During the 1930s of the Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people around the United States, so their experiences and life history could be recorded The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is a unedited transcribed story from Monroe County, Alabama by Iris Henderson of Perdue Hill, Alabama. after an interview with old people who attended Camp Meetings.
Perdue Hill, Monroe County, Alabama
The camp meeting, a religious institution of the South, we are indebted to the Methodist denomination. History of these camp meetings would give the honor to Lorenzo Dow of being the originator. He used this as a means of reaching the people in the early nineteenth century. It was so successful; that the Methodist adopted the method of collecting the people for a religious revival in the new and growing states of America.
Lorenzo Dow (Library of Congress)
Nothing else could have produced that feeling
The camp meetings of long ago were unique in many respects. Though religious in purpose, it had an inviting side; the out door camp, freedom from house hold cares and the abandon of a week or ten days spent in the woods so close to nature. Its lack of restraint or conventionality or anything formal, such as pertained to church worship in towns, gave a spice and tang that nothing else could have produced. People felt free and easy, a spirit of congenial oneness in the worship without having to resort to style or stilted propriety.
There was no complaint of length of sermon. The preacher could preach for hours, and usually did, before turning the service over to the visiting brothers, only as they took part in the prayer meeting. The good brothers and sisters could get happy and shout without restraint, or limit of time.
The fresh air, tented grounds, social contact and freedom to worship, were the chief attractions.
Certain points throughout the South became famous as campgrounds and remained so for fifty years or more. That the camp meeting was an occasion of vast good to the many attending, no one will deny.
There was a zest and novelty of living apart, away from worries of the world in the sylvan coolness of the great out of doors, with friends bent on the same errand, to worship God.
They prepared weeks in advance
The approach of the season spurred the farmers to “lay by” early.
The women collected chickens, eggs and turkeys; and many a porker found its way by the bake oven to the camp meeting. Great quarters of beef and mutton, and kid. Several farmers going together and killing a large beef and dividing it.
A level tract of land with a slightly reeling back ground, was selected for the sight, and as near a good spring of water or near a brook side, and in the most populous community. A region of abundant forage for the horses and oxen, the popular means of travel at that time. The good house wives carried their cows so as to have plenty of fresh butter and cream.
Some built log houses for the event
Some pitched tents others built log houses and kept them from year after year for the purpose, and made them into apartments by means of curtains. There were shelters for the stock and to use for the wagons in case of rain. The tents and houses were usually built in a square or half circle and fenced so as to keep out all stray dogs and pigs who might wander from home fences while the family were away.
These shelters with the family cook stove, destined to do duty for the duration of the meeting. Disorder was not tolerated. There were no rigid rules, just courtesy and common sense, one to the other neighbor. The camp meetingw were held at stated seasons and looked forward to with delight by both old and young. Some one has said, “akin to that of the Isrealites in their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”
Camp grounds were prepared
For at least a week in advance some were active in getting ready the grounds, others storing supplys and arranging for comfort in the tents and cottages. The tents had pine straw about four or five inches deep on the ground and this acted like a nice carpet to those occupying the tents.
The chief building on the ground was the tabernacle. This was curbed about three feet up on three sides and on the fourth all the way to the roof. It was on this side that the preachers stand was made and the choir sat here also.
Of course, the entire congregation took part in the singing, the choir pitching the tune. The brothers in the vast congregation were daily called upon to lead in prayer.
Sunrise was the start of the service
The service begun at sunrise with prayer and singing. The use of a farm bell or horn to call the people to prayer was a delightful custom those days, and an hour in the early morning devoted to prayer and thanksgiving to God fitted one for the day. There were four services daily, and no limit to the length of time, often after midnight services were still in progress.
In the center of the ground there was built a stand four or five feet across and on this was piled on sand about a foot thick and a fire of pine knots built on this, the light from these pine knots illuminated the grounds and forests near by, creating a beautiful scene.
Courtships took place and friendships made
These occasions were gala ones with the young men and girls. They could be seen going out walking in the afternoon or for buggy rides, and many were the romances hatched up on the camp grounds, culminating in a wedding in the Spring. The old time black mammy was always in evidence, a coil of bandana about her head, and wearing a snowy apron, while “uncle Amos” was in attendance on the men and boys.
Friendships were made, old ones more closely cemented, ideas exchanged, both mentally and spiritually, delightful intercourse enjoyed as the neighbors gathered around their hospitable boards and exhanged courtesys with the next door neighbor, when probably they lived miles apart when back home.
The old camp meetings blended most beautifully with that which was spiritual in the wide region where people seldom could get together on Sunday to attend a service.
The camp meeting in the old days, long gone, played their part, and in its discontinuance is felt a gap which nothing can fill.
Here’s to those who pitched their tents in the open, and met the sun rise and midnight stars with song and thanksgiving to the God of the open air!
ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Statehood: Lost & Forgotten Stories presents the times and conditions Alabama settlers faced in lost & forgotten stories which include:
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- Tuscaloosa Had Three Other Names
- Chandelier Falls & Capitol Burns
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