23 July 2014

Beaufort's Literary History Begins

The literary history of Beaufort begins with Living Christianity Delineated, in the diaries and letters of two eminently pious persons lately deceased: viz. Mr. Hugh Bryan, and Mrs. Mary Hutson, both of South-Carolina with a preface by the Reverend Mr. John Conder, and the Reverend Mr. Thomas Gibbons published by J. Buckland in London in 1760.  Because it was printed on excellent rag paper, the book is in good shape though to protect the original we like for our customers to consult the electronic version on the Internet Archive website at https://archive.org/details/livingchristian00hantgoog.  This limits physical handling of a key artifact of local literary history while allowing all to get to the content of the book. (Less handling = less potential damage.)

Hugh Bryan (1699 -1753) lead a long and eventful life.  Captured by hostile Indians and imprisoned by the Spanish when a young boy, his life was spared by the intervention of the Huspah King who made the boy his slave. While in the St. Augustine prison, the Indians gave Bryan a Bible and he read Private Thoughts Upon a Christian Life by Rev. William Beveridge. The experience changed his life.

Some cited his survival as a sign that "Providence was concerned in his preservation," while others believed that the experience "left him mentally unbalanced," as an enthusiasm for religion was considered "a symptom, type, and cause of insanity" during the 18th century. For a number of years, he was considered simply as an eccentric person.

As an adult, Bryan owned land along Huspah Neck in Prince William's Parish and in nearby Colleton County, became one of the colony's largest cattlemen, a ferry operator, ship owner, a surveyor, and a supporter of establishing commerce with the new colony of Georgia. His second wife, Catherine Barnwell, a daughter of "Tuscarora Jack" John Barnwell, experienced a religious conversion in 1739 after a serious illness. Bryan was influenced by her decision and experienced a religious conversion himself.

Rev. George Whitefield, 1714 -1770
A bias against a display of strong religious feeling coupled with his later close association with evangelist Rev. George Whitefield (1714-1770, pronounced Whit field), added to his neighbor's unease about Bryan's sanity. His neighbors opposed Bryan's commitment for instructing and converting enslaved Africans to Christianity.  When the South-Carolina Gazette printed Bryan's statements about the recent Stono Rebellion (1740) and prophesy that one day all the enslaved would revolt and gain freedom in 1741, his neighbors had read and heard enough. Bryan and Whitefield were arrested in Charleston but were soon released. Both continued their evangelizing efforts: Whitefield, back in England; and Bryan, in St. Helena's Parish.  Bryan continued to draw the attention of the authorities by providing religious instruction for the enslaved and sending his predictions that God would use the slave population to punish those who profaned his laws to the Commons House of Assembly in February 1742.  He was charged with "sundry enthusiastic Prophecies of the Destruction of Charles-Town and Deliverance of the Negroes from their Servitude." His excess zeal caused his suspension from church office by the Rev. Alexander Garden. Bryan soon came to his senses. (A conviction for fomenting rebellion among the enslaved carried a death sentence.) His letter of apology was read before the Commons House on 3 March 1742:

"It is with Shame, intermixed with Joy, that I write you this. I find that I have presumed in my Zeal for God's Glory beyond his Will, and that he has suffered me to fall into a Delusion of Satan.  Particularly in adhering to the Impressions on my Mind, though not to my Knowledge in my Reflections and other Occurrences of my Journal.  This Delusion I did not discover till three Days past, when after many Days' intimate Converse with an invisible Spirit, whose Precepts seemed to be wise, and tending to the Advancement of Religion in general, and of my own spiritual Welfare in particular, I found my Teacher to be a Lier [sic], and the Father of Lies; which brought me into a Sense of my Error; and has much abased my Soul with bitter Reflections on the Dishonor I have done to God, as well as the Disquiet which I may have occasioned to my Country. Satan till then appears to me as an Angel of Light, in his spiritual Conversation! But since I have discoverd his Wiles, he's appeared a Devil indeed; shewing his Rage. But God, who is rich in Mercy, hath prevented him, and strengthened me. My Zeal for God exerted Satan's Malace; and my Pride required Abasement; therefore it was just God to desert me.... My Misfortune may caution others, who think they stand, to take Heed, lest they fall also.  My sincere Regard for my Country's Welfare, and my Zeal for my God, put me on sending to you my Journal, at the Risque of suffering for it; and now my Sense of the Error, and the Ill that may attend it, obliges me (in Duty) to send you this, to prevent the Uneasiness which my Journal may create to the Government.  In both I have acted with a conscientious Regard to discharge my Trust truly to God and my Country; and therefore, as all Men are fallible, I hope your Honours will the more easily pardon me in this Thing.

I am surprised to hear that I am suspected of secret Designs, contrary to the Peace and Tranquility of the Government; and that it is reported that I have furnished spare Arms for such Design from Charles Town. I do declare that I have procured neither Arms nor Ammunition of any sort; which if I had, it might easily be known from the Merchants who sell those Things in Charles Town; and from them your Honours may soon be informed of the Certainty. My whole Life has been spent among you; and my Manner of Life and Conversation; and former Zeal for my Country's Welfare, is known to you; and my Inclinations with respect to my Love and Zeal for my Country's Good are still the same as formerly. I beg Leave only to add that God's Favour is our Country's Safety; and our sincere Obedience to his Commands is our wisest Method to obtain it. Which Wisdom may God of his infinite Mercy grant to each Member of our Community; and especially to your Honours, and all in Authority (the Feet do naturally travel whither soever the Head leads) is the Prayer of

 Your Honours'  Most humble and dutiful Servant in Jesus Christ Hugh Bryan

P.S. May we all keep close to the Law, and to the Testimony of our God, and hearken to no other Revelation for Divine Truth, and watch and pray that we enter not into Temptation is a further Prayer of Your most unworthy Servant Hugh Bryan."

The Commons House forwarded the letter to Lieutenant Governor William Bull, and ordered it printed in the South-Carolina Gazette newspaper. Eliza Lucas [later Pinckney] soon wrote a short letter to Mrs. Elizabeth Cheesman who owned nearby Lake Farm Plantation on the Ashley River:

      The last time I had the pleasure of being with you, you seemed under fearful apprehensions for the Consequence of Mr. B[ryan's] prophecy, which induces me to acquaint you with the agreeable news of his being convinced of his Error.  [He] is extremely concerned for what has passed and readily acknowledges he was guided by the infalible spirit but that of delusion. Please to communicate this with Mrs. Hill, [Elizabeth Godrey Hill, wife of Charles Hill, former chief justice of the colony, and owner of Hillsborough Plantation on the Ashley River] and I am with Mama's Compliments

Madm,                                                                                                                                  Y.m.o. St. E. Lucas

Bryan was forgiven his excesses, severed his long association with the Episcopalian Church, helped found the Stoney Creek Presbyterian Church, and continued to provide religious instruction to the enslaved.  He did, however, stop sharing his prophecies with the government and newspaper. His body is buried in the Stoney Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery.

The Stoney Creek Presbyterian Church congregation called Rev. William Hutson (1720 - 1761) as its first minister in 1743. Although born in England and educated in the law, Hutson so disliked the legal profession that he embarked upon a career as an actor in America in 1740.  Shortly thereafter he was converted by the Rev. George Whitfield, employed by Bryan as a tutor and later employed at Whitefield's Orphan House (now called Bethesda Academy) in Savannah. In 1743, Hutson married widow Mary Woodward Chardon, a grand-daughter of Dr. Henry Woodward, the first English settler in South Carolina. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Whitefield's theology. Living Christianity Delineated is also her story of religious conversion.  (The connection with the Bryan family was strengthened in 1787 when the recently widowed Hutson married Hugh Bryan's widow, Mary Prioleau Bryan, his third wife.)                                                                                                                  
Drop by the BDC to see the "Beaufort District's Literary History" display in the Research Room during our customary hours of operation, Mondays through Fridays, 10 am - 5 pm through the end of the summer. (We will switch the display in time to highlight some of  our holdings about Natural History for South Carolina Archives Month in October.)  

Sources informing this entry: 
"Bryan, Hugh." Biographical Directory of the South Carolina house of Representatives by Walter B. Edgar and N. Louise Bailey, University of South Carolina Press, 1977, vol. 2, 1692-1775, pp. 108-109.

"Bryan, Hugh." South Carolina Encyclopedia edited by Walter Edgar University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
"The Carolina connection: Jonathan Bryan, his brothers, and the founding of Georgia, 1733 -1752" by Harvey H. Jackson. Beaufort County Historical Society Paper, #61.

The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, vol. 1: 1514-1861 by Lawrence S. Rowland, Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr. University of South Carolina Press, 1996.

"The Hutson Family of South Carolina," by William Maine Hutson, South Carolina Genealogies, vol. 2, pp. 381 -395. 

Journal of the Commons House of Assembly, 1741- 1742 (Colonial Records of South Carolina), edited by J.H. Easterby, South Carolina Archives Department, 1953. 

Journal of the Commons House of Assembly, 1742- 1744 (Colonial Records of South Carolina), edited by J.H. Easterby, South Carolina Archives Department, 1954.
The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739 - 1762, edited with a new introduction by Elise Pinckney with editorial assistance of Marvin R. Zahniser, University of South Carolina Press, 1972.
Moonlight, Magnolias & Madness: Insanity in South Carolina from the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era by Peter McCandless, University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grace, thank you for this more objective story of Hugh Bryan than is historically told (of an histerical man) I find his story utterly fascinating and his influence on the Gullah Church of South Carolina a large one. William Hutson was my grand father many generations ago and I only recently found the source that spoke of him as tutor to the "Negro School" which was founded at the encouragement of George Whitefield, in 1740 there in Beaufort County. My research located the name of one of Hugh Bryan's Plantations called Providence, near what is now Sheldon Ruins. Do you know exactly where the "Negro School" was located? What Hugh Bryan's Plantation was called on Huspah Neck? Are they one and the same? THANK you for your beautiful research!
Sincerely, Charlotte Hutson Wrenn