Samuel Weir Part 2

By Marilyn Kettering Badger

October 30, 2017

SAMUEL (Sammy) WEIR. 1812-1884

Part 2

By Landon West. “Life of Elder Samuel Weir” (Tract) 1897.

By Landon West (father of Dan West). Reproduced in 1909.

Found in:  Lehman, James H. THE OLD BRETHREN. Elgin, Illinois: The Brethren Press, 1976. 364 pages.

Chapter Eight: A Virginia Slave, pages 215-236.   21 pages

 

 

 

     Of his work and life as a minister, he said little, but that little expressed much in the life of a minister, and especially so with one placed as he was; for his public life was at that time, and in his situation, well calculated to bring out all the variety found in the brief period of one man’s life.  He said: “I then preached just wherever I could find a place, and they would argue with me, and they do yet.  I would tell them what the Word said about these things, and then they would say, when they saw that I wanted what the Word said: ‘Why, Sammy, it is only some of your notions of it.’ “

     His work as a minister went on thus with all its discouragements for a period of sixteen years and without a brother or sister for an assistant, but apparently with as great zeal for the work as at the beginning.

     The mission and cross of Jesus Christ have been borne by many, but very seldom have they been borne by one alone, but in this case, we have an Ethiopian to begin the work alone, and then for the

greater part of his public life to manifest his love to his Savior with as little aid and encouragement from this world as it is possible for one in our day to conceive.  And while others, with their troubles, have turned back or given up in despair, when surrounded with friends, this humble servant of God went steadily and cheerfully onward and upward, without a murmur or word of complaint.

     And of his knowledge of the Bible, the whites say there was no one in the village or neighborhood who was better acquainted with the reading and sense of the Scriptures than was Sammy; and if any question or dispute arose among his neighbors as to a Bible subject, he was their reference, and his decision satisfactory.

     Thus, it continued until in August, 1865, when Brother Harvey Carter and Martha, his wife, became satisfied that Sammy’s teaching was nearest in accordance with the Words of Jesus, and they made application to Sammy for baptism.  Arrangements were at once made for a meeting at Frankfort, Ross

County, Ohio, where Sammy and the applicants all lived, and Brother Thomas Major and Sister Sarah, then of Highland County, were sent for.  This brother and sister attended at the meeting in August, 1865, and Brother and Sister Carter were baptized in Paint Creek, near Frankfort.

     The event occurring just at the close of the Rebellion, and while the feeling was yet excited on the subject of Slavery, the great question of trouble, it made the reception of these colored people into full relation, and into the same church with the whites, a cause for some stir, but that soon passed away.  It was a matter for a sinful world to talk of, and to find fault with, but it was a cause of thanksgiving to God by Sammy; for he then felt as he had never felt before – he was no longer alone in his work for his Master.

     In October, 1865, a Love Feast was held by these few members in Frankfort, and embracing but five members; two whites (Brother and Sister Major) and three coloreds (Sammy, and Brother and Sister Carter).  It marked a new era in Sammy’s life and also with his race, for it was the first feast held by the colored Brethren in the State of Ohio, and for all that we can say, it was their first one of the Earth.  But it was a feasting on the Body which was broken for the Races, and this feast marked a new point in the extent and goodness of the great salvation.

     Sammy was given authority to baptize and to solemnize marriages by Brother Thomas Major, when at a meeting of the Brethren at Fairview, some miles west of Frankfort, in the year 1872.  He then continued meetings in and around Frankfort, and also at or near Circleville, on the Scioto River, with an increasing interest, and the reception of some by baptism, and one or two coloreds members from Virginia by letter. 

     We have already noted many changes and events for one short life, but we have yet a few more, and they are of greater importance than those already given. 

     The first we name is that of the choice of Brother Carter to the ministry, on Wednesday, February 9th, 1881.  The meeting was held at the residence of Brother Carter, in Frankfort, and was conducted by Elders Thomas Major and the writer (Landon West); and while all seemed to enjoy it much, no one present enjoyed it so much as did Brother Sammy Weir.   And it was not at all to be wondered at for after a period of thirty-two years in the ministry, separate and alone, he now felt that he had an assistant in the work.  None of us know what the poor brother’s feelings were, and none but God can tell how grateful he felt in the thanks he gave.

     And it was at the same meeting, and on the day above given (February 9th, 1881), that Sammy was ordained an Elder and was given the full ministry.  This position – the highest and best the Church can bestow – was here given to one as well worthy to receive it as we need now to look for.  This gave to Sammy the oversight of the colored members in the Scioto Valley, and while he lived but a short time to enjoy his position, yet we feel that none who may ever enjoy a membership in that district, need ever to feel ashamed of their first elder.

     And here, dear reader, is to be seen another one of the Lord’s ways.  And we may well ask:  Who would or could have thought, when Brother Nead led a slave into the stream in Old Virginia, nearly forty years before, that he was then baptizing the first minister and Elder of the church among the colored people!  And who could have seen that all the steps I have described were all leading on to the full ordination of a man of God.  But so it was, and so it is; the Lord’s way is the true one, and always the best one.

     And here let us all gather strength and take courage by considering well the noble example of this humble servant of God, and let all of us who possess so many more of the blessings of God than did this poor slave, try to use our gifts and blessings to glorify God as well as Sammy did his. 

     After his ordination, in 1881, he did but little more in public life, for his days were ending.  He, with Brother Carter, kept up their meetings regularly in Frankfort and occasionally at Circleville, where the work had begun; but Sammy’s desire now was to leave his house and lot as a donation to the colored people for a church.  But there being a debt unpaid and a mortgage on the lot, and his health failing, he felt that he must give up in despair unless God would aid him in this also.  And so here, as all along the way, the Strong Arm was seen just at the right time, and Brother William D. Mallow, of Ross County, assumed the debt, and Sammy’s life was left to close in peace, and at his old home.

     Of his Bible, he at one time spoke to me as follows: “After I had learned to read I got a large Bible, and read it through several times.  And the Methodist preacher here having no Bible, I loaned him mine, and he POUNDED IT TO PIECES.”  The Bible was in scraps, and the matter being stated to the sisters of the Lower Twin Church, of Preble County, Ohio, they made him the gift of another Bible.  And at the close of the Love Feast held at Frankfort, November 9th, 1883, and the last one Sammy attended before his death, the gift was presented to him, with a statement as to the ones sending it.  He accepted it gladly, and with tenderness said: “I am very thankful to them for it, and all I can do to pay them is, I can pray for them.”

     I now pass on to speak of his death, the greatest event of his life.  His time was full of important changes, and all for the better, but this, the greatest of all, I have no power to describe, for I know not yet the glory to which he has gone.  But I feel that that change was also for the better for Sammy had nothing to lose by dying; it was all gain to him.

     His last illness was Gangrene, and began in December, 1883.  And learning of his sickness, Brother Henry Frantz and the writer (Landon West), with Brother Mallow, visited him several times in February, 1881, giving him farewell March 1st, and did all that was possible to cheer him in his last days on earth.    

     Brother Mallow met him last on the morning of his death, and gave him farewell for the last time.  Brethren Carter, Jones, Sowers, and Sister Carter were his attendants night and day until his death, besides many others in and around Frankfort, who visited and cared for him as the day of his life was drawing to its close.

     He seemed at all times fully resigned to the will of God and left the world, being at peace with all its people.  He went down slowly, but patiently, and fell asleep at 9:00 A.M. on Saturday, March 15th, 1884.  His age was 71 years and 11 months. 

     His funeral on Sunday, March 16th was attended by many friends of both Races, and the sermon was delivered by Brother Mallow, from the words: “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like a shock of corn cometh in his season.”  Job 5, vs. 26.  The Brethren at Frankfort, not yet having a church house, the colored Methodists gave theirs for the occasion. 

     The body was laid in the cemetery, just east of the town, for its last sleep, and to await the morning of Eternity.  It will then be aroused from its slumber by the call of the one great Master from Heaven, and another great change for the slave will occur.  His tomb was erected by gifts from the Sisters of the Western Churches of Ohio. 

     Of Sammy Weir’s character as a Christian, I will let others speak.  Dr. Galbraith, Sr., a Gentleman of Frankfort, and a physician of experience, who had been Sammy’s physician for years, and who visited him and dressed his limbs daily in the last illness, said to Brother Franz and myself (Landon West) during our visit to the sick room: “I can say of Sammy what I can say of no other man; I have known him for thirty years, and I have never yet known any harm of him.”

     During the visit made to the feast at Frankfort, November 9th, 1883, and the last one Sammy attended, a number of Brethren and Sisters lodged at the hotel, which was then under the care of our friend, John Adkins; and he, learning the aim of our visit, said to the Brethren while there: “Sammy Weir is the best man in our town.”

     The testimony of our friend Gilmore, a neighbor of Brother Mallow’s is as follows: “I was once with Sammy at Judge Rittenhouse’s adjoining Brother Mallow’s, and working at the threshing machine.  Sammy and I were together on the straw-stack.  Whenever the machine stopped and work for a time ceased, while others were idle or engaged in conversation, Sammy sat by himself on the straw, learning to spell from the scrap of an old spelling book, which he carried with him.  He was never idle.”

     And when he had become so low in health and the care of him so great a burden, it was suggested by some that he be taken to the County Infirmary and cared for there; but our Brother Mallow coming in at the time this was proposed, said: “Never, I will care for Sammy myself, before he shall go and die in a poorhouse.”  This righteous man was never forsaken of God, nor did he ever come to want. 

     From Brother John Jones, near Frankfort, who attended Sammy till his death I learn by letter, that his last word was the name of Brother Mallow.  And just before he passed away, Brother Mallow came in as he was passing to take the train.  Sammy was speechless, but gave his hand and smiled.  It was their last farewell.  Brother Mallow left for the train and in ten minutes more, Sammy Weir had taken his departure, and that, too, for another world. 

     Of Sammy’s ancestry and family, we know but little, for but little can be known.  Slavery has kept a sealed history of its work, and allows us to know but little of the victims.

     His father’s name was James Weir, and his mother’s name was Lucy Bird; the grandmother’s name was Rosa Bird.  Sammy took the name of his father, contrary to the slave rule, because he was unwilling to take the name of a master, and thus recognize the rule of Darkness.

     From Sister Grabill, of Clarke County, Ohio, I learn that Sammy’s mother remained in Virginia, and died a slave. Sammy never saw or heard of her after coming to Ohio in 1843; nor do I know that his mother ever again heard of her son.  He was the eldest of seven children whom he knew, and he gave me their names as follows:  Samuel, Rosa, Harriet, Anna, Warick, Allen, Charlie Walker and Robert.  Of his brothers and sisters, he heard no more after leaving Virginia.  He was never married.

     As a preacher, Sammy was not an eloquent man, but was honest, humble, patient, courteous and well versed in the Scriptures.

     I pass now in a hasty review of Sammy’s life, that you may again see some of the Light which has come down from Heaven.  Sammy was born a slave, but

--when he turned to God for liberty, it was given him;

--when he asked to become a Christian, there were those who received him;

--when a pilot to the free States was needed, there was one at hand who brought him safely through;

--when a home for this lonely pilgrim and stranger were asked for, one of the best was given him;

--when a Guardian for the oppressed was sought for, there was one at hand who, in the fullest sense, 

       was a friend to the needy;

--when a teacher was desired, there was one present, able and willing, who, although but a little child,

       yet she did her work as faithfully as a mother;

--when there was an opening for a church amongst the colored people, there were both a brother and a

       sister ready to go and give this Pioneer brother their aid; and finally,

--when strength and life were both failing, and it was said to take him to the Infirmary, there to die,  

       there was one at hand to say, “Never shall he die in the poorhouse.” 

Surely, none but God could have directed so well, and at every point met the wants of the needy, as we see here in the life of this Virginia slave, Samuel (Sammy) Weir. 

 

COMMENTARY

     There are two ways to view the reception the Brethren gave Samuel Weir.  Against the background of American slavery, they were courageous to make Mr. McClure free Samuel, to accept him as a member, to transport him to free soil, and then to elect him to the ministry – all this before the Civil War.  The church had been officially on record against slavery for years.  They were ahead of their time and on the way to accepting black people as brethren.  Christian love was overruling natural prejudice.

     However, prejudice was there in the hearts of the Brethren.  The church in Virginia did not receive Samuel with the kiss, only with the hand of fellowship.  In Ohio, he could not worship freely in the churches and had to worship with black Christians of other denominations.  After elected to the ministry he was told to preach to his own, not invited to sit on the ministers bench in a white church.  His meekness and long suffering were extolled, as if more along that line was to be expected of him than others.  Viewed against what we know today about the subtleties of prejudice and against the knowledge that legal freedom and token positions are not the same as full respect and equal opportunity, the Brethren in the 1840s still had a long way to go.

     Yet, there were a few Brethren who had considerably overcome this subtler bias.  And in their official judgments the Brethren did the right things even if some members were not fully in accord.  Article two of the 1845 Yearly Meeting minutes is a good example.  They judiciously balanced a clear statement of Christian conviction with forbearance for the “weaker” brethren. 

     In regard to receiving colored member into the church:

 

“Considered, to leave it to the counsel of every individual church, as it is done in

all cases; but if colored persons are once received as members into the church,

the members should be at liberty to salute them in like manner as white members,

at the same time having patience with those who may be weak in the faith and

cannot do so.  The assembled elders, however, consider it as the more perfect way,

to which we all should strive to come, viz., that love, which makes no distinction in

the brotherhood in this respect.”                (See James 2: 1-10)

 

      The 1840s were probably the most formative decade in Samuel Weir’s life.  We learn much about

the Brethren of that time by seeing how they responded to this man.  They showed more largeness of

spirit than most in their day and less than they might have.  They were good people, and they were, like us, sometimes too small of heart.  We also learn much about an extraordinary man, who quietly accepted the harsh terms life set for him and who became in spite of them a man of love and an elder. Samuel Weir was an unobtrusive man whose accomplishments were probably more obvious to God than to man.                                                                                                                 

 

Written by Landon West, “Life of Elder Samuel Weir” (tract) 1897, 1909.

 

Keywords: history
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