The Old Log Church

Montgomery Morgan Folsom was a grandson of Randal Folsom and great grandson of Lawrence Armstrong Folsom, one of the pioneer settlers of Old Lowndes County, GA. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Sarah Wooten and Morgan G. Swain, early residents of Troupville, GA.

Folsom was, according to his obituary, among the best known and most versatile newspaper men in the South. He wrote prolifically and his stories and poetry were widely published. He wrote about his childhood memories and tales heard from his elders about pioneer days along  Withlacoochee RiverTroupvilleCoffee Road, the formation of Lowndes County,  the Battle of Brushy Creek, fire hunts, and early Wiregrass Methodists.  His grandfather, Randall Folsom, was a leading member of the Methodist church.

In his book, Scraps of Songs and Southern Scenes,  Montgomery M. Folsom recalls his grandfather as larger than life. His details, if not an actual historical portrait, paint the church life of early Methodist pioneers. The piece, “Malachi,” describes a Methodist church which is not identified.  If it is Salem Church, it must be the original structure and not the church built in 1856 on the Coffee Road.  The church in Malachi matches the description of old Salem Church Folsom gave in 1885 “Long time ago there was another Salem, built of logs, clap-boards and puncheons.”  For Montgomery to have ever attended a service in the old log church means it must have stood for some years after 1857, the year of his birth, and saw at least occasional use, perhaps on special observances such as the love feast.

 

MALACHI

Ah, the old log church!

With its long roof of clapboards, and the swag in the middle where the back bone had weakened, and the broad, shutterless door, and the puncheon steps in front.

Then the side door where the women went in, and the window at the back of the pulpit. And the rows of benches running crosswise, and down next to the pulpit, either side, rows of benches that ran lengthwise.

These were for the old folks – mothers and fathers in Israel – and the old women sat on one side and the old men on the other.

The Amen corner. Grandpa had his seat up there, and he wore the old bench slick sitting there listening to the sound of the gospel and raising the hymns.

The old man – sacred be his memory – owned much cattle. He pastured his flocks and herds from the Ocmulgee to the Flint, and from Stono, where the devil dropped his shot gourd; and old Pindertown, on the north, to the black swamps of the Okeefenokee, and the pimple hills of Ocopilco on the South.

He hunted his cattle over an area as big as the German Empire.

He carried a whip that you could hear a mile, and when he hollered “cow holler,” the echoes reverberated from the pine clad ridge and the banks of reedy river, till you would have thought it was a regiment of whangdoodles sounding the charge.

Grandpa was very religious. He used to get formidably happy, and when he shouted he shook the walls of the old log house like Joshua and his ram-shorns on the plains of Jericho.

And he could talk at love-feast till the tears would trickle down the cheeks of the brethren like the summer rain on the furrowed brow of Signal Mountain.

When he prayed I always thought the good Lord paid some attention to him, for the old man meant every word he said, and he spoke out loud, and if he wanted rain he just asked for it.

Some of the rest of them I was a little doubtful about; but I knew the good Lord was obliged to hear Grandpa.

I can see him now, raise himself, clear up his throat, and as the preacher finished “lining out” the hymn, the old man’s broad chest would expand, a new light would come into that keen grey eye that was as sharp as an eagle’s ; and —

” All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
Let Angels prostrate fall.”

Another pause while the next two lines were read and like the rich throb of some great organ —

” Bring forth the royal diadem

And crown Him Lo-o-rd of All —
Bring forth the roy-al di-a-dem

And crow-n H-im Lo-o-rd of All ! “

Weaker voices swelled the grand old anthem of triumph, but Grandpa’s voice led all the rest.

It was like the deep rich roll of summer thunder, accompanied by the rythmic patter of the falling rain.

I just knew then, and I have no doubt to this day, that angels gazed over the walls of paradise and chanted a joyous refrain.

I was a little Catholic. Too young to know much about it, and I looked upon Grandpa as my father in God.

And my confidence was not misplaced.

This very night, somewhere beyond the twinkling stars of heaven, the old man is wandering among perennial pastures and by streams that never go dry. And his great big heart is throbbing with calm contentment, and his great big voice is leading some choir of angel voices in that same old song —

“And crown Him Lord of all ! “

One time, howbeit, the old man got me into a predicament.

It was one Sunday, when they had love-feast. Those wiregrass Methodists had real feasts of love in those days, when they laid aside the bickerings and cares and the fretfulness of earth, and gathered themselves to worship the God of love.

And the sun shone on leafy trees, and the winds were sweet and low as they sang softly among the pines. Wild birds flitted from wind-swayed bough to blooming thicket, and at the foot of the hill the streamlet crooned among the pebbles.

Far away in the golden deeps of the summer heavens cloud-ships lay at anchor, soon to hoist sail for the land of dreams.

One by one the elder members arose and told their experiences, and, good souls, magnified the few small sins their simple lives had known into black and bitter wrongs against their God.

Grandpa sat with his hands on the back of the bench in front of him, and listened with deepest interest to all that was said, now smiling gladly with one whose face beamed with the gladness of hope; now brushing off a tear in sympathy with some one whose anguish of spirit wrung scalding tears from a burning heart.

I grew drowsy.” I had committed but few sins. Stole a few watermelons, perhaps ; or caused Ponchartrain to kill the tabby cat’s kitten ; or broke up a bluebird’s nest ; or told a story about going in swimming. But they were sins too small for God or Grandpa either to mind much.

I sat on a crosswise bench where I could watch Grandpa and keep my eye on the preacher, all at the same time. Besides, I wanted to swap knives with Charlie Remington as soon as they all got through, and the love-feast was of only secondary interest to me.

Grandpa’s time came.

I was watching a jaybird in an oak tree outside, and my eyes were trying to make me believe there were two jaybirds, when I knew there was but one.

The old man arose, and resting his hands on the back of the bench, he gazed away off in the distance for a moment, and then cleared his throat.

“A-hem!”

He took the big red handkerchief from his hat by his side, wiped his ruddy face, and another —

“A-hem!”

Then he began deliberately —

“Well, bretherin, I feel that we aire all sinful creatures in the sight of God. The Scripter saith : ‘He that saith he liveth and sinneth not is a liar, and the truth aint in ‘im ! ‘

“But I don’t b’lieve in puttin’ too much distress on our sins and shortcomin’s. We’re bad enough without that.

“Let us be of good cheer, and not be cast down. Our Saviour tells us that He will send a Comforter, and ‘if I go not, the Comforter will not come.’ I am mighty well satisfied to take His word in all these matters.

“He has gone to prepare us a home, but He has not left us hopeless. That is the beauty of religion.

“And I want to tell you a source of great comfort to me.

You know for sev’ral weeks I’ve been a-ridin’ in the woods and I ain’t had much time to attend to my duties like I ort to, but I’ve kept my Bible with me, and I’ve been a readin’ at odd chances.

“And I want to tell you a little book that I’ve came acrost in the Bible that has done me more good than a little. And I want you all to read it keerfully. It’s a little book away over in the back of the Old Testyment, and you mought miss it unless you looked close.

“Mind what I tell you, now, and ‘tend to this right away. Fust thing when you go home, do you hunt it up and read it keerfully.

“Away out yander in them lonesome woods” — and one rough, brown hand was raised in the direction of the forest — “that little book has be’n a comforter to me.

“It is the little book of Malachi!”

Bang !

The fist came down on the back of the seat; I started from my doze, the jaybird flitted away, several old men groaned, and several old women said “Bless the Lord!”

The old man sat down.

“Malachi, Malachi, Malachi.”

The name seemed imbedded in my memory like a bullet in a tree.

“Malachi.”

All the day it haunted me, and at night I awoke from a dream and muttered, “Malachi!”

Next day I kept thinking over it, and it bothered me.

“Malachi.”

I would look it up. Grandpa said it was good to read and Grandpa knew. So I would make a still hunt for Malachi.

I found it, just as he said, and I read it over and over — skipped the hard names and spelled out the long words.

But to save my life I never was able to discover anything of special interest in Malachi. I found it very short, and I decided that was why he found it so comfortable. He could read it while his horse was eating, and be done with it.

And although I reverence the very wild vines that clamber over his crumbling tomb, and cherish every memory of the good man that is gone, I am still puzzled about Malachi.

Perhaps

If I should live to be
The last leaf on the tree

In the spring, I might find that comforter which the old man found in reading Malachi.

 

Related Posts:

Dr. Motte Arrives at Franklinville, GA, 1836

In the midst of the Second Seminole War young Dr. Motte, a Harvard educated Army surgeon, found himself detailed for duty at Franklinville, GA to provide medical care for soldiers under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn.  The arrival of federal troops in Lowndes County in late September of 1836 followed  a series of engagements between local militia and Native Americans who were fleeing to Florida to avoid forced removal to western lands.  Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, had led a company of men in a skirmish at William Parker’s place on July 12, 1836, and from July through August, engagements were fought at Brushy Creek, Little River, Grand Bay, Troublesome Ford, Warrior Creek and Cow Creek.

Dr. Motte recorded his experiences in Lowndes County in a journal he kept of his military service. This part of his story picks up in the first days of Autumn, 1836…

In consequence of the great alarm excited in the southern counties of Georgia by murders and depredations committed by the Creek Indians who were endeavoring to escape into Florida from Alabama, Governor Schley had petitioned Gen. Jesup to station some troops in Ware or Lowndes County, that being the least populous and most defenceless portion of the country through which the Indians were passing.  It was also liable to invasions from the Seminoles, as it bordered upon Florida.  In compliance with this request, Major [Greenleaf] Dearborn with two companies of Infantry was ordered to proceed immediately to the above counties in Georgia, and there establish himself.  These counties being so far south and in a low swampy part of the country had the worst possible reputation for health, and going there at this season of the year was almost considered certain death to a white man and stranger unacclimated.  It was necessary then to send some surgeon with the troops, that it may not be said they died without proper medical attendance; and also that they might have a chance of a surgeon in the other world to physic them. Dr. Lawson, the Medical Director, was therefore instructed by Gen. Jesup to select some on of the surgeons for this duty; and the Doctor with his usual friendly discrimination, whenever there was any particularly disagreeable duty to be done, picked upon me. [Dr. Thomas Lawson, Medical Director at Fort Mitchell, was appointed Surgeon General of the United States on November 30, 1836.] So away I was ordered, to die of fever as I thought amidst the swamps of Lowndes County.  Major Dearborn to whom I was ordered to report myself was at Irwinton [Eufala, AL], sixty miles below Fort Mitchell, on the Alabama side of the Chatahooche. It was therefore necessary for me to proceed there forthwith alone….

I found Major Dearborn encamped two miles from Irwinton, and after reporting myself to him rode over to visit Major Lomax, who was also stationed in the neighbourhood with his battalion of Artillery.

On the 29th Sept we took up the line of march for Lowndes County, Georgia, and after crossing the Chattahooche advanced fifteen miles the first day over the most wretched roads that ever disfigured the face of the earth.  We proceeded by easy marches, generally resting in the middle of the day when we took our food, which was prepared before we started in the early morn and again when we encamped for the the night. The second night I slept in a church by the roadside…The third night we slept in the midst of a pine barren. The fourth near the banks of the Kinchafoonee River upon the site of an old Indian town [Chehaw village, where Georgia militia massacred Creek Indians in 1818]

Dr. Jacob Motte's 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

Dr. Jacob Motte’s 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

The fifth night, the surgeon was coming down with fever. Of the sixth day, he wrote that the column had passed through Pindartown, in present day Worth County, GA.  According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Pindartown was of considerable importance in the early days. When the Creek lands changed hands in 1821, the village was bought from the Indians. Pindartown served as the only post office between the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers in the early days. The town was located at the head of navigation on the Flint River, and the stagecoach road between Milledgeville and Tallahassee, Florida, went through Pindartown.

Continuing his narrative of the travel on October 4, 1836, Motte wrote of his worsening condition.

We crossed the Flint river, and had got beyond Pinderton in Baker county, when the exertion proved too great for me, for fever with its dreadful hold had seized on my very life-springs; and finding myself unable to keep my saddle, I was forced to dismount and lie down upon the road until one of the baggage wagons came up, when I was helped into it. The torture I endured for four days during which I was conveyed in this vehicle of torment cannot be expressed in language.  My anxiety, however, to continue with the troops, enabled me to support the greatest agony for some time. 

Motte’s description of the rude and uncomfortable travel by wagon over the stage roads matches the perceptions of  Charles Joseph La Trobe, an English traveler and writer, who in 1833 rode from Tallahassee, FL to Milledgeville, GA  via the weekly stagecoach. La Trobe observed “The roads through the south of Georgia are in the roughest state.

The rough roads in the heat of an Indian summer in south Georgia were too much for the feverish Dr. Motte.

The thin covering to the wagon afforded my burning brain no protection against the heat of a vertical sun in this latitude, and the constant jolting over the rugged roads and roots of trees was fast driving me into a dreadful tempest of delirium. Human nature could endure such suffering no longer, and with reluctance I was compelled to be left in a log-house which stood beside the road in Thomas county, ten miles from Florida. The occupant, whose name was Adams, seemed a kind hearted man, and he promised to bestow [upon me] all the care in his power. Fortunately I retained my reasoning faculties, and I was enabled to prescribe for myself the proper medicines…

… By aid of a good constitution I was at last enabled to master the disease, and after ten days confinement to bed, again stood upon my legs. …On the 21st Oct I had regained sufficient strength to ride my horse; so on that day I bid farewell to my kind and hospitable host…and following upon the trail of the troops, proceeded to rejoin them.

The route of the troops from Thomasville toward Franklinville would have undoubtedly been along the Coffee Road.     Coffee Road, the military road constructed by John Coffee and Thomas Swain in 1823 became the first route opening up the south central Georgia region to pioneer settlers.  In this section the road passed through Thomas county, Lowndes county, and present day Berrien county, continuing on to its terminus at Jacksonville, GA on the Ocmulgee River. From Thomasville heading east via the Coffee Road, Dearborn’s company could reach Sharpe’s Store which was just fifteen miles west of Franklinville, GA

Now traveling alone and by horseback, Motte’s perception of  conditions along the rough-cut roads are in marked contrast to his torturous wagon ride.

Autumn with its refreshing sunshine had now superceded the heat of summer, and its hollow winds, with mournful sound announcing the approach of dreary winter, were driving the leaves about in eddying course; their rustling alone broke the stillness of the scene as I journeyed slowly through the wide forests, which were now throwing off their garb of sturdy vigour and assuming the ostentatious and gaudy livery of the season. The beauty of woodland scenery is always heightened just before the chilly winter throws its icy influence over their bloom. and envelopes them in a robe of dusky brown.  Then it is that the gorgeous and fantastic blending of green, yellow, crimson, purple and scarlet, which tinge the distant prospect, defies the art of the painter, who endeavours in vain to imitate successfully the varied hues of nature.

On the evening of the 22nd Oct I arrived at Franklinville, which is the only town in the whole of Lowndes county, and contains only three log-houses one of which is a court-house, and another the Post-office; the third is a store. This great place is situated on the upper Withlacooché, and here I found the troops encamped. They were preparing to move farther south, and nearer to Florida; and the day after I joined, the tents were struck, the Withlachooché crossed, and after marching ten miles in a southerly direction, a new place of encampment was selected near the plantation of  a Mr. Townsend.

[Thomas O. Townsend was one of the first settlers of Lowndes County, and later owned several lots in the town of Troupville.]

Major Dearborn apparently found the environs of Franklinville unsuitable to military discipline, this despite the fact that the only buildings were the courthouse, post office, an inn operated by William Smith, who was also clerk of the court and postmaster, and the residences of Sheriff Martin Shaw, and of John Mathis and James Mathis. Still, Franklinville was the only “town” in all of Lowndes County and was on the stage road from Jacksonville.   In reflecting on the early history of Lowndes County, Hamilton Sharpe, who operated Sharpe’s Store on Coffee Road, intimated that Franklinville was a rowdy place of drunkenness, at least on days when citizens gathered from the countryside of meetings of the circuit court.

In any event, Major Dearborn soon had his troops relocated to a more remote location.

Related Posts