The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson N.C.
The History of First Baptist Church, Wilson N.C.
Chapter 1 The Harnessing of the Horses May 5, 1860 Harness the horses, and get up, ye horsemen. —Jeremiah 46:4 KJV T hey harnessed the horses in Warren County, and in Nash. In Kinston and Goldsboro and Greenville, and even up in Virginia, the clergy adjusted the bridles and reins. Baptist preachers going to a meeting. Nothing unusual about that—that’s what Baptist preachers did back then—but this would be a small gathering in a little town most of them had probably never visited. In May 1860 few people outside the area had reason to know of the little market town that called itself Wilson, home to 960 people and seat of the newly formed Wilson County. But there had been a call. Letters had gone out to several preachers of good reputation from two local merchants in their late thirties, W. W. Winstead and R. H. Blount, inviting them to attend the formation of a new Baptist church at the local courthouse on May 6. Preachers answer calls, and they were coming. There was certainly scheduled stagecoach service to Wilson by this time, but the gentlemen more likely used their own horses and perhaps buggies. Any preacher, lawyer, or physician pretty well had to own a horse and a twowheeled sulky or “dog-cart” for ordinary travel needed in their professions. It’s possible, however, that some traveled part of the way by train. Those coming from the north might have gone to Weldon and caught the eleven o’clock departure on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. If the train was on time, they would have arrived in Wilson at 1:33 p.m. If they were coming from 1 2 The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson Goldsboro, they could have left the station there at 6:30 p.m. and arrived here at 7:45. Young as it was, Wilson was proud to be a railroad town.1 Josiah Bridges Solomon was coming south from Warrenton. He had been pastor of the Baptist church there since 1852 and was already well known in local Baptist circles, but his influence would reach much further before his death in 1906. He was born in Franklin County in 1824 and graduated from Wake Forest College in 1851. While still a student, he was ordained by the Haywood’s Meeting House in 1848. One of the participating clergy was William Hooper, of whom we will hear much more later. After graduation he worked as a missionary with the North Carolina Baptist state mission board. He helped found four churches during that time, but Warrenton was his first pastorate.2 The folks in Warrenton remember him this way: “Without being handsome, Mr. Solomon had a strikingly intellectual face. He was well educated, was possessed of much general and technical learning, was a strong reasoner, a logician of power, knew Hebrew and Latin and was especially proficient in Greek.” Apparently JB, as he seems to have been known, got into some controversy with the local Methodist preacher while in Warrenton, and came out on top. At least he baptized a good many Methodists into his church. In fact, a lot of people joined that church during Solomon’s stay there, many in 1853 when an English evangelist, J. S. Reynoldson, conducted a revival. Services were held during the week at midday, and the town’s businesses and schools would close for the event. On the way back to England, Reynoldson was lost at sea when his ship went down.3 Solomon was the owner of six people, apparently one family. The oldest was a sixty-year-old woman, the youngest a one-year-old girl. His father had owned thirty. Solomon left behind some extensive information about his ancestry, with a long, fond recollection of his father. He devotes a page to his father’s slaves, including a particularly intriguing encounter with “Uncle Jack,” a kind of prophet, who seemed to see coming what Solomon described as “the dreadful and unholy war between the States.” 4 Soon after his visit to Wilson, Mr. Solomon accepted the pastorate of the Leigh Street Baptist Church in Richmond, where he served during the years of the Civil War. When wounded soldiers began arriving in Richmond from the Virginia battlefields, the Leigh Street church basement as well as the Solo 1. Wilmington & Weldon R. R. Company, Time Table No. 5, 1859. 2. Rone, Owensboro’s First Church, 134–135. 3. Montgomery, Sketches of Old Warrenton, 198–199. 4. See http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/w/i/l/Joe-M-Williams/ FILE/0012page.html. Also J. B. Solomon to Frank Solomon [cousin], March 15, 1909 , at http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/w/i/l/Joe-M-Williams/ FILE/0015page.html. The date on the letter, which is a copy, is 1909, but obviously in error. Mr. Williams tells me the correct date is 1899. The Harnessing of the Horses 3 mon home served as medical stations. Like many other residents, he gathered his family and abandoned the city on December 25, 1864, when the capture of Richmond seemed close at hand.5 He returned to Warrenton, did farm work, and taught school for a while. In the fall of 1866 he visited Robert E. Lee in Virginia to invite him to attend the dedication of a memorial to his daughter who had died in Warren County during the war. The general was not able to attend, but Solomon describes an emotional conversation.6 JB was professor of English at West Virginia State University in Morganton from 1870 to 1873, also preaching at the local Baptist church. From there he went to Pennsylvania, Josiah Bridges Solomon (North Carolina where he served two churches, Jeffer- Baptist Collection, Z. Smith Reynolds son from 1873 to 1875, and Sharon from Library, Wake Forest University) 1875 to 1880. He was very briefly president of a short-lived institution in Greene County, Pennsylvania: Monongahela College, which, although of Baptist sponsorship, sought to train ministers on a nonsectarian basis.7 J. B. Solomon returned to the full-time ministry in 1880 as pastor of FBC of Owensboro, Kentucky, which he served until 1885. Their church historian writes that “Dr. Solomon was a Christian gentleman in every respect, and was rarely excelled as a preacher. He was logical and systematic, yet with a fine sense of imagery.” 8 5. James, Leigh Street Baptist Church 1854–1954, 30–32; Harvey Hatcher to J. William Jones, April 8, 1867, in Jones, Christ in the Camp, 494. 6. J. B. Solomon to Daughters of the Confederacy, Henderson, NC, undated. Confederate Papers 172, unit 13, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC–Chapel Hill. 7. Serinko, California State College, 28. This institution is in Pennsylvania and is now called California University of Pennsylvania. I have given dates for his stays in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that sound most reasonable to me. Sources are conflicting. He may have been at Monongahela College after his stay in West Virginia. See Taylor, Tar River, 310; Lasher, Ministerial Directory, 684; Thompson, Sharon and Wise, 72–73. 8. Rone, Owensboro’s First Church and A History of the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Kentucky, 348–349. According to Rone’s history, Solomon was awarded the DD degree by both Bethel Baptist College in Russellville, KY, and Southwestern University (now Union University) in Jackson, TN. Bethel, a woman’s 4 The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson He later served several other churches in Kentucky and Indiana9 before spending his last years with his son in an upscale Chicago neighborhood, and then with his daughter and son-in-law, the superintendent of the local school system in Henderson, Kentucky. He died there on November 2, 1906.10 But for now, the thirty-six-year-old Mr. Solomon was on his way to Wilson. He had written an encouraging answer to the invitation: Warrenton, NC April 12th, 1860 Messrs. Winstead & Blount: Dear Brethren: Your favor of the 6th Inst. came to hand two days since, communicating the requests of the brethren that I would be in Wilson on the 1st Sunday in May at the organization of your church. Having considered the matter, I see nothing now to prevent my compliance with your requests. The Lord willing, therefore, I shall expect to be with you on that occasion, & hope then the pleasure of forming the personal acquaintance of the brethren. Permit me to say to you that I rejoice very much that you have a prospect of forming a church in your village, and whether I shall be able to be with you or not, I hope the Lord may meet with you & make it a season of joy and prosperity long to be remembered. Please present me kindly to the brethren whom you represent, especially brethren I. Harris & Randall if still in your town. With sentiments of Christian regard, I remain yours In the faith of the gospels, J. B. Solomon.11 college at the time, is now defunct, and Union has no records that date from that time. 9. Zion Baptist Church, outside Henderson, KY, 1885–1887; 1889–1992 at Huntington, IN; Hawesville and Lewisport, KY, two nearby towns, from 1893 to 1896; and Cannelton, IN, just across the Ohio, from 1896 to 1899. Lasher, Ministerial Directory, 684. Again the sources conflict. The records of Zion Baptist Church have nothing about Solomon other than that he was there 1882–1884. This conflicts with other sources. 10. Rone, Owensboro’s First Church, 134–135, and Taylor, Tar River, 309–310. James, Leigh Street, mistakenly gives the place of death as Henderson, NC. A long obituary appeared in BR, December 19, 1906, along with a portrait, a photograph taken in his later years. 11. “The 6th inst.” refers to the 6th day of the present month. Isaac Harris was a The Harnessing of the Horses 5 Elder Levi Thorne would make his way to Wilson from Kinston, where he was pastor of the Baptist church. Mr. Thorne too was pretty well known, even at age thirty-five. Before going to Kinston, he had been one of the first pastors of the Baptist church in Chapel Hill.12 While in Kinston, during the Civil War, he somehow managed, with the approval of Governor Zebulon Vance, to travel to Baltimore to procure one hundred thousand Bibles and testaments from the American Bible Society for the use of North Carolina troops in the Confederate service. This represents about one-third of all such literature that found its way south during the war. Religious books usually came south during the war by way of Baltimore or Memphis.13 Thorne excitedly wrote the governor of his success:14 Baltimore, Maryland Dec 7th 1863 To His Excellency Z. B. Vance Governor of North Carolina, Sir; With unfeigned gratitude to God, I write to inform you of the great success with which the Lord has crowned my efforts for procuring Bibles & Testaments for the N Carolina troops. The Board of the American Bible Society has made a donation of one hundred thousand copies. I stated to the Board that by your personal influence I obtained permission to come North. I also added that it would give you great pleasure if my request could be granted. If you would forward to me an expression of your appreciation of the Board’s magnanimous action, I will forward it immediately. Your humble svt Levi Thorne Governor Vance may well have replied, but there is no record of it in his papers. Actually, Thorne’s journey was longer than one might expect, because he had been born in England, where his father before him had been a Baptist twenty-seven-year-old merchant in Wilson but at the time a member of Solomon’s church. Randall is unidentified. 12. George T. Purefoy, A History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, 285. 13. Daniel, “Bible Publication and Procurement in the Confederacy,” 200; Jones, Christ in the Camp, 151; see especially Dwight, Centennial History, 258–267. 14. Levi Thorne to Zebulon Vance, December 7, 1863, in Zebulon Vance Papers; Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, NC. 6 The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson preacher. The family arrived in Baltimore when Levi was quite young. He studied medicine there and was baptized at the High Street Baptist Church of that city. For some reason he turned away from medicine, undertook a course of study at Granville College (now Denison University) in Ohio, but then turned to theology at the Western Baptist Institute in Covington, Kentucky.15 His first pastorates were at Harpers Ferry (then in Virginia) and the Maryland towns of Cumberland and Waverly. Then he made his way to North Carolina, where he served the church at Chapel Hill before moving to Kinston. After the Civil War, he would move to New Bern to serve that church as its pastor in 1870–1872 and again in 1875. The people there liked him but could not meet his demands for salary, although an affliction with malaria was certainly more important in this Englishman’s decision to seek healthier climates. On leaving the church in New Bern, he moved to Milford, Delaware.16 Later he served a church at Goshen in the mountains of Virginia. Thorne is said to have been a devout man, conscientious in his duty. A close friend reflected that there were three things about him that kept those who did not know him well from recognizing the greatness of his character: he tended to be despondent, he was as naive as a child, and he spent his whole life in ill health. A few weeks before he died he wrote a friend, asking if he might find a country church for him in the North Carolina mountains. His last days were spent in Baltimore, the city where he had entered the country. The last religious service he attended was a watch-night service on New Year’s Eve of 1878. His last intelligible words were the asking of a blessing at table. Then he had a stroke, and, already sick with the malaria he had tried so hard to escape, that was pretty much it. He died January 22, 1879.17 Down from Battleboro in Nash County came fifty-two-year-old Joseph G. Barkley. Born in Northampton County, he spent his ministry preaching at small churches—at least eleven of them—in Halifax, Northampton, and Nash Counties. He was something of a missionary in the Tar River and Pamlico Associations, but he pretty much supported his family on his own farm.18 He owned four persons, evidently a single family. The oldest, Annie, was one hundred years old. The youngest, an eighteen-year-old man, was on the run in 1860. During the Civil War Barkley spent some time preaching 15. On the Western Theological Institute, see Riggs, “Memoir of Hon. Jas. W. Lynd,” 109. Microfilm records of this institution are in the Kenton County [KY] Public Library. 16. First Baptist Church Dedication Services (New Bern, 1943); Cook, In the Beginning—Baptists!; records of FBC, Milford, DE. 17. Obituaries in BR, March 20, 1879, and RH, March 12, 1870. 18. Taylor, Tar River, 196; obituary, BR, May 6, 1896. The Harnessing of the Horses 7 to soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia, baptizing a good many in the Rappahannock River. Alexander Betts, a Methodist chaplain in the Confederate army, later remembered some of his preaching. Elder Barkley was not a well-educated man, and his success came more from hard work than from brilliance. His preaching is described as “acceptable.” Betts also recounted that he visited in the Barkley home once in 1887 or 1888, and “the dear old man” told him that the happiest day in his life was “one day in 1840, when I saw my oldest daughter marry a young man and start to Africa!” 19 His last pastoral duty was speaking at the funeral of a neighbor woman he had known a long time. Afterward he suffered a stroke. He survived for five years, dying in 1896, at eighty-seven years of age. Up from the Baptist church at Goldsboro rode Elder George William Keesee, who served as pastor there from January 1859 till his death in July 1861. Keesee was a native of Richmond, born June 26, 1831, and an 1851 graduate of Richmond College with further study at the University of Virginia. Basil Manly, Jr., later one of the original four professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had been one of his teachers. He was ordained at the Hicksford (now Emporia) Baptist Church and was its pastor until his move to Goldsboro. He had a successful ministry there, bringing the church out from under a considerable burden of debt and establishing it as a stable and growing congregation. An above-average preacher, he laboriously wrote out every sermon, although he delivered them extemporaneously.20 He said he couldn’t think without a pen in hand. In fact, when he answered the call to come to Wilson, he urged the brethren there to let him know in advance what was expected of him, for “ministers are not always prepared to preach on any particular subject, if I may judge others by myself. Fix up, then, a schedule, and let us have it.” He was a model pastor, kind and cheerful, faithful at visiting the poor and the sick. The year after he participated in the establishment of the Wilson church, he fell seriously ill with typhoid fever and died only three days later, on June 20. He asked bluntly whether he was dying. When told he was, he said he wanted to live only to preach the gospel. Just before he breathed his last, he recited and joined those around him in singing a hymn by Charles Wesley: And can I yet delay My little all to give? To tear my soul from earth away For Jesus to receive? 19. Betts, Experience of a Confederate Chaplain, 13, 26. 20. Jones, Virginia Portsmouth Association, 262–263; obituary, BR, July 24, 1861. 8 The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson Nay, but I yield, I yield; I can hold out no more; I sink, by dying love compelled, And own Thee Conqueror. Though late, I all forsake; My friends, my all, resign; Gracious Redeemer, take, O take, And seal me ever Thine!21 He had been married less than two years. He was buried in Richmond. Brother John Henry Lacy also made ready for the ride to Wilson that day in May 1860, coming down from Scottsburg, Virginia. He probably did this as part of a visit to Battleboro, so that his wife Olivia and their two children could spend some time with her parents. You see, Olivia Lacy was the daughter that J. G. Barkley proudly told Alexander Betts about, the one who got married and went off to Africa. John and Olivia were married on May 1, 1853, and on July 5 of the same year set off from Boston with another missionary couple, Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Dennard, and their leader, Thomas J. Bowen.22 This was the first mission that the Southern Baptist Convention sent to Africa, other than sending Bowen himself, who had gone alone in 1850 but was forced to return for health reasons. Sickness struck the mission as soon as it landed in Lagos, and the Dennards were ill for a week. When they were able to travel, the little group had a frightening journey upriver to their destination. There were hostilities between the local people and the British at the time. After some close calls, during which the men armed themselves, they made it to their station. The Lacys stayed only three months. They returned home on the advice of an English navy physician, as John was losing his vision.23 It’s not unreasonable to speculate that the young couple had a nasty time adjusting to the local culture, but Bowen himself mentions only the 21. Sung to the tune boylston, most familiar to us as the tune to “A Charge to Keep I Have.” 22. Bowen describes the difficulties of their voyage and problems on arrival in London in a letter to African Repository 24, no. 11 (January 1853): 334–335. 23. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, 339–340; obituary, RH, May 19, 1881; Pinnock, Romance, 100; Meyer, “T. J. Bowen and Central Africa,” 254. Bowen, described as “a swashbuckling, Indian fighter missionary” (Anderson, Evangelical Saga, 64), was forced to return in 1859, and eventually he gave in to mental as well as physical illness. After working as a missionary in Brazil until 1861, he served as a chaplain in the Confederate army, but later was committed to the Georgia State Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where he died in 1875 (Pinnock, Romance, 109; Meyer, Farther Frontier, 32). The Harnessing of the Horses 9 threat of John’s going blind.24 They certainly have to be given credit for fortitude. The Dennards both died of disease the very next year. It seems incongruous today, but in the States the Lacys kept slaves; in 1860 they owned six people. It was the issue of slave owners becoming missionaries to Africa that had caused the split between Baptists of the north and south in the United States and led to the forming of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.25 Elder Lacy served a number of churches in southern Virginia after his return, including Danville, Greenfield, and Chatham. He lost Olivia in 1866, and the once-vigorous man spent his last years as an invalid. He died March 24, 1881. His last words, which he could hardly enunciate, were “Glory. Glory.” 26 Elder Henry Petty made his way from Greenville, North Carolina, where he was pastor of the Baptist church. He was born in Virginia in 1828 and, after the early death of both parents, was raised by his mother’s brother. After his service in Greenville he was pastor of the church in Warrenton and of several churches in Virginia. He enjoyed writing and even wrote a novel, Lena Landon, which was published by the American Baptist Publication Society in Philadelphia. He lost his hearing a couple of years before he died in 1904.27 As the brethren made their way through the countryside to Wilson, roadside honeysuckle would have been blooming, the morning air heavy with the fragrance and vibrant with birdsong. They trotted past the smallholdings of yeoman farmers, who made a living off the land by growing subsistence crops: corn, sweet potatoes, collards, peas. Fruit was beginning to form on the peach trees. The main cash crops were the pine trees, sources of tar and turpentine. They passed by acreage farmed by more prosperous planters, where slaves were at work in fields of bright leaf tobacco, a crop that had become increasingly important in the last few years. A lot of cotton was still being grown, but no soybeans at all. Any livestock was penned in by wooden rail fences; barbed wire was still several years in the future. Some other invitations were issued. One went to Thomas R. Owen of Tarboro, who could not get away from his teaching duties at the Tarboro Academy. A trip to Wilson would not simply be a weekend excursion in those days, even from Tarboro. We will hear more of Mr. Owen later. 24. Collins, Baptist Mission, 7–8; Bowen, Central Africa, 179–180. 25. Southern Baptist historian McBeth writes: “Slavery was the main issue that led to the 1845 schism; that is a brute fact” (Baptist Heritage, 381–391). See also Barnes, Southern Baptist Convention, 12–42; Todd, “North Carolina Baptists and Slavery.” 26. Obituary, RH, May 19, 1881; Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, series 3, 339–340. 27. Taylor, Tar River, 286; Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, series 5, 108–109. 10 The Life and Times of First Baptist Church, Wilson One hundred forty-five years later, on another side of time and on the other side of the world, near the southwest tip of India, a fisherman named Prakasan set out to sea in a new boat to resume his business, which had been interrupted by the vicious tsunami of December 2004. The boat was white, and its name was written on the bow in proud blue letters: WILSON BAPTIST. The journey those eastern North Carolina preachers began that day in 1860 would stretch a long way. What follows is the story.