By P.F. Witherspoon
In a letter of October last "Gilderoy" aroused the curiosity of Mr. C. A. Lankford, and thus prompted him to write a chapter on this subject. Mr. Lankford, by reference to myself, and to others to memory dear, prompts me to write a chapter on the same subject. As he is pleased to designate this "Old Zion," I shall review as briefly as possible its origin and history.
To begin at the beginning, away back in the 1730's there settled a colony of Scotch-Irish at Kingstree, in Williamsburg District, S. C., and there established a Presbyterian Church. One of the number, Robert Witherspoon, says: "We remained in Charleston until after Christmas, and were then put on board an open boat, with tools, one years provisions and one steel mill for each family. They brought us up the river as far as Potato Ferry, on Black River, about twenty miles about Georgetown, where they put us a shore, while the boat made her way up to the Kingstree, with the goods and provisions on board. This was probably the first boat that had ever ascended the river to that place."
Men, women and children completed the journey on foot, reaching their place of destination about the first of February. In the dead of winter and in a country traversed only by Indian and the wild beast of the forest, what motive could have impelled them? The writer above named answers the question. Fleeing from a religious persecution which they could no longer endure, they sought a home where they could worship God as they thought right. We shall see how He blessed their efforts.
As time rolled on a colony from this old Kingstree Church settled in Maury County, Tenn., and there they "builded an alter and called upon the name of the Lord." From memory we give a few of the names of those who have made this old "Zion" Church, in the garden spot of Tennessee, a landmark for all time to come. They are Armstrong, Blakely Buford, Dobbin, Fleming, Frierson, Fulton, McClary, McKamie. Travis, Wilson, Witherspoon, and may other such names, most of which have come down the Kingstree rolls.
In course of time Zion Church sent out a colony that settled in Tuscaloosa and Greene Counties, in Alabama. Soon after in the 1820's came reinforcement from Kingstree and joined them. They established two sister churches---"Concord" and "Zion," which have always been united under one pastor. They are now, and have been for years, under that faithful and venerable minister, Rev. T. S. Winn. He and Thos. Wilson and David Hedleston formed a trio, of which he alone is left.
At "Concord" was the camp ground, where every fall, for years and years, were gathered the people from the surrounding country to hear the Gospel. Here are some of the preachers: Bradshaw, Carothers, Frierson, Hillhouse, Morgan, McMullin, and that trio of evangelists, Daniel Baker, Robert Mall, and Sydenham Witherspoon. These have all gone to their reward; and we imagine that the host of happy souls that gather around them to-day are enough to till one the mansions of Heaven. Those happy days and those blessed influences, have they passed away forever? The Church, like the world, is traveling by electricity nowadays; and it is hard to find three men who have time to act as a committee of arrangements, much less a community that has time to put up tents and spend two weeks in the woods in God's worship. Will it always be so?
Here I must digress a little even at the risk of seeming to be personal. My grandfather, Paul Fulton, and his family, were among those who came from the Tennessee Zion, and they aided in building the Alabama Zion; while my grandfather, Thomas Witherspoon, and his family, were among the number that came from Kingstree; and they aided in building Concord. Thomas Witherspoon had five children that lived to mature age. Two sons were elders and one a preacher. One daughter married an elder and one daughter married a preacher. Paul Fulton's four sons were elders; one daughter married an elder and the other two married preachers. One of his grandsons is an elder in the church at Oxford, Miss., and Chancellor of the State University; while one of his great grandsons is pastor of that church. One of his daughters married Jas. Porter McMullin, almost the life-long pastor of Zion and Concord. Prominent among the pillars of Zion were the Fultons, Andersons, Hannahs, and especially "Old Cousin Billy Britton," from Kingstree Church.
Mr. McMullin and his son Willie were killed, and their bodies lost, in the terrible battle at Resaca, GA. Willie was looking forward to work of the ministry; his younger bother now takes his place in this work, while one of the daughters married and elder and the other two married preachers.
Another of Paul Fulton's daughters married William Vincent Frierson, whose former wife was the daughter of Thomas Witherspoon. Thus providentially, was this man of God linked with, and himself made a link between, these two families.
And now we reach the point at which Mr. Lankford began, Here we ought to close, but some things impel us to go on. Just one hundred years have passed away since the incidents mentioned in the beginning of this article. It was in the 1830's that Vincent Frierson, Josiah Fulton, Flavel Wilson, Issac White, James Grey, and others settled in the Chickasaw country, and planted the seed of "Zion" church in Mississippi. It was a beautiful country, a land of enchantments. No wonder the Indians loved it so dearly, and were so loth to give it up. They named it "Pontotoc," "Hills of the Hanging Grapes." Railroads, plow-shares and barbed wire fences have made such improvements that even "King" Colbert himself would not have recognize his old homestead, as it still stands by the highway not far from Zion.
In the 1840's came Armstrong and Robert Fulton, Minto Witherspoon, and Franklin Witherspoon's widow, children of Paul Fulton, or of Thos. Witherspoon, and hence brother-in-law and sister-in-law of Vincent Frierson, and we have fit nucleus for a "Zion" Church. As in Alabama we had Zion and Concord, so here we had Zion and Harmony. In the latter were the Grays, Wiley, Doziers, and especially that "F. F.V.," old Major Brame, whose great heart and lordly mansion were alike open to all, especially to Presbyterians.
In the beautiful grove around Zion was the camp-ground, the tents (tabernacles), enclosing the church on both sides and presenting a picture never to be forgotten. Among the preachers that met with us there we recall Gaston, Patton, Gray of Ripley; Gary of the Female College, LaGrange, Tenn,; Waddel, Chancellor of the State University, and that trio of immortal pioneers, "Father Stuart," "Parson Frierson," and "Col. John Miller." The first of these, for ever fifty years had given his life to the Indians. The last had crowned himself with honor in the Mexican War, and that over, had started out on a bright political career, when God's spirit laid hold on him, and he was made to cry: "Woe is unto me if I preach no the Gospel." These three men linked their influence together and associated their memories together in developing the spiritual interested of Northern Mississippi as perhaps no other three have ever done. We had once a visit from Dr. Thornwell of Columbia, S. C. His sermons at Zion will never be forgotten.
In the family of Dr. Minto Witherspoon was one, his son-in-law, whose name afterward became a household word in our Southern Church. He was known in Zion as "Cousin Jack." He is know to the church at large as Rev. Dr. A. J. Witherspoon, of the Seamen's Bethel, of New Orleans, where his family are still living. In speaking of the fruitage of Pontotoc Zion, we mention him first. Here it was that this good man was developed, physically, and professionally. Being without charge, and with ample means, he preached wherever the way was open; but especially did he devote himself to the spiritual training of the negroes. Here they were always as home. But when the church was not otherwise occupied they had the entire house. Cousin Jack was peculiarly happy in his methods of instruction and so won their affections as to do a great deal of good among them.
Next comes my brother Dwight. This was his home. Here he preached his trial sermon, and here he was licensed. A grandson of both Paul Fulton and Thomas Witherspoon, he was trained by a widowed mother in strict accordance with Zion faith.
Then comes Rev. J. K. P. Newton. In the log schoolhouse in the church grove, it was the privilege of the writer to aid him in his study of the Greek Testament. The Zion people regarded him as their own son, and years ago he followed some of them to the board field of Texas, where he had since been faithfully sowing the seed of Zion.
A recent "Observer" brings the mournful tidings of his unexpected death. Earnest, conscientious, devotedly consevrated to his work, he is taken away in the high-tide of his life, and who will fill his place?
In connection with these two, Charlie Lankford mentions next W. V. Frierson, Jr. But there is an omission her that, however sad, must be supplied. There were two brothers, Wilson and Thomas. The first has completed his ministerial study, and had entered upon his life work of preaching. The other was following on. The first died in camp; the other was mortally wounded in the first Manassas, and after eighteen months of intense suffering and wonderful fortitude, was released by death. As to the third son, W. V., Jr., he inherits his father's name, disposition, and abilities and now that he is in possession of the old-time field of Zion, we trust that the seed sowing and fruit-gathering will go on under the blessing of God, with a renewed success. We have now traced this influence through four States, for a period of one hundred and fifty years. But the end of the chapter is not yet. Two of Vincent Frierson's daughters married elders, who are now pillars of the Church of Cameron, on the San Gabriel; and there they built a church, and, of course, they named it Zion. A few weeks ago the "Observer" informed its readers of the death of Boston Frierson, and elder of Zion Church. God grant that his sons may take his place. Alex. Lankford is gone, and his sons and daughters are sowing Zion seed over the broad field of Texas. Father White, Vincent Frierson's adjutant, has long since passed from earth; and his son. I. N. White, is an active elder, sowing Zion seed in Temple, Texas. With him the writer served many years in Pontotoc Zion, holding up the hands of that beloved pastor, James H. Gaillard. Now all three are frosted over with age and are listening for the call to come home. Another trio, one from Alabama Zion, two from Concord, removed to Birmingham. One, Dr. Wilson of the Highland Church, has gone before. The other two, Dr. Fulton, now numbering his four-score years, and Dr. Hedleston, just reaching his three-score and ten, and faithfully sowing the good in Woodlawn Church, waiting and watching, watching and waiting.
("Christian Observer," Feb. 1, 1899)
Submitted by Bill Pittman.