Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Missississippi Baptist Convention Board
(In a previous post, I told how a group of South Carolina Baptists decided to flee the devastation of the Revolutionary War and make a new life in Mississippi. This post tells the story of how they got to Mississippi.)
The Curtis family decided to establish their new homes along the Mississippi River near Natchez, in what was then called West Florida. After the French and Indian War in 1763, the British took Florida from Spain, (West Florida included the panhandle of modern Florida and the areas now in southern Mississippi and Alabama), and Englishmen from the colonies had begun to settle there. The stories of productive farmlands that were free to all settlers and the peace they would have from the turmoil of the fratricidal strife in South Carolina must have made the prospects of beginning again very enticing. In 1779, Spain took advantage of the British distraction with the American Revolution, and Spain conquered the Natchez district from the British and added it to West Florida. Despite this, the emigrants did not anticipate any difficulty from this source. As we shall see, they were wrong.
The route the migrants followed to their new homes was the familiar one used by many who were a part of the great westward migration, but it was not an easy trek. Our source for this journey is John Griffing Jones, a direct descendant of one of the travelers, John Jones. He writes that they left their homes in South Carolina early in 1780, loading their horses with their clothes, furniture and tools, and traveled north by land, crossing the Appalachian Mountains, and arrived on the banks of the Holston River near the present location of Kingsport, Tennessee, a trip of about 300 miles. Primitive roads and mountains made the trip difficult, as they carried their supplies on pack horses, the men traveling by foot. They arrived on the Holston River in the early spring and immediately began the task of raising a crop of corn, hunting game to salt and preserve, while building flatboats for the river journey that lay ahead.
In the fall of 1780, the travelers were ready to begin their voyage downriver. The party included Richard Curtis, Sr., and his wife Phoebe; two brothers William and Benjamin Curtis and their wives; Richard Curtis, Jr. and his wife Patsy; John Courtney and John Stampley and their wives (Hannah Curtis Courtney and Phoebe Curtis Stampley, respectively, daughters of Richard Curtis, Sr.); John Jones, his wife, and son William; and others whose names are unknown. On the second boat were Daniel and William Ogden and their families, and a Mr. Perkins and his family. The records do not reveal the names of the occupants of the third boat.
The emigrants knew from the experience of other travelers that they might have trouble with the Indian tribes. After all, they were planning to take lands formerly occupied by the Indians and make permanent homes for themselves. The natives did not want to give up their lands. The French had virtually exterminated the Natchez tribe in 1732, although other tribes such as the Choctaws were still in the area, but they knew they would encounter other tribes along the way, especially since the hostility of the Indians was encouraged and supported by the British against Americans during the Revolutionary War. In order to protect themselves, the emigrants always traveled in as large groups as possible.
The migrants’ travel took them down the Holston River for 87 miles to what is now Knoxville. There, they entered the Tennessee River. The three boats had only traveled about 40 miles downriver, when they faced their greatest danger. This was the country of the Cherokees, who had been faithful allies of the British during the Revolution. These Indians attacked the flotilla on a bend in the Tennessee near the mouth of the Clinch River, near present-day Kingston. The Cherokee attack focused on the first flatboat, occupied by the Curtis and Jones families. Some of the women and children took over the oars while the men fired their rifles in defense. Hannah Courtney was grazed on the head by a ball, and Jonathan Curtis was slightly wounded on the wrist. While John Jones fired his rifle, his 12-year-old son worked the oars and his wife held up a thick stool made of poplar wood as a shield. A bullet hit her stool, and later Mrs. Jones laughingly remarked that “their guns were very weak, as they did not make a very deep impression on the stool.” The second boat floated by the point of attack unharmed, but the third boat was far behind, and became an easy target for the Indians. The occupants of the third boat had contracted smallpox, and so they were floating in the rear and camping at a separate place each night. The Cherokees killed everybody on the third boat except one woman whom they captured, thereby also contracting smallpox, which took the lives of many in the tribe.
The survivors made the rest of their trip without further molestation. They traveled about 600 miles down the winding Tennessee River, riddled with rocky shoals and swift currents, until they met the Ohio River near the city of Paducah, Kentucky. A short trip of 44 miles on the Ohio River brought them to the mighty Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. Then they traveled another 450 miles down the Mississippi River. They landed near the mouth of Cole’s Creek, about twenty miles north of Natchez, settling 3.5 miles eastward on the creek at “Curtis Landing,” and established a village known as Uniontown, west of the present town of Fayette. Given the distance they traveled, at the mercy of the flow of the rivers and resting each night, the trip should have taken several months. Jack Curtis, a descendant of Richard Curtis who has done extensive research on the family, estimates that they arrived in the Natchez District about March, 1781. By the grace of God, they had survived a trek through the mountains, an Indian attack and navigated over 1,000 miles of rivers to reach their new home.
Dr. Rogers is revising and updating A History of Mississippi Baptists.
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
The story of Mississippi Baptists begins in South Carolina. The Baptists of South Carolina furnished the first Baptist migrants to Mississippi and thus are of special importance in the history of Mississippi Baptists. Historians record that Rev. Richard Curtis, Jr. was 25 years old when he traveled with his parents and a group of fellow Baptists, who migrated from the Pee Dee River Valley of South Carolina in 1780 to settle on Cole’s Creek, about 20 miles north of Natchez, which at the time was controlled by Spain as part of West Florida. The precise location in South Carolina where these Baptists came from is unclear. One theory seeks to connect Richard Curtis and Mississippi Baptists to the historic Welsh Neck Baptist Church in Society Hill, in what is now in Darlington County, South Carolina. However, the church minutes of Welsh Neck Baptist Church from the time period are available for examination, and they never mention any of the Baptists who first settled in Mississippi. It seems more likely that they came from the region of Florence, South Carolina. There Richard Curtis, Sr., father of Richard Curtis, Jr., lived on Lake Swamp of Lynches Creek, near modern Florence, South Carolina, in 1766. In addition, Richard Curtis, Jr. was ordained by Benjamin Mosely when he fled back to South Carolina in the 1790s; Mosely was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence, South Carolina from 1784-1794.
The Revolutionary War period was one of great disturbance throughout South Carolina. There was a large group of Tories who were fanatical in support of England, but there was an equally powerful and more numerous citizenry who were American patriots. The conflict of these two groups stifled the economic development of South Carolina and brought fear and frustration into many parts of the colony. Over a hundred battles between American patriots and the British were fought in South Carolina alone. In 1774, Richard Curtis, Sr., and two of his sons, Benjamin and William Curtis, and his step-son, John Jones, enlisted with the American forces of Francis Marion, nicknamed the “Swamp Fox.” The records reveal that they served in three campaigns against the British, and then they were mustered out in 1779. In 1779 conditions had become almost unbearable, especially when British forces occupied Charleston. From this center, the British began a campaign to bring all of the colony under their control. The British were eventually overcome by General Nathanael Greene and his forces, but the turmoil and distress created by the war were undoubtedly a factor in encouraging some South Carolinians to seek a more peaceful place to live.
The Curtis family decided to establish their new homes along the Mississippi River near Natchez, in what was then called West Florida. After the French and Indian War in 1763, the British took Florida from Spain, and Englishmen from the colonies had begun to settle there. The stories of productive farmlands that were free to all settlers and the peace they would have from the turmoil of the fratricidal strife in South Carolina must have made the prospects of beginning again very enticing. In 1779, Spain took advantage of the British distraction with the American Revolution, and Spain conquered the Natchez district from the British and added it to West Florida. Despite this, the emigrants did not anticipate any difficulty from this source. As we shall see, they were wrong.
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
Baptists have been the predominant faith in Mississippi so long, that nearly a century ago historian Jesse L. Boyd referred to Mississippi as a “Baptist empire.” Today, it is difficult for Baptists in the Magnolia State to imagine a time when their spiritual ancestors suffered hardships and persecution for their faith, but they did, even in Mississippi.
John Smyth established the first Baptist church in Amsterdam, Holland in 1609, after he fled persecution in England for being a Separatist Puritan. Thomas Helwys founded the first Baptist Church in England at London in 1611, and he landed in jail shortly thereafter for speaking out for religious freedom [McBeth, 38]. Roger Williams fled persecution in Massachusetts when he opposed the Congregationalist state church, so he started a new colony in Rhode Island with complete religious liberty, where he established the first Baptist church in America at Providence, Rhode Island in 1639. William Screven was banished from Maine for his Baptist faith, and he established the first Baptist church in the South at Charleston, South Carolina in 1696. Richard Curtis, Jr., migrated from South Carolina to the Natchez area in 1780, where he established the first Mississippi Baptist church in 1791, but he was arrested by Spanish authorities who only tolerated Catholicism, and he had to flee the region for three years.
Read this blog, as I will continue to unfold the story.
I am pleased to announce that on November 3, 2021, I signed a contract with the Mississippi Baptist Convention to revise and update A History of Mississippi Baptists by Richard Aubrey McLemore. The book was published by the convention, which holds the copyright, in 1971.
I expect the project to take a few years, as I will be doing a thorough revision of the original work, checking it for accuracy and rewriting in a more narrative style. After the revision is done, I will add two more chapters to update the last 50 years. You can read the full news story about the book here.
Follow his blog for stories that I learn and share along the way!
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
When I served as a Baptist pastor in Rincon, Georgia, I had the unique experience of putting on a white wig and an old robe borrowed from a Methodist, to give a dramatic presentation of the founding pastor of the oldest Lutheran Church in North America. The historic pastor’s name was Johann Boltzius, and his church was Jerusalem Lutheran Church, founded in 1734 in the Ebenezer Community in Effingham County, Georgia, some 30 miles north of Savannah.
School children came from all over Georgia to the retreat center at Ebenezer to learn Georgia history. They visited Savannah, and they also came to the old Jerusalem Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary was built in 1769, to hear me tell the story, in costume, of Boltzius who served a congregation that fled to the New World from Salzburg, Austria, in search of religious freedom.
After the presentation, students were given an opportunity to ask “Pastor Boltzius” questions. One day in March, a student asked me why it was so dark in the church. With a gleam in my eye, I explained that it was Lent, a season in which members of that church remembered Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Members of the church fasted, prayed, and thought of other ways to make sacrifices in memory of Jesus, and during this time, they kept the window shutters closed. In fact, on Good Friday, they came into the church and sang songs about Jesus’ death, and then blew out all of the candles and went home in total darkness. The students reflected on that quietly, and I paused. Then I waved my hand at the shutters and shouted, “But on Easter Sunday morning, they threw open the shutters, let the light in, and celebrated, because Jesus is alive!”
Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter, by first reflecting on the suffering of Christ. I encourage you to read the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend time alone, silent, reflecting on it. Fast and pray. Think about your own sin, your own struggles, your own sorrows, and how the suffering of Christ forgives, redeems and renews you. Meditate on the dark, and the light will brighten you more when it comes. Like that church in Georgia that threw open their shutters, if we will remember how dark it was when Christ died, we will appreciate all the more how glorious it was that He arose!
Recently, I’ve read four 19th century biographies and autobiographies of men and women who escaped slavery in the South. If you want to read about what slavery was really like in that time, these classic books will let you hear the stories in the words of those who experienced it.
Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Harriet, the Moses of Her People.
This biography, written by a white friend of Harriet Tubman gives a firsthand account of the amazing life of an amazing woman who bravely made so many trips to the South to rescue over 300 of her people along the “Underground Railroad.” The author is somewhat patronizing toward African-Americans, yet beautifully portrays the unwavering Christian faith that sustained Harriet through it all, and the events surrounding her that some call “supernatural.” Her story has recently been made into the film, Harriet.
Solomon Northrup, 12 Years a Slave.
The most dramatic story I have read of someone escaping slavery is that of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who was kidnapped in New York, and sold into slavery in Louisiana, where he suffered until his dramatic rescue. Northrup himself vividly describes his experiences, which shows the cruelty of slavery in the Deep South. The events surrounding his rescue will have you on the edge of your seat. No wonder this was made into an Academy Award Winning film!
Harriet Ann Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.
This account of a female former slave, using the name Linda Brent, shares graphic details of brutality and especially sexual abuse by white owners. There is a constant tension between Linda and her owner, Dr. Flint, whose affections she continually rejects. Although a true story published at the outbreak of the Civil War, it reads like a novel, and I read it quickly. It gives so many insights into slave life in the South, and even discrimination against blacks in the North.
Josiah Henson, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave.
This true story was the basis for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I downloaded it and read it in one day. Henson was an industrious man with great leadership and organizational skills. The storyline moves quickly and is so emotional, that it overcomes the 19th century formal writing style. I highly recommend this short read to get a feel for the heartless institution of slavery in the South.
(My mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers, was born on July 1, 1935. If you who follow her paintings on Instagram @mymothersart or on Facebook, you know that she is still actively painting, but the most treasured of all her paintings is the one of her grandfather in front of his home in Epley, Mississippi. Below she shares her personal memories of her grandparents, and what life was like growing up in the 1940s in rural Missississippi. It will help you understand why this painting is so special.)
by Joyce Clinton Rogers
When I was a little girl in the 1940s, my parents took me to spend a week in the summer with my Clinton grandparents who lived on a farm in Epley, Mississippi (located between Sumrall and Hattiesburg). I may have gone several summers– I’m not sure. I may have forgotten.
There wasn’t much a young girl could do but explore, so I did. A short walk away past the cemetery was a small bridge over a creek. It was fun to swing my feet into the cool creek water and see what critters were in the water.
My granddaddy was a farmer and a well-digger. Our whole family, my three sisters and three brothers, loved to play around the well. We had running water and electricity and a real bathroom at the teacher’s home at Oak Grove where we lived– but not my grandparents. My grandparents had an outdoor toilet and a Sears & Roebuck Catalogue for toilet paper. (I’m not kidding!) They had a tub used for washing clothes, vegetables, and for getting a bath, and goodness knows what else.
The story is told that granddaddy got baths by waiting ’til dark, stripping and pouring buckets of well water over his head, then drying off naturally by swinging in the swing on the front porch. One night, my Aunt Carol was entertaining a boyfriend on the front porch, and granddaddy’s arrival caused quite a stir!
I remember the house well. Our family visited every Sunday afternoon for years. I did a painting of the ole house, which hangs in back of my favorite chair where we live now. The farmhouse had no electricity and was heated by fireplaces and the kitchen by a stove. The stove had a door that opened and you put firewood inside. There were two fireplaces, one in each bedroom on each side of the house. When we went to visit in the wintertime, we sat on the edge of one of the two beds in the rooms to the right. If others came in, we just slid over. Grandma sat in her chair on the left of the fireplace, and granddaddy sat on the right.
On holidays, occasionally we might eat at the farmhouse. If that was the case, we came early so mama could help with the cooking. And oh, what a great feast we would have! We’d have fried chicken, lots of vegetables from their garden both fresh and “canned” (stored in jars), biscuits and cornbread, casseroles and desserts. As the oldest granddaughter, I got some jobs. Grandma made buttermilk and butter by placing milk in a jar, and I shook the jar until buttermilk and butter formed and separated from the other milk. My arms would get so tired!
I remember well hearing granddaddy say the blessing. He was loud! After he finished, he said, “Now you see what’s here…” I can’t remember what else he said (to finish that phrase). If any family remember, I wish you’d tell me how he finished that statement.
Speaking of being loud and praying, I had an interesting experience on one of my summer visits. I was on the swing on the front porch while granddaddy’s young pastor visited with him. I heard granddaddy praying loudly. I realized that the pastor didn’t come to pray for granddaddy, but for granddaddy to pray for him. Or maybe both ways.
Grandma always wore a long simple dress down to her ankles, an apron and her hair in a bun on top of her head. On Sunday, she wore a white apron. Granddaddy wore overalls and clean ones on Sunday.
Grandma swept the yard with a broom. She didn’t want grass growing in her yard. There was a rooster in the back yard who chased me. I was deathly afraid of him.
There was a long back porch where vegetables might be stacked or the washtub might be the bathing place for the more genteel. On the end of the porch near the kitchen was a shelf where a bucket of water with a dipper and a washpan stood. This is where you got a drink of water and/or washed your hands. Yes, we all drank from the same dipper.
Granddaddy never owned a car. He used his plowhorse, Dolly, to pull the family wagon to go to Sumrall for supplies and to church on Sunday. You can see him with Dolly in my painting.
Known in the community as “Uncle Charlie” and “Aunt Marthy,” this is how things were in rural Epley in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s. Both are buried in the little Clinton Family Cemetery with their parents, their grandparents and some of their nine children and grandchildren, including one of my brothers, Donald Clinton. Also buried there are my parents, Rankin Anderson Clinton, Sr. and Lucy Rutledge Clinton, and Gwen Clinton, the first wife of my brother Sam.
Protesters in San Francisco have pulled down a bust of Ulysses Grant, the former U.S. president and Union general who defeated the Confederates, because Grant married into a slave-owning family. They also pulled down other statues, including that of Francis Scott Key (pictured above), who wrote the U.S. national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” since Key owned slaves.
I readily agree that slavery was and is reprehensible, and the Confederates were traitors to the Union. I also agree that statues of many such historical people need to be removed to museums, not glorified front and center in our parks and courthouses. But where does this sort of thing end? What person, past or present, is without character flaws?
I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to tear down a statue of Charles Darwin, since he was a racist who said Africans were less evolved than white people? I wonder if these same protesters would be willing to deface a statue of John F. Kennedy, since he was reportedly an adulterer?
Interestingly, some of those people of the past, if they were here today, would likely be shocked by the immoral practices of some of these modern protesters, some who may cohabitate outside of marriage or may have killed babies through abortion– but at least they didn’t own slaves, so they judge themselves righteous. How blind these self-righteous anarchists are, seeing the sins of the past but ignoring the sins of the present.
These modern moralists do not see how similar their vandalism is to ISIS fighters who tore down ancient statues in the Middle East because they were “pagan.” These revolutionaries do not see how their onrush to destroy any and every injustice in the name of the people is similar to another revolution– the French revolution, a time when the revolutionaries were soon devouring each other for not being radical enough. Today’s radicals could read about it in their history books, but it seems they have torn out most of the pages.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many people who doubt the truth of Jesus’ resurrection say something like this: “People in the first century were superstitious, simple-minded people, and they were much more likely to believe in a resurrection than modern people are today. So, probably something else happened, and they just wanted so badly for Jesus to live that they convinced themselves that Jesus was raised.”
But when we read the Gospels, a totally different picture appears. The early disciples were just as surprised then as we would be now.
The Gospel of Mark could hardly have used more words to describe ow surprised they were. Mark 16:5 says they were “alarmed.” The angel calmed them by saying, “Don’t be alarmed… You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”
Mark 16:8 says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
“Alarmed.” “Trembling.” “Bewildered.” “Afraid.” Mark was letting us know that they were totally surprised by the resurrection. They never expected it. Jesus had plainly told them he would be raised (see Mark 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), but they reacted to those predictions with fear and disbelief, just as people would today. Yet it really happened!
And because it happened, world history is changed. Time is divided from B.C. to A.D., because of Jesus. Within five weeks, 10,000 Jews in Jerusalem were following Jesus, and within 300 years, the Roman Empire came under the sway of Christianity.
Best of all, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we don’t have to escape reality, we can face reality! So many people try to escape their painful lives by diversions and entertainment. But Jesus’ resurrection changes all that. The sick man doesn’t have to transport himself into the imaginary world of a basketball star who slam dunks the ball; the sick man knows that in Christ, one day he will walk on streets of gold! The unloved woman does not have to escape into a world of romance novels to imagine love; one day because of her faith in Christ, she will be in a place where everybody loves her and accepts her, and she will see the One who died and arose to save her.
Surprise! Surprise! Easter is not a myth at all. It really happened, and because it happened, we can face reality.
A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, 6th ed., (Westview Press, 2016).
This history does as the title promises, focusing more on the modern period of the Middle East, especially from the Ottoman Empire through 2015. The book covers the rise of ISIS but was written before the downfall of ISIS. It includes the Arab Spring of 2011, which Cleveland prefers to call the “Arab Uprisings.” It includes balanced discussions of areas from Turkey to Iran to the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt. It does not include neighboring countries such as the Sudan, North Africa or Afghanistan in the discussion, except where events there affect the Middle East proper, such as the Egyptian war in Sudan, the harboring of Osama bin Laden by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia and led to the downfall of Libya’s dictator, too.
The book gives much attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is appropriate, as well as thorough coverage of the Kurdish problem of being a people without a homeland.
Perhaps due to his focus on the modern period, Cleveland passes over the Crusades with barely a mention, which I found peculiar, since modern Arabs like Osama bin Laden referred to Christians as the “Crusaders.”
While Cleveland strives to present a balanced report of both the positive and negative traits of each people and each personality, he appears to have certain biases. He clearly is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians verses the Jews, and is favorable to the Muslim worldview (for example, he blames Islam’s low view of women on the influences of the cultures neighboring the Arabs, and refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate”). Nevertheless, he does a good job of explaining the various sectarian and ethnic groups, such as the Sunni and Shi’a, and minority groups like Arab Christians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Druze, Alawites, etc.
Copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
The Romans were a powerful people for over a thousand years. However, it was a slow process for Rome to become a powerful nation. They won a 70-year off and on battle against the walled Etruscan city of Veii, only ten miles to the north, finally capturing it in 396 B.C. Here are three lessons for battle that they learned, that would make them a victorious military power for centuries. Many of these lessons are useful today:
Lesson 1: Learn from defeat.
The Gallic Sack of Rome about 387 B.C. shocked them, when wild warriors from Gaul swept down from the Po Valley, burned and looted the city. After paying the Gallic army to leave, they copied the walls of Veii, and built a wall around Rome.
They fought three wars with the Samnites, who inhabited the Apennines Mountains in central Italy, and lost major battles to them because the phalanx didn’t work well in the mountains, but they learned how to fight different ways in the mountains.
What defeats have you suffered in life? How can you learn from them?
Lesson 2: Divide and conquer.
Although strategically located, the Romans were not the largest or most powerful people in Italy in their early years. But Romans were well organized and united, able to slowly “divide and conquer” the rest of Italy, mainly because the other people groups were not united. For example, the Etruscan cities were totally independent of one another, so the other cities didn’t help Veii, allowing Rome to capture them. They often played one group against another, as when they made a peace treaty with Carthage and allowed them to oppose the Greeks in Sicily, then after Rome defeated the Greeks, Rome turned against Carthage.
This strategy is manipulative and unethical when done with allies and friends. However, the “divide and conquer” strategy has its usefulness with opponents and enemies. If you have multiple opponents or problems, instead of taking all of them on, which ones could you defeat first, and then move on to the next? What ways can you let them work against each other?
Lesson 3: Make your enemies your friends.
When they defeated the Latins, Rome made them their allies, eventually merging with them. They later did the same with other groups in Italy that they conquered, including Etruscans and Samnites and Gauls. As each became an ally, Rome became stronger and stronger. At last, they were strong enough to take on the Greek colonies in the south of Italy, and slowly they united all of Italy.
This strategy is much more ethical, and has many benefits. What common ground can you find with opponents, turning them into allies and friends?
(Dr. Rogers is an adjunct history professor for The Baptist College of Florida, where he has taught Roman History numerous times.)
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?
Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?
There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshiped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshiped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an ax and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.
Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.
During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light.
Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Christmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria.
“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is based on Psalm 98, and its tune comes from one of the songs in Handel’s Messiah. Originally this song was intended to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, but it has come to be associated mostly with His first coming at Christmas.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by the great Methodist founder Charles Wesley in 1739, and the words were revised by the great evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. A hundred years later, the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune that is popular today when people sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
“Silent Night” was originally written in German and first sung on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The organist, Franz Gruber, discovered that the organ wasn’t working at the church. The priest, Joseph Mohr, had composed the words in German to “Silent Night” two years before. So he shared it with Gruber, who composed the tune to be sung by guitar. When Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard the story of how the song was composed in an emergency and sung without the organ, and Mauracher spread the song everywhere that he went. The song came to America by German-speaking congregations. Originally the words were “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The English words we sing today were translated by John Freeman Young. “Silent Night” has been translated into 140 languages.
While these songs are popular today, the first Christmas carols can be found in the Bible itself. More about that tomorrow…