Early church services long and colorful

Lately, the book that has sat on my bedside table for nightly reading has been the ‘1882 History of Bond and Montgomery County, Illinois.’ W. H. Perrin was the editor, and he gathered together an excellent array of writers for this book.

Perrin’s writers traveled about both counties and interviewed old settlers, thereby preserving the earliest memories of when the white men first settled in this territory.

In my column for the Sept. 11 issue of this newspaper, I wrote about an early grocer who was ‘fleeced’ in a raccoon skin scam. This story also came from W. H. Perrin’s 1882 history book, and was contributed by R. O. White.

Today, Williamson Plant, a pillar of Greenville society, provides the story for us. He was asked to write about the history of Greenville, including the history of the churches.

He wrote that the first Methodist Church was built about a mile and a half southwest of Greenville, where camp meetings were held for several years. Mr. J. E. Travis remembered Methodist preaching at the house of his grandfather, Tapley Young, and heard the family tell of those attending church bringing their guns and stacking them at the door. Two sentinels stood watch outside to give the alarm if any Indians made their appearance.

In the city of Greenville, the first church was built in 1848. Before that time, Methodist circuit riders kept appointments on a monthly basis at churches throughout the circuit. The congregation met first in the old Bond County Courthouse, and then in the Odd Fellows Lodge.

The records of the church tell of a Mr. Falkner, who would, at the close of every service, ‘open the doors of the church.’

“On one occasion, after the usual services in the Odd Fellows Hall, whilst the brethren were singing a familiar hymn, the minister calling loudly and earnestly for any ‘who desired to unite with the church to manifest the same by coming forward and give to him their hand and to God their hearts.’

“As they were singing the chorus of a second verse and manifestly a deep feeling prevailing through the audience, two well-known females of not-the-most-unblemished character came forward and gave to the minister their hands, who took them but without that cordiality sometimes discernible and with a queer and much-puzzled expression on his face, remarked, as he released that slight grasp, ‘Occasionally, when the fisherman casts in his net, he brings in a gar.’ The church records did not reflect an increase in membership that day.’

Christianna Tillson settled in Montgomery County as a young bride about 1821, and wrote of her experience attending her first ‘preaching’ near Hillsboro in her book, ‘A Woman’s Story Of Pioneer Illinois.’

“We rode about two miles to a log cabin, which, during week days, was the schoolhouse…and on Sundays was open to the ‘circuit rider’ – Methodist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Hard-Shell Baptist and Seventh-Day Baptists.

‘They arrived just as the service had commenced, and she was placed in front with the women, while her husband found a seat along the wall with the menfolk. Preaching commenced at 10 a.m., and it was not until 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. that the congregation was released.

“The order of preaching was for the first speaker to be somewhat logical, and to show forth to the listening audience his great learning and wisdom; for the last preacher was left the sensational. He would ‘get happy,’ clap his hands and froth at the mouth – with the congregation responding, some groaning and some crying loudly.

‘Hymns were sung by the preacher reading two lines of the verse and then singing them. The mothers huddled around the fire, with babies and young’uns huddled on the floor beside them.

“After the sermon, the preacher sang another hymn, the congregation chiming in. It was then announced that after a few minutes’ recess, another brother would speak. Then commenced the performance. The young’uns rushed to the fire with sticks or pieces of clapboard, and rolled out the eggs they had brought for lunch and had deposited in the ashes to roast while the first preacher was speaking.

“Each youngster worked manfully to secure his own rights, and showed dispatch of business in getting them peeled and disposed of before the preaching was resumed.

“The good mammas, who had babies and who did not wait for recess but had been giving them their lunch during the service, now lit their pipes and looked so happy and satisfied as the clouds of smoke curled out from under their sunbonnets.

“Meanwhile the sterner sex, paying suit to the water bucket which stood in the back corner of the room; that performance was rather slow, there being but one gourd shell for the whole congregation, so each man would walk up to the bucket and while another was drinking would relieve his mouth of a heavy quid, holding it in one hand, would take the gourd of water, rinse his mouth, spitting the washing on the floor, then take his drink and while passing the gourd to the next would throw his ‘bacca’ in his mouth and be ready for a chat.”

W. H. Perrin and Christianna Tillson have preserved for us stories of life in early Illinois in their writings. Without this effort, these stories may have been lost to us.

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