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The Scotch-Irish in America
Chapter 5


Originally, of course, all the churches in southwestern Pennsylvania were in the country, because there were no towns as yet, the entire population being made up of farmers. There were at least eight or ten quite large congregations in various parts of Washington county a good while before there was an organized congregation in the town of Washington, or in Pittsburgh. The constituency of these churches in the forest was very widely extended, as people thought nothing of going ten miles or more to service. Everybody in all the scattered settlements except the very aged and the infirm, went to service on the Lord's Day. The matrons and small children went on horseback, the men and young people afoot, the men striding by the side of their mounted women, dressed in buckskin trousers and hunting-shirts, and with rifles in their hands. My paternal great-grandfather was an elder in Bethel, which being six or seven miles from his home and over fearful roads, or rather no roads at all, and being a very bulky man, he found the trip irksome, and so he bought and removed to a tract of land within the bounds of Upper Buffalo, "to be near church." He was now only three miles away. Wheeled vehicles were unknown, or nearly so. My grandfather used to tell us that when his mother died in 1784, there was in the entire settlement but one pair of very clumsy front wheels of a wagon, and on the axle the rude box in which his mother's dead body was laid, was strapped, and bounced over the rough roads to the Bethel burying-ground. His father and a few neighbors on horseback followed the body. He, a little boy of five years, ran after the procession pleading to be permitted to follow his mother to the grave, but was forbidden. This is a pathetic picture of the times. Every man worked his clearing with his rifle at hand, and every family stood ready night and day to make a fight, or escape to a neighboring fort. These forts were simply large block-houses built of logs, and placed at convenient points through the settlements. At first sign of an Indian raid, a runner, or mounted courier would scurry through the settlement sounding the alarm. During the years from 1770 to 1790 the settlers very often had to fly from their burning cabins and devastated fields to these forts for shelter. The men would sally forth to drive off the savages, and bloody conflicts would take place in the deep forest. Meanwhile a ceaseless vigilance was kept up in the forts. When thus shut up, the people acted according to their renewed nature. They held religious services and many were converted to Christ. In Vance's fort near Cross Creek, where many people were shut up for a considerable time, there was a great revival, with many converts, one of these being Thomas Marquis, who later became a very eloquent minister, and the progenitor of a large number of useful ministers. These meetings and revivals went on while the Indians were swarming in the surrounding woods and laying waste the settlements. I can well remember when a small child often seeing in the old Buffalo church, one of the daughters of the "silver-tongued" Marquis. She was then a very aged woman and a widow. She still retained remnants of the beauty for which she had been noted in her youth, and was a famous singer in those rude settlements. When she was more than eighty years old, we used to hear her voice in a high falsetto, singing "counter" in the services. Like that of many other old people, her voice shivered and quavered a good deal, and not from purpose at all, for this was long before the time when such a tremolo became a silly fad in certain quarters.

Very often, at least one son of a family, and sometimes more than one was dedicated to the ministry, or to one of the learned professions, and so was sent to school and college. When in 1879, Buffalo and Cross Creek, originally one charge, celebrated their centennial, it was found that up to that time above one hundred young men had gone out of that rural community into the Christian ministry, besides a large number who had gone into other professions. When I was a student in Allegheny Seminary there were six of us in that one institution from Upper Buffalo, and I believe nearly as many from Cross Creek. It was found that during that first century, several hundred men had gone out to be ruling elders of the Church in widely separated sections of the land. Many others had been highly useful in other callings, and some had attained high distinction. These were but two of a group of ancient congregations in that general region, and every one of them had had a similar history. The like was true of the neighboring congregations which belonged to the Associate and Associate Reformed communions, now happily united in the United Presbyterian Church. They were popularly known as Seceder and Union, and were not too friendly at that time. The differences between them were exceedingly minute, but the lines were tensely drawn, and there was no intercommunion. In race, type, temperament, theology and history, they were precisely alike, and like their Presbyterian neighbors, only they were stricter in some respects. The Covenanters, of which there were two kinds, were still stricter. They were the straightest of the straight. These divisions were not merely formal and nominal; they were real and actual. The ministers of the Seceders and Covenanters unsparingly denounced "occasional hearing," as a grievous offence against God. By this they meant the going to hear a preacher of one of the other divisions when they had no service of their own. They were to stop at home, studying their bible and catechism. The modern man would have to get out his microscope to see the difference between the Old Side, and the New Side covenanters, but all the same, the old side man would go through mud and snow ten miles to worship in his own conventicle, though there might be a new side church within half a mile of his home. The ministers of the different divisions had very little to do with one another. Of ministerial fellowship they had absolutely none, and even of neighborly fellowship there was next to none. Two of them might live for years quite near each other, and yet the nearest approach to familiarity be a formal salutation as they met in the highway. The Seceder felt bound in conscience to testify against and denounce his neighbor who sang Watts hymns, and the still stricter Covenanter could only consign his Seceder brother to the "uncovenanted mercies of God." He probably tried in charity to believe that the Lord might possibly have mercy on his misguided and blinded soul. There was no apparent bitterness of spirit, nor anything approaching personal hatred or malice in all this; not at all; only there was the stern conviction on the part of each that the other was in serious error, and that it was his solemn duty to testify against his ways in public and in private. It is easy for us to condemn all this, but it is a question whether it was more to be deplored than the Saducean indifference of more modern times.

We must not belittle or dismiss with a sneer these plain old country pastors of the early days. They lived isolated and obscure lives, but they were faithful, earnest and Godly men, and not a few of them, were very able men. Estimated by results, they did a great work. Consider M'Millan, Dodd, Smith, and Henderson; Marquis, M'Curdy and Patterson; the two Andersons, French, Stockton, Eagleson, and many others of various branches of Presbyterianism in those early days; men of education, ability and utter consecration, who gave their lives to work in the woods, and yet see what came of it. They have long since gone to be with God, but their works do follow them. They are living and doing business in tens of thousands of lives all over the world, and multitudes have already met them before the throne of God to thank them for their fidelity. Measured by the test of widely-extended and enduring influence, it may be questioned if any metropolitan minister in the whole land was their peer. No faithful servant of Christ can tell what is to be the ultimate outcome of his life. The essential thing is that he do with his might the task given him by his Master, and as under that Master's eye. In fact there is nothing great or small but doing the will of God.

These Scotch-Irish people had a great hunger for education, and the desire to give their children better advantages than they had had themselves was central and dominant in all their purposes. These old pastors assiduously encouraged this feeling and wisely guided it. They founded classical, schools called academies in many of their congregations, and thus gave encouragement and opportunity to young people who aimed at the higher education. Particularly did they lay on the conscience of their people the duty of dedicating the choicest of their sons to the ministry of the gospel at home or abroad. Consequently from almost every farm there was at least one boy who was set apart to go to college, and it was a main part of the family purpose and plan to send him. Many of these boys were solemnly dedicated to the sacred office before they were born, as Samuel was by his pious mother. Mothers bore sons for the ministry; fathers worked their hands to the bone to pay their way, and the entire family when necessary, practised the closest economy and self-denial, and all rejoiced in the honor God had done them in choosing one of the boys for the holy office. What wonder that Washington and Jefferson College founded and sustained by these people, and fed by these parochial schools, should have had so great a part in Presbyterian and American history? It is in place to ask whether there are now many such breeding-places and nesting-places of trained and consecrated ministers and elders in these madly materialistic days? Has the great change in condition and conviction in this respect that has come in recent years, anything to do with the alarming reduction in the number of candidates for the ministry? Are there many communities where fathers and mothers wrestle with God for their sons before they are born, pleading that they may be chosen and qualified for His service anywhere in the world, however that service may bring hardship, obscurity and poverty, if only it contributes to the upbuilding of the Kingdom of God? Are pastors as earnest and vigilant in pressing this duty on their people, and in seeking out boys whom God may call to the sacred office, as were the pastors of our childhood and of our fathers? This is worth thinking of. I take the congregation of my forbears simply as a sample of the genuine Scotch-Irish congregation of the early days in that section of the country. It was fairly typical of multitudes of others. A correct photograph of that community and that congregation needs only to be duplicated to make it a correct picture of every section of the country where these people were dominant. I select that particular community as an illustration not only because it is, and from the first has been, one of the most decidedly Scotch-Irish communities in America, but also because I know it better than any other. I may be pardoned for saying that my people have been a part of it for more than a century and a quarter. I was born there, as my father was before me, and his father before him, and my great-grandfather came into that country when it was a wilderness, and when he was but thirty-two years old. The farms that he and his sons carved out of the forest are in the hands of his lineal descendants to-day. If these sketches have strongly local, and even personal features, I trust it will be pardoned. Perhaps there is no better way of giving a vivid impression of times and people than to describe particular neighborhoods and individuals, provided these are fairly typical of the conditions and the people in general. My memory is full of the fireside and wayside tales related to me in my childhood by my forbears, and others who were there in the earliest days. Every branch of the many divisions of strict Presbyterianism was represented by one or more congregations within ten miles of my birthplace. In no part of the country was the invincible proclivity of Presbyterians to divide on small issues more strikingly illustrated than among the Scotch-Irish of southwestern Pennsylvania. The difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum was great in comparison with the differences between some of these numerous sects. Yet men would have been crucified for these points of difference. Often have I seen a man riding along the ridge above our farm on the Sabbath morning on his way to a little gathering of Old-Side Covenanters, at least twelve miles from his home. Late in the evening he might be seen wending his way homeward, silent, saturnine, solemn, having done his duty as he saw it, and given his testimony. On his way he passed within easy reach of several Presbyterian churches, some of them very closely allied to his own, yet he would have gone to the stake without a moment's hesitation for the difference between them and him.

One of our near neighbors, head of a large and substantial family, one of the oldest and most respectable in the community, himself an elder in Buffalo, had married in youth a woman who belonged to the Union church of Cross Roads. They lived together for fifty years or more, in great affection and comfort, yet they never went to church together. Many a time have I seen them ride side by side on horseback to the top of the ridge where the roads forked, and there part, he taking the left hand road to Buffalo and she the right hand road to Cross Roads, and this they did during their entire lives. The sons went with their father, and the daughters with their mother. This was not an uncommon case. Within two or three miles of Upper Buffalo there was a Seceder congregation, one of the most ancient in that section, about as old as Upper Buffalo. It was a most strict and strenuous Seceder church. For forty-two years the Rev. David French was the pastor, a faithful, devoted and Godly man, but excessively narrow according to modern standards. He enforced close communion of the closest kind; nobody but a strict Seceder could come to the holy table in his church. He peremptorily forbade his people going to other places of worship when they had no service of their own. He was extremely protracted in his services, as others of his persuasion were. He would explain the psalm for three-quarters of an hour, pray for the same length of time, and on special occasions longer, everybody standing, or pretending to stand; he would preach for an hour and a half, and often much longer; the entire service requiring sometimes five hours. The psalms in Rouse's version were used exclusively, and always sung to the oldest tunes. The "clerk" read a line in a sing-song tone, then led the congregation in singing it, when he recited another line in the same sing-song tone and in the key of the tune, sang this, and so on clear through. This was called "lining out," and so much importance was attached to it that when it was proposed to abandon the practice it was like to have created a revolution. It did not occur to them that this "lining out" was very like the intoning of the Romish priest. No tune which required repetition of the words was allowed. Anything like what musicians call a fugue would have raised a tempest. This they would have denounced as vain repetitions which the heathen use. In fact the chief difference between the Seceders and the regular Presbyterians at that time was in respect to psalmody. The Presbyterians gradually adopted Watts Psalms and Hymns, which collection the Seceders denounced as human compositions, and utterly unauthorized. The debates about this resulted in breaking up congregations and setting whole neighborhoods by ears. Then these psalm-singing churches divided on other issues, and hence the Presbyterians of the early settlements were much separated among themselves.


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