Russell’s Ramblings

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

A Life Well Lived


William E Russell Jr and William E. Russell Sr at the Panthers Game

One month ago, I lost my father to cancer. Daddy was much more than a dad. He was my mentor, my confidante, my supporter, my best friend and the inspiration for much of what I have done in my life. My mom has also been a guiding influence and I love her dearly. But as Lewis Grizzard put it best, “My daddy was a pistol and I’m a son of a gun.”

If you’ve been a Chamber Member for a while, you may have read the countless articles and columns I have written about my father and grandfather and the lessons I learned growing up on our family farm. The house and the halls where my father and his father roamed, along with the pastures they trod, and the rich soil we turned in the garden together, hold special memories for me.

My dad, a lifelong member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, was an Ordained Elder of the church, and served as Clerk of Session. It surprised me when I learned that he did not want a church funeral. Instead, he requested a small graveside service and a visitation of just family and close friends upon his passing.

While my Dad spent much of his lifetime committed to civic service, with years of dedication to the Red Cross, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Little League and other community activities, deep down he was simply a quiet man and was not one for show.  That’s one quality I’ve yet to learn from daddy. I have always struggled with the “humility thing” and since I was young, I kind of thought the world may indeed revolve around me.

Daddy would have been taken aback by the hundreds of people who crammed into Greene’s Funeral Home in Rock Hill on that mournful Saturday afternoon. Jaycee friends from across the state drove hours to visit with our family, and to share in our moment of reflection on the life that had impacted so many in 81 years.

In addition to the family and friends, more than 50 Lake Norman Chamber members also drove down to South Carolina for my father’s funeral. Some were former or current chamber board leadership, others were long time chamber members, and many were Lake Norman neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to meet and call friends. A few never met him, yet they all gave up their Saturday and drove for several hours through the challenges of I-77 for one reason – to show they cared. And to each you who were there on the saddest day of my life, your presence was a comfort that I will never forget.Pic A Dad

I’ve often been asked what makes the Lake Norman Chamber different from any other Chamber. The answer for me has always been simple – We are a family.  We encourage each other when we need inspiration and we’re there for each other when times are tough. And we celebrate together. This month we added to our family at the Chamber with the addition of Sylvia Spury who many may know from her 18 years of service with the Mooresville South Iredell Chamber. She has 20 years of Chamber experience and we are so lucky to have her on our team.

The past month has been one of tremendous difficulty for me personally due to the loss of my father. The announcement that Sylvia had been selected as the new Executive Vice President caused some to wonder if I had left the chamber or was retiring to our family farm. But the reality is we hired Sylvia to complement our chamber leadership team and we are very excited to have her on our staff.  She brings new ideas, vision, and synergy to our organization.  We’ve also just unveiled a new chamber website which will allow us to unleash unbridled opportunities when it comes to marketing and promoting our chamber membership.

At the end of the graveside service, after most had driven the long road home, a close friend shared a conversation that she’d had with a previous chamber board chairman. When she thanked Bob McIntosh and his wife Ann for coming to support us that day, Bob simply said, “It’s all about family. We show up because it matters. It’s what we do.”

I am grateful that the Lord gave me a great father to learn from and love.  While his saddle may now be empty, his presence in my life still fills my heart and lifts my soul, as so many of you have also done this past month.

The words Bob McIntosh conveyed that afternoon embody why I have spent 23 years at this Chamber of Commerce. We’re family here at Lake Norman. That is and will always be the difference. We do the things we do because it matters. It’s what we do.

Bill Russell, Jr.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The many labels we choose to wear

Mama and me showing off our swimwear in 1967 - I'm the one with the slight attitude

Labels – we wear them with pride, use them to identify who we are, and sometimes hide behind them when times get tough.  But do they really tell the story about who we are or do they separate us from one another?  When I was a child my mother went grocery shopping and came home with a surprise she said I would love.  I was a third grader at Finley Road Elementary in Rock Hill.  Mom had purchased me a new notebook with a Minnesota Vikings Football helmet on the cover.  The only problem I was a die hard Green Bay Packers fan and Minnesota was and still is their biggest rival.  Distraught was not the word for it as I tried to convey how I couldn’t possibly carry that to class.

Not long after that, the big rage in school was black high top Converse tennis shoes.  I begged and begged for a pair and one afternoon mom came home with a present.  It was a pair of tennis shoes she had purchased from Family Dollar.  They were black…and they were high tops and that’s about the end of the similarity.  They had tread like a tire, a cloth emblem on the ankle where the Converse logo would appear, and the kids on the bus referred to them as my “moon boots.”  I was crushed.

Years later, in Junior High School, all the kids at Rawlinson Road were wearing blue jean jackets.  My mother went shopping and she came home with a present – a red blue jean jacket.  I think I was the only kid in school with a denim jacket that was red.  She said that made me “special.”  Now, more than thirty years later, she was right.  Actually it was mom herself who was really special!

Bill Russell & Sarah (MOM) last fall

Looking back, I know my mama loved me (still does!) with all her heart and back in those days it was all she could do to take care of us kids on the salary that dad brought home.  Dad was never one to spend money he didn’t have and so mom never charged anything.  She bought what we could afford.  One thing was for certain – we weren’t going to buy anything just because of the label.    The package wasn’t important, it was the present inside and the thought that counted.

But labels don’t just stop with products that we buy.  We label ourselves.  I’m a Republican.  Not just a Republican but a Conservative Republican.  Heck, I’m a Reagan Republican.  I am proud to admit to being a Christian, a protestant at that – Presbyterian.  Is that Presbyterian Church of America or USA ?  Mine is USA.

Perhaps the labels I struggle with the most are church labels.  I have a really difficult time believing  if we all make it to Heaven, St. Peter is going to form a line for Baptist, one for Methodist, and another for Catholics.  I cannot imagine Peter’s going to say, “Hey you Catholics, park it here, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, I’m not real sure what we’re going to do with you, and Latter Days Saints, you guys wait outside.  Oh, and is there an Ernest Angley here?  Gabriel down the hall is looking for you buddy!”

I love watching reruns of Billy Graham’s Crusades and went to one myself when he was here in Charlotte.  I can still remember Billy talking about how you can enter the gates of Heaven through Christ.  But does that mean someone who lives a wonderful life, who gives of themselves to those less fortunate, and who believes in a creator who makes all things possible – but does not subscribe to a Christian faith or in the God we all consider as our Holy Father – is their soul doomed?

As a Christian I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.  But I wonder if we took all the wealth of the church – all the paintings, statues, trappings, and acted on the words of Jesus himself when he said, “to give up our worldly belongings and follow me.”  If the Catholic Church sold all of that and still placed it in public hands so all the world could still enjoy its beauty and took that money and spent it on the poor and downtrodden, those who suffer from disease or malnourishment, would that not be a better use of those resources?

Bethesda Presbyterian Church - McConnells, SC

Sometimes I think the Good Lord is looking down wondering how we could take something so simple and make it so difficult.  I suppose I’m the very last person who has an answer when it comes to theology.  But after half a century on this earth I figure at the end of the day we’re going to be judged on whether we lived a good life, left this old world better than we found it, and believed in a force greater than ourselves.  I believe that force to be God, who sent his son to die for my sins.

And that’s a label I’m proud to wear.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons from an old country church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Over the years, I have written many articles about my childhood and early life in Rock Hill, South Carolina. While I live in Huntersville (NC) now, I still attend church when possible at Bethesda Presbyterian.  It’s a little country church located in McConnells, a sleepy little town, just outside of York.  Members of my family count among the early founding members which date back to 1789.  A few years ago, the late Rev. Jeff Lowrance of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Huntersville and I discovered that one of the earlier ministers served both Hopewell and my church – Bethesda.  I cannot tell you how ironic it felt to me that 200 years later, a young man from Bethesda would travel to the Huntersville community, working with other business and community leaders as we seek to reach our potential as a community.

Rev. Jeff Lowarance

Rev. Jeff Lowrance

Growing up in a small country church, we didn’t have all new equipment and audio visual aids that churches like Huntersville Presbyterian have today. While our choir was quite dedicated and the members rarely missed a practice, the men of the choir in my earlier years were not particularly talented.  Most were pretty handy when it came to repairing the cemetery fence.  However, when it came to singing – few, if any, could carry a tune.  One Sunday, the Session of the church bought the Choir new robes.  They looked grand but sang just as bad. The next year, the congregation bought a new organ. Instead of drowning out the off key choir, the newly inspired group sang that much louder. Finally, the Session of the church hired a Choir Director who moved the choir to the balcony in the back of the church.  Now it seemed, no matter how badly the choir sang, no one actually had to endure watching them do it.

One day after church I was walking back to the car and I decided to ask my Granddaddy Russell why the Elders of the church didn’t simply ask those who couldn’t sing to drop out of the choir. He stopped walking, looked down at me, and took my hand. “You must use all the talents and abilities you have,”  he said.  “The trees would be very silent if no birds sang but the very best.”

songbirdToday, each of us as chamber members, civic club participants, school and church volunteers, and active citizens try to give back to the community we love. We strive to make it a great place to work and live.  Some do a better job than others, but every time we do something for someone else, we use the unique talents God gave us for that very purpose.  And the trees would be very silent indeed if no birds sang except the very best.

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bethesda Presbyterian Church History – Rev. Alexander, Martin, and Walker and the Battle of Kings Mountain

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 was published Tuesday, March 26, 1935:

Tuesday, March 26, 1935
Just A-Rolling Along the Way
Log of Yorkville Enquirer’s Reporter as He
Journeys Here and There in York County
by A. M. Grist

If you will pardon me, just this once, I am going to “fudge” a bit, and take advantage of  Brother W. W. Pegram, editor of The Chester News, who is writing many interesting historical sketches very much along the same line as are the “Rolling Along” sketches in the Enquirer, and every now and then one of Editor Pegram’s stories has a York County angle, and the following taken from his issue of March l8, has this angle.  It appears that one of the readers of The News wants to question a statement concerning a certain thing in connection with the Battle of Kings Mountain and Editor Pegram sets him straight.  The following letter to The News from T. J. Robbins of Lowrys gets things going:

William Martin preached a sermon that inspired the men to the Kings Mountain Battle, which was the turning point in the Revolutionary War. “This certainly was a new thing to me. They should tell us where this sermon was preached and when. If the report is correct of this William Martin it would be well for them to examine his reputation.” The Presbyterian history of the Presbyterian church of South Carolina, tells us that Dr. Joseph Alexander of Bullocks Creek, S.C., made the patriotic talk that inspired the men of this section to gather and sent them on to Kings Mountain. I have ‘The Battle of Kings Mountain’,  the official record of the war department of the United States, which gives a full description of this battle.  This battle was made up of men from Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. “The North and South Carolinians” were commanded by Col. Williams, who was wounded and died the next day. Ferguson forgot to take into consideration that he was to battle with Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.

“Rev. Joseph Alexander was a great preacher and patriot, launched a classic school at Bullocks Creek and educated Andrew Jackson, president of the United States.   I am only writing to try to keep the record straight.”

American Forces at Kings Mountain
American Forces at Kings Mountain

“Our good friend Mr. Robbins, states that ‘he wants to keep the record straight’, and herein the writer thoroughly ‘agrees with him, says Mr. Pegram.   However, we feel sure that Mr. Robbins has not been studying enough of our local Revolutionary ‘history.  The History of the Presbyterian church, which he alludes to, is fine insofar as it goes, but it is confined mostly to Presbyterian history. Unfortunately not much of the Covenanter history of Chester County has been preserved, but the writer has delved into what records he could find during the past several years, compiling them into readability form, visiting various sections of Chester county and through historical documents and manuscripts of authentic nature, and has arrived at the conclusion that Rev. William Martin, Covenanter preacher, was an outstanding man of his day.

“Mr. Robbins says, ‘It would be well for them to examine his (Martin’s) reputation. The writer has done just that and is in a position to state that at times Rev. Martin was intemperate. Catholic Presbyterian church in Chester county let him go as pastor on account of having imbibed too freely of spirits. However, some of our old Presbyterian elders were also on the carpet from time to time answering like charges and the writer can place his hands on a record where a man was elected to an eldership in Bethesda Presbyterian church near McConnellsville, and some of the members objected to his election because he did not own his own still. In other words, one would infer from the record that “all substantial” church officers in that day were expected to own stills.

Whiskey still
Whiskey still

“Mr. Robbins wants to know when and where Rev. Martin preached his inspiring sermon to the men which sent them forward to Kings Mountain.   His war sermon was after Buford’s defeat, and its effects are graphically described in The Women of the American Revolution, Vol. 3, at page 124. The British put William Martin in chains in Winnsboro. They burned his church on Rocky Creek in Chester county in 1780 and they made things hot in general for Rev. Martin, but he was a patriot and up and down this section he went inspiring the men to go forth to battle. The writer, with the help of a fellow-townsman, has located the grave of Rev. William Martin, also his old home site and the spring nearby, and we could go right along with citations of his patriotism and we can name you numbers of old settlers in Chester county who had Rev. William Martin baptize their children and many a child was named for him, which would indicate that his personal acquaintances must have thought well of him, else they would not have tied his name onto their children.

“The writer admits that Rev. Martin at times partook too freely of the spirits but that he was for all this a God-fearing man we quote from his will, we having seen the original: ‘ In the name of God Amen.  I, William Martin of Chester District and State of South Carolina, being in common health and of perfect mind and memory, thanks be given unto God for all his mercies, calling unto mind the mortality of my body and knowing that it is appointed for all men once to die, do make and ordain this my last will and testament, that is to say, principally and first of all I give and recommend my soul unto the hands of Almighty God that gave it to me and my body I recommend to the earth to be buried in a decent Christian manner, nothing doubting but at the General Resurrection.  I shall receive the same again by the Almighty power of Almighty God.’

With this information we trust our friend Mr. Robbins will realize that Rev. Martin, along with Rev. Alexander, was a God-fearing man as well as a patriot. The writer would not attempt to uphold Rev. Martin in his intemperance; nevertheless we would not detract from the noble things for which he manfully stood in trying days. Thus may the record be kept straight.
Rev. Alexander's grave at Bullocks Creek Pres. Church

Rev. Alexander's grave at Bullocks Creek Pres. Church

From the foregoing, it is probable that  Mr. Robbins is referring to the fact that Rev. Martin had somewhat of a reputation as a drinker of a little too much brandy on occasion, and for that reason suggests that “it would be well for them to examine his reputation.” As Editor Pegram explains fully, in that far day respectable and well-to-do people were expected to have their own stills, and everybody was expected to drink toddy more or less frequently, and neither preachers, elders, deacons, stewards or vestrymen refrained from partaking of whisky on any and all social occasions.  “Then such was considered seemly.   Dr. Maurice Moore, in his Reminiscences of York, tells this about Rev. Mr.  Walker, a one-time pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian church, and a son-in-law of Dr. Joseph Alexander of Bullocks Creek academy fame. In part Dr. Moore’s reference to Rev. Walker follows:

“I recall one Friday, when Rev.  Walker stopped at my father’s gate on his way to Chester. He refused the invitation to come in and take a social glass.  My father, ‘on hospitable intent’, proposed to bring out the decanter to him, as he sat on the horse. ‘No! no! as you insist, I’ll go in — not take a drink on horseback.’

“He was going to see a criminal who was to be hung on the following Friday – a man named Floyd who had killed the sheriff of Chester district, Colonel Nunn.  My step-mother was much interested in the man’s case and begged her preacher to call as he returned, and tell her if the man seemed penitent and to have laid hold on the precious promises held up for his acceptance. He kindly promised he would gratify her.”
“About an hour before sundown, I, with my father, was under the shade of a big chestnut tree which stood near the barn, he riving boards and I piling them, when Mr. Walker hove in sight at a full gallop. As the horse neared the gate, expecting to be checked up at the frequent stopping place, he fell into a long trot, which almost caused the rider to lose his perpendicular, but urged on he resumed the canter.  Mr. Walker righted himself; for with the smoother gait he could retain the proper equilibrium — and passed with a dignified ‘Good afternoon, ‘Squire’.

I lifted up my head, big with discernment for a lad of ten. Never stir! father, if Mr. Walker wasn’t drunk.  My father turned sternly: ‘Let me ever hear of you saying such a thing as that again, sir and I’ll give you such a whipping as you never had in your life!  Mum was the word after that.

Preacher on horseback
Preacher on horseback

“In a few moments my father threw down the frower and walked to the house. I followed, for my task was done when he stopped work. He walked thru the hall where my stepmother and sister were sitting, at their sewing, and went into his own room. “Katie,” he called, and his wife followed. I crept near the door. and heard him telling the mournful tale. How hard I felt it, I might not repeat my knowledge, gained too, thru my penetration, to the girls; but the interdict was too heavy, and when my stepmother came out with a face a yard long, I could only hug myself with sterile complacency that I knew, too.

“Day after the next being the Sabbath, in the pulpit the good old man confessed his fault with tears to the congregation, who wept with him in sympathy and love. Nor was there one to whom he was less dear or respected from the humiliating avowal; freely was his sin forgiven and forgotten, and not for one instant was his usefulness injured. I might, after this, tell the other urchins what I’d seen; but the information had lost its zest, and I wondered vainly why my father issued so stern a mandate, when after all, Mr. Walker told about it himself in the meeting house.”
Source: The Yorkville Enquirer, Tuesday March 26, 1935.

August 20, 2009 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bethesda Presbyterian Church History (York, SC) 1864 – 1944

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

The 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.

During the last and prolonged illness of Rev. John Harris, Bethesda Presbyterian Church was supplied by Rev. Joseph H. Martin.  For twelve years he had been a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee but because of his ardent support and sympathy for the Confederate Cause, he and his family were forced by the Federal authorities to leave Knoxville.  Leaving Knoxville, he and his family were permitted to take with them only such things as could be packed in a simple trunk.  For three years of his stay at Bethesda, he and his family occupied one of the wooden tents used by attendants on the camp meetings. He was comfortably supplied with the necessities of life by the spontaneous offerings of the congregation.  In 1867, he removed to Virginia.

A few months later the services as stated supplied of Rev. Robert B. Anderson, then living in York (SC), president of the Yorkville Female College, were secured.  He would have been called to the pastorate of the church, except for the fact that he let it be known very clearly that he would not accept such a call.

Perhaps no pastor who ever served Bethesda Church ever left a deeper impress on the congregation and the community than did Dr. John Lowry Wilson.  He served the congregation as pastor for 16 years, and many of the Bethesda people living today carry their first knowledge of pastor of this church back to Mr., Wilson.

Mr. Wilson was born in northern India of missionary parents.  At the age of 5 years, he with four brothers were brought by their mother to America to be educated.  The journey on a sailing vessel required seven months.  At the outbreak of the Civil war, young Wilson, then a student in Tennessee, enlisted and served the Confederate Cause with distinction, only quitting after he had received four wounds in battle and the loss of a limb that incapacitated him from further service.

In 1866 he entered Columbia Seminary and in 1869 was installed as pastor of Bethesda, just 100 years after the church was organized.  He was the sixth pastor of the church and the first in its second century.

As difficult as was the period of Bethesda Church following the Revolutionary war, the pastorate of Rev. John Lowry Wilson probably covered the darkest and most trying period of Bethesda’s long and honorable history.  The War Between the States had hardly closed.  Many of Bethesda’s sons had given up their lives in that struggle; many fell on the battlefields while others died of diseases contracted in camps or federal prisons; not a few came back mimed and crippled by disease and wounds.  They came back to desolated homes and people impoverished by the fortunes of war.

A dark period was just ahead – a period almost as dark as war.  The state government was in the hands of scalawags and carpetbaggers, with uneducated Negroes, with a new freedom, running rampant; martial law had been proclaimed, dangerously armed militant bands were prowling about and terrorizing the community – all was chaos.  Many substantial people, thoroughly discouraged, moved to more favored sections of the country.

But despite these discouraging features under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Wilson, Bethesda Church continued to grow in numbers and spiritual power, and maintained her relative position and influence among the churches of York County.

Dr. Wilson continued as pastor of Bethesda until 1886, when he resigned and moved to Abbeville, and continued there until his passing in 1909. He left an indelible impress on Bethesda church and township. Among the eulogies written upon his passing this one probably describes the man as fully and completely as it is possible to describe him: “He lived for others. Eternity alone will reveal the service that this man rendered in the
name of his Master. He was one of the crown jewels of the King.”

Space forbids giving sketches of pastors following down the line from Dr. Wilson. They can only be briefly mentioned here as follows:
Rev. Benjamin Palmer Reid — 1887 to 1893. Deceased.
Rev. James K. Hall — 1894 to 1909, Resides at Belmont, N.C.
Rev. James K. Harrell — 19l0 to19l2. Deceased.
Rev. John A. McMurray – 1912 to 1916. Now pastor at Ocala, Fla.
Rev. Frank H. Wardlaw – 1917 to 1924. Now pastor at Harrisonburg, Va.
Rev. P. W. Wilson, stated supply — 1924-1925. Now pastor in Virginia.
Rev. John Knox Johnston, stated supply.

The present pastor of Bethesda church is Rev. Walter G. Somerville, native of Culpepper, Va. Attended Virginia Polytechnic school and Davidson college. In business for five years. Enlisted in infantry service for the World War. Rose to the rank of major. Most of his active service was in training draftsmen at Camp Hancock, Ga. Was preparing for overseas
Service when the armistice was signed and he was honorably discharged.

Mr. Somerville entered Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia and received his degree as Bachelor of Divinity in 1920.  He was installed pastor of Bethesda September 19, 1927. He has been serving the church most acceptably as pastor and is beloved by all who know him

A.M. Grist

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brief Historical Sketch of Bethesda Presbyterian Church – Homecoming 1996

Brief Historical Sketch of Bethesda Presbyterian Church
Homecoming Address 1996
By Bill Russell, Jr.

2009_h1“Bethesda” is a section of York County about 16 miles square, eight miles southeast of the county seat.  The original population were chiefly immigrants from the North of Ireland, mostly Presbyterians, a few Roman Catholics- Some came from Pennsylvania and some from Native Ireland.  Many of our senior members have heard this origination for some time.  But today, I want to dwelve a little different.  I went to the library and began to research the time period our early ancestors migrated to York County.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time the Scotch-Irish began moving in, we do know that they began to settle here as early as 1735.  The years 1753-1763 were the greatest  years of migration.  There were two substantial events which caused the settling of the Piedmont.  Both dealt with our existing Native American Indian Tribe the Cherokees.  On February 12, 1747 Governor Glen of South Carolina met with the Cherokee Spokesman “who was known to the locals as “Little Carpenter”.  He relinquished a vast area of land which at that time had been under the control of the Cherokee Nation.  All land South and East of Long Cane Creek which is now Abbeville County and running a line Northward and Northeastward was given in treaty to the “Great Chief in England”.  Most historians agree that this incorporates the greater Piedmont belt including York County.

The second event took place in 1775 when Braddock was defeated by the French & Indians in Pennsylvania.  Even though this event took place some 500 miles north of present day Bethesda, it had a decisive bearing on York County and this area in particular.  Braddock’s defeat left the western front of the Northern Colonies exposed to constant Indian raids.  To escape these hostilities, many Pennsylvanians and Virginians moved Southward to a more pleasant climate and genteel Indians.  While the Cherokee Nation was harshly mistreated and abused by the future Government of the United States, they were extremely good neighbors of the early York County settlers.

By the mid 1750’s, the fertile valleys and creeks around Bullocks and Fishing Creek were doted with Log Cabins and was yielding to the iron plows of planters.  In a confederation of family and religious ties, these early settlers found peace in the land around Bethesda.

Our church is one of the Four B’s (or Bees as in King George’s Bonnet) of the Bethel Presbytery.  The others being Bethel, Bullocks Creek, and Beersheba.  Two conflicting dates have been given for the organization of Bullock’s Creek- 1765 and 1769.  For many years there has been a friendly feud between the two churches of Bethesda and Bullocks Creek as to which is older.  Some church record place the founding of Bethesda in 1769, five years later than Bethel and along the same year as Ebenezer and perhaps the later date of Bullocks Creek.  That would also correspond to the 227 years we are celebrating today.

However, it has been documented that there had been preaching in the Bethesda community long before 1769.  It has been recorded that a church building, a log structure, was reared in 1760.  It was plain but substantial.  This was about one mile east of the present structure, and close by was the graveyard where the dead were buried.  Three of these headstones from the old cemetery were removed and placed here at our cemetery in 1979.  They include William Neely, Mary Neely, and Elizabeth Neely.

This building was burned by a fire accidentally set in 1780.  The next church building was a frame structure with sides of split board which stands a few feet from where our present sanctuary sits.  It stood for 40 years until the present building was built in 1820 for a cost of $5,000.00

Going back to the feud with Bullocks Creek, who claims to be the oldest.  S.M. Tanney a renown Curator for Montreat College notes that The History of Scotch-Irish Settlements written by Hanna records on page 116 of Volume 2 Bethesda of York District was organized in 1760 and Bethel four years later in 1764.  Since Hanna is considered the authority by research students, the data here, according to Tanney, should be deemed dependable. That makes Bethesda older than Bullock’s Creek and just to ensure their were no doubters, we held our Bicentennial Celebration, honoring 200 years of Bethesda Worship in 1960.  

From the best records available, it is thought that the first preacher may have been Rev. William Richardson, an Englishman who studied under Rev. Samuel Davis who later became President of Princeton University.  Among the early ministers was also Rev. Dr. James Alexander of Bullocks Creek.  Alexander is noted for his role as a Revolutionary War Patriot.  A preeminent educator, he also had some very famous students including Gov. Johnson of S.C. and Andrew Jackson, President of the United States.

One cannot talk about the history of the Church without mention of the Battle of Brattonsville.  The Church and its people are intertwined.  A party of Whigs under the command of Col. Bratton, Major Winn, and Captain McClure defeated the English under the command of Huck.  Huck’s Calvary made up of Royal Militia and Tories numbered 400.  Huck tried to induce Col. Bratton to join his force.  He wanted Mrs. Bratton to convince her husband, but she stood by her husband the cause of freedom.  At the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation, Huck was killed and his army routed.  Bethesda Cemetery is now the resting place of 37 Revolutionary War Veterans.

Perhaps Bethesda is best known for the Great Revivals and Camp Meeting of the early 1800’s.  Around the turn of the Century,  Rev. R. B. Walker, pastor of Bethesda heard of the great religious awakening in Kentucky and Tennessee.  It came from travelers who stopped by speaking to this energetic preacher.  He saddled his horse named “Old Dobbler” and made the journey up to Kentucky where he stayed for some time.  Shortly after returning to Bethesda, he instituted camp meetings here.  Neighboring ministers participated, and people traveled from as far as 40 miles to attend.  It is said that “the people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved by the wind.”  The record says that the first camp meeting is known in church history as “The old revival” and resulted in the conversion of 300 souls.  The next revival in 1817 saw 200 more souls added to the Lord.

In 1859, a large arbor was built on the church grounds to accommodate 2,000 people.  This large tent had no sides and could accommodate the large crowds.  In 1861, the War Between the States, impacted Bethesda and called many of her sons to war to fight for states rights and to keep northern invaders from southern lands.  In 1864, the last camp meeting was held.  Bethesda contributed heavily to the Southern Cause.  Again our cemetery is filled with young men who fought for Southern Independence and many never returned to be properly buried.  There are 81 Confederate soldiers interned at Bethesda among them Dr. Bratton, a confederate surgeon.

Bethesda’s history is filled with a moral and ethical code which would seem strange today.  One member was charged with fishing on Sunday.  Another had to fight off a drunk in Yorkville and apologized to the Session for his action.  Among the worst offenses were when Church elders investigated  homes where dancing was reported.

Bethesda Cemetery - 1986

Bethesda Cemetery - 1986

Incidentally, according to the Yorkville Enquirer of the time- well to do people were expected to own their own stills and everyone was expected to drink a toddy more or less frequently, and neither preachers, elders, deacons, stewards, or vestrymen refrained from the sprits when social occasions deemed necessary.

I could go on and on with the wonderful history of this church.  For those really interested, Roy Glover and Bobby Walker put together a great cemetery directory  in 1994 and Miss Rebecca Williamson and Hattie Lee Petty have tirelessly kept our history alive along with the recollections of Mrs. Bratton.

Mrs. Moore had asked that I blend in the physical history of the church with that of the evangelical history.  Well, I don’t know if I’ve done a rather good job of it.  I tend to be more of a student of Bethesda its church, its people, and the culture surrounding it.  I have tried to find one scripture verse that perhaps ties it all together.  While not as well versed in the scriptures as Rev. Carter, one passage in Joshua stands out to me.  Chapter 24 Verse 13:

I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”

My family roots the Adkins, Boggs, Browns, and Russell’s hail from Beersheba, Bullocks Creek, and Bethesda.  The Boggs dating back to King George and the settling of Bethesda.

The Lord provided for our early families, and here they made their home, built their church, and raised their families.  Some of us have moved away and come home again.  Sons and daughters enjoying the fruits and labors of their parents.  We enjoy the lands we did not plant and the Church we did not build.  But we have a responsibility and a privilege to educate the next generation, to pass on the virtues and ideals we cherish, as did the family members who came before us.   
Verse 27:
And Joshua said to the people, “Behold this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke to us.  It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.”

So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , | 1 Comment

The greatest fire starts with a single spark

The lifeblood of any community is its engaged citizenship.  The very character of a community is shaped by its contributions, generosity, and compassion demonstrated by the residents that live and businesses which operate there.  I grew up in a family where my mom was active as a volunteer for March of Dimes, the local PTA, and the Jaycee-ettes.  Dad was president of the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross…and the list goes on and on.


One thing that I have learned over the years is that very often the individuals who provide so much might often go unheralded.  However, their efforts are never unnoticed. We may have no idea who contributed their time and financial resources to improving our lot in life, but the contributions are felt none the less.


Not long ago I was reading the story of Edward Kimble.  Few of us have ever heard of Edward.  He was a shoe salesman.  He never ran for political office and never accumulated great wealth.  I guess you could say he was just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life.  So, what makes him so special?  He was a Sunday School teacher.


Edward worked hard selling shoes during the week and one day, trying to get ahead, hired a young assistant.  Edward shared with the young assistant his passion for Christ.  They began to read the Gospels together during breaks from their work.  The young assistant became inspired, professed his faith, and became a Christian.  His name was D.L. Moody and he became one of the most well known evangelists up to that point.


Moody later inspired another young man, Frederick Meyer, who as a result of the encounter, started a nationwide preaching ministry.  A young college student by the name of Wilbur Chapman accepted Christ into his heart as a result of one of Meyer’s sermons and he too, went into the ministry.  Meyer started a crusade and hired a professional baseball player named Billy Sunday to preach the gospel.  Sunday became one of the most renowned evangelists of his time and scheduled a series of crusades throughout the country.


A group of businessmen from Charlotte, NC heard Sunday and decided to bring him to our region to preach the gospel.  At the last minute, Sunday could not come and he sent another evangelist named Mordecai Ham.  Ham’s meetings were really not well attended.  They were held just outside of Charlotte in a tent with sawdust floors.  However, on the last night of the meeting, a tall lanky farm boy named Billy Frank made his way up the aisle and accepted his Savior that evening.  You know him as Billy Graham, who has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries.billy-graham


In 1968, my church encouraged families to attend an independently filmed movie called For Pete’s Sake.  The movie featured Graham and while I cannot say I remember much about the movie, I recall vividly what took place after the feature ended.  I was nine years old at the time and it was playing at the Cinema Theater in Rock Hill.  After the movie concluded, a man came out on the stage and gave his profession of faith.  Sort of unheard of in today’s age, but I can still recall how quiet everyone was as this man talked about how Christ had changed his life.  Afterwards, members of the Billy Graham Association called anyone up that also felt the calling. 


Who knows why I went.  But I remember the kids I went with refusing to walk up the aisle with me.  A man up front handed me some type of book by the Graham Association.  I recall it was a paperback of some type.  I wasn’t much of a reader at nine but I did keep it in a drawer with other personal effects for many years. Six years later, I joined Bethesda Presbyterian Church as a member.


In 1996, I was fortunate to attend a Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, NC.  As the words of Just as I Am was sung and the masses flooded the aisles,  I thought of the little boy as he walked the aisle that Saturday morning in Rock Hill.  Leaving my friends back in their seats, I joined the countless others who felt compelled to come forward.


A single act by Edward Kimble, a simple shoe salesman generations ago, started a chain reaction, touching millions of lives, including mine.  Such is the nature of service to your community.  Sometimes the smallest act of kindness is replayed over and over again.  It is the smallest spark that creates the greatest fire.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , | Leave a comment