Editor’s note: The following was shared with the Standard Journal by local historian Gregory Gray, and due to the length of the remembrances within it has been split up into three parts for publication over the coming weeks. Thanks again to Mr. Gray for his help in celebrating 150 years of history here at the Standard Journal. Those who want to suggest a topic can email email@example.com. — KM
I remember quite well most of the persons who made the communion of perhaps two hundred people who assembled in that Baptist church every Sunday morning for worship and every fourth Saturday in every month for conference. I can see them in my mind’s eye as they came to the church in their buggies, for most of them came from the country and as they came up the front steps onto the porch, where the men and women separated, the men to sit on the left side of the church and the women of the right side.
The Church government obtaining there was a perfect democracy, for there the planters and their tenants, the and their laborers, the learned lawyers and Doctors, the slow witted country bumpkins were all subject to the same rules and suffered the same disciple for their infractions.
They were all tried and punished for non-attendance at Church on Sunday, for non-attendance at the monthly conference an repeatedly guilty were dismissed. I recall many trials for drunkenness and for playing cards and dancing and profanity. The members of the church were stern judges and voted for the expulsion of member of their own families.
I say one father tell the church of the repeated drunkenness of his son, who was then in the conference and beg the other members to forgive him and pry for him. I saw a lawyer, who was quite a wag, turned out of the church for getting drunk repeatedly. Where upon he rose and stated that he loved the church but he had found that it had “Two doors, on to go in at, the other to out at.”
I saw my own father, who rarely ever spoke n public, rise when he heard the moderator say, “We will now try the case again Brother Harris for non-attendance on Saturday conference” and beg the forgiveness of his brethren, saying that the habit of country people to come to town in large numbers on Saturday morning made it necessary for him to stay in his office at the hour the conference was held.
Everybody in the house tittered when the moderator said, “The case is not against Charles H. Harris but against Mike Harris. The sole speech of my father’s in a church at Cedar Town was the cause of much merriment at his home many years. I repeated it at the table at home verbatim, giving his very words, deprecation his remissness and promising to be a model member.
The Baptist church then in Cedartown had among its members most of the families prominent in the early history of Polk County. I recall large families most of who descended from two brothers.
George and William West, whose children lived in several parts of Cedar Valley. One of them was the wife of Major Joseph A. Blance, who fro several years the leading lawyer and the dominant politician of Polk county. He was a very brilliant and a very brave man, who had lost an arm in the Civil War and was idolized by the soldiers by the soldiers of his country Other worshipers were the family of William James, who as a member of the legislature in 1851 had Polk county made from a portion of Paulding county and was perhaps the most scholarly man in the county; the family of Marcus H. Bunn, whose home was a great social center because of his gifted noble wife and his splendid sons and daughters; the family of Jesse Wood, a much loved man, whose venerable looks adorned almost every meeting ; the family of Dr. John L. Branch, whose tall form and serious mien impressed me; the families of the Whiteheads, Whatleys, Richardsons, Boggs, Gibsons, Lamptons, Hands, Roberts and Youngs, and many others of the leading citizens.
All these came regularly to this church, which as a boy I kept clean and whose lights I kept burning for two years.
They came to worship God and to learn his commandments and to help their fellowman. Immediately on entering the door of the church all their faces became solemn, all felt themselves in the very presence of God. As I was at every service and studied every face there during these two years of the most impressionable part of my boyhood I there obtained my estimate of the power of the christian church to control the behavior of men. I have never seen a more pious group of people than these worshipers at the Baptist Church in Cedartown in 1870.
If any doubled the creed of the church I never heard of them, and when years afterwards doubts began to arise in my own mind as to certain parts of the creed I felt that I was committing a great sin, perhaps the ‘unpardonable’ sin, which was often spoken of from the pulpit of those days, when points of doctrine were stressed for more than in the present time.
I recall distinctly how the community of Cedartown was sharply divided into Baptist and Methodist factions, who would sometime almost come to blows when discussing the form of Baptist and whether the Bible taught predestination of those whose souls were to be saved or lost. These were burning questions in Cedartown in 1870. It is interesting the speculate why they are rarely mentioned now. The evolution theory had no advocates in those days.
Of those whom I met at the church every sunday and every fourth Saturday in Cedartown sixty-five years ago, whose faces I can see and whose voices I can hear in my memory, all are dead except a very few and these are enfeebled by old age. The only one of them that I know to be living whom I clearly remember coming to this church at that time is Fillmore Hogg.
He was then sixteen years old. He is now in his eight-third year and is weakened by the weight of his years. There are probably some living of whom I have not been informed. Certainly most all adults of 1870 are dead.
Time rolls his ceaseless Course.
The race of yore,
Who danced our infancy upon their knees,
And told our marveling boyhood legends’ store
Of strange ventures happened to them by land and sea,
How are they blotted from the things that be
How few all weak and withered of their force, Now wait of the edge of dark eternity,
Like stranded wrecks, the tide returning hoarse
To sweep them from our sight. Time rolls his ceaseless course.”
The above was written by James Coffee Harris, he was born in North Carolina, reared in Cedartown to which his parents moved in 1866. He taught private school in Cedartown nine years, was Superintendent of Public schools of Cedartown for three years, was principal of private schools in Marietta, Ga. Five years, was superintendent of Rome Public Schools 1592-1916, then superintendent of Ga. School for the Deaf in Cave Spring 1916.