Letter from Washington
Christian Recorder: June 21, 1862
Turner writes on how the war has affected many people in DC and shares some of the happenings in the city.
Keywords: Church, Contrabands, Schools, Preachers
Mr. Editor:--There is a very happy state of things in our churches in this city. Our promise for future success is very bright, and if the Lord will be with us, we trust to have a most glorious harvest in the ingathering of souls; souls whose existence must run counter with a never ending eternity. Quite an excitement has been in the city for several days, caused by the constant income of rebel prisoners, which draw on the street a large crowd of curious spectators. And what was equally, if not more curious, was the shaggy, paltry-looking rebel chaps brought in under the nomenclature of Confederate prisoners; for certainly a harder specimen of humanity never existed than they claimed to be the portraiture of. Some soft-headed misanthropists have puffed off a great deal of gas in order to prove that the Negro is an emanation of the orangutan; but I think if they were in Washington at the time when some of the rebel prisoners were coming in, the result of their anthropological investigation would have assigned many of them a place among the baboon species. And as for their uniforms, they are like Joseph’s coat of many colors, but the most prominent color was dirt color. One very remarkable peculiarity, however, about their uniforms, which distinguished them from any I ever saw before, was the manner in which their uniforms were fringed and flounced. Many of them were fringed and flounced from head to foot, though it was threadbare fringe and ragged flounces. In consequence of so many wounded and sick soldiers being brought to the city, the Government authorities have seized several churches, and notified others that it is probable they too will be taken as temporary hospitals. It was thought at first that the disloyalty of some of the ministers was the cause of this seizure, but since [then], others have been taken which are known to be loyal. The matter is looked at from an entire benevolent stand-point. Some of our people are apprehensive that our church may be seized. The white friends here are very much put out with General McClellan about his slow movements before Richmond. They think he is waiting for them to evacuate their capital, otherwise he will not move for the next six months.
Rev. Mr. Nichols, from Boston, late from Port Royal, is here and contemplates raising a High School among our people. He is an excellent scholar, and well adapted to the art of teaching. His intention is very cordially approved of among the aspirants for, and admirers of, literature—both white and colored. The greatest obstruction is the getting of a respectable hall or house adapted to the object. We trust, however, that he will be successful in the much needed enterprise. Quite a sad affair occurred in Georgetown last Monday. It appears that some of our people gave a picnic not very far from Georgetown, and on their return in the afternoon, some difficulty occurred between Mr. Dyer and John Wheeler, which at length resulted in the former shooting the latter. I have not been informed, however, of Mr. Wheeler’s death, though it was thought to be quite likely. How often does momentary pleasure end in lasting sorrow!
Rev. S. W. Chase*, of Baltimore, paid us a visit yesterday, and preached three times; twice to a large audience in Israel Church, and once on the Island at E. Street Mission. Everyone who heard him was exceedingly gratified, and pronounced his ability an incontestable argument of African genius and colored intellectuality.
Last Monday night the members of Israel Church met, and authorized the trustees of said church to repair the basement of their church, which has for many years been standing in a useless condition. They intend to floor, plaster, and bench it in fine order, so as to be appropriated to the use of protracted meetings, lectures, and other demonstrations, which are not unbecoming to a Christian edifice. They further resolved to repair the vestibule, enlarge the gallery, fresco the main audience room, which, when completed, will not only be a magnificent church, but hold at least twelve hundred persons; two hundred more that it now holds; while the improved basement will seat, when done, one thousand. The said church has made quite an improvement on the Sabbath School. Five weeks ago it numbered about twenty scholars, now it numbers two hundred and fifty. The entire afternoon is devoted to the Sabbath School, which consists of children and adults.
Rev. James A. Handy, pastor of Union Bethel Church, is making quite an impression in the upper part of the city. The members of Union Bethel have, though a young man in the ministry, one whom they need to be proud of, as he is not only a very eloquent man, but one of unquestionable ability.
*Note: Rev. S. W. Chase was a well-known preacher and orator in Baltimore. AME minister James Handy believed that Chase stood as the “number one orator of his day. He wrote in his Scraps of African Methodist Episcopal History,
Few men could carry an audience like he. Riding in the stage coach once, at night, the passengers were discussing the question whether the colored man could ever reach the height of the white man in literature. Mr. Chase contended they could if they had an equal chance. His argument was so eloquent that the lady passengers gave it as their opinion that Mr. Chase had the better of it. Imagine their surprise, when, at daylight, they discovered that the eloquent man was a negro.