm and peaceful, the brethren had their misgivings aroused by the quiet leaving of Mr. Harris and party. The pastor and Trustee Simms, who knew Brother Harris well, counselled together, and kept a careful watch for what might come, believing the afternoon calm was but the precursor of the coming storm; and at the opening of the door for the evening service were present in their seats upon the platform fronting below the pulpit, one on the right and the other on the left of that position. The seats were well filled with the members; and the deacons and congregation were singing a spiritual song (as the homely compositions are called) in a low but sweetly plaintive tone--all seemingly as calm without as one could wish it to be (nature seemed to be engaged in the scene that was about to be enacted, as the day was fair until the sun went down, and just at this hour it clouded up)--when Mr. Harris entered the church again, as in the morning, only with but few of his followers. As he was about half way up the aisle, between the door and the desk, a police sergeant stepped inside the door and stood looking at him as he mounted the steps of the pulpit. As he stepped in, a trustee arose from his seat and in tones of stern reproof exclaimed, "Mr. Harris, in the name of this church I protest against this usurpation," or nearly in those words, and the pastor arose also almost simultaneously, and said, in a voice deep with feeling, "Yes, and I, in the name of God, protest." While they were speaking there could also be heard at the front door the loud tones of the officer, "Rush in, men!" and ere the sound of the words of the trustee and pastor, aforesaid, had died away the sergeant had seized the former by the collar of his coat, and another officer the pastor, with the order, "Take them out to the barracks," as he handed the trustee over to one of his subordinates. As they were both being roughly pulled towards the door the excitement was terrible, the men rushing towards the pulpit and the women screaming in their fright. The police, fearing no doubt an attack from the men, drew their pistols and fired two shots; and to crown the scene with horror, some one turned off the gas, and left them, as it were, in the darkness of midnight. By this time the trustee and pastor were out of the tumult, in the street, without hats and in the rain. The police-officers, seeming content with the arrest of these two,--no doubt agreed upon and so ordered by their chief,--molested no one else of the large crowd who followed them to the station-house. It is not known with certainty how Mr. Harris got out, there being a large window behind him as he stood in the pulpit, opening into the back part of the lot; no doubt he found safe exit by it, and, maybe, jumped over the back fence and took the nearest route towards his residence or that of some of his friends. However, he was not seen again that night, nor did he appear at the police-station to prefer charges, as is customary in breaches of the peace. Houston and Simms were taken there, and searched and dispossessed of what their pockets contained, for the time being (returned upon their release), and ruthlessly locked up in a dark cell, with nothing inside but themselves, the four walls, the floor, and the ceiling.

        It was about ten o'clock when they were locked up. For a few minutes after each was busy with his thoughts, and neither spoke to the other a word. Rev. Houston, being a large, heavy man, from the long walk, about a mile, felt tired, and sat down upon the floor; Simms, being small of stature and light of frame, and under mental excitement, stood up, leaning against the wall of their prison. The silence was broken by Pastor Houston, who cleared his throat, and at once commenced to sing in a soft, clear voice Dr. Watts's beautiful hymn of "God's purpose of mercy,--"

                         "The Lord on high proclaims
                         His Godhead from his throne;
                         Mercy and Justice are the names
                         By which he will be known.

                         "Ye dying souls that sit
                         In darkness and distress,
                         Look from the borders of the pit
                         To his recovering grace.

                         "Sinners shall hear the sound;
                         Their thankful tongues shall own
                         Their righteousness and strength are found
                         In thee, O Lord, alone.

                         "In thee shall Israel trust,
                         And see their guilt forgiven;
                         Thou wilt pronounce the sinners just,
                         And take the saint to heaven."

        He sang every stanza as correctly in that dark room as if he were in his pulpit with the gaslight on the book. His companion in imprisonment, being moved by this cheering act of faith and resignation, joined in as he began the second stanza, and they thus sang together to the end. As if the arch-enemy would mock them, a most ludicrous incident occurred while they were singing. The guard outside, in the passageway to the cells, a son of the Emerald Isle (or, in other words an Irishman), exclaimed gruffly, in his native tongue, "Niver moind; Mayyer Screeven will give yees the divil in the morning;" and both the singers simultaneously replied, "No, he won't." It was not more than about twenty minutes after when, as guard and door-keeper, he received the order at the outer door, "Bring out Houston and Simms."

        Like the early churches of the Apostles, our old Bryan was now wide awake in this the height of the storm, and active for the deliverance of these brethren and leaders. Directed by the God of heaven, they quickly found human succor. When the two prisoners came into the police-office again, whence they were sent not over half an hour before, the appearance of things was very different. The officer in charge was more pleasant and polite, and some three or four deacons, with Mr. Charles Ash, a citizen of property and prominence, and P. W. Mildrim, Esq., a young lawyer, were all pleasantly chatting together over the incidents of the night. As the officer handed each of us an envelope, he requested us to examine its contents, and see if they were as when delivered to him. Being assured that they were, we were told that we were at liberty to depart then, and to appear again at ten o'clock in the morning, to answer to the charge in the mayor's court. Bonds had been given by those kind gentlemen, both of whom are, under the smiles of kind Heaven, living and prospering at the time of this writing.

        When they appeared on the streets they were greeted by the church members with joy; a large number of the sisters, brethren, and some other friends, were at the portal of the prison, though it was still raining, when they delivered the prisoners, and their friends shortly afterwards returned to their homes, rejoicing in the midst of their trials at what God had done. They appeared before his Honor, the mayor, in the morning, and he discharged them on the same ground upon which he previously had Brother Green, for want of jurisdiction in the case. But, not to be outdone, the brother got his case before the grand jury of the Superior Court, which returned a true bill against Simms and Houston for misdemeanor.

        The officers in behalf of the church and through counsel petitioned the court to dissolve the injunction granted Harris, showing the extent of the injury he was doing the church, and ten days after the trial in the mayor's court the following writ was granted:

 

"SUPERIOR COURT, CHATHAM COUNTY.

        "Alexander Harris, complainant, and Ulysses S. Houston, et al., defendants. Temporary injunction issued March 14, 1872.

        "It Being Made To Appear, That The Complainant, Alexander Harris, although elected for one year pastor of the First Bryan Baptist Church, was a member of said church, and as such is under the dealings of the church, and by virtue of the Sovereignty of Baptist churches, the church has the power to deal with him in their own way; And it further appearing that his pastoral year for which he was elected has expired or nearly so, it is ordered that the said injunction be dissolved.

        "Witness my hand and official signature this 1st April, A.D. 1872.

 

"W. SCHLEY,

"Judge Supreme Court Eastern Circuit of Georgia.

"A true extract from the minutes, this first day of April, A.D. 1872. [L.S.]

"Z. N. WINKLER.

"Deputy Clerk, Superior Court
of Chatham County, Georgia."3

 

        This shut Mr. Harris out finally, and he has never returned; and the "church felt in her body that she was healed of the plague."

 

Footnotes:
1 Minutes of the church, September 17,1871.
2 Jeremiah xxxiii. 3.
3 True copy of the writ.

 
 
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