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William West Skiles

A Sketch of Missionary Life at Valle Crucis in Western North Carolina 1842-1862

Edited by Susan Fenimore Cooper

New York: James Pott & Co., 1890.

Chapter III.

The necessary studies having been completed Mr. Skiles declared himself ready for examination; and all the requirements of the Church having been fulfilled, the time for the ordination was appointed. On the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, August 1, 1847, the solemn service took place in the Chapel at Valle Crucis--the brick basement Chapel on the hill-side. [The school-house, with its brick basement Chapel, was accidentally burnt down a year or two afterward, leaving behind, as its only memorial, the bare transverse cut in the hill-side.]

Mr. Jarvis Buxton and Mr. William West Skiles (the latter under the Canon of 1844) were then ordained Deacons, by Bishop Ives. The Collect for that Sunday was especially appropriate:

"Grant to us, Lord, we beseech Thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we who cannot do anything that is good without Thee, may by Thee be enabled to live according to Thy will, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

[35] And the Collect at the close of the ordination service was also touchingly fulfilled by the after life of William Skiles:

"Almighty God, giver of all good things, who of Thy great goodness has vouchsafed to accept and take this Thy servant unto the Office of a Deacon in Thy Church, make him, we beseech Thee, O Lord, to be modest, humble, and constant in his ministrations--continuing ever stable and strong in Thy Son Christ."

A holy modesty, humility, and a singular constancy under severe trials, characterized the entire ministry of this servant of God.

From the day of his ordination William Skiles entered quietly and simply upon his religious duties as a Deacon, without giving up, however, the stewardship of the temporal affairs of Valle Crucis. He occasionally read the Lessons or the Daily Prayers in the Chapel, and he also now began Mission work at some of the outlying stations, reading prayers, catechizing, and occasionally preaching. It was about this time also that he gave especial attention to medical reading, with the view of following the example of Mr. Gries, by being useful to the scattered households in the [35/36] mountains in charitable services of this kind. Mr. Skiles sought some medical instruction from his brother student, and borrowed his books. Some instruction of this kind was absolutely required, as the kind-hearted steward at Valle Crucis had already frequently been called upon by the country people for medicines and advice and assistance in nursing. A supply of medicines was kept at the office for the use of the family, and the mountaineers frequently came to ask for the proper remedies in different diseases. Mr. Gries was ordained Deacon at Hillsborough in the course of the autumn, and left the valley for another field of labour. After he had gone Mr. Skiles was called upon as his medical substitute, and soon had a great deal to do in this way. He sent for books relating to the common diseases of that region and studied them carefully. Toward the autumn of 1847 the Rev. Mr. Buxton, the newly ordained Deacon, left Valle Crucis.

Happily Mr. Prout still remained as Chaplain. A new house was built for him. The different buildings were scattered about the grounds among trees and groves, within [36/37] convenient distances of each other, but Bishop Ives was not considered happy in his architectural plans; in several of these buildings the foundations were of burnt bricks, and the superstructure of adobes, which it was intended eventually to cover with stucco. The adobes used in these buildings were made in the valley, of clay and straw, as usual, and were considered to be of good quality. But they soon began to crumble away, and in the course of the summer they were attacked by an unforeseen enemy; the humble-bees took possession of them, boring into the fresh clay to such an extent that the walls in many places looked like honeycombs, and were so much weakened that they gave way in places under the weight above them. The young students declared their belief that there could have been no humble-bees in Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs, or that they were not so fond of working in Egyptian clay as in that of North Carolina. The decay of these buildings was very rapid. And yet they were built at very great expense. It was observed that Bishop Ives took especial pleasure in making contracts, and also that he [37/38] generally had the worst of a bargain. The cost in most cases far exceeded the estimates. And in his purchase of choice stock, which he had brought from Pennsylvania at great expense, he was also unsuccessful, so far as the results appeared. The raising of fine stock was intended to become a means of support to the Mission. But nothing came of the plan.

These cattle were of course under the care of Mr. Skiles, as steward, and very faithfully did he look after them. He was always, indeed, a faithful shepherd in the highest sense of the word, very tender-hearted with all living creatures entrusted to his care, watchful to supply their wants, and kindly in his treatment of them. His thoughtful care and kindliness for the horses, cattle, and sheep was often remarked at the Mission. It was, no doubt, at first the result of his kindly nature, but it would seem to have gradually assumed the character of religious principle as his standard became higher. He considered it a Christian duty, never to be neglected with impunity. It is ever the happy result of true Christian faith to develop all that is good in the natural character.

[39] The Mission work was gradually increasing by services held at outlying stations, and by Sunday-schools and day-schools under the teaching of the young students of divinity. The theological students were allowed two hours for study, unless there was a pressure of farm work. They were required to teach in the boys' school and also to work on the farm for two hours daily. The number of services in the Chapel varied at different periods; they were never less than three, and at times four; at sunrise, at noon, and the regular Morning and Evening Prayers. The older students were allowed to build themselves little cabins in the nearer groves, where they studied and slept--a pleasant arrangement which they much enjoyed.

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