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Reminiscences, Sketches and Addresses Selected from My Papers During a Ministry of Forty-five Years in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas by J. R. Hutchinson, b. 1807. Publication date - 1874
PRESBYTERIANISM IN THE SOUTHWEST
This region also derives much interest from the visits
and labors of some of the earliest pioneers of Presbyterianism in the Southwest.
Rickhow, and Smylie, and Montgomery-the last lately gone to his reward after a
long life of labor in the Master's vineyard, the two former still living at an
advanced age-here came, when the dew of their youth was upon them, and laid the
foundation of our churches. Here visited and preached Schermerhorn, and S. J.
Mills, and Larned, and Bullen, and many others whose praise is in our Southern
Zion. The eccentric Lorenzo Dow here rode his mule and blew his horn, and
attracted (page 22) crowds of the first settlers, preaching on housetops
and haystacks, resembling Peter the Hermit, who once marshaled all Europe under
the Crusader's banner.
The origin of Oakland College may be traced to a meeting of Presbyterian ministers, held in the town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in April, 1829. Some circumstances had occurred previous to this meeting which had particularly attracted the attention of Presbyterians to the subject of Southern education. There was not, at that time, a single college, prepared to give a regular collegiate education, within the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the territory of Arkansas-containing a population at that time of more than three hundred thousand souls, and a tract of country of more than one hundred and forty-five thousand square miles, embracing the growing city of New Orleans and other cities with a soil capable of sustaining a vast population. Efforts had been made by the Legislature of Louisiana, with princely liberality, to establish several institutions of learning, all of which had virtually failed. In the State of Mississippi exertions had been made for nearly thirty years, and large donations from the general government, and from corporations and individuals, had been expended; and yet not one individual was known to have been graduated. The religious community had done nothing. After viewing these facts, and having a full interchange of sentiments, the clergymen above referred to concluded that they would fail in their duty, and forfeit the character of their Church, as the great champion of learning, if they did not make an effort to meet the claims of the country, and provide means for a thorough Southern education. A committee was accordingly appointed who, after an extensive correspondence, continued through several months, called a meeting of the (page 23) friends of education at Bethel Church, two miles from the present location of the college, on the 14th of January, 1830. This meeting was composed of gentlemen from the parishes of East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, and West Feliciana, Louisiana; and from the counties of Claiborne, Amite, Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Warren, Hinds, and Madison, in Mississippi, and continued six days. The following resolution was presented: Resolved, That it is expedient to establish and endow an institution of learning within our bounds, which, when complete, shall embrace the usual branches of science and literature taught in the colleges of our country, together with a preparatory English and Grammar School, and Theological Professorship, or Seminary. This resolution was sustained by gentlemen from every part of the country represented in the meeting; and after considering it for three days, it was unanimously adopted. A subscription was immediately opened to supply the requisite funds. Twelve thousand dollars were contributed for the purchase of a site and the erection of necessary buildings. Committees were appointed to prepare a constitution, to view the various locations which had been spoken of, and to make all necessary arrangements for opening the school.
(page 24) On the 2d of July, 1830, the first
clearing was begun on the magnificent Oak Ridge, now occupied by the college
buildings. At the end of the session, March 28th, the school consisted of
sixty-five pupils. The two more advanced formed a sophomore class, and there
were five in the freshman class; the remainder were in the English and classical
schools. The President instructed the two college classes and the classical
school in the languages; and his brother, Mr. John Chamberlain, afterwards
professor of chemistry and natural philosophy, instructed the classes in
mathematics and in the English school. In the winter of 1831, a charter was
received from the legislature of the State. In 1833, the first commencement was
held; and Mr. James M. Smylie, recent Vice-Chancellor of the State of
Mississippi, was the first graduate of Oakland College. His classmate, William
Montgomery, son of Rev. William Montgomery, one of our oldest ministers, who
expected to receive his degree at the same time, was removed by death about
three weeks before the commencement. This is believed to be the first
commencement south of Tennessee, and Judge Smylie is the first native
Mississippian who received the degree of A. B. in his own State. Such was the
origin of Oakland College, an institution which has aided in the education of
nearly one thousand native youth, and which now has on the roll of its graduates
one hundred and twenty alumni, who are scattered throughout the Southwest, and
occupied in the cultivation of the soil or in the learned professions. And the
writer believes that there is not on the list of the graduates of Oakland
College a single name upon which rests a blemish of dishonor or immorality. And
the large number of those educated young men who assemble annually in the groves
and halls of their alma mater, is a pleasing token of their interest, and (page
25) affection, and a guarantee of what the institution may hereafter expect
from the influence and character of her own sons.
The necessary buildings and accommodations for students and teachers have been provided as the wants of the institution have required. There are, at this time, about thirty cottages for the occupancy of the pupils; residences for the President and professors; two handsome halls for the literary societies, with libraries attached; a college library of upwards of four thousand volumes; a philosophical, chemical, and astronomical apparatus, which cost nearly $4,000; a main college of brick, one hundred and twelve by sixty, containing a college chapel, prayer hall, lecture rooms, and other requisite accommodations. The institution has never received any aid from the State or general government. Its funds have been provided entirely from private liberality. And these funds would now be sufficient to sustain the college, were it not for some unfortunate investments a few years since in the banks of the State.
We shall conclude this brief history of Oakland College, by stating a recent occurrence, which, at the time, cast a deep gloom over the institution, and filled the whole land with astonishment and grief. The President and professors had been performing their quiet and laborious duties, unconscious of being the objects of any great amount of popular dislike or favor, when, during the pendency of the election in the State of Mississippi, in the summer of 1851, for members to the State Convention, the faculty were accused by individuals, and by some of the State Rights papers, of giving in their teachings undue favor to the sentiments of the Union Party. These clamors gained ground, until, during the election in September, handbills were circulated directly charging the faculty with highly (page 26) improper conduct in this respect. These charges were -mildly but firmly repelled in a card signed by the President of the college. The leaders of the two parties were General H. S. Foot and Jefferson Davis.
A citizen of the neighborhood, who had no connection
with the college, either as a student or in ally other respect, but who deemed
himself either personally or politically implicated in the denial of the
President, stopped at Dr. Chamberlain's house, on the evening of the 5th of
September (at a time when the professors and students were absent enjoying the
vacation), and called the doctor to his gate. Retaining his seat in his vehicle,
he commenced denouncing the doctor in very abusive terms, and made some charge
against him, the nature of which was not distinctly heard. Dr. Chamberlain,
quietly leaning upon the top rail of his gate on the inside, denied the charge,
and said that it could not be proved. Instantly the assailant sprang from his
carriage, and knocked the doctor down with the butt-end of a loaded whip. As the
doctor rose, or attempted to rise, he was knocked down again; and as he
attempted to rise the second time, he was stabbed to the heart with a
bowie-knife. All this took place in the presence of the female members of the
family, whose screams were heard at a distance, and brought the doctor's
son-in-law to the spot. He found the doctor standing up, but bleeding, and the
murderer, outside of the gate, wiping his bloody knife upon his handkerchief.
The doctor had strength to walk to the house, but, on reaching the middle of the
open passage, he exclaimed, " I am killed;" and, sinking on the floor, he
Thus fell a great and good man. Conciliatory in all his
intercourse, bland and courteous in his manners, even when smarting under
unmerited obloquy, but brave and firm as a martyr for principle, and ready to (page
27) stand in his lot for the cause of truth and right, at all times and
against any odds, he at last fell to appease the bitterness of partisan malice
and personal hate. For more than a quarter of a century he devoted himself,
with a zeal, a self-abnegation, and a success unparalleled, to the cause of
Southern education. Mainly by his efforts and sacrifices, a college has been
founded in Mississippi which has educated and graduated more young men than all
other colleges south of Tennessee. And after all the labors, the trials, and the
temptations of his long career, he has left the memory of no one act which his
bitterest enemy will now venture to censure.
We would here simply remark that a coroner's jury,
consisting of fourteen citizens, pronounced the act by which Dr. Chamberlain
came to his death, murder. The perpetrator of the crime, on the second day after
the deed, committed suicide, and passed beyond the reach of all human tribunals.
Although President Chamberlain thus fell, so cruelly, so
suddenly, yet Oakland College did not fall with him. It still lives, and shall
live, a monument of his fame, and a blessing to the present and future
generations. And as it -is the ordainment of heaven that martyr blood becomes
precious seed, whence springs undying truth, we doubt not that the great
principle, in this instance as in others, will be fully developed. No sooner was
Oakland's chief founder and first President cut down, than the true and firm
friends of the institution began to rally. Precisely one year has elapsed since
the sad event occurred; and in that year much has been done to place the college
upon a firm and permanent basis. Upwards of $60,000 have been contributed to pay
its debts, and meet its more immediate wants. The name of its first President is
to be perpetuated, (page 28) by the investment of a permanent fund, to be
called the "Chamberlain Fund," the interest of which is to pay the salary of his
successor. Overtures have been made from a distant source to found a
professorship of Natural Science; and from various other sources are cheering
indications that this infant seat of learning, which has struggled so long and
done so much, will yet become the glory of the South, and a rich blessing to the
The present faculty are: Rev. R. L. Stanton, D. D.,
President, and Professor of Moral Sciences; Rev. J. R. Hutchison, D. D.,
Professor of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew Languages; T. Newton Wilson, A.M.,
Professor of Mathematics; W. Le Roy Brown, A.M., Professor of Chemistry and
Natural Philosophy; II. B. Underhill, A.M., Principal of the Preparatory
Department; James Collier, Esq., Steward.
(Page 29) HISTORY OF THE CHURCH OF BETHEL AND RODNEY, (NEAR OAKLAND COLLEGE, MISS.)
The first building for public worship erected by this double congregation was located in the rear of the plantations of the late Smith Hubbard and James M. Batchelor, about three miles east of the town of Rodney. The prominent actors in this new enterprise were Daniel Hunt, John Bolls, Smith Hubbard, Dr. Rush Nutt, John Murdock, Sen., M. McClutchy, and also Matthew Bolls. The last named was the son of John Bolls, who was a man distinguished in the early annals of the church in this region, and whose name appears on several church books-a man who, though little in stature, was mighty in faith, swift of (page 30) foot, great at a bear-hunt or in taming wild steers, the first to hear of a new preacher coming to the settlement and ride thirty miles to see him; mighty in cutting down trees to build meeting-houses, and who had the honor of being imprisoned in the calaboose in Natchez for being a heretic, having been betrayed to the priest by a stranger whom he had sheltered and nursed in sickness.
His son Matthew was as large again as his father, tall and gaunt, a wit and a poet, whose quaint sayings, famous "book of chronicles," and imitations of Burns' poems convulsed many a circle with laughter. Forty years ago, he had much to say about early times -how he soon outgrew his father, but still dared not disobey him-how he never regularly wore shoes and stockings until after he was married - how, for the want of saddles and bridles, he and his companions would seize wild horses, noose them with grape-vines, and ride furiously to merry-makings. He knew something by experience of the toilsome mode of removing cotton from the cotton-seed, before the introduction of the cotton-gin. Then every little boy and girl, white and black, had to bend themselves to the task, just as in picking wool; and when a sufficient amount was prepared, a large barrel, like an empty tobacco hogshead, was filled, shafts were attached to each end, and it was trundled across hills and cane-brakes to Selsertown, to be pressed into bags. Cotton was precious in those days, bringing forty cents per pound.
Matthew Boll's account of the first meeting to build the church building, of which we are speaking, was characteristic of the men and the times. One thought that it would come to nothing. Another, that it would break up the races down at Greenville and spoil their Sunday sports. Another, that it might help to keep the women and children in order. But all concluded to try it, and each (page 31) put down a dollar to begin with. Noble effort! In that little gathering were men who learned from that time to give their thousands to the cause of Christ and education. In a short time, "the little church down Hubbard's lane-the little church round the corner"-became inconvenient; and about 1824 efforts were made to build two houses, one at Bethel cross-roads, two miles from Oakland College, and another at Rodney.
The first stated minister of the church was Rev. Samuel Hunter, a native of Ireland, who preached at different points in the vicinity; and about 1826 organized "Bethel Church," an offshoot of the Old Bethel, near Fayette, made up of members principally from the old "Bayou Pierre Church," which worshiped formerly in a log building on the road now leading from Mrs. Crane's residence to Port Gibson, and near the residence of Mr. Venable. The place where the house stood can only now be identified by a few old trees and sunken graves. I know the spot. As early as 1824, the old Presbytery of Mississippi met in session there. There were Rickhow, and Montgomery, and Patterson, and Chase, and others.
A young man from New England offered himself as a candidate for the ministry, was licensed (the first licensure ever witnessed by the people), and after laboring a short time at St. Francisville and Baton Rouge, returned to his home, and within two years past has ceased from his labors. He was the Rev. Thomas Savage, late of Londonderry Presbytery.
A later incident connected with this lonely spot is
familiar from personal presence. Nearly twenty years ago, two horsemen, on a
sultry day, turned aside at these old graves to repose beneath the shade, and
have time to get to Oakland at sundown. Plucking some wild grapes from overhead,
they stretched themselves on the grass to rest and talk. Being both given to
being merry and (page 32) sad as occasion offered, the time and the place
gave food to both extremes of temperament. They talked about the past, the
present, and the future. They then arose and departed. One remains until this
day to record the past. The other (three days after) fell by the hand of an
assassin! (See History of Oakland College.)
The original members composing the " Bayou Pierre Church," and then incorporated into Bethel Church, were John Bolls, elder (noble old man, with a little body but a big soul, and who loaned himself about among the churches as an elder until other elders arose), Mrs. Catherine Crane, Lewellin Price (grandfather of Rev. Robert Price), William Young, Clara Young, Dr. Rush Nutt, Mrs. Nutt, Mrs. Elisa -Kerr, David Hunt, Mrs. Ann F. Hunt, and others.
Early in the spring of 1828, Mr. Hunter retired from the care of Bethel and Rodney churches, and the Rev. Zebulon Butler took charge of the congregation in conjunction with the church of Port Gibson, for one year. In November, the Rev. J. R. Hutchison came from Princeton Theological Seminary, and preached at Rodney as stated supply until the following July, when he removed to Baton Rouge and succeeded Rev. John Dorrance, who returned to Pennsylvania.
While J. R. Hutchison preached at Rodney, there were but
two members of the Presbyterian Church residing in the place, although the
village contained a larger population than at present. Yet almost all the heads
of families in the town formed themselves into a Bible Class and were instructed
weekly in the Holy Scriptures. The first place used for public worship was the
bar-room of a house of entertainment. On Sabbath morning the landlord would ring
the dinner bell, wipe the stains of decanters and bottles from the table, bring
out an old Bible, and the people would come in. Some objected to the preacher
because he was too (page 33) young; but Matthew Bolls, the great oracle,
thought that "if they would give the young man a little time, he would get over
that defect." The young man has long since got over that fault. The writer has
now lost his raven locks, has put on gray hairs, and is old enough.
Early in 1829 steps were taken to erect the present
brick church at Rodney. It was dedicated to the worship of God on the first day
of January, 1832, by the preaching of a sermon by Rev. Dr. Chamberlain from
Exodus XX 24: "In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee and
I will bless thee." After the house was finished, it appeared that the builder
still held a claim against it of $1,500-which debt was quietly paid by Mr. David
Hunt, a princely man, and the building released from all embarrassments.
Early in the spring of 1830 a new element of life and vigor was introduced into this church, by the location of Oakland College within its bounds, towards which the members of the congregation subscribed $12,000. Afterwards the same individuals multiplied their donations to the amount of tens of thousands. The reason why the college was located in so retired a spot, was this: at that time no town or city in the Southwest was deemed sufficiently healthy or sufficiently moral to be the seat of a college. In addition to his position as president, Dr. Chamberlain preached at Rodney and Bethel alternately for seven years. During that time, in addition to the support of their preacher, the people contributed to the different boards of the church about $1,000 annually. On the 11th of November, 1837, the Rev. J. T. Russell was installed pastor, and resigned in 1842. For the twelve next succeeding years, Rev. J. R. Hutchison, having removed from Vicksburg, acted in the capacity of both professor of ancient languages and pastor of the church. During those years the congregation (page 34) in its spiritual aspects assumed many interesting features. In 1837, about twenty were added to the church, principally young men connected with the college. In 1845, about fifty persons were added to the communion. During the long term of thirty years, the congregation contributed largely to the boards of the church - to the Tract cause, the Bible Society, Sunday School Union.
The American Colonization Society always was a favorite,
and sometimes received from individuals contributions amounting to thousands of
dollars. For many years, a few noble planters supported a minister to labor
exclusively among their slaves. At one time, forty negroes, valued at $330,000,
were liberated and sent to Liberia. An individual (Thomas Freeland) contributed,
from 1833 to 1843, $333 annually, to support a missionary in China. The students
in the college gave about $300 for the boards of the church. Besides, the
Theological Seminary at Maryville (Tennessee), the Natchez Orphan Asylum, etc.,
received large contributions. O! Those were balmy days, gone, never to return.
Submitted by Sue Burns Moore firstname.lastname@example.org Material taken from the “Making of America,” University of Michigan.