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The Scotch-Irish in America
Chapter 7


Many sacred and holy memories cluster round that historic spot, as indeed round all the ancient churches in that region. At Buffalo the great revival at the beginning of the last century had its climacteric, so far at least as that general section of the country was concerned. It is safe to say that by far the greatest and most general religious awakening this country ever knew, was during the first five or six years of the nineteenth century. Judged by its accompaniments and consequences, by its immediate and resultant effects, it marked a veritable epoch in the history of this country. The period following the Revolutionary War was one of great religious declension and moral degeneracy. French Infidelity and English Deism seemed to have taken the land. Many of the leading public men were disciples of the one or the other. Earnest religion was mocked at by many of the more intelligent classes. Colleges, like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, had hardly a professing Christian among their students. Many pulpits had fallen into a halting, hesitating and half-hearted declaration of evangelical truth, or had ceased to declare it at all. Times were hard, money nearly worthless, political and other strifes were rampant; personal and social morals were at a low ebb, and in general, the mood of the people was sceptical, bitter and reckless. In fact, it seemed that Baal ruled the land. But there were the seven thousand in Israel who had never bowed the knee to him. Yet these, as of old, were cowed, suppressed and hidden out of sight. However, through all, they unceasingly cried unto God with strong entreaties and tears, and at length their cry was heard, and the Lord God of Elijah answered by fire. Then came a great and mighty revival of evangelical religion which extended over the whole of the country then settled, from New England through the Atlantic states to the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as among the newer settlements in Ohio, Kentucky, and to the westward and southwestward. It brought a very great and lasting change to the religious life and the moral condition of this whole country. It is not easy to fix precisely the spot where this great revival had its first manifestation. It seems that the sacred fire was kindled at several widely separated points at about the same time. The region of which I am writing was one of these points, and certainly one of the very earliest points where this great awakening began. Some painstaking historians have traced the very earliest manifestations of this movement to the congregation of Cross Roads, now Florence, in Washington county, Pa., and to Philip Jackson, who was called the "praying elder" in that ancient congregation. Whether this is so or not, one thing is certain, in the woods round the old log meeting-house at Upper Buffalo, was held what was probably the most remarkable camp-meeting ever known in America. It was in October, 1802, when the surrounding country was as yet but sparsely settled, and still mostly a vast forest; and yet, there gathered together in the wilderness a concourse of above ten thousand people, coming from all distances within a radius of a hundred miles, on foot, on horseback, in clumsy vehicles, bringing provisions with them, and tarrying for many days. There were a score or more of ministers present, and services were held almost continuously all day and far into the night, sometimes all night. The preaching was all done by authorized ministers. These people believed that women should keep silence in the church, and laymen very rarely addressed worshipping assemblies. It is worthy of remark that in the most extensive, the most powerful, and the most transforming revival of religion this country ever knew, none of the sensational methods of modern services of this kind were used at all. No doubt times have changed, and modern methods may be required by modern conditions, but at the same time it may be a question whether our Lord and His Apostles were not quite up to their own times, and to all times, in the methods they used and authorized. This is a very wise and very enterprising age, but possibly it is not greatly wiser and more enterprising than our Lord, and His Apostles. One thing is certain, the great religious revivals of history, those awakenings which have permanently transformed communities, nations and races, have invariably been conducted on apostolic and primitive lines. Modern evangelism, with all its provision for paid evangelists, its newspaper advertising, its processions and brass-bands, its sensations and trips through the slums, may fall in with modern methods, and get glory for its leaders, but whether this builds up the kingdom of God, and really saves lost men, may be a question for serious and enlightened Christians. The great awakening of which I am writing continued for several years, and during that time the whole country was transformed. It was not the invasion of a community by a lot of so-called evangelists, who must have the way prepared beforehand, who go only into places where strong churches exist, but it was the result of faithful work by pastors and other Christian people, in the use of the ordinary and prescribed means of grace. Such was the great awakening which continued for several years, and transformed the whole country. For many years, evangelical religion was the chief, the absorbing interest of the majority of the people. Looking back now we can see how that great revival saved pure religion in this land. Not only were the churches greatly strengthened and multiplied, but unbelief and immorality were effectively rebuked, the mood and habit of the people were permanently changed, and out of it grew the great missionary movement of modern times, in this country. Mission Boards, Bible Societies, Tract Societies, Sabbath-schools, multitudes of Christian schools and colleges, the temperance movement, and many other such great agencies of evangelism and reform, were the direct product of that great revival. I repeat, it marked a veritable epoch in American history. Undoubtedly it was a mighty work of the Spirit of God, but as always happens in such a case, Satan entered in to pervert, counterfeit and counterwork the work of God. With the veritable sacred fire came much wildfire. Extravagances and fanaticisms flamed out on every side, and there came bitter controversies and contentions by which the people of God were broken up into hostile and belligerent factions. Out of these controversies came the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Christian, or Campbellite, body, and many other separations. But after all, the results were immensely great, valuable and enduring. It can be easily shown that the Scotch-Irish ministers and people were the main promoters of this great work.

These old pastors were paid but scanty salaries. The pastor of my own childhood and youth had for a long time no more than five hundred dollars a year, and this was paid him in a lump at the close of the year. How he was expected to live in the meantime, I do not know. Probably he was treated quite as generously, or better said, no more stingily than other ministers in that general region. For the most part these congregations were made up of thrifty farmers not one in ten of whom was in debt except as he kept in debt by buying more land and yet such pitiful sums they deemed sufficient for the support of able and faithful pastors. As a rule these pastors managed to live decently on such incomes, raise large families and educate them. With all their fine traits these Scotch-Irish were not remarkable for liberal dealing in money matters. They were apt to be excessively careful and close in such matters. It ought to be said however that they had but little ready money and what they had came from hard and persevering toil. Fifty cents a day or less paid the wage of a farm hand. Farmers would raise their wheat, reap it with a sickle, thresh it with a flail, have it made into flour, paying one-tenth for toll, then haul it to Pittsburgh, a three days' journey, and sell it for two to three dollars a barrel. The people in general fared abundantly at their own tables, for their farms and gardens yielded plentifully, but their cash income was very small. Nearly everything that the people ate, drank, or wore was the direct result of their own industry. I now refer to the earliest times, and for a good many years after they settled in the country. The flax was raised, cured, carded, spun and woven into fabrics which were made up into garments for household use. So with the wool. The hides of their cattle were tanned by themselves, and once a year, the shoemaker would come round, stopping in the house for a week or more, and make the year's supply of shoes for the entire family. All the supplies of the table except tea, coffee, spices and the like, were the produce of their own fields and gardens. In the early days even tea and coffee were but rarely used. They did without coffee, and tea was made of sassafras, spicewood, and other barks and herbs. Salt and pepper were hard to get and sparingly used. Most things that they must have they somehow managed to get from the field, the forest or the stream. Once a year, some man of the settlement would make a pilgrimage over the mountains to Carlisle, to bring back a supply of salt, iron, powder, lead, and such spices as they must have. Neighbors would send their boys along under his guidance over the trail, each with a string of pack-horses. I have heard my grandfather tell of making such pilgrimages when a small boy, with several packhorses in tow. Little wonder that they made careful use of what was so hard to get.

Everybody except the very aged and infirm went regularly to church. If any man did not go, he was looked at askance as some sort of Ishmaelite or Philistine, and deemed hardly safe to associate with. No matter how rough the weather nor how bad the roads, nor how long the distance, everybody went on the Sabbath day. I can recall many a time when a very small boy, sticking like a big bug on a horse behind my grandfather, and riding three miles to church of a bitter winter morning, when the horse waded through deep snow, or floundered through stiffest mud, or stumbled over roughest clods, and we were always in time for Sabbath-school at nine o'clock. Our fathers kept the Sabbath according to the commandment as expounded in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. This was sometimes rather irksome to a restless and unsanc-tified boy, but there was much ultimate good in it. Like many another affliction, for the present it was not joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yielded the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Looking back now after sixty years of varied experience have come and gone, how soft, how silent, how sweet and restful those old-time Sabbaths seem! The memory of them has rested like a mellow benediction on all the intervening years. The plow stood still in the furrow; the weary horses fed ankle deep in pastures, or stood with their long necks over the gate in luxurious rest; cows and oxen with their great, soft eyes, lay quietly in the shade of oaks or hickories, contentedly chewing the cud, while lambs gambolled on the green hillsides; all so peaceful, so soothing, so sacred. Very many grey-headed men and women now widely separated in the world, some in high places, some in humble, recall with deep and tender emotion the memory of those far-away arcadian scenes. Amid the rush and roar, the tumult and turmoil, the wild strifes, passions and confusions of modern life, how sweet, and soft, and restful, how sacred and holy, the memory of the quiet summer Sabbaths of our childhood and of our fathers.

Possibly they may have been over-strict; very likely they were. When a small boy, if by any chance I forgot and let out a little whistle on the holy day I was instantly startled and shocked at myself, and looked round rather expecting the heavens to fall or some other terrible thing to happen. All books not strictly religious were put away. The Bible, the Confession of Faith, Baxter's Saints Rest, Al-lein's Alarm, Doddridge's Rise and Progress, Watts Psalms and Hymns, and such like exhilarating books were allowable. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was permissible, as a sort of breeze from the mountains. It is certain that nearly everyone of our current religious weeklies would have been placed under the ban, and by far the greater part of the books found in our Sunday-school libraries.

No matter how busy the season nor how hard the farmers were pressed with their work, on the Saturday evening everything came to a full stop, and there stood till Monday morning. As far as possible, all preparations for the day were made beforehand. No baking or needless cooking was allowed on the sacred day. My grandfather and my father always went clean shaven, yet I do not believe that so much as once in all their long lives did either of them ever shave on the Lord's Day. I cannot recall ever having seen any one in that community at any kind of worldly work or amusement on the Sabbath. When as a young minister in Wisconsin, I saw a picnic going on, and heard a band play within a short distance of where I was holding service on the Lord's Day, I was shocked beyond speech. I had never before seen anything of that kind. Once a pious neighbor of ours got wrong in his reckoning and went out to his plow on the Sabbath morning, thinking it was Saturday. Seeing people pass on their way to church, and learning his mistake he was like to have had a fit of epilepsy. He was as much confounded as if he had been caught stealing sheep. Swiftly he drove his horses to the barn, unhitched and unharnessed, and rushed to the church in his working garb, his head full of confusion, his heart full of penitence, and his mouth full of explanations and apologies. He was forgiven by others, but it may be doubted whether he ever forgave himself.

Family worship every morning and evening was always leisurely and especially on the Sabbath, lengthy. There was the reading of a full chapter however long; the singing of a psalm or hymn clear through, and a comprehensive prayer, all devoutly kneeling. Ah me, how significant a service was that! No wonder that Robert Burns, wild and dissipated as he was, was so deeply moved when he wrote his exquisite lyric, "The Cotter's Saturday Night." What holy memories and influences of the unforgotten living and the no less unforgotten dead, connect themselves with that sacred custom! The father, possibly the grey-headed grandfather, gathering his household on their knees round the altar of their Covenant God! What a protection for the present, what a prophecy for the future! How sad it is that this holy and blessed ordinance has so dropped out of the hurly-burly of our modern life. Nine o'clock found us in Sabbath-school, whatever the weather or the roads. The class work consisted almost wholly in reading from the Bible and in memorizing long passages of scripture and hymns. This may seem very crude in the light of modern methods, but it had certain great advantages. It lodged large numbers of hymns and large portions of scripture safely in the memory, and saved the children from the raw, silly, and misleading instruction they sometimes receive now. It gave a ready familiarity with the very language of the Bible and of standard hymns which could never be lost. Some years ago, I spent two weeks in the same house with the late Major-General Irvin M'Dowell of the United States Army. He was a very eminent and meritorious officer, but in some respects an unfortunate one. It was he who was forced by public outcry, to fight prematurely the first battle of Bull Run. He was a most interesting man, and one of the race we are thinking of. He went to his grave under the shadow of a vile slander which was widely published about him after the battle of Bull Run. It was published and generally believed that he was drunk that day, and lost the battle in consequence. He never stooped to deny the wicked slander. The fact was that he was a rigid total abstainer, and had been all his life. I was surprised at his ready familiarity with the Bible. He seemed to know the book from beginning to end, and could quote from it with wonderful point and pertinence. At length I expressed my gratification, and in fact, my wonder at finding one who had spent his life in camps and army posts, and who yet had so extraordinary a familiarity with the holy scriptures. He answered me by saying, that he had been brought up in the church and Sabbath-school of Dr. James Hoge, the Presbyterian patriarch of Ohio, and he added, "Where-ever you find one of dear old Doctor Hoge's boys, you will be apt to find one who knows his Bible and Catechism."

Between Sabbath-school and public service there was a short interval, during which, if the weather was pleasant, boys and younger men would stand or stroll about among the trees, surreptitiously talking crops, politics, or neighborhood gossip. Meanwhile the women and more sedate men would pass into the church. At first sound of the opening service, these groups in the grove would make a rush for the church, and go thundering down the uncarpeted aisles in their farmer boots, making as much noise as a drove of horses.

The singing was led by four men called "clerks," or "clarks," who stood in a row on a little raised platform in front of the pulpit, and facing the congregation. There was no musical instrument of any kind, and the proposal to introduce one would have raised a tempest. In the Seceder and Covenanter congregations nothing was used but Rouse's version of the psalms, and the number of tunes was very limited. In the regular Presbyterian churches, Watts Hymns and Psalms were allowed, though the old version was much used. These clerks had no music in their books, and probably few of them could have read it if it had been before them. They took turn about in "raising" the tune, and quite often the clerk started in apparently without having any particular tune clearly in his mind, or at least without having any firm grip on it, and so he would amble along and wabble about until sometimes he got to the second or third line before it became clear to the people, to his fellow-clerks, or even to himself precisely what tune he was headed for. By that time he usually struck something in the way of tune, and if it happened to be of the right metre and anywhere near the right key, his fellow-clerks would strike in, followed by the entire congregation, and then there would be a mighty volume of sound. If the metre did not fit, or if the pitch was impossible, as often happened, then all hands stopped; there was a clearing of throats on the little platform, possibly a blowing of noses, with more or less expectoration, and then a fresh start was made. This was kept up till success was achieved. There was never final failure. That was not in the Scotch-Irishman's creed. When the clerks all broke down, as I have seen happen, then some veteran singer in the congregation would lilt up the tunc.

Practically everybody sang, or made a stagger at singing, and if it was not in the highest style of art, it was at least loud and hearty. Here and there over the congregation, you might hear the shrill and fife-like voice of some dear old saintly woman singing "counter", her shivering falsetto cutting its way sharply through the volume of all other sounds. Connoisseurs, if any had been present, would have curled the lip and stopped their ears, but I fancy that this worship pleased the angels and the Lord very well, for it was the best the people had to offer, and it was at least deeply sincere and devotional.


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