Project Canterbury

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 VIII.

The Convention of the Diocese met in the month of May 1850 at Elizabeth City. Bishop Ives in his address alluded to his Pastoral letter of July 1849, which had caused much agitation in the Diocese. He assured the Clergy, as a body, of his entire confidence in their affection, their charity, and firm adherence to the faith, and discipline of the Church. He alluded to his nearly twenty years' service among them. He added as follows:

"I claim no infallibility beyond honesty of purpose, and diligence of duty; and no indulgence beyond that which is extended to every man labouring under the infirmities of a human judgment, and the oft-recurring, and sometimes prostrating diseases of the human body." "I neither teach nor hold, as some have thought, Private Confession and Absolution in the Romish sense," "As regards Christ's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, I neither teach, nor hold it, in the sense of Transubstantiation." "I do not hold nor teach, that the creatures of Bread and Wine in the Holy Eucharist are to be reserved, [84/85] and carried about, lifted up, or worshipped." "I do not teach nor hold that our Church allows any address by way of Prayer, or Invocation, to the Blessed Virgin, or to any Saint or Angel; I regard the Romish doctrine of Invocation of Saints, implying meritorious mediation, as clearly derogatory to Christ, and opposed to God's Word." "Finally, I do not teach nor hold that our Branch of the Catholic Church is, from any cause, in heresy, or schism, or that she is destitute of the true sacramental system."

Towards the close of the Convention, the Bishop sent the following communication to that Body.

"Brethren of the Convention, * * * Aware that the difficulties of this Diocese, to which I have alluded in my Address, still threaten the peace of the same, and being anxious to do all in my power to restore harmony and good will, I hereby ask of you a Committee of Clergymen, and Laymen, to investigate all the circumstances connected therewith, and to report to a future Convention of this Body.

"L. Silliman Ives,
"Bishop of North Carolina."

In accordance with this request of the Bishop, a Committee of Six was appointed, to report to the next convention. In the usual Report on the State of the Church, that Committee expressed great satisfaction, with the explanation given by the Bishop, of the doctrines held, and taught by him, and looked forward with hope to the "restoration of the peace and harmony for which this Diocese was formerly distinguished."

Meanwhile in spite of many difficulties the Mission work at Valle Crucis was carried on with unceasing fidelity, Mr. Skiles becoming more prominent in the scattered mountain stations, while the Rev. Mr. Prout, and the Rev. Mr. Passmore were also engaged in the same duties. Mr. Prout had now, however, left his former home at Valle Crucis, and was living at the Upper Watauga Settlement. The disturbance in the Diocese, and the diminished number of labourers, at the different stations naturally produced some effect among the country people, though less than might have been supposed. There was still much that was encouraging in many households connected with the Church. The good people still came from their scattered mountain homes, along the forest paths, to attend the services; and they were regular in coming to the Holy Communion. And the great Church Festivals were reverently [85/86] observed; there still came together at Valle Crucis, in the rude Chapel built by the young men, or at the log house of Mr. Prout on the Upper Watauga, devout men and women from all the neighbouring stations. Christmas, and Easter, and Whitsunday, were Holy Days, full of religious joy, and gracious charities. Yes; thanks be to God, so long as the world shall last, those sacred Festivals connected with the sublime events in the life on earth of our blessed Lord must ever bring the holy joys of Faith to the hearts of the devout, even when they recur amid individual sorrows, or beneath the clouds of public disturbance, or even among trials within the bosom of the Church Herself. "The Lord reigneth be the Earth never so unquiet!"

The settlement on the Upper Watauga had become a station of especial interest.

"The house of the Widow Moody," writes Mr. Prout, "was long a sort of social centre on the Upper Watauga. Here the Missionary first learned--in 1842--that a log cabin may shelter happy people. More generous, sweeter Christian hospitality, more glad, more cheerful kindness, [86/87] are seldom met with, than this worthy family showed me when a stranger, and alone. There was a native refinement, and a balance of judgment about the character of the mother of the family. I shall not soon forget her invariable reply to the inquiries of her friends, when asking after her welfare--she was blind, with many infirmities, and many cares, and yet the answer of Christian Faith never failed: 'Thank God, no reason to complain!' There was in that far-off frontier settlement, a simplicity of manner, a generous tone, not often excelled--a graceful modesty, an unassuming dignity, very rare--but in harmony with the grand, and beautiful scenery of the region. The last house of the settlement was built at the very base of the 'Grandfather.' The clearings about these isolated cabins were so narrow as to be almost unperceived in the vast majestic wilderness of stately trees. The loneliness of the settlers however, never seemed to mar their cheerfulness. And yet I recall scenes of great distress, in times of sickness, and death. On one occasion I remember the children were all ill, at the last cabin--no doctor, no medicines, and not much [87/88] food--and all, sick and well in one room, the only room. A walk through the forest, in the night, brought the Missionary there, to render all the service in his power. Two of the children died before daybreak. During the next day, decent preparations were made, with great exertion, and in the evening the children were buried in one grave, by torchlight. It was the best we could do."

It was in this wild scattered hamlet on the Upper Watauga, where some eight or nine years earlier, he had been so kindly received when a lonely wanderer, that Mr. Prout was now living, in a log house, built partly with his own hands. The parishioners here were more numerous, than at any other station. Here the services had been frequent, and were well attended. The Missionary was anxious to build a little Chapel. And quite unexpectedly, he was encouraged in the plan by an unforeseen offering of $300, from a layman of the Church, who did not wish his name recorded, excepting as "a man in affliction." The work was immediately commenced. The site chosen was a ledge of rock, on the Western bank of [88/89] the Watauga, and only a few rods from the cabin of the Missionary. It was built of logs, very neatly hewn by the loving hands of Levi Moody, the widow's son, "a good, guileless man." This rustic Chapel was about 40 feet long, and 15 wide, very compactly built. There was a little chancel at the East end, with an oaken altar, beneath a window. There was also a narrow window in each of the side walls. The roof was steep, and showed the rafters on the inside. The seats were rude benches. Loving pains were taken to give the little Chapel a neat appearance and appropriate character, without, and within. The Missionary gave it the name of "Easter Chapel," in especial reference to the doctrine of the Resurrection, and in connection with the devotion of the mountaineers in keeping that great Festival. Bishop Ives was expected to consecrate the building, at his next Visitation.

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