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Methodism in Charleston, Part II

Written By: Phillip Stone - Nov•09•18

Charlestonians may be able to claim visits from John Wesley, but they were not always as kind to Wesley’s successors. While Methodism took root in Charleston in the 1780s and grew in the 1790s, it was not without opposition and even persecution.

With the establishment of the Cumberland Street Church in 1786 and the completion of its structure in the middle of the next year, the first meeting of the South Carolina Annual Conference was held in Charleston in 1787. The next year, when Conference again met at the church, a mob attacked outside during the Sunday morning service. The women of the church were so frightened that many of them escaped out the church’s windows. Later that night, protesters threw bricks and rocks at the church while Bishop Francis Asbury was preaching. The next year, the newspaper denounced Bishop Thomas Coke when he visited the Holy City. Why all this opposition to early Methodists? Perhaps it was their anti-slavery position, or that they had more African-American members than white members in some early years. Perhaps it was their evangelical zeal that put off the Charlestonians, who were generally low key in their religious practice. In any event, as long as Methodists held on to their opposition to slavery, they found condemnation among white Charleston society.

Those early Methodists faced other internal challenges. When Bishop Coke arrived for the 1791 Conference, he brought with him the Rev. William Hammett, who had been working among Methodists in the British West Indies. His enthusiastic preaching wowed the Methodists of Charleston, who demanded that Bishop Asbury appoint Hammett to Charleston. Asbury, having already made the appointments, was unwilling to budge. Hammett, who was probably not the first clergyman to be disappointed with his appointment, and certainly not the last, protested. He went further than most clergy, taking his protests to the newspapers. And then, he led about half of the aggrieved members of the Cumberland Street church out to form a new congregation, calling themselves “Primitive Methodists.” They acquired property on Hasell Street, took the name Trinity, and there Hammett preached until his death in 1813. They eventually spun off a second Primitive Methodist congregation, which became St. James.

The Cumberland Church, though wounded by the loss of so many members, continued, and in 1793 they looked to start a second Charleston congregation. They acquired land for a cemetery on which they also planned to build a church, and as soon as they raised 300 pounds, they began construction on what became Bethel. They put the building into use around 1798.

The “regular” Methodists continued to face criticism and attacks from Charleston society, and the protests increased in force and volume during the early 19th century. Finally, the church abandoned its long-held anti-slavery positions, choosing the path of growth in the South over Wesley’s teachings. The attacks gradually stopped.

The African-American Methodists grew increasingly frustrated with the white leadership of the local congregations. While the enslaved Methodists had class leaders and some control over finances in the class groups, a movement was underway to take that away. When that financial control was taken away by the white leadership, many of the African-American members withdrew to form a new congregation and denomination. That loss of membership marked a momentous change in the antebellum Methodist church in Charleston.

Eventually, after Hammett’s death, the primitive Methodists returned to the Methodist Episcopal Church, becoming regular conference appointments. Charleston Methodism continued to grow into a more influential body within the state and the conference.

This was my column in the November 2018 issue of the SC United Methodist Advocate

Methodism in Charleston, Part 1

Written By: Phillip Stone - Nov•02•18

Many South Carolinians call it the “Holy City,” but it’s safe to say that Charleston has had a long and complicated relationship with Methodism. Sometimes supporting the church’s growth and sometimes finding its doctrines in opposition to the prevailing culture, Charleston has been a part of South Carolina Methodism’s story since before there was a Methodist church.

Charleston can claim a connection to early Methodism that very few places in North America can match. John Wesley visited the Holy City on a few occasions while he was serving in Georgia. According to Francis Asbury Mood’s Methodism in Charleston, John and Charles Wesley arrived in Charleston on July 31, 1736, barely six months after his arrival in Georgia. He was there to visit the Rev. Alexander Garden, who was the rector of St. Philip’s Church and also the representative of the Anglican Bishop of London. Garden invited Wesley to preach in St. Philip’s, which Wesley did on Sunday, August 1 to about 300 parishioners. At this service, Wesley encountered several enslaved persons among the worshippers, which seemed to have a profound effect on him. The next day, Mood notes that Wesley paid a call on the governor, who in 1736 would have been Thomas Broughton. He then returned to Savannah, starting out on foot because he could find no other passage available. Charles Wesley was soon to leave Savannah, having found serving as Governor Oglethorpe’s secretary not in keeping with his skills.

Wesley made two more trips to Charleston, once to visit with Garden (for whom the gardenia was named) to ask the rector of St. Philip’s to help put an end to someone in Georgia from marrying his parishioners without going through proper procedures. Mood does not mention the other reason that Wesley visited – to have his “Collection of Psalms and Hymns” printed at the Lewis Timothy print shop on King Street. Wesley’s final visit to Charleston was after he abruptly left Georgia in late 1737 on his way back to England.

Mood notes that George Whitfield, who was an early collaborator in ministry with Wesley, also visited several times in Charleston, but after an early visit, his street preaching offended Garden, who had him suspended from the ministry. Whitfield took to other pulpits to spread his message. One of Wesley’s ministers visited Charleston in the 1770s, but did not leave much of a record of his presence.

After the 1784 Christmas Conference, Bishop Francis Asbury journeyed to Charleston, with Rev. Jesse Lee and Rev. Henry Willis helping him set up preaching places. Willis found a deserted Baptist meeting house on the west side of Church Street between Water and Tradd streets and restored it for services. Asbury himself visited both St. Philip’s and the Circular Congregational Church as he familiarized himself with religion in Charleston. After Asbury left in March, Willis stayed behind, and at the next conference in the spring, Charleston Circuit was established. The Methodists continued to worship in the borrowed meeting house for a few months, but one Sunday, they found their benches in the street and the doors locked. The congregation was a bit itinerant until they secured a lot in early 1786, and a structure built by mid-1787. The lot, on Cumberland Street between Meeting and Church, was the first permanent Methodist church in Charleston.

The congregation and its leaders would face a number of challenges, but we’ll save those for later.

This was my column in the October 2018 issue of the SC United Methodist Advocate

A. H. Lester, the forgotten early professor

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct•26•18

In the list of names that we associate with the early faculty of the college, we usually include the likes of William Wightman, Albert Shipp, James Carlisle, Warren DuPre, David Duncan, and Whitefoord Smith. The last four of these served together for much of the 1850s and 1860s, and the first two served portions of that era as the first two presidents. Beginning in 1866, a sixth faculty member joined them, but perhaps because he only stayed seven years, nobody ever remembers his name.

That sixth early faculty member was the Rev. Archibald H. Lester, who served from 1866 to 1873 as professor of history and Biblical Literature. Lester was a Greenville County native, born in 1828. He attended and graduated from Erskine College in 1849, and in 1851, he joined the South Carolina Annual Conference. A series of appointments followed, Pendleton, Union, Cokesbury, Yorkville, Columbia, Cheraw, and in 1860, Spartanburg’s Central Church. Between 1856 and 1865, he married three times, once in November 1856 and once in October 1858, and the final time in 1865.

The five trustees present voted in their July 1866 meeting to establish a sixth faculty position, that of professor of history and Biblical literature, and also to establish a divinity school that President Shipp and the occupant of the new position would run. At the same time, they elected Rev. Lester to that position. When he arrived at Wofford in 1866, he evidently had some personal wealth, and thus, due to the college’s precarious financial position, did not take a salary for teaching.

The divinity school never really materialized beyond the two professors teaching various religious subjects. It’s only speculation, but perhaps the failure of the divinity school to get off the ground led both Lester and Shipp to search for other opportunities. Lester, according to college historian D. D. Wallace, resigned on Dec. 1, 1873 to return to the active ministry. He accepted an appointment that year to serve in Union, which was probably a bigger town then than it is today. Shipp himself left in 1875 to go teach in the new Vanderbilt Divinity School, eventually becoming its dean.

Lester served for over fifteen more years, including four years in Georgetown, before finally leaving the active ministry in 1892. He died in 1897 in Columbia.

Charles Forster Smith, an early faculty star

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct•22•18

Charles Forster Smith had a long and distinguished career as a professor of Greek, and he got his start at Wofford, where he and a new generation of colleagues began to add academic rigor to the college’s curriculum.

Charles Forster SmithSmith, who was not related to Professor Whitefoord Smith, was born in 1852 in Abbeville County, SC, and graduated from Wofford in 1872. His address at commencement was entitled “Unity of Culture.” He then went on to do graduate study at Harvard. While there, he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in another student’s room, and became convinced that he needed to study abroad. And so, in 1874 and 1875, he ventured to study at the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig in Germany. He was evidently the first Wofford graduate to undertake graduate work in Germany.

He returned to Wofford to teach Greek and German in October 1875, in part to relieve the aging Professor David Duncan of some of his Greek courses. He thus, at least as far as I can tell, became the first Wofford graduate to return to teach at the college. He was 23 years old, and had the title “Junior Professor of Greek and German.” The next June, the trustees promoted him to Professor of Ancient Languages and German, four days shy of his 24th birthday. (However, a few years later, someone would take his place as the youngest full professor in the college’s history by only a few months.)

Smith, wrote D. D. Wallace in his History of Wofford College, was a scholar of a new type at Wofford, and he represented a new generation who wanted to have a thorough university education. The next year, he persuaded the college to bring William M. Baskervill, a Randolph-Macon alumnus who had been with Smith in Germany, to teach Latin, and Baskervill accepted. Wallace also noted that Smith and Baskervill were among those who instituted written examinations in their courses which, Wallace noted “were sometimes quite severe.”

Smith remained at Wofford until 1879, though the catalogue shows him on leave until 1881. During part of that time, he was studying for his Doctor of Philosophy degree at Leipzig, and after that, he taught for a year at Williams College.

Smith, along with Baskervill and James H. Kirkland, went on to teach at Vanderbilt, where all three taught a young Henry Nelson Snyder. Snyder wrote of the influence each of them had on his education and on his career, having studied Latin, Greek, and English with the three German-educated PhD’s. No doubt they encouraged Snyder to come to Wofford, and he was certainly following in their footsteps when he ventured to Germany to work on his PhD after a few years at Wofford.

In 1894, The University of Wisconsin came calling, and Smith journeyed north to head the Greek department in Madison. He remained there until 1917, but maintained friendships and connections in South Carolina.

Herman Baer: The Man Behind the Benificent Plaque

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct•19•18

It’s one of the great traditions of the college: rubbing the “I” in the mis-spelled word “benificent” (it should have been spelled “beneficent”) for good luck before taking a test. The plaque was a gift of Dr. Herman Baer, but who was this mysterious donor, and what relationship did he have to the college?

Dr. Herman Baer

Dr. Herman Baer, class of 1858 and trustee, 1892-1901

Herman Baer was, according to Dr. D. D. Wallace, a tutor in modern languages and Hebrew and an assistant in the college’s preparatory department from 1853 to 1855. Of course, the college hadn’t opened in 1853, but the trustees, at their November 1853 meeting, elected the college’s first five faculty members as well as some other officials, like Baer. Wallace further explains that the preparatory department didn’t start taking students until January 1855, and the treasurer’s books only show that the college started paying him then. The preparatory department was designed to prepare younger students for admission to the college. The college faculty avoided teaching the preparatory students, except during the lean times of the Civil War, and with a few exceptions later in specific subjects, but the preparatory department was an important source of revenue and future students. Some 34 students enrolled in that department in 1855. Baer only worked at the college for a year, offering elective courses for college students in Hebrew, French, and German, but he left after December 1855. In 1858, Wallace notes, Baer applied to receive the A. B. degree from the college on the grounds that he had privately studied the entire college curriculum. For the only time in the college’s history, that request was granted.

Baer’s activities before coming to Wofford and for the thirty years after are absent from college records, but an article in the Southern Christian Advocate published after his death bring some additional information. Baer told his minister that he had left his father’s home in Germany before his 17th birthday and traveled to New York. He celebrated his 17th birthday at sea. In January 1847, after arriving in New York, he made his way to Charleston, where he soon found himself in the city’s Methodist circles. He noted attending a camp meeting out of curiosity, and afterwards, a Methodist minister introduced him to Rev. David Derrick, who was in charge of the German mission in Charleston. Rev. Derrick had no children, so he and his wife took Baer into their home. They introduced him to some of the Methodists who were involved with the Southern Christian Advocate, including one named Benjamin Jenkins, who Baer tutored in German, French, and Hebrew, helping Jenkins prepare to be the first Southern Methodist missionary to China. Jenkins in turn helped Baer with his English. In 1848, in his second year in Charleston, Baer converted from Judaism to Christianity, joining Charleston’s Trinity Church. Baer served as a private teacher for a few years, but his early association with Rev. William Wightman at the Advocate bore fruit in 1853, when no doubt thanks to Wightman’s invitation, Baer was invited to come work at Wofford.

After his time at Wofford, he served again as a private tutor, mostly in Marlboro County, and then in 1859, he entered the Medical College in Charleston. Medical education in that era usually involved working with a practicing physician for several years. In 1861 he graduated and worked for four years as a Confederate Army doctor. He wound up working in business in Charleston after the war ended, and it appears that he largely served as a wholesale pharmacist. It does not appear that he practiced medicine after the Civil War. One advertisement in the Advocate in 1888 touted one of his medicinal cures – Thompson’s Bromine-Arsenic spring water.

He remained active in Trinity Church, and three times – in 1878, 1886, and 1894, he was elected as a lay delegate to General Conference. In 1892, the Annual Conference elected him to serve as a Wofford trustee. He had already made some small financial gifts to the college in the 1880s, particularly when the college alumni were trying to bring more support to the college. In 1900, he decided that the college needed to do more to honor Benjamin Wofford, and he had a plaque commissioned to honor the founder. Baer wrote the text himself, but was quite vexed to discover on Commencement Day in 1900, when it was installed, that his last line “To Perpetuate this Beneficent Record” had an engraver’s error in it. Baer supposedly slammed his cane on the floor with great vigor and stalked away, but refused to have it re-cast as a warning to students about the dangers of sloppy work.

Commencement 1900 would be Baer’s last commencement, for the next January, he died in Charleston just before his 71st birthday. He left a small collection of books to the college as well as a legacy that lives on in his plaque.

A Letter from Brazil from Louise Best

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct•16•18

I’ve written before about Louise Best, a South Carolina Methodist who worked as a missionary in the southernmost part of Brazil for over thirty years.  I came across this letter in the Advocate from August 1951 recently and thought it worth sharing.   This was my column in the June 2018 SC United Methodist Advocate

My dear friends, July 28 was a wonderful day for me. It marked the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Brazil.  That night I gave a dinner for the members of the faculty, members of the board of trustees, our pastor and his wife, the doctors whom we call, and the school inspector. July is the month of winter school holidays in Brazil. Some of the teachers were at home but most of them were in the city.

Brazil is indeed a country of surprises! One of the greatest was an invitation to have lunch at the Rotary Club on August 1. When I arrived, I found that it was a special luncheon in honor of my thirty years in Brazil, and during that time, with the exception of six months near Rio, in Santa Maria.

Once a month our pastor leads chapel at the school. Last Thursday was the first assembly since the holidays and he was present. Before he began his talk he said that one of the teachers had a story to tell. At the beginning I did not recognize the person about whom she was talking. When Dona Maria finished, I arose and thanked her for her kind words and assured them of my joy in being here. Imagine my surprise when girls from the primary and high school as well as one of the teachers made speeches and gave lovely flowers.  All those demonstrations of love and appreciation make me humbly grateful for these years of service in Brazil and especially at Colegio Centenario.

We are all rejoicing over the money for our primary building. We plan to break ground on September 7. I shall write you again after the ceremony.

In July I attended Central Council in São Paulo. Another good trip by air. It takes four hours by plane and four days by train.

The annual meeting of the laymen of the South Brazil Conference was held in Santa Maria in July. The delegates were entertained at the Methodist Home but the college offered a special dinner in their honor. There were 50 present.  Also in July we had the privilege of entertaining the district meeting of young people and juveniles. it was a very good conference.

August is brotherhood month among the Protestant youth of this conference. In Santa Maria each Saturday evening they have had a special meeting at the different churches in the city; on Sunday afternoons open air meetings. Last night the final service was held in the Lutheran Church. The Episcopal Bishop delivered a masterful sermon which was put on the air by our local station.  It does one’s heart good to see the enthusiasm of these young people.

After the celebration of patriotic week I shall write you again. Thanks for all you have done for us during these years and what do you mean to me today. Love, Louise Best.

Methodism in Greenwood

Written By: Phillip Stone - Oct•12•18

If there’s a place in South Carolina that might be able to lay claim to being a real Methodist town, it might be in Greenwood County.

The village of Cokesbury was named, as every loyal reader of the Advocate will recognize, for the first two bishops in American Methodism, Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury. Originally settled around a Methodist church called Tabernacle, the residents of the area began to support a school before 1820. When the Methodist Mount Bethel Academy, in Newberry County, closed in 1820, the teachers at the Tabernacle school encouraged the South Carolina Conference to become patrons of their school.

The town founders moved their village to higher ground, on a ridge between the Savannah and Saluda rivers, and built a planned community around the school. They first named the village Mt. Ariel, and during the 1820s, built school buildings for males and females, and in the 1830s, a new church building in the village. With the Methodists taking over the male academy to become the Dougherty Manual Labor School, the church’s presence in the community grew. That name was short-lived, for it was future Bishop William Wightman who suggested naming the school Cokesbury. At the same time, the town changed its name to Cokesbury in March 1835. In 1834, the Methodists moved the district parsonage to Mt. Ariel, and thus the tradition of the Cokesbury District began. A church and cemetery remained at Tabernacle until after the Civil War.

Cokesbury Conference School

The Cokesbury Conference School, Greenwood County, from James Neal’s Historic United Methodist Churches and Places in South Carolina

In the days before a strong system of free public schools, the school had its fair share of influential students. Trying to grow in social status, the school abandoned its manual labor orientation – where students studied in the morning and worked on the farm in the afternoon – by 1842. The school became the Cokesbury Conference Institute. The female school came under the patronage of the local Masonic order, and in 1854, they built a three-story building, the top floor reserved for the Masons, the lower floor for classrooms, and the middle floor for a chapel. That is the building that survives today, it became the Conference School by 1874, but the school closed by 1918, becoming instead a public school. Still, a number of leaders in the Conference, in state politics, and in other states spent time at the Cokesbury School.

Like many Upcountry towns, the residents of Cokesbury valued their idyllic, peaceful village and objected to the railroad coming to their community. That proved problematic to the community’s growth after the Civil War. Growth shifted away from Cokesbury and toward Greenwood, which had become a railroad village. When Greenwood County was created in 1897, with the city of Greenwood as its seat, Cokesbury’s influence continued to decline. Greenwood’s leaders encouraged the Rev. Samuel Lander to move his college from Williamston to their city, and it opened there in 1903 as Lander College, where it retained its Methodist relationship until the 1940s. But we’ll come back to the rest of the story in future months.

Note: This was my column in the May 2018 issue of the SC United Methodist Advocate

Wofford and the Willie Earle trial

Written By: Phillip Stone - Mar•30•18

Last spring, Wofford held a conference to commemorate and study the 70th anniversary of what is commonly called South Carolina’s last lynching, the murder of Willie Earle.

As part of the event, I was given a copy of this newspaper clipping, which is a photo of a group of Wofford students marching in downtown Spartanburg in protest of the outcome of the trial (which was held in Greenville).  As I was cleaning up around my desk this week, I found it and realized I’d never shared it here.

Wofford students protesting

Wofford students march to protest the outcome of the Willie Earle trial

Bernard M. Cannon

Written By: Phillip Stone - Mar•27•18

I wonder if the students knew that their dean of students was nicknamed “Bunny.”

Bernard M. Cannon graduated from Wofford in 1941, and as luck would have it, that was the year Wofford received its charter of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.  So, Bernard Cannon was one of the first eleven Wofford students to be elected to membership.  After graduation, he, like most alumni of his generation, served in the World War II armed services.  He then undertook graduate study in sociology at Harvard. 

In May 1946, the college announced that he would return to Wofford, taking the faculty position of associate professor of sociology as well as dean of students.  He served from 1948-1950, and the second person to hold the dean of students post at Wofford.  The next year, he completed his PhD at Harvard in the department of social relations.  He spent much of his career in the Boston area, but always maintained his Wofford and Spartanburg connections. 

 A frequent vocalist, he sang a solo at the 1980 baccalaureate service, which was held at Bethel United Methodist Church in Spartanburg, where he (along with many members of his family) was a member.  He retired to Spartanburg, where lived until 1996.

William L. Pugh

Written By: Phillip Stone - Mar•20•18
Dr. William L. Pugh

Dr. William L. Pugh

Of the generation of faculty that taught at Wofford in the first half of the 20th century, Dr. William Leonard Pugh seems less well-remembered than some of his colleagues. Perhaps his quieter demeanor kept him in the shadows of other faculty, for unlike most of the others of his era, he didn’t have a nickname. He shared the English department in this era with the college’s president. Henry Nelson Snyder, so that may also account for his lower profile.

William Leonard Pugh was born in 1874 near Lenox, Iowa. He graduated from Parsons College, a Presbyterian-related college in Iowa, in 1897. He later earned an MA at Parsons in Latin and Greek, and taught those subjects at the preparatory school he had attended before college. He was a high school principal and later superintendent of schools in Corydon, Iowa from 1902 to 1907. Later, he continued his education at Northwestern, where he earned another MA in 1908, this one in English, and at Harvard, where he completed his PhD in English in 1911. He joined the Wofford faculty in the fall of 1911, becoming one of a quartet of doctoral-degree holding professors. Drs. Wallace, Waller, and Chiles were the other early PhD-holders in the 20th century.

In 1954, Dr. Pugh recalled how he came to Wofford and Spartanburg, places he’d never heard of before a telegram arrived from one of his doctoral advisers telling him to go South. The professor made favorable remarks about President Snyder, that he was a fine English scholar and that it would be good for the Midwesterner to learn something about the South. So, with only a few weeks before the start of school, in August 1911, Pugh and his wife packed their suitcases and traveled on the train to South Carolina, expecting to stay just one year before going elsewhere. But, once Dr. Snyder met the Pughs at the train station and showed them such warm hospitality, the Pughs later recalled that they fell in love with the campus. They also enjoyed the warm winters on top of the warm hospitality. Pugh did later report that once the students arrived that fall, he had to learn a separate set of names, as he started hearing the student nicknames for professors.

Interestingly, and perhaps a little unusually for early 20th century Spartanburg, Dr. Pugh’s wife was also Dr. Pugh – but in her case, she was a physician. Dr. Ruth Frank Pugh served for a number of years as the college physician at Converse College, and had been a Presbyterian medical missionary in India.

Dr. Pugh became active in Spartanburg’s First Presbyterian Church, showing that not all members of the faculty had to be Methodists. He was a Sunday school teacher in the church for many years, and a ruling elder of the church from 1919 until his death in 1957.

Students remembered that Dr. Pugh talked like he had a mouthful of marbles. He hammered his points across in lectures until students got them. He was known for his lectures, parallel reading, and homework. One student remembered writing mounds of themes for Dr. Pugh. Students also knew him for riding a bicycle to campus and around town, very stiffly, they recalled. Later, he had a Saxon roadster automobile – one of the many different types of automobiles in those early days of car manufacturing. He was regarded as a reserved, dignified, and somewhat aloof professor. He retired with a large group of longtime professors in 1947, when the college instituted an age limit for serving as a professor. He remained in Spartanburg for just over ten more years, dying in August 1957 in the town he’d arrived in 46 years before, intending only to stay one year.

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