Charleston Centennial, Presbyterian Church 1914

First Presbyterian Church, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA





1915 Walker, Evans, Cogswell (Charlston, S.C.)


(Transcribed automatically by AWH, not proofed and corrected)

In March, 1763, Alexander Hewat of the University of Edinburgh became shepherd of the flock in the Scotch Meeting House. About that time the place of worship was enlarged to meet the needs of the increasing membership; the trustees then being George Marshall, William Woodrup, George Inglis, Dr. John Murray, William Simpson, George Murray, Alexander Rantowle, and James Grindlay.1 Hewat became at once a member of the Presbytery and many of the meetings of this body were held in Charles Town in the Scots Kirk.2 The membership continued to increase through his ministrations. In 1768, however, the number of families enrolled in this church was only about seventy, the number in the White Meeting being at the same time eighty families.3

1 These facts are drawn from the sermon preached by Dr. A. W. Leland at the dedication of the present building, Dec. 29, 1814. This sermon was handed down in an old moth-eaten book belonging formerly to Ann Marr and afterwards to Dr. John Forrest. Dr. Leland drew his statements from the original record-books which have since been lost.

2 The Presbytery was now usually called Presbytery of South Carolina and not Presbytery of Charles Town.

3. "Charlestown, 70 families, Mr. Quit, aet. 28, Edinburgh * * * Charlestown, 80, Mr. Thomas, aet. 24, Wales. Mr. Josiah Smith, aet. 70." These statements occur in a list of churches made in 1768 by Elam Potter, a Presbyterian Minister, who made a journey through the South. Quoted in Howe, I., 363.

On Thursday, May 17, 1770, the Presbytery of South Carolina began a most interesting session in the Scots Kirk, Charles Town. Seven ministers were present as follows Alexander Hewat of Charles Town. Hugh Alison of James Island, James Latta of John s Island, John Martin of Cainhoy, William Richardson of the Waxhaws, Archibald Simpson of Stoney Creek, and John Maltby of Wilton. Maltby was chosen Moderator. The sermon preached by a young candidate who presented himself for licensure became at once the subject of a warm debate, led on the one side by Simpson and on the other by Hewat. Simpson claimed that the candidate's sermon indicated a lack of doctrinal soundness. Hewat took the opposite view and the young minister's preaching was sanctioned by a majority of the Presbytery. The next business was the matter of receiving two ordained ministers who presented credentials from other presbyteries. One of these ministers was accepted without question, but with reference to the other Simpson argued that his orthodoxy was not sufficiently attested. Hewat, however, "was most strenuous for his being admitted fully," and in the midst of the debate, questioned Simpson's right to participate in the deliberations of the presbytery on the ground that the latter had been so frequently absent in recent years from the sessions of presbytery. Hewat again carried the majority with him. The minister, who was the subject of the debate, was received into membership, and then the Presbytery "adjourned and went to dinner all together at Poinsett's [on Bay Street], one of the first public houses in town, where dinner was bespoke. We now made ten ministers in all."

Thus wrote Simpson in his Diary, adding the statement that "we were all very friendly and social at dinner, after which we went back to the meeting-house" to debate the serious issue whether the presbytery would "any longer look upon me [Simpson ] as a member of their body." A lengthy discussion of a personal nature, led chicfly by Hewat and Simpson, filled up the hours of the afternoon. Hewat declared, at last, that his principal desire was to maintain the authority of the presbytery, at the same time "passing some great compliments" upon the work of Mr. Simpson. This attitude on Hewat's part seems to have solved the difficulty, for Simpson at once declared that, while he would not submit to censure for previous absences, he would promise to attend henceforth if the brethren really desired his presence. "Upon which all parties declared their great satisfaction and none more heartily than Mr. Hewat. He stood up and made an apology for what he had said." Mr. Martin also offered apologies, asserting that his only desire had been to bring Mr. Simpson "back to the presbytery." "In short," writes Simpson, "many more compliments were paid me on this occasion than I desire or would think it fit for me to express. Mr. Maltby and Mr. Martin could not contain themselves but kept talking of it after we were gone to Mr. Hewat's house where we drank tea together." The business of the following day having been concluded, the members of the presbytery "went to Mr. Hewat's and drank tea together, with a glass of wine, and parted in great harmony and friendship."1

1. Simpson's Diary. Charleston Library.

In 1772, the two ecclesiastical debaters, Alex. Hewat and Archibald Simpson bade each other farewell on American soil. The latter sailed in that year to Scotland and was detained there throughout the War of the Revolution, although his heart was strongly enlisted in favor of the American cause. On the other hand, Alexander Hewat, pastor of the Scotch Meeting House, like his fellow-shepherd, the English rector of St. Michael's, stood for the King and considered himself as dismissed. In 1776, Hewat returned to his native land, bearing with him, however, the material for his History of South Carolina, which was published in London, in two volumes, in 1779. This historical work, written in attractive style, has formed the basis of all subsequent histories of this Commonwealth. In 1803-1805 he also published, in London, two volumes of sermons. These discourses are orthodox homilies concerning various duties and ethical relationships and deal only to a small extent with doctrinal themes.

In the summer of 1782, Alexander Hewat preached in the chapel of the School at Kelso, where he had received his early academic training. The occasion of the sermon was the Day of Thanksgiving set apart in Great Britain in honor of Admiral Rodney's victory over the French fleet in the West Indies. Who is it with Scottish blood in his veins that has ever caught a glimpse of Kelso bridge and the silver Tweed and has not found the blood to flow in a swifter course by reason of that view? Such an one can appreciate the sentiment of loyalty that filled the spirit of the Scottish minister as he stood that day in the midst of the beauty of the border country, with old Melrose not far away, and with memories of the heroism of the Covenanters borne to him by every breeze from the Tweed uplands. "If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." This was the text upon which Dr. Hewat based his theme that day on devotion to one's country; to him the land of Scotland was Judah and Kelso was Jerusalem.

Dr. Hewat did not, however, cherish any resentment toward the land wherein he had sojourned for a season. A strong affection continued to bind him to the people of this city. A few years after his return to Great Britain, they sent messages to Scotland asking for another pastor and Dr. Hewat was one of those who took pains to find a man for the place. Moreover, he afterwards remembered the people of the Scotch Meeting in a substantial manner, by leaving them a gift of money in his will. Thus his affection was returned to them, in part, in the form of the messenger Dr. George Buist who came from Edinburgh to become pastor of the Scotch Meeting in l 793.

When the War of the Revolution began, the trustees and leading members of the Scotch Meeting House were Robert Philip, Robert Brisbane, William Glen, Robert Wilson, William Ancrum, Robert Rowand, Andrew Marr, Alexander Chisolm, William Wilson and James Johnston. Near the close of the period of the Revolution, when the congregation was to a considerable extent dispersed and disorganised, the elders were Dr. Robert Wilson, David Lamb, James Gregorie, John Mitchell and James O'Hear.1 After the cessation of hostilities, Rev. James Graham served this Church as pastor. He was succeeded about 1788 by Rev. James Wilson of the Church of Scotland, but by reason of ill health the latter gave place in 1793 to Dr. Buist.

1. It has been widely asserted that nearly all of the members of the Scotch Church in Charles Town became Tories during the Revolution. The records of the Province, as far as these have been examined, do not bear out this assertion. In this connection certain facts must be remembered. ( I ) Many of the early Scots in Charles Town were not members of the Scotch Meeting House, but were affiliated with other denominations; as, for example, the Gardens, Moultries, Pringles, Rutledges, and others of Scotch descent, most of whom became Episcopalians. Some of the Loyalist Scots wore Episcopalians. (2) Many Scots came to Charles Town just at the beginning of the Revolution, and during the period just prior to that struggle. Most of these were in sympathy with Great Britain, and returned home when the war began. (3) Among the fourteen names given above as trustees and officers of the Scotch Meeting House. not one is in the list of those who applied to the British Government after the war for damages received by reason of being Lovalists. James Brisbane (not Robert) is the only member of that family mentioned among the Loyalists, and even James' son, William Brisbane, was a supporter of the American cause [S. C. Hist. Mag. XIV., 129, 131]. Robert Rowand sailed to England in 1778. (4) The known facts thus show that only a small proportion of the older Scotch settlers in Charles Town became Tories; no larger a proportion in fact than the Tories among the Older English settlers.

From 1793 until 1808, Dr. Buist was shepherd of the Scots Kirk, and also, during a part of this period, President of the College of Charleston. Tall and broadshouldered and of great dignity in manner; with an impressive utterance in the pulpit2 and of magnetic sympathy always among his fellow-men, Dr. Buist led an increasing number of men, women and children into the church. Two additions were made to the house of worship for the accommodation of the members. Moreover, near the close of Dr. Buist's life the congregation determined to erect a new building. Some progress had been made in collecting funds for this purpose when the congregation was suddenly halted in the prosecution of this enterprise by the death of their beloved leader.1

2. Two volumes of Dr. Buist's sermons were published in 1809. They are full of the evangelical spirit.

1. In 1804, the congregation of the White Meeting House began the erection of their new house of worship, which was called henceforth, from its shape, the Circular Church. On August 20, 1805, this Church "declared that the view of the Holy Bible which is taken, and the construction which is given to its contents by this Church. is the same as is taken and given in the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., ratified by the General Assembly at their session in May, 1805."--Ramsay's History of the Independent Church, pp. 41, 42.

The growing membership of the Scotch Church rendered it necessary to establish a colony. Wherefore, in 1809, the Second Presbyterian Church was organised; Dr. Andrew Flinn was ordained as pastor in 1811. In 1812, after the brief pastorale of Dr. John Buchan of Scotland, Dr. Aaron W. Leland was established as shepherd of the Scotch flock. This tall, slender man of God, possessed of much learning, of deep sympathy, of strong personal affections, speedily drew within the congregation an increasing number of those who desired to make their journey in life with the people of the Scotch Meeting. Early in 1813, therefore, the congregation began the serious task of erecting this stately edifice within which we are now assembled. Their chief leaders were the nine Elders of the Church: James Blair, John Champneys, David Haig, David Lamb, George Macauley, Thomas Ogler, Robert Rowand, Dr. Robert Wilson, and Samuel Wilson.2

2 From time to time this congregation has furnished worthy men for public service. For example, in 1814 Langdon Cheves, a member of this Scotch Church was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Washington, D. C. At a later time. Judge Mitchell King and Governor A. C. Magrath were members of this congregation.

When the house was completed, the people assembled within this building on December 29, 1814, to hear the sermon of dedication from the lips of Dr. Leland. "On this day, so much desired, so auspicious to our congregation," said Dr. Leland in concluding his address, "You have much cause of thankfulness; the complete success which has crowned your efforts in erecting this Holy Temple for yourselves, your children and your children's children, afford abundant cause of gratificationand joy." Dr. Leland remained in the work here for a number of years. Arthur Buist, son of Dr. George Buist, followed him as pastor for a brief period. In 1832 a call went out to Scotland, signed by four Elders, Mitchell King, David Haig, Thomas Ogler and Daniel Cruikshanks, asking for the services of the young John Forrest who had completed his long course of training in the University of Edinburgh. In April, 1832, the Presbytery of Edinburgh, after formal examination, ordained him and set him apart to the ministry that he might become pastor of the Scotch Church in Charles Town. In the summer of that year he came, and through long and successful labors, and through his efficiency as a preacher of the word of God he built this congregation in strength. Dr. Forrest continued here well nigh a half century, holding office as pastor from 1832 until his death in 1879. Since that day the work of the pastorate has been under the efficient care of two ministers who are still spared to us in the flesh, Dr. William T. Thompson and Dr. Alexander Sprunt. In his earlier years, Dr. Thompson was a courageous soldier in the service of the Southern Confederacy. From 1880 until 1900 he was the capable preacher and leader in this congregation. Alexander Sprunt was born in Scotland and thus continues the line of faithful preachers and trustworthy shepherds furnished to this people by the Kirk of Scotland.

These were the leaders. But who made up the army that followed the spiritual captains ? This host of workers was made up of the elders, the deacons, the godly women, the men of prayer and self-sacrifice who gave their time and their substance that the kingdom of God might be extended; that the faith of many might be strengthened; that souls might be comforted and brought into the fold of the Chief Shepherd.

When the war of the Revolution drew nigh a considerable part, as we have seen, of the Scotch congregation stood for the king because for the most part they had come over in the very recent years and their heart strings were wrapped as yet about the home-land. But under the leadership of Buistand Leland and Forrest the membership of this Church became identified with the people among whom they dwelt. They were cast in the same mould with the people of Charleston and South Carolina, holding the same sentiments and advocating the same policies. In the period of the bitter disscussion of the great issue between the two sections of our land, that concerning African slavery, we find that the Scots of Charleston, having become slave owners, in giving them religious and personal training had accepted the same view concerning that question which all of the rest of the people of the South maintained. Therefore, when the crisis of 1861 came upon the land, it found the people of this congregation united together with one heart and mind to stand for the cause of the South. They had found that although the glories of Scotland were great and the beauties of that land could never be forgotten, that South Carolina had now become home-land and country. The members of the Scotch congregation in the sixties were ready to repeat the sentiments of Dr. Hewat: "If I forget thee oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning." But Jerusalem was no longer Kelso, and Judah no longer the Tweed uplands. Jerusalem was now the City of Charleston, and the land of Judah was the land of the Southern people.

We are told that for many years prior to the outbreak of war, the pews were so arranged in this sanctuary, that a broad aisle ran through the canter of the building, with a broad space across the floor near the pulpit. On the great day in the church calendar when the people assembled together to sit at the table of the Lord, the galleries were filled with the colored members of the flock, nearly five hundred in number. The tables were arranged along the central aisle and across the church in front of the pulpit in the form of a cross. The elements were distributed to the white members first in order, as in successive groups they took their places at the tables. When this part of the solemn ceremonial was completed and the white people had taken again their seats in the body of the sanctuary, the colored people from the galleries filed into the aisles on the main floor and took their places in like manner at the same tables and were there served with the bread and the wine representing the body and blood of the same Lord who was worshipped by their masters. Thus in the spirit of love and fellowship, masters and servants sat down together at one table of the Lord, as believers in the same Redeemer. This fellowship between white and black Christians in the house of the Lord was at that time the usual practice in the churches of the South, and the particular example of it now under consideration merely reveals the fact that the Scots had become merged as one people with their fellow citizens of the South who were using their best wisdom to deal righteously with those whom God had entrusted to their keeping.