DAPHNE METHODIST CHURCH OLDEST ON EASTERN SHORE1
By Ed Ritter,
Mobile Press Register
(Probably written before 1945)
Daphne’s dignified Colonial style Methodist Church is the oldest church on the Eastern Shore (Mobile, Alabama) but it is more. It is the keystone to an understanding of the social history of generations of people who have lived around it.
Standing staunchly behind two ancient oak trees on a bluff over-looking Mobile Bay, the sturdy white hard pine church typifies the beauty through simplicity which characterized the taste of pioneers who worshipped (sic) in it in pre-Civil War days.
The peculiarly clear, silvery tone of its bell on Sunday mornings recalls to early settlers the Nineteenth Century custom by which the bell tolled for the dead. In their minds lingers nostalgically the sad picture of ‘Old Russell Dick,” colored sexton, mournfully tolling the bell for the newly departed member of the community.
Lined With Silver
The bell tone’s unique clear quality is said to be the result of a contribution of silver dollars that were melted and used for the bell’s lining almost a century ago when the church was built.
Other features of the church’s construction reveal interesting mores of the region and the times. There is, for instance, the slave gallery with the side entrance leading up to it. The hand sawed hard pine floorboards are of various widths, but they were skillfully laid and—by modern standards—constitute a superior floor.
It is known that the present church building was standing in the early 1850’s; some say it was built earlier. A Protestant congregation known as the Eastern Shore Mission had existed in the locality since the 1820’s. It is thought that the Rev. Lorenzo Dow, first Protestant itinerary minister to preach in Baldwin County, founded it.
According to Baldwin Historical Society records, Methodist Dow—traveling on horseback—handled 17 charges. The Eastern Shore Mission was doubtlessly one of them. Services were held in laymen’s houses. The only Baldwin church older than the Daphne church is a Baptist church in Tensaw that dates back to the evangelistic work of Rev. Dow.
Housed Community Church
The historic Daphne church building housed a Community Church congregation until 1870 when the Methodist influence in the locality came to predominate. Since then it has borne two names—each marking a phase of Methodist Church history. From 1870 to 1939 it was known as the Daphne Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1939, when the Methodists reunited and forgot their pre-Civil War differences about slavery, the church was given its present name, ‘The Daphne Methodist Church.”
Mid-nineteenth century contractor for the building of the Daphne Methodist Church was L. E. Edmondson, grandfather of Mrs. W. C. Mason, of Battles. Except for the square bell tower, the building is now essentially as Edmondson left it. The 1916 hurricane destroyed the tall spire that originally crowned the building.
Mrs. Mason recalls that, as a little girl, one of her favorite stories was the exciting tale told by her Grandmother Edmondson about the biggest “congregation” ever to occupy the church—a regiment of Union soldiers. Mrs. Edmondson, then a widow, was a leading church member and was keeper of the church keys.
In March 1865 Union troops were heading for Fort Blakely to join and reinforce Admiral Farragut in the last operation of the war—one that was not completed until after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. A regiment reached Daphne late in the evening. Several of the blue-clad soldiers rapped at Mrs. Edmondson’s door and demanded, “Are there any Rebs in here ?”
Soldiers Slept In Church
There certainly is!” Mrs. Edmondson replied curtly. “I’m a Reb from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet!”
Taken aback, the soldiers asked courteously if they and their men could sleep in the church. Mrs. Edmondson granted them the privilege on condition that nothing in the church be disturbed.
Next morning the same soldiers returned the church keys and truthfully assured Mrs. Edmondson that everything in the church was being left exactly as it had been found.
“And you can never say you haven’t had a big congregation in your church,” the soldier remarked on leaving. “Every pew and aisle was packed with sleeping soldiers.”
Mrs. Mason’s associations with the church continued through childhood and adult life. She was christened and married in it. Last Summer she heard her son, Vance, preach his first sermon in it.
Behind the church is a picturesque, corroded iron fence enclosing an ancient graveyard. Some markers are small, weathered wooden crosses; most are modest headstones bearing dates of the last century.
Present membership of the Daphne Methodist Church is 120, and the pastor is the Rev. Cullen Wilson.
1(Transcribed from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 07, No. 03, Fall Issue)
Faith and Courage: A Novel of Colonial America (Tapestry of Love) (Volume 2) In this action-packed novel depicting true events the family saga from Tapestry of Love continues with Ambrose Dixon’s family. George Willson witnesses the execution of King Charles II and is forced to leave the woman he loves to witch hunters in 17th century England as he flees to his sister, Mary, and her husband Ambrose Dixon’s home in Colonial American. Ridden with guilt over difficult decisions he made to survive, George Willson and the Dixon’s embrace the Quaker faith which further creates problems for their existence in the New World.
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