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.
An Old Preacher’s Experience
In 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 his fence.
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, 1879.
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 Wm. S., 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, 1879.
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
From 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 Christ Jesus.
Nathan W. Smith
From Christian Standard, June 7, 1879