Saturday, December 13, 2008

Notes on the Life of John B. Adger (December 13, 1810 - January 3, 1899)

The Adger family has deep roots in Charleston, SC, and John Bailey Adger was the son of a prominent businessman in Charleston. North and South Adger's Wharf are two short, cobblestone roads near the Charleston Battery named for the location of his father's shipping company, James Adger & Co.

As I began to study the history of John L. Girardeau, about five years ago, I got drawn into the mix of his associates. Two, in particular, are Thomas Smyth and John B. Adger. Today, I have been rediscovering some of the highlights of the life of John B. Adger in the books I've collected and in a few sources I've located online. What follows are quotes from some of these sources and links to others.

"REVIEWS AND NOTICES," in Publications of the Southern History Association, Volume IV, (Washington, DC: The Association, 1900), pp. 482-84.

My Life and Times, 1810-1899. By John B. Adger, D. D. Richmond, Va.: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1899, large 8vo., pp. 681, cloth, portraits, $3.00.

The Adgers were Huguenots who found their way from France into the province of Ulster, Ireland. They aided in the defense of Londonderry in 1689. James Adger sailed into Charleston harbor in the year 1802. Eight years later his third son, John B. Adger, first saw the light. The earliest recollections of the latter are associated with the city of his birth, Charleston, South Carolina. He tells us how he stood, at the age of four years, before his grandmother, to read the New Testament and to listen to her prophesy that he would become a preacher. He recalls also the ringing of handbells and the illumination of the streets by means of candles in honor of the treaty of peace made between the United States and England in 1814.

In 1824 the young Adger was sent northward beyond the Potomac to receive education. A year at Kinderhook Academy made him ready to enter the Sophomore class in Union College, New York, from which he was graduated in the year 1828. During this collegiate period he became a Christian and connected himself with the Presbyterian church. The following quotation is here given from Adger's story of these youthful days:

"The astute old President of Union College [Dr. Nott] was the father of many New York politicians. The famous William H. Seward, Secretary of State in 1861, was one of them. When I was a boy at college, Mr. Seward came there once, a young and rising lawyer of Central New York; he came on a visit to his college society, of which I was a member. I gave him an invitation to ride in a buggy with me to the Cohoes Falls, seven miles from Schenectady. He honored me by accepting. I have often thought what a change there might have been in the history of the United States, if I had happened unfortunately to upset the buggy and broken Seward's neck. Possibly there had been no "irrepressible conflict" in our country between free and slave labor, and possibly no war between the States."

From 1829 until 1833 the author of our volume was a member of the classes of the Princeton Theological Seminary. A photograph of the theological student is inserted in the volume. The face of the young Adger might well serve as a study in the portrayal of the face of the Apostle John. Grace and strength in rare union are stamped upon the countenance. The lips are firmly set together in a curve of beauty. The eye, seems to speak of the candid, pure soul within. Candor and humility of spirit mark the narrative in which Adger tells the story of the spiritual struggles and of the friendships of his life in Princeton.

As a Christian missionary among the Armenians, Adger spent the years from 1834 until 1846. His chief task then was to aid in the translation and publication of the New Testament and the Psalms, sermons, tracts and D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation. In 1846 the American Board refused to keep him longer in the mission field because Adger happened to own some negro slaves in South Carolina. In this connection our author has somewhat to speak concerning Southern slavery:

"A grand civilizing and Christianizing school, providentially prepared of train thousands of negro slaves, brought hither from Africa by other people against our protest some two hundred years ago. Never was any statement more absurdly false than that slavery degraded the negroes of the South from a higher to a lower position. * * *

* * * * In the great and good school of slavery, then, our slaves were receiving the most needful and valuable education for this life, and very many of them for the life to come. The two races were steadily and constantly marching onwards and upwards together. Hence, when emancipation was suddenly forced upon us, it found a good many pupils in the school of slavery who were ready to be graduated, while it found all of them considerably educated. One hundred years more of the school of slavery might hare fitted them all for graduation."

These words were written by a man who gave up five of the best years of his life (1847-51), to the work of preaching the Gospel to the negroes of Charleston. He secured the erection of a church building, in which the principal seats were set apart for the slaves. He continued to labor among the negroes until weakness of eyesight turned him aside from the work. Dr. John L. Girardeau immediately stepped into Dr. Adger's place. A larger building was erected, and for many years the Gospel was taught to the colored people after the manner inaugurated in 1847 by the author of these memoirs.

In 1857 Dr. Adger took up the work of teacher in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Columbia, South Carolina. This was his last great field of labor .until physical infirmity kept him permanently in his chamber. There he began to write the story of his life and times. He was not permitted to live to complete the work. The two chapters at the end of the volume contain discussions of the principal ecclesiastical controversies that took place within the period covered by his own life. Apparently the last portion of the memoir prepared by Dr. Adger is published as Chapter X. It bears the title, "Reminiscences of the war between the States." In many respects these are the most interesting pages in the entire volume. They tell the story of Dr. Adger's life in Columbia, when he stood like a brave man and true among his own people and gave aid and encouragement during the days of the war and desolation.—Henry Alexander White.

Notes from History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, by George Howe, D. D. 2 volumes. (Columbia, SC: W.J. Duffie, 1883)
J. B. Adger, a graduate of Union College, and of the Seminary at Princeton (II:560)

John B. Adger, a native of Charleston [SC], and James L. Merrick, a native of Amherst, Mass., were ordained as foreign missionaries in the Second Presbyterian Church, Charleston, on the 16th of April, 1834, by Charleston Union Presbytery. (II:560)

Sent to Turkey (Asia Minor)
John B. Adger, D. D., and Mrs. Elizabeth Adger, missionaries to the Armenians, at Smyrna, October 25, 1834-1846. (II:575)

Transition from Foreign Missions to Home Missions

Another project of the session [of Second Presbyterian Church (Charleston, SC)] was to collect a congregation and ultimately to form a church consisting exclusively of colored persons, under the management and pastoral labors of Rev. John B. Adger, D.D. This brother had entered into the service of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, had been stationed in Smyrna, connected with the mission to the Armenians, where the Board had two presses and seven fonts of native type in use. Dr. Adger then edited an Armenian magazine, and brought out Zohrah's popular translation of the New Testament, at the expense of the British and Foreign Bible Society. "After a laborious and useful service in the literary department of the Mission, he was constrained by his health, in 1847, to retire from the field," having been twelve years in the service of the Board. The Presbytery entered into this project--not yet of separate churches for colored people, but of separate congregations--gave its opinion that, under the circumstances of the case, Dr. Adger was called upon to abandon his mission in the East, and devote himself, for the present, to this much needed work. From this time his name appears as domestic missionary to the colored people, they remaining, as yet, under the jurisdiction of the session of the Second Church. [MS. Minutes of Presbytery of Charleston, 426-429, 432. Dr. Anderson's Missions of the American Board, Oriental Churches, Vol. I, 102, 126; Vol. II,II.] (II:595-96)

In 1847, the Rev. John B. Adger (having, in consequence of the failure of his eyes, returned from his mission among the Armenians) conceived the plan of devoting himself to the religious instruction of the colored people of Charleston. He was warmly seconded by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Smyth, and the church of which he was pastor. (II:606)

On the 30th of April, 1848, separate services for the colored people were begun by Mr. Adger in the basement of the lecture-room of the Second Presbyterian church, a building situated in Society street, near Meeting street. In this house the services continued to be conducted until the completion of a church building for the purpose, in Anson street, between George and Calhoun streets. This house, a neat and commodious one of brick, was dedicated May 26, 1850, the sermon on the occasion having been preached by the Rev. J. H. Thornwell, D. D. Subsequently, the number of congregation became so great as to necessitate the erection of another edifice. That building, situated in Calhoun street, 80 by 100 feet in dimensions, was, until the breaking out of the war, filled by an immense congregation, both of blacks and whites; and the colored membership of the congregation was rapidly increasing until that critical event arrested further progress. (II:610)
The Torch Passed to John L. Girardeau

Mr. Girardeau continued to serve [Wilton Presbyterian Church] as pastor until November, 1853, when he accepted a call from the session of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston, to take charge of the Anson street colored congregation connected with that church. He preached his farewell discourse at Wilton Church on the first Sabbath of December, 1853. (II:625)

The Life Work and Sermons of John L. Girardeau (Columbia, SC: The State Company, 1916; reprint ed.; Sprinkle Publications, [1996])

Rev. Dr. John B. Adger having returned from Smyrna Mission, the Second Presbyterian Church arranged to transfer their negro membership to him in a separate church building. The Anson Street edifice was erected with Rev. Dr. Adger in charge--the negroes still retaining their membership under the care of Rev. Dr. Smyth, it being the hope that the African race at large would be attracted to this mission, but the work was not a success. In 1852 Rev. Dr. Post took a summer vacation and Rev. Dr. Girardeau was engaged to fill the Circular Church pulpit. [*A well-known independent church.] During these services quite a number were attracted to the ministrations of Dr. Girardeau, and thus opened the way for his usefulness in Charleston. Rev. Dr. Adger concluding to withdraw from the mission work, Dr. Girardeau was induced to take charge o this work, but with their negro membership still remaining under Rev. Dr. Smyth's church. To assist Dr. Girardeau, a call was made form the several Presbyterian churches for two white members from each to unit with Dr. Girardeau's work. No response was made, with the exception of myself, and while my membership was n the Central Presbyterian Church, I was set aside to unite with Dr. Girardeau's mission work to which I became devotedly attached so that I regularly attended the two weekly night meetings and the three Sabbath services, and in addition, Dr. Girardeau spent an evening each week at my house to mature plans for carrying on the work.
Thus, starting with the thirty-six members in 1854, there was in 1860 over six hundred enrolled members, with a regular congregation of 1,500 attendance.
(Edward C. Jones, "Work Among the Negroes," 31-32)
Finally, I found the following notice that may prove fruitful to this study:

Of note...

Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 3:00pm in the sanctuary “The Past and Future of the Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina”

The speaker for this lecture is Adger Smyth and Colin Kerr. Adger and Colin will be introduced by Patterson Smith.

Adger Smith who lives in Raleigh, NC is a freelance writer and editor. He has done extensive research on several of the prominent families of Second Presbyterian Church including the Smythes, Robinsons, and Adgers.

[UPDATE (3/16/09)] Adger Smyth contacted me with the following corrected biographical data:

Adger Smyth’s ties with Second Presbyterian go back over two hundred years when two of his ancestors, James Adger and John Ellison, were among the original founders of the church. His great great grandfather, Dr. Thomas Smyth, was pastor for over forty years, from 1832-1873. James Adger Smyth, Dr. Smyth’s son, served in several capacities ranging from Deacon to Elder and finally President of the church for over thirty years. Other relatives in the church’s history include John Bailey Adger, Robert Adger, James Allan, John Caldwell, Andrew Flinn, John Robinson, Augustine T. Smythe, William Gildersleeve Vardell and Thomas A. Vardell.

Adger was in the photographic industry for over twenty years and then served as a consultant in the automotive industry, working with Volvo, Saab and Chrysler dealerships in the Southern region. He is presently working on a manuscript on the life of James Adger Smyth, the mayor of Charleston from 1896-1903.

Colin Kerr is director of Christian Education at Second Presbyterian Church, where he is also founder of Holy City Consulting and host of the city’s philosophical forum, Talks on Tap. In addition, Colin is author of two books on Christianity. Colin will discuss the church of the 21st century.