FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH HISTORY
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"Norfolk in By-Gone Days" articles by Rev. W. H. T. Squires, D. D.
Rev. W. H. T. Squires
Historian and Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA.
August 15, 1935 - The Churches on Church Street
August 22, 1935 - The Old First Church
November 18, 1938 - The Bell Church
November 24, 1938 - George D. Armstrong
June 1, 1939 - Edward Mack
October 14, 1943- The Presbyterians
July 25, 1946 - Dr. Samuel Selden
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November 24, 1939 - Funeral for Noted Presbyterian (Dr. James I. Vance)
Dr. MacMillan Pastor of Four Churches in Ministry of 26 Years
September 17, 1950 - Father of American Presbyterianism
September 1951 - First Presbyterian Church
1952 - Looking Backward in Norfolk (various articles)
1956 - Bells
January, 1963 - Dr. Edward H. Jones Leaves for CA Pastorate
October 12, 1963 - Banking Career Short-Lived, He Joined Father's Calling
May 12, 1966 - Old Church Spans Religious Liberty
July 20, 1967 - Demolition of Bank Street Baptist Church
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ROBT. W. SANTOS, AGED 94, DIES
Funeral services for Robert William Santos, well known nonagenarian and one of Norfolk's oldest citizens, who died yesterday morning at 1:55 o'clock, will be held tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 o'clock at First Presbyterian church, of which Mr. Santos had been a member for the last 76 years. Rev. J. L. Macmillan, D. D., the pastor, and Rev. D. N. McLauchlin, D. D., of Second Presbyterian church, will officiate. Burial will be in Elmwood cemetery.
Mr. Santos was born in Norfolk in 1831 and spent his entire life here, during which he watched the community grow from a small town to a large and bustling city. He died at his residence, 829 Redgate avenue. Almost up to the time of his death, Mr. Santos took an active part in church and welfare work. He attended all services of his own church and acted as a ruling elder. He had been an elder of the First church for 53 years, was a charter member of the Young Men's Christian Association and a director of Seamen's Bethel.
Mr. Santos was engaged in the coal business until his retirement some years ago and was connected up to the time of his death with the Norfolk and Coal and Ice Company. He had been interested all his life in activities designed for the good of the community and exerted a wide influence by his Christian character and kindliness.
Surviving Mr. Santos are his wife, Mrs. Helen Gormley Santos; five daughters, Mrs. McA. Rose, of Fayetteville, N. C.; Mrs. C. C. Walton, Jr., of Richmond; Miss Lelia H. Santos, Miss Evelyn O. Santos and Miss Helen I. Santos, of Norfolk; five grandchildren and a sister, Miss Mary F. Santos, of Saratoga, N. Y., and a nephew, C. O. Santos, Sr., of Norfolk.
Presbyterians Pay Honor to Leaders of Their Church.
The celebration of the 250th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church was observed yesterday morning at 11 o'clock at which time every seat in the church was filled. The pastor, the Rev. Jason L. MacMillan, D. D., took as his sermon theme "Remembering Our Leaders," outlined briefly the history of the institution and praised the character of the ministers of the past who had done so much to influence the life of their time.
In an effort to give the congregation some real idea of the antiquity of the church, Dr. MacMillan stated that it was old before George Washington was born and that it could have celebrated its 100th anniversary two years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He said that much of the history of the church was lost beyond recall due to a 100-year gap in the records that occurred from 1716 to 1801 when life in America was fraught with trouble and peril and Presbyterians in Virginia were not allowed to congregate because of an edict of the State church.
In reference to the great leaders of the past whose names and fame are forgotten he said: "Though their names have been obliterated we can at least be sure of their nature and character, for what they were entered into the fiber of our faith and built up the glory of the Presbyterian Church as it is today."
He called attention to the fact that the first of the preachers of whom there is any account were all trained across the sea, but that by 1800 they had become indigenous to the soil and were Americans guiding the spiritual lives of fellow Americans.
It is a great thing to have a long and honorable history," he declared, "yet it is more important to leave the far past and consider those closer to us who influenced lives for Christ. Men like Dr. George Armstrong who, in 1855, fearlessly performed the work of mercy during the yellow fever epidemic. The influence of such men was great because they spoke the word of God and also because of what they themselves were—because of their unconscious influence which was felt through no effort on their part.
"The Christianity of the present-day world and of the New Testament are not identical. Our faith never seems so winsome and so attractive as when it is seen in the light of those we loved who exemplified it so well."
In conclusion Dr. MacMillan compared the church to an Indian plant which strikes its roots deep into the ground before it appears above the surface. Then in time of drought when all other plants wither and die this plant alone flourishes, deep-rooted and secure.
Dr. J. G. Venable Dies Suddenly in Tennessee
Rev. Joseph Glass Venable, D. D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, and a former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of this city, died at 6:40 o'clock this morning at his home in Chattanooga from an acute heart attack.
Funeral services will be held at Chattanooga Saturday afternoon.
Dr. Venable, who was one of the outstanding ministers of Southern Presbyterianism, and well known in all church circles throughout the south, had been in ill health some months ago but recent letters received from him by friends here indicated that his condition was improved and news of his sudden death came as a shock to members of his former congregation here.
Last spring the popular pastor had visited Norfolk, stopping for a few days with Dr. and Mrs. W. P. McDowell, and in the course of his visit here preaching on Sunday evening to an overflow crowd that thronged to hear him. He was rated by local ministers as one of the most popular preachers to hold a pastorate in Norfolk in recent years, and during the entire three years of pastorate at the First Presbyterian church, from 1921 to 1924, he spoke to phenomenally large congregations who packed the church to hear his sermons.
Born in Shelbyville, Kentucky, 50 years ago last September, Dr. Venable spent most of his early life in that state. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was educated at Center College, Danville, Ky., and received his ministerial training at Union Theological Seminary, Louisville.
Earlier years of his career were spent in the business world, but he soon forsook it for the ministry, spending at least the last quarter of a century preaching the gospel, a profession in which he had long since climbed to a position of prominence.
Dr. Venable came to Norfolk in November, 1921, from Riverside Presbyterian church, Jacksonville, Fla., resigning here in September, three years later, to accept the call to Chattanooga. He had held other pastorates before going to the Jacksonville church, where he remained for a decade.
Married 24 years ago to Miss Irvine Byrd, of Louisville, Ky., Dr. Venable is survived by his wife and four children, three boys and one girl. They are Miss Byrd Venable, Joseph G., William and Robert Venable. He leaves no other close relatives. Rev. S. J. Venable, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, Suffolk, is a distant cousin.
Dr. Venable was a member of the board of directors of the Southern Presbyterian Assembly Training school, at Richmond, and was also one of the general assembly's committee of 44, a position of importance and influence in the Southern Presbyterian church.
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NORFOLK IN BY-GONE DAYS
By Rev. W. H. T. Squires, D. D.
THE CHURCHES ON CHURCH STREET
[possible errors in bold and known mistakes corrected in brackets]
Immediately opposite the Burrough Church (Old St. Paul's) there is a plot of ground sanctified for more than a century by the public worship of the Lord. Two of the city's most prosperous churches were organized there, namely: Christ Church and the First Presbyterian.
William S. Forrest tells the story of two Negro men, counting their profits after a day at market, killed instantly when a magazine—300 kegs of powder—was touched off by a bolt of lightning. Their bodies were laid under a sycamore tree, and the coroner declared that they had been "killed by fire from heaven" (June 1785). Soon thereafter Christ Church was built, and the congregation flourished on that spot until the church was destroyed by fire (1827). Their new house of worship was located at Freemason and Cumberland; and their Presbyterian neighbors, who had left the Bell Church, bought the site and built a large and handsome edifice, one of the conspicuous and historic buildings of the city for 76 years (1836-1912).
The original Presbyterian congregation in this city was gathered by a zealous and able young clergyman, Benjamin Porter Grigsby. The story of his coming is well worth reading. Mr. Grigsby, the son of James Grigsby and Frances Porter, his wife, was born in Orange county, Virginia, September 18, 1770. The family soon moved over the lofty Blue Ridge to Rockbridge county and growing Benjamin was put to school at Liberty Hall Academy under that prince of Colonial educators, William Graham. Liberty Hall is now Washington and Lee University and on its campus Dr. Graham sleeps well to this day.
The young graduate, now 22 years old, was introduced to Hanover Presbytery by Dr. Graham (1792) and was examined, licensed and sent forth to "try his gifts" as Presbyterians have a way of saying to their young ministers.
At the Presbytery of Hanover, which at that time covered all Virginia, commissioned another young man, also to try his gifts—Archibald Alexander. The two young clergymen came as far as Petersburg together. They separated there, Archibald Alexander turning southwestward and Benjamin Porter Grigsby coming to Norfolk. He was received with cordiality, perhaps one might say, with enthusiasm. There were many Scotch and Scotch-Irish families in the town, of whom the most prominent was Captain James Maxwell of the late Virginia navy; the McPhails, Reids, McKinders, Robertsons, Whiteheads and many others.
While this writer has no definite information on the subject, it is his guess that Captain Maxwell was the young preacher's host and sponsor. His son, William Maxwell, destined to such a brilliant career as lawyer, orator, author and churchman, was at that time nine years of age.
Where the young man preached we cannot say, probably in a warehouse (like the Methodists) or in the little theatre in Fenchurch street. He spent the summer of 1793 in Norfolk and left to become pastor of the Scotch-Irish congregations on Lewisburg and Union, now West Virginia.
But his work was to be in Norfolk. The town was growing rapidly. Shipping crowded the harbor to such an extent that the ferries had difficulty getting to and from Portsmouth. Then, too, the federal government had just bought a tract of land south of Portsmouth and there was promise of a great navy yard to be erected there.
Benjamin Porter Grigsby came back to Norfolk in 1801 and began at once the gathering of a church and the building of a house of worship. He was the man to lead in such a task, handsome of person, energetic to a degree, of imposing demeanor and elegant address.
The new church, the largest in Tidewater Virginia, arose on the corner of Charlotte and Catherine (Bank) streets. As it had a bell in the steeple, it was called the Bell Church. It stands to this day, now the home of a colored congregation. For 133 years it has been the Lord's house.
Yellow Fever Outbreak
On Sunday afternoon, September 30, 1810, the popular pastor buried a sailor who had died of yellow fever. The following Sunday afternoon, October 6, at the same hour, the pastor, who had died of the same dreadful disease, was lowered into his grave in Trinity Church yard, Portsmouth, where a marble monument recalls his name. He left a widow, who was Elizabeth McPherson, before her marriage, the daughter of Hugh M. McPherson, and three little children, the eldest then four years old, became the distinguished scholar and historian, Hugh Blair Grigsby. Mrs. Grigsby afterward married Nathan C. Whitehurst, an elder in the Bell Church, and became the mother of some of Norfolk's most prominent families.
Although the Bell Church was established by a clergyman, sent to the town by Hanover Presbytery, and although funds to build the church were supplied in part by the General Assembly sitting in Philadelphia (1802) the Bell Church was independent. After the death of Mr. Grigsby the pulpit, vacant for four years 1810-14) was supplied by visitors, especially by John Holt Rice, one of the most able and eloquent divines in America. He was an especial friend of Williams Maxwell and after his death Dr. Maxwell wrote a biography of Dr. Rice, which is one of the standard authorities of Virginia's history, frequently quoted to this day. It was certainly the tactful hand of Dr. Rice which brought the Bell Church into organic fellowship with Hanover Presbytery. Dr. Rice also strengthened the local church by the election of three additional elders—John McPhail and William R. McKinder had been elders for years. William Maxwell, Robert Soutter and Robert Robertson were the three new elders elected (April 14, 1814).
Nine days later (April 28) William Maxwell sent a petition to Hanover Presbytery, meeting in Petersburg May 7), asking that court to ordain John D. Paxton, a young candidate for holy orders. The request was granted and Mr. Paxton was installed (1815) and remained until October 1, 1819. He later served church in Kentucky and Indiana, probably dying in Kansas during the War Between the States. The most casual reader of this narrative will observe that the Bell Church rested upon a Caledonian foundation.
When admitted to Hanover Presbytery the Bell Church reported only 43 member, although it was the largest congregation by all odds, in Tidewater Virginia. The explanation is that a century and more ago a great many persons attended and sustained the church who would not join. The condition is reversed exactly today when we have so may who join but who neither attend nor support the church.
The first Sabbath school in the city was organized by Mrs. Holmes, a sister of Dr. William Maxwell and a daughter of Capt. James Maxwell and of Helen Calvert Maxwell Reid, his wife. The school met Sunday afternoon in the galleries of the Bell Church. Mrs. Holmes was assisted by many godly women. Teachers and scholars of all denominations attended. It was a community Sunday school.
The church pulpit did not remain vacant very long. Rev. Joshua T. Russell of Washington, D. C., supplied the pulpit for the month of August (1820), was promptly called (September 25) and in November he was installed by Dr. John Holt Rice and his distinguished brother, Benjamin Holt Rice, the latter pastor of Tabb Street church, Petersburg.
Mr. Russell remained three years, some 80 members were added to the church and he resigned (January 5, 1824) pleading financial embarrassment.
During the pastorate of Mr. Russell the Middle Street Presbyterian church was organized in Portsmouth (May 1822). Thought it had only five members and four of them were women, a church building had been erected and was dedicated the day the church was organized by Dr. Benjamin Holt Rice of Petersburg. Visiting ministers and specially Pastors Paxton and Russell had frequently preached in Portsmouth.
Nearly all the services were held in Trinity Church. Rev. J. J. Pierce became pastor of the little church and part of his salary was paid by a missionary society of Bell Church.
The Portsmouth church was the first of many colonies which have grown from the original organization established by Benjamin Porter Grigsby.
THE OLD FIRST CHURCH
[Possible mistakes corrected in brackets.]
When Shepard Kosciuszko Kollock came to Norfolk as pastor of the Bell Church (1825), for a pastorate of nine years this city acquired a distinguished scholar, one of a family whose careers filled a century of brilliant service.
Washington had no officer more faithful than the clergyman's father, Shepard Kollock. He crossed the Delaware and helped win the battle of Trenton in the famous bitter, blinding snow storm (1777). He was the distinguished father of a distinguished family. His son, Henry had been described as "one of the most ornate yet vehement orators this country had produced." He was a Presbyterian clergyman and a professor at Princeton, New Jersey.
Shepard, the younger son, received the middle name Kosciuszko, for the Polish Revolutionary patriot whom his father greatly admired. As a youth he graduated from Princeton College, and preached in Georgia and the Carolinas. He became professor of logic and rhetoric in the University of North Carolina, and was an author as well as a preacher. His magazine articles and books won international recognition. One of his titles, "Pastoral Reminiscences," was translated into French and published in Paris. We have never seen this book, but imagine that it might throw some interesting side lights upon Norfolk and its people of 110 years since.
Dr. Kollock's daughter, Mary Kollock, born in this city, became famous as an artist. Her will known canvasses include "Morning in the Mountains," "On the Road to Mt. March," "An Evening Walk" and many others well known to the profession.
Years of agitation and schism in churches of all denominations followed the early revivals of the Nineteenth Century, and its Presbyterian Church was no exception. A theological war raged among the good people, not one of whom could or ever did explain what it was all about. The denomination was disrupted and torn into two warring factions known as the "Old School" and "New School" pastories. The national schism had its evil effects in Norfolk, resulting in the resignation of Dr. Kollock, its risintegration [possibly reintegration] of the Bell Church and the recognition of the "Old School" faction as a new organization, and the erection of a new church directly opposite the Borough Church, [on Church Street] recently vacated by Christ Church. The details of this division have never been committed to writing, all who had a share in the misfortunes of that day has long since gone. The Bell Church ultimately became and is today the property of the Bank Street Baptist Church, colored. Many New School Presbyterians preferred to join Christ Church, and greatly strengthened that growing organization in their new home on Freemason street.
Dr. Kollock returned to New Jersey and after years of outstanding service died in Philadelphia, (1865).
Rev. John D. Matthews came to the distracted church June 14, 1835, just a century since. He had been described a "striking, tall, angular, bony of large frame and of imposing appearance, withal a graceful, impressive and eloquent preacher. He remained for five years (1835-41), and moved to Lexington, Ky. It was he who built the new church and organized the new congregation on Church street. It was called "The Second," also "The Old School," also "The New Presbyterian Church"—W. S. Forrest uses the last name. "The large and commodious house of worship was completed this month, October 1836. On Saturday afternoon, November 19, the church was organized and members registered and on the following day, Sunday, November 20, the house dedicated by Rev. Dr. William Swan Plumer. The membership is numerous, respectable and highly devout." As a matter of record there were 122 on the roll when Dr. Matthews resigned. The church, with the galleries had a seating capacity of over 600.
The Old First Church, erected in 1836 as the "Old School Presbyterian Church," a secession from the Bell Church, and dismantled in 1912 after the congregation united with the Ghent Church on Colonial avenue, the United Church asking the name, "First Presbyterian."
Rev. Samuel J. Cassells succeeded Dr. Matthews and spent five years in Norfolk. Details of his pastorate are extremely meagre. Before he came, namely in 1838, he published a poem, 350 pages in length called "Providence." It took him 12 years to write it, as he labored upon it from 1826 to 1838.
He was succeeded by Rev. Samuel James Pierce Anderson, who also remained five years (1846-51), coming from Danville, where he spent five years, and leaving to become pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, Mo., where he remained until 1869. Dr. Anderson died September 10, 1873.
The Rev. George D. Armstrong served as pastor of First Church for 40 years from 1851-1891.
After Dr. Anderson the church was extremely fortunate. George Dodd Armstrong came in 1851 and remained for forty fruitful years leaving his legacy of useful service to city, state and nation. Of this remarkable man a volume might well be written. Of him Dr. William S. Lacy wrote (1892) "Dr. Armstrong, the son of Rev. Amzi Armstrong, D. D., was born in Mendham, New Jersey (1813). He graduated from Princeton (1832) and after a brief residence with his brother, Dr. William J. Armstrong pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, he entered Union Seminary at Hampden Sydney (1836). Two years later he accepted the chain [chair] of chemistry at Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. He was ordained to the ministry (1843) and supplied Timber Ridge Church until he came to Norfolk.
Dr. Armstrong's long pastorate has been both eventful and memorable. Through the pestilence of yellow fever in 1855 he remained at the post of duty, as friend, counselor and pastor, until himself stricken, losing four of the seven members of his family. During the Civil War he remained in his pulpit so long as he was permitted to do so suffering with his people and himself bearing personal indignities and imprisonment. His pastoral labors have been blessed abundantly and the church has grown steadily under his ministry. There have been seasons of gracious and continuous revival.
During years of exacting pastoral toll Dr. Armstrong wielded a busy and trenchant pen. He contributed many valuable articles to learned and litery [literary] periodicals, "The Summer of the Pestilence," published in 1865  describes the frightful yellow fever epidemic. Six titles of books stand to his credit like his famous predecessor Dr. Kollock. Dr. Armstrong came to this church from a professor's chain [chair], and also like him he was known as an author as well as a clergyman.
Under Dr. Armstrong's wise and able ministry the Old First Church became a mother of churches, establishing Sabbath schools and churches in all parts of Norfolk.
The Armstrong Memorial Church, Berkley developed from a Sabbath school taught by Colonel George Tait and R. F. V. Vaughan, elders under Dr. Armstrong (1872).
The Second Presbyterian Church, organized July 2, 1872, grew from a mission Sabbath school originally on James street (Monticello avenue).
In 1879 a chapel was erected on Park avenue, which has become the Park Avenue Church, organized November 9, 1884.
A Sabbath school was begun in the home of the late John C. Snyder, in Huntersville (Feb. 3, 1885) which subsequently became Knox Church in Park Place.
Dr. Armstrong passed to eternal reward, May 11, 1899.
He was succeeded in the pastorate of the Old First Church by Dr. James I. Vance (October 2, 1891), who remained three years. He was followed by Dr. Edward Mack, who remained four years (1897-1901).
The last pastor of the Old First Church was Dr. Joseph Rennie, who was installed October 1, 1902, and remained ten years.
The dismantling of the church was a tragedy. I watched the carpenters one morning as they tore out the gallery. It happened that two elderly and feeble women toiled up the front steps to what had once been the front portal. They watched the work of destruction for five minutes, in silence, but with tears coursing down their cheeks. Finally the elder began to sob, softly but audibly, and her companion led her gently away. The contractor told me afterward that similar visits were of daily occurrence. Oh, it is an awful responsibility to destroy a church of the Living God, whether it be an organization or a house of worship.
The disintegration of the Old Bell Church was a distinctive spiritual loss to Norfolk. And the destinction [destruction] of the Old First Church often [after] a period of 76 years was no less a calamity.
THE BELL CHURCH
Many and great have been the changes Norfolk has survived in its long history. Of this Colonial Borough, the largest city in Virginia, only the Borough Church, now St. Paul's has been saved to posterity; and is almost ready to celebrate its bi-centennial (1739-1939).
The oldest church in Norfolk, except the Borough Church, is the Bell Church, now the home of the Bank Street Baptist congregation of colored people on the northwestern corner of Charlotte and Banks streets. Its stout walls have resisted the cruel touch of time, and it stands now as firmly as when it was built in the very center of fashionable, wealthy and progressive Norfolk 136 years ago.
[At this time the compiler sees no connection of the above
church to any Presbyterian structure since the Presbyterian church on Charlotte & Catherine (now Bank) streets was torn down immediately upon the Presbyterians leaving it.]
When the Revolution closed with the formal signing of the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783, two years after the compelling victory of Yorktown there were probably not more than a dozen houses in the fire-swept desert, once Colonial Norfolk. But the name, the charter and the very streets, as laid our, survived. The French Revolution which began six years after the Treaty of Paris (1789) had an immediate and immense influence upon Norfolk; and, indeed, upon all the seaports of America. Soon this harbor was crowded with ships, and these streets were filled with eager buyers. Unfortunately this prosperity was struck dead by one blow. Thomas Jefferson's absurd, useless and cruel Embargo Act of 1807. From it Norfolk did not revive for three-quarters of a century.
It was plainly evident that more than one church was needed in this growing town. Many Scotch tobacco buyers and exporters had settled in Norfolk, and these were Presbyterians by tradition even if the majority of them took their religion rather lightly.
At the turn of the century a movement was begun to erect a substantial church in the uptown section, some distance from the Borough Church. This movement so far as we know, found its first organized expression when a meeting was called by some unknown person or persons (whose identity this pen can guess if guesses be allowed where sober history is silent). They assembled somewhere, April 15, 1800.
It was decided then or soon thereafter to build a second church for the Borough, that subscriptions for the proposed church were to be solicited and evidently that the church was to be governed by the model of the Scotch Kirk.
Thirteen months later some of those interested sent a petition to the National General Assembly, which met in Philadelphia the third Thursday in May, 1801, asking that a clergyman be sent to Norfolk. That General Assembly through its Committee of Home Missions directed two young ministers to visit and preach in "Lower Virginia," as the Tidewater section was called in olden days, and they named for this mission Benjamin Porter Grigsby and a Rev. Mr. Logan. Of the latter we know not; of the former we know much for his name, his posterity, his labors and his influence abide very much in our midst to this day.
The Philadelphia Assembly of Presbyterians acted so wisely in this matter that we are quite positive they were guided by the advice of those Virginians who were well informed—certainly as to Grigsby's gifts and career.
Mr. Grigsby was the son of James Grigsby and Frances Porter, his wife. And was born to them in Orange county, September 18, 1770. He had therefore just turned 30 when this action was taken at the General Assembly. The family moved over the blue ridges of Blue Ridge to Rockbridge when their son was quite young, and gave him the advantages of as fine an education as America then provided—at Liberty Hall Academy whose principal was William Graham, the school now known as Washington and Lee University. As he was to become a clergyman the boy received a theological training, also, from Dr. Graham, and was licensed to preach by Hanover Presbytery in 1792, at the age of 22.
The Presbytery directed Mr. Porter [Grigsby] and a friend, neighbor and classmate also from Rockbridge, also from Liberty Hall, also trained by Dr. Graham to make a missionary tour into "Lower Virginia" and inspect the country to discover whether Presbyterian preaching was needed in these parts. The other youth was destined to become one of America's greatest theologians, Archibald Alexander of Princeton Theological Seminary. [1792: In the same year he (Grigsby) was commissioned, with Rev. Archibald Alexander, as a missionary to Eastern Virginia. . . At its session in Philadelphia, in May, 1801, the General Assembly appointed Rev. Messrs. Logan and Grigsby missionaries, for two months, "to itinerate through the lower parts of Virginia." (See Minutes for 1801, p. 231.) For both inserts see "Church on the Elizabeth River".]
Rev. George Dodd Armstrong, D. D., LL. D.
(For forty years pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk.)
George Dodd Armstrong was born in Mendham, Morris county, N. J., September 15, 1813, to Rev. Amzi Armstrong, the pastor of the church in that village, and his wife, Mary or Polly Dod, the daughter of Aaron and Sarah Dod. The strains of heredity lay strong upon the future clergyman and author. His father was typically Scotch-Irish, the family having come to America during the great trek from Ireland in 1730. The tenacity and ambition of the Scotch were always upon him, no matter what the obstacles and difficulties which confronted him. His mother was of Puritan, England and New England, descent and gave her children a fine strain of scrupulous honesty, conscientious convictions and the strength of character that admits of no surrender.
In this modest home ten children were born, all destined to usefulness, some to distinction. Amzi Armstrong, Jr., became a lawyer of note, and an active political leader in the Jersey of the last century. William Jessup Armstrong, 17 years older than George, became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Richmond (1824) serving for ten years. He was an enthusiastic advocate of home mission work, a trustee of Union Theological Seminary, a leader in temperance, in colonization for the Negroes, in Sunday-school expansion and in all noble efforts for church and state.
The future Norfolk pastor graduated from Princeton in 1832, taught for a while, visited his brother in Richmond, entered the Theological Seminary then at Hampton-Sydney and taught for 13 years in Washington College (now Washington and Lee University). While living in Lexington he was ordained to the ministry (1843) and supplied the Timber Ridge church not far from the town.
In 1851 the Old First church became vacant. Dr. John D. Matthews, who built the church on Church street and led the Old School group out of Bell church to the new edifice, remained in Norfolk five years (1835-40). Samuel J. Cassells, who has so completely faded from memory and the records of whose pastorate are painfully scant also remained here five years (1841-46). Dr. S. J. P. Anderson succeeded Samuel J. Cassells and like his two predecessors remained five years (1846-51), when he was called to the Central church of St. Louis, Mo., where he remained through the war period, until 1869.
Dr. Armstrong was then called from his double duties at Lexington, being professor and pastor, and came to Norfolk in July, 1851.
In the unfolding years that now lay unknown before the new Presbyterian pastor of Norfolk he was destined to become a hero, very much of a hero, in two sensational catastrophes that will descend upon the citizens of his new home. He will serve, as we suppose, the longest pastorate in Norfolk's history and he will leave a belt of new and smaller churches around about the mother church to attest his devotion and his aggressive spirit.
In the summer of 1855 the terrible scourge of yellow fever broke forth in unexampled fury. Few American cities have ever had such a dire visitation. The homes of Norfolk were emptied and the graves and trenches in Cedar Grove filled. Declining to seek safety in flight, as every one did who could get away, save the physicians, nurses and pastors, he remained through it all to comfort the sick, bury the dead and console the broken-hearted. Four members of his family were among the victims, his wife, eldest daughter and two younger children. He was laid upon a bed of illness, so severe that it was rumored through the empty town that he also had died. But God spared him and he wrote a vivid account of the pestilence, which is the most complete and accurate description left to posterity.
The political, moral and economic question of human slavery was left, deliberately, unsettled by the founding fathers, a cancer that affected all the nation, but especially the South.
After the death of Henry Clay and the repeal of the Compromise, written when Missouri was admitted as a slave state, the question would not be laid. It touched the conscience of the nation, divided families, political parties and the churches.
Although a Northern man, Dr. Armstrong became a strong advocate of the slave system—he had seen it in operation for many years. No Southern clergyman or scholar would defend slavery today, but it is hardly fair to judge a citizen of 1850 by the standards and experience of 1938. That slavery was wrong all are free to admit. That it was constitutional and legal and that the methods employed to eradicate it were wrong, to violence, few will now deny.
In the Presbyterian church Dr. Albert Barnes, Henry Ward Beecher, before he became a congregationalist, and many others denounced slavery.
Dr. Armstrong had so much Irish blood that he never objected to a fight. He came forth with a book (1857) on "The Christian Doctrine of Slavery," which does not sound very pleasant today. He followed with "A Discourse a Slave Holding" (1858). Then he put forth another controversial volume on "Doctrine of Baptism" (1857), also a book on the "Theology of Christian Experience."
The slavery debate ended with the schism of the Democratic party, the election of Lincoln and the secession of the Southern states, the organization of the Confederacy, the war, and on July 21, 1861, the first great Southern victory at First Manassas, which our Northern friends prefer to call Bull Run.
The reaction to First Manassas was great rejoicing throughout the South. Thousands declared "The was is won!" Dr. Armstrong delivered a great sermon in the Old First church on the "Victory of Manassas." "The Hand of God Upon Us," was the subject.
The year 1862 brought other news. McClellan at the gates of Richmond forced the surrender of Norfolk, May 10, 1862. The three years of systematic tyranny, outrage and barbarity that followed shows that civilization, after all, is only a thin veneer. Finally all the churches were taken over by the United States Army under the gentle guidance of cross-eyed hatchet-faced Benjamin Franklin Butler, who had Dr. Armstrong arrested.
When the distinguished clergyman and scholar faced the military tyrant, Butler, asked him the categorical question:
"Would you approve hanging Jefferson Davis, if captured?"
Dr. Armstrong replied with an emphatic negative, and was promptly sentenced to prison at Ft. Hatteras, with hard labor.
Butler reported the incident in full to Secretary Edwin M. Stanton. That President Lincoln not only knew that such outrages were constantly being practiced in Norfolk cannot be denied. He seemed to approve them, which is certainly a blot upon his character.
To quote the Virginian-Pilot of June 28, 1899: "Because he would not prostitute his pulpit to sectional displays and Federal adulation Dr. Armstrong was imprisoned March 2, 1864, by Ben. Butler, nor was he released until September. He was then banished from Norfolk and sent through the lines to Richmond; and, for the remainder of the war, he served as a Presbyterian missionary in Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, until the end of the war."
The churches of Norfolk were returned to their respective congregations, Nov. 1, 1865, eight months after Lee's surrender.
In his later years Dr. Armstrong became the father of many churches. In the growing suburbs of Norfolk he planted missions that have since grown into a belt of churches around the mother church.
In 1872 a Sunday school was begun on James Street (now Monticello Ave.) It has grown into the Second Presbyterian Church.
At the same time two elders were sent to the Berkley side, who organized a Sunday school, which has grown into Armstrong Memorial Church. The two elders were Colonel George Tait and F. V. Vaughan.
Seven years later the first Sunday school in the Brambleton section was organized (1879) and became the Park Avenue Church (organized Nov. 9, 1884).
A mission was established in the home of the late John C. Snyder, Huntersville (Feb. 3, 1885). It is not the Knox Church, organized as a church in Park Place, May 21, 1899, ten days after Dr. Armstrong's death.
The increasing infirmities of a long and vigorous life made it necessary that Dr. Armstrong retire. Dr. James I. Vance became pastor of the Old First Church, Oct. 2, 1891, and remained three years. Dr. J. R. Howerton followed Dr. Vance and remained three years (1894-97). Dr. Edward Mack followed Dr. Howerton and remained four years (1897-1901). Dr. Joseph Rennie came to Norfolk, Oct. 1, 1902, and remained ten years, after which the Old First Church united with the Ghent Church on Colonial Avenue and the old building was destroyed after serving the congregation 76 years.
* * * * * *
The seventy-ninth annual meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States, popularly known as the Southern Presbyterian church assembled last Thursday, May 25, at the Montreat, N. C., and elected Edward Mack, a former citizen and pastor of Norfolk, moderator. The position of moderator, or president, is the greatest honor that can be conferred upon any member of the denomination. The Southern Presbyterian church has a roll of 500,000; and no church carries names on its roll unless the persons are more-or-less active. The constituency of the church, found wholly within the southern states will likely number two million persons, which is about one-sixth of the total Presbyterian population of the country. The moderator holds his position only one year, but the influence he exerts over the plans and policies of the church is very considerable, and extends far beyond the limit of a single year.
The announcement that Dr. Edward Mack had been elected was received in Norfolk with pleasure, especially by older persons to whom he once ministered as pastor, for he is well and affectionately remembered in this city.
Dr. Mack was born in Charleston, S. C., July 16, 1866, to a father, also a Presbyterian clergyman, Rev. Joseph Bingham Mack. He has enjoyed exceptional educational advantages, which he has used so adroitly and so consistently that he has long been recognized as an outstanding authority on the Hebrew language and literature. He graduated from Davidson College, N. C., in 1886, with an M. A. degree. His alma mater in later years (1924) conferred upon him the degree LL. D. The young man took one year in theology at Columbia Seminary, S. C., and two years at Princeton (N. J.) Seminary graduating in 1889. He was then ordained to the ministry, supplied the vacant pulpit of the First Presbyterian church of Charlotte, N. C., and accepted a call to the Presbyterian church at Washington, N. C., but he remained only a year going to Germany for post-graduate work, and spending a year at the University of Berlin.
He returned to Charlotte in 1892 and again supplied the pulpit of the First church for a year. He was then called as assistant pastor to the Central church of St. Louis, Mo., later becoming the pastor. He remained in the Western Metropolis four years, and then accepted a call to the Old First church of Norfolk.
Norfolk will never forget George Dodd Armstrong, one of the heroes of the city, first in the frightful epidemic of 1855 and again in the long period of war and Reconstruction. Dr. Armstrong came to Norfolk in 1851 and remained as pastor of the Old First church 40 years, resigning in 1891 because of his increasing infirmity. But he remained in church and city until his death, May 11, 1899.
Rev. James I. Vance, of Alexandria, Va., a native of Bristol, Tenn., was called to succeed Dr. Armstrong, and began his pastorate, three years in Shreveport, Dr. Mack took up that work in Cincinnati and remained there ten years. Always an alert scholar Dr. Mack took the degree of Ph. D. from the University of Cincinnati while teaching in the seminary. In 1915 he received a call to the Chair of Hebrew and Oriental Literature at Union Seminary in Richmond, which he accepted and which he fills with marked distinction to this day. In 1922 he delivered a course of lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary and more recently was sent to China for a course of lectures there.
Despite this busy life of work preaching, teaching and study, Dr. Mack is the author of numerous books and has written many articles. Perhaps his best known works are "Teaching Values of the Old Testament, " "The Early Puritans of Virginia," and "The Hebrew Looks Up to God."
When Dr. Mack was in Norfolk, his son and namesake was a very very small lad. Educated at Centre College, Princeton, the University of Chicago and the Sorbonne at Paris, Dr. Edward Mack, Jr., has become an authority in chemistry. He taught first at the University of West Virginia, but is now professor of chemistry in the University of North Carolina, and head of that department. His residence is at Chapel Hill.
Although Norfolk was the home of the distinguished father and the distinguished son only a short time, and that years since this city takes a pardonable pride in the honors that have been conferred upon then, and so worthily won.
Half a century is a long period of time in prospect, but not so long in retrospect. Nevertheless there are numberless changes wrought both in Church and State with the passing of 50 years.
Just 50 years ago the Presbyterian churches, which had been gathered for almost a century in Tidewater Virginia, were organized into a Presbytery. The action of the Synod of Virginia, which exercised ecclesiastical authority, read as follows:
"East Hanover Presbytery respectfully overtures the Synod of Virginia: First, to set off a new presbytery in its eastern section to embrace the following counties: to wit, Southampton, Surrey, Isle of Wight, Nansemond, Norfolk, Princess Anne, James City, Northampton, Accomack, Gloucester, Mathews, Middlesex, Westmoreland, Richmond, Northumberland and Lancaster; and, second, that this new presbytery be called Norfolk Presbytery."
The overture was received and the clergy and lay members, who represented the Presbyterian Church in these 19 counties were directed to meet in the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, November 4, 1893, at 4 p. m., to perfect the organization, Rev. George Dodd Armstrong, D. D., was appointed to preside or in his absence the oldest minister present.
This action was taken by the synod, meeting in Lexington, Ca., October 17 preceding, Rev. Robt. Pollock Kerr, D. D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, moderator. The meeting of the synod was the 106th stated meeting. The overture quoted above was adopted by East Hanover Presbytery at a meeting in the First Presbyterian Church of Newport News, October 3, 1893.
At the hour appointed Dr. Armstrong, who came to Norfolk in 1851, 42 years before, presided and the following clergymen were also present: Dr. William S. Lacy, pastor of the Second Church, Norfolk; Revs. H. C. Moore, pastor of the Suffolk Church; E. B. McCluer, of the Park Avenue Church; James I. Vance, pastor of the First Church; John Lee Allison, of Portsmouth, E. T. Wellford, of Newport News, and W. C. Linday, pastor of Homes Church, near Cape Charles. There were present two ruling elders, Robt. W. Santos, of the First, and David Humphries, of the Second churches of Norfolk. Dr. Lacy was elected clerk of the new Presbytery at a salary of $30 per annum and Mr. Santos treasurer with compensation. The meeting adjourned until 8 p. m., during which time a violent storm swept over this section and Dr. Armstrong was not able to return, but an informal meeting was held in the lecture room of the church and addresses were made by those present on the history, principles and prospects of the Presbyterian Church. The meeting adjourned to assemble at Holmes Church April 17, 1894.
There were other members of the Presbytery who did not attend the initial meeting—Rev. R. A. Robinson, of Colley Memorial Church; Chas. E. Stebbins, a retired pastor living at Claremont; Wm. W. Carson, of Richmond County; Byron Clark, of Accomack County, and Wm. T. Walker, Jr., of Hampton. There were also three charter members of the Presbytery laboring abroad—Revs. Calvin Knox Cumming, of Hampton, then at Nagoya, Japan; George Adam Grille, of Fairfax County, Virginia, then in Brazil, and William Davis Reynolds, Jr., a member of Second Church, Norfolk, then at Seoul, Korea.
The new presbytery was small and not so strong as most presbyteries are. There were only 21 congregations, many of them weak. The original roll, with the membership, was as follows: Armstrong Memorial, with 83 members; Belle Haven, 82; Campbell Memorial, 21; Cape Charles, 18; Colley Memorial, 160; Gloucester, 12; Hampton, 53; Holmes, 79; Makemie Memorial, 76; Milden, 29; Newport News, 120; Norfolk First, 511; Norfolk Second, 180; Onancock, 18; Park Avenue, 178; Portsmouth, 203; Powellton, 44; Severn, 40; Suffolk, 37; York River, 70; and Smithfield, 8. The total number of communicants enrolled was 2,022, with 13 pastors, two of whom were retired.
The growth of Norfolk Presbytery has been steady and the present strength of the Presbyterian church in this area is encouraging. The latest figures (April 1, 1943) show 45 organized churches, and a faculty of 40 ordained clergymen, three of whom are chaplains in the armed forces and three have retired from active services. The total number of active members enrolled is now 10,250. The largest congregation is the First Church of this city with 1,196 members, with the First Church of Newport News coming next, 1,079 members. Rev. E. T. Wellford, D. D., until recently the pastor of the First Church, Newport News, is the only charter member of the Presbytery still upon the roll.
When the Presbytery was organized Rev. George Dodd Armstrong, D. D., was the nestor and Rev. James Isaac Vance, D. D., the choragus. Two ministers, more dissimilar could hardly be found, but both were brilliant leaders, each in his way. Dr. Armstrong came to the church in 1851 and remained until his death. Dr. Vance came to the pastorate of the First Church (1891) and remained somewhat longer than two years. Dr. Armstrong was born in Mendham, N. J., the son of Rev. Amzi Armstrong. He was educated at Princeton and came to live in Richmond with his brother, Rev. Wm J. Armstrong, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of that city, and graduated from Union Theological Seminary, then at Hampden-Sydney. Two years later he became Professor of Chemistry at Washington and Lee University). He was called to the Presbyterian Church in Norfolk in 1851, remained through the scourge of yellow fever (1855), during which time he lost four of the seven members of his family, and but narrowly escaped death himself. During the occupation of this city by the Federal Army he endured many indignities and was finally thrown into prison by Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler of inglorious memory.
As a pastor he and his people established many small missions that have now grown into strong churches. He was an author of repute and has a number of valuable books to his credit. His life was a benediction to Norfolk and though he has long been dead "he yet speaketh." He passed to his eternal reward May 11, 1899.
Dr. Vance was born in Bristol, Tenn., September 25, 1862. He was educated at King College and, like Dr. Armstrong, at Union Seminary. He preached for a year at Wytheville, for four years at Alexandria, for two years at Norfolk and from this city was called to the largest church in the South, the First Presbyterian Church at Nashville, where he remained until his death. While at Nashville he accepted a call to the North Reformed Church of Newark, N. J., and remained ten years but then returned to Nashville. Dr. Vance was the author of many books. While at Newark he was instrumental in securing for the First Church of Norfolk Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchinson, who was the pastor here for 11 years.
DR. SAMUEL SELDEN
He was a popular and a gifted citizen in the Norfolk of his day; but unfortunately, his sun set at the noon hour. Not often does a physician, who is preeminently a man of science, possess also the poetic gift. But such was the talent of Dr. Selden. It is to be regretted that his poems were "fugitive," never collected. And when such artistic work is "fugitive," it is usually lost to posterity. Let us meet the physician and poet who needed no introduction to the grandfathers of the present day.
Samuel Selden was born in this borough (1834) to Capt. Samuel Selden, who was well known in commercial and transportation circles, for he commanded a steamer which made Norfolk its home port. It was said that the captain came of Colonial stock, for his forebears arrived on the hospitable shores of Virginia a full century before the Revolution.
The youth was educated at Norfolk Academy and then entered Hampden-Sydney College, in the class of 1851. The distinguished educator, Dr. Lewis Warner Green, was president of the college at that time. He then removed to St. Mary's, Georgia, a rural courthouse town on the far southern frontiers of that day, hard against the new state of Florida. In the absence of any data it is our presumption that he was then a teacher. He decided to study medicine and returned to this city and assisted Dr. William J. Moore, one of our most successful practitioners here. He then attended a medical college in Charleston, S. C., from which he graduated with the highest honors in his class. It was the fatal year 1861. He married Miss Elizabeth M. Lamb, of Camden County, North Carolina, and began his practice in the stricken and distracted Norfolk of the war period.
Never physically strong, Dr. Selden labored conscientiously despite his growing weakness, until 1875 when a severe heart attack rendered him an invalid. No one realized his precarious condition better than he, and he frequently and calmly spoke of his approaching death. His brave struggle to survive ended January 13, 1880.
The Landmark, in announcing his death "at his residence, 74 Cumberland Street, in the 46th year of his age," spoke of the popular regard he commanded. For a year he had been confined to his bed, and yet was active and interested in his poetic endeavors, and in the affairs of Norfolk Lodge 1, A. F. and A. M., of which he had long been a member. As teacher of a Bible class in the Presbyterian Church and as a member of the Knights of Honor he made many friends.
James Barron Hope wrote a very effective editorial "In Memoriam" in which he referred to Dr. Selden's "Christian graces and poetic ability." It was a tribute from one poet to another.
Dr. George D. Armstrong conducted his funeral in the Old Flint Presbyterian Church before "an immense throng." He delivered a beautiful sermon and the choir sang "Rock of Ages," as requested by the deceased. The pallbearers were among the most prominent men of Norfolk: John L. Roper, Robert W. Santos, W. D. Reynolds, Capt. R. Frank Vaughan, Dr. T. B. Webster, Capt. James Barron Hope, William Selden, R. B. Tunstall, James D. Galt, S. S. Keeling, Alex. Tunstall, Herbert M. Nash, W. T. Sutton and W. H. Shepherd.
Three weeks after his death W. R. Galt gathered such poems as he could find and had them published in a thin but attractive volume of 77 pages. He stated that during the decade from 1865-75 he had written many poems, and "during his last illness, when partially free from pain, he revised some of his poems." His fugitive poems had appeared in many periodicals and "many of them had been copied and republished in all parts of the country."
As his editor, Mr. Galt regretted the "small number of the poems from this gifted author." In fact the little book contains only 41 poems and many of them are sonnets, each of 14 lines.
As an example of Selden's genius we wish to present a few stanzas from the first and longest poem in the collection. It is called "The City of Pestilence" and it is a description of Norfolk during the terrible summer of 1855, when yellow fever laid one-third the population in their untimely graves (which were all too often trenches, as the dead are buried after a battle):
How came the pestilence so dread?
As steals the huntsman on the stag,
Or flies the dart by archer sped,
That smites the eagle from his crag.
It came as come the earthquake's throes,
Crushing gay dancers in bright halls,
Startling the dreamer from repose,
With toppling spires and crumbling walls.
It came as hostile armies come
At night upon a camping host,
With muffled tread and noiseless drum,
When sentries sleep upon their post.
It came as bursts the surging flood,
Unwarned by storm or clouds of dun;
The moon's white robes changed not to blood,
Nor darkness veiled the stars or sun.
No cannon flashed from anchored fleets,
No sword-blades glittered in the air,
No trumpets echoed through, the streets,
And yet those streets grew still and bare.
The author, knowing his native Norfolk well, refers to the town clock, for years the city's timepiece, in the steeple of Christ Church on Freemason at Cumberland. Only a Norfolk poet would write this stanza:
The town-clock, with its deep-toned bell,
Still counts the hours of day and night,
And with each hour slow strikes the knell
Of some loved spirit in its flight.
Still another local scene, the trenches dug in a corner of Cedar Grove to receive the dead:
All night the sexton plied his spade,
By flickering torch, or lantern-ray;
Each hour fresh pits and graves were made,
And still the dead unburied lay.
But Norfolk has survived other calamities. Even though left in 1776 without a single inhabitant the city arose. And so after the plague, we quote:
Her scattered hosts return once more;
Ships seek her harbor now in fleets;
The merchant opens his rusty door;
The crowds refill the grass-grown streets.
Can Time the vacant chair refill,
Restore the hand we grasped for years;
Re-warm the hearts now cold and still,
Re-open eyes we closed with tears?
Ah! no—but still with soothing art
He calms the aching, troubled brain,
Applies a balm to wounds that smart,
And brightens grief's wan cheek again.
[See complete poem]
We turn to "Memorial Ode." It fills seven pages and it is Selden's tribute to General Lee, written after the great chieftain's death. It is a fine poem, but too long to be incorporated here.
There is a sonnet to William B. Selden, lieutenant, CSA, who fell in battle; and another addressed to Alexander Galt's "Sappho," now in the Museum of Arts," and another to Henry Timrod, the famous Carolina poet.
We cannot resist the desire to quote "Thoughts," suggested by "My Child," which simple poem will appeal to the heart of ever parent:
"I pray that as the years depart,
The circling seasons roll,
No fraud, no wrong may blight they heart,
Nor passion stain thy soul.
But that thou mayst new charms unfold,
Like some rare flower we prize,
Whose opening buds of pink and gold
Each morn reveal fresh dyes;
Or, like a fresco cherub-face,
Or sculptors' dream in stone,
To which each touch adds some new grace
of outline or of tone."
* * * * * *
(The end of Norfolk in By-Gone Days.)
Dr. MacMillan Pastor of Four Churches in Ministry of 26 Years
By Sandusky Curtis
Pastor of four churches during a ministry of 26 years with only one beside his Norfolk charge since 1916 is the unusual service record of Rev. Jason Leon MacMillan, D. D., of the First Presbyterian church. Dr. MacMillan has been serving his present congregation, the house of worship of which is located at Colonial and Redgate avenues, for nine years.
"I was born in Cedarsville, Ohio, on April 5, 1882," Dr. MacMillan replied in answer to a question as to his birthplace. "My early schooling was in Cedarsville and I was ordained in the gospel ministry in 1908," he added.
Dr. MacMillan is not the only prominent member of his family engaged in church work. His brother Dr. Homer MacMillan, is one of the best known ministers of the Southern Presbyterian church and has served it with distinction through years. Another brother, Fred MacMillan, is an outstanding layman of the United Presbyterian church and was heard by large audiences during his recent appearance in Norfolk.
It developed during the interview that Dr. MacMillan's first church was one of the Reformed group and was located at Oyster Bay, New York. From this church he came to Virginia and served the Sinking Springs church at Abingdon, Va., the second pastorate being in the synod of Virginia and the Southern Presbyterian church. His third charge was the First church at Johnston City, Tennessee, and was called from its pulpit to the Norfolk church, becoming pastor here in 1925.
"One fact that has occurred to me many times in regard to my pastorates is that three of them were truly historic churches," Dr. MacMillan declared. "My first charge, Oyster Bay, was erected in 1732, the birth year of George Washington. The Sinking Springs church was built in pre-Revolutionary days, 1772. The church I serve now was founded in 1668 and is a religious thread in the drama which time was woven about the lives and deeds of those who have resided in Tidewater Virginia."
A resume of the work at Johnston City showed that it was not a church established within recent years as the Golden anniversary was observed during Dr. MacMillan's tenure of service. It revealed that when the new pastor came there from Abingdon in 1915 there were but three hundred and eighty-four members. When the connections were severed in 1924 to accept the Norfolk call there were more than nine hundred members and the gifts of the church were increased ten times over those given to the causes when he began his work.
Dr. MacMillan came to Norfolk as the successor of the Rev. Joseph Venable, who has since died. He came to an established church whose members had developed through the years an organization of influence throughout Norfolk Presbytery.
Despite the fact that the church, located formerly on Church street, was up to date in every respect, Dr. MacMillan's work, members attest, was such as to bring healthy growth. At the cost of $125,000 a church school plant was built during his pastorate and is being used today for the varied programs of the church. The new brick addition to the church faces Redgate avenue.
"An outstanding move in which I was privileged to have a part," Dr. MacMillan stated, "was the formation of the Synod of Appalachia several years ago. I was one of its earliest moderators and derived much joy from the associations that were formed while in the capacity and in the days of organization."
Since coming to Norfolk Dr. MacMillan has devoted the large portion of his time to his own church but has availed himself of the opportunity to join in many of the worthwhile movements for the betterment of the community. He was outspoken last Sunday morning in his support of the movement of the Roman Catholic church for better movies and asserted that he would seek to secure members for "The League of Decency," which the church sponsors.
Dr. MacMillan has served as moderator of Norfolk Presbytery and is at present a leading member of the Home Missions committee, which body has been responsible for the financing and founding of many churches within the bounds of Presbytery. He has given much time to matters of interest to the Tidewater Ministerial Union, of which he is past president, active member and a regular attendant. He has addressed the civic clubs of the city upon varied occasions and was a recent guest of the Norfolk Rotary Club. He has duties outside of the city in connection with his service as a member of the trustees of Hampden-Sydney College.
Thorough qualification for his life work was assured by study that resulted in an A. B. degree at Tarkio College, Mo., in 1905, studies at Hartford Theological Seminary in 1906 and a B. D. at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1908, the year in which he was ordained. His doctor of divinity was given by Cedarsville in 1922, King College, 1922 and Tusculum College in 1923, records of which appear in "Who's Who."
Discussion of Dr. MacMillan's work led to revelations in connection with the organization of the First church. He spoke freely and in complimentary strain of the lives and works of his elders and deacons. He related the progress of the Brotherhood Bible class of the church, which he attends frequently, the Auxiliary for the women, the young people's work, the church school and all connected agencies of the church.
Within recent months the church leaders agreed with Dr. MacMillan's plan of having vespers at 5 p. m. instead of a service at night. This has been successful and will be resumed next fall when the summer schedule is run out.
Dr. MacMillan is a gospel preacher and brings his messages from the Bible. He is an interesting talker, valuable committee member and, as shown by the fact that he has served but four churches in twenty-six years, excels in his "wearing qualities."
Funeral for Noted Presbyterian to be Here.
Dr. James Isaac Vance, 78, twice pastor, and since 1936 pastor-emeritus of the First Presbyterian Church, who was rated several years ago as among the twenty-five "most influential" ministers of the nation, died at Blowing Rock, N. C., early this morning following an extended illness.
The body will be brought to Nashville tomorrow afternoon by motor, and will be taken to the home of his daughter, Mrs. Allen Berry.
During the World War he saw service in France and Germany as a chaplain in the YMCA, and often referred to his association with "the boys over there" as being epochal in his life. He always gave patriotic observance of Armistice Day, with special emphasis to world affairs.
While the World War was in progress he was chairman for his denomination for relief work in Europe, and raised funds to build a memorial church in France. After the war he was named chairman of the Federal Council's Commission on Protestant Relief in Europe, and spent four months in Greece, Palestine, Smyrna and Russia seeking to programize the work for Near East relief. His recommendations were approved and the work proceeded along the lines laid down in his report. President Woodrow Wilson named him chairman for Tennessee for the famine sufferers of China, in which capacity his efforts were outstanding.
A leader in the Presbyterian Church for many years, and with a service record of unusual achievement, Dr. Vance was also active in various patriotic societies, having been a former chaplain of the Tennessee Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, and also having served as chaplain of the Andrew Jackson Chapter of the SAR in Nashville.
In 1917 he served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and later served as chairman of the church's foreign mission executive committee.
Following his return from the World War, Dr. Vance wrote "The Young Man Four Square." Other books include his "Love Trails of the Long Age," "Being a Preacher," "The Silver on the Iron Cross," "Life's Terminals," "God's Open," "This Dreamer," "Sermons in Argot," and "Worship God," the latter being published in 1932.
Dr. Vance was born in Arcadia, Sullivan County, Tenn., the son of Charles Robertson Vance and Margaret Jane Newland Vance, and was descended from prominent families in Tennessee and North Carolina. In his ancestral line were distinguished statesmen soldiers and orators. On his maternal side he was a direct descendant of John Sevier, first governor of Tennessee and famous Indian fighter.
He was educated at King College, where he received his A. B. degree, and was also a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, in Virginia. King College conferred upon him the degree of D. D. and LL. D., and Hampden-Sidney College likewise conferred the D. D. degree, while Austin College honored him with the LL. D. degree.
In December, 1886, he married Miss Mamie Stiles Currell, of Yorkville, S. C., and to this union six children were born, five of whom survive, Miss Margaret Vance, Mrs. Allen Berry, and Mrs. George Killebrew, Jr., all of Nashville, and Currell Vance, of Washington, and Charles Robertson Vance, of Greensboro, S. C. A son, James Isaac Vance, Jr., died in childhood.
Ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church, U. S., in 1886, Dr. Vance had served fifty years as a pastor before his designation in 1936 as pastor-emeritus for life of the First Presbyterian Church. Prior to his coming to Nashville, he had served churches in Wytheville, Alexandria and Norfolk, Va., from which latter connection he came here.
It has been said of Dr. Vance that the "world was his parish," and this seemed literally true when he began his sermon broadcasts, and also used the radio as a medium for the union services at a Nashville theater. Hundreds of appreciative letters poured in upon him as people in distant points heard his sermons on the air. Upon the advice of his physician, however, he was forced to abandon his active work.
Strong ties of affection existed between Dr. Vance and his brother, Dr. Joseph A. Vance, also a Presbyterian minister, who usually filled the First Church pulpit on occasions of his visits to Nashville. Dr. Joseph Vance was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Detroit, Mich., which, like the First Church at Nashville, had more than 100 years of congregational history.
A preacher of great power, a profound thinker, and a student of world affairs, Dr. Vance's opinion on outstanding questions commanded wide respect.
No man in Nashville enjoyed the affection of its citizenry more than he, and the news of his passing will be mourned by thousands, both within and without the church.
An indication of the high esteem in which Dr. James I. Vance was held by ministers, not only in his own church but in many other denominations, is shown in the expressions of a number of Nashville preachers upon hearing of Dr. Vance's death this morning.
The ministers were joined by laymen in their eulogies of a great man. A number of expressions on the passing of Dr. Vance follow:
Dr. Roger T. Nooe, pastor of Vine Street Christian Church:
"He was my dear friend. I honored him for his superb Christian manhood, for his fearless heart, for his love for people, and for his signal contribution as one of the world's greatest preachers to all Christendom."
Byrd Douglas, president of the Board of Deacons of the First Presbyterian Church:
"The death of Dr. Vance comes as a great shock to all of us at the Old First Church, despite his protracted illness. He was a tremendous factor in the Presbyterian Church at large and had been considered, for more than twenty-five years, one of the ablest ministers in that or any other denomination. He was a leader in every fight against evil forces in Nashville and seldom lost. His sermons were masterpieces. He was a loving and devoted pastor. It is impossible to estimate the amount of good this great man accomplished for our community and for Christian religion everywhere. His influence was national in scope. His loss grieves me personally beyond words."
J. P. W. Brown, elder of the First Presbyterian Church and originator of the personal workers group in the church some sixteen years ago:
"Dr. Vance had all the qualities of a truly great minister: a fine scholar, strongly equipped for the ministry; a leader of his people; and a friend to everybody. He was one of Nashville's outstanding citizens, and certainly one of the most noted of the many noted ministers who have filled the pulpits of Nashville's churches. His loss is a great one."
Charles C. Gilbert, president of the Men's Club in the church:
"I don't know of any man that contributed more to the better things of life. We in the Men's Club are terribly grieved. While he was not active in the past few years, we felt his influence and knew he was in sympathy with the work we were doing. My association with him through many years is a thing I treasure."
William Hume, an elder and leader in the First Presbyterian Church: "Our city, state, and the South has suffered an irreparable loss in the passing of Dr. Vance, because his high talents as a preacher and leader were devotedly and unsparingly given not only to the First Church in Nashville, but throughout the Southern Church, in the pulpit, as chairman of the most important committees of the General Assembly, as a supporter of the colleges of the church, through his many books, and in every major undertaking of the church.
"Of great intellect, untiring energy, unlimited courage of his convictions, yet of tolerant consideration, he was generally recognized as the leading minister of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and one of the leading ministers in our entire country. He lived a rich and full life in the service of his Master, and the influence of his life and work will continue to be a powerful influence for good for generations to come. I count my many years of intimate friendship and association with him as one of the greatest privileges I have ever experienced."
R. D. Stanford, Donelson, deacon in the First Presbyterian Church and president of the James I. Vance Bible Class in 1937 and 1938:
"In the passing of Dr. James I. Vance, not only Presbyterianism mourns the loss of one of its most brilliant personalities, but Nashville and the entire South loses an outstanding citizen, a noble friend, and a truly great man."
Dr. Walter L. Caldwell, pastor of Woodland Street Presbyterian Church:
"He was a great soul, a mighty preacher of the everlasting Gospel, a good citizen, a fearless foe of all unrighteousness, and my true friend."
Dr. James I. Vance.
Dr. James I. Vance, who has died at the age of 78, was just beginning a ministry in the Presbyterian Church that was to last half a century when he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk in 1891. He was only 29 years old and his earlier ministry had been confined to two years in Wytheville and four in Alexandria. And yet there are people in Norfolk today who remember him well, respected him always, and knew him even then as a minister of unusual scholarship and a man of fine abilities.
The subsequent years were to fulfill that rich promise. After his three years in Norfolk Dr. Vance spent six years in Nashville, 10 in Newark, N. J., and 26 in Nashville again, until his retirement because of ill health three years ago. His first-rate capacities raised him inevitably to positions of denominational leadership, and his influence spread far beyond the cities where he lived. At one time he was moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and at all times he was a minister of distinction, an author of energy and intelligence (he wrote more than a score of books), and a preacher of exceptional pulpit talents.
More than 30 years ago a newspaper man of keen observation (Erwin Avery, of Charlotte) wrote about him thus after hearing him preach:
"Dr Vance's personality is pleasant enough, but he is not particularly magnetic. He has an ordinary voice. He preaches less than half an hour. Yet when he concludes a sermon one understands, without wonderment, why he commands a big price. He is unusual because he is perfectly simple. He indulges in no flowers, no hazy metaphysical language. He has a thing to say and he says it in Anglo-Saxon. He indulges in no hackneyed rhetorical climaxes. He is as plain as an old shoe; and his eloquence is in his earnestness. Any child can understand him . . . His secret is nothing else but simplicity; and his experience ought to be an invaluable lesson to all those who speak for good effect or pay."
It was the simplicity of a man whose influence has been strong in Presbyterianism, especially in the Southern States but also throughout the country.
Father of American Presbyterianism Helped Found
Norfolk Church 266 Years Ago.
By Leonora Wood.
Two hundred and sixty years ago, in 1683, a tall, handsome young Scot landed at the wharf of Col. William Stevens, at Rehoboth, Md. This was the Rev. Francis Makemie, from "over the sea," who had been ordained as an evangelist to America by the Presbytery of Laggan, Ireland, in response to a letter which Colonel Stevens had addressed to the Scotch-Presbyterians there three years before. Later he was to become famous as the founder of the Presbyterian Church in America.
For months, since it had become known that Makemie was en route to America, stopping for a brief visit to the Barbadoes, his coming had been the chief topic of conversation in every plantation house along the shores of Maryland and Virginia. His fame had preceded him. He was deeply pious. He was highly intellectual. He was an earnest student of current affairs, both of Europe and America. He was an astute business man, able to make his own way in the new world. Moreover, he was just 25 years old, good-looking and unattached. And it might be added that "he is shrewd, and stubborn, well schooled in the art of fighting for what he believes to be right for himself and for the cause he espouses."
Makemie's parents had been among the Covenanters who fled from Scotland during the tyrannical reign of Charles II and settled in Northern Ireland, where they sought to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, regardless of the forms used by the Established Church. Having been brought up during this period of hardships and persecution, the young Scotch minister was undaunted by the prospects of the American Wilderness.
"A great new country, limitless in its opportunities; being rapidly settled by hungry-hearted people chiefly from Old England, Scotland and Holland." Colonel Stevens had said. And it did not take Makemie long to realize that "limitless" described not only the spiritual needs but the need for statesmanship in building up a strong community spirit and laying the foundations for trade and commerce and substantial industrial and agricultural pursuits.
Colonel Stevens was a member of Lord Baltimore's Privy Council and one of the Deputy Lieutenants of the Providence. There were few then in this area so widely known and generally trusted. Then too, he had lived in Northhampton County, Virginia, before settling in Maryland. He knew the Eastern Shore Peninsula, that the land here were much the same as the communities along the Pocomoke.
"In Maryland, in Lord Baltimore's Providence," he told Makemie, "we enjoy complete religious freedom. You may preach anywhere you wish, at any time, and will be given no trouble by the authorities. There is one thing, however, you are going to have to solve for yourself, and that is how you are going to earn a living. The General Assembly of Virginia provides for the ministers of the Established Church, through the Compensation Act, which requires every person 16 years of age and over to pay a yearly tithe of 10 pounds of tobacco and a bushel of corn. To make doubly sure that the minister is paid, one man in every settlement is appointed to collect this toll, and no planter is allowed to dispose of his tobacco and corn until the minister is paid. Even so, it has been difficult to get a minister to stay on the Eastern Shore. The tobacco crop is so uncertain, due to the fact that it so often molds in the barns while it is being cured. Consequently the ministers can never be sure of having enough to live on. And you, a dissenter, will have no state backing, and will have to depend entirely upon the free-will gifts of the people—which I am afraid will be very small."
Makemie's reply was characteristic of the indomitable Scott: "My first duty is to preach the gospel and to plant churches where there are none, but I have no fear as to how I shall live. If you, Colonel Stevens, and your good neighbors can patent lands and earn a good living farming and trading, what is to hinder me from doing the same thing? The truth is, I would much prefer to start at the bottom as any other immigrant, and come as I can." So it was decided that Colonel Stevens would help him to locate lands in neighborhoods best suited for establishing churches, and that it would be to his advantage to secure patents for several such tracts.
As they talked things over, it seemed best for Makemie to begin his ministry here at Rehoboth, then called Pocomoke Town, on Colonel Stevens' plantation. The great plantation house, with its broad central hall and large living room, would accommodate all who would come to the services—or so they thought until after the first Sabbath Day's services. The very wilderness seemed to swarm that day!
The rivers were white with the sails of boats, coming from all directions. Men, women and children came on horseback and in oxcarts, other trekked long distances on foot. Indians from nearby villages were among the crowd. And as the tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed minister began to speak, the crowd pressed forward—closer and closer—charmed by the messenger and eager to catch his every word.
This propitious beginning launched one of the most brilliant and dramatic careers in all church history. Within the year, 1683, churches were organized at Rehoboth and Snow Hill. Makemie was also influential in having a port of entry established at Pocomoke, "where emigrants might find a residence convenient to commerce, and could worship God according to the conviction of judgment and not sin against the State." Preaching points had also been established at Pitts Creek, Buckingham, Monokin, Wicomico, and Rockawalking, in Maryland, and at Accomac and Onancock, in Virginia.
Unfortunately, Makemie left no written record of these years. Through family journals, court records and legends, we catch fleeting glimpses of "the man of God," as the Indians called him, riding or leading his faithful pony "Button" along the sea-side and bay-side trails, going from one settlement to another. His sloop, "Tabitha," becomes a familiar sight along the rivers and inlets throughout the entire Eastern Shore section. Along with his almost incredible missionary labors, he became one of the foremost business men in this area, and acquired thousands of acres of land, some by patent, other by outright purchase.
His land holdings included a plantation called "Dumfreece," on Pocomoke River, and large tracts on Smith, Watts, and Sykes Islands. With foresight that is remarkable, even to this day, he bought lands in strategic locations and erected houses which served the double purpose of meeting place and residence. These meeting-house-dwellings lands were located in Pocomoke, in Princess Anne County, on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, another on Wormleys Creek, called "Urbania," and at least two others in Virginia, one at Onancock, which Makemie says was "commonly called Scarburgh Towne," and another at Accomack.
In 1684, Makemie crossed the Chesapeake Bay, and spent some time on the immense plantation of Col. Anthony Lawson, on the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, about six miles east of the future Norfolk. Colonel Lawson, with a neighbor, John Robinson, had been appointed by the House of Burgesses on June 6, 1680, to buy the land and lay off the new town of Norfolk. It was Lawson's desire to have his church, the Presbyterian, grow with the town. The infant congregation, thus born, is now, after 266 years, the strong First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk.
Up to this time Makemie had met with little opposition from the ministers of the Established Church, or the authorities at Williamsburg. He was steadily growing in popularity with the Episcopalians as well as the Dissenters, and in 1699 the Rev. Thomas Teackle, rector of old Saint George's Church, at Tungoteague, became alarmed at the number of his flock that had gone over to the Presbyterians. He talked the matter over with his vestrymen, and they decided to have Makemie arrested for preaching without license, and carried before the Council at Williamsburg.
Makemie took advantage of this meeting with the Governor and Burgesses to declare that he was a loyal citizen of "Her Excellency's Ancient and Noble Colony of Virginia" Laboring continuously to propagate the true knowledge of the Christian Religion, and to encourage the strictest justice to all Judicature."
So satisfactorily did he plead his case that the Governor licensed his dwelling in Onancock as a place of worship, gave him general permission to preach anywhere in the colony; and as a direct result of his influence, the General Assembly on April 16, 1600, affirmed that the Act of Toleration for Dissenters, passed and signed by William and Mary, was the law of Virginia.
The County Court of Accomack took special cognizance of this ruling, and acting, no doubt, as a safeguard against further trouble, on October 15, 1699, granted Makemie the privilege of using his own dwelling house at Pocomoke, also his own house at Onancock, "as places recorded for meeting." The record of this court calls attention to the oath of allegiance enjoined by Parliament, which the minister had subscribed to prior to his preaching in the Barbadoes, and of the certificate of qualification which had been granted him by Her Majesty's Government, and ordered that the Clerk of Accomack County Court "give certificate thereof to the said Makemie, according as the law enjoynes." This is the first certificate of qualification, under the Toleration Act, to be recorded in America, and is therefore of special significance to Presbyterians.
As Makemie's congregations grew and the need for other ministers became apparent, his thought naturally turned to the brethren in the Mother Country. On May 30, 1704, he sailed for London, "to make arrangements for the supply of congregations with Evangelical clergymen." He succeeded in securing a number of ministers, at least two of whom settled in the South; for in the Fall following his return, Makemie came before the County Court of Somerset with two ministerial brethren, John Hamilton and George McNish, asking that certificates be given these men, "according to law, for the unmolested exercises of their ministry." Not so long after Makemie's return from Europe, in 1705 or 1706, the first American Presbytery was organized in Philadelphia. The exact date of the organization is uncertain, as the first page of the Presbytery's minutes were lost. There were seven ministers, literally "apostles of the American wilderness," present. Makemie called it "a meeting of ministers for ministerial exercise to consult the most proper measures for advancing religion and propagating Christianity." This was a triumphant day for Makemie. He was elected moderator of the assembly, and the "Presbytery of Philadelphia" was, in reality, the beginning of organized Presbyterianism in America.
Coincident with the organization of this first Presbytery, a great tide of Scotch-Irish immigration poured into America. Makemie toured the country, preaching and organizing churches in new-formed settlements all along the Atlantic Seaboard.
In January, 1707, he and the Rev. John Wilson made a tour of New England, stopping for a few days in New York. Lord Cornbury, the Deputy Governor, hearing of the famous strangers, ministers from Virginia and Maryland, entertained them at the castle. There was no Presbyterian congregation in the city, and no preparation had been made for either of them to preach. But, without Mr. Makemie's knowledge, some of the guests present at the dinner had asked permission of the Governor for him to preach in the Dutch Church and had been refused. Whereupon, William Jackson, of Pearl Street, invited him to preach at his dwelling house. "Here," says Makemie, "I preached in an open manner; and baptized a child."
Three days later he was arrested and summoned before Lord Cornbury. In the Council Chamber he was greeted with the question, "how dare you to take upon you to preach in my government without license?" In vain did Makemie strive to convince Cornbury that "his liberty from the Act of Parliament, the Toleration Act, made in the first year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary, gave him the liberty to preach in any of Her Majesty's dominions. I presume New York is a part of her Majesty's Dominions also."
There followed a long and bitter argument in which the Scotch Presbyterian minister demonstrated a keen mind, a ready wit, and a fearlessness, which greatly irritated the Governor, and ended in his writing out the necessary papers for his commitment in New York, where he was kept in prison for three months.
When at last his case was brought before the grand jury he was indicted for "having preached in an assembly of more than five persons, without having obtained permission and without qualification, and also for having used other rites and ceremonies than those in the Common Prayer Book."
On June 7, after a long and sensational trial, the Chief Justice of the Court "ordered that the defendant be discharged, paying fees." These fees amounted to more than $400.
In a letter which Governor Cornbury later wrote to the Lords of Trade he said: "Makemie is a preacher, a doctor of physic, a merchant, an attorney, a councilor of law, and what is worst of all, a disturber of governments."
And the Governor is paying his unwitting compliments could have added, "a diplomat and a statesman;" for amazing as it may seem, the indefatigable minister, at the very height of his missionary activities, undertook to advance the settlement and to promote the development of industry in Virginia by waging a campaign for the establishing of towns in various sections of the colony.
In a booklet published in London in 1705, titled "A Plain & Friendly Perswasive to the Inhabitants of Virginian and Maryland for Promoting Towns & Cohabitation," he set forth his arguments, citing the isolation and the disadvantages which would continue until certain political practices were discontinued and until prejudices against towns, both in England and America, were overcome.
This "Perswasive" dedicated to "His Excellency Maj. Edward Nott, Her Majesty's Governor of the Ancient Dominion of Virginia," and prefaced with a stirring letter to the Governor, is a masterpiece of diplomacy. It gives an insight into the ecclesiastical, political, educational, and economic conditions of that period which historians can find in no other source. "There is but one volume of this work extant, in the Library of Harvard University. A reprint is to be found in Volume IV of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography).
There was another all-important something that held a vital place in Makemie's life. And while we have no historic mention of the part that this particular force played in the planting of Presbyterianism, we cannot but believe that "the woman in the case" was responsible for much of the lasting influence of the American Father of Presbyterianism.
Historians merely tell us that "at Onancock, Virginia, Makemie met Miss Naomi Anderson, the daughter of William Anderson, a wealthy merchant." There is significant comment on the fact that he acquired much wealth through this marriage.
Whether it be that our church fathers have been reluctant to color history with romance, or that they have found court records, even the man's "Last Will and Testament,"—poor conductors of romance, there remains securely tucked in between the aging pages of Accomack County's Court Records of "Wills 1692-1615", one of the most beautiful love stories ever written.
Reading Makemie's lengthy will, we can be glad he was a sentimentalist as well as a saint.
True, one has a kind of guilty feeling—as if they were peeping into a love letter. But the kind of love recorded there could not be touched by curiosity or weakened by the "frailty of human life."
His will was registered on April 7, 1708, and probated on August 4 of that same year. Makemie was only 50 years old, Naomi much younger. Their two daughters, Elizabeth and Ann, were evidently very young. He had literally worn himself out, and knew that the end of his day was not far distant.
Judging by the standards of his day, Makemie was a wealthy man. He bequeathed to his "deare and well beloved wife, Naomi Makemie," and to their two children, books, lands, ships, money, cattle, sheep, servants—everything needed for their security and comfort. Then he seems to have gathered all his waning strength as he thought through the years ahead—and counseled against possible eventualities—committing them into the loving care of "true and trusted friends."
On Holden's Creek, Accomack County, Virginia, there stands a monument, erected by the American Presbyterian Historical Society, of Philadelphia, to Francis Makemie. This monument, unveiled on May 14, 1908, upon the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Makemie, bears the following inscription:
ERECTED IN GRATITUDE TO GOD.
And in grateful remembrance
of His servant and minister
who was born in Ramelton County, Donegal, Ireland, A. D. 1658 (?), was educated at Glasgow University, Scotland, and came as an ordained Evangelist to the American Colonies A. D. 1683 at the request of Col. William Stevens, of Rehoboth, Maryland. A devoted and able preacher of our Lord's Gospel, he labored faithfully and freely for twenty-five years in Maryland, Virginia, the Barbadoes and elsewhere. A Christian gentleman, an enterprising man of affairs, a public-spirited citizen, a distinguished advocate of Religious Liberty, for which he suffered under the Governor of New York, he is especially remembered as
THE CHIEF FOUNDER OF ORGANIZED PRESBYTERY IN AMERICA, A. D. 1706, AND AS THE FIRST MODERATOR OF THE GENERAL PRESBYTERY.
He died at his home, whose site is nearby, in Accomack County, Virginia, in the Summer of A. D. 1708, and was buried in his family cemetery, located on this spot, now recovered from a long desecration and dedicated with this monument to his memory A. D. 1908 by the American Presbyterian Historical Society, seated at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Rev. Edward H. Jones
First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, WRVA-WRVB-WRVC Sunday morning guest place of worship during September, is the "Mother Church of Presbyterianism in Virginia" and one of the oldest in America. Founded prior to 1678 during the century of the establishing at Jamestown of the First Permanent English Settlement in the New World, this congregation traces its history to the arrival of a group of pious Scotch Presbyterians several years earlier. With records of the 18th century missing due to only the Church of England minutes of religious meetings being permitted and the burning of Norfolk in 1776 by Lord Dunmore, we note reference to construction in 1802 of "The Bell Church," still standing as Bank Street Baptist Church, Colored, at Bank and Charlotte Streets. A century later during the pastorate of Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchinson, the present beautiful structure of Gothic architecture was built at Colonial and Redgate Avenues as old First and Ghent Presbyterian Churches merged. The well-appointed educational building was erected later. During almost three centuries of rich history this congregation has established twelve mission churches which have developed into leading congregations of this area. Symbolic of the fraternal spirit of the membership is the joint meeting next month in this church the Presbyteries of Norfolk and New Castle to which Moderators of both Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches have been invited.
The Rev. Edward H. Jones, pastor of this congregation since succeeding the beloved Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan, now pastor emeritus after a quarter of a century of noble service in this pulpit, is a native of Iowa, and was educated at Occidental College and Princeton Theological Seminary. His three pastorates in Pennsylvania include Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, where Abraham Lincoln paused to worship on the day of the dedication of the National Cemetery in 1863. He served as Chaplain in the Army Air Corps during the last war and before coming to Norfolk in 1950 was Moderator of the Synod of Pennsylvania, the largest of its denomination. His leadership in church and religious affairs has continued in this seaport city where his friendly personality and pastoral abilities are designed to make this a most effective chapter of an increasingly fruitful ministry.
Dr. Jones is vice-moderator of the Presbytery of Norfolk.
The music, for which First Presbyterian Church is recognized, will be directed by Horace Jones, choir leader and organist.
Forty Years Ago—1912. Hoping to perpetuate the historic building of the First Presbyterian Church on Church Street, which had been abandoned when the congregation merged with that of the Ghent Presbyterian Church and moved to the corner of Colonial and Redgate avenues, the structure had been offered to the congregation of Knox Presbyterian Church to be rebuilt on its site in Park Place. The cost of the work was estimated at $30,000 and the Knox congregation had to regretfully decline the offer. It accepted, however, with thanks the furniture and organ of the old church and they were to be installed in the new edifice to be built in Park Place facing Lafayette Park.
Forty Years Ago—1912. Rev. Dr. Thornton Whaling, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, had resigned to become president of the Columbia Theological Seminary, at Columbia, South Carolina. It was said that his retirement was likely to result in a union of the congregations of the First and Second Presbyterian churches with Rev. Dr. Joseph Rennie, pastor of the First Church, in charge. The First Church was located on Church Street, and its section had become mostly a business district. It was said that the old church would probably be abandoned and that the merged congregations would worship in the handsome Second Church on Yarmouth Street near the water. The plan was said to meet with favor with a majority of both congregations. There were some though, who favored a union of the First Church congregation with that of the Ghent Presbyterian Church, Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison pastor, at Colonial and Redgate Avenues, Ghent.
February 12, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. Presbyterians of Norfolk and Portsmouth were to hold a laymen's banquet here, with covers laid for 150. The Rev. Dr. James I. Vance, of Nashville, a former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, was to be guest of honor. The speakers were to include Dr. Vance, Harry St. George Tucker, J. T. Moreland, T. Marshall Bellamy, Harry K. Wolcott and E. R. Barksdale of Portsmouth.
February 20, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. At the dedication services in connection with the opening for worship of the new Ghent Presbyterian Church edifice at Colonial and Redgate Avenues, the sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. James I. Vance, of Nashville, a former pastor and the program previously made public was carried out. The Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison was the new pastor of the church, which was the outcome of a movement started in 1901 by the Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Presbyterian Church, then under the leadership of Joseph Brown. The formal organization of the church took place June 6, 1901, at the residence of Mrs. George D. Armstrong, widow of the Rev. Dr. Armstrong, for 40 years pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, then on Church Street.
February 21, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. A large gathering of Presbyterian ministers and laymen enjoyed a banquet at the Naval YMCA. The affair was arranged by a committee composed of Rev. Stuart Nye Hutchison, Rev. W. H. T. Squires, Rev. R. C. Gilmore of Portsmouth, Rev. R. A. Robinson and Rev. J. A. Christian. F. S. Royster of the Ghent Presbyterian Church was toastmaster and talks were made by Rev. James I. Vance, Harry St. George Tucker, Harry K. Wolcott, T. Marshall Bellamy, J. T. Moreland and E. R. Bardsdale, of Portsmouth. There were 150 around the table.
February 30, 1952
At the dedication services in connection with the opening for worship of the new Ghent Presbyterian Church edifice at Colonial and Redgate Avenues, the sermon was prepared by the Rev. Dr. James I. Vance, of Nashville, a former pastor, and the program previously made public was carried out. The Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison was the new pastor of the church, which was the outcome of a movement started in 1901 by the Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Presbyterian Church, then under the leadership of Joseph Brown. The formal organization of the church took place June 6, 1901, at the residence of Mrs. George D. Armstrong, widow of the Rev. Dr. Armstrong for 40 years pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, then on Church Street.
March 3, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. James G. Gill, president of the James G. Gill Company, dealers in coffee and tea, died at his residence, 411 Fairfax Avenue, in his 61st year. Mr. Gill's death was sudden and due to complications following an attack of grip. Born at Old Point Comfort, he had spent his life in this community, having lived in both Norfolk and Portsmouth, in which cities he was held in the highest esteem. Mr. Gill, who was an elder of the Ghent Presbyterian Church, was a member of Seaboard Lodge of Masons of Portsmouth and of Grice Commandery, Knights Templar and Khedive Temple of Shriners. His funeral was conducted from the Ghent Presbyterian Church by the pastor, Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison, assisted by Rev. Dr. J. R. Howerton of Lexington, a former pastor of Mr. Gill. The pallbearers were F. S. Royster, T. E. Nottingham, James Tait, Otto D. Heissenbuttel, Dr. W. W. Freeman, George B. Crow, Frank W. Blake and C. Fred Bonney. Interment was in Elmwood Cemetery.
March 18, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. Congregations of the First Presbyterian church located on Church Street and the Ghent Presbyterian church at the corner of Colonial and Redgate avenues held meetings and decided to consolidate, the new church to be known as the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, its pastor being the Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison, who had, a short time before, assumed charge of the Ghent church. The church on Church street, one of the oldest in Virginia, had been without a pastor since the Rev. Dr. Joseph Rennie had accepted, in January, 1912, a call to the Presbyterian Church of Greenwood, Mississippi. It was said the merger would give Norfolk one of the strongest Presbyterian churches in Virginia.
March 28, 1952
Forty Years Ago—1912. The Woman's Missionary Union of the Norfolk Presbytery, meeting in the Second Presbyterian Church, voted to send a petition to the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church requesting the appointment of a Secretary of Woman's Work of the Church The union re-elected as its officers the following: President, Mrs. R. E. de Jarnette, of Norfolk, first vice president, Mrs. E. S. Philhower, of Norfolk; second vice president, Mrs. J. N. Winslow, of Portsmouth; third vice president, Mrs. E. T. Wellford, of Newport News; fourth vice president, Mrs. Charles Friend, of Belhaven; fifth vice president, Mrs. W. M Hunter, of Williamsburg; recording secretary, Mrs. Henry D. Perkins, of Norfolk; literature secretary, Miss Charlotte Price, of Norfolk; young people's work secretary, Miss Fannie Curdts, of Norfolk; treasurer, Mrs. R. L. Nutt, of Norfolk.
March 31, 1952
Twenty-five Year Ago—1927. The Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Presbyterian Church elected officers and they were installed by the pastor, the Rev. Dr. J. L. MacMillan. Dr. E. W. Magruder was chosen president. John J. Parkins, Tom Moore and Earl Joynes, vice presidents; J. Vance Kraemer, sectary; E. Monfalone treasurer; Norman Huffaker, music director; and Harry H. Smith, pianist. R. W. Peatross and J. T. Moreland were re-elected teachers.
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Excerpted from "The Bells of Norfolk"
The first church in Norfolk to have a bell was the so-called "Bell Church," the first Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, erected in 1802. It is not known what happened to the bell that gave this church its name.
Norfolk's second Presbyterian Church was situated just across from Old St. Paul's on Church street. Originally this church did not have a belfry. Around 1860, however, it was restyled during the pastorate of Dr. George W. Armstrong, Norfolk's yellow fever hero.
Dr. Armstrong's daughter, Mrs. Robert Elliott DeJarnette, now 97, was the first child baptized in the new renovated church. According to Mrs. DeJarnette, a bell was purchased for the church but was never hung.
At the outbreak of the War Between the States it was given to the Confederate government. The Yankees beat them to the draw, however, for according to a letter received in Norfolk many years later a native of Boston remembered seeing the bell hauled through that city placarded, "This bell was captured from the Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Va." The letter added that the bell wound up in the tower of a ferry house.
DR. EDWARD H. JONES LEAVES FOR CALIFORNIA PASTORATE
Dr. Edward H. Jones conducted his final church service at the First Presbyterian Church December 30, bringing to a close 12 years of dedicated service. He departed the following day overland for California where he will become pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church at Tarzana, in San Fernando Valley, a suburb of Los Angeles.
Dr. and Mrs. Jones carried with them the affection and good wishes of this congregation and also of a host of Norfolk citizens with whom he has served in many civic and religious organizations.
Dr. Jones served as moderator of both the Norfolk Presbytery and the Synod of Virginia; he was chairman of the board of trustees of Union Theological Seminary of Richmond; for several years was chairman of the Norfolk Presbytery Committee on the Minister and his work; and was teacher of the business Men's Bible Class in Norfolk, an inter-denominational organization of Norfolk.
St. James Church was organized in 1952 with 86 charter members and has grown to 1,350 members. It dedicated a fellowship hall and educational building in 1954; and a new $400,000 sanctuary in 1960, seating 850. This year it acquired a beautiful home and swimming pool adjacent to the church as a Youth Center.
The Women of the Church honored Dr. and Mrs. Jones with a reception December 9th and presented them with a silver punch bowl set, four place settings of their silver, and a purse of $525. Mrs. Jones was awarded an honorary life membership, pin, and certificate at the Christmas meeting of the Women of the Church.
Banking Career Short-Lived, He Joined Father's Calling
By Stan Darden
NORFOLK—Dr. Andrew R. Bird, Jr., started out in life with the idea of becoming a banker but changed his mind and became a minister.
Dr. Bird is pastor of First Presbyterian Church. He came to Norfolk from Huntington, W. Va., where he was pastor of First Presbyterian there for 20 years.
He was born in Laurel, Md., on July 14, 1909. His father was pastor of the Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D. C.
After finishing high school, he entered Davidson College to study for a career in banking.
"Both my father and grandfather were ministers," says Dr. Bird. "And I didn't want to enter the ministry as an automatic thing. I thought banking would be my life."
But his life took a different turn.
He graduated from Davidson in 1931 and started to work at the Wachovia Bank & Trust Co. in Winston-Salem, N. C.
He began to think about becoming a minister and after a period of thought left the bank to enter Union Theological Seminary.
"I fought it off as long as I could," he says now. "But looking back on it I don't regret it for a minute. In fact, if I had it to do over, I'd enter the ministry sooner."
He left Union in 1938 with his B. D. degree and went abroad to do postgraduate work at New College in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"I chose New College because it is sort of the Mecca of Presbyterianism," says Dr. Bird.
He did work abroad as an evangelist and went to Geneva, Switzerland, and to Palestine and the Holy Land.
On his return, he assumed his first full pastorate at Wytheville, Va.
One day a girl came to Wytheville to visit friends. Her name was Ellen Augusta Leech.
She and the young minister were introduced, and they discovered they had gone to the same high school.
Dr. Bird says the meeting made quite an impression on him.
That night at a church meeting Miss Leech sang some hymns.
"She sang the hymn 'Hold Out Thy Hand,'" says Dr. Bird. "And when she started to sing 'I Shall Not Pass This Way Again,' I knew there was no time to waste."
They were married and now have one daughter and three sons.
After serving as pastor in Wytheville for four years, he was called by First Presbyterian in Huntington, W. Va.
"It was quite a change to go to a large town like Huntington," he says.
While serving there he got his D. D. degree at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, W. Va.
"I've always enjoyed working with college students," says Dr. Bird, who has been a member of the boards of trustees at both Davis and Elkins and Union Theological Seminary. In Huntington he worked with the students at Marshall University.
Dr. Bird feels that his short stint as a banker helped him to understand the businessman's point of view better.
Missionary work at home and abroad has always occupied as foremost place in his thoughts. This may be seen by the fact that while in Wytheville eight new church in the area were set up.
Old Church Spans Religious Liberty
By George H. Tucker
NORFOLK—Bank Street Baptist Church, to be demolished by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority to provide additional land for the proposed downtown coliseum site, has housed two of Norfolk's oldest Protestant denominations during it 164-year history.
Built in 1802 to house Norfolk's first Presbyterian congregation, the church looked much different then.
Bank Street Baptist Church before the 1886 remodeling
Built of brick, the original church was topped by a small octagonal belfry over the Bank Street gable. In it hung Norfolk's first church bell, which gave the edifice its nickname, "The Bell Church."
The building's present Gothic appearance, including a series of stained glass windows, dated from 1886. Alterations were made by the Negro congregation 26 years after it was purchased from the Presbyterians, who had built another church in 1836 on Church Street.
Although the Church of England was the only recognized religion in the Virginia colony, there were Presbyterians in Norfolk County as early as 1684.
In that year the Rev. Francis Makemie, known as the Father of Presbyterianism in America, visited the Elizabeth River area and wrote: "I found there a poor, desolate people mourning the loss of their dissenting minister from Ireland, whom the Lord had been pleased to remove by death the previous summer."
It was not until after the Statute for Religious Liberty had been promulgated in Virginia however, that the Presbyterians had an organized congregation in Norfolk.
Early in 1800 a subscription was opened at $100 a share to provide funds to build a church. Of the 87 subscribers, the majority were people of Scottish origin, but the enterprise was so popular that Moses Myers, one of Norfolk's merchant princes and a Sephardic Jew was one of its subscribers.
In May 1801 the Presbyterian General Assembly in Philadelphia sent the Rev. Benjamin P. Grigsby "to itinerate through the lower part of Virginia" to administer to Presbyterians.
Grigsby was so popular in Norfolk he was invited to be the first minister of the new church, which was completed at a cost of $12,000 a few months after he became the minister.
A contemporary described Grigsby as follows: "Mr. Grigsby's fine social qualities, his literary taste and scholarly attainments, his elegant manners, and his pulpit abilities, combined to make him greatly beloved, popular and useful. He was a man of handsome appearance, imposing address and engaging manners."
Grigsby married Elizabeth McPherson, a wealthy Norfolk girl, in 1806, and was the father of Hugh Blair Grigsby, the Virginia historian.
Four years later he was summoned one Sunday afternoon to conduct the funeral of a sailor who had died of yellow fever, and one week later he died of the same disease. He is buried in Trinity Episcopal churchyard in Portsmouth.
Until 1814, when the Norfolk Presbyterians were recognized by the East Hanover Presbytery, the congregation was an independent one. In 1836, a schism arose between two factions in the congregation, the New School Presbyterians, who favored more lenient doctrine, and the Old School Presbyterians, who clung to the old ways.
As a result, the Old School Presbyterians withdrew from the "Bell Church" and built a new church on Church Street. Four years later, most of the New School Presbyterians had gone over to the Episcopal Church.
The church at the corner of Bank and Charlotte streets was then sold to a Negro Baptist congregation that dates from around the same time the Presbyterians were building their first church in Norfolk.
Norfolk's first Baptist church, which was interracial, being made up of whites, free Negroes and slaves, was established in July 1800 as a branch of Court Street Baptist Church, the mother church of the Baptists in the Norfolk-Portsmouth area.
For several years the congregation used the old Borough Church, now Old St. Paul's, on an interracial basis. But later the white members of the congregation withdrew and founded their own church.
Tradition says a white army officer objected to his wife worshipping with Negroes, and defrayed the greater part of the cost of Norfolk's first white Baptist church on Cumberland Street out of his own pocket.
Norfolk's Negro Baptists continued to meet in the Old Borough Church and in another building on Bute Street until 1839 when a group withdrew and took the name of First Baptist Church.
This group bought the old "Bell Church" from the Presbyterians in 1840 and remodeled it to its present appearance in 1886. The congregation, later known as Bank Street Baptist Church, has occupied the old building since that time.
Excerpts from THE HISTORY OF BANK STREET MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH
1840 - 1982
From the files of Sargeant Memorial Room, Kirn Library.
In 1802 the First Presbyterian Church erected a building on the corner of Catherine and Charlotte Streets. According to the deed it was purchased in 1840 by a "Congregation of free men of color known as First Colored Baptist Church in Norfolk."
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Steeple Still Towers Amid Rubble—Norfolk's Bank Street
Baptist Church is mostly rubble now, as demolition workers clear the site for the
city's new cultural and convention center. But the familiar steeple of the old
church—it was built in 1802—remains a temporary holdout against progress.
In background is Freemason Street Baptist Church.
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