Saturday, April 26, 2014

Presbyterians in the Piney Woods: The Legacy of Montrose, Mississippi

South of Newton, Mississippi, is the small town of Montrose in Jasper County. Founded in the 1830s by Scottish immigrants, Montrose was at one time a bustling village and home to a vibrant Presbyterian congregation. Today, the congregation no longer exists but a beautiful church remains. Built in 1910, the Montrose Presbyterian Church is a Carpenter Gothic-styled building with a steeply-pitched roof, an unusually tall bell tower and thirteen Gothic arch windows inside. Because of the church’s architectural design, Montrose Presbyterian Church (above) is listed in the National Register and is a designated Mississippi Landmark property, and there has been a concerted effort in recent years to restore the church. As important as the church building is, though, it’s only part of the story. For a time, you see, Montrose was the home of an academy dedicated to classical education. Although the school long ago ceased to exist, the two extraordinary men who built the school and the congregation went on to much greater endeavors in far-flung fields. This is the story of Dr. John Waddel and Dr. John Gray.

The son of a Presbyterian minister and educator, John Newton Waddel (pronounced “wad-ul”) was named for the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” (and he had a brother named Isaac Watts). John was born in 1812 in Willington, South Carolina, where his father, Dr. Moses Waddel (left), operated a highly respected academy called the Willington School, sometimes known as "Eton in the woods.” Along with strict religious instruction, the school’s regimen required students to memorize, translate, and recite at least 250 lines of Greek or Latin each night. The school record for recitation, held by future South Carolina governor George McDuffie, was an impressive 2,212 lines of Horace. Although he was known for his “severe and almost cruel” discipline and, according to one account, had a propensity for “profane swearing,” Dr. Moses Waddel was considered one of the South’s leading educators of the antebellum period and his academy counted among its graduates such luminaries as John C. Calhoun and Augustus B. Longstreet. 

Because of the academy's success, Dr. Waddel was called to Athens, Georgia, to rescue the fledgling University of Georgia, established in 1785. When Waddel arrived in 1819, he found the college "nearly extinct, consisting of only seven students with three professors." During the next decade, he worked hard to build up not only the enrollment but added several new buildings to the campus, including Philosophical Hall, New College and Demosthenian Hall (above right), all constructed in the early 1820s. During his career in education, Dr. Waddel’s students included two vice presidents, three secretaries of state, three secretaries of war, three foreign ministers, one Supreme Court justice, eleven governors, seven U.S. Senators, thirty two members of the House of Representatives, eight college presidents, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops and three generals, just to name a few. Moses Waddel died of a stroke on July 21, 1840, possibly due to “an excessive use of tobacco.” While he no doubt hoped John Newton would carry on his legacy at the Willington School, the younger Waddel by that time had decided to make his livelihood as a cotton farmer and headed west with his growing family.

John Newton Waddel settled in Greene County, Alabama, and moved in next door to his brother-in-law and fellow Presbyterian, Rev. John Hannah Gray. There, the two families built log cabins and began tilling the soil. While in Alabama, Waddel was also called to the ministry and was licensed to preach. Within a few years, both men were given an opportunity to move further west with their families to Jasper County, Mississippi, where they again established roots. John Waddel, though, found that his farming skills were lacking. In fact, he had proved a miserable failure in growing cotton. To that end, he decided to establish a school in sparsely populated Jasper County, a vocation for which he was much better suited, returning, as it were, to the family business of education. The school he founded, called the Montrose Academy, started out small. “The school was opened in a log building,” he wrote, “which was used also for preaching purposes, and located on a gentle eminence, on the highway of travel, distant two miles from my residence, in the midst of an extensive pine forest.” Considering the remote location of the school and the lack of any substantial buildings, operating funds or library to speak of, it might be expected that the academy would be a complete failure. On the contrary, the Montrose Academy prospered and eventually boasted as many as seventy-five students, all engaged in studying the classics, English, algebra, trigonometry, navigation and, of course, regular Bible study. All students were also required to attend the Presbyterian Church. In time, the school attracted students from as far away as western Alabama, Vicksburg and Jackson. With increased tuition, additional buildings were constructed, including a two-story church on campus. Upon graduation, many of the students entered either Oakland College (located at present-day Alcorn State University) or the University of Mississippi. Whether they pursued further education or not, Waddel expressed satisfaction that “many who came in comparative ignorance and with unsettled morals left infinitely benefited.” Almost as soon as he arrived in Mississippi, Waddel was licensed by the Mississippi Presbytery, the Moderator of which was another prominent educator, Jeremiah Chamberlain of Oakland College. * As a minister, Waddel served a variety of churches, including Montrose, where he remained for seven years, during which time he also continued to operate the “Oxford of Jasper County.” When Rev. Waddell left for the real Oxford to serve the Presbyterian Church there and to teach as a professor of ancient languages at the University of Mississippi, the academy at Montrose faded away. Sadly, he left behind a four-year-old son, also named John Newton, who died in 1846. His grave remains today in the Montrose Cemetery.

The Montrose Presbyterian Church was organized in 1841 with similarly humble beginnings. The church’s first pastor was John Hannah Gray, also a native of South Carolina. Gray was a few years older that Waddel and graduated from Georgia in 1823 at age nineteen during the presidency of the elder Dr. Waddel. After graduation, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and moved to Alabama with his brother in law and thence to Jasper County in hopes of improving his health. Two years after becoming the first pastor at Montrose, he left his brother-in-law in charge of the Montrose Church and moved to Vicksburg and then to Memphis in 1845, where he organized the Second Presbyterian Church. Gray remained in Memphis for the next fourteen years, where “his blameless life, his tender sympathy with all classes of sufferers, his fidelity to the duties of his sacred office, his tender, affectionate, and wise pulpit ministrations, all combined to clothe him with an influence and a power for good such as few men have ever wielded in Memphis.” Some of his tenderness as a pastor may have come from Dr. Gray’s own tragic experience with his family: of eleven children, only two survived. In addition, his wife Jane preceded him in death.

In 1857, Gray left Memphis to become president of the LaGrange Synodical College in LaGrange, Tennessee. Located just north of the Mississippi state line, LaGrange was chartered in 1829. From the beginning, the town attracted colleges for both male and female students and in 1855 preparations were made for a new college sponsored by the Memphis Presbyterian Synod. Dr. Gray was selected by unanimous vote to head the new institution. The academic regimen was stiff. Just to apply for admission to the school, students had to pass an examination in English grammar, geography and arithmetic, plus be proficient in the first five books of Caesar’s Commentaries, the Eclogues, Virgil’s Aeneid, the Metamorphoses of Ovid, the Greek Reader, the first four books of Xenophon’s Anabasis, algebra and be generally well versed in Greek and Latin grammar. In addition, applicants were required to “present a certificate of good moral character from some reliable source.” If accepted, students at the college were expected to complete a rigorous course in classics, philosophy, science, mathematics and grammar. Among the faculty members at the college was a familiar face – John Newton Waddel, who left the University of Mississippi to join the faculty at Lagrange College. There, he taught a course in “Ancient Literature,” while Dr. Gray taught “Ethics, Metaphysics and Sacred Literature” in addition to acting as president. With the two reunited, the future of the new institution seemed bright indeed. They also shared ministerial duties at the LaGrange Presbyterian Church.

Unfortunately, the LaGrange Synodical College did not survive the conflagration of the Civil War. Located on the line of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, LaGrange was occupied by Union forces from June 1862 onward. In April 1863, Union Col. Benjamin Grierson used LaGrange as the starting point for his raid into Mississippi. Aimed at Newton Station on the Southern Railroad, Grierson’s Raid threw a panic into Confederate forces in central Mississippi and served as a diversion to distract attention from Grant’s army as it searched for a landing place on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Grierson led his 1,700 cavalrymen south from LaGrange on April 17; a week later, on April 24, his men rode into Newton and wrecked the railroad there and then rode further south to avoid Confederate cavalry in pursuit. Oddly enough, Grierson’s men camped at the Bender Plantation near Montrose that night, the same little town settled by Dr. Gray and Dr. Waddel more twenty years earlier. From Montrose, Grierson’s raiders continued to elude Confederate cavalry until they reached the safety of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. [For more on Grierson's Raid, please read]

After the collapse of LaGrange College, which was burned during the Civil War, John Gray and John Waddel finally parted ways for good. During the war, Waddel served as an agent for the Bible Society and as a missionary to the Confederate Army, while Dr. Gray remained in LaGrange to tend to his congregation. Over time, his health failed and he died in 1878 and was buried beside his wife in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Meanwhile, Dr. Waddel returned to Oxford after the war to become Chancellor of the University of Mississippi. During his nine-year term, which coincided with Reconstruction, he continued to preach at several area Presbyterian churches. After leaving Ole Miss in 1874, he returned to Georgia to take a post as Executive Secretary for the Georgia Commission on Education, and then served as Chancellor of the Southwest Presbyterian University in Clarksville, Tennessee. At each place, he continued to preach. He was also during this time very active in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S., where he was known as a "conservative by age, wisdom, and experience." In one instance, for example, he opposed a move by the General Assembly to allow the use of collection plates instead of "greasy slouch hats" because, as Dr. Waddel argued, hats had always been used for collections. The proposal failed at the 1868 General Assembly with Dr. Waddel casting the deciding vote to continue "passing the hat." With his health beginning to fail, Waddel was forced to retire in 1888. He remained in Clarksville, Tennessee, until his death in 1895. He is buried in Clarksville's Greenwood Cemetery (above), while his wife, who died in 1851, rests in the College Hill Cemetery near Oxford.

During their long and productive lives, both John Newton Waddel and John Hannah Gray remained committed to the twin pillars of faith and learning and excelled in both endeavors. Their contributions in education and religious instruction are an enduring legacy of the little town of Montrose deep in the piney woods of Mississippi. 

* On September 5, 1851, Chamberlain was brutally murdered on campus. His death created a sensation throughout Mississippi. For more on that story see:

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Montrose Presbyterian Church: From the National Register of Historic Places file at MDAH
(2) Moses Waddel:
(3) Domosthenian Hall:
(4) John N. Waddel: From Memorials of academic life (1891) in Google Books 
 (5) John H. Gray:
(6) LaGrange College:
(7) Grierson's Raid:
(8) Waddel grave: 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Yellow Fever!

Mississippi’s Yocona River, which flows through Lafayette County and feeds into Enid Lake before meandering west into Panola and Tallahatchie counties, was one of several river barriers facing U.S. Grant’s army during the Mississippi Central Railroad campaign in the winter of 1862. In an effort to slow the Federal advance, Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton posted units to protect several bridges across the Yocona with orders to destroy the bridges when the enemy arrived. One of the river crossings was at a place called as Free Bridge. On December 3, 1862, men from the 5th Ohio Cavalry (some of whom are seen here), part of a brigade led by Col. Edward Hatch, seized the north bank of the river at Free Bridge and managed to extinguish the fires set by the Confederates. A short distance downstream, the Federals also secured Prophet Bridge, while Confederates guarding the Springdale Bridge, over which the Mississippi Central Railroad crossed the Yocona, were engaged with the remainder of Hatch’s Brigade. Realizing the Federals had secured a crossing of the Yocona, the Confederates retreated toward the Yalobusha River. On December 5, the Union cavalry advance was stopped in a sharp engagement at Coffeeville. Following Earl Van Dorn’s raid on Holly Springs later in the month, Grant was forced to reverse course, choosing instead to send his army down the Mississippi toward Vicksburg, which was his ultimate goal.

Sometime after the Civil War, Lemuel Dallas Jones, a native of nearby Panola County, moved to the Free Bridge area. Born in 1855, Dallas Jones and his wife Mary Elizabeth had eight children. With Jones’ arrival, the river crossing at Free Bridge became known as the Dallas Jones Crossing. It was here in 1898 that locals would again be engaged in a desperate battle with a foe perhaps even more persistent and pernicious than the Union army: yellow fever. During the outbreak, one of many such epidemics which swept across Mississippi in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the towns of Taylor and Orwood bore the brunt of the fever. Orwood was a small community located in the southwestern corner of Lafayette County near the Panola County line, while Taylor was located a few miles south of Oxford on the railroad line. Taylor had already been visited with the disease once: in 1879, a man began exhibiting signs of yellow fever during a revival meeting. The panic which ensued emptied the place and for months Taylor was a virtual ghost town with only a few left to care for the sick and dying.

To combat the latest threat of the dreaded disease, the Dallas Jones Crossing over the Yocona was closed to traffic, as were other bridges and crossings over the river, to prevent the fever from reaching Water Valley and beyond. To try and contain the epidemic, both Taylor and Orwood were quarantined on August 30, 1898. The decision to quarantine the towns was made by Dr. Harris Allen Gant after wiring the State Board of Health in Jackson for advice. Gant was born in 1852 in Columbia, Tennessee. At an early age, his family moved to Mississippi and he was raised in Oxford. After attending the University of Mississippi, Gant moved to Water Valley, where he became a teacher and an apprentice at a drug store. In 1876, he graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree. Returning to Water Valley to practice medicine, Dr. Gant soon found success battling yellow fever. So grateful were the citizens of Water Valley that they presented the good doctor with a gold watch. In time, Dr. Gant earned a wide reputation as someone who could deal effectively with yellow fever. As such, he was elected to the State Board of Health in 1892. In 1897, Gant traveled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to investigate an outbreak in Ocean Springs. Again successful in fighting the disease, the people on the Gulf Coast gave him a gold-tipped cane in appreciation for his work and he was then appointed by Governor Anselm McLaurin to visit Cuba to study the disease there. It was upon his return home to Water Valley that the epidemic hit Taylor and Orwood. With the river crossings closed and the Dallas Jones crossing guarded by Dallas Jones himself, Dr. Gant took the further precaution of requiring trains to pass through Taylor without stopping and a camp meeting was disbanded on the south side of the river. Aided by another local doctor named W.T. Matthews, Dr. Gant was able to isolate the yellow fever to a thirteen mile area. Of 115 reported cases, only eighteen victims died. In the process, Dr. Gant kept meticulous records of those infected. Because of this, a great deal of information was made available for future outbreaks.

The next year (1899), Dr. Gant again travelled to the Gulf Coast to Mississippi City during an outbreak there. In 1900, he moved to Jackson to open a medical practice with Dr. John F. Hunter, who was the secretary of the Board of Health. Gant, meanwhile, was elected president of the board, where he served for four years. A member of the Masonic Lodge, the Knights of Honor, the Mississippi Historical Society and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Dr. Gant became a prominent and well-respected member of Jackson’s society. More importantly, he was considered a regional authority on yellow fever. According a biographical sketch published in 1907, Gant’s “advice and counsel are much in demand when dangers from the fever threaten. By his prompt action in diagnosing the disease at Orwood in 1898 and by his immediately instituting a legal quarantine, he undoubtedly prevented the spread of the disease to adjacent territory.” Despite being exposed to numerous cases of yellow fever, Dr. Harris Allen Gant lived to the ripe old age of 89. He died in 1941 and is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. Dallas Jones, the namesake of the river crossing, died in 1935 at age 80.

Orwood itself did not survive long after the yellow fever epidemic. By 1905, the little community was extinct. Taylor, on the other hand, recovered from the fever and from subsequent disasters (including fires, crop failures and the Depression) and is today a tourist destination. In addition to a vibrant arts community, the town is home to Taylor Grocery, built ca. 1889, a popular restaurant and music venue.  Taylor’s survival as a community is at least in part due to the dedication and knowledge of Dr. Harris Gant, one of many little known heroes from Mississippi’s past. 

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) 5th Ohio:
(2) Lafayette County:
(3) Yellow Fever victims:
(4) Taylor Grocery:

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Millsaps College School of Law

In 1890, Reuben Webster Millsaps, a prominent businessman and Methodist layman, donated $50,000, which was matched by Methodists across the state, to establish a college in Jackson. A Confederate veteran who was wounded twice during the war, Major Millsaps (right) was active in the development of the new college until his death in 1916. [For more on Major Millsaps, please see Today, Millsaps College is regarded as one of the best small, liberal arts colleges in the nation and is a leader in medical and business education, among other academic degrees. At one time, Millsaps also offered a degree in law, and for more than two decades the Millsaps College School of Law was the only law school in the state capital. 

In 1896, the college’s board of trustees decided that Jackson, as the state capital, needed a law school. Of course, there was already a law school in Oxford at the University of Mississippi. The advantage of a law school in Jackson, they reasoned, was the location. According to the college’s bulletin, the presence of the United States court and the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed “the observant student [to] follow the history and course of cases in actual litigation from the lower tribunal to the highest, and observe in their practical operation the nice distinction between the State and Federal jurisdiction and practice.” There was also a very practical reason for locating in Jackson: students could use the “extensive and valuable State Law Library” at no cost. In the first year of the law school, twenty-eight students were enrolled, with fifteen seniors. Tuition was set at $66, which included a $5 “contingency fee.” Each student, according to the course requirements, was required “to present [a] satisfactory certificate of good moral behavior” prior to admission. To lead the new law school, Millsaps College called on one of the most respected legal minds in Mississippi with strong ties to the University of Mississippi. In fact, he was a former chancellor at Ole Miss. 

Edward Mayes was born in Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1846. In 1860, he was in school at Bethany College in what is now West Virginia but came home to Mississippi with civil war on the horizon. For the first few years of the conflict, Mayes served as a clerk in Jackson but in April 1864 volunteered as a private in Co. H, 4th Mississippi Cavalry. In the fall of 1865, he entered the freshman class at the University of Mississippi and graduated from the law school in 1869. The same year, he married Miss Frances Lamar, who just happened to be the daughter of L.Q.C. Lamar, and she was the granddaughter of Augustus B. Longstreet, who was the second chancellor at Ole Miss. With his pedigree firmly established, Mayes (above) opened his law practice in Coffeeville and then moved to Oxford in 1872. He joined the faculty in 1877 and then became chancellor in 1889. He has the distinction of being the first native Mississippian and the first Ole Miss graduate to become chancellor of that institution. During his tenure, Ventress Hall was constructed as the library building; it would later serve as the law school. In addition to Mayes’ ties to L.Q.C. Lamar and the University of Mississippi, he was also a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and was a member of the 1890 General Conference in St. Louis. Thus, when Millsaps College established its law school, Mayes was a natural fit, having ended his tenure as chancellor in 1891. While at Millsaps, Mayes somehow found time to write a comprehensive history of education in Mississippi, a book published in 1899. Edward Mayes remained at Millsaps College until his death.

Also serving on the faculty was a distinguished lawyer and jurist named Albert Hall Whitfield. Whitfield, a native of Monroe County, Mississippi, was born in 1849, too young by a couple of years to serve in the Civil War. Whitfield graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1871 and then joined the faculty there, where he taught Greek, Latin, English and History. After practicing law in Grenada (where he married Miss Isadore Buffaloe in 1876), he moved to Oxford. Whitfield succeeded Mayes as a professor of law at Ole Miss until 1894, when he was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court by Governor John M. Stone. Whitfield (left) thereafter served as Chief Justice for ten years. When the Millsaps College Law School was established in 1896, Whitfield was already in Jackson and was a natural choice for the faculty. Not only did Whitfield know Edward Mayes from his days at Ole Miss, he remained the as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court while teaching law school! By all accounts, Albert Hall Whitfield was a colorful figure. Like Mayes, he was a frequent author, writing on such varied subjects as the question of Philippine annexation in Cosmopolitan Magazine. In private life, it was well known that he “fretted and fumed a great deal over things, whether State or society, that he felt were not justified by ethical standards.” Despite being a member of the Baptist Church, he apparently used the word “damn” quite liberally and often exclaimed that “Life is just one damn thing after another.” Whitfield died in Jackson in 1918. In a biographical account written by his close friend Dunbar Rowland is perhaps the finest thing that can be said regarding the end of a person’s life: “After a brilliant career in which he had borne himself well in both public and private life he retired to his library to happily browse among the books.”

Led by these two men, the Millsaps College School of Law endured and prospered for twenty-two years. Among those who attended the school were Luther Manship, Jr. of Jackson, who would serve in World War I as an artillery officer, and Isaac Lagrone Tigert of Tippah County, who was the Sergeant-at-Arms for the Mississippi Senate and was later elected to the South Carolina legislature. In 1917, however, Edward Mayes died suddenly, followed the next year by Whitfield. Thus, both of the men who had guided the law school for its entire existence were suddenly gone. More importantly, most of the male students at Millsaps were by then preparing for the war in Europe. Millsaps was among the sites selected for the Student Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.), which was a program established by the War Department designed to use existing college campuses as training facilities for military personnel. The S.A.T.C. at Millsaps was led by Lt. Charles Gueltig (above left), a German immigrant and an attorney from Missouri. By 1918, Millsaps resembled an armed camp of instruction more than a college campus and many of the students left to join the war effort. Even one of Millsaps’ faculty members, Dr. John Marvin Burton (above right), volunteered and was killed in France. Burton came to Millsaps in 1910 and was a professor of romance languages and French literature. Apparently, he had volunteered for the war in allegiance to both of the “world’s greatest democracies.” His death was mourned by the entire campus and the 1919 annual, the Bobashela, was dedicated to his memory. In the memorial dedication, the writer stated that it was through his death that “Millsaps gave the best she had to the struggle for Liberty, and Fate took the best she gave.” Dr. Burton wasn’t Millsaps College’s only casualty of the First World War. The other was the School of Law, which was discontinued in 1917. 

For several years after the war ended, there were attempts to revive the Millsaps law school, but to no avail. In 1930, a law school was once again established in Jackson, but it was no longer associated with Millsaps. Known as the Jackson School of Law, the law school was acquired by Mississippi College in 1975 and since 1980 has been fully accredited with the American Bar Association. The MC Law School remains the only other law school in Mississippi besides the University of Mississippi. As dedicated Methodists, it might displease both Major Reuben Webster Millsaps and Edward Mayes to know that the descendant of their beloved law school now belongs to Mississippi College.

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Millsaps:
(2) Law School:
(4) Mayes:
(5) Whitfield:
(6) Gueltig:
(7) Burton:
(8) MC Law: