Sunday, February 3, 2008

The First Methodist Society

Some Events and Persons Connected With
The First Methodist Episcopal Church
of East Liverpool, Ohio.
by Christian Metsch & C. R. Boyce

Not many generations ago, where you now sit, circled with all the exalts and embellishes civilized life, the rank thistle nodded in the wind and the wild fox dug his hole unscared.

After a hundred years of silent preparation a bud appears upon the century plant and then a flower - the purpose of its life unfolds. So God reveals His ways. We often think that we have planned our lives, but, after all, if we've been true, we simply walked in paths where God directed us. His purposes, but others, looking back from the elevation of the years, will discover some good reason why we lived.

The truth of this stands out quite clear as we study the early history of our town and note its progress step by step. It was in 1772 that Thomas Fawcett and his bride left old Ireland to seek their fortunes across the sea. Coming direct to Washington County, Pa., they established a pioneer home and until 1798 lived quite uneventful lives. At that time they became interested in the cheap lands of the Northwest Territory, recently opened by the government. For $3651.00 they purchased a tract of almost 1100 acres, and with their family of eight children immediately started for their new possessions. Most of that journey was made through forests then unbroken save by the trail of some Indian band, or along winding paths where herds of deer came to the water's edge to drink.

Near the shore line of the ohio River, they built their cabin in that green wilderness, not even dreaming, perhaps, that it would one day mark the site where men would congregate and build a town; but one by one the other settlers came and built their cabins there until, in honor of its founder, they named the village Fawcettstown and in the later years rechristened it East Liverpool. In 1823 there were only six of seven families in the settlement and Second Street was but a crooked bridle path along the river shore. An old grist mill - the first in Columbiana County - stood at the mouth of Carpenter's Run and represented the chief business interest of the village.

On the hillside near the present location of the Central School Building, stood a little log school house, and it is to this we turn with greatest interest for it has to do with the story which is to follow. It was a building of most primitive design. The crevices between the unhewn logs were plastered up with clay, and at the west and south openings were left for light and over these was tightly drawn dark, heavy paper, soaked in oil to make it more transparent. Within, the floor was rough, displaying all about the axe strokes of some early pioneer; the seats were simply benches without backs and the desks, a single board around the wall supported by pins driven in the logs.

This rude building was not only the place where the stern schoolmaster held sway, but was as well the public building of the town and was open for such religious meetings as any denomination might wish to hold. Prior to this time it had been customary to hold religious services in different homes in the community and these meetings were attended by many who came for miles to hear the soul-stirring sermons of the early Methodist circuit riders. While Thomas Fawcett and his family were Quakers, their home was freely opened for those public meetings, and it is said on good authority that the first sermon ever preached in East Liverpool was in their home from the text, "And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the tree: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."

Among the Methodist circuit riders who occasionally stopped at the village, was teh Rev. George Brown, of Wheeling, and on one of these visits in 1827, at the home of Claiborne Simms, Sr., the first Methodist class was organized. The names of the members of that class during the first few years were Jesse Johnson and wife; James and William Warrick and their wives; the Fawcett sisters; Claiborne and Basil Simms and their wives; Mrs. Robert Fawcett; Simeon Johnson and wife; Mrs. nancy Anderson; William G. Smith and wife; Mother Abagail Smith; Samuel Lyon and wife; John Lyon; Able Coffin and wife; Benjamin Davidson and wife, and also other members of the Stone, Johnson and Stevens families. After they had organized, they immediately took advantage of the privilege of using the old school house and opened a Sunday school with Jesse Johnson as superintendent.

Perhaps we cannot get a better idea of the customs of those days than to attend the services in that old log school house on a certain Sunday in May, 1828. The hillside was covered with forest trees, now green and beautiful in their springtime splendor and the flowers were blooming everywhere, and the children coming over the paths through the woods had gathered bunches of them along the way. Barefooted, freckled faced, dressed in homespuns, but with little hearts as innocent and pure as the air of that spring morning, the children gathered in that old school house at 9 o'clock, and when the leader of the music struck teh tuning fork they all joined in a hymn of praise. Then the superintendent offered prayer with all the earnestness of a man whose life was sincere. The teachers were at liberty to take up any portion of the Bible for their days lesson, and not a little time was spent in the study of the catechism of the faith and doctrines of our fathers. The chief aim of the teachers of the smaller classes was to encourage the memorizing of scripture, and a record was kept of the number of verses committed and spoken by each member of the class. There was more or less rivalry in this matter of learning verses, and there were two girls in the school - Mary Ellen and Ann Eliza Johnson - who were in after years able to repeat the entire New Testament.

Before the Sunday school had adjourned, the preacher arrived and a number of the men who had ridden quite a distance on horseback were tying their horses in the woods and were then stopping to greet each other for this was one of the few occasions when they met.

When they gathered in the school house for the service, the children were seated on the low benches in the center of the room and forming a wider circle the older people sat upon the highter benches and leaned against the writing desk for a support. For a few moments there was perfect quietness within and only the call of a wild bird to its mate and the neighing of a restless horse among those tied in the forest broke the stillness of that Sabbath morn. The preacher arose with solemnity and read two lines of an old humn. All joined in singing them and then two more lines were read, and thus alternately he read and the little company sang.

Praying in those days meant asking God for the things that were needed and it was done in such an earnest, simple manner as to indicate that an answer was expected. After such a prayer had been offered, the text was announced, and then, taking up the divisions of his subject in firstly, secondly, thirdly and fourthly for almost one hour, the preacher thundered forth the requirements of God's law and dwelt no less upong the dangers of its neglect.

Men and women were visibly impressed with the duty so clearly set forth and the children listened, half in awe and half in admiration, at the serious eloquence of the preacher. It was either at this service or one held soon afterwards that Adam Poe, a son of the famous Indian fighter, became deeply convicted of his sins, and while rowing across the Little Beaver on his way home he was wonderfully converted, or, as he expressed it in after years when he had become a Methodist preacher, "the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in his wings."

When the preacher had finished his sermon that day he announced that on the second Sunday followign another circuit rider would preach in the school house at early candle light. No other hour for the evening service was ever set than "early candle light," but that was as clear a call as the ringing of a bell.

The meeting adjourned and each departed, those living nearby sharing in the breaking of 'bread with their brethern who lived miles away and with the preacher who must hurry on to preach elsewhere that afternoon.

Even those who were children at that service have one by one been gathered in that silent spot - the city of the dead. The little bare feet that would not touch the floor have walked all through the paths of life and are now still. The little sunburned faces have long since faded into the marble white of death, but the lessons that were learned have brought to us the civilization of our time and the memories of those pioneers whould be to us as sacred as the worship of that day.

**The book "Memories" was contributed to Genealogy Pit Stop by Cookie Sisco, with the desire that it be shared with all of you.