Travels in 1860—A Call from the South
The Doctor’s travels during 1860 deserve to be recorded. Early in the year he received a pressing call to visit the South to minister to the small community of believers there, and preach the Word to others. Some of those on whose behalf the call was made had been subscribers to the Herald for a long time. The letter came from a town in the State of Mississippi, a part of which adjoins the Gulf of Mexico.
The country to which he was invited was low-lying, damp, and in some parts swampy. It was known for its fevers. Dr. Thomas was not physically robust, and did not immediately respond to this “call from Macedonia,” as he expressed it. But the cry was repeated, and with urgency, and at last he sent a reply that he would come, though he did not fix a date. One thing he had in mind was the feeling expressed in the words which he wrote: “If called upon to die before the Advent he preferred some other executioner than the plague!”
Nothing, however, would satisfy the writer and those with whom he was associated; they pressed their request, and eventually the Doctor yielded to their entreaties, “plague or no plague!” adding that had the yellow fever been in active operation, he could hardly have resisted the importunity of his friends. Eventually the month of June was fixed for departure, the destination being Brookhaven, some hundred and twenty miles north of the city of New Orleans.
The journey occupied from Tuesday evening until Saturday morning. When he arrived he realised that he was not only in a sickly climate, but that he himself was sick; “dark spots floated before our eyes, the light itself waved like radiant caloric from bodies heated by the sun, qualmishness vibrated between the stomach and the brain.” He thought that after having travelled so far he might still disappoint those who had called him to the South. However, he was found by the writer of the letters, and the prospect seemed to improve.
The only hall available for use was above a billiard saloon, but notices announced that addresses would be given, the time being fixed “at candle-lighting.” When that time arrived the hall was in darkness, though the saloon below was “boisterous with rowdy mirth.” However, some of the billiard players came up to the hall, where lights had been provided. Others then came in, and the Doctor spoke to them until ten o’clock. That was the opening of his campaign following the “call from Macedonia.”
Half-an-hour later he and his friend, a Dr. White, were on their way to their real destination. Tired from the exertions of the meeting after “candle-lighting,” they travelled by night to spare the horses—and themselves—the fatigue of journeying through the excessive heat of those southern districts by day. At breakfast time they stayed at “the first and the last, and unquestionably the worst” house of refreshment for anyone with a delicate stomach. “O that breakfast!” he wrote. The bread was half baked dough, and the tea and coffee, water bewitched; in a dirty dish, bacon was swimming in liquid grease! Actually they contented themselves with drinking milk—and only one glass was provided for the two to drink from.
Arrived at their destination the Doctor found that he was billed to speak at Fayette, where the Campbellite meeting house had been secured. Actually fourteen addresses were given in the town in various places, the subjects being various aspects of the gospel of the Kingdom and the Name. In addition he took part in many conversations in private houses, and two baptisms took place while he was there.
This completed the work contemplated by the “call” to the South, and the return journey was commenced. It was performed by steamer up the Mississippi to Vicksburg, thence by train to Jackson, where they had to await in a “wilderness of an hotel” for seven hours, after which the journey was continued by stages until Henderson was reached. There he spoke daily for eight days. It is worthy of note that the number of brethren in the city was seventeen, “quite a large number for that county.”
From Henderson the journey was continued over familiar ground. At various places he preached and expounded the word. He also gave advice to the brethren on various matters troubling some of them. The furthest north reached on this return from the extreme South was Toronto, where the use of the Temperance Hall was refused as the committee responsible for it had passed a resolution that it should not be rented to minstrels and atheists! The owners of other halls in the city were not so difficult, and the word was preached. Dr. Thomas arrived home towards the end of August.
On September 10th he was on his travels again, visiting Virginia, Maryland, and the district of Columbia. Summing up, he wrote, “Altogether quite a multitude heard ‘the word of the Kingdom,’ but as everyone instructed in the times would expect, with little manifestation of any present practical result. Nevertheless, there is a great encouragement to hold on when we compare what now exists, notwithstanding all drawbacks, with what was the state of affairs a dozen years ago. The Editor then stood alone, avoided as a heretic and contemned as a lunatic, with scarcely any access to those of this republic.” He finished his account by saying, “Our running to and fro for the promulgation of Scriptural intelligence among the people is finished for 1860. This has been an eventful year; but ’61 will probably be more so.” He had in mind the approach of the end of times indicated by prophecy as he understood them. This has not yet been reached, but 1861 did prove to be a critical year for the Doctor, for his American friends, and for all Americans.
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