Days Gone By - stories from the past

Large crowds once gathered at camp meetings in early Alabama

THE CAMP MEETING

by

By HON. E. A. POWELL

(from FIFTY-FIVE YEARS IN WEST ALABAMA printed in the


Tuscaloosa Gazette August 12, 1886)

The leading instrumentality in building up the Methodist Church, and as for that matter assisting all other denominations, was the Camp Meetings.

At these meetings large crowds would gather, the preaching would generally be plain, pointed and powerful, and, the effects produced would cause the beholder to almost think that he was witnessing the reenactment of the scenes of the day of Penteicost. (sic)

Transferred from the saloon to the Pulpit

Could almost hear the cry of the startled multitude; “Men and brethern (sic) what shall we do’ and then the answer coming as if from one of the sons of thunder, “repent.” At these meetings would occur many things which some people would call extravagant, still looking back now and following the subsequent life of great numbers of the subjects of these exciting occasions. When I can remember that I have seen the saloon keeper of long years standing, transferred from the saloon to the Pulpit; the unfortunate inebriate taken out of the mire of the slough and made a sober man for life.

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS – Settlement: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 2)

 

The man whose habit of profanity had become so closely interwoven with his every day life that people regarded it as a part of his nature, at once and forever break off from the habit. Yes: when I can go back in thought and remember all these and many, very many more, of similar character, all the results of these if you please extravagant meetings. I am almost ready to say would to God that these days of religious excitement or if you prefer it extravagance, would return.

I can see old father McCraw, Murry, Mathew Davis

Speaking of camp meetings, I remember one place deserving particular notice—”Old Bethlehem.” Oh! what are the memories clustering around thy sacred precincts; how many hundreds have I known to go there in the ‘gaul (sic) of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity’—return rejoicing in hope, and who have long since left the walks of men, but leaving behind them a bright evidence that all was well, blessing God that they ever attended a camp meeting at that place.

And then, too, I remember so many of the old, and elderly men of that day under whose auspices the meetings were held. In imagination I can see old father McCraw, James Murry, Mathew Davis, and scores of others giving their time and influence to the success of the meeting, and all for the good of others. The preachers—and where are they? There was Kennon, a Hearn, a Caloway, a Levert, a Weir, a Shanks, and a Murrah who filled the office of Presiding Elder, all of whom have long since gone to their reward except Murrah, he is still in the field, blowing the trumpet, though not in the effective work.

Many circuit riders worth mentioning

Then there were many of the Circuit riders who were menworthy of notice, Austin Gore, a man of fine preaching talent, pleasant in address, a sweet singer, and above, and better than all, a man of deep piety. His influence was great, he labored zealously and faithfully for a few years, and was called to his reward. S. B. Sawyer, who, that ever listened to the sweet, persuasive words, that fell from his lips, can forget the influence he exercised. He, too, after filling many appointments, finished his work, falling at his post.

methodist_circuit_rider

William B. Neal, was a man of more than average power in the pulpit, whose deportment was such as to command the respect of all. Well do I remember on one occasion when he was called back to the old camp ground (at camp meeting) to preach the funeral of James Murry—seeing him stand up in the stand, and sing a then popular hymn, commencing—”In evil long I took delight.” He sang it alone, no one joined him, it seemed that the congregation regarded the occasion as being too solemn for any other; the effect on the congregation was simply powerful. He still lives and is an effective worker in the Alabama Conference. William G. Flemming was one of the giants of those days.

Twenty-seven or Twenty-eight camp meetings held at Old Bethlehem

As a preacher the equal of almost any, but a few years ended his course, and he was called home. Many other preachers on that work might be named, but ‘space’ says “thus far shalt thou go and no farther.” But who that lived in those times, if he or she should happen to read this—would consider thenarrative incomplete without a reference to one, whose faith, zeal and energy was only commensurate with his deep toned piety. Who that ever witnessed one of his camp, or protracted meetings, will or can forget his never tiring energy, his plain, practical, and yet forcible sermons and exhertations, (sic) his sweet and melodious notes in song! his prayers and then the faith he exercised in the results! forty-nine years, have utterly failed to efface these scenes from memory.

What, forget the scenes at old Bethlehem, October 1838. No! they are not to be forgotten. George Scheaffer lingered in the camp; beloved of all who knew him, until last January when the master said “it is enough, come up higher.” And no doubt thousands will rejoice in Heaven that they ever knew him. I think there was held at that place twenty-seven or twenty-eight camp meetings.

At first the meeting was not encouraging

But the days of its glory have departed, no sign of its original splendor is to be seen. One or two old shade trees remain and thus the tale is told. But before leaving the old ground, I must recur to one other camp meeting occasion, 1833; Rev. E. V. Levert was conducting a meeting, at first the prospect did not seem encouraging, (as I then understood not being at it.) But on Sunday night a deep interest sprung up, which grew in intensity until the whole country for miles around was so leavened by its influence, that for several days the topic of conversation every where was the meetings, and if you met a neighbor in the road, the first inquiry was the news from the meetings.Camp meetings by Hon. Powell

Fifty-three years have passed: nearly all who participated in the results of that meeting have gone to the far off land, but here and there I meet with one who waits for the word “come home.”

Presbyterians also had a camp ground

The Cumberland Presbyterians also had a church and camp ground in the county. They were a good people, many of them would tent at the Methodist meeting, and many of the Methodists at theirs, so that each meeting would be well supported.

Among their preachers were several that ranked deservedly high. There was Shook, Stevenson, Wilson, Oden, and others. They preached and labored faithfully; many of them sang almost seraphically. Of the old side Presbyterians I know but little, they had no church organizations in the country. I only knew a few of their members, who were very excellent people.

Since that day the Campbellite, or Christian church has grown to considerable proportions and to day they have several churches, and quite a large membership. They are generally a very good people, their preachers are rather fond of debate, and proselyting. Some of them would transpose the declaration of Paul where he thanked God that he was sent not to Baptize, but to preach the Gospel. At this day the Methodists and Missionary Baptist are the leading denominations in point of numbers. But I must leave the religious aspect of the narrative and return to other matters.

See historical books by Donna R. Causey

 

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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17 comments

  1. Evelyn McBride

    To All Of The Ellis, Harkness and Powell family, Ezekiel was our ancestors brother.

  2. My Mom used to talk about Camp Meetings.

  3. Becky Davis Gibson

    Just like in Fried Green Tomatoes

  4. Marlon Long

    My grandparents(Long-Robinson) had one in Choctaw County-Gilbertown, Al. The old Tabernacle had a tin top with open sides & ends, with saw dust chips for the floor, wooden see thru benches, a wooden water barrel in the corner with a tin scoop that everyone used for drinking the well water they would fill up in it down the hill. Bring a coat for cooler weather and a hand paper funeral fan for hotter nights… “those were the days”

  5. Steven Shotts

    This is my heritage. Thank God. My ancestors’ prayers are still being answered.

  6. Beverly Ann Smith

    We attended camp meetings in the ’50-60’s in Morven Georgia.

  7. Susan Collier

    My maternal grandmother, and my Mother, told me of camp meetings and ‘brush arbour revivals’ where family’s would come from miles and miles, many walking, to finally arrive. They would throw together limbs, or use exising trees as supports then put brush on top to protect from the sun, and at night from the dew. They lived in Butler County, during those years. Though there were a few different churches scattered around, the preacher could not afford to just preach each Sunday at the same one. So he would go to all the churches in a sort of rotation. One of the preachers was named Infinger, or Enfinger.

  8. […] camp meetings of long ago were unique in many respects. Though religious in purpose, it had an inviting side; the […]

  9. Christianna Epps Wheeler

    My Granny and Pop used to drag me down to the Holiness Camp Ground during camp meeting in Piedmont , AL at Possum Trot the community where the camp ground was.. It was hot as the hell the preacher was preaching about for those who did not walk down to the altar and profess their sins, people shouting and running around sawdust going everywhere my Granny fanning me with a funeral home fan. No one wore shorts or hoseless legs like you see now with dress on. We had dresses on the ladies had hose on while I was in socks and Mary Janes with my dress. I was always down on the bench with my head in my Granny’s lap while she rubbed my ears and I guess I’d pass out from the heat and ear rub instead of the spirit. Always in August.. EVERY NIGHT for a week. I passed it a few weeks ago and now it is an air condition building. I doubt there is sawdust in there. Maybe they were running to get a breeze. I remember it like it was yesterday instead of the 50’s and 60’s

  10. Marie Wehunt Frazier

    Sad we don’t do this anymore.

  11. Sandra Day

    My uncle used to have tent revivals on his property, similar to camp meetings. The adults were at the services causing the trees to shake with the preaching, shouting and singing. All the kids (under the age of 12) were at our house catching lightning bugs, eating snacks my grandmother laid out for us and playing games. Loved those simple times and wish I could recapture some of them now.

  12. Billie Stovers

    I have been to many tent revivals… and dinner on the ground. Such wonderful times

  13. Kitty Tilley

    Still do. Palmetto, AL

  14. Charles Moore

    The Second Great Awakening.

  15. Charles Moore

    In many family trees we find people in the mid-1800s named “Lorenzo” with middle name “Dow”. They were named for the greatest of all circuit riders, Lorenzo Dow, who was said to have preached to more people than anyone else in the early 1800s at outdoor revivals and one of the best know people of his time.

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