The Scotch-Irish in America
Their History, Traits, Institutions and Influences, Especially as Illustrated in the Early Settlers of Western Pennsylvania and their Descendants
by John Walker Dinsmore
Published by the Winona Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1906
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Some time ago I wrote for the Presbyterian Banner, a short series of papers on, – “A Typical Scotch-Irish Community Fifty-Odd Years Ago.” These papers awakened an interest quite unexpected, especially among the people of this race. Letters came to the writer from widely separated sections of the country, requesting him to expand the papers and publish them in a volume. Several ancient congregations took formal action to the same effect. This little book is the result. The articles in the Banner were simply the basis of what is here written much enlarged. It does not pretend to be an adequate history of the Scotch-Irish people in this land. Its aim is much less ambitious. It is simply an attempt to sketch with a free hand, some of the characteristic traits, ways of life, institutions and influences of this race, particularly in the earlier days in this country. Western Pennsylvania is selected for the purpose of illustration, because that section was first settled and is still dominated by the most most powerful Scotch-Irish community in America. No effort has been made to give this little book orderly arrangement, or to cast it into logical form. It is simply a series of sketches, true to nature and to fact; pictures of a people, their doings and the conditions under which they lived in former days. The chief thing to be regretted is that a more clever and skillful hand did not hold the brush.
John Walker Dinsmore
San Jose, Cal.
BLOOMINGTON, ILL., June 18th 1906.
I have read with deep interest the advance sheets of “The Scotch-Irish in America”, by Rev. Dr. John W. Dinsmore, my friend, and former pastor. It is in every respect an admirable book. Every man who has a drop of Scotch-Irish blood in his veins will be profoundly interested in its perusal. Dr. Dinsmore knows whereof he writes. Nothing the book contains is matter of hearsay to him. The people described are those among whom he was reared-his neighbors and friends; the incidents mentioned, those of which he was the witness in his early life.
The congregation so graphically described is the type of thousands of others scattered throughout this broad land. In this book we live again in the old days and fashions of our fathers and much that should never have been forgotten is vividly recalled.
Dr. Dinsmore has rendered a valuable service in this clear-cut presentation of the good old times and customs home life and church life of the generation of which but few remain. Young and old alike will find pleasure and profit in the perusal of this book.
Adlai E. Stevenson.
The Scotch-Irish in America; Especially in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Their Settlements, Institutions, Traits, and Influences.
For two hundred years and more, the Scotch-Irish race has been a very potential and beneficent factor in the development of the American Republic. All things considered, it seems probable that the people of this race have cut deeper into the history of the United States than have the people of any other race though they have not been by any means the most numerous or boastful. This is not an extravagant statement. It can be verified by irrefragable proofs. Until recent years the Scotch-Irish have been mostly silent about their achievements. They have been content to do the work given them to do and let others take the glory. Less than twenty years ago, at Columbia, Tenn., the Scotch-Irish Society of America was organized, with the late Robert Bonner of New York, as President, the late Dr. John Hall of the same city, as Vice-President; and others as officers, together with a long list of members, many of them distinguished in various walks of life. The writer of this book was one of its original members, and for several years one of its executive committee, and hence had good opportunities of coming into contact with thousands of the people of the race. Branch societies were organized in many of the states from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and great interest was awakened among the people of this blood all over the country. The Society has published eight volumes of carefully prepared papers, historical and biographical, setting forth some of the achievements of this race in this land. These volumes set up claims which on first thought may be deemed extravagant, presumptuous, and even absurd, but which are incontestably established by ample proofs. At one of the meetings of the Congress of the Society, a prominent gentleman, himself one of the race, remarked, “Well, if the Scotch Irish have done all these things with which they are credited, I wonder what in the world all the rest of mankind have been doing meanwhile.” These papers however, are not bombast; very far from it. Many of them were written by men of large reputation as historical students. They are simply a recital of the indubitable facts of our history, and of the part men and women of this blood had in them. The sober fact is, that judged by the criterion of valuable and enduring work done along every line of useful life, no other race has had equal influence on the course of American history during the last two-hundred years; not even excepting the descendants of the Pilgrims. Let any one scrutinize the list of names distinguished in our annals; names of men eminent in public life from Presidents down; men distinguished in the Church, in the Army, in the Navy, at the Bar, on the Bench, in Medicine and Surgery, in education, trade, commerce, invention, discovery-in any and all the arts which add to the freedom, enlightenment and wealth of the world, and to the convenience and comfort of mankind; names which have won lustre in every honorable calling,-let him scrutinize the list and see for himself how large a proportion of these names represent men who have this blood in their veins. The proportion of men of this race who, in Great Britain and America have reached great distinction, is certainly very remarkable. Somehow the North of Ireland has been the breeding-place of great men and great influences in the old world and the new. Many of the greatest soldiers and naval heroes of England, Prime Ministers, Lords-Chancellor, Archbishops, and others eminent in the history of that land for several hundred years, have been of this race. Those sections of the world where these people have settled in large numbers and where their influence has been strongly felt, have, without exception, shown a distinctly marked type of industrial, commercial, social, political, intellectual, and most of all, religious life: and such communities have invariably been centres of enterprise, thrift, prosperity, and magazines of beneficent force to the entire surrounding country. We may challenge the world to show us a single example of a community where these people predominated, and yet where ignorance, poverty, crime, superstition, or any form of human debasement prevailed. Without exception, the nesting places of the Scotch-Irish have been breeding-places of free and forceful men and of the far-reaching and uplifting influences. These people have been much more given to making history than they have been to writing it, and hence their achievements have not been heralded abroad as they deserve to be.
Now, who were, and who are the Scotch-Irish? The common notion is that they are a mongrel breed, partly Scotch and partly Irish; that is, the progeny of a cross between the ancient Scot and the ancient Celt or Kelt. This is an entire mistake. Whatever blood may be in the veins of the genuine ScotchIrishman, one thing is certain, and that is that there is not mingled with it one drop of the blood of the old Irish or Kelt. From time immemorial these two races have been hostile, and much of the time bitterly so. True enough, if you run down the Highland Scot and the old Irish to their deepest root, you will come to a common taproot in the ancient Celt or Kelt, one of the main stems of the great Aryan race which, ages ago, migrated into Europe from Asia. The Erse, the Gael, the Cymri, and the Manx were all originally of this stock, and their descendants survive today in the old Irish, the Highland Scotch, the Welsh, and the people of the Isle of Man. The Lowland Scotch, however, were of a quite different stock. They were, of Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon origin, and were separated from their neighbors on either side by races language, religion, and personal traits. In the very early ages they came into the lowlands of Scotland, and there their descendants live today. They were for a long time a rude, semi-barbarous, and fierce people. They were much given to frequent predatory forays into the north of England for the purpose of plundering the sheep-folds and cattle-yards of their neighbors south of the Tweed. Once in a public address in San Francisco, I caused some comment by confessing that my forefathers used to make raids into England every autumn, and filch from the people there all the supplies they needed for the coming winter, and then unless they looked sharp, the Highlanders would pounce down upon them and rob them of what they had taken from the English. Their conversion to Christianity, and especially their re-conversion in the time of Knox, wrought a radical and revolutionary transformation of these people. It left them with their native vigor and masculine force unimpaired, while it tamed their ferocity, and put into them a strong sentiment of justice and brotherhood. Now the ScotchIrishman is a lowland Scotchman who moved over into the north of Ireland and there lived for a generation or more, or lives there still. Meanwhile, the change of residence brought certain decided changes in him, in his type and temperament. During the latter half of the seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth, the lowland Scotch in large numbers crossed over into Ireland, and there settled, chiefly in the Province of Ulster. This migration was due to several causes; some of them industrial, some political, and most of them religious. The lowland Scotch almost to a man embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. They were the stalwart and steadfast principles of John Knox, and as a consequence soon began to be sorely harried by the persecutions then rife in Scotland. Large numbers of people who behoved the gospel of our Lord, and who hated tyranny whether of priest or prince, passed over into Ulster where, at that time, there was promise of larger liberty of conscience and worship. They were Calvinists and Presbyterians almost to a man, and to the marrow; the spiritual children of Knox and his successors; people who hated tyrants with invincible hatred, whether they wore the cowl or the crown; people whose fathers had suffered for their faith, and who themselves had been cruelly persecuted in that behalf. It is not strange at all that they carried with them much of the bitter and resentful spirit which persecution always breeds in its victims. Did they hate Rome and all that pertained to it? Why should they not? Had not Rome robbed, tortured and burnt their forefathers? And had not the Church of England, but half reformed, done the like to them? Of course, they carried bitterness in their hearts and sternness in their visage towards those who were bent on strangling them for their faith. We must not blame them overmuch for this. If they were intolerant, it was because they learned the lesson from those who had done their utmost to burn them. How can we expect one to tolerate the man who is trying to assassinate him? It is too much to ask of one who is in a death grapple with a burglar that he shall treat him gently; that he shall wear the smirk of a dancing-master. The man who is in mortal struggle for his liberty or his life, must be resolute and stern, or meanly die like a coward or a slave. Our fathers were neither cowards nor slaves; they did not meanly die, whatever else they did.
People who suffer persecution for the true faith of Christ are always the most valuable element in the population of any country. Whenever such people have been driven from their own land to seek asylum elsewhere, they have invariably proved an invaluable blessing to the lands that gave them welcome. In all history there is no exception to this rule. These people who settled in Ulster believed in their very souls that they were the elect of the High God, that they were under His protection, that the meek should inherit the earth, that the world and the fulness thereof belonged to their Divine King, and hence to them, and they fearlessly proceeded to put that conviction into execution. They believed that every acre of land on which they set their foot belonged to the saints; that they were the saints, and hence it belonged to them. The premise may not .have warranted the conclusion, but they deeply believed that it did, and so they acted. In truth, these people have generally held this faith, and have not been slow in showing it by their works. Hence they had no scruple about rooting out the old Irish from Ulster. They probably felt towards these Irish somewhat as the Hebrew felt towards the Philistines when he entered Canaan. The land belonged to him; it was given him by the Lord; the Philistine was an interloper, and must be ejected forthwith. However unwarranted and misguided, that seems to have been the feeling of these people, and so they proceeded to take the province for themselves. They must have room, whoever should have to give way, and so it was not long until Ulster was dominated by these people.
Meanwhile, other Protestants, especially Presbyterians, from England, and Huguenots persecuted out of France, came in large numbers to the same province, and were gladly welcomed to fellowship. The Scotch-Irishman never turns a cold shoulder to one who agrees with him. He is very hospitable to people of like faith and spirit. With these English and French Presbyterians they freely intermingled and intermarried, but with the old Irish, their relations were those of the Hebrew and the Canaanite; it was war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt. Their feuds were constant, fierce and deadly. Their blood never intermingled except on the battlefield. Hence it turns out that the genuine Scotch-Irishman is at bottom a lowland Scot, with an admixture of the bluff and sturdy qualities of the English Puritan, and a dash of the genius, grace and humor of the French Huguenot. This makes a remarkable combination of qualities, and we find them blended and balanced in the typical Scotch-Irishman. There is in him the steadfastness, not to say, stubbornness, of the Scot; the rugged strength and aggressive force of the Saxon, with an infusion of the vivacity, ready genius and sanguine temperament of the Frenchman. It is not claimed of course, that every individual of the race exhibits this combination, but it characterizes the type; it is an idiosyncrasy of the race as such.
The people had a passionate love of liberty. They were fiercely intolerant alike of spiritual and political despotism. A very powerful emotionalism ran through their nature, but usually it was held in stern restraint. The fires of passion were deep and hot, but they were rarely suffered to break out into destructive conflagration. The truth revealed by the Lord, as they saw it, they believed with all the strength of their powerful nature. They clung to their Calvinism with a grip which death itself could not relax. Industrious, frugal, sagacious, fearless, long enduring, they were admirably fitted for the work they were sent into the world to do.
The results of their thrift and forcefulness soon began to appear in Ulster. That Province is naturally the least fertile in Ireland, but under their management it soon became by far the most prosperous. As fast as they got possession, they drained out the bogs, cleared up and improved the land, and so changed the aspect of the country that the traveller could at once see the difference as he crossed the line into Ulster. It is so until this day. They soon made their power felt in the great struggle then going on for civil and religious liberty. In the decisive revolution of 1668, culminating in the ever-memorable siege of Londonderry, and the notable battle of the Boyne, which saved the liberties and the religion of the English-speaking race, unquestionably in that tremendous crisis, the Scotch-Irish people of Ulster were the forlorn hope of the Protestant cause. The heroism shown by them, especially in the unparalleled siege of Derry, has never been surpassed in the annals of mankind. Let any one read Lord Macaulay’s story of that great event if he would appreciate the inflexible resolution and invincible stamina of this race. As already said, the number of men from that small province who have reached great places of power and usefulness in every honorable line of life in England, has been extraordinary. For two hundred years or more, Ulster has been a power-house where forces have been generated which have been strongly felt throughout the modern world.
People from Ulster began to sift into the colonies of this western world during the latter quarter of the seventeenth century, and in the first quarter of the eighteenth they began to come in considerable numbers. Before the year 1700, a good many of them had settled in the general region round Philadelphia, but it was not till some years later that they became an important element in the population. Probably their earliest settlements of consequence were in New England. The first of my own name and blood settled in New Hampshire about 1718. They formed communities at various points and exerted a considerable influence in New England. Many of the foremost men in the history of that section had this blood in their veins. Dr. Perry, Professor of History in Williams College, read an elaborate paper before the Scotch-Irish Congress at Pittsburgh in 1890, setting forth with much fulness of detail, the achievements of this race in New England. His paper shows that the children of the Scotch-Irish have no cause to blush when the achievements of their ancestors are brought into comparison with those of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, even in that part of the land. At the same time these men of Ulster never came to New England in sufficient numbers to give their own distinctive type to society in that general region. They were strong in certain communities only. They were in quest of more fertile lands than could be found about Massachusetts Bay. Their main ports of entry were New castle and Philadelphia, and from those points they soon became a powerful element in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. They had a strong craving for rich land, and when they found it they were determined to have it, no matter how many or how great the difficulties in the way. Hence the stream of migration flowed into the Cumberland Valley, into the Shenandoah, on into the Valley of Virginia, and thence into the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and by degrees into the entire south-west. Another powerful stream flowed directly westward to the Alleghenies, and over them and passed on into what is now southwestern Pennsylvania, and thence westward into Ohio, and so on towards the setting sun. The earliest settlements west of the Monongahela date about 1770. No doubt adventur ous hunters and explorers had penetrated the wilderness earlier than that, but permanent settlements were not established till about that time. My own paternal great-grandfather came over the mountains from York County and settled on Miller’s Run, twelve miles southeast of the present city of Pittsburgh, in 1774-5. The original plantation on which he then settled is still owned by some of his lineal descendants. At that time Fort Pitt was but a shabby frontier post, and the whole region round about was an almost unbroken wilderness, swarming with wild beasts and still wilder men. But at that time the people began to come who had been chosen and qualified by Almighty Providence to subdue that goodly land and possess it. The heir was coming to his inheritance; the He brew was facing his Canaan; and while he clearly foresaw the magnitude of the undertaking, he believed himself fully equal to it. He did not for one mo ment quail before his mighty task. Within a very few years these people had their settlements here and there all over the territory included within the bend of the rivers. A little later, they crossed the Ohio, driving the Indians before them, and from there spreading westward, always leading the migration, pushing boldly on to the frontier, penetrating the wilderness and subdu ing it; and so on in the course of time, into Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and at length clear through to the Pacific Coast, where their influence has been powerfully felt from the beginning of the American occupancy. In the year 1905 there was in Portland, Oregon, a splendid exposition celebrating the great exploring expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark across the continent a hundred years ago. One of these redoubtable men certainly was of this race, and both of them probably were. It has been ascertained that the majority of the most famous frontiers men of the forest, the plains and the mountains of the entire central and western part of this country have been of this blood. Twenty years before the opening of the last century, Col. George Rogers Clarke, a Scotch-Irish man, commissioned by Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, another Scotch Irishman, organized and led the great military expedition which redeemed the whole Northwest Territory, out of which five great states have been carved. The settlements of these people did not follow the wave of conquest; they were themselves the earliest wave. No other people ever broke the way for them; they broke it for themselves and for others who followed. They were predestined and born pioneers of the first order, conquerors of unfriendly nature and unfriendly men. Emerson tells us that the earth belongs to the energetic man. According to this criterion, these people certainly proved their title. They opened the way for weaker and less resolute men. With unflinching fortitude they faced the wilderness and the savage. There was nothing of either the coward of the sluggard in their nature. For the most part, they were a lean, sinewy, strongboned, heavily-muscled breed; tough and hardy, sound of lung and limb, with nerves of steel and a digestive apparatus that might have excited the envy of a grizzly bear; not in the least afraid of hard work, severe privation, or great peril, if only they could get on in life; not very easy to live with unless one agreed with them and fell into their ways. They were overcomers by nature, by training and by equipment. Nobody ever overcame them, while they never failed to overcome all who stood in their way. They conquered the forest, the savage, the French, the British; they took whatever land they wanted, and held it against all comers. Wherever they settled, they remained.
From their first coming to our shores, they exerted in proportion to their numbers, an extraordinary influence on the fortunes of the country, especially previous to and during the struggle for Independence. From the first they were the steadfast and strenuous champions of civil and religious liberty in the colonies. They were not foolish, fretful and fussy agitators. They were utterly free from fanatical impulses and visionary theories; cool, calculating, practical, hard-headed. They wanted liberty, and were bound to have it at whatever cost; liberty of conscience, of worship and of political action, but they did not want license or anarchy. Patrick Henry spoke not only from his own heart, but from the heart of his race when he cried, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” But it was liberty regulated by just laws. Bancroft, the great historian of the United States says, “The first voice publicly raised in America to dissolve all connection with Great Britain, came not from the Puritans of New England, nor from the planters of Virginia, nor from the Dutch of New York, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.” The great Declaration made by these people at Mecklenberg was more than a year earlier than the one made in Philadelphia. The Westmoreland Resolutions also antedated that most famous document. During the war the Scotch-Irish were incomparably the most effective element in Washington’s army. They were exceedingly influential in the Continental Congress, and in the various colonial assemblies. So far as appears there was not a Tory among them. In the darkest hours, times that tried men’s souls, when multitudes were ready to give up, they stood stalwart and resolute. Their ministers preached and prayed, and in not a few instances, organized companies and regiments and led them to battle. The battle of King’s Mountain for instance, which drove Cornwallis and the British forces from the entire southern country, was fought almost exclusively by these Scotch-Irish, nearly every regiment being commanded by a Presbyterian elder.
That battle was peculiar in this, that every man of the enemy was either killed or captured. Not a single man got away. Undoubtedly in preparing for the great struggle and during its continuance, the men and women of this blood had a share far out of proportion to their numbers. In the councils of the colonies, in the Congress, in the army, in creating public opinion and keeping it alive, they were the active, intelligent, resolute and uncompromising champions of the movement for in dependence. Here may be quoted the words of Col. A. K. M’Clure, the famous Philadelphia editor: “It was the Scotch-Irish people of the colonies that made the declaration of 1776. Without them it would not have been thought of except as a passing fancy. The action of the Continental Congress voiced the teachings of the Scotch Irish people of the land. They did not falter, they did not dissemble, they did not temporize. It was not the Quaker, not the Puritan, not the Cavalier, not even the Huguenot or the German; it was the Scotch-Irish of the land whose voice was first heard in Virginia. In the valley of Virginia, in North Carolina, in Cumberland and Westmoreland counties in Pennsylvania, the Scotch-Irish had declared that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent. They had taught this not only in their public speeches, but at their altars, in their pulpits, at their firesides, and it was from these that came that outburst of rugged and determined people that made the declaration of 1776 possible. They were its authors, and they were ready to maintain it by all the moral and physical power they possessed. They meant that Scotch-Irish blood was ready to flow on the battle field, and come weal or woe, they would maintain it with their lives.”
The influence of these people on the subsequent course of American history, upon the industries, the commerce, the inventions, the educational, philanthropic and charitable institutions of the country, and especially upon its religious development, has been equally remarkable. But it does not fall within the scope of this book to follow this general history further. Let it be said, however, that we have reason to be proud of the heroism of our ancestors. It may be true of many of us that the best part of us is underground.
As already said, a strong stream of Scotch-Irish emigration flowed over the Alleghenies into southwestern Pennsylvania before the Revolutionary War. During the continuance of that war, it slackened somewhat, as the times were troublous, and men’s minds were full of doubt. Besides, owing to the dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia as to which had jurisdiction over that territory, titles were very uncertain. But as the war drew to a close, and particularly, immediately after its close, the flow greatly in creased, and within a very few years large numbers of these people followed their friends over the mountains. Many of them had been soldiers in the war, and came out to locate their land warrants. It is hardly too much to say that they were the pick of their people. They exhibited in an intensified degree the typical traits of their race. They were venturesome, fearless, hungry for good land, and bound to get on in the world; not learned in the schools as a rule, but clear-eyed, level-headed, with what one might call, enormous common sense, practical sagacity and understanding of the times; deeply serious, even stern in their piety; resolute and unfaltering in their belief of the gospel of our Lord as expounded by John Calvin and John Knox; not underestimating the difficulties in their way and the dangers that beset them, and yet not in the least intimidated by them, nor by the certainty of hard toil, severe privations and manifold perils in their front,-these were the people who redeemed southwestern Pennsylvania from the wilderness and the savage. They pushed out boldly to the extreme frontier and plunged into the deep forest, where there were no settlements, no clearings, no roads, no conveniences, where nature was utterly wild and the woods swarming with savages. They were the buffer between the Indians in front, and the Quaker and German who crept along quietly in the rear, and who thus saved their hands from rough toil and their hides from being punctured with arrors by keeping well in the background. These were quite content to follow softly in the rear and take quiet possession of lands that braver men had to fight for. What wonder that these hardy pioneers should have had so hearty a contempt for the stolid “Pennsylvania Dutchman,” and sleek and oily Quaker? They reasoned that if nobody but these and their like had come to the country, it would have continued to be a howling wilderness. The Quakers did not like the Scotch-Irish, and no doubt the feeling was reciprocated with interest. Col. M’Clure says, “The Quakers wanted the Scotch-Irish immigration stopped, and sent a petition to the council of Pennsylvania asking for this, and declaring that these Scotch-Irish were a pernicious and pugnacious people.” The Quakers provoked warfare, and then left the Scotch-Irish to fight it out. They would go among the Indians and trade with them, giving them firearms with which to kill the Scotch-Irish, who settled many counties on the border simply because they wanted to get away from the Quakers. The Quakers complained that the Scotch-Irish wanted to dominate everything round them. Well, of course they did. There never was a Scotch-Irish community anywhere that did not want to dominate everything round about it. They dominated simply because in the nature of things it could not be otherwise.
These southwestern settlements for a number of years, had much trouble with the Indians. Even after they had been driven across the Ohio, the Indians made frequent return forays, burning the cabins, laying waste the settlements, and massacring the people. I have heard my grandfather tell of such an invasion as late as 1784, when within a few miles of the present city of Pittsburgh, the whole country was devastated by a sudden incursion of savages. He was a little fellow of five, and, with his two elder sisters and three little cousins, was playing in the edge of the clearing, while the parents were scutching flax across a ravine. The Indians broke from the woods, barbarously tomahawked two of his little cousins, and took their sister, a girl of fifteen, prisoner, while he and his sisters by swift flight escaped. The poor girl was kept in captivity, taken to Canada, there redeemed, brought back to Philadelphia and turned loose to find her way home across the mountains as best she could. She reached home after an absence of three years. As places of refuge in times of danger, large block-houses were built at various points, into which the settlers could run when the Indians made a foray, and there the women and children were safe, while the men went out to fight the savages off. Yet despite all these hardships and perils the people stuck to their clearings, arid their posterity are there today. Probably there is no other section of this country which for a century and a third has been so completely dominated by this race as has the region round Pittsburgh, including that great city itself. Judge Chambers, a high authority, says, “The great district of Pennsylvania for the development of the Scotch-Irish character, in its energies, and enterprises, religious and moral principles, as well its educational tendencies and usefulness, was southwestern Pennsylvania.” They took that region at the beginning, and their image and superscription are on it to-day. The city of Pittsburgh, with all its mighty and world-embracing industries, carries most clearly to-day the type given it by its Scotch-Irish founders. Its standing as a city of solid wealth, of commercial integrity, of vast but sane and substantial enterprise, is surpassed by no other city on the continent or in the world. Its banks seldom break, its great merchants do not fail, its huge mills, factories and other immense industries very rarely fall into bankruptcy. To an unusual extent, the business remains in the family, and things pass on from sire to son without change, except in growth and scope, the same in principle, policy and method. That city and its immediate environs make up a community which is not surpassed on the continent in those things which are essential to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of any community. The like is true of the entire region round about. True enough, within the last few years, there has been a fearful invasion of aliens and foreigners, many of them of the vilest class, who have brought a new and very great peril to all that is most valuable and precious, but it still remains true that in the homes, the churches, the schools, the business methods, the social customs, the individual characteristics, the very vernacular and provincialisms of the substantial and really governing classes, the type so deeply set a century and more ago, is still distinctly marked. That section of Pennsylvania is one of extraordinary natural resources, and while our fathers did not know half the truth, they knew enough to satisfy them that the land was well worth holding. When they invaded it they found a broken country, made up of hills and valleys, and wholly covered with magnificent forests of hard wood, at that time of no value to them, but only a fearful incumbrance; extremely fertile soil, underlaid with stratum on stratum of sandstone and limestone rock; beneath that, immense treasures of coal; still lower, vast reservoirs of natural gas and oil; a land abounding in springs, brooks, creeks and rivers. Of course they did not see all its treasures, but they saw enough to make them determined to seize and hold it.
I select that section of the country, especially Washington county, as a sample of a large community from the first dominated by the Scotch-Irish, and where the idiosyncrasies of this race, personal, social, educational, industrial, political, and especially religious, are exhibited, and for more than a century have been exhibited, more strikingly than in any other populous section of this land. What is true of that section is true of every other where these people have settled and remained in sufficient numbers to secure control of things. And they do not require a majority to gain control, for they make up in force what they lack in numbers.
These people have invariably given a decided and characteristic type to every section in which they have been dominant, and that type is a reproduction of the one so strongly set in Washington county, Pennsylvania. Hence in describing this race in that county, I am describing it wherever it is found in force. The mines and other great industries have of late years drawn to that section a horde of ignorant, debased and reckless people, alien in race, religion, habits and ethical ideas, with their lawlessness, debauchery and crime, and already they have worked great changes in the conditions that formerly existed. It is to be hoped, however, that there is stamina enough left in the posterity of our forefathers to beat back this peril, and to preserve to that community the type it has so long borne.
As already intimated, these pioneers of southwestern Pennsylvania seem to have had in unusual degree the marked characteristics of their race; great energy and general force of character, with uncommon intelligence, practical wisdom, self-commands and, above all, deep and controlling piety. Their mood was earnest, and they took life seriously. In their minds human life under the sun was not sport; it was very unlike sport; it was no mere holiday, no carouse, or frolic. It was earnest business. No man could play, or laugh, or dance his way through this world and come to anything good. And yet they were not a gloomy, morose, or ascetic people. If that had been their mood, they never could have done the work they did. They were cheery, hopeful, brave, steadfast. There was in them a rich vein of humor too, rather coarse in texture and rough on the edges, but not bitter or malicious. The younger sort of them was much given to practical jokes. The people were hospitable, social, neighborly. There was far more sun shine in their lives than is commonly supposed, and this despite the hard conditions under which they lived. Considering the close limitations of their lives and their isolation from the currents of the populous world, they, were highly intelligent as a rule. They had not the training of the schools, but they had the training of practical life, and of much reflection. They had great respect for real learning. They would not listen to a minister who had not a classical and theological education. They cared but little for the trimmings, the mere filigree, but for solid learning they had very high regard. Especially did they exhibit in a high degree what we call practical wisdom and common sense. They searched out the good lands and were not backward in laying hold of them with a hand that could not be shaken loose. It never was found an easy job to “jump” the claim of a Scotch-Irish man, whether in Pennsylvania or California. Ex-Gov. Proctor Knott once said, “The Scotch-Irishman is one who keeps the commandments of God, and every other good thing he can get his hands on.” In undaunted courage, inflexible resolution, and unwearied industry, they have never been surpassed by any people. They had great patience too, and were willing to work hard and wait long, believing that while they might have to die in faith without entering into the promises, God- was preparing some better thing for those who were to come after them. They practised the closest economy in everything. To them waste was sin. However ample the table, everybody was expected to clean up his plate, else he ought not to have taken so much. They dug every smallest potato from the row, and wrenched every least nubbin from the husk. They gleaned their grainfields and raked their meadows clean. Men who would turn out their last dollar at some call of religion or humanity, would stoop to pick up a pin, and would patch their garments as long as they could be made to hold together.
Their family feeling was intensely strong and enduring, while there was but little effusive expression of it in words or caresses. Men were seldom seen kissing their wives or fondling their children, and almost never heard indulging in warm expressions of affection. They practised a stern repression of these emotional exhibitions. At the same time these very men shrank from no toil or exposure for their wives and children, and if called upon, as they sometimes were, to risk and give up their lives in their defense, they would not hesitate a moment.
No doubt they were a “pugnacious” people, as the Quakers said they were; quick to take offence and to resent an injury, and slow to be appeased and reconciled. Hence their feuds were many, bitter and lasting. If they had not been restrained by religion they would have been the terror of their neighbors, as their forefathers before their conversion were. Our far-away ancestors must have been very uncomfortable people to live with or near to. Their inclination to take whatever they wanted was extremely strong, and the fighting element was deep and hot in their blood. Until they were tamed by Christianity, they were grasping, aggressive, fierce. They were not much given to bargaining and trafficking for what they wanted; if strong enough, they simply took it, and left the trading to the Jew. Originally and constitutionally, they acted on the principle that might makes right, that the strong must rule, that the real king is the man who can. Christianity tamed this wild spirit, and yet at bottoms the Christianized Scotch Irishman even retains some of the basal elements of his original nature. Andrew Jackson, for example, was a typical Scotch Irishman. There was nothing of the boodler, the grafter, the sneak-thief in his nature. Whatever he did, he did boldly, and openly. He had a sovereign contempt for the low fellow who ‘did business in politics, or anything else, behind the door, or in a back room. The creature who crawled in the dirt, was the despicable one. Jackson was always ready to take the consequences. When he broke the United States Bank, and when he killed Dickinson, alike, he stood out in the open, and took the consequences. When the typical Scotch-Irishman does wrong, he hoes it openly and fearlessly. He does not believe in the sneak-thief. If he commits larceny at all, as he seldom does, it is always grand larceny, never petty. His crimes are those of force and violence; never of cowardice, meanness and treachery. If he breaks the law at all, he usually breaks it openly enough and badly enough to be hanged for it. Besides, there was native chivalry in these people. When once an enemy gave up they would treat him with princely magnanimity. But he must give up, give up completely. The weak and helpless for whom they were in any way responsible, they would protect and avenge at whatever cost. Whoever wronged the wife, the child, or even the slave of a genuine Scotch Irishman did it at peril of his life. These people had their faults, many and grievous faults, but they were faults of force and sometimes of violence, and never of cowardice and treachery.
They had extraordinary tenacity in holding on to good lands when once they got possession of them. In the immediate vicinity of my birth-place many of the farms to-day are in the hands of the lineal descendants of the men who drove out the Indians and levelled the forests. There to-day on the same acres are living the fifth, and in some cases, the sixth generation of the original settlers, sitting under the same great oaks, drinking out of the same spring, and in some instances, dwelling under the same roof that refreshed and sheltered their great-great-grandfathers. This is quite unusual in this country. Even in Massachusetts and Virginia, the examples of the sixth generation living on the same land and in the same house are extremely rare. I can point to many such examples in the old neighborhood of my birth and of my fathers. If a family had several sons, some of them would strike out into the world, and thus the race was widely scattered, but nearly always one at least would cling to the estate and abide by the graves of his ancestors. Consequently the type so strongly set at the beginning is distinctly marked today. In whatever is soundest, strongest and best in the current life of that whole region, the genius of the Scotch-Irish pioneer is still living and ruling.
They had exceedingly stiff and strenuous notions touching strict integrity in business transactions. They are charged with being hard at a bargain, close-fisted, and exacting to the last penny, but when once the bargain was fairly made it was carried out to the letter. Failure to pay his debts or to stand by his agreement, was enough to make one disreputable among his neighbors. Unless his failure was plainly due to the act of God and to no fault of his own, he could hardly live longer with comfort in the community. Of course their transactions were small in comparison with modern standards, but they always showed, as their descendants show to-day, very strict ideas of commercial integrity. There are not a few bank and mercantile establishments in that general region which have been in the same family for several generations, and whose reputation for the highest integrity has never been questioned.
In their spirit of independence, their passionate devotion to liberty civil and religious, and in their unflinching loyalty to Christ and His truth as they saw it, they reached the highest levels of heroism. They bowed down to the earth in adoring worship before Jesus Christ, but they would be ground to powder before they would bend the knee to any other being or thing on earth or under it. They hated tyrants with all the strength of their powerful nature, whether the badge of that tyrant was the cowl of a priest or the coronet of a lord. This was not a merely superficial sentiment with them, nor was it wholly the result of education it was constitutional, a fiery passion in the blood and marrow.
In our time, they are often mocked at as narrow-minded and bigoted. Very well: all strong and overcoming men, men who are girded by the tense sinews of strenuous convictions, are apt to be mocked at by easy-going Saducees to whom the truth and a lie are pretty much the same. These people in their inmost souls really believed that certain things were revealed to them by the High God, and they were ready to stand for these things unto death. In their judgment it made an infinite difference whether a man believed God’s truth or the devil’s lie. Possibly they were too much inclined to contend for what we deem the trivialities of religion, for the mere punctuation points of creed and catechism. They would divide on what seem to us very small issues. This is the reason there are so many divisions of our common Presbyterianism. But after all, [Page 60 – Resume checking here] and considering the work they had to do, this was not an unmixed evil. Many of the vitalist and most important movements of history have had their origin in what might be deemed trivialities. Very often movements of immense consequence to the Church of God have swung on what seemed a very small hinge. The question as to whether a single Greek letter should be kept in or put out of the one word in the creed, gave the early Church three hundred years of controversy, and it was not unimportant either, for it involved the whole question of the Deity of our Blessed Lord. Later, the question as to whether one word, filioque,– should be retained in the creed, led to bloody wars, vast changes in the map of Europe, and to the clevage of Christendom into two great divisions, a cleavage which twelve centuries have not healed. This tenacity, not to say stubbornness of conviction even as to small matters, was a most valuable trait in the character of men who were called to do the work our fathers had in hand. They had to make a fight at the outposts, on the picket line, if the fortress was to be saved. No doubt this proclivity to divide on trivial issues was sometimes misguided, and at times it has been the weakness and scandal of Presbyterianism. Our fathers would stand unto death for what seems to us but a punctuation point was important as part of God’s teaching. They believed that no revealed truth of God was small; that nothing He ever said to men was unimportant. The fact that He thought worth while to say it made it worth while for men to give heed to it, to stand for it, to die for it, if need be. They had vital convictions in their heart of hearts, and they could be neither wheedled, bribed nor bullied into smothering them. These convictions could be torn out of them only with their lives. They were Calvinists and Presbyterians of the old-fashioned John Knox type. They were not only deeply devout and almost sternly pious, but they were minutely, intensely and strenuously theological. A congregation might be very drowsy of a warm Sabbath afternoon, but an Arminian squint or a heretical suggestion in the sermon would rouse them like a pistol shot. With them it was a matter of small moment comparatively, how one stood with men, but it was of infinite moment how he stood with God. It was not of supreme importance that he gain the world, but it was of supreme importance that he save his own soul alive. The first necessity of life after the cabin, was the meeting-house. They settled at first in the colonies, because this secured mutual help against the Indians, and enabled them to establish their churches and schools. The last clap- board had not been put in place on the roof of the cabin when the log meeting-house was going up. The war-whoop of the savage had not died away in the forest when there were a half dozen churches and three classical schools established in what is now Washington County [Pennsylvania.]
Originally, of course, all the churches in southwestern Pennsylvania were in the country, because there were no towns as yet, the entire population being made up of farmers. There were at least eight or ten quite large congregations in various parts of Washington county a good while before there was an organized congregation in the town of Washington, or in Pittsburgh. The constituency of these churches in the forest was very widely extended, as people thought nothing of going ten miles or more to service. Everybody in all the scattered settlements except the very aged and the infirm, went to service on the Lord’s Day. The matrons and small children went on horse back, the men and young people afoot, the men striding by the side of their mounted women, dressed in buckskin trousers and hunting-shirts, and with rifles in their hands. My paternal great-grandfather was an elder in Bethel, which being six or seven miles from his home and over fearful roads, or rather no roads at all, and being a very bulky man, he found the trip irksome, and so he bought and removed to a tract of land within the bounds of Upper Buffalo, “to be near church.” He was now only three miles away. Wheeled vehicles were unknown, or nearly so. My grandfather used to tell us that when his mother died in 1784, there was in the entire settlement but one pair of very clumsy front wheels of a wagon, and on the axle the rude box in which his mother’s dead body was laid, was strapped, and bounced over the rough roads to the Bethel burying-ground. His father and a few neighbors on horseback followed the body. He, a little boy of five years, ran after the procession pleading to be permitted to follow his mother to the grave, but was forbidden. This is a pathetic picture of the times.
Every man worked his clearing with his rife at hand, and every family stood ready night and day to make a fight, or escape to a neighboring fort. These forts were simply large block-houses built of logs, and placed at convenient points through the settlements. At first sign of an Indian raid, a runner, or mounted courier would scurry through the settlement sounding the alarm. During the years from 1770 to 1790 the settlers very often had to fly from their burning cabins and devastated fields to these forts for shelter. The men would sally forth to drive off the savages, and bloody conflicts would take place in the deep forest. Meanwhile a ceaseless vigilance was kept up in the forts. When thus shut up, the people acted according to their renewed nature. They held religious services and many were converted to Christ. In Vance’s fort near Cross Creek, where many people were shut up for a considerable time, there was a great revival, with many converts, one of these being Thomas Marquis, who later became a very eloquent minister, and the progenitor of a large number of useful ministers. These meetings and revivals went on while the Indians were swarming in the surrounding woods and laying waste the settlements. I can well remember when a small child often seeing in the old Buffalo church, one of the daughters of the “silver-tongued” Marquis. She was then a very aged woman and a widow. She still retained remnants of the beauty for which she had been noted in her youth, and was a famous singer in those rude settlements. When she was more than eighty years old, we used to hear her voice in a high falsetto, singing “counter” in the services. Like that of many other old people, her voice shivered and quavered a good deal, and not from purpose at all, for this was long before the time when such a tremolo became a silly fad in certain quarters.
Very often, at least one son of a family, and sometimes more than one was dedicated to the ministry, or to one of the learned professions, and so was sent to school and college. When in 1879, Buffalo and Cross Creek, originally one charge, celebrated their centennial, it was found that up to that time above one hundred young men had gone out of that rural community into the Christian ministry, besides a large number who had gone into other professions. When I was a student in Allegheny Seminary there were six of us in that one institution from Upper Buffalo, and I believe nearly as many from Cross Creek. It was found that ‘during that first century, several hundred men had gone out to be ruling elders of the Church in widely separated sections of the land. Many others had been highly useful in other callings, arid some had attained high distinction. These were but two of a group of ancient congregations in that general region, and every one of them had had a similar history. The like was true of the neighboring congregations which belonged to the Associate and Associate Reformed communions, now happily united in the United Presbyterian Church. They were popularly known as Seceder and Union, and were not too friendly at that time. The differences between them were exceedingly minute, but the lines were tensely drawn, and there was no intercommunion. In race, type, temperament, theology and history, they were precisely alike, and like their Presbyterian neighbors, only they were stricter in some respects. The Covenanters, of which there were two kinds, were still stricter. They were the straightest of the straight. These divisions were not merely formal and nominal; they were real and actual. The ministers of the Seceders and Covenanters unsparingly denounced “occasional hearing,” as a grievous offence against God. By this they meant the going to hear a preacher of one of the other divisions when they had no service of their own. They were to stop at home, studying their bible and catechism. The modern man would have to get out his microscope to see the difference between the Old Side, and the New Side covenanters, but all the same, the old side man would go through mud and snow ten miles to worship in his own conventicle, though there might be a new side church within half a mile of his home. The ministers of the different divisions had very little to do with one another. Of ministerial fellowship they had absolutely none, and even of neighborly fellowship there was next to none. Two of them might live for years quite near each other, and yet the nearest approach to familiarity be a formal salutation as they met in the highway. The Seceder felt bound in conscience to testify against and denounce his neighbor who sang Watts hymns, and the still stricter Covenanter could only consign his Seceder brother to the “uncovenanted mercies of God.” He probably tried in charity to believe that the Lord might possibly have mercy on his misguided and blinded soul. There was no apparent bitterness of spirit, nor anything approaching personal hatred or malice in all this; not at all; only there was the stern conviction on the part of each that the other was in serious error, and that it was his solemn duty to testify against his ways in public and in private. It is easy for us to condemn all this, but it is a question whether it was more to be deplored than the Sadducean indifference of more modern times.
We must not belittle or dismiss with a sneer these plain old country pastors of the early days. They lived isolated and obscure lives, but they were faithful, earnest and Godly men, and not a few of them, were very able men. Estimated by results, they did a great work. Consider M’Millan, Dodd, Smith, and Henderson; Marquis, M’ Curdy and Patterson; the two Andersons, French, Stockton, Eagleson, and many others of various branches of Presbyterianism in those early days; men of education, ability and utter consecration, who gave their lives to work in the woods, and yet see what came of it. They have long since gone to be with God, but their works do follow them. They are living and doing business in tens of thousands of lives all over the world, and multitudes have already met them before the throne of God to thank then for their fidelity. Measured by the test of widely-extended and enduring influence, it may be questioned if any metropolitan minister in the whole land was their peer. No faithful servant of Christ can tell what is to be the ultimate outcome of his life. The essential thing is that he do with his might the task given him by his Master, and as under that Master’s eye. In fact there is nothing great or small but doing the will of God.
These Scotch-Irish people had a great hunger for education, and the desire to give their children better advantages than they had had themselves was central and dominant in all their purposes. These old pastors assiduously encouraged this feeling and wisely guided it. They founded classical schools called academies in many of their congregations, and thus gave encouragement and opportunity to young people who aimed at the higher education. Particularly did they lay on the conscience of their people the duty of dedicating the choicest of their sons to the ministry of the gospel at home or abroad. Consequently from almost every farm there was at least one boy who was set apart to go to college, and it was a main part of the family purpose and plan to send him. Many of these boys were solemnly dedicated to the sacred office before they were born, as Samuel was by his pious mother. Mothers bore sons for the ministry; fathers worked their hands to the bone to pay their way, and the entire family when necessary, practised the closest economy and self-denial, and all rejoiced in the honor God had done them in choosing one of the boys for the holy office. What wonder that Washington and Jefferson College founded and sustained by these people, and fed by these parochial schools, should have had so great a part in Presbyterian and American history? It is in place to ask whether there are now many such breeding places and nesting-places of trained and consecrated ministers and elders in these madly materialistic days? Has the great change in condition and conviction in this respect that has come in recent years, anything to do with the alarming reduction in the number of candidates for the ministry? Are there many communities where fathers and mothers wrestle with God for their sons before they are born, pleading that they may be chosen and qualified for His service anywhere in the world, however that service may bring hard ship, obscurity and poverty, if only it contributes to the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God? Are pastors as earnest and vigilant in pressing this duty on their people, and in seeking out boys whom God may call to the sacred office, as were the pastors of our childhood and of our fathers? This is worth thinking of. I take the congregation of my forbears simply as a sample of the genuine Scotch-Irish congregation of the early days in that section of the country. It was fairly typical of multitudes of others. A correct photograph of that community and that congregation needs only to be duplicated to make it a correct picture of every section of the country where these people were dominant. I select that particular community as an illustration not only because it is, and from the first has been, one of the most decidedly Scotch-Irish communities in America, but also because I know it better than any other. I may be pardoned for saying that my people have been a part of it for more than a century and a quarter. I wad born there, as my father was before me, and his father before him, and my great-grand father came into that country when it was a wilderness, and when he was but thirty-two years old. The farms that he and his sons carved out of the forest are in the hands of his lineal descendants to-day. If these sketches have strongly local, and even personal features, I trust it will be pardoned. Perhaps there is no better way of giving a vivid impression of times and people than to describe particular neighborhoods and individuals, provided these are fairly typical of the conditions and the people in general. My memory is full of the fireside and wayside tales related to me in my child hood by my forbears, and others who were there in the earliest days. Every branch of the many divisions of strict Presbyterianism was represented by one or more congregations within ten miles of my birthplace. In no part of the country was the invincible proclivity of Presbyterians to divide on small issues more strikingly illustrated than among the Scotch-Irish of southwestern Pennsylvania. The difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum was great in comparison with the differences between some of these numerous sects. Yet men would have been crucified for these points of difference.
Often have I seen a man riding along the ridge above our farm on the Sabbath morning on his way to a little gathering of Old-Side Covenanters, at least twelve miles from his home. Late in the evening he might be seen wending his way homeward, silent, saturnine, solemn having done his duty as he saw it, and given his testimony. On his way he passed within easy reach of several Presbyterian churches, some of them very closely allied to his own, yet he would have gone to the stake without a moment’s hesitation for the difference between them and him.
One of our near neighbors, head of a large and substantial family, one of the oldest and most respectable in the community, himself an elder in Buffalo, had married in youth a woman who belonged to the Union church of Cross Roads. They lived together for fifty years or more, in great affection and comfort, yet they never went to church together. Many a time have T seen them ride side by side on horseback to the top of the ridge where the roads forked, and there part, he taking the left hand road to Buffalo and she the right hand road to Cross Roads, and this they did during their entire lives. The sons went with their father, and the daughters with their mother. This was not an uncommon case. Within two or three miles of Upper Buffalo there was a Seceder congregation, one of the most ancient in that section, about as old as Upper Buffalo. It was a most strict and strenuous Seceder church. For forty-two years the Rev. David French was the pastor, a faithful, devoted and Godly man, but excessively narrow according to modern standards. He enforced close communion of the closest kind; nobody but a strict Seceder could come to the holy table in his church. He peremptorily forbade his people going to other places of worship when they had no service of their own. He was extremely protracted in his services, as others of his persuasion were. He would explain the psalm for three quarters of an hour, pray for the same length of time, and on special occasions longer, everybody standing, or pretending to stand; he would preach for an hour and a half, and often much longer; the entire service requiring sometimes five hours. The psalms in Rouses version were used exclusively, and always sung to the oldest tunes. The “clerk” read a line in a sing-song tone, then led the congregation in singing it, when he recited another line in the same sing-song tone and in the key of the tune, sang this, and so on clear through. This was called “lining out,” and so much importance was attached to it that when it was proposed to abandon the practice it was like to have created a revolution. It did not occur to them that this “lining out” was very like the intoning of the Romish priest. No tune which required repetition of the words was allowed. Anything like what musicians call a fugue would have raised a tempest. This they would have denounced as vain repetitions which the heathen use. In fact the chief difference between the Seceders and the regular Presbyterians at that time was in respect to psalmody. The Presbyterians gradually adopted Watts Psalms and Hymns, which collection the Seceders denounced as human compositions, and utterly unauthorized. The debates about this resulted in breaking up congregations and setting whole neighborhoods by ears. Then these psalm-singing churches divided on other issues, and hence the Presbyterians of the early settlements were much separated among themselves.
The ancient church of my nativity and of my foregatherers, like all others of the time, was planted on a ridge in what was then a dense forest of giant trees; various kinds of oak, elm, beech, chestnut, hickory, walnut, poplar, sugar-maple, and such like; with many smaller growths, such as dogwood, sassafras, sumach, spicewood, interlaced with a tangle of vines, ivy, wild-grape, and the like, making a jungle that in many places was almost impenetrable. The country was hilly, but generally free from rocks on the surface, and exceedingly fertile, abounding in springs, brooks and creeks. These original forests to one of Aesthetic tastes, were superb. I have roamed through the vast forests of mighty red wood on the Pacific Coast, and camped among trees sixteen to eighteen feet in diameter and two hundred to three hundred feet high: I have also seen the gigantea sequoia, of the Sierras, by far the most colossal growths on the earth; and while these are unspeakably imposing in size, and stateliness, and antiquity, and the forests are like immense and awe-inspiring cathedrals, yet for exquisite beauty, and gorgeous foliage in autumn, I have seen nothing finer than the original forests of southwestern Pennsylvania. Two generations of hardy men wore themselves out in clearing away these vast forests and making the magnificent farms now owned by their posterity. In fact they have overdone this. It is a thousand pities that the country has been so denuded of its glorious forests. This makes it look bare, prosaic and commonplace. Particularly is it a shame that the immediate surroundings of the old rural churches have been stripped so bare of trees. Judge Veech is right in saying that, “A treeless country church is worse than a tombless grave.”
All things considered, it would not be easy to find a richer section of the earth’s surface than was the region we are now thinking of. The pioneer did not know how rich the country really was, any more than the old Californian that there were immense treasures of gold underneath his feet as he walked over the land. The early settler in southwestern Pennsylvania saw nothing and knew nothing of the immense layers of coal, the reservoirs of natural gas and oil beneath his feet as he tracked the forest. He saw only the fertile soil and well-watered country, covered with giant forests in the depths of which the panther and the savage had their lair. The Indian must be driven out and the forest cleared away before homes, schools, and churches could be established. Hence the forests, which now would be exceedingly valuable, were then a fearful incumbrance. The pioneer could not get room for his cabin or potato patch until he had made diligent use of his axe and grubbing hoe. The climate was far from ideal. The extremes of temperature were great, and the changes sudden and trying. In winter everything freezable froze, and in summer everything soluble melted. This added to the strenuousness of the struggle in subduing the country. But the like is true of most sections of the globe where the human race has done its best work and made its greatest achievements. A country where life is easy is not a good place to develop men, and is not the place where great things are done.
In the heart of this region, and about eight miles northwest of the present town of Washington, was placed the church of which I write particularly. The church of Cross Creek, joined with it in the same charge, was located about ten miles to the north. For many years it was strictly a rural congregation, though within the last forty years or more, a small village has grown up around it. A similar village, somewhat older and larger, grew up around Cross Creek. The old county has quite a number of such villages, made up largely of old people, widowed women and the like, who in their age and loneliness, snuggle up close to the church to spend their last days in quietness near the sanctuary and the graves of their people. For nearly the whole of the first hundred years of its history, the church had but three pastors,-Smith, Anderson and Eagleson, all of them able and faithful men, and the dust of all of them lies in the adjoining graveyard, with appropriate monuments erected by the people they served. It is an ancient and ill-kept churchyard, full of the bones of men and women who lived toilsome and obscure, but worthy and victorious lives, and who did a service for God and their country which has laid the whole land under obligations. There lies the dust of men who were slain in sight of their burning cabins while defending their wives and little ones from the ruthless savage; there also the dust of officers and soldiers of the Revolution; there the ashes of mothers of men who .have done great things for God and their country; there the bones of unknown and unhonored dead, some of whom were surely great in the sight of the Lord; there also, the remains of many noble men of my own time who gave their lives for their country in our great civil war. The graves of representatives of five generations of my own name and blood are there, and many others might say the same of theirs.
“Beneath those rugged elms, that yewtree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap;
Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.”
The Rev. Joseph Smith was the first pastor. He was from York county, Pa., a graduate of Princeton, and visited the region in April 1779. The first minister who visited that immediate neighborhood was the Rev. Matthew Henderson, who preached in the woods near where North Buffalo U. P. church now stands, as early as 1775 In 1778 a Seceder congregation was organized on that spot, and in October 1779, Mr. Henderson was called to be the pastor, in connection with Chartiers of the same communion. North Buffalo is but three miles from Upper Buffalo, yet owing to differences mainly about psalmody, it was thought right to organize the two congregations in the wilderness quite close together. As early as 1775, the Rev. John M’Millan visited the neighborhood of what is now Canonsburg, but owing to Indian troubles did not permanently settle in that region till 1778, when he became pastor of Chartiers and Pigeon Creek. Rev. Thaddeus Dodd settled about the same time at Ten Mile Creek, a few miles away. M’Millan and Dodd, like Smith, were graduates of Princeton. All of them were able and scholarly men. I have before me as I write, the original Minute Book of Cross Creek and Upper Buffalo, containing a copy of the call issued to Mr. Smith by those two congregations. It is dated June Zest, 1779, and is signed by one hundred and sixteen names, most of them probably heads of families. They were scattered over a widely extended region of country. In the same book is a copy of a subscription paper with two hundred and nine names, and opposite each name the amount pledged in pounds and shillings. Among these names we find those of the two Poe brothers, the famous Indian fighters of that days and of subsequent history and romance. The whole amount of salary pledged was one hundred and fifty pounds, and at the head of the paper is an explicit stipulation in the following words, “Whereas money has become of less value and every article has risen to an extravagant price, therefore we do hereby agree that the said sums shall annually be regulated by five men chosen in each congregation, and shall be made equal in value to what said sums would have been in 1774.” The war of the Revolution was ,going on, currency was greatly depreciated, prices were extremely high, and hence the necessity of the above provision. Mr. Smith continued pastor of these two congregations until April 1792, when, dying suddenly of brain fever, he entered into rest. He was a remarkably eloquent and fervent man, of the deepest spiritual earnestness, and a preacher of uncommon pungency and power. Many traditions of his startling and powerful eloquence in the pulpit still linger in that region. He was the progenitor of several useful ministers, the Rev. James Power Smith, D. D. of Richmond, Va., one of the leading ministers in the Southern Church, being his great-grandson. Many a time have I sat on the broad slab which covers his tomb in the old churchyard, and read the long inscription written by his scholarly friend and fellow-worker, Rev. Thaddeus Dodd.
In a log cabin in the deep woods on his farm near Buffalo, Mr. Smith set up a classical school, and in it were trained not a few men for the ministry, some of them rather notable, one being the Rev. James M’Gready, the real founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, though he never joined it himself. This M’Gready was an old Buffalo boy, and very notable in his day.
When the war of the Revolution closed, the finances of the country were in a most deplorable state, as the continental money was nearly worthless, and coin was exceedingly scarce and hard to get. The salary of Mr. Smith fell into arrears and for several years was not paid. The situation became acute, and at length the question of meeting their obligations to their pastor had to be squarely faced by the people. He could not go on as things were. They must support him or lose him. The farmers had plenty of wheat, but no money, and no way of getting any. The only accessible market where they could get cash for their wheat or flour was New Orleans, two thousand miles away by the winding Ohio and Mississippi. Meetings were held and much prayer was offered up to God. The people were heart broken at thought of losing their beloved pastor, and yet what could they do? Plenty of wheat was offered, and the miller down by the Ohio river, twelve miles away, was willing to turn it into flour, but how to get the flour to market, was the question. Who would undertake the long and perilous journey in a flat-boat, with the flour and bring back the money? At last, an aged elder, a Mr. William Smiley, stood up and said, “I will go if you will engage two strong young men to go with me.” It was a bold act of faith in the old man, but he was resolute to make his offer good. By the promise of a large reward, two young men were persuaded to accompany him. It was a great and solemn undertaking. The entire distance was through an almost unpeopled solitude, except as the wilderness swarmed with savages. There was no way of return except by rowing up the mighty river, or travelling the whole distance on foot through the forests, subsisting as best they might. All this old Father Smiley and the people well knew, but they did not flinch. The farmers carried their wheat to the mill by the river near where the town of Wellsburg, West Virginia, now stands; it was made into flour and placed on board a large flatboat, or scow, built for the purpose. When the day appointed for starting came, the people assembled from far and near in a great company; solemn religious services were held and the weeping people commended their friends and their enterprise to God. The aged elder stepped aboard with his two helpers, gave the order to cut loose, and away they floated on the bosom of the mighty river. Weeks and months went by, and no tidings from the absent voyageurs. Whenever the people assembled for worship, fervent prayer was offered up to God in their behalf. In the homes of the people, when the father of his house gathered his family at the morning and evening altar, the protection of the Lord was fervently besought to be with Father Smiley and his enterprise. Little children as they knelt by their beds, were taught to lisp the name of Father Smiley, and earnestly ask their Father in heaven to prosper the old elder, to guard him and return him in safety and peace. Aged saints as they went out into the thickets to pray, poured out their supplications in the same behalf. Nine weary and anxious months went by, and at length one Sabbath morning when the people assembled for worship, there in his accustomed place in front of the pulpit, sat the sturdy old elder. He would give no particular account of his journey, for it was the Sabbath, but told the people that if they would assemble on a week day, he would tell them all. Now he would only say, that he arid his helpers had safely reached their destination, had found a good market, and had walked the entire distance home, carrying with them a large sum in gold. The people with songs, and prayers, and tears, thanked God for having prospered the errand of his venerable servant, and for having returned him in safety from his long and perilous journey. He brought with him money enough to pay all arrears and leave a handsome balance in the treasury. This plain old Scotch-Irish farmer was one of God’s genuine heroes. His name appears in no roll of earthly fame, but doubtless it shines with peculiar lustre in the roll of saints and heroes which is kept in heaven. For more than a hundred years, his grave has been in the old churchyard quite near that of the pastor whom he so deeply loved, and for whose comfort he was willing to do and to dare so much. Many a time since, no doubt, in the celestial Paradise, they have talked it all over together. His descendants have been in the same church ever since, and some of them are there to-day. However modest and even humble their station in life, surely they have royal blood in their veins. The question might here be raised, how many men are there in our great Church to-day who would undertake an enterprise of equal magnitude and danger, in order to get money to pay arrears in their pastor’s salary, or to keep a church going in the wilderness, or anywhere else for that matter?
The old Minute Book referred to above contains a copy of the deed conveying the land on which the church stands, together with quite a large tract around it. The consideration was “two ears of corn.” The first two buildings were rude log structures, the third a large barn-like structure of brick, and now for more than thirty years, there has stood on the same spot a rather stately building of brick and stone, a memorial to the departed.
Many sacred and holy memories cluster round that historic spot, as in deed round all the ancient churches in that region. At Buffalo the great revival at the beginning of the last century had its climacteric, so far at least as that general section of the country was concerned. It is safe to say that by far the greatest and most general religious awakening this country ever knew, was during the first five or six years of the nineteenth century. Judged by its accompaniments and consequences, by its immediate and resultant effects, it marked a veritable epoch in the history of this country.
The period following the Revolutionary War was one of great religious declension and moral degeneracy. French Infidelity and English Deism seemed to have taken the land. Many of the leading public men were disciples of the one or the other. Earnest religion was mocked at by many of the more intelligent classes. Colleges, like Harvard, Yale and Princeton had hardly a professing Christian among their students. Many pulpits had fallen into a halting, hesitating and half-hearted declaration of evangelical truth, or had ceased to declare it at all. Times were hard, money nearly worthless, political and other strifes were rampant; personal and social morals were at a low ebb, and in general, the mood of the people was skeptical, bitter and reckless. In fact, it seemed that Baal ruled the land. But there were the seven thousand in Israel who had never bowed the knee to him. Yet these, as of old, were cowed, suppressed and hidden out of sight. However, through all, they unceasingly cried unto God with strong entreaties and tears, and at length their cry was heard, and the Lord God of Elijah answered by fire. Then came a great and mighty revival of evangelical religion which extended over the whole of the country then settled, from New England through the Atlantic states to the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as among the newer settlements in Ohio, Kentucky, and to the westward and southwestward. It brought a very great and lasting change to the religious life and the moral condition of this whole country. It is not easy to fix precisely the spot where this great revival had its first manifestation. It seems that the sacred fire was kindled at several widely separated points at about the same time. The region of which I am writing was one of these points, and certainly one of the very earliest points where this great awakening began. Some painstaking historians have traced the very earliest manifestations of this movement to the congregation of Cross Roads, now Florence, in Washington county, Pa., and to Philip Jackson, who was called the “praying elder” in that ancient congregation. Whether this is so or not, one thing is certain, in the woods round the old log meeting-house at Upper Buffalo, was held what was probably the most remarkable camp meeting ever known in America. It was in October, 1802, when the surrounding country was as yet but sparsely settled, and still mostly a vast forest; and yet, there gathered together in the wilderness a concourse of above ten thousand people, coming from all distances within a radius of a hundred miles, on foot, on horseback, in clumsy vehicles, bringing provisions with them, and tarrying for many days. There were a score or more of ministers present, and services were held almost continuously all day and far into the night, sometimes all night. The preaching was all done by authorized ministers. These people believed that women should keep silence in the church, and laymen very rarely addressed worshipping assemblies. It is worthy of remark that in the most extensive, the most powerful, and the most transforming revival of religion this country ever knew, none of the sensational methods of modern services of this kind were used at all. No doubt times have changed, and modern methods may be required by modern conditions, but at the same time it may be a question whether our Lord and His Apostles were not quite up to their own times, and to all times, in the methods they used and authorized. This is a very wise and very enterprising age, but possibly it is not greatly wiser and more enterprising than our Lord, and His Apostles. One thing is certain, the great religious revivals of history, those awakenings which have permanently transformed communities, nations and races, have invariably been conducted on apostolic and primitive lines. Modern evangelism with all its provision for paid evangelists, its newspaper advertising, its processions and brass-bands, its sensation and trips through the slums, may fall in with modern methods, and get glory for its leaders, but whether this builds up the kingdom of God, and really saves lost men, may be a question for serious and enlightened Christians. The great awakening of which I am writing continued for several years, and during that time the whole country was transformed. It was not the invasion of a community by a lot of so called evangelists, who must have the way prepared beforehand, who go only into places where strong churches exist, but it was the result of faithful work by pastors and other Christian people, in the use of the ordinary and prescribed means of grace. Such was the great awakening which continued for several yearn and transformed the whole country. For many years, evangelical religion was the chief, the absorbing interest of the majority of the people. Looking back now we can see how that great revival saved pure religion in this land. Not only were the churches greatly strengthened and multiplied, but unbelief and immorality were effectively rebuked, the mood and habit of the people were permanently changed, and out of it grew the great missionary movement of modern times, in this country. Mission Boards, Bible Societies, Tract Societies, Sabbath schools, multitudes of Christian schools and colleges the temperance movement, and many other such great agencies of evangelism and reform, were the direct product of that great revival.
I repeat, it marked a veritable epoch in American history. Undoubtedly it was a mighty work of the Spirit of God, but as always happens in such a case, Satan entered in to pervert, counterfeit and counterwork the work of God. With the veritable sacred fire came much wildfire. Extravagances and fanaticisms flamed out on every side, and there came bitter controversies and contentions by which the people of God were broken up into hostile and belligerent factions. Out of these controversies came the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Christian, or Campbellite, body, and many other separations. But after all, the results were immensely great, valuable and enduring. It can be easily shown that the Scotch-Irish ministers and people were the main promoters of this great work.
These old pastors were paid but scanty salaries., The pastor of my own childhood and youth had for a long time no more than five hundred dollars a year, and this was paid him in a lump at the close of the year. How he was expected to live in the meantime, I do not know. Probably he was treated quite as generously, or better said, no more stingily than other ministers in that general region. For the most part these congregations were made up of thrifty farmers not one in ten of whom was in debt except as he kept in debt by buying more land and yet such pitiful sums they deemed sufficient for the support of able and faithful pastors. As a rule these pastors managed to live decently on such incomes, raise large families and educate them. With all their fine traits these Scotch-Irish were not remarkable for liberal dealing in money matters. They were apt to be excessively careful and close in such matters. It ought to be said however that they had but little ready money and what they had came from hard and persevering toil. Fifty cents a day or less paid the wage of a farm hand. Farmers would raise their wheat, reap it with a sickle, thresh it with a flail, have it made into flour, paying one-tenth for toll, then haul it to Pittsburgh, a three days’ journey, and sell it for two to three dollars a barrel. The people in general fared abundantly at their own tables, for their farms and gardens yielded plentifully, but their cash income was very small. Nearly every thing that the people ate, drank, or wore was the direct result of their own industry. I now refer to the earliest times, and for a good many years after they settled in the country. The flax was raised, cured, carded, spun and woven into fabrics which were made up into garments for household use. So with the wool. The hides of their cattle were tanned by themselves, and once a year, the shoemaker would come round, stopping in the house for a week or more, and make the year’s supply of shoes for the entire family. All the supplies of the table except tea, coffee, spices and the like, were the produce of their own fields and gardens. In the early days even tea and coffee were but rarely used. They did without coffee, and tea was made of sassafras, spicewood, and other barks and herbs. Salt and pepper were hard to get and sparingly used. Most things that they must have they somehow managed to get from the field, the forest or the stream. Once a year, some man of the settlement would make a pilgrimage over the mountains to Carlisle, to bring back a supply of salt, iron, powder, lead, and such spices as they must have. Neighbors would send their boys along under his guidance over the trail, each with a string of pack-horses. I have heard my grandfather tell of making such pilgrimages when a small boy, with several packhorses in tow. Little wonder that they made careful use of what was so hard to get.
Everybody except the very aged and infirm went regularly to church. If any man did not go, he was looked at askance as some sort of Ishmaelite or Philistine, and deemed hardly safe to associate with. No matter how rough the weather nor how bad the roads, nor how long the distance, everybody went on the Sabbath day. I can recall many a time when a very small boy, sticking like a big bug on a horse behind my grandfather, and riding three miles to church of a bitter winter morning, when the horse waded through deep snow, or floundered through stiffest mud, or stumbled over roughest clods, and we were always in time for Sabbath-school at nine o’clock. Our fathers kept the Sabbath according to the commandment as expounded in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. This was sometimes rather irksome to a restless and unsanctified boy, but there was much ultimate good in it. Like many another affliction, for the present it was not joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yielded the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Looking back now after sixty years of varied experience have come and gone, how soft, how silent, how sweet and restful those old time Sabbaths seem! The memory of them has rested like a mellow benediction on all the intervening years. The plow stood still in the furrow; the weary horses fed ankle deep in pastures, or stood with their long necks over the gate in luxurious rest; cows and oxen with their great, soft eyes, lay quietly in the shade of oaks or hickories, contentedly chewing the cud, while lambs gambolled on the green hillsides; all so peaceful, so soothing,, so sacred. Very many grey headed men and women now widely separated in the world, some in high places, some in humble, recall with deep and tender emotion the memory of those far-away arcadian scenes. Amid the rush and roar, the tumult and turmoil, the wild strifes, passions and confusions of modern life, how sweet, and soft, and restful, how sacred and holy, the memory of the quiet summer Sabbaths of our childhood and of our fathers.
Possibly they may have been overstrict; very likely they were. When a small boy, if by any chance I forgot and let out a little whistle on the holy day I was instantly startled and shocked at myself, and looked round rather expecting the heavens to fall or some other terrible thing to happen. All books not strictly religious were put away. The Bible, the Confession of Faith, Baxter’s Saints Rest, Allein’s Alarm, Doddridge’s Rise and Progress, Watts Psalms and Hymns, and such like exhilarating books were allowable. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was permissible, as a sort of breeze from the mountains. It is certain that nearly everyone of our current religious weeklies would have been placed under the ban, arid by far the greater part of the books found in our Sunday-school libraries. Family worship every morning and evening was always leisurely and especially on the Sabbath, lengthy. There was the reading of a full chapter however long; the singing of a psalm or hymn clear through, and a comprehensive prayer, all devoutly kneeling. Ah me, how significant a service was that! No wonder th at Robert Burns, wild and dissipated as he was, was so deeply moved when he wrote his exquisite lyric, “The Cotter’s Saturday Night.” What holy memories and influences of the unforgotten living and the no less unforgotten dead, connect themselves with that sacred custom! The father, possibly the grey-headed grandfather, gathering his household on their knees round the altar of their Covenant God! What a protection for the present, what a prophecy for the future! How sad it is that this holy and blessed ordinance has so dropped out of the hurly burly of our modern life. Nine o’clock found us in Sabbath-school, whatever the weather or the roads. The class work consisted almost wholly in reading from the Bible and in memorizing long passages of scripture and hymns. This may seem very crude in the light of modern methods, but it had certain great advantages. It lodged large numbers of hymns and large portions of scripture safely in the memory, and saved the children from the raw, silly, and misleading instruction they sometimes receive now. It gave a ready familiarity with the very language of the Bible and of standard hymns which could never be lost. Some years ago, I spent two weeks in the same house with the late Major-General Irvin M’Dowell of the United States Army. He was a very eminent and meritorious officer, but in some respects an unfortunate one. It was he who was forced by public outcry, to fight prematurely the first battle of Bull Run. He was a most interesting man, and one of the race we are thinking of. He went to his grave under the shadow of a vile slander which was widely published about him after the battle of Bull Run. It was published and generally believed that he was drunk that day, and lost the battle in consequence. He never stooped to deny the wicked slander. The fact was that he was a rigid total abstainer, and had been all his life. I was surprised at his ready familiarity with the Bible. He seemed to know the book from beginning to end, and could quote from it with wonderful point and pertinence. At length I expressed my gratification, and in fact, my wonder at finding one who had spent his life in camps and army posts, and who yet had so extraordinary a familiarity with the holy scriptures. He answered me by saying, that he had been brought up in the church and Sabbath-school of Dr. James Hoge, the Presbyterian patriarch of Ohio, and he added, “Where ever you find one of dear old Doctor Hoge’s boys, you will be apt to find one who knows his Bible and Catechism.”
Between Sabbath-school and public service there was a short interval, during which, if the weather was pleasant, boys and younger men would stand or stroll about among the trees, surreptitiously talking crops, politics, or neighborhood gossip. Meanwhile the women and more sedate men would pass into the church. At first sound of the opening service, these groups in the grove would make a rush for the church, and go thundering down the uncarpeted aisles in their farmer boots, making as much noise as a drove of horses.
The singing was led by four men called “clerks,” or “clarks,” who stood in a row on a little raised platform in front of the pulpit, and facing the congregation. There was no musical instrument of any kind, and the proposal to introduce one would have raised a tempest. In the Seceder and Covenanter congregations nothing was used but Rouses version of the psalms, and the number of tunes was very limited. In the regular Presbyterian churches, Watts Hymns and Psalms were allowed, though the old version was much used. These clerks had no music in their books, and probably few of them could have read it if it had been before them. They took turn about in “raising” the tune, and quite often the clerk started in apparently without having any particular tune clearly in his mind, or at least without having any firm grip on it, and so he would amble along and wabble about until sometimes he got to the second or third line before it became clear to the people, to his fellow-clerks, or even to himself precisely what tune he was headed for. By that time he usually struck something in the way of tune, and if it happened to be of the right metre and anywhere near the right key, his fellow clerks would strike in, followed by the entire congregation, and then there would be a mighty volume of sound. If the metre did not fit, or if the pitch was impossible, as often happened, then all hands stopped; there was a clearing of throats on the little platform, possibly a blowing of noses, with more or less expectoration, and then a fresh start was made. This was kept up till success was achieved. There was never final failure. That was not in the Scotch-Irishman’s creed. When the clerks all broke down, as I have seen happen, then some veteran singer in the congregation would lilt up the tune.
Practically everybody sang, or made a stagger at singing, and if it was not in the highest style of art, it was at least loud and hearty. Here and there over the congregation, you might hear the shrill and fife-like voice of some dear old saintly woman singing “counter”, her shivering falsetto cutting its way sharply through the volume of all other sounds. Connoisseurs, if any had been present, would have curled the lip and stopped their ears, but I fancy that this worship pleased the angels and the Lord very well, for it was the best the people had to offer, and it was at least deeply sincere and devotional.
The preaching was always closely scriptural and often exceedingly searching and solemn. Of course, I never heard the first generation of preachers, nor even the second; they were all dead before I was born; but many of them must have been men of extraordinary power in the pulpit.
There were no newspapers to tell of their eloquence, but the traditions and the enduring effects produced by their preaching testify to its power. The preachers of my boyhood were really the third generation, but they were of the old type. I have heard many of those accounted the greatest preachers in the world in my time, but I deliberately say, that for the purposes of Christian preaching, much that I used to hear from my old pastor, Dr. Eagleson, and from his nearest neighbor, Dr. Stockton, was not far below the best I ever heard. Many a time have I been melted to tears by the pathos; and many a time been made to tremble in my bones by the pungent and powerful appeals, of these men of God. Undoubtedly they were great in the sight of the Lord. Mothers brought their young children to the services, else they could not have come themselves, as they had no servants to leave them with, and as they did not believe in race suicide, the children were many. These little people often made a great deal of noise in the services by their crowing and crying. It was not at all uncommon to hear half a dozen of them in full outcry at the same time.
This would break up a modern congregation, and drive the modern city preacher mad, but on the old pastor of my childhood it had no more apparent effect than if it had been the twittering of birds in the adjoining grove, or the honking of wild-geese a thousand feet overhead. If a youngster became too obstreperous, and was old enough to know better, his mother would snatch him up with a sudden jerk, and despite his struggles and screams, drag him down the aisle to the door, and out of it, her face mean while flushed and bearing the aspect of great determination, a sure prophecy of what was coming to that youngster, whence she would swiftly bear him to a bench that always stood conveniently placed under a big tree near the open windows of the church, and forthwith you might hear the rapid and stinging patter of a motherly hand descending on the broadest part of helpless and shrieking childhood, mingled with the most piercing outcries and half articulate promises of better behavior in the future. After a time she would re-enter the church with the calm and composed air of one who had done and well done, a disagreeable duty, the little one meekly toddling by her side completely subdued for the time. There are men whom I have met in high places in Church and State, whom I have seen on former days pass through this discipline, no doubt to their passing pain, but probably to their lasting profit.
During prayers, however long, everybody except the very aged and infirm was expected to stand. There was usually a good deal of squirming, and twisting, and lounging about on the part of many persons. Not a few men had the habit of facing round, placing one foot on the bench, elbow on knee, chin in hand, and .gazing steadily and contentedly into the faces of those behind. I used to be fearfully bored in this way by a certain pair of very bright and twinkling old eyes long since closed in death.
In due time came the “intermission,” which was a recess of half an hour or so before the afternoon service. Nearly all the people would retire from the church and scatter about through the grove, some going to the nearby pump, while others strolled off to a further spring, meanwhile “eating their piece,” as they called taking their luncheon. Elders and other sedate men would stand apart alone, or in little groups, silently meditating, or gravely conversing on pious subjects.
The lads and lasses would be apt to wander off under the shade of stately trees, sidling up to one another in shy and awkward coquetry, thus furtively keeping company a little, and probably laying the foundation for closer relations later. Some of the older women mould remain devoutly in the church, quietly, munching crackers, cookies and bits of cheese, meanwhile piously meditating. These were for the most part mothers, more often grandmothers in Israel, but not a few of them were aged virgins who had never been wedded to any one but Jesus Christ.
Among these last were found some of the most excellent of the earth, women who had worn out their lives for others’ good. Dear, old, simpleminded, life-worn saints! How clearly their calm, meek, patient faces, bleached and wrinkled by the toil and exposure of many years, rise before me now after all this lapse of time! Long ago their aged bodies were turned to dust in the churchyard adjoining, and their humble, pious and chastened souls ascended into the Eternal Presence, where they are forever before the throne of that Gracious Lord, Whom, through all their heavy-laden lives, they so deeply loved and so reverently and faithfully served. Peace to their ashes. Honor to their memories.
The half hour soon passed, all too soon for some of the young people who were getting into closer companion ship, and the congregation assembled for the afternoon service. In the warm summer weather this was apt to be a rather drowsy time. Hard working farmers simply could not keep awake, try they never so hard. Sometimes a bronzed and sturdy farmer in his shirt-sleeves would stand bolt upright in the midst of the congregation for fifteen minutes, in order to shake off his oncoming languor. Looking over the assembly after the service had got well under way, one might see many here and there, in more or less sound slumber, and in many varying attitudes. Some sunk down in a sort of heap, as limp as a bag of clothes ready for the laundry; some crouched in the pew with head forward and chin on bosom; some bent forward with chin on staff ; others with head lolling far over on shoulder. Here, for instance, is a venerable elder sitting bolt upright for a time, gazing steadily at the preacher and meaning in his heart to be an example to the flock by keeping awake. But, by and by, the subtle influence stealthily creeps over him, he begins to stare languidly into vacancy, his eyelids droop and finally close, his head slowly falls back, his nose points to the zenith, his mouth opens wide, and his breathing becomes a soft and solemn snore. He is dead to the world and the world is dead to him. Presently something, it may be a busy and bewildered fly, or a fleck of saliva, or possibly a little quid of tobacco drops into his throttle, when there is a sudden and violent start, probably a loud snort; his spectacles fall from his forehead, his Bible from his hand, his staff from between his knees, while five hundred pairs of eyes are focused upon him. Forthwith he shakes himself together and goes on to make divers other motions and noises, as if it ought to be plain that he was only shifting his position, shuffling his feet, coughing, blowing his nose, or some such allowable thing. But nobody is fooled by that at all. Everybody knows what is the matter with him.
At last the services of the day come to a close, and then what a whinnying of hungry horses, and rattling of vehicles, and chattering of neighbors as the people scatter under the rays of the declining sun, and go streaming along all roads and across all fields to their homes. On arrival there, an ample meal was served as soon as possible, and then came an hour which to lusty youngsters and to unregenerate people generally, was a good deal of a bore, for all about the place must appear be fore the master of the household, and recite the Shorter Catechism. The evening was quietly and piously spent, and the next morning found the family rested and refreshed for another week of toil. There are many people, and some of them. may read this book, who scoff at the simplicity and strictness of our fathers especially as regards the observance of the Sabbath. They mock at what they stigmatize as the narrowness, the bigotry and the gloom of our forefathers. Very well: let them mock and make merry if they will. Truth and reality are always narrow in the estimation of dreamers, fanatics, Saducees, and loose-livers generally. To such, every earnest man, every man who deeply believes that he will be called to a strict account for the way he lives, every man of strong moral conviction and of a downright and strenuous moral purpose, is a bigot. The way that leads to life has evermore been narrow, while that which leads to death has evermore been broad. The one is easy to go in, the other not so easy; he who would find it must gird up his loins and look well to his goings. Men who are bent on living as they please are apt to be prompt and sweeping in denouncing as bigots those who are governed by strict principles in regard to the Sabbath, or anything else. No doubt, the Sabbath of our Puritan and Presbyterian forefathers was a very sober, serious and solemn day. Perhaps those features of it were somewhat overdone.
But it is not bad for a man, nor for society to have one day in seven that is sober, and even solemn. It hurts no man to be brought up with a sharp turn one day in seven, to have an arrest put on his worldly activities, to be compelled by the very situation, to shut off steam and bank down the fires of his secular ambition, and look quietly and squarely on the things which concern his eternal destiny and doom. Besides, it was not usually a day of gloom to any one who had the least insight into its purpose or the least sympathy with the things of the spirit. It was a great boon especially to those whose daily burden was very heavy, and whose daily toil was very hard. It brought one day in the week as a secure interval of sweet rest and blessed quiet in the midst of the wearing toil and sore struggle of life. The commonest drudge, the very slave could say to his master, this day is not yours, it is the Lord’s, and is secured to me as a day of rest and worship. The dusty farm-hand, the grimy miner, who washed and dressed himself in plain but clean garb, and walked to church with his family, and spent the rest of the day in fellowship with God and his dear ones, was a better man all the week for it. Most of all, it gave the opportunity and furnished the incentive for reflection on one’s ways, meditation on the higher ends of existence, and for the worship of God and communion with Him, and all the saints on earth and in heaven.
Every institution, like every tree, may fairly be judged by its fruits. This was the Master’s challenge. What does it do for the individual, the family, the country? Judged by this test, we are willing to set up the Sabbath of our fathers (better say, the Sabbath of the Lord), as against the Sunday picnic, the beer garden, and the place of carousal. Which nourishes the stronger, nobler, more overcoming men and women? Which sends more men to the police court, to jail, to the penitentiary? Which furnishes the greater number of jaded, wasted and ruined lives? Which prepares people better for Monday morning, and for the work of the week? for the duties of life, and for the destinies of eternity? There are many now as there were of old, who spend their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfieth not; and it is just as true now as it was then, that they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.
Lord Macaulay tells us that the Cavaliers of England laughed at the strictness and sanctimoniousness of our Presbyterian forefathers, but he adds, that when they met these men in the halls of debate or on the field of battle, they had little cause to laugh. Even so, smart writers and loose-livers have had no little fun with our Scotch Irish ancestors, but when they have come to try strength with these people on any real battlefield of life, they have not felt half so funny: in fact, they have not felt funny at all.
During each year there were several occasions of special interest and solemnity in these old congregations. Next to nothing was made of Christmas, and nothing whatever of Easter. Rome had made much of these, and so our forbears would have nothing to do with them. But the Harvest Thanksgiving, the Annual Fast, and the Holy Communion at stated intervals, they held to be strictly scriptural, and so they observed these occasions with great interest and sympathy. The Harvest Thanksgiving was held in the latter part of August, and no doubt was based on the Feast of Tabernacles in the Jewish Church. The services in the church were full of joyousness, while the afternoon was given to elaborate dinners and visits among neighbors. It was a holy day inasmuch as it was warranted by scripture, but it was not a solemn holy day, since while it brought entire surcease from daily toil, it was a day of gladness, thanksgiving and merry-making.
This shows that our fathers were by no means the sour, morose and gloomy people they are so often said to have been. They observed such an annual thanksgiving for the . blessings of the year long before anything of the kind was proposed by either state or national authority. It was their Feast of Tabernacles.
The Annual Fast-Day was no make believe ordinance. It was the real thing. The divine ordinance of fasting has been pretty much dropped out of our modern church life. If, however, we follow the biblical teachings and example, and no less that of historic Christianity, there is no doubt that fasting is just as authentically and as peremptorily a divine ordinance as is prayer or praise, or any other means of grace. The teaching and example of our Lord and His Apostles, are perfectly clear on this point. No doubt it was practised by the early Church, and always in its more consecrated days. Somehow this easy-going age has let go of it almost entirely except as it is kept up in a qualified form, and at stated seasons, by papal and prelatical communions. The majority of Christians give no attention to it except when brought into some sore distress, or when some dire calamity falls upon them. During our great Revolutionary struggle, more than once or twice, the whole country at call of the authorities, fell on its knees before God. Many times during our great Civil War, when the whole Nation was wallowing in a sea of tears and blood, our great martyred President summoned the whole people to their knees in a day of fasting and prayer. Perhaps we shall not think of it again until some calamity befalls us.
But our fathers believed it to be a divinely appointed ordinance to be statedly and religiously observed. That day had all the quiet and solemnity of the Sabbath, plus an added sombreness and abstinence from food. As a rule, there was not entire abstinence, but a very pinching diminution of the usual ample supply.
Some, however, scarcely tasted food during the entire day. One of the sons of the Rev. David French writes me that his father would ride on horseback twelve miles to reach his appointments, hold two long services, preaching two long sermons, without tasting food of any kind till he was ready to retire for the night, when he would nibble a cracker and drink a glass of milk. I can myself remember how it was in my grandfather’s time. We always had a scant breakfast early in the morning, and then went to the very long and awfully solemn service in the church. Everybody wore a long face, and looked as if there had been a funeral in the house yesterday. I can recall sitting through that long and trying service with hand in pocket fumbling with a big red apple, which somehow I had smuggled in, and fairly aching to get it out and bury my jaws in it. But there was no chance for that kind of thing.
The Lord’s Supper was celebrated in Seceder churches but twice a year, while in ours, it was observed three times a year,-February, June and October. This ordinance was always called “The Sacrament,” not because baptism was undervalued, as it was not, but simply in the way of emphasis. These sacramental sessions were always great occasions, especially the June and October communions, when the weather was likely to be fine. There was always a neighboring minister to assist, and often more than one, and quite often near-by congregations would omit their services for the day and at tend in full force. The services really began the Sabbath preceding, and were specially ordered to lead up to the communion. The services immediately connected with the communion, however, began on the Thursday preceding, which was always announced as a “day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.” Some minister other than the pastor usually preached on that day, and the sermon with the accompanying services were exceedingly solemn and searching. The sins and shortcomings of the people were dwelt upon with great plainness, faithfulness, and often with unsparing severity. This plan of bringing in an outside minister for the occasion was a rather skillful one, as he could castigate the people as probably their own pastor could not with out giving offence. It seas a time for the use of the rod of God, for putting on of sackcloth and ashes, for humble confession and deep penitence. Then came the meeting of the Session for the examination of candidates for admission to the church. This examination was no perfunctory and quickly-done ordeal. It was thorough and searching, and not merely experimental, but theological as well. It was a good time for one to know his catechism. It was like being examined for admission to West Point, and when one had passed successfully he felt sure that he had really joined something. Usually there was a service on the Friday similar to that of the Thursday, but there was always such a service on the Saturday, when the minister who was to assist appeared. The people were not apprised beforehand whom they were to expect, and as some neighboring ministers were popular favorites and some were not, there was no little curiosity as to whom they were to expect.
This Sunday service was strictly perparatory to the communion, and the attention of the people was strongly fixed on the great truths which cluster round the cross of Christ. It was expected that all the services, and especially the sermon would be peculiarly tender, and fitted to move the deepest spiritual feelings of the people. At the close of this service, the elders stood in a row in front of the pulpit to hand out ” tokens ” to intending communicants, who were expected to come for ward and receive them from the elder’s hand. The origin of this custom I do not certainly know. Dr. W. H. French, of the U. P. Church, thinks it had its origin in the close communion rules of the Seceder bodies. His opinion is entitled to great respect, but my own judgment, after some study of the question, is that the custom originated in times of persecution when only those certainly known to be trustworthy could be informed of the time and place of such a service. Informers and spies were abroad, and only such as were known to elders to be faithful were advised of the time and place of these gatherings which must be in secret places. When the dragoons of Alva in Holland, and the Rough Riders of Claverhouse in Scotland were scouring the country in search of worshipping Presbyterians and Protestants, to imprison and slay them, it was necessary to have some sort of secret symbol or pass-word to be given to faithful men and women by those who knew them, and the token was such symbol. The custom, like many other such customs, continued long after the need of it had passed. These tokens were bits of pewter about the size of a nickle, and stamped with the initials of the congregation.
On common Sabbath the people assembled early and in large numbers, and the grove round the church was filled with vehicles and horses tied to the trees. Sometimes the crowds were so great that the service had to be held in the open air, but usually they were held in the large church. Tables were placed across the entire width of the building, and often down the wide centre aisle. These tables were simply made of poplar boards, unpainted, about the height of the ordinary dining table, and fifteen inches wide. They were covered with spotless linen. Along each side were placed loser benches for the people to sit upon. In front of the pulpit stood a small table on which were placed the holy vessels with their contents of unleavened bread and port wine.The wine was always port, the purest that could be found and the bread utterly unleavened, in thin layers, devoutly made far the perpose. What was left of it after the service was devoutly eaten by the elders, or other pious people. The morning sermon was called the “action sermon,” and was always an earnest and elaborate setting-forth of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, and usually took a full hour. This, with the accompanying services, required at least two full hours before the celebration proper began. Then, after a hymn, and the reading from scripture of the warrant for the service, came what was called the “fencing of the tables.” This was a lengthy address stating with great minuteness, the tests by which the people must decide whether they were entitled to come to the Lord’s Table, and barring those who were not entitled to come. This was the opportunity for the visiting minister to bear down on the sins, or supposed sins of the people. He would descend to particulars, specifying sins or alleged sins, and declaring that those who were living in them, coming to the Lord’s Table, could only eat and drink damnation to themselves. By the time he was done it would seem that there could hardly be one in the place who would dare approach the holy table. He had set an angel with a drawn sword to guard the holy place. But he was careful always to assure those who sincerely repented of their sins that they were welcome. After this a hymn or psalm was sung. If a hymn, it was usually that tender, melt ing, utterly unpoetic one beginning, — Twas on that dark and doleful night,” sung to that quaint old, wailing tune in the minor key, Windham. If a psalm, it was the one in the version of Rouse beginning,-I’ll of salvation take the cup,” sung to that still more weird old tune, Coles hill. Poets laugh at these lyrics, and musicians at these tunes, but there are thousands of men and women all over the world in whose memories these old hymns and psalms mated to these old tunes have a singular pathos and power. These ancient lyrics, singing which thousands of Christian martyrs have marched to the stake, and thousands of heroes have laid down their lives for Christ and the rights of man, cannot be laughed out of the sacred appreciation of high-minded men arid women by any mockery of connoiseurs. They will live and be loved long after the mockers are dead and utterly forgotten.
During the singing, people rose all over the house filing down the aisles, and taking their places at the tables, till all were filled. All others remained quietly in their pews. A prayer of consecration followed, after which the minister made an address, during which the elders passed along behind the benches collecting the tokens from the communicants, who sat with bowed heads over the tables. The bread was then distributed, followed by another address, after which the cup was passed. Then came a hymn during the singing of which those at the tables retired, and others coming forward took their places, when the same order was observed. Often this order had to be passed through several times before all communicants were served. The closing address was always an earnest, and often a very powerful appeal to non-communicants. This service would take up a large part of the holy day, and towards evening, the people would quietly and silently scatter to their homes. With all its simplicity and quaintness there was something exceedingly impressive and affecting in this method of celebrating the Holy Supper. Very impressive was the spectacle of people rising from their seats all over the church and going forward to the sacred table, many of them weeping, while others, members of their families, were left behind as deniers of the Lord. Especially, when some great preacher in eloquent words and with tearful emphasis, pictured the coming judgment and its eternal separations, and asked if this now seen here was a prophecy of what would be seen there, the effect was often very great. I can distinctly recall how profoundly moved I was as a boy, with mingled shame and terror, as my parents and others of my family went to the holy table with the people of God, leaving me behind. I felt that I was a sort of culprit and outcast, an enemy of Christ and under the curse of God, and that surely I was in imminent danger of being on the lefthand in the dreadful day of judgment. I know that a great many other boys, companions of my childhood, some of them in the high places of the earth, felt just as I did, and to this day, so far as they are alive, carry sacred and tender memories of these old-time communion Sabbaths. In our present hasty, and sometimes irreverent, method of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, we have lost much of its solemnity not only, but much of its tenderness and power. In the evening another service was held, with an earnest sermon addressed specially to those who had that day denied their Lord.
The Monday forenoon closed the services of the great commemoration. The services of that day, the hymns, prayers, sermon, and all else, were always bright hopeful and joyous. It was the last, the great day of the feast and always a day of thanksgiving praise and gladness. The entire mood and aspect of the people were changed. There was a warmth, a glow, almost a levity, in the very faces of the people in striking contrast with the sombreness and solemnity of the preceding days. It was the day for the presentation of infants for baptism, and as great importance was attached to this ordinance, the number brought forward was often quite large. The people were taught that, by the provisions of the covenant, the children of the believers had a birthright, a veritable citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, and that baptism was the public and official recognition and seal of that birthright. Our fathers, our standards and our scriptures give far greater importance to the seals of the covenant and to the validity of the sacraments than do most of our people, and even our ministers, in these days. We too often think of them as merely more or less beautiful, touching and suitable ceremonies. Our fathers believed, as the scriptures teach, that they are most solemn seals of the covenant of grace, and that they certify a most vital and valid transaction between God and His people. Hence they brought their young children to the altar that their birthright might be openly claimed, recognized and certified. Sometimes there would be probably a dozen pairs of parents standing in a row before the pulpit, each pairwith a babe in arms. Sometimes, a little motherless babe, made motherless at its birth, would be brought forward by the father to be given to the Lord in this holy ordinance, and this spectacle always deeply moved the people. The pastor made quite a lengthy address, during which the mothers were seated on chairs considerately placed for the purpose, while the fathers meekly stood. If a baby was fretful, some motherly woman nearby would whisk out of her seat, bustle forward, take the little thing out under the trees, there soothing it, until called for, which would probably be in half an hour.
After the service ended, the people lingered about for some time in pleasant greetings and harmless gossip, and at last separated. So ended the great occasion. Those who were used to such sacramental seasons in their childhood-and youth, no matter how far they may have wandered from the old place and the old faith; no matter how aged or how eminent they may have become, never lose the sacred memory of them, nor can they ever escape their sweet and holy influences. Thomas Carlyle never wrote anything more pathetic, nor anything which more clearly revealed what was deepest in his nature, than his reminiscences of what he calls “the plain old temple of his childhood, with its old-fashioned minister, the truest priest I have ever found, its rustic people and its simple and solemn services.” He had wandered far from the faith of his fathers and had become one of the most famous men of his time, but in his old age and great celebrity, he recalls with tearful emotion, the memories that clustered round that sacred spot, and he confesses that their influence had rested like a holy benediction on all the years of his life. He was offered sepulchre in Westminster Abbey, among the tombs of England’s mighty dead, but he expressly declared his wish that his body should be laid close by the walls of the plain old sanctuary of his childhood and of his fathers, and that his dust should mingle with the ashes of his rustic people in the churchyard of Ecclefechan.
These Scotch-Irish were strictly and stubbornly conservative in all matters of religion, as they were, in fact, in regard to all things. They gave heed to the apostolic counsel to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. They had no welcome for new doctrines in theology, new forms of worship, or new institutions and agencies in the Church. They believed that the Lord knew what He was doing when he appointed the ordinances and agencies of the Church, and that there was no call for amending them by human additions. They spoke much of the pattern prescribed in the Mount, and every new proposal they instantly met with the peremptory challenge,”Where is your warrant in holy scripture? Show us that if you can; if you cannot, then begone.” Hence, in the earliest days, not only woman’s societies, young people’s societies, and the like, but even sabbath schools and stated prayer-meetings, were unknown.
It was not because the people had not thought of these things; it was because they did not believe in them. They found no warrant in holy scripture for such special agencies. They asked, “Where has the Lord authorized these as among the stated means of grace?” In our time we attach great importance to these and the like agencies, and very properly, but it is worthy of remark that for nine-tenths of its history Christianity has made no use of these agencies, and that the greatest revivals in the history of the Christian Church, and the epochs of its greatest power were in times when the greater part of the machinery of the modern Church was unknown.
Our fathers laid most urgent and insistent emphasis on the religious training of the household, on the strict and searching care of the pastor, and on the prescribed ordinances of the Church. These they regarded as divinely warranted and all-sufficient, and all further ordinances as merely human innovations, worldly amendments, and cunningly contrived schemes to improve on God’s plan. Undoubtedly this was good for the time, but whether it is best for our time, is another question. Many of our wisest pastors and people are now inquiring whether this prodigious multiplication of all sorts of agencies and societies in the Church is, upon the whole, a blessing and a help in the advancement of the kingdom of God? Whether it may not be true that too much of the interest, enthusiasm, activity and money of the Church is expended in the mere running of machinery? Whether all these agencies are provided for in the constitution of the Church as prepared by her Divine Head, as they certainly are not provided for in any of the standards or liturgies of any of the great Reformed Communions? Whether the modern Church is wiser than the fathers, and wiser than the scriptures, and whether all these multiform agencies are not the product of the zeitgeist, the spirit of this world invading the kingdom of God? This is not a foolish inquiry. This modern mill doubtless turns out a larger grist; it may be a question whether the grist is of equal quality and value. No doubt our fathers erred in one direction: perhaps we err in the other. Sabbath-schools were very grudgingly introduced in southwestern Pennsylvania, and elsewhere among the genuine Scotch-Irish people.
They were looped upon at first as simply a device for turning over to the Church the responsibility which God had placed on the home, and on the head of it as the priest of his household. They thought it was a scheme to realize in the Church Plato’s theory, that all children should be considered children of the state, and that no mother should know her own child as specially her own, and for whose training she was specially responsible. Perhaps these Sabbath-schools among the Scotch-Irish were introduced in southwestern Pennsylvania as early as any where, and in Upper Buffalo as early as anywhere in that region. So far as can be ascertained, the first Sabbath school in that congregation was set up in 1815. By degrees, these Sabbath schools grew in favor, and now for a great many years, no part of the country has exceeded that part in zeal for Sabbath-schools. As soon as these were fairly introduced, the old-fashioned “catechisings” began to dwindle. These “catechisings” were a rather peculiar institution, but one in great vogue for many years. The extended rural congregation was divided into definite districts. In addition to diligent pastoral visitation from house to house throughout the entire congregation, which visitation did not mean a modern fashionable call, but a calling together of the whole family, when the pastor talked face to face with every member of the family, including hired people, accompanied with solemn prayer and exhortation,-in addition to this, in each district there was held at stated intervals, as often as once a year, “catechisings,” when the people of the district assembled in some designated house, where the pastor held a religious service, included in which was a thorough examination of all present in the Shorter Catechism. Now, the Sabbath-school gradually superseded this wholesome custom, and the catechising, and much else, was turned over to the Sabbath-school. The gain on the one hand, and the loss on the other, presents a question on which wise and good people may differ.
From a very early date, probably from the beginning of the settlements, neighbors were accustomed to meet together for prayer at stated times. These meetings were purely voluntary, and were not thought of as ordinances of the Church. Such meetings were held in Buffalo certainly as early as 1794 as I have heard my grandfather say that when his father moved into that community in that year; he attended a meeting of neighbors for prayer, and that it was there that his prejudice against Watts hymns was removed. These hymns were used, and he said, “If this is not worship acceptable to God, I do not know what is.” These neighborhood meetings were continued once a week, or once in two weeks for many years before stated prayer-meetings became an institution of the Church. Doctor Francis Herron, so long pastor of the First Church of Pittsburgh, had a great battle with his elders when he proposed to set up a weekly prayer-meeting. These elders resisted the proposal as an innovation and an impertinence, and refused to have anything to do with them. For a long time these weekly meetings were regarded as social gatherings for prayer and conference, and in no sense as an integral part of the authorized services of the Church. Hence they were always called “societies.” The voice of no woman was ever heard in either remark or prayer in any such meeting. Any attempt of any woman, however pious, to speak or pray would have been instantly and sternly suppressed. Very rarely did any layman open his mouth to speak or exhort except in the Sabbath school. Our fathers were, in fact, very high churchmen, and had very strict ideas concerning ordinances and the authorized ministry of the Church. Everything must be strictly canonical, and according to the prescribed order. The supervision of the people by the pastor aid session was vigilant, and discipline was strictly enforced. Compared with our modern laxity, the old time discipline seems often to have been needlessly severe, harsh, and sometimes even cruel. People were hauled up and “sessioned” for offences which now are not even seriously thought of. I have myself heard the names of ladies of the first standing in the congregation, read out from the pulpit, and the bearers of them suspended from the communion of the Church, until they gave satisfactory evidence of repentance, for the sin of “promiscuous dancing;” such dancing being in its most rudimentary form, some sort of awkward jig in a private parlor with a few neighbors.
And this was no idle form. It meant not only religious, but a sort of social ostracism. A playing card was regarded with horror, and the use, or even the possession of such a thing, was a serious offence. I have known my own father, one of the gentlest of men, seize a pack of cards found in the hands of a hired man, and forthwith fling it into the flames. And yet, in those early days there were some remarkable twists in their ethical ideas. The use of liquor was almost universal, and they seem to have been utterly blind to the evil of lotteries. The people of the old First Church of Pittsburgh, while they resisted the setting up of a weekly prayer-meeting, organized and carried through a lottery to raise revenue for their church. Divorce was practically unknown. If husband and wife had a quarrel, however bitter, it never occurred to them to seek relief in the divorce court. They fought it out and made up again, and went on as before. But such quarrels were extremely rare, and family loyalty was a marked characteristic of the race. All the same, the women had hard lives. And this, not from any intentional neglect or unkindness of their husbands, but simply from the hard conditions under which their lives were passed. They had not only the ordinary duties of the housewife, including the care of their children, but they had to prepare the fabrics and make the clothing, the bedding, the table-linen and all like supplies for their households. They took care of the gardens, milked the cows, tended the poultry, dried the fruits for winter use, made all the jams, pickles, preserves, butters and the like for the en tire family. Then they had no modern conveniences in their houses, their utensils and all facilities for doing their work being of the crudest and clumsiest description. There were no cook-stoves, laundries, running water in the house, or other such conveniences. Everything was awkward, heavy and hard. Then they had the care of the sick in their own homes and among their neighbors, there being no nurses and very few physicians. Their toil and drudgery were early and late, heavy and unremitting, and in addition to all this they were environed by many and great dangers. Yet, they accepted their lot with unshaken fortitude and uncomplaining patience, and did their hard duties with a brave, cheerful, and utterly self-sacrificing spirit. Blessings on the memory of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers They were genuine heroines if such ever lived on the earth.
These earnest and sober-minded Scotch Irish were not without their amusements. While to them life was not play, yet there was no little play in their lives, else they never could have been the brave, enduring and worthy lives they were. For the most part of course, their amusements were extremely simple and inexpensive. It must be confessed that sometimes they were not too refined, in fact, rather coarse and rough, but generally they were hearty, honest and wholesome. The interchange of visits among neighbors and relatives in the intervals of hard work was very common. The people in general were extremely hospitable. Relatives and friends were welcome to come and spend the day and night too, at any time without warning. Any decent person on a journey was welcome to draw bridle at the door of any ample house, and have provision for himself and his horse over night, without money and without price. In the long winter evenings, one family would go over to a neighboring one and “sit up till bed time;” bed-time being rather an early hour. But there was plenty of time for ginger-bread, doughnuts, hickory nuts, sweet cider, and the like simple refreshments. Then often a family would specially invite a lot of their neighbors to “make a visit.” This meant spending the entire day, and sometimes the night, during which there would be much feasting. It was very common for people “to neighbor” as they called it; that is, if a barn was to be raised, or a job of threshing to be done, or anything requiring a number of men, all the men in the neighbor hood would be invited to attend and help. Along with these gatherings of men there would often be a similar gathering of the women in the after noon, for a quilting or some such work, and then after a big supper, the evening would be spent in rustic jollity. There were corn-huskings also, not very popular among the better class, as they were apt to be rough and to take on some of the features of rowdyism. Singing-schools, spelling schools, debating societies, and the like were very common in the winter months, and at such assemblies the whole neighborhood would gather and greatly enjoy themselves. Their customs in respect of weddings were extremely simple and practical. When a young farmer reached the point when he contemplated marriage he paid his addresses to the daughter of some neighboring farmer. In the early days the people had but limited contact with the world at large, and had almost no acquaintance beyond the immediate neighborhood. Hence the young fellows seldom went far from home for their wives. When things had progressed far enough to warrant the fixing of the marriage day, everything was made ready with great deliberation and thoroughness. The bride-to-be, or her mother rather, had been getting ready for that day ever since she was born. The feathers, linens, woolens, and other furnishings for her house, as also for her person, had been steadily accumulating through all the years of her girlhood. As the time drew near, the father had ready a fine horse and a fine cow, as an indispensable part of her dowry. On two successive Sabbaths preceding the wedding, after the benediction was pronounced in the church one of the clerks would “publish the bans between John Doe and Jane Roe.” The marriage was celebrated at the home of the bride, and always during the day, and never at night. The special friends of that family, together with the family of the groom were sure to be there. There was much feasting and merry-making, and there the parties passed the night. The next day, usually on horseback, the bridal party proceeded to the home of the groom’s family, far the “infare.” There were gathered the relatives and friends of the groom, together with the family of the bride. Here the day was spent in more feasting and merrymaking. This closed the wedding festivities. But the next Sabbath, “they made their appearance.” This custom was invariable in the early days, and continued long after my childhood. The bride and groom, together with their special attendants, arrayed in all their wedding finery, came together to the church, waited till the services were just about to begin when everybody was supposed to be in place, when they would enter arm in arm, and march ‘down the main aisle, to their place in the pew. No matter in which aisle their pew might be, that day they must sweep down the main aisle. Until this “appearance” was duly made, the wedding ceremonies were not regarded as complete. After that, they settled down to the serious business of life. Of theatrical, operatic, and other such pretentious and expensive exhibitions, there were absolutely none. If a young fellow wished to take his sweetheart to an entertainment, he did not need to pay a month’s salary for carriage, tickets, gloves and flowers, to say nothing of fashionable clothes. He simply called for her at her home, and walked across the fields to the school-house, if it was not too far, and if it was too far to walk, he would take her up behind him on horseback and ride away, the girl clinging tightly, particularly if the horse was a little frisky, as in that case he was very apt to be. The young fellow commonly had sense enough to have a spur or other irritant secreted about his person.
A quiet philosopher looking at these simple and inexpensive amusements might well ask, if they were not quite as rational, as wholesome, and as satisfying as whist parties, wine parties, and the showy functions of modern life? There was here much less of style and dress, of pomp and parade, of show and splendor; and there was also less of hollow pretence and bitter envy, of luxurious vice and destroying dissipation; of disgust, despair and suicide.
They were very forward in helping one another in case of need. If there was sickness or death in a family, everybody in the community would offer his or her service, and do it heartily. If by reason of illness or other misfortune, one got behind with his seeding or harvesting, the neighbors would gather in force with their teams and hired men and help him through. Particularly, if a widow needed help on her farm it was sure to be promptly forthcoming. Men would ‘leave their own fields to gather her harvest. In the early days physicians were very rare, and dentists unknown. When one fell ill, the mother of the house, or some other woman of the neighborhood usually did the doctoring. When certain interesting and important occasions came in the family, there were sure to be two or three motherly women in the community who could do the office of midwife and nurse both in one. Meanwhile, the man in the case would take to the tall timber. Bleeding, ipecac, calomel and above all, boneset, were relied upon chiefly. In every community there was some elderly man who kept a thumb-lance, which he used alike to bleed men and horses, and which he was accustomed to jab into the arm of any sick one whom he could make hold still long enough. My grandfather was such a man. He firmly believed that each spring, everybody about the place should let blood, take a stiff dose of castor oil, and follow it up for a week or so with copious draughts of a strong tea made of boneset. This “cleaned out” the system of the winter gorge, and put things in good shape for the summer. There may have been something in this, for certainly he never laid down on his bed with illness during the nearly eighty years of his life. At the same time, when any really dangerous disease got into the settlement, nearly everybody who took it died. When one got a severe tooth ache, there was but one remedy, and that was to have the tooth jerked out. There were no dentists to do this, but other men here and there had the necessary tool and nerve to do it. Here again my grandfather was use ful. Commonly the same man who had the “thumb-lance” had the “pullikens” as they called it. This cruel instrument vas a short rod of steel with savage claw s annexed, and when once this terrific apparatus got well clinched on a tooth, tend in the hands of a muscular and d determined man, something had to give way. ‘The instrument never broke” and the man seldom let go his hold. No matter about the shrieks and yells of the tortured victim, and his writhings round the room, out must come the tooth. These neighborly services, of course, were always entirely gratuitous.
With all their Calvinism there was a vein of superstition in our forbears. Two classes of men are specially prone to superstition,–the one is the ignorant and debased, and the other is the highly gifted and sober-minded. The one class cowers : and grovels in stupid dread of the mysterious unknown by which they feel themselves surrounded and oppressed: while the other class is overborne by the mystery of existence and the immanence and awfulness of the unseen world. Those who live on the dead levels, and have a humdrum existence, are the freest from the in fluence of the invisible and the mysterious. At opposite poles, the devil worshipper of South Africa and Doctor Samuel Johnson, the poor unlettered slave and Abraham Lincoln, were more or less under the influence of what we call superstition. Hence, in our strong, forceful, serious, pious forefathers, whose minds dwelt much on the spiritual and the unseen, there was the intermixture of certain superstitious notions and ideas. They always denied it in words, but their imagination was always more or less over shadowed by these occult influences. They said, we do not believe in ghosts, or apparitions, or omens or signs, and yet they did. Certain signs boded evil, and certain others boded good. They considered the phases of the moon when they planted their corn and potatoes, and even when they killed their pigs. Many of them would not sit down to a table with thirteen, nor would they begin any important under taking on a Friday. Their ministers denounced these conceits, and debarred from the communion all who cherished them, and yet their fireside tales, their common talk, many of their customs and usages clearly showed that their imagination was filled with spectres and invisible agencies swarming in the world around them. This, however, was really a vague impression rather than a matter of definite belief. It never in the least weakened or intimidated them, nor touched their stalwart faith in the absolute and sovereign authority of the holy oracles. It was a feeling rather than a conviction. It would, be easy to give many amusing illustrations of the practical working of this sentiment in the former days.
The farm work was of the hardest kind and done in the hardest way. Two generations of men wore themselves out in getting the land cleared of the giant forests, and for many years, their fields were full of stumps and roots, making cultivation extremely troublesome. Their implements were of the rudest and clumsiest kind. Their grain was reaped with sickles and threshed with flails. Their axes, hoes, shovels, plows, and other implements, were made by themselves, or by the blacksmith, and were of the most awkward pattern and roughest workmanship. Every vehicle was clumsy and heavy, home-made or neighborhood made. All this added to the toil and drudgery of their lives. At the same time, these people had high ambitions for their children, and ,great interest in building up the kingdom of God, and their country. They attached very great importance to education, and did their best to provide it for their posterity. There were no public schools, and each neighborhood had to make provision for itself. Hence subscription schools were set up and supported by those who had children to send. The school-houses were of unhewn logs with puncheon floors and seats, and no desks. One such stood on the farm of my ancestors where their young people received such book training as they ever had. The teacher was always called “the master,” and was usually a college student or graduate. He was apt to be one who knew his business as that business was then thought of. Sometimes he had a fixed boarding-place, but usually he boarded “round among the scholars.” As a rule he was a strict disciplinarian. He used the rod with great freedom and frequency, and apparently with great gusto. Several floggings a day were not uncommon. Even in my time as a boy this was so. In my own childhood, however, there was a small school-house of brick in the district. From end to end ran a narrow aisle, the door being at one end and the master’s desk at the other. On either side, facing the aisle, were unpainted benches running lengthwise of the house, in rows, each bench being for two scholars, the boys on one side, and the girls on the other. The boys benches were dreadfully hacked with jackknives, though this had to be done very surreptitiously else there was sure to be a flogging. The main studies were spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar and general history. These were studied with great -thoroughness. There was little chance for scamping the work. The master was too sharp and the beech was too handy. Besides, the Shorter Catechism was taught on Saturdays. Think of that! Upon request of parents children could be excused from this study, but such requests were rare.
The master sat on a raised platform at one end of the room, and right behind him within easy reach above his head, were two hooks on which reposed several beech or hickory rods, called “wattles,” and which were uncommonly tough as a rule. He had easy and swift surveillance of the entire school, and on slightest provocation, the handy wattle was quickly seized, and the master descended on the cringing offender. Somehow I escaped this ordeal except once or twice. One I well remember. It was a Saturday afternoon, and, for some reason, I fell into a stubborn fit in my catechism. I knew it thoroughly from end to end, forward and backward, but this time I sullenly refused to recite the answer to the thirty-first question, that about Effectual Callings and so I got the wattle good and hard. I was a very small boy then, but from that day to this, that particular answer has been indelibly impressed on my memory. That old teacher is long since dead, but I respect his memory. He did what he believed to be his duty.
In the early settlements the cabin, the meeting-house and the schoolhouse followed one another in swift succession. Very soon also classical schools were set up by the ministers. These far-sighted ministers wished to give the young fellows from the woods a chance to learn Latin, Algebra, and other such subjects, and especially did they plan to prepare young men for the ministry. Great and urgent as was the need of ministers in the new settlements, they would not rush untrained men into the ministry. They would have none but classically educated men. Before 1790, in what is now Washington county, there were three such classical schools in operation. They were very humble and ill-equipped institutions, but they did a great work, and out of them grew Washington & Jefferson College, one of the most useful in this land. As the population increased, these schools increased in number, and all over that general region fifty years ago, these parochial academies were found. They took boys from the plow, boys who would not have thought of ,going two hundred, or one hundred miles to learn Latin and get ready for college; these schools took up these boys and started them on their career. Multitudes of them have made a useful career, and some of them an eminent one. These parochial academies have been nesting-places of useful men, useful in every honorable line of life.
The late James G. Blame, who got his start in one of these, speaks of there with the warmest appreciation and praises the great work done by these unpretentious schools, and the following is an extract from a letter written by him and read at the celebration of the centennial of Washington County, Pa., September, 1881.
“The strong attachment which I feel for the county, the pride which I cherish in its traditions, and the high estimate which I have always placed on the character of its people, increases with years and reflection. The pioneers were strong-hearted, God-fearing, resolute men, wholly, or almost wholly, of Scotch or Scotch-Irish descent. They were men who, according to an inherited maxim, never turned their backs on a friend or on an enemy. For twenty years, dating from the middle period of the Revolution, the settlers were composed very largely of men who had themselves served in the Continental army, many of them as officers, and they imparted an intense patriotism to the public sentiment. It may be among the illusions of memory, but I think I have nowhere else seen the Fourth of July and Washington’s birthday celebrated with such zeal and interest as in the gatherings I then attended. I recall a great meeting of the people on the Fourth of July, 18.0, on the border of the county, in Brownsville, at which a considerable part of the procession was composed of vehicles filled with Revolutionary soldiers. I was but ten years old, and may possibly mistake, but I think there were more than two hundred of the grand old heroes. The modern cant and criticism which we sometimes hear about Washington not being, after all, a great man would have been dangerous both on that day and in that assemblage.
These pioneers placed a high value on education, and while they were still on the frontier, struggling with its privations, they established two excellent colleges, long since prosperously united in one. It would be impossible to overstate the beneficent and widespread influence which Washington and Jefferson colleges have exerted on the civilization of the great country which lies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River. Their graduates have been prominent in the pulpit, at the bar, on the bench, and in high stations in public life. During my service of eighteen years in Congress I met a larger number of the Alumni of Washington and Jefferson than of any other single college in the Union. I make this statement from memory, but I feel assured that a close examination of the rolls of the two houses from 1863 to 1881 would fully establish its correctness. Not only were the two colleges founded and well sustained, but the entire educational system of the county, long before the school tax and public schools, was comprehensive and thorough. I remember that in my own boyhood there were ten or eleven academies or select schools in the county where the lads could be fitted for college. In nearly every instance the Presbyterian pastor was the principal teacher. Many who will be present at your centennial will recall the succession of well-drilled students who came for so many years from the tuition of Dr. McCluskey, at West Alexander; from the Rev. John Stockton, at Cross Creek; from the Rev. John Eagleson, at Buffalo; and from others of like worth and reputation.
I have myself visited many of the celebrated spots in Europe and America, and I have nowhere witnessed a more attractive sight than was familiar to my eyes in boyhood from old Indian Hill farm where I was born, and where my great-grandfather settled before the outbreak of the Revolution. Identified as I have been for twenty eight years, with a great and noble people in another section of the Union, I have never lost my attachment for my native county and my native State. The two feelings no more conflict than does a man’s love for his wife and his love for his mother. Whatever I may be in life, or whatever my future, the county of Washington, as it anciently was, will be sacred in my memory. I shall always recall with pride that my ancestry and kindred were and are not inconspicuously connected with its history, and that on either side of the beautiful river, in Protestant and Catholic cemeteries, five generations of my own blood sleep in honored graves.”
These sturdy sons of the farm and of a sturdy race needed only the opportunity to forge ahead. They are found everywhere, and wherever found are likely to be at the front. For instance, away out on this edge of the land, I found not long ago that the most influential banker on this coast, the President of the largest express company in the world, and the Major General U. S. A, commanding this Department were, every one of them, boys from these little parochial schools of which I am writing. One of them was a native of Washington, another was my classmate at Washington, and the General was an old Buffalo Academy boy, the playmate and schoolmate of my boyhood. The most noted senator of the United States from this coast in many years, and who lately died, was also from the same old county, and trained in one of these schools. The wealthiest man in the whole central west, also a senator of the United States, is from the same county and from one of these schools. I might multiply examples. I do not boast of this, how ever, but rather of the great number of faithful and useful men in Church and State, who had their start in these humble schools, founded by these departed pastors. It is a thousand pities that these schools have pretty much gone out of existence. Washington & Jefferson College, in its origin and history, is a distinctively Scotch-Irish institution. Judged by current standards, it has always been a poor college, but judged by its output, by the influence of the men it has sent forth, it has been for more than a century, one of the most useful institutions of its class in this country. It has given more men to the Presbyterian ministry during the last fifty years than any other college. Its alumni have been found in the most conspicuous pulpits from New York to San Francisco. All over the missionary field at home and abroad, its men have been marked men. In the chairs of president and professor, in editorial sanctums, wherever Presbyterian ministers are found doing useful work, there you find the men of this college. Not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in other communions, these men are found in positions of great prominence and influence. . No less are its alumni found in other lines of life, holding the foremost places at the bar, on the bench, in surgery and medicine, in literature and education, in trade and commerce, in statesmanship and public life, along every path where honorable men strive for mastery, there you will find at the front the graduates of this Scotch-Irish college. It is not creditable to the posterity of its founders, many of whom have amassed great wealth, and to its eminent alumni, that this college has been left so long to struggle with difficulties arising out of its inadequate endowment. It is gratifying to know, however, that in recent years some wealthy men of that wealthy region are beginning to appreciate its noble history and are coming forward with generous gifts to its endowment.
In this book something should be said of the famous Whiskey Insurrection of 1794, since it had its focus and chief strength in the very heart of the section of which I am writing, and since these Scotch-Irish were mainly the people concerned. That’ notable uprising was occasioned by the levying of the hateful excise tax on whiskey. This was done by the United States Government, and was part of the policy of Hamilton for raising revenue to enable the Government to pay its debts. Because this violent protest of the people against an excise tax happened to be a protest against such a tax on whiskey, the whole movement has an opprobrious name. It was not merely because a hateful tax happened to be laid on tea, that our forefathers rebelled in Boston harbor. It was because such a tax should be levied at all. The thing taxed had but little to do with the intense and indignant protest. If in western Pennsylvania this tax had been laid on flax, or flour, the uproar would have been quite as great, probably far greater. Our fathers no doubt fell into a grievous mistake in going into that unfortunate enterprise, and in resisting by force a decree of the Government they had just helped to establish. But something can be said in extenuation of their fault. The excise is the most hateful form of tax that can be imposed on a free people, and is never resorted to in civilized countries, except in times of war or dire necessity. The excise precipitated the American Revolution. Our fathers in western Pennsylvania at that time were almost completely isolated from the markets of the world. There were no roads over which they could carry the produce of their farms beyond the mountains to a market where money could be had. The story already told of Father Smiley’s expedition to New Orleans illustrates the condition of affairs. Grain, however, could be distilled into whiskey, and in that condensed form, packed over the mountains, or easily shipped to New Orleans. At that time, there was no moral or religious sentiment against the manufacture and use of ardent spirits, any more than there was against any other business or custom. The traffic in ardent spirits was thought of as just as legitimate legally and morally as the traffic in wheat or potatoes. In the old treasurer’s book of the Buffalo congregation, there are entries of the stipend, that is, the subscription to the minister’s salary, being paid in whiskey. Hence small stillhouses were very numerous in the region. I am glad to say that there never was one on my ancestral acres, but the neighbors arid fellow-churchmen of my fathers, quite as good as my people, had these still-houses. They were no more thought of than if they had been flouring-mills. Educated people understand this. Fools do not. The excise was particularly hateful to these Scotch-Irish people, because it was to escape this very impost that they had gone into the war of the Revolution. This section was full of discharged officers and soldiers of the Army of the Revolution. In that great struggle many of them had risked their lives. Now, to have the very Government they had helped to establish at so great cost, impose on them this hateful tax they had gone to war to throw off, seemed to them intolerable, and it goaded them to fury. The wisest men among them, including their ministers, counselled patience, and did their best to restrain the people from actual resistance. But there were a few able, reckless, turbulent and violent men among them, who assumed leadership, and who were able to kindle a flames and soon a conflagration. As in the case of our southern brethren before our, great war, sober-minded men held back as long as they could, but at length were overborne by the fire-eaters. As usually happens, when the real crisis came the reckless agitators vanished from the scene, and left nobler men to suffer the consequences of the storm raised by these agitators. Then the Government was peculiarly unfortunate in the policy it adopted, and the agents it employed in levying and collecting the tax. The policy was harsh, arbitrary and tyrannical; and the agents were unpopular, exasperating, over-bearing and cruel to the last degree. Hence almost the entire population at last joined in the movement to resist by force, what they deeply felt to be an invasion of their rights. President Washington knew the kind of people he had to deal with in this matter, as he had often seen and praised their valor on many a battlefield, and so he sent out against them the largest army that, up to that time, had ever been arrayed on one field in this country. Of course, the insurrection was put down, and a considerable number of those supposed to be influential, were marched clear across the mountains in the dead of winter, under much hardship and suffering, to be tried in Philadelphia. These were not the men who had fomented the insurrection, but quiet, conservative, important men, who had gone into the movement with great reluctance, and mainly in the hope of restraining their neighbors from acts of folly and violence. The wise Washington kept them in prison for a very brief time, only a few days, simply to assert the power of the Government. The movement ended disastrously, but it had the effect of putting a perpetual end to the excise in this country except in times of war. Their people never disowned the men who suffered, any more than Virginians disowned Lee and Jackson. Once at a banquet given by the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in San Francisco, in an address, I said, “I am probably the only man here who was given in baptism the name of one who served a time as a convict in the penitentiary, and who is not ashamed to confess it. There may be others here who bear the name of one who had a similar experience, but probably they are not openly confessing and claiming it. I bear the name of such a man, and am not ashamed of it; a wise, brave, saintly, and patriotic man, an officer in the Army of the Revolution, and the friend of Washington, but whom the Father of his country clapped into the penitentiary in Philadelphia for a few days, as an example, and because he very reluctantly had something to do with the famous whiskey insurrection in western Pennsylvania. His family never disowned him while he lived, nor dishonored his memory after he died.”
These Scotch-Irish were uncommonly “set in their ways.” This is often said to their discredit. They are described as a bigoted, stubborn, pigheaded breed; as much given to contentions and quarrels about trivialities; as extremely quick to take offense, and very reluctant to be reconciled, and fence it is said, they were a hard people to live with, and that there were among them many life-long alienations and feuds arising out of matters utterly unimportant and even contemptible. There is a color of truth in this. Their blood was very red and their temper very hot, their heads were hard and their hands heavy, but they were by no means a quarrelsome people. They were not of kin to Paddy at the Donnybrook fair, strutting about with a chip on his shoulder and provoking a fracas. They seldom invited trouble or picked a quarrel, but once in, they could be depended upon to stay in to a finish. They were bound to have room for themselves, and refused to be too much crowded; hence they were sturdy fighters, and not likely to run away till the trouble was over. This was their way when contending for their civil and religious liberties in other lands; they showed the same trait in the struggle for American Independence, and continued to show it in all things. This mood, temper, or trait of the race was a very marked and persistent one. No doubt there was in the typical Scotch-Irish a vein of what may fairly be called asinine obstinacy. He sometimes thought he was governed by principle and conscience when in fact it was only prejudice and stubbornness. Consequently, many of the alienations in families, neighborhoods and congregations were silly, contemptible and wicked. But it was this very trait in its nobler manifestations, that gave them their strength and heroism. The very men who were sometimes misled into making battle where there was nothing worth while at stake were precisely the men who were ready to stand, and who did stand unto death for the rights of man and the truth of Christ. The noblest qualities are sometimes the most easily perverted, and they are the very worst when so perverted. It was the conscience and fiery zeal of Saul of Tarsus, perverted, that made him the scourge and the terror of the early Church. An earnest end determined man is always dangerous if he is misled. This is the snare of all able, conscientious and resolute people. Every strong and overcoming man is “set in his ways;” else he would not be strong and overcoming at all. Only the weak and willowy give way when they are challenged. The important thing to be seen to is, that the position taken is right, and that the matter at issue is worth contending for. Herein was the weakness, and sometimes the wickedness of my people. As a Scotch Irishman by birth and breeding, in blood and marrow, I call them mine, and claim the right to speak of them freely. I have an honest pride in my race, but not in all their traits and doings. They often made themselves small and contemptible before God and all high-minded men, by their squabbles over things of no importance. Most frequently these contentions were concerning matters of doctrine, or worship, or church administration, for by far the most important interest of life to these people was their religion. Just here is the explanation of the manifold divisions of the common Presbyterians. All branches of this common Presbyterianism hold substantially to the same doctrines and policy, and yet they have been broken up into many divisions by differences of opinion touching amore or less strict construction of some points of doctrine, worship, or administration. This gave us two or three kinds of Covenanters, of Seceders, and of those who called themselves Regulars. These separated branches were not only alienated, but for most of the time, actively belligerent. If the Presbyterian Jew did not openly curse the Presbyterian Samaritan in his synagogue, he at least unsparingly denounced him, and warned his flock against his perilous wiles and pernicious delusions. This was in keeping with the temperament of the people, and we cannot boast of it.
But many of these lamentable alienations were found in families, and among neighbors and fellow-churchmembers, and often over some paltry social matter, or question of property. A dispute about a line fence between two farms, when only a few inches in width of land were in question, would sometimes lead to a bitter quarrel which would last for more than one generation. Two neighbors of ours, people of the first respectability and piety, for two or three generations could not agree on the precise location of the line between their farms, and for many a day two fences were kept up, not three feet apart, each claiming the little strip between. There was no open outbreak, but a fixed difference of opinion which could not be composed. The laying out of a new public road, or a small change in an old one, some times resulted in a bitter and lasting feud. These were not merely transientgusts of passion: they often degenerated into settled alienations which passed down from sire to son. I have known a brother and two sisters living dear together, all members of the same church, all of unquestioned character and strictly religious; often gathering at the same communion table, and yet that brother never so much as spoke to either of those sisters for more than forty years, and till his death. He would not speak to his old mother while she lived, and would not attend her funeral when she died.
They never had an open quarrel, but he conceived that he had not received his full share of the small estate left by his father, and so he simply cut his mother and sisters, and all their married relations, dead, and so continued to the end. I knew two brothers living on adjoining farms, who fell out about a road running through their land, and in consequence neither ever spoke to the other for many years, though both members of the same church. And while they lived, no member of either family ever saluted a member of the other. Two men in the neighborhood, both men of substance and position, elders in adjoining congregations, both highly reputed for integrity and piety, and closely connected by family ties, for many years never so much as recognized each other, any more than if they had been Hebrew and Philistine, until once meeting in the highway, they fell into talk, which quickly grew hot, and resulted in a violent physical encounter, with sundry chokings, and smitings, and wallowings on the ground. No one witnessed it except the distressed wife of one of them, who also was sister of the other, and so the affair was never exploited. It ought to be said, however, to the praise of God’s grace, and to the credit of regenerated human nature, that before either of them died, grace got the better of both. One of them coming to his deathbed, sent for the other, who quickly responded, and there these old, proud and stubborn men confessed their sins to God and to each other, and with prayers, and tears, and affectionate embracings, were completely reconciled. Examples of this trait were not at all uncommon among the people. Some times a congregation was thrown into confusion and strife by some paltry cause which would have made the whole contention comical if it had not been so sad. Within my own memory the old church of my nativity and of my fathers was brought into sore trouble by the question as to the kind of notes to be used in a congregational singing-school. Such a school was kept up through the winter, and it met once a week in the lecture room. An old-fashioned singing master was employed to drill the people, and thus en courage singing in public worship. A new music book had lately been published in which was used the system of notation known as “patent notes,” or, as they were slightingly called, “buck wheat notes.” It was claimed that this system was much more easily mastered than the common system. The question was whether this new book should be used in the singing-school. At first, the discussion was fairly rational and good-tempered, but not for long. Soon it waxed warms quickly the fire was kindled and flew from one to an other, until the whole community was aflame. For weeks it was the all-but universal topic of conversation and of controversy. If you saw a bunch of young people with their heads together after sabbath-school, you knew what they were so earnestly talking about. If you saw two men on horseback in the middle of the road wildly gesticulating and loudly vociferating both at once, you were in no doubt as to the subject of dispute. Neighbors had angry debates, church-members fell out, and before long the people were arrayed in two hostile and belligerent factions. It resulted in the cleavage of the school into two rival and very unfriendly schools, and the, war went on for a year or two. The comical part of it was that probably a majority, certainly very many, of the fiercest fighters could not for their lives have told one note from another; yet they stood by their guns and fought it out to a finish, as if some great principle of the kingdom of God had been at stake.
Political feeling ran very high and discussion was apt to become very heated. These men were not office seekers nor trading politicians, but they were often very strong partisans, and, according to their views, very patriotic. My family were whigs of the strongest kind, and the papers we read, and the talk. we heard were of such a nature that it was all-but impossible for me to understand how a democrat could be a Christian, or even an honest man. One of the elders of our church was a well-known democrat. I now know that he was one of the most exemplary and pious men in the congregation, but then it was hard for me to believe that he could be anything else than some sort of disguised scoundrel. If not, how could he vote so infamous a ticket, and for such rascals as were on it?
Certain political leaders were, in the estimation of some, little else than idols, while to others they were all but devils. Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay were such men. When Jackson was victorious many went al most wild with joy; when Clay was defeated, strong men clenched their fists and wept. Let me give an illustration. My paternal grandfather and James Taggart were near neighbors and close friends from boyhood to old age; they were elders in the same church for a great many years; men of the highest character for probity and piety. They were strongly attached to each other, and lived all through their lives in deepest confidence. They could talk freely and rationally on any subject but one, and that one subject was Andrew Jackson. His name could hardly be mentioned between them without putting their friendship in peril. Mr. Taggart deeply believed that Jackson was one of the greatest and purest public men that ever lived, while my grandfather as deeply believed that that noted Scotch-Irishman was an unmitigated rowdy, bully, and all round scoundrel. Neither of them ever introduced the name of Jackson in the company of the other, but it sometimes happened that when neighbors were gathered together, some mischievous fellow would interject the subject with some comment, his purpose being simply to have some fun out of these venerable men. Jackson had been dead for many years, but the introduction of his name was like throwing a dynamite cartridge between these old friends. There was an instant explosion. This usually gave much amusement to bystanders.
Until a time quite near the civil war, the region of which I am writing was very insular, considering that it had been settled so long. It is true that for many years before that time, the famous National Road, built by the U. S. Government, ran through the heart of that region. This road was the great avenue of commerce between the east and the west, and considering its length, the perfection of its construction and the enormous volume of its traffic in people and goods, it was by far the greatest boulevard ever known in America, if not in the world. After the railway was pushed as far west as Cumberland, Md., about a quarter of a century elapsed before it came further, and during that time nearly the whole commerce between the east and the west was carried over that road from Cumberland, the end of the railroad, to Wheeling, where it struck the Ohio river. It was a sort of Broadway a hundred and thirty miles long, thronged with an enormous traffic. Big road-wagons drawn by six and eight big horses, and loaded to the top of their high covers; stage-coaches, fifty and sixty each way every day in the crowded season, making twelve miles an hour, and loaded fore and aft with passengers and baggage; express wagons with lighter loads, and travelling faster than the heavy ones; pony express with the fast special mail; droves of horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, and slaves tied to a ropey two and two in a long procession; besides multitudes travelling in private vehicles and on horse back,-such was the commerce of this wonderful thoroughfare for years. But this did not break up the insularity of the people and the region. People looked on while this mighty stream passed, and ministered to its needs, but seldom went from their own farms. Railroads had not touched the region until quite near the civil war, and they touched it but little till several years after the war. Up to 1860, probably not one in ten of the older people had ever been in a railway car. They went but little from home, and seldom far. They were contented to live quiet, peaceable and pious lives, far from the world’s madding strife. It does not follow however, that they were a dull, ignorant and stupid people, a mere herd of drudges and dunces. Very far from it. Within certain limits, they were a well-informed and highly intelligent people, and strongly intellectual. Too many men of great distinction have sprung from them to allow the supposition that their fathers were dunces and drones. In every house you would find an assortment of books, and good ones at that. You would find very few books of fiction, and absolutely no trash, but books of travel, biography, history, popular science, and especially, works of standard value on theology, moral philosophy and practical religion, as well as on agriculture, political economy, and the like. These books were read, and studied. They cared but little for the dreams of novelists or the visions of poets, but on subjects of the first practical importance, on things pertaining to life and godliness, they were well read, and often profoundly informed. They usually subscribed for several good newspapers, religious arid secular, besides a monthly magazine or two. I now have in my library bound copies of a magazine published in Philadelphia as early as 1796, inherited from my great grandfather. It was probably the best, perhaps the only magazine then published in America.
The smart transient who grappled in debate on any serious subject with one of these plain farmers, fancying he had an easy victim, was apt to be speedily undeceived. The range of their knowledge was limited, but within that range they were studious, thoughtful and highly intelligent men.
They were by nature suspicious of anything new, and were prone to throw it off without ceremony. If they were interested in it at all, they would most searchingly scrutinize it, and if it stood the tests, it was approved, but the burden of proof was on it. It must verify and vindicate itself. If a man came along with a new plow, or lighting rod, or patent medicine, the presumption was always against him, especially if he was a Yankee. He must substantiate his claim. If he could do that they would buy, if not, he was shouldered into the road. Particularly, any Yankee who came along with a brand new patent-churn, or washing machine, warranted to do the work while you read a book, or with a wooden nutmeg, a new-fangled clock, or such things when he struck a Scotch Irishman was instantly met with an east wind, raw and chilling. Still more, when any fakir came into the community with some new doctrine in religion, some spiritualist, mind-healer, braggart lecturer, or other such humbug, he was quickly shown the door. These people were neither credulous, sentimental, nor easily fooled. They would not jump till they saw where they where going to light. Charlatanisms and quackeries in business, religion or common life, they had no welcome for. They were hard-headed, clear-eyed, strongminded, brave-hearted men who loved truth and righteousness as they saw it, and hated lies, delusions, superstitions and impostures.
Their vernacular was full of provincialisms, not those of ignorance, but those of race and inheritance. In fact these provincialisms reveal a good deal of the history, the type and the temperament of the race. The time of evening service was never announced according to the clock. It was fixed at “early candle-lighting.” They always “lifted” the collection. Prayer meeting was always called “society.” In announcing a funeral, the minister would say,”they will lift at such an hour.” By lifting, he meant taking up the body to be carried to burial. Some of the neighbors always came in and sat up all night with the dead, and this was called “the wake.” There were no coffin shops where such goods were kept ready for sale, and no ceremonious undertakers with their sombre dress and solemn tones, and heavy charges. When one died, the measure was taken and the cabinetmaker engaged to make a plain coffin to order. Neighbors dug the grave, and the expense of laying away the dead was very small. Everything except the small cost of the coffin, and the attendance of the hearse, was entirely gratuitous. Very rarely was a funeral service held in the church, but almost invariably in the home, however humble. When one died, they did not say, he is dead, but “he is gone.” When one was slightly ill, they would say, he is “poorly,” or he is “donsie.” An absent-minded, or negligent person, was said to be “glaikit.” Young children were called “weans.” Their provincialisms revealed their Scotch lineage, and every one of them is to be found in the Scotch poets, especially, in Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. While there were among them wild, rough and violent men, yet profane swearing was uncommon. The genuine Scotch-Irishman believed that his simple word was good, and that it did not need to be fortified by a profane oath. It must be confessed, however, that among the baser sort coarse, vulgar, and even obscene speech was quite too common. But the more respectable always frowned on such vulgarity.
When the great war came on it brought to that whole region a mighty fermentation, and the Scotch-Irish spirit rose to the boiling point. This broke up the insularity of that section of the country. The patriotism of their fathers, and the fighting blood in their veins, immediately flamed out. While the people were hotly divided on party issues, in general they were intensely and violently patriotic, as their fathers had been. There were among them a good many who were called “rebel sympathizers, and copperheads,” but the bulk of the people was fiercely in favor of sustaining the Government. All the same, the so called “copperheads” were numerous enough and active enough to give infinite trouble to churches and neighborhoods. Feeling ran very high, and discussions were bitter. It was a hard time for the pastors of the churches, and for others who wanted to keep peace. There are people now living, who cannot be proud of the stand their fathers took in that dark and trying hour. I doubt if any man today is proud of the fact that his-father was a “copperhead.” But the immense majority of these people showed their faith by their works, as was the habit of their race. Their young men rushed to arms by the thousand. Old Buffalo graveyard is full of the ashes of heroic young men from that congregation who gave their lives for their country, and only some of those who did so, were brought home for burial. I have studied the authentic statistics thoroughly, and am willing to venture the statement that no other section of this country, of equal population, gave as many of its sons to the Union Army, as did Washington county, Pa., and the region immediately adjoining. And no other gave so many to wounds and death. Quite a number of crack regiments were recruited there, regiments whose battle record is surpassed by none, and equaled by few. In like proportion, the Scotch-Irish communities of the South, furnished men for their army. They were governed by like convictions, however mistaken we may think their convictions were. These Scotch Irishmen made the best soldiers in the world, as their fathers had done. The Scotch-Irish regiments in both armies showed as no others, their ability to stand up to their work, and give and take wounds and death. The ,greatest losses known to modern warfare, in proportion to the number engaged, were suffered when Scotch-Irish regiments from Pennsylvania and Ohio encountered men of the same race from North Carolina and Virginia on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Stonewall Jackson himself, and the bulk of his renowned corps, were of this blood and lineage. When men of this blood met face to face on the battlefield, the issue always was, victory or death. The churchyards of Washington county, and adjoining counties, are full of the bones of the heroic dead who gave their lives for their country, and the ashes of many others of her sons were left in southern graves. John Kelly, executive officer of the Tecumseh, went down with his ship in Mobile Bay, because he disdained to leave her when he might have escaped, and because he gave way to a subordinate officer. He was an old Buffalo boy, and a sample of his class. Very many noble and gallant fellows fell in the garb of private soldiers, while some reached command, higher or lower. One old Buffalo boy, after a distinguished career in the civil war, and later, in the regular army, won high distinction by quelling the insurrection in Manilla, and after commanding the Department of California, now wears in his retirement, the stars of a Major-General won by long and gallant service.
But that great convulsion stirred up the people of that quiet rural region and shook them out of their insularity. The young men who returned from the great war were no longer the simple rustics they had been. The great earthquake had bulged up the entire country and thrown the population out into the swirling currents of the world.
Then came on the era of railroads, of coal development of natural gas and oil, of mills and manufactures, the great growth of population and of commercial enterprise, and so the old community is no longer what it once was. An immense inundation from the swamps, offal-heaps of southern Europe, threatens to engulf what we hold most sacred and dear. The old type however, is still persistent, though it has been greatly modified by the conditions of modern life. But in fact, the Scotch-Irishman still rules the region. The sturdy, genuine and endearing elements in the blood and fibre of the people who originally settled that magnificent section, still show themselves, and it will be long before they are subdued. Let us hope they may never be. Let us hope that the shades of the faithful and heroic dead may long hover over that section, and that their memory and influence may never pass away.