Friday, September 25, 2015

Church life in Reconstruction-era Laurens County, SC

Our series on Laurens County, SC, during Reconstruction continues with a vignette of church life.
Dr. William Plumer Jacobs
            "The spirit of the christian religion teaches that men should be to each other forgiving and merciful. But such I think is not the spirit of the present day," wrote Thomas Workman on September 16, 1875. He was quite concerned about religion and how it fit into life. "I hope though that things will take a turn for the better before long, at least that is to be expected."[1] Dr. William Plumer Jacobs of Clinton desired to do great things for God. What Dr. Jacobs found when he arrived in Clinton back in 1864 was not what he had expected.
            In Charleston where Jacobs grew up, the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists were all against the Episcopalians and Catholics. But in Clinton, he wrote, "the various churches interpreted literally the saying of St. Paul, 'Fight the good fight of the faith.'" These people majored on
minors. They held strong convictions about the methods of worship, but they had little interest in "Theology of the Church.”[2] People attended their churches, Jacobs wrote, not so much because
they understood its doctrine, as because their kith and kin were in it. They regarded any attack upon the special ties of their religion as a personal affair. They would argue the case up and down, not at all seeing the force of their arguments or the force of their scriptural quotations, but nevertheless most earnestly and vehemently. The bitterness between the various denominations was more than considerable, it was great. The practice of religion was a much more difficult affair. There was great opposition in all the churches to certain kinds of sin, such as horse‑racing, betting, gambling, and drunkenness. But as to the weightier matters of the law, they gave less attention to them.[3]
They believed money belonged to the Lord, but that it was not important to them to give a portion back to Him. Church services were held usually once a month, and therefore, for many, the Sabbath was once a month. On other Sundays people visited and entertained. They would rather attend a church service for a length of time once a month than attend every week. "Social interest had more to do with church going than religious zeal."[4]
Thomas M. Workman had heard some call church involvement and Biblical doctrine a humbug, and he gives evidence that the fundamentalist / modernist doctrinal controversies had reached all the way to little Clinton.
Some have said that the Lord Templars is humbug. Some say that Political Enterprise is humbug. Others go so far as to say that some of the fundamental doctrines of the church are humbug, even strong members say this. When I [hear?] of these facts I am [?] to mark seriously[,] What is the world striving to? Where are we drifting? But such has always been the case since the church was established. And justly [should?] be. Some are of the opinion that the Bible use Hyperbolean expressions. But I think the matter may be seriously doubted [e.g., of Abraham's descendants being as numerous as the stars and sand]. The New Testament says that the true christian is a child of Abraham. I cannot see why a thing like this could not be so, for on the earth there are now living many millions of human beings and every year there are millions more born."[5]
      The young men in the Rocky Springs and Leesville communities formed a Sunday night prayer meeting which rotated each week between the churches. Robert O. Hairston spoke to the meeting on September 27, 1875, about misbehavior in church: “such as cutting benches, going in and out at unseasonable hours, sitting on back seats when the front seats are not full, refusing to sing or to help sing without being asked. When he asked to stand all who would be able to sit on the front seats and help sing, nearly all stood up.”[6]
      Apart from the practices and attitudes of the people, Thomas Workman had a great struggle with religion.

Last night a prayer meeting was held at Leesville by appointment. [Josiah Leak presiding asked Thomas M. Workman to speak.] Some remarks by T.M.W. somewhat as follows. I would have preferred not to be called on tonight. Don't feel so full of the Christian as perhaps I should. My mind is busy studying the evidences of christianity. I know that the Christian religion has a foundation of truth, but I am not always able to find it. Up to the present I don't believe that science, Philosophy or anything of the kind has ever laid its hand upon life. It has examined the structures of living matter and handled the steam that rolls the mighty trains and the electricity that flows with lightning speed over the telegraph wires. It has done all these things but up to the present has not done anything with life itself. There is only one thing that we do know of life and that is what we get from the bible. Yet there are many persons willing to dispute the bible because of science. Yet take this bible away from us and before long you would see men bowing and worshiping the sun, moon, birds, or some other object, or an image made by their own hands. Science would vanish and superstition would take its place, Men will have something to worship. Again there is no other religion that is superior to the religion I've professed. None that promise life eternal on such reasonable terms. None that so much elevates the human race. Should we not then be ashamed of our conduct‑-our unwillingness to do our whole duty.[7]
The broad‑ minded citizens of Laurens had established the Riverside Cemetery, now the Laurens City Cemetery, "the burial ground of the white population, regardless of religious denomination." The cemetery was located on the corner of Harper and Hunter Streets "and extends backwards almost to the banks of Little River. . . . It was originally the family burial ground of Mr. Thos. Porter. The first person buried there‑in was his little daughter, who died from the bite of a mad‑dog." Laura Adelaide Porter, two years old, was buried on the south side of the cemetery in 1817.[8]

            Harmony Church, established in 1844, got its name from the Baptists and Presbyterians ecumenically sharing the church building. Another example of cooperation was the Union choir of all Clinton's churches. It was called the Methobapterian choir. The Harmony deed named the trustees as "Elders of the Presbyterian and Deacons of the Baptist Church, Share and Share A‑Like."[9]



[1]           Workman, Sayings and Doings, 89, September 16, 1875.
[2]           Jacobs, Literary, 64.
[3]           Jacobs, Literary, 28‑29.
[4]           Jacobs, Literary, 29.
[5]           Workman, Sayings and Doings, 75, 83.
[6]           Workman, Sayings and Doings, 97.
[7]           Workman, Sayings and Doings, 92, September 20, 1875.
[8]           Garlington, 51‑52.
[9]           Foy, 44. Jacobs, Literary, 52. Then came the holiness movement in the late 1800s which upset everyone. Rev. Nichols J. Holmes, son of Zelotes Lee Holmes held a tent meeting for ten to twelve days on Musgrove Street in Clinton. Everyone went to see what it was, and everyone talked about it. Jacobs, Literary , 42.