Renowned rural church approaches 260th anniversary

The current iteration of Salem Black River Presbyterian Church, a looming Greek Revival structure which shows surprising little wear and tear, dates to 1846.

The church, Basilican in plan, with walls and ceilings of plaster and heart pine floors, has a slave gallery and boxed pews. It has played an important role in the development of the surrounding area, including the town of Mayesville, which today has approximately 700 residents, essentially unchanged over the past 125 years.

The congregation dates to 1759, with congregants first worshiping in a log cabin, then moving to a framed structure shortly before the American Revolution. A third church was built in 1804 and used until the current building was erected.

Its full-time first pastor, from 1773 until 1792, was Thomas Reese, a Princeton-educated churchman whose doctoral thesis was titled “The influence of Religion on Civic Society,” likely an unusual topic for an 18th century Colonial American theologian.

The makeup of the church’s antebellum congregation reflected the rural region’s growing dependence on cotton and the need for slaves to sow, tend and reap that crop.
In 1804 the congregation totaled 89: 45 whites and 44 blacks. In 1840, that number was 160, with 42 whites and 118 blacks. By the beginning of the War Between the States, the church’s rolls showed 67 white members and 389 blacks.

Many of the black congregants, who no doubt attended the church because they were required to, left Salem Church shortly after the war’s end to join Goodwill Presbyterian Church, just down the road from Salem Church.

Goodwill

Goodwill Presbyterian Church, just down the road from Salem Church, was begun in 1867 by black members of Salem Church.

Goodwill Presbyterian went on to become the mother church to many African-American churches in South Carolina, according to the blog Everything Happens at the Crossroads, which recounts a history of the Mayesville area.

Today, Salem Church has just 30 members of its roles and averages active attendance of 14 for its services, according to a 2015 article in the Darlington News and Press.

Among noted members of Salem Church have been Robert Witherspoon, a US Congressman who served during James Madison’s first term; Matthew Peterson Mayes, who served in the SC legislature and signed the SC Ordinance of Secession; and James M. Dabbs Sr., who, despite being born in 1896 and growing up on 10,000-acre plantation, was a Civil Rights leader who also served as a professor, farmer, author, church leader and Penn School Community Services trustee.

Dabbs deserve special attention. He took up the civil rights cause in the mid-1940s when he began writing about segregation and racial injustice in Southern culture. Dabbs served as president of the Southern Regional Council from 1957 until 1963, during which time he endorsed a petition requesting executive clemency from President John F. Kennedy for imprisoned civil rights activist Carl Braden. His wife Edith Mitchell Dabbs was also active in the Civil Rights movement.

Salem Church, despite the declining health of the surrounding area and the size of its congregation, continues to hold services twice a month, and both the church and graveyard are kept in immaculate condition.

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Combined research effort turns up identity of long-dead soldier

After more than 150 years, the identity of an Alabama soldier who died in the waning days of the War Between the States has been uncovered.

Lt. Josiah M. Brown perished on April 4, 1865, from pneumonia at a hotel in Newberry, SC, while passing through the community en route home to Greene County, Ala. All that was known about the officer’s identity was what appeared in the Newberry Weekly Herald on April 6, 1865: “Lieut. Brown of Greene Co. Ala. died from pneumonia on April 4, 1865 at the hotel in Newberry. He was buried with Masonic Honors.”

The late Edith Greisser of the Newberry Historical and Museum Society spent many hours tracking down information about the 14 Confederate soldiers who had died while passing through Newberry on their way home in 1865 and were buried in the Old Newberry Village Cemetery.

Five have never been identified, but Brown was the only one with a partial identity.

Greisser, who died in 2013, tried the Alabama State Archives and found there were more than 400 Confederate soldiers with the surname Brown. However, there were only three “Lieutenant Browns”; an A.J. Brown, an F.A. Brown and a J.M. Brown. Curiously, all were members of the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment, though of different companies.

Veterans Administration gravestone for Josiah M. Brown, issued before his full identity was known.

Greisser contacted the Chamber of Commerce in Greene County, and a representative went to the Confederate monument in town, but the only Brown listed was one who had died after 1907.

Chapters of Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Freemasons were no longer active in the county, a reflection of the hard times that have fallen on the area in the decades since the war’s end.

Greene County, located in the western half of the state, is the least populated county in Alabama, with fewer than 9,000 residents. By comparison, it had more than 30,000 residents in 1860. Its population fell by more than 40 percent between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, reflecting the heavy toll the war took on its populace.

A Masonic funeral service was conducted for Brown, at his request, but the Masonic records of the Newberry lodge were lost in a fire in 1866. The South Carolina State Masonic Lodge did not have the duplicate record of 1865 for Newberry Lodge in its collection.

Members of the Amity Lodge in Newberry recently picked up the ball and got in contact with the Alabama State Masonic Lodge. Gene Wicker, a member of the Amity Lodge, was able to discover that a Josiah M. Brown, who had served as an officer in Company D of the 5th Alabama, had been a member of the Beacon Lodge in Greene County, Ala., joining before the war, thereby solving the mystery.

The 5th Alabama saw its share of severe action, fighting at Seven Pines, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Boonsboro, Antietam, Chancellorsville,  Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and around Petersburg in the last months of the war. Brown was wounded at least once, at Gettysburg.

This past Sunday, a granite stone identifying Josiah M. Brown by his full name was unveiled at the Old Newberry County Cemetery, next to a Veterans Administration marker that reads “Lieut. Brown of Greene Co. Ala.” It was paid for by Amity Lodge member Huger Caughman Sr.

“As Masons, we take a vow to take care of our brothers, and that vow extends to the grave,” said Jason Moore, the Worshipful Master of the Amity Lodge, during a brief ceremony.

(Top: New gravestone for Lt. Josiah M. Brown, paid for by the Amity Masonic Lodge of Newberry, SC, at the Old Newberry Cemetery.)

New book ponders long-lasting effects of Reconstruction

If social media has a redeeming quality, it may be the ability to learn the unvarnished truth regarding the true feelings of others.

Within the past month I’ve come across numerous comments in the middle of Facebook conversations that were startlingly narrow-minded, yet because they singled out a group deemed OK to bash, no one uttered a peep.

The first came in early July, amid debates concerning the South’s ongoing educational deficiencies, specifically the overall low ranking many Southern states register on nationalized tests. Within a short time, the cause was identified solely as “Jim Crow.” Finally, one individual, located in the Northeast, stated bluntly, “I hate Southern white males.”

A second conversation dealt with the threat of radical Islam within the US. One individual countered that he had been to Islamic countries and that the Deep South, for example, was “way scarier” than Indonesia “in his experience.”

This individual lives on the West Coast, so it’s difficult to determine whether he’s ever set foot in the “Deep South.” I also understand that as a relatively tall, fit white guy, I may have an easier time than a black man or woman in the South. Still many blacks I speak with in the South – but by no means all – say that while issues certainly remain related to racism, they’re not specific to the South.

But unfortunately many of the South’s biggest detractors appear to have little to no actual experience with the South of today. It is certainly not perfect, but it’s vastly different from what it was 50 years ago, and it is a far friendly place, at least in my own experience, than New England, New York, much of the West Coast and the major Midwestern cities.

Still, the image persists, at least if one goes by the New York Times, Slate or other Northeastern-centric media outlets, that whites in the South are largely bigots, rural regions are populated almost exclusively by extras from Deliverance and blacks and other minorities live in constant fear, with some whites eagerly awaiting the return of “Judge Lynch.”

My experience has been largely the opposite: Whether on the West Coast, or the East Coast north of Richmond, no one will so much look at you when you pass them on the street, never mind say hello. Down South it’s unusual if you don’t wave when passing someone on a country road, whether you know them or not.

I can’t imagine standing to cross a street with someone in a Southern town and not saying hello and asking how they were doing, or vice versa. And anyone who knows me will tell you I am an introvert’s introvert.

While I may be a hermit in the making, my mother didn’t raise me to be rude. When I talk with strangers it’s not out of simple duty; I do have a genuine wish that their day goes well.

So why does a significant percentage of those outside the South feel white males in Dixie are a bunch of ignorant knuckle-draggers who keep white sheets and hoods in our closets?

A recently released book by Philip Leigh called Southern Reconstruction concludes that no small part of the problem is the result of Reconstruction, the period following the War Between the States.

However, Leigh doesn’t limit the term “reconstruction” to the 1865-1877 period that is generally used to designate the post-war era but expands it to include the decades afterward, when the former Confederate states lagged far behind most of the rest of the nation, stricken with higher rates of poverty, lower lifespans, poorer diets and reduced access to health care.

Leigh’s superb work points out that many of today’s mainstream historians focus solely on white racism in the South as the reason for Reconstruction’s failure, and that Reconstruction’s failure greatly aided the spread of white Southern racism.

Yet, as progressives like to point out, hate is a learned behavior. In other words, the racism that blacks experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow didn’t materialize out of nowhere – and it was different from that which existed during slavery. There was a root cause, and like many root causes, it was financial.

“The harmful effects of Reconstruction were more substantial, multiracial, and protracted than commonly understood, with poverty being among the most devastating,” Leigh writes.

Stereotypes play a role in how we see Reconstruction today: “Although Southern poverty and cotton culture is commonly associated with blacks, in 1940, whites made up two-thirds of the region’s farmers who either rented their lands or were sharecroppers,” Leigh writes. “According to a 1938 presidential economic report, about half of Southern white farmers were sharecroppers ‘living under economic conditions almost identical to those of Negro sharecroppers.’”

Unfortunately, post-Civil War Republicans were more interested in holding and building on political gains than actual advocating for black civil rights.

Even though blacks represented less than 2 percent of the population in the Northern states, compared to 40 percent in the Confederate states, most white Northerners wanted blacks concentrated in the South. Some white Northerners were concerned with increased competition for jobs if freed slaves moved North, while others likely were motivated by a dislike for people different from themselves, much as they disliked foreigners just off the boat from Europe or Asia.

Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, thought emancipation would motivate Northern blacks to move to the South. In 1862, when blacks comprised less than 1 percent of the Illinois population, the state’s soldiers voted 3 to 1 to deny the blacks the right to vote, and Massachusetts and Illinois each refused to resettle contrabands (slaves behind Union lines) in their states during the war, according to Leigh.

Reconstruction was probably doomed to failure given the corruption that took place immediately following the war. Budgets in Southern states mushroomed, even if residents rarely got anywhere near their money’s worth as politicos, some Northerners who’d moved South after the war and others opportunists from the region, lined their pockets in many states.

Once the states were “redeemed,” a term which meant that Democrats effectively ousted Republicans for control, often by dubious means, the first goal of the new administration was to reduce the cost of operating state government, Leigh said, adding that segregation and disfranchisement of blacks didn’t begin to pick up steam until Populists were elected in the 1890s.

Leigh writes that white Southerners resented the financial burden associated with educating ex-slaves. Given that abolition was a national policy, many felt that the federal government should at least partly assist with the effort. Southern states were already poor to begin with and ultimately slashed education spending for both races.

There was certainly unequal treatment before the law and a general animus toward blacks in the South, particularly in the late 19th century and early 20th century. But Leigh argues that efforts to raise the South were hindered by the economic serfdom it was held in by northeastern economic interests.

He cites as an example the artificially high costs imposed on Southern steel by Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, who created the U.S. Steel monopoly, recognized that the South, specifically the steel industry around the Birmingham, Ala., area, represented the biggest threat to his Pennsylvania operation.

By 1895, he had bought up the major Southern steel mills and imposed discriminatory pricing on Southern production.

“Thereafter,” Leigh writes, “steel from the company’s Alabama’s mills included an incremental markup … of $3 per ton over the Pittsburgh quote.” In addition, “buyers of Birmingham steel were required to pay freight from Birmingham plus a phantom charge as if the shipments originated in Pittsburgh.”

By the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to investigating the matter, during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, it was discovered that Birmingham’s steel costs were the lowest in the country and 26 percent below those of Pittsburgh.

For 80 years, the South suffered from burdensome tariffs and monopolistic rate charges, costs that kept wages down, stymied progress and contributed greatly to the poverty that helped create dissention between races.

But Reconstruction and the decades that followed it remain little understood among much of the population. In secondary schools, if it’s taught at all, it’s narrowly defined as a period when Southern whites sought to not only disfranchise blacks, but essentially place them back in the fetters of slavery.

White Southerners weren’t blameless but there was plenty of criticism to be leveled at others, as well.

As our nation currently tangles with the ghosts of the past, perhaps we would do well to seek out the reasons why the South has struggled economically and educationally for much of the past 150 years.

The reason, as Phil Leigh demonstrates clearly in Southern Reconstruction, isn’t simply that Southern whites didn’t like Southern blacks. History is rarely that evident.

(Top: Sharecroppers pick cotton in Arkansas in 1938.)

SC structure drew inspiration from Washington Irving

One of South Carolina’s more celebrated architectural gems began as an antebellum bank.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, on Charleston’s East Bay Street, has been garnering the attention of locals and visitors alike since its construction in 1854.

Its Moorish design made it a novelty then and now, and it caught the eye of famed writer William Gilmore Simms, who penned an article for Harper’s Magazine in June 1857.

“It is a novelty in the architecture of Charleston, if not of the day, being Moorish in all of its details, yet without reminding you of the Alhambra or the Vermillion towers,” wrote Simms (1806-1870), regarded as a force in antebellum Southern literature. “It is of brownstone of two tints, laid alternately – an arrangement which adds considerably to the effect. The interior is finished with arabesque work from floor to ceiling, and is lighted with subdued rays from the summit. This gives a rich and harmonious effect to the whole. It is of recent erection, Jones and Lee the architects. The corporation itself is a new one, and prosperous, like all the temples reared to the god of the Mines, the Counter, and the Mint, in this virtuous city.”

The building, built to house the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank, was designed by Charlestonians Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee in 1853 and completed the following year.

Jones was an especially notable architect whose other works included the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg and Charleston’s famed Magnolia Cemetery.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank building has rounded horseshoe arches and a façade featuring pale Jersey and darker Connecticut brownstone, giving it a striped effect typical of many Moorish structures.

Its design is thought to have been influenced by illustrations in Washington Irving’s 19th century work, Tales of the Alhambra, a revised edition of which was published two years before construction.

The structure was built by David Lopez, who also constructed Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue and Institute Hall, where the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession was signed in December 1860.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank continued in Charleston until Federal bombardment of the city during the War Between the States forced the bank’s move to Columbia. It didn’t survive the conflict.

Later, the structure was used for a variety of purposes, including a Western Union telegraph office, office space for long-time Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings and, most recently, a restaurant.

By 1970 there was talk of tearing the building down to make room for parking; however Charleston banker Hugh Lane Sr. spent $50,000 to preserve the structure in the early 1970s.

(Top: Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, Charleston, SC.)

An old veteran, or a very, very old veteran?

Most of the graves at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, just outside Atlanta, are unmarked, holding the remains of Southern soldiers who died during the Atlanta campaign, including many killed at the bloody Battle of Chickamauga.

There are, however, several dozen graves of men who died decades after the war, living out their lives in the nearby Georgia Confederate Soldiers Home.

Among these was Lorenzo Dow Grace, who, according to his gravestone, lived to the ripe old age of 115 before dying in 1928.

The September 1926 issue of Confederate Veteran magazine, then the publication of the United Confederate Veterans, devoted several inches of space to Grace, who served in Capt. Sisson’s Company of Georgia State Troops during the last seven months of the war:

“Lorenzo Dow Grace, who was admitted to the Georgia Home early in 1923, at which time he was long past the century mark, (is) still a lively specimen. The Secretary of the Home, Mr. Sam J. Bell, writes of him:

‘From the best information obtainable, which seems to be fairly authentic and, to say the least of it, is indisputable, Lorenzo Dow Grace was born on October 29, 1813, in Buncombe County, N.C. From this it will be seen that he will be one hundred and thirteen years of age on the 29th of October, next. He is in splendid health and as ‘lively as a cricket.’ He walks a great deal (without the use of a cane, by the way), and runs errands for the other old men at the Home.

‘Moving from Buncombe County, N. C., to Ellijay, Gilmer County, Ga., while yet a young man, he engaged in the occupations of wood chopping and gardening for the public, therefore spending almost his entire time in the open air of the mountains of North Georgia, which, no doubt, accounts in no small way for his longevity.

Confederate pension application for Lorenzo Dow Grace from 1903, showing Dow’s date of birth as 1828, rather than 1813, as was later stated, making him at least 15 years younger than later stories indicated. Click to embiggen.

‘When the first guns were fired at Fort Sumter, he tendered his services to the Confederacy, but was refused, as he was over age; and it was not until the last call was made for men from sixteen to sixty that he was finally accepted as a private in Captain Sisson’s Company, of Ralston’s Battalion, with which outfit he remained until honorably discharged at Kingston, Ga., at the close of the war.”

He attributes his longevity to his life in the open and to his simple habits. Most of his life was spent on a farm, and when that work became too much for him, he went to chopping wood for a living, and he made it until his third wife died and he was left alone, his children of an earlier marriage having died of ‘old age.’ So he decided to lay down his ax and live for the next ‘forty years at least’ on the bounty of his State as a reward for his services to the Confederacy. He also served in the Mexican War, and even then was not a youth. He says that he never had much time to waste in his life, and he never expects to get too old to learn. He eats an apple every day and drinks in the sunshine of the out of doors, and thus stores away strength and energy far beyond the time of the average life.

However, Grace’s Georgia’s pension application, filed in 1903, states that he was born in 1828, meaning that the aging Confederate was approximately 100 when he died. No mean feat, particularly 90 years ago, but definitely more common than making it to 115.

Of course, it’s quite possible that information such as that found in pension applications was inaccessible while applicants were still alive and, given Grace’s age, he could well have lost track of his own age. On the other hand, he might have been looking for some late-in-life publicity.

Grace, of course, didn’t make it too much longer past his bit of fame in the Confederate Veteran. And whoever was tasked with making his gravestone was apparently none the wiser regarding the aged veteran’s actual birth year.

(Lorenzo Dow Grace’s gravestone at the Marietta Confederate Cemetery, Marietta, Ga.)

Old-style church reminiscent of English country parish chapel

The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, located in small-town Union, SC, reminds one of a rural English parish church.

Built in Gothic Revival style, its cornerstone was laid in 1855 but construction was halted during the War Between the States. Featuring rusticated granite, the church was completed shortly after the war and features diagonal buttresses, steep gabled roofs and a Louis Tiffany stained glass chancel triplet window.

There is even a good-sized bell in its tower that can be rung from the ground by pulling on the old-fashioned rope that extends to the ground.

The church’s characteristics – its small size and “intimate relationship between the building and surrounding landscape, in particular – are said to derive from English parish-church architecture of the 1300s, which was a model for small churches built in the US in 1840s and 1850s, according to National Register records.

Stained glass window, Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Union, SC.

The English influence isn’t surprising given that two of the key individuals behind the construction of the Church of the Nativity were sisters Charlotte Poulton and Mary Poulton Dawkins, recently arrived in antebellum South Carolina from England.

The Tiffany triple window is behind the altar and features shades of green, gold, crimson, blue and purple. In the central bay of the window is the Good Shepherd, while Sts. John and Peter are shown in the right and left windows.

The church’s white Carrara marble font was carved by noted sculptor Hiram Powers and ordered by Mary Cantey Hampton, the wife of Revolutionary War hero Wade Hampton I, for Columbia’s Trinity Church. It proved too small and was given to the Church of the Nativity, according to National Register records.

Powers divided the font into three design units – the base, column shaft and font itself. All are octagonal and each is filled with carved sacred motifs.

The church cemetery contains the graves of many veterans, including one from the War of 1812, several Confederate soldiers, and some from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Among Confederates in the graveyard is William Munro, an infantry and artillery officer who was wounded at least four times but survived to go on to serve as a bank president and several terms in the state legislature following Reconstruction.

Also buried at the church is Pvt. Alpheus Cushman, a New Yorker who served with Co. B of the 7th US Cavalry Regiment. The 7th US Cavalry was among military units sent to Upstate South Carolina during Reconstruction following the declaration of martial law in response to Ku Klux Klan violence in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Cushman, a farrier, was said to have fallen in love with a Union County girl, but grew ill, and his illness prevented him from marrying her, though it could also have been possible that the girl’s parents weren’t keen on their daughter being betrothed to a Yankee so soon after the war.

Whatever the case, Cushman is said to have taken his own life out of despair, on May 20, 1871.

After his death, the members of his company asked that they be allowed to give their compatriot a Christian burial. Locals agreed, but stipulated that they would choose the plot.

Cushman was not only buried in the far corner of the cemetery, but his grave was placed north-south, unlike typical Christian burials, and every other one at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, which is east-west.

Of course, the 7th US Cavalry would gain notoriety a little more than five years later, when more than 260 members of the unit were wiped out at Little Bighorn.

Hurricane Matthew uncovers clutch of Civil War ordnance

folly-beach-cannon-balls

When word circulated that Civil War-era cannon balls had been uncovered on beach south of Charleston following last weekend’s hurricane, I was somewhat surprised.

While the strength of such storms can’t be underestimated, the ability to move, say, a 12- or 24-pound round shell from the bottom of Charleston Harbor onto a beach would be quite a feat.

It appears that the clutch of 16 cannon balls found Sunday on Folly Beach had most likely been in place since the 1861-65 conflict.

“There was a gun emplacement there during the Civil War and this must have been a stack because they were all consolidated together,” John Manzi, who has a home on Little Oak Island, on the other side of Folly, told USA Today.

Manzi said a friend went on to the beach Sunday and found the Civil War-era shells.

Bomb squads successfully detonated most of the shells, which were badly corroded by 150 years of sand and salt.

An official with the area sheriff’s department said a few of the shells were transported to the nearby Navy base.

Maj. Eric Watson, a public information officer with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, said his office had to wait for the tide to go down to recover all the ordnance.

“When the tide receded, our guys and members of the US Air Force explosive team used a small amount of C-4 to detonate the cannon balls right there on the beach,” he said.

Fuse holes were noted in at least some of the shells, indicating the ordnance was designed to explode, rather than being solid shot, which was used to batter targets.

(Top: Exciting action photo of cannon balls found on Folly Beach, SC.)