A Sketch Of The Beginnings Of Georgia
Disciples Of Christ In Six Letters By The Georgia Pioneer Preacher Nathan W.
Smith, Written To His Son In 1879.
Old Preacher’s Experience
Letters To My Son
You have often and earnestly request me to give you some account of my
life, and especially my knowledge of the history of the Disciple in Georgia as I
have since the year 1833 preached in 39 counties in Georgia, and 4 counties in
South Carolina, and 6 counties in Alabama, and 4 counties in Tennessee, and
immersed believers in the lord in each of these States. Have been immersing
candidates since the year 1836.
Am very sorry that I have failed to keep
an account of the great numbers that I have immerse, many of whom are gone long
since to the spirit-land; and many have moved to the far West. But as you wanted
to know something of my early history; I was born the 4th of
September, 1813, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, and came to Clarke
County, Georgia, in 1831. I had but very little education; at intervals went to
the old fields-schools as they were called; learned to read, write, and studied
arithmetic – say half way through the arithmetic. Had access to say half dozen
books only, and no newspapers. The people where I was raised were poor, and
scarcely anybody at that time took a newspaper. I never had free access to
newspapers till 1834.
In the year 1834 I married your mother
in the county of Wilkes, Georgia, who is now
sitting close by me at work. She was an orphan whose parents both died when she
was a child. She, like myself, had but a very limited chance to go to school and
improve her mind when young. But possessing naturally a strong mind and untiring
energy, she was well calculated for a preacher’s wife, for a truth, I confess,
that I am more indebted to my wife for what I am and what I have done as a
preacher, than any other human instrumental in it. And I would say to all young
men that expect to preach, be careful as to the disposition of the lady you
choose for a wife. Many a good preacher’s usefulness is destroyed b the
conduct of his wife. I knew once a very talented and fine preacher, whose wife
would use every stratagem in her power to keep him at home, and from going to
his appointments. One Saturday, trying to prevail on him not to go to meeting,
and finding she was not successful, she secretly got some fire and went out and
set the woods on fire, so that her husband had to go to fighting fire to save
In my next letter I will tell you where
I joined the church, and of the churches I found in Georgia and their preachers,
that called themselves Christians, but called by others, New Lights and
Stoneites. Also tell you who first preached the reformation to my knowledge.
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard, May 3, 1879.
When I came to Georgia, I found that in the counties of Clarek, Walton,
Jackson, Hall, Wilkes, Newton, Fayette, Dekalb and Gwinnett, there were churches
calling themselves Christians, taking the Bible alone as their only rule of
faith and practice. But they were called by others New Lights, Stoneites, and
other names. Among the preachers that I knew, were Elders Arthur Dupree, George
L. Smith, Willis B. Nall, Dr. Adam Clements, James Bugs, Jacob Calahan, Joseph
Calahan, Wm. L. Anderson Zachariah Holloway, Isaac Parker, Isham Hicks, Dr. T.J.
McGaughery and James Presley. Of this number only two are now living, so far as
I am informed. Eight of them embraced the views of the Disciple after hearing
and learning what they taught.
In the year 1832 I united with one of
the churches in Clarke County, and was immersed by Elder A. Dupree, who also
immersed your mother the same year. In these churches there were some of the
members taking the Christian Messenger, a monthly edited and published by
B.W. Stone and John T. Johnson. Those who read this paper advocated the views
and teachings of the Disciples, while a large majority opposed. These churches
practiced the mourning-bench system,
and taught the abstract influence of the Holy Spirit in conversion, together
with a special call to the ministry. And here I will tell you of an incident
that happened with a Brother Westmoreland and myself. When I was insisting upon
the necessity of a direct operation of the Spirit to convert the sinner,
Brother Westmoreland said to me, “Why do you go about from place to place to
preach? If the Spirit has to do the work, you need not to go; for ‘said he,’
the Spirit can get there before you can.” And again I met with a Bro.
Harrison, who was arguing in favor of immersion, with faith and repentance, for
the remission of sins, he was too strong for me but I promised to read and be
prepared for him by the next time he came around. And I also called to my
assistance, as I then thought, one of the best scripturians I had ever met. And
in trying to upset Bro. Harrison I became a convert myself.
In the winter of 1833, a Bro. T.V.
Griffin, of Tennessee, came to Georgia and preached in several counties among
the above named churches; but there was no visible result, only a good deal of
talk and argument among preachers and members. He was the first preacher I heard
preach the principles of the Disciples.
Then in the winter and spring of 1836,
Bro. Wm. R. Hooten, of Tennessee, came into Georgia and preached for several
months among the churches, and he on his tour immersed twenty-six believers on
confession of faith. He told me and some others that those churches in their
then present organization would die out; which has been literally fulfilled, for
I do not know of one in the State. There may be a few persons standing alone
without church or preacher. There was quite a standstill for a while. I immersed
several in 1838 and 1839; but not until 1842 was there anything like a formal
division, which was brought about by the Bible Christians, as they were called.
They made the move to get rid of the Reformers – Campbellites, as they called
them. This movement was begun in Clarke County; but unfortunately for them they
found themselves hopelessly in the
minority. In the church where I was a members there was about 40 or more
Disciples, and only seven of the old side, that they went out from us, but I
think after a time four of the seven came back. This movement brought matters to
a crisis. I was preaching to this church in Clarke County when this movement was
made, and continued to do so for several years, and by 1845 this church
increased from about 40 members to about 90 and on the rise. Hope in my next to
tell about outher churches and successes.
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard, May 10,
As Bro. Hooten said, there was a dying
out of those aforementioned churches, and the preachers among them that did
embrace the vies of the Disciples were slow to confess it, for some of them
stuck out for 10 years or more and were still slower to proclaim them.
In the year 1844, there was not, in my
knowledge, an organized congregation outside of Savannah and Augusta, except the
then known Republican Church in Clarke County, where the division in form first
took place in 1842. The brethren in 1844, then numbered about one hundred,
concluded to send me out as an evangelist, saying, they would support my family.
They kept me in the field for three years. During these three years I traveled
extensively in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, and I immersed a great many
persons and organized several congregations, that were built up from very small
beginnings to large and respectable churches. These where days of trial, labor
and sacrifice. Part of the time I was in feeble health, but preached many a
sermons for one to two and half hours long, with only a biscuit and a glass of
water for my breakfast; and many times before leaving the place had to answer
many and various questions. In 1845 I went to Augusta to meet and see Bro.
Alexander Campbell, it being his second visit to Georgia. He had in 1838 visited
Georgia and South Carolina, preaching in Savannah and Augusta, and in some of
the districts in South Carolina. While in Augusta arrangements were made for
Bro. Dr. Daniel Hook, the then resident preacher of Augusta, to join with me in
the up country, which he did; and although not accustomed to this kind of labor,
yet he was a host in himself. He was polite, and so kindly bath in his nature
and manners, so dignified in appearance, and so devoted to the truth and the
Master’s cause, that he commanded both attention and respect wherever he went;
consequently he became a very able and efficient traveling evangelist as
long as his health would admit of this service. I am not prepared to say what
year there was on organization of Disciple in Augusta, not in Savannah, and in
some of the adjacent counties, Effingham and Scriven, nor who were the prime
movers in that section except our Bro. S.C. Dunning.
Bro. Hook began preaching in Jefferson
County, afterwards removed to the city of Augusta, where he with a few other
noble souls organized a small congregation, who now are all dead except our
excellent and much loved Sister E.H. Tubman. Owing to various causes there never
was much accomplished in advancing the cause either in Savannah or the adjacent
Counties, notwithstanding our good Bro. Dunning was remarkably zealous in the
cause of the Lord – a man of great faith and profoundly devoted to the word of
the Lord, and was the most constant reader of the Scriptures of any man I ever
saw. In 1846 he came up to the country in the summer and joined me in several
evangelizing trips both in Georgia and Alabama, and nearly every after, as long
as he lived, he and Sister Dunning came up and spent the summer and part of the
fall months. Sister D. staying at my house and he and I going round at various
places preaching. He was a most remarkable man in many respects. I love to think
of him and of our beloved Bro. Hook, their work and labor of love. They were the
first associate evangelists I had in the State.
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard May 17, 1879.
I should have mentioned that Bro. E.A.
Smith of Danville, Kentucky, came south and traveled round in several counties
in Georgia, preaching and selling books and tracts, in 1838, and for several
winters after he came South; but being a great traveler never staid long at any
one place. Also in 1838 the Morning Watch, a monthly paper began to be
published in South Carolina, which was taken and read by some of the Georgia
people, and those who would read it were led to search the Scriptures. But it
was a short live paper. It was through that paper that I learned of Bro. S.C.
Dunning of Savannah, and Dr. D. Hook of Augusta. In 1837 I began taking the Millennial
Harbinger, and continued to do so until it was stopped by the late war in
the States. Also I succeeded in getting a copy of The Christian Baptist.
I have nearly all of Bro. Campbell’s publications. Have been taking our papers
published by various brethren for more than forty years. After I saw Bro.
Campbell in 1845, he sent me a lot of books to sell, of which I knew nothing
till I received the invoice. I subsequently ordered from him books, and also
Bro. James Challen while in Philadelphia, and then from H. S. Bosworth, of
Cincinnati. But selling books at that time was rather a slow and not a very
profitable business. My main object was to have them circulated and read by the
brethren and friends. I also sent and bought some tracts to circulate among the
people who would read them. This I have found to be a good work, as leads people
to read the word of the Lord.
The two Brothers Fears, A.B. and
came to the knowledge of the Scripture truths as taught by the Disciples, by
reading our publications, and they have been great workers. I receive them into
a small congregation I had gathered in Fayette County. They rode 25 miles from
their home to have and enjoy church privileges; as an evidence of their
faithfulness. I used to preach in a school-house in their vicinity in passing,
but so great was the prejudice and opposition, could not get more than half
dozen hearers. And in 1845, while Bro. Hook was with me, Bro. Wm. S. Fears made
an appointment for us to preach at his house, and gave the appointment publicity
through the neighborhood. The time came and we were on hand. Now for our
hearers. Two neighbors, young men, and Bro. Fears’ family of whites and
blacks, all told.
Bro. Hook, always ready to do all he
could, preached, doubtless, a good sermon. I was tired and sleepy, and I confess
I took a short nap. Now for evidence that these brethren with what aid they have
had, were good workers. There is one among the best and largest congregations of
Disciple in that neighborhood in our State. Good and substantial citizens,
people of intelligence and influence. Brother Wm. S. Fears is, I think, one of
the most untiring workers I have known in the State. Bro. A.B. Fears was a good
man and preacher – more of a pastor than an evangelist. He has closed his
earthly pilgrimage and gone to the rest that remains for the people of the Lord.
In 1836 I spent the summer months in
traveling and preaching in some of the adjacent counties; but with very little
success. Also in 1838 I spent about half of the year evangelizing; received four
dollars for my salary, but thank the Lord that year, among others, I immersed
two of the best of brothers we ever had in Georgia. One is gone to his reward
with the Lord; the other is away in Texas, proclaiming the glad tidings as his
health will permit; has been sorely afflicted of late.
In 1849 I traveled around at my own
expense, and got up the first cooperation meeting held by our brethren in the
State. The delegation was small, and nothing practical accomplished, more than
to make a beginning in that direction, and appoint another meeting for the same
place twelve months thereafter.
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard, May 24,
Since the year 1849 there have been
several cooperation or yearly meetings. But as far as my information extends,
they have not been very successful in their results. And if I had to guess the
reason, would say, too many resolutions, only on paper.
During my labor as preacher I have
served as pastor in different places, 14 churches in Georgia, when not engaged
as an evangelist. While some of them paid a very small salary and some paid
nothing, I do not think I exaggerate by saying that near one half my labors have
been given to the good cause gratuitously; but do not complain at all, although
I am now old and afflicted, and not able to support my family by manual labor.
Again in the year 1859 I was sent as evangelist, and sustained by a good
sister for three years in the field, and during the six years (three years
previously) I had greater success in gathering in Disciples and building up the
churches then in any other six years of my labors; and would rejoice that I
could give all my time to the work if circumstances would admit. For so far as
information and experience is concerned, I am much better qualified than when I
was in the field. But now I am old, infirm, lacking in both courage and physical
strength; besides, am very much embarrassed in a pecuniary point of view; and
worse than all, I have moved to and am living in a section of country where I
was preceded by three bad men claiming to our preachers. Consequently every
possible stratagem is resorted to, to hedge my way and keep the people from
hearing. I fully understand and appreciate what I heard a good sister say:
“That much depended upon who first introduces the cause in a community.”
As well as I remember, about the year
1850 the two brother Lamars and Dr. A.G. Thomas came into the word of preaching.
Bro. P.F. Lamar, who, during the past year has finished his earthly pilgrimage
and gone to the spirit world, was a whole-souled man, full of love and kindness.
He was an able and successful evangelist in north east Georgia. Brother James S.
Lamar is well known by the brotherhood pretty generally. I think him not only a
good man, but a great man – great in many respects. He has spent most all of
his time in Augusta, where after so many long years of labor, he is still loved,
esteemed and appreciated.
Dr. A.G. Thomas is also pretty well
known by the brotherhood, both as a preacher and a teacher. A good portion of
his time has been engaged in colleges and high schools. Is now in charge of the
church in Atlanta, and from the reports I hear, is doing a good work there,
being, as I think, the right man in the right place. My opinion is, our city
preachers have the hardest work of any. I have myself a little experience of two
years in the city of Griffin. If any one envies the city preacher’s position,
doubts what I have said let him try it for a few years.
As well as I can recollect about the
year 1855 or 56 Bro. Thomas M. Harris of Washington County, a very talented
Methodist preacher, by reading and investigating the Scriptures, in connection
with the preaching of our much beloved and departed Bro. Dr. D. Hook, became a
convert to the truth as preached by the Disciples, and so great was his ability
in presenting it to his people that he soon convinced and brought nearly all the
members of the church in which he held his membership with him, since which time
he has been a very successful evangelist in several adjoining counties, and many
other places in the State. Bro. Harris is a man of wonderful power. We call him
our Georgia orator.
Nathan W. Smith
Christian Standard, May 31, 1879.
So far as my information extends there
are abut twenty-five preachers now in Georgia, and about six of them are
devoting all their time to preaching. The rest are laboring now in various
callings to support themselves and family, some of them preaching monthly pretty
regularly, others preaching very little. Among the above are brothers T.M.
Foster, W.H. Goodlow, from Kentucky, and Bro. Anderson – I do not know where
he is from. During the late war in the States, Bros, Dr. H. Marshall and son,
C.K. Marshall, who were refugees from Kentucky, preached a while in several
counties. But not being sufficiently supported, the Doctor took to his
profession for support, and his son, C.K. Marshall, returned to Kentucky, where
I hope he is well sustained, for I think him a good man and a good preacher. Dr.
Marshall has passed away to the spirit world. Since the war a good Bro. J.T.
Kawkins, of Kentucky, labored very successfully in some of the countries in
Northeast Georgia – perhaps one or two years, but he has gone back to
Kentucky. I never saw him, but have a good account of him and his work. Before
and since the war there have been several of our prominent men and preachers to
have visited both Augusta and Atlanta. I am not able to say positively how many
organized churches we have in our State, but I would say, to the best of my
knowledge there are between fifty and seventy-five, varying in numbers, some of
them not having a great many, and others from one to two hundred. During my
observations our churches have lost many members, both by death and emigration
to the West. There are a goodly number of brethren that are scattered in the
country, not convenient to any church for worship. I am sorry to say that among
the churches very few of them meet regularly on each Lord’s day to worship,
read, and study the Scriptures; and furthermore, I am sorry to say that there is
not that interest manifested in the Sunday-school cause, that I would like to
see and know. Oh, when will our brethren learn that their spiritual life, grow
in grace, peace and prosperity as churches, does not depend entirely on this old
fashioned way of monthly meetings, waiting and depending on the preacher to come
and do the work? If allowed to express an opinion, I must say that I do not
think that our Georgia churches have increased and prospered as they might, even
with the many difficulties they have had to encounter. I know the opposition has
been courageous, more zealous, more humble and devoted, and, withal, more
benevolent to the poor and more liberal with our means in sustaining the cause
of the Lord – his word and his word alone.
In writing these letters I have
generally written them in a hurry, and at night, after the days work, not
keeping any copy. I have written entirely from my recollections, for I have kept
no journal – sorry I have not. There may be some mistakes, but I think I am
generally correct. I have omitted and left out many incidents and circumstances
connected with the ministerial career of myself, that have taken place in my
travels and at protracted meetings, in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. I
have been very earnestly solicited and urged by some of my best and most
intelligent brethren, to write out for publication several of my discourses that
they have heard; but I have never done so, for I have never wrote a discourse in
my life, before nor after preaching it. Besides, there are so many of our able
writers that I would feel ashamed to see one of my feeble efforts in print.
May the Lord bless all the faithful in
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard, June 7, 1879
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