Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Reverend Claud Cole Boynton Remained in the Mountains

Last week’s column gave a brief review of the history book produced by First Baptist Church, Blairsville, Georgia. I highly commend it to your reading.

I want to add some more information to the biographical sketch on pages 74 and 75 that tells of Rev. Claud Cole Boynton’s ten-year tenure as pastor of First Baptist Church, Blairsville (1944-1954). He was well-beloved by many, and served not only First Baptist of Blairsville, but Choestoe Baptist (my home church), Zion and Mt. Lebanon in Suches, and others.

He and his bride, the former Annis Grace Ozmer, came to the mountains to Lake Winfield Scott for a vacation before they planned to move on to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ranger Arthur Woody met the young preacher, a graduate of Mercer University. The Ranger found out that he was a good speaker and that his exegesis of the Scripture was sound. In addition, the young preacher had a marvelous singing voice and had been on an evangelistic team not only as a preacher but as a baritone soloist as well.

The report goes that Ranger Woody talked to Rev. Boynton, telling him of the dearth of good Bible-teaching preachers at that time in the mountains (about the mid-1930s). Ranger Woody made arrangements for him to preach in revivals at some of the mountain churches in the Suches area. Crowds came to hear the young, enthusiastic preacher. A harvest of souls and baptisms were encouraging.

Ranger Woody prevailed up Rev. Boynton to remain in the mountains. He supposedly said to him, “You can get enough training right here in these mountains where we need a good preacher so badly. You don’t have to go away to seminary.” Furthermore, Ranger Woody promised the young preacher a job working as a supervisor in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a job which provided a meager living for the young couple. That was arranged, and Rev. Boynton worked with “the boys” of the C. C. C., as a chaplain and also a supervisor as the young men built roads and fire towers, put out forest fires and planted trees. Rev. Boynton preached on Sundays and Wednesday nights at part-time churches.

Without availability at this writing of the Notla River Baptist Association minutes to verify just when Rev. Boynton assumed leadership of Choestoe Baptist Church, I will say it was about 1936 or 1937. He was also pastor at the same time at Zion in Suches, preaching on alternate Sundays at the churches. He therefore became my pastor when I was young, and remained with us until Blairsville First Baptist became “full-time,” at which time he resigned Choestoe and became Blairsville’s full-time minister (August, 1953).

He often liked to state of his work in the mountains: “I came here on a vacation and spent the rest of my life serving God in these mountains.”

He was an apt teacher of the Word of God, and often led what we then called “study courses” for members of his congregation, with the studies focused on particular books of the Bible. He was a lover of young people, and ever encouraged them to get education beyond high school. He was good at knowing how to assist them to apply for and receive scholarships for college studies. He introduced Vacation Bible Schools as part of the summer programs of every church he pastored in the mountains. The Georgia Baptist Sunday School Department had provision for leadership help, a lady they sent to live among the people and assist with Vacation Bible Schools until the churches developed their own leaders under the encouragement of Rev. Boynton.

He was very active in community affairs. He served as Union County’s representative to the Georgia Legislature for several terms. He was an able speaker and was often invited not only to civic clubs in Union County but elsewhere as guest lecturer.

When the movement began in the mid-1940s to establish Truett McConnell College, it was Rev. Boynton who sent out letters and called a meeting of interested persons at First Baptist Church, Blairsville. At first, the charter was drawn for the college to be located in Blairsville, but Cleveland, Georgia had the largest donation of lands and money, and the college went there. Change of location did not preclude Rev. Boynton’s hard work for the fledgling college. He served on its first Board of Trustees, and went far and wide over the state of Georgia speaking on behalf of the college to raise funds.

He was my pastor at Choestoe from about 1936 until following my husband’s ordination to the gospel ministry. He was my counselor and spiritual advisor when I became a Christian at age nine. He baptized me. When my mother died in 1945, he comforted my family and conducted her funeral. When my brother returned, wounded, from World War II, he was there to encourage. He helped me to get a work-study scholarship to attend Truett McConnell College. He counseled Grover and me prior to our marriage in 1949, and officiated at our wedding ceremony. Later, when Grover announced his call to the gospel ministry, Rev. Boynton was the first one we told. He arranged for and presided over the ordination presbytery when Rev. Grover Jones was ordained on August 19, 1951.

Rev. Boynton died at a young age, 61, following a heart attack. His call to pastoral work in the mountains came in an unusual way—from a visitor on vacation here to a person who became one with the churches, people and needs of the mountains. His tombstone and those of his wife and their beloved daughter are in the Choestoe Baptist Church Cemetery. When you see the tombstones, I challenge you to think of the dash between the dates, representative of all the good work the Boynton family expended in the mountains of North Georgia, and the broad-reaching influence he wielded through his faithful calling:

Rev. Claud Cole Boynton, June 26, 1893 – November 13, 1954
Annis Grace Ozmer Boynton, October 26, 1893 – August 7, 1981
Mary Boynton Wehunt, August 4, 1914 – December 17, 1946

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 24, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

About "How Firm a Foundation" -- First Baptist Church History Book

Recently off the press is the beautiful book recounting the history of First Baptist Church, Blairsville.

Serving on the committee to research, write, design and publish the book were Ed and Doris Durban, Eva Decker, Mary Sue Moon, James Hooper, Tina Hourihan, Carol Rabun and Alan Morgan. They readily acknowledge that many more contributed to the book, making it a compendium of local and area history as well as the story of a faithful group of people who have lived and exercised faith in this place since at least 1875 or earlier.

It is an unusual book. Seldom do you see a church history book that is bound in what I like to call a “coffee table” format, one so comely and physically appealing in a book that you will want to place it in a prominent place in your home. Cover and contents, color and design—all invite the reader to enjoy.

The committee could not find an exact beginning date for First Baptist Church, Blairsville. They learned it was already founded and functioning as early as August 12, 1875, the earliest written records about the church. On that date, three messengers from the church—Isaac Petty, E. Boling and A. Carpenter—were representing Blairsville Baptist Church at the annual meeting of the Notla River Baptist Association and were so recorded in that body’s written minutes.

How long before 1875, or just when or by whom the church was founded has been lost in the mists of time and the absence of recorded information. The committee is to be commended for the sources they consulted to bring as much information as possible to readers about the church’s existence, growth, work and influence in the community and to the ends of the earth.

Old land deeds of August 29, 1883 reveal that a gift of two acres of land on Lot 303 was made to Blairsville Baptist Church Trustees by Jacob Luther Colwell. The Trustees receiving the land on behalf of the church were John A. Christopher, J. W. Meeks and Jessie Y. Walker. Later, in another gift of land from the same Land Lot 303, Mr. Jacob Luther Colwell gave another acre of land on January 8, 1890. On this land a house of worship was erected.

Early pastors, from a list made from memory by J. L. “Uncle Boney” Colwell in 1944, provided insight to first leaders in the absence of recorded minutes of the church’s first decades. Thumbnail biographies of these pastors are given, together with pictures when available.

The title of the book, How Firm a Foundation: A History of the First Baptist Church, Blairsville, Georgia, lends a hint of one of the unique features of the book. “How Firm a Foundation” is the title of a beloved church hymn appearing first in 1787 in London in John Rippon’s “Selection of Hymns.” It was beloved, too, by the first settlers who practiced the “faith first delivered to the saints.” They sang the songs they had learned in the mother country when they gathered to worship. In the seven chapters of the book, the committee used a hymn contemporary to and beloved in that particular historic period. This feature, combined with the history of the period and extensive pictures, many in color, provide a readable, interesting and composite picture of Baptist Church life and the context of events in which the church worked and ministered.

The dust jacket cover has these words about the book: “This is not your average church history book. This is a book about people—Christian men and women who, through dedication and commitment to God and each other, built the First Baptist Church of Blairsville. It is a story, not of a building, but of individual lives bound together within a community of God.” – The Book Committee; Ed Durbin and Doris Durbin, Editors and Writers.

As a researcher and writer, I will return to this book time and again as I seek information about people whose brief biographies and remembrances are included in the book. The excellent index makes the book an easy-to-use reference source. For inspiration, I will read testimonies and remembrances included in the book by various people I have known. In this way I can reconnect with people who made a difference in my own life.

Thanks are certainly in order to the church body itself for calling for and voting to publish what Honorable Zell Miller calls “a golden treasure-trove.” Thanks, a thousand-times over, for the persistence, digging, and hard work of the committee that brought the book to fruition. We think of crowns being a reward of our faithful service and coming after our transition to glory. But with this earthly work, the compilation and publication of How Firm a Foundation, your crown, faithful committee, is in our hands, ready to use, a glowing tribute to your efforts. All who read and appreciate the book will be basking in the glow of your shining crown.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 17, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ebenezer Witzel Family in Union County by 1834

The Ebenezer Witzel family was in the 1834 census of Union County, Georgia, a special listing of citizens called for by Act of the Georgia Legislature in 1833 and completed on March 24, 1834. Of the population of 903 in the county in 1834, the Witzel household numbered five.

Ebenezer Witzel was the only male in his household, with his wife (whose name we do not learn until 1860 as Minerva) and three female children. They were still in Union in 1840, and had grown to five children, all females under the ages of fifteen.

We do not know what happened to the Ebenezer Witzel family in 1850. Maybe the census taker missed going by that family’s dwelling. But by 1860 and thereafter, the Ebenezer Witzel family was recorded in the new Fannin County (formed in 1854 from parts of Union and Gilmer).

Maybe I should call these early settlers whose names are listed in the 1834 census of Union County as “First Families.” In a sense, they were the first families to take up residence and carve out a living amidst the hills, valleys and ridges of Union.

Witzel is an unusual last name, one that catches the eye in a list like a county census. It is listed Witzel, Wetzel, Whitzell and other similar spellings. German in origin, it means a descendant from “Wizo”, a sort of slang name for “Wild Forest.” Could it mean, then, that the original Witzel immigrants to America came from the Black Forest of Germany? It is known that Johannes Geog Wetzel settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s and his descendants migrated from there to various states.

According to the 1860 census of Fannin County (where we find the Union County Ebenezer Witzel of the 1834 Union census) he was a farmer, owned his own land evaluated at $2, 500 and his monetary assets were $1,000.

He had been born, according to the 1860 census, in North Carolina, and his wife, Minerva, had been born in South Carolina. He was 53 years of age and she was 41. They had two children remaining at home in 1860—John, age 14, and Hulda (Oregon?), age 10.

Did the Witzel family move from Union County to Fannin County? Probably not. It is possible that they lived on the same land they owned in Union in the 1834 and 1840 census listings. Why they were not “found” in the 1850 census is a matter of speculation. In 1860 they were in Fannin, possibly on the farm they had occupied in Union.

Ebenezer and Minerva Witzel, one of the “first families” of Union lived in a section of the new Fannin County called Sugar Creek. There Ebenezer had established the first iron forge to operate in the new Fannin County. This writer does not know the date of the iron forge’s opening, but it is very likely that it was in operation first in Union County before Fannin was founded in 1854. The iron mill was a large trip-hammer forge weighing several hundred pounds. It was operated by water power from a dam Ebenezer had built on Sugar Creek.

There this enterprising man also established a sawmill, likewise operated by water power. The sawmill was of the old type called a sash saw and worked in a vertical up-and-down motion.

To show how the Civil War adversely affected private business, the 1870 census shows that Ebenezer Witzel’s property evaluation had gone down to $1,000 and his monetary assets to $800. The reduction was probably from several factors like the actual cessation of iron manufacture (his forge did not operate during the Civil War) and his saw mill, from the poor economy after the war, and from Witzel’s deeding portions of his farm to his children as they married and established their own homes.

By 1870, Margaret Witzel, Ebenezer’s mother, had come to live with Ebenezer and Minerva. It is interesting to note that this 83-year old lady, born in North Carolina, had her occupation listed as “knitting socks.” Making socks from wool in 1870 was an important element of in-home production.

Ebenezer Witzel, born in North Carolina in 1807, died in Fannin County in 1871. His body was laid to rest on his own land. His was the first burial in what is known today as the Curtis Family Cemetery just off Curtis Road in Fannin County. There his wife, Minerva, was also laid to rest when she died October 4, 1904. It is believed that an unmarked grave in the old Curtis Cemetery may be that of Ebenezer’s mother, Margaret Witzel. The Witzel property was bought by Richard Ivy Byrd Curtis and became known in later years as the Curtis homeplace and Curtis Cemetery.

I did not find any Witzel marriages listed in early Union County marriage records. Next door in Fannin County, however, some thirteen Witzel and Wetzel marriages are listed between the years of 1854 and 1901. These marriages are of descendants, children and grandchildren, of the early settlers Ebenezer and Minerva Witzel who made their way to Union before 1834.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 10, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Mountain Way: 'Putting Up' Grape Juice and Jelly

Last week we recalled the mountain ways of preserving foodstuffs for winter use, with a general look at the processes of drying, pickling, barreling, canning and mounding-up to preserve foods for winter and early spring use.

Today I invite you to “go purple” with me and come along on a trip back in time to the old grape arbor, to the creek bank to gather fox grapes, and to that work of making grape juice and jelly for winter use. Purple has always been the color for royalty, and as we looked at our cans of purple grape juice and the small glasses of jelly, we could anticipate a feast fit for royalty supplemented and abetted by these two tasty preserved items.

My Grandpa “Bud” Collins had a grape arbor. He grew Concord grapes. The vines were staked “to a fare-you-well,” which in mountain vernacular meant the lush vines were well-trained along a sturdy grape arbor. It was a happy day for me—like play, not work—when I was allowed to accompany my Aunts Ethel and Avery to the grape arbor to gather the harvest. I can remember still looking up to see the luscious clusters of ripe grapes hanging like purple gold from the vines with broad leaves that ran along the whole length and breadth of the scaffold.

As a small child, I was allowed my own small bucket and a step stool on which I stood to gather grapes. I was warned in advance, “Be careful; don’t wiggle or you’ll fall off the stool!” My aunts gave me instructions on how to reach to the end of the cluster and gently pull off the whole bunch of grapes. I would soon have my small bucket filled and feel quite an accomplishment at my help with this valuable harvest.

Then came another work-play task I enjoyed. I was shown how to wash the grapes in pans of clear water. We didn’t have running water at that time, so we drew cool buckets from the deep well, using the “well bucket,” rope and windlass. We always washed the grapes twice to insure they were clean, and always “looked” them to remove any insects that might be hiding somewhere on the grapes.

The next step was pulling the grapes from the cluster, making sure no stems remained on them. In the pot, the grapes were covered with water and put on the Home Comfort wood stove to simmer. It was customary to use a wire potato masher to crush the grapes as they boiled so that the juice could be readily released from the hulls. After a proper length of time of cooking, the grapes were set aside to cool some, and then they were strained through clean cheesecloth to save just the royal purple juice. This was placed in one-half gallon Mason fruit jars, sealed with a “rubber ring and can top,” the kind of sealer we had for the jars in those days, and the whole cans were submerged into a hot water bath until processed—just a few minutes, maybe ten, for juice. If the juice was too tart, some sugar was added to the juice in each jar and stirred to dissolve, before processing.

When the sealed jars cooled, they were taken to the cellar and stored on the shelves there awaiting winter use. What a treat it was to get a half-gallon of grape juice and taste its tangy goodness in the dead of winter. How pretty the jars looked, sitting in their assigned place in the well-ordered cellar. This royal-purple drink took its honored place beside the other many jars of preserved food from summer’s bounty.

Some of the grapes were turned into jelly or jam. When the juice was made, it was matched, cup-for-cup with white sugar and boiled until it “jelled.” Sure-Jell, which has been a marvelous find for jelly-making in the latter half of the twentieth century, was never heard of when I was young and helping with the jelly-making. We simply boiled the sugar-juice combination until a drop of it into water in a cup would indicate to the practiced eye that the jelly was ready to put into sterilized small jars and sealed over with melted wax to await those future treats with jelly and butter on a hot biscuit. Yum, yum. Can’t you just imagine how that tasted on a snowy morning in December or January?

Fox Grape harvest came in the fall. It was harder to gather these grapes, for they were wild and grew on vines that had climbed trees in our forest, especially along branch or creek banks. My younger brother Bluford became an expert fox grape gatherer, for he could “skinny up” a tree, with a bucket strapped about his waist by a belt, ready to pluck those grapes from their tall hiding places. We would take two or three buckets on our treks to find and gather fox grapes. Once home again with our treasure from the forest, the same processes as with Grandpa’s Concord grapes was followed to make juice and jelly from these wild grapes. They had a tartness that distinguished them from the tame Concord grapes, and the color was not quite as royal purple as those from the arbor.

I was age fourteen when my mother passed away. I found myself of necessity having to be “chief cook and bottle washer”—as well as canner and preserver—around the Dyer household. Looking back now, I often wonder how I was able to do adult work and still go to school. It wasn’t easy, but I had been taught well: “Whatever thy hands find to do, do it with thy might” and “Work is honorable; do it to the best of your ability and without complaining.”

Every time I purchase grape juice in today’s modern super market or get a jar of Smucker’s grape jelly or jam from the grocer’s shelf, I think back to those days of yore when I thought nothing of gathering grapes, processing them, and enjoying the products of my labors, that mountain way of “putting up” against the hunger and cold of winter months.

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 2, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.