A Letter from Rev. H. M. Turner
ATLANTA, GA, Dec. 20, 1865
Christian Recorder: December 30, 1865
MR. EDITOR:--Pressing engagements have long delayed my correspondence. You must have concluded that I had forsaken the Recorder.
About the 7th of November, I left home for the Department of Georgia, where I had been ordered to report for duty, under a new assignment as Chaplain U.S.A.
My first point en route to my new field of labor, was Norfolk, VA., where I remained a week, stopping at the house of Rev. John M. Brown, and receiving at the hands of his estimable lady, all that kind attention, for which she and her distinguished husband are so characteristically known. But Brother B. was at that time on a visit to New Orleans.
Rev. J. R. V. Thomas was still at his post and looked for fifty more years. Finally, leaving that place, I proceeded to Roanoke Island, N.C., per Steamer Clinton, whose Captain was clever to me personally, but unworthy the respect of the colored race, yet for some personal favors, I will not bear too hard on him this time.
Arriving, however, at Roanoke after a delay of some days, I disembarked with the intention of remaining two days there and then proceeding to Newbern, N. C., but owing to bad weather the boats failed to connect and I was detained nearly a week.
To my surprise, I found Miss Sarah A. Carr, a worthy young lady, formerly of Hollidaysburg, Pa., and Mr. Jerry Roberson, late emissary-sergeant of the 1st U.S.C.T., had married a few days before my arrival.
Miss Carr came to that regiment as a teacher last summer and remained with it till it was discharged, after which one of its brave members proposed accompanying her through life. With the exception of some literary deficiencies, she has all the man.
There is much on this Island to regret. God alone will have to reckon with some of the pretended benefactors of the colored race here, who magnify their own merits and solemnize their own privations but make lucre the chief idol of their devoted shrine.
Having disposed of my business here, I took passage on the iron steamship Jupiter for Newbern, N. C……Arriving, at length, in Newbern, however, this negro freezing vessel was forsaken, for the comfortable quarters of the Rev. Brother Hood, whose high-toned Christian demeanor and exemplary hospitality ever make his house feel as welcome as my own.
He soon searched up Rev. Brother Rue, and both together gave me a cordial welcome to their city. I was proud to find such brotherly unity existing between those two divines. Yet, each is strenuous advocates for their own branch of the Church, and both standing as professional doctors, differing only in name.
Leaving there on Saturday evening, for Goldsboro, N.C., at which place I arrived about 9 o’clock at night. Here the cars went no further. Therefore necessity compelled me to remain till Sabbath evening.
Sabbath morning was fair, warm and beautiful, and I went to the church, where the colored people worshipped. A fine looking brother was in the pulpit opening the services and finally preaching. But he was terribly wanting in all the accomplishments of a minister. He quoted scripture that I had never heard of before in all my life.
Yet he evinced some native genius, and as long as he confined himself where he was moderately interesting, but gracious when he went into history or scripture, but where little is given, but little is required.
I labored for them, however, in the afternoon and then the cars, who in return took me clink-to-clink to Raleigh, N. C., but did not, as I expected, arrive before church was out. This I desired to do, as I had learned Brother Brodie was absent; and the church there was rather disturbed. But, contrary to my expectation, the Pastor was there. And a man he is. While it is a place of heavy responsibilities, the match for them is found in Brother Brodie.
Monday night following Colonel Clap, of the Freedmen’s Bureau, and myself, addressed a large audience in the church, which was as fine a demonstration of the colored man’s capacity of appreciating intellectual treats as I ever saw in any audience.
But leaving this place, I proceeded to Charlotte, N. C., where, for the want of colored acquaintances, I stopped at one of the first white hotels in the city, and, contrary to my expectations, I was received and treated with marked respect. Here I remained a few days and addressed large audiences.
The colored people have a fine church and are very intelligent. They have all united with Zion church, and several said they thought they had joined the regular A.M.E. Church, but that they were proud to learn we were going to unite. I told them we would if timber heads in both connections did not raise the devil and prevent it.
Finally, I left here for Columbia, South Carolina, and, passing through Chester and Winsboro, I saw many old friends and acquaintances. Some recognized me instantly, while others failed to do so, owing to the change made in my features by smallpox.
I would remark, however, that while passing through the states of North and South Carolina, the white people treated me with far more respect than I had in any way anticipated.
With many, I freely discussed the subject of slavery, and they thought it not above their pride to reply, on terms of manifest friendship. A great deal of my route was by stages, through the interior of the country. During my journey, I was frequently thrown in contact with ex-rebel officers, and by way of feeling their pulse would say to them “Why I thought you folks would kill me, when you got me off this way, in the woods, but you seem to be very friendly?” “O, yes,” they would say, “”you Yankees whipped us fair, and now we are tired of fighting.” One man wanted to see my pistol. “Yes,” I said, “”you can see it, but wait until I get another one out.” So while he examined one I held another in my hand. But on my arrival at Columbia the scene of meeting my old friends and acquaintances beggars all description. As the maiden sang of Rome, after its fall, “O, Rome, Rome thou art no more what thou has been,” so I could say of Columbia, my old home. Still, for me, a thousand voices said: “Welcome, welcome back to your friends.”
But I must reserve this part of my letter for another time. I was received with the greatest respect at every place I stopped, yet I felt the welcome Columbia gave me, a sufficient remuneration for all the privations, hardships, and sufferings I had endured through the military campaign. But leaving much that would be of importance, I come to one circumstance that deserves mention. Arriving at a certain depot on the Augusta railroad, we all had to take hacks for nearly fifty miles. Having a large crowd of whites to carry, the “big bugs” could only be accommodated, consequently, the poor white people and negroes must either lie over a few days or walk. This was a sad predicament for me to be placed in. Finally, several gentlemen, seeing my distress, (for the ladies took no notice,) made room for me in one of the conveyances in short order.
By the time I had arrived at Augusta, however, I had made up my mind to resign the chaplaincy. Remaining there a few days, and finding our people greatly agitated over the action of the Georgia Conference, I immediately sent my resignation to the War Department, and will not go on duty until I hear from the authorities that be. Bishop Payne has given me an order to see after the churches here, which have been regularly taken into the A.M.E. Conference by Brother Lynch. Brother Gaines, who died a few weeks ago, had the churches in charge previous to my arrival. The Georgia Conference have sent white ministers to all the colored churches, and several of the congregations have refused to accept them. At Marietta, on last Sabbath, they voted the minister out, and he in the pulpit at the time. Colored preachers, from all quarters, are calling upon me for authority to preach. I think we will soon be able to put a veto on the presumptuous action of the Georgia Conference.
The white people in this State are bitter, cross and peevish, and many of the colored people are timid, fearful and doubtful. There is a report going the rounds of the Southern papers to the effect, that General Grant reported to the President that the Southern people were all loyal and true to the Union and that the negroes were lazy, refused to work, and were a nuisance. I do wonder whether General Grant told any such story. If he did, I deny the charge and pronounce it a base slander upon a people who are struggling for their rights, and I will lay the true facts before the country.
H M T