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Proceedings of the Fourth Congress at Atlanta, GA., April 28 to May 1, 1892
Scotch-Irish Homespun and Acts of the Scotch-Irish Fathers
By Rev. H. Calhoun, of Mansfield, O.


The two articles that follow, relating to the early history of the Scotch-Irish in this country, are part of a series, twelve in all, which were originally published (1891) in the Herald and Presbyter, a religious paper in Cincinnati, O. Attracting the notice of Prof. George Mac-loskie, of Princeton, N. J., they were by him introduced and read in part to the late Congress at Atlanta, and are here given in full.

"Let not ambition mock their useful toil, Their homely joys and destiny obscure; Nor grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile, The short and simple annals of the poor."

The Ulstermen are to be judged by the standards of the Eighteenth, not the Nineteenth century. Following the emigrations described in our last article, comes what may be called an age of buckskin and homespun, when the clothing consisted of skins and furs, or of linsey or cotton woolsey and other products of the spinning wheel and hand loom. Settlements were made in communities, the cabins located near enough together to furnish mutual protection against the lurking savages, to gratify their social instincts, to aid each other in clearing their farms, and afford the advantages of schools and Churches. In every cabin was heard the music of the busy spinning wheel. All need not learn to weave, but all must card and spin flax, tow, wool, and in some places cotton. All blankets, coverlets, quilts, and wearing apparel for both sexes were, as a rule, home-made. An entire congregation, including the minister in the pulpit, were often dressed in homespun. The moccasin, hunting shirt, sun-bonnet, and rifle were common in the rude log churches, where stools and slab benches, resting on puncheon floors, took the place of pews. Log barns, cabins, churches, and school-houses made up the homely pioneer settlements. Little ones were tucked away in trundle-beds, while boys and young men climbed) often by ladders on the outside of the cabin, to the lofts. Great fireplaces occupied sometimes nearly one entire end of the cabin, where the substantial cooking was done over or before the blazing wood fire, in pots and pans, and Dutch ovens, or in the ashes, with sometimes a brick oven outdoors. Candles or very rude lard lamps of a primitive pattern, sometimes merely a saucer, with a rag for a wick, made darkness visible when the cabin was not illuminated by the fire. It was a century and more before the modern cooking stove and range, whose introduction the writer well remembers, as well as the music of the spinning and "quill" wheels, on which the youngsters wound the quills for the weaver's shuttles, on the hand looms.

In this day of diversified industries, when one labor-saving invention treads fast upon the heels of another, we can with difficulty comprehend the manifold duties of the pioneer housewife in the ordinary cabin life of that day. She milked and churned, caught rain water in troughs and barrels from the roofs for the washing, made her own soap, baked her own bread, washed, picked, dyed, and carded the wool, broke, carded, and spun the flax, wove the cloth, cut and made the garments, reared the children, nursed the sick, and often cheered the disheartened laborer at her side. Hollow trees or sap troughs, where maple sugar was made, supplied cradles for the babies. One of the Presidents of the United States is said to have been rocked in such a cradle. Then there were Indian troubles, alarms, massacres, ambushes, men shot down at the plow, mothers and children murdered or driven into captivity; with blockhouses and forts for protection from the dusky savages, where even the women learned to run bullets, and could load and fire with deadly aim if it were necessary.

For amusements they could trap and hunt; there were foot races, and log rollings, or log cabin raisings, husking and spinning bees, quiltings, spelling matches, singing schools, and weddings.

The choicest of the land thus early fell into worthy hands, and ere long comfort and plenty came, not to say wealth. By such enterprise, industry, and hardships they hewed out for themselves valuable farms from the primeval forests, and these toils and perils, incident to life in the new world, gave character to many communities which they still bear. They had little money, but stout hearts and hands; and so, in the fear of God, they laid the broad foundations of our present civilization. Underneath all this plain homespun exterior there were men and women of warm and true hearts; and if not so well versed in the lore of the schools, there was no lack of common sense, which for them, in that day, was the greater necessity. The pretty girls were dressed in striped or plaid cloths, carded, spun, and woven by their own hands; and their sweethearts in sumach or walnut-dyed material, prepared by their own mothers. Courting was done while riding or walking to and from meeting, or on the way to the spring when there. Nor did the girls hesitate to walk barefoot, and on their arrival at the grove and spring, near which the church stood, stop, and, washing their feet, put on shoes and stockings preparatory to entering the house of God.

There was no want of employment among men or women. If there had been leisure to read, there were few books to gratify their taste. Aside from the Bible and Psalms, the most common books were: "Pilgrim's Progress," "Mosheim's History," "Doddridge's Works," "Night Thoughts," "Hervey's Meditations," "Josephus," the "Writings of John Owen," and similar works, which were read and re-read by the whole community.

Much has been written of the planting of churches, schoolhouses, and colleges in New England, but as thrilling a story might be and ought to be told of the log churches, schoolhouses, log colleges, and theological seminaries, which were also schools of red-hot patriotism, planted by our Presbyterian fathers, some of which were the forerunners of our present popular, prosperous, venerated institutions of learning. The log college of William Tennent was established at Neshaminy in 1726. The germ of what is now Princeton was another log college at Elizabethtown, N. J. There was another similar school at New London, Pa., which was removed and grew into a college in Newark, Del. Still another was organized at Fagg's Manor in 1759. In 1767 David Caldwell instituted, near Greensboro, what was known as the Eton of the South. From such schools as germs were involved, under great disadvantages, our American type of colleges, such as are found to-day in the Middle and Western States, and on to the Pacific. We may well recall the day when our great-great-grandfathers and mothers went barefoot and in homespun to the log schoolhouses, and the more favored young men and women completed in homespun their more liberal course of study in the log colleges, and they certainly were as well prepared for the duties of life in that age as those of our day are in our palatial colleges and cushioned pews. Many a minister added to his pastoral work the liberal education of several young men for the ministry. This was the homespun age of Presbyterianism in this country, when Christians, if they were plain and simple in their ways, were intelligent and well grounded in the Scriptures and the doctrines of the Church. No more faithful or effective gospel was ever preached than by men in homespun. Pastors went from house to house, praying with and catechising the whole household. The family altar was honored, and parents instructed their children in religious things. The Lord's Supper was administered at least twice a year, preceded by a day of rigid fasting and other extra services, the minister being assisted by one or more neighboring pastors. Sometimes these services were held in the open air, so largely were they attended. A little later came the camp meetings, at which there were wonderful manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Tables were often used for the Lord's Supper with tokens, none being admitted to the ordinance unless they had previously received these tokens from the pastor or the elders. The line which separated the Church and the world was distinctly drawn.

The Puritans of New England and the Presbyterians from Ulster were the two pillars of our national temple, like Jachin and Boaz in the old sanctuary. The one stood for personality and separation, the other for partnership and representation; the pilgrim fathers believed in individuality, the Scotch-Irish in equality; the one set up the town meeting, the other the state house; the one the congregation, the other the synod; the one clung to an established Church supported by civil tax, the other was the first to advocate the separation of Church and state in the abolition of the civil tax; the one enjoyed his own religion but hindered others in the enjoyment of theirs, while the other sought liberty of conscience for all.

Acts of the Scotch-Irish Fathers
By Rev. H. Calhoun

They were pioneers in the early settlement of the new world, and their work consisted in the genesis of things, laying foundations and seizing strategic points as the vanguard of Christian civilization, first east and afterward west of the Alleghanies. Whether along the Atlantic Coast or across the mountains, their work was enough like the acts of the apostles to justify the title of this paperóboth being called and sent to plant Christian Churches upon new and unoccupied fields, inaugurating advanced movements in the old and new world's history. Both broke away from old moorings, encountered dangers, suffered deadly persecutions, endured hardship, and were providentially guided to eminent success. We need not claim that they were, without exception, ideal Christians. Some of them doubtless had more Scotch-Irish vim than divine grace. They were of fervid temperament, quick intellect, and ready speech. They had conspicuous energy, strong will, and were firm, and even obstinate, for the right and the wrong. They were certainly excellent types of rugged, impetuous strength of character, and even when they failed as examples of practical piety, they often stood firmly by gospel truth. But whatever their defects, there were always not a few among them who were eminently godly people, and who gave religious character to this transmontane movement.

Let us look upon an average home among the settlements of Western Pennsylvania during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. It is invariably a log cabin, perhaps twenty by twenty-five feet, with a part of two logs cut away for the one window; oiled paper or linen took the place of glass; chimneys were built with sticks of wood plastered with clay; benches and stools made of split logs, and supported on four legs, took the place of chairs. Around the walls wooden pegs were driven into the logs, on which hung the garments of the inmates. Another set of pegs supported the rifle, bullet pouch, and powder horn, which were often taken even to church. In the same way was supported a little shelf on which rested the meager library of standard religious works. This one apartment served the varied necessities of parlor, family room, bedroom, nursery, kitchen, and even church. Probably, in 1780, there was not a single stone, brick, or frame house west of the mountains. Such were the homes of those who crossed the mountains on pack horses, there being no roads, or none suitable for carriages.

Food was equally plain. Hog and hominy, with mush and milk, were standing dishes. But little wheat was grown, for there were few mills to grind it. It was extensively the medium of exchange for iron, salt, and other indispensables. The iron had to be carried on pack horses over the mountain into a region now abounding in it, and salt could not be had for less than five dollars a bushel. As for tea and coffee, if the old people could afford either once a week, or on the Lord's day, they were satisfied, while to the younger generation it was altogether contraband.

Passing from home to the Church life, a similar state of things prevailed. In the old Bedstone Presbytery there was not a church building erected on the whole field until nine years after its organization in 1781. When they began to build, the log churches were as rare, rude, and unsightly as the private dwellings. They did not wait until they were able to erect spacious stone or brick structures, nor did they send East to ask help of older or wealthier Churches. They took their axes on their shoulders, went into the forests, cut down the trees, and, with their own hands, erected a log building to shelter them from snow in winter and rain in summer. Except in inclement weather, they worshiped in God's first temples. These primitive churches were constructed entirely with the ax, without saw or plane, or even hammer, for neither nails nor iron in any shape were employed. The roof was of clapboards, kept in their places by logs laid upon them; the doors also were clapboards, fastened to crossbars by wooden pins, these crossbars projecting on one side sufficiently to form one part of a hinge. For windows small openings were cut between two adjacent logs and glazed with oiled paper or linen. The floors, where they had any but the earth itself, were made of cleft logs, smoothed by the ax. These churches were squares or parallelograms, if the logs were long enough, and when too short for a four-sided structure, the cruciform was adopted, with twelve sides and twelve corners; though it was not intended to represent the twelve apostles, nor was there a reference to any other rules of ecclesiastical architecture, but for strength and convenience. One of the transepts was the preacher's stand. The seats were puncheon or split logs, with four legs, and no provision was made for a fire.

The early ministers traveled from one clearing to another, and these, accompanied by an elder, visited from cabin to cabin, holding meetings when and where they could. Thus the ordinances were administered in as primitive and rude environments as those of apostolic times. The Shorter Catechism was learned at school and recited on Sabbath evening by old and young. Many of the backwoods people were as well instructed in religious things as those now enjoying better advantages. The locations of these log churches were fixed by a "perambulating committee," so called, appointed by Presbytery, which required that they should be at least ten miles a part. Going to church meant something in those hardy times. Ministers traveled from fifteen to twenty miles to reach an appointment, being absent from home for days at a time. For roads they had blind forest paths; bridges were unknown; guideboards there were none; yet, braving all perils, heat and cold, mud or storm, duty was done. One instance is related where the minister forded a river, preached in his wet clothes, then recrossed the ford and rode ten miles home. When the Sabbath came, every road and bridle path was thronged with worshipersóon foot, even barefoot; on horseback, riding double. The house was crowded. Two services were common, the intermission being well improved in social greetings. These log churches in which our fathers worshiped deserve to be held in dearer memory than the battlefields of our history. They were the Antiochs, Philippis, and Corinths of the new world.

Let me illustrate this interesting feature in the cradle life of American Presbyterianism by a brief account of Rev. John McMillan, D.D., "the apostle of Presbyterianism at the West." He was a graduate of Princeton under the presidency of Dr. Witherspoon. He preached for a time in the older churches in the East, but after making two visits west of the Alleghanies, and seeing the great need of the field, he married and removed with his wife and goods on pack horses over the mountains in 1778 to Pigeon Creek, Washington County. There he lived in a log house with one room, perhaps twenty by fifteen feet, a stranger certainly to all the luxuries of life. A picture of this cabin has been handed down to us, and may be found in Nevin's "Presbyterian Encyclopedia." It has one door, one small window cut out between two logs, and a chimney built outside at one end, made of puncheon and small sticks plastered with clay. A crooked rail fence divided the open field in which it stood from the one adjoining. The stumps of trees stood thick about the doorway. One native tree shaded one end of the cabinóthe only ornamental shrubbery. What seems a girdled, leafless tree stands on the opposite side of the house. No other cabin, barn, or shed is to be seen, and the native forest surrounds the clearing. It was a very cheerless prospect externally for his young bride.

But it was equally uninviting internally. Here is Dr. McMillan's own description of it as they found it: "When I came to the country, the cabin in which I was to live was raised, but there was no roof, nor any chimney nor floor. The people, however, were very kind. They assisted me in preparing my house, and in December we moved into it. But we had neither bedstead nor table nor stool nor chair nor bucket. We could bring nothing with us but on pack horses. We placed two boxes one on the other, which served for a table, and two kegs served us for seats. Having committed ourselves to God in family worship, we spread our bed on the floor and slept soundly till morning."

This rude cabin became the first log college west of the mountains, growing into Jefferson College in 1802. From this same cabin eighteen young men prepared for the ministry went forth to serve the surrounding churches, some of whom rose to eminence.

Dr. John McMillan was one of the six men who organized the old Redstone Presbytery in 1781. In complexion he was neither fair nor sallow, but swarthy. His features were roughhewn, to some eyes homely, certainly masculine. His look was serious, stern, almost harsh, were it not modified by benevolence. His manner was blunt, abrupt, and impatient of formality, while in person he was nearly, if not quite six feet high, with head and neck inclining forward and showing slight promise of corpulency, setting off to good advantage his cocked hat and broad-skirt coat and doublet breeches and knee bucklesóthe conventional costume on important occasions of the day. He was a man of Pauline zeal and force of character. His voice was very powerful, corresponding to his large physique; and his sermons, rich in gospel truth, were greatly blessed. He lived until his eighty-second year, dying in 1833, in the sixtieth year of his ministry, having preached, it is thought, full six thousand sermons. In 1802 he was chosen Professor of Divinity and Vice President in Jefferson College. His whole life is a happy illustration of the cradle history of Presbyterianism.

Before the days of Home Missionary Societies, a Presbyterian minister, having come over the mountain, was settled over the Churches of Cross Creek and Upper Buffalo, in Northwestern Pennsylvania. One hundred dollars was the promised salary. By renting and cultivating a small farm he hoped to support himself and minister to the two congregations.

"The years rolled on, the work prospered, but money was so scarce that neither the salary nor rent of the farm could be paid. In this emergency a meeting was called to lay the matter before the Lord and decide what to do. Wheat was a drug in the market at twelve and a half cents a bushel. Often twenty bushels were exchanged for one of salt. At this crisis it was reported that the only mill in the settlement
had offered to grind the wheat at a very moderate cost; so, as the first and only step the Lord had indicated, it was agreed to send their wheat to the mill and have it ground. When the flour was ready, another meeting was called, and the question which startled the stoutest hearts was: 'Who will volunteer to run a boat to New Orleans?' It was a fearful undertakingódown the Alleghany to the Ohio, down the Ohio to the Mississippi, through the howling wilderness, inhabited by wild beasts and cruel savages. Many boat crews had gone and had never been heard from again. Well might all tremble. There was an awful hush and pause in the meeting. At last the senior elder, sixty-four years old, rose and walked slowly up the aisle. He turned as he reached the pulpit, and said: 'Here am I; send me.' Strong men wept, but the answer had come; the Lord was leading them. A river craft was soon constructed and loaded with the flour. The whole Church assembled by the river to bid Godspeed to the enterprise; a parting hymn was sung, a fervent prayer offered, then the old man stepped on deck, and, seizing an oar, said: 'Farewell, brethren; unloose the cable, and let us see what the Lord will do for us. More than nine months passed without tidings of his fate or fortune. Sabbath after Sabbath came and went, many anxious glances fell upon the vacant seat, and united and fervent prayers ascended for his safe return. At last joy filled their hearts; there he sat in his accustomed place; the Lord had brought back his own, and with him more gold than had ever been seen in the settlement before. The Churches prospered, the minister labored on, and now he and his elder sleep side by side in the quiet old graveyard." (Mrs. H. Crawford, Detroit, Mich., in Home Missionary.)

Such were some of the needs, emergencies, and apostolic acts of the early Churches in the wilderness.

Aye, call it holy ground,
The spot where first they trod.


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