Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Early Churches in Tallahassee: The Methodists

From the Goodwood Library:  Tallahassee of Yesterday, by Sallie E. Blake, this chapter gives good detail about what life in the early years of the settlement:
Rev. J. C. Ley in his book "Fifty-two Years in Florida," says:  In 1825 a church was built in Tallahassee.  Josiah Evans was still Presiding Elder.  The builder was Rev. C. Woodbury, the father of Rev. Samuel Woodbury, of our conference.  The house was a plain wooden structure without ceiling, paint, sash or blinds, but the board shutters supplied their places, ad for many years this building served the people for a place of worship, and as far as I know, was the first Methodist church built in Florida. 
In 1828 Tallahassee was made a station, it having been served previously as one of the appointments of a circuit, Josiah Evans, Presiding Elder, and Josiah Freeman, preacher in charge.
By Rev. Joshua Knowles
Dear Brother in the Lord:  Preliminary to what follows permit me to state that I joined the Methodist Church in early life in Columbia, S. C., during the pastorate of Rev. Josiah Freeman, who was, I believe, the first stationed minister in Tallahassee.
He was truly a good man, more eminent for zeal and Godliness than for the graces of person or the gifts of a finished education.
In 1836 I was sent to Tallahassee--this was the third year of my ministry--accompanied by the Rev. J. L. Jerry, the heroic Presiding Elder.  I reached that place on the Saturday before the first Sunday in January, and was favored guest of Mr. Miles Blake, a faithful steward of the church and a good old-fashioned North Carolina Methodist.  My home was under his hospitable roof until he moved his plantation in the country, near Miccosukie Lake.  I then became a guest of Mr. William Manor, also a steward of the church, and a zealous Methodist.  Both of these gentlemen were in good circumstances and generous supporters of their church.  On the first Sunday night after my arrival, I performed for the first time the marriage ceremony at  the church, the only house of worship in the place.  It was an unfinished building, with a gallery for the colored people, from which came frequent inspiring responses to enliven the service.  During my pastorate I was the only resident minister.
Many families were driven away, and those remaining frequently annoyed by reports of Indian advances and depredations.  The Capitol was fitted up and barricaded with cotton bales, and at the signal of danger was to be sought by mothers and children as a place of protection and safety.  Sentinels kept up their vigils night and day for some time.  The old, spacious, Central Bank, a brick building in which resided Mr. Benjamin Chaires and family, was also made a place of refuge.
There was a good deal of sickness in Tallahassee this year among the citizens and soldiers stationed there.  One day I performed as many as four burial services.  Mr. Philip Courtney, an official member and a zealous worker in our church, died that year.  And here memory brings to mind some of those pious men and women amid sickness and death and Indian alarms, were my faithful co-workers:  Messrs. William Hilliard, Miles Blake, William Maner, George C. Johnson, Dr. J. R. Taylor, W. C. Campbell, and others.  Mrs. HIlliard, Mrs. Downes, Mrs. Wynn, of the Methodist Church; Mrs. Charles Austin of the Episcopal Church, and others.  I well remember them as pious, ministering spirits in the habitations of the afflicted and bereaved.  Mrs. Myers was quite gifted in prayer, which she sometimes led in social meeting.
During this and after years there was great unity among the different churches in Tallahassee.
During my pastorate, and subsequently, the Methodist congregation in Tallahassee was occasionally favored with the acceptable ministrations of the David L. White of Gadsden County, and the Rev. Wesley Adams of Jefferson County.  They were both remarkable men.  The latter subsequently became for a period the pastor of the Tallahassee church.  He was a man of venerable years, commanding presence, and genial spirit.  The very memory of his glowing countenance, even as I now write, softens my heart.  Not only early Methodism in Tallahassee, but religion generally in Middle Florida, owes much to the holy life and preaching of this good man.
At the close of this conference year I located in Tallahassee, and became a resident of the place for several years.  I was succeeded in the pastorate by the Rev. J. C. Simmons.  Brother Simmons was a strong man, physically, mentally and religiously.  He was a man of family.  The church owned a small and unpainted parsonage, which, by dint of hard begging, was plainly furnished.
The support of a minister with a family this year was rendered quite difficult by continued Indian troubles, which prevented absent families from returning, and others from moving in.  Brother Simmons did not therefore remain the whole year.
A singular incident occurred soon after his arrival.  During the Seminole war Tallahassee was thronged with gamblers.  One of them, "Uncle Ben Thornton," as he was called, a backslidden Methodist from Baltimore, came into my office one day and handed me nearly one hundred dollars, with the request that I pay it to Mr. Simmons, and stated that it was made up by his supporting friends to keep Mr. Simmons from leaving.  Seemingly by special and merciful Divine interposition, during the gracious revival in 1842, in which the Rev. Isaac Boring, who was then stationed in Quincy, labored very successfully, and with whom Thornton was acquainted, he was induced to attend the meeting, was reclaimed and joined the church, and died I believe a Christian.
In 1841, Tallahassee was for the first time, visited with yellow fever.  It was very fatal.  In some instances bearing away whole families.  Many, especially the dissolute, died in a few hours after the attack.  Many citizens retired to pine barrens south of the town, later known as "Belleair."  Others fled from the Territory (Florida was not then a state).  When the fever broke out I was in the North, but returned in time to witness the desertion and desolation of the town, and to nurse and close the eyes of cherished friends, and to follow them to the grave, and say over the sleeping dead the solemn ritual of the church.  Tallahassee, before this terrible visitation, was very dissipated.  Upon the disappearance of the epidemic, and restoration of business, influential citizens belonging to the different churches, and some who were members of no church, rallied around the temperance cause.  This temperance movement reclaimed many a drunkard, and was followed by a glorious revival of religion in the Methodist Church, which extended to other churches.  I think over one hundred whites were added to the Methodist Church alone, and many colored people also.  This revival was during the pastorate of Rev. William Choice, who was assisted by the Rev. Wesley Adams, Isaac Boring, and others, and worked a most satisfactory change in the moral and social aspect and feeling of the people of Tallahassee and vicinity.
By request of my brother, Rev. E. L. T. Blake, I address to you this letter.  It contains an imperfect narrative of Methodism in Tallahassee in an eventful and trying period of its history.  The Protestant Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal churches, standing as they do in the relation of mother and daughter, in their appropriate spheres should be hearty co-laborers in the vineyard of the Lord, and ever lovingly hail each other as brother.--Amen.

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