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 IX.

THE Convention of '51 was held at Fayetteville. Mr. Skiles was a member, and took his seat as Missionary for Watauga. Mr. Passmore, Missionary at Valle Crucis, reported Baptisms 17; Confirmations 8; Communicants 23. Mr. Prout, Missionary at John's River, and parts adjacent reported Baptisms 13; Confirmed 6; Communicants added 3.

The Committee of Inquiry, asked for by the Bishop, was increased in number to twelve members, with additional powers for investigation, and conference with the Bishop.

The Committee reported a conference with the Bishop, in which he alluded to "a high state of nervous excitement, arising either from bodily disease or a constitutional infirmity." He declared that he had been "insensibly led into the adoption of opinions on matters of doctrine, and to a public teaching of them, of the impropriety of which he was [90/91] now fully satisfied, and upon a review of those opinions wonders that he should ever have entertained them. That this change in his views had been brought about in part, by a return to a more healthy condition of body and mind." He then mentioned particularly his having tolerated the Romish notion of the Invocation of Saints, which he "now retracts, and would denounce as strongly as any one." He mentions "extravagances of opinions, or expressions" on Auricular Confession and Absolution, which he now rejects. He declared he was "now satisfied beyond a doubt our Church was not in a state of schism, on which point, he had once entertained doubts." That he had always "abhorred the doctrine of Tran-substantiation." That "the spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist was the doctrine our Church teaches"--not Christ's bodily presence in the Eucharist.

Such, essentially, was the paper signed by Bishop Ives. With regard to the Order of the Holy Cross he declared that, "No such order is now in existence." "That from his experience of the result upon the minds of the [91/92] young men, he is now satisfied that no vows besides those expressly required by our Ritual ought to be taken in our Church; and furthermore that any vows beyond these are contrary to the spirit of our Church, and are a temptation and a snare to those who take them. And that Valle Crucis is now only a Missionary Station."

Dr. Page, the Bishop's physician, had addressed a letter to the Committee giving a decided medical opinion, that the Bishop's mind had been affected to a certain extent by the state of his health. Other testimony from trustworthy authority declared that for several years the Bishop had been in a state of mental excitement which had impaired his memory, and had rendered quite uncertain the determination of his judgment. An oral statement, quite in detail, was also made by Mr. Collins, a warm personal friend of the Bishop, showing that his mind, had been for several years past, after an attack of fever, singularly affected, so as to impair his judgment, and enfeeble his memory, while other faculties had been unduly excited. "A state of mind," observed [92/93] the Committee, "well calculated to mislead its subject, and at the same time expose him to gross misconception on the part of others."

The Bishop continued to take his usual part in the religious services of the Convention, and a strong feeling of tenderness, and sympathy for his peculiar situation was felt by many. On the last day, June 2nd, towards the close of the proceedings, and aware of the facts reported by the Committee, Mr. Badger rose and asked leave to withdraw a Resolution offered by him early in the Session, asking for the resignation of the Bishop. Leave was unanimously granted.

The Convention of 1852 met in May at Fayetteville. Mr. Skiles was again one of the delegates.

In his Address the Bishop expressed great thankfulness for the peace, and unity of the Diocese. A passage from his Address follows:

"In our Branch of the Church Catholic there are pleasing indications of increased stability in the Faith, and increased zeal for the salvation of men. But what, in the view of your Bishop is at present demanded to give depth, and [93/94] substantial reality to this advancement, is a thorough knowledge of, and simple adherence to the Teaching of the Book of Common Prayer. As Churchmen we are bound, as honest men even, to shape our Faith, and practice to its plain, and natural meaning--to allow no fancy, or prejudice, of our minds to warp that meaning, or become the ground of departure from it."

On this topic, in its different bearings, the Bishop enlarged very fully. It was the principal subject of his Address. He mentioned a service at Valle Crucis:

"Fifth Sunday after Trinity, in the morning, at the Church of the Holy Cross, Valle Crucis, preached, confirmed three persons, and celebrated the Lord's Supper. In the evening preached at the house of Rev. Mr. Trout at Upper Watauga."

The Report of the Rev. Mr. Frout to the same Convention follows:

"I have held Divine service once a month at Linnville, about 12 miles from my residence, during half the year. Once a month I have preached, and administered the Holy Communion, at Valle Crucis. At my own residence, Upper Watauga monthly services have been held. On the remaining Sunday of each month, I have preached at Lower Watauga. This latter station I have frequently visited twice a month, delivering familiar lectures on the Catechism. The Rev. Mr. Skiles, Deacon, officiating at this Station, has also held [94/95] monthly services there, on Sundays, also in the Chapel at Valle Crucis; and has visited on New River, holding Divine service. He has conducted a Sunday School, during the year, with an average attendance of fifteen children. Also a day school for the children in the neighbourhood of Valle Crucis, for about four months, and a catechetical class of coloured persons has been formed under his care. Baptisms 5; Confirmed 3; Communicants 18; Offertory Collections $10.40. The construction of a Chapel in the neighbourhood of my residence, through the liberality of a layman of the Church, is so far advanced that it will probably be ready for Consecration next summer,"

At this date Mr. Prout, and Mr. Skiles, had become the only labourers in the Watauga country. The Rev. Mr. Passmore had left the Diocese. The Class of students at Valle Crucis was dispersed, all having been ordained, and the Divinity School broken up. William Skiles was now the only one of the former community, remaining in the valley. But he did not abandon the ground. Every exertion in his power was now made by him for the spiritual benefit of the scattered flock in that neighbourhood.

Meanwhile "the good, and guileless man," hewing so neatly the logs of the Chapel at [95/96] Upper Watauga, had, with the assistance of others, completed the good work. The little fund given by the "man in affliction," had been prudently used, and a neat and churchly little building of hewn logs stood complete on the rock. The Missionary gave it the name of "Easter Chapel," and the property was deeded to the Church. Bishop Ives came to Upper Watauga, in the course of the summer, to consecrate Easter Chapel.

This proved to be the last of his official acts in North Carolina. [Easter Chapel alas! that was built on a Rock, with a perennial spring of water at the base, despite these auspicious symbols, and its fine outlook on the changeless Grandfather Mt., has long gone into decay and ruin! Its fate was hastened by a large branch broken off by the winds from an overhangng oak, which fell upon and crushed in, the chancel roof.]

Towards the close of September, '52, Bishop Ives applied to the Standing Committee of the Diocese, asking for an absence of six months, with an advance of $1,000 on his salary, to enable him to travel for the benefit of the impaired health of himself, and Mrs. Ives. The request was immediately granted. The necessary arrangements were made. [96/97] Bishop Ives sailed in October for Europe. On the 22nd of December he addressed a letter to the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in North Carolina, resigning his office of Bishop of North Carolina, and declaring his intention to make his submission to the Church of Rome.

Thus sadly closed the connection of Bishop Ives with our Church, after an Episcopate of more than twenty years. This step, so afflicting to the Church at large, so especially afflicting to the Diocese, caused little surprise to those who knew Dr. Ives intimately, those who were aware of the peculiar mental infirmities from which he had been suffering for several years. Some few were indignant at the vacillation, and uncertainty of his course. A still smaller number suspected deliberate Jesuitism, and insincerity, a suspicion always arousing indignation in minds trained by a Branch of the Church Catholic especially distinguished for open frankness, and truthfulness, in word, and deed. But the majority of the wisest, and most experienced among the Clergy, and Laity, received the statement of Dr. Ives simply [97/98] in sorrow, and sadness; a sorrow blended with recollections of previous faithful services in the Diocese, and with compassion for the peculiar infirmities under which he had been recently suffering. [Extract from Report of Committee, 1853.]

Dr. Thomas Atkinson, Rector of Grace Church, Baltimore, was duly elected to fill the vacant Bishopric, the 28th of May, 1853.

"These two objects have been kept constantly in view by the Diocese of North Carolina. First, The preservation in full purity of the doctrines and practices of the Church--and, Secondly, The exercise of as great kindness and forbearance towards the late Bishop as was consistent with the first of these objects."

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