Here is the Church,
Here is the steeple.
Open the doors
And see all the people.
–Old childhood rhyme

Fraser

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

Not long ago, one of my second cousins—I’ll call him Fred—located me through this blog. Fred was new to me—a twice-removed relative of my maternal grandmother (née Fraser), but with another surname.

Another unknown South Carolina relative had handed Fred my family memoir. Copies of my book are being passed around down there in the South, from one unknown relative to another. Several new cousins have written to me. No one has complained. Yet.

When Fred read my book, he decided to send me all the Fraser material passed down to him by his great-grandmother. Fred wanted me to verify or correct the details and then prep this material to be archived, maybe by the South Carolina Historical Society.

Fred didn’t have to ask me twice. He was offering a ton of material, a treasure trove. More for the family tree!

Fred’s stash gave me the first clues for discovering those once-famous planters / slaveholders / ancestors I’ve been blogging about during the last few months—such as the English immigrant from Barbados with a land grant. Or those wealthy Irish and English rice planters whose plantation houses are still open to the public for tours in South Carolina. I have more ancestors like these, to be described in later blogs.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

But right now, I want to discuss a document I found yesterday, on one of Fred’s computer discs.

This document is a nineteen-page typed history of a typical old South Carolina church I’ll call Q Church. It was delivered as a celebration address to the membership in 1909, at the church’s 100-year anniversary.

This church was Presbyterian. They had both black (slave) and white (free) members, as did my Kirven ancestors’ Black Creek Baptist Church in Darlington. They believed strongly that the church should have full oversight of moral infractions by church members.

Background: Many antebellum Southern churches acted as moral guardians of their members’ behavior. The Black Creek Baptist Church of my Kirven ancestors sent four deacons to your home if you were charged with moral infractions like dishonest business deals or fistfights. The deacons “labored with” you and perhaps gave you another chance. If you were judged past reclamation, you were thrown out of the church. My great-great-great grandfather was expelled for drunkenness, and my great-grandfather for an unproven charge of bastardy.

Unknown artist. (c) Mariann Regan

The author of this 100-year anniversary celebration address laments the recent lapse of church “discipline.” He fondly recalls antebellum times, when “utmost care was exercised in the reception of members . . . cases of discipline besprinkle the pages of the records very freely.” He cites examples from the records he has studied:

The Session of Q. Church met . . . for the purpose of taking into consideration a charge brought against Daniel, the property of R.S., for lying. After taking the testimony of Old Friday and Bess, his wife, the property of T.U., it appeared that there is a small deviation from the truth, in a single word, by Daniel. . . . We have therefore resolved that Daniel stand suspended for six months from church privileges. . . .

But this exercise of discipline was by no means confined to the negroes. The very first case on record is that of one of the most prominent members, who had an affray with a neighbor, and while the Session acquitted him of blame in the matter, it took occasion to express the hope that in the future all members should avoid such altercations. 

Only two pages further on, we find a matron in the church indefinitely suspended for making a statement derogatory to another, and then denying that she had made such a statement. Later on we find four ladies brought before the Session charged with “a want of filial affection towards their father, a violation of the 5th commandment,” and were indefinitely suspended, and the decision announced to the congregation. . . .

As we read these records of the past we are constantly reminded of the institution of slavery, and of the great interest in the welfare of black brothers manifested by our fathers. . . .

Here are a few questions for your comments: (But comment on anything you wish.)

  • What do you suppose this document goes on to say about slavery and this church’s members who are slaves?
  • This document is full of surnames. Do you think it is more of a genealogical document or a historical document? Or is there no distinction between the two?
  • In general, what do you think of this tradition of church discipline? Do you believe it is no longer practiced, or does it linger even today?

A "manse" was a house for a full-time preacher. Photo credit Mariann Regan