Thursday, May 21, 2009

My odyssey in Alabama

We went to Alabama this past week, mainly to attend the Universalist Convocation, but also to explore history, local geography, food, and friends. Since this is a history blog, I will talk just about southern Universalist history here - and hope (hope) to mention the rest on my other blog.

A sign off I-20 beckoned us to the Edgefield SC museum. It didnt say how far away it was, or we may or may not have gone - but we did, and the museum was fine, but the genealogy library was better. Sharon looked up files, looking up the Boones and Sundays, while I tried to find out if there were anything to suggest if the body of Allen Fuller was buried in Edgefield SC (where he died) or if it was shipped back to Trussville Alabama where he lived. I found nothing about his death -nice conversation about his friends, the Teagues, however. Sharon got her material, including a newspaper article on the murder of her ancestor and lots of material on that ancestor lawsuit against his mother. On the newspaper article, she asked me if I had read the article two paragraphs up. It seems that then (in the 1850s) Universalist minister E. H. Lake was to preach at the Edgefield courthouse. We had visited the graves of several of his children in Forence SC a few weeks earlier. I also picked up large maps from the 1820s of Newberry County, Laurens County, and Sharon, large maps of Edgefield County in the 1820s and 1850s.
There was Universalist Churches in all three counties - and the large size means I won't have to use my magnifying sheet to try to read them on my small Mills Atlas.

The next day after eating Alabama version of Eastern Carolina BBQ (not bad), we headed south to the mountains, and then down to Lineville Alabama , where Sharon's ancestor Mrs. Sunday moved in the early 1830s. Later exploration through history (including a visit to Horseshoe Bend Military Park and a book on the Federal Road) shows that western Georgia and Eastern Alabama were closed to settlers up to the late 1820s- after the removal of the Creek Indians. This opening of land, brought many settlers from the Carolinas there, including Universalists from the Coleman, Gardner, Cawthorn families. This explaining the explosion of Universalist Churches in the 1830s-1850s there. Sharon found her ancestor's daughter's grave in an Disciples of Christ (Christian) graveyard. There was an 1830s style unmarked grave in the family plot - likely - but not positively - to have been Mrs Sunday's grave.
To Birmingham: the public library had a good section on genealogy, but nothing in that section on local universalist churhes. I did find the cemetary listing of the Universalist Church in Ariston (even though the compliers of the book called it a "Primitive Baptist Universalist" Church. Have you ever noticed that Genealogists are not good church historians?
Then to Trussville, where Sharon's keen eye spotted the headstone of Tabitha Fuller, the wife and daughter of Universalist Minsters. For some reason, she is burried in what is called the First Baptist Cemetary. Rev Fuller, was an Universalist until his death a few years later (and died while on Church business in Edgefield).
the Convocation was based on Biblical and modern history (I should mention here that the sermon on Jonah had lighting and thunder at appropriate parts) - but I participated in a conversation with Rev Richard Trudeau about the book the Universalist Movement in America.
We both liked it, I especially thought it was a good explanation of Ballou's Calvinism Improved beliefs. Upon re-reading it, I was struck by some of the more possible consequence of early Universalism: radical equality and elimination of social barriers (this wasn't perfect here in the south - but progress isnt usually).
Then to Camp Hill - nice old church, building is over 100 years old. The congregation is 160 years old. From what I can tell, it's the second oldest surviving UU Church in the southeast? (oldest being Charleston SC Unitarian which is older than the AUA,). I was pleased to see old familiar names, like Coleman in the stained glass. I was surprised to see Rev CFR Shehane as a co-founder - this only a few years after his conversion from Disciples of Christ (Christian) to Universalist. I speculate on the possibility of his having preached while still a DofC at the church in Lineville... Camp Hill used to be one of the largesr churches (over 200 active members), but is now down to monthly services -- just like the old Universalist (and most other rural denominations) churches back when it was founded.
I went down to Auburn to look at old Universalist Heralds, they have both issues and their collection on microfilm. My job was to see what issues they had. it was a joy to read various articles, seeing familiar names - Rev Clayton's schedule - he was selling Universalist books, and he was even occasionally preaching at Cash's Depot - about 20 miles from my home. the shock of knowing that I knew the first name of Rev. Gardner of Mississippi who was preaching at the Church of the Restoration - he was Marmaduke Gardner, later the main spirit of the Universalist Church in Texas - and who happened to also have been lived in Edgefield County, SC. An article by Rev James Inman of Cold Mountain fame, of Rev. Mrs Billings who strengthened and expanded the work at Texas. I didnt have time to read full issues or even to skim most of them, so I just jotted down a few notes, looking for Universalists who lived near me- I do admit that I liked one of the mastheads of the old Herald "Devoted to Temperance, Moderation, and Reasonable Religion"

You know, to do these things, to explore this, to have this much fun with this; just shows how deeply blessed I am. It also shows how important these people and their history is, because they can still touch me in such a wonderful moving way.

(corrected 1.0)

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