History of the church of Christ, Stafford, Ohio
by Mary E. Hughes
[The following is included to preserve a history of a congregation from the Upper Ohio Valley. I share this for a few reasons. First, it is indicative of those congregations which were established in the second generation of the Restoration movement. Second, it gives local inisght into the division with the Disciples or Christian Church. Third, it is also representive of the fate of some small, rural congregations in the Upper Ohio Valley. The congregation no longer exists. As the surrounding community withered in the 20th century, so did the congregation. If it is not told here, the story would never be known. Mary Hughes' remembrances follow. They originally appeared in two articles in the Christian Leader as part of a "Reminiscences" series requested by Fred Rowe of many of his older subscribers. Her language style is her own, full of Biblical imagery, quaint expressions and warfare allusions that bring to mind Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. She was past 80 years old when she wrote these articles, and admitted in another article that her thoughts were somewhat disconnected. Stafford is at the western side of Monroe County, Ohio, a county rich in Restoration heritage.] - BD.
We removed from Woodsfield here in November 1863. There was at that time a mere handful of disciples here. However, Bro. H Bottenfield (who moved West before the church wa organized), Bro Brock and wife, Bro. Morton's wife, and Wm. Stewart's wife, the only disciples here, had in the year 1860 or 1861 procured the services of Elder E. Doolittle, who awakened the people and sowed much good seed. I understand there had some years previous to this been a church organization here, but those having membership in it are now scattered to the four winds, until now I can find none to tell the story. After we moved, the above named members, with my father, mother and self, would assemble at my father's house, when Bros. Prior, Sloan and others from neighboring towns would visit and break bread with us. In the spring of 1864, E. Doolittle held a meeting, and by his forcible teaching of the apostles' doctrine, dealt such threatening blows to sectarianism that the advocates of the false doctrine, becoming alarmed for the safety of their strongholds, used every effort to break up the meeting, lest the people, hearing the truth might believe and obey it. But notwithstanding the great disadvantages under which he labored, much of the seed took deep root and 'ere long yielded a rich and precious harvest. We still continued the social gatherings at my father's and when we could get a preacher, would use the Wesleyan house of worship.
January 1868, that grand, stalwart old veteran of the Cross, Daniel Sweeney, clad in glittering armor and wielding the sword of the Spirit, passed this way and smote not only the sinners' hearts, but broke down the already trembling walls of sectarianism and led its blinded captives into the full light and liberty of that knowledge, that is, the power of God unto salvation to those who receive it. He continued to preach for us occasionally until October, 1868. He held a protracted meeting, and on the 26th my husband came out and made the good confession, and on the following day (it being the first anniversary of our marriage), he was led to the emblematic grave, and while necessary preparations were being made, Bro. Sweeney made the most beautiful and impressive rmarks I ever heard on any similar occasion. This was the first addition, but others followed in quick succession until the water was troubled almost daily during the meeting.
Bro. Joseph Dunn, next came and the gathering of the golden sheaves continued. He and Sweeney each preached occasionally until September 1869. Dunn held a protracted meeting, and at eleven o'clock a.m. on the 17th, a church was organized and elders ordained by the laying on of hands. B. Morton, who had been a Methodist class leader, was one, and my father L. Shipley, who had been elder in Woodsfield congregation for sixteen years, was the other one. Bro. Brock and my husband were the deacons. By this time some of the Wesleyans had become convinced that they were not in the true way; among the number, my father-in-law, B. Hughes, who had long been one of their most influential members, and during one of Sweeney's visits, he and others of them were immersed, which so alarmed them (the Wesleyans), lest their church would utterly be destroyed, they refused us the house. The Methodists also were losing members. Some of their most prominent having united with us, and after allowing us to use their house on one or two occasions, they, too, deemed it prudent to lock the door against us. We then went earnestly to work and soon raised subscription to build a house of worship. We then met in the school house until October 19, 1871 when it caught fire and burned to the ground. My lamented husband was buried the day before. We again met in private houses until the building was completed, which was the last of May, 1872, at a cost of $4,282.72. Of this sum, B. Morton, B. Hughes, J. W. M. Brock, Dr. G. W. Mason, A.J. Cavanaugh, T. M. Swartwood, L. Shipley, J. W. Eaton, R. Tanner, bore the principal share. Others being liberal also, and on the 9th of June, the beautiful and commodious building was dedicated to the service of God. Elder J. F. Rowe, then editor of A. C. Review, officiating on the occasion. He continued the meeting two or three weeks, there being additions every day. We were greatly strengthened and rejoicing in our victory after so many struggles and defeats. The cause was now permanently established, and the obstacles hitherto hindering our progress, seemed successfully removed. But 'ere long other battle-clouds appeared in the distance "no bigger than a man's hand," which spread in appalling blackness until lurid lightnings and ominous thunders shook from center to circumference, the house so lately dedicated to the service of God, while the gray-haired veterans, who had hoped to end their days in peace, now that their eyes had seen the glorious triumph of Christ's cause, bowed their heads and wept and groaned in anguish of spirit over the desolation of their hopes, while the youthful soldiers stood pale and awe-stricken at the conflict, so soon to try their power of endurance, when our enemy was of our own household. It was no longer sectarianism and its weak votaries, we were called to contend with, but with those in high authority, who sought to make sectarianism their weapon, with which pride of life, the lust of the flesh, should gain victory.
In 1873 a Sunday School was organized which was interesting and largely attended, not only by our own members, but all other classes and a field was opened where the sowing of the seed might have yielded an hundredfold, had it not unfortunately happened that a change of officers was suggested, and in blindness or carelessness of the dangerous result, a Methodist class leader was appointed assistant superintendent. A part of our members were grieved over this, and tried by every means that love and reason could suggest to convince the other officers and those in favor of this movement, that it would result in disaster to the cause if not vetoed, for of course this man would endeavor to disseminate his Methodist poison throughout the school. But B. Morton, who was superintendent, evinced and even declared openly his decided determination to retain the Methodist man, even if Sunday school and church were both destroyed. Our sky indeed was somberhued and rayless, while the storm beat pitilessly upon us, foreboding ruin. Yet we prayed it might only purify. The Sunday school and congregation both became divided and those related by strongest ties, the cementing blood of Christ, passed each other with no sight of recognition. The remant few, who still clung to this infatuation of their stubborn will, would meet at the church house, but it finally numbered less than a dozen. In this deplorable state of affairs Bro. Doolittle found us again in 1874. He held a meeting and although laboring most faithfully and earnestly to establish peace, was only partially successful. Many ceased to attend social meeting at all; others who could not desert the house altogether refused to partake of the Lord's Supper. Sectarianism was inspired with new hope, and zeal, as they exultingly beheld our cause languishing and bleeding from wounds, they never could have given with such fatality as was inflicted by these priests or captains of our own camp, whose cloven foot now appeared beneath their dishonored robes. In 1875, Elder Tate, of Bethany, W. Va. came and held a three weeks' meeting - but previous to this the Methodist man vacated his place in Sunday school. During this meeting many were reclaimed and many sinners converted and the blessed sunshine of love and peace once more broke through the clouds and melted away the icy barrier from hearts, congealed by strife. We were made to greatly rejoice,and hoped this trial was only to consume the dross and leave the gold purified. One of the touching incidents of this meeting was the confession and baptism of a noble child scarcely eleven years old, son of Dr. G. W. Mason. He afterwards had the pleasure of seeing his father and other brothers become members, but it was a sublime sight to see this youthful guide leading the way. But a little of the old leaven yet remained, B. Morton, who was still elder, soon exhibited other signs of dissatisfaciton, asserted claims that were objectionable to the majority and failing to establish them, withdrew from fellowship and made efforts to embarass the church by urging the payments of certain debts, which he claimed the congregation or a part of it, had made during the building of the house. The debtors expressed willingness to liquidate said debt, after being allowed to see bills and items, but this Morton refused and urging the payment of $1900, without permitting one item to be seen. This, of course, could not be agreed to. He then demanded a mortgage on the church house, and appurtances on same terms. This, too, was denied. Matters grew worse and worse until the scenes were such that agnels might weep over. The case was finally taken to court, and after many delays and much trouble and expense, he faild to gain anything and lost all. Adverse circumstances shortly obliged him to go West.
Bro. John Prisdee, a good old man, was appointed elder in his place, and my father dying on the 24th of June, 1876, B. Hughes was appointed in his place, since which time harmony has prevailed. Bro. Brock can furnish report of evangelists and salaries paid them.
Two have denied the faith. Some are still wandering outside the fold in listless carelessness, unheeding the three-fold responsibilities of those who have tasted the body and blood of their atonement. And a few have entered the "Sweet Beyond" and are at rest.
In 1877 a dear young sister, Eva Oellorer-only married a few months-was called to bid adieu to friends and youthful anticipations. The winter before an aged sister, mother of our zealous Bro. A. J. Cavanaugh, called her friends around her dying bed and spent her last breath exhorting her children, about to be bereft of their last earthly parent, to keep the faith which was supporting and cheering her approach to the shadow of the valley of death. Of this family two sons and three daughters out of seven were in the church. This is all, I believe, that we have lost by death. Some of our young members have grown weary and are languishing in hospital from various trivial ailments. Others are making rapid strides in knowledge, will read, and speak and pray in social meetings. We have no Sunday school at present. When we had, Sister Emily Eaton and Bros. B. Hughes, J. W. M. Brock, J. Eaton, and A. J. Cavanaugh were the most efficient workers - the latter being a host in himself, as teacher and singer. We have no baptistry, beautiful stream of water being near.
My mother was baptized in Guernsey County by Archibald Campbell, a brother of Alexander, in 1832.
I forgot to mention that two of my brothers-in-law, Wm. and Allen Hughes, were baptized shortly before they died. Wm. was immersed in a box made for the purpose, being unable to go to the water. And Bro. Brock immersed Allen in a stream near his own door.
I have tried to give facts so far as I can recall them.
Mary E. Hughes (Chistian Leader May 19, 1925:2).
Stafford Meeting House Pictured in 1984
In a little village in Southeastern Ohio fate ordered my parents and self, an only daughter of twenty-one years to make our home. There had never been a Church of Christ here; the people had heard with prejudice of a religious body variously named Newlights, Campbellites, etc., but had not heard the pure Gospel of the New Testament. but my parents had been members of the one body for many years, my father having served as elder in a large congregation for forty years, and myself being immersed at the age of fifteen by Evangelist A. G. Ewing, then of Clarington, Monroe County. So we hired the schoolhouse and had Ephraim Doolittle, that fearless expounder of the unadulterated Gospel, come and hold a ten days' meeting. Curiosity took a few to hear him at first, then they began to sit up and watch and listen, and under the teaching of the old Jerusalem doctrine, five persons were converted and baptized and others demanded further instructions, so an old, abandoned church was rented, and such men as Doolittle, "Pap" Sweeney, Joseph Dunn, our lamented "Uncle Henry" Devore, and others of the old gospel war horses, scenting the battle smoke from afar, rushed to the fray, and in a very short time victory perched upon Emanuel's banner. Many of the most intelligent and influential citizens, who were honest in their religious worship, dropped their prejudice and embraced the new teaching, with the happy result of a large and enthusiastic congregation being organized, with intelligent, efficient officers, a large Bible class, and as there was splendid musical talent among the members, it was an ideal congregation and bound to do good. A church home was needed to accomodate the rapidly growing numbers, and , as many of the members were strong financially, a lot was soon secured, and a beautiful, substantial structure erected and finished in a remarkably short time. Elder Tate preaching the dedication sermon and continuing the meeting two weeks, at the close of which there were over fifty members. Then, by an accident, the beautiful house went up in smoke, but, nothing daunted, we buckled on our armor, and another, even better, home arose from the ashes, and among the many notable preachers attending the second dedication was the father of our Bro. Fred [J. F. Rowe], who delivered the principle sermons and inspired the vast audience, who came from everywhere. We grew and prospered on the knowledge of the Lord, until one evil day the more progressive and wealthy thought we were old-fashioned with our Scriptural ways and "home-grown" music, so artificial music was introduced, and God's anointed were invited to a back seat, where they couldn't even know what songs were being sung, much less take part in them. The old war horses were turned to grass, and young, progressive and "digressive" preachers occupied the pulpit, and discouraged on ways and means of furnishing amusements, and incidentally dollars, by having entertainments, etc., and on one of these occasions, where there was a grotesque clown, who ended by setting off some sulphuric fireworks in the stand, an aged brother was heard to say, "Well, I didn't know they had brought Old Nick and his brimstone into the pulpit." And now the doors of that once propsperous church are closed and it stands a monument to desecrated faith. How can those who once knew the law so wantonly violate it, to their everlasting ruin?
M.A.E.H. ("Reminiscences" Christian Leader Sep. 7, 1920:3).