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Alexander Gregg, First Bishop of Texas

By His Son, the Late Wilson Gregg

Edited and Extended by the Reverend Arthur Howard Noll.

Sewanee, Tennesee: The University Press, 1912.

Chapter III. The Rector of St. David's, Cheraw.

UPON the petition of the people of the neighborhood of Cheraw, a parish of the Church of England was established by an act of the South Carolina Colonial Assembly, on the 12th day of April, 1768, to which the name of St. David's was given after the Patron Saint of Wales, thus perpetuating the memory of the origin of the colonists who first settled the Cheraw region. To certain commissioners was assigned the duty of contracting for a suitable church building and arranging for the election of church officers. These officers were duly elected and a contract was made for the building of a frame church with brick foundation, on Cheraw Hill, on the southwest side of the Pedee River, to be finished and painted for £2,600. It was not fully completed and furnished until 1773. The body of that building still stands, though there have been additions at each end. It is thus the third oldest church building in the Diocese of South Carolina. As evidence of the substantial character of the eighteenth century structure, the original foundation, weather-boarding, window shutters and many of the original panes of glass, remain to the present day. The tower was [22/23] added in the nineteenth century. Many of the names of the first commissioners and church officers survive in the community, though some of the families bearing those names have drifted away from the Church of their fathers.

The church stands within its God's acre, not unlike the English churchyard in the number and character of its venerable and stately trees and its memorials of the departed of several generations. Many are the monuments of British soldiers buried there during the Revolutionary War. And the yard contains the nameless graves of Revolutionary soldiers, side by side with those of participants in the civil strife of 1861-1865. While the names of some of more peaceful avocations are inscribed upon marble or granite, their memory is lost from the minds of living men.

The Church of England in South Carolina, as in other places, was much disorganized by the Revolution. Its services were discontinued in Cheraw and for some time subsequent to the return of peace, St. David's Church was claimed by both the Methodists and the Baptists, who held their meetings in the building on alternate Sundays and sometimes came nearly to blows in their struggle for the undisputed possession thereof. Finally, however, the original deed for the property was found, and it was [23/24] discovered that it belonged to neither of the claimants but to the successors of the Church of England in this country.

In his "Recollections of the Life and Character of Mrs. Gregg," Bishop Gregg relates that in November or early in December, 1839, when he went to Cheraw to study law, he became a regular attendant at St. David's Church, and it was at services there that he saw for the second time the then future Mrs. Gregg. Her family were parishioners of St. David's, and so the parish and the church building were greatly endeared to him from his earliest associations with Cheraw. It was a great joy to him, therefore, upon his being made Deacon that "the way was opened without a word or any influence on his part or that of any of his family, for him to remain among his loved ones and minister in that dear old parish church, with which the sweetest recollections and associations of his own life and that of his wife, were connected." A vacancy occurred in the rectorship at the time of his ordination, and he was elected rector. He began forthwith a career as a country parson which was in many respects unique for that time and place.

Cheraw and its immediate vicinity, in the thirteen years of Mr. Gregg's incumbency of the rectorate of St. David's, might be considered as in a most [24/25] flourishing condition, furnishing a striking picture of life in the South before the Civil War brought about changed conditions and the post bellum period brought about an entirely new order. The town was at the head of navigation on the Great Pedee River, which was at that time the principal avenue of transportation for the region, and it was consequently a distributing point of considerable importance.

The society of the neighborhood consisted of wealthy and cultured planters and thrifty, patriotic townsmen, with scarcely any of the "middle class," and with few of the unfortunate poor; and the last named received such kindly assistance as to prevent their becoming tramps or criminals. It was a distinctly aristocratic community in which the "Episcopal" Church was perhaps regarded as the most aristocratic of the religious bodies, but as lacking in "true religion." The work of the rector of St. David's had been arranged for him from time immemorial. He might do all that was required of him without his duties conflicting in any way with the life of a scholarly recluse or that of the fox-hunting parson of the period then but just past.

And it must be remembered that Mr. Gregg had not been trained for his sacred calling in a theological seminary, where pastoral theology received due attention among the subjects of instruction. He had [25/26] pursued his studies alone, without the benefits to be derived from visiting other parishes in town or country to observe methods of parochial work, as at the present day. He had but the benefit of counsel and advice from his rector and his Bishop and from such few clergymen as he chanced to meet from time to time. He had, therefore, to devise and put into operation such methods of church work as seemed to him best adapted to the tasks he had in hand, and to those problems which presented themselves to him. He was too conscientious to become a mere pleasure-loving country parson. He resisted whatever temptation there may have been for him to adopt the life of the scholarly recluse, and withstood the natural tendency to drift into the monotonous existence of a ministerial functionary. His method of working a parish was aggressive far beyond his time and he evinced a missionary spirit which would have done credit to the present day.

For the thirteen years of his incumbency of St. David's parish he was most exacting of himself in his social and parochial work, pursuing his theological and other studies unremittingly, mapping out his daily duties, and establishing a system from which nothing turned him aside. He held two services regularly every Sunday, no matter what the weather might be. He was his own Sunday School superintendent; [26/27] and, in addition to the work this imposed upon him, he held frequent services for the negroes, and persuaded all masters who could do so, to allow their slaves to attend these services. His constant regard for the religious welfare of the negro race--always a subject of his deep interest--and his zeal in teaching them the ways of the Church bore good fruit in a large number of earnest communicants, and in a marked moral improvement in the slave population of the neighborhood. He held services during the week, especially observing the holy days and seasons, and at these services he was accustomed to assume the sexton's duties, opening the church and ringing the bell. All this was done with little or no salary, and when leaving the parish at the end of thirteen years, he advised the congregation to pay their next rector a little salary. As for himself, he said, it had made no difference as he had means of his own.

As often as possible, he visited, on week days, neighboring settlements that had no regular minister. He assiduously visited the poor and the sick. Within the wide range of his oversight, there were few needy families that did not regard him as their especial friend, no matter what might be (if any) their denominational relations. Many in affliction or seriously ill, whether within his charge or otherwise, looked to him for comfort. He never seems to have [27/28] refused a share of his modest means to anyone who applied to him. He kept a wagon and team and used them to supply several poor families regularly with wood. The story is still told in Cheraw of an old woman noted for her grumbling disposition, who complained loudly of the quality of the wood that had been furnished her by the authorities. Thereupon Mr. Gregg had it removed to his own premises and supplied her with wood out of his own store.

A journal kept by Mr. Gregg during his incumbency of St. David's shows him to have been as methodical in his parochial work as in his student days or in the practice of law. In this journal he made note of the absentees at the church services every Sunday and then made it his duty to call upon them as early in the week as possible and to ascertain if their absence were due to illness.

He usually pursued a methodical course of homely instruction in his sermons, which, while making no pretence to eloquence, he delivered with such earnestness and sincerity that his congregations were large and attentive. It is, however, still told with some amusement by the old residents of Cheraw, that Dr. Kollock, his brother-in-law, always went to sleep while the rector was preaching, but whenever a visiting clergyman preached, paid the closest attention to the sermon. On one such occasion, as they walked home [28/29] together, Mr. Gregg asked the Doctor why this was. "Well," replied Dr. Kollock, "when you preach, I feel safe. I know that whatever you say will be all right. But when these strange fellows come around, I don't know what they are going to do, so I have to keep awake and watch them."

The rector of St. David's always saw the best in everyone and appealed to that and drew it out, and this is accounted the secret of his great influence with those with whom he stood in the relation of pastor from 1846 to 1859.

David Gregg gradually became reconciled to his son's entering the ministry and became a frequent visitor at the clergyman's house, though it is alleged that he always refused to hear him preach. When the visits chanced to fall on a Sunday, the son never failed to invite his father to go to St. David's Church, but the invitation always met with a curt "No." On one occasion, however, the old gentleman replied:

"Well, Alexander, I'll go on one condition. That is, that you'll promise not to wear your night clothes."

The old gentleman died in October, 1855, fully convinced of the usefulness of his son's life, if not prepared to make his submission to the Church in whose ministry his son served.

The following published writings belong to this period of Mr. Gregg's life and show that his pen was [29/30] not idle while he was so busily engaged in parochial life, and that his taste for literary pursuits was keen: "An Essay read before the Convocation of South Carolina, in 1852, on the Relations of Master and Slave. Regulations respecting the same and Duties growing out of the Relations in the Primitive Church." "A Sermon preached before the Diocesan Convention of South Carolina in 1856 on The Scarcity of Clergymen: Causes and Remedy." "An Account of the First Meeting of the Trustees of the University of the South: The Nature and Prospect of that Great Work." (1857.)

In his busy rectorship he found opportunity to assist, in that part of the state, the temperance organizations which were at that time connected with an order accomplishing much for the cause of temperance. And for a long period he was either the presiding officer or the chaplain of the local association. The purpose of the order seems to have been both moral and literary. Mr. Gregg was often called upon to represent the association on public occasions. Some of the speeches delivered by him on such occasions and reported in the public press, show him to have been, not a prohibitionist in the sense in which that term is at present used. The conditions in those days were not such as to require an order having the single object of total abstinence in view, but rather [30/31] moderation and the cultivation of good habits and ideas.

Mr. Gregg always took a lively interest in the affairs of the town, furthered the cause of education; was a member of the "Cheraw Academic Society," and of the "St. David's Society," an ancient and aristocratic society which dominated the social life of Cheraw. He was also one of the principal founders of "The Cheraw Lyceum," an institution which still has a building and library in the town and was active until a few years ago. Several lectures were delivered by Mr. Gregg under the auspices of the Lyceum, and one of these, on "Young America," was repeated in some of the larger towns of South Carolina.

His active participation in the affairs of the Lyceum and his reputation for scholarly attainments and thoroughness in whatever he undertook led to his being urged by the Cheraw Lyceum to write the history of that portion of the State of South Carolina; a task which had been previously attempted, but only partially accomplished. In the fifties he began the work. He soon found that the valuable materials accessible to him exceeded his expectations, and at the suggestion of others besides those originally interested, he extended his researches with such diligence and thoroughness that important documents and records, and other [31/32] matter as to original inhabitants of the region and the early colonists were found, so that the volume could not be entirely finished before the removal of Mr. Gregg to Texas in 1859, and its final preparation for the press was accomplished some time subsequent to the Civil War.

Mr. Gregg was regular in his attendance upon the annual diocesan conventions, and contributed of his wisdom and good sense to the well-being of the Church in South Carolina He preached the Convention Sermon in 1856, as we have seen. And in 1857, he became connected with a work of inter-diocesan interest, namely, the University of the South, of which he subsequently became Chancellor. In July, 1856, Bishop Leonidas Polk, of Louisiana, addressed a circular letter to all the Bishops in the South, inviting their attention to the urgent need in the Southern States of a university of high order, under the direct sanction of the Christian faith, and urging that the Protestant Episcopal Church in these states, in virtue of the wealth and intelligence of her members, owed a debt to the country; that the individual dioceses, being too weak separately to establish such an institution, could by uniting their resources accomplish their purpose. He set forth a scheme for such a university upon a large scale and suggested plans for its establishment. The Bishops of [32/33] Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and the Missionary Bishop of the Southwest, joined in a further address to the members and friends of the Protestant Episcopal Church in their respective dioceses, substantially endorsing the proposal of Bishop Polk and urging consideration of the project. And the Southern dioceses, in their conventions held the following spring, each elected one clerical and two lay delegates to a meeting to be held at Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, on the 4th day of July, 1857.

The public ceremonies of the day appointed for the meeting were first of all of a patriotic nature, and after a Fourth of July celebration such as was usual at that period, the assembled bishops and clerical and lay delegates organized, and as the result of their meetings, the organization of the University of the South was accomplished. Among the committees appointed, that upon the location of the proposed university was the most important, and Mr. Gregg, who was the clerical delegate from the Diocese of South Carolina, was placed upon that committee. He was present at the meetings of the Board of Trustees (as the bishops, clerical and lay delegates, by the constitution of the University now became), held in Montgomery, Alabama, in November, 1857, and at Beersheba, [33/34] Tennessee, July 4, 1858, and August to, 1859; and with the same thoroughness which characterized everything he did, gave his attention to the work of the committee upon which he had been appointed, with the result that Sewanee, Tennessee, was selected as the site of the University. He thoroughly believed in the University, and worked hard for its establishment both before and after his consecration to the high office in which his interest in the upbuilding of the University was widened and deepened.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Quintard, Bishop of Tennessee, in an address delivered at Sewanee, in August 1893, thus sums up the parochial life of Mr. Gregg: "St. David's, Cheraw, was the first and only parish he served as a Priest. He felt that the office of a Priest was the noblest man could aspire to on earth. He loved his priestly work and he loved his flock; and their affection and sympathy was his present reward. His intercourse with his people was familiar and affectionate and he was of good report of those without the communion of the Church. The poor, the afflicted and the distressed knew him at every appeal. His preaching was always practical, earnest and spiritual. He was a firm, consistent Churchman, a man of broad sympathies, with charity for all who named the name of Christ. He was a typical parish priest, easily accessible to all, warm-hearted, [34/35] generous to the utmost limits. In his theology he trod in the steps of Andrewes, Taylor, Bull, Ken, Butler and Wilson;" and to this the author of the Memorial Sermon already quoted, adds, "with a liberality of interpretation consonant with later thought and research that none of those named ever reached."

The author of the admirable biography of Bishop Cobbs, thus wrote of those "thirteen years of pastoral labor in his native place," spent by Mr. Gregg, "in the course of which the sterling qualities of his nature were exercised and exhibited that were to fit him for higher responsibilities in an illimitably vaster field. He possessed moral qualities of a high order, steadfastness of purpose, and untiring energy; and besides a kindliness of heart, humility of mind and spirituality that reminds one forcibly of Bishop Cobbs. . . . He was a Churchman of the type of Dehon, Gadsden, and Rutledge. He was an ideal pastor; sickness, want, bereavement, troubles of every kind, found unfailing response in his sympathy, counsel and assistance, as we are told by one who knew him well in those early days, without respect of class or religious connections; and he made the poor feel that there was a place for them in the house of God. [A Saint of the Southern Church: Bishop Cobbs and His Contemporaries." By the Rev. Greenough White, A.M., B.D. 1897. See page 157.]

[36] "As a citizen he kept constantly in view the true interests of the community and led in all benevolent enterprises and in the uplifting of its mental and moral life."

His admirable qualities did not pass unnoticed by the Church in other localities and he was more than once called to other fields, notably to St. Philip's Church, Charleston, and to Trinity Church, Natchez, Mississippi; and he recognized in the latter call the voice of his warm friend, Bishop Green. But he listened to none of these and was content to spend and be spent in the Master's service in the seemingly narrow field of Cheraw, until he was made to feel that the call was that of the whole Church to a work of greater importance.

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