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Apostle to the Blacks
It would be an error to assume the church in the south was solely the work of the Scotch-Irish. It was also very much the creation of Puritans received by the church in the South from those leaving New England, and the creation of Huguenots or "Calvinistes," as they were referred to in French records.
The Presbyterian Church in the South was chiefly the fusion of the descendants of three groups with claims to moral greatness: Scots "Covenanters," New England Puritans, and Huguenots.
In Sunbury, Georgia, the New
England Puritans coming South called themselves "Congregational
Presbyterians." The coming of the Puritans to Georgia was said by
W.B. Stevens in his History of Georgia to be "an honour to Georgia, and
has ever proved one of its richest blessings."
Still standing is Midway Church near Savannah, founded by Puritans who moved to Georgia in 1753. The present Midway Church, built in 1792, stands now as a museum. This church, though called Congregational, was in all essentials Presbyterian.
The congregationalists and Presbyterians often interchanged ministers, so every
minister in Midway's history, except two Congregationalists, were Presbyterians.
Midway Church furnished at least thirty Presbyterian ministers to the South.
The Midway Meeting House has been called the "cradle of the Revolutionary spirit" in Georgia. Two of its members signed the Declaration of Independence, Hall and Gwinnett, and two others were Brigadier Generals in the American army The meeting house, the biggest "sedition shop" in the South, was burned by the British in 1778. The present church was rebuilt from the ashes.
From Midway Church also came the Presbyterian martyr, Charles Colcock Jones,
the "Apostle to the Blacks," who first joined Midway Church, in his words, "fourth
of the mind, while to these added gracious Southern manners and the independence
that wealth gave.
Among those of Midway few families were greater than the plainly named Jones. This family owned several plantations, over one hundred slaves, and lived at the top of the Southern hierarchy. They moved in the high low-country society of the East. Mary S. Jones' dear friend, Miss Kitty Stiles, was close friend to the Robert E. Lees.
Kitty's mother was a sister of Lee's roommate at West Point, Jack Mackay of Savannah, whom Lee loved, referring to him as "My glorious Jack," "Darling Jack," and "Mackay, my child." A letter dated November 3, 1831, started, "Delectable Jack." In the letter he urged Mackay to "look a little to that money of yours," and to save it. Lee commented, "There is an air about a well feathered nest that nothing can attain to."
Charles Jones was a planter as well as a clergyman. The sampling of the family letters from 1853-1868, edited by R.M. Myers, in the book Children of Pride, won a National Book Award in 1973.
The life of Dr. Charles Jones fitted a medieval religious story with the Protestant extra of an elevated family life and a happy marriage. Dr. Jones was an aristocrat who used his wealth and position to minister to slaves.
Charles Jones' father was a Southern squire, a former officer in the American Revolution, whose views were those of an English gentleman. Charles' mother was a Girardeau of Huguenot family. She was a woman of piety who had prayed that her son would be a minister, but she died when Charles was five years old. (Dr. John Girardeau, for many years a minister in ante-bellum Charleston, was considered one of the most eloquent Presbyterian preachers of the era.)
In Charleston, South Carolina, the Huguenot Church is on a site assigned in 1681, a church on the same land longer than any others in the city. It consistently refused to affiliate with the Anglican establishment. While not named Presbyterian, it was, like Midway, so recognized generally and often served by its ministry. The present building was erected in 1845, and its last minister was a Presbyterian, the Rev. C. S. Vedder, before the church became a museum. This was after 1900.
In the earlier days of the Huguenot church, so many members lived up the Cooper River that the time of the worship service was set by the tides. Bancroft, the historian, said these members could be seen every Sunday"...the parents with their children...making their way in light skiffs..." down the river to worship services.
Rev. Pierre Levrier served as preacher of the Huguenot Church from 1774-1785, for which he was paid four dollars a week, and, according to the Minutes, "half-a-dozen of the best old Madeira wine should be sent him occasionally." (Pioneer Jackson Creek paid better, "eight dollars per Sabbath" in 1786.)
Aware of the diversity of Calvinistic backgrounds in Savannah among Presbyterians, the Independent Church ("a Branch of the Church of Scotland" was inscribed over its door) called a German minister, the Rev. John Joachim Zubly, who performed his sermons as the occasion demanded in fluent French, English, or German. He was pastor from 1759-1776.
Zubly along with Archibald Bulloch* of Savannah were delegates to the Continental Congress. Zubly could not make the jump to a republican form of government. He was a born legitimist. He told the Continental Congress that a republic "was little better than a government of devils."
Bulloch was more fortunate in his views. He was the son of a Scotch minister who arrived in Savannah in 1750. He was the grandson of Archibald Stobo, the Presbyterian minister at the Circular Congregational Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1700, where the Presbyterians and Congregationalists worshipped together. Bulloch became quite a patriot, declaring that it was "no time for moderation."
Bulloch was elected President of the Provincial Congress of Georgia. As part of the war effort he urged restraint in cursing, particularly "on the Sabbath." Of the Tories, he said that there were "few righteous souls among them."
As "President" of Georgia he was the first man to receive a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Georgia. * He, a party of gentlemen, and the militia took the Declaration around Savannah where he read it to the citizens in various places. One place he read it was at the Liberty Pole. After several readings of new Declaration during the day, "His Excellency" and others "dined under the cedar trees and cheerfully drank to the United, Free, and Independent States of America." That night they had a torchlight parade and mock funeral to bury King George.
Charles Jones of the Puritan-Huguenot heritage was an aristocrat. Many of the people of Puritan and Hugenot lineage were plantation owners and well-to-do merchants. Their refinement, piety and wealth set the tone in Presbyterian coastal churches.
Charles Jones married Mary Jones, his cousin, on December 21, 1830. The marriage took place at "Retreat" plantation where the ceremony was performed by his old teacher, Dr. William McWhir.
The Rev. Charles Jones went to First Church, Savannah, to be its minister after having graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1831. Laid out before him was the obvious career: Apostle, not to the Gentiles, but to the Genteel.
The spiritual plight and religious ignorance of the black slaves, however, haunted him. He felt the Holy Spirit calling him to another field of endeavor. He left First Church to return to his plantation and began home mission work among the black slaves of the area.
It is to the credit of the planters near Midway that they were secure enough to allow him to labor among their blacks. This was a time when it was becoming accepted that any type of education was dangerous for slaves. Yet the planters of Midway banded together to grant Jones a token wage for his pastoral services.
The mission work required him to ride from place to place, plantation to farm, station to station, preaching, counseling, holding Sunday School, giving Bible lessons and personal instructions to those who asked for it. These labors were self-imposed.
Jones was not alone in Georgia in having a more enlightened attitude towards blacks. The ministers of the Roswell church, Dr. Nathaniel Pratt, was given two black boys by a well wishing parishoner in 1836. Dr. Pratt schooled them and set them free. One became a missionary to Africa; the other moved to Atlanta and was a prosperous cabinet maker.
More typical was the fact some churches owned slaves. The Stoney Creek Church in South Carolina (where descendants of Pierre Robert, the first Huguenot minister in South Carolina, were buried) owned slaves and hired them out to make income for the church. The congregation included wealthy planters who had given them. The inventory of the South Carolina Church of John's Island and Wadmalaw, composed of wealthy rice and indigo planters, was in 1838: one plantation, twenty Negroes, a summer manse, a winter manse, $12,000 in bonds, $2,000 in stocks, two summer churches and a winter church in the middle of the island.
In such an atmosphere where even churches owned slaves, enlightenment was rare, and the attitude of those who helped blacks to a better life, whether spiritual or economic, was highly resented.
Consequences of the labors of Jones were, according to one witness, "the increased intelligence, good order, neatness" of the colored people. The attitude of many to the Reverend Jones can only be imagined. It was at a time when some considered blacks did not have souls; laws forbade teaching them to read; and society was in open opposition to any improvement in the life of the slaves.
The accusations hurled at Dr. Jones can easily be imagined. Incendiary was only one. But Dr. Jones, "controlled by the love of the Lord Jesus," became even more zealous in his duties.
Unfortunately, the climate in which he worked was characterized as "warm damp, and exceedingly depressing." He often returned home late at night from his travels in and out of the swamp-laden rice plantations, mosquito-bitten, collapsing, soaked from horse sweat, perspiration, and stagnant water, but he had preached, taught, and catechized to the dark hours. The slaves often could not give him their full attention until their work was done.
Dr. Jones was in a tight situation in regard to religious appeal to the slaves. He did not wish to give cheap and hyper-emotional religion, yet on the other hand he wished to reach them. He was Presbyterian and intellectual enough to insist on giving sermons on Biblical texts from the original Greek and Hebrew, which he personally translated, and wrote out in advance. What the slaves thought of this is not recorded, but he was a practical enough man to meet them elsewhere.
He wrote a Catechism first published in Savannah in 1837 for the "Negro race." This was also translated by the others who were bearing the white man's burden into Turko-Armenian and Chinese. He published a supplement, The Religious Instructions of Negroes in the United States, in 1842. He was a Presbyterian to the end and suggested outcries, amens and boisterous singing be discouraged.
His health was ruined by these labors, and Mary Jones encouraged him to
become a professor of Ecclesiastical History at Presbyterian Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. There on the night of April 18, 1850, his house burned and the family barely escaped alive. He may have seen this as an omen.
The Presbyterian Church at that time was a national organization, not autonomous regional organizations, and the great challenge to help blacks on a national basis came to him in 1850. Dr. Jones was made head of the Domestic Mission Work for the national denomination. There he was able to publicize to the country the spiritual desolation of countless slaves. He was practical enough to see that any great help for the spiritual relief of the blacks would have to come from a public relations campaign. He succeeded in awakening the attention of many in the churches to the spiritual plight of the Negroes. ("Stonewall" Jackson was one of these. He supported a Sunday School for blacks.)
In this effort, Jones' health completely collapsed. He had to retire as an invalid to his home in Georgia. He had a creeping paralysis, it was felt, caught from the swamps. Everything was affected except his head and his lungs. He would not stop either preaching or speechmaking.
Paralyzed and unable to stand, he was "toted" by devoted blacks and carried into churches where, seated in a chair, he preached. Elevated on a pulpit chair high enough so the seated could see him, organs played, and during the sermons the congregation stared at him. There was nothing left to be said. Everyone knew the feeling of the man for slaves caused his sufferings. He had known what would be the result of the malarial swamps. The man was no fool. He had chosen to be a fool for Christ. They were witnessing a self-martyrdom. Yet all agreed he was radiant. "Not I but Christ liveth in me," he said. He was always smiling. "I know," said the psalmist, "no greater joy." Here again was one who had taken thorns in the flesh. And for many who saw him, the Christian tradition was aroused in them. And it wasn't necessary for him to preach.
However, when he preached, it was sensible, not emotional. Mary Moragne, on February 25, 1836, in Augusta, Georgia, worshipped at a service where C. C. Jones was preaching. A poetess and author of a novel, a Fenimore Cooper type tale of the Revolution, she was an intelligent observer. She noted of Jones' preaching that "his manner was calm, and impressive, and his discourse sensible and connected."
The question of how this man supported slavery has to be answered. But it is as obvious as why St. Francis of Assisi did not seek to do away with the feudal system of the Middle Ages. He chose to work within the system, such as it was. It is doubtful whether any other system could have worked in the situation. The fact Midway Community perished as soon as slavery was abolished showed that the way of life was economically dependent on slavery.
Christ's concerns were first spiritual. So were those of C. Colcock Jones. He was interested in the spiritual Kingdom. Questioning of why is too literal and misses the point rather like asking why Jesus did not raise an army to fight Rome.
Compassion was the essence of C.C. Jones. Christianity is said to be a success if it generates "Humanitas" or that compassion Dante said made the Church a necessity for civilization. Jones was an example of it.
The years as an invalid enabled Jones to enjoy his family. What is more, his family seemed to enjoy him. His wife wrote she was unable to enjoy any time he was absent. His oldest son said of him, "I have always loved... my father almost to veneration and positive worship."
They had a happy and pleasant manse. It was a large white house on a green lawn. In front of it was a cedar tree father Jones had planted. In the back of the house two magnolias were planted, named Charles and Joseph, for the two sons. The mother had a rose garden which she said often was "blooming in rare beauty."
Mary Jones, at the sight of her Georgia manse, always began singing or humming. Her husband asked her once if she were aware she always started singing when she was in sight of home. It seemed to be a spontaneous, even sub-conscious, affirmation.
Charles and Mary were successful in their children. The daughter, Mary, married a minister. Charles became a lawyer, mayor of Savannah, then a distinguished Georgia historian. Joseph became a medical doctor. Finally only the father remained at home. Mrs. Jones lost him in 1863.
His paralysis became worse in March. It was obvious the end was near. On the afternoon of the 16th, he lay to rest on the bed in his room. He put one foot over the other and fell asleep. He died sleeping. He was dressed in a full suit of black, but not a single change of clothing was necessary for him to lie in state. In some Eastern Christian literary and religious traditions, bodily purity at death signals the demise of a saint.
The family placed his corpse in the study, where he had labored to prepare his sermons, translating diligently from the Greek and Hebrew scriptures. There he lay "surrounded by...favorite authors." He was buried the third day in the church yard of Midway.
The children grieved, of course, but it was naturally Mark Jones who was hit the hardest. She wrote her daughter after his death, "He is ever present, in my tenderest recollections." Her cry goes up like a wail, "For thirty-two years...his companionship...united in tenderest love."
It proved impossible for her to maintain the old house alone. It was too dangerous, too expensive, and she could not get help after the Confederacy collapsed. It was necessary for her to leave her home of so many touching recollections.
It was not unusual then that she could not sleep at times. Before leaving the house she looked out on the lawn at midnight, thinking, "I alone seem awake in the vast universe around and above. And yet I know that I am not alone; I feel encompassed by evidences of...Diety...Yes, here in...utter solitude my heavenly Father hath given me songs of rejoicing even amid the utter loneliness and desolation of a widow's..."
She finally moved to her married daughter's manse in Louisiana. The daughter's husband, a minister, had taken a church in New Orleans. It was in her daughter's house that she died in 1868. She was buried in Louisiana.
The grave of C.C. Jones is across the road from Midway Church. The church has been made into a museum run by the State Highway Department and a modern highway now separates Charles Jones from the sanctuary in which he joined the church the fourth Sabbath of a brisk November, 1822.
His life was one of the spiritual moments of the Old South. There were many who reached high points of compassion, but few from so high a social position as this saintly aristocrat and owner of three plantations who devoted his life to ministering to slaves.
James Bulloch, grandson of Archibald, moved to Roswell, Georgia, near Atlanta where he built "Bulloch Hall." There on December 22, 1853, Martha Bulloch, his daughter, married Theodore Roosevelt. Their son, Theodore, became President of the United States. In 1905 Theodore Roosevelt attended a service in Roswell Presbyterian, and, at the conclusion of the service, knelt beneath the pulpit to receive a benediction and blessing from the minister, Dr. William Baker, in his mother's old church.
The 1841 mansion of James Bulloch was described as "...of the Southern colonial style with a wide portico supported by graceful columns that tower high to meet the roof," and with rooms that are "unbelievable large...spacious and commodious," by no less a person than Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With the Wind.
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