Reverend Robert H. Howren ~ Methodist Circuit Rider
Reverend Howren brought his family to old Lowndes County in 1836 as conflicts with Native Americans were rising in Florida and Georgia. The Howren’s settled on Coffey’s Road and became neighbors of fellow Methodist Hamilton W. Sharpe. Sharpe’s Store, on the Coffee Road, was the first commercial establishment in Lowndes County, and became an early post office for the area. Sharpe was a captain of local militia in the Indian Wars and was active in politics.
About Reverend Howren, Folks Huxford wrote:
Reverend R. H. Howren, one of the old ante-bellum preachers, moved with his family in 1836 from Madison county, Florida, to that portion of Lowndes, which now is in Brooks county, and for a few years lived near Brother Hamilton W. Sharpe of whom mention has already been made.
His [Reverend Howren’s] reminiscences contained in his article published in the Wesleyan Christian Advocate under date of December 17, 1884 is very valuable in throwing light on the early Methodist activities and the spiritual life of old Lowndes county. His article was written forty-eight years after. At that time he was a retired minister living at Concord, Florida. From his article we quote at length:
“We refugeed to that neighborhood (Lowndes county) from Madison Fla., on account of the Indians; rented a farm from Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe and soon became connected with the Sunday-school and members of the large interesting bible class conducted by Bro. Sharpe that year (1836) at old Bethlehem Church in Lowndes county, Ga. The Sunday-school was flourishing, congregation full and attentive, preaching nearly every Sabbath. The style of it was Wesleyan, or if you please apostolic – in demonstration of the Spirit and power. Often the preachers would stop and shout while preaching, and sometimes the people would shout and stop the preacher for a little while whether he felt like shouting or not, and in all this there was no confusion or disorder at all, but the very harmony of heaven. It kept the stones from crying out. It was the lumbering of the train on the track heard at a distance while the freightage on board was born on in quiet safety.’Oh, that men now and then, would praise the Lord in the assembly of His saints’ and ‘talk of His wonderful work to the children of men!’
The Methodists first served old Lowndes county as a part of the Tallahassee District. This vast district swept across south Georgia from the Flint River to the Okefinokee Swamp. In 1832 the Methodists established the Lowndes Mission, and the first Methodist ministers riding on the Lowndes Circuit were George W. Davis, George Bishop, Capel Raiford and Robert Stripling.
In 1884, Reverend Robert H. Howren wrote of the early work of the Methodists in Old Lowndes County.
This early work was called the Lowndes Circuit and embraced Lowndes county and portions of other counties around. Bros. Francis M. Smith and J. J. Taylor were the preachers. Bro. Smith married Miss Clementine Perry, a member of Bro. Sharpe’s family. He traveled a few years and then studied medicine. Wonder if he is still living? Bro. Taylor traveled on a few years, married Mrs. Lowe of Columbia county, Florida, located, subsequently was readmitted to the Florida Conference, in a few years located again, then for many long years served the church as a local preacher, and was faithful to death. He died last year (1883) in Wellborn, Fla., finishing his work, as we learned, in great peace. He was my friend. I loved him like a brother; we were young preachers together and we were old preachers together; fought side by side many a battle. He is now crowned and I’m yet “laboring up the hill.”
Continuing in his article Bro.Howren made mention of the local preachers of the Lowndes Circuit in those early days (1830s).
“The local preachers of this circuit were Thomas Clift, John Johnson and Paul Johnson, three as faithful men as I have ever known through limited in their education. They were a power in the pulpit, doing great good through al that country for many years. Bro. Clift was a natural born preacher. The first words he uttered were a flood of light to my mind on the subject; his text was ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God’ (Matthew 5:9). He said ‘No man can be a peacemaker in the sense of my text until he first makes his peace with God’, etc. He had a hard struggle through life for a material support but his brethren helped him more or less every year, and sometimes at camp-meetings he would get as much as fifty dollars in presents from his friends and those who appreciated his godly labors. Bro. John Johnson was a good and useful preacher, rode the same horse for many years; after he became blind his faithful animal would carry him to and from his appointments in perfect safety, stopping every time under the same limb or at the same tree where it was accustomed to be hitched. Bro. Paul Johnson was a weeping profit. I don’t think I ever heard him that he did not weep most of the time he was preaching, and in this way reached the hearts of many that no doubt would not have been touched by ordinary preaching. He had a son who grew up and became a preacher; held family prayer three times a day – morning, noon and night – the only man I have ever known to do it. He prospered in the world. God’s word was verified: ‘Say ye to the righteous, it shall be will with him'”.
Bro. Howren in discussing the lay members and leading Methodist families, wrote in the same article:
Outside of the ministry there was a noble band of lay members at and around old Bethlehem. The Blairs, Folsoms, Campbells, and Granthams. Bro. William Grantham was the class-leader and was not only a soldier of the Cross and fought bravely the battles of the Lord but was a good soldier of his country.
That year in that neighborhood they had a very heated skirmish with the Indians. Brother Sharpe, I believe, commanded the fight. A great, stalwart Indian and Bro. Grantham made for the same tree at the same time; coming from opposite sides, neither discovered the other til they met at the tree. Then came the ‘tug of war’ – around and around that old cypress tree of a hundred years growth they went, each trying to shoot the other. At length the Indian fired and missed; he then attempted to retreat but Bro. Grantham captured him.”
Howren’s above recollection of “a very heated skirmish” refers to the 1836 Battle of Brushy Creek in Lowndes County, GA. Norman Campbell’s account of the battle also relates the incident of Grantham and the Indian chasing each other around a cypress tree. Lasa Adam’s account of the Battle of Brushy Creek and actions on Warrior Creek highlights the leadership of Captain Grantham. Captain Hamilton Sharpe and Levi J. Knight also led a companies of Lowndes County men in these engagements.
Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe in his article in the Wesleyan Christian Advocate in 1884 …, said in reference to these early local preachers: “Among the early ministers little and unknown and who were loved and prized by God for their love and patience wre Revs. Thomas Cliffs, Paul Johnson, John Johnson, Thomas Carleton with many others I could name, who now mingle the redeemed in Heaven. Only a few days since while walking in the cemetery at Concord Church I remarked to my wife that among the dead there was Bro. Cliffs but nothing is there to mark his grave. Bro. Cliffs was good, poor and afflicted but he is where no sorrow ever comes.”
Bro. Howren in another article in th Advocate (April 23, 1884) tells of the time he was first licensed to preach. It was at the old Morven Camp-ground then called Lowndes Camp-ground in 1837. He wrote in part:
“In the fall of that year I was licensed to exhort. Bro. Francis M. Smith was circuit preacher; Bro. John L. Jerry, presiding elder. Bro. Hamilton W. Sharpe was licensed at the same time and place. It was what was then called Lowndes Camp-ground but for many years since called the Morven-cmpground which I believe is still kept up by the brethren there and is over fifty years old, has been in that country a power for good.
“I remember very distinctly at one of those meetings that the older preachers got up a discussion on sanctification, some contending it to be a separate work from regeneration. I was young and said nothing but thought it would spoil if not break up the meeting. A young preacher who, like myself, had nothing to say on the subject in dispute, was appointed to preach on Saturday night. He got up and took his text ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ He got about half through his sermon; all at once the Holy Ghost came down upon the preacher and people; he had to stop preaching, and just such a time of shouting and rejoicing I never witnessed before nor since under one sermon. That young man was the Rev. J. J. Taylor, now living at Wellborn, Fla. I never heard him preach before nor since as he did on that night. The discussion ceased, the Devil left the camp-ground and we were all of one mind and heart, rejoicing in the love of Jesus.”
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