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 X.

The effect of the apostasy of Dr. Ives to Rome was much less marked than might have been supposed. The Clergy of the Diocese remained firm in their allegiance to the Church in which they had been ordained. In the Watauga country, the attendance at the different Mission stations continued encouraging.

Mr. Skiles was now left alone on the old ground. He did not desert his post. Humbly, quietly, steadfastly, and with the fulness of loving charity, he devoted himself, exclusively, from this period to the spiritual welfare of the scattered flock in that mountain region. There were many difficulties to struggle with.

It had been supposed that the title to the property at Valle Crucis was vested in the Church. This was a mistaken impression. [The following is Bishop Ives' account of his disposition of the property at Valle Crucis in a letter, dated, "Valle Crucis, Aug. 17, 1849." "Friends came forward and aided me to the amount of about $1,500. Upon this, I at once altered the Deed of Trust to the Church for the use of the Mission, so as to preclude my life estate in the property and only reserved to myself the management of the establishment during my natural life." He asserts, in the same letter, that he had spent on the property more than $5,000 of his own means. The Deed of Trust mentioned above, was never made public.] [99/100] The property, heavily encumbered with debt, was sold, both land and stock, by the representatives of Dr. Ives, to Mr. Robert Miller the grandson of a Church clergyman of the olden time, who now worked the former Mission ground as a farm. He was very kind to Mr. Skiles. The little office, or library, became the home of the Missionary who slept there, taking his meals, without charge, at Mr. Miller's. From the herd which had been so long under his care, the good Deacon reserved a favourite horse for Missionary work, and several pet cows; and for these Mr. Miller also provided liberally. The Missionary took all the care of the horse on himself. Henry, a fine, spirited roan, was already a sort of brother Missionary, carrying his master faithfully, by day, and night, over many a rugged [100/101] path, on errands of duty, or charity. The cows were reserved for the benefit of poor parishioners. He lent them to different families, where there were sick ones, or young children, and in order not to tax his poor friends, and to make his cows more comfortable, he sent supplies of meal to the scattered cabins. But it was remarked that the cows often returned to Father Skiles, very thin, and looking much as if they had not had their full share of the meal. This troubled the good man greatly, for two reasons; he had a warm corner in his heart for every living creature, especially for what was under his care, and he was grieved to suspect the honesty of his parishioners in the log cabins. With a troubled face, he confided privately to a friend, that he did not know whether he could lend the cows, to this, or that, family again. The poor things had come back so thin! Nevertheless it is said that the cows were seen again trudging along the mountain paths to the same cabin doors; but it was surmised that private pastoral reprimands had secured the promise of a more liberal supply of meal to the poor creatures.

[102] The Report of Mr. Skiles, for the year 1853 follows:

"Baptism, 1 adult. Confirmation 1. Communicants 20. Offerings at Communion, $9.75. I have assisted once a month in the Chapel at Valle Crucis. I have kept up a Sunday School, with the assistance of Mr. George N. Evans, consisting of a class of white children every Sunday morning, and of a class of coloured persons and children in the afternoons, until about Christmas. Since that time I have not been able to keep it regularly. I have taught a day school, nearly four months, gratis, for the children in the vicinity of Valle Crucis. I have held service once a month at a private house on Lower Watauga, and occasionally at Easter Chapel, on Upper Watauga. Also at Cranberry Forge once a month, for nine months. At Linnville about six months, and occasionally at Bottoms of Elk, or near there. There is manifestly an increased interest in the services of the Church, and many are inquiring for the good old paths."

The Report of Mr. Prout for the same year follows:

"Lenoir, the valley of the Yadkin, and Valle Crucis, are the stations which I have regularly visited. In the Chapel at Valle Crucis, I have preached, and administered the Holy Communion the first Sunday of each month in the year. St. Andrew's church, Lenoir, was consecrated last summer by Bishop Ives, to the worship of God, according to the Liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church. On the same Visitation [102/103] he also consecrated a Chapel near my residence, in Watauga County, by the title of Easter Chapel. Divine service has been held there by the Rev. Mr. Skiles, since my removal. I cannot say that our discouragements are few, or that our prospects are very cheering in this circuit of Missionary labour; yet the remarkable events of last year have unsettled none among us, nor disheartened us in an unusual degree. If the defection of Bishop Ives has sharpened the enmity of any towards the Church, and given a fertile occasion to those who were ready to wish what has actually happened, I hope it may also have increased the watchfulness, and humility, and patient courage of others. It is to be wished that an event of so much sadness may not be without indirect benefit, teaching as it does, a lesson of theological discretion. Baptisms 9. Confirmed 1. Communicants, 9."

Theological discretion! Great indeed is the need of that form of wisdom, in the present century of the Church Militant!

Two events affecting the work of Mr. Skiles had taken place during the year '53. The Rev. Mr. Prout had removed to Lenoir, where a much larger congregation were urgent for his services. But he still came with regularity to administer the Holy Communion every month, in the Chapel at Valle Crucis; and he never lost his interest in the Watauga Mission.

In the summer of '53 a fellow-labourer in [103/104] the good work came to assist Mr. Skiles, this was Mr. George W. Evans a layman from Lenoir. He was received very kindly by Mr. Miller, who gave him two rooms in his own house, a front room with a fireplace, and a bedroom adjoining, both comfortably furnished. A particular horse was placed at his disposal. For these conveniences and three bountiful meals daily, the charge was three dollars a month!

The schools kept by Mr. Skiles, both Sunday Schools and day schools, added greatly to his influence among the country people, and must have been of great benefit to the children. Schools were indeed one of the greatest needs of all that mountain region. His steady good sense, his singular gentleness, and patience, and his warm natural affection, fitted him remarkably well for teaching. He took a deep interest in his little flock, and they learned to love their kind master. They were very wild and ignorant, but none the less dear to him on that account. This teaching was simply a work of love, there was no payment. Much of his time was also given to visiting the sick. [104/105] There was many an isolated household in the Watauga country to whom William Skiles was not only pastor, but also physician, and occasionally nurse. His simple medical practice must have been successful, for it was sought for over a wide reach of hill, and dale, and he was generally considered a safe doctor in the ordinary diseases of that country. Although that mountain region was entirely free from the chills and fever of the low country, yet the people were very liable to inflammatory attacks, especially during the winter season, attacks often proceeding from carelessness alone. But, what is remarkable, typhoid fever, in a malignant form, occasionally appeared on the highest mountain ridges, where the air, always fresh and bracing, seemed the very elixir of life, and where the cool and brightly limpid waters filled the rocky basins in an unceasing, overflowing, current. There were however probably two causes for this visitation of typhoid fever. The door-yards of those mountain farms were almost invariably untidy; the cattle and pigs, and fowls were constantly gathered about the house door, and [105/106] the yard never thoroughly cleaned. It is also probable that many of the mountain springs, so bright and clear in appearance, may have contained decayed vegetable matter, unwholesome in character. Whatever may have been the causes these epidemics of typhoid fever occurred from time to time. At such seasons, some messenger from a log cabin, sent in haste, perchance a barefooted boy or girl, might frequently be seen at Mr. Skiles' office, asking for advice, for medicines, for religious consolation. The message would be scarcely spoken, and the subject clearly understood, before "Father Skiles" would make ready for his errand of mercy. Day, or night, often already weary, at times suffering from pain himself, he seemed instinctively to move towards the sick, his case of medicines in one pocket, his prayer-book in the other. At times the distance would be great, and "Henry" would be saddled for a tramp over some wild bridle-path in the mountains.

"Father Skiles" was also frequently called upon by the good people, far and near, for a Sunday service, perchance in a school-house, [106/107] perchance in a log cabin. He never refused a request of this kind, if possible to comply with it. After having made an appointment, he was very conscientious in keeping it, not un-frequently going many miles through rain, sleet, and snow for the purpose. The people liked his services. He generally preached plain, simple, short sermons, chiefly transcribed, and abridged for the purpose, from printed volumes recommended to him by experienced brethren among the clergy, or by the Bishop. The mountaineers liked these sermons. They considered him a good preacher. His stipend at this time, as a Missionary was $100.

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