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The Scotch-Irish in America
Chapter 6

The ancient church of my nativity and of my foregatherers, like all others of the time, was planted on a ridge in what was then a dense forest of giant trees; various kinds of oak, elm, beech, chestnut, hickory, walnut, poplar, sugar-maple, and such like; with many smaller growths, such as dogwood, sassafras, sumach, spicewood, interlaced with a tangle of vines, ivy, wild-grape, and the like, making a jungle that in many places was almost impenetrable. The country was hilly, but generally free from rocks on the surface, and exceedingly fertile, abounding in springs, brooks and creeks. These original forests to one of aesthetic tastes, were superb. I have roamed through the vast forests of mighty redwood on the Pacific Coast, and camped among trees sixteen to eighteen feet in diameter and two hundred to three hundred feet high: I have also seen the gigantea sequoia, of the Sierras, by far the most colossal growths on the earth; and while these are unspeakably imposing in size, and stateliness, and antiquity, and the forests are like immense and awe-inspiring cathedrals, yet for exquisite beauty, and gorgeous foliage in autumn, I have seen nothing finer than the original forests of southwestern Pennsylvania. Two generations of hardy men wore themselves out in clearing away these vast forests and making the magnificent farms now owned by their posterity. In fact they have overdone this. It is a thousand pities that the country has been so denuded of its glorious forests. This makes it look bare, prosaic and common-place. Particularly is it a shame that the immediate surroundings of the old rural churches have been stripped so bare of trees. Judge Veech is right in saying that, "A treeless country church is worse than a tombless grave." All things considered, it would not be easy to find a richer section of the earth's surface than was the region we are now thinking of. The pioneer did not know how rich the country really was, any more than the old Californian that there were immense treasures of gold underneath his feet as he walked over the land. The early settler in southwestern Pennsylvania saw nothing and knew nothing of the immense layers of coal, the reservoirs of natural gas and oil beneath his feet as he tracked the forest. He saw only the fertile soil and well-watered country, covered with giant forests in the depths of which the panther and the savage had their lair. The Indian must be driven out and the forest cleared away before homes, schools, and churches could be established. Hence the forests, which now would be exceedingly valuable, were then a fearful incumbrance. The pioneer could not get room for his cabin or potato patch until he had made diligent use of his axe and grubbing hoe. The climate was far from ideal. The extremes of temperature were great, and the changes sudden and trying. In winter everything freezable froze, and in summer everything soluble melted. This added to the strenuousness of the struggle in subduing the country. But the like is true of most sections of the globe where the human race has done its best work and made its greatest achievements. A country where life is easy is not a good place to develop men, and is not the place where great things are done.

In the heart of this region, and about eight miles northwest of the present town of Washington, was placed the church of which I write particularly. The church of Cross Creek, joined with it in the same charge, was located about ten miles to the north. For many years it was strictly a rural congregation, though within the last forty years or more, a small village has grown up around it. A similar village, somewhat older and larger, grew up around Cross Greek. The old county has quite a number of such villages, made up largely of old people, widowed women and the like, who in their age and loneliness, snuggle up close to the church to spend their last days in quietness near the sanctuary and the graves of their people. For nearly the whole of the first hundred years of its history, the church had but three pastors, Smith, Anderson and Eagleson, all of them able and faithful men, and the dust of all of them lies in the adjoining graveyard, with appropriate monuments erected by the people they served. It is an ancient and ill-kept churchyard, full of the bones of men and women who lived toilsome and obscure, but worthy and victorious lives, and who did a service for God and their country which has laid the whole land under obligations. There lies the dust of men who were slain in sight of their burning cabins while defending their wives and little ones from the ruthless savage; there also the dust of officers and soldiers of the Revolution; there the ashes of mothers of men who have done great things for God and their country; there the bones of unknown and unhonored dead, some of whom were surely great in the sight of the Lord; there also, the remains of many noble men of my own time who gave their lives for their country in our great civil war. The graves of representatives of five generations of my own name and blood are there, and many others might say the same of theirs.

"Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap;
Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

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

The Rev. Joseph Smith was the first pastor. He was from York county, Pa., a graduate of Princeton, and visited the region in April 1779. The first minister who visited that immediate neighborhood was the Rev. Matthew Henderson, who preached in the woods near where North Buffalo U. P. church now stands, as early as 1775. In 1778 a Seceder congregation was organized on that spot, and in October 1779, Mr. Henderson was called to be the pastor, in connection with Chartiers of the same communion. North Buffalo is but three miles from Upper Buffalo, yet owing to differences mainly about psalmody, it was thought right to organize the two congregations in the wilderness quite close together. As early as 1775, the Rev. John M'Millan visited the neighborhood of what is now Canonsburg, but owing to Indian troubles did not permanently settle in that region till 1778, when he became pastor of Char-tiers and Pigeon Creek. Rev. Thad-deus Dodd settled about the same time at Ten Mile Creek, a few miles away. M'Millan and Dodd, like Smith, were graduates of Princeton. All of them were able and scholarly men. I have before me as I write, the original Minute Book of Cross Creek and Upper Buffalo, containing a copy of the call issued to Mr. Smith by those two congregations. It is dated June 21st, 1779, and is signed by one hundred and sixteen names, most of them probably heads of families. They were scattered over a widely extended region of country. In the same book is a copy of a subscription paper with two hundred and nine names, and opposite each name the amount pledged in pounds and shillings. Among these names we find those of the two Poe brothers, the famous Indian fighters of that day, and of subsequent history and romance. The whole amount of salary pledged was one hundred and fifty pounds, and at the head of the paper is an explicit stipulation in the following words, "Whereas money has become of less value and every article has risen to an extravagant price, therefore we do hereby agree that the said sums shall annually be regulated by five men chosen in each congregation, and shall be made equal in value to what said sums would have been in 1774." The war of the Revolution was going on, currency was greatly depreciated, prices were extremely high, and hence the necessity of the above provision. Mr. Smith continued pastor of these two congregations until April 1792, when, dying suddenly of brain fever, he entered into rest. He was a remarkably eloquent and fervent man, of the deepest spiritual earnestness, and a preacher of uncommon pungency and power. Many traditions of his startling and powerful eloquence in the pulpit still linger in that region. He was the progenitor of several useful ministers, the Rev. James Power Smith, D. D. of Richmond, Va., one of the leading ministers in the Southern Church, being his great-grandson. Many a time have I sat on the broad slab which covers his tomb in the old churchyard, and read the long inscription written by his scholarly friend and fellow-worker, Rev. Thaddeus Dodd.

In a log cabin in the deep woods on his farm near Buffalo, Mr. Smith set up a classical school, and in it were trained not a few men for the ministry, some of them rather notable, one being the Rev. James M'Gready, the real founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, though he never joined it himself. This M'Gready was an old Buffalo boy, and very notable in his day.

When the war of the Revolution closed, the finances of the country were in a most deplorable state, as the continental money was nearly worthless, and coin was exceedingly scarce and hard to get. The salary of Mr. Smith fell into arrears and for several years was not paid. The situation became acute, and at length the question of meeting their obligations to their pastor had to be squarely faced by the people. He could not go on as things were. They must support him or lose him. The farmers had plenty of wheat, but no money, and no way of getting any. The only accessible market where they could get cash for their wheat or flour was New Orleans, two thousand miles away by the winding Ohio and Mississippi. Meetings were held and much prayer was offered up to God. The people were heartbroken at thought of losing their beloved pastor, and yet what could they do? Plenty of wheat was offered, and the miller down by the Ohio river, twelve miles away, was willing to turn it into flour, but how to get the flour to market, was the question. Who would undertake the long and perilous journey in a flat-boat, with the flour and bring back the money? At last, an aged elder, a Mr. William Smiley, stood up and said, "I will go if you will engage two strong young men to go with me." It was a bold act of faith in the old man, but he was resolute to make his offer good. By the promise of a large reward, two young men were persuaded to accompany him. It was a great and solemn undertaking. The entire distance was through an almost unpeopled solitude, except as the wilderness swarmed with savages. There was no way of return except by rowing up the mighty river, or travelling the whole distance on foot through the forests, subsisting as best they might. All this old Father Smiley and the people well knew, but they did not flinch. The farmers carried their wheat to the mill by the river near where the town of Wellsburg, West Virginia, now stands; it was made into flour and placed on board a large flat-boat, or scow, built for the purpose. When the day appointed for starting came, the people assembled from far and near in a great company; solemn religious services were held and the weeping people commended their friends and their enterprise to God. The aged elder stepped aboard with his two helpers, gave the order to cut loose, and away they floated on the bosom of the mighty river. Weeks and months went by, and no tidings from the absent voyageurs. Whenever the people assembled for worship, fervent prayer was offered up to God in their behalf. In the homes of the people, when the father of his house gathered his family at the morning and evening altar, the protection of the Lord was fervently besought to be with Father Smiley and his enterprise. Little children as they knelt by their beds, were taught to lisp the name of Father Smiley, and earnestly ask their Father in heaven to prosper the old elder, to guard him and return him in safety and peace. Aged saints as they went out into the thickets to pray, poured out their supplications in the same behalf. Nine weary and anxious months went by, and at length one Sabbath morning when the people assembled for worship, there in his accustomed place in front of the pulpit, sat the sturdy old elder. He would give no particular account of his journey, for it was the Sabbath, but told the people that if they would assemble on a week day, he would tell them all. Now he would only say, that he and his helpers had safely reached their destination, had found a good market, and had walked the entire distance home, carrying with them a large sum in gold. The people with songs, and prayers, and tears, thanked God for having prospered the errand of his venerable servant, and for having returned him in safety from his long and perilous journey. He brought with him money enough to pay all arrears and leave a handsome balance in the treasury. This plain old Scotch-Irish farmer was one of God's genuine heroes. His name appears in no roll of earthly fame, but doubtless it shines with peculiar lustre in the roll of saints and heroes which is kept in heaven. For more than a hundred years, his grave has been in the old churchyard quite near that of the pastor whom he so deeply loved, and for whose comfort he was willing to do and to dare so much. Many a time since, no doubt, in the celestial Paradise, they have talked it all over together. His descendants have been in the same church ever since, and some of them are there to-day. However modest and even humble their station in life, surely they have royal blood in their veins. The question might here be raised, how many men are there in our great Church to-day who would undertake an enterprise of equal magnitude and danger, in order to get money to pay arrears in their pastor's salary, or to keep a church going in the wilderness, or anywhere else for that matter?

The old Minute Book referred to above contains a copy of the deed conveying the land on which the church stands, together with quite a large tract around it. The consideration was "two ears of corn." The first two buildings were rude log structures, the third a large barn-like structure of brick, and now for more than thirty years, there has stood on the same spot a rather stately building of brick and stone, a memorial to the departed.

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