The church again peaceably met in her regular conference April 18, 1872. All her regular meetings for prayer and preaching had been resumed. Deacon Rivers made report of his mission of reconciliation, for which he was appointed, that the only one that he could persuade was his aged colleague upon the deacon's staff, Brother Grant Simpson, who was present. After some explanations relative to his public acts and present feelings, he was fully restored to his former privileges and position. A committee was appointed at this meeting to draft resolutions relative to the action of the members revolting against the authority of the church and report them at the next conference, which they did on the 16th of May following:
"Your committee, appointed to draft suitable resolutions respecting the disorderly members, submit the following preamble and resolutions:
"WHEREAS, The following-named persons, Brothers Peter Campbell, William Washington, Major Cannorn, John Jackson, David Slea, Andrew Law, Augustus Grampus, Hezekiah Givens, James Lewis, John Longwood, Amos McFall, Daniel Green, Wm. Fergerson, Lisbon Bing, Charles Cumming, Joseph Stiles, Joseph Verderee Henry Hamilton, James Spalding, and Sisters Sarah Harrison, Ann Stiles, Sarah Odingsell, Mary Irving, Mary Savoy, Jane Irving, Sally Howell, Elsey Moter, Eliza Washington, Julia Cooper, Mary Verderee, Sarah Ferriby, Lizzie Mitchel, Francis Harris, Mary Anderson, Mira Webb, Anna Bullock, Abigail Small, ---- Blocker, ---- Blocker, Dolly Moran, Virginia Cannorn, Rebecca Williams, ---- Lewis, Nelly Johnson, C. McQuiney, having openly rebelled against the sovereign power of the church; and have smuggled away the church property, and setting themselves up as a church, and are receiving and communing with the excluded members of this church contrary to her rules and the gospel.
"AND WHEREAS, Repeated invitations have been extended them to return to the fellowship and authority of the church, and they have not done so, but continue to ignore the rights of the church, Now, therefore, be it
"Resolved, By the authority of the same, that their actions are hereby condemned, and each and every one of them are hereby expelled.
"Resolved, That this church is in no way opposed to the largest liberty of its members consistent with the gospel of Christ and the long practical experience in the discipline and customs of the Baptist denomination, and believe that any member or members, for good and sufficient reasons first being given to the church, may withdraw their membership.
"Resolved, That we earnestly condemn and deprecate the action of any Baptist church receiving the expelled members of another Baptist church into their fellowship, and hold union and communion with them, and the fact that the pastor of the first African Baptist Church of this city inviting an expelled member of this church to preach in his pulpit and officiate in said church meet the unqualified condemnation of this church, and is productive of disunion among the churches of our Association, contemptuous of our Baptist discipline, and perversive of the Christian religion.
Resolved, That these resolutions be spread upon the minutes of this church, and a copy be sent through our delegates to the Zion Baptist Association when they shall again convene.
"E. WICKS, Chairman."
The delegates to the Association this year (1872) were: Rev. U. L. Houston, Brethren Q. Frazer, W. Rivers, W. Green, and E. Wicks: reported baptized, 29; by letter, 4; restored, 25; dismissed by letter to organize a church, 268; membership, 337. It will be remembered that the Association adjourned to meet with the Darien Baptist Church, and that Brother A. Harris was to preach the introductory sermon, with Rev. C. F. Lawton as alternate. Both were present when the session met. Mr. Harris's career since the last session was most notoriously known by nearly all the delegates present. He went into the pulpit and attempted to preach, notwithstanding he well knew the church's delegates would protest, as he was an expelled member of this church. The brethren who came to the Association prepared to sustain him insisted that, as the appointment was made before these occurrences, he was entitled to preach, and that the protest be made after organization. This was demurred against, and the trouble of the church now became transferred to the Association. After spending the whole morning discussing the matter, the church was sustained against Brother Harris and his followers, for it seems they were fully under his control, and the introductory sermon was dispensed with. The Association then proceeded to the business of organization, and read letters up to adjournment in the evening. On the morning of the second day occurred a stormy session during the election for officers; but it resulted in a complete victory for right and justice. The Moderator for the last six years was renominated by Mr. Harris, and the pastor of this church was nominated by Brother Simms, now pastor of the Zion Baptist Church of Liberty County. The vote as reported by the tellers was: Rev. A. Bourke, 31; Rev. U. L. Houston, 41; and the church was thus vindicated. Subsequently the committee on the state of churches reported relative to this church as follows: "We find that two sets of letters were sent to the Association, two sets of delegates representing the First Bryan Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia, complaining against each other, and one set of letters mention a council of ministers called to investigate the matter, and gave names of only a portion of the council, and fails to report the decision of that council, and the other letter makes no mention of a council.1
A portion of this report was stricken out by the Association, and the following substitute, by Rev. David Watters, was adopted in its stead:
"That each church is the judge of its own members, and we endorse the action of the First Bryan Baptist Church in the case of Mr. Harris and others; yet, as an advisory body, we hereby counsel them to return to the First Bryan Baptist Church, Rev. U. L. Houston, pastor, and be reconciled."
The course of Brother Harris was so notoriously wrong, unchristian-like, and inconsistent as a Baptist, that the brethren who defended it could only do so from personal motives or prejudicial feelings, and not for the glory of God and the interest of our denominational cause; and it is due the truth of history to say, as much as we regret it, that at that particular period in our history much of that feeling of prejudice and jealousy prevailed,--Campbell against Simms, Boles against Houston, each of whom had influence in different spheres. Campbell and Boles were men very popular with the white citizens of Savannah, and thought it was best that those in the ministry should not meddle with politics, and were much influenced in their views by the opinions of the white brethren. Houston and Simms, younger and feeling more independent, felt it their duty to enter that arena, as it was at the time a death-struggle for equality of rights before the law. Both were, no doubt, ambitious. Again, Boles was a member of this church and a very useful man in doing much to build her up, and there is no doubt that he aspired as a son to be the pastor. The church chose the young man, Houston, and not the elder man, Boles. He became offended, left this church with a letter, which the church very reluctantly gave him, and joined the First African Church, of which Rev. Campbell was pastor, leaving behind him a feeling of deep regret and the seeds of dissension with his friends in his old mother church, of course; and he ever after strove to detract from her and draw away her country membership.
Simms had become early in life a member of the First African Church, under Dr. Marshall, and was Brother Campbell's constant help at the time of his building the present house of worship. He had been his clerk, deacon, master-builder, and intimate counsellor, until the church insisted upon setting him apart for the ministry, against the objections of the pastor. Jealousy ensued, and their close relations ceased. The civil war was raging and the younger colored men of the city were being pressed into service upon the Confederate works around the city. This was so repugnant to Simms that he left the South, went to Boston, Massachusetts, and while preaching there as a licentiate from the First African Church of Savannah, the brethren in Boston proposed to ordain him, to be prepared for the work soon to be begun at the close of this great conflict, as now our people were free. So, in April, 1864, in the Twelfth Baptist Church a presbytery of five colored Baptist ministers--Grimes, of the Twelfth; Raymond, of the Second Baptist of New York; White, of Joy Street Church, Boston; Thomson, a missionary of Boston; and Randolph, of Charlestown, Massachusetts--ordained him as an evangelist of the gospel. When he returned to Savannah, Rev. Mr. Campbell took this as a pretext for crippling his influence with the members of his church, claiming that it was an infraction of his church's rights to allow ordination by another church under whose watch-care he was, and that it showed contempt for him. The Twelfth Baptist Church wrote a letter disclaiming any intention of infringing upon the rights of her sister church in the South, and stating that what they had done was with the view of facilitating missionary work down here solely as a war measure. This letter was suppressed by the pastor, and the church, not receiving the information, refused to recognize the ordination; and having a large congregation spread far around the country, thus stopped the ministerial work of Simms, who was a missionary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, laboring on the Savannah River plantations. Mr. Simms, being crippled by his pastor and church in his religious labors, turned very naturally to where at this time he was much needed,--the political field. He went, as Rev. Houston did, to the legislature from the largest populated county in the State,--i.e., Chatham. What little distinction he won in that body and upon the hustings increased the jealousy of Brother Campbell; seeing this, and his friend and sympathizer, Houston, in trouble, partly through his persuasion in getting him into politics, he took his letter from the First African and went to the First Bryan Church. Thus it will be seen how the seeds from which the roots of bitterness sprang created these dissensions. Brother Harris, the better to help his ambitious personal ends, took advantage of the feeling which he was well aware existed between these four brethren before mentioned, they having much influence with our elder ministers outside of the city among whom they had been laboring for years in slavery times, having since ordained some of them, and being looked up to as their advisors in the affairs of their people. Campbell and Boles had a following that Harris designed to and subsequently did use for his advancement, without which his religious and ministerial career might have ended with this session of the Zion Baptist Association. As we now look at the then division, Campbell and Boles, Houston and Simms, with Harris in the breach, striving for place and power to appease a morbid ambition with personal unpopularity, and taking hold upon these two elders with a large constituency and small mental calibre, so well suited to his purpose, we have the elements out of which grew, soon after adjournment, the "Mount Olive Association," from which much good has come, we know, which is still existing, and which may do much more by the overruling power of God. Nothing here written is intended to disparage that Association in any sense. But the controlling power of the Zion Baptist Association, for seven years in the hands of these elders, was lost to them at this session; and seeing younger men, whom they had unwisely endeavored to keep down, if not to destroy, now in the ascendency, their power taken away, as evidenced in the election of Houston, and their measures voted down, they were guided by the strong, insidious, wilful mind of Brother Harris, and resolved to separate from the old Association.
It is really true that all who opposed the wishes of those elder brethren respected them highly, yea, some loved them, and regretted the state of things that existed; but seeing they were in the wrong, and that their action would stop the progress of our cause, opposed them, and from that day to their death, so far as our Baptist field is concerned, their glory departed; and, as they could no longer rule, they seceded--some six churches--and founded the Mount Olive Association. That was all they did. They did it for the benefit of Brother Harris; and one by one they soon passed from earth to heaven, leaving it to him, now the only survivor of that day. And now, as we must close up the historical part of Brother Harris's connection with the church,--he having from this associational meeting no connection with it,--it is due to this history to say that it is solely with the public acts we deal; in private life, had we to make criticisms, we could show many excellent qualities of this our brother; and we write as fully as we do for the benefit of those to come after us, that when they examine into and review our work and way, they may better avoid the mistakes we made, which if we had not we might have accomplished so much more. No doubt it was a mistake for Houston and Simms to dabble in politics, in which there is much evil, yet it may have been necessary, and if so it was at the time with them; but it may be in the case of Houston the original evil that suggested the first wrong thought and act in Mr. Harris, and led on a train of circumstances in one direction and then in another that culminated in the whole of these difficulties shown in this history. Looking at it from this point, none of the actors can be clear from blame, if a small cause may produce a large effect,--and a cause is responsible for its effects,--though two wrongs are never known to make a right. But with these wrongs and mistakes we may see the hand of an overruling Providence, and that his commands in his revealed will to us are the best possible good for man; yet what he permits he is also able to overrule for good to his glory. Therefore, had Houston not gone to Atlanta for two years, Harris might have always remained a deacon of the church to the end, as Mr. Johnson has done; had Simms not gone to Boston and been ordained, he might have remained with the First African Church, in harmony with Brother Campbell, who would never have had cause to oppose Houston because he sheltered Simms; had Campbell and Boles not aided Harris in his extremity in the Association, himself, as a pastor, his present little church might not have striven to organize and perform the many services to the cause of charity that they are known to have accomplished, distinctively more than any other in proportion to their numbers and resources.
The Georgia Infirmary owes much to him and his church. His inventive genius served him constantly as he has ripened in age and experience, some bitter, it is true; yet it has given him more real power for the good which he is so capable of doing; and with an education in the letters and occult sciences to light up that genius, his energy and indomitable will would have made him superior by far to any of the group of men with whom he had been reared and with whom he acted in the affairs of life. The cause of the separation and the wounds made there by him have long been removed and healed, and the Church has as much claim upon him and his church and the same love that a mother would feel for a wayward daughter, who at last turned out well and proved creditable to the house from which she sprang. Does not all this show the overruling power of God, whose love and grace are sufficient for us? These views will lighten the burden of age to all of the actors of the day of which we now write, though there are very few that still remain; but they are not written for them, but for those that shall succeed us. It must not be inferred either that what has been accomplished was not by some self-sacrifice on the part of all these brethren, and, even in the height of these disagreeable times, there were always a middle and conservative class of brethren who neutralized much of the evil tendencies, and at last brought about peace and harmony. Houston's consoling words and prayers in the closing hours of Rev. Brother Boles's life,--Simms's doing the same services for Rev. William J. Campbell,--standing by his bed, closing his eyes in death, and both Houston and Simms officiating at his funeral from this old church (and not the one he built), the old mother Bryan church, going first in a body to her wayward yet loved daughter (Bryan church) to break bread in spiritual communion with her; and as she entered the sanctuary, Houston and Harris met in the embrace of each other. All hearts full of peace, all eyes bathed in tears, they feast with their Lord and former pastor at the table, with their own pastor by his side; they sing together thanksgiving and praise, and take the parting hand of fellowship which had once been withheld, never to be severed, we trust, again. Surely, then, we see that his grace is sufficient, his ruling providence is as wise as it is good, and thus, like David of old, we are made to exclaim of our God, through Christ, "He is good, and his mercies endureth for ever."
In 1873 the church was represented by the pastor alone, who also was pastor of and represented the branch organized at Ogeechee. This church baptized 155; received by letter, 16; restored, 16; and reported a membership of 537,--a gain of 195 for the year. Her trials being over, she was blessed with an outpouring of the Spirit and the ingathering of souls; peace and great harmony prevailed now in every way. The deacons were Brethren Grant Simpson, William Rivers, William Green, and Edward Wicks of the old staff; in September, 1871, during the troubles, there were added Brethren Amos Denslow, Polado Jackson, and J. B. Lewis; and at the regular conference of February 7 of this year, Brethren H. R. Rahn and Hazzard McPherson were chosen and set apart on trial. It has always been the custom of the church to put her deacons on some months' trial before ordaining them. Now that she had put on trial these newly selected, on the 28th of April four brethren who had been on trial some length of time, namely, Brethren Rivers, Lewis, Jackson, and Denslow, were ordained. It was at the conference held this month that the church adopted the new constitution, covenant, and by-laws reported from a committee appointed to draft them, consisting of Brethren J. M. Simms, E. Wicks, and H. R. Rahn, and a resolution was passed to have the same printed in pamphlet form, with a roll of the members therein, for distribution.
It was in this year that the proposition was made by some of the brethren to take down the old church-building, erected by Mr. Bryan in 1794-95. The out-building or praise-house, as it is generally called, built upon the Gibbons lot before mentioned, and rolled upon this ground in 1793, became dilapidated, and a new building, twenty-five by forty feet, was erected in its stead in 1865, on the southern part of the lot. This main edifice was much out of repair; besides, all felt it had been desecrated by the troubles of 1871, when the police entered it and fired off their pistols. And now it was proposed to take it down and erect a brick structure as a monument to the memory of Father Bryan, and as a token of their gratitude to God for their redemption from moral as well as spiritual bondage. On the 10th of August, 1873, a mass-meeting of the members and of the friends of the church was called. The pastor, Rev. Mr. Houston, was called to the chair, and the subject of taking down and erecting was fully discussed, and it was resolved that, if the church would consent to tear down the precious old structure, they would, as a committee of the whole, see that another built of brick would replace it, upon the plans selected by the church. Brother Edward Wright suggesting that, in so important an affair, we should first seek counsel and direction from Almighty God, the pastor therefore led in a fervent, feeling prayer. Then, as an earnest of the pledge, a spontaneous collection of three hundred and fourteen dollars and twelve cents cash was raised, with promises of much more in subscriptions. Committees on finance, on materials, and on building were appointed, ready to act when the church gave their consent, and when their endorsement was procured.
The committees as appointed were:
On Finance.--J. M. Simms, chairman, George B. Lewis, D. Watters, Edward Wicks, Henry Rahn, Wade Collins, Joseph Stiles, Frank Jones, Isaac Righton.
On Building.--U. L. Houston, chairman, William Rivers, Charles H. Price, Polado Jackson, John Simmers.
On Materials.--John Jackson, chairman.
The proposition was submitted to the conference of August 18, 1873, and was unanimously accepted, and the chairman of the building committee was empowered to procure a draft of a plan and submit the same to the church forthwith. On the 14th of September the draft of a plan made by civil engineer and city surveyor John B. Howard, of Savannah, free of charge, was exhibited to the members of the church, who authorized the taking down of the old building which had sheltered them, and in which so many of our fathers and mothers had gathered to worship God, to sympathize with and to encourage each other, remembering the prayers made, the tears shed, the sins confessed and pardon found, the sweet communion, solemn and joyful songs of prayer and praise, the numberless souls born of God, renewed in Christ, that had marched from her doors to the river and been baptized, and then in heaven, while many were yet here on earth. With these reflections, while the consent was given to remove this ancient landmark of our civilization and Christianity, once the pride and glory of our ancestors, the church was loth to part with it, and as an evidence of her devotion to its memory had the old temple photographed on the afternoon of Monday, the 29th, the pastor, with the new building-plan, standing at the door, surrounded by members and friends outside, and the aged mother of the church, Sarah Wallace, beside the gate. The copies of this photograph sold readily to the members and friends at one dollar each, over a hundred being taken and sold for the benefit of the building fund.
The church had communed for the last time in the dear old building on the last Sabbath, or 28th of September, and on Wednesday morning, the 1st of October, the brethren who volunteered to tear it down commenced the work, such of the old planks and timbers as were found in a good state of preservation being reserved for use in minor places in the new building.
Such were the zeal and progress of the work at the beginning that on the afternoon of the 13th of October the corner-stone of the new building was laid. The stone and the copper box enclosed therein were paid for and presented by the Sabbath-school, at a cost of twenty-two dollars. The stone was laid with imposing ceremonies by the members of the Grand Lodge of Colored Masons in the State of Georgia, attended by two subordinate lodges,--Eureka, No. 1, and John T. Hilton, No. 2. Grand Master Lewis B. Tormer officiated, assisted by Deputy Grand Master John H. Devoux (a grandson of one of the former pastors) and Grand Secretary Albert Jackson. They marched from their hall, at the corner of Bay and Lincoln Streets, in regalia and with their emblems, to the church grounds, where was assembled a very large congregation of both white and colored citizens. An appropriate ode was sung by the order, an address was delivered by Rev. Henry M. Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now a bishop, suitable and impressive prayer was offered by Rev. James Meriles Simms, a short statement of the early history of the church was given by the pastor for deposit in the box, with copies of the city press, the State constitution, and the names of the State officers, also the names of the mayor and city council; many coins and small curiosities of jewelry worn by the old members; also pieces of old coin which had been found on pulling down the old building, and which had been deposited in the corner-stone at its erection, were placed again in the new box. The cover of the box was soldered on, and the stone was then placed in its position according to the ancient customs of the Free and Accepted Masons. A doxology was sung, the benediction was pronounced by the pastor, and the large but orderly assemblage quietly dispersed. The day was bright and the afternoon as balmy as that of an autumn day could be.
In 1874 the delegates were Rev. U. L. Houston, Wm. Rivers, A. Denslow, P. Jackson, and E. Wicks; baptized, 15; membership, 550.
In 1875, Rev. U. L. Houston, G. B. Lewis, O. Foster, A. Denslow, E. Wicks, H. R. Rahn, J. M. Simms, and W. Rivers; baptized, 33; membership, 586.
In 1876, Rev. U. L. Houston, Wicks, and Jackson; baptized, 34; membership, 630.
In 1877, Rev. U. L. Houston, Foster, Wicks, Lewis, and Rahn; baptized, 98; membership, 715.
In 1878, Rev. U. L. Houston, Lewis and Wicks; baptized, 24; membership, 730.
In 1879, Rev. U. L. Houston, Simms, and Wicks; restored, 36; baptized, 129; membership, 909.
In 1880, Rev. U. L. Houston, Rahn, Wicks, and Simms; baptized, 36; membership, 944.
In 1881, Rev. U. L. Houston, Rahn, and Rivers; baptized, 10; membership, 925.
In 1882, Rev. U. L. Houston and Rivers; restored, 30; baptized, 153; membership, 1114.
In 1883, Rev. U. L. Houston, Simms, Wicks, Rahn, Rivers, Denslow, and Bateman; baptized, 76; membership, 1172.
In 1884, Rev. U. L. Houston, Rahn, Ranier, and S. D. Green; baptized, 51; membership, 1231.
In 1885, Rev. U. L. Houston, Wicks, Lewis, Jackson, Denslow, Rahn, P. Jackson, Foster, Rivers, Green, Gadsden, and Renier; baptized, 147; membership, 1450.
In 1886, Rev. U. L. Houston, Rahn, Denslow, James, Bateman, and S. D. Green; baptized, 122; membership, 1512.
In 1887, Rev. U. L. Houston, Denslow, Ranier, James, and Quarterman; restored, 181; received by letter, 22; baptized, 322; membership, 2005.
The great earthquake of this year brought in this large addition to the church.
1 Copied from the minutes of the Association, 1872, page 27, paragraph 8.
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