Autobiographical sketch of
|Wooley's Ford, Hall Co., Ga.
November 3d, 1883
|I, John Edwards Rives, do,
this night, Nov. 3rd, 1883 begin a short sketch of my life, written by
the hand of Sister Minnie A. Julian. And unless my mind changes, said
sketch is not to appear in print until after my death, and then, without
change in this my diction.
From time to time, I have been urged by the Brethren to do this thing, more especially by the editor all the Index. Thus far my timidity as an humble Minister of the gospel has prevented me from granting their request. I have no desire whatever to withhold good from them to whom it is due; but the question with me is, what good can be accomplished by a review of my humble life work? Prayerfully, I have considered the question, and at last, have decided to begin the work, with Sister Julian's aid. I want the brethren, and Christian people generally, to understand that, in thus complying with their request, I am not stimulated by a desire to exhalt myself.
I was born in Chatham county, N.C., at what was known as the St. Lawrence old place, in the year 1802, March 5th. My great-grandfather, Thomas Rives, was an immigrant from England.1 My grandfather and father, both named Thomas Rives, were both natives of Dunwoody [Dinwiddie Co.] Va. My father married Miss Susanna Thweatt, of Dunwoddy [Dinwiddie], in the year ___, my grandparents - Thweatt - were immigrants from France to Virginia.2 I do not remember, and I have no record to show time of the immigration of my ancestors.
My father had a family of ten children, and lived in Chatham county N. C., till seven were born, I, John Edwards Rives, being the fifth child and 3rd son. I was in my ninth year when my father moved to Jones county, Georgia. He settled six miles from the Okmulgee river, which was the dividing line between the Creek Indians and whites.
Occasionally I used to go up the river with the boys to fish for shad. We could see the Indians on their side engaged in some business.
One day I was off some distance from the house plowing. The field was skirted on one side by woodland and the rows were very long. Looking towards the woodland I saw a fierce Indian approaching. From his conduct I was satisfied that more Indians were secreted in the woods. I plowed on, feeling no more afraid than I do this very minute. The Indians came up and commenced talking to me. I stopped my horse and talked to him, I can't say replied for we could not understand a word each other uttered. By and by he went back the way he came. From his actions then I was fully convinced that he was only one of a gang. Very often they would come across over in bands and take stock..
Why was it that I, a lone little boy, should under such circumstances feel no fear? Why did I escape the savage, unharmed and unmolested? Was it not especial Providence, that strange protection which has shielded me, which has given me courage and strength all my life?
When I was 15 years of age my father moved from Jones to Jackson County, Georgia, and settled three miles north of Jefferson.
I went to school a short time in N.C., but the most of my limited education was acquired in Jones and Jackson counties. The truth is, I went to school but very little.
In the spring of the year when I was chopping logs for my father I cut my foot so badly that I was not able to work. This caused my father to send me to Jefferson to sell goods for John Boyle. I continued in his employee two years. In my 19th year my father sent me to Virginia to collect the estate of Aunt Edmondson [Edmundson], my mothers aunt. I remained there some months. When I returned my father had moved to Hall County Georgia, and settled near Bark Camp. This change of location was not unexpected to me; for before going to Virginia I had been twice sent into this county to select a home. But I crossed the Chattahoochee at Shallow Ford for the first time, in March 1821. I have been a citizen of Hall County 61 years. How many and wonderful the changes!
The Cherokee Indians held the lands at west, and the whites east, of Chestatee river. I have traveled over the ground where Gainesville and Dahlonega now stand, when there was no Gainesville or Dahlonega - not even a good wagon road.
I worked with my father on the farm till I was married to Miss Elizabeth Warren in 1824. I then bought a small farm on Yellow Creek, and cultivated the soil of my first owned land a couple of years. The next five years I served as clerk for Patrick J. Murray, who lived at the place now called Gainesville. But I commenced selling goods for him at the place now known as the Old Fork Store. When the five years ended, Mr. Mary requested me to become a partner and continue the business. To which I agreed, providing that the sale of ardent spirits be discontinued. Mr. Murray objected, arguing that liquor brought trade from both Indians and whites. I was firm, contending that if liquor brought custom and profit to us, it carried misery and want to our customers. Mr. Murray finally accepted my proposition, on condition that we change our location. We moved six miles up Wahoo Creek on the Barnes Old Place and, thanks be to God, I have never made a man drunk from that day to this.
The fights, quarrels, and other barbarous scenes of those five years, utterly disgusted me with the evils of intemperance.
I was never in my life engaged in but one fight. Then I was trying to separate two drunk men who I was sure would hurt each other. One of them sent me to the ground. I don't know how I did it, but, as I went, I raised my heels and laid him over, then jumped across him and held him. I told them I did not want to hurt him and would not, but I must have peace.
A desire to have and to make peace has ever been - even when I was a sinner - a strong, ruling principle of my soul. But peace cannot reign were ardent spirits flow.
I was in the habit of attending Yellow Creek Church, but was never much impressed with the importance of religion till the Tugalo Association held a session there. I was then making a rocking cradle for my first child. I attended meeting on Sunday, and I remember as well as if I now was looking at it, the situation of the arbor and arrangement of seats. The arbor was built near the base of a tolerably steep hill, and the seats were placed in tiers up the declivity , so that the entire audience was visible to the minister. My seat was a post oak log, the upper and last of the tier.
Several ministers were attending the Association, but only two of them interested me. Humphrey Posey preached a very impressive sermon on the heinous sin of swearing. He was followed by Gray, of Columbus; a low, chunky man, whose image is indelibly impressed on my mind. It was a remark of his that first kindled the fire of repentance and my soul.
He said "The man who swears treats God just as the farmer treats his dog. If a farmer finds hogs in his field, and fails to get them out, then he calls his dog and sets him on. So the profane man orders God to do or to condemn for him what he cannot."
"I am the man," said I to myself. I had been much accustomed to using God's name in vain. Then and there I resolved to leave off this heinous sin, and I did.
I was under conviction two or three years, but at last my burden was removed, and I was baptized into the fellowship of Yellow Creek Baptist Church by Rev. James Whitten. Soon thereafter I began exercising in public. First in my immediate neighborhood, then among the people around about old Liberty.
My first work was merely exhortation and prayer; but I used to tell the brethren that I preached to Liberty before it was a church or I was a preacher.
Liberty Church, now in Dawson County, was organized in a log dwelling, built between the Sandford store house and present graveyard. But there was no burying ground or store house there then. This dwelling was occupied by a Mr. Osborne at the time of the organization. The first Church, a small rough log house, was built near the back of the graveyard. All the denominations worshiped there - hence the name Liberty. The next, a very good-hewed log house, was built about half way between the old and the present Church. Liberty Church requested my ordination soon after it was constituted..
I was ordained by the Yellow Creek church on the 3rd Saturday in August 1833, a little over 3 years from the time I joined this Church. I took charge of Liberty Church immediately, and continued in charge till the second Sunday in November, 1882. For forty nine years this Church was under my care as Pastor..
Soon after I joined the Church, I became impressed with the great importance of Sunday school work. Having acquired some knowledge of sabbath school discipline and instruction from an old man in Jackson County, I, aided by some young professors, organized a Sunday school at Yellow Creek Church, which was the first in this section of the country of which I have any knowledge. It continued for several years, prosperously, and I doubt not but that it effected much good by improving the morals of the people, and, I trust that God blessed it in the salvation of some souls...
In the year ____t was elected clerk of the Chattahoochee Association, which was then in session at ______. I held this office till 1843, when I was elected both moderator and clerk. The clerkship fail to the one who had received the second highest vote for this office. I remained moderator till the second Friday in October 1882. Through the infirmities of age I resigned this long conferred honor to my brother in Christ, A. L. Keith..
The circumstance which first lead to my being chosen moderator was this: the former moderator suggested the appropriateness of adopting a uniform system of preaching, i.e., requiring all his preachers to express the same opinion on important points of doctrine. The inconsistency of such a system was very apparent to me, and I fought this question which greatly agitated the association for several sessions. The majority being the same opinion that I held, placed me in the moderator's chair which, by the help of God, I have so long occupied, I trust, with credit to myself and a good to the people.
In addition to my duties as a minister, I have followed farming all my life, and I have been engaged in mercantile business from the age of 17 up to 1873. I sold goods for other parties when not in business for myself..
I have transacted a great deal of business, and saved many an insolvent man, giving him a chance to pay his indebtedness without sale of his property. I never received anything from a constable's sale but once in my life, and that was an ox, which other suits brought to sale.
At the close of the war, in 1865, when I posted my books there was $2000 worth of notes and accounts due me. I looked at the names and reflected on the condition of the families of my debtors. Here a father was gone; there a son; in this family no stock; and that no land, and in many naught was left but hopeless hearts and feeble hands. My soul was impressed with a desire to forgive every debt me. With the consent of my wife - for whom I consulted about all such matters - I did forgive every debt due me up to the first of January, 1866.
When I finally quit the mercantile business, in 1872, I again forgave every debt up to January 1st, 1873, and so wrote it in my will. To give, both spiritually and temporally, for the benefit of others, has ever been my chief desire and the highest aim of my soul, and I feel that I never lost by giving. In many, many instances, where I have not been pecuniarily rewarded, the sweet approval for an easy conscience has more than compensated me for any sacrifice made on my part. How true the text: "It is more blessed to give them to receive."
In the discharge of my duties as minister, I have never allowed business to conflict. Nothing but serious illness in my family, or of myself, kept me from my appointment. In the early part of my ministry, I used to work five days a week, then start early Saturday morning to attend my churches - some of them nineteen miles distant. In winter, I was as punctual as in summer. I neither ate, except my pocket lunch, nor warmed, save by a brush fire, till I had ridden five or six miles after meeting. I rode to my appointments when I had a horse, and walked when I did not have one.
In those days we carried our Bible and hymn book in saddle wallets, thrown over the shoulder or across the saddle. Stock then was not so plentiful as now; and conveyances, except wagons, were seldom seen in the country. The women clad in goods of their own make, walked to meeting barefoot, till within sight of the Church, then sitting down on the roadside, or by some rippling brook, they rested and dressed their feet. The first time I ever saw my first wife, she was sitting near the roadside, putting on her shoes, her lovely face aglow with modest blushes, as our eyes met.
The trials and manner of living then may now be regarded as hardships. But I was content and happy in my work. The Christians, though few in number, always attended meeting regularly. They were ever glad to see me and to meet each other. In those times people had to work hard and make greater sacrifices to go to meeting than they do now. Their minds were not so much absorbed in fashion, and in the advance of art and science. For these reasons I think they more gladly heard the Qord and enjoyed Christian conversation..
Precious to my soul is the memory of those hours of worship and rude log churches. The glad songs of praise, in which every voice, young and old, united; the up-turned faces; the tear stained cheeks; the hearty handshaking of little Christian hands; the bowed form of some convicted sinner, and the glad shout of some new won soul! Ah, I thank God for the joy of such realities and for the pleasure memory brings of well spent hours. The Lord has always been good to me, and I would rather be a doorkeeper in his house - be it a rude log, or edifice grand - than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
When the fire of manhood burned strongest in my bosom, like all men of ambition, I loved my country, and had some political aspirations. I served two terms in the Georgia Legislature as Representative from this (Hall) County beginning in 1839.
I can not recall the year that the state of Georgia called a convention to reduce and equalize the representative power. I was one of the delegates from this County to that assembly. We did the best we could, but our work was not received, because the question was one of impossibility. We could not equalize without an increase of representative power, or reduce without making the inequality greater. At that period of life I felt proud of my success over my opponent, and grateful to the people for the honor conferred on me at the ballot box..
At my present age, I still feel glad that I was successful, and that I tried to discharge my duty faithfully while in office. But I can not say that it is much, if any, benefit to a minister of the gospel to dabble in politics. In fact, I know that it is no advantage to the cause which we espouse. While the man is elevated in the minds of men, his calling is neglected in the sight of God. Hence, his usefulness is greatly hindered. Both experience and the testimony of the Word, has taught me that the life of a politician is not suited to a minister of the gospel.
2 This is also unacceptable tradition.
Source: James Rives Childs: Reliques of the Rives (Ryves), Lynchburg, Va., J. P. Bell Company, Inc., 1929. Note: The footnotes are also from the book. This biographical sketch, as indicated, was apparently dictated to a Miss Julian who transcribed it.