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The McGills
Building of the Temple—Holiness in Shares—Military Priesthood—
Unknown Power—Fall of Babylon


It was certainly a very wonderful scheme to attempt to build up in Western Pennsylvania, a little community on strictly mediaeval lines. It was a small affair, too insignificant to attract the notice of the general historian, yet so unique in its inception, operation and design, and cutting so closely into our ancestral prerogatives and domains that it furnishes, at least, an excuse for taking any notice of the footy little thing.

The town of Saeger had no corporate existence during the first twenty-five years of its life, but was simply a community located in the southwest corner of Woodcock township, without any civic or municipal jurisdiction whatever over the inhabitants. The only organic basis upon which it rested was the town plat made by Daniel Saeger, which I am informed was never put on record and there is no one living who ever saw it so far as I can learn. A part of the scheme as afterward developed was ultimate control of all religious and educational functions permitted within the limits, and to this end the said Daniel set apart a triangular lot in the northwest corner of the plat for church and school purposes, also a lot adjoining Patrick McGill's line and within two hundred feet of his front door for a graveyard. These lots were said to have been donated to the public, but they were not - they were given to the Dutch Reformed and Lutheran churches - these organizations having formed a combine in matters spiritual wherein profits were equally divided.

A church and school house had to be built to which the Burgomaster brought his acute methods forcefully to bear and the designed temple was erected on a joint stock basis. It was arranged that all who felt so disposed take stock in the building and the majority stockholders should have preference in its use for public services - the minority having a right to use the edifice when not occupied by their betters. Under the Reformed and Lutheran combine their absolute control could never be jeopardized, and all other stockholders could take their chances about getting their money's worth out of the investment. The Methodists had grown to be a factor in the surrounding country, and being anxious to secure a place of worship in town took stock and ranked third.

The building of the temple having been accomplished on a purely commercial basis in which the contributors acquired a property interest in the structure - or thought they did, the next movement in the deep laid scheme developed.

There arrived in the town two gentlemen from Europe who were heralded as men of great learning and piety, and after looking over the field these erudite personages proposed to enter into a contract to do all the preaching that was necessary to be done - both in German and English - in all the territory between Meadville and Erie, and they were willing to guarantee for a stipulated salary that the preaching should be of good quality with doctrines suited to the beliefs, predilections and prejudices of each congregation, all in good order and warranted to fit, the goods to be delivered on time at stated intervals.

These men - Shultz by name, father and sonwere the guests of the Burgomaster and supposed to have been present in the place at his invitation, as the entire Burgomaster class interested themselves actively in promoting the scheme. The proposition, elaborately outlined in writing, was laid before my father-who was the leading Methodist in the community - by one high in the Dutch conclave. He smiled audibly as the ramifications of the plan were unfolded, declined the coalition and informed the emissary that, in this country, such a combination could never be effected. The man was astonished, and could not conceive it possible that men of scant means could reject such an economical and advantageous way of working out their salvation. He said the Shultz aggregation was the finest, and would bring to the community accomplishments such as they could not otherwise afford to employ; that it would consolidate and harmonize the church building combine so happily effected and greatly enhance the value of the stock and from every point of view would prove of advantage to the weaker congregations.

The Shultzs, father and son, he said, were men of great learning, had been educated for the Army and were officers of high rank in the Old Country, but becoming involved in political troubles they were obliged to flee for their lives to this country. That they had lost all they had, and not being trained to any other pursuits they were obliged to enter the ministry as a means of support, and he thought it a patriotic duty to rally to their assistance, especially as by so doing salvation could be assured at such cheap rates. He was indignant that the "Tam Irisher" should turn down benefits so benignantly tendered and waddled away in high dudgeon.

The canvass was continued over the proposed territory and proved an utter failure and the Burgomasters found that outside their own bailiwick the people were altogether indifferent as to their pretentions.

The Shultz outfit remained a year or two, confirmed some classes in the rudiments of Christianity, as they understood it, and then departed for pastures new. Their habits were not conducive to good morals, even measured by Dutch standards and their inebriety - the result of their military education for the ministry - was such as to provoke criticism unfavorable to the organizations they served. So they departed, and the brilliant scheme of reducing all religious organizations to the civic control of the Burgomasters was practically, for the time being, abandoned.

A long low school building was erected in rear of the church and was in after years known as the "Yellow School House." It was built by popular subscription and designed as an adjunct to the church, and while not strictly a parochial school, was under the control of the resident minister and was frequently taught by him up to the time of the adoption of the free school system in A. D. 1834.

The Methodists were becoming rather an active factor in spiritual matters in the vicinity; the proximity of Allegheny college bringing many able men almost to our doors, who were available for services any Sabbath when required, and these sometimes preached in the sacred edifice in the afternoon to large assemblages of people.

There were several very strong men connected with the Methodistic aggregation of that day-men of stern convictions of right, who were not disturbed or intimidated by the pretentious mass of ignorance and stupidity confronting them, who in their class meetings and prayer meetings, held sometimes in the yellow school house and sometimes at their private residences, had crystalized a force against which the gates of hell could not prevail.

They were honest, brave, intelligent, zealous, and without a thought of opposition to other churches, or of proselytizing their members, intent only on doing the Master's work as they thought it ought to be done, they had pushed to the front and became an unconscious force in the moral world. Stern character and ability made them a potent factor in community and meekly submitting to the inconvenience of time and place imposed upon them, but firmly standing on their legal right to the unoccupied pulpit, they brought strong men to preach to the people. A spirit of religious inquiry was aroused-men and women crowded to the sanctuary at all available times to hear the burning words of truth and listen to the new songs that were being sung in Zion. A wonderful awakening of the Wesley and Whitfield type swept over the community overwhelming Deutcher and Irisher alike. The Presbyterian friends, always a spiritual people, held not aloof, but joined in the fray.

There was consternation in the Burgomaster Camp. A new problem was presented for their consideration-a problem such as they had never heard of before! God was in the problem! and had they not forgotten Him for lo! these many years and left Him out of all their little calculations.

A fateful day arrived. It was a Sabbath that left the pulpit vacant by the ruling powers-the Methodists promptly claimed it. There was a great assemblage of people far beyond the capacity of the auditorium. A slim, pale-faced young man stepped into the pulpit and cast a swift, earnest look over the crowd. Every sound was hushed, and it seemed that by some strange magnetic force he held his audience in thrall before he spoke a word.

Then in clear, soft musical voice he delivered his message from on high. Smooth and even came words of mighty import like the flow of a great river. There was no rhetorical effort-no frantic gesticulation-no attempt at display, but with growing fervor and expanding power, truth piled on truth was launched upon the devoted heads of spell-bound people, who shook and trembled under their force. Unwilling tears dropped from the eyes of unbelievers who came to scoff and went away to pray. Such eloquence had never before been heard in Saegerstown, and never since, I believe. The young Burgomasters on the front seats were thrilled as they never were before, as also were the poor Wentles standing in the aisles and lobby. There was no other man on the continent who could speak with such unconstrained natural eloquence as did that student youth that day. The name of the fair-faced orator was Matthew Simpson-then unknown to fame, but afterwards the great American Bishop, who was the friend and associate of President Grant. He was that day a guest at my father's house.

The spiritual awakening was general and seemed, in some form, to enter every home and heart. The sturdy old men behind the guns were not slow to grasp the situation and make the most of it. Meetings were held every night and couriers rode back and forth between the college and the village, bringing great speakers, strong in the faith and zealous in the work to speak to the people and reason with them of righteousness, temperance and a judgment to come. The space around the altar was crowded with men and women kneeling for prayers until there was no more room, and they were not alone country people, but Handwarrakers of substance, and standing with their wives, sons and daughters -stern old Boers with their hard, stubborn hearts all broken up and the more tender-hearted Lutherans melting in the fervor of dissolving grace, alike cried aloud for the forgiveness of their sins and sought redemption through the atonement of Christ. The old droning perfunctory litany crooned from unclean lips was then and there repudiated for the light of the Gospel, and the punkey old combine seemed tottering to a fall. The meetings were continued night after night with unabating interest, and when the doors were opened for uniting with the church a strong Methodist class was organized, drawing largely from the hitherto impregnable ranks of the larger organizations. Affairs were looking desperate from the other side of the fence. Secret meetings were being held day and night by the official directorate, and plans discussed to stem the tide of personal righteousness that threatened to overwhelm by mere moral force the little oligarchy with its machine worships so deftly builded on mediaeval lines by the crafty Burgomasters.

All pure animal organisms, however brave to encounter a known antagonist, are timid in the presence of the unknown, and our little friends were certainly up against it.

No such proceedings had ever been heard in Lehigh County, from whence they came, and how to encounter this spiritual revelry was the question of the hour. Strange as it may appear, with all their acknowledged executive ability, they were nonplussed and stood aghast while the revival rushed on like a torrent, penetrating the sacred precincts of their homes and making their old vrows crazy. Something must be done without delay !

A plan was finally agreed upon and a protest more than a yard long was drawn up reciting the outrages committed by the revivalists-their abuse of the sacred edifice by attracting great crowds thereto-injuring the building and depleting the value of the stock, and furthermore disturbing the peace and quiet of the town by their tumultuous proceedings, penetrating the homes of quiet citizens and saturating them with their vile doctrines -setting husbands against wives and wives against husbands, thus creating domestic discord.

It was further charged that members of their churches were being proselytized and led astray from their vows and were being decoyed to eternal damnation, and they peremptorily demanded that these hellish proceedings be stopped and the meetings discontinued forthwith.

It happened on an evening when there was no preacher present, and John McGill, the ranking lay official, was conducting an informal prayer service, that the combine preacher with his official retinue and the most daring of his adherents formed a procession and marched to the church where they ranged themselves in front of the altar and the preacher read the paper; then, having delivered their fire, they silently marched out in the same order in which they came.

John McGill arose from his seat and said:

"Bro. S.-Will you please lead in the singing

Alas, and did my Savior bleed, And did my Sovereign die?"

The congregation arose to their feet, and the rich "Irish brogue" and the "Sweet German accent" blended together in such royal harmony that the gates of Heaven seemed to open and Angels come forth to listen to the lofty theme.

"Bro. R.-Please lead in prayer!"

Down on their knees to the last man the congregation bent and Bro. R.-fired with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and the belligerency of the occasion-poured forth the inspirations of his grand old soul in resistless appeals to the Most High. The responses rolled up like the murmurs of the sea, not in the cold, stilted form of the ritual, but as the yearnings of the heart brought forth the cry for help, forgiveness, charity and love.

"There will be no more meetings of our people in this house," said the leader.

"We will meet at the usual hour in the schoolhouse for Sabbath school and class meeting. We are turned out of God's house, but God has not done this thing, and so sure as God liveth, He will provide a way for His people. You are dismissed."

The next day John McGill appeared at the office of Daniel Saeger - the proprietor - with his certificate of stock in the church property, and producing it said, "Mr. Saeger, I wish to surrender all my right, title, interest and claim in your church property. I will have nothing more to do with it. I have been wrongfully, insultingly and, I think, unlawfully turned out, and I wish to peacefully retire from the combination. Others may do as they please. Some will probably seek reprisals at law for the trespass and breach of contract, but I, acting solely for myself, will not do so, and as the best evidence I can give of that fact wish to surrender my stock. In my judgment the whole scheme was ill advised from the start and ought not to have been done, and I do not want to make matters worse and more disgraceful by fighting over them. We will build a church of our own."

The troubled gray face of the old proprietor brightened as he listened to this last remark, which to his quick apprehension suggested an honorable way out of the trouble. "No, John," he said, "You will not give away your stock-we will buy it from you. You say you will build a church. I will donate to you one of the best lots on our town plat for the purpose. It is worth one hundred dollars and you may put that down as my contribution, and if you need more I will help you more-and if your people will agree to the transaction we will buy all their stock and pay the face value into your building fund, and that will give you a good start." Then, thoughtfully, "You will build a church of your own, John; well, it is better so." In thirty minutes those old men, each practically the head of his clan, had established relations of amity and good-will and out of bitterness of strife there came forth sentiments of mutual confidence and respect. Mr. Saeger had made concessions not expected of him, and John McGill came out of the office confident that the project for which he had hoped and prayed for many years, of planting a Methodist church in Saegerstown was about to be accomplished. Public sentiment was at fever heat over the outrage perpetrated on the inoffensive Methodists, who sought only the welfare of their fellowmen, and McGill was not slow to take advantage of this state of affairs, and within an hour after leaving the office of the Burgomaster he was in the saddle, scouring the country soliciting pledges of funds for the erection of the new church.

It was built and served its purpose for many years, when it was rebuilt on the same ground on ampler lines, and it is now the finest, and the congregation the largest, and most influential in n the town.

The building of this church was the first break in the lines of the little mediaeval autocracy that had been set up in the valley with the coming in of the Hessians, and John McGill and no other led the assault and won.


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