Saturday, March 28, 2015

Who Was That Masked Man?

by Jerome

Diary of A J Eychaner, reproduced by kind permission of Jan Stilson

First my apologies for the reference to The Lone Ranger. It gives away my age somewhat. But it’s a way of raising an important question on identity in a given situation.

At the head of this article is a most interesting historical document. It is two pages from the diary of A J Eychaner from 1895. As a later hand has indicated with comments and highlighter, Eychaner talks of C T Russell speaking at a conference at Marshalltown, held over August 15-25, 1895. This was the Church of God’s Iowa State Conference for that year. Andrew James Eychaner (1842-1936) was a long time preacher for the Church of God – a combination of congregations that used such names as Abrahamic Faith/One Faith/Age to Come. They were eventually united as the Church of God General Conference in 1921.

Charles Taze Russell (hereafter referred to as CTR) had connections with this group in the early days. Because they would often fellowship with Advent Christians on a local level (before the latter body became an official denomination) this has muddied the waters somewhat about the little fellowship CTR first met with at Quincy Hall in Allegheny. The Church of God’s main paper, The Restitution, advertised Barbour’s Three Worlds book, and CTR’s first independent work, Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return, was given away with this paper in 1877. These connections are discussed at length in Separate Identity Volume 1, and also past articles on this blog such as Charles Taze Russell and the Restitution, and 1874-75 Allegheny-Pittsburgh – Adventist or Age to Come?

It would appear from the diary above that, although ZWT was well-established by 1895 and the Watch Tower movement was achieving its “separate identity”, CTR still appeared on a Church of God platform. This matter was discussed on the closed blog about four years ago, when the accuracy of the diary entries was questioned. (For any who are gluttons for punishment and want all the references and do not have access to the closed blog, by all means feel free to contact me back-channel).

But reviewing the basics of the argument, there appeared to be conflicting evidence for whether it really was our Charles Russell who appeared on the same platform as A J Eychaner.

There were two main reasons for raising questions.

First, when The Restitution advertised the conference, it billed a C W Russell as the supporting speaker, and he too was a Charles. Charles W Russell was a regular assistant to Eychaner at this time. He moved to Iowa from Chicago and received his teaching certificate in July 1894. Over the next year, his name was regularly linked with Eychaner’s in tent work. Years later, in 1912 he was still preaching for the Church of God.

So it would be logical for C W Russell to appear at the Marshalltown conference. People would be expecting him, not CTR. Hence he is clearly billed in The Restitution for August 7, 1895, which gives the complete conference program with speakers.

Second, relations between our CTR and the Church of God had soured considerably by this time. CTR’s writings had attracted severe criticism as Restitution readers were warned about him. Some of the choice epithets he’d already garnered by this time included  “blinded by his own invention,” “abominable trickery,” “want of faith,” “lead away from God,” “deceive,” “false prophet,” “fraud,” “folly” and “poison.” The fact that ZWT adherents had targeted Church of God believers with tract work (see The Restitution for December 5, 1894 for example) left the latter singularly unimpressed. Which at least raises the question - would CTR really have been invited to share a Church of God platform for over a week? And had he done so, would he really (as the diary relates) have accepted a dollar for expenses?

Having raised these questions, I believe that had CTR been invited, he would have accepted. He was keen to share his beliefs wherever he could. He would get involved in well-publicized debates with clergy of the day – although a debate with two clearly defined opposing viewpoints was a little different to being invited as a guest speaker. But with strong attacks on his theology in The Restitution, would such an invitation still be given at this late date? And assuming it had been, how would that be received when news got out? Restitution readers were more than capable of complaining when anything less than the truth as they saw it was preached to them. But in extant copies of the paper, there is silence.

And yet one cannot escape the fact that the diary clearly states it was C T Russell who attended and spoke. And a diary has to be a primary source – of more probative value than a newspaper.

When I wrote on this subject four years ago I was – I admit – a tad dogmatic. When deciding to re-use this material for a new article, I decided it was more reasonable to now leave the question open. So really, this article was to be a cautionary tale on how historians are often faced with conflicting information. It still is. We don’t have literal observers to talk to. And even if we had, you would probably still have to deal with conflicting accounts given in all honesty by eyewitnesses. So a researcher has to make a judgment. And however much one might argue as above, you cannot get away from it – Andrew Eychaner sat down in the closing decade of the 19th century, dipped his pen in the ink, and wrote down C T Russell. Three times. The diary is a primary source.

And that would have been how the article ended.


But then quite remarkably, after nearly 120 years, in a moment of serendipity, further evidence has come to light. Eychaner wrote a report on what he had accomplished in the year 1895-96. It may even have been intended for publication in The Restitution – but sadly that file is incomplete. But his original handwritten report has survived. No doubt he used his personal diary notes as source material at some points. And below is reproduced the relevant page from this report in Andrew Eychaner’s own hand.

Report of A J Eychaner, used courtesy of Jan Stilson from material donated by Lois Cline, great niece of A J Eychaner

A transcript reads:

As your evangelist for the past year I submit to you the following report of work done, money received and amounts paid out in necessary expenses.

From Aug 15 to 25 I was with you in the conference at Marshalltown. I came on the 14th and brother Prinner arrived on the 15th. We found much to do in order that the conference might have a pleasant meeting. There was a lot to secure, water to arrange for with the city and ground to clean, tents to set up, and other necessary things to do. On Friday Aug 16 Brethren began to arrive and the meeting began at 8 o’cl. by brother C W Russell preaching the introductory sermon. During the meeting I helped along as I could in preaching 5 sermons and taking part in social meetings, Bible readings and business meetings. I think it was the best time we...    (last line indistinct)

So no matter what he wrote in his diary, when it came to an official report, we are back with C W Russell.

A J Eychaner’s account paints an entertaining and rather touching picture of those days. He didn’t just preach, he organised water, he put up tents, he dealt with the wind and the rain, he coped with local thieves who stole from his tent, and straight after the conference in question he mentions C W Russell again:

On Thurs Sep 5 I went to Lanark to assist in the conference of the State of Illinois, and again left C.W. Russell in charge of the tent. That eve there came up a severe storm and altho Bro Russell did all he could yet the wind damaged the tent considerable. I spoke six times at Lanark and preached one funeral discourse at Union church, returning to Laurens (?) and the tent Mond Sep 7, after an absence of only 4 days. Spoke on the life eternal through Jesus. That night thieves entered my tent and stole two chairs.

Later the conference made provision to fund this same Brother Russell for evangelistic services for the next six months.

So what do we have here? Three different sources and a conflict of information.

To review:

First, from The Restitution for August 7, 1895, page 2. This was the advertisement to get readers to attend. It was obviously the same conference that Eychaner described in his diary, even though there were some changes between the planning and the reality. (It appears that some billed speakers didn’t show, and those who were there had to fill in for them). Note that the first day of sermons was to be Friday August 16th, and C W Russell was billed to give a sermon.

However, when Eychaner wrote his diary, it now became C T Russell giving the sermon on Friday, August 16th.

But later when he wrote up his full official report, it reverted to C W Russell giving the opening sermon on Friday, August 16th.

CWR to CTR and then back to CWR again. What explanation can there be for this discrepancy?

I can only think of two possibilities. The first is deliberate misdirection. CWR was advertised, but CTR switched places with him. Then A J Eychaner put in his official report that it was CWR. And hoped that no-one would blow the whistle on the substitution.

Personally, I would find that hard to believe, if for no other reason that Eychaner was an honorable man. He might have been a bit of maverick at times, but that very point means that if he’d wanted to do something controversial, he would have stuck to his guns. He wouldn’t have falsified records to cover it up.

The other possibility is what we might call, for want of a better expression, a Freudian slip. The name of CTR wasn’t foreign to Eychaner – he had previously written about him in The Restitution.

We have all made such slips. Where I live there is someone who we shall call Debbie Richards. A relative of mine must have been influenced by Singing in the Rain, because the first time he met her he called her Debbie Reynolds. And for the last dozen years of his life, he couldn’t shake this – his synapses insisted that she was Debbie Reynolds – I mean Richards – and that was it. Had he written a diary, I am sure the error would have been there.

An historian who has examined the original diary in the archives of Atlanta Bible College has commented that the ink seems to indicate that it probably wasn’t a diary written day by day, but rather this whole page was likely written out in one go – maybe from other notes. So one slip writing CTR could easily be repeated on the same page.

If readers can suggest further possibilities, then please do so in the comment trail.

So in conclusion - does it really matter? We know there were links between CTR and the Age to Come movement in the early days. We know they became strained as CTR’s theology developed and ultimately were broken. The Restitution even promoted a book by W H Wilson (nephew of Benjamin) entitled Cunningly Devised Fables of Russellism.

It is just a matter of timing.

Perhaps the main point is the original intent of this article – which is that you cannot even automatically rely on a diary. Normally it would have trumped a current newspaper account hands down. But some readers may feel that a carefully thought-out report in the same hand can then trump a diary. We are all human, we all make mistakes. We don’t expect people to pore over our words and rough notes as if they were Holy Writ over a century later. 

Caveat lector – let the reader beware.

Personal comments by Jan Stilson, Church of God historian and author

The question of whether or not C.T. Russell was a guest preacher at the Iowa Church of God Conference in August, 1895, seems to have been settled once and for all when papers furnished to me, a Church of God historian and author (J. Turner Stilson. Biographical Encyclopedia: Chronicling the History of the Church of God Abrahamic Faith ISBN 0-615-46561-6), finally came to light.

An elderly local member, a great niece of A.J. Eychaner, had donated a box of historic papers prior to her death in 2014. With my husband’s illness and other pressing matters, I had set them aside for later review. As the question of Elder Eychaner’s mysterious diary entries re-emerged, I sat down one day to review the issue. Something had fallen out of a file folder next to the chair. In reaching for it I realized it was a hand written report of Eychaner to the Iowa Church of God Conference amazingly dated 1895-96. In these pages Eychaner several times had clearly written the name of Bro. C.W. Russell (of Chicago) who had been hired as evangelist for 6 mos.

How Eychaner managed to write “C.T. Russell” in his diary and “C.W. Russell” in his report, remains a mystery. Perhaps we can chalk it up to a lapse of memory, a “senior moment”, or some other lapse on Eychaner’s part. Jerome has said that discovery of the conclusive evidence at this particular time was “serendipity”, but perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps the Lord himself wanted this question settled, and made it so. The matter of unusual or conflicting facts is a major problem for historians working from scant or scattered documents. Even editors in The Restitution and The Restitution Herald, the Church of God’s succeeding title, could not agree on spelling of pastor’s and reader’s names from issue to issue. One might see “Uncle John Foor” in one issue and “Foore” in the next. And if John Foore named his son John Foore, well, the problems of determining which generation was being discussed were often serious. So, such an error on Eychaner’s part can perhaps be forgiven by historians. It certainly has made for an interesting dialogue. Thank you to all scholars for pursuing the matter. – Jan Stilson, Oregon, IL.


roberto said...

It is very interesting Jerome. I am learning that I must be prudent even though I have a primary source. I should compare and harmonize it with other sources, facts, and evidences. I must use my head.

Griffin said...

Another lesson learnt from this astonishing account is that hitherto unknown research material is constantly being discovered.

To illustrate, my greatx3 grandfather, who lived between 1801 and 1846, died a bankrupt. Very detailed papers relating to his pathetic case were not available until 150 years later when they were discovered in an attic and left with a County Record Office. They are priceless artefacts for interested parties.

The trick is to keep as many lines of communication as possible open so that when/if these finds are made, YOU hear about them.

It goes without saying that this episode underlines once again that ALL historical material, even primary sources, must be questioned by historians.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Excellent, persistent research.

Miquel Angel Plaza-Navas said...

Yes, interesting account. Years ago M.L. McPhail was mistaken at the authority files of the Library of Congres for a Malcolm Leod McPhail, a priest who lived more or less at the same time that Matthew Lindsay McPhail... I agree with jerome that one must be careful with assigning names, dates, etc. But despite all efforts, there can be more mistakes to be discovered. Historical research has this problem.