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"A Weekend at the Church"


Footprints, Page 65-68


By Eileen Thomas

            Let’s daydream a while this afternoon—

            Imagine you are back in the year of 1797 when the first Baptist church was formed in Wood County.  You are traveling on your horse through the woods following a well-traveled wagon trail (These woods probably were like our Wayne National Forest.)  You don’t have a permanent home—everything you own is neatly packed in your saddlebags.

            Do you have the picture in your mind?  Now—

            Your name is James McAboy, you are a circuit preacher and you are committed to go from Beverly, Ohio, to Sistersville, Virginia.  [In the year 1797, West Virginia had not been divided (annexed) from the State of Virginia, this came later.]  You travel to preach to the brethren in this territory, as it is now, it was very important to teach God’s word.  You travel up the hills and down into the valleys—you have ‘tent meetings’ in all the settlements along the way.  Last night you stayed with Elder Davis and his family at the settlement of Rainbow.  Rainbow was located on the Muskingum River twelve miles from Marietta.  Next morning Mrs. Davis had made breakfast for you and the family—there were flapjacks, eggs, ham, fried potatoes, fresh made biscuits and apple butter!  Then she packed you a lunch—corn pone-fresh baked bread-wild turkey meat and a huge slice of deer steak and a couple of apples from their small orchard.  You’ll have to be alert on the trail today because some Delaware Indians had been seen in the area— probably a hunting party, but you still should be careful.  Mr. Devol, who has seen the braves near his home said they didn’t seem hostile, but to keep an eye out!

            At noon you decide to rest your horse and let him graze while you eat your lunch; first you led him to the river for water and at the waters edge you hear a sound, listening more clearly you jump back on your horse and ride off fast!  A pack of wolves were chasing a deer right towards you!!  In the distance you see an old log house that seemed to be abandoned; you make it to the door and lead your horse inside with you, just as the critters passed by!  So you end up having your lunch on the broken down porch on the front of the old house, not letting your horse graze too far in case the wolves doubled back.  Do you have the picture in your mind as to some of the hardships the early preachers went through to bring God’s word to the early settlers?  Also I forgot to mention you had to ride through all kinds of weather—most of the time you were not in sight of shelter. You had to face the wind-rain-sleet-snow, etc. 

            Now lets imagine you’re a farmer in the Lower Settlement (down by Hassely’s Sawmill on Rt. 7). Your name is Joseph Barker.

            It’s Friday night, you go to bed as soon as the sun goes down, you know you have to get up around 4:00 a.m.  As the rooster crows you get up and begin your chores—feed the chickens—milk the cows—slop the hogs—clean out the barn—check out the farm and see if everything is intact.  This done, you go back to the house to wash up for breakfast of ham—red eye gravy—fried potatoes—cooked apples—flap jacks and home made maple syrup and coffee. 

            While your wife, Melissa, and your nine children complete their chores you go outside and ready the buckboard for the trip to the Upper Settlement (Newport). Now you go back inside to spruce up a bit for church while Melissa is putting the finishing touches on the noon meal she has packed, the children are ready for the trip just as the sun is coming up (6 a.m.)

            You get to thinking on the way, you are glad to have your tobacco crop in before the rains come, next week the corn will need harvested, the apples will have to be picked, and you’ll have to set the boys on gathering firewood and get it split and stacked before the weather breaks.  Melissa will be making her lye soap before long.  The girls will have to gather some nuts—seems to be plenty of hickory-walnut-butternut and hazelnuts this fall.  Plenty for us and the wild critters, too.  Also can’t forget to ask Brother Luther if he will trade me some peaches for apples; Melissa wants to put up a bushel or two.

            Suddenly you notice the horses having some difficulty on the slippery road; you notice in the distance a couple other wagons.  Nearing them you are able to see what the hold up is—Dana’s Run had risen from all the rain.  Everyone was standing around wondering what to do. 

            Br. Churchill and John Greene came to their rescue by bringing row boats down the Ohio River from the Newport Landing (just beyond the Newport P. O. toward the river)  They rowed everyone across the run.  The horses had been tied in a shaded area with a slack rope so they could graze a bit.

            Is this making an impression on your mind as to how the early families lived and the lengths they went to have church services?

            Do you think God was pleased with his children?

            Let’s imagine now that you are one of the Joseph and Melissa Barker children—

            You have arrived in the Upper Settlement, today is Saturday—what would it be like to attend church in the early days?  You came to church with your parents—you sit beside them—no visiting with your friends during services—no morning snacks—you ate a hardy breakfast and no more eating until noon meal.  You are there to learn from the Good Book.  There is no radio—no T.V.s, no Nintendos—no cars—no ball games—no bikes and no sleeping in!!  This is just a partial look into the life of a child in the early 1800s.  The Elders of the Church had the say of the church.  They were very strict in their beliefs, and you were brought before the church to be questioned for any unusual behavior.  If you didn’t have answers to meet their beliefs they expelled you from the church.  The Newport people were members in the early days of the Marietta Baptist Church, the circuit preacher held meetings in the settlement about every two months.  On Saturdays services were held in the morning along with a business meeting, then an all day meeting on Sunday with noon meal. 

            August 25, 1822, is our earliest record of a meeting held in the Lower Settlement, with Abigail Churchill, Melissa Barker, and Susan Dana being received into the church.  The next was held Saturday Sept. 21, 1822, at Jacob Churchill’s home.  Being the custom, the wife placed a Bible on a table covered with her best white cloth and bade the neighbors and friends to come at early candle light, meaning come as early as you can, we will be ready for you. 

            So here we are at Brother Churchill’s for Saturday services.  After prayer by Elder James McAboy, Sarah Howard, David Canfield, Ira Hill and his wife, Wealthea, related their experiences and were received into the church. 

            Following services and business meeting, church was dismissed until the next morning.  So now we walk back to Dana’s Run; the water was way down by this time so we waded across to the wagons and proceeded to eat a late lunch. 

            Mr. Kerr had fed and watered our horses while we were at church; so giving him our thanks, the wagon caravan started on the trek home to the Lower Settlement. 

            Brother Luther Barker and his family were in the lead wagon, followed by Jacob Middleswarts, then our wagon followed by Jacob Leonard who turned off at Newell’s Run, and last the Thornilys.  A lot of singing could be heard as we traveled down the River Road.  Arriving home we boys helped Father with the evening chores and brought wood in so Mother could begin supper.  After eating and the dishes were cleared away, the candles were lit and Father read aloud form the Bible.  The Bible is the only book other than a school book or two in the house.  Mother and Father asked questions on the morning service, and each of us older children told what we had gotten out of the service.  Now its bed time; the sun has set. 

            We get up at the crack of dawn to do the same thing over again!  But today is a special day—

            It’s a bright beautiful fall day as the wagons make their way back up the river road!!  As we reach the top of the hill in Newport, we meet several wagons coming in from the other directions—there were the Danas, the McMahans, and the Holdrens coming from Leith Run Settlement and the Fergusons from Ferguson’s Landing.  So as we merged we became quite a large wagon train as we arrived at Jacob Churchill’s yard!

            The meeting began with prayer, then a sermon by Elder McAboy, songs were sung and a lecture was given by Elder McAboy, then we were dismissed from the morning services.  While the Mothers sat out the noon meal, we kids played tag, Red Rover and Drop the Hanky.  After the adults had filled their plates, we children were allowed to do the same.  This was a steadfast rule which was to show respect for your elders!  After the food had been put away we gathered and started walking toward the river.

This is what made our day special—Mother was going to be baptized today!! 

We had not witnessed a Baptism before.  We sure know what the saying “We shall gather at the river” stands for now. 

After the river services, we returned to Brother Churchill’s for the afternoon services and then partook in the Lords Supper.

We sure were a bunch of tired happy travelers when we returned home that evening!

These types of services continued on until January 3, 1838, when the Newport branch of the Marietta Baptist Church became an independent church, thus the date on the front of our church.  Then in 1841 it was decided to build a brick church.  Our church building was dedicated January 1, 1842 with Elder Geer preaching the sermon.  Sunday school was established in 1841.

The forefathers of our church built a firm and lasting foundation of faith and fellowship so let’s continue to join forces as one church family and trust God’s wisdom and will.  Now is the time to set aside your imagination—for you are now “back to the future!”

And yes, you are our future-May God continue to bless us.