Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Unless ...

Unless important, new information shows up in my inbox, we think this is 'final' in rough draft; Thanks to Jerome and Bernhard for contributing data.

New Castle, Pennsylvania

            The New Castle congregation had its start in a book canvas by John Adamson. Writing to Russell in late June or early July 1887, he said:

I am having grand experiences every day. It seems impossible to get through New Castle. Yesterday took 46 names and left in afternoon train for home. In no other town have I got in so many books to the square, and I have excellent talks. Some careful thinkers are investigating, and awakened sleepers by the dozen. Of course there are bitter opposers, but as far as noted people are willing to investigate for themselves, and I have fruit already and expect much fruit. You may increase the order to here to 300 copies.[1]

            A small congregation formed by late 1889, the local newspaper reporting that “a comparatively new form of religious belief has recently obtained among certain people of this city.” They had, the newspaper claimed, “very decided and definite opinions as to the date of the millennium.” They met in the office of Andrew Lewis, [1834-1916] a dentist with offices at 2 Washington Street, “for the study of the Bible and for prayer, and the discussion of the millennium.” They claimed to have “Biblical authority” for believing the millennial reign of Christ near at hand.[2] Lewis came out of the Methodist Church, where he had been “a charter member.” His obituary does not mention his association with Watch Tower belief and implies that he died a Methodist.[3] This may not be true. We’ve encountered other obituaries prepared by relatives ashamed of Watch Tower adherence that omit or misrepresent. His last provable year of adherence was 1891. His father’s funeral was conducted by a “Rev. [William A.] Wallace” of the Millennial Dawn congregation.”[4]
            Wallace, a former phrenological lecturer, preached in areas near his Ohio residence. He was an effective colporteur and speaker. A letter from him to Russell shows him to be a determined evangelist who did not let obstacles stand in his way. He was “Church Leader” at East Liverpool, Ohio, in 1894.[5] Wallace enters the record through the 1889 Lord’s Memorial Annual Convention held at Allegheny where he was one of the speakers. Russell’s convention summary says:

Brother Wallace illustrated his method of presenting the outlines of the Plan of the Ages to the audiences he meets. Bro. W. was a traveling lecturer and professor of phrenology before the harvest truth reached him. When he received it, he began to mix with phrenology the good tidings of great joy for all people; and now as the truth has reached his mind and heart more fully, it has so quickened his zeal in the Master's service that the old profession is almost crowded out, except as it serves to pave the way for the glad tidings which now fills his heart and overflows at every opportunity. His talent is for public speaking, and after every lecture the DAWN is presented as a further elaboration of the great subject to which he has called attention. To illustrate his lectures, he has had the Chart of the Ages (from DAWN Vol. I.) enlarged and painted on canvas, and ornamented with pictorial illustrations of the various ages; and above all a beautiful symbolic sky representing the changing conditions of the various dispensations, from Eden to Paradise restored.[6]

            While Adamson may have sewn the seeds, the congregation owed its existence to A. C. Wise, once a United Brethren minister. United Brethren were a German speaking church with doctrines similar to the Methodist Church. Their clergy were untrained, and Wise was uncomfortable with public speaking. When speaking briefly at a Bible Student convention in 1907, he remarked: “I have been placed on this program without any consultation, and I am not engaged much in addressing the public, but more from house to house on the great Plan.”[7] It was through his house to house ministry that the New Castle congregation was formed. The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News reported: “One Dr. A. C. Wise, of Neshannock, Mercer county, [sic] is a leader in the new doctrine, the theories of which he obtains from a book called ‘The Millennial Dawn,’ for which he is agent.”[8]
            Wise [1845-1932] was no sort of doctor. The Daily City News appears to have ‘played it safe’ by calling a clergyman “doctor.” Instead he was Aaron C. Wise, a farmer by trade and an itinerant Brethren preacher with no discernable education. Wise was one of the organizers of a United Brethren congregation in 1863. He left the Brethren about 1886 or 1887 to spread the Watch Tower message.[9] An obituary said: “He was born on a farm within less than two miles of where he spent his entire life. Mr. Wise was widely known throughout the United Brethren Churches in Sharon, Sharpsville, West Middlesex and other valley communities. For the past 45 years he was a member of the International Bible Students Association, and took an active part in the organizations work.”[10]
            He was new to the work. In a letter to Russell dated to May 1894 he says he had been in the work about five years.[11] That takes us to this period. He explained his view of ‘the work’ in that same letter: “The work, as I understand it, is to find the ‘wheat’ class, and with the present Truth intellectually seal them and thus separate them from Babylon. In doing this, many DAWNS are sold to others who may not now appreciate them, but who thus assist in bearing the expense of the laborers; and they will be read by and by.” He reported lecturing “some and quite acceptably, but have no ambition to make that a special work.”
            Wise loved humor, incorporating it into his evangelism. We cannot place as to time or place the one example he left, but that seems not to matter. This was his preaching method:

The Scriptures show us that having ... having thus consecrated our wills, we may be able to be of service to our fellow beings, neighbors and friends, and might by the Lord's grace, impress these precious things on their hearts and minds. How many of these incidents have come to our attention in our service of the truth! I remember working in a town where they said, “If you will see a man down there he will talk the Scriptures to you.” And towards evening I called on him, and this is what occurred. I am a little humorous in my way of approaching people and I said, “I understand you are quite a teacher of the Bible and understand it.”


“I have come in to run you in a corner.”

“Every time you do you will get a five-dollar note.”

And I gave him a little talk on the divine plan of the ages from the chart, and when I got through he says, “Do you believe that?”

“I certainly do.” And he had not a word to say. Thus was I instrumental in impressing on his mind the great and glorious truth. I did not see him afterwards, but I learned he came into the truth.[12]

A. C. Wise – 1911 and
 later in life

            The New Castle paper described Wise as “chuck full of the ideas of the book he is selling.” It reported that he “succeeded in inculcating the doctrines pretty deeply where he has been at work.” The paper said that a “J. C. McCombs” was “one of the most zealous ‘Millennial Dawn’ disciples. McCombs, a shoemaker, was, the paper said, “a deep thinking man and a member of the Methodist church” from which he had withdrawn over doctrinal difference. City directories suggest that this was Joseph A. McCombs who in addition to running a shoemaking business owned other business as well. Nothing is firm here. John C. McCombs was Joseph’s son, and the local paper consistently confused them. It appears that both were adherents.

New Castle News – June 19, 1915.

            The Daily City News said the “object of the millennium expectants is not to organize or to form any settle or distinct denomination, but the principles are to be maintained and supported by individual rather than collective belief.” The paper called the believers in New Castle “earnest and zealous in their convictions.” As did most Watch Tower adherent congregations, the first years’ growth was slight. The New Castle paper, with its customary inattention to detail and poor grammar, reported:

A little congregation of about 14 people in the Seventh ward firmly believe that the end of the world is near at hand and that according to their interpretation of the Holy Book the world is now passing through the period known to seers and wise men as “God’s Harvest.” ... The believers in the near approach of the Millennial morning claim that the harvest of the Lord commenced in the year 1874 and that the end of the world will come during the year 1914, 40 years being allowed for the preparation. Those following this faith believe that there is only one church – the church of the people of God – and that all who do not repent and become ... sanctified in the grace of the Master will be lost in the fire. There is no ordained ministers among the sect, the exhorters being known as pilgrims and travel among the faithful seeking no reward other than the blessing of the faithful.[13]

            Interestingly, the article reported as a visiting speaker from Youngstown, Ohio, a “Mrs. T. B. Hewitt.” T. B. Hewitt is Thomas Bolton Hewitt.[14] We have one short letter by him to Russell appearing in the May 1, 1901, Watch Tower. It says he was from Ohio, but it contains no biographical information. Since Hewitt did not marry until September 1906, the newspaper’s “Mrs.” appears to be a misprint for “Mr.” By 1915 there were about 28,000 people in New Castle and about 40 adherents, and by 1906 the congregation was called The Watch Tower Class.[15]

[1]               Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, July 1887, page 2.
[2]               Wiggins New Castle City Directory: 1879-1880, page 37. Census records give Lewis a birth date of November 1834. Other records vary but fall near that date.
[3]               Dr. Andrew Lewis Called by Death, New Castle, Pennsylvania, Herald, December 5, 1916.
[4]               A Long Fast End, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, News, August 5, 1891. Wallace was a chronological lecturer turned Millennial Dawn canvasser prominent in the work in the 1890s. He was “church leader” in an Ohio congregation. Later in life he was a news agent, a seller of newspapers and magazines.
[5]               Extracts from Interesting Letters, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1889, pages 2, 8; Voice of the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower – Special Issue, June 11, 1894, page 178.
[6]               C. T. Russell: View from the Tower, Zion’s Watch Tower, June 1889, page 1. Wallace maintained his interest in phrenology into later years. See The Phrenological Era, April 1913, front matter unnumbered page.
[7]               Souvenir Notes from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society’s Conventions of Believers in the Atoning Blood of Jesus Christ: 1907, part two, page 81.
[8]               Not so Very Far, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, Daily City News, December 5, 1889.
[9]               History of Mercer County, Pennsylvania: Its Past and Present, Brown, Runk & Co., Chicago, 1888, page 593. Date of Watch Tower adherence: Undated obituary in descendents’ possession. Wise was born July 29, 1843, and died March 30, 1932. [Death Certificate] He remained Watch Tower adherent until his death.          
[10]             The Sharon, Pennsylvania, Herald, March 31, 1932.
[11]             Letter from Wise to Russell found in Voice of the Church, Zion’s Watch Tower, Special issue, June 11, 1894.
[12]             A. C. Wise: Temperance, 1911 Convention Report.
[13]             The Millennial Dawn, The New Castle, Pennsylvania, News, May 19, 1905.
[14]             Thomas Hewitt was born September 20, 1873, in Ohio. He married Ellen Grace Cooksey September 4, 1906. There was a Bible Student adherent named E. Cooksey whose death in 1950 is noted in the May 1950 issue of Herald of Christ’s Kingdom. His Ohio death record shows him to be a resident of Youngstown and thus ‘our man.’
[15]             Life of 76 Years in County Ended, New Castle, Pennsylvania, Herald, September 7, 1906.


Anonymous said...

Thank you to all for the research. All the little details help us to get to know another character - Aaron Wise - in the early WT history.

roberto said...

Stellar and fluent. Thanks