Letter From Brother Turner
Christian Recorder: December 1, 1866
Mr. Editor:- Here I am away down in Clay County, on the banks of the famed Chattahoochee river, where Georgia, Florida and Alabama all converge nearly into the same radius,-is a locality where neither the heavy lumbering of the old-fashioned stage-coach, nor the shrill whistle of the iron horse, break the primeval stillness that reigns around. Only one solitary weekly newspaper relieves the monotony of this isolated region. With Selkirk, we say, “Oh, solitude, where are thy charms?”
I left Macon on last Tuesday morning, bound for a tour in the lower country. I stopped in the village of Americus, where I was very kindly cared for by the Rev. Robert Anderson, to whose church and congregation I repaired in the evening with very pleasurable anticipations. I found our people to be somewhat depressed and troubled on the account of a current report that a certain white gentleman (whose name I shall for the present withhold) intended to regain possession of their church lot, which he had given them many years ago. Upon consulting the gentleman in question, he frankly assured Brother Anderson and myself that he had never for a moment entertained such an unmanly idea, and quite indignant at the unjust imputation. This at once settled the difficulty, based as it was on “such stuff as dreams are made of.” On that evening I preached in Cuthbert, Georgia, some fifty miles lower down, to a very fine congregation, under the care of Brother Wm. H. Noble, a local preacher, whom I appointed to that charge from Macon. I found him engaged in teaching a flourishing school, as well as attending to the duties of the rostrum. I here met with Elder Jennings, who happened to be in this section at the times.
I again preached, to another fine audience, which seemed to have been powerfully worked upon by a sermon from Elder Jennings. After service, an invitation was given to all sinners to step from the path that leads to hell, an some thirty came forward while we were engaged in our exercise, anxious to be prayed for by the members.
While we were engaged in our exercises, the door was thrust open, and a man’s head (or rather what should have been a head, it being only a pimple not yet come to a head) popped into view like Rip Van Winkle risen from the tomb, or Aesop’s fabled ass out on a bender. He sent me word that Col. Gabriel, of the freedmen’s Bureau, had said that “it was time to stop that noise!” I became excited in a moment and sent him word that he was crazy, and that we were all free people. We then went on with the meeting, expecting to again hear from our nocturnal visitant, but were happily disappointed.
Like some shadow, or “burde” of evil omen, the ludicrous apparition had disappeared as mysteriously as it came. This Col. Gabriel is the Bureau’s agent, and I learn that he is the worst man in the State. If he treats the colored people as they say he does, the Bureau is a curse to the community. I will not vouch for the truth of this, but so rumors fly. They say that he curses the colored people, knocks them over the head for pastime and recreation,-and when the jail becomes so crowded that it will hold no more, (and he incarcerates them for nothing.) he chains them to the doors and walls, like so many Bengal tigers. This he does and more. As evidence of cruelty somewhere, I found our people generally timid, fearful and doubtful which is not the case where they are treated in a Christian manner.
Rev. S. B. Jones, of this circuit, having been appraised that would be in Cuthbert, arrived on Thursday with his horse and buggy, and soon we started for this point. Here faith was terribly tried; for I was under many apprehensions relative to taking such a long journey through the lower country. But asking God for protection, I nevertheless started. We travelled nearly all day through a section of country which was thickly wooded and full of game. We met several white travelers; but instead of assailing us, as I feared, they spoke very politely, and passed on their way.
As the darkness of night was closing around us, we arrived at Fort Gaines. The next evening, pursuant to appointment, I preached to a crowded house. The intelligence that a negro preacher and presiding elder was in town, had rather aroused the white people, as I learned, and consequently many came out, among whom was Rev. Mr. Harris, of the M. E. Church South. My effort was well received by all parties—and more I suspect could be paid to no poor mortal than was shown myself by both the white and colored residents.
A remarkable incident, and one worthy of notice, occurred here. While conversing with some white friends, they observed the square and compass which I wear upon my bosom. Not being aware of its design, they requested me to walk aside, to explain to them why I carried such emblems upon my person. But as soon as I made the object known, they seemed to consider me settled to their special aid and protection, and every comfort was instantly pledged to me. However, after making further inquiry among our people, I learned that the freedmen receive more protection and justice here than in any other part of Georgia….
Judge Turnipseed, of this county, is praised by all the colored people. The Sheriff, Mayor, and all the County officers are spoken of in the highest terms. The freedmen here will go to law as quickly with a white man as they will with their own kinsmen. And there is not a negro in the jail, nor a chain-gang in the county, nor a Bureau agent within twenty-five miles of the place,-while in some counties… the jails are crowded with colored people.
I do not believe that there is a county in the State where our people are treated so kindly. The whites here say that if you treat the negroes kindly, they will do what is right. But if you treat them meanly, they will treat you meanly.
These Bureau agents are great tyrants. They profess to do much good—but they are like the elephant which Patrick won at the raffle, when he scratched his head and said, “Bedad, now that I’ve got him, what shall I do….?”
On Sabbath morning I went eleven miles to Lowell church, where I preached twice and administered the sacrament to a very large audience. A minute description of that occasion would be too lengthy. But the idea of seeing a colored elder among them almost set the people crazy. To hear them sing the songs of Zion was too sweet a pleasure for tongues to tell. I was moved to tears, when we went to prayer, at seeing scores who could not gain entrance into the church, kneeling down outside, in every direction. The grandest exhibition of religious simplicity which my eyes ever beheld was thus presented to my view. Words cannot describe my emotions.
On Sabbath afternoon I returned to Fort Gaines, where I again preached and administered the sacrament: the church being too small to hold the people the college hall was beautifully lighted for the occasion, and most of the city folks were present. The affair was pronounced by the citizens as usually grand. Large accessions were made to the church at both places,-and upon the whole, nothing could have been more interesting. I have preached in the College twice, and will lecture there to-night on Social Economy.
I found two colored Societies here. Unfortunately, however, they are somewhat in oppositions to each other. But that will soon wear out. I also found a splendid restaurant, kept by Mr. Irvin Nix, a colored man.
A boot making establishment, conducted by Mr. Calvin Mitchell, is prospering finely, while we have several thrifty colored farmers—men who believes not in empty palaver, but regard true elevation as beaming forth from their own bright plough bares and waving acres of yellow grain!
Thus ends the sketch of my visit to Fort Gaines, unless something else turns up before I leave. This was, too, the place I so much dreaded. Here I expected to receive many insults, or be run out of the neighborhood. But to my surprise, it turns out to be the finest settlement in the State of Georgia. Before closing, I wish to say that Rev. S. B. Jones, who is in charge of this mission, has indeed shown himself to be a worthy workman, and deserve the high esteem in which he is held. With the exception of some little bow-wowing from some of the most ignorant, relative to pressing his financial claims, the people speak of him in the highest terms of commendation. All good men have their enemies—and Brother Jones is no exception to the general rule.
This letter has been hurriedly thrown together, Mr. Editor, and you must excuse all imperfections.
H. M. T.