Young John awakened to evangelic Methodism as a teen. On Christmas Eve 1803, a drunken man murdered his second-eldest brother, merchant Buford Early (1775-1803). After some distress, John unabashedly converted from his parents' Baptist faith less than four months later. Born New Year's Day 1786, the Virginian was yet a minor when licensed to preach in 1806. Reverend Doctor Abel Stevens (1815-1897) in 1884 disclosed "He had begun his public labors among Mr. Jefferson's slaves at Poplar Forest." It is unclear whether Early even awaited certification.
Thomas Jefferson's 4,800-acre plantation was no more than ninety minute's tramp from the Earlys' Bedford County 'Otter View' farmstead, a six-room birthplace on meadows betwixt Forest and New London, Virginia.1 Poplar Forest custodians host slave biographies. Early was presumptively a year or two at this labor – unlikely responsible for it – but Hannah Hubbard (1770-aft 1823) was literate. Administrators attest "A single surviving letter written in 1818 from Hannah to Jefferson … expressed her Christian faith." In truth, she artfully paraphrased scripture in a compassionate "get well" note to the ex-president.
Slave ministry was not uncommon Methodist strategy in America, particularly in the sect's formative years. When the faction was associated with Toryism. Captive audience provided a majority of 'members' in some revolution-era dominions. Writing while Early was alive, Brother Stevens in 1867 asserted "He has been noted from the beginning for his interest in the religious welfare of the colored race."
Let's look into that.
Reverend Francis Asbury (1745-1816) had arrived from England in 1771 to serve as Methodist Episcopal Church Superintendent of American Affairs. Seven years later he appointed himself bishop. Under his auspices Early was "received on trial" in 1807. Never seen described as unassuming, prestigious ceremony before friends, family and supreme cleric at Lynchburg, Virginia must have been fulfilling for Early. Despite stigma attached to nonconforming Methodists.
Ecclesiastic examination will become integral in this narrative. Asbury, presiding over Virginia clergy meeting in Annual Conference, introduced the aspirant to a probationary period. Brother Early was made itinerant: he was charged to preach and conduct classes along 'circuits' linking households of known converts. And to proselytize in the interim. Given ribald animosity the initiate faced – and crude, frontier conditions – the lifestyle itself was a trial.
"Their saddles were their homes," prefaced Bishop Collins Denny (1854-1943) when Early's diary entries were reproduced in 1925. Tellingly for this account, precious saddlebag space was allocated to tracts, "mostly the publications of [founder John] Wesley, and these books were sold to as many as could be induced to buy. Part of the duty of every preacher was to circulate books." Brother Early likely understood parsons' $100 annual pittance depended on sales: I intend to make impressive what our subject accomplished with that awareness.
Early's trial concluded. His character was found "blameless" in Methodist parlance. He was voted into "full connection" with the circuitry and ordained a Deacon when the 1809 Virginia Annual Conference rotated into North Carolina convening (then part of Virginia jurisdiction). Asbury described "pleasing, promising young men" there assembled. On 1 February – the day of Early's ordination – the Bishop journaled on further privation: "In all the conference there are but three married men. The high taste of these southern folks will not permit their families to be degraded by an alliance with a Methodist travelling preacher; and thus, involuntary celibacy is imposed upon us: all the better; anxiety about worldly possessions does not stop our course, and we are saved from pollution of Negro slavery and oppression." It's odd association to make, between marriage and slave ownership. I'd think it more apparent that "promising" men of property were more likely to abstain from the ridicule and rigor that itinerant preaching augured.
Bemoaning failure to increase lay membership, Asbury that day privately observed "We are defrauded of great numbers by the pains that are taken to keep the blacks from us; their masters are afraid of the influence of our principles. Would not an amelioration in the condition and treatment of slaves have produced more good to the poor Africans, than any attempt at their emancipation?" [Formatting as per transcription, a style I generally employ throughout.]
Early would soon enough answer his bishop. Decisively.
Asbury based doubt for long-term religious welfare on race. Potential backsliding by White recruits did not engender the same suspected incapacity for exercising free will: "What is the personal liberty of the African which he may abuse, to the salvation of his soul; how may it be compared?"2
Parson Henry Boehm (1775-1875) recalled unmarried Asbury extolling on "the most elegant young men I have ever seen in features, body, and mind; they are manly, and yet meek." Boehm styled it the 'Bachelor' Conference receiving Brother Early into fellowship. I find it notable that, writing some sixty years after the event, he named Early, singly, among thirteen deacons and seventeen preachers ordained.
As Deacon, Parson Early obtained voting status in clerics' self-ruling Conference. "After two years farther probation he was ordained elder," recorded Redford. This too required peer assessment and approval. By the bestowal, he acquired authority to administer sacraments, baptize, and officiate at weddings and burials. In the week of his elevation, Elder Early preached as part of a lineup that included Asbury in thrice-daily rites in the North Carolina State House at Raleigh. Our crusader would come to master an intersection of church, state and enterprise.
Protestants' Second Great Awakening was in full swing. Brother William Wallace Bennett (1821-1887) reported "A change, very slight … was passing over the minds of the preachers on the question of slavery" at their February 1812 Virginia Annual Conference. Early was present as charges were laid against Bishop Asbury. In absentia. He was formally accused of having authorized a slave to preach Methodism. "There was no further pursuit of the case when it was discovered that I was ready with my certificates to prove his freedom," Asbury countered. Preachers' issue with the bishop was not adjudicated in subsequent trial by clergy. "From this, one thing is certain," Bennett asserted, "that in the judgment of the Virginia Conference, at that day, it was wrong to "ordain a slave.""
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As with any good drama, this protagonist presented as a Reputable Man. Life events will shape his character. Responsive orchestrations will make it evident.
Parson Early, already a seemingly inveterate traveler, was at New York in May. Virginia brethren had elected him to a slate of delegates to Methodist's General Conference of 1812. The national body stepped further from founder John Wesley's complete rejection of coerced subjugation, evidenced in 1774 Thoughts Upon Slavery. "The grand plea is, "They are authorized by Law,"" Wesley (1703-1791) had annunciated, on slavers and slaveholders after explicitly citing Virginia code. "But can Law, Human Law, change the nature of things? Can it turn Darkness into Light, or evil into good? By no means. Notwithstanding ten thousand Laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between Justice and Injustice, Cruelty and Mercy. So that still I ask, Who can reconcile this treatment of the Negroes first and last with either Mercy or Justice?"
It is perhaps sufficient to contend that Early observed ricochet in denomination-wide consensus. The clerics' body was, organizationally, unwieldy. Slavery had been uniquely odious and contentious when compared to other considerations. Convening at four-year intervals, to have discerned solidifying resolve would have been impossible at General Conference. Had he knowledge of institutional history, Delegate Early might have grasped that divergent positions on forced subservience were being adopted at accelerated pace.
1804 delegates had reaffirmed "when any of our travelling preachers become owners of a slave or slaves by any means, they shall forfeit their ministerial character in the Methodist Episcopal Church, unless they execute, if it be practicable, a legal emancipation of such slave or slaves, agreeably to the laws of the state wherein they live." (Journal.) Mere years after Wesley's death, American Methodists' church law had bowed completely to civil code on the issue of slavery.
"We are more than ever convinced of the great evil of the African slavery which still exists in these United States" came 1812 pronouncement, with Early present. (Journal.) Recommending exceeding caution, the church-wide body allowed annual conferences "to make whatever regulations they judge proper … respecting the admission of [slaveholders] to official stations in our Church." Permissive language, requiring manumission "immediately or gradually, as the laws of the states respectively, and the circumstances of the case, will admit," embraced personal, fiscal consideration while retaining legalistic and convoluted wiggle room. The assembly adopted gender-based timelines following purchase of humans by members of Methodist Society: even if she had worked off the cost of purchase, for a female slave’s son, born in captivity during that accrual, manumission was not required until he attained age twenty-five. (Daughters were to be freed at age twenty-one. No provision addressed paternity, as it might for blooded stock bred at Otter View.) Some in retrospect describe compromise, others "appeasement" for captors. I will concur with Powell: "Desire for the preservation of Church unity and effectiveness in American life partially explained Asbury's failure to enforce anti-slavery sentiment." 3
Delegates were dispatched with admonition: "Preachers and other members of our society are requested to consider the subject of negro slavery with deep attention, till the ensuing General Conference …" Early would invest a half-century in it.
Our subject's attitude (and tendency toward acerbity) was revealed by 9 June 1812 diary entry: "A strange young man came to me and said he wished to speak …" the revivalist journaled. Immediately following a mixed-race, open air camp meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia environs just following the Conference. "He said I had injured the feelings of his wife by saying a negro speculator was among the blackest characters, as he was a speculator himself. I told him I was sorry I had injured his wife and further (I was sorry) she had a negro speculator for her husband."
The preacher inherited captives six months later. Cousin Ruth Hairston Early (1849-1928) summarized probate records: Joshua Early (1738-1812) willed a cedar chest, the Otter View farmhouse with a land parcel, "together with slaves, stock and furniture" to his unmarried son.
Wesley had specifically addressed John Early's situation: "Perhaps you will say, "I do not buy any Negroes: I only use those left me by my Father." Wesley's decree was absolute and – from England – concordant with a revolutionary era: "Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as he breathes the vital air. And no human law can deprive him of that right, which he derives from the law of nature. If therefore you have any regard to Justice, (to say nothing of Mercy, nor the revealed Law of GOD) render unto all their due, Give Liberty to whom Liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature." Though he may well have seen to their religious welfare, I found no evidence that Early, upon receipt, freed any person for whom he had just received lawful title. [Conversely, Reverend Peter Cartwright took his inherited slaves to jurisdiction where manumission was a simple matter. See initial comment following my 2011 post.]
1815 was a banner year for Parson Early. He quit riding rural circuits … to marry Ann Winifred Jones (1790-1820) at North Carolina. "Marriage generally meant discontinuance from the itineracy," acknowledged Bishop Denny, when writing of Early. I suppose the groom soon pastored an established congregation. Important for any clerical aspiration, peers elected the up-and-comer Secretary to the Virginia Annual Conference that year. [The term 'secretary' rose in my esteem, when drafting This Moderate and Less Shamefull Way.]
"The general government offered him the governorship of Illinois when it was a territory," according to Stevens. It's unlikely: though the position of Territorial Secretary opened up at the close of 1816, Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) had a lock on Governor throughout the James Madison administration. Mere contention is important: it acknowledged Reverend Early as applying his talents more broadly. Impressive civic pursuits soon crowded into his agenda. [Update: Canadian-born John Early (1828-1877) served as Lieutenant Governor for the State of Illinois 1873-1877.]
It is interesting to note that Early so soon departed for long days away from home. Bishop William McKendree (1757-1835) in 1817 appointed him Presiding Elder over preachers ranging along Meherrin River into North Carolina. Initiating his own ascent into church administration, Elder Early got back in the saddle … to supervise postulants. He would later superintend rigidly discrepant access to clerical opportunity. As wealth and confidence accrued, so would a sense of superiority. Race and bondage – while at the heart of succeeding matters – would not be the only yardsticks he'd employ, when deciding who should teach Christian precepts.
(1805-1857) she and the thirty-six-year-old preacher took up stately residence (left). In an existing home spanning a wide lot at the northwest corner of Court and Seventh streets at Lynchburg.4
Early's peers in March 1822 again elected him Secretary to the Virginia Conference. It is worth remark that, with exception of 1845 (when devoting full attention to church-wide affairs), Early persistently secretaried or presided over that body … for twenty-eight years. He had sponsors and confederates from the outset. Stevens vouchsafed Brother Early: "Possessing an iron constitution, a practical but ardent mind, a notably resolute will, and habits rigorously systematic and laborious, he became a favorite coadjutor, a confidential counselor," of Bishop Asbury and, on his 1816 death, subsequent "leaders of the denomination."
Expecting his first child, Early applied himself to schooling. In this commencing example of institutional development, he was among men self-organized in years-long project planning. They secured pledges to finance facilities and staffing. Father Early was among incorporators when, on 14 February 1823, the Virginia legislature chartered "a school for the education of the children and orphans of poor parents." Brother William Asbury Christian (1866-1936) styled The Lynchburg Charity School as the town's "first organized effort for public education."
John Early was first-named among Directors of the Lynchburg branch of the Bank of Virginia in 1825 report. Two of the other dozen directors were kin to his deceased mother, Mary (Leftwich) Early (1746-1818). By 1826 Director Early had begun dabbling in infrastructure improvement. As a Lynchburg and Salem Turnpike Commissioner, the financier sought legislative authority to extend the cobblestone tollway bringing custom to New London.
Church biographers make much of Early repeatedly refusing nomination into the U.S. House of Representatives … preferring instead to remain a clergyman. "In politics he was an ardent Whig, and was once nominated for Congress in his district; but when the committee called to notify him of the action of the convention, he heard them patiently and replied, "Gentlemen, I thank you, but I have a commission from a Higher Power,"" recollected John Goode, Jr. (1829-1909). Denny alleged slavocracy opponent John Quincy Adams sought Early out, in appointment as Governor of Territorial Arkansas. If true, offer would most likely have arrived in 1825.
Early organized – and undoubtedly helped finance – a chapter of the American Colonization Society at Lynchburg in 1825. Presiding for at least five years over non-denominational initiative to discharge people of African descent to Africa, he raised local money and popularized the cause among first families and other influencers. He boosted Virginia Annual Conference patronage. A hundred signatories accompanied 1828 petition to the Virginia Legislature, in failed attempt to secure tax-funded bounties for emigrants. Sanderfer associated Lynchburg with forty-three souls emigrating aboard the Liberia in 1830.5
Brother Early spent most of May 1828 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following sixteen-year hiatus, he once again represented Virginia clergy at Methodist's General Conference. Bishops recognized expertise. They prompted him "to prepare a system of rules for the government of this conference." (Journal.) He returned with proposal the following day. They appointed him to a five-man Committee on the Book Concern and a 'Committee on Unfinished Business.' From those perches he prompted update of the sects' governing Book of Discipline … to synthesize changes made by conference consensus. Calls for devising means to discern incompetent travelling preachers (or those "who will not labor") and for a fellow preacher's expulsion "on account of contumacy" show him active in debate. Publishing – and concern for the character of Christian messengers – will become thematic in Early.
Lynchburg friends gave Reverend John Early dire warning on 18 July 1829. They advised him "to leave town … for there was a plan on foot." To hang the civic leader! Christian described initiative to provide the burgh with waterworks. He affiliated Early with 1822 leadership that did not produce results: it credits our protagonist's character that he for seven years remained backer of a costly plan for what were then called 'internal improvements.' Early spoke for initiators: "Water will run if the principles of science are true, and, if not, we are not afraid of the hanging." The pumphouse proved functional: it drew from a reservoir (still extant) on a Seventh Street lot he had conveyed for $2,000. "John Early and the rest of the watering committee were the heroes of the hour …" No small amount of fanfare followed.
is largely a tale of ambition. I departed from Cousin John Early after he had been instrumental in obtaining 1830 legislative charter for Randolph-Macon College. Which named him a Trustee. He was promptly elected President of that board, chaired its inaugural Building Committee (right) and served as Rector. Intent on seeing the Methodist-sponsored initiative maximally capitalized, he had effectively given up the pulpit to act as the school's agent in business matters. He was near-perpetually from home, working potential benefactors and sundry Annual Conferences for sustaining finance.6 For many historians, Early's claim on renown anchors in this enduring enterprise.
The Reverend Early carried ambition to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And Methodists' 1832 General Conference. "He received a large vote for the Episcopate, and would probably have been elected had it not been for his connection with slavery," Stevens conceded. Methodist Episcopal clergy frustrated Early's reach for a bishop's office. I leave it to the reader to infer whether fraternal rejection informed subsequent feats of church administration.
OBrion characterized Early: "As he grew older, he became more reconciled to slavery, reflecting the trend among evangelicals and Virginians as a whole …" Cartwright, in his folksy manner, makes this a general observation in my brief, 2011 post. "It might even be questioned whether the Church had ever been anti-slavery in any deeply religious sense," Purifoy boldly asserted … after scrutinizing scant record Wesley left on the subject. It is an ugly truth that the framer never explicitly instructed American church administrators on 'method' to repulse institutional enmeshment with cruelty and injustice. Purifoy found Wesley's ruminations, adopted as near-informal American custom of excluding slaveholders from membership, were never premised on specific scriptural interpretation.7 Lawyerly, subsequent-generation theologians could reasonably migrate to abolition as an issue entirely beyond Methodist Episcopal purview.
James Rives Childs (1893-1987) described his great-grandfather as "a most liberal patron of letters." He found "The name of John Early appears as one of its first subscribers and patrons" when Southern Literary Messenger went into production at Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 1834. (I did not.) It was a very civilized venture to back: even Childs admitted Early "was not a college-bred man." In inaugural issue, editor James Ewell Heath (1792-1862) vowed "to stimulate the pride and genius of the south." He warranted "aristarchy of the north and east … will rejoice in the emancipation of the south, from the shackles which either indolence, indifference, or the love of pleasure, have imposed upon us." In 1835 his publisher employed struggling poet Edgar 'Allan' Poe (1809-1849) as a staff writer and critic. (Who a decade later admitted to "constitutional indolence.") As described in Addendum, Early would before long industriously embrace Richmond publishing.
(1779-1840), subject of my previous post: Reverend Early served canal speculators on an 1832 Committee of Organization – and then as a Director – of a reorganized James River and Kanawha Canal Company when the project received legislative charter in 1835.
Director Early's organizational prowess was superior. "Work had been begun on the canal [c1785], and the town had suffered a good deal from an epidemic of fever, thought to have been caused by so much digging about here," recorded Brother Christian, of Lynchburg. "The people were pleased at the prospect of a canal, but were not satisfied. There was still an eager desire for a railroad which nothing else could satisfy."
"The question was greatly agitated," allowed Christian. And railroading had a champion. At 1835 public meeting "Rev. John Early and a number of other citizens were appointed to petition the legislature to incorporate the Lynchburg and Tennessee railroad." When they prevailed the following year "great rejoicing" at Lynchburg evoked the spirit of Christmas in March: "The event was celebrated by a great illumination. Nearly every house had its windows illuminated with candles." Our espouser invested a preacher's oratory. In speculative materialism. "Promoters of the road continued with unceasing effort to push forward the scheme." "A large meeting was held in the Methodist Protestant church. Rev. John Early was chairman. Strong speeches were made urging the citizens to subscribe liberally to the stock, and not without effect …" Hundreds of thousands of dollars were pledged.
Capitalism collapsed in The Panic of 1837 and the scheme went bust.
Brother Early devoted May 1836 as part of the Virginia delegation to Methodist General Conference convened at Cincinnati, Ohio. As they had four years earlier, peers promptly passed his resolutions laying down rules of conduct and establishing work groups. Bishops appointed him to Committees on Education and the Episcopacy (which he chaired). By the phrase "genius of Methodism" in report from the latter – proposing clarified policy of rotating preaching assignments – he signaled intellectual embrace of religious cause. (Journal.) The strategist also called for a Bishop to "visit our work in Western Africa" in the next four years. (The stimulus was not adopted.)
(1823-1864), now one of four siblings, turned fourteen in 1837. Just three years shy of the age when her mother married.8 The Virginia legislature that year incorporated John Early (left) as an inaugural Trustee for the Female Collegiate Institute. The first chartered college endowed for women in Virginia – and much of the nation – opened doors at Buckingham County the following year. As at Randolph-Macon College, this set of Methodist trustees launched into funding ambitious hiring and construction programs.
Abolitionists arrived with an agenda at Baltimore for Methodist's 1840 General Conference. Age fifty-four and participating in such assemblies for more than half his life, Early proved deft. He established "rules and orders" with the first motion introduced to the body. And followed up with "a series of resolutions for the appointment of various committees." (Journal.) The gospeller again chaired the Committee of Episcopacy (into which he funneled pet projects). From a work group he was assigned to lead, Early proposed ties to the American Colonization Society closer than assembled Methodists were willing to embrace. He was appointed to Committees of Education and the Chartered Fund (by which clergy were compensated). His influence flowed to the body as detailed reports, intended to be digested following daily adjournment.
A week into the Conference "religious exercises by brother Early" opened the session: I do not mean to convey that church governance was distinct from the leader's spirituality. "His impetuosity in debate was grand," parsed Brother Leonidas Rosser (1815-1892). "His soul was set on fire by the velocity of its purpose. He did not stop to consider whether he was impelled by his own innate energy or by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit, for the two so blended as to render the former indistinguishable, and both perfectly irresistible."
By Sutton's accounting, "J. Early moved the appointment of a standing Committee on Slavery, to whom all papers, petitions, and memorials, upon that subject, shall be referred."9 Virginians did not appoint Early to the Committee. Purifoy ascertained investigation into grievance found no evidence that "persons living in Virginia but under the jurisdiction of the Baltimore Annual Conference were being excluded from the ministry on the simple grounds of slaveholding." However, "In clearing up the point, another concession was made to slaveholders." Abolitionists "suffered their worst defeat" of a contentious convocation: clerics resolved definitively that peers held the same slaveholding rights members did, in states where manumission was not legally 'practicable.'
Purifoy mused "One wonders why the Church should have so soon retreated from the high moral ground it had taken and then make war upon those who tried to uphold the original position." I will argue that Methodist Episcopal abolitionists were up against a master committeeman acutely aware of self-interest. Purifoy's wonderment summonses contention that Christian scripture justifies slavery.
"Presidents of the United States, Governors of his own beloved State, politicians and citizens, had time and again invoked his superior practical wisdom for the management of important civil trusts," eulogized Bishop Holland Nimmons McTyeire (1824-1889). He further advised our protagonist "yielded to none, save in an incidental way. Not that he was wanting in devotion to the material as well as spiritual prosperity of his beloved State."
Stevens, writing while Early lived and could refute mischaracterization, was specific: U.S. President John Tyler solicited Early to act as Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury. Tyler did make 1841 appointment to the post.10 Brother Stevens relayed that Early, certainly competent, loftily replied he could not "come down" to national office. Reverend Doctor Edward Jacob Drinkhouse (1830-1903) contended of Early, "Honest, unflinching, and unpurchaseable, he declined profitable positions from the United States government." Set his premise against cousinly intrigue exposed at The Ruling Force of Time.
Episcopal Methodists convened at New York City on 1 May 1844. "The six-week session would be the longest General Conference in Methodist history," by Stone's assessment. Much is made of clergy's suspension of Bishop James Osgood Andrew (1794-1871). For refusing to manumit Kitty and other slaves acquired in Georgia marriage. Reverend Doctor Charles Elliott (1792-1869) in 1855 recorded "The case of the Rev. Francis A. Harding" as actually opening "controversy on slavery at the General conference of 1844." It was our subject putting Harding's case before the body … as "precursor to the case of Bishop Andrew."
Early was zealous in ecclesiastic debate appealing a traveling preacher's suspension from clerical responsibility. Brother Thomas Hall Pearne (1820-1901), a New York observer, recollected Early: "His marked persistence in gaining and holding the floor, and his having his say on nearly all questions, made him conspicuous."11
"Harding married a wife possessing slaves," explained Elliott, naming Harry, Maria and John: Methodist's Discipline "required emancipation, if practicable. It was practicable; for others in like circumstances found it practicable, and did emancipate." The Baltimore Annual Conference, in which Francis Asbury Harding (1812-1872) was ensconced, had – ever since organization prior to Harding's birth – required slaves in a Parson's household be freed. No matter how slaveholding came to pass. "Harding refused to emancipate. The [Baltimore] conference suspended him. He … brought his case before the General conference as an appeal."
I will leave it to a footnote to put disputants' case before you. Surprisingly, it contains a gender equity argument I find sound. Less remarkable, given the times, Early's contentions had legal merit, and sound legitimacy in Methodist custom.12
(right) informed the disuniting Conference that "He hoped they would remember that large majorities were apt to be tyrannical …"
We will revisit tyranny over preachers.
It's important to understand that Brother Harding's defenders opposed summary process. Harding had been denied benefit of representation in rational trial by peers … mandated in this degree of penalization.13
While on the subject of clerical punishment, please allow a quick discursion. Wesley had asked "Who can reconcile this treatment of the Negroes?" At age ninety-eight, Mattie Curtis (b c1839) contributed her own history to Slave Narratives produced by the Federal Writers Project. As transcribed: "Preacher Whitfield, bein' a preacher, wus supposed to be good, but he ain't half fed ner clothed his slaves an' he whupped 'em bad. I'se seen him whup my mammy wid all de clothes offen her back. He'd buck her down on a barrel an' beat de blood outen her. Dar wus some difference in his beatin' from de neighbors. De folks round dar 'ud whup in de back yard, but Marse Whitfield 'ud have de barrel carried in his parlor fer de beatin'." Mattie, who went unclothed until mature at age fourteen, continued, "We ain't had no sociables, but we went to church on Sunday an' dey preached to us dat we'd go ter hell alive if'fen we sassed our white folks." I was unable to identify Whitfield, or the Granville, North Carolina denomination. [Insolent North Carolina behavior referenced at footnote 2.]
Beneficiaries esteemed Early for introducing the concept of Standing Committees to Methodists' General Conference a dozen years earlier. 1844 delegates would have fatigued out, had he not "moved a series of resolutions marked A, B, and numbered from 1 to 12" at outset. (Journal.) Thankfully, he proposed a committee to determine the best method to publish proceedings. I suspect Elder Early sensed history was in the making. If he had gamed out long-term legal strategy the man was genius. Perhaps he had poured through prior convocations' scant minutes … and ached to understand spiritual and legislative intent informing church decisions. Perhaps he revered scribes as part of Biblical legacy.14 It would be reasonable to conclude that he valued his own testament.
Stevens found, of Brother Early, "He took an active part in the measures that resulted in the division of the Church in 1844."15 A month into the convening, Early presented and read into the record a 14-page 'Protest of the Minority of the General Conference against the Action of that Body in the Case of Bishop Andrew' prepared by Reverend Doctor Henry Bidleman Bascom (1796–1850). John Early was among signatories that surprisingly included delegates of New Jersey, Illinois, Philadelphia and Ohio Conferences. Our orchestrator was appointed to a committee of six, "three from the North and three from the South," who conferred with bishops (sans Andrew) and reported a mutually agreeable Plan of Separation … "for the permanent pacification of the Church."
Proposal, for "a separate, independent existence," by a Southern splinter group, evidenced Early's language. ("Tyranny" only appears in prelates' rebuttal and refutation by a Northern faction.) The Protest is heartbreaking. "Beloved brethren" used phrasing like "compromise[d] basis of union." Many of the same rationales would appear in arguments favoring dismemberment of valiantly united states.
Methodist Episcopal Bishops formally professed "to sympathize with millions of the African race in this land, being children of the same common Father of mankind … but who are deprived of equal civil rights and privileges with the white citizens, by the laws and institutions over which we have no control …" They also issued a statement of unity: "Papal power has invaded Protestant communities with such success as should awaken and unite the energies of the evangelical Churches of Christ in every part of the world." With "a combination of powerful agencies, Romanism is now labouring, not only to recover what it lost of its former supremacy in the Reformation, but also to assert and establish its monstrous pretensions in countries never subject either to its civil or ecclesiastical authority."
[Catholic rule in the Province of Marlyand was evinced at This Moderate and Less Shamefull Way.]
Some scourges seemed more monstrous than others.
Samuel Stockwell Early (1827-1884) left undated anecdote for consideration: his distant cousin "... was Protestant to the verge of fanaticism, and his hostility to Romanism intense and uncompromising." A sign over a Baltimore warehouse attracted John Early's attention: it "tempted him" to discover whether the proprietor shared family connection. (I can relate.) "He enquired "Do you belong to the church of Rome?" Being assured that such was not the case he said, "Well, then, I hope I may be able to discover a kinsman in you. Had you clung to the degrading superstitions which, I am sorry to say, constituted the creed of my ancestors, I should not care to trace a relationship; unless, indeed, by so doing I might, under God's providence, be made the instrument of your conversion!""16 Likely describing his circuit-riding days, Ellis in 2010 recorded "John Early insulted Virginia Baptists when he vowed to "kill Calvinism" during his sermons."
In denominational schism, rare to occur over non-theological matters, the Methodist Church broke apart over "the distracting agitation which has so long prevailed on the subject of slavery and abolition." (Debate.) It is inescapable that our shepherd was masterful in disunion. When no Bishop had yet come aboard at Louisville, Kentucky convention a year later – on 1 May 1845 – eighty-seven "delegates of the several conferences of the Methodist Episcopal church in slaveholding states" elected Brother Early President pro tempore. (Journal.) At inaugural convening of a throng that would organize as the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (M.E.C.S.).
The following day, with a Bishop presiding, Early was appointed to Chair a Committee of Organization. (Report.) Ninety-seven assembled preachers (with three opposed) favored resolution he soon introduced: a "distinct and separate ecclesiastical communion" was declared. Bishop Andrew appointed Early to Chair a Finance Committee. His peers unanimously elected him their Agent, to "receive moneys and contributions" and to return the following year with proposal to launch their own Book Concern. He had a dozen years' experience, generating revenue in publishing and distribution.
Revered John Early stoked a fire.
"After the sacrament of the Lord's supper," on 24 April 1846 at Capeville, Virginia, "Mr. Early lectured the people on the division of the Church. He pointed out the danger to the south of admitting northern preachers to their pulpits; that they were abolitionists, and would sow dangerous opinions among the slaves," according to Doctor Elliott. Shockingly, "The effect of [Early's] speech on the baser sort was to prepare and excite them to mob violence …"17 Early's ilk at the time were quick to discourse on abolitionist 'agitators.' It seems our partisan was quite capable of inciting "dangerous opinions" among slavery's adherents. I find it particularly onerous that Brother Early targeted Christians in communion. Ostensibly, they associated by shared, fundamental reverence for a professor of brotherly love.
The new denomination's inaugural General Conference at Petersburgh, Virginia the following month resolved "That John Early be, and is hereby, authorized to act as the agent or appointee of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in conformity to the plan of separation adopted by the General conference of 1844, to receive and hold in trust, for the use and benefit of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, all property and funds of every description which may be paid over to him by the Agents of the Methodist Episcopal Church." (Journal.) It was substantive appointment. The investiture made it apparent that his cohort imagined Early as an able fiscal custodian. They put their faith in him.
Let us hearken back to circuit-riders' abounding saddlebags. Clergy unanimously elected John Early Book Agent for the new denomination. Expectations were high. He was to wrest control of a Methodist Episcopal Book Depository at Charleston, South Carolina; and oversee production of weekly newspapers published there, at Richmond, and at Louisville. He was to introduce a Nashville Christian Advocate to Tennesseans. He was to publish a Journal of administrative proceedings to date, and initiate a Sunday-school journal. He assumed publisher's responsibility for an upmarket Quarterly Review. We need not suppose the tasks to be an imposition: I suspect the agenda to have been of his own devising.
Agent Early was provided an office at Richmond; more than a hundred miles from Lynchburg. I suspect sustained absence begat some cost to home-life at his manse.
Editors and subeditors reported to M.E.C.S. Book Committees. Early nevertheless helped define the breakaway faction … by supervising messaging coursing through various outlets. Though "a vigorous writer," in Tyler's assessment, and an emotive story-teller by many accounts, Early published but "a few sermons, addresses, and occasional pamphlets" that he had personally written. "Some of them relating to the disruption controversy." As with Cousin Eleazer, John Early was keen to establish and archive a written record of his bureaucratic endeavors.
Publishing was a profit center for the church. Sales financed the Chartered Fund. Laudatory Stevens observed, of Early, "Possessing surpassing capacity for business, he was often called upon for important services by both Church and State." Permit me to depart from solidly religio-political history. To fully appreciate this messenger's ability to proselytize on the Divine, it may be informative to return to terrestrial pursuits under his arousal. There was some overlap.
"People from beyond Lynchburg continued to clamor for a railroad since the James River and Kanawha Canal seemed destined never to reach them," noted Turner. At an 1845 public meeting, "Rev. John Early offered resolutions that a road starting at Lynchburg and going west be built and called the Richmond and Ohio road, and that the town subscribe to one thousand shares of stock on these conditions." With phrasing like "discouragements seemed to feed the flame of desire," Christian dramatized drawn-out second attempt. Early was again chosen to secure legislative assent. He proved stalwart. After collision and compromise in Virginia's House and Senate, the Lynchburg & Tennessee Rail Road ultimately received charter – but no state funding – in March 1848.
Incorporators called a public meeting at the Universalist church. Preacher Early chaired it: "Speeches were made urging the people to secure the charter," by pledging nearly a million dollars' capital before a June deadline. The Town of Lynchburg subscribed $500,000 worth of stock. Businesses closed at 3p.m. on 22 May; a subscription book was solemnly laid open at the Masonic Lodge. When it was closed on 1 June, all outstanding shares had been subscribed. A truly remarkable achievement for a burgh accommodating around 2,000 White males. The state legislature roared in with a million-dollar loan … in 1849 charter organizing the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road.18
"It was bitter cold and the ground was covered with snow" on 16 January 1850. Christian described procession formed behind Virginia's Governor and the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road President: "Then followed the orators, clergy, directors of the new road, military companies, city officers and citizens on foot." After parading through town, "exercises … opened with prayer by the Rev. John Early." Loftily poised atop a bridge. After dignitaries turned spadesful of dirt, breaking ground for the road, the Mechanics Artillery concluded affairs by firing a salute.19
(left), later known as Court Street M.E.C.S., he preached three dedication sermons on Sunday, 29 June 1851.20
The pulpitarian manifest attributes of a resilient financier. He had attached himself to incorporation of The Merchant and Planters Bank at Lynchburg in 1837. It may have promptly failed in the Panic. 1851 legislative charter established the Merchants Bank of Virginia, also at Lynchburg: John Early was first-named among incorporators chosen to superintend sales of bank stock. An obituary contended he served as President "for a while," but does not identify the bank. Riddick's mischievous 1914 reminiscence described Early as Director of Merchants Bank. Vying for control with an arch rival.
recorded the Botetourt County Historical Society. The vessel "carried a large number of dignitaries, prominent citizens, members of the "Saunders Band" and cannoneers of the Lynchburg Artillery."
I suspect the actual John Early was among celebrants. Crowds gathered canal-side and clustered at locks to cheer the menagerie, passing in dawn-to-dark procession. "Because the hotels had run out of sleeping quarters for all of the visitors, dances and parties were held through the night until dawn to occupy all of the people." I doubt the Reverend Early was among revelers. It may be unfair to hold him to revulsion for Christmas excess more than forty years prior, but Ellis found delicious 1807 diary entry decrying "Children of Darkness" who "fir[ed] off their guns, drank, and danced."
In 1852 Early presided over organization of Spring Hill Cemetery Association. Ruth Early described a tract of Campbell County land John and wife Elizabeth deeded to the project the following year. Under Early's leadership, organizers fought off legal injunction. To imbue terrestrial beauty, they in 1855 employed noted landscaper John Notman (1810-1865) out along Salem Turnpike. The Association confided, "residents of the area were still opposed to the establishment of a cemetery in their neighborhood" when an initial burial was contemplated. "In anticipation of trouble, the undertakers, the pallbearers and others in attendance were armed with pistols." Obsequy, led by another, "took place without incident on October 18th, 1855."
Canon fire and armed pallbearers: that's foreshadowing.
journaled Robert Anderson Young (1824-1902) in 1856. Judging from "creature comforts" around him at Lynchburg, and "positions of commanding influence he has held in the financial affairs of Virginia, and of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South," the fellow clergyman and coadjutor produced a distinctly intimate word picture. A tad generous in assessment generally, Brother Young described Early as over six-foot tall, "with a large mouth, prominent nose, piercing eyes … with a chieftain's born-to-command air about him." Young's sketch twice referenced habiliment: he "dresses in the style of an Old Virginia gentleman — has a full suit of white hair, with dark eyebrows."
Returning to M.E.C.S. history, Early, "the Book Agent or steward at Richmond," introduced himself to Reverend Doctor James Dixon (1788-1871) at Pittsburgh in 1848. The past-President of the Methodist Church of Great Britain attested "It makes one's heart bleed to think of men like these spending their time and their talents in service so wretched."
It wasn't the work product galling Dixon. "Mr. Early" presented him with a revised hymn-book, "beautifully got up and well arranged, together with several other works connected with the southern question." Well-versed in assessing ministers, Dixon found "These gentlemen manifested the greatest kindness and urbanity; and did all in their power to leave an impression on my mind, that the position which they now hold has not caused them to be less Methodistical than before [church separation]. In spirit, piety, honesty of purpose — in frankness of character, in warm affections — they certainly are not." High personal praise, indeed.
And yet Dixon could not condone malevolence: "One cannot help deploring that talents competent to the highest studies and investigations of theological and sacred truth, should be devoted to partisan warfare." Dixon was the earliest source I discovered to associate Early with a Doctor of Divinity degree. (I found no mention anywhere of a body bestowing it; and strongly suspect honorary title was harvested from Randolph-Macon College.) Contained in Dixon's moral deprecation was incipient respect for reasoning skills young John Early had honed, likely at New London Academy. In adulthood, our subject's language and insight could be downright scholarly.
Methodist Episcopal leaders proved incapable of reasoning a just outcome within institutional structures. Reverend Doctor Early, who had obtained charter for the Book Concern as charitable enterprise with legal standing, was "present and consenting" when three M.E.C.S. Commissioners resorted to civil law in 1848. Attorneys argued on behalf of local entities where Southern Methodists operated publishing houses.
Vernon portrayed sustained effort reminding me of Incorporator Early's near-simultaneous tenacity in financing birth of the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road. Agent Early labored to New York City for ongoing negotiation. Where, by 1851, "The Southern Church was awarded a total of $275,000, consisting of $191,000 cash, to be paid over ten years, and ownership of presses and equipment at Richmond, Charleston, and Nashville."21 Three years later the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Cincinnati decision that had been adverse to M.E.C.S. Parties were ordered to settle a separate case.
It is amidst this pecuniary backdrop – and approval granted Agent Early, to convert a Nashville sugar warehouse (right) for use as the sect's Book Store and Publishing House – that Bishop John Early was elected and consecrated 25 May 1854. At Georgia. The sixty-eight-year-old remained that year at Tennessee, attending to new managerial responsibilities. When production began in February 1855, the plant's composing room and type cases, six printing presses, bindery and mailing room, offered the nation's largest-capacity publishing enterprise operating south of the Government Printing Office at Washington City. Fiscal dickering between church factions ultimately concluded in 1855.22
"A dozen negroes, all old acquaintances" awaited Early's arrival at Lexington, Missouri in the fall of 1855. By Young's account, a proprietor related "They have been coming to the hotel for a week, and inquiring for him." They were "preparing to come in on Sunday, and hear him preach once more." As for religious welfare, the hotelier predicted "There will be a "great time" among them on Sunday."
"Master John Early" appeared in an otherwise undated, Lynchburg birth record, quite possibly assigned to 1855 by subsequent hand. The male child was not named. But the father was. Slave John Early, property of Bishop John Early, was individualized as "Sexton." Leave a comment if you can make inference between "religious welfare" and compulsory service as church janitor. I suspect the Sexton – under the Bishop's firm direction – was advocating church life among other slaves. [Before you jump to the comment box below, see footnote 25: I feel reasonably certain the unnamed child in this ambiguous record will be at work on the James River and Kanawha Canal by 1870.]
I will merely put it out there that the unnamed slave child was likely of some age when entered into records without specific date of birth. And suggest that recording that birth became important after the celebrant had been elected into the M.E.C.S. College of Bishops.
M.E.C.S. elected Bishop Early as a Vice-President to the body's Board of Missions in May 1856. He had served as the Virginia Conference missionary, 1824-1826. His 1844 motion, that the disunifying Methodist General Conference form connection with the Liberia Mission Conference at Africa, had been tabled. But, as M.E.C.S. Book Agent, he had expected a Catechism for the Use of the Methodist Missions to influence a wide domestic audience: he intended the elementary texts also methodically indoctrinate Native People and slaves.
Writing 10 April 1856, for dissemination by M.E.C.S.' South Carolina Advocate, Vice-President Early promptly devoted himself to newly assigned duty. Deems reproduced 'A Fortnight among the Missions to the Blacks' wherein Early offered instruction derived from field report. The newly lifted bishop disclosed "I had the pleasure of travelling with Gov. Aiken," and went on to relate "I am frank to say that I regard it essential for the missionary to become acquainted with the planters, that when it is prudent and practicable, they should visit them and stay in their houses; and it is proper that any man who exercises so much influence over the slaves … should be known by the proprietors."
A wealthy proprietor himself, it may be possible to discern Early's self-regard in the following observation: "It is a great work and the man who, either from a timid disposition, association, or a want of self-respect, avoids the presence or shrinks at the approach of those wealthy and, in many instances, accomplished and benevolent gentlemen who have invited us to take charge of their servants, can not succeed …" He told readers he was prompting owners to pay up for missionary work; that they got value for it.
Vice-President Early found particular comfort on a plantation between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. "At the bidding of the master," a tune, likely from the Catechism, "was raised by one of the family servants, and with the aid of others, devoutly sung in all its parts. What a scene indeed!" He concluded "Ethiopia seems to be stretching out her hands to God; and the long-neglected race, now instructed in the way of salvation, hail the missionary as the messenger of good." The phrasing resonates with Stevens' contention of Early's career-long concern for "religious welfare of the colored race."
Five days later Early reported seeing "with my own eyes, the improvement now being made in the social and moral condition of the benighted sons of Africa in those low grounds." He was "more than ever surprised" to witness "improvements in knowledge, in morals and in discipline" among those horsewhipped to their toil on rice plantations. Admittedly, Bishop Early, framer for seats of learning, was intellectually incurious as to rationale for "sons" of Africa, remaining in "benighted" condition. It is also inescapable that, as paternalistic as his approach was, Early was far from idle. I dare to suggest – with his literature, on-site reconnaissance, and flock of missionary activists – our protagonist was a social change agent.
Carney attended to this correspondence in 2009. "Early promoted the missions for two reasons: to bring the Gospel to the slaves and to control them on the plantation. Like most southern ministers, the bishop wanted to free their souls by binding their bodies even tighter to the institution that enslaved them." The perspective helps convey M.E.C.S. mission, not as externality acting benevolently upon slavery: its belief-shaping was integral to the 'peculiar institution.' Brother Early was a demonstrable influencer. Most in his flock would someday preach Christian love from pulpits anchored in home community. Carney realized "Contradiction lay at the heart of missionary efforts and caused most southern preachers to accept and even adopt many standard defenses of slavery."
I find conceit in the Bishop's ultimate pronouncement. The propagandist recounted that some slave owners "were opposed to the Methodist ministry, until the Church was divided between North and South, because of the constant agitation on the subject of slavery …"
Young's word picture of Early appeared in M.E.C.S. Home Circle magazine in June. The journal-keeper presented extensive – and mirthful – accounts of the bishop's numerous and surprisingly deft approaches to telegraph, steamboats, trains, passenger coaches and hotel clerks. The seventy-year-old herald was no longer the hardscrabble itinerant preacher of his youth: he had become a consummate traveler. Early had long been punctual and disciplined on arduous schedules intended to coordinate complex organizational planning. Demonstrably assiduous, he – with annual rhythm – circulated considerable distances in near-incessant lifestyle.
"Daily morning prayer-meetings at our annual sessions, and the manner of conducting them, originated with him" wrote Brother Young, of Early. It would be unfair to overlook fusion of unabashed revivalist preaching with whatever agenda Early brought to regional and national convenings. Spiritual outpouring was sufficiently noteworthy to draw regard in otherwise dry minutes of those proceedings. Rare were accounts of Early's personal ministration to lay people, however. He attended to a son's 1860 marriage, and Young evidenced him preaching a funeral sermon before Blacks at his Lexington haunt.23
Young, certainly Early's most incisive chronicler, observed he "prepared his sermons with considerable care, and preserved the sketches in elegantly bound manuscript volumes." I did not locate them online, though the texts may survive: a dozen institutions have archived personal scribbling.
"Bishop Early is a chairman" crowed Brother Young in a list of attributes. He also reproduced a Missouri lawyer's comment from the preceding fall: "What a splendid judge was spoiled when he took the pulpit!" Tellingly, the occasional co-administrator appreciated "He knows what is in the Discipline, having helped to put it there. He knows what the General Conferences have said, and decided, without reference to 'Proceedings.' He was present, and helped them to say, decide, and make up their 'Proceedings.' The rules which ordinarily govern deliberative bodies are as familiar to him as forty years' practice can make them. Then he has the nerve, the eye, the cheek, and the voice, "to put business through.""
appeared in July issue of M.E.C.S.'s Home Circle. Elizabeth's portrait (left) and eighteen-page paean by Brother George Washington Langhorne (1808-1875) informed Our Excellent Women of the United Methodist Church (1861). "I want nothing of show to mark the spot where I lie. – A sinner saved by grace – that's enough," she is to have declared from her deathbed. Elizabeth was duly interred in an unmarked grave at Spring Hill Cemetery. On land she had held title to.
Early had preached at Raleigh and Memphis in weeks prior. At the end of August he was stricken while leading a camp meeting where Ward's Bridge crossed Otter River. He was too ill to move for a couple of days. Correspondence by Brother Robert Perkins Bibb (1812-1885), circulated: "All men are mortal" he began. None should be surprised "if the messenger at last should call him up from a Conference or a camp-meeting. It will be written of him, “he fell at his post." May the day be distant ere the church militant shall lose him!”
Brother William Hicks (1811-1882) described Bishop Early "firm in his administration" of the 1857 Holston Annual Conference at Marion, Virginia two months later. But "not in health to preach." Though he "did business with great dispatch," the widower perhaps felt distance from his faith. It will soon become provocative that Hicks that November reported the bishop "has a high regard for his office, and declares that he never expects to be otherwise than effective."
Bishop Early carried on. Apparently with agenda revising M.E.S.C. relationship to slavery. He was presiding over the Mississippi Conference by the end of the month. There he found Brother James Maclennan (d 1870) unacceptable for preaching assignment. It would prove an inelegant exercise of episcopal authority. Scots-born and classically educated, peers presented Maclennan as "a man of strong character" with "persistent determination." Bishop Early also introduced Alabama Conference resolve to amend the M.E.C.S. Book of Discipline. By a vote of seventy to seven, Mississippi clergy agreed "the general rule against selling men, women and children," should be stricken from the sect's governing text. Perhaps Maclennan had been among the minority.
Early presided over the Alabama Conference in early December. A week after conclusion of those proceedings, Early was helming the Florida Conference.
At the opening of 1858, Tennessee's General Assembly named John Early among corporators when chartering Central University at Nashville. As an inaugural Trustee, he no doubt reinvested skills exercised at launch of the Charity School, Randolph-Macon College and Female Collegiate Institute. Central University "was largely conceived" by Karns' 1893 account. "It was to be a university in fact as well as in name, a place where all branches of knowledge, both professional and nonprofessional, were to be taught." Trustees promptly staffed medical and law departments. Rebuffed by M.E.C.S. General Conference in May, Trustees were encouraged to seek ongoing funding from Annual Conferences individually. A logistical challenge in addition to requisite persuasive skills.
"In 1858 I heard him preach," recalled Brother Rosser twenty-five years afterward. Of Early: "He was buoyant as in the prime of life. It was pleasant to follow his mind, gliding along, unfolding in beautiful simplicity and great force." The sermonizer applied "bursts of eloquence, flashes of rhetoric, and flights of commanding oratory – all his own …" Reverend Doctor Rosser admitted "He was one of the few men whose preaching filled me with unutterable tenderness and excited me to irrepressible tears."
Temperament becomes pronounced.
In May 1858, M.E.C.S. General Conference convened at Nashville. Acknowledging "Well-authenticated complaints have been made against Bishop Early – coming from a large number of Conferences – for having been too arbitrary and discourteous to some of the preachers, both in the Conference and [in the] stationing-room," the Committee on Episcopacy focused on Maclennan's well-wrought appeal. (Journal.) Not only was the Mississippian restored to preaching assignment, the Committee investigated charges laid against Bishop Early.
To his credit (with a nod to his political suavity), Early opposed a motion to receive findings in private. "During the past four years, complaints were made against Bishop Early by several of the representatives of Annual Conferences in the committee, and by others" came report. "These complaints, in the judgment of the committee, do not implicate the Bishop in "immorality," but they refer to his mode of making out the appointments of the travelling preachers; his want of courtesy as a presiding officer, and his disrespectful treatment of Presiding Elders." Examiners concluded complaints against Early resulted from "his advanced age and increasing infirmities." Though "Excitement had been produced in various quarters, prejudicial to the reputation of the Episcopal office" (annual conferences requested Bishop Early not be dispatched to preside over them), the Committee came to no consensus. It proposed the body as a whole take up adjudication.
Bishop for four years, widower Early may not have dealt well with his grief: he was reprimanded for failing to shepherd "in accordance with the law governing cases of this sort, as provided for in the Book of Discipline." 'Tyrannical' is too large of a word. Ascendency to highest clerical privilege certainly engendered autocratic response. Our protagonist had based calls to fracture Methodism, not on access to forced labor, but as response to violation of Brother Harding's due process. Reverend Early contended Harding was due the protocol of having character assessed by fellow clergymen. Bishop Early fourteen years later adopted peremptory and capricious ruling over brethren in his charge.
A scrum ensued. Rules of Order were suspended. Fifteen-minute limitation on speakers was abandoned. Resolution that the chief priest "be released from taking any part of the regular episcopal work in future," was withdrawn. Resolution that his character be "passed" (or approved, in Methodist jargon) was tabled. Over lengthy objections. Substitute motions were amended and failed. Resolution that he be "invited to retire" (voted onto 'superannuated' roll) based on findings of debilitation, was withdrawn. Ultimately, with "his expressed willingness to guard against giving offence in the future," Bishop Early survived his trial.
(Early is among them in 1858, third from right.) Despite alleged infirmities, the seventy-two-year-old launched into missionary work requiring notable grit. In September he presided over the Missouri Annual Conference and then trekked to Shawneetown, presiding over a Kansas Mission Conference he'd organized three years prior. He presided over the Indian Mission Conference at "Choctaw Nation," followed by the Arkansas Conference in October. November took him to the remote Ouachita Conference. Though it was a rhythm he had long maintained, Early's participation excited vitality and new effort.
The M.E.C.S. General Conference of 1858 did resolve to excise all reference to slavery from their Discipline, however. Presses churned out revised copies.
Our subject attended to paperwork in 1859. Delaney and Rhodes found Winifred Steptoe (b 1777) and son Joseph Parks Steptoe (b 1830) were already free Persons of Color when John Early filed a Deed of Emancipation naming them at Lynchburg's Hustings Court. Another account suggests informal manumission might have occurred in 1840. The year Brother Early orchestrated his Committee on Slavery. 24
By concurrence following debate almost twenty years prior, and according to the then-operant Discipline, Methodist clergy resolved themselves to free slaves "where practicable." Having established for himself the act was feasible under conditions at Virginia, it seems – to remain constant with ecclesiastic law – Early would have required himself to manumit all whom he held in bondage. Or souls he hired out.
Waiting to formalize the Steptoes' freedom until slavery became a non-issue in church law conveys a certain meticulous attention to rules of proper conduct. I suspect there was much in Early's character that could be considered formal.
Not at all debilitated, Bishop Early presided over two annual Tennessee conferences in October 1859. The Virginia Annual Conference convened at Lynchburg in mid-November. Bishop Early served as President during a personally significant event. He brought second son Thomas Howard Early (1828-1904) into full connection when ordaining him a Methodist Deacon. Father Early located the erstwhile attorney as a supplemental pastor to the Court Street congregation … and was presiding over the South Carolina Conference by the end of the month. Before moving on to North Carolina. The bishop may have been at home for Christmas.
John Early, 'M. E. Bishop,' declared substantial $16,000 in real estate and $15,000 in his personal estate in 1860. Probably due to his absence, daughter Mary Virginia's husband was enumerated as head of a household that included her, the bishop, her four children, and an Irish House Servant. Three enslaved boys age five or younger (one as Mulatto) were John Early's property … all cohabiting at his Lynchburg manse with John and Elizabeth's other two adult daughters (one mentally afflicted). And son Thomas, who had taken up his own civic causes. Early, Senior seemed to have scaled back as "proprietor." I found four male slaves working his land or livestock. Further, he rented three souls … including a ten-year-old child. In this moralist's world view, "interest in the religious welfare of the colored race" coexisted with economic interest in its subjugation. 25
Bishop Early modeled citizenship in a new nation.
The Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the United States of America in April 1861. War broke out. Ruth Early found correspondence where her cousin – while ministering to a North Carolina circuit in 1812 – declined request to serve as Chaplain for a company of volunteers then taking up arms. Nevertheless, following the May 1862 Battle of Williamsburg, Virginia, a public meeting was called at Dudley Hall (where John Wilkes Booth performed when touring Lynchburg, 1858-1859) "to make arrangements for looking after our wounded soldiers around Richmond," by Christian's account. Ever the organizer, "Bishop John Early presided, and the meeting sent a committee and corps of nurses to take the matter in charge."26
Brother Richard Nye Price (1830-1923) gave no date when disclosing Early preached at a "notable camp meeting" jubilating at the interestingly named Cripple Creek Camp Ground, Wythe County, Virginia "during the Civil War." "Bishop Early's sermons moved the congregations wonderfully, for he was master of anecdote and pathos." I rushed into my narrative without revealing Early was converted at a fervent camp meeting in 1804.27
(Five-state expanse highlighted, right.) His governance style was, in one respect, continuum from 1844 contention that Methodist law was subservient to Maryland legal code. With the First Confederate States Congress convened at Richmond from 1862, it was consistent in him that Early's superintendency reflected revolution in state and federal governance.
I'll go so far as to propound Early's administration was a moral failure, however. Christ's commandment, "that ye love one another, even as I have loved you," must have appeared in some tract published while Early was Book Agent. The Christian precept seems far from guiding principle in his conduct among clergy he directed.
Bishop Early presided over the 1862 Holston Annual Conference. A Committee of Investigation formed at Athens, Tennessee in October. In an unmistakable hallmark for Early, savvy grandmaster of committee structure and delegation, four-page report was produced. The body denied "instituting an inquisition." (Minutes.)
Preface acknowledged their work as "sequel" to the 1844 "unholy and anti-scriptural crusade of abolition fanaticism and higher-law infidelity" directed at Southern Institutions. Conditions had changed, however: "Government founded upon the great principles of justice and equity" had organized. The nine-cleric committee was "pained … that any suspicion, much less well-grounded complaint of disloyalty to our established Government … should lie against, or attach to any member of this body."28
Report illuminated renewed concern for religious welfare: "To the people of the Confederate States [have] been committed, in a sense true of no other people on the face of the globe, the guardianship and moral and intellectual culture of the African race, and … the Methodist Episcopal Church South is to a great extent, charged, in the Providence of God, with the religious destiny of the colored race."
Findings cited "Black Republicans of the North" and were politically motivated. Yet investigators judged their work product unassailable theosophically: "… no christian minister who claims to be a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and a citizen of the Confederate States of America" could refute it "with moral impunity." Resolves were prefaced with three scriptural citations and two from Southern Methodists' Book of Discipline.
The convocation itself was physically unassailable. Clergy were "surrounded by rebel soldiers, and cheered on by the presence and curses of the Provost Marshal, at Athens, who might have been frequently seen in the gallery of the Conference room, during the sittings of Conference …" testified Brother Jonathan Ledbetter Mann (1839-1893), ordained a Deacon at the event. I'm reminded of Early's 1844 observation: "large majorities were apt to be tyrannical."
Finding only three of their targets demonstrably loyal, clergy nevertheless passed the character of five other pastors. The Conference severed ties with an alleged miscreant and summarily suspended a non-reporting parson for a year. They brought charges of Duplicity and Criminal Falsehood against Brother William Hurd Rogers (1813-1891). Who was not present. Rogers was apparently ministering while confined in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp … for refusing to take an Oath of Loyalty to the new government. Brother William Milburn (1797-1877) "refused emphatically" to take the Oath according to Hale and Merritt: he was on Confederate parole with provision "that he would not preach, travel, or attend public meetings." Peers referred his case "for farther investigation." (Minutes.)
"Last month the Methodist Church, of which I have been a member thirty-five years, held a Conference in Athens, which was presided over by a hoary-headed old man, Bishop John Early," gave William Gannaway Brownlow (1805-1877) in a subsequent Nashville speech. Early had picked up an in-the-moment detractor with some heft: 'Parson Brownlow' had been editing newspapers since 1838. I'll just say Brownlow was as fluid as wartime conditions. Price, who knew him, confided the parson had been "an earnest apologist for the institution of domestic slavery." His churchwork, particularly in the corporate body, anchored institutionalized oppression. He was migrating from 1857 sermon extolling slavery as "established and sanctioned by Divine authority." ("We esteem it the duty of Christian masters to feed and clothe well, and in case of disobedience to whip well.") Uniquely, he'd favored organization of M.E.C.S., but then retained pro-Union stance. Diseased, he had emerged from a month in custody at the close of 1861 … for suspected bridge-burning. And been sent north through Union lines. Where he began writing for a new audience.
Brownlow was fluid with truth. He declaimed "With one sweeping resolution they expelled from the ministry all the Union preachers of the Holston Conference …" Brownlow's account ignores case-by-case consideration and overstates disciplinary result at Athens. His capacity for invective illuminates the absence of it in our patriarch: "This old traitor, Bishop Early, also issued an order to the Presiding Elders to expel all loyal preachers within the Conference." While Brownlow undoubtedly grasped Early's intent, I found no such order in the record or participant testimony. Reverend Doctor Early was an influencer.
"Early, when he was ordained a Bishop, took an oath to promote peace, and harmony, law and order. I heard him swear the lie myself in Columbus, Georgia" Brownlow testified. He cited Willis De Ford Sawrie (1811-1884): "Parson Sawrie, who knows him well, in some private transactions, says that Early is a miserably corrupt old creature. Let us believe these rebels, always, when they testify against one
another." I'm not sure that you have to. Early had faith in Sawrie: he had extended his charge's appointment to Nashville's Andrew Chapel when presiding over the Tennessee Conference in 1861. Peers convened in 1862 Conference, with Book Agent John Berry McFerrin (1807-1887) presiding, formulaically found Sawrie's character blameless as Brownlow broadcast aspersion. Then again, Reverend Doctor McFerrin was integral to printing operations at Nashville. If corruption was in effect, it might logically have centered on lucrative activity.
I found Brownlow's excitations reproduced from 1864 reporting in the Knoxville Whig, a (career and) newspaper in resurrection. Where he, the Editor, declaimed "Parsons of the Methodist Publishing House employed me to write a book." Remunerated collaboration with the original church seems to flavor his purported 1862 speech with later recollection. "I am going back," he vowed, perhaps from profitable Northern book tour of 1863, "and we will expel the last devil of these rebel priests. We will put these seceders and rebels out and recover the church property which rightfully belongs to us, and not to the traitors." By invoking claim on a state-of-the-art, revenue-generating Methodist publishing house – which had been under Early's acquisition and supervision – I suspect more animated Brownlow than most historians have recognized.
(left) was converted into a Confederate Army commissary.
Wartime constraints had prompted M.E.C.S. to suspend its 1862 General Conference. Bishops relied on an Advisory Council to coordinate church administration. Four of six, including seventy-seven-year-old Early, were able to gather at Macon, Georgia in May 1863. They saw to religious welfare in changing conditions: the Missionary Board was re-purposed, "to send missionaries to the Confederate army," according to Hurst. "To cooperate with the chaplains."
The Holston Annual Conference was scheduled to re-convene at Wytheville, Virginia on 15 October. Eighteen thousand Union troops under Ambrose Everett Burnside, Major General, U.S.A., occupied Knoxville, Tennessee in early September. Athens, sixty miles southwest of the Union position, was – with a significant portion of the Holston district – returned to Federal authority. Loss of communication must have been disconcerting when, in 10 October Battle of Blue Springs, Tennessee, Federals breached the connecting East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad halfway between Athens and the proposed conference site.
"Early again rallied his retreating but faithful brethren in holy council, at Wytheville," noted Mann of the 1863 Holston Conference. A scythe swept through: Mann, Rogers, Milburn and another itinerant preacher were suspended from religious practice within the Conference. Price was present and in 1910 remonstrated against "unfortunate work" I might call hypocrisy: "Bishop Early was largely responsible for it, as the action occurred under his rulings, and it was his duty to draw the line between the secular and the spiritual, which he did not do, and to see that the proceedings against the accused brethren were strictly according to the law of the Church." No trials were organized prior to ouster. Price observed "It was a marked inconsistency in the Conference that, in prosecuting the supposed violators of law, it violated the law itself in its method of procedure."
Early had defended Harding on lack of due process: almost twenty years later he denied it when brethren in his charge were suspended. Then again, irregular attempt to force Bishop Early into retirement in 1858 demonstrated very few features of classic, ecclesiastic trial.
"The following incident will illustrate how passion ruled and beclouded the judgment" contended Brother Franklin Richardson (1831-1912), also present: Reverend Doctor William George Etter Cunnyngham (1820-1900) "who was a missionary to China and a member of the Holston Conference, started home. Not being able to get through the line between the two armies, he accepted an invitation from a Church north of the line, and became their pastor for the time being. This was taken by our super-loyal brethren as evidence of disloyalty to the Southern cause. Accordingly, at the session of the Conference at Wytheville, in 1863, he was arraigned for trial, with a view to his expulsion on the charge of disloyalty to the South." Richardson in 1910 noted "Bishop Early could not avoid showing his bias, and put in to help the prosecution at every opportunity, showing a manifestly improper spirit and violating an obvious parliamentary law." A "small majority" prevailed: the Holston Conference remained in connection with Cunnyngham, and work in China.
We can rely on OBrion to convey that "Early was known for his strong convictions, integrity, efficiency, and toughness." Far less flowery than most church biographers, the academic asserted our protagonist was "stubborn and tenacious." Dunn, aware that M.E.C.S. had nearly retired Early in 1858, piercingly speculated that "knowing all these bad characteristics tending toward arbitrary and inflexible rule in Early, the ecclesiastical hierarchy in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, deliberately chose him as the bishop over Holston, to ensure strict compliance with Confederate nationalism in an otherwise moderate conference spanning two Upper South border states."
(1832-1900), Brigadier General, U.S.A., the Second Cavalry Division was dispatched to "injure and destroy" the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road. Federal troopers burned rolling stock, the depot and turntable at Salem, Virginia on 15 December 1863. Conflagration a mere sixty miles west along the Lynchburg and Salem Turnpike required a no-doubt unsettling week … to repair five bridges and restore makeshift intercourse.29
Early was one of three M.E.C.S. bishops trundling to Montgomery, Alabama in May 1864. Hurst did not divulge the full range of Advisory Council business carried out, but did note "Men were found willing to go with the soldiers and preach to them the word of life." It is is another mark of Early's character to assure 1863 Missionary Board resolution came to fruition. With funding.
Forces under Jubal Anderson Early (1816-1894), Lieutenant General, C.S.A., defended Lynchburg in two days of fighting in mid-June. Losing but eight men killed, John Early's distant first-cousin launched into Maryland and the following month menaced Washington City.30
Parson Brownlow, upon return from the Republican National Convention at Philadelphia, summonsed "Loyal Methodists, preachers and laymen" to Union-held Knoxville in July. To form a new Holston Conference, completely separate from M.E.C.S. According to Dunn, Brownlow acknowledged recent action by General Conference of the "old mother church" invited reunion, but – ever the aspirant – he kept option open. Exercising "alternative of organizing an independent Wesleyan Church" would make this element of his political base separatists from separatists. In the Union cause. Whatever their eventual configuration, preachers assembled in convention resolved "Loyal members and ministers of the Holston Conference are entitled in law to all property belonging to said ecclesiastical organization, and with the Divine Blessing we intend to claim and hold the same." (Minutes.)
Mary Virginia died 18 July 1864. In the first week of August John Early told the Richmond Dispatch of plans to organize an Orphan Asylum for Soldiers’ Children.
With Bishop Early presiding, Holston Annual Conference, M.E.C.S., convened in October 1864. At Bristol, Tennessee, western terminus of the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road (right). Mounted infantry under John Crawford Vaughn (1824-1875), Brigadier General, C.S.A., defended Morristown, seventy miles southeast along the connecting East Tennessee and Virginia line. Price recalled "Vaughn sent through one of his acting chaplains [with] request that the Conference remember him in their prayers, and his brave command in their perils and dangers for the country." And that "Bishop Early called upon the Conference and congregation present to join Dr. Wiley in prayer for General Vaughn and his officers and men now contending for our homes and altars …"31
"At Bristol they continued their old work," wrote Mann. Of severing preachers from their connection. He referenced "Early’s rebel, vindictive guillotine." Disassociation was not by fiat, however. The Investigating Committee made further report. Three of the five whose character had passed in 1862 were suspended in general vote, "it appearing that they were members of the convention called at Knoxville, inaugurating steps to enter the Methodist Episcopal Church and to carry all the membership with them, also to convey to the Methodist Episcopal Church all the property of the Holston Conference," according to Price. I doubt the 'disloyal' preachers were present, let alone summonsed, but – contrary to the Discipline – Early oversaw no trial where individuals' character was defended.
Our churchman was not a casual dilettante. Dunn observed East Tennessee’s economy had been "ravaged." Not one but two armies ranged through, confiscating stock, fodder and foodstuffs. "The land was being more and more drained of its substance by the war," Mann recalled, choosing harvest over church administration. He also registered "During the Conference the report was circulated more than once that the Federals were advancing on the town, which created some consternation among the preachers and the people." Though but "false alarms," I find it notable that a septuagenarian was sufficiently resolute to preside while under severe threat.32 I can assure you, if nothing else the hard-pressed minister attended to morale and distribution of scant resources, assigning pastors to meet civilian need in a time of deep woes.
The Richmond Register found it notable that Bishop Early was "confined at home from sickness" in November. That he was unable to preside over the Virginia Conference – meeting at Lynchburg – indicates Early was seriously debilitated.
In March 1865, a seemingly indefatigable Early relied on difficult-to-obtain Confederate military passes to preside over the Kansas Annual Conference. Where he superintended reports, resolved concerns, received aspirant preachers, brought Elders into full connection and assigned ministry circuits.
"The rebel confederacy collapsed," noted Mann of April events. (Lynchburg was the only major Virginia city never recaptured by Union forces.) I don't know where Bishop Early was, but suspect he remembered disappointment for years to come.
John Early advanced into peace and reconciliation.
With Confederate voters suppressed by victors' edict, Brownlow was elected Governor of Tennessee in April. Unopposed, he secured all but thirty-five of more than twenty-three thousand ballots. Soon after passage of the 13th Amendment he sought legislation barring once-Confederate ministers from performing marriages.
Methodist Episcopal bishops dispatched Davis Wasgatt Clark (1812-1871) from New York to Nashville, where he met with Brownlow in May. Consecrated Bishop less than a year earlier, and in the company of a Cincinnati Book Agent, northerners organized a Holston Conference under Methodist Episcopal Church auspices at Athens in June 1865. Clark transferred membership of six Unionist parsons – Pearne from Oregon and a majority from Ohio – who applied loyalty oaths and received those suspended from M.E.C.S. connection.
Contrary to any notion of union, Coulter found unanimous "decision was quickly made to secede from the old Holston Conference, seize the property and join the Northern branch." Claim for Nashville Publishing House ownership, submitted to military authorities, was nefariously misrepresentative. (And subsequently dismissed.) A far cry from Wesley or Jesus Christ, newly associating clergy looked upon their brethren and "resolved such traitors out of all possibilities of entering Heaven and consigned them to the nether world."
exhibited a John Hancock moment in July. Signature (right) led a list of worthies petitioning for presidential pardon on behalf of the Lynchburg Republican's editor. I'll detail the whimsical case in footnote.33 Early was also that month among a cohort of local financiers seeking pardon for a fellow Merchants Bank incorporator … who had never been "a Jubilee Man."
The M.E.C.S. Holston Conference intended September 1865 convocation at Marion, Virginia. When asked if he would interfere in the session, Governor Brownlow, according to Dunn, described Early as "a man of bad temper, known impudence, and rebel bitterness." Before allowing "I am for letting them alone at their meetings, if they ease their treasonable speeches, sermons and prayers, but if they attempt to revive a rebellious spirit among the people, let them be arrested and imprisoned." Wrote Coulter: Brownlow, from neighboring jurisdiction, "promised to let them meet and take up their Church affairs if they properly demeaned themselves – otherwise he would arrest them. As for Bishop Early, he should not play bishop within the Parson's dominions."
That Early presided at Marion, halfway along the Virginia & Tennessee between Lynchburg and Bristol, was unique. The Bishops' Advisory Council had not followed General Conference practice of rotating assignments. Our protagonist may have wished to be elsewhere. "Their Conference met after the surrender of Lee … and before Andrew Johnson went over to the rebels the second time" wrote Mann, of the Confederate General and U.S. President. Those assembled acted "more like whipped spaniels than like true, Christian martyrs." "They were afraid if they did not show some signs of repentance … the strong arm of Federal power might … crush their rebel church into ruins."
Richardson was at Marion. He described (or contributed to) "Mists and shadows … so thick that no line of future policy could be marked out." Elevated to Elder himself at the Conference, he noted Jacob Tyler Frazier (1840-1932), the former 'barefoot chaplain of the Confederate army,' was received into connection. Church minutes are scant. Relations with Brother Cunnyngham continued apace: "all Missionary collections" were turned over to the "late missionary to China."
Richardson proves unreliable, for not referencing about-face by the M.E.C.S. Holston Conference. It is to Price we must turn, for clear-eyed depiction: "The most important act of this session was the adoption of the report on the state of the Church." He reproduced an extensive mea culpa. Qualified reflection, "That slavery as it existed among us is dead is a fact which we accept," retains historical traction despite challenging syntax. The committee also begged leave to report "The negro race, however, responsible in no way for this result, is entitled to our Christian sympathies and efforts, that he [SIC] may receive the benefits of the blessed gospel." I'll not account for it, but assert that – immediately following slavery's demise – "religious welfare of the colored race" without doubt survived as an expressed ministerial concern in Early's realm.
Citizen Early had by several accounts endorsed an Oath of Amnesty. Holston clergy present confessed "loyalty to the government under which we live" and rescinded all acts in conflict with present status. "In addressing ourselves to the work of rebuilding the waste places of our Zion we must never lose sight either of the spirit or of the principles which should control ministers of the gospel," participants resolved. In a document also inspiring ministry, inclusivity, and thanksgiving. With Bishop Early presiding, they also elected to declare "A minister of this gospel … attempts neither to set up nor to pull down governments, imbibes not the spirit of the revolutionist, nor assumes the uniform of the warrior." With meek reference to prior, "hasty" decisions, Holston delegates to the next M.E.C.S. General Conference were instructed to seek that all suspended and expelled clergy be restored to pre-war roles.
Intimating he'd not always been so, Price found Early now "broad, liberal [and] tolerant. He had many kind words to say about Mr. President Johnson, and he offered no objection to the resolutions which in effect declared his former rulings improper and illegal. He even invited to his room the recalcitrant brother who had openly antagonized his administration, and consulted him about the appointments of certain preachers." Coulter described "contrition."
34 He may have confided long-range plan for economic infusion. Bishop Early made annual rounds as autumn deepened, gifting his portrait (left). He presided over the Virginia Annual Conference in November. A deacon he consecrated at North Carolinians' Mocksville Annual Conference in December later described the honor. All the while Brownlow and his Whig assailed him. According to Dunn: Brownlow characterized the 1865 Holston Conference at Marion "as nothing better than a "Rebel Court Martial."" The Whig advised Northern Methodists to "show no quarters to traitors and treason." Methodist Episcopal Holston Conference members recruited M.E.C.S. preachers and laity … in their own version of a loyalty campaign. (I found two instances of clerics' reverse migration.)
In February 1866 Early was invited to preside over a newly established Baltimore Annual Conference at Alexandria, Virginia. He ushered brethren into M.E.C.S. connection. In addition to 104 ministers, Simpson found 627 Black and 11,189 White members joined the fold. And that "The larger proportion of this membership was in Virginia." I'm reminded of John Adams' 1818 reflection on revolution, that it was effected "in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in the religious sentiments of their duties and obligations."
Near culmination of an upbeat Baltimore Conference, as Early announced preachers' assignments, "he prayed that they, while enjoying their rights of citizenship, would not get into the political arena, and never allow political questions to enter the pulpit."
asked the Commander in Chief "to restore the churches which have been wrested from them." A request that was gradually effected. And extended to school and production facilities.
"Bishops Andrew and Early were both in feeble health" Redford observed, when – – – after four-year hiatus – M.E.C.S. met in General Conference at New Orleans. Proceedings began 4 April 1866 with "appropriate prayer" by Early. (Minutes.) Those assembled gladly received the newly constituted Baltimore Conference. In Bishops' joint address to the body, the quartet present thanked God that the church had "in nowise become complicated with political affairs" in a "most painful and fiery ordeal." They admitted "We found it, in our judgment, needful … to depart in some respects from the strict letter of the law of the Church in our episcopal administration," and offered deviant behavior up as grounds for Book of Discipline revisal. (Clergy took up the task; they explicitly proscribed summary expulsion by prelates.)
Bishops reported on publishing, missionary work, education and finances … but devoted broad concern to race relations. "The interest of the colored population should engage your serious attention. Heretofore the colored people within our bounds have deserved and received a large share of our labors." "It is grateful to our own feelings to know that, if the colored people do not remain under our pastoral care, their departure reflects no discredit upon our labors in their behalf, and is necessitated by no indifference on our part to their welfare." Consensus was that "For those who remain with us, the Church should provide generously every thing important to their religious culture."
Nearing conclusion, they urged election of new bishops: "Infirmities of age press heavily upon some of us, and diminish our ability to answer to the demands of the work for general episcopal visitation."
Brother Early "was arraigned before the General Conference of 1866 on complaints of maladministration," reported Price. This as Bishop Early presided over the body in four-day rotation. He was active in urging rejection of various proposals … while the Committee on Episcopacy was in circumspect review of his conduct. On 19 April the Conference received committee report. They found "It was obviously impossible," during wartime, "without serious detriment to the highest interests of the cause of Christ, to adhere tenaciously to the letter and technicalities of rules." Bishops' "abstinence from political complications, and their strict adherence to the spirit and duties of their high calling as overseers of the Church of God, entitle them to the highest confidence and respect." The character of all six Bishops was passed, and "their administration during the last eight years … approved."
Two days later Bishop Andrew sought and was granted permission to quit travel. Listed in 'superannuated' relation, he gave up annual $2,500 stipend for means-tested dispersal from the Chartered Fund. He retained his title, a ceremonial seat when present for church affairs, and right to preach, marry and bury … but generally surrendered overt authority. Though the Committee on Episcopacy had affirmed Early's character, he still faced trial. As he had demanded for Harding in 1844. Instead of joining Andrew in resigning dominion, I strongly suspect our hierarch worked intimates for means to retain it.
Report by the Committee on Itineracy was read and adopted on 24 April. It resolved "That, in all cases where ministers may have been suspended or expelled from the Holston Conference, without due forms of trial, such action … be declared null and void." Early's rash supervision was repudiated. "Restoration, however, was only virtual," noted Price, "as none of the expelled brethren ever [re]claimed their places in the Church." All but one had been accepted into the Methodist Episcopal Church proper; the ousted bevy were then among the dozen or so glorifying the newly organized Holston Conference.
The following day, after report by the Committee on the Religious Interests of the Colored People, the Conference resolved that "wherever entire churches and congregations shall have voluntarily left us, and united with the African [Methodist Episcopal] Church, Trustees be … advised to allow them the use of the houses of worship heretofore solely occupied by them." Given previous acrimonious, intra-denominational contention over property; it is notable that M.E.C.S. intended in this case to avoid it. It is also worth reflection that it probably never entered the reasoning of anyone present that equity of forced labor was attached to any of the hundreds of church structures rising annually, prior to War of Northern Aggression.
Further denominational severance was in the offing, but not by expulsion.
M.E.C.S. General Conference agreed "special attention be given to Sunday schools among the colored people." (Minutes.) A charitable stance simultaneously underwriting segregation. "Let our colored members be organized as separate pastoral charges, wherever they prefer it" proved to be more than permissive. Intent was to empower, organizationally: "When two or more Annual Conferences shall be formed" of M.E.C.S. Clergy of Color, "let our Bishops advise and assist them in organizing a separate General Conference jurisdiction for themselves, if they so desire."
I'll admit I found nothing in the record directly associating Early with this initiative. I'll just say long-term rollout with performance benchmarks was indicative of Early's strategic planning in all affairs known to me. And relate that memorial "on the religious interests of the colored people," arrived from the Virginia Annual Conference. Where Early retained affection … and influence sufficient to thwart it.
Four bishops were elected on Sunday, 29 April: Early aided in "laying on of hands" at consecration. On 3 May, the culminating day of M.E.C.S.'s 1866 General Conference, Doctor Early presented a paper. As was his style. According to the record, Early delivered "an affecting Address" as the Conference drew to a close. With a letter of resignation, he acquiesced to modified superannuation.
The primate no doubt felt debased by the designation: "The only factors to be taken into view are great age and such impaired mentality and broken health as permanently disqualify him for episcopal service," opined Neely, thirty-five years later and without regard to Early's specific case. "These are the only things which determine superannuation." "If there are other questions, as, for example, questions as to character, they might be reasons for trial and expulsion, but not grounds for declaring an effective man to be non-effective." Church law "provides for a proper procedure leading to a formal trial for the specific offense, which trial may prove or disprove his guilt or his innocence."
Early was no "worn-out preacher," qualifying for superannuation. His declaration attested to "unabated zeal," asserting "I am still willing to perform any duties which may demand my attention by your request." But he wanted his cake, and to eat it too. Uniquely, he sought to retain self-initiative. He beseeched "beloved brethren" to bestow permission "to travel at will throughout the work, and visit the Churches and perform such Episcopal work as may be needed …"
Not only did delegates vote the eighty-year-old to the list of those debilitated; they, in contradiction, resolved "he may be at liberty to travel through the Connection at his option." By a rising vote, three laudatory resolutions also passed. Assuring him of the body's high esteem, clergymen summonsed Brother Early into "Conferences, and other parts of our great field of toil, when it may be convenient for him to do so." And invoked prayers and blessings "that the evening of his life may be filled with sustaining comforts and holy peace." Having opened it with a prayer, Bishop Early closed the 1866 M.E.C.S. General Conference with benediction. It must have been a poignant moment.
Sustaining comfort came at tremendous cost.
"He did not know how to grow old," fellow M.E.C.S. Bishop McTyeire would contend of Early seven years later. "When he was placed upon the retired list, he was almost overcome; this was at night; the next morning physicians were with him." Seeming incredulous, McTyeire considered "It was barely possible that this ungirding of his armor overpowered him."
"Bishop John Early would have held on, if possible, to his episcopal crosier," confided Brother John Philip Newman (1826-1899) in June. Active tense suggests expected ongoing liveliness: "Strong in his prejudices, he loves his old friends and hates his old enemies. He presides over the deliberations of Conference with dignity, and seems never happier than when in the chair. When not presiding, he mingles freely in the debates of the body; and when not otherwise engaged, he moves from seat to seat chatting pleasantly with his brethren, and socially with the ladies. He has at length yielded to the counsel of his friends and retired." Newman described his subject as "A spare and feeble old man, whose white locks are like the blossoms of the almond tree."
recorded of John Early at the end of the month. (Reporting included group portrait, left: Early is seated, far right.) "He is a man of remarkably commanding presence. In all crowds where he is a stranger his appearance attracts immediate attention. It is a combination of the Apostle and the General. He was born to command, and he does command. He has been a great worker. His energy is tireless."
Avowal that, "His presidency at the late General Conference is said to have shown his clear head and strong hand, grasping and managing the reins to the last," lends credence to notion that Early was resolved to influence organized plans to "provide generously" for freed Black Methodists' emerging religious culture.
Calamity struck Early weeks later. On 12 June 1866. A hundred miles into a journey from home, on the Richmond and Danville line, a switch failed on war-weary tracks. The Ladies' Car, "one of the finest on the road," derailed and rolled completely at least once down an embankment. "It was literally smashed up," one witness testified. A woman was killed outright; at least a dozen passengers were injured. A young schoolteacher fatally.
First accounts telegraphed that Early received "severe injuries about the face and internally." Richmond friends feared "at his age and with infirm health, his wounds may prove fatal. His symptoms are very unfavorable, accompanied with spitting of blood." His battered body was removed to a home near Coalfield Station (today Midlothian, Virginia).
Reverend Doctor John Ellis Edwards (1814-1891), from 1857 a Randolph-Macon Trustee, rushed from Lynchburg to attend to Early. The published author described passing the scene of the wreck: "As we dash along, we observe the wide furrow of the car wheels as they ploughed along down the slope; and, at the bottom, the car, almost a shapeless wreck; the top smashed in, the seats shattered, all speaking forcibly of the horrors of the event."
Within days, as news flashed around the country, just-installed M.E.C.S. Bishop David Seth Doggett (1810-1880) arrived at Early's side. He declared that, though cut and severely bruised about the upper body, Early would keep an injured eye. "He is in perfect possession of all his faculties, converses readily, and is tranquil and even cheerful," came episcopal pronouncement.
"His escape was a singular one" came report from Staunton, Virginia. His physical inviolability merits our regard. The Ladies' Car had been fitted with an "elevated appendage … added for ventilation." It broke from the rest of the roof "and was flung thirty feet, lower down the bank, and upon this the Bishop was found seated." "How the Bishop was flung there, he is utterly unable to explain." [The Addendum delves into more of the inexplicable.]
Perhaps you'll recognize our punctual subject in the reporting: "The singular firmness with which his system and his spirits bear up under so terrible a shock, are [SIC] characteristic of the extraordinary stamina and buoyancy, which, in both respects, have marked him through his long and useful life. It is told of him that in all his extensive traveling, he has never before met with an accident, and was never known to miss the cars." Early had years earlier confided to a subsequent M.E.C.S. Book Agent his tactic of situating himself in accommodations at least a day prior to convening. I wondered what family members thought of decision to thus increase time spent in the field … while he devoted so much of his life to affairs far distant from their home.
After ten days Early was transported to Richmond, where he spent a further two weeks recuperating. On 21 July he shared gratitude from Lynchburg. His suffering was abating, he informed Richmond Christian Advocate readers. (Reprint circulated at least as far as New Orleans.) While yet "too weak to do much," he remained "constantly planning." He appreciated "sustaining comforts" clergy had wished for him; was profoundly grateful for the kindness of strangers. Also "the kind solicitude of ministers, of editors, of citizens, of old and young friends, and last but not least, the constant attention of the ladies, who have always been messengers of good to me."
reprinted at Raleigh. "He bears scarcely any visible evidences of his late severe injuries." Early may have found succor at Court Street Methodist Church: in 1866 the congregation was sufficiently endowed to install a pipe organ … only the second such symphonic utensil to stimulate Lynchburgers.
Woodson, writing of postwar Virginia, recognized "Negro members, who up to that time were counted a part of the M. E. South, worshipping in the same edifice as the whites and under such conditions as to give rise to little or no friction."35 According to Deane, a "colored congregation" formed from M.E.C.S. laypersons in Lynchburg environs. Initially convened at the one-time mustering ground of Confederate Camp Davis, "Records show its members contributing modest sums of five cents," until a building program was endowed. At the laying of a cornerstone on 2 October 1866, a mounted detachment of Knights Templar preceded Lynchburg's Mayor, the President of the Town Council and Masons' Provincial Grand Master. Seemingly under Presbyterian auspices, foundation for a Methodist Episcopal Colored Congregation, under George W. Lewis (d 1877), a Preacher of Color, was established: it would be known as the Jackson Street Church when dedicated three years later. I cannot account for Early's absence in reporting on grand, civic ceremony.
On 12 October "Stockholders of the Virginia and Tennessee road" assembled at Lynchburg's Corn Exchange. "On motion, Bishop John Early was elected chairman of the meeting." September earnings had been "greater than any month previous to the war." Officers predicted annual earnings of $850,000 and $382,500 in net revenue. Early paid $50 Federal excise tax on $1,000 income that year.
Early's retirement plan, to "perform such Episcopal work as may be needed," resumed on credible terms the following month. Randolph-Macon College trustees met at Norfolk, Virginia. Surprisingly, and opposed by a traditionalist majority, President Early favored relocating the campus proximate to a rail line.
The following day, 23 November 1866, Doctor Early was seated "on the stand" as the M.E.C.S. Virginia Annual Conference convened subsequently at Norfolk. "I had never witnessed a more affecting scene" confessed a Richmond Times reporter four days later. "Bishop Doggett called upon the venerable Bishop Early to pray, and the whole Conference bowed in prayer. The Bishop’s prayer was so earnest, child-like in its simplicity, and so powerful and fervent that the whole audience were deeply affected. There were few ministers who were not weeping …"
Remarks by the Randolph-Macon College President summed up one set of Virginia Conference achievements to date; they reflect Early's extraordinary commitment to a school the body had patronized from inception: "This child of yours has furnished preachers, bishops, teachers, professors, representatives at the bar, on the bench, and in legislative halls." "She has well repaid all your care and trouble, and now that her fortunes have been impaired by the war, she is none the less your child, and rather deserves your sympathy and support now [more] than ever before."
With another Bishop presiding, our proponent spurned mere ceremonial role. On the fifth and concluding day, Early was in the Chair … until stepping down to pitch the Randolph-Macon proposal. He pretentiously promised "in one day to raise the necessary amount and get immediately from fifty to seventy scholars in perpetuity." If delegates agreed to finance college relocation. Which they declined.36
In the convening's ultimate night session, Early declaimed on the African Methodist Episcopal Church: "They have never meddled with slavery; but there is an association called the Zion Methodist Church which does." (Or had, when it was the law of the land.) Incongruously, he contended "Our Church never did meddle with slavery, but we have been maligned and abused on account of it." Other reporting provided "Bishop Early spoke in very kind terms of the [A.M.E.] Church – said he knew some of their leading men, and he hoped that whenever the colored members of [M.E.C.S.] desired to dissolve their connection with the Southern Church, the preachers [present] would advise them to join this organization." Four Preachers of Color and 1,200 Black members remained within the Virginia Conference. As for "religious welfare," Early seems to have preferred they segregate into an existing fellowship rather than follow M.E.C.S. proposal that they be empowered to form "separate General Conference jurisdiction for themselves."
No doubt glad 1866 was behind him, we can see our strategist's handiwork in March 1867 affirmation from the Baltimore Conference. Disclosure by Richard Irby (1825-1902), that they resolved to "give the full weight of our influence in extending the patronage of Randolph-Macon College," shows Early's courtship bearing fruit. Far less war-ravaged than the Virginia Conference, their subsidy was certainly welcome. Four Baltimore clergymen were added as trustees, two of them were given honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees. In June, Trustees moved forward with plans to relocate to Ashland, Virginia.
Prefaced with reference to Irish ancestry, The Pilot at Boston, Massachusetts, reprinted a Virginia paper's extremely flattering sketch of Bishop Early in January 1868. The Archdiocese instructed Catholic readers "His life of integrity and Christian consistency commands the admiration and respect of all who knew him." "He is now advancing in years but presents the grand, moral spectacle of a great and good man going down the declivity of age, with a name untarnished …"
Though it was his prerogative, Bishop Early did not attend the Annual Meeting of M.E.C.S. Bishops at Louisville in May. Perhaps intimidated by Brownlow (or railroading), Early focused influence on Virginia affairs.
Any committee attempt to negotiate a land deal is likely fraught with complexity. Add to that the dynamics of benefactors seeking concession in 'free-will' offer of parcels: I suspect Randolph-Macon relocation could have been very aggravating. Further, "rebel church" affairs in Virginia remained under post-war military authority. Early's leadership is evident in navigating an unfamiliar and decidedly informal bureaucracy. He built working relationship with George Stoneman, Jr. (1822-1894), the Major General in charge of the U.S. War Department's First Military District. After several rounds of correspondence, Early secured permission for Trustees to contract a land purchase. Before it could be effected, in July 1868, Early was forced to seek from Stoneman an order of protection. Echoing Spring Hill Cemetery affairs, a disgruntled minority of Randolph-Macon trustees "sued out an injunction restraining the Board from making the contemplated removal of the College," according to Irby. With no higher courts or legislature seated, Early appealed to the general, as "sole representative" of government. The autocrat promptly decreed the case without merit … and a purchase contract was executed before it expired.
Early exemplified forward momentum. While furniture, libraries – all the materiel required to operate a 19th century campus – were inventoried, packed and prepared for removal, Randolph-Macon's President got a better offer. Trustees appointed their president to chair a search committee "to elect a new College President and professors of the College" before Fall Term began. Mere weeks later, in August, a full slate proposed by Early received Trustees' approval.
A move was afoot to consolidate the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road with the connecting South Side Railroad Company. Phenomenally, the V&T had repaid it's million-dollar startup funding during the war. Early found merger counter to his interests and in October 1869 prevailed upon Lynchburg's Mayor to call a public meeting to oppose it. The body resolved to appeal to a military tribunal, in order that they might "submit the question to a vote of the people." By Christian's account "the Federal officer had rejected a petition for this purpose, signed by over two hundred business men." At any rate, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Rail Road Company be formed from Norfolk & Petersburg, South Side, and Virginia & Tennessee railroads in June 1870.
'John Early, Bishop' was enumerated the following month. As head of a Lynchburg household containing son Thomas Howard and a never-married daughter; two now-motherless daughters of Mary Virginia; and two Blacks … a cook and teen servant. Valuing his real estate at a mere $4,000, Early had perhaps divested to sons then living outside the household. Although further charitable bequests would have been completely within his character: Randolph-Macon College remained in great need.
"Activity, constant, untiring activity, is a law of his being," Bennett observed of Early in 1870. "Nor does the weight of years seem to burden him as it does other men; he is still erect in form, elastic in his tread, entertaining in conversation, forcible in preaching, wise in counsel, fervent in spirit, watchful over the Church of God, and burning with a holy zeal in the sacred work to which he has given his cheerful toil from the days of his youth," he recorded. "The name of John Early has been familiar as a household word among American Methodists for the last fifty years. Possessing a physical frame of wonderful powers of endurance, he has been able to do the full work of an itinerant preacher for almost sixty years."
Reverend Doctor Bennett, who'd known Early for thirty years, no doubt relied on the controversialist while preparing Memorials of Methodism in Virginia, published in 1871: "With a mind bold, strong, clear and comprehensive, he has gathered a vast fund of knowledge in reference to all the practical operations of Methodism; he is indeed a living encyclopedia of all facts, precedents and examples which have occurred in the Church, since he first took his seat in an Annual Conference. In this respect he is invaluable as a guide, in the discussion of many questions that must be determined by the lights and usages of other days."
Bennett preserved a touching account of personal ministry, pertinent in a new way. Likely yet unmarried and hearing a mentor was extremely ill, Parson Early "rode a long distance to attend him as a nurse. He lodged in the same room with him …" The biographer conveyed the reference in passing, in order to memorialize the long-dead preacher receiving Early's end-of-life ministrations. He elsewhere observed Early among a very few who could "connect us with the age of the fathers." Having "awakened" while founding Bishop Francis Asbury was active, the devotee had labored under his tutelage for nearly a decade (rising comparatively swiftly in trust and responsibility). By his longevity, eighty-four-year-old John Early remained a living link to tenacious predecessors introducing Methodist Society to America.
Influence waned and predicament intruded.
Almost immediately following surrender by the City of Nashville in February 1864, a Union Quartermaster had seized the M.E.C.S. Publishing House. Federals printed forms I now rely on in research. Part of the building and much of the stock was destroyed. Workshops were converted to a saddle and harness factory; the plant was derelict by war's end. Fleenor recounted "The Southern Book Concern could barely pay its employees and issued promissory scrip instead of money." Operation had resumed while Early still held authority to wield financial acumen. Despite Brownlow, Southern Methodists obtained military consent, issued bonds, staved off bankruptcy, and retooled. February 1872 fire destroyed the plant Early had conceived. News must have come as a shock to the inspirer.
Randolph-Macon College Trustees noted Early's absence at June 1872 convening. "On account of age and feebleness," according to Irby. The College President Early had proposed was named President of Trustees. Bishop Early retained his seat on the board.
"His health became seriously impaired," Edwards imparted. "His tall and stalwart frame began to stoop and bend under the growing infirmities of age. But, amid all, when comparatively free from pain, he kept up his cheerfulness, and entertained his visitors and friends with reminiscences of his early ministry."
"His physical forces gradually failed, and his public ministrations became less frequent," observed reliably chipper Bishop Doggett, who knew first-hand that Early had been "greatly disabled" while on the Richmond and Danville road. His helpmate entered a "long confinement, and amid all its alternations of suffering and repose, he manifested a wonderful cheerfulness, patience and resignation."
1872 charter granted by the Tennessee legislature resurrected Central University as an initiative. I suspect Early was aware that railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) endowed the quasi-M.E.C.S. project with an initial gift of $500,000 on 17 March 1873. Still under Methodist direction, Central reorganized as Vanderbilt University at Nashville.
"John Early still lives," Stevens published in July 1873. Revelation, that "His large blue eye yet flashes with a tranquil and holy zeal," makes evident our visionary subject had indeed been partially blinded in consequence of 1866 calamity. (Close investigation of portrait appearing in Price (1912), just above, seems to render a glass eye.) Brother Stevens relayed "His powerful voice, though affected by age, yet, like the blast of a trumpet, peals forth the invincible truth, and his erect and vigorous form is yet capable of much labor."
declared the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad Company in 1873 Annual Report. Capitalism failed again in the Financial Panic of 1873. The New York Stock Exchange closed indefinitely; investors (left) were shut out for ten days. A hundred railroads failed by November. Directors of the new entity – still solvent – cautioned "The scarcity of money to conduct business transactions, and the want of confidence so universally prevalent, have not only resulted in a tremendous shrinkage of all values, but have, in a great measure, retarded and hindered commercial and manufacturing operations, and of consequence obstructed and reduced the flow of business." Accounting no doubt dispiriting for a retiree.
"His tenacity of purpose and resoluteness of will often sustained him when other signs prophecied [SIC] imminent death," mused Doggett. "He would probably have reached his hundredth year." As if a Wall Street crash was not among them, the Bishop declared "The weight of years, and the repeated shocks of an old malady at last wore him down."
Early appreciated civic processions. Bells of various denominations tolled on the Friday morning. As described by the Lynchburg Virginian, Methodist clergy bore his coffin "covered with beautiful floral designs" to a church "heavily draped in mourning." His portrait (visible directly above), "suspended in the rear of the pulpit, was covered with crepe." In a handsome edifice he helped raise more than twenty years earlier. Five pastors, including Christian's father, delivered addresses.
"The remains were interred in Spring Hill cemetery, which he had been instrumental in founding," noted Christian, who was seven years old at the time.
Though mainly informing single-line necrologies, death notices emerged from San Francisco to New York. In the north, reprint of Virginia obituaries were particularly beneficent at Boston and Vermont. None I found were derogatory. Original memorials appeared throughout the south. North Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana papers in particular venerated the bishop. Account of time spent among Jefferson's slaves recirculated.
Rare were obituaries mentioning John Early's wives; none I found did so by name. Elizabeth had been dead sixteen years. Local report referenced nameless children present for the funeral. I suspect he was survived by three sons, two daughters and more than a dozen grandchildren. He outlived all thirteen siblings known to me … one by almost a century.
On Sunday, 9 November, Bishop McTyeire presided over memorial service at Nashville. He shrouded Early with Methodism's "heroic age." Depiction paraphrased by a Tennessee paper resonated with me: the parson was of an era "before the log cabin and bush arbor had given way to the stately dwellings, with frescoed ceiling – when men rode circuits as large as our present districts, and preached at twenty-eight appointments in twenty-eight days, and when the word "salary" was not in the book."
"Throngs of handsomely dressed ladies with escorts might be seen wending their way to the conference session at Cumberland street church," reported front page of the Norfolk Virginian. "They came from Portsmouth and the surrounding country in order to hear the eloquent Bishop Doggett's panegyric on the late Bishop Early." The Virginial Annual Conference devoted Tuesday morning, 2 December, to memorialize Early. The Raleigh Christian Advocate selected these among Doggett's remarks: "Now that he has retired behind the curtain of the grave, who will not eliminate from his record the errors of a virtuous life and accord him the well earned tribute due to a life of distinguished usefulness[?]"
Not unsurprisingly, a special committee had been appointed to make tribute to Bishop Early. Their report was recited, and approved with five resolutions. The second included summation: "We recognized in Bishop Early a man of rare endowments, embodying originality and boldness without rashness, quickness of perception, with caution in the formation of opinions, and developing in his life a tenacity of purpose based upon deep convictions, an unbending integrity, a fearless courage, a practical wisdom, and an executive power that gave to his character a force which was ever progressive, yet always conservative, and which stamped him at once as a leader among men."
The report used "zeal" five times. It presented Early's "fatherly spirit towards his younger brethren in the ministry" better than I have. By this deeply factual account, culled from church records, I sense education at the core of recognized clerical achievement. Subsequent undertakings were so profound, at Randolph-Macon and elsewhere, few biographers acknowledged him teaching Methodist classes while a relatively unknown circuit preacher. Not only did Publishing Houses under his purview produce instructive texts, they financed more substantial commitment to Sunday School work than I have conveyed.
The remembrance quoted Early, from 1822: "Cold is the heart that takes no interest in the missionary cause." I suspect funding far-distant enterprise in language beyond English was even more challenging than mitigating self-interest on behalf of localized education.
Glossing over "onerous duties of his Episcopal office" preceding superanuation, this verse seemed worthy of reiteration: "His noted strength of opinions, and independent boldness in their expression, had often led men to misconstrue his motives, misinterpret his spirit and form harsh judgments concerning him, and therein to antagonize him in both feeling and action. But over all these asperities, engendered by such conflict of judgments, his soul had triumphed …"
Perhaps mindful of publishing expense, Agent Early had once moved at General Conference that preachers' customary death notices in conference minutes be confined in length. Virginians at Norfolk resolved a four-page testimonial be disseminated and preserved.
(b c1841) officiated over memorial service for "Rev. Early, late Senior Bishop" … at Trinity Church, Salem, Oregon. McTyeire had in August 1872 stationed Brother Dawne at 'Salem and East Portland.' I write to you from outer East Portland. Dawne proved such a unique character, I must cram in another footnote.37
Peers at Randolph-Macon weighed in at April 1874 convening. They resolved "in the death of Bishop John Early, the College has lost one of its most zealous, faithful and useful friends, and the Board of Trustees one of its most honored and efficient members." His term of service (1830-1873) has been the longest recorded in institutional history.
(right) arose from Notman's landscape. Funerary offering by the Virginia Annual Conference, it punctuated the Early family's fifty-foot, circular lot. One flank proclaimed "Sixty-seven years a Methodist Preacher; nineteen years a Bishop of the M. E. Church South; in all things he approved himself as a Minister of God." Another extolled "In the home circle, gentle and loving; in social life, genial and courtly; as a friend, generous and public spirited; as a preacher, able and evangelical; as a Bishop, wise in council and skillful in administration."
Mann, writing in 1868, had asked "What will the generation living one hundred years from now think when they look back upon the history and doings of such a religious body of Christians as the rebel Church South? What will they think when they read that these degenerate sons of Wesley earnestly contended, not only for the right, but for the divinity of human slavery? This institution gave the slaveholder the power, not the right, to make merchandise of human souls … "
Parsing out what of Early's actions proved a boon for the colored race is challenging.
I find it noteworthy that Bishop Asbury, a first-generation follower of Methodist founder John Wesley, contemplated whether "amelioration in the condition and treatment of slaves" might prove superior to "any attempt at their emancipation." On the eave following Brother Early's reception into full connection, and thirty-six years prior to M.E.C.S. formation. It's justification akin to "I was just following orders," but some consideration must be given to fidelity. Asbury provided the inspirational heart for American Methodism, and certainly animated young Early. We are products of influencers.
John Early significantly helmed apportionment of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I contend 'who had what' was vital to his judgment. Particularly in regard to belief. I surmise inherent self-regard aged into articulable white supremacy … as if the latter was not baked-in as predicate by childhood. In advocating African colonization and then Black Methodist migration to A.M.E, the separatist culminated public eminence as segregationist. Uncomfortable with black-and-white analysis, I'll further contend our protagonist was inspirited with perceptual benevolence distinguishing him from many taking comfort from the misery of slavery.
Also consider that several scholars associate 1845 division – of the denomination with the largest and most cohesive following in America … with which more than half of all enslaved Christians were affiliated – as permission-giving for national, political estrangement. One might look at M.E.C.S. secession as boldly 'calling the question.' U.S. Congress was not on any path to eliminate slavery. Though it was not Early's intended outcome, without national division and internecine war, the nation may have remained longer without Lincoln's emancipation, and a 13th Amendment freeing northern slaves in 1865.
I found sobering counterpoint in Croskery. In his commendable 2012 thesis 'Religious Rebels' he quoted Faust: "The most fundamental source of legitimation for the Confederacy was Christianity."
Early shaped a broad swath of public opinion. He instigated free-will offering in the context of coerced subservience. While certainly not liberation theology, slave ministration – as religious instruction under his influence – can be seen as herculean when compared to Yankee exertion. I'll leave it to a footnote to demonstrate that, when former slaves achieved denominational autonomy, many converts were spiritually endowed by religious conviction Early had preached among the oppressed. They kept their faith. Nascent leadership was bureaucratically endowed: the initial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church Book of Discipline retained M.E.C.S. principles of church governance and adhesion our personally divisive subject conceptualized and introduced to practice.38
As for welfare of the Early-inspired splinter denomination, Buckley estimated nearly 460,000 practicing Methodists were partitioned into M.E.C.S. under Early's influential 1844 leadership. 125,000, were slaves. Summers reasoned membership rose to 757,205 by 1860, "of whom 207,766 were colored members." It is unclear to me whether growth in Black membership was primarily due to missionary success among slaves or oppressors. I'll merely contend Early, persistent in Missionary Board efforts, was not peripheral to that increase. And that, by the time of his death, Summers found "destitute portions of the South – destroyed by the war – require[d] a vast amount of missionary work." The Board de-prioritized religious welfare among People of Color … once they were at liberty.
As the nation experimented with Reconstruction, both the African Methodist Episcopal and northern Methodist Episcopal Church made inroads, organizing southern Blacks who had been members of M.E.C.S. Lawrence figured M.E.C.S. membership fell to less than half-a-million souls: "This decrease in numbers would be from former slaves leaving the church, members killed in the Civil War or absorbed into the northern church, and migration west." Hatfield contended "Between 1860 and 1866, more than two-thirds of the black membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South left that church to join other Methodist bodies then competing for the membership of freedmen."39
Hurst concluded 1,584 preachers had forsaken M.E.C.S. by 1866. By the time John Early quit the College of Bishops, it would be fair to say separatists significantly failed to meet constituents' needs. At the time of his death, Summers found "universities, colleges and academies, for both sexes … propagating." Missions to China and Mexico continued under favorable auspices. He estimated Black M.E.C.S. membership had dropped to a mere 3,557 souls. In 1890 M.E.C.S. membership well exceeded a million practitioners. Of which only 520 were People of Color. If Providence had in 1862 charged Early and his cohorts with guardianship of the "moral and intellectual culture of the African race," successors were finding diminishing returns.
Sincere appreciation for Tami Neilson, who pulled the 1855 birth record for Sexton John Early's son. The record set has not been indexed. She added the fact to a shared John Early project at FamilySearch. Without her investment I'd not have realized the Bishop compelled his slave to serve Christianity. I suspect forced labor was common "usage of Methodism" at publishing houses, schools, and throughout M.E.C.S. enterprise.
Images enlarge when clicked. Bold type introduces a direct ancestor of the blogger. Bishop John Early and I descend from his paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Early (1705-1787), we are first cousins five generations removed. (My mother was born an Early.)
Not until near-culmination of research did I learn of excellent 1913 biography that James Rives Childs submitted to his alma mater via John P. Branch Historical Papers of Randolph-Macon College. Or that Childs was grandson to Mary Virginia … or that the soon-to-be Medal of Freedom winner would serve as Ambassador to Ethiopia. It was disconcerting to discover how we (relied on many of the same sources and) found comparable components remarkable in John Early's character.
Our subject was well-represented in Cabell's Sketches and Recollections of Lynchburg (1858). Pollock ignored him in Sketch book of Lynchburg, Va. (1887). Early was particularly well-described by William Asbury Christian, with Lynchburg and Its People (1900). Randolph-Macon annually memorializes their former student, bestowing an Asbury Christian Award. Brother Christian took up ministry in the Virginia Annual Conference after graduating Vanderbilt in 1890. From 1917 he intrigued in Methodist reunification and was a 1939 delegate when M.E.C.S. reconciled with the "old mother church" to form – at the exclusion of A.M.E. or C.M.E.C. – the juggernaut Methodist Church … segregated and "racist to its core" according to Davis.
It is irrelevant to biography, but I suspect the John Early Museum Magnet School at Nashville forms part of our campaigner's cultural legacy. Echoing Early's mission via Lynchburg Charity School, 80% of the middle-school students occupy low-income households. Counter to Early's vision, 7% of learners identify as White. As a magnet school, it is separatist. J.E.M.M.S., with poorly rated teachers, dismal test scores, comparatively outsized discipline rates and notable police intervention, is not an elite academy. That said, with lofty vision, administrators claim to host "the only accredited museum within [a] school in North America." 2020 exhibit, 'The Invisible Suffragists', dedicated to "women history forgot," corresponds with Hard Honesty historical bent. Community partners include two Church of Christ congregations: Methodists are not currently credited as supporting the endeavor in organized effort.
— "Whenever Jefferson came to 'Poplar Forest' Joshua [Early] always called upon him in state," provided 'Susan Early,' a descendent of Jeremiah. By family lore, Jefferson was "more than once entertained" at Otter View Farm. The informant elsewhere in 1937 testimony to Bedford County Historical Inventory compiled by the Works Progress Administration credibly imparted intimate knowledge of Joshua's life and property. Jefferson first overnighted at Poplar Forest in 1809, writing in 1812 of longed-for completion. Interior plastering was finished in 1816. Joshua died at the end of 1813. Any subsequent audience would have been (widely noted and) in the province of Parson John Early. Jefferson was oriented toward the neighborhood; in 1816 he paid New London Academy tuition for a motherless grandson then living at Poplar Forest.
Martha Wayles (Skelton) Jefferson (1748-1782) inherited Poplar Forest plantation from her father in 1773. In 1806 – as Early was proselytizing – the U.S. President, then in his second term, sojourned to Bedford County … to supervise laying a foundation for a remote villa he had long imagined. (See plan, right: builders struggled with innovative octagonal concept.) More than ninety souls were available to the neophyte preacher: overseers of various Jefferson plantations consolidated forced labor to raise a sumptuous retreat near Forest. [Footnote 24 conveys worker conditions.]
Wolfson understood "inaccessibility of Poplar Forest made reliance on the slave populations on site … essential." Jefferson was in a labor crunch. In the absence of skilled, White craftsman, he required overseers "efficiently utilize his slave labor force" by training farm hands in advanced skills required to bring his unique vision to fruition. Instruction was in vogue at Poplar Forest in 1806.
As for Early's ministerial collaboration, The Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest has recognized "Slave marriages, although not legally recognized, promoted stable family life and increased Jefferson’s wealth." Contrast extrajudicial pacification service to slaveholders … with Methodist contention that manumission was impractical where government did not condone it. Not always did church practice yield to civil code. BACK
2— Boehm located the 1809 Conference at 'Tarborough' (now Tarboro, North Carolina and no longer in Methodists' Virginia Conference). Asbury there pondered "personal liberty of the African which he may abuse." Bartels associated undated Tarborough regulations (right) with 1802 state legislation regulating violence against slaves found traveling without permit. The first rule generally prohibited slaves from entering town on the Sabbath … "unless to attend church." First-time offenders faced no more than fifteen lashes of the whip. Insolent behavior increased punishment to no more than thirty-nine "stripes." BACK
3— At 1784 organization, slaveholders were not permitted to join Methodist society; all members agreed to manumission. It's challenging to report on 1812 canon: not even those present agree on what norms were sanctified. See Summers' 'The Slavery Question' (1890) for exquisitely detailed account of Methodists' fluctuant positions on slavery, 1780-1870. Some of it is accurate. BACK
4— Ellis reported flirtatious approach made by the daughter of a subsistence farmer in 1807 diary entry describing Early's sojourns as a novice, yet-unmarried preacher. Private reflection – that, if he "wanted a wife without a fortune," he should court her – may indicate our subject, as he attained majority age, intended wedding a woman of property. Elizabeth Browne Rives, born at the 22-room mansion of Chalmaria Plantation was eminently suitable. Johnathan Reeves found Elizabeth and siblings in 1829 received parents' title to "a negro boy named Nelson." Virginia Historical Society's Early Family Papers contain an 1849 letter from Elizabeth Early to a sister. It "discusses the merits of slave ownership and plans for the purchase of a slave with funds from their father’s [c1844] estate settlement."
The 'Bishop Early Home' (left) was relocated c1932 and now stands at 3890 Peakland Place, Lynchburg. During Early family tenure of preexisting structure in its original setting, it was remarked that rear porches gave onto pleasing vista of a bustling James River. I couldn't resist providing 1976 image of the overlook. BACK [Or see footnote † to Addendum.]
5— Chairing a Committee tasked with responding to communication from the American Colonization Society, by Methodists' 1840 General Conference, Early was downright poignant in three-point report. It concluded "we recommend this Society to the attention and patronage of our brethren and friends, [to] the several Annual Conferences who may feel free to aid in this enterprise of benevolence [we recommend] the souls and bodies of people of colour, both in our country and in Africa …" Recommending "bodies" of those vulnerable to rape and corporal punishment surprised me. The report proposed annual collections "on or about the 4th of July," enmeshing African colonization with notion of independence.
Delaney and Rhodes studied dynamics of Lynchburg colonization efforts from 1805 onwards. Slaves there were nearly doubled in number, 1820-1830. To 1,579 souls. Twenty-two free Blacks increased that population sector to 324. Brother Early too increased the size of his forcibly held congregation. While urging deportation.
The researchers found free Blacks initially reluctant to emigrate. I'm reminded of the clause in phrasing, "slavery, as it existed among us, is dead," used by Holston Annual Conference, M.E.C.S. in September 1865. Labor contracts began replacing forced servitude as America entered a Reconstruction period. "The practice extinguished black hopes for self sufficiency, especially for the residents of Lynchburg," noted Sanderfer. Virginians in the American Colonization Society helped fund 150 freedman emigrating from the area in the fall of 1865. BACK
6— According to Childs, the Virginia Annual Conference of 1825 adopted Early's plan for a committee to consider and report the best method to establish a "seminary of learning under the regulations and patronage of the Conference." Not only was Early appointed to the twelve-man body, he was appointed Chair of a committee "to obtain the best model for the college building and [to] contract for and superintend the construction of the same." Consider the gestation period: culminating preparatory report was approved in 1829. It would be justifiable to style Early as Father of the Randolph-Macon Campus at Boydton. [See footnote 36.]
"He was possessed of genuine personal valor," wrote Childs, of Early … specifically referring to "exigencies of extensive travel, to which he was exposed in pursuit of his mission." The Georgia Annual Conference requested Agent Early be dispatched to collect donations for the college. With perhaps a fourth child on the way, some thought might be given to risky business: carrying negotiable instruments in vulnerable post coaches was undoubtedly daunting endeavor. The parson did possess courage; many accounts of ruffians appear in his journal as a young, itinerant preacher. He claimed to be frequently under physical threat while a circuit-preacher.
"He did not believe it to be always a Christian duty to submit to insult or when smitten on one cheek to turn the other," recollected Goode. "Once, insulted on the streets of Lynchburg, he deliberately took off his coat, threw it down on the pavement, and exclaimed, "Lie there, Methodist, until I whip this scoundrel!"" BACK
7— Researching Reverend William Hardesty (1776-1846) I found, in Raboteau, bold 1786 pronouncement by American Methodist's General Conference: "We do hold in deepest abhorrence the practice of slavery; and shall not cease to seek its destruction by all wise and prudent means." The body backtracked almost immediately: "We thought it prudent to suspend the minute concerning slavery, on account of the great opposition that has been given to it, our work being in too infantile a state to push things to extremity," noted Bishop Thomas Coke (1747-1814). [My timeline, anchored on Hardesty, slavery and Methodism, can be found here.] BACK
8— In 1833 scheming at The Ruling Force of Time, childless Eleazer Early intuited Mary Virginia's marriage prospects were important to her mother, in particular. He advanced that parents could match the nine-year-old off "most eligibly" among Yankee elites … if Reverend Early would go north and intrigue among them. Mary Virginia lived up to her middle name: she would in 1847 marry James Leftwich Brown (1815-1872), a Randolph-Macon College graduate, the first President of its Franklin Literary Society.
I always find it noteworthy when a subject's children do not marry; this is true for the ultimate four children (of seven identified) born to John and Elizabeth. BACK
9— The Methodist Church Property Case was compiled and published by John Early in 1851. Frontispiece described Richard Sutton (c1807-1878) as a 'Special and Congressional Reporter.' In 1840 Delegate Early had secured passage of resolution that General Conference proceedings should be diligently recorded. The following day he produced contract for Sutton, who had been waiting in the wings. (And who would go on to achieve some renown.) Imagine the Baltimore pre-planning required, for Early to implement his vision like a Stage Director giving entrance cues to the cast. Proceedings were not only daily disseminated to newspapers; they circulated a decade later. As lawsuit brewed. BACK
10— President Tyler gave Philadelphia playwright (and political supporter) James Nelson Barker (1784-1858) the Comptroller's office in September 1841. Tyler, who favored slavery's expansion, remained in persistent need. Though Barker kept to his post, the U.S. Senate approved three supplemental Secretaries of the U.S. Treasury in Tyler's nearly four-year term. BACK
11— Pearne rendered Early "an elderly man, of coarse features and severely plain countenance." 1899 depiction may have been colored by Brother Pearne's prominent role in 1865 organization of a loyal Holston Conference.
Lawrence, in 'The relationship between the Methodist church, slavery and politics, 1784-1844' (2018), mentioned Harding. He also set Bishop Andrew in the context of Freeborn Garrettson (1752-1827), one of Methodism's first American-born preachers. Garrettson (manumitted his slaves and) mentored Maryland itinerant William Hardesty. Lawrence distinguished Methodist Society precepts on slavery, migrating as they did after cohesion in hardscrabble, revolutionary era: "As the new nation became more established after 1800, slavery moved from being primarily a moral issue to a political one." BACK
12— "Antagonism between the Northern and Southern Methodists upon the question of slavery has been one of the main secrets of the estrangement" asserted an anonymous, northern lawyer in 1849 Quarterly Review (published by John Early for M.E.C.S. not on church presses, but by Morton & Griswold at Louisville). To Purifoy's point on retreat from moral high ground, 'G' denied "allegation that the Southern Church has undergone any change, either in her principles or in her practice, on the subject of slavery." And decried public impression "that the Southern Church has become pro-slavery." He contended slaveholding clerics had remained in accord with the Book of Discipline and "well-established usages of Methodism." Northerners, prompting the religious society to take an anti-slavery stance, were the change agents.
"The New York and Troy conferences were not and never had been abolition conferences, but, together with many other Northern conferences, they had firmly opposed that movement …" "Generally speaking, Northern Methodists regarded slavery "as a great evil though not necessarily a sin,"" noted Buckley in 1897. A number of midwestern delegates also opposed sanctioning Harding and Andrew.
Going to the letter of law, Early seems less of a crank for appealing Harding's plight. Maryland's recently enacted Act of 1842, Chapter 293, Section 1, bestowed "any married woman may become seized or possessed of any property, real or of slaves, by direct bequest, demise, gift, purchase or distribution, in her own name, and as of her own property." Technically, Harding could not manumit the slaves. "For the power to manumit implies the existence of the title in the person who manumits. But the title was not in Mr. Harding. Therefore he could not manumit them, and the Conference acted unconstitutionally in suspending him," reasoned anonymous Yankee 'G'.
Gender equity enters the argument. Although Harding "did profess a usufructuary interest" in slaves, only Ann Maddox (Swann) Harding (1814-1880) could execute a deed of manumission. "His wife, to be sure, could manumit them," allowed 'G.' "But we deny the right of the Conference, or any other body of men, to hold a clergyman responsible for the violation, on the part of his wife, of a law, which, she as a lay member (if a member of the church at all), is not bound to observe. To do so is to confound all notions of individual responsibility."
Researching Reverend William Hardesty, I found it a common "usage of Methodism" for ministers North and South to simply consign slave titles to a spouse; to enjoy the fruit of compulsory labor … while complying with canon law. Section 4 of Maryland's 1842 Act incongruously provided "Control and management of all such slaves, the direction of their labour and the receipts of the productions thereof, shall remain to the husband agreeably to the laws heretofore in force …" BACK
13— Being "on trial" was not, in its essence, onerous for Methodists. Think of it as 'fact-finding.' From the time the sect began recording proceedings, minutes employed an inquisitional style. 1918 accounting (right) – where M.E.C.S. retrospectively documented publishing history – demonstrates the practice … and (imprecisely) references Agent Early. BACK
14— Early almost assuredly studied classical language, and likely at New London Academy. Terms 'clerk' and 'cleric' share Greek origin in klērikos, according to Harper. It were English writers who differentiated bureaucratic record-keepers from conveyors of holy messaging. Employing stenographers, to record church proceedings while Early orchestrated them, hearkens to the role of scribes. [See Sutton, footnote 9.] One could think of printing presses under his supervision as monk copyists. Dixon associated Early with "works connected with the southern question." Tyler described Early's authorship "relating to the disruption controversy." It was with some foresight that the strategist administered textual authority, which he could then cite in polemic. Gee, now that I think of it, 'minister' and 'administrator' share linguistic provenance. BACK
15— Brother William Dyer Cass (1797-1867) read from Wesley's Thoughts, entering them into the Conference record almost three weeks into the 1844 convening. Early's intercession, seeking liberty to speak, was ruled "contrary to all rule and order," and the body retired for the day. Minutes record Brother Early frequently addressing church affairs, often employing loving terms. Only in debate over slavery was he described as "speaking strongly" … and again admonished for being out of order. We can surmise his were not lightly held beliefs.
Our evangelist was without doubt an orchestrator. The 1840 Committee on Slavery took up, among others, petition by the Baltimore Conference … whose jurisdiction extended at least as far as Staunton, seventy miles due north of Lynchburg. Harding's 1844 plight also arrived from the Baltimore Conference. Interestingly, separatists in this Conference would invite Bishop Early to preside when, in 1866, clergy there resolved to join M.E.C.S. Both abolitionist and white supremacy advocates may have been playing chess with Baltimore Conference initiatives. Cunningly, an anonymous 1844 General Conference participant confided "The Baltimore Conference is doing our work for us." "They will get the odium; and we all the benefit." BACK
16— Samuel Early knew first-hand that "Bishop Early was conspicuous … for an aggressive and determined maintenance of his own opinions." He also divulged, "Notwithstanding his truculent championship of his personal views," the Virginian "was refined and gentle in his social intercourse, and a charming companion. His love of flowers amounted to a passion, and the greater part of the leisure he could obtain from his pastoral duties was devoted to their cultivation." Cabell, writing when Early was in his early seventies, praised: "the miniature rose … introduced into Lynchburg by Bishop Early, who has always had a great fondness for flowers. A few small shoots were brought by him from one of his circuits, and by him distributed amongst his friends; and from these plants have descended all that numerous family of roses now seen in upper Virginia." Alluding to his "arduous, incessant and unremitted" labor on behalf of Methodism, she worked horticultural observation into analogy. "Time and eternity will continue to feel his influence …" she predicted. BACK
17— "Although marked by Elliott's anti-slavery bias, [it] is still a useful work of reference," commented biographer Earl S. Elliott on A History of the Great Secession From the Methodist Episcopal Church in the year 1845 by Reverend Doctor Charles Elliott. Meticulous in reference to 'scrap books,' Doctor Elliott's account of Reverend John Early's animus was probably faithful. He cited "Mr. Brickhouse, who was present." BACK
18— Resolutions presented by Early gave rationale for a railroad charter. According to Turner, they began with "It would provide large returns to the investors." The fifth and ultimate attestation was "A rail-line toward the Pacific would permit the tapping of trade of the Far East." The proposition sounds, at first blush, preposterous. And then I found Southern Methodist University referencing a Virginia & Tennessee locomotive (below) as "Tehauntepec," before it was renamed "Sheldon" and spirited Jefferson Davis from the Confederate Capital in 1865. The Virginia General Assembly did in 1849 envision the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road as a link to far-western venture. The Tehuantepec Railroad Company of New Orleans in 1852 surveyed a rail route across Mexico, under direction of U.S. Engineers. Investors in locomotive 833 no doubt imagined it would one day ferry freight and passengers destined to cross the continent and traverse the Pacific. (A sister locomotive, the 'Lynchburg,' blew up in 1852 at Forest. Killing two.)
[SIC] in Mexico."
While under Early's supervision, M.E.C.S. presses produced polyglot Bibles: it would fit what I know of Early's dovetailed 'Big Picture' thinking to postulate that our strategist prepared texts, and men to carry them south and west, as transcontinental railroading stimulated his imagination. BACK
19— Early obviously enjoyed pomp in civic ceremony. 1828 installation of a pumphouse cornerstone was "celebrated with much display" at The Ruling Force of Time. As his sustained, six-year vision for a Lynchburg Waterworks passed an important milestone.
After parading in 1850, "Mr. Early, standing on the bridge … lifted his hands and called the assembly to prayer." According to Christian, "As soon as quiet was secured he reached into his high beaver hat and took out a prayer." "Just as he was about to read, old Uncle Pomp, a slave standing near, in the surprise of the moment … exclaimed: "Dar. Who-eer heurd de Lord writ to ‘fore ‘bout de railroad?"" Richardson paraphrased reporting on a "patriarchal old darky" who, following prayer, "looked up with a significant smile, and said: "Uh! I suppose dis de fust time de Lawd eber been written to on de subjec' ob de railroad."
(1853 Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road bond, right.)
20— Perhaps Reverend Early had been at dedication of newly erected St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Easter Day, 1851. I find it notable that – as he contemplated funding a Methodist edifice – he also subscribed in a c1849 campaign to erect another denomination's place of Lynchburg worship. On Sixth Street. BACK
21— 1851 receipt of Methodist Episcopal compensation by M.E.C.S. coincided with establishment of the Merchants Bank of Virginia. Since Early was responsible for the winnings, it would be logical to credit Northern Methodists for capitalizing Merchants Bank. And corelate Agent Early with Presidency of the countinghouse in this period. BACK
22— To settle Smith v. Swormstedt, the Methodist Episcopal Church agreed to relinquish $15,000 in cash and, in structured payments, another $65,000 over five years to M.E.C.S. Including an initial 1848 settlement; transfer of southern accounts receivable; presses, fixtures and book stock conveyed; Hurst calculated "The proceeds of these suits amounted in all to $414,121.67." The sum represents an equivalent purchasing power of thirteen million dollars in today's economy. BACK
23—"Let the children cry. It will strengthen their lungs," Early counseled Black mourners in Young's undated account. "Their mothers cannot leave them at home, nobody to leave them with. And you would not have a mother lose a sermon just to accommodate you," preached Early. "The Bishop talked on about five minutes. By this time the little weepers increased in number rapidly, and their lungs began to give evidence of great strength. He paused a moment, then remarked very gravely, "There might be occasions when a noisy child should be taken out. Such occasions as the present, for example …" BACK
24— Though Winifred predates him, I propose William Steptoe (1785-1862, son of James, Jr.) in chain of ownership for her and James. The physician ministered to Poplar Forest slaves. 1813 billing of Jefferson disclosed how hazardous life had been among young Early's charges: "Cutting off negroe boys finger," "extracting bone" from Ambrose's leg, and – particularly heartrending – treating "negroe woman Aggy" for "hysteria." Doctor Steptoe held about twenty-six slaves by 1830.
OBrion contended John Early emancipated a slave in 1806. While his father was yet living, and in the year he was licensed to preach. He'd not yet have been of majority age. Not known to have himself been manumitted, he was unlikely to hold actual title to property. BACK
25— I probably undercount slave ownership and may have missed a plantation. I identified our subject in four distinct and inexact 1860 slave schedules. Five of his eight known slaves appeared as Mulatto. One, a five-year-old at the manse, correlates with the 1855 birth record above introducing Sexton John Early. Given the imprecise entry, we might also consider a Mulatto boy rented out to David W. Burton at Lynchburg. He was enumerated as age ten in 1860.
A twenty-year-old John Early was enumerated at Forest in 1870 … as Black and in a household convenient to Otter Creek property. Occupation was given as "Works on the canal." All of the eldest slaves I was able to associate with Bishop Early were enumerated in 1860 as thirty years old: if you accept that record-keeping was notoriously sloppy (enumerated in ten-year clusters), it becomes feasible that canal-worker-John was a Mulatto child at the manse in 1860.
Further, Fanny Early (b 1846) shared that 1870 household. (And, unlike canal labor John, was literate.) I'm confident an 1860 slave schedule anonymously depicted her as having her own slave dwelling, and rented at age fourteen to James Wright. At footnote † to Addendum I introduce Reverend John and Elizabeth's youngest child. Born 1844, she was given the nickname Fanny Early. Black Fanny Early, two years younger, would be age-appropriate to fit within family lore, regarding slave relationships. My grandfather Roger Randolph Early (1893-1951) professed deep affection for his 'Mammy,' likely born in the slave era. It was also custom among some wealthier antecedent slaveowners to bring a slave child into the family unit, as a lifelong "companion." (I'd never known them to bear the same name however.)
Confederate engineers put John Early's slave 'Fletcher' (b c1835) to work on Richmond fortifications in late 1862. John and Elizabeth were parents to John Fletcher Early (1830-1894), named no doubt for a Methodist theologian. Slave Fletcher was age-appropriate for role as his namesake's companion. He and wife Martha named their first known son Thomas Howard Early (c1860-1918). I have introduced John and Elizabeth's child bearing that precise name.
When factoring in slave property, Goldfield calculated Lynchburg residents had accumulated the second-highest per capita wealth of any city in the United States by 1859. BACK
26— John and Elizabeth's first-born son, Transylvania-educated surgeon Orville Rives Early (1824-1900) "had charge of a hospital" at Richmond, according to Ruth Early. And the rank of Major, C.S.A. By Drewry's account, second son Thomas Howard Early "contracted throat trouble due to his labors in Confederate hospitals and was forced to retire" from that ministry. Son John Fletcher Early, an 1852 graduate of Virginia Military Institute, led E Company of Fenner's Battery of Louisiana Artillery without known ill effect. Nephew and namesake John Early Rives (1827-1865), Private, 12th Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A., died of pneumonia among mass casualties while prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland.
Heavily reliant on slave labor, Gorman contended "Richmond [became] pretty much the hospital center for the Confederacy." He identified Centenary Methodist Church Hospital and, surprising me, an African Church Hospital. Blacks suffered extraordinary rates of disease and injury when induced to provide vital wartime labor, North or South. Some could be healed and returned to the strife. BACK
27— McTyeire testified Brother Stith Mead (1767-1834) converted John Early to Episcopal Methodism. On 22 April 1804. Evangelist Lorenzo Dow (1777-1864) recorded an exuberant Mead – who convoked more than a dozen camps about Lynchburg between March and August – then in three-day jubilation: twenty-four were converted, forty joined the Society. I put eighteen-year-old John Early's recruitment at encampment on meeting house grounds of nominally Presbyterian believers at Hat Creek, in Falling River environs of Bedford County.
(1727-1805) had served as Bedford County Justice with John's grandfather Jeremiah Early; they had been fellow New London incorporators and Town Trustees. In 1764 John's father Joshua stood bond for Sheriff William Mead. William operated a public house (above) at New London. Joshua invested in a store and warehouse on town lots at what was until 1781 the seat of Bedford County.
Stith Mead had studied classical language before taking up with Asbury in 1793. I suspect Early venerated his initial exemplar, and Mead's enlightened response to forced servitude distinguished him from Bishop Asbury. Mead and Taylor asserted Stith Mead freed slaves, and that brothers compensated him with cash when declining Quaker-held souls at 1806 probate of his father's will. (Ruth Early found Mead selling John Charlsson before 1792.) John Early was licensed to preach in 1806: Brother Mead that year pledged his newly acquired property. As collateral permitting Methodist Society at Lynchburg to erect a meeting house. The earliest church structure arising there. In 1807 Mead published his first text, a collection of camp meeting songs. Ungainly excerpt illustrated out-of-doors conditions for Early's spiritual rebirth… what Doggett described as "extraordinary revival:" "They pray, they sing, they preach the best; I'm bound to march in endless bliss, And die a shouting Methodist."
Price related, of Early, "As a homilist he did not rank high, but in preaching and exhortation he had a wonderful fluency and earnestness. He was the best pathetic anecdoter I ever heard. He had an almost limitless control over the emotions of his audiences. In the days when shouting was fashionable in the Methodist churches, if quiet and silence were desired, it was unsafe to put John Early in the pulpit."
Smith conveyed Asbury was buoyed in 1815. Upon receiving account of Parson Early inflaming a postwar camp meeting at Prince Edward County, Virginia "where a thousand persons were converted." In week-long pageant at appropriately named Prospect. Peers cloaked him with the notable achievement for the rest of his life. John Early delivered Mead's funeral sermon. Perhaps in quiet decorum, before "Mrs. Early sang beautifully his favorite hymn," according to Mead and Taylor.
Childs contended Elizabeth Browne Rives also "embraced religion at a camp-meeting." In the "fifteenth year of her age" she would have converted c1820. Stith Mead had successfully intervened on her father Anthony (1776-1844) in 1813. BACK
28— For three years Holston Conference members, of a separatist denomination, severed from spiritual connection brethren they deemed not confederating. 'Conference' and 'confederacy' share root meaning in inclusion. "'Con-" draws distinctly from Latin as "together, with." Harper comingled "ferre" with a Proto-Indo-European term "to bear children." As in confer something of value. Latin foederare, from which federate was Anglicized, is to have arrived from language indicating "trust, confide, persuade." BACK
29— Shaffer divulged report by the Virginia & Tennessee Rail Road President: "I found that the troubles of the road began in 1863 when Federal soldiers burned or destroyed eight stations, twenty four bridges, ten water tanks, a number of freight and passenger cars, turntables, 8000 crossties and eight miles of rail which was bent and twisted so as to be unfit for further use." ('Sherman's neckties,' forged from heated rails, right.) Militants laid waste to much of the line's facilities by end of hostilities. Rail connections from Lynchburg were not fully restored until February 1866. Canal investors reaped unanticipated boon when their enterprise accommodated slack in freight transfer. BACK
30— Coulter, in 1937 Brownlow biography, maintained John Early "was the brother of the Confederate General Jubal Early." It's an error Dunn replicated, and from which he drew several surmises. Jubal descended by four generations from John's paternal grandparents: the men were first cousins, twice removed. 'Ol' Jube,' nominally Baptist, ended up at Lynchburg and, like John, was interred at Spring Hill Cemetery. I found no intimacy linking the pair.
By authorship of an 1866 Memoir, and 1872-onward Presidencies of both the Southern Historical Society and veterans' Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Early is identified as a "prime architect" of what became 'Lost Cause' rationale romanticizing Civil War retrospective. (Family lore has it that Jubal promulgated the narrative at Robert E. Lee's behest, as the latter took the helm at Washington College.) I found Mann using the term, with quote marks, in 1868 condemnation of rebel preachers in the Holston Conference. BACK
31— "My command was stampeded at Morristown this morning," Vaughn would inform superiors. Following loss of 85 killed and 224 wounded or captured on 28 October. I recommend Samuel Langhorne Clemens' short War Prayer, for counterpoint to Holston Methodists' intent: "O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead …" BACK
32— Early had faced threat almost since hostilities broke out. "The venerable Bishop John Early, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was in Phillipi [SIC] on the day of the recent battle, having just returned from the session of some Western Conference over which he had presided," came 20 June 1861 report, relayed by a South Carolina paper. Our protagonist was not a shrinking violet. BACK
33— Pardon for fellow Methodist Robert Henry Glass (1822-1896) may have been a hard sell. Early's Court Street neighbor appealed to U.S. President Andrew Johnson, who had been a U.S. Senator when furtively changing trains at Lynchburg in tumultuous 1861. Upon "impulse of the moment," by Graf's retelling, a William W. Hardwicke and two unknowns accosted Johnson and "attempted to pull his nose." Glass partnered with a George W. Hardwicke at the Republican and was thereby implicated. In covering letter to Johnson, Glass denied being "party to the indignity" which had, over time, become an "outrage" and – following Lincoln's death – depicted by a rival paper as assassination attempt. BACK
34— The Female Collegiate Institute perished in 1863. Of Central University, Tillett prematurely declared "The coming of the Civil War brought an end to this enterprise." Of the university's Shelby Medical College at Nashville, Atkinson observed "After three academic years, the Federal Army requisitioned it first as a hospital, then as a barracks, and finally for refugees at the end of the war. The building was left in a dilapidated condition by the Federals and never reopened as a medical school." Karns adduced "Only a minority of the professors survived the war," and "From December 28, 1862, until June 1, 1865, the property of the college was in the hands of the United States military authorities." Early likely left the university's Board of Trust as the school slipped into hiatus.
He did not depart the cause of education. According to Merriam, the M.E.C.S. College of Bishops would, in 1866 General Conference (with Early as one of four voices), advocate establishment of a Southern theological seminary, "but thought that the prostrate condition of the country consequent upon the civil war would not warrant an attempt to establish one at that time." They instead advised, as "temporary expedient," biblical schools be organized in connection with colleges then being endowed by annual conferences. BACK
35— Despite Woodson's contention regarding frictionless joint worship, the Court Street congregation at Lynchburg had, in economic boom times of 1859, explored idea of building a church for Methodists of Color. War intervened on segregationist plans that would have been unlikely had Brother Early not – at the very least – acquiesced. The Jackson Street congregation would nestle into the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church after 1870. BACK
36— Early's argument for relocation of Randolph-Macon college, as conveyed by the Richmond Dispatch, seemed to shade his disciplinarian inclination with maternality: "Boys, when not under the restraint, and away from the influence of ladies' society, are not so easily governed as when these wholesome restraints are upon them." Further, he assured intended patrons "He was in favor of removal, but he would never agree to spend so much money in brick and mortar anywhere else as had been spent at Randolph Macon." The frame-built Female Collegiate Institute campus went mostly to waste; remote Randolph-Macon structures deteriorated more gradually … ultimately not having been effectively re-purposed. BACK
37— Though brick was provided by the penitentiary yard, Masons helmed grand procession to lay a cornerstone at Oregon's new capitol building on 8 October 1873. Reverend Dawne therein at Salem deposited an issue of the M.E.C.S. Nashville Christian Advocate.
McTyeire had, at Albany, Oregon, in August 1872 received Virginian Dawne from the Arkansas Conference … where the Bishop had himself presided over Dawne's 1869 reception on trial. (Minutes.) McTyeire ordained Brother Dawne as an Elder at Albany. No M.E.C.S. church record styled him a Doctor of Divinity. "Shrewd knack for cribbing other people’s sermons is what has made him a preacher," testified an anonymous disputant in 1874. Finding him vainglorious, Wunder in 1989 described Dawne as "a nineteenth-century Jimmy Swaggart."
E. J. Dawne married Ellen J. Miller (1845-1905) at Salem in April 1874. "Dr. Dawne" was exposed weeks afterward for falsely claiming a medical degree: Willamette University faculty dismissed him from professorship in their Medical Department. Dawne's campaign for Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction (exposed rudimentary literacy and) promptly disintegrated.
Naske most excellently denuded Dawne. Crediting him with "an eventful past," the academic found Dawne hinting at Confederate Colonelcy I could not affirm. I am certain Bishop Early would have nevertheless weeded Dawne from ministry. At Dixie, Oregon the Columbia Annual Conference did just that in September 1874. "Dawne was tried, silenced and suspended from the Church until such time as he would clear himself of the charges then and there prepared against him." Which he never attended to.
Dawne was consorting with Matthew Paul Deady (1824-1893) by 1877. (Deady appeared as a notorious defense attorney at Written Words For You All to Read.) Dawne apparently did pass the bar when reinventing himself. "His colleagues, however, did not consider him a Lawyer but rather looked upon him as what is usually called a shyster by the profession" testified an 1885 source.
Indeed. Broker Dawne was found to be swindling loans in early 1885. Judge Deady almost assuredly helped orchestrate U.S. President Grover Cleveland's appointment of Dawne as U.S. Judge for the District of Alaska in August. In application and Democratic Party politicking rife with falsehood. "Professional and personal weaknesses revealed themselves" almost immediately following Dawne's first rulings. Word arrived at Sitka that Cleveland felt hoodwinked by ineffectual justice tinged with self-dealing.
No one knows for certain what happened next. Nearly a dozen years after memorializing Early, peers last saw him in September. In the company of three Native men, purportedly paddling off to indigenous settlement in Tongass forest. Judge Dawne gave multiple reasons for departure: dozens conjectured on outcome.
Ellen opened correspondence received following her husband's disappearance "thinking they might throw some light on his mysterious actions," according to Naske's source. She proffered them to Alaska's District Governor who, in mid-November concluded Dawne "is both a forger and embezzler, and leaves no doubt in mind that he has fled to British Columbia." He also opined that "no judge at all is better than such a one as Dawne."
Penniless and mother of a child, a collection financed Ellen's return stateside. 1887 divorce went uncontested and she promptly remarried at Oregon. Family lore averred "a letter purporting to be from Dawne was received in 1905, claiming that he was a high official in Europe," and threatening to return and claim her estate. BACK
38— M.E.C.S. divesture plan of 1866 did not end with Early's most substantive influence over the denomination. Perhaps "religious welfare of the colored race" accelerated as consequence of his dethronement. In two years the Nashville Publishing House – that Early had established – began printing the Christian Index, enabling Black, Christian voices to travel and confederate. Several hundred Preachers of Color were put on trial and elected into M.E.C.S. connection. With White bishop's investment of time and travel, five Black annual conferences organized in short order. Black clergy elected, and M.E.C.S. bishops consecrated, two Bishops of Color; in 1870 the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church was organized as a distinct denomination with its own General Conference. Laskey put membership at 78,000 … under "competent leaders" at inauguration. Index editorship and revenue was turned over to the new sect: Summers described the Colored Methodist Church, with three self-elected Bishops at the time of Early's death, as "prosperous."
Analysis is mixed. Many see paternalism, others unique interracial cooperation in ongoing M.E.C.S. relationship with the new ministry. It surprised me to find the parent body relinquished title to hundreds of church properties. Without legal compulsion. Mutuality between the bodies continued, albeit with M.E.C.S. baked-in notions of White superiority, long after mechanics of separation were settled. BACK
39— To expand assessment of M.E.C.S. missionary work among People of Color, Hurst found Native membership at 4,166 pre-war. A resolute 701 could be accounted for in 1866. BACK
Addendum … the ghost story
Christian in 1900 involved Reverend John Early in "an occurrence, partaking of the marvelous." Paranormal accounts also present opportunity to flesh out enterprise I'd not above attributed to a Biblical loremaster. Perhaps it diminishes a ghost story's luster, to correlate it with promulgation of belief, publishing, philanthropy and church politics, but intersection of fact and fiction can edify.
Supernatural caper is to have occurred in 1840. Primary witness William Andrew Smith (1802-1870) had been dead two years in the earliest accounting I could find. [Researching Reverend Andrew Tribble (1741-1822), I surmised fiction is more likely to circulate when the central character can no longer refute or clarify it.]
Smith and Early were close confederates.
I'll divert to Ethelbert Drake (1788-1849). Two years younger than Early, Virginia Methodist clergy admitted Drake on trial at Tarborough in 1809. Elder Early likely formed close relationship with Drake the following year, when supervising as the pair ministered along Caswell Circuit in North Carolina. Drake and Early carried on, travelling in the same religio-political circles. Apparently taking turns representing Virginia Annual Conference at Episcopal Methodist's General Conferences 1812-1828.
The above Smith was admitted on trial in 1825; Drake in turn showed him the ropes, along Virginians' Gloucester Circuit. Drake left itinerant ministry the following year, located at Richmond and started a family. He served with Early in 1826, on a Virginia Conference "select committee." The pair drew up a constitution for what would become Randolph-Macon college. Virginia's General Assembly in 1830 named Drake and Early as inaugural Trustees of the Methodist-funded school. John Early was elected Chairman, Brother Smith served as Trustees' Secretary.
Early puts his narrative into circulation.
Mitchell recorded "Certain members of the Methodist Episcopal Church proposed to publish a weekly Journal which would promote the interests of truth generally and of Methodism especially." The first issue of the Richmond Evangelist appeared in 1832. With Drake as Editor. Commencing editorial evidenced Evangelist purpose. In addition to obituaries, missionary reports, and giving Virginia Conference members platform to espouse "matters of religious and moral character," Mitchell accorded Drake "opportunity for publicizing the newly-created institution of higher learning at Boydton, Virginia, Randolph-Macon College."
Nobly, once the paper achieved profitability, publishers intended turning profits over to the Virginia Annual Conference. To increase stipends for wives of married, itinerant preachers in the field. No doubt inspired by Asbury, Early had long contended it was imperative to raise the caliber – and social acceptability – of those introducing Methodism. Prospect of poverty inhibited entrance to ministry by those who had acquired talent. He also no doubt thought family men had standing that potential converts of means might better appreciate.
Four columns on the inaugural issue's front page carried "excerpt from a speech on Methodist missions made by William A. Smith, pastor of the Methodist Church in Norfolk." The following year Randolph-Macon Trustees chose Smith to assist Agent Early in securing school funding. Orphaned young, educated by an altruistic act, it seems that Smith was an Early protégé. Irby lauded Smith: "He was a delegate to the General Conference of the M. E. Church every session from 1832 to 1844, and occupied a high position in that great council as an adviser and debater. In the memorable appeal case of Harding, and in the yet more important extrajudicial trial of Bishop Andrew, which led to the division of the church, he won a reputation wide as the United States, and inferior to that of no minister of any denomination, for the highest deliberative and forensic eloquence." [William Alexander was the 'Smith' in Smith v. Swormstedt at footnote 22.]
Evangelist reporting was generally non-controversial. Arousing passion was one way to increase desperately needed circulation, however. Smith served the purpose, dueling over the last half of 1835 in contentious advocacy for ministerial education. A position likely to enhance outcome when courting literate persons for church society. Yet it broke from Methodists' historic reliance on unschooled men and aroused ongoing counterpoint. More so than his "violent" anti-Catholic rants.
'J. Early' manifest as Publisher by 1836, re-styling the paper as Virginia Conference Sentinel, with the heightened tenor that militant watchfulness conveyed. Smith took over as Editor. "Certainly his two years as editor of the Sentinel did nothing to soothe the cancerous sore that was eating away at the heart of Methodism," wrote Mitchell, of the runup to Methodist's divisive 1840 General Conference. Smith was unabashedly pro-slavery: he and Early took the paper distinctly toward advocacy.
Brother Smith married Laura Ann(a) Brooking (c1809-1845) at Richmond c1838. Not long afterward they were parents … in need of a cradle.
Storytelling is set in motion.
1872 reporting on 'The Smith Cradle-Rocking' was earliest I could find. Early was yet living. The story was set "in 1840 in Lynchburg, at the residence of the late W. A. Smith," who was, by this account, pastoring a Lynchburg church. "An empty cradle in his house was noticed rocking of its own accord. It continued its motion for an hour. The next day it commenced rocking at the same time, kept it up, and stopped as on the day before. Thus it continued daily for over a month."
Early would naturally have been among "many intelligent citizens and ministers" who witnessed the "wonderful affair, and made repeated efforts to solve the mystery without success." The self-animating furniture "was moved to different parts of the room without any change in its behavior. It was removed to other apartments in the dwelling with the same result. It was taken to pieces and each part scrutinized and refitted, yet there was no change in its motion."
Methodist clergy selected Reverend Doctor Abram Penn (1803-1848) to intercede: "While it was rocking he grasped it. It wrenched itself from his grip! He seized it more firmly. The timbers cracked and the cradle would have been broken in the struggle to release itself, had he not loosened his hold."*
"After thirty or more days it stopped and never commenced again." We are to accept that – among learned men – "No explanation of this wonderful affair was ever given or attempted."
Reverend Doctor John James Lafferty (1837–1909) would have been a toddler when the cradle rocked. He had for twenty years edited the Advocate when, in 1894, he gave interview on "Smith's ghost." Lafferty's depiction closely aligned with 1872 reporting, but he alerted to the discord of partnering "an odd display of unseen power" with a known forensic debater. Smith's sermons were "logic on fire" according to Irby. Lafferty contended "Dr. Smith was a matter-of-fact person, robust in brain, and not inclined to believe in "sperits" [SIC]. I asked him about the cradle. He said the cradle did rock as reported, but the discoveries of science would explain its actions at some future day and that ghosts had nothing to do with it."
"Didn't your Mr. Wesley believe in ghosts?" asked the interviewer, of Methodism's founder. "Very much," admitted Lafferty. "Strange visitors" made noises "in the rectory of Mr. Wesley's father. The thing was called 'Old Jeff.' It seemed to understand what was said to it" and "replied to questions by knocks on the floor or walls." He claimed Wesley's siblings corroborated childhood capers with an irritable, chattering apparition.
Writing in 1900, Christian set his account in the spring of 1839, twenty-seven years before his own birth. He affixed the Smith residence with a specific Lynchburg housing block. Importantly, he also introduced our subject: "Dr. Smith had borrowed a cradle from Rev. John Early, in which to put his new-born baby."
John Early slips into the tale.
Writing in 1900, Christian set his account in the spring of 1839, twenty-seven years before his own birth. He affixed the Smith residence with a specific Lynchburg housing block. Importantly, he also introduced our subject: "Dr. Smith had borrowed a cradle from Rev. John Early, in which to put his new-born baby."
In brief depiction, Christian related that "Dr. Smith moved the cradle from near the fire-place into the middle of the floor, and said; "Now Geoffrey (he called the Devil by that name), rock!" and he did." News spread like wildfire, "hundreds closed their places of business." Flocking to witness the "rocking cradle." And perhaps manifestation of the Wesleys' 'Old Jeff.'
(1908-1982) mistakenly made cousins of Smith and Early. By 1937 account of his childhood home, given to the Historical Inventory Project of the Virginia Works Progress Administration, a collection of ghost stories migrated toward a specific structure (left). (Named 'Trueheart,' how could one refute him?)
With an architect's eye he described furnishing once in the Earlys' possession. It flourished John and Elizabeth's elegant quality of life: "The cradle itself is a very beautiful Sheraton mahogany high-poster affair with turned spindle sides and … canopy. It gives the effect of being a miniature Sheraton field bed on rockers."†
Informant Poston described Smith's agency with different terminology: "Being a very religious man, he commanded the cradle to stop rocking in the name of Beelzebub, whereupon the cradle immediately stopped. Rev. Smith then suggested that Beelzebub start rocking the cradle again, whereupon it apparently did so."
The Inventory did not find (Early or) Smith in chain of ownership of the Poston House. It did identify that a brick, two-room office had in 1875 been amalgamated into the Jackson Street residence: if Smith ever lived on that property, I like to think he edited the Sentinel in that once free-standing space.
"The great man lent out a haunted cradle!" Duncan ejaculated in informed rumination on the known record. Lynchburg's News & Advance has promulgated nonsensical urban legend since at least 1978. It has elevated our subject over Smith. The c1819 home "was built in 1834 by Bishop John Early, who loaned it to a young minister." (Early was consecrated in 1854.) "When Early discovered what was happening [with the cradle], he told the devil to leave the home. Though the rocking stopped, Early had the rockers cut off the cradle just in case."
There may be a metaphor there, for Early's 1866 comeuppance: having one's legs cut from beneath him.
*—The Virginia Conference received Penn on trial in 1825. They elected him a Trustee for Randolph-Macon College a decade later. Among Virginia delegate signatories to the 'Report of the Committee of Separation' at Methodists' 1844 General Conference, John Early was topmost; Smith was third and Penn fourth in clergy calling for "dissolution of our ecclesiastical union." BACK
—"The cradle itself turned up about five years ago," claimed Poston. "Mrs. John Early Jackson bought up and moved the old Early home [from] the corner of 7th and Court streets, at which time the cradle was discovered in the attic with the rockers removed." I have not used the term 'parsonage.' The edifice (boxed in 1877 map, right) was distinct from Early's manse. Proximity to reservoir and Court Street M.E. Church makes it likely that Early at one time owned a sizable parcel at 7th and Court. Following removal of the home, The Arlington Hotel stretched across the site. It stands now as apartments.
I can lend credence to Poston's testimony.
John and Elizabeth (Rives) Early were parents to Frances Patterson Early (1844-1930). 'Fanny' inherited the Court Street home in 1873. She succumbed after slipping on a carpet there. And breaking a hip. The property went to Margaret Lytton Early (1876-1938), daughter of Fanny's deceased brother John Fletcher Early (1830-1894). Margaret had married James Granbery Jackson (1873–1940) in 1899. Margaret venerated a grandfather she had not known when naming her son John Early Jackson (1902-1981). By "Mrs. John Early Jackson," Poston above referred to the former Elinor Hart Jones (1904-1981), who married Jackson before 1928. The Jacksons were in Bishop John and Elizabeth's home by 1935. It were the Jacksons who had the structure moved to its present situation on Peakland Place. [As photographed, above.]
Gilmore disclosed our subject's granddaughter, the above Margaret (Early) Jackson, "established a reputation during the World War for raising funds for war relief work which could not be excelled." The endeavor evoked John Early's tireless agency … in doctrinal messaging and ameliorating governmental hostility.
Margaret also attained renown when agitating civic publishing in the early 1920s: "Mrs. Jackson was unanimously elected by the members of the Advisory Council of this volume as their leader in securing funds for publication," noted Gilmore, author of Davidson County Women in the World War. "She brought this stupendous task to a successful conclusion."
Grasping Margaret's motivation, "to stimulate historic interest and the pride she felt in the achievements of her country," I found a kinsman in her. Margaret's portrait (right) seemed to provide fitting, terminal reflection point on John Early's legacy. He too was renowned for prompting communal finance, giving life to reverent texts: a few were biographies, many preserved history of peers' noteworthy achievements in united effort. Family history researchers have for a century benefitted from Margaret's conduct.