Hear the Chants Sung Once More

David DeForest BenedictI wrote this article about my great-great grandfather the summer of 2003, while I was living near Charleston, South Carolina. David Benedict was a Union surgeon during the Civil War. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to the army before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham (member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907), wrote Little Doctor on the Black Horse, a short history about David Benedict based on her memories of him, and letters he had sent to his wife during the war. One letter that she included in her memoir, describes an excursion David Benedict made to Savannah, Christmas Day 1864.

Over fifteen years ago, I visited Savannah to retrace his steps, and wrote this article to describe my day, reliving history.

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Hear the Chants Sung Once More

by David Barton

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I thought I would go to church today and hear the chants sung once more. After breakfast and fixing up some, the chaplain and I started on foot for the city, 5 mile. We took what was once the R.R. track, as it was better walking.

With these words, David Benedict begins a description in a letter to his wife of his visit to Savannah, Christmas Day, 1864. Because I lived in nearby Charleston, one day I decided to visit Savannah and see if I could find the landmarks my ancestor described on Christmas Day, almost one hundred and thirty-nine years ago. I didn’t go on foot, of course, but did do some ‘fixing up’, putting on a suit and tie.

I wanted to go to St. Paul’s on Madison Square, but could find no one to direct me. Then I saw one that looked like an Episcopal Church but it was not open. Then someone came along, and I found it was the right place, would open soon and the sexton would give me a seat.

St. Johns ChurchI found an Episcopal Church on Madison Square, but it is called Saint John’s, not Saint Paul’s. Perhaps David Benedict got it wrong, or maybe it was a typographical error when the letter was initially copied.

In any event, I believe it is the church he visited. Next door stands the Green-Meldrim House, which is open for tours. General Sherman made this house his headquarters during his stay in Savannah, although I understand he did not move in until after Christmas Day. A tour guide in the house told me there was only one other Episcopal Church in Savannah during the Civil War, Christ Church. But when I told her that David Benedict described the church he attended services in as being Gothic, she said it must be Saint John’s. I went by Christ Church later, and I agree with her. The facade of Christ Church is Greek Revival style, not Gothic like Saint John’s.

It is a nicely furnished church, in Gothic style, inside and out.

Saint John’s is a nicely furnished church, and then church altarsome, with a wonderfully, intricate panel of Christ behind the altar.

The stained-glass windows are nice, although from the date on one, they apparently were not there in 1864 – at least not all of them.

There are great beams in the ceiling and the floors and pews are made of beautiful wood, stained a dark brown. All in all it is, in my judgment, more than simply ‘nicely furnished’.

A good organ and well played. Their singing was tolerable.

The organ was very good. I don’t know if it is the original, but it is large, taking up all of a good-sized gallery above the front entryway. I was impressed with the singing by the present-day congregation as much as David Benedict was of the singing of the congregation when he visited.

One lady tried to overdo herself, I suppose because the church was crowded with Yankee officers. Many citizens were present, both men and women, but not a pretty one amongst them. Perhaps the pretty ones would not condescend to show their graces to this mob of “Lincoln Hirelings” or “Mudsills”. Most of them were dressed in black.

The average age of the present-day congregation is also not young, but the demographics are different than they were in 1864. There were several African American couples present, which I doubt was the case during the Civil War. I didn’t see many ‘pretty ones’. Everyone I spoke to was very friendly. I tried to imagine the scene Christmas Day, 1864. Bearded Union officers and men dressed in uniforms stained from days of marching and battle, sitting among citizens dressed in black. That must have been a stressful service.

The chants were good, the reading of the service good, but he left out the prayer for the president, prayed to it, and around it. I had a nice prayer book, and in the margin I wrote: “This prayer was omitted Dec. 25, 1864”. The preacher was very good.

The chants. I wondered what they were. The service I attended was Morning Prayer, and most of it was sung in a chant. There is more kneeling and bowing in the Episcopal Morning Prayer than in the Roman Catholic Mass. And Morning Prayer doesn’t even include the Eucharist. They have a communion service at noon, but I didn’t stay for that. After the service, a woman told me that St. John’s still uses the old Common Prayer Book. So the service I participated in was what David Benedict would have been familiar with.

The prayer for the president was not omitted from the service I attended. Of course, I did not write anything in the prayer book.

The Episcopal service reminds me of the Methodist Church, which I grew up in. John Wesley’s Church of England background is much in evidence in Methodism. An interesting side note, in 1836, John Wesley was pastor of Christ Church, the Episcopal Church I mentioned above. This was before he left the Anglican Communion and established the Methodist Church.

The preacher the day I visited the church was also good. He is The Reverend Gavin Dunbar, who is the vicar of the parish. He spoke clearly and persuasively – and long. I’m afraid I can’t remember all that he said.

After church I went to the Pulaski Monument, where I met the chaplain. The inscription reads: ‘Pulaski, the Heroic Pole, who fell, mortally wounded, while fighting for American Liberty, 9th Oct. 1779.’

Pulaski monumentPulaski Monument is not in Pulaski Square, that would make too much sense. It is in Monterey Square, which is an equal distance south of the church. It is an imposing monument: a tall, white obelisk, with a statue of a woman on top. The inscription is on the opposite side from Madison Square and reads just as David Benedict reported. I tried to picture him standing in front of it, carefully copying it down so he could enter it correctly in his letter to his wife.

The square would have been different one hundred thirty years ago, when David Benedict stood there. It was winter then, so the weather was much different than the stifling humidity I experienced. Also, the ravages and privations of war would have stripped the area of the many trees that now grace this pretty square.

After lunch, I drove back to Charleston, happy I had made the trip to Savannah. By retracing the steps of my ancestor and worshiping in the same church he had, I felt a connection to him and his time.

 

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What to do on a Sunday in 1907?

Today is Friday the 13th.

Boo!

One hundred and ten years ago, this date fell on a Sunday. No newspapers were published in Norwalk, Ohio on Sunday, January 13, 1907. It wasn’t a bad luck day. It was a holy day. So, what did the citizens of Norwalk do?

Why, they went to church.

norwalk-church-announcements

The Norwalk Daily Reflector on the previous day, Saturday, January 12, 1907, ran an article announcing fifteen Sunday church services around town. In today’s post, we’ll look at a few of these announcements, with comments from you faithful reporter (blogger).

First on the list of announcements in the Daily Reflector were “Evangelistic Services” on Cline Street for the American Methodist Episcopalian Church.

ame-services

Now I must say, I was surprised to see this announcement. I lived in Charleston, South Carolina for many years, so I am familiar with the A.M.E., and I passed many times the Emanuael A.M.E. church where that horrific mass shooting occurred last year. What surprises me, is that there were enough African-American’s in Norwalk, Ohio in 1907 to support a church. I’m also a bit proud that the Daily Reflector reported their services, especially since my great-grandfather, Frank Wickham, was city editor for the paper.

Next up: the Presbyterians.

presbyterian-servicses

I am not a Presbyterian, nor have I ever been one. But my great-great grandmother, Lucy Wickham was. I mentioned her often in the Sufferers’ Land series of posts on this site. Lucy was a staunch churchgoer, and insistent that her twelve children (my great-grandfather Frank Wickham, mentioned above, was her youngest) attend Sunday School “and that they went properly attired. They each carried two handkerchiefs, one a “shower” and the other a “blower.” [1]

Also notice the address by Reverend Doctor Sanford of the Anti-Saloon league. Lucy Wickham was definitely “anti-saloon.” According to family lore, one day, Lucy was passing a saloon when a drunkard stumbled out the door and collapsed at her feet. She marched into the establishment, and informed the proprietor, “your sign just fell down.”

Two other another announcements for church services evoke my ancestry: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Universalist Church.

episcopal-and-universalist-services

I was baptized in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. My god-mother was Eleanor Wickham, daughter of Frank and Agnes Wickham. It also was the first church established in Norwalk, in 1818, when Platt and Sarah Benedict (also my ancestors), held the first services in their cabin.

I also have connections to the “Universalist” church. Lucy Wickham’s husband Fredrick, was brought up an Episcopalian, but fell away from that church at an early age. He never could bring himself to join his wife as a Presbyterian, instead becoming a Universalist. As he later explained it to his granddaughter, Harriott Wickham (member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907), he “could not condemn one of his children to Hell, and he didn’t believe the Lord could either.”

[1] See Sufferers’ Land Post #47 – The Wickhams in the 1850s

 

“Sufferers’ Land Post #15 – The Episcopal Church in Norwalk

As with everything else in the early days of the village of Norwalk, Platt and Sally Benedict were involved in the religious life of the community. Although they were not baptized when they arrived, they saw the need for a church in Norwalk, and decided to establish one.
In 1818, they hosted the first Episcopal service in their cabin, consisting of the reading of the Episcopal Church service, and a sermon by a layman. These lay meetings continued for years, first in private homes, and later in the Court House.

In 1820, Platt and Sally organized the first Sabbath School in the Court House. Most of the children of the town attended this non-denominational school. It would be years before a minister arrived in the village, but in the meantime, thanks to Platt and Sally’s initiative, a vibrant religious community developed.

Sunday, January 20, 1821, a minister named Reverend Searle visited the village for the first time and called a meeting to organize a new parish. Seventeen men attended, with Platt, of course, taking the lead. They decided to call the new parish, Saint Paul’s, and elected wardens and vestrymen. They elected Platt vestryman, and selected him to be a representative of the new parish to the fourth annual Diocesan Convention.

Reverend Searle could not stay in the parish, so he selected lay readers to carry out services in his absence. Platt, as usual, was one of those selected. Services continued every Sunday, with Reverend Searle occasionally attending to give Holy Communion and perform baptisms. The Bishop also visited the parish from time to time, so often that Sally’s son David ran away from home once because he was tired of polishing the bishop’s boots. [1]

During one visit, Sunday, February 17, 1822, Reverend Searle baptized Platt Benedict into the church. The next day, he held a meeting of the vestry in the Benedict home. He selected Rufus Murray to perform divine service in the parish once he became qualified. Reverend Searle continued to visit St. Paul’s parish occasionally, his last visit coming in 1826. [2]

During this time, a deacon by the name of S.A. Bronson also served the parish. He later recalled the religious life in Norwalk at the time. My first visit to this place was in 1825, to supply as far as a layman could, the place of a clergyman. No settled minister of any name had ever resided here, and only the Episcopal Church had attempted to keep up regular services. When, subsequently, a clergyman did become resident here, the regularity of the services depended upon the established forms of religion, as conducted by laymen. Many of you, no doubt, remember the old white court house, and cousin Ami Keeler with his tin horn, with which he used to call the people to worship — a horn more truly spiritual than some of more recent date. [3]

By this time, the parish conducted weekly services and had a strong Sunday school program for the religious education of all the children of the village, not just those of families in the parish. If not for Sally and Platt Benedict, none of this would have happened.

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Footnotes:
[1] Story of David Benedict running away from home is from the undated text of an address given by Eleanor Wickham to the Sally DeForest chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
[2] First religious services in Norwalk and the early history of St. Paul’s Parish are described in detail by C.E. Newman in The Firelands Pioneer, Sept. 1876, pp. 45-47. The establishment of the Sabbath School is described in the above article and in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1867, p. 84.
[3] “Address of Rev. S.A. Bronson, D.D.” The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, p. 7.

Note: Mary L. Stewart of Norwalk, a parishioner at St.Paul’s Episcopal Church, kindly assisted with this post.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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