Johnson had been
brought up with only a limited education, being raised by parents who cared
more about his safety than educating him. He suffered much anxiety
about the matter of preaching, and decided to leave KY and come as an adventurer
to the far-famed Natchez Country, and did so soon after he attained the
age of majority. He lost his religion on the trip, and decided not
to renew his church relations when he arrived there, or even profess to
be religious. In 1805 he moved to Spring Hill, and joined the church
again, due to the instruction of Rev. Newet Vick. "Thomas Owens and
the Baldridges put the harness forthwith on young Mr. Johnson", and led
him into the active service. He married Miss Deborah Spence Baldridge,
who in 1808, in company with John J. Robertson and Thomas Owens Jr., also
joined the church. In 1883, Mrs. Deborah Baldridge Johnson was 85,
and attending Spring Hill Church. Both Robertson and Owens became
John C. Johnson
was licensed to preach in 1812. He was riding into town to preach
in Fayette one Sunday, when his neighbor Major-General Thomas Hinds sent
his wagoner to town for some purpose. Mr. Johnson and Major Hinds
were members of the Masonic fraternity, as well as friends and neighbors.
Mr. Johnson sent Major Hinds word that he "would send an officer for him
early tomorrow morning to come in and account for this public violation
of the laws of his country". Major Hinds was not a religious man
but thought highly of Johnson. The Major was in Fayette early the
next morning, and apologized to Johnson, promising not to let his team
be unnecessarily employed on a Sabbath again. The friendship was
Mr. Johnson desired
to enter the itinerancy but limited means and a rapidly growing family
deterred him until autumn of 1844, when his children were mostly grown,
and he had "acquired a competency" for his family. He was by then,
63 years old, when he applied. In two years he was received into
full connection. On Sept. 3, 1851 he was attacked by typhoid fever,
and died on the 30th. He left numerous descendants in the area, including
a son Rev. WIlliam B. Johnson, who cared for his mother until she was 85.
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ELISHA W. BOWMAN
In the meantime,
Elisha W. Bowman is a missionary in New Orleans and Opelousas. New
Orleans had about 12000 inhabitants at this time, all classes, an amalgamation
of all races of all men; all shades of complexion, some perhaps could
not be found anywhere else on the continent. The majority were French
and Spanish, "and universally Roman Catholic or infedels". When Louisiana
was retroceded to Spain in 1762, the Spaniards were anxious to have the
rich delta on the margin of the Mississippi River settled with an agricultural
population from the Balize to Natchez, and for this purpose offered all
manner of inducements to adventures of all classes to locate on the lands
and engage in cultivation. As a general rule, these were unmarried
men, and there being but few white women near, the "decoyed the Indian
women into a state of concubinage wherever they could". "Hence the
origin of that class of Creoles in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana with
straight black hair, high foreheads, sharp noses and thin lips. Many
of these brunettes are handsomely formed and have beautiful countenances".
of Creoles, in the same territory, originated with a cross between the
Spaniard and the African negress". In order to increase agriculturists
on the coast, the Spaniards had 3000 African slaves imported into Louisiana
and sold at a low rate to the small planters on the coast. All the
available women of this large importation were reduced to a state of concubinage
by their owners, and hence that class of Creoles with wavy hair, low foreheads,
flat noses, and thick lips, with other characteristics of the African race".
found in New Orleans by Mr. Bowman were almost as inaccessible as the French,
Spaniards and Creoles, except in language. They had gone there for
the single purpose of making their fortunes and had little interest in
religion. Sundays were the appointed days of going to shows, theaters,
masquerades, dancing parties, horse races, military parades, and all sorts
of sensual pleasures. Mr. Bowman soon left the city for Opelousas.
He made his way through the overflowed region with great difficulty and
exposure, until he reached the Attakapas Country.
The author has
a copy of a letter written by Rev. Bowman to Rev. William Burke, then of
Lexington, KY dated 1-29-1806. In it, Mr. Bowman talks of his travels
from Baton Rouge, the Spanish garrison, down river two hundred miles to
New Orleans. He describes the cypress swamps. He says he found
a Rev. Chase from Baltimore, an Episcopalian already preaching to
the few Americans there. He mentions a Mr. Watson as "the gentleman
to whom I was recommended by Mr. Asbury, had already left the city early
in the fall, and gone home to Philadelphia". He says he went to the
Governor who promised him protection, and the city was at his service.
But when he came to the church to preach Sunday, he found the doors locked
and the house inaccessible, with a few drunken sailors and Frenchman about
the walk, so he preached to them in the open air. After several Sundays
like this, running out of money and unable to sell his horse for forty
dollars (his expenses were two dollars a day for him and the horse,) he
decided to go to a settlement two hundred miles northwest to preach.
He left on the 17th of Dec. 1803, traveled fifty miles upriver and crossed
a river that forces itself out of the Mississippi, and runs into the sea
in a southwest direction, down which river he traveled fifty miles, then
turned west fifteen miles through a swamp to the lake. "Here the mosquitos
liked to have eaten up me and my horse". He hired two Spaniards for
thirteen dollars and a half, to go with him across the four lakes and a
large bay with him to a small island where he saw an old Spaniard boiling
salt. He landed a little south of the mouth of the River O'Tash
where a few Frenchmen were living and a few Americans scattered along the
bay and river, who came there during the American war "but not for the
good deeds that they had done". He now had three dollars left.
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MORE ON THE TRAVELS
OF ELISHA W. BOWMAN
Elisha Bowman traveled 80 miles up the
River O'Tash to a large French Settlement, passing only a few American
homes, then a small tribe of Indians, crossed the Vermillion Ricer, which
ran in a southwestern direction, and reached Opelousas the next day.
He said he
"had a fine sea breezes here".
He came to the Catholic church and was surprised to find a pair of "race-paths"
at the door. He found a few Americans who "were swearing with almost
every breath" and he reproved them. They told him that the priest
swore as much as they did, as well as dance and play cards on Sunday night
after mass. Mr. Bowman was surprised to find that the priest " also
keeps a race-horse! -in a word, practices every alumination ". He told
them if they did not quit swearing that they and their priest would to
to hell together.
About 20 miles away he found a settlement
of Americans, who had settled there "about the time of the American War".
He said they were perishing for lack of knowledge and he had to "learn
them to sing" and how to worship. He moved on about 30 miles to a
small settlement of English people, "who were in as great a state of ignorance
as the above", but he got as many together as he could and preached to
them. At this time there was unrest with the people about the Spanish
government and the Spaniards were "fortifying themselves all around the
coast". He says 3/4 of the people, which he said were French, hoped
they would get this country, though he did not. He described the
land as level and mostly prairies, rich in cattle, an average of 1 to 3
thousand head per farmer, and you could easily carry on your back all that
you could find in their homes.
Mr. Bowman says it is now January 20,
1806, and from the quantity of rain that has fallen on the low land, there
is great flooding. He has to swim through creeks and swamps when
he travels, and some days is dripping wet from morning to night, after
swimming while holding his horse's bridle a hundred feet or more.
His horse's legs are skinned and rough to his hock joints, and Mr. Bowman
has rheumatism in his own joints. He says that he heard that there
was a considerable settlement of Americans about 80 miles away, but
the floods prevent him from reaching them.
That concludes Mr. Bowman's personal
notes at this time, but the Author, Mr. Jones, says that everywhere Mr.
Bowman traveled he had to inquire as to his whereabouts, ask for directions,
state his business, and ask permission to preach. Some welcomed him,
others treated him coldly and repulsed him. Some of the French families
were in possession of considerable property, and there were French
and Spanish peasants who lived in inferior cabins with "a mud chimney and
puncheon floor," having a stock of cattle, mustangs, and hogs, with wild
game to supply their wants. Mr. Bowman ranged the country between
Vermillion Bay and Catahoula. He managed to bring 17 members into
the church that year, despite his hardships.
This year the Methodist congregation
had an increase of 134 white and 20 colored members, a total of 283 white
and 92 colored members from the three circuits.
September 20, 1806 saw the next Conference
in Green Co., TN at Ebenezer Church. Learner Blackman attended it, with
either Mr. Pattison or Bowman, the author is not sure which. He gave
a summary, including the fact that the Griffing family of St. Albans had
removed to Prairie Jefferson, in Washita Parish in NE Louisiana, where
they needed a preacher. He also needed one in Prairies Mer Rouge,
on the Island de Seard, at Washington, and in the pine hills west of Washita
Parish. Elisha Bowman was appointed in charge. Moses Floyd
was making preparations to retire in Prairie Jefferson, also. The
Mississippi preachers were all reappointed. In addition, John Tarver
went to Claiborne with Nathan Barnes. Caleb W. Cloud went to Natchez,
William Pattison to Wilkinson, Thomas Lasley to Opelousas, and Bowman to
Washita. (Note "the author said the original name was spelled Ouachita").
On his return from the Conference, Mr.
Blackman "may have taken the Government road laid off from Natchez by way
of the Tombigbee and Tellico Rivers through the Cherokee Nation to Knoxville"
and reached home earlier than previously. Mr. Blackman occasionally
visited New Orleans, but no other arrangements were made for that territory
at this time. Rev. Jacob Young, who succeeded Blackman, noted that Blackman
had gone "to West Florida, and often visited New Orleans".
New Orleans was a hard place, as was
all of the Spanish and French settlements in Louisiana and the Floridas.
Elisha Bowman bade adieu to his fellow
laborers east of the Mississippi, and crossed the river at Natchez, making
his way through Sicily Island to the Wahita River, and ascending the trail
to the post at Washita, which was then selected as the parish site, the
name superseded by that of Monroe, which it bears at the time of this writing
(1887). The settlement was described as quite a rising city on the
east bank of the Washita, the most beautiful river in Louisiana, and the
country described as variegated-looking to Mr. Bowman in 1807. "First
came the beautiful Lake of Concordia, with its shoals of fish, lounging
alligators, and flocks of wild fowl; then dense canebrakes;
next the open swamp with watermarks on the trees twenty feet above his
head; then the bridgeless lagoons and bayous with half floating bottoms
of bottomless mud; small rivers and fordless creeks without ferries,
with here and there a beautiful prairie as well defined by the surrounding
forests as a well ordered cotton or sugar plantation at a later period".
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WITH SETTLERS - 1807
It is now 1807. "Mr. Elisha W.
Bowman has acquired some skills and knowledge of the methods of
overcoming the natural hindrances of the land in his travels."
having to pass through an overflow of moderated depth for a mile or two,
he would reverse his stirrups so as to elevate the feet nearly to a
level with the pommel of his saddle, then taking his saddlebags
across his shoulder,proceed on his journey by observing the blazes on the
trees on either hand.When coming to the smaller bayous, he would turn his
horse, "Charley," in towallow through the mud and water as best he could,
while he walked a log withsaddle and saddlebags on his shoulder.
Encountering the larger streams, he would draw a few logs to the
waters edge, fasten them together with a grape-vine, and having launched
them, would add a tier of reversed logs of sufficient height and
buoyancy to keep him out of the water (called a ChoctawLog by early settlers
as the Choctaw hunters taught them to make the raft); "then turning
his horse through with bridle carefully tucked up to prevent any entanglements
with foot of limb, he would deposit himself and equipage in the center
of his raft, and with a stick for a paddle he would soon reach theother
shore." Sometimes Charley would scamper off when he reached the shore,and
leave his master to trudge several miles through the mud with histraveling
equipage on his back.
"Why Bless the Lord, here is Brother
Bowman", exclaimed Aunt Hannah Griffing, as he rode up to her cabin
in the Prairie Jefferson. "How in the world did you get across
the Bonnida?" "Ferried myself over on a Choctaw Log of my ownconstruction,
Sister Griffing". This answer explained the whole process.
families of French peasantry lived in this area, mostly poor and unlettered,
speaking a foreign language, and being Roman Catholics by inheritance.
They were however, hospitable to strangers according to their
ability, would come to meetings and
sometimes ask a Protestant preacher to preach their funerals.
The new American settlers were of a better class than the original
settlers here, in the Red River and Attakapas portions of the territory,
according to the author. They did not mob, threaten or even rudelyinsult
preachers. They actually looked upon preachers as good and importantpeople.
Mr. Bowman traveled his long and solitary
route between settlements. Water fowl of every plumage belonging
to the climate, and fish of various sizes were seen everywhere,
as well as a "dray-load" of turtles mounted on logs, alligators
of all sizes and in great numbers often seen floating with eyes andnose
above the surface, or basking in the sun; in yet unbroken forests
and prairies were seen herds of deer feeding on the grass or gracefully
away at pleasure. Sometimes he
would meet in his path a bear, panther or wolf, catamount or smaller
vermin. They generally parted company as suddenly as they met,
with no harm done beyond a mutual fright. This amiable and gifted
young man left home and country, sustained these hardships, and
gave up any chance of wealth in his quest for lost souls.
The author allows us to follow Mr. Bowman
to a few of the neighborhoods that were established and gives us
some names and history. First, he was at Washita, where he
was treated cordially and given respect. On Bayou de Seard, not
far from the post at Washita, the family of a worthy citizen named GeorgeHook,
encouraged him to preach in their home, which was a notable stoppingplace
for the itenerants. Several of the family became Methodist, includingGeorge's
daughter Elizabeth Hook, who was Elizabeth Sterling at the time ofthe book.
She was born there in 1800, and always lived there. She was 74 whenthe
author last saw her, still a Christian.
The author says that at an earlier day,
Mr. Bowman had visited a settlement on the upper end of Island de
Seard, on or near Bayou Bartholomew and Washita River. Prominent
among the American families was Judge McLaughlin and his family.
He was not and never became a church member, but he opened his housefor
the entertainment of the first and all subsequent ministers to the time
of his death in 1826. McLauglin's wife had two sisters, Misses
Jane and NanyMorrison, who became church members along with every member
of the Judge'sfamily except himself. The author says most of the
family died young as a
result of the humid atmosphere where
they were raised.
Next, Mr. Bowman visited Prairie Mer
Rouge, where a family of Baptists, by the name of Barlow lived.
The family was very cordial and most of the younger members became
On to Prairie Jefferson again, where
the Griffing family had settled. They were ready to "make
one of Mr. Wesley's original classes of about twelve". The Griffings
were settled in a beautiful and fertile little prairie, isolated from
all other communities, with no slave population, and all within the soundof
the "meeting horn" at the home of Jeremiah Griffing.
Mr. Bowman them made a general reconnaissance
in the pine hills west of the Washita River, and southward through
Prairie Boeuff and Sicily Island, to the vicinity of Red River.
Mr. Lasley, working the Opelousas territory,
told him "with thrilling interest of a very narrow escape he made
during this year, from a solitary lodgment, without food or fire,
in the Red River Swamp. He had crossed the river from the
southern side, somewhere below Alexandria, and was making his way along
a dim path to the first settlement on the highland. He had to go
a considerable distance through an open swamp and then through a
dense canebrake. He wasbelated, night was near, and to make his prospect
more gloomy, a dark cloudwas coming up threatening him with a night of
storm and rain. By the time hereached the canebrake, the darkness
occasioned by the rising cloud and thenight was so great that he could
not find the entrance of the horse path. Whilewith great anxiety, bordering
on horror at the probability of having to lodgethat dark and stormy night
without fire or weapons of defense, in closeproximity with panthers, wolves,
and alligators, he was hastening up and downthe margin of the cane, looking
for the entrance of the path, a deer suddenlyjumped up and bounded away,
giving his horse a terrible scare. The horse
instantly wheeled and plunged head
first into the overlapping cane. By the time he had reined
in his horse and balanced himself in the saddle, and using his hands
to shield his eyes and face from the overhanging cane, he soon reached
his destination in safety". He believed God had put the deer there
to scare his horse enough to point him in the right direction.
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OF EARLY NATCHEZ, AND BUILDING THE FIRST CHURCH
There did not seem to be much going
on with the settlements east of the Mississippi, except for a decrease
of 22 colored members. Arrangements for the erection of the
first Methodist church-edifice in Natchez was underway. The Spanish
government there was not tolerant of Protestants, had beaten, imprisoned
and ordered ministers to desist in public worship. When the countrywas
given to the United States, ministers became enthusiastic to preach there.
Remember Lorenzo Dow had said in 1803,
"there were not three Christians in the town, either white or black".
In 1804 he found it impossible to get the people out to meetings
until he got their curiosity excited. Tobias Gibson had occasionally
preached there when he first landed in 1799, but he nor his successors
had made much impression on the population.
"Natchez was the center of commerce
and worldliness in the Territory, so it was also of irreligion and
every form of vice. Natchez
Under the Hill was notorious for drinking, quarreling, fighting,
gambling, and patronizing brothels of the lowest order. Within
two miles of Natchez proper was the celebrated St. Catherine race-course,
with its usual concomitants of alluring and fashionable vice, which
was a place of resort for what were called the upper classes of
society." The land was very fertile, and the agriculturists were
all astir to make fortunes. By the beginning of 1804, a number ofcitizens
had determined to build a suitable church. For this purpose, a lot
of ground, north of Main Street, on Fifth - now Union Street - 50
feet front by 160 degrees deep, was purchased of William Barland
for the sum of $150, and a Board of Trustees was settled on,
consisting of Rev. Newet Vick of Jefferson County, Dr. Phillip Gorell,
David Latimore, Reuben Gibson, William Foster, Rev. Caleb W. Cloud,
and Rev. Learner Blackman. The deed "which is still extant,
is dated March 25.1807." The brick church would cost over $3500 tobuild.
Rev. Vick was in moderate circumstances,
with a large family, and lived twentymiles from Natchez. He was the
largest donor, and gave $150 toward the
building fund. A few others gave $100, down to $2 as they were
able. At the end of the collection, such men as William Foster,
Dr. William Lattimore, Dr. Gorrell, Rueben Gibson, and many others
had to foot the bill. Mr. Foster gave$767.95 as a loan, which was
in doubt of being repaid. The church answeredall purposes until
1823 when someone owning an adjacent lot had made an
excavation for the puppies of building
a house so near the church that the bank sloughed off and caused
the wall of the church to fall. Soon another and more commodious
church was built on the same lot. Both sides in the war between thestates
used the church as a meeting place, until it was sold to the African
Methodist Episcopal Church for $9000 in 1873, "the building burned,
and one third of the debt was given to the purchasers to build a
new church in a moredesirable locality, according to the present architectural
style of church-building in cities".
In 1811 The neighboring towns of Natchez
and Washington were detached from the old Natchez circuit, and made
a separate charge, with Isaac Quinn pastor. For some reason,
the arrangement did not work, and the towns were again reunited on
the circuit. In 1815, it was tried again to separate the towns from
the circuit, with Roswell Valentine as pastor, but they were returned
to the circuit at the end of the year, and stayed with the circuit
until 1823, whenthey were again detached and put in charge of Rev. John
C. Burrus, and it wasnot until 1826 that Natchez city was made a separate
pastoral charge, withRev. Peyton S. Graves as its first pastor.
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