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The Courage of Your Faith, Volume 2

 

The Courage

of

Your Faith

Volume 2 (1771-1979)

Thomas Macy

“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NASB)

Copyright © 2017 Thomas Macy

All rights reserved.

ISBN:

ISBN-13:

 

The Courage of Your Faith is built from the short stories that are part of the Bible study series with the same name. At www.COYFaith.com, you can find the studies, pictures to complement the stories, and much more.

 

table<>. <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. Year |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. Title |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. Description | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1555 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Martyrs |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The martyrdom of William Hunter and the importance of scripture | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1608 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Brethren |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The first Baptist church and the impact of baptism | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1638 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Cause |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The English civil war and Baptist divisions | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1650 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Seekers |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The whipping of Obadiah Holmes and Baptist persecution in the New World | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1718 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Southerners |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. Bonet and Blackbeard come to Charles Town where Baptists deal with alcoholism and more | <>. |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. 1745 |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The Evangelists |<>.
p<{color:#000;}. The First Great Awakening begins to change the Colonies.

<>.
<>.
<>.
<>.
<>.
<>.

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

This book is dedicated to the men and women who have lived courageously in days gone by—ordinary people who led extraordinary lives because of circumstances and a commitment to our Lord and Savior.

CONTENTS

 

 

 

1771 – The Separates

1784 – The Revolutionaries

1793 – The Slaves

1845 – The Southern Baptists

1871 – The Missionaries

1979 – The Literalists

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

 

This collection would not have been possible without the people who brought to my mind the peculiar nature of our Baptist forebears, how they were a catalyst for change. Pastor Steve Hoekstra taught me that the Baptist heritage is one worth studying. Pastor Dave Samples and his class on Baptist history aroused in me a wonder of the controversies in which Baptists immersed themselves. By example, while co-teaching a class called Chasing Rabbits, my friend Bill Elliott showed me that our history has application today.

 

The Courage of Your Faith would also not have become what it is without Sandy, the love of my life, who gave me the idea for the title and the insight that the common element in the people in my stories was their courage.

 

 

 

 

1771 – The Separates

 

 

Robert Digby gently moved his hand up the smooth metal that crossed his palm. His fingers caressed the wood of the upper stock until it disappeared leaving only the roundness of the barrel for his hand to grasp. Up…up to the tick at the end. Staring past the tip of the barrel, he flicked the sight with his thumb, an action of habit. His palm left a damp outline on the barrel—not a good thing. Shaking his head, he held the muzzleloader between his knees and wiped the sweat from his hands. Removing the ramrod one more time from under the gun, Robert slid it down the barrel. Just like last time, it stopped at the first mark. The gun was still loaded. Reattaching the ramrod, he shifted back and forth trying to find a more comfortable position on the ground. He leaned back into the trunk of the old dogwood tree, looked up into the white blossoms, and closed his eyes. Even that did nothing to relieve the tightness in his neck.

At twenty, hunting was part of his life on the frontier. In 1771, the eastern counties might be sophisticated, but not here in the western part of the colony. The settlers in the piedmont lived off what they grew and hunted. They depended upon each other. He liked life here in North Carolina. The civilization common in the east was nowhere to be seen here. The only white sign Robert wanted to see was the tail of a deer. Hunting was as much part of his life as the gun was an extension of his body. Hanging at his side, the pouch contained 10 balls, the number he always carried on a hunt. He took a deep breath and exhaled. He had just never hunted a man before.

Someone nearby prayed quietly…John Childs. Robert recognized his voice…and the way he prayed…almost mumbling, not quite coherent. He was one of those Separate Baptists, the ones that tranced. John wasn’t part of Shubal Stearn’s Sandy Creek association, but he was Baptist none the less. His grandparents had lived near Rufus Digby. They separated from the local Anglican church and, with a group of other believers saved by Whitfield, began their own meetings. Robert remembered stories that grandfather Rufus told him about that congregation. How they had at first maintained their traditions, even using the Prayer Book. But, after reading God’s Word, they became convinced that paedobaptism was wrong and only believers should be baptized. They became Separate Baptists. The same story could be told over and over throughout the South. God was working great things in the piedmont of North Carolina. But this…this battle, if it came to that, wasn’t one of them, at least not in Robert’s mind.

Would the world be a better place because he took a stand here? Robert wanted to answer, yes. But, with a gun in his hands which might soon be pointed at another man, he wasn’t so sure.

A twig cracked. He opened his eyes. Richard Canaday still paced to the meadow and back. Quakers didn’t take up arms against men so he carried no rifle, still hoping for a peaceful resolution, though the prospects of that were a lot less than yesterday.

Others talked to themselves, and some with friends. Along the road and up the rise, next to a small grove of pine trees, a group of men laughed and boasted amongst themselves how great a victory they would have today, as if success would be guaranteed by their self-stroking words of encouragement.

Men handled fear in such different ways.

Moans from two of Tryon’s officers seeped through these other sounds. Just yesterday, they had been captured and well whipped by some over-enthusiastic Regulators. Tied to a tree on the edge of the field, the officers sat, heads hung low.

Other men wrestled and laughed. To them, this was just one more gathering for the sake of the cause. They expected a parlay with the governor, a peaceful resolution. More than half of the Regulators carried no weapons, some for that very reason. Surely the governor would have sympathy when he saw how many residents confirmed the ill treatment by the local officials. Robert took a deep quivering breath. Reverend Caldwell and Mr. Thompson still negotiated with the governor. Perhaps reconciliation was possible.

“I think there is no place like North Carolina in May.” James Few knelt beside him. His homestead was at Sandy Creek, not more than a mile from Robert’s. “Is your field turned yet?”

Robert nodded. “And yours?”

“Nah. Will be as soon as this is over. I started but Sarah needed help with the twins.”

Robert nodded. Just three months earlier, with February’s bite still in the air, he brought James and Sarah rabbit fur blankets when their twins, William and Sarah, were born.

James sat beside him. “Can’t wait to teach William to hunt. And little Sarah, she’s got her mother’s eyes and mouth…” His eyes were seeing something Robert could not. He turned to Robert. “You know Elder Stearns has asked us to visit some of the Sandy Creek churches in Georgia after the harvest this year.”

“You going?”

“Sarah would have my hide if we didn’t. The opportunity to visit her parents and show off the twins settled it in her mind.”

Robert smiled. “You don’t suppose this was a plot planned between Shubal and Sarah do you?”

James laughed. “I accused her of that very thing.”

A soft scent of violet and jasmine mixed in a musky air teased Robert’s mind. The bloom of the dogwood in spring was one of those things that grew on anyone who lived here. Robert plucked one of the blossoms that hung low over his head—an Easter cross. Each of the four white leaves of the flower carried a purplish-red scar at its tip—the wounded hands and feet of Christ. He shivered as another thought crossed his mind…Our wounds today?

“So, do you think this will come to a tug of war?” asked James.

Focusing on the turmoil in his gut, Robert took a deep breath. “I don’t know.” He shook his head and looked at the delicate flower in the palm of his hand. “I would hope no one dies today.”

“It may come to that.”

Robert nodded. “But I hope not.”

“Do you not think it a good cause for which we fight?”

“You know I do.” They grew up fishing on the Deep River…hunting rabbits and birds in the meadows along Sandy Creek. He even helped build a cabin for James and Sarah before their wedding. How could James question his commitment?

“Then don’t be so worried. We are in the right. How much sadder would our lives be without the Regulators! Why, look about you, Robert. There are over 2000 of us. Mr. Hunter says there are but 1000 in Governor Tryon’s militia. There’s a good chance they won’t even fight when they see how many Regulators are here.”

“But what if weapons are fired today. Just numbers won’t guarantee victory. Tryon’s troops will be commanded by experienced fighters. Who do we have? Unarmed settlers. You heard what Mr. Hunter said when we asked him to command us.”

James nodded. “And he’s right. We’re all free men. We should each command ourselves. What better way to fight a battle! We won’t be slaves to an aristocrat appointed by some white wigged representative of the Crown.”

Doubts bubbled up inside Robert. Hunter was one of the organizers of the Regulators and yet he would not lead them now. With every man his own commander, there is no soldier, is what he had said.

“We’ve chosen the right path,” said James. “God wants us to take a stand against injustice wherever it is.”

“Elder Stearns doesn’t agree.”

“Shubal doesn’t agree with some of the violence of the Regulators. And, neither do I. But I think he’s sympathetic to the goals.”

True. “Yet he warned us about active participation in the Regulators. The Bible tells us to render to Caesar what is his and to God what is His.”

“That’s not a command to give Caesar what is NOT his.”

“Still, I doubt God approves of going to war over taxes.”

“Robert! Why are you here?”

Why am I here? We’re pawns in a game of extortion played by the aristocracy. Injustice is part of life on the piedmont. It should not be so. But is what we’re doing here the answer? Feelings stirred like so many leaves in a dust devil. Right, wrong, good, bad, hopes, fears…his mind refused to focus on just one. Gripping his gun a bit tighter, he stared straight ahead unable to answer.

Leaning his gun against the tree, James grasped Robert’s shoulders and stared into his eyes. “The Regulators have finally put government officials under a better and honest regulation. This time of regulation is a good thing…and it will only get better. Soon there will be a way to voice our grievances. That’s all we want…to be heard. More and more counties are taking up the cause of Regulation. Look at our army.” He spread his arms about, turning from side to side. “Men from all over the piedmont. The legislature fears us. The excessive taxes, dishonest officials, and extortionate fees will soon be a thing of the past. You and I will not need to worry that our homes will be sold to pay some illegal tax that is beyond our means. We’ve been sent from heaven to relieve the world from oppression. Robert, we are on God’s side here.”

Robert looked down. “A cornered dog is the worst kind, James. Poking a stick at him isn’t a good idea.” His friend tended to see only what he wanted to see. But Robert had to admit, that was one of the characteristics he liked in James. His friend was always ready with arguments keeping him to commitments made. Where doubts might drown out reason, James was ready to wash uncertainties away. But, for that same reason, James sometimes needed to be reined in. Once set on a path, reason seldom held sway. James rushed headlong into danger, focused only on what he had convinced himself was right. Robert had saved him from himself more than once. “Are you willing to die for this?”

Picking up his gun, James sat back on his haunches with a smile. “It won’t come to that…” He stood. “But, if it does, I am.”

“And what of Sarah and the children?”

James looked away, scratching his chin. “…They’re why I do this, I suppose. What future…”

“They’re here!” The voice was filled with panic.

“Line up!” Captain Montgomery’s voice bellowed across the field as he marched up the road to the top of the hill. He paraded in front of the mountain boys that had come with him.

James headed that way.

Robert scurried from under the tree and ran to the crest of the hill, straining to see the governor’s militia. Not more than half a mile away, they formed themselves into two lines about a hundred yards apart with artillery in the center of the front line.

“Wait!” yelled Robert.

James turned back.

If the Regulator line were extended, it intersected with the woods to the west. A deer was always harder to hit in the forest than in the field. Robert nodded toward the tree line. “It will be a lot safer this way.”

“I don’t want safe,” replied James. “I want the governor to see me.” He hurried on, quickly lost in the crowd of settlers.

Robert hesitated. The situation did not look good, artillery and a militia fit for battle against mostly unarmed settlers with no leader. No, this was definitely not a good outcome of negotiation. But he couldn’t leave now. With the safety of the trees no more than ten feet away, he stood behind a rock that came up to his thighs. Men filled in the gaps. John Childs, the Separate Baptist, sidled sideways closer to Robert and the safety of the trees.

Under clear command, the militia marched slowly forward toward the Regulator line, which was that only in name. Robert’s stomach bubbled and threatened to disgorge breakfast. The line weaved in and out. Bunches of men grouped together talking and laughing as if this were a leisurely walk just to pass the time. Others fidgeted with their guns, some stumbling in the process. A few men held back ramming rounds into their barrels, scurrying to catch up when loaded. When his end of the line began moving, Robert took tentative steps forward staying close to the tree line.

The militia stopped at three hundred yards. The Regulators stopped.

A rider carrying a white flag rode past the militia and stopped in front of Captain Montgomery, near the center of the Regulator line. “Governor Tryon has given you one hour to lay down your weapons and return home.” He handed a document to the Captain who passed it on to a messenger. Four of the leaders retreated to consider the offer. But the line was not so receptive.

“We’ll give HIM one hour!”

“The governor will hear our complaints!”

“Would he fire on unarmed men?”

“That’s the kind of man he is!”

A cacophony of jeers arose along the line.

The messenger turned his horse and sped back to the northeast.

Each second of the hour seemed an eternity. It ended too soon and the march continued.

Robert passed large rocks good for protection and still they moved on. The eyes of those marching toward him were clearly visible in the shadows of hats.

Robert groaned. Two young Regulators about his age pulled their shirts back bearing their chests and ran to within 10 yards of the militia.

“Shoot!”

“If you dare, fire at me!”

“Shoot!”

Laughing, they taunted the artillery men and then ran back.

When the lines were no more than 30 yards apart, the advance of the Regulators slowed.

Step…Step…The militia marched on.

Various segments of the Regulators separated and backed up making their line even more disjointed.

A distant command echoed across the field and the militia halted their advance.

Silence.

Robert and John backed up about 10 feet to the last boulders they had past.

The heckling gradually picked up again, but not nearly as loud as before. More of the men hung back from the line.

Reverend Caldwell, one of the Regulator arbiters, sped his horse past the militia and stopped in the center of the line. “Those of you who are not too far committed should desist and quietly return to your homes, those of you who have laid yourselves liable should submit without resistance.” He fought to keep his horse steady. “I promise to obtain for you the best possible terms.” The message rang loudly up and down the line. “The Governor will grant us nothing…You are unprepared for war!…You have no cannon!” He looked at the militia and scanned the Regulator line. “You have no military training! You have no commanding officers to lead you in battle.” He stood in the stirrups and stared over the Regulator line at the large number of unarmed men. “And you have no ammunition…”

Robert tugged at his pouch…only 10 balls.

“…You will be defeated!”

Someone with a Scottish accent shouted back. “Remove yourself, Dr. Caldwell, before Tryon’s army kills you.”

The Reverend looked up and down the line, turned his horse, and galloped to the opposite side from Robert.

The sun shown nearly straight down. In the field behind the Regulator line, the four men still argued over Tryon’s last ultimatum. No more noise rose from the Regulators. Robert looked at John, who just shook his head. The hair on his neck bristled.

A gunshot sounded from behind the militia’s line.

Robert jumped at the sound.

No order to fire had come from the field. Men in both lines strained to see.

Word spread like fire in a dry field. Tryon had shot the other negotiator. No! No! Please keep peace. Robert cringed at the thought of what might happen. With shaking hands, he opened his pouch and clumsily pulled out a fifteen inch by one and a half inch strip of blue and white pillow ticking he would use for spit patches. He put one end in his mouth, chewing to soak the end with saliva. Glancing across the line, strips hung from the mouths of other men, like long blue and white tongues.

Grumbling and cursing, muffled by cloth, sounded from the Regulator line.

A rider under a white flag spurred his horse from Tryon’s position. Just as he reached the militia’s line a single gunshot sounded and the white flag fell.

Governor Tryon galloped forward to his line, glaring at the farmers. He rose in his stirrups. “Fire!” he screamed.

Silence. The field was as quiet as if it were a Sunday morning.

If Robert could, he would have closed his eyes. Oh, please, don’t shoot! He looked up and down the Regulator line. Calm. That’s it. Brother should not fire on brother.

“Fire!” Tryon’s face flushed as his voice filled the silence.

Men in the militia line glanced back and forth. Robert locked eyes with one across from him. In a moment a bond formed.

Tryon spurred his horse on behind the front line. “Fire on them—or fire on me!”

“Fire and be damned!” shouted one of the Regulators.

Robert’s head jerked toward the speaker. James Few! The fool.

Muskets thundered from the militia.

“No!” yelled John Childs through gritting teeth. He looked at Robert, panic in his eyes.

Gunfire exploded throughout the field. A round ricocheted off the boulder between them. Robert dove behind the rock, followed by John. Huddled tight to the stone, Robert pulled his legs in making sure they did not become a ready target. The Regulator line backed away; mostly those with no weapons turned and ran. Captain Montgomery lay motionless on the ground. Those with weapons glanced sideways and back at their retreating comrades. Some raised their guns, aimed, and fired into the militia before joining their friends’ retreat. Other Regulators moved forward and filled in the line.

Robert slowly inched his head to the side for a look. The militia loaded and fired in groups to the order of commanders—in control and in order. So this was what an army looked like.

Governor Tryon rode among his men, shouting one order after another.

A continuous thunder sounded in the field, covering any other sounds. Smoke rose from the artillery, and a handful of Regulators fell like so many stalks scythed in a harvest.

A gun exploded in Robert’s ear. Gray smoke rose from the pan of John’s flintlock and the end of the barrel. The familiar scent of rotten eggs filled Robert’s nostrils—not a bad smell, alone in the woods with a deer standing 25 yards away. But here, he wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t a deer that he aimed for. With puffs billowing from muzzle loaders all over the field, John knelt beside him and quickly measured the next load of powder.

Taking two deep breaths, Robert turned and rose to his knees lifting the gun to his shoulder all in one smooth motion, and fired at the militia line. He dropped back behind the rock without seeing if his ball did any damage. Pulling a small hollow antler tip from his shooting pouch, he measured powder from the large horn flask slung over his shoulder, and emptied it into the muzzle. Pulling the spit patch from his mouth, he laid the wet end across the tip of the barrel and positioned another ball on top of it. Pulling the short starter mallet from his pouch, he fumbled it and it fell to the ground. Grumbling to himself, he stretched his arm down and retrieved the six inch mallet, set it on the ball, and seated the round into the barrel with a sharp slap of his palm. With a knife from his belt, he trimmed the excess patch and returned the tip of the fabric strip to his mouth.

John’s musket fired…

In response, a ball slapped into the dirt on John’s side of the rock.

Cringing, Robert hunched down and quickly pushed the ball deeper into the barrel with the handle of the mallet. Then, with short clean strokes of his ramrod, he seated the ball on the charge at the base of the barrel. He pulled out the rod and laid it next to him. Leaning back against the rock, he placed a cap on the nipple and took a deep breath as he looked about the field. Puffs of smoke showed from rocks and trees. He peaked out from around the side of the boulder. Not just Regulator bodies littered the field; men lay upon the ground in the militia lines as well, some still, others writhing in agony. The Regulator line was sparse as many had sought the safety of the trees at the edge of the field. Within half an hour there was no Regulator line; they had all found protection. But the militia stayed in formation. Robert shook his head. Fools! Another deep breath. He and John rose together. Robert aimed toward the artillery and fired at the same time as John. They both dropped again behind their rock.

An hour passed in a blink of an eye.

“How many rounds do you have left?”

John didn’t even look. “Two.”

“I’ve got three. Have you noticed there are fewer rounds being fired by our side?”

John nodded. With a dull thud, one hit in front of the rock sprinkling dirt over them. He bent a little lower. “But Tryon’s army still fires like they have all they need.”

Robert waited…how long, he wasn’t sure.

The Governor’s commands still sounded, muffled by deafened ears, when thundering happened to die away.

Shaking his head, John loaded one more time, rose, and shot just as Robert aimed another round. John’s ball ripped through the crown of the governor’s hat.

Tryon reined his horse to a stop. Even from across the empty field between the lines, the whites of his eyes stood large and unblinking.

Robert ducked back behind the rock. The Governor’s voice was a notch higher.

What was that? Did he order a retreat?

The musket fire did not slacken, but the militia was backing up. James Few and four others rushed to the cannon then back. The militia left no ammunition.

John fired his last round.

Robert fondled his pouch. “I think it’s time to remove ourselves from here.”

John gave one quick nod.

A ball careened off the rock. Robert rolled onto his side and sprinted for the trees with John right behind. Another ball snapped bark from a tree just over his head. Then they were in woods too thick to see the field, weaving around trees and through brush. The body of a farmer lay in a patch of wild flowers, blood oozing into the soil. They slowed only slightly. Hopping along on one foot, dragging the other bloody leg, an old man with a white beard continually glanced back with a wild look in his eyes ignoring them as they passed. Men, too hurt to move any further, huddled behind trees.

“Robert!” The desperate voice came from a boulder they had just passed.

He stopped and looked back. Richard Canaday, the Quaker, grasped the shoulder of his left arm that hung limp at his side with the sleeve matted to it.

Robert ran to him. “Richard, can you move?” He reached down and pulled his friend up by the good shoulder.

The man winced and his knees buckled. “I…I don’t…I’m awful weak.”

“He’s lost a lot of blood,” said John.

Reddish mud showed the indentation of where the wounded friend had sat.

Five Regulators ran past without so much as a word. The distant sound of sporadic gunfire told him the battle wasn’t yet over.

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding.”

“Wrap it up, and let’s get moving.” John looked back in the direction of the field, the muscles in his jaw drawn tight.

Robert ripped open his shooting pouch and pulled out a strip of spit patch. While John supported the wounded man, Robert wrapped it as tight as he could around the upper shoulder. “There. Can you walk?”

Richard took one step and his leg gave way.

John gripped the good arm while Robert instinctively caught the left. Richard’s bones cracked, separating and twisting. The urge to let go surged through Robert and momentarily set Richard off balance. As the sharp sounds of gunfire gradually softened, the three men weaved back and forth putting distance between themselves and the battle.

“We’ve got to find a safe place for him to rest,” said Robert. “The bleeding won’t stop as long as he’s running.”

“There is no safe place,” said John.

Robert looked around. “We passed a stand of wild plums a short ways back. It was big enough to hide us if we need it. If we get in the middle, no soldier will venture in.”

“Safety is this way.” John pointed west. “And here you want us to go back toward the militia.” The grimace on his face said he disagreed, yet he already moved back the way they had come.

Robert grabbed Richard’s left waist, avoiding the arm. Stumbling, they moved back east.

Another Regulator slowed up on his haste to get away.

“How goes the battle,” asked Robert.

“The militia has sustained many casualties; but, in the end, they will win the day.”

John helped Robert lower their friend gently to the ground resting him against a tree. Richard’s mouth hung open, a gaping hole in the slackness of his facial features.

The Regulator stared at Richard. “Your friend looks as white as plum blossoms.”

Robert wiped the Quaker’s forehead. The cool, clammy feel sent a shiver up his back. “He needs to rest.”

“How about our casualties?” John glanced back in the direction of the sporadic sounds of weapons’ fire.

“Bad…we just didn’t have rounds enough to keep up the firing. When I left, Tryon’s men were venturing into the woods rounding up what Regulators they could find. But we inflicted losses on them even then.” The fellow turned his head to the side and stared at Robert for a moment. “Didn’t I see you talking with James Few?”

“We’re both from Sandy Creek.”

The man looked down and shook his head.

A chill rose up Robert’s back. “What happened. Was he…”

“Few was one of those they captured. When his rounds were used up, he helped load for another Regulator until some of the militia flanked them. They both gave up, but Tryon’s men shot the one straight away…clean through his head. Took Few away.”

“Do you think they will pursue us?” asked John.

The man shrugged. “I would not stay here too long. Especially, when the gunfire stops completely. With that, I think I’ll take my own advice and bid you both goodbye.” He turned and continued at an easy jog.

The short scraggly twigs of wild plum bushes covered the slope of a small hill. They were in full bloom, the blossoms giving the appearance of fluffy snow. And the scent, so strong it worked to blot out the twisting feeling in his gut…almost. But the image of Sarah and the twins blended with the beauty of the blossoms. Richard’s groan brought him back to the present.

John had sat next to Richard and leaned against the tree, his eyes closed.

Robert joined him leaning on the opposite side with Richard between them.

The late afternoon air was still and hot, pressing in as if trying to squeeze them out of the little valley. It wreaked of the sweet scent of the blossoms that made every breath feel like they sucked in liquid.

Richard gradually regained consciousness. “Where are we.” His voice was but a whisper.

“Waiting,” said John.

“Next to wild plumbs,” said Robert.

Umm…thought I’d died…and was drifting in clouds.” He moved a dry tongue over his lips.

Robert wiped the Quaker’s brow. “No. You’re still with us. Think you can walk? We’ve got to start moving again.” He had heard no gunfire for over thirty minutes.

What’s that smell?

“The plumbs,” said John.

Richard closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. “No…that other…uh…smoke?

Robert sniffed. His eyes shot wide. He hadn’t noticed it. He sat up straight, scratching his cheek on a branch. He sniffed again. Smoke passed overhead from east to west. The setting sun cast a ghastly orange glow to the grey billows.

“They’ve set the forest afire!” John grabbed his gun.

“Richard, you’ve got to move.”

Moaning, Richard stood under his own power.

John started west.

“Wait!” Richard’s voice quivered. “The flames will chase us that way. Head north and we may get out of the fire’s path.”

John hesitated.

“Makes sense to me,” said Robert.

“Well, let’s make haste.” John started in a quick step.

Robert had the urge to run, but Richard would never be able to keep up.

The shadows of dusk brought night to the woods that much sooner. The sky to the east glowed like a sunrise. No more gun fire. Another sound punctuated their rush north, but Robert refused to mention it. Neither did the other two. There it was again. A prolonged scream, barely audible. The wounded caught by the flames.

“Hurry, Richard.” Robert urged him on.

Richard stumbled headlong into a tree. Dazed, he staggered east.

Robert pulled Richard’s good arm over his shoulder and almost dragged him as he headed off after John, just visible 30 feet ahead. “Wait!” he yelled after John.

“The fire’s just over the rise,” John called back. “We’ll not make it at this pace.”

He’s right,” groaned Richard. “Leave me.

Robert ignored him and pulled all the harder.

Tips of flame flickered just above the trees to the east, not more than a quarter mile distant, stretching north.

Grabbing Richard’s left waist, John pulled him. Robert tripped and the three of them sprawled to the ground, Robert on top of Richard.

Flames crested the hill to the east with a blast that stung his face. “Get up!” He yelled.

Richard swung wildly with his right arm. “Leave me or we’ll all die.”

“No!” yelled Robert

John grabbed his arm. “He’s right! Come on!”

“No!”

Richard swung and kicked.

A rush of air blew east, sucked into the approaching flames.

John pulled him away.

“Please, Richard. Get up!”

“Go! I’m in God’s hands now!”

Tears crept from the corner of Robert’s eyes. “Richard…Come on!”

The Quaker just motioned him on.

John tugged and they sprinted west and north. Smoke filled the woods. The flames lit the way with a light filled by the dancing shadows of trees.

A squeal, almost like that of an eagle, but longer, mixed with the crackling of burning timber.

Robert ran faster. His chest ached. The smoke bit his eyes and the heat burned his nostrils.

What, was the air cooler? The woods darker? “John!”

“Here.”

Robert moved toward the voice.

They turned together as the flames passed them by, pushed west and slightly north by the wind.

Leaning against the trunk of a fallen tree, Robert gasped air. Neither of them talked. Like some giant monster, the flames moved relentlessly on chasing the Regulators, killing those that could not move. No, the monster was the one who set these flames loose.

At some time during the night, the fire died away or disappeared in the distance. Now a new glow gradually filled the eastern sky. The air was filled with the smell of charred wood. Then again, maybe it was the smell that still clung to them. Robert closed his eyes. Oh, that felt so good.

John grabbed his arm. “Listen!” he whispered.

What…had he been sleeping? Robert’s mind was wide awake now. Men’s voices. Distant, but recognizable.

“Probably looking for survivors,” whispered John, tugging him deeper into the woods, away from the sounds.

When the voices died away, John put his gun over his shoulder. “I think it’s time to go.”

Robert leaned on his musket and looked down.

“What now?” groaned John.

“You go on. I’ve got to see what happened to Few.”

John rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing you can do for him.”

“But, I’ll need to tell his wife something.”

“I’ll go with you if you don’t try to be a hero. Extra eyes will help.”

Three miles north and then east would take them in the direction of Tryon’s camp. The further they walked, the more soldiers hindered their progress, though none seemed overly concerned. The rout of the Regulators must have been so complete and the fire so effective that the militia considered themselves safe. About a quarter mile from the camp a small stream ran through a shallow valley filled with brush. Buried in the bushes and small trees, they got a good view of the camp. Militia covered the dead while the wounded were cared for in the grassy field.

“I’ll not renounce the Regulators!”

There, that was James. He was being led from what appeared to be Tryon’s tent.

“And you’ll not silence me! I’ve been sent from heaven to relieve the world from oppression…your oppression.” He twisted and turned against arms that held him tight as he was led to the edge of the field directly opposite from Robert and John. A large number of men bound by ropes were pushed and shoved, stumbling, in that direction.

“You will never win! Your corruption stinks all the way to heaven!”

A fist in his gut doubled him over.

The prisoners stood around him, now, their heads hung low.

With Tryon watching, and according to his command, a soldier threw the end of a rope over the limb of a tree about 10 feet above James’ head. They tied it around his neck.

“Heaven has sent me to relieve…”

The words ended as five men pulled on the end of the rope and raised James about three feet off the ground. His kicking lasted only about 10 seconds.

Robert’s gut heaved but nothing was in his stomach to come up.

John’s hand clamped over his mouth. “Shhh!”

Robert looked in the direction of John’s gaze.

About 100 feet away, two men walked cautiously toward them. One carried a musket the other had nothing. Whispering, they stopped and the one with the musket lowered it and began pouring in a measure of black powder.

“Run! Now!” yelled John in a hoarse whisper.

“Here! We’ve got Regulators!”

Robert didn’t require any prodding. They needed to get away before the musket was loaded.

“They’re on foot! Hurry!”

Yells echoed across the field.

With his musket held in front of him, John cleared a path with his other arm as he loped over old timber. Robert raced right behind. Up the side and into the woods…no gun shot…but the sound of men close behind. A branch whipped back at John’s passing and struck across Robert’s face, making his eyes water. Without slowing, he drew his free hand across his face. A red streak melted into the sweat on his palm. Weaving in and out around trees and bushes, Robert’s legs plodded one after the other.

A gunshot!

In mid air, his pace doubled. Too far away to be aimed at them, but the rush of fear urged him on. Down a wash, through more brush, up a rise into open woods. Bursts of running were broken by crawling over fallen timber or skirting larger trunks with branches sticking in every direction like some giant pin cushion. He glanced back and to the sides. Gasping for breath, he slowed. No sound of men behind them now, but the pounding of his heart drowned out most other noises.

John looked back at him, “Got…to…keep…going…” and pushed on, though slower.

Robert gasped once and followed.

Gradually, John led them south.

The sound of a river…the Big Alamance…They had only run 5 miles? Robert groaned inside. It seemed like 20. A path just ahead…Quaker Road…it had to be. Robert knew where he was now. No signs of travelers. Still they stayed far enough in the trees to be unseen.

John’s hand shot up. Robert stopped beside him. They backed slowly deeper into the trees. Sounds of men grew louder along the road, more than a few, not much talking. Militia? Robert never did see who marched the path. He didn’t need to. John leaned close. “Probably not looking just for us.”

Something about that struck Robert funny, but nothing inside him laughed.

The sound died away in the opposite direction.

Staying far from the path, they picked their way southeast. Slowing, John looked about them and veered south. Peeking carefully up and down the road, he motioned to Robert to follow.

“You there!”

Robert turned in the direction of the command and froze. There, in the shadows of the forest’s edge, one of Tryon’s officers and a handful of militia stared at them, captured for the moment, mouths with half chewed food and hands holding drink. How had John missed them! Robert and John stared; they stared.

“Run!” yelled John spinning on his heels.

As the soldiers dropped their food and reached for muskets, Robert sprinted after his friend.

Crack! Crack! … Crack! Three gunshots, his hat flew from his head. His legs immediately double-timed and caught on a sapling.

“I think I got one of ‘em!”

Robert scrambled back up just in time to see John crest a small rise. He took off following. The late afternoon sun sparkled through trees on his left. At the top of the little hill he looked back. His hat lay in a bed of wildflowers. Shaking his head he started down the other side looking for John. Following broken branches and signs of crushed grass, he came to a meadow.

Here!” The loud whisper came from his left. John crouched behind a rock at the meadow’s edge, musket at his side.

Robert hurried to his friend and leaned against the rock. “You think they’ll follow?”

John shrugged. “No, but we‘ll stay off the road just to be safe.

They waited. The shadows lengthened into dusk. Night came but none of Tryon’s men. The militia wouldn’t travel in the woods at night, and John knew this area. His homestead was only two miles away.

 

§

 

More rested than he had been in days, Robert sat on the ground outside of Elder Russel’s home along with fifteen other friends of John Childs—a mill owner, a black slave couple, but mostly farmers, all in simple conservative dress. The Regular Baptists along the coast were nothing like these congregations on the frontier. From their ostentatious dress the reciting of confessions, the east and the west were worlds apart. Robert shook his head.

Thanks to Mrs. Childs, his clothes were clean and crisp to his touch. Finally, the ache in his gut had been replaced with eggs and bread. Before catching the head waters of Sandy Creek and following it south to his home, Robert had agreed to stay for this prayer meeting. The Battle of Alamance would not be forgotten, but here, at least, it was a long way off. “These are dark days, John.”

His friend wagged his head back and forth. “Hmmm, in some ways, I suppose. But in others these times serve to clear muddied waters. I am more convinced than ever that the colonies must determine their own destiny. Neither the King nor his Tories possess any special right to tell us what to do and what to believe. Our God has given each individual that responsibility. The time of the Regulators may be over, but the leading of God’s Spirit is just beginning.”

Robert mulled over this idea. His grandfather Rufus believed the Awakening had prepared the colonies for this very thing.

Elder Russel raised his Bible. The shade from the oak fell upon the small cabin and engulfed him, doing little to relieve the perspiration from his forehead. He quoted from 1 Corinthians 3. “…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss.”

The words brought back the image of James before the Governor. He may not have received gold in this life, but he did stand for right. His work wasn’t burned up with the forest’s fire, or any other fire. Somewhere, the preacher’s words blended into a song joined in by others.

The singing started quietly. Robert knew the tunes; everyone did. But here they were given Christian words and spiritual meaning. They were sung in Separate Baptist churches throughout the South, mostly from memory. Women stood, swaying, everyone raising praise to the Lord of heaven and earth. Again Elder Russel’s words began soft enough but grew in strength as he prayed for peace in the Piedmont. Here, most Baptists were Separates and sided with the patriot cause. Tories were not much appreciated. So conflicts still pitted Americans against Americans.

“What’re they doing?” A subdued grumbling from the road caught Robert’s attention. Other’s no doubt heard it but chose to ignore these soldiers.

An officer with condescending disapproval stared at the meeting with his hands on his hips. He had probably seen Separate Baptist meetings before, but the five men with him were clearly astonished by the emotion and noise. Whispering among themselves, they stood behind him exchanging glances and peering at the worshipers. Trancing with ecstatic utterances was foreign to Christians on the coast. These soldiers came from churches where a more dignified worship was practiced. Even the eastern Regular Baptists were more staid than their cousins here…and more accepting of sin. That’s why the Separates chose that name after all. The Lord says to be separate and clean. The fact that Separates on the Piedmont spoke against the horse racing, cockfighting, dancing, and card playing pastimes of the eastern gentry was not lost on these militia men. They hung back, uncertain of what to do.

Not so, the officer. He marched forward, thrusting his way through the small congregation until he stood face to face with Elder Russel. “Have them cease their wailing!”

“How can I shut heaven’s doors?”

The officer’s face flushed. He turned to the congregation and raised his voice over the noise from the singing. “The Regulators lost their battle st Alamance and fled this way.” He held up a hat with a hole in it.

Watching through squinting eyes, Robert hummed the tune.

“This hat belongs to one of them.” The officer scanned the crowd, pausing a moment on John who was singing loudly with his head upturned. “You can save a friend by encouraging the owner of this hat to turn over his musket and swear to support the Governor.”

Was it his imagination Robert wondered, or did the singing get a bit louder? Why would these General Baptists choose this time to show their disdain for civil government and its representatives!

The officer’s color darkened and his voice raised a notch. “You can make all your lives easier by swearing allegiance to the Governor. Be assured, we will find the rabble behind this insurrection. And when we do, they will pay. The Regulator cause is done! Those who do not lay down their arms will suffer. Those who harbor them will be as guilty as they.” After one more scowl around the yard, he nailed the decree to the side of Elder Russel’s house. Pushing his way out, he started down the road, the soldiers following with amazed stares over their shoulders.

Closing his eyes, Robert hummed along to the tune, a favorite song of Separates throughout the Piedmont.

 

What wondrous love is this,
O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse
for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

 

Women began to weep as their words became less clear.

 

When I was sinking down,
sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown
for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

 

Robert dropped to his knees, the urge to cry out to God threatening to burst from him. So many had died; so many suffered! So many experienced loss and did not know it yet.

 

To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb
Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme,
I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

 

He sprawled out face down and cried. This lack of order would not be seen in his Sandy Creek church. But today was the right time and this Separate Baptist church the right place. The price of ecstasy may just be the loss of dignity. Anyway, God knew what he meant; God knew his heart.

 

And when from death I’m free,
I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free,
I’ll sing and joyful be,
And through eternity
I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

 

Robert left the settlement and headed south and a little east humming songs to God in his mind. With the militia rounding up men suspected of being Regulators, singing too loudly would not be a good idea. As the distance from John’s church grew, so did the intermittent emptiness well up inside him. The Regulator movement was over. Hopefully, the Governor would be more reasonable after this; he could afford to show a little kindness. Robert wondered about how he would now work with government officials.

When he reached Stinking Quarter Creek, he hid in the woods as soldiers marched prisoners along Needham’s trading route, heading toward Hillsborough and opposite of the direction Robert headed. Just wanting to get home, he raised a prayer of thanks. Safety waited at Sandy Creek. Family and friends lived there. All were members of Elder Stearn’s Baptist church. Grandfather Rufus had told him how Daniel Marshall came and preached nearby years before returning with Shubal Stearns. That God wanted them in Sandy Creek was clear from all the churches that had sprung from this small congregation. The church at Sandy Creek started with 16 individuals and grew to over 600. Robert leaned against a tree, smiling inside at the thought. It had spread its branches westward as far as the great Mississippi; southward as far as Georgia; eastward to the sea; and northward to the waters of the Potomac. In just 17 years, it had become mother, grandmother, and great grandmother to 42 churches. He even heard that over 100 ministers traced their spiritual lineage to Sandy Creek.

The path had been quiet for some time when he tentatively moved on south, hoping he had seen the last of the Crown’s militia. Like these bees in the wildflowers, they should be getting their fill and heading back to the hive.

The fields needed to be planted and more land cleared. Robert planned out work for the next month as he walked through woods alive with colorful blossoms. Reaching the headwaters of Sandy Creek, he left the path and turned southeast following the water. With home in his mind, the last five miles passed quickly…until he thought of Sarah. How would he tell her of James? She has two babies. Maybe he could just tell Elder Stearns. A pastor would be better at it.

No, you need to tell her. You saw it.

But she would need Shubal there for comfort.

Robert grumbled. What better comfort than from a friend?

What can I say to her?

What can anyone say?

I don’t want to do this.

You must!

“Okay…Okay!” he said out loud.

With wildflowers filling the small meadow, he plopped down on a log. Quiet, enclosed by walls of trees, this place often provided a retreat for him. The first of the Sandy Creek settlements was just over the rise. His was next. The Few’s homestead was about a mile past the church, on the other side of Sandy Creek.

What would he say to Sarah?

A yellow swallowtail butterfly settled onto the brilliant blossom cluster of a milkweed plant in a patch near the water, fluttered up, and landed on another blossom. Crawling about, it sought out what nectar might be hidden in the depths of the flower. How like that butterfly Robert felt, hovering about, his thoughts seeking words, some revelation from the Lord as to what to say.

With the beauty of the blossoms capturing his attention, the stems of long gone flowers were almost hidden in the stands of plants. Life and death…vibrant and tarnished…he still didn’t know exactly what he would say, but he would say whatever God gave him.

On the other side of the meadow, a narrow path of beaten grass gradually appeared leading him up a shallow slope and over the crest of a hill. Below, through the trees, one of the Sandy Creek settlers transplanted tobacco seedlings into a newly cleared field. With only a quick glance up, the farmer yelled a greeting and then turned back to the task at hand. An urge to make haste spurred Robert on as he realized how far behind his work was. His seed beds needed to be transplanted as much as this fellow’s.

The path wound near the creek, around a bend, and then straight past one of Robert’s old fields. A tobacco seed bed lay at one end, still covered with dry pine needles, dotted with the green of seedlings. His cabin, nestled among some tall evergreens, raised this feeling of relief…home. He was back among friends. Opening the door, he walked in and breathed deep the scent of mint and soil. The undesirable tracks of mice on the dirt floor welcomed him none the less. Retrieving the old carved box from his chest, he continued on his way to the Few’s.

Passing the church, he wondered at how quickly they had outgrown it in just nine years. At twenty six by thirty feet, it could no more hold 600 worshipers than his homestead could contain all the beauty of the Piedmont.

With her babies lying in the nearby shade, Sarah hunched over tobacco seed beds pulling weeds. She turned and waved a greeting as he crossed the field. Stretching out her back, she looked about behind him, down the path, seeking. She hugged him, but didn’t ask the question.

Leaning his musket against the tree next to the children, Robert unlatched the box. “Come. Sit with me a while.”

“I need to weed the beds.” Grip…pull…grip…pull. “James will want to transplant them as soon as he gets back.” Pull…pull…pull… She refused to look up as her hands moved faster and with determination. “Oh!” A seedling lay in her palm in a bed of grass. “James won’t like that.” She pushed its roots back into the soil.

Robert set aside the box with the unwrapped burlap and knelt beside Sarah. He put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Sarah…please…” He lifted her to her feet and ushered her to the log.

“He’s not coming home is he?” Her voice was as weak as her legs. He let her down gently onto the log.

“No.” Still supporting her with his arm, he sat beside her.

She stared at the twins, then to the new field James had prepared for the tobacco seedlings, then to their home. Closing her eyes, her body went limp. Her shoulders heaved with a breath and shuddered. “What happened?”

“We weren’t prepared, Sarah. We thought the governor would listen, but he didn’t. While most of us turned and ran when the firing started, James did not. He was steady. The last talk we had, he told me he did this for you…and Sarah and William. He wanted a future for you free from the injustices of the Governor and his royal cronies.”

She took another shuddering breath and wiped her eyes.

“I want to show you something.” He pulled the burlap to his lap and finished unwrapping the old silk. “This has been handed down to me from a lineage based on Christ. I can tell you of the young man burned at the stake for his belief, of the one who was there when the first Baptist Church was founded, of those persecuted for their faith. Generation after generation God has worked. Each stain tells a part of His story.”

She looked up into his eyes, cheeks wet.

He took the silk, and with an unsoiled patch, wiped the tears away. “And this is one more stain. James worshiped here; he is a brother to me, and you a sister. Here, persecution was not because of our faith, but it was real none the less. James believed we can change circumstances, that God called him…no, that He has called us all to make the world a better place. This belief drove him to take a stand. You can be proud of him. Tell your children of their father’s love for them. He was captured. Others begged for mercy. If he had renounced the cause and turned over his musket, he might have come home. But this would have been a lie. As it was, his words, as he railed against them, cut them to the quick. What a witness he was before all the men there. They killed him on the gallows but not his message, Sarah. The Crown’s wrongs will be remembered. The Battle of Alamance will not be forgotten and neither will James Few.”

Sarah buried her head in his chest and sobbed.

As the sun settled lower in the sky, he held her tight until her trembling ebbed away.

Soft squeals from the bundles at the base of the tree finally pulled her from his side. “The twins need feeding.” Her voice was strong again. “And the cabin needs cleaning.”

“Do you know what you’ll do?”

She shrugged. “For now, the farm needs my attention.

“I’ll arrange for help in planting your fields. I’m going to stop by the Stearns’. I’m sure he’ll want to arrange for assistance from the church.”

She gave him one more quick hug. “Thank you, Robert.”

The soft squeals had become demanding cries. As she carried the twins, one in each arm, toward her cabin, she stared straight ahead. The crisp accented chewy-chewy-chewy of a nearby warbler mixed with Sarah’s accented curses as she addressed her husband and his choices. “…What do you expect me to do now?…This farm is…”

Robert packed up the silk, slung the musket over his shoulder, and headed back toward the church and the Stearns’ homestead. With no breeze to rustle the leaves, he listened to every step.

Elder Stearns was not surprised by what happened to James.

“I told her we could arrange for help with their…her fields,” said Robert.

The elder nodded. Shubal Stearns was slightly shorter than Robert but sturdy, even for his age. He never had much schooling, but the books in his cabin explained why he was so respected by everyone as a man and as a preacher. “I’m sure there will be no lack of help.” Holding himself erect and balancing each step with his cane, Shubal walked toward the small church. “What does Sarah need? If I don’t see her in church tomorrow, I’ll visit with her after.”

They talked of care for the twins and labor for transplanting the seedlings. The sunlight sparkled through the treetops. Night was close at hand.

“Robert!” The hysterical voice of a woman in danger shattered the quiet talk. “…Elder Stearns!” Carrying a squalling twin in each arm, Sarah ran up the path toward them.

“What’s the matter?” Shubal took William in his arms; Robert took Sarah.

Gasping for breath, she doubled over resting her hands on her thighs. “The militia…burning…fields.”

“They’re here!?” Robert’s gut twisted with the urge to run.

Nodding, she breathed deep and looked up at him. “They’re burning our fields. I ducked into the woods. They knew where I lived!”

“Why would they come after you?” Shubal jostled the boy against his shoulder and patted his back trying to stop the crying.

“Not just me. Anyone associated with the Regulators. They’re burning cabins and fields.” Dark billows of smoke rose in the distance, hanging just over the tops of the trees. “They asked questions…about you. They’re looking for you, too.”

Robert’s feelings of security and safety evaporated in the heat of fear. His home was gone.

“Robert.” Shubal’s voice was as steady as if he were in the pulpit. “Go up…to our church in the country north of Williamsburg. The governor can’t touch you in Virginia.”

“Hurry, Robert,” urged Sarah.

“But what of you?”

Sarah took the baby girl from his arms. “They won’t harm a widow with two children, even if they do burn my home and crops.”

“But…”

Shubal supported her with his free arm. “She’s right Robert. You can’t stay in Sandy Creek any longer. You best leave now.”

The sound of militia on the path leading toward his home grew noticeably louder.

“Hurry!” Sarah pushed him with one arm as she looked over her shoulder toward the sounds of soldiers.

Darkness overcame the day as Robert ran north. Behind him, a distant glow ebbed and flowed into the night sky. A faint scent of burning timber periodically tormented his nose.

 

§

 

Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall were a major part of the Separate Baptist revival that occurred following the Awakening. This movement won converts and established Baptist churches throughout the south, including Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s Baptist relatives taught him the democracy of scripture. James Madison was moved by the persecution of Baptists. And Baptist John Leland influenced the Bill of Rights. Like the Charleston Tradition, the Sandy Creek Tradition also fed into what ultimately became the Southern Baptist Convention.

Some historians refer to the Battle of Alamance as the first battle of the American Revolution. The Regulators were mostly Baptist with some Quakers while Tryon’s militia was mostly Presbyterian and Episcopalian. Baptists of North Carolina, if they were not active Regulators, were sympathizers with the cause. The Governor ordered all Regulators to lay down their arms and swear allegiance to the Crown and the established government. Most settlers did not take kindly to such threats. Within one year, Sandy Creek, the fellowship that founded churches throughout the south and into the frontier, the church that had grown from 16 worshipers to more than 600 worshipers, dwindled to less than twenty members. Baptists left homes and possessions and spread into other areas of the South taking with them the seeds of discontent and setting the stage for the American Revolution.

.

 

 

 

1784 – The Revolutionaries

 

 

Christmas, 1784 Meeting of the Virginia Baptist General Committee

 

Here he was…at Dover…in Goochland, Virginia…a hard day’s trip south of his home in Orange…on Christmas. Right about now Rose and the children would be sitting down to a goose dinner, their family tradition. Even her parents from Williamsburg were there; everyone was there but him. He pictured the decorations again and remembered the smells of past Christmas mornings as Rose prepared a feast.

Robert sighed. A new nation was not birthed every day. The Declaration of Independence signaled the start of the birth pangs. And, as with any labor, the pains could not be ignored.

Perhaps this was an ill-conceived child.

Shame on you! Don’t think such thoughts.

Internal turmoil often warred in his mind but never spilled over into the outside. What’s done is done. Conception was past and the offspring pushed at the door.

Any delivery took time and attention. This gathering of ministers and delegates was just one more IMPORTANT meeting that he MUST to attend. Seventeen seventy six had been full of difficult decisions, and those years ahead would overflow with their own troubles. New births always carried some degree of difficulty and unexpected trouble. A desire beat in his chest—to be home, on his farm, with his family.

When the Virginia Constitutional Convention met earlier in the year, they produced a most amazing piece of work, especially the last article in the Declaration of Rights. George Mason drafted it. But, instead of his wording, “That all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion,” James Madison amended it to read, “All men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion.” Robert smiled inside at the thought. Mason’s wording provided a toleration of religion; Madison’s made it a right. Subtle but significant.

Madison is one of those people who can formulate a vision precisely in words. A document from his pen needs few if any changes. And, when he revises someone else’s work-in-progress, it transforms from a budding thought to ripe fruit. To change his words would be like turning a plumb into a cabbage.

Leave this work to the Madisons of the New World…more qualified than you will ever be. But the Baptists with whom Robert fellowshipped had other thoughts. He didn’t even think the same as most of them. They wanted government without religion. He desired freedom to worship but not a heathen rule. Still they thought enough of him to ask him to attend the Assembly. “Probably they just didn’t want to leave their homes at Christmas,” he snorted quietly.

Other results rubbed Robert the wrong way. Thomas Jefferson had made a proposal concerning State funding of churches. His bill simply proposed that no one should be compelled to support a religious establishment through taxation—an obvious corollary to this age of freedom. Yet the bill was voted down. Most Baptists believed it should have passed. Everyone here…well, almost everyone…thought so. Which was why Robert found himself away from home on Christmas day—with other Baptists—helping compose a letter in support of Jefferson’s proposal, one with which he did not agree.

He hated conflict, yet everywhere he turned troubled contractions squeezed in on him. Looking for freedom from the trials of North Carolina, he fled north after the Battle of Alamance. Instead of peace, these pangs of a new nation broke over him…over all of them. If tranquility existed somewhere, it would not remain there for long. Even here, in this meeting of brothers, Robert did battle.

“Ah, Brother Digby.” John Leland, the evangelist, pulled a chair up beside him. “Your mind seems to be elsewhere.”

Robert took a deep breath. “Just thinking about Madison and Jefferson. Such men are so much better at building a nation than I am.”

“Don’t minimize your importance. Every man has a right to be heard…God can choose to speak through you as well as any other. That’s why we’re here. If we opt for silence at a time like this, we leave our future in the hands of other men, men who may not see the truth of scripture in the same light as we do.”

Robert knew that; but, sometimes, other things seemed so much more important. “I just wish this meeting could have been delayed a day or two. Surely, you must feel the same.” Everyone knew that Brother Leland was married but three months before.

“I keep reminding myself how important this is—that’s what I told Sally.” John leaned forward with a new urgency. “This nation has taken the path to independence. As Baptists, no other course forward provides such a hope for real freedom. But right now we walk a precipice from colonial status to a place among other nations on the earth. A step to the left…” Leland held out his left hand. “…and we fall back into Anglican England. A step to the right…” He held out his right. “…and we become the image of what we detest. Sandy Creek and the Battle of Alamance prepared the South for the coming storm. We’ve salted the southern colonies with patriots so there is little chance we will, of our own accord, tumble to the left.” He drew back his left hand. “But, there is still danger here from men with the same hope for freedom we share.” He pulled his right hand into a fist. “Folks, who with good intentions, would have us begin as we ended.”

Robert nodded. Enough Baptists lived in Virginia to give power to their united voice.

“We are obligated to build support for Jefferson,” continued John. “The words must be just right. They will be carried back to the convention and to who knows how many churches.”

“I don’t see why anyone would think it right to impose a general tax to support religion. Any such levy should be voluntary and distributed to all faiths just like Jefferson put in his bill.”

John scooted forward. “I don’t think he went far enough! Government should have NO hands in funding religion, none whatsoever.”

Robert raised his eyebrows. Faith had always been a part of government.

“No one is entitled to privileges from the community,” continued John, “except for their public service. If the State provides support for preachers of the Gospel in consideration of their work, they must certainly act as officers of the state and ought to be accountable to that government for their conduct.”

Robert’s insides twisted at the thought, as if he stepped onto an unfamiliar path…blindfolded. “All we have ever wanted is to be free to worship. With men like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson serving us, we will have that right. But I’m not sure a government can flourish without a thread of faith.”

“Don’t you see? If money is funneled to religious teachers through the State, then the State has the right to regulate and dictate to them as to any public official. It could determine who can preach, as well as when and where.”

“But we are a Christian Commonwealth.”

“I think not! We must keep our government separate from our beliefs.”

Robert squirmed. “But if government is not inclined toward us, won’t we suffer persecution as in the past?”

Separation.” Pointing with his finger, John accentuated the syllables.

“Well…I don’t know about that.”

“You’re not alone in your views. Let’s see where we come out.”

The meeting was called back to order. At the end of the day, the final reading of the letter pushed Robert a good ways further along that unfamiliar path.

 

…No man or set of men are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community but in consideration of public services. If, therefore, the state provides a support for preachers of the Gospel, and they receive it in consideration of their services, they must certainly when they preach, act as officers of the state and ought to be accountable thereto for their conduct. . . . the consequence of this is, that those whom the state employs in its service, it has a right to regulate and dictate to; it may judge and determine who shall preach; when and where they shall preach. The mutual obligations between preachers and societies they belong to . . . must evidently be weakened – Yea, farewell to the last article of the Bill of Rights! Farewell to the free exercise of religion!

 

The anticipation of heading home in the morning washed away the concerns about the letter.

 

§

 

Summer of 1785, on the road in Orange County

 

Robert groaned. This new nation floundered in support of the army that won freedom. Now we clash amongst ourselves because, to many, this war was a rebellion, not a revolution. Men at the helm of these United States debate the nature of what the nation will become. In our assemblies and conventions, we Baptists push our vision of government. And through it all, coalitions are made and broken, changed by the flow of debate.

So many battles…so many dangers…so many opportunities. Robert took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Here, on the country road near his farm, peace ruled, at least for now.

“What an odd couple we make—Thomas Jefferson and the Baptists—the Deist and the Christian. Some neighbors think this alliance between the infidel and the evangelical is a strange one indeed; they don’t understand how Jefferson can have the same goals we do.” Robert wasn’t sure he really understood it himself. He kicked at a pebble in the path as he walked with his friend John Leland. When John purchased the farm near his, each was surprised by his new neighbor.

John thought but a moment. “What do we believe about individual responsibility in salvation?”

“It comes through conviction from the work of God’s Spirit in my life. He draws me to Himself. My salvation is between me and God.”

“Exactly. This is the concept of soul liberty. We are each individually accountable. Thomas Jefferson and other enlightenment thinkers glorify the power of the individual to determine truth. Each person should have the liberty to weigh evidence and decide what is right and what is wrong. The line between our conscience and his judgment is indeed a fine one.”

Robert nodded slowly. “In any case, he’s a good ally to have in Congress.”
“I hear our Virginia legislature failed to pass his Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.”

How did John keep up with the news, not to mention all his farm work…what with preaching 12 to 14 times a week, traveling as far south as the Pee Dee River! Memories of North Carolina laid chains on his shoulders, but he shook them off. “Didn’t surprise you did it?”

John shook his head. “The last I heard, we Baptists were about his only supporters. Did you support it?” He glanced sideways at his friend.

Robert shrugged. This latest bill of Jefferson’s, submitted to the Virginia legislature, went further than he would have liked. It said no one should be compelled to frequent or support worship. No doubt bolstered by Baptist agreement with his efforts in the Constitutional Convention back in ’76, Jefferson removed moral conscience from civil government, a dangerous path to be on. Religion needed the support of the people. “You know me well, John. This surge toward freedom in all things makes me more uncomfortable than most Baptists. Religious liberty should not dictate a pagan government.”

“As long as our civil officers hold to the faith, government won’t be pagan; it will just be…separate…neutral.”

“But it will lack the heart of a righteous compassion.”

“Not if we elect faithful leaders.”

John’s arguments sounded good; but just like all the other times, they didn’t settle well. “Ultimately, it won’t matter what I believe; there will be enough Baptists who think as you do to pass such acts regardless.”

“Your thoughts are important! You’re one of the representatives to the Assembly. That’s why I argue my point with you so often.”

A squirrel ran up an old oak. Sitting on a low hanging branch, it chirped madly at the intruders.

 

§

 

1785 Meeting of the Virginia Legislature

 

Robert remembered the days of war with England. In the midst of the conflagration, he sometimes wondered if it would ever end. Now skirmishes did not involve guns. But 1785 still presented battles to be fought. Instead of in the fields and byways, they were waged in meeting houses and assemblies. The hair on Robert’s neck bristled with excitement.

Patrick Henry was as impressive in person as his speeches were in their reading. His words sounded big, as if spoken by a man ready for a fight. Wasn’t he the one who said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Some say this speech led to the Declaration. But the revolution did not precipitate from just one thing—Alamance was forever burned into his memory. America now traveled a path laid out by Alamances of every kind.

Patrick Henry stood, tall and proud, quite proper in his dark cotton breeches, white shirt, and dark leather vest. Hanging on the chair, his felt bi-corn hat was decorated by a turkey feather that glistened with bands of color in the sunlight from the window. “Appealing to nature’s God, Virginia has chosen the path of liberty. We believe all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How high a goal; how noble the cause! And in so doing we have appealed to the Supreme Judge of the world. How sad if, in the end, the goodness and dignity of our course is lost.”

Silence.

What did he mean? How could God not grant success to such an honorable cause? Robert’s gaze moved from face to face. Men of destiny fixed their attention on the speaker.

Henry panned the audience. No wonder he won so many court cases. He was as much a part of the speech as were his words. “Who would not argue that worship attendance is declining, immorality rising, and the clergy struggling? These men who serve our God and Supreme Judge struggle day to day. This…is…not…right! We cannot achieve our great goal without them. None would deny that a general diffusion of Christian knowledge has a natural tendency to correct the morals of men. We face the destruction of religion for want of legal obligation to contribute to its support. Therefore, I have set before you my Bill for Establishing a Provision for the Teachers of the Christian Religion.”

Robert was familiar with the text. How could anyone disagree! Like rolling thunder, hands pounded tables and canes tapped the floor—all in approval of Patrick Henry’s bill. This would be a quick…

“Gentlemen…gentlemen…”

The soft voice seeking recognition, amidst a forest of cheering, came from the frail James Madison just 3 seats down from Robert.

“This is nobly intended…” He waited to be heard. “Mr. Chairman, I would speak to the assembly.”

As the Chairman raised his arms to quiet the delegates, the cacophony gradually lessened.

Even standing, James Madison’s head was not much above Robert’s. “Gentlemen, while this bill is presented for a most noble cause…and by an equally honored representative…I am compelled to point out the dangers it presents.”

A man far to the right of Robert tapped the floor with his cane. “Mr. Madison, this Bill is supported by John Marshall and by George Washington. This tells me that a free and stable government cannot be sustained without the support of Christian institutions. In truth, I have heard it said that our public prosperity depends on the vitality of our faith. Nothing less than a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of the people will make us holy so we may be a happy people.”

 

{ In the above debate, the text associated with the [JMn] comes from the nth paragraph in James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance.}

“An interesting observation.” Madison smiled. “[JM8] Nevertheless, if religion is not a fundamental perception of civil government how can its legal establishment be necessary to civil government? I submit that government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his religion, not by invading the equal rights of any sect, nor suffering any sect to invade those of another. Any more than that presents a danger.”

The representative leaned back in his chair. “What dangers could possibly be attached to a bill for voluntary support of Christian teachers?”

“There is always danger when government seeks to make a religious establishment.”

Henry stood. “Sir, Virginia has suffered a moral decay ever since you disestablishmentarians did away with the establishment of a state church. There is no civil religious establishment now; and, today, I would never wish to be seen as a proponent of antidisestablishmentarianism. To the contrary, this measure will provide support for Christianity in general. People will designate whatever churches they want as recipients for their taxes. No one will be forced to support an established state church. In fact, those who don’t want to give toward any religion can target their tax dollars toward education in general. Now, how is that an establishment?”

Taking a deep breath, Madison stepped toward the center of the room. “[JM3] This is an establishment in principle. An authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may as easily promote any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects.”

“Still, you agree that this bill does not implement an establishment.”

Madison considered only for a moment. “It lays the framework of an establishment.”

“You’re arguing semantics.” The representative from Amelia, Virginia, shook his finger toward Madison. “Every man in this state experiences peace and order. These flow directly from the morality of religion. Every man is, therefore, obliged to contribute support to that end.”

Even Robert was moved to join the table pounding. This man spoke what Robert felt.

Henry motioned for quiet. “Gentlemen…for these very reasons this bill is presented as it is. I seek to provide aid without an establishment. I can imagine no other wording more gentle and flexible in encouraging support of religion. Surely, this is apparent. And it remains consistent with the spirit of the revolution.”

“Here! Here!” Robert joined the shouts.

Madison turned toward him.

Something in the little man’s eyes raised a queasy feeling in Robert’s gut. John Leland often displayed the same look when surprised by what someone might say. Not the surprise at some deep insight, but, rather, an incredulity concerning just the opposite.

Madison faced the chairman. “And this leads to my second point.” The uproar lessened, but still he needed to raise his voice. “[JM10] The bill is NOT gentle and flexible. Nothing that revokes a liberty we now enjoy can be called gentle and flexible. Already our citizens are drawn by the allurements of other places. And this bill is just another motive to emigrate.”

Robert nodded. After the war, religion was at a low ebb in Virginia. John Leland told him not just Baptists, but all religion, was on a declension. Freedom, end of the Revolution, the spirit of trade, the draw of western lands all added to the deterioration. But this was an argument FOR government funding, not against it.

Before Robert spoke up, the representative from Amelia leaned forward. “Sir! Will we sacrifice goodness for fear someone MIGHT find this state less attractive?! What will it gain us if we fill all the land but, in virtue, become paupers?”

The sun beat upon them through the southern windows. Madison wiped sweat from his brow as he backed up. Supporting himself with his chair, he said, “[JM4] If all men are by nature free and independent, then all men enter society on equal conditions. They retain the right to exercise religion according to the dictates of their conscience. While we assert for ourselves the right to embrace the religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom is abused, it is an offense against God, not against man. To God, therefore, not to man, must an account be rendered.”

With no hesitation, Henry strode about the floor. “While religion may not be a child of government, it is unarguably its consort. Public and private morality will suffer unless Christian religious institutions in our state are strong and active. Furthermore, history records the decline and fall of nations that failed to support their religious institutions.” He stopped directly in front of Madison like a thunderbolt ready to flash.

Madison calmly faced his adversary, a mountain ready to accept the strike. “[JM7] For the past fifteen centuries ecclesiastical establishments have been on trial and what have been its fruits? Pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. [JM11] Today various religious sects live here in moderation and harmony. Yet, in the Old World, torrents of blood are spilled in vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord. [JM6] The Christian religion is not dependent upon human laws. It has flourished in spite of every opposition. Since it was not invented by human policy, it is not dependent upon that policy.”

Across the room, another delegate stood, leaning forward with his chin jutting out. “I believe this new nation is filling with heathens. If we are not careful, we WILL fall prey to what Mr. Henry describes. These people must be converted.”

Madison turned to him. “[JM9] We want to be a nation offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every land and belief. Instead of holding forth a safe haven, this Bill is itself a signal of persecution. [JM12] Consider how many of the race of mankind remain in the darkness of false religion away from the light of Christianity. This Bill discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the region of it.”

Patrick Henry turned slowly, facing all the representatives in turn. “I can believe the best portion of this assembly sees the benefit in this bill. For the good of the state, we must require citizens of Virginia to pay a tax for support of its ministers and their churches.”

Thunderous approval billowed up around Robert. But his thoughts were on Madison’s arguments. Had he understood them? Support of religion in general was a good thing, wasn’t it? Still, many of Madison’s positions were the same as Leland’s. Robert often argued with Leland. But, here, in the assembly, this feeble man’s reasoning made sense.

With the noise filling the room, James Madison suddenly looked much like a dog in the rain.

“Quiet!” A voice from across the room fought against the tide.

The frail debater had swayed some.

“Let Mr. Madison have his closing say.”

At least they wanted a civil ending.

James Madison’s chest expanded as he pushed himself to his full five foot four inch height. “[JM15] The freedom to exercise one’s religion is no less dear to us than any of our other rights. But, if this legislature passes this Bill, we may as well control the freedom of the press, abolish trial by jury, swallow up the Executive and Judiciary powers of the state; nay we may despoil ourselves of our very right of suffrage and erect ourselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly.”

Shouts in support of Madison and others favoring Henry echoed off the walls. The chairman yelled loudly and still was barely audible. “We will recess until tomorrow.” Gradually, the noise lessened as men left for the day.

Robert remained seated.

Madison greeted a few of his defenders and continued arguing his case. Eventually, he was left alone to collapse into his chair. He raised a weary head toward Robert. “You surprise me. Aren’t you the representative from Orange?”

Robert nodded.

“Baptist, right?”

Again, Robert nodded.

“You’re the first Baptist I met who did not agree with me.”

Smiling, Robert considered the thoughts pounding about his head. “I’m not sure you have met one yet.”

“Well, if I made one convert today, I suppose this might be considered a success of sorts.”

“You don’t think you swayed enough to defeat the bill?”

Madison shook his head. “It seems so logical to me; yet, separating church and state is as revolutionary as the war we just fought. I suppose people strive to hold onto the familiar, especially as we start out as independent union of states.”

Furrows crossed Robert’s brow. James Madison just described the turmoil within himself. “What will you do now?”

“The bill has not passed yet.”

“It will tomorrow.”

“Not necessarily.” Madison’s mouth crept up into devious smile.

What, was he going to argue all night with delegates? He would make more enemies.

“A matter like this,” continued Madison, “is too important to be settled without input from all the people of Virginia.”

Robert sat tall and leaned forward. “You’re going to persuade the General Assembly to delay voting until next year!”

Picking up his papers, Madison smiled and walked out leaving Robert alone in the meeting room. The diminutive James Madison was as impressive in person as his arguments were in their hearing. He was a giant.

 

§

 

On the way to the 1787 meeting of Virginia’s Baptist General Committee

 

The river moved on. Robert’s legs did little to impede its flow, ever onward to the sea. Meandering past boulders, the current met his calves, inched up the skin, slid around, and continued on its way. The cold, early spring runoff revived feet worn out from a long trek. He filled his cup and unpacked the sandwich Rose placed in his knapsack in the morning. Breathing deeply of the water rich air, he nestled down like a deer in grass without any concerns. The last three years weren’t easy, but they were good.

Brother Leland’s worries about the declension of faith in Virginia proved short-lived. Religion was on the rise, and Baptists led the way. Over two hundred Baptist churches with close to twenty thousand communicants now called Virginia home. No one whips Baptists. No one casts dispersions on us. The founders of our government want to know what we think. Ah, God is good.

Patrick Henry’s bill was defeated. James Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance in opposition to the bill and circulated it in 13 petitions. He garnered 1,552 signatures. The Baptist General Committee passed a resolution opposing the bill and circulated it in 29 petitions. They received 4,899 signatures. Overwhelmed by the negative public response to Henry’s bill, the General Assembly didn’t even bring it up for a vote. Instead, Madison reintroduced Jefferson’s bill, which called for severing all ties between the state of Virginia and religion. Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” was passed on January 19, 1786. This was the first time that a government had acted to legally separate religion from the state. Pride surged into Robert’s chest as he beat at it telling himself such an attitude was wrong. Still, he could not make light of it; Baptists shaped this new country.

James Madison, now there’s an enigma. In a crowd he would be lost, yet he was a giant when it came to ideas. The man played a key role formulating a government for these new states, and yet he found the time to visit when they met. Robert counted it a blessing to live as close as he did to James. The Federal Constitution had only been out a short while and prompted more than a few discussions. Robert discussed it twice with James; the document would affect not just them but their posterity for generations. James considered this a great responsibility and counted it an honor to serve this way.

Robert gulped down a big drink and smiled. He was surrounded by men forging history. Eddies formed in the current behind his legs. How much like the river was this new nation—set on a good course now, it encountered obstacles but moved ever forward.

Packing up his lunch and putting on his shoes, he started on his way. The Baptist General Committee of Virginia would meet tomorrow, March 7, 1787, to discuss the Constitution. And it wouldn’t be Regulars and Separates this time. They merged last year into the United Baptist Churches of Virginia. This only increased their influence.

 

§

 

1787, Virginia’s Baptist General Committee discussing the draft of the US Constitution

 

“…It does not sufficiently secure our religious liberty!” John Leland’s voice carried over the rumble of other voices, other arguments.

One of the delegates stood, pointing to the document he held. “But, Elder Leland, the constitution says right here in Clause 3 of Article VI that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

As Leland turned his attention to others in the room, the voices quieted. “With that wording, if Congress with the President should favor one system more then another, they may still oblige all others to pay to the support of their system as much as they please.”

“But I have talked with James Madison.” Robert stood next to Elder Leland. “That is not the intent. No one would do something so contrary to the heart of the document.”

“If we leave this wording as it is and oppression does not ensue,” argued Leland, “it will be owing to the mildness of administration.”

“I agree!” Another voice spoke up from across the room.

Leland took a deep breath. “Who knows, at some time the manners of people may become so far corrupted, that they cannot live by Republican principle. It is a very dangerous thing leaving religious liberty at their mercy.”

And another voice in agreement. “Elder Leland is right! We need a strong constitutional defense.”

Robert’s stomach gurgled. James considered the Constitution nearly perfect and would resist any changes or amendments. “I fear there will be little willingness to listen. Madison says most of the delegates are satisfied with the wording as it is.”

Someone to the left yelled out, “Then we’ll just need to send different delegates to the Convention.”

“But the Constitution is Madison’s handiwork.”

“That makes no difference now.”

“I nominate Elder Leland to be our delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Orange County instead of Madison.”

“This is not the place to do that.”

“Alright, I WILL nominate him when our Orange County brothers meet.”

“That ought to change Madison’s willingness to listen.”

Voices of ascent drowned out all other thoughts.

Robert’s gut twisted a bit tighter. Madison would not like this.

The chairman called a short recess. Another important matter remained to be discussed in the afternoon.

Pushing his fist into his abdomen to relieve the discomfort, Robert leaned back in his chair.

Elder Leland, papers in hand, took the empty chair beside him. “I sent a letter to Madison about a week ago to let him know how strongly I believe the Constitution needs a Bill of Rights. I listed ten reasons and told him I would bring the matter to the attention of the Virginia Baptists.”

“He’s very much convinced this Constitution does not need to be amended.”

“I know… And I have no desire to replace him as one of the Virginia delegates to the convention…Perhaps if you encourage him along those lines as well…”

Robert opened his fists and pushed a little harder with his fingers.

Elder Leland laid a hand on Robert’s shoulder and turned to go.

Robert followed. A walk about town might loosen his muscles.

 

 

The afternoon began much as the morning ended, with Robert seeking relief from a tight and throbbing stomach.

“…How can you support slavery!”

“I support the Constitution. Article 1, Section 9 states that Congress may not prohibit the importation of people into states.”

“That’s what we’re discussing…”

“That Article should be removed.”

“No, it’s fine the way it is. It says that the prohibition is only in effect until 1808.”

“A lot can happen it twenty years.”

“Slavery was common in the Bible. In fact, Paul tells slaves to obey their masters.”

“But even then, the idea of hereditary slavery was not practiced. Slaves could earn freedom.”

“They can be freed here as well. In fact, we have freed slaves that own their own slaves.”

“You all miss the point. We just fought a war of independence. Our declaration stated that, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Elder Leland sat next to Robert, looking up at times, nodding, and writing as the arguing continued.

“Exactly! How can we, in any kind of good faith, allow such an institution?”

Arguing reverberated all around Robert. He owned no slaves. But many of his neighbors did. Some in this meeting did.

“The southern economy depends on slaves.”

Robert forced himself to his feet. “A lot of people say that, but I have my doubts. Tobacco takes some work, but I can do well paying for laborers. And cotton…it may be in high demand in Europe, but it’s too labor intensive. Even slaves can’t separate the fibers from the seed pods fast enough to be profitable. There really aren’t all that many slaves anyway. Getting rid of the practice would probably be of little impact.”

Another representative immediately continued. “I like what Alexander Hamilton wrote, The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

John Leland stood during a momentary silence. “I propose we send a letter to the convention stating our feelings. I suggest the following: Resolved, That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government, and therefore recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land, and pray Almighty God that our honorable legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the great jubilee, consistent with the principles of good policy.”

Like the increasing surge of a storm, arguing began again. “We can’t send such an indictment! Not now.”

On and on. Robert shook his head. The arguing would last all night. He stood. “I move we defer this discussion until our next meeting…in Richmond, in August of next year. That will give us time for our churches to deliberate the issue and send their sentiments.”

“Yes!” The storm eased in the room and inside Robert.

 

§

 

At home

 

Holding the silk scarf, Robert sat in the shade of the magnolia. The giant leaves twisted and fluttered with the gentle breeze that caressed his cheeks. The world had changed. And he changed with it. Oh, that the makers of the stains on the silken memorial could see this day. These one-time colonies, now debated the separation of church and state. Virginia, in separating religion and government, did what no other government ever had. We will take this to the Continental Congress. And we—those Baptists, persecuted for 200 years—will change the world.

Stories filled his mind—the boy burned at the stake, the first Baptist, the old man whipped till he could not walk, the pirate saved by faith…And Alamance. He was part of the threads of this scarf. Robert wiped his eyes, his breath catching in his throat.

“Isn’t it about time for you to be on your way to see James?” Rose’s voice was like honey to the hearing. God’s goodness was beyond measure.

He hugged his wife and didn’t want to let go.

Finally, she squirmed away. “If you don’t let me take lunch to the boys, you’ll have a rebellion of your own to deal with.”

He should be out in the fields working alongside his sons, not talking about government. He told himself these meetings were necessary; his family said it. But, still, the guilt lingered.

He handed Rose the box, gave her a kiss, and started the four mile trek to the Madison’s.

“Dad!” His youngest son waved wildly from across the field. “We’ll save a row or two for you!”

He raised a hand. The breeze carried a mixture of scents. More and more, memories of North Carolina were lost in the goodness of this new life. Trees covered smaller hills now and then. Across the road, a neighbor transplanted tobacco seedlings with his boys and a family of Negroes he just bought. That was NOT one of the good things. Slavery made it increasingly difficult for those who disagreed with the practice to compete in the marketplace. In the Piedmont, settlers prided themselves on their self-sufficiency. Slaves were rare. But John told him that was changing now throughout the South. Still, working as a family, the Digby’s lived well. And Baptists generally opposed the practice. In church, they had discussed Brother Leland’s letter and his desire to send it to the Congress. Its reception was nearly unanimous. Even those Baptists that owned slaves supported it.

 

§

 

1788 Meeting with James Madison

 

“Robert!” James Madison waved from the porch of his house.

Robert walked up the path and took the empty chair beside him. “I appreciate your taking the time to meet.”

“I’m always interested in what your Assembly thinks.”

“You received Brother John Leland’s letter?”

James nodded.

“You know he wants a Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution.”

He nodded again. “You don’t waste time with formalities, do you?”

“I’ve got fields to work.”

“We will always have fields to work.”

Robert shifted in his seat and waited.

A pitcher of tea was brought out and two cups. James poured drinks for them. “Now, I suppose the Assembly supported John’s position?”

Robert nodded.

“What do they expect me to do? The delegates agreed to this.” James slapped the document across the table. “If they wanted something different, it would be here…in this Constitution!”

“I know you James. The document is good. John just believes the intent must be clearer.”

“I read his letter. What he wants is completely unnecessary; surely you see that!” He continued as if the answer were obvious. “John wants protection against powers that have not been given to the federal government…Not only is it superfluous, it is dangerous. Enumerating some rights implies the absence of others.” He tapped the document and leaned back in his chair. “And where states have implemented such bills, they are useless barriers.” Madison stared across the table. “Can’t you convince him of this?”

“I am not an arbiter. Neither am I a judge. Here, you sound right. There, John’s arguments win out. We just believe that some rights must be delineated.”

James slowly wagged his head. “This is THE governing document that will guide us. We can’t change it according to every little whim some group of citizens feels is important.”

This feeling of urgency crept over Robert. If neither man gave in… “We aren’t some inconsequential mob. If John argues his case with the United Baptist Churches of Virginia, this Constitution may not be approved.”

“The delegates are in agreement concerning its approval.”

“But the delegates may yet be changed.” Robert gazed over the edge of his cup.

“Is this a threat?”

Robert lowered his drink, turning the cup in his hands. “I would not act in such a way. I merely am relaying the views of the United Baptists. Some would like a Baptist to represent their perspective at the Convention. And John Leland’s name has been mentioned.”

Staring at the table, James took two deep breaths and spoke in a calmer voice. “That would not be a good thing.”

“Look,” said Robert, “I cannot convince John of your position. You need to discuss this with him.”

James absently tapped the document on the table. “Such a meeting could be perceived the wrong way.”

“I can arrange a…private…meeting.”

James shook his head as if forced to a position he found distasteful, then looked up and nodded. “See what you can do.”

 

 

A calmer feeling enveloped Robert on the road home. Maybe, when religious freedom was guaranteed…when religion was separated from government…maybe then he could finally get back to just farming.

 

§

 

The following monument stands in the Leland – Madison Memorial Park. Follow Hwy 20 through the town of Orange for about 5 miles. (To 38° 15.457’ N, 78° 0.686’ W.) The Madison/Leland historical marker is located on the opposite side of Virginia Hwy 20 (Constitution Highway) from where Road 628 intersects with Hwy 20 (Clifton Rd). It is in a small well-groomed park with an old oak tree. I wonder if it might be the one under which Leland and Madison met.

 

 

DEDICATION OF LELAND-MADISON MONUMENTAL PARK

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR ALL

OCTOBER 4, 1953

ORANGE COUNTY JAYCEES

 

1754 – 1841

ELDER JOHN LELAND, COURAGEOUS LEADER OF THE BAPTIST DOCTRINE, ARDENT ADVOCATE OF THE PRINCIPLES OF DEMOCRACY, VINDICATOR OF SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.

 

NEAR THIS SPOT IN 1788, ELDER JOHN LELAND AND JAMES MADISON, THE FATHER OF THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION, HELD A SIGNIFICANT INTERVIEW WHICH RESULTED IN THE ADOPTION OF THE CONSTITUTION BY VIRGINIA. THEN MADISON, A MEMBER OF CONGRESS FROM ORANGE, PRESENTED THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION GUARANTEEING RELIGIOIUS LIBERTY, FREE SPEECH, AND A FREE PRESS. THIS SATISFIED LELAND AND HIS BAPTIST FOLLOWERS.

 

PRESENTED BY EUGENE BUCKLIN BOWEN, PRESIDENT

BERKSHIRE COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER

SONS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

 

 

 

 

1793 – The Slaves

 

With the August sun blazing like a fire just above their heads, each step along the road to Yorktown was itself a destination. Staying in Williamsburg would have been so much more pleasant. But as quickly as that thought crept into his mind, Gowan Pamphlet dismissed it. Many members of his church couldn’t come all the way from Jamestown, Yorktown, and Norfolk. So these trips were a necessity, just one more trouble derived from ministering to a congregation of slaves and free blacks, a problem with being a slave himself.

“Is lucky thing, brother, that your master gives you leave like this,” said Konmlan Boulanger, a tall lanky slave from Haiti.

“God is good,” replied Gowan.

A few beads of sweat hung on top of his new friend’s shaved head. The man’s bare torso must have been cooled from somewhere Gowan did not see. Maybe Haitian blacks were more accustomed to such days. He removed his brown round-brimmed hat and wiped the sweat from his hair. Resting the hat gently back in place, he thanked God for its shade. Sweat rolled down his slightly over-sized belly forming a damp ring on the brown cotton shirt where a rope tied his pants to his waist.

The sound of horse hooves and distant laughter intruded into the sultry air. Two men moved at an easy pace, slowed by the same sun that plagued Gowan. He and Konmlan moved off the road beside a field of small tobacco plants tended by a handful of slaves.

“What have we here?” The white men brought their horses to a stop facing the two blacks.

“Should be out there with them other niggers working the tobacco fields.”

Gowan lowered his eyes. “Good day to you, sirs. May God bring you relief from this heat.” If laughter ever sounded from this old white man’s heart, he was sure the ends of the his lips would need to be pried up. Age, it seemed, had fixed the old face in a perpetual scowl.

Ignoring Gowan, he glanced back at his friend “The short fat one doesn’t seem to be much good for anything worthwhile.”

“Talks well,” said the other younger white. “…An educated black?”

“Nah! Can’t learn them nothing.”

“I belong to master Miller in Williamsburg,” said Gowan, “and my friend here is the slave of master Boulanger. He delivers letters to businesses in Yorktown for his master.”

Konmlan backed up nearer the field clutching his bag. “You men ought be on your way. We have letters.” Konmlan began opening the bag.

Gowan’s insides melted. A slave didn’t tell a master what he should be doing.

The more callous man rose in the saddle and leaned toward Konmlan, a malicious sneer fitting his face. “What do I care about some paper! These master’s letters may fool others into letting your kind roam our roads, but not me.”

Konmlan re-latched the bag, clutched it to his chest, and sidled toward the edge of the field.

The younger white moved his horse a little to the side following Konmlan. “We ain’t some frontier Baptist preachers in a backwoods church preaching freedom and equality.”

“Take care, master,” Konmlan said meekly. “One day things will change.”

“Mind your tongue, boy!”

“Niggers belong in the fields!” The old man unlatched a whip that hung from a conspicuous spot on the front of his saddle.

“Yes, sir, yes!” said Gowan hastily. “But our masters have sent us for work they did not wish to do. This is too hot a day for them to be walking to Jamestown.”

“Then your masters are fools! Niggers left to themselves come to no good.” His whip unrolled like a snake uncoiling. Its tip slapped the ground raising a small puff of dust. The younger man’s horse pranced nervously.

The muscles in Gowan’s legs quivered. He had never been accosted working for Master Miller, or before that for the widow Vobe at the Kings Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

The whip snapped. Gowan jumped. The old man urged his horse after Konmlan who bounded over tobacco plants. The slaves in the field stopped and stared.

Between glances at Gowan, and then his saddle, the young white fumbled with a whip just like his mentor’s.

This was not a time to dally. Konmlan ran much faster than he did. Gowan took off for the trees. “Make for the woods!” he yelled.

“Come back here,” growled the young man.

Gowan didn’t look.

A whip snapped. “Heaw!” Hooves beat the ground behind Gowan. The younger white reined his horse to a stop in front of him.

Gowan halted; his way blocked.

The man raised the whip and pulled his hand back ready to snap it forward.

Gowan jumped to the side. “Hey!” He yelled and shook his arms toward the horses head.

The horse reared. The whip landed with a dull thud against Gowan’s back as he raced on toward the tree line.

In the distance, Konmlan yelled in pain and followed it with what could only be cursing in a language Gowan didn’t understand. The edge of the field…just ahead!

The whip snapped beside him. A miss. Past trees. Don’t stop! Gowan weaved deeper in.

Laughing, dulled by leaves and brush….No more whip snapping. Konmlan must be safe in the woods as well. These were not the kind of men to work up a sweat chasing two slaves through the forest on foot for no other reason than fun.

Gowan listened…There…A quiet cursing. He walked deeper in. Konmlan nursed a slight shoulder bruise. Gowan wiped it with his sleeve. His friend’s countenance was more damaged than his skin.

In the Kings Arms Tavern, Gowan had served people like Jefferson and Washington. These were men with a vision…a good vision of great and grand ideas. If only they would have seen that “all men” included the black man.

“And you tell me you never preach rebellion!” Konmlan spit. “You lead 500 blacks. That’s an army.”

Gowan paused in his dabbing at the wound. The thought of this bore down on him like a heavy yoke. Who was he that so many brothers and sisters, both free and slave, should look to him for guidance?

“We are the suffering,” Gowan argued. “God is on our side. And if that is so, what have we to fear? Let Him fight the battle. Slaves in rebellion will do nothing more than bring down heavy whips of retribution. It is better to live in expectation of what God will do. Join me in preparing the way before Him.”

“You give our people a false hope. These whites are bad spirits in body.”

“Slavery is evil. But the masters are God’s children, just as we are. They will someday see us as that.” His mind raced. There will come a time when all men will be free; these chains of slavery lost to history. For now, the Word freed his spirit. Someday He would do more. And today, things were better. Most of the plantations allowed slaves to attend church meetings as long as it was on their own time. But, with the rising rumors of rebellion, came the revived fears in seeing slaves meet in groups. So he often met in secret with his congregation at Raccoon Chase west of Williamsburg.

Konmlan spit and growled a foreign word. “You will see. Even your white Christians will turn their backs to you.”

Gowan’s insides fluttered like tobacco leaves in a breeze. But he quickly reminded himself that God gave him a promise of acceptance. Almost two years ago, in October of 1791, he applied to the Dover Association for membership of his church. Just one more step raising the awareness of whites to the plight of the black slaves. So much would be gained from becoming part of the association. His congregation would be on equal terms with their white brothers, at least on spiritual matters. Blacks had been equals in the small back country Baptist churches. But this…a formal recognition of a black congregation…this was something more. Maybe, then, slave owners in the association might see these brothers and sisters as more than just property.

“In two months they will admit us,” said Gowan.

Konmlan shook his head in disgust. “You lie to yourself! Did you learn nothing from their revolution? You were but pawns in their war. That’s all we will ever be to them!”

Get thee behind me, satan! Such thoughts plagued Gowan; he didn’t need a friend confirming them. How can a slave really affect the world? All he could do is the work God gave him here. He walked a little faster. He enjoyed the company, but sometimes the silence of the forest would be better. Since Gowan was trusted by his owner David Miller and by most in Williamsburg, Master Boulanger often sent Konmlan with Gowan on these ministry trips. This day, the Haitian slave carried a letter to the baker offering to trade goods. From Yorktown, they would go to Norfolk before returning to Williamsburg…a long trip!

“Do you not think you are here to make this world better place?” asked Konmlan.

“In my own way, I am doing just that. We are to be servants of the Most High,” said Gowan.

“If this God you call upon makes us slaves, why seek him?”

“Because it is through serving Him that we find true freedom.”

Konmlan walked on with furrows of thought crossing his forehead, impeding the flow of drops of sweat. “Many of our people find comfort in your words,” he said at last. “They respect your wisdom…You are leader of many.”

“I am nothing but a sign pointing the way to Jesus. He touches the soul, not me.”

“No, Gowan, no! You touch many. The people, they look up to you.” The tall thin man stared at Gowan for a moment. “We will need men like you when Secret Keepers say it is time.”

Gowan shot a look about them. “Don’t speak of that around me,” he said in a hushed voice. “You know I think their plans are foolish!”

“But you read to me the white Declaration. It says all men are to be free. Those words are true.” Konmlan spit. “And if we wish freedom, we must take it.”

“This is not Haiti, brother. The revolution you witnessed in Saint Domingue will not flower here.” He shook his head. A part of him longed for the independence of his people—at any cost. To see the enslaved of Virginia rise up and take their freedom, just like these white men had fought England, now that would be something. But these slaves that swayed his friend’s mind were not men of learning. They neither weighed nor considered. They did not debate. Anger blinded them and led them in the shadows of death. Such men would rush forward grasping for something seen in their mind’s eye yet perpetually out of anger’s reach.

“They stole our freedom and we took it back! Haiti is free at last!”

“You and your people remember Africa. You know freedom. We do not. You will be hard pressed to find a slave in Virginia not born into bondage.”

“When the revolution comes, color will flock to the cause. Here, we have more slaves than whites. You will see! We will rid this land of the white man.” Konmlan’s eyes flashed with hatred.

“Brother, blood for blood is not the answer. There is a better way.”

“Again…this Jesus. Every trip I go with you, you speak of him. But I never see. Where is he?” Konmlan spread his arms about him. “Will he lead you to freedom?”

“He already has.” One day…one day…Konmlan would come to see the need for a Savior.

“What good is this freedom you speak of, here”—he beat his chest—“when we are shackled by chains here…and here?” He held out his arms. His letter pouch dangled from his shoulder. As it slipped down his upper arm, he pulled it tight.

Gowan lowered his voice and moved closer. Yorktown was in sight and more travelers walked the road. “Konmlan, do not listen to these rumors of a Secret Keeper and a coming war. It is nothing more than idle talk fed by your revolt in Haiti.”

This friend’s master came from that island to the United States seeking safety after the slaves rebelled, and Konmlan never spoke like this in front of him. Such talk would have resulted in a whipping or death.

“Brother Gowan!” A black woman ran up wiping her hands in her apron. Others followed under the watchful eyes of white citizens. Whites and blacks alike recognized this Baptist preacher.

“Sister Mary is sick and in need of prayer.”

Others of his flock came with their own needs, and he met them one by one. Each sheep is due his master’s attention.

As the number grew, Konmlan backed up, clutching his letter bag and leafing through it, as if fearing its contents had been trifled with. Then, looking past Gowan, his face tightened in a scowl and his eyebrows lowered.

“What are you black boys doing here?” Faces turned toward the voice of the younger tormentor.

With a subtle shake of his head, Gowan closed his eyes and sighed.

“Want I should call my friend?” he continued. “He was sure sorry you boys ran off like you did.”

Gowan turned toward him. “This is why I came. These folks need help and I am their pastor.”

“Their masters give them everything they need.” Advancing toward Gowan, the young white man pushed the blacks one way or the other. “Your masters sent you to do their work, not to listen to this preacher. Be on your way.”

Some turned and moved on at the command, others hesitated. The country tormentor just laughed.

Konmlan leaned forward trying to get closer to Gowan. “I go to bakery to deliver letter and come back.”

“I will meet you at the edge of town, on the road to Norfolk,” replied Gowan over the commotion.

One of his congregation whispered, “Come down to the pier.”

That would be much safer than this main street gathering. The crowd of blacks quickly thinned.

“You, the slave with the preacher.” This new white man’s voice demanded attention. He walked quickly after Konmlan. “I want to see your letter.” Other whites followed, attracted to the confrontation.

Konmlan fumbled with his bag, glancing up nervously. Eyes focused on this officer, he pulled out a sheet of paper—Master Boulanger’s letter giving permission to be here. At the same time, a folded note slipped down the side of the bag fluttering unnoticed to the ground. The crowd pressed in, hiding Konmlan from Gowan and trampling the lost note under foot. The man took the letter, read it, and, with a disgusted shake of his head, wadded it up and threw it back to the slave.

“Be on your way, then,” he growled.

“Yes, sir,” replied Konmlan meekly. With head lowered, he weaved submissively through the mocking crowd. The other note lay in the dirt amongst the feet of white men.

To avoid a similar confrontation, Gowan took the path down to the ocean’s shore. Konmlan could deal with this and his lost note himself.

 

 

The satisfaction of a job well done warmed him inside. He had met with his congregation at the pier without any further interruptions, and now Gowan leaned against a tree a short ways off the road, waiting for Konmlan. Hanging in the western sky, the sun toyed with the idea of setting. Birds splashed in a puddle just to his right and a small rabbit peered warily out from a bush across the road. His friend should have returned by now. But, no matter. At times like this, freedom seemed in his grasp. God had a plan for him. Someday, he…

“Gowan!” One of his congregation gasped for breath from the edge of the woods. “Hurry!…Come further in!” Panic filled his voice.

Gowan ran to where the slave backed away out of sight of the road. “What have you done?” he asked.

The slave gulped air. “Not me…you! Mr. Nelson…he was given…a letter.” The friend took a deep breath. “He says it is yours…Found it on the street.”

The fear carried in the words tightened every muscle in Gowan’s chest. “What are you talking about?”

“It is said to be a letter from one Secret Keeper to another. I did not know you delivered their letters.”

The implication sucked the wind out of him. “I don’t,” he said weakly. “Why do they think it’s mine?” If Thomas Nelson condemned him, trouble would be nipping at his heels. Nelson signed the Declaration of Independence and served in the past as Governor of free Virginia. He was the commander of the Virginia Militia at the siege of 1781.

“All I know is what I hear. They are looking for you. Headed this way…Hurry!” The slave shoved Gowan away from Yorktown. “You must go. They come.”

Gowan took two quick steps then turned to thank his friend. The man had already melted into the woods. Sounds—the voices of angry men—spurred him on. The continued rush of his breathing blurred the growing ache in his chest. The pursuers must be close. This pain would be slight compared to that of a whip. Dodging around a tree, his foot tangled with a small vine and he sprawled headlong into a patch of wild flowers. Scrambling up, he rushed through bushes in a shallow ravine. Sharp ends dug into his arms. Stop gasping! Listen! He paused. There…but more distant. They thought he was still on the outskirts of town. He moved slightly closer to the road where the undergrowth was less and he made better time. With sharp pains in his side accompanying every breath, he slowed to a fast walk. He hurt all over.

Night overtook dusk. That was in his favor.

“You there!”

Gowan’s heart skipped a beat as his tired body tightened. How did he miss the horse and wagon tied on the side of the road!

“Could you lend me a hand?”

Gowan’s feet wanted to run. Obviously, the man did not see whom he talked to. A black man out at night was not a common sight, especially with the rumors of a slave rebellion filling the minds of these southern whites. Still, the man was in need…and God had never disappointed.

With his head lowered so the brim hid his face, he slowly walked toward the wagon. “What’s the problem?”

The man hesitated. “Ah…” He bowed slightly to get a better look at Gowan. “I fixed a wheel. Now I can’t get this iron stove loaded back on the wagon…You a black?”

Gowan glanced up.

“Slave or free?”

“Slave.”

“Do you have your master’s letter?” the man asked warily.

“Yes, I do.”

“May I see it?”

Gowan pulled it from his bag.

As the fellow read it, he glanced up at Gowan and back to the paper. “Looks good to me,” he said in a more relaxed tone and returned the letter. “Grab the bottom here, will you.” He crouched low before the four foot boxed stove.

Gowan bent his knees and did the same.

“Okay…Lift!”

Gowan groaned. “This thing made of gold?”

The fellow grunted a chuckle as they slid the stove up and onto the back of the wagon.

The man lifted the gate and attached it to the sides. “I saw in the note that you’re headed to Norfolk. Let me give you a ride. I have a small farm just about ten miles further on.”

Gowan raised his eyes in surprise. A white man offering a ride to a slave…this had to be of God. He offered a prayer of thanks. “That would be much appreciated.”

“Well, come on up.”

Gowan started for the rear of the wagon.

“No, it’s a better ride here.” The white man indicated the seat next to him.

Cautiously, Gowan pulled himself up.

“Heaw!” The farmer slapped the reins into the horse’s side. “The name’s Robert Digby.”

“I’m Gowan Pamphlet.”

Robert smiled. “I know. I read it in the note. I’ve heard of you.”

Gowan leaned back and eyed the man. “How?”

“I’m Baptist too. Just moved to our farm from Orange County. Wife wanted to be closer to her mother. Friends in our new church speak of the black preacher. Quite a congregation they say.”

“God has blessed me. Worshiping in white churches is fine. But there’s something about being with folks suffering the same thorn.”

“Hmm hmm.” Robert nodded thoughtfully. “… You married?”

Gowan laughed.

Robert paused a moment. “No…No…I didn’t mean… Uh…my Rose isn’t a thorn…uh…” Then he chuckled himself. “So…are you married?”

Gowan shook his head.

The ten miles passed quickly. When Robert pulled into the small yard, his wife ran out to greet him.

“What happened?” she asked with concern in every word.

Gowan jumped down on the opposite side.

“Broken wheel,” said Robert. “This gentleman helped me reload the stove.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Rose. “Would you stay and share a…”

Gowan looked up and Rose stopped in mid-sentence.

Robert unhitched the horse. “What Rose was saying is that we’d love to have you share supper with us.”

“No…No, thank you,” said Gowan. “I’ve got to be in Norfolk early.”

“I can smell the chicken clear out here.” Robert turned to his wife.

“Ah…yes, yes!” Rose stopped staring. “I expected him home hours ago. We would love for you to stay.”

Gowan’s mouth watered. Baked chicken was his favorite meal. The road they had just taken disappeared in the darkness.

 

 

Gowan’s body relaxed, finally. Something about a full stomach and looking up at this canopy of God’s lights just made life good. He took a deep breath. “I see you have no slaves.”

“Don’t agree with it,” said Robert softly.

“Quakers generally hold the practice to be ungodly,” added Rose. She had told him her parents were Quaker. Marrying Robert caused no little stir in their meeting house.

“It is getting more and more difficult for a small plantation like ours to compete with those that use slaves.” Robert sighed and shook his head.

“You know,” said Rose, “had the Continental Congress pushed for some kind of phased abolition of slavery, the southern states probably would have agreed.”

Gowan had heard the same thing. “Some say many masters of slaves think owning another man is wrong. Thomas Jefferson said once that being a slave owner is like a man holding onto the ears of a wolf. He doesn’t want to be in that position but can’t let go.” Yeah, he’d heard it but wasn’t sure he believed it.

Rose laughed. “You’re right. Not a good position to be in. But eventually the man must release it.”

“One thing I’ll say,” said Robert, “when the spirit falls on us in worship, there is no distinction between black and white.”

Gowan nodded. Blacks and whites, slave and free, worshipped as equals in the small back country churches. This was what he wanted in every aspect of life. “In the Church, I see the future. Someday…”

“Hmmm.” Rose’s agreeing sigh was like the sound of God’s breath in the leaves of a tree. Crickets chirped their song in the background.

Robert leaned forward. “Is that why you want your church to be part of the Dover Association?”

Gowan considered Robert’s question.

“I mean, in Christ there is no distinction of bond and free,” he continued. “We are to be brothers. Jesus calls us all his friends. I should think you would find much comfort in uniting with other Baptist churches.”

“Well,” said Gowan, “I believe we should make use of every opportunity God presents to work as equals. Someday we will be.”

“And there is much to be gained,” added Rose.

Gowan nodded. A black church would not have the material resources of a white fellowship, but they would have men and women who knew how to work. “What one body cannot accomplish, many can.”

“Hmmm.”

Like a dim picture of its daytime counterpart, the moon slowly rose above the trees and shed its soft light across the landscape.

A knot formed in Gowan’s gut. An owl hooted in the distance as a gentle breeze caressed his cheek. “There’s something I must tell you…”

They waited.

“…Men from Yorktown will be searching for me.”

The chairs beside him scraped dirt as his hosts sat straighter.

“You have a letter…,” said Rose.

“What did you do?”

“Nothing.” Gowan emphatically shook his head. “For some reason they think I am aiding a slave rebellion.”

“Why?”

“That, I don’t know for sure. I was told they have accused me of promoting a revolt.”

“But that is not your heart,” said Rose quickly.

“Not all men know my heart. All they see is my skin.”

Robert leaned forward. “…Well, you’re still welcome. And, when you are gone in the morning, it will be as if you were never here. May God see you through this trial and bless you.”

“Hmmm.”

 

 

In back of the cabin, behind the outhouse, a patch of grass nestled amongst the trees made a somewhat soft cushion. Gowan laid back, a smooth stone for a pillow, as feathery clouds teased the moon. Somewhere during the moon’s journey, he drifted off because he awoke to the sun, twinkling through the low branches around him. He stretched, used the outhouse, filled his small canteen at the pump, and listened at the cabin’s door. They were up. He knocked softly.

Robert opened it. “Ah, I suppose you want to be off.”

Gowan nodded. “Thank you for your kindness.”
“Come on in. Rose is cutting some bread.”

When she handed it to him, he said. “God provided angels to a wayward traveler. I shall remember your kindness.” As he opened the door, men’s voices drifted up the road in the early morning air. He hesitated.

Rose and Robert peaked out.

“It’s Mr. Nelson!” Gowan barely recognized his own panicked voice. “Is there another door?” He glanced around. No. Only the one door. “A window?” Gowan peered into the darkness opposite the door.

Robert shook his head.

“What do we do?” whimpered Rose.

Gowan’s insides quivered. They kill slaves accused of rebellion.

“Let me think!” Robert paced to the rear and back.

“Hurry!” Rose peaked out the front window. “They’re tying up their horses.”

Gowan shrunk into the darkness in the back of the room.

“Are your mother’s clothes still in the trunk?”

Rose nodded.

“She’s Quaker…” Robert rubbed his chin in thought. “…a big woman…Dress him in her clothes!”

“What!” squeaked Rose.

Gowan gasped. How would a black man pass as a white woman?

“But…ah…” she stammered, forehead wrinkled in thought, “ah…Ohhh.” Her voice grew more animated. “I think we have what’s required. But we’ll need something for a scarf to cover his neck.”

Robert scurried about the small room, rifling through work clothes…a skirt…leathers…nothing that would pass as a scarf.

Rap! Rap! The sound of a cane on wood filled the little cabin. “Robert Gardner, we would speak with you.”

He turned to Rose. “Here,” he whispered tensely and tossed her a box. “I’ll stall as long as I can,”

Gowan followed Rose into the darkness behind the curtain partition separating their bed from the rest of the house.

Rolling up his pants, he pulled on long blue stockings that dug against his calves and thighs. Then stepping into a light blue petticoat, he pulled it up.

Voices from outside were just audible. “Why do you seek that black preacher? Is he considered a runaway?”

“Here,” Rose breathed, handing him a dark blue dress. “Put this on.”

Gowan stared, turning it in his hands.

“No. He dropped a letter outside the bakery in Yorktown.”

“Since when is dropping a letter a crime, even for a slave?”

“Since it promotes rebellion! Have you seen him?”

Well, I saw a black man last night. Said he was heading for Norfolk.”

We know your wife’s Quaker, and you sympathize with the abolitionists. Let us in so we can assure ourselves he is not yet here.”

Gowan lowered the dress that much faster and put one leg in the top.

“No!” Rose hissed almost inaudibly, jerking it away and raising it up. “Over the head.”

How was he supposed to know that! He shimmied in. Then pulled on one sleeve…and another. Tight in the waist, but it fit.

As if he hadn’t heard the command, Robert continued with his questions. “What was in the letter?”

“A note from a Secret Keeper in Richmond to one in Norfolk…coordinating a rebellion…said hundreds of armed slaves are just waiting their orders.” The frustration in the sheriff’s voice was clear.

Robert was silent.

Rose adjusted the look and stepped back, nodding approval. Reaching into her trunk, she took a black bonnet with a deep set front and placed it on Gowan’s head, roughly tugging it forward.

Sweat rolled down Gowan’s back as much from what waited at the door as from the temperature. The air was still as death and heat radiated from the wall. The room was quiet. He feared his breathing would give them away.

Reaching into the trunk, Rose pulled out two black lace-up women’s shoes. “You need to put these on.”

Obviously her mother did not have big feet.

Again Gowan listened to the words from the other side of the blanket partition.

“I have already said, you are wasting your time looking here. But feel free to search outside. I am preparing to return my wife’s mother to Williamsburg. She is in no condition to put up with such things. When we have gone, Rose will let you in. But, your time would be better spent pursuing him on toward Norfolk.”

The door creaked shut.

Pulling with his hands and shoving with his feet, Gowan grimaced as his toes squeezed together. His heels would never settle onto the soles of the shoes. But, maybe, when he laced them, they might stay on his feet anyway. Standing from the edge of the bed, his ankles held. He took one step and the foot that supported his weight bent to the side. Rose grabbed his arm to keep him from collapsing onto the floor.

Robert pulled back the edge of the blanket. “Ready?”

Rose opened a travel bag. “Put your hat, shirt, and shoes in here…and when you hold it, let it hide your hands.”

Gingerly, she opened the box Robert had tossed to her and unbundled a white scarf from it’s burlap covering. Wrapped around his neck, it would do well to hide the dark skin. When she draped it carefully about his shoulders and tucked it around to the front, his eyes widened. He rubbed it between his fingers in the front, so smooth and fine.

“Is he ready?” asked Robert.

“Don’t know what else I can do,” replied Rose.

“And you, Gowan?”

“We best be going…before the foolishness of this sets in and I just dive into the woods.”

He hobbled past the curtain.

Robert put his arm around Gowan’s shoulder.

“Keep your head down and don’t look at the men,” said Rose. “Let the bonnet’s front hide your face.”

Gowan took a deep breath and nodded.

No problem looking down…he watched for obstacles that would trip up his tethered feet. Tottering forward, he let Robert’s grip support him.

Rose held the door open as they walked slowly out. Moving in the opposite direction from her husband to draw their attention from the wagon, she said, “I thank you men for your patience as I said goodbye to my mother.”

“She looks rather feeble.”

Gowan knew that voice…the young man on the horse. His knees nearly gave out. Robert steadied him. Old stone face was probably there with the whip.

“Let me help,” continued the young white man. Footsteps started toward them.

Gowan’s heart doubled its already hectic pace. If it weren’t for these awful shoes he would run. Robert squeezed a bit tighter against the nervous twitching in his arms.

“My husband has managed alone before. Why don’t I show you around inside and you gentlemen can be on your way. I know how we put you out. And you’ve got that runaway slave to catch.”

Nelson told his men to follow her in.

Two other hands grabbed Gowan’s arm opposite from Robert. “I’ll join you after I help the lady’s mother.”

Gowan’s chest wanted to pant but he held his breath.

“I’m sorry we interrupted your leaving,” said the young man. “Did you have a nice stay?”

Gowan quivered, nodding his head.

Robert jumped up on the wagon and reached down.

“Here,” said the young man, “if you hand up your travel bag it will be much easier.” He reached for it.

Robert gestured quickly toward the helper. “Let her keep it,” he whispered. “You know how it is with women and their bags.”

The man pulled back his hands with a quick nod of understanding.

Robert grabbed both of Gowan’s forearms while the other man hesitated as if considering where to push. But Robert pulled him quickly up.

“You know if you got larger shoes,” said the young man, “you might find it easier to walk.”

“We keep telling her that,” said Robert. “I think it’s her vanity,” he whispered over Gowan’s head.

The other man stifled a laugh.

“Dreadful thing that note,” said Rose. “We listened from inside as Mother readied herself. I surely hope you stop him before he can do any mischief.”

“We’ll try our best,” said the man.

“Hmmm.”

Rose’s sigh gave Gowan a peace. But he didn’t dare look.

The wagon turned onto the road and was a good hundred yards on their way before Nelson and his men exited the house. Horse hooves pounding the dirt, fading behind them.

A black man, riding dressed as a white female Quaker, with a Baptist, on the road to Williamsburg was not a good thing. Gowan shifted uncomfortably and glanced past the bonnet at Robert. The farmer placed his fists in his gut and leaned into them. He was as uncomfortable as Gowan. Being a slave on the wagon would be safer.

When they reached the bottom of a wooded hill, Robert stopped the wagon. “Go into the woods and change. Put the dress and things into Rose’s bag.”

Removing satan’s own shoes from his feet, he raised the front of the dress and petticoat and ran into the woods. This was none too soon as far as he was concerned. When he returned dressed a bit more comfortably, he tossed the bag behind the seat. “I can walk from here.”

“No, let me take you a bit further. If Nelson returns to the homestead, I can’t be there already.”

Gowan climbed back up. “Was that scarf made of silk?” he asked as the wagon started.

Robert nodded. “It’s been passed down to me through Christian hands.”

From the story of the boy burned at the stake to Robert’s own story of Alamance, Gowan was glued on Robert.

“…And now you’re part of that heritage.” Robert gently slapped the reins into the horse’s side.

“And Mrs. Gardner put that on my sweaty neck!”

“If you didn’t notice, it’s been stained many times. Each tells a story…So, tell me a bit more of yours. Surely, you must have some idea why these men think you’re a courier for the Secret Keepers.”

Gowan squirmed. Lying in the grass the night before, he had considered his situation. But the story was not one he wanted to admit. He took a deep breath and told Robert about Konmlan.

“You must tell your master of this slave. Everything points to him. If he dropped the letter and was seen with you, of course they would seek you. You’re the better known man. Who is Konmlan to them! Guilt by association.”

“But this is only what I think. I have no proof. To accuse a black brother of something like this…They would execute him.”

“You could be killed.”

“I would rather take that chance than falsely accuse another man.”

They rode on in silence, interspersed with little conversation.

“Isn’t this far enough?” asked Gowan. “Williamsburg is but a few more miles.”

“I’ve come this far, may as well take you the rest of the way.”

“Should I get in the back?”

Robert shook his head. “Nah!”

Gowan’s face warmed noticeably.

When they got to David Miller’s house, his owner ran out. “Gowan, men from Yorktown were here. What did you do?”

“Sir, I have been falsely accused. I know nothing of this rebellion.”

Robert eyed him.

Gowan lowered his head.

“I told them they were wrong.”

“What would you like me to do?” asked Gowan.

“Let me think. For now, get in the house. The fewer who see you the better.”

Gowan took his bag inside. The man was to be trusted to do good. He turned around at the door as his master and Robert shook hands.

“Gowan is a friend to me,” said David. “What happened?”

Gowan listened from inside the door as Robert told the story.

“Do you know what happened to the slave that was with him?” asked master Miller.

They talked a bit more quietly before his master joined Gowan inside. “I think you should go to the old cabin on the headwaters of College Creek. It’s out of the way. This whole mess will blow over soon, and I’ll come for you.”

 

§

 

Within two weeks and before the end of August, David Miller brought Gowan home. All charges were dropped, and he was no longer a fugitive. In September, a group of runaway slaves in Powhatan County were caught and confessed planning to meet with other slaves and start an insurrection. Later that month, Master Miller signed the papers making Gowan a free man and no one questioned the decision. The following month, in October 1793, Gowan attended the annual meeting of the Dover Baptist Association where they announced that the “Baptist church of black people at Williamsburg” was received into membership.

 

 

 

 

1845 – The Southern Baptists

 

 

In 1785 the Baptist General Committee of Virginia pronounced slavery “contrary to the word of God”. Two years later the Ketockton Association called it “a breach of divine law”. In 1790 the General Committee of Virginia adopted a statement calling slavery “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government; and therefore (we) recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure, to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.” By 1840 Northern Baptists and Southern Baptists disagreed over the issue with the southerners supporting the institution of slavery. Virginia Baptists called Baptists of the south to a meeting in Georgia. [From The Baptist Beacon, “Eighteenth Century Baptists,” by Timothy Binion, http://www.pastortim.org/baptistbeacon/2001/eighteenth-century-baptists-tim-binion.htm]

 

§

 

April 1845

 

“I’m here to chop this week’s wood for you, Grandma.” Roy started for the back door.

“No!” Grandmother Rose jumped to her feet and hurried to the kitchen. “I have wood enough to last a day or two. It can wait. Sit, share some spearmint tea with me instead.”

Staring at the door, he stopped and rocked back and forth, urged on toward the door, yet restrained. “I suppose I can…You know what I like.” Slowly he turned and moved to the kitchen table.

Spry as an animated teenager, Rose pulled some dried leaves from the cupboard. “Pray tell, how goes thy cousin’s cotton planting?” Rubbing them between her palms, she let the tart smelling powdery residue fall into the boiling water in the pot on the stove.

Roy absently drummed his fingers on the table and glanced back to the door. “Fine, I suppose. Why?”

“They have a lot of Negroes.”

“I’d say that’s why they’re doing so well, wouldn’t you?” He probably shouldn’t have replied that way. It would just goad her on. “I’d say they’re a little too lenient with them. Their housemaid…Rachel…she’s so irresponsible. At twenty years, the wench should know what’s expected. A little whipping would keep her punctual. The last I heard she hadn’t returned from church this morning…”

Rose stared at him, eyes unblinking.

“…But that’s not unusual.”

Gradually she let out her breath. “Well…” She stirred the tea a little more sternly than was necessary as if fighting back words. Clearing her throat, she said, “I hear there’s going to be a meeting of Baptists in Georgia.”

Roy’s fingers stopped, frozen to the table. A grimace tightened his face. Why did she have to change the subject to that? For a Quaker, his grandmother knew a lot about Baptists. But, then, they had been a part of her life since she married one.

With the fire turned down to a simmer, Rose eyed her grandson. “I just don’t understand how you Baptists changed so quickly! In 1785, your General Committee of Virginia said slavery was contrary to the word of God. Two years later, the Ketockton Association called it a breach of divine law. In 1790, your General Committee formally said that slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government. Let me see…” She scratched her head. “I believe their words were to ‘use every legal measure to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.’ And then, just five years ago, it’s Virginia Baptists calling for a meeting in Georgia in support of slavery. My!” She shook her head. “You Baptists are always arguing about something.”

He rubbed his temples in small circles. “Only concerning what’s important.” Squirming, he nodded toward the small stack of kindling beside the stove. “Let me go out back and split your wood. We’ll only argue if you persist in bringing up abolition and slavery.” He stood.

“No…no.” Rose quickly motioned for him to sit back down. “The tea should be adequately steeped.” She hurried to the stove, poured two cups from the pot placing one in front of Roy. “At least you won’t be going to such a gathering!”

Without looking up, he swirled the tea and took a sip. “That meeting is about missions.”

“Well, then, what do Baptist missions have to do with slavery?”

Roy slowly turned the tea cup with his fingers focusing on it rather than Rose. “Our Triennial Convention limits missionary appointments to those who don’t hold slaves.”

“That seems like a godly position.”

“Slavery has nothing to do with sharing the Gospel. It’s an economic matter, a government concern. Jesus never mentions it.” He pushed his tea toward the center of the table. “I don’t want to talk about this. I really need to start splitting your firewood.”

“There will always be time for that. This is important.”

Pulling his tea back, Roy’s shoulders sagged and he lifted the cup for another sip.

“Is it not rather odd in thy mind that Baptists send missionaries to Africa yet put up plantations on the bloodied backs of the Negro?”

Roy leaned forward, his face flushing as he held back an immediate response. He took one deep breath…and another. “I don’t see any problem with that. You Quakers ought to consult God’s Word rather than your feelings. It says the slave should obey his master; so it can’t be such an evil. Slavery is common throughout the world. If anything, those who oppose this institution and harbor run-a-ways should face the consequences…”

He struck the table with his fist.

Rose jumped.

“…There’s even talk that those subverting what is supported by our government should be hanged.”

“Wha…What dost thee deem proper about such things?” The shakiness of age overtook Rose’s voice.

“You know what I think. These abolitionists meddle in affairs that are not theirs…”

“Well…uh…” Rose fidgeted with her fingers. “If this is not right in thine eyes…what will the southern Baptists do about sending missionaries?”

“That’s enough!” Roy stood. “I’m going to split your wood and then go home!” He started for the door.

“No!” Rose took his arm. “Uh…Go on home now and calm down. Return tomorrow and I promise I’ll not bring up slavery.”

Roy looked from Rose to the door and back again. “You’ve never hesitated letting me do your chores.” He cocked his head. “Why is it you don’t want me out in the wood shed now? What are you hiding?”

“Why ever would ye say that? Thou dost know I‘m grateful for thy help. I am so fortunate to have thee as my grandson. Is there a wrong in desiring time to just sit together? Besides, why will thee not talk about Baptists and slavery?”

He shrugged. “All we ever do is fight…You ought to let me work while I can, Grandmother.”

“Truly, I thank God daily for providing such a grandson as thee. Without such help as thou dost give me, I could never live here.”

“You could if you owned a slave or two.”

 

 

With a hug, Roy kissed his grandmother on the cheek and left. Stretching his head from side to side, the neck muscles finally began relaxing. In two days, he would leave for the Augusta meeting. Her arguments were behind him for now, and that was good. But, why didn’t she want him in the wood shed? She never really answered his question.

Ahead, on the path, a crowd filled the street. The unruly sounds raised the hair on his neck. He didn’t like meeting a mob, especially with the sun already down. Branching off into the trees, he circled back to his grandmother’s house. This would be a good time to check out the wood shed.

In the black nighttime shadows of a giant oak, the small ten by ten shack lay nestled between Rose’s house and the forest’s edge. Picking his way around the familiar items, he slowly approached the shed, listening…carefully. No sounds…other than the growing noise as the crowd came closer on the street. But nothing unusual sounded from the little building. He reached out for the dowel handle and pulled. The familiar scrape of the bottom edge of the door rubbing on dirt disturbed the silence of the shed.

Squinting, he tried to make out the items that should be there…a water barrel, meat hanging from the rafters, a small stack of wood, a box with kindling. He sniffed…the usual thick, stuffy smell of drying food, nothing else. One more look around.

There! A silent gust in the stillness. He listened, trying to pick out the sound from the noises of the crowd that echoed around the house. Closing the door behind him to muffle the outside ruckus, he stepped further in. A motion in the dark, and a soft rustling sound. Reaching back, Roy felt for the handle of the ax he always left beside the door. Fox had been known to raid sheds. Wielding it in front of him with both hands, he inched toward the barrel.

The sound, almost lost in the heavy air, of something sidling back into the darkness. His hair bristled.

“Who’s there!” He raised the ax, ready to strike.

“Please, Master Roy.” A woman’s voice, quavered and broken.

“Who are you!” His muscles twitched ready to attack.

“It’s me, Master Roy…Rachel.”

“Get up!” He growled. “What are you doing here?”

The sound of her scurrying to her feet filled the small space.

“Why aren’t you on the plantation?”

“Master, please don’t return me. Miss Rose let me stay. I am to go north with someone tonight.”

“You belong to my cousins!” Her silhouette was just visible. He grabbed an arm and shoved her toward the door.

Rachel whimpered. “Please, Mater Roy, please!” Fear filled the panicked blurting of her words.

The sounds of the crowd stopped his hand in midair as he was about to slap her. The yells weren’t moving. “They’re looking for you here!” he hissed, holding her arm tight. If they found her here, his grandmother would suffer for it. Damn! Why did she do this to him? “Quick!” He opened the door. “Into the woods.” Dropping the ax, he shoved Rachel under the oak and away from the house. Running just behind, he pushed her on past the first trees and into the thick blackness.

Sniveling came from in front of him.

“Quiet!” he threatened and shoved her forward.

She crashed to the ground with a squelched yelp.

Roy gingerly stepped over the log, reached down, and jerked her slight frame up.

“Be more careful!” Again he pushed her on.

Winding through the brush, their way became clearer as the moon drew higher in the sky. A splash! With wide eyes, Rachel crawled away from him through the small creek.

“Get back up here,” he demanded.

Scrambling up the bank, she stared at him like a dog expecting to be hit.

He listened. Not a hint of any pursuers. Just the sounds of the night…and of water dripping from the slave’s clothes. He had to think. Sitting on the grass, he rubbed his temples in small circles.

Rachel backed up on all fours, as far from him as possible in the little clearing, hugged her knees to her chest and stared like a caged animal. Her hair was pulled tight into a small explosion of curls tied off in the back. Being a housemaid, her clothes were better than slaves that worked outside. But, in the moonlight, it was clear that the run through the woods and dip in the water did them no good.

He couldn’t take her back to Rose’s; his grandmother’s house would be watched. Returning her to his cousins’ was out of the question; she might say something about Rose. For the same reason, he couldn’t leave her alone to find her way out. Silence can be guaranteed…but that thought was as quickly put away. Killing a slave was not like killing a white man, but God probably frowned on it anyway. Besides, she belonged to someone else.

In any case, he wouldn’t be returning the wench to her rightful owner; to protect Rose, he needed to help the slave escape. And that wasn’t going to happen in the next two days. Why did the old woman meddle where she didn’t belong! Roy leaned into his fists in an attempt to relieve the knot that quivered in his gut.

 

 

The night turned into the longest he remembered. He pushed Rachel at a fast walk, which was difficult for a woman wearing a wet dress and old boots, especially through the woods in the dark. At last he found it…the cabin northwest of Williamsburg…out of the way, crumbling, mostly unknown. He had spent days here hunting, without seeing anyone. If she wanted to survive, she would wait for him. With the eastern sky just beginning to show the first signs of dawn, he left the slave and headed home to Yorktown.

By late afternoon, the end of the road, and the town, were at last visible. He fell into bed without washing.

 

§

 

Longing to stay curled and warm, his eyes nonetheless popped open, as they always did, to the sound of roosters crowing. He loaded his trunk with what he would need for the trip to Augusta and packed a little food from his smoke house. As the sun began to light the tips of the trees, he was in his wagon, driving back toward Williamsburg.

He passed the turnoff to Rose’s without stopping. No doubt she would learn soon enough that he had left to attend the Baptist meeting in Georgia as a representative. He didn’t look forward to the arguments this trip would fuel. But, then, if she said too much, he could always bring up her folly over the slave. Grumbling under his breath, he slapped the reins against the horse’s flanks. The surprised animal lurched into a momentary trot.

Heading west through Williamsburg, he passed the African church on his left. Surely, someone in that congregation knew how to move a runaway north. But his cousin’s plantation was just a few miles southwest of the town. Their missing slave would be common talk in the taverns. Perhaps, after the meeting, a few subtle inquiries might be made. Better yet, maybe some safer opportunity would present itself in the meantime.

Veering slightly north, he picked up the Richmond Road. Two more miles and he pulled back on the reins bringing the wagon to a stop.

Rubbing his temples in small circles, Roy stared at the four horses tied up just off the road. The baying of a hound wound its way out of the woods. Hunters! But what were they hunting? How could they possibly know Rachel was here in the forest? The urge to move on beat its way into his mind. Leaving this whole mess behind would be such a relief. But he was already part of it. Some fix! He just wanted to forget the whole matter and go to the meeting. If the slave accused him of being involved, he could always deny it. Besides, everyone knew he was a representative to the Augusta meeting. Why would he be involved with a runaway…now?

As he lifted the reins, ready to urge the horse on, a hunter stumbled out of the trees in front of him. Both men stopped, eyes locked. The man rested his rifle on his shoulder and smiled. “You here to help?”

Roy shook his head. “Nah. Just saw the horses and paused a bit wondering what brought so many hunters to this neck of the woods. Been here myself but never met anyone up yonder.” He nodded in the direction the hunter had come from.

“Got a runaway in there somewhere.”

Roy’s throat tightened and his head began to throb.

“Tracked the buck all the way from Sherwood Forest. Almost lost him at the Chickahominy River.”

Roy took a deep breath feeling his muscles loosen at least a little. They weren’t hunting his slave. “Sounds like the dogs are close.”

“Fool critters. Got to an old cabin up on a creek. One hound ran one way and the other took off in the opposite direction. I came down just in case the buck double backed. Don’t think he will, though. Left the others to decide what to do with their dogs. Should catch him before night. Signs around the cabin were pretty fresh.”

“Wish you boys luck. I need to be on my way.”

“Thanks.” The hunter nodded and glanced up and down the road.

Roy gave his horse a soft slap with the reins. Rose’s slave would get what she deserved when these men found her. So much for his problem.

Clunk! Something hard hit the wagon.

“Whoa!” He pulled his horse to a stop and glanced back. The hunter was lost behind a curve. No one was anywhere up or down the road. A two inch rock rolled to a stop in the bed of the wagon. He looked in the direction it came from. A black face with tight hair pulled back peered from behind a tree. One more glance up and down the road and he motioned her to hurry.

She ran to the wagon, jumped in the back, and lay down, pulling a dirty blanket over herself.

Fighting the urge to make haste, Roy plodded along at a calm and tranquil pace. How had Rachel kept enough wits about her to evade those hunters? She must be one resourceful wench. Two hours later the wagon creaked south on the road to Guilford County, North Carolina. The girl, head uncovered, lay low out of sight of passersby. Her eyes darted periodically about the trees and sky passing overhead.

“You can sit up now,” grumbled Roy. “To any we meet, you’re my slave.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Augusta.”

Rachel gasped. “But…but…I want to go north. You said…”
“I said what I said. You have to wait…We both need to wait. I want you out of my hair as quickly as possible…Why would you put an old woman’s life on the line? What did she ever do to you?”

“I didn’t mean…”

“Shut up!”

She tucked her knees to her chest and stared at the floor of the wagon.

This last surge of anger finally melted away. Without looking back, Roy asked, “How ever did you manage to avoid those hunters and their hounds?”

“When you left, I cannot just sit. I walked about. Found an old broken pot…and a patch of leeks was there. And down in the swampy grass was wild ginger.” She pulled some wilted leaves from her pocket, moving them about her palm. “And this here’s baazli. Didn’t know when you was coming back. Made a soup…”

“You started a fire?”

She nodded. “My papa showed me how when I was a child, before they sold me away.” She shoved the spices back in her pocket and looked down, pausing… “They were chasing a slave…He followed our path to the cabin. All skeery he was. Made me skeery too… Gave him a little to eat and doused the fire. Heard the dogs coming. Ground most of the ginger and baazli into the pot. Sprinkled it all about the clearing. Papa told me these scents might honey-fuggle the overseer’s hounds…I think he was right.”

“You,” he glanced over his shoulder, “a slave…you did all that?”

She nodded. “Yes, master,” she said softly.

Roy turned back forward. He didn’t know any white women…or men…that could have done all this. Why in the world did she need help from Rose to go north?

 

§

 

Guilford County was full of Quakers. He had hoped to be relieved of his burden there. But most just stared back warily when he asked about help for his runaway. One old gentleman suggested coming back in two days. If he still had the wench when he returned this way, he would look the man up. Keeping to his schedule, he moved on to Greensboro where he stabled his horse and purchased two through-tickets to Fayetteville on the stagecoach…and a dress for the slave. If she was still with him at Fayetteville, she would need clean clothes.

 

 

The coach stood out like a lady amidst laborers. Delicate scrollwork adorned her side panels. An image on the doors told of other places and adventures somewhere along a canal with strange looking landscapes. Roy wondered where this woman had traveled. Four strong horses held her hostage for the moment, but soon they would lead her on to another port. And, for the first time, Roy would go along. Strong leather straps attached the carriage to frame and wheels so that he pictured it rocking like a cradle. He ought to be able to watch the scenery and sleep as he wished. His trip promised to be quite good…except for this wench that was someone else’s slave.

Her hair was pulled back, not out of place, and her dress had been beat as clean as possible. Still, stains and dirt told of a hasty escape through the woods and a ride over a dusty road. She stared at the coach. With hesitation, she approached it and rubbed her hands along the scrollwork, gazed into the picture on the door, and returned to Roy. “You ever been someplace like that?” she asked keeping her eyes on the side of the coach.

“No. Looks like something from one of the canals up north.”

The slave slowly nodded.

The driver opened the doors. “All aboard!”

A well-dressed woman with gray hair struggled onto the stool and lifted her leg attempting to get it to the door’s threshold. She raised it ten inches of the required twenty. Grasping the door with one hand, she reached down with the other, lifting the leg. Her whole body teetered back…further.

“She ain’t gonna make it,” whispered a man in a wide-brimmed hat behind Roy.

Further…

Just in time, Rachel rushed forward, leaned into a most ignominious body part, and hefted the tottering woman toward the door.

The elderly lady latched onto the seat and pulled herself in. Glancing over her shoulder, the look of relief melted into a frown. “Who asked you to help? Git back with yer master, nigger!”

Rachel lowered her eyes and rejoined Roy.

When a young, rather fleshy lady next pulled herself in, the coach visibly dipped to the side. She took the far end of the front seat.

Roy climbed in taking his assigned place, the other end of the front bench. Rachel sat in the little room left between him and the portly belle. The man with the hat moved to the middle bench next to the gray haired lady who continued to glower at Roy’s black. Another man and his slave took the last bench.

The fellow with the hat leaned forward and put his hand on Roy’s shoulder. “This is a long trip. You might find my seat more to your liking.”

“What do you mean?”

“I travel a lot. The further forward you sit, the rougher the ride. By watching outside, I saw this is probably your first time. Don’t know why they give virgin travelers the worst seats. You should be made as comfortable as possible.” Smiling broadly, he shrugged and sat back. “But that’s up to you.”

Roy nodded. More folks should be as selfless. “Thank you, friend. I’m in your debt.” He stood and squeezed over the second bench.

The man in the hat fairly jumped forward taking Roy’s seat. “And you ought to give your concubine the benefit of a better ride also.”

The lady taking up more than her share of the bench nodded in agreement.

Rachel stepped over into the center of the middle seat, brushing the gray haired lady. The old woman shifted as far to the edge as possible. “Sir,” she said to the man in the hat. “Be so kind as to give me a hand. I think I would prefer the seat next to you.”

“Heeyah!” A crack of a whip interrupted the talk and the coach swung backward and forward.

The old lady grabbed Rachel’s arm. As the motion slowed, she pulled away and reached for the hand of the man on the front seat. With the help of that fellow and Roy, the old woman made it over in a most un-ladylike fashion.

Ah! Roy hugged himself, wriggled into the leather padded seat, and closed his eyes. The coach rocked back and forth and bounced him up and down forcing his head to wag every which way. “When do you think the road will smooth out?” he asked to no one in particular.

The man in the hat turned back. “This IS a smooth road.”

Roy sat up, all thoughts of a restful trip shaken out of his mind.

“Where you heading?” asked fellow behind Roy.

“Augusta…you?”

“Charleston.”

The coach lurched to the left bouncing Roy clean off the bench. “I see why these seats are padded.”

No one laughed.

With this stage of the trip twelve miles long, they should be at the next station in an hour and a half…if they survived. Roy groaned and glanced at the wench. “What are you smiling about?”

“I’ve been looking. We be like potatoes in a wheel-barrow pushed over a harvested tobacco field.”

Holding onto the bench with both hands, he glanced around and chuckled inside. With a smile he nodded back at the slave. The man who bounced less was wearing the hat and sitting in the seat where Roy had begun. The slave and the master in the back were flipped and flopped even more than Roy. The smile changed into a frown and he grumbled at his foolish decision to change seats. Dust rose in a cloud from the floorboards and drifted in the window making him wonder if he might suffocate before being joggled to death.

“Oh, dear! She’s peaked.” The old lady’s voice quivered like oak leaves in the wind. “I think she’s going to be sick…Driver!” she yelled. “Stop! She’s going to be sick!”

The corpulent southern belle was as white as her dress before the dust had settled on it. Cheeks puffed out, eyes bulging and staring into space, her face was like a little ball on top of big ball rolling left…right…back…forth…

“She’s going to be sick! Stop! Stop!” The old lady turned to the woman. “Keep it in!” She looked up. “Stoooop!” The coach didn’t stop.

The station didn’t come soon enough.

 

 

“So, what’s your business in Augusta?” Joe, the owner of the other slave, dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief.

Roy stretched a kink out of his back. “I’m going to a Baptist meeting.”

“I wish I were going,” said Joe. “Those northerners take our money and do with it what they want…without regard for us. I’d say we could do a lot more good if we invested it how we see fit.”

“Well…” Roy drew out the word trying to decide what to say. “Do you know the history of our missions?”

“I know enough! The northern-controlled society won’t appoint owners of slaves.”

Roy knew about that 1840 anti-slavery convention. “I’m not sure that’s justification for separating from them. Look at what we’ve accomplished together. In 1832, Baptists had fourteen Missionaries in Burma. Three years later we had missions in France, Germany, Greece, and China. Just last year 111 Baptist missionaries served the Lord; ten of them in Europe; six in West Africa, sixty-three in Asia, and thirty-two work among the Indians. We have 720,000 members in 9,400 churches. Wouldn’t you say that’s the blessing of God!”

Joe shook his head. “Of course the three great societies have done service for Jesus. But these northern Baptists are the ones raising the wall, not us!”

“And you would just toss it all away?”

“It’s not a light matter, mind you. But that’s the only course we have left. Be assured I am aware of the implications. Through their misguided beliefs, our abolition brethren take measures that have no good outcome. They will dissolve our united operations and may ultimately break the civil Union.” Pausing, Joe rubbed his chin. “Which probably would be a good thing.”

In his heart, Roy felt the same. But his mind argued that unity was still worth maintaining. “Brother, whatever direction God leads, I am sure He will be blessed.”

“Of that we can be assured.” Joe left to check the work of his slave.

Rachel had been waiting patiently to the side. Freshly tied hair and clean face made her much more presentable. Still, they both had an aura about them that only a bath would fix, which wouldn’t be available for some time.

“You see the driver?” she asked.

The man leaned against the wall on the shady side of the station, a whiskey bottle repeatedly visiting his mouth.

“Will he be safe?” she asked.

Roy shrugged. He hoped the man would keep his wits about him.

A cool spring shower began as they loaded the coach for the next stage. Roy liked the feel of the drops on his head. At least the dust would not be a problem now. A good way into this stage, the shower turned into sheets of rain blowing around the canvas in the windows.

The sudden change in motion was obvious. After hours of rough jostling, the sluggish rocking was a completely new sensation. Finally, the coach stopped. The crack of the whip mixed with thunder. Yells from the driver demanded that the horses move, but the coach stood still, the sound of rain pelting the sides.

“Out!…All of you…get out.” The driver’s words ran together. He opened the door and unsteadily backed up. “The old lady can stay…”

Stepping out into a slurry of mud and horse dung, Roy joined the others off the road on more solid ground. The coach was up to the hubs in the mess. Rain beat on them as they huddled together. From his seat, the driver whipped the horses but little progress was made. Just driving to the left of this sludge pit, he might have avoided the mess. Roy had no doubt where his mind was.

“You!” The driver angrily mumbled toward the buck slave, “get to the back and lend a hand.” He waved his whip wildly in the air.

The slave looked at Joe. His master shoved him in the direction of the coach.

“Push!”

The slave leaned his shoulder into it. But the harder he pushed the more his feet slipped.

Crack! The whip snapped over the horses. “Push!”

The slave’s feet gave way and he slid to his knees.

“Get up!” Joe walked closer. “And do what the driver says!”

The black man pushed harder, fear in his eyes, but the slurry must have been as greasy as it appeared. His legs folded again.

“Give me the whip!” yelled Joe.

The driver tossed it down. “Heeyah!” he shouted and slapped the reins.

Joe slashed the whip into his slave’s back. “The man says PUSH…you push!” And again he cracked the leather thong against the black man.

He arched his back to get away from the sting.

“Heeyah!”

“Push!” The whip cracked again.

Rachel glanced from Roy to the coach. Then strode into the mud. With determined steps, she walked over and took a position next to the buck, put her shoulder into the frame, and pushed.

Joe looked to Roy, shrugged, and pulled the whip back ready to strike again.

“Wait!” Roy sought for some alternative. A damaged slaved would only complicate things for him. “If we take the freight off the top, it will be easier to move the coach.”

With a dumb look on his face, the driver considered the suggestion, stared at the trunks and bags heaped upon the top, and shook his head as if clearing away the cobwebs.

Roy, Joe, the man with the hat, and the buck slave helped unload the luggage. As the men pushed up and forward, the driver slapped the reins. “Heeyah!”

And the coach easily cleared the sludge.

The fleshy young belle and the old lady sat on board while the others quickly reloaded the freight.

“That was a foolish thing you did,” said Roy as he and Rachel prepared to climb in.

Rachel didn’t say a word.

“But it was a brave thing, too” he whispered.

She looked back, eyebrows raised.

The man with the hat enjoyed a somewhat smooth ride and got off at the next station. Other travelers filled the coach, three on each bench. The backs of those in front leaned into the knees of those behind. The old lady looked down her nose at the Negroes and got off two stations later…with Rachel’s help. The fleshy belle picked at the mud on her dress until she got off. The buck slave didn’t say a word. Joe talked about the Augusta meeting and what a good thing it would be for southern Baptists to separate completely from northern Baptists. And Roy mostly listened. In Fayetteville, he freed himself from the coach and from Joe.

 

§

 

After three days in a wagon and a stagecoach, they did not fit with the other passengers that gathered on the shore. No one came too close to them.

“Come along, girl.” Roy started toward the planks leading to the steamboat, but Rachel stayed put with a pained look on her face. “Now!” Others in line watched.

“But, master…” She stood stiffly. “There are white folk here that should board before me,” she whispered.

She wasn’t his slave, but people needed to think she was. He walked up to her and raised his hand.

She cringed but stood her ground.

With a grumble, he lowered it. He knew what was expected but couldn’t bring himself to follow through. “You’re my slave. You go with me where I go and when I go,” he said under his breath. If he made it through this charade, it would be solely by the grace of God.

From her lowered head she glanced left and right.

“Now, come along!”

Hesitatingly, she picked up his bags and followed, sliding into the line in front of a woman probably twice her age, dressed in a simple tan traveling dress and a white bonnet covering black hair with streaks of gray.

The older woman stepped toward Roy’s slave. “Here,” she said taking of one of the bags in Rachel’s hands, “let me help you with that.”

Rachel tugged back. “No…please, missus. Master Roy expects me to be carrying his bags.”

“Shame on him.” She smiled. “Making a woman do men’s work. You don’t see any of these other ladies here carrying anything but their fans now do you?”

The women, wearing lacy white and colored dresses, frowned at this confrontation; and their men watched Roy.

He didn’t own any slaves himself. Always thought that, for a pharmacist, a black would be more trouble than help. But he knew what was expected.

“Excuse me?” he said, forcibly removing the ladies hand from the bag. “Mind your own affairs.”

Roy pushed Rachel ahead of him and up the stairs to his room on the second level. He pulled out the pink piqué dress with white lace trim and a pink Bertha and tossed it onto the bed. “Clean yourself up and put this on.”

Her eyes bulged. “Thank you, Master Roy.”

“You’re expected to look presentable,” he grumbled. “Your appearance reflects on me, at least until I can get rid of you.”

 

 

Being free of the grime just brightened the day. Dirt that had been their constant companion was at last washed away. Clean and wearing the new dress, his slave did not present an ostentatious aura but still demonstrated an owner of means. They walked through a saloon covered with a red velvet carpet and up a handsomely carved staircase to the next deck, where tea would be served. Two tables stretched the entire length of the room.

His slave stared at the setting. “I’ve never seen anything like this, Master Roy. It’s covered with all that’s beautiful.” She rubbed a hand gently along the smooth white table cloth.

Passengers looked his way and didn’t see the grimy man with the disobedient slave. Roy chuckled at the thought. They saw a country gentleman and a well-kept female body servant.

He tipped his tall silk hat to one of the ladies. His cotton shirt with the fine linen bosom stood out against the dark swallow-tailed coat of finest wool and trousers to match. A satin vest added to the image. Fine calfskin boots with red tops finished the décor.

A tall black man dressed in white that gleamed under the afternoon sun conducted them to seats near the bow. The soft, repetitive splashing of the paddle wheel at the stern provided a fitting background noise. A pair of tall smokestacks belching smoke and cinders left a trail along the Cape Fear River.

“I see you both cleaned up nicely.” The woman with black hair and streaks of gray took the seat across the table from them. A necklace strung with four shimmering Spanish coins draped down her pink bodice. “I’m Angelina Grimké,” she said looking from Roy to his slave. “But people call me Angel.”

He wished she might have picked a different seat. Still, he needed to be civil. “Roy Digby…and this is Rachel.”

“Mm-hmm,” she said eying Rachel.

One of the servants seated a muscular, plainly dressed man next to Angel. People of all classes sat about without visible regard to the differences. The tall black gracefully poured tea into polychrome cream-ware cups while others brought out small cakes and set them on blue and white transfer white-ware at strategic spots along the table.

Sipping the tea, the fellow across from them beamed. “Ah, such luxury I never thought I’d see.”

Roy motioned to the woman beside the stranger. “This is Angel and I’m Roy Digby.”

“Name’s John…John Wilson.” He turned to Angel.

She demurely lowered her gaze.

Looking about the three of them, he said, “On my way to Augusta.” His words dripped like honey from a spoon.

Roy sat up. “I am as well.”

“The Baptist meeting?”

“Yes…You?”

He nodded.

Angel picked up her tea. “What’s so important in Augusta?” She took a drink looking at the men over the edge of the cup.

“We are to consider embarking on missions separate from our northern Baptist brothers,” said John.

“This is an important meeting.” Roy didn’t want to make light of the decisions that would be made. His forehead wrinkled as he considered his words. “Northern and southern Baptists have accomplished much working together over the last thirty years.”

“The past is the past,” replied John. “They refused to act on the Georgia test case.”

Roy wagged his head. Too many brothers see only what they want to see. “You’re misreading their response. They didn’t refuse to hear the case because the reverend James Reeve owned slaves, but based on the fact he had no intention of becoming a missionary. The Home Mission Society merely said they would not act on a test case and that they remained neutral on the issue of slavery.”

“Well, sir, if what you say was in fact their reasoning, then why did they respond so harshly to the Alabama Convention’s request for clarification? The convention asked if slaveholders have equal access to the amenities of those institutions to which we all have contributed funds. But, of course, you know that,” he said with a wave of his hand. “You must also know from their response that they would NEVER be a party to any arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery.”

“But that response will surely be overturned at the next meeting of the society.”

“It matters not.” John waved his hand back and forth. “The Board of the Trienneial Convention fails to see that slavery is a matter of state, not religion. The Bible says we should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and unto God the things that are Gods. Slavery is an economic matter of state while missions is a religious issue. The future has been clearly laid out for those who would see it.”

Angel took advantage of a brief lull in the arguments. “Sounds like you Baptists are experiencing firsthand the manifestation of the Second Awakening.”

John’s eyebrows raised ever so slightly.

Placing her cup gently upon its saucer, she smiled at them. “Since the Second Great Awakening, I would say God’s plan has been carried to the most unlikely corners of our world.”

“Through missions, of course.” said John.

Angel nodded. “God has chosen to use us to bring about His Kingdom. Salvation comes from the hearing of the Word. And who will hear unless men are sent to proclaim freedom.”

“Ah…,” said John as if this had evoked a thought. He leaned forward. “Individual Christians have now contemplated their roles in purifying society.”

Angel nodded. “And why else would you Baptists be known as a mission minded people if you had not felt the stirring of God’s hand leading individuals to tell others of the salvation to be found in His son!”

Roy’s stomach churned. Something wasn’t right about this Angelina Grimké.

“And so it is we find ourselves journeying to Augusta,” said John, agreeing with Angel. “We pay support for missionaries and yet our northern brothers reject us from fulfilling that role. It is like telling a bird not to sing, or commanding the wind not to blow. It is in our nature to tell others what God has done and yet they deprive us of that honor.”

Angel shook her head sadly. “God will judge the hypocrisy. I would not want to be one to receive his judgments. Those who place His precepts first should not be muzzled or restrained. Their actions and counsel ought to be weighed, not buried.”

“Oh, how true!” exclaimed John. He took long drink.

“How I sympathize with you both,” sighed Angel. “I can see from your love of God that your spirits have been awakened to His reforms. I can only surmise that, while Caesar may condone slavery, you have personally had this evil institution cleansed from your hearts and replaced with the hope of the abolitionist…”

John choked on his tea.

The throbbing in Roy’s gut moved to his head, like drums in a band.

“…for why else would you seek to bring God’s truth to others unless you knew his truth.” A wicked little smile crept across Angel’s face as she leaned back in her chair.

Rachel, who had silently taken in the conversation, stared at her.

Angel winked her way.

Roy moaned inside. This was not the afternoon he wanted.

Coughing, John leaned forward, his face red. “My dear lady,” he wheezed. He cleared his throat and started again. “My dear lady, you have been misled as to what the Bible teaches.”

Angel stared, challenging him to prove his words.

With hardly a pause, John continued as if he had used this speech before. “Leviticus 25:39-46 warns us not to sell our brothers and sisters into bondage, but that we are to buy and sell of the heathen (of this colored race) and of those strangers who sojourn with us. And those of them that are born among us are ours as a possession. This is all that we do…what God’s Word commands. I am truly sorry for you if you do not believe His every word. If the Bible said that the earth was round when everyone else thought it was flat, then the earth was round. God’s word is always right, regardless of how few people agree with it.”

Angel’s expression showed no change. “You quote verses as if they condone what is done here.” She gestured about the deck and out the window at the gently passing countryside. “The blacks enslaved in the south did not move here because they loved the prospect of being owned by another; neither are most of them heathen. They worship the same God you do…sometimes in their own churches, sometimes in white churches, and sometimes in the secret places in the woods.” She turned to Rachel. “This young woman is my sister. And she is yours as well.”

Rachel’s jaw dropped.

With difficulty Roy focused on Angel’s words and John’s arguments. He had never heard someone defend a slave let alone argue for a black.

Apparently not fazed by this woman’s words, John continued, “And if yet you are not convinced, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 adds even more. If, by chance, a brother…or sister…serves me and when his time is up if he desires to remain my servant, I am to mark his ear with an awl. And he shall belong to me.”

“Do you think these blacks serve out of love for us? And when is the time up for the slave? When is the time up for this sister?” Angel focused on Roy. “The ground is level at the foot of cross, or at least at the altar of a camp meeting, and yet your cotton demands a slave.”

Roy wanted no part of this fix in the first place. But here he was in the middle of it. The desire to stand and yell out his answer nearly pushed him to his feet. In a week this slave’s time will be up! But he stayed put and said nothing.

John continued his sermon as if preaching to all on deck. “Lest you say that these are Old Testament words and not relevant to us, what you condemn is even commanded in the New Testament. I Timothy 6:1-2 says that slaves are to honor their masters and not despise them so that God and His doctrine be not blasphemed.”

A few nearby men let out a hearty “Amen!”

Women softly voiced agreement.

John stared at Angel. “My lady, the Bible clearly endorses slavery. Whether you like it or not and regardless of what others have told you, slavery is approved by God.”

With fire in her eyes, Angel sat up straight, her silver-streaked black hair unruffled. “Slavery as we know it is not what God condones. God moved me to see the injustice in it, and I removed myself to more godly shores.” Wiping a tear from the corner of her eye with her napkin, her face softened momentarily. “I left my native South Carolina, deserted the Charleston home of my fathers on account of slavery. The sound of the driver’s lash and the shrieks of the tortured victims drove me away. I would gladly bury in oblivion the recollections of those scenes. But it may not…it cannot be. And you…” She shook her finger in Roy’s face. “…if you love the God you claim to serve, you will be haunted by gory specters of keeping His children in chains.” With that she stood and walked proudly down the stairs away from the afternoon tea.

John spoke but the words were lost in a haze of pain. Roy rubbed his temples in small circles and wished the rest of passengers would be quite. The ever present background splashing of the paddle sounded like continuous thunder.

When it began, he wasn’t sure. But two fingers dug into his neck at the base of the skull and worked their way down and partially out each shoulder repeating the process, stopping at points that magnified the relief. Rachel started fire, she knew plants, she stood for what she thought to be right, and now this…She took away this pain, this constant companion that threatened to overpower him at the most inopportune times.

“Excuse me, sir.” An older woman stood beside them, exact years lost in the soft wrinkles of age.

“Yes?” Roy bent into Rachel’s fingers.

“This chattel is quite impressive. Would you be willing to part with your concubine?”

With the pain gone, Roy laughed. Inside, he told himself this would be the answer to his current problems. He wanted to be rid of her didn’t he? At the same time, a pride in ownership argued that Rachel had value beyond what this woman might pay. On the outside, his laugh fit in with his answer. “No, madam, I cannot. And she is not my…concubine.”

She turned to Rachel, then back to Roy, smiled and walked away.

John had moved on to visit with others leaving Roy and Rachel alone. She leaned down close to his ear. “Master Roy,” she whispered, “I’ve not seen so many big bugs in one place.”

“Nor have I,” he replied, standing. Too many rich people and too much talking. He walked down one floor to the empty saloon and to the stern where a covered balcony gave him some privacy.

“Would you like more rubbing on your neck?” asked Rachel.

Roy shook his head, watching the gigantic wheel churning foam. Angelina Grimké’s words replayed in his mind. How did God see him? He didn’t own slaves but shouldn’t others be free to employ slaves if they wished? House slaves had a good life after all. And field workers had shelter and food to eat. Many blacks were treated better in the south than in the north. He had heard that gatherings such as that on the top deck, with blacks and whites together, did not happen in New York.

And Rachel…He glanced at the slave who leaned over the railing to his right, watching the wheel. Except for her color, he had to admit that she might be a sister to any of his friends. In fact she was more adept than any woman he knew.

“Rachel,” he said, “what do you think of slavery?”

She looked about as if verifying that they were alone. Her forehead wrinkled as she talked softly. “Master Roy, you know what I want.”

“But you have a good life.”

“It is not MY life.” She sat down and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “When I was a child, my father cared for the master’s horses. Sometimes I helped brush them, and the master would toss me a picayune. I stashed them in a small box under a rock in back of our cabin. One day daddy asked me what I was going to do with all that money. I told him I wanted to become a teacher and help all my friends to read the way he taught me. Going to school cost money. He got big tears in his eyes and told me that was a good thing to hope for.”

Roy’s words caught in his throat. He took a deep breath as another steamboat slid by in the opposite direction. “Tell me about your father.”

 

§

 

The Phoenix, now this is my kind of ride, thought Roy. The train from Charleston was the last leg of the trip. Augusta lay just across the Savannah River from Hamburg, their stop. He leaned back in his seat feeling the gentle rush of fresh air blowing in the open windows. The Phoenix was neither as dusty nor as rough as the stage coach and not nearly as pretentious as the steamboat, with far fewer of Rachel’s…big bugs.

A father and young son sat in front of them speaking with Northern accents.

“What’s a slave, Daddy?”

The man rubbed his chin. “Well, it’s someone who must work when he’s told. Go where he’s told to go. And can’t talk back. Their masters give them places to live, but the slave must obey his owner’s commands.”

The boy looked up with big blue eyes. “Am I a slave?”

His father chuckled and tousled the lads hair. “No! You are my son and I love you.”

The two of them laughed and talked but Roy focused on that last statement.

The young black woman sat tall and proper in the seat next to him. Working as a housemaid on a plantation where the surroundings and people were familiar was one thing. But she had adapted well to the role of body slave. Anyone who saw her now would think she was accustomed to such traveling…and this reflected well on him. He smiled toward her.

Rachel glanced his way. “What are you smiling about, Master Roy? Is something amiss?” She nervously felt the ruffles about her neck…the necklace…

“No…no,” said Roy. “You look just perfect.”

She fidgeted awkwardly. And turned her gaze back forward.

Was she blushing? Closing his eyes, Roy tried to review the issues he would be addressing at the meeting, but his thoughts kept returning to Rachel. What a life she had lived! From big dreams to the reality of her position, yet she never gave up hope. Her father had taught her how to survive in the wild and in society. With his training she learned to read the Bible at night by light from the fireplace. For a slave, she said, she was fortunate to have had parents for the first years of her life…until her father was sold. The plantation owner needed money to cover a gambling debt. Then, at fifteen, Roy’s cousins bought her, for the same reason, with the idea that she would produce a good number of children for them. She was a financial investment, not loved like a daughter. Roy wondered if he could have survived as well as she had. Grumbling to himself he tried to focus on Augusta.

The car’s gentle, intermittent rocking lulled him into a state where neither the meeting nor the black woman really had any rule over him.

“Excuse me, Miss,” the deep voice drifted into his world, “is that Roy Digby?”

“Shh, sir. Master Roy is resting. Tell me your name and…”

Roy debated…should he open his eyes…or not? If the fellow knew him, did he want to be seen with a runaway slave? Rachel left that option open to him. She was good. He would need to confront that voice sometime. He cleared his throat. “No, that’s okay Rachel.” He sat up straight. The fellow was vaguely familiar.

“Roy Digby…”

Nodding, Roy stared at him.

“I’m William Graves…met you at the Baptist General Association Meeting a couple of years ago…”

“Ah, yes.” He had raised a raucous there talking about the odd beliefs he and his cousin James were promoting. “You going to the meeting?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

Rachel looked hesitantly to Roy.

He nodded.

To make room, she moved to the vacant seat behind them.

William took her seat. “As long as there are Baptists, God’s word will not be spurned. Everyone knows the Negro race is destined to slavery as Genesis 9 says. They are marked with the curse of Canaan, the son of Ham because he mocked his father Noah.” He smiled amiably. “So,” he said, “I don’t remember you having a personal slave.”

Roy shrugged. “Things change.”

“The wench seems well trained.”

“Not because of my efforts. Rachel is a quick learner.”

“What brought you to invest in a slave? If I remember, you didn’t see the need for one. In fact, you must be doing VERY well to have her just for convenience.”

“Sometimes good fortune comes with little cost. Rachel has turned out to be quite the blessing. But I’m not sure I can afford to keep her beyond this trip.”

William elbowed him gently in the side. “Well, since I assume you are still not married, take advantage of the concubine.”

How did this man remember so much? “She’s just my body slave…nothing more.”

“A fine looking wench for…nothing more.”

Roy shrugged. “I don’t think many men at the Augusta meeting would approve of amalgamation.”

William laughed. “Probably right. Slavery’s the issue, but some practices are best left covered.” He leaned back in his chair. “Slavery is only one of the reasons I’m heading to the meeting. If we are to develop our own identity, people who want to be heard need to be involved.”

No doubt William wants to be heard. “You still believe Baptists have existed since the time of the Apostles?”

“More than ever I am so convinced.”

“How you can believe that.”

“Well, if Jesus established a Baptist church, wouldn’t it stand to reason that His church still exists?”

Wrinkles on Roy’s forehead pulled his eyebrows up.

“It needn’t have been a Baptist church in name,” continued William wagging his hand between them. “But it was definitely a Baptist church in doctrine. We are the only denomination that can say such a thing.”

Roy considered the implications. He had listened to William before, but the claims were quickly forgotten. Now, the voice of these beliefs sat beside him. “That would mean we have the only true ministers.”

William nodded.

“And it would mean we are not protestant.”

“…Because we existed before the reformation,” added William smiling excitedly at Roy’s understanding.

Roy scratched his chin. “And what of the ecclesia? How could there be an invisible church? Wouldn’t it be just Baptists?”

“The word in the New Testament is used only of a local congregation. There is no…universal…church. Look at it this way. You are a citizen of the United States because you are a citizen of Virginia. Anyone that is not a member of a Baptist church cannot be part of the Kingdom. In fact, only Baptist preachers can preach for God. Only our baptism is valid. And only our communion has any efficacy whatsoever.”

Frowning, Roy slowly shook his head. “I find the idea quite intriguing but can’t really accept it.”

“And why not?” William opened his hands in front of him as if the whole truth were laid out plain to see. “Logic, it seems, is on my side.”

“My family has an oral tradition that goes back to the beginning of the seventeenth century. We can trace our Baptist lineage back to the early 1600’s when Thomas Helwys started the first Baptist Church in England.”

“You may have oral tradition, but I have the truth of God’s Word.”

“Do you really think you will find brothers to take up this cause of yours?”

William shrugged. “Wherever I go I’ll preach the truth. But it’s my cousin James who I believe will find acceptance for this ancient principle. I am just a farmer; he grapples with spiritual issues in the denomination.”

Talk turned to the Augusta meeting and was eventually overpowered by the clack-clack…clack-clack of cars hurtling down the rails at twenty-five miles an hour. William Graves returned to his seat and Rachel moved back to hers.

“What do you think of his ideas?” asked Roy.

Rachel paused, considering what to say. “I believe, if it is watered, it will grow into a great tree.”

“Why would you think that?”

“It places its followers above all others.” She seemed motivated to say more, but did not.

Roy turned to the side. The landscape slid smoothly past the window. Being in a position of authority was always better than the alternative. William and his cousin James were wrong. But did truth really matter when appealing to what motivates men? He hoped so.

The silk in the burlap was his; he held it often enough. He knew where Baptists came from. But what about slavery? The black man was held in bondage and God’s Word used as the righteous argument. What if that were wrong…if we believe what we want, just like William and James Graves?

 

§

 

“Thou what?!” Rose made no effort to hide her surprise. “How couldst thou expect to live together as husband and wife…anywhere?”

“Whoa, Grandmother, let me finish,” said Roy backing up. “Aren’t you the one who argued about the sins of slavery?”

“Yes, but…”

“Rachel’s an amazing woman. She won me over.”

“Yes, but…”

“Did you know she can read…And she’s intelligent…smarter than most of the white belles around Williamsburg?”

“Yes, but…”

“But what?”

“…but we are white and she…she…”

“She’s black. That’s obvious.”

Rose gave him a look usually reserved for raiding dogs.

Roy wanted his grandmother’s approval. No, he had expected it. Such relationships existed even around Williamsburg, but not many…and not well accepted where they were known. The trip to Augusta brought him closer to a woman than ever before, and it just so happened this woman was a Negro, a slave with whom he desired to spend the rest of his life. He knew this was not normal. That’s the reason he wanted Rose to sanction the union.

“Why would you risk your life to free Rachel and yet not approve of your grandson marrying her?”

The disgust on his grandmother’s face was obvious. “Slavery is wrong. No man should own another. But what thou dost propose is improper too. God made the races for a reason. Animal breeds are best when kept pure. Thou shouldst know that! What of thine children? Mongrel dogs are not good for much of anything. I will help thee move Rachel north. But expect no support or approval from me if thou dost choose to pursue this…this…affront to God. What does she think about it?”

Shaking his head, Roy rubbed his temples to relieve the building discomfort. “I’ve not brought the subject up with her.” He had considered it numerous times on the way back but never mentioned it. It wasn’t until he and Rachel had stood in the wood shed where this all began that he finally became convinced of what he needed to do. Rose was Rachel’s way north. Delivering Rachel to her would bring an end to what he hoped might go on forever. When Rachel entered the Underground Railroad, she would be gone.

“Out…out!” said Rose. “I don’t want any part of this.” She shooed Roy out the door.

Standing in shadows cast by a moon just past full, Roy’s dismal outlook matched the surroundings. Still rubbing the sides of his head, he whispered, “Rachel” and pushed open the door to the shed. A soft light from cracks in the wall lit up the small space just enough to see her.

She motioned for him to sit on a short barrel and began massaging his neck. “What happened?”

He wanted to tell her how he felt. Surely she already knew.

“Oh, the muscles in your neck are tense.” She pushed harder.

“Rachel,” he said at last. “There’s something I want to ask you.”

“I’ll do my best to answer, Master Roy.”

Her fingers were warm and found just the right spots.

“For the past few days,” he said, “I would rather you had not called me master. I would just like to be Roy.”

“I could never have spoken such in public.”

“You can now.”

Her fingers worked the same spot. “All…right…Roy,” she said softly, massaging down across his shoulders and starting back up.

“Not just now.” Roy bent into her fingers. “But tomorrow, next week, next year.”

Rachel’s fingers stopped. “Master Roy, I do not wish to be even your slave. I want to be free.” The palms of her hands softly began kneading his neck.

He cleared his throat. “Not as my slave…as my wife.”

Her gasp was as smooth as silk and her hands stopped, resting on his shoulders.

The shed was still, not a sound…of his breath or hers.

She lowered her head next to Roy’s ear. “I am closer to you than to any man,” she whispered. “I have told you things no one else knows…And I think I know you better than even your grandmother.”

Roy stood and took her face in his hands. “You are special to me. I love you, Rachel.”

Her dark eyes gazed into him, searching. She pulled herself close and hugged him. “You are a good man…Roy. In another place…at another time…I think I would like what you propose. But this is not the place…and this is not the time.”

Roy hugged her tight. He liked the feel of her against him…this woman who stood above whomever she was near. He didn’t want to hear…didn’t want to let her go.

“If you know me…Roy…you know my desire is to teach my people. I can’t do that married to a white man.”

 

§

 

Southern Baptists attending the Augusta meeting said the following: Let not the extent of this disunion be exaggerated…. Northern and Southern Baptists are still brethren. They differ in no article of faith. They are guided by the same principles of gospel order…. We do not regard the rupture as extending to foundation principles, nor can we think that the great body of our Northern brethren will so regard it.

The Augusta meeting addressed three grievances of southern Baptists. 1) They believed the Baptist abolitionists of the north unjustifiably refused to appoint as missionaries those southerners who owned slaves. 2) Southern Baptists charged that the south did not receive a fair number of home missionaries from the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The south had already started an independent southern Baptist Home Mission Society in 1839. 3) They also felt that missions should be supported through associations of churches while the north thought support of missions was an individual choice.

As a result of the influence of these three issues, the Southern Baptist Convention effectively came into existence on May 8-12, 1845. When it was formed, this new body represented Baptists in 11 states, with 213 associations, 4,395 churches, and a membership of 365,000 persons.

The Landmark movement of J. R. Graves took hold of the SBC after the Civil War. According to Walter B. Shurden in his book Not a Silent People, “J. R. Graves may have had a more lasting influence on Southern Baptists than any other single individual in our 125 year history.” [p. 11]

 

 

 

 

1871 – The Missionaries

Summer 1857

 

How I looked forward to the Sabbath, a day set aside. No studies, no professors, only time. My favorite place was a farm on the outskirts of town. I took a good book and crawled up into a haystack. One advantage to a four foot three inch frame is that a comfortable nest can easily be made on the shady side of the hay. I leaned back and opened Hamlet. I had not read it since Daddy died. How I missed talking with him! He used to sit beside me in the shade of our giant chimneys. That’s where I asked him about what Polonius says in Hamlet. And this above all; to thine own self be true.

“Lottie.” I knew the voice. “You up there?”

“You know I am, Crawford.” This tingling sensation in my back made me shiver…in a nice way.

“Aren’t you coming to church?”

Now that was a fine proposition. Many of the other girls had their eyes on Crawford Toy, the youngest instructor at Albemarle. He was my teacher in Hebrew and English grammar. “In my history class I am reading John Murton. How would it please God for me to bring my body to worship whereunto my spirit cannot joyfully go? My spirit is here.” I held up my book. “Haven’t you read Hamlet? Polonius says that above all else I must be true to myself.”

“Beware of ending up like Laertes…arguing with priests, conspiring, killing, and ultimately dying. I wouldn’t want that for you…Enjoy your read.” Crawford walked back toward town.

I thought about his words…but only for a minute. The sweet scent of hay enveloped me; birds called from nearby trees; white billows floated in a sea of blue overhead. How could there be a better way to spend a Sabbath! At length, as the western sun warmed the hay, I left the field with an air of freshness filling my every breath.

 

 

In the shade of the gazebo, he leaned against the back of a bench, the Bible in his lap. Crawford looked lost in thought. If only he wasn’t so hung up on God…

“So, how went church?” I sat on the nearby steps.

“Challenging,” he said. “And how was your veneration of the cultivated lands?”

“Restful.”

“You know, your friends have told me they consider you a skeptic.”

I nodded thoughtfully. Why shouldn’t they?

“In view of eternity,” he said, “being a skeptic is not a good position to hold.”

“How can I be anything but what I am? Besides, my friends must have told you what the D means in Lottie D. Moon.”

He shook his head.

“Deville.” I smiled.

“That’s hardly funny.” He knew it stood for Digges.”

“Don’t tell them,” I giggled. “Please. I so love their response.”

He just shook his head.

That did sound rather childish…and the game-playing with my friends wasn’t really who I was. “I have no doubt there is a Creator who designed you and me,” I said quieting my insides. “The question is whether being in church places us in the sphere for which he made us. I believe literature does that more than sitting in a hot stuffy building listening to a sermon. The results from the proper exercises of great mental faculties, possessed by man alone of all creatures, give to us a peculiar nobleness that elevates us above the inferior order of beings and declares us purposed for great ends.”

Crawford’s jaw dropped slightly as he focused on me.

I shifted and took a deep breath. “Man’s intellectual powers have ever been the theme and study of the wise. When I lay in the haystack with my books, I wonder at the ideas revealed in their pages, at the thoughts of man. Such things have ever infused into society a pleasure which has served to smooth the rugged paths of life. Our hurts and our struggles are lessened by such delights.”

I pictured sitting with my father, the subtle scent of tobacco lingering in my mind, and my eyes welled up, only slightly. “Literature has acquainted man with himself and the nature of things surrounding him. It has made us to know our history. The circumstances of his creation and the advancement of the race, up to his own existence, are not lost in oblivion, but preserved with almost perfect accuracy by those nations blessed with literature. Without it, age would succeed to age without gaining knowledge. Love, like the rays of light, would vary in its import as it passed from hand to hand, and one generation could not be enriched by the acquisitions of its predecessor. But literature does exist…” I held out my book. “…and the present age, like the posterity of an ancient family, revels in the riches entailed by its ancestors.”

I had been preparing these words for a paper I was to write, and they reflected me.

He nodded slowly. “I do not condemn your books or your desire to lose yourself in their words. But, if the literature of man were the epitome of God’s revelation, where would be the need for a Savior? What elevates us above the inferior order of things is not our mind, for the mind of man is ever at odds with his Creator. God’s Spirit is what truly elevates.”

My insides rumbled about, unsettled. I wanted his affirmation of my words.

Turning back to the Book in his lap, his brow broke into furrows, the way it did in class when he contemplated a question. His mouth took on this terse little pucker that was attractive in an odd sort of way. Did he notice me staring at him? I probably should be going, but I liked sitting there. Was I bothering him? I cleared my throat and stood. “See you tomorrow, Crawford.”

He glanced up and gave a curt nod.

That night, tranquility did not succor me into sleep. I suppose other women suffer the same thoughts. Here I was, back to the question that plagued me for years. How could I be true to myself if I didn’t know who I was? Childhood friends were already married. Some had babies. Now…if I settled down with a man like Crawford… I burrowed into my sheets. But is a wife and mother the position I really wanted? My mother was fulfilled enough. And this desire, at times, welled up inside me to love and nurse my own children….

I like school. One generation builds upon another. To impart knowledge to the unknowing…to see the seed of understanding blossom into wisdom…now there is a worthy calling. But at what cost? Can I enjoy the fruits of marriage and still make a difference?

A friend asked himself a question once, “Is the world a better place because of me?” A mother’s answer depends upon her children. A woman’s answer depends upon what she does with her life. To what does she give her days? To what will I give mine?

 

§

 

December 1858

 

I loved Albemarle; my classes with Crawford were…intriguing. I felt he cared for me more than as a student. I certainly weakened in his presence. My mother would have loved that he was committed to the Baptist way. Learning attracted me—not God. I knew all about what he believed, but familiarity does not imply acceptance. No, I told myself, keep your mind off him.

I had just turned eighteen and was curled up in bed trying to coax sleep from a mind that jumped from one thought to another. The more I reprimanded my contemplations, the further afield they flew. Would I ever marry? What was it like to lie with a man…or to give birth?

Another year was ending. How many more would I have? The young men in Charlottesville concerned themselves with the growing dissent between North and South. If war came, my sisters and brothers and cousins wanted to join the battle. What would I do? Innocents died in war. What really happens after death? I knew dying wasn’t an end in itself. But what would it be like? What will God expect of me when I stand before Him? Will I be able to look at Him? How will He see me?

Groaning, I turned on my other side and soaked in the warmth from where I had been lying on the mattress. With a deep breath, I was floating, bobbing like a kite in soft breezes. Daddy flew a kite. It bobbed gently left…right…sending shallow waves down the tail.

A dog barked somewhere nearby. My limbs jerked back to the bedroom. It barked again…like it had something treed. Stupid canine! Why didn’t its owner shush it up! A religious person like Crawford might say this was God working. But He doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t care about individuals. Our feelings fan the flames of our actions. My mind thought of so many things because of who I was. The dog probably barked most nights but I only heard it then since sleep evaded me.

What kind of jobs might I do after graduation? Would there be work? How could a singular profession keep my interest for 20 years…30?…50? What is it like to grow old? What did Crawford think we looked like when we die?

Perhaps you should go to Dr. Broadus’ evangelistic meeting at the Baptist Church.

Now why would I want to do that?

You could scoff.

You might get saved.

Stop thinking! You should be sleeping! Recite a poem!…

 

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,

Miles and miles

On the solitary pastures where our sheep

Half-asleep

Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop

As they crop—-

Was the site once of a city great and gay,

(So they say)

Of our country’s very capital, its prince

Ages since

 

There’s that dog again!

I have no idea, when slumber thankfully put an end to my mind’s arguing with itself. But the next day came much too early. All the talk in the classes was about Dr. Broadus’ evangelistic meetings.

“Will you come?” I don’t know how many times my classmates asked me that question. “The prayer and inquiry meeting might do you good. Maybe you could stump Dr. Broadus with your questions.” Some of them laughed. “Everyone will be there.”

Probably not everyone. But, if such words convinced them that they are on the right path, let them have their collective self-inspiration. Perhaps I might go. Seeing my friends get all worked up as they sing the songs, now that should be good for a laugh.

When night came, I took a seat in the back.

“Why do I need a savior?” someone asked. “If I live a good life and hurt no one, God should accept me.”

“That question comes from an assumption that mankind has within itself the power to BE good before a PERFECT God, an assumption that is flawed. What caused man to fall from God’s grace?” Broadus asked.

Another voice spoke up. “When Eve convinced Adam to eat of the apple.”

With a smile he nodded. “But what did the eating signify?”

Across the room: “God told them not to eat and they chose to do so in direct disobedience to Him.”

“Exactly, and with that choice, what could a perfect God do? These creatures did what the Creator forbade. They were obstinate and hard-headed. We, the created, told the omnipotent, omniscient Creator that we knew better than He. With that decision, we chose to separate ourselves from the only source of truth and light. And so it is today. Here, we have the reason for our sinful nature. Our tendency is not to do God’s good. How many of us, when we look inside, really choose our actions to please the only good and perfect God? We are selfish creatures.”

“If that is our nature, what hope have we?” This was from someone I had not seen before.

“The hope is in a God who loves us and sent His Son to die for us.”

“How does that do anything for me?” asked the young man.

“When God brings you to the point of seeing the darkness of your soul, it does everything for you.” Broadus paced across the front of the sanctuary. “By the Son’s death, your spirit is made alive. He has given you the opportunity to choose to serve your loving Creator.”

“But I think that is not so easy…to depend upon Him I mean. Surely the one who chooses to serve God does not find it an easy road. If it were, I dare say I would see more Christians about me.”

With a smile, Dr. Broadus pointed at the fellow. “Behold a man with understanding. Too many of us feel the call of God, respond with verbal ascent, and think the work is accomplished. It is only begun. We must ask God, ‘Send us affliction and troubles—blight our dearest hopes, if need be that we may learn more fully to depend on Thee.’”

Frowning, the young scholar scrunched up his face. “How can a man have such a prayer? My life is hard enough without asking God to blight my days. Sin would be inevitable and separate me once more from God.”

“No, my friend. Jesus’ blood is once forever. When God saves you, it is His work. And, if it is His work, who is there that can negate it. Not even you can remove yourself from His hand.” Dr. Broadus turned his attention to the rest of the crowd. “If you hear His voice tonight, don’t turn your back on Him who has chosen you. Secure your place before Him for eternity.”

When the meeting ended, this student stayed in his seat on the same bench as me. Others wound their way around us as he stared at a box in his lap. With a crowd gathering around Dr. Brodus, I slid toward the young man. “So, what’s in the box?”

“An heirloom.” He glanced around the room and back to the box. Opening it, he carefully drew out a burlap bundle. As he gently pulled back the edges, he said, “Inside this rough wrap, is an ancient silk. I was taught stories of how my ancestors who owned it suffered for their Christianity. Some were burned at the stake, some whipped, some had no home. I often wondered why they allowed themselves to suffer so. Church never attracted me like that.”

“I know; I heard your questions.”

He rubbed his hand gently over the stained fabric that at one time shined a brilliant white. A few spots still glistened with an original purity. “I think I’m beginning to understand. When man chose to oppose his Creator, his nature was darkened…stained if you will…like this silk.” He held it up. “What can wash it white again? I think only Jesus can do that.” He began to wrap it again. “I wasn’t sure why I came tonight. Now I know.” He put the bundle back in the box.

The last I saw of him, he weaved among small groups of attendees, heading to the door.

“Charlotte.” Dr. Broadus walked up to me. “I was surprised to see you here tonight.”

“I was surprised to be here. Would you mind…sitting a bit and answering some questions.”

“Not at all.”

 

 

The night was late when I got back to my room; but, again, slumber would not come. This time I didn’t want to sleep. Dr. Broadus asked that I consider God’s hand on me. What did He want of my life, and did I really want to know His plans? I prayed all night; and, if the dog barked, I was not aware of it.

On December 22, I related my Christian experience to the Charlottesville Baptist Church, telling them of the night that began at the prayer and inquiry meeting. They baptized me, and no longer did I claim the name Deville.

“Lottie.” Crawford joined me near the gazebo. “I’ve noticed a difference in you since you came to Jesus. You’re different in those details of the daily life that afford the most delicate test of Christian character. I do believe that God has a great plan for you.”

I still felt this giddiness around him and liked it. But it didn’t control me. “My father told me a change would come. How I wish he were here.”

“I’m sure he knows,” he said.

With times what they were, anxiety only increased the desire for my father’s presence. “I’ve heard that the South will probably separate from the union and establish a capitol in Richmond. What turmoil will come upon my mother; she still has children at home.”

“We can always pray that the north does not use force against us; we voluntarily joined.”

“Oh, be assured, I am praying nightly for that…But, IF war does come, I feel led to go home and help my mother.”

“Well, then, if God directs you, what better course can be followed!”

“But, at a crossroads, God’s best path may not be clear.”

“Look for signs of His leading. Find it in scripture and in the direction of Christian friends. His confirmation will come in more than one way.”

“That’s a bit difficult to do. Going to Viewmont would be an obligation…” I quickly nodded and continued. “…I know, I know, God works through obligations too.”

“Just go where He directs. But the war may never come. What is it your heart desires, Lotti? Where would you feel most used of God?”

That was an easy question. “My heart is in literature. To open the world to young men and women through books is my desire”

“Then consider that. Ultimately, if this is God’s plan for you, it will come.”

“And where would you feel most used of God?”

Crawford’s brow wrinkled and his lips pursed. “Well,” he said at last, “Dr. Broadus has brought me to that question as well. I feel God wants me to be a missionary to Japan…”

I caught a quick gasp in my throat before he heard it.

“…I have applied for an appointment.” He scratched his chin. “I believe that all young ministers ought to become missionaries to the heathen, unless they can show some good reasons for the contrary.”

 

 

I know God has my best interest in mind. I just thought, or rather hoped, that Crawford and I…well, that God might bring about our marriage. But I suppose that is not God’s plan for me. First, Crawford tells me he going to Japan as a missionary. Then I hear that he has proposed to wed a Miss Mary. I suppose I will always number him among my friends…though I do wish it could have been more.

 

§

 

1863

 

War rumors became reality.

“If the President’s recommendation passes Congress, the conscription will thin out all the men the state has left.”

“What else can we do, Lottie?” My cousin Jim’s gray uniform gave him an air of authority as he sat with me on the porch at Viewmont. “Conscription is the only alternative. This is a war we cannot afford to lose.”

“You’re one of Mosby’s volunteer raiders. Surely we have enough like you, eager to fight these invaders!”

“Half of our population is slaves. The other half amounts to only one fifth the number of northerners.”

“But they’re the invaders.”

“More than a million soldiers are at war. Thousands die in the battles. Not many young men want to volunteer to fight in a war that has already lasted longer than any of us thought it would. Yet, somehow, it must be fought! There’s too much at stake.”

I knew our family had a lot resting in the balance. Posing as Irish washer women, two of my cousins served as Confederate spies in the North. And Mother converted all our family’s currency into Confederate bonds in support of the war effort. So much is risked by all of us! “Let the men go then!” I crossed my arms over my chest and stared ahead. “The women and children can take care of themselves, and far better all perish than bow the neck to the tyrant’s yoke.”

Jim leaned back and took a long drink of lemon aide. “So, your mother tells me your friend Dr. Toy stopped by to see you on his way to serving as a chaplain in the Confederacy. Have you set a date yet?”

I smacked him across his shoulder.

With feigned hurt, he rubbed his arm.

He liked to tease me about my affection for Crawford—especially since Mary turned down his proposal.

“He just wanted to visit,” I said.

“No one comes this far out of the way just for a chat. He must have serious intentions about you.”

If I said he mentioned marriage in passing, Jim would have me betrothed and halfway down the aisle. So, I just shrugged.

With a smug little smile and a twinkle in his eye, he took another sip from his glass. “Whatever happened to his becoming a missionary to Japan?”

“Two missionaries were lost at sea on the way to China. That, and the war, put his assignment on hold.”

“Lucky for you! Going to Japan would have put your engagement on hold. I hear these long distance romances don’t work out so well.”

I hit him again and took a drink from my glass to hide my irritation. Crawford really cared for Mary. Her refusal bothered him. And yet he had the nerve to bring marriage up with me, as if testing the water before diving in. If I really loved him, I suppose this shouldn’t have mattered. Oh, how I sometimes wish God revealed His perfect will in like manner as the thunder storms that crash upon us with a manifest proclamation.

 

§

 

I find the country very lonely sometimes. I volunteer for the war effort where I can. Existence would be bleak if it were not for my books, music, and flowers. I suppose that’s why I’m taking 1864 away from Viewmont and teaching at a school in Georgia. Armies may battle around us, but the children still need some semblance of normality. Throughout the South there is talk of victory. Yet, I wonder if what I see supports that view. How I long for life before all this turmoil. To sit in the shade of our chimneys, without a care in the world, would be relief to an aching heart.

Crawford came to visit. Like cool water in the summer’s burning sun, his calling refreshed my soul. These five soothing days were not nearly enough, and he was gone again, serving as Chaplain in our army. With his going came a longing for Mother and Viewmont.

 

§

 

The war is over now, but not the suffering. Most of our servants took their possessions and moved north. I don’t know how these blacks expect to survive in our world without us to care for them. Inferior races freely mixed with Caucasian will only be stimulated to reach for things beyond their grasp.

With the loss of the war, our Confederate bonds lost any value. The family’s fortunes were gone. The southern aristocracy was no more. Mother cried as she sold off pieces of Viewmont to pay debts. How little value was placed upon worldly things that gave such priceless memories! She leased the remaining property for one third of the proceeds. But who had money to buy the crops? My two younger sisters did not come home for holidays because Mother could not afford the coach.

Crawford went to teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school established by my old friend John Broadus and James Boyce. What an honor! But I missed him and our conversations. Letters are fine, but I longed for the wrinkles in his forehead and that little pucker of his lips.

In many ways I had become a drain on Mother’s resources, so in early 1870, I went to Cartersville with my friend Anna Safford to help start a new school. That way I helped provide funds for the running of Viewmont, or what was left of it.

So many men died in the war! So many mothers left as widows! So many children without homes! So great the need and so few the resources! Children wandered the streets with no home and no parents’ loving arms to hold them. The only thing, it seemed, ready to embrace them was suffering and death. Yet proud southern ladies stood up to these shaded harbingers of pain. Even in rags, the noble south is regal. Sorrow has but done its legitimate work. They have shown that character cannot receive its fullest and most beautiful development until it has passed through the fiery furnace of affliction.

 

§

 

In the summer of 1870, Mother died.

“Well…” Edmonia, my younger sister, threw her hands up in the air in an exaggerated way. “…I read the letter you wrote to the Religious Herald advocating a deaconess system. Let me see if I remember it right. You said, ‘we need a system for women to minister to the poor and suffering, establish Sabbath Schools, sewing schools, night schools, mothers’ meetings.’” She pointed her finger at me. “You said that in a large city, such instrumentality would be invaluable in reaching the poor, the degraded, the ignorant, and that our Lord does not call women to preach, or to pray in public, but no less does he say to them than to men, ‘Go work in my vineyard.’”

Edie was right. Who was I to question her decision to petition the Foreign Mission Board for an appointment to China? In some subtle way, we were both freer now. Shall we who think we hold a purer gospel neglect any of the means of its advancement?

More animated, Edie paced the floor in front of me. “We’re sending missionaries to China, and I feel God wants me there. …and am convinced you should come with me.”

“To China?!”

“To China, Lottie. To China! The fields are white and the laborers are so few.”

Shaking my head, I glanced down. “Just look around you Edie. There is a great work for me right here in the South. I AM ministering to the poor, establishing Sabbath Schools, night schools, and mothers’ meetings—all in Cartersville.”

“Anyone can fill your shoes there. But who will go to China in your place?”

 

§

 

Winter, 1871

 

God has blessed our efforts in Cartersville, Georgia. To my great joy, the good work grows. Our school promises to become a standard of education for the South. If the Civil War had not been, I doubt that this school would now be part of my life. Yet I can imagine nowhere else as rewarding to me emotionally and spiritually. So I sat in the pastor’s office with the comfortable feeling of being at home, like I used to feel leaning against the chimney in the shade at Viewmont.

“Look at the letters.” He smiled across the table upon which lay a stack of papers. “These are from other communities that have heard of your and Miss Safford’s work here in Cartersville. We haven’t been able to pay what you’re worth, but I want you to see the importance of your accomplishments.”

“Sir, any success is only because of our Lord. He directs each step we take with the school. To see the changed lives is enough reward. If the world did not demand it’s due, I would gladly perform this work for God’s blessing alone.”

He had this look of expectancy as if waiting for me to say more.

“…And, what I am paid is more than sufficient. Besides, this school is woven into the fabric of who I am.”

With a sigh of relief, he said, “You have no doubt faced the entreaties of people begging that you never consider leaving. Your life has become entwined with this community as much as the school is now part of your life. I don’t see how you or Miss Safford could ever be replaced.”

 

§

 

This past summer, while I was home with Edie in Viewmont, we received a visit from H. A. Tupper, Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board. Edie had begun her appeal for appointment as a missionary to China. The Secretary sympathized with our arguments, though he said the final decision was not his alone to make. To appoint an unmarried woman would be a change in guiding principles.

He looked my way. “Are you considering an appeal for an appointment as well?”

“No,” I said, “my ministry is in the Cartersville school.”

“I’ve heard of your work there with Miss Safford. You are well used of God.”

Edie placed her hand on mine. “I keep telling her she will be better used in China. Should you approve my appointment, my sister will soon follow.”

“Don’t make any petitions based on that,” I said. “Severing me from my school would be like Solomon dividing the child.”

But the mission work was important and depended upon a united benevolent activity. The Southern Baptist theory of cooperation sought voluntary missions contributions from independent congregations. I committed to send money in support of the work Edie would be doing.

My sister received the appointment. She will be sent to Tengchow next month, June of 1872. Without her at Viewmont, life will change. I didn’t see her often, but she was always there.

This month, much of the money I earned went right back into the school. All that was left for missions was five dollars. I sent a letter to H. A. Tupper accompanying the money and wrote, Were my ability commensurate with my will, the contribution would be much larger. Fortunately, Edie’s service did not depend upon my meager offerings alone. She would be supported by women of the Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

 

§

 

Edie wrote me a letter from China. …I cannot convince myself that it is the will of God that you shall not come…It is not for my sake that I want you to come but for the sake of the Chinese. Still, I don’t want to persuade you against what you think right….

I know she missed me as much as I missed her. My little sister…alone…in China. How isolated she must feel! When she needed someone to talk to in the dark of night, whom could she turn to with half a world separating us?

Crawford still plans to fulfill his appointment to Japan as a missionary.

The two people who mean most to me in this world are or will be in the far east…

 

§

 

July, 1873

 

I got it, my appointment as missionary to China! Edie opened the door to single women serving as missionaries, and now I will be joining her in Tengchow. They need someone with an affinity for languages. My prayer is that the Lord will find me a malleable tool ready for His use.

Poor Edmonia! The work bears down on her. Here, I helped relieve her burden. There, Edie has no sister to lean on. From the words of her letters, I know she needs me beside her.

No doubts trouble me, but I do worry about the school. When I labored over this decision, the pastor told me the school would manage without me. Anna said no one else would be able to advance the school as effectively as I. Then she added that she had seen me grow increasingly dissatisfied with the work in light of my missionary vision. If this is what God wanted, then she was sure He would provide for the transition. Oh, how I will miss my friend. But new adventures await me…godly quests among the heathen…fulfilling our Lord’s great commission. How I anticipate bringing the Chinese to Jesus, and to a better life.

When Crawford fulfills his vision of becoming a missionary to Japan, we’ll be that much closer. And, I suppose, working in Japan would not be so different than being a missionary in China. If God should bring about this union, we could minister equally effectively in either country.

I get a feeling inside me when I think about how God works His will in his people. You know the quaky feeling of anticipation when the future is not clear, yet with an excitement of a journey lingering.

 

§

 

Only three months since my appointment and here I am in China. As I wrote in an open letter before leaving, foreign missions bring a new and enlarged sphere of labor and furnish opportunities for good which angels might almost envy. Could a Christian woman possibly desire higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name? I cannot conceive a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus.

 

 

Through the flat, gently rolling hills of maize and new wheat, Edie and I took open sedan chairs to a nearby village today. Because the Chinese are a small people, I fit well into these vehicles and find them quite cozy. The cushioned seat softens an already easy ride. I never cease to be amazed at how two men, one at each end of two poles that support the chair, can run and not bounce me about like a boat in a storm. Yet they do. Perhaps it’s how the poles bend to my weight absorbing the motion of the runners. In any case, they are a comfortable means of travel.

I observed only a few laborers in the fields that day, bending low, carefully cutting the ears from stalks with their sickles. Most of the crop had been quickly harvested. They take to heart the old Chinese saying, harvest as if robbers are after you. Under a sapphire sky that stretched unhindered from one horizon to the other, shocks dotted the landscape.

Had it not been for my sister’s failing health, I could have walked the short distance. She worries me with the coughing that reverberates from her chest, wracking her whole body. These trips into the countryside do not treat her well, but she refuses to let me travel alone. Having someone with whom to talk is a comfort, but I don’t know how much longer Edie will be able to make these journeys. If they bore fruit, success would pass the time. But it has been three autumns…and yet our harvest is negligible.

The way to the village center was enclosed on each side with brick buildings covered by wooden roofs. Emptied of their leaves, tall trees cast patchwork shadows across the narrow path. A cart, drawn by a donkey, carried bundles of tea to an open warehouse. Men in thick wool coats, pulled in a tight wrap around their bodies, worked and visited; others hurrying somewhere. With arms inserted into opposite loose sleeves, they paused and watched the white women’s chairs weave through the bustling crowds. The donkey’s melodious notes reverberated up the street.

Our dress is so much more cultured than that of these people. The whites of our blouses shine like the sun in comparison with the clothes of these women. And our bonnets cover our heads in submission to the Almighty Creator, a surrendered position of which these people are much in need. Here, women in dull padded trousers and loose heavy tops chattered around a communal grinding station. Forming not-so-regal skullcaps, fabric strips wrapped around their heads and were tied in a big knot at the back. As the ladies talked and worked, children, like over-stuffed dolls, toddled about them in play.

Plodding forward on a journey with no destination, a donkey walked around the five foot flat rock pulling a cylindrical stone about a center pivot point. The friction ground millet and rubbed the flour toward the outer edge. With the powder bagged, more grain was tossed onto the flat stone.

Bringing the chairs to a halt, we stepped out near the grinding station. A man pointed and yelled out in Chinese, “The devil woman has come!” I can think of none but Jesus himself who can enchain the attention of such hearers.

Laughing and similar jeers followed that greeting.

Stepping back, out of the way of the donkey at the wheel, an older woman shaded her eyes with her hand. “Miss Edie and Miss Lottie, it is good to see you again,” she said with a cordial wave.

I love their sing-song language, though I am sure I don’t speak it well enough yet. Still, they appreciate me trying. “Good morning, Chun.” Most of the children peered warily from behind their mothers as the devil woman made her way to the wheel. “How was the harvest?” I lent a hand to their work and was quickly accepted. Many were familiar. How much we Caucasian women have in common with our counterparts wherever they are. As the opportunity arose, I shared Jesus.

When the older children hurried through the streets after school, they quickly congregated in the square around Edie and me. “Teach us! Teach us!”

Each student was a cause of hopefulness on our part. At every opportunity, they wanted me to teach them the catechism. Over and over they practiced learning it by heart.

“Who is the first and chiefest being?” I asked in Chinese.

“God is the first and chiefest being.” A patchwork of words provided the answer.

A cough caught Edie unexpectedly and shook her from the inside out. “And…” Aftershocks continued to batter her. “..Who is the…first and…chiefest being?” she asked in English.

“God…”

With her prompting, they got out the words.

“Good!” I said. “Ought everyone to believe there is a God?”

Again with mutual help, they answered, “Everyone ought to believe there is a God; and it is their great sin and folly who do not.”

Before we had gotten through half of the one hundred and fourteen questions, the sun grew low to the horizon and we took to the chairs for the ride home.

A cough exploded within my sister that nearly shook her from the seat. She was so pale and weak. Frailty is not a good thing in such a damp, cold climate. And trips like this just aggravated her condition. I wondered at how she was able to stay here for over three years already. If she went home I would probably need to help her. Yet, so much watering remains to be done here. I just wish the plants were closer to harvest.

“You look a little…” Edie coughed “…downcast.”

I looked up into the darkening sky and sighed. “How I desire for the adults to be as anxious to learn spiritual things for their intrinsic value. These youth want to learn English. But, God’s truths will impact them none the less, I am sure.”

“We must…” cough “…believe that God…” cough “…will build His church. We are but His tools to be used…” cough “…as he sees fit.”

Edie, oh Edie, how I pray for your physical strength! We have the Word to share with these peasants! Truths that could raise the depraved to a new and Godly life. Yet they are unconcerned for their eternal state. Life here would be so much more difficult without my sister’s help and her presence.

I sometimes wonder if my writing about all this even interests you. If not, I pray you excuse it in me. Mingling to such a degree with the heathen makes one stupid.

 

§

 

January, 1875

 

“Lottie, how could you leave the field!”

“Tengchow was too hard on Edmonia. She needed to come home.”

“Then it was up to her to return. It is wasteful of both funds and spirit for you to make this needless voyage.”

I had heard the talk…that Edie was a liability, not only because of her illness but because of her attitude. That in her sickness she selfishly wanted my attention or that of other missionaries. “Even if Edie were not my sister, I would have accompanied her. She found it in her heart to say, ‘Here am I; send me.’ She gave her health for the sake of the Gospel. With each trip into the countryside, she grew a bit sicker; and yet she did not relent. If I can supply some solace to her troubled spirit, it is but a small price.”

With a hrmph, the woman turned and walked off, leaving me alone on the street. I finished loading the wagon and started back to Viewmont. The monotonous plodding of horse hooves led my mind to other places.

Edie does need my help.

She will not want you to stay here.

But I can do more good with her right now.

You will do best in the field where God wants you.

Without Edie, life in Tengchow will be boring. She is my human refuge. So little fellowship is possible with the heathen.

The Chinese are just like you. God is no respecter of persons. Do you see them as He sees them?

But a shared life would be so much more rewarding.

Have you forgotten about Crawford?

Crawford…a warmth spread out from somewhere inside me. I read his letters and imagined his puckered mouth. But this would never replace the real thing.

 

§

 

I didn’t notice the bite of winter, or the Kentucky cold that nipped at my toes. Snuggling close to Crawford, the world could do little to interfere with the moment. We sat together on a log in a field at the outskirts of the seminary. With a light dusting of snow from the night before still clinging in a random patchwork pattern to the grass, students played and wrestled oblivious to winter’s frost. Scarce a breath stirred the white blanket.

“To be quite candid, Lottie, there is some opposition to my holding a position here.”

He never hinted at problems in his letters. “How in the world can they find fault with you?”

“I encourage my students to question everything. Just because we have been told something is true does not make it so. Even the Bible stories we were taught from childhood…they should not be blindly accepted. We must weigh them in light of scientific truth.”

When I was younger, the stories from the Bible did not interest me. Such an attitude would have found my mind fertile soil. But now… “How far do you take such questioning? What about the miracle of new life that we attain by means of Christ’s atoning blood?”

He laughed. “Would you relegate me to a pagan? Of course, the wonder of that transformation from the old to the new is a truth beyond question. Some things are outside science.”

“It’s just that you’re beginning to sound like John Clifford…or Robert Hall. Their move away from strict truth is not a good thing. Even now, they insist on open communion and a diminished confessional consciousness. They may be respected in some religious circles but doubt the Truth of God’s Word. A friend once told me that being on a side apart from God is not a good position to hold.”

Crawford squirmed. “But such teachings are becoming the norm in the Baptist Union.”

A shiver crept up my back. “Would you still hold the Bible to be God’s Word?”

He nodded. “But isn’t it obvious why some of those set in their ways might find cause to trouble my ministry here?”

I did. Even I had my doubts when he first said these things. But, as we talked, he showed himself to be the same Toy I knew at Albemarle.

“And you, Lottie,” he said softly, “will you go back to China?”

To return, I would leave Edie…and Crawford…again. I squirmed and hugged my knees. “I wish God would just come down and say, ‘Charlotte, I want you to do this.’ So many Chinese wander aimlessly in darkness. What better way to serve God than to hold his lamp stand and let it shine! Yet so few have found their way to it.”

His mouth puckered and wrinkles appeared on his forehead. Like ripples on a pond they died away. “You could stay here. God used your teaching abilities before.”

“I suppose that’s possible…” Why didn’t he just ask the question! “I know God has a plan for my life.”

“I’m sure He does; you’re a special woman. Have you considered that perhaps his purpose for you is back here in Virginia…or somewhere else?”

“In many ways I would like that.” I snuggled a bit closer. If Crawford just gave some indication of his intentions… Raising a cloud of snow crystals, a gust of wind moved like a giant hand across the field from west to east.

“But I need some confirmation from God,” I said, “as to where He wants me. In China, I have work waiting. It’s just begun but I still hold to a promise of a coming harvest.”

“Perhaps a greater yield awaits you here,” he said.

Standing, I paced slowly back and forth in front of him. “The only leading I feel from God is to return to China. I seem to remember someone telling me that the best course I could follow is the one to which God directs me.”

The way back to the seminary’s guest quarters was a long one, though the distance wasn’t great.

“When will you seek a missionary appointment,” I asked.

“When my work here is done.”

“To China? Or to Japan?”

He shrugged. “Japan has always fascinated me. But I have a growing attraction to China.”

 

§

 

October, 1881

 

Chun poured me a cup of tea. “I think today you are more Chinese than English…Xiaolian.” She chuckled. Ever since she learned how close my name was to the English word for the lotus, she liked calling me Little Lotus.

With a smile, I sipped from the cup. Fresh ground and brewed Chinese tea had become my favorite drink.

“If one from America saw us in a market,” she continued, “he would see me with my sister.”

Some of the other missionaries considered it odd that I chose to dress in Chinese clothes. But, I find these garments much more comfortable and adaptive to the climate. You may not believe this, but I have even begun to dream in Chinese. My thoughts wandered back to Edie.

“You seem sad today, Miss Lottie.”

“I received a letter from home.” Turning the cup in my hands, I sighed. “Last year I asked for help. The mission board was to send me two missionaries. My sister’s letter said they would not be coming.”

“I am sorry for you.”

“They aren’t coming because they were taught by Mr. Toy and hold his views on the inspiration of the Bible.”

“Isn’t he the man you love?”

“He is a special friend.” I sipped again. “He won’t be coming either.”

“How do you know that?”

“If the board recalled the appointments of two men because their beliefs were those of Mr. Toy, they surely will not appoint him.”

Chun’s face melted into concern. “You will be going back to Virginia?”

I shook my head. “God has first claim on my life. How can I consider something that conflicts with his great plan for me! I belong to Jesus; his desire is for me.”

“You give up much for your people here, Xiaolian.”

I think she understands more than most in the United States. How many there are who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing. “Chun, if an Englishman saw us as sisters, that would not be far from the truth.” In the world’s view, I was at last true to myself. But, in fact, I was true to God.

Tears crept slowly into Chun’s eyes, and she hugged me.

 

§

 

Lottie Moon gave life to her words, “We could not conceive a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus.” In 1887, she proposed Baptist women have a week of prayer for missions and a special Christmas offering to go to foreign missions.

Edmonia continued to support missions and made a loan to the Foreign Mission Board. She sold Viewmont and traveled from boarding house to boarding house looking for health for her frail body. She met Lottie in Crewe for her furlough in 1903 and 1904.

 

Other notes from the chapter on Lottie Moon in The Baptists, by Tom Nettles.

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Lottie: Many who have “crushed hearts and withered hopes” have become in that providential process “as nigh angelic as human frailty can reach.”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Lottie: No “trouble comes upon us unless it is needed” and “we ought to be just as thankful for sorrows as for joys.”

 

 

 

 

1979 – The Literalists

 

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Louisville, Kentucky

1978

 

 

“That you, Marco?”

Frank DeMarco nestled the phone between his ear and shoulder and popped open a can of soda.

“Yeah.” Slurping the residue from around the opening, he settled back into the couch and let the cushions envelop him.

“You hear about Troy?”

“What about him?” He took a big swallow.

“He’s dead.”

Marco gasped, gagging on fizz that burned through his nostrils and splattered onto his shirt and pants. As he coughed and tried to clear his throat, he doubled over and the cord pulled the handset from his neck. Wheezing, he set the can on the coffee table and reached back for the phone.”

“…all right? Marco?…Marco?”

“Yeah…” He hacked and coughed trying to speak. “Yeah…I’m OK. Just swallowed wrong…What did you say?”

“He’s dead, Marco. Troy died in a car accident going home from class this afternoon.”

“What happened?”

“Not sure. That’s all I heard. Thought you’d want to know.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m praying for his parents, but…”

“They’ll need it.” He didn’t want to talk. “Thanks for calling.” Without waiting for a response, Marco hung up the phone, took it off the receiver, and set it on the table. His hand slowly rose…paused…then fell without feeling into his lap. Dead…Troy dead?…No, that couldn’t be!

They were to graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the summer. Nineteen seventy eight had started out such a good year. He pictured the time just a month ago when his friends shared a meal…at this table…right here…and talked about God’s call on their lives and His special plan for each of them.

Marco laughed. Troy would witness anywhere. They went to the park once. Three bikers parked near them to use the water tap. These guys weren’t just yuppies on motorcycles. Long matted hair splayed out from under headbands. Unkempt beards hung down their chests over sweat-stained T-shirts with pictures of…demons? A large bullet hung from a leather thong around one man’s neck. On his arm, another displayed a tattoo of a skull with sword stuck through its gaping mouth. Marco didn’t realize he was staring until the biker locked threatening eyes with him. At which point, Marco quickly turned to Troy. The delicate bubblegum scent of nearby hyssop gave way to the kind of rancid odor Marco only smelled in locker rooms full of unwashed gym clothes.

“You guys want a soda?” Marco remembered cringing when Troy said that.

Frowning, one of them drew his forehead into a knot. “You speaking to me?” he asked turning his hands into fists.

The voice grated on Marco. Why couldn’t Troy just be quiet?

“Hey, you a coach?” asked Troy.

The three bikers stared at him.

“Isn’t that a whistle around your neck?” he continued.

No, Troy, no! Just be quiet…please! Marco trembled, glancing up to see what they would do.

Blinking as if not believing what he heard, the man’s aura slumped. He fingered the necklace. “It’s…a…BULLET!

Troy shrugged. “We have cokes here if you want some.” In the end, the bikers sat down at the table, drank soda, and listened to Troy explain the Gospel to them.

That was only two years ago. With a swat of his arm, Marco knocked the phone and its receiver off the coffee table. How could God allow this to happen, especially to Troy? If anyone had the gift of evangelism it was Troy. He stood, picked up a cushion from the couch and slung it blindly across the room into the base of his fish tank. Water splashed up the glass as angel fish darted for cover. His breath caught and he wiped his eyes. How could God do this?

 

§

 

He reached for the door handle, but once again refused to pull it. Resting his arms on the steering wheel, Marco laid his head on them and looked out the side window at Troy’s home…well, Troy’s parent’s home. Troy was dead; his home was with Jesus…whatever that meant. He remembered a time when he knew what he believed. Now…? He shook his head. Seminary wasn’t supposed to be like this. Religious convictions were to be discovered and confirmed.

Some convictions! Here he was, sitting in a car, afraid to talk to the parents of his best friend. Marco sighed. Are you there, God? He listened. No answer.

What could he say to them? Their son had just died in a car accident. Someone studying to become a pastor should be able to deal with this. Two years ago…maybe even last year…he would have walked right in, sure of what to say. Jesus died and rose from the dead giving a promise of eternal life with Him. He provides victory over death. And, in conquering this enemy, He assures us that we have a comforter so we can withstand anything that comes our way.

But the truth really wasn’t so clear, after all. Teachings from his classes, tools to aid him, came to mind. If he gave any credibility to the historical method of Biblical interpretation, much of the Bible was probably just stories. When he complained to his advisor that some professors said the miracles may not have happened exactly as written in the Gospels, Dr. Coleman had told him to grow up…that he needed to get past such childhood crutches. A physical resurrection? That’s impossible. A spiritual resurrection…maybe. And the virgin birth? A beautiful idea, but no one really believes it these days.

The Bible is a good book as long as you filter what it says…you know, read it in light of the superstitions of the day it was written. But take it literally…? Marco shook his head. No doubt God inspired the words—the same way Dante was moved in creating the Divine Comedy…or Milton was stirred to write Paradise Lost. And the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven was inspired when he composed it. Yeah, he grew up a lot that day. And he didn’t like it much.

Marco forced himself to grip the handle. His fingers fought to free themselves, but he would not let them.

Maybe Troy’s parents want to be alone.

No! This is the right thing to do.

Pulling on the latch, Marco pushed the door open and spun sideways, stretching his legs onto the street before he could close the door.

There. He took a deep breath and started across the street.

Maybe they won’t even be home.

Yeah. I can hope.

Except for a light in the living room window, the two-story house was dark. No lights outside. Maybe…

With his insides rolling up and down, he came close to the door and shivered ever so slightly. Was that weeping? He paused on the stoop and listened. A laugh? An instructor once told him that the farthest edge of grief can sometimes manifest itself in all kinds of odd ways.

He knocked softly…once…twice.

The sounds stopped. Troy’s dad opened the door, eyes red, the remains of a wistful smile fading from his face. “Hello, Marco.”

“Hi…I heard about Troy…”

“God’s ways are not always what we would want are they?…Please, come in? Judith and I are looking at family pictures of Troy.”

“Can’t stay long.” He knew—and they knew—that was just a good excuse to leave early.

Harry led him to the couch where Judith dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “Hi, Marco…” Her voice caught. “It’s good of you to come.”

“Just wanted to tell you how sad this makes me and to find out if there’s anything I can do for you.”

They looked at each other, and Harry shook his head.

Judith slid over. “Have a seat. You might enjoy these pictures.”

Harry pointed to a photo of a young boy, Troy, standing beside a park bench. His little black cocker, he called him Sparky, sat obediently at his feet.

“Remember this?” Harry smiled at his wife.

Troy’s mom touched it and turned toward Marco. “Troy always saw the world in his own unique way—but you already know that. Just before this picture was taken, he asked me if they really made homeless people pay to sleep on the bench.”

A loosening laugh rolled up Marco’s chest. Across the back support were the words, Rent Me.

“And the spaniels…” A tear rolled down Judith’s cheek. As she wiped her nose with tissue, she nodded to Harry.”

With a wounded smile, his breath caught. “…We went to southern California once…Toured the Spanish missions. In a courtyard, Troy glanced up at Judith with a most amazed look and asked, ‘Did spaniels really make these buildings?’”

That was definitely Troy. He laughed and cried over stories and pages of pictures with these parents of his best friend. He relived the life of their son.

“You were an important part of his time at seminary,” said Harry.

Judith leaned back. “He was excited about becoming a pastor.”

Harry put his arm around his wife. “He saw things more clearly than most of us. For the last year, he believed the next annual meeting in Houston would be a pivotal point in time. He was excited about going.”

Troy’s mother tapped a picture of him and a number of youth. “Our church made him one of the messengers…younger than any we’ve sent in the past.”

Marco remembered Troy talking about it, but these political things never excited Marco much. “Why did he want to go?”

Harry looked sideways. “Surely he talked with you about the direction of the Convention.”

Troy’s talk of the loss of the foundations of the faith never really interested him. Marco was busy soaking up the teachings of his instructors. He shifted position and stared at the pictures.

“Harry, surely, he’s seen it in his classes, even if Troy never mentioned it.” Judith turned to him. “What do you think of the professors here at Southern? Do you find them as liberal as Troy did?”

Marco began to sweat and wasn’t sure exactly why. “Well.” His voice was weak. “I…I don’t think it does any good to label people as liberal and conservative. It gets in the way of a higher critical approach to the scriptures.”

Judith got this look on her face, the kind Marco’s mom used to give him when she was disappointed in some answer he gave. “I see.” She glanced at her husband.

“I know it’s getting late and you’ve got to go,” said Harry, “but to Troy this was important. It defined these past eighteen months of his life. And you are…his best friend.”

True. He nodded and sat back. They would have their last say.

Harry had as much a look of satisfaction on his face as agony would allow. “What did Troy tell you about how his concern developed?”

Of course he knew the answer to the question. This HAD defined his best friend. “First, I think he said a liberal trend in northern universities worried him. Then, second, he saw these same beliefs creeping into Southern Baptist thought.”

“Well, yes,” said Judith. “But the root problem is the same in the north and south; it’s the tendency to seek other authorities than scripture. When we take away that standard, we don’t have much left. The real issue is this: what is scripture?”

“Don’t you think there is too much emphasis on which translation is the right one?” replied Marco, “Scripture is the word of God. I think everyone agrees it’s a good guideline for living.”

Harry moved to the edge of the couch. “The issue is not the Bible’s translation or its ability to change lives. This is the question we need to ask, what is scripture? This consumed Troy over the last months.”

Marco felt their eyes on him but stared at the floor.

“Can we really call it the Word of God?” continued Harry. “Is it trustworthy? Is it without error? If so, then we know…” His voice caught. “…Troy is with Jesus now.”

Marco squirmed as one clammy hand gripped the other between his knees. “But isn’t the real issue sin?” He looked up. “That’s what separates man from God. The heart of man is where the problem lies not in our view of the Bible.”

His hosts both lowered their heads. Then Harry spoke. “Two events shaped our son. Oh other things happened, but these were pivotal. In junior high school, he read an analysis of beliefs of Dr. Clark Pinnock. While at our New Orleans seminary in the late 60’s, Pinnock taught that the Bible is generally reliable but not inerrant and that it is not the Word of God. He went so far as to say it contains false prophecies.

“Troy confronted us with these teachings by a Southern Baptist professor. We told him what we believed and encouraged him to study the scriptures. He reaffirmed his faith. But then he asked why the denomination allowed such ideas to be taught in a seminary. Later, while visiting his sister at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, he overheard a discussion on the banks of the Brazos River—I like to think it was Paul Pressler. Troy didn’t know who they were, but the men appeared to be conservatives in our denomination concerned about the same thing that bothered him. And they had a plan, and it sounded good to Troy.”

“I think Marco needs to be going.”

Maybe Judith was more sensitive, being a woman. He didn’t want to argue. He wanted to leave.

Harry stood. “I’m sorry. I was probably coming on too strong.”

“We really are glad you came. You were an important part of Troy’s life.”

“Let me just say this,” continued Harry. “Of our six seminaries, Southern is the oldest and the one Troy thought has the biggest problems. If the denomination is headed down a road that leads to impotency, then our seminaries are leading the way. If we want to remain a positive influence in the world, we must take another path. He felt a split was…”

“Harry,” Judith said softly

Thank you, God, for the wife.

Nodding, Harry walked to the shelf and pulled down a small book. “Here. This is Boyce’s Systematic Theology. He founded Southern over a hundred years ago. I just ask that you read chapter 28 on the Atonement of Christ. It really affected Troy. He picked it up this year at the seminary. The whole book is full of gems waiting to be mined.”

These men were all over campus handing it out. But he never accepted one, too extreme. But this was coming from Troy’s parents. Marco reached out and took it.”

“Please find time to read it,” said Judith.

 

§

 

“What do you mean you like what they said!” Dr. Coleman puckered his forehead around the bridge of his nose.

“It rang true.”

“You can’t mean that. Surely you realize that fundamentalists are trying to subvert the freedom of education. Ultimately, they want to control the denomination. It’s politics, not theology. The literal interpretation of the Bible isn’t really the issue. Oh, yes, that’s a part of it, but only a minor piece. In fact, it’s power they’re after.”

“Troy’s parents didn’t seem like that to me.”

“The rank and file may appear sincere. But they’re just naive Christians with their heads in the sand. It’s the leaders of the movement, the ones calling the shots, that set the real direction. You can spot it at any of the annual meetings. You’ll see it in Houston. They keep trying to put their people in power. Last year it was Anita Bryant. Can you believe it! They found a fundamentalist woman to run for vice president. They hoped a female would receive the sympathy vote. Fortunately, the messengers saw through that ploy and she didn’t get elected.”

“I just don’t see it from down here.”

“Look. There’s a man, ummm, I think his name is Pressler…Paul Pressler. He’s been raising a stink for years now. I heard he talked with Paige Patterson and some other fundies, pushing their literal beliefs on everyone…”

“But…”

“Don’t be a butt kind of guy. They’re the fringe now. Watch out that you’re not hoodwinked by propaganda. We’re in an age of enlightenment where truth is finally free from the chains of tradition and closed minds. It’s taken years for John Clifford’s inclusive view of our faith to blossom. The exclusiveness of creedal belief is finally ebbing. For too long, creeds perpetuated authoritarian dogma and excluded so many who need to know the healing power of Jesus.”

“Didn’t you teach us in class that we’re not a creedal people?”

“We’re not, at least historically. In Augusta, Baptists had no creed except the Bible. But today the fundamentalists would have everyone pledge support of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Or, if they gain control of the Convention, they would no doubt raise its resolutions and motions to the level of dogma. These people have more in common with a fundamentalist like Jerry Falwell than the moderate conservatives of our Convention. We have never been a denomination that emphasized the opinions of man. But fundamentalists want to change that.”

Marco was sure his advisor was right. To overemphasize doctrines developed by man tends to squelch piety, fervor, and courage. Anyone can come to Jesus. We shouldn’t put stumbling blocks like creeds in their way. This is the kind of truth he learned from professors like Dr. Coleman. These were men who studied the scriptures, after all. That said something. Marco smiled and nodded.

Dr. Coleman’s face relaxed as he settled back into his chair. “So, what did you say in response to their argument for literalism?”

Dr. Coleman kept a glass on his desk, right in front of Marco, filled with marbles. Marco remembered his using it as an object lesson in a class. The glass was any person. The marbles represented sin. He filled the glass with water representing God’s character. Removing sin makes more room for God’s love to shine through us.

“I said that sin is the real issue.”

“Good…good…”

“But they argued the Bible is God’s word and completely true.”

“Well…” Dr. Coleman drew it out with an underlying chuckle. “…We can grant that the Bible is God’s word. But it is expressed in the language of man. There is both a divine and a human dimension to it. Once we acknowledge that people did the writing, boundaries must be placed around it. For example…” Dr. Coleman stretched across the table, leaning on his arms. “…what is the primary purpose of the first chapters of Genesis?”

That was simple. “It’s to provide religious teaching, not to be a history lesson. Based on the teachings of Clifford and Hall, because men wrote the Bible, it is susceptible to human error.”

“Exactly. Likewise, we must offer the gospel in ways appropriate to our time, intelligible and attractive to our contemporaries.” He paused. “Troy’s parents must be fundamental literalists, right?”

Just like Troy. Marco nodded.

“There is a cute aspect to the naiveté of literalists. But we do them a disservice to encourage such narrow mindedness. The world is a big place. We can’t close our doors to it. The minds of literalists are closed to the truth that stands knocking. It’s been on their threshold for hundreds of years, and they ignore it. Be wary of them. You’ll find such people in most any congregation you pastor. Fundamentalism, by its nature, evokes an intransigent intolerance of others. And this is extremely dangerous. It is much too easy to slip over the line that separates spiritual superiority from physical violence…. Did they bring up prophecy?”

“Well, in a way.”

His advisor shook his head with sad eyes. “I never understood how some folks believe people can see the future. Only God does that. Sure we can respect the symbolic language of…prophetic…scripture, but that doesn’t mean we interpret it literally. We should not expect to discover, in these books, details about the end of the world or concerning how many will be saved. They even say Israel’s troubles are a result of God’s punishment when we all know they are due to its location.”

“I know…I know.” Like a battery being charged, Marco was energized by his advisor’s words. “People today are searching for what’s worthwhile, what has real value, what can be trusted, and what’s really true.”

“And that’s not found in the syntax of sentences or in the written word, but in a relationship with God.” His jowls quivered. “This is the crucial truth that’s shrouded by their war over words. Walk with these great teachers from the past who prepared the way.” Dr. Coleman leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “Be vigilant—always on the lookout for efforts to return to the exclusiveness of Calvinistic spirituality.”

“Mm-hmm. Troy’s parents said something about a plan by conservatives.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me at all. There will always be those who try to lead us away from the truth. Longing for old dogma, they don’t want to keep up with the times. But, for them to accomplish any real change, it would have to be through the national annual meeting of the Convention. That’s where the power is. We need more messengers that have a good understanding of scripture and how it fits in a contemporary world.” He bent forward with an enthusiasm that made Marco jump. “Have you considered going as a messenger from your church?”

Marco replayed the question. He attended a small country fellowship, helping out where needed. They gave him opportunities to preach and free rein when it came to outreach. Most of the folks were over fifty; and, if the meeting were in Louisville, a few might be willing to go as messengers. But in Texas?…no way. He could go. But…

“It would be a good experience for you.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I really need to focus on my studies. The annual meeing is in June, and summer is my last quarter here.”

Dr. Coleman leaned across his desk. “Look, Marco, this is an opportunity to network, to meet influential people. You’ll fit in fine. Besides, we need educated participants. And you’ve received one of the best educations available.”

Going to the Convention’s annual meeting in Houston was not high on his list. If Troy were right, there would be a lot of contention. Who needs that? Marco just wanted to get on with God’s business. “I don’t think I can afford the trip.”

“Can we sacrifice a little? Even Jesus said the poor will always be with us. That’s why we have the Annuity Board. With their help, you will do fine financially in the long run. So look at this as an investment in future ministry.”

Marco stared at the glass of marbles. He had a little savings, but that was to deal with emergencies. The church gave him twenty five dollars when he preached, and love offerings were taken for him every so often. But this money covered food. And he wasn’t extravagant with his meals.

Absently turning a pencil end for end in his hands, his advisor stared at Marco over the top of glasses that rested low on his nose. “I’ll tell you what…I’ve never done this before…But you’ve been one of my best students. You’ve matured here at Southern. You arrived a spiritual child and are leaving an adult. I’ll arrange scholastic credit for you. And your church should be able to help financially, especially after I call them.”

“But…”
“No buts about it.” A smile stretched across Dr. Coleman’s face. “You’ll get credit, meet the right people, and it should cost you very little.” He stood and walked around the table. “I’ll even help out financially.”

Marco rose to his feet ready to shake hands.

His advisor put his arm around his shoulder and ushered him to the door. “This will be an experience you won’t forget.”

 

§

 

Marco sat alone, at the same table where Troy had witnessed to the bikers. Like light shining off crinkled cellophane, the sun’s rays spattered through trees on the far side of the park, working its way into night. He was going to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Coleman must have called the church because; when Marco got to his apartment that morning, a message from the chairman of the deacons said the church would help out as much as they could. The last time they sent a messenger was nine years earlier.

He took a deep breath and sighed. Troy wanted to go. Seeing the meeting as a battleground, his friend had been excited about it. Was this really a crossroads for Southern Baptists? Surely not. Conservative views still prevailed in the Convention, probably too much so—Troy’s parents were proof of that. Would there really be a fight in Houston? God wants unity in Christ’s body. But, like Dr. Coleman said, he would meet leaders from the Foreign Mission Board, the Home Mission Board, Woman’s Missionary Union, the Baptist Sunday School Board, and Christian Life Commission—all important SBC entities. This would only help his future ministry. Nah, there wouldn’t be any division.

But Troy’s parents were convinced. Maybe they wanted it to be so, for their son’s sake. What if fundamentalists confronted the modernists…. Marco drummed his fingers on the table, and his stomach drew tight.

He was going to the annual meeting in Houston. His church made him their messenger; they were paying. Dr. Coleman was paying. He drummed a little bit harder. He would get credit for attending.

But shouldn’t you have convictions to attend?

Marco’s fingers stopped drumming and made a tight fist. I have convictions.

Aren’t beliefs based upon the application of His Word?

God wants more than just rote acceptance of his Word. He wants us to live the life, to meet people’s needs, to work in the field and relieve suffering. That was what Jesus did.

The Bible says salvation is not by works.

But good deeds were created for us to walk in them.

Marco stood. “I need something to eat,” he said to no one in particular.

 

§

 

Turning up his stereo, Marco let the music from To Be An Instrument wash over him. But it didn’t drown out the thoughts.

Sometime in the 1920’s, J. Frank Norris of Fort Worth alleged that Southern Baptists had accepted “modernistic” teachings on Scripture, evolution, and the church. Then in 1961, Ralph H. Elliott published The Message of Genesis. This was what Troy’s parents said affected their son. In 1969, the Sunday School Board released volume 1 of The Broadman Bible Commentary written by English Baptist G. Henton Davies. Concerning Genesis 22, Davies questioned whether God really commanded Abraham to kill his son Isaac. No doubt about it, the older generation was more conservative than Marco’s. He grew up in a traditional church. Seminary was his first taste of a more intellectual approach to scripture.

Two sides were lining up. He would be in the middle of it in Houston. “Ohh.” Marco grabbed his stomach and leaned forward. It hurt. The strains of his favorite song on the album started echoing through the room. It’s Just Not Enough To Love Jesus. He knew that. But trying to live it was not always easy.

 

§

 

“I was up most of the night praying.”

Dr. Coleman frowned. “What’s there about the meeting that troubles you?”

“I think it’s the prospect of arguments. I don’t want to pick a side. Jesus doesn’t want division in his body.”

“Well, of course not. But people don’t always do what Jesus would have them do.”

“And I think that upsets me the most.”

“God calls us to walk through these valleys, Marco. We’re to be lights. And a light is only valuable when used…”

He knew this was how his advisor would react. What did he expect, that the man would suddenly agree he should not attend the annual meeting?

“…Important decisions are made there. Given a chance, fundamentalists would dictate what’s taught in the seminaries. If they have their way, we will become a centralized, controlling denomination. Culturally, that would chauvinize us, make us less…well, less Baptist. Who knows, this meeting might be the one where your intellectual voice keeps us headed in the right direction. Don’t shy away from battles, Marco. Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. He took a stand. Follow in his footsteps. And, just a century ago, Clifford faced persecution from Spurgeon. Where would we be today if he just thrown up his hands, too upset to argue his beliefs?”

Nodding, Marco sighed agreement.

“We need level heads like yours in Houston. Conservative fundamentalists are great at their pontificating shibboleths and simplistic slogans. Crowds are easily swayed with a bumper sticker theology. You must be there to represent reason.”

When Marco left Dr. Coleman’s office, all the worries were gone, again replaced by an enthusiastic anticipation. His advisor was right. Jesus didn’t avoid confrontation. It filled the Lord’s ministry. If arguments did erupt at the meeting, he would be ready.

 

§

 

Scratching his head, Marco sat back in the chair. The words from Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology surely sounded right. But they just didn’t jive with what he’d been taught—as if looking at his fish tank and finding a twenty four inch, two and a half pound carp sucking air from the water’s surface rather than seeing his five lovely angel fish waiting serenely for him to talk to them through the glass. By this time in seminary he should know what he believed. He hoped these doubts and concerns would go away once he got a church. That’s what the professors said. Yet here he was, reading the abstract Troy’s parents had given him. The carp was beating the water into a froth.

He turned to the history book opened on the table next to Boyce’s Abstract. This conservative/liberal debate wasn’t new. It quoted a man of impressive credentials. As a professor at Harvard, Crawford Toy quickly built up the Semitic Department. He offered instruction in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic, the Talmud, general Semitic grammar, the history of Israel, the religion of Israel, Old Testament introduction, quotations from the Old Testament, criticism of the Pentateuch, criticism of Chronicles, and the Spanish and Baghdad Caliphates. Using Darwinian evolution for evidence, Professor Toy said that as science reveals new truths, scripture must be reconstructed along rationalist guidelines. This might require disregarding divine inspiration of the text. To him, a literal interpretation was a detriment to truth.

Marco nodded. That sounded a lot like his professors at seminary.

The box on the side of the page said Spurgeon wanted orthodoxy, even if it meant restriction of some freedom of thought. Clifford wanted liberty, even if it meant the presence of unorthodox teaching.

Marco groaned. What did he want?

Six was a good age. No cares, no worries, parents to watch out for you…and an ummpad. He hadn’t thought of his security blanket for years. So smooth on his cheek. And the smell—his smell—the world had been a good place when he held his ummpad. But grownups don’t want their kids to be secure. Every time his mother washed it, for some reason it shrank in size…down to a 2 inch square. Finally, his blanket disappeared. Life was never quite the same after that. He smiled. He would never do that to his children.

There, next to the window, in the bookshelf—the camphor box his parents gave him. He hadn’t thought of it for months. Feeling each groove in the intricately carved wood, he took it down and placed it on the table next to the book. The lid opened as easily as it used to. He gently inserted his fingers under the tattered and frayed burlap.

Somewhere in his family’s past, a man named William weaved a silk fabric and wrapped it in this coarse cloth. William used it to show the difference Jesus made in a life. Then he was burned at the stake. This ancestor had been so sure of what he believed.

Marco’s earliest recollections involved hazy memories of the box. Even as a child it fascinated him. His parents let him touch it if he begged. It comforted him through relationship problems in high school.

When did he outgrow it? He hadn’t looked at it since…since growing up. That wasn’t right. Marco unrolled the bundle, something he seldom did. Each movement strained the fibers and shreds marred the edges. The subtle smell tickled his nose—the smell of his ancestors. With the bickering he sensed around him, was the denomination like this silk? When he touched it, shivers ran up his back. How many before him found security in it rather than doubts?

With the silk and the burlap beside him, he returned to the Systematic Theology, Chapter 28, The Atonement of Christ. A restless twitch moved him forward in his chair. The first viewpoint that Boyce discussed was that of many of his instructors.

 

This proceeds on the principle that God is pure benevolence, that vindictive justice is incompatible with his character, and that upon mere repentance, God can and will forgive the sinner. The work of Christ, therefore, is regarded as one in which he simply reveals or makes known pardon to man. Nothing that he has done secures it, because he had nothing to do to this end. It was already prepared in the benevolence of God’s nature, and is simply now made known. The advocates of this theory explain away all that the Scriptures say on the subject of Christ’s death for us, by maintaining that his life and death were mere examples to us of the manner in which we should live and submit to God. In their view, therefore, Christ is merely a great teacher and a bright example.

 

This position was picked apart as were others. Then Boyce used more than half of the chapter to argue the case for his conviction from scripture.

 

The Calvinistic theory of the atonement is, that in the sufferings and death of Christ, he incurred the penalty of the sins of those whose substitute he was, so that he made a real satisfaction to the justice of God for the law which they had broken. On this account, God now pardons all their sins, and being fully reconciled to them, his electing love flows out freely towards them.     

 

He knew what he’d believed as a child. He knew what he’d been taught in seminary. Which was right? Like an explosion in the night a thought struck him, knocked him back in his chair. None of the beliefs questioned the omnipotence of God. If He is all powerful and if He wants us to have a book describing Him, His character, and His relationship to man, then He can do it. He can work through man to create just that book. Our frailty couldn’t prevent such a God from bringing that about.

Does God want us to have such a book?

God created us; He loves us; He has a plan for us. Yes, He wants us to have this revelation.

Is the Bible this revelation?

Marco’s mind raced back in time. Truth rings from its pages. It is the only compilation of writings that speak of such a relationship…in this way. Yes, this is God’s work.

Is it the completely true and perfect revelation or is it not? Well, if this is God’s plan, and this is his book, then, Yes, it is completely true and without error!

On the table in front of Marco was that Book.

He stood, raised his hands toward heaven, and yelled, “Yes!” Then he did a crunch, pulling is arms down to his side and his right knee up to his chest, followed by a victory dance around the table. He knew it now. Jesus IS the God of his childhood.

Now…he was an adult.

As he gently raised the burlap and the silk, his eyes welled up. He tried to wipe them with his shoulder, but one tear slipped off his nose and fell onto the corner of the silk. The splattered stain looked just like another old one next to it. Ancient marks spotted the fabric. Marco always wondered what tarnished it. Now he knew.

The years at seminary were so like this silk and burlap. How many of his friends had given up the silk teachings for the burlap? How many would go to churches carrying burlap with them? But the Southern Baptist Convention was not tattered. It was strong enough to allow internal debate. It grew and changed.

Resting in security’s protective embrace, he carefully returned the cloth and its wrap to the box and placed it on the shelf.

 

§

 

Marco hesitated outside Dr. Coleman’s office but not because he lacked conviction. This was his advisor, the man who helped map out his education. A warm feeling of respect mixed with the chilly expectation of disappointing the man. He bent his head downward and turned to go.

“Marco.” Dr. Coleman peeked out the door, a smile filling his face. “I thought I heard someone out here. Come on in.”

Marco smiled weakly and shuffled in.

The smile on his advisors face morphed into seriousness. “Why the sad look?”

Marco’s stomach trembled. “I’ve prayed concerning the annual meeting, and it really wouldn’t be right for me to go without talking more about it with you.”

“I thought we went through this a couple days ago. Of course you should go. You’re needed there.”

Marco nodded. “I know. And I do want to go.”

“Well then, what’s the problem? You’ve got funding. Credit will be given to you. It’s all set.”

Marco wanted to come right out and say it, but this fear lapped against him like waves pushing a child to the ground. “And I appreciate the funding you helped arrange and the credit you’ll give me.”

Dr. Coleman smiled and settled comfortably into his chair, peering over the top of his spectacles.

Marco tensed. “But it would be wrong of me to go without telling you what happened last night.”

His advisor gave him that fatherly look, “I’m all ears.”

“I read Boyce’s Systematic Theology. Well, at least part of it. Troy’s parents gave it to me. Said it was a book to be mined.”

Dr. Coleman chuckled. “The only mining they want is that a wife mind her husband.”

Marco shifted his position. What could he say to that?

His chuckle died away. “Go on…go on…What did you think of it?”

“Well, uh…I picked out some good jewels.” He smiled. ”I think it is very…insightful, especially the chapter on the atonement of Christ. There can be no other way to God. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Dr. Coleman leaned forward, eyes on Marco. “You must realize, Marco, that John 14:6 is a most unreliable source.”

“If God is omnipotent, he won’t let man get in the way of the revelation of truth. I think Boyce is exactly right, and the Bible is completely true.” Marco moved to the edge of his seat, words bubbling up from inside. “This light hit me. God wants us to know him, not just in a scholarly way, but personally. His Word is His revelation; it’s a trustworthy guidebook…”

Staring at Marco, Dr. Coleman’s jaw gradually lowered.

“…I never considered what’s meant by the substitutionary atonement of Christ, not really. It’s like the magnolia tree outside your window, wonderfully beautiful but overlooked in its familiarity. Jesus had to die and rise again…really rise. I believe He was dead, buried, and resurrected. He walked out of that tomb.” The glass of marbles on the desk caught his eye. “It’s like your glass here.” He turned it slowly. “The marbles can represent sin and the water the character of God. But how does the water get into the glass in the first place? Someone needs to do that. Jesus did that in us by dying on the cross in our place. He…”

Dr. Coleman wagged his head. “I truly thought you were beyond all this, Marco. You’re probably reacting to the death of your best friend. Go home and think about what you’re saying. Remember what you’ve learned.”

“Sir, Troy’s death isn’t the reason…or his parents. God’s Spirit convicted me of the sin of my unbelief. He…”

“Oh, so your professors here have a sin of unbelief?”

“No…No.” Marco shook his hands back and forth. “That’s not what I meant at all. It’s me. I…”

“I think you need to go home and consider—strongly consider—this…decision.”

“Sir, I have. I prayed most of the night.”

His advisor had no smile on his face when he stood. “Well, I am glad you came to me with this. Perhaps you are right about not being ready to go to the annual meeting.” Before Marco could say any more, Dr. Coleman ushered him out and closed his door.

 

 

The disappointment welling up in his chest surprised him. Sometime since yesterday, Marco developed a longing to attend Houston meeting. His advisor’s parting words played over and over. He had known this was a possible outcome but didn’t consider the impact until Dr. Coleman spoke the words. He WAS the right person to go. He knew that now.

The walk home was a long one; Marco took the out-of-the-way path around the park. It gave him time to pray and think…and it passed Troy’s parent’s house. He stood on the sidewalk wondering why he should be surprised at finding his way there. Since the funeral, Troy’s parents kept in touch with their son’s friends—calling, sending cards. They were ministering more than being ministered to.

He walked right up and knocked.

Judith answered the door. “Hi, Marco.”

“Just out walking and found myself here.”

“You know you’re always welcome. Harry’s working.”

Marco put on a serious face. “I read the book he gave me.”

“And, what did you think?”

Marco broke into a smile he could no longer contain. “It changed my life.”

With a surprised gasp and a smile, she hugged him. “I’m so glad for you.”

“I think I’m as excited about the convention as Troy was. And I understand its importance.”

“Harry will be so pleased.”

“I’ll stop by some evening when he’s home. I really want to tell you both about how my life is changing.”

“We’ll look forward to it.” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

 

§

 

Pushing the door open with conviction, Marco tossed his books onto the table and grabbed a soda from the refrigerator. A blinking red light caught his attention. Pushing a button he listened to a message, from the chairman of the deacons.

“Marco, we had a meeting today with the pastor. Your trip to Houston will cost more than we can afford. And the board thinks it would be wise to question you before we allow you to go as our messenger. See me on Sunday.”

Marco collapsed into the chair by the table. Without their support, travel would be too costly. And if his church wouldn’t send him, how could he go? Dr. Coleman wasn’t a supporter anymore. He sighed, a sick feeling forming a knot in his gut.

Judith and Harry had told him the plan. Conservatives simply needed to attend and elect their president. He would appoint like-minded folks to the committee responsible for nominating trustees of SBC boards and institutions. Within ten years, all key positions could conceivably be filled by conservatives. But for this resurgence to come about, people with convictions like Troy needed to attend, people with convictions like his own.

He placed his hands behind his head and looked up. “Lord, you know I want to save our convention. It needs to be a force for you in a world where people are looking for right in the wrong, and wrong in the right. But I need you to provide the way.”

With a deep breath, he stood to his feet and went to the kitchen counter to make some hamburger hash. Fretting about it would accomplish nothing. In the middle of his meal, the phone rang.

“Marco,” said Harry, “I was glad you got to read Boyce’s book. Judith tells me it changed your views.”

Marco told him about the revelation and talking to his advisor.

“We don’t know what your current situation is with going to the Houston meeting. But our church still has Troy’s vacancy in the messengers. I’m sure there’s a way to work out your representing us, if you want to.”

God is good!

 

§

 

In the depression of the 20’s, the dust bowl of the 30’s, and the military movements of the 40’s, Baptists migrated from the South looking for work. Baptist churches already existed throughout the country, but these northern fellowships were very different from what Southerners were used to. The Southern Baptists formed their own churches, associations, and state conventions and sought affiliation with the SBC.

Northern Baptists opposed Southern encroachments in areas where they already had a presence. To mediate disputes, Northern and Southern Baptists held a number of conferences resulting in the Comity Agreements. Southern Baptists would stay south and Northern Baptists would stay north. But in 1940, fourteen churches in California formed a state convention and, in 1941, appealed for SBC affiliation. The SBC accepted the new state convention in 1942. In 1950, the Northern Convention changed its name to the American Baptist Convention and invited other Baptist groups to affiliate under this inclusive umbrella. At the same time, a SBC committee was studying a change to that same name.

The earliest SBC church in New England was the Screven Memorial Baptist church, formed in New Hampshire in 1960. The last state to form an SBC church was Vermont in 1964.

Excitement would not be contained as Marco reviewed his history. Behind the Mason / Dixon line, the south grew, protected like Israel in the womb in Egypt. During the middle of the twentieth century, the Southern churches grew in relative isolation. The one Southern Baptist entity that had not been isolated was their seminaries. An influx of professors and administrators educated in the liberal northern universities gradually changed these and other institutions. The Bible was relegated to just a good book.

Words came to his mind, spoken by Robert G. Lee, who died a year earlier. “You can count on me until my tongue is silent in the grave and until my hand can no longer wield a pen to keep my unalterable stand for the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God—giving rebuke to and standing in opposition to all enemies of the Bible, even as I have done for 50 years.”

Marco jumped up with a loud shout. Lee’s voice may have been silenced, but his was given life. Now the fundamentalists can emerge, a force to reckoned with. We will come out and change the world!

 

§

 

Southern Baptists have been involved in what was alternately known as “The Takeover” and “The Resurgence” since at least 1979. What led to such internal hostilities? To what extent have events of the past thirty or so years been rooted in politics? To what degree have they been founded in theology? Conservative presidents have been elected in every Southern Baptist Annual Meeting since 1979. At the same time, the denomination has become more centralized. Votes of the convention have impact on the seminaries. Furthermore, a litmus test on scripture has been put in place for leaders in the seminaries and other arms of the convention.

What do fundamentalists believe? Between 1910 and 1912, a series of 12 paperbacks entitled “The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth” were published. The Five Points are 1) divinely inspired and inerrant Scriptures, 2) deity of Christ and the virgin birth, 3) the substitutionary atonement, 4) Christ’s bodily resurrection, and 5) His personal, premillennial, and imminent second coming.

 

At fifteen, Lottie Moon wrote, “Literature has acquainted man with himself and the nature of things surrounding him. It has made us to know our history. The circumstances of his creation and the advancement of the race, up to his own existence, are not lost in oblivion, but preserved with almost perfect accuracy by those nations blessed with literature. Without it, age would succeed to age without gaining knowledge.” From the secular world, George Santayana wrote in his Life of Reason, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. …When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As believers, we gain a lot by familiarizing ourselves with from whence we came. It gives us context for who we are today as Christ followers, as a nation, and as friends, families, and co-workers.

Other works by Thomas Macy include his Fury series. First Fury, based on the real life of Rebecca Ann Johnson, deals with the impact of bitterness in a person’s life. Ruined addresses the trauma of child abuse. And Till Her Heart Dances looks at the various aspects of love.

 


The Courage of Your Faith, Volume 2

Are you willing to take a stand for what you believe to be true? The US is what it is today because of men and women from our past who had the courage to do just that. Now, at a time when political correctness often supersedes personal conviction, we need to ask ourselves that question. The Courage of Your Faith is a collection of twelve short stories from our Baptist history. Each story sets the stage for a Bible study on an issue as relevant today as it was then. You will be challenged and you will be surprised by what stands our forefathers took and by the impact they had. Today, "denomination" has lost significance. "Christian" seems more appropriate as we seek to minimize differences. Yet looking at Baptist History, as in this study, teaches us something of what it means to be a Christian and the role Baptists had in making the world what is today. “Baptists are indeed a peculiar people.” The collection consists of two volumes. Volume 2 1. In 1771, Baptists and Quakers face off against the British sympathizers at the Battle of Alamance. Some consider this encounter to be the true first battle of the American Revolutionary War. 2. Then, in 1784, as the new nation debates its future, Baptists give Madison an ultimatum and threaten the union of the new republic. If you ever wondered why, after having a hand in penning the Constitution, Madison would immediately submit its first amendment, check out this story. 3. In 1793 Williamsburg, with rumors of a slave rebellion, Gowan Pamphlet—a-slave—is pastoring a LARGE church of both slave and free blacks. In his own way, Gowan rebels by petitioning for admission of his church into an all-white association of churches. 4. In 1845, as if foreshadowing the strife that would engulf the nation, the Baptists of America face their own internal war over three issues, one of which is slavery. If we all viewed others as made in the image of God, perhaps the divisions around us would not be so great. 5. Following the Civil War, Lottie Moon is the picture of both suffering and fulfillment. How important is God in your life? Would you give up your most prized possession for the sake of Christ? What is the role of suffering in the life of a believer? Missions is important to Southern Baptists. As a missionary to China, Lottie Moon had to choose between the man she loved and the God she loved. She said that God had first claim on her life. 6. Are you a fundamentalist, a moderate, or a liberal? Why? In 1979, two philosophies contend for control of the Southern Baptist Convention. With Southern Baptist Seminaries moving further to the left, fundamentalist conservatives begin a takeover of the their Convention. Our daughter and her husband attended Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville at the end of its liberal / fundamental transition. Each of these stories complements a Bible Study that can be downloaded for free from the books' web site.

  • Author: Thomas Macy
  • Published: 2017-03-13 05:20:19
  • Words: 51016
The Courage of Your Faith, Volume 2 The Courage of Your Faith, Volume 2