Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Bethesda Presbyterian Church History (York, SC) – The Revivals, Ministers, & Doctors 1800 – 1927

Bethesda0001The following article appeared in a series of articles written by A.M. Grist publisher and editor of the Yorkville Enquirer at York, S.C. This paper was established in 1855 by Mr. Grist’s father.  After the death of his father, his brother took the helm and was a purported great writer.  When the paper was ultimatley passed down to him, A. M. felt inadequate to fill his brother’s shoes. He worked energetically and worried so much that he suffered a nervous breakdown. The doctor told him to stay away from the newspaper office, get out in the country. Mr. Grist began taking long walks along the winding roads of York county, talking with the country folks–and writing a column of “Rolling Along” for his twice-a-week paper. This column became very popular, and was continued for years, building up a great circulation, as well as rebuilding the writer’s health and endearing him to everybody, old and young, in the whole county.  The following is one of those articles written in 1935.

Just A-Rolling Along the Way
Log of the Green Chevrolet As It Voyages Over More of York County
(Sketch of Bethesda Church)

The story of Bethesda Church would not be complete without telling of some of the big religious revivals that have occurred in the congregation in the years long gone by. Strange as it may seem, the first big revival meeting held at Bethesda had its inception in Kentucky and Tennessee.  This was in 1800, according to the history as written by Mrs. Bratton and kindly loaned to me for this sketch. The Rev. R.B. Walker, pastor of Bethesda right in the beginning of the last century 1800, had heard of a great religious awakening in Kentucky and Tennessee. He didn’t get his information by radio, telegraph, or the newspapers, but evidently it came to him by word of mouth as some traveler passed through from Kentucky and Tennessee, and perhaps stopped over for a visit to this energetic Bethesda pastor. Certain it is that Rev. Walker was interested in what he had heard and wanted to know more about this great religious awakening.  He saddled old Dobbin and equipped with saddlebags and other traveling paraphernalia and clothing that he might need for a few weeks, he made the journey of several hundred miles to the section where the religious awakening had taken place, and perhaps was then in progress.  He remained in Kentucky for sometime. Long enough to get into full sympathy with the conditions and then returned to Bethesda. Shortly thereafter Mr. Walker began a protracted meeting and it was at this time that the first of the series of camp meetings was instituted at Bethesda.

A watercolor painting of a camp meeting in Tenn. or Ky. c. 1839

A watercolor painting of a camp meeting in Tenn. or Ky. c. 1839

Neighboring ministers were invited to aid in the evangelistic meeting, and many people came, some of them as far as 30 or 40 miles to attend the services which lasted for weeks and its influence for years. It is said that “the people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved by the wind.”   The record says that this first camp meeting is known in the church history as “the Old Revival,” and resulted in the conversion of more than 300. The next extended revival at Bethesda came in 1817, and as the result of this meeting at “least 200 souls were added to the Lord.”
It was in 1832 that the Rev. Daniel Baker, acting evangelist for South Carolina, visited Bethesda church and conducted a meeting, and his preaching aroused the community to an appreciation of Divine things.  A great many were received into the church and for years afterward many pointed back to this meeting as the time of receiving their first impressions of things religious, if not conversion.

Nearly fifty years later, 1881, Bethesda again had a wonderful experience in an evangelistic meeting, though in the interval from 1832 to 1881 there had been many special meetings held at the church.  This meeting in 1881 began with the fall communion service, an event of importance then and later, and continued for a period of two weeks.  Rev. F. L. Leeper of Fort Mill, was the preacher who conducted the meeting. He was a more than ordinarily able man and was filled with the evangelistic spirit. No matter how dark the nights might be, no matter how hard it might have been raining, or how cold the weather, the building was filled to capacity night after night by throngs of men, women and children. Even the gallery was filled with negro hearers at the services. The people came from distances of six, eight and ten miles in buggies, wagons and on horseback and even on foot for considerable distances.  The people were evidently hungry for the “Gospel messages” they were earnest and eager worshippers.  As a result of this meeting new life was infused into the church and 52 members were added to the communion. This meeting is yet known and refereed to as the great revival of 1881. 

Samuel Williamson, President Davidson College

Samuel Williamson, President Davidson College

The influence of Bethesda church has not been confined to its own immediate bounds as great as that influence has been. During its long years many men have gone out from it as ministers and missionaries and traveled to the far corners of this nation and to foreign lands as well. Rev. James McElhaney was born at Waxhaw, but came to the Bethesda community when 10 years of age. He lived there until he entered the ministry. His brother, Rev. John McElhaney was also reared in the Bethesda congregation. Other Bethesda men who became ministers were Revs. John and Samuel Williamson, the latter becoming president of Davidson college, where he served for 16 years.
The Rev. George Washington Boggs, another Bethesda man, was graduated from Princeton seminary in 1830 and two years later sailed on the Black Warrior for India, as a missionary under appointment of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Others going out from Bethesda included Rev. Lossing Clinton, Rev. A. P. Sullivan and Rev. C. J. Sullivan. The later went as a missionary to the Indians in Arkansas in 1855. He contracted TB and went to an early grave in Texas while trying to reach home. 

Rev. Thomas M. Lowry was another of Bethesda’s young men who became a minister. He united with Bethesda in 1872 in his 18th year.  Five years later he was licensed to preach and at once went to Aberdeen, Miss. He spent  most of his years as an active minister in the west, but was also a pastor at Shelby N.C. for several years.  He died Feb. 2, 1927 and is buried in Rose Hill cemetery, Yorkville.  Rev. Samuel Rainey Hope, a son of the late Robert S. hope and a grandson of Allison Hope, both of them ruling elders at Bethesda, was for fourteen years a missionary in Japan. He is now a resident of Asheville, N.C.  Rev. Paul H. Moore, also a Bethesda product is now pastor at Pendleton, S.C.  

The Bratton Family Homestead - Col. William Bratton's home were continued in the 19th century by his youngest son, Dr. John Simpson Bratton (1789-1843)

The Bratton Family Homestead - Col. William Bratton's home was continued in the 19th century by his youngest son, Dr. John Simpson Bratton (1789-1843)

But as many ministers as have gone out of the loins of Bethesda congregation, they are few as compared with the number of its sons who have turned to that other profession that serves humanity — medicine. The list of Bethesda doctors includes the following:

Dr. Josiah~ Moore, who began practice in 1798; Dr. William Bratton, Dr. A. Gibson, James Davidson, Charles Hanna, Haslett Clendennin, John S. Bratton, William Moore, Alexander CIendennin, Nathan Marion,  L. O. Williamson, M. A. Moore , John Hall, Samuel Dale, William McNeel, Stuart Starr, William Hemmingway, Calvin P. Sandifer, (of whom the Bethesda church records make this note: “He might justly be termed the Luke of Bethesda, its beloved physician.”) He died Dec. 3, 1882.

Drs. J. Stanhope Moore, R.B. Hope, S. Edward Bratton, Washington McNeel, James Hufus Bratton, J.F. Lindsay, H. S. Moore, R. L. Love, ___ ___ Ratchford, R.C. Hanna, John Mc Neel, Thomas A. Crawford, William M. Love, Walker Moore, Clarence Bratton, S. Glenn Love, Daniel Moore, James P. Crawford, Wilson McConnell, Harvey McConnell.

We cannot give here a list of names of Bethesda’s soldiers who have played their parts in all the wars in which the United States has had a part, but suffice it to say that out of the Bethesda congregation — founded before the Revolutionary war — there has always been a proportionate part of Bethesda’s soldiers in every war, as anyone can easily find but by visiting the church cemetery and noting the many grave markers reciting the fact that many soldiers are buried there.
But as much as have the men of Bethesda contributed to the ministry and to the medical world, and also to the military field, there has been no lack of noble women in the Bethesda congregations through the years who have contributed their full share to every neighborhood, county and state activity. Fact of the matter is, we suspect that much of the long and honorable history of Bethesda church, extending over 164 years since its actual organization as a church body and before that as a meeting place, is largely due to the activities of the women of the community, as close observation has long ago convinced us that without the women actively engaged in church work, churches would not very actively exist.

The Ladies’ Aid Society of Bethesda church was organized in 1887 with its first president being Mrs. N. B. Bratton. She carne to Bethesda just after the war from Washington, D.C, a war bride, and although an Episcopalian, and in which church she retained her membership as long as she lived,  she identified herself with the religious life and activities of the church of husband, Bethesda, and for fifty years was one of the most loyal workers for Bethesda as well as for the community in which she lived. Later on the Ladies Aid Society became the Woman’s Missionary and Aid Society and then the Woman’s Auxiliary, but still the women’s organization continues to be one of the strong factors in the religious life of Bethesda church and community.
To be sure the three brief sketches that I have been able to write with the aid of Mrs. Bratton’ s manuscript, is not a complete history of Bethesda church. Its history cannot be condensed in so small a compass as six newspaper columns. But perhaps someone interested, will take the foundations laid by Mrs. Bratton in her researches and build thereon a complete history as there should be and as I certainly hope there will be.

Good Morning.
– A. M. Grist.

August 16, 2009 - Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , ,

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