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|Abductions at Pinckneyville, camp meetings & patriotism|
(Ninth in a Series)
In 1808, Methodist circuit rider Jacob Young visited the most southern point of his Mississippi District -- Pinckneyville, a little community just above the Louisiana-Mississippi border. During the time of Young's arrival, the area was a dangerous place to live.
For the Methodist ministers, preaching in perilous locations was routine. Because of this, they learned to lean on one another and to watch each other's back. In the pulpit, they not only preached God's Word, but they encouraged the people to become good Americans, promoting patriotism and a love of country at a time when the region was occasionally the scene of international disagreements.
The little community of Pinckneyville got its name from Thomas Pinckney, a native of South Carolina, who was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and former governor. In the mid-1790s he was an American diplomat who helped negotiate the Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney's Treaty, with Spain. That treaty resulted in the creation of the Mississippi Territory by Congress and a boundary -- known as the line of demarcation -- was carved out of the wilderness a few years later dividing the new U.S. territory from Spanish West Florida along the 31st parallel.
When Preacher Young visited Pinckneyville in southwestern Wilkinson County, southeastern Louisiana above New Orleans and east of the Mississippi was part of Spanish West Florida. The inhabitants below the line in the Felicianas and Baton Rouge -- like the inhabitants of Mississippi above -- were primarily American. Despite this fact, there were a number of border disputes during this period. Outlaws fleeing the law in one country would find safety across the line. Soon that boundary became a "no man's land."
Three residents of Pinckneyville were the Kemper brothers -- Samuel, Reuben and Nathan -- who had been kicked out of West Florida after leading an abortive rebellion against the Spanish in 1804. In Pinckneyville, brother Sam operated a tavern.
A year later, a party of 12 white men and seven black, some wearing masks, came out of Spanish West Florida during the night and beat and kidnapped the three brothers while their wives and children helplessly watched. Returning below the line, a Spanish captain and others took the captives to the Bayou Tunica landing, near the present day site of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, placed them on a boat and prepared to bring them to Spanish Gov. Charles de Grand Pre in Baton Rouge.
Along the way, a U.S. officer on the eastern side of the river at American Point Coupee, liberated the brothers and detained their captors at Fort Adams, the American military post not far from Pinckneyville. The Kempers were placed under bond, released and advised to stay out of Spanish West Florida. A few years later, the region below the line became American, but that part of Louisiana is still known today as the Florida parishes.
WEST FLORIDA SERMON
It was around 1808 in Spanish West Florida that circuit rider Lorenzo Dow's sister-in-law, Hannah, died. Hannah and her husband had moved to Claiborne County, Miss., from New York state to operate a sawmill, a venture that failed. When domestic strife entered the picture, Hannah left her husband for a younger man. The couple fled to West Florida where Hannah's life soon came to a close.
At Pinckneyville, Preacher Young noted in his book ("Autobiography of Pioneer," 1857), that he "had an attack" of bilious fever, a term used commonly during that era for fevers associated with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Recovering a few days later, he decided to cross the line and preach in West Florida where only the Catholic religion was recognized.
"I asked some of the citizens if they thought I might hold such a meeting in safety," Young wrote. "They said I might, if the priest did not hear it; but if he did, he would order the alcalde to put me in the calaboose, where my friends would never hear from me again.
"The meeting-house stood close by the line, and I ventured to hold a meeting on Saturday and Sabbath. A great many people attended, among the rest, a little Yankee, who had been southernized. When I closed my sermon in the woods, he got up on a log, and began to curse and swear in a most horrid manner."
Young admonished the man, who "mounted his horse, saying he would swear when he pleased. I went to him, laid my hand on the horse's neck, and told him he would not swear when he pleased, there." The man then attempted to flatter the preacher, noting that he "was pleased" with Young's sermon but didn't think he should have been reproved "before so large a company."
Another member of the congregation named Traverse attempted to get Young to walk away from the man, advising that the preacher should not spend his time "with such a fellow as that." This outraged the man, and a "scuffle ensued, in which the combatants crossed the line, and got into the Mississippi territory."
There, a constable arrested the troublemaker and was preparing to lock him up when the prisoner asked if he could visit a friend to assist him in making bond. "While he was riding side by side with the constable," Young wrote, the man "put spurs to his horse and galloped across the line, and then turned and cursed them, and told them to do their worst. I afterward learned that the alcalde put him in the calaboose for misconduct at our meeting, but for the truth of the statement I can not vouch."
TROUBLE AT CAMP MEETING
A short time later at the Adams County home of William Foster, a Methodist who housed and supported the circuit riders, Young saw for the first time in months his friend James Axley, who preached the Catahoula and Ouachita circuits in northeastern Louisiana. So difficult was the missionary work on the frontier that it sometimes cost the preachers their health.
"When he went to Louisiana he was a large, fine-looking man," Young wrote of Axley, "but his flesh had since fallen off, and he looked quite diminutive. His clothes were worn out, and when he saw his brethren he could not talk for weeping. The people soon clothed him, his health became restored, his spirits revived, and he came to the camp-ground in pretty good order."
Months earlier, Young and Axley had concluded the prospects of spreading the Word of God on the Mississippi-Louisiana frontier "gloomy enough to discourage any man. We had to contend with the ignorance of the lower classes, and infidelity of the upper." This was also a period when the Catholic and Protestant faiths clashed. Protestants who found the Catholic faith excessively ritualistic called it "Romanism," which Young said "had flooded parts of the country, and its disciples were our deadly enemies."
At that camp meeting north of Port Gibson, Young observed the "congregation was unusually large for that country, and some of them splendidly dressed." Axley was the first to take the pulpit. The preachers worried that the desire for material goods along with pride and vanity were becoming all too important in the region. As settlers poured in, Natchez country began to evolve from a rough frontier people into a more civilized culture.
During Axley's sermon, a Mrs. Turnbull, sitting with her daughter, appeared upset. Young said that "Brother Axley perceived, by her movements with her servants, that she was offended, and about leaving the camp-ground. He followed her to her carriage, made some apologies and invited her to come back the next day. The meeting went on during the afternoon and night much as usual. The preachers had great liberty in preaching, and the congregations were edified, and sinners were awakened and converted to God."
On the next camp meeting day, the Sabbath, prayer meetings began early prior to Axley again preaching the first sermon of the day. In the large congregation was Mrs. Turnbull, accompanied this time by her husband. Young identified Mr. Turnbull as a public official and an "Esquire," a term in that day that indicated a man of property and standing. The couple was "very orderly during the service till the preacher was about half through. Brother Axley was on his favorite theme, the pride and vain-glory of the people of that territory." He used "strong words" and was preaching an eloquent sermon, according to Young.
Suddenly, Mr. Turnbull stood and asked to speak. Young commanded Turnbull to sit, "informing him that the meeting was not appointed for him to preach." Turnbull bowed, sat down but by the time Young returned to his seat Turnbull was up again, shouting, "Mr. Preacher, Mr. Preacher, stop, and let me speak a few words."
Again, Young told Turnbull to sit and be silent. Due to his fragile health and mental state, Preacher Axley began to cry while the congregation was thrown into "utmost confusion." Turnbull demanded that Axley be removed from the pulpit, shouting that "he is insulting the congregation."
LORENZO DOW RISES
In the distance, the eccentric Lorenzo Dow, who during his lifetime would preach before tens of thousands and write about it years later in a best-selling autobiography, heard the commotion. Extremely ill, he was lying in his tent resting and listening, but not expecting to preach until later in the day. Observing that the preachers had lost control of the congregation, Dow prepared to intervene.
"After standing and looking over the people a few moments, he (Dow) rose and came into the pulpit," Young recalled, and then ordered the people to hush and sit, which they did. Next, Dow presented a history lesson about the colonists, their first settlements, the American Revolution and the duties of public servants.
"He then gave us a concise history of the war and its final termination," Young wrote, "showing...what we had gained by the Revolution, saying we were now the happiest people on the globe." Becoming animated, Dow said that when "God confers great privileges on a nation," that nation is given great responsibilities, but when those privileges are abused they "are turned into the heaviest curses."
In detail, he discussed the Constitution and compared it to the sun, which he said "keeps every planet and satellite in its own orbit, so the Constitution keeps every state and territory in order and harmony." He discussed the responsibilities and duties of public officers from the President down to justices of the peace in Mississippi Territory.
"He repeated the oath of office," Young reported, "that which binds each to support the Constitution of the United States, and of the state or territory in which the officer lives. Turning to the Methodist church, he showed what it had done and was doing for the United States. He showed the wonderful doings of Methodist preachers, their lives and their sacrifices; that they were good citizens, always prompt to obey the laws of the land..."
Then, he delivered his point. Looking at Turnbull, Dow shouted that "any man who would interrupt a Methodist preacher while in the discharge of duty of high office, was a mean, low-lived scoundrel, and that any Esquire that would do so was a perjured villain." Then he asked the congregation "what was their prospect in the Mississippi territory, while they kept perjured villains in office."
Turnbull arose, gathered his family and walked to his carriage. Along the way, he was heard to say, "I always was a fool, and I would not, for five hundred dollars, have come to this place today."
"Suffice to say," Young wrote, "the meeting closed well. Lorenzo gave us his valedictory...The preachers all went to their work, being refreshed by the Holy Spirit."
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