First Methodist Episcopal Church
WRITTEN FOR THE SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY
“For not like kingdoms of the world
Thy holy church, O God!
Though earthquake shocks are threatening her,
And tempests are abroad;
Unspoken as eternal hills,
Immovable she stands,
A mountain that shall fill the earth,
A house not made with hands.”
Observed from December 1st to December 8th
To the memory of the noble pioneer preachers and laymen who laid the foundation of Methodism in the Capital City; to these pious men and women who braved the perils of a journey across the plains or of a voyage by sea to reach the land of gold and sunshine and who were so possessed by the spirit of evangelism that along with the pitching of their tents or the erecting of a sanctuary to His worship and service; to these pioneers of the Cross through whose heroism and self-sacrifice we owe our present Methodism in the Capital City; to these and to all those who have the high honor to count themselves in the genealogy of such a magnificent lineage, is this Souvenir History of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Sacramento, California, fittingly and lovingly dedicated by the author.
It is quite fitting and very important that during the Sixtieth Anniversary of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Sacramento, California, these many years of splendid service by the church be collected and put into permanent form for present as well as for future use; hence this Souvenir Historical Sketch.
This church has a history peculiarly its own and one of more than ordinary interest, not only to Sacramento, but to California Methodism, and to all who are interested in the struggles and triumphs of Christianity in our glorious land of gold and sunshine.
The importance of this service may be seen in the fact, that First Church is the Mother of Methodism in Sacramento, and it dates from the very beginning of Protestant Christianity in Sacramento. First Church has also had much to do with the very first planting of Methodism in California. Such pioneers as Rev. William Roberts, the first missionary sent out to California by Methodism in 1847; Rev. William Taylor, the first pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in the first Protestant sermon in California in 1847; Rev. Elihu Anthony, who organized the first Protestant Church in Santa Cruz in 1848; and Rev. Isaac Owen, the first pastor of this church, in 1849; all these came into vital touch with Sacramento or the First Church. Most all these pioneers found Fort Sutter in Sacramento a city of refuge, in which they were protected from hostile foes, rested and refreshed after a long, trying journey across the plains, and were replenished with the necessities of life that they might complete their journey.
It was during the very beginning of this church that Rev. William Taylor came up from San Francisco and visited Rev. Isaac Owen, during which visit they counseled together and planned to extend their fields of missionary enterprise; they inaugurated the movement for higher education in California, which resulted in our present University of the Pacific; they talked of the establishment of a Methodist Book Depository which resulted in the present magnificent Depository in San Francisco; they thought of the first Christian weekly paper, which is today our splendid California Christian Advocate; and they thought out other important religious movements. It was during those early days that foundations were laid and the policy of the Church outlined which has determined the line of action of our California Methodism for these sixty years.
The interest and value of this history is enhanced by the noble and distinguished men who founded and who have served the church. Rev. H. K. Hines, D. D., in his “Missionary History of the Pacific Northwest,” furnishes a most excellent character sketch of the six men who constituted the original “Oregon and California Mission Conference,” among whom were Rev. William Roberts, Rev. William Taylor and the Rev. Isaac Owen. Dr. Hines says of these early standard bearers of the cross; “Measured by character, by ability, by power to accomplish, it is one of the mightiest lists that ever stood at the head of a Church or Empire, between Eastern and Western seas. Culture, eloquence, solid judgment, perseverance, bold and intense evangelism, true statesmenship were as fully represented in the character and lives of these six men as in the lives of any other six men, who were associated with the beginning of our era.” The above would not be an overwrought description of the noble men who have served First Church; such as M. C. Briggs, Royal B. Stratton, J. W. Ross, Jesse T. Peak (afterward Bishop), H. B. Heacock, E. R. Dille, T. S. Dunn, and other honored names.
A retrospective view of these sixty years of First Church will also prove of interest to the citizens of Sacramento, as its history has been closely identified with the history of the city. Such a retrospective view has proved both fascinating and profitable to the author, and he wishes for all who read these pages, the breadth of vision and the depth of spiritual fervor which characterized the California Methodist Pioneers.
The writer lays no claim to perfection for this historical sketch, but he has endeavored to do the best he could with the data gathered, to give as complete a connected narrative as possible. Owing to the limitations of time in a very busy pastorate, and in space in such a sketch, some things have of necessity been omitted that some might wish were here. It would require much more time and much larger book to contain all the names and to recount all the deeds of the many whose lives of Christian fortitude and service have told among the vital forces of this grand old church.
It has been the purpose to contain in this history a cut of every pastor who has served the church, but after much correspondence and searching, there remain yet two of these noble men whose likeness we cannot produce. Two of the early pastors, Rev. Royal B. Stratton and Rev. George S. Phillips, went back East very early and have since died. Of most of the Methodists of that early day no one here knows if they are living.
The writer is indebted for the historical data gathered to the well preserved records of the church (when they were kept); the “Missionary History of the Pacific Northwest,” by H. K. Hines, D. D.; the Works of Bishop William Taylor; “Fifty Years of Methodism,” by C. V. Anthony, D. D.; “History of Sacramento County”; the well preserved files of the “Sacramento Record-Union,” found in the State Library; the “Sacramento Illustrated,” published in 1855, and preserved and highly valued both by Sacramento City and the State Libraries; the letters, manuscripts, sketches, and reminiscences by former pastors and laymen; reminiscences from California ‘49-ers still living; and to Miss Eudora Garoutte of the State Library and Miss Anna Wood of the City Library.
The Donner Party
In the earliest planting of Methodism in California, Sacramento shares amongst the very first efforts. In the year 1846, the famous Donner Party, being caught in a severe snow storm, were forced to winter near the lake that now bears their name. It was a winter of indescribable hardships. In the early spring a remnant of what was left of that party reached Sutter’s Fort. It would be a wonder if even that remnant contained no disciple of John Wesley, who would minister in spiritual things. On October 1, 1847, another party consisting of fifty-seven souls, with fifteen wagons, reached Sacramento Valley and Fort Sutter. Here they rested and were refreshed and replenished in store, that they might again take up their journey to Santa Clara, which point they reached about November 1st.
In that second noted company of survivors of the famous Donner Party, was a man who was truly a Methodist Pioneer- Adna A, Hecox, and his family. This pious family were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the honored father was a licensed exhorter. It is difficult to think of such a man passing through Sacramento without ministering in Christian things to the spiritually needy souls. To him is said to fall the high honor of having preached the first Protestant sermon within the present limits of California. The incident is told as follows by C. V. Anthony, D. D.; “About this time the settlers were exposed to a danger even greater than any to which they had been subjected while crossing the plains. Colonel Fremont left for the southern part of the territory, and taking advantage of his absence, Colonel Sanchez induced the natives to rise against the ‘Americanos.’ There were one hundred and seventy-five of these at that time in Santa Clara, who were closely besieged by the Mexicans. To make their condition more wretched, typhoid fever broke out among them in a very malignant form. Eight deaths occurred before the first of February. Mr. Hecox, “feeble in body, leaning on a staff,” attended the funeral services of these as they transpired. At the obsequies of a daughter of Silas Hitchcock he preached a sermon from the words, ‘Remember how short my time is.’ This was, without doubt, the first Protestant sermon ever preached within the present limits of the State of California.” Mrs. Hecox, since gone to her crown, told the writer the above incident, but said her husband leaned upon her when he preached, as he was so feeble. The Hitchcock mentioned was one of the charter members of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz, organized in January, 1848. In all probability the deceased over whom Hecox preached that first sermon was the first death among the early Methodist company.
Mr. Hecox organized in July, 1847, the first temperance society ever started in California. Anyone visiting the Light House at Santa Cruz may have the privilege of seeing the original pledge containing the autograph signatures of eleven members. This society was formed at Soquel, near Santa Cruz. Mr. Hecox and other Methodists had the honor of helping to organize the first order of “Sons of Temperance” in California, March, 1851; also the first lodge of “Good Templars,” February, 1855.
To the Rev. William Roberts belongs the honor of the first legally authorized effort to organize Methodism in California, in April of 1847, in San Francisco. The circumstances that led to Roberts’ appointment were as follows; In the year 1832, four Flathead Indians found their way from the Columbia River to St. Louis, Missouri, asking for a knowledge of the Book of God, some idea of which they had obtained from a trapper who had lived among them. The facts created a great excitement among the Christians of all denominations. The Methodist Board of Missions had sent out several missionaries to Oregon, who began their work in the fall of 1834. The field was so far away that no bishops ever visited it, and of necessity superintendents had to be appointed for the purpose of oversight. Rev. William Roberts, of New Jersey, being a minister of more than ordinary education and ability, was selected for that difficult work. As news had just been received that California had been taken by the Americans, he was under instructions to stop at California for a month or two and explore that country, in view of the establishing of missions there. There accompanied Rev. Roberts, besides his family, Rev. James H. Wilbur and his family. After a voyage of 148 days on board the bark “Whittier,” whose master, Capt. Gilson, was a Methodist himself, they reached San Francisco on the 24th of April, 1847.
Rev. Roberts found the little town of Yerba Buena an unusually active place at that time. There were from 60 to 100 houses, including all human habitations of every kind, “principally the meaner kind.” They made the port on Saturday. Services were held on shipboard next morning. Late in the day Rev. Roberts preached on shore. That first service was the beginning of what resulted in the organization of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco and the first in the State. Dr. Hines says it was “undoubtedly the first Methodist Episcopal Church ever organized south of the Willamette Valley on the Pacific Coast.”
Whether Rev. Roberts visited Sacramento at that time is not certain to the writer, but that he visited this section and was familiar with its needs and had plans for the Methodist Church here is quite obvious. He had obtained a lot for a church from General Sutter and had left instructions to Rev. William Taylor when he arrived from the East with his Baltimore-California Chapel, to ship it on to Sacramento, as there was a need of it there at the time, and promising to send lumber for a church for San Francisco, from Oregon. We shall come across Rev. Robert’s name again in this sketch.
It seems quite obvious to the writer, if Adna A. Hecox did not preach in California till the fall of ‘47, Rev. William Roberts must have preached the first Protestant sermon, as he is known to have preached in San Francisco, April, ‘47.
Another name that holds a conspicuous place among the Methodist Argonauts is that of Rev. Elihu Anthony, brother of the lamented C. V. Anthony, D. D. In the spring of 1847, he joined a caravan of emigrants bound for Oregon, with his wife and one child and a sister-in-law, Miss Jane Van Anda. When near Ft. Hall he with three other families turned southwestward for California. After terrible hardships from dangerous roads and hostile Indians who robbed them of most all their possessions, and finally of their cow and the only flour they had left, they finally reached the mecca of Sutter’s Fort. They subsisted on a big fat sheep which had evidently strayed from the flock and which Mr. Anthony’s gun had brought down, till they reached what was indeed the mecca of the famished and impoverished travelers of that early day, Sutter’s Fort. This little company received the greatest kindness at the hands of General Sutter. After resting a few days and replenishing their store of food, they hastened on towards the Spanish settlements near San Jose. Here he began to work at his trade as a blacksmith and also to preach the Gospel. Are we to think that this pioneer of the Methodist Church, a licensed Methodist preacher, would tarry here even for a night and not minister in holy things? In January, 1848, he moved to Santa Cruz, where he in the same month organized a Methodist class which was the beginning of the First Methodist and Protestant Church of that city. The first Methodist Church building was used also for a public school building in that early day.
Gen. John A. Sutter
This historical sketch would not do justice to the situation if it did not mention the name of John A. Sutter, a native of Germany, but for some years a citizen of Switzerland. In the year 1839 he secured from the Mexican Government in Monterey the gift of one hundred miles square of land in the great Sacramento Valley. He built the famous Sutter’s Fort on a slough near the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, and planned to build a city there to be called “New Helvetia.” In all probability that would have been a far better location for the city, as the elevation is much higher. But instead of a city of the living we have a city of the dead in the form of an old discarded cemetery, poorly kept, and used for most part by Chinese and Japanese.
There is one sacred plot of ground in this old Helvetia Cemetery that ought to be precious to California Methodism. Besides the grave of another member of the California Annual Conference, it contains the grave of Rev. Elijah Merchant, one of the earliest pastors of First Church, Sacramento, and whose name heads the list of “Our Honored Dead” of the Conference. Bro. Peter Bohl, an honored layman of First Church, has kept this plot of ground green and in good shape for years.
It has well been said that Sutter’s enterprise contributed largely to the future history of this great section and to California as a whole. The sight of the mud-walled fort brought good cheer and hope to the heart of many a weary, hungry, homesick immigrant, after nearly a half year’s continuous and arduous journey over the vast plains and lofty mountains that separated between him and the dearest spot on earth - the home of his childhood. Then First Church is indebted to General Sutter for the gift of the first lot the society ever owned, and on which the Baltimore-California Chapel was first erected. This lot was on the southeast corner of Seventh and L streets.
Another name linked with the early fathers of Sacramento Methodism is that of Silas F. Bennett, the father of Mrs. C. V. Anthony, the widow of the lamented C. V. Anthony, D.D. When Rev. William Roberts returned to California early in 1849, he in company with Elihu Anthony and J. H. Dye, went to Coloma, where the first Protestant Church in the mines was organized. Imagine them on horseback having their blankets, cooking utensils and provisions lashed to their saddles behind them. The Sabbath overtaking them, Roberts is said to have preached with vim to his two hearers at a place where now stands the City of Woodland. The next Sabbath was spent in Coloma, where Roberts organized a church, leaving Elihu Anthony in charge as pastor. Silas F. Bennett was the first class leader. This man of noble spirit crossed the plains with a wife and six children in 1848. The Indians caused him much trouble, at one time shooting arrows into their camp. The wife and mother became sick nigh unto death and the lack of provisions brought them to the verge of starvation. Mr. Bennett acknowledged that for Col. Fremont they would never have reached California. He met on the way and piloted them to a place of safety. Mr. Bennett spent his first winter in California in Sacramento, where he formed the acquaintance of General Sutter, who, needing a millwright, engaged him to put the mill at Coloma in working order. This mill started before the discovery of gold--yea, gold was discovered in the process of building this mill, but nothing had been done to it since the discovery of the precious metal. Mr. Bennett was a Christian of the right stamp, and wherever he went, he found the people of God and worshiped with them. He, with others like-minded held prayer meetings in Sacramento during the winter of 1848, and he was a faithful shepherd of the wandering sheep. It is said of this man that he was fearless and as true to principle as a magnet to the pole.
This physician and preacher holds an interesting place with the early builders of Sacramento Methodism. Bishop William Taylor, in describing his first visit to Rev. Isaac Owen in Sacramento, shows the place Dr. Deal held in the church at that time. Bishop Taylor says he left San Francisco the first week in January, 1850, for Sacramento. The fare on the boat was $30, but Mr. Chas. Minten, agent and part owner of the Sacramento Steamship Company, gave him a free passage. He says they passed a herd of elk who, with their huge antlers, tried to run a race with the boat and then scampered off into the woods.
Bishop Taylor says when he arrived in Sacramento City he was conducted by a stranger through one vast mud-hole of nearly half a mile to the house of Dr. Deal, whom he had well known in Baltimore and had seen about a year before embark for California in the schooner “Sovereign,” via Panama. He was entertained during his stay in Sacramento by Dr. Deal and William Prettyman, who occupied the same little house. Both these men were old friends of Taylor in North Baltimore. Bishop Taylor says he found Dr. Deal hard at work as a physician and in Gospel work as a Local Preacher under Pastor Owen. Besides considerable success in his profession, Deal had made some good trading “strikes,” so that Taylor found him not in a tent, nearly up to his knees in mud, like most of his neighbors, but occupying one of the best houses in the city. It was a small, two-story frame house, rough boards outside and canvas lining inside. The first floor was occupied as a store, owned by the Doctor, William Prettyman and a young man. The stock was an assortment of clothing, dry goods and groceries, hardware, miners’ tools and drugs, books, stationery, etc. The upper story was used as a reception room, parlor, doctor’s office, dormitory, etc. In the rear of the store a shed made of rough slabs with floor or matting to hide mud and keep passengers above ground. This was wash-room, storage-room, kitchen, dining-room, etc. He says it was a hearty welcome he got from those noble-hearted, jovial fellows.
Dr. Deal was a member of the first State Legislature of California. In the spring of 1849, he entertained Rev. William Roberts at his Sacramento home for a number of days. For many months prior to the arrival of Rev. Isaac Owen in Sacramento City, according to Bishop Taylor, Rev. Grove W. Deal, M. D., was practically the Methodist pastor of the city, and exercised a shepherd’s care over the scattered sheep of that wilderness. His regular preaching place was under the shade of a large evergreen oak on the corner of Third and L streets, and in a blacksmith shop in rainy weather. So we find that the lay-preacher of Methodism had his share in the pioneer work of Methodism in Sacramento.
In 1850 or 1851, when the cholera killed so many, Sutter’s Fort which was then an army fortress, was turned by him into a hospital and was conducted by him till the epidemic was over. He secured an appointment as surgeon in the Union Army about 1862-63, and served with the Army of the Potomac till the close of the war, and after the war closed he acted as surgeon of the Regiment in Louisiana till he was honorably discharged with the rank of Second Lieutenant, U. S. Army. He died in Louisiana about 1892, at 78 years of age.
The first regular pastor appointed to First Church, Sacramento, was the Rev. Isaac Owen. Rev. William Taylor and he were the first regular pioneer preachers sent to California by the authority of the Church. Taylor came by way of Cape Horn; Owen came by ox-team across the plains. Both reached California about the same time. Taylor began his work in San Francisco; Owen began his under the shade trees near where Grass Valley now stands, September 23, 1819. Taylor arrived in San Francisco, September 21, 1849; Owen was transferred in 1848, but failed to start for California till the spring of 1849. He preferred a trip across the continent.
Owen did not stop at Sacramento, but pushed on to San Francisco. He did not know his appointment to Sacramento made by Roberts, so he crossed the Sacramento River, drove on to Benicia, enroute for San Francisco. Learning at Benicia that Taylor was appointed to San Francisco and already at work there, he returned to Sacramento. His faithful oxen, exhausted from the 200-mile pull from Indiana to the Pacific Coast, he shipped most of his goods on a schooner bound up the river and he rapidly drove his wagon back, with less than half freight, so as to be on hand to receive the cargo from the schooner. The way-worn missionaries, says Bishop Taylor, had to wait many days for their needed goods to arrive. Rough weather delayed and the schooner capsized and all the mission goods, clothing, beds, books, etc., had to be fished up from the river. How essential such an outfit would be to the missionaries in those early days, when so far away from the base of supplies, can easily be imagined.
Bishop Taylor says that when he reached San Francisco, he found a class of twenty souls under the care of Asa White, a Local Preacher. In his first afternoon he sought for tidings for his friend, Isaac Owen. Bro. Asa White handed him a letter from Rev. William Roberts, Superintendent of the Oregon and California Mission Conference, informing him that he had been appointed preacher in charge of San Francisco station, and Rev. Isaac Owen to the charge of Sacramento City and Stockton. He further informs us that Rev. Isaac Owen commenced his pastoral work in Sacramento about three weeks after his arrival in San Francisco. His missionary party consisted of himself, wife and five children, and Rev. James Corwin, who had located from the Indiana Conference to accompany his old friend and fellow member of the same Conference, and to devote himself the remaining years of his life.
Upon his arrival in Sacramento, Owen made his home in a tent until he built a parsonage at a cost of $5000. It wasn’t a mansion at that price, as we might suppose. Building material and everything else then came high. Bishop Taylor said he had trouble to find a place for his family in San Francisco. Anything decent for a home to live in could not be rented for less than $400 or $500 per month. That was out of the question for a Methodist preacher. Hearing of a board shanty 12 feet square for $40 per month, it seemed a practicable thing to inquire after. He hastened to secure it, but alas, he was too late--an Episcopal minister had already taken it. Bishop Taylor said facetiously that he was not in the “succession.”
Cost of Living
We may form some idea of the cost of living at that early date from the following items: Lumber sold at $300 to $400 per thousand feet. Chickens, which are usually associated with preachers, came high. Mrs. Taylor wished to add some chickens to her housekeeping outfit and she asked of a lady who kept them, the price of two hens and a rooster. “Since you are the wife of a minister,” said the lady, “I will sell you them cheap. You may have them for $18.” The price was paid. Eggs were 50 cents each by wholesale. The retailers made 25 cents each additional for their profits. Potatoes were 50 cents per pound. South American apples were 60 cents per one. Fresh beef was 50 cents per pound. Dried apples sold at 75 cents per pound. Oregon butter sold at $2.50 per pound. Flour was $50 per barrel. Bishop Taylor says milk was $1 per quart. His milk woman did business in eggs, and when he was short in cash he would exchange two eggs for a quart of milk. She bought eggs at $6 per dozen and resold them at $9 per dozen. The good Bishop got tired of that sort of an arrangement, and so he came to Sacramento and bought a good cow for $200.
A few items concerning this unique building will not be amiss.
While the Rev. William Taylor, after his appointment to California by the General Conference which met in Baltimore, and under Bishop Waugh, 1848, was preparing for the trip to California via Cape Horn, his friends in Baltimore, framed and furnished a chapel 24 by 36 feet, and prepared for it a tin roof, already for putting up on their arrival. He served a short apprenticeship under a good Brother Day in putting on tin roofing, so that, in the absence of a tinsmith, he could put on the roof himself.
Bishop Taylor informs us that this work of providing a chapel was undertaken by his North Baltimore people, but that a large number of the city churches proposed to have a share in the work, on the condition that, he would by appointment duly announced, preach, and that Annie, his wife, and he would sing. The churches that helped under this arrangement were Eutan Street Church, Fayette, Columbia, Carroline, Eastern Avenue, and others. The choir of Monument Street Church gave a concert of sacred song in aid of the chapel and outfit, which netted a good return. The ladies had a large pulpit Bible and hymn book lettered “Baltimore-California Chapel.” The presentation of them to Rev. Taylor was part of the program. What souvenirs of rare interest and value would that Bible and hymn book be today, but who knows where either may be found? We present a picture of the chapel and the first parsonage which was a find to us of rarest value.
The Baltimore-California Chapel was meant for San Francisco, but at Robert's orders Taylor shipped it on to Sacramento, as the society here was stronger and more in need of its immediate use. Roberts was to send down from Oregon lumber for a larger building in San Francisco. This chapel was soon erected on a lot kindly donated to the Church by General Sutter. It was placed on the southeast corner of Seventh and L streets, where now stands the beautiful Colonial Building. The chapel was placed on the rear end of the lot. It was not a large building, but it must have been imposing among the tents and shanties that at that time constituted Sacramento City. Owen was not long in getting his church in place, and he was soon preaching to crowds of adventurers in the chapel, which was the first house of worship in the city.
Bishop Taylor says the next morning after his arrival from San Francisco, at the home of Bros. Deal and Prettyman, the Sabbath of January 6, 1850, these brethren conducted him to the Baltimore-California Chapel, where he met Owen and Corwin. Taylor preached that morning on “God commendeth His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
First Church Organization
When Owen had returned to Sacramento from his uncompleted trip to San Francisco, he had nothing but the clothes on his back that he had worn across the plains. It is claimed by some that he had lost all else through the drunkenness of the boatman to whom he had entrusted his goods. Though not in an up-to-date clergy outfit, he began his work the first Sabbath after his arrival. His first sermon was heard under an oak tree that then grew at a spot near the corner of Third and L streets, where he preached to as many as he could gather. The date was October 23, 1849. Five days later, “Father Owen,” as he was called, met seventy-two persons in Dr. Miller's store and formed the organization, the seventy-two enrolling their names on the first record book of what is now the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Sacramento. It would be of most precious value to possess that original book and to know all the names of those charter members. But no such record book is to be found and no living person can tell us all those honored names.
Character Sketch of Owen
Bishop Taylor gives us a good idea of the character of Rev. Isaac Owen in the following few touches: He was a thickset, muscular man, in height about 5 feet 9 inches. His eyes and hair were black, his face round, with an easy, pleasant smile on his countenance that was ever-abiding. He was a good preacher, very clear and strong. His preaching was earnest and practical, characterized by clear Scriptural expositions and familiar illustration. Though he did not study in collegiate halls, he had a thorough, practical education in real life, and he was familiar with his Greek Testament. He was a man of indomitable energy and courage and perseverance. Bishop Morris said of him; “Owen never gives up; he always does what he undertakes; if he cannot do it one way he will another.” This can be seen in his power of endurance. After suffering many hardships in crossing the plains with his ox-team, he was nearly drowned by the carelessness of a drunken crew in capsizing a schooner in Suisan Bay. Escaping with only the clothes he wore, which were rusty from constant use in crossing the plains, he came on to Sacramento and preached and performed his duties.
Owen, according to Taylor, was one of the greatest beggars in the world. He had a natural talent for it and was thoroughly skilled in the business. When he thought a certain portion of a man’s money ought to be appropriated to a special church enterprise in which he was engaged (and he always had one on hand), and got after him, that man had just as well, like old Dan Boone’s coon, give up at once. Merchants told Taylor when they saw Owen coming they hastened to shake hands and say: “How much money will you have today from us, Owen? Here is ten dollars, Mr. Owen, you don’t need to state the case.”
On January 7, 1850, says Taylor, Dr. Deal and he dined with Bro. Owen and family and they had a sumptuous dinner consisting of roast pork, sweet potatoes and a variety of good things hardly to be expected in California at that day. Brother and Sister Owen had not fully recovered from the wear and tear of their long journey across the plains, and their sad reverses after their arrival. Yet in the short time they had been at work, they had put up the Baltimore-California Chapel and built a $5000 parsonage.
Owen and Taylor Plan for Future
During Taylor’s first visit to Sacramento, he and Owen walked and talked for several days and laid the foundation of a mutual friendship that never was marred. They discussed the educational interests and plans for the future which eventuated in our present University of the Pacific. They decided to immediately extend the sphere of their pastoral work, Owen to include with Sacramento City, Stockton, Benicia and the region generally north of the bay, while Taylor in addition to San Francisco, should occupy San Jose and Santa Cruz. Owen explained to Taylor his plans for the foundation of Methodism in California which he had developed before leaving his native state. Among them was the establishment of a Book Depository, for which he had already ordered more than a thousand dollars worth of books from the Methodist Book Concern, New York, and owed nothing on account of them. That was the beginning of our present magnificent new Book Depository, which building now adorns City Hall Avenue, San Francisco. Owen’s plan for the founding of a university had to bide its time for want of pupils, for they only had six or eight children at that time and not enough in the whole State to employ and support one schoolmarm. But before many years, and largely through Owen’s persistent faith and energy, the University of the Pacific, the first institution of its kind regularly chartered by the State of California, was built and manned and well filled with students.
Bishop Taylor says: “In the evening of that memorable day with Bro. Owen, (Wednesday, January 9, 1850), he accompanied me to tea with Bros. Deal and Prettyman and spent the evening in social and Christian conversation till about 8 p.m. When he started for his home, we accompanied him to the door, when to our surprise, in the dry season and not a drop of rain, the streets which were dry when we had passed on them three hours before, were now beds of rapidly flowing rivers. The dissolving snows of the mountains had so swollen the Feather and the Sacramento Rivers that the city was submerged. Bro. Owen waded a couple of squares and then hailed a driver and paid him $2 to take him two blocks. He then got a boatman to ferry him to his home adjoining the chapel. I was to leave for my return trip by the ‘Senator’ next morning. I took refuge in Deal’s home till after tea, but fearing the city might go to sea that night without rudder or sails, and preferring to go to sea in a boat than in a house, I bade my friends adieu at 9 p.m. and waded thigh deep about 200 yards, and got aboard the steamer and passed the night comfortably as far as self was concerned, but felt great suspense and sorrow for the suffering strugglers in the great waters which were destroying their property and imperiling their lives.
“Thursday, January 10, 1850,” writes the Bishop, “this morning I went up on the foretop of a store-ship anchored near our steamer, to take a survey of an entire city under water. I could not discover a single speck of land in sight, except a little spot a few feet on the levee near our boat. The boatmen were navigating the streets in whale boats in every direction. The flood prevailed for days, bearing on its heaving bosom tents and small buildings of the city, and a large proportion of their stock of horses, mules, cows and oxen brought over the plains by hundreds. It was difficult to save the stock, for the valley for several miles in width and in length for more than a hundred miles, was an unbroken sea of water. The dwellers took refuge in the second story of the few houses remaining and on boats and vessels at anchor in the river.”
Rev. James Corwin accompanied Rev. Wm. Taylor on the return trip to San Francisco. It cost $2 per meal and $10 per stateroom. The fare was $30, but the captain carried Taylor free.
We are pleased to be able to present a picture of that terrible flood. Some time after securing it our attention was called to a large picture of the flood of 1850 hanging in Superior Judge Hughe’s office. In comparing the two we find them duplicates of the same original, and judging from the following voucher, we believe the picture an exact reproduction of the original:
Hongkong, July 20, 1895.
This picture of Sacramento, under the great flood of January. 1850, Was discovered in an “Old Curiosity Shop,” in China, in January, 1895, and purchased by James McWilliams, who presented it to his friend, Col. James McNasser of Sacramento.
The Chinese from whom it was purchased, carried it from California in 1855, and regarded it with profound veneration.
The rise of the river during the flood, occasioned by heavy rains and the melting of snow from the mountains, was about 20 feet.
The small island covered with tents at the head of J street on the left is called by the Indians, Sacum, a knoll of ground made by the Indians and the only dry spot visible for miles along the flood. In the distance at the head of J street will be seen Sutter’s Fort, about 2 ½ miles from levee. In the extreme distance will be seen the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or the Gold Regions, whose tops are mostly covered with snow the year round, and present a most striking and beautiful appearance when viewed from the city.
The City Hotel, the large frame building facing on the levee or river, on the left of J street, was built during the summer of 1849, at a cost of $78,000. The Sutter Hotel, the large frame building facing the levee on the extreme right was built during the fall of 1849, at cost of $50,000.
We cheerfully concur in recommending the above picture as being a true and accurate drawing of the City of Sacramento, as it appeared during the flood of January, 1850.
CAPT. JOHN A. SUTTER.
J. L. THOMAS,
Alcade of Sacramento City,
Editor of “Placer Times,” Sacramento City.
HERBERT PRIEST, Firm Priest, Lee & Co.
Drawn from nature by GEORGE W. CASILEAR and HENRY BAINBRIDGE.
Owen Flees for Safety
Owen and family, after a few day’s imprisonment in the upper story of the parsonage, fled for safety to some dry spot. His church had been carried from its foundation, by the flood, and his dwelling rendered untenable. On January 17, 1850, he and his family arrived in San Francisco on their way to San Jose Valley. To give themselves some time for recuperation and preparation for their new home, they made a temporary settlement in Bro. Asa White’s house with the blue cloth cover, which, naturally, in view of the migratory character of its owners, was vacant at the time. Taylor engaged Owen to fill his pulpit while he went to prospect San Jose and Santa Cruz for several weeks.
Builds First Book Depository
It was during this enforced absence from his Sacramento parish that Owen, assisted by Taylor, built the first Methodist Book Depository on the Pacific Coast. “February 10, 1850,” says Taylor, “Bro. Owen and I, assisted by a few brethren, dug the foundation and commenced the erection of a small Book Room adjoining the Church on Powell street. Carpenters’ wages were $12 a day, so, being unable to pay such prices, we did the work with our own hands and did not consider it a hardship. Having ordered $2000 worth of books from New York, mostly the productions of the Methodist Book Concern, intended to help in the work in California, the books had been shipped on the “Arkansas” and reached the port the day before Owen had left Sacramento. This was the first Book Depository in California or on the Coast. It cost $15 for the landing and $40 for drayage on the books.” Bishop Taylor had charge of its business, in addition to his large pastoral and pulpit work for three or four years. The stock was then increased and Rev. Owen employed a regular bookseller to devote his whole time to it.
A Sad Bereavement
Bishop Taylor describes the sad bereavement which befell Rev. Owen’s family while occupying Father White’s shanty in San Francisco. The little daughter, 2 years old, took croup and died February 13th. She was a beautiful child, and they having carried her across the plains, she became an early partner in their trials and sufferings and had greatly endeared herself to all the family. The weather beaten missionary and his quiet, patient wife joined hands and bowed together over the corpse of that lovely babe, and kissed a final farewell till the resurrection.
Bishop Taylor said is was a scene that caused him to weep whenever he recalled it. The good brother bowed his head and received the shock like a veteran in the army of God, inured to ‘hardness as a good soldier’; but Mrs. Owen, dear woman, had been so worn by hardship and toil, and her nervous system was so shattered, that the lightning seemed to strike through her whole being. She was a quiet, pious, sensible woman, but evidently from the time of her arrival in California, was but a wreck, physically, of what she had been in the days of her sunshine and hope. Bro. Treat Clark made a neat coffin for the little girl’s remains, and Bro. Hattler and I dug the grave on the northwest corner of Powell Street Church lot, and we buried there the little jewel of Jesus, the first member of our first California corps of Missionaries to pass on to the celestial city.”
Soon after this great sorrow, Owen removed his family to San Jose, where he built a small house half a mile east of the town, in which he settled Mrs. Owen with his daughter and three sons, and Mrs. Owen’s father. On March 2nd he returned alone to his pastoral charge in Sacramento City. The waters having subsided, he had his church, which had been washed from its foundation, brought back to its moorings, and he took up again his pastoral duties with usual characteristic push and energy. The church was not injured to any extent by the flood. He continued his labors until the next fall, when he then entered the work of Presiding Elder, which he followed most of his ministerial life.
According to the Conference Board, Owen was sent to Sacramento by the Oregon and California Conference, held in Salem, Oregon, September 5, 1849. To Sacramento was added Coloma and Stockton, and one to be supplied. At the second session of the Mission Conference, held at Salem, September 4, 1850, Isaac Owen was made Presiding Elder of the California District. The record states that Rev. S. D. Simonds was assigned to Sacramento, which had organic existence by this time.
Rev. James Corwin
The name of Rev. James Corwin has already been mentioned. He had been a member of the same Indiana Conference with Owen and he located to accompany his friend to California. His first object was to help Owen with his family over the plains, which he did, driving his team over the plains and mountains. The other reason was his desire to enter the itinerant work on the Pacific Coast, which he did, and worked faithfully till his death. He was a very useful man, not only in getting sinners converted, but also in building churches and parsonages. He helped Rev. Owen to build our first parsonage in Sacramento, and with his work in general at the beginning.
One of the first among the early builders of California Methodism is the name of Martin C. Briggs, D. D. From C. V. Anthony’s “Fifty Years of Methodism,” we learn that the same steamer that brought the glad tidings of Statehood, brought also a trio of Methodist preachers to San Francisco, men who were destined to make no ordinary impression upon the early history of the Church in the land of gold. These men were Briggs, Simonds and Bannister. Most of all who lived in the early days of California knew of these men. Who that has lived long in the State since then has not heard of them?
The length of time required in making the trip by steamer in those days exposed the passengers to the great danger of contracting the Panama fever, a malarial disease of great malignity. It is said Simonds was very sick and Briggs but little better. Briggs took to hard work, traveling over the region north of the bay. As soon as he had shaken himself free of symptoms of the fever, he hurried on to Sacramento, the place assigned him at the Mission Conference of 1850. His popularity being so great, the Baltimore-California Chapel had to be enlarged to double its original capacity during his first year. Dr. Briggs was a king on the public platform in public speech and in debate, and in his oratorical was against slavery was large indeed. His sermons and lectures were masterpieces of fact and logic, and were “mighty thunderbolts,” against the evil thing, and his influence was large in deciding the State against slavery.
In 1852, Dr. Briggs was elected to represent his California brethren in the General Conference at Baltimore. His mission was the formation of an Annual Conference in California, which he succeeded in bringing about. He also brought with him that excellent and very capable woman, Miss Ellen Green as the presiding queen of his California home. It was understood by the Conference in 1851 that Dr. Briggs was sent to Sacramento only till relieved by some one from the East, when he was to go to Market Street, San Francisco.
Dr. Briggs is the only pastor who served this church three terms--1850-51, 1863-65, 1875-78. A few snapshots from his last pastorate may be of interest. September 10, 1975, there were two Sunday Schools, the English on Sixth street, and the Chinese School. November 6, 1875, J. N. Young was appointed Sunday School Superintendent for the English School, and S. M. Kiefer for the Chinese School. In the pastor’s report, is found this shot which was evidently needed at the time: “With a bridle for the tongue, a Bible for the understanding, and the unwritten law of love for the heart, we shall prosper and prevail.”
September 10, 1875, the Stewards were Bros. D. W. Welty, Davis, Huntoon, Messersmith, Peter Bohl, John Watt, Dillman, Breckenfeldt, F. T. Phillips, J. N. Young. March 27, 1876, Bro. L. B. Hinman was approved as the Superintendent of the H Street Sunday School. The members of the Quarterly Conference were: Huntoon, Watt, Wardle, Dillman, Henley, Walter, L. S. Taylor, L. B. Hinman, Phillips, Peter Bohl. September 11, 1876, D. W. Welty, Superintendent of the Sunday School, reported. The character of Leroy B. Hinman, Local Preacher, was passed. Bro. Hayton was added to the Board of Stewards. April 16, 1877, Bro. Welty was elected a Steward instead of J. N. Young, who had assumed the duties of Sunday School Superintendent. C. A. Maydwell was Secretary of the Quarterly Conference. September 8, 1877, L. B. Sutliff and D. Flint were added to the Board of Trustees. December 31, 1877, the character of Bro. Bell as acting Sunday School Superintendent, was approved.
Rev. Royal B. Stratton, D. D.
Rev. Royal B. Stratton relieved Dr. Briggs during his first pastorate. He arrived by the steamer “Oregon,” November 17, 1851. He had been connected with one of the New York Conferences since 1846. He was one of the most brilliant preachers of the early days. He was eloquent, scholarly and evangelical.
The following, touching his pastorate, is taken from the “Sacramento Daily Union,” Tuesday, June 22, 1852:
The Methodist Episcopal Church--Laying of the Cornerstone of a New Church--The Methodist Episcopal Society of this city, under the pastoral care of Rev. Mr. Stratton, intend laying the cornerstone of a new church edifice at the corner of Seventh and L streets, this afternoon at 5 o’clock. Appropriate religious ceremonies will be held on the occasion.
The organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in this city took place in October, 1849, under the supervision of Rev. Isaac Owen. They worshipped in a building 24 x 36, sent out by the Baltimore Conference.
In November, 1850, Rev. M. C. Briggs took charge of the society, and under his efficient labors the society so increased in numbers that an addition of 24 x 36 was made to the church building. In October, 1851, Rev. Mr. Stratton was called to the pastoral charge of the church. Mr. Briggs having assumed the editorial chair of the “California Advocate.” During the time this Methodist clergyman has been engaged in his labors, the society has enjoyed its former prosperity, and the church is frequently crowded. A Sabbath School, numbering from 80 to 90 scholars, is connected with the congregation. At a recent meeting of the Board of Trustees, it was decided that funds be raised for the erection of a brick edifice sufficiently capacious to seat comfortably all who might wish to connect themselves with the congregation. Accordingly, enough was subscribed to warrant the commencement of the building.
The new church is to be 50 x 80, and 30 feet in height; to be surmounted with a belfry. A bell and organ will also be procured for the church on its completion. The Trustees, relying upon the successful efforts already made, have determined that the new church shall be completed within two months.
This new brick church was one of unusual elegance. The cornerstone was laid June 22, 1852. Rev. S. D. Simonds making the address. Revs. J. A. Benton, Congregationalist, O. E. Wheeler, Baptist, and W. R. Gober, M. E. Church, South, participated. The glad day was nearing, Sunday November 3d, when the church was to be dedicated, but a terrible fire broke out in the city on Saturday and destroyed $5,000,000 worth of property, among which was the new brick church. Mr. A. C. Sweetser, a ‘49-er, and all these years an honored and devoted member of the Congregational Church of this city, gave us a splendid description of both this brick church and the Baltimore Chapel. He says he watched the brick church burn and when he saw the flames reach the cupola, he knew there was no hope of saving the church and he left, feeling as badly as if it were his own church. This dauntless company hastened into shape a cheap building on the ashes of the former church. Then they erected a frame building on the ground where the Baltimore house had stood. The brick had been built diagonally across the street from it. The society made use of this for several years when they bought the present lot on Sixth street. They sold the old building to the Jews, who used it as a Synagogue.
Rev. Warren Oliver and Elijah Merchant were the pastors of the church from 1853 to 1855. Warren Oliver was one of the pioneer preachers. He was a man with a good record when he came to California and his life in California was irreproachable. He never did much work in the regular ministry, as he was under the mighty incubus of many another preacher, financial embarrassment. Conscientious, he left the ministry till he could pay his debts. His struggles with adversity kept him out till it was inexpedient for him to enter again the regular work.
Elijah Merchant, who served part of this term, 1853-55, was also one of the pioneers preachers. Dr. C. V. Anthony, in “Fifty Years of Methodism,” gives us the following very interesting items: “In February, 1856, there was a ministerial association in Shasta. It consisted of Ebenzer Arnold, Presiding Elder of Mt. Shasta District; M. C. Briggs of Marysville, Elijah Merchant of everywhere, for he was financial agent and corresponding editor of the ‘California Christian Advocate’: H. B. Sheldon of Shasta, Rev. Martin Kellogg, Presbyterian, just out in the interests of the home missionary society of that Church, but destined in time to be known as Professor and President of the University of California, and C. V. Anthony, itinerant of Trinity County and regions beyond. Mr. Arnold talked of Methodism, Dr. Briggs gave us lessons in practical theology, a thing we all needed very much; Kellogg put in kindly and fraternal words as they seemed to be needed; the balance--well, they did what they could. The association continued over Sunday, for that Sunday was to be memorable as the day on which E. Merchant and Mary Arnold were to be united for life, and it was for life. The church was crowded to its utmost capacity. No wonder, for weddings were a great rarity in those days. The bridal party, ushered by the pastor of the church, marched in just before the sermon, when Dr. Briggs tied the knot, and then preached on the text, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ A happier wedding party has been rarely seen. At the conference of 1857, about one year and a half after the event described above, Merchant was sent to Los Angeles, to a society of twenty members, and a church that cost $250. It was a hard charge and yet the itinerant’s compliment. As the writer shook hands with him after the appointments were read out, he exclaimed, “I have the best appointment in the Conference.” It certainly was to him, for from it he soon took flight for eternal worlds. He died at his post of duty, October 25, 1857. His wife and child were with her mother, in Scott Valley, about as far away as they could be and yet be in the same State. His son, an infant of a few weeks, he never saw. In those days the example of Wesley in making brief memoirs was much nearer followed than now. As this was the first death ever recorded among the members of the California Conference, it will not be amiss to give the whole of it in this place:
Elijah Merchant was born to Christian parents, in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1827; was created anew in Christ Jesus in 1847; experienced the blessing of perfect love in 1849; was licensed to exhort and to preach in 1849; received into the Baltimore Conference on probation and appointed to Front Royal Circuit in 1850; appointed to Rockingham Circuit in 1851; transferred to the California Conference in March, 1852; appointed the first year to Plumas Circuit, the second to Sonora and Columbia, the third to Sacramento City, the fourth and fifth to the agency of the “California Christian Advocate,” the sixth to Los Angeles, where he fell asleep in October of last year, leaving behind a youthful wife, and an infant son that never heard his father’s voice. He was studious, eminently methodical, an urbane gentleman, a devout Christian, an instructive preacher, a tireless worker, a brave reformer, a faithful friend, and accomplished more in seven brief years than a less earnest man would do in seven times seven. “He being dead, yet speaketh.”
The ashes of this honored pioneer preacher and pastor of First Church rest in a grave plot in the old Helvetia Cemetery, in the outskirts of Sacramento. The following words are recorded upon his tombstone: “Elijah Merchant, member of the California Conference, at Los Angeles, October 26, 1857, aged 28 years. “I have fought a good fight.” The ashes of other deceased members of the California Conference consecrate this plot of ground, and it is to be hoped if this old cemetery be removed, as is talked of, California Methodism will see to it that the ashes of these departed Methodist preachers be reburied and the spot suitably marked and kept green.
As Elijah Merchant heads the list of the “Honored Dead” of the California Annual Conference, a picture of his grave and tombstone is not out of place in this history.
Rev. N. P. Heath was appointed as pastor of this church in 1855. He was transferred to this Conference from the East, where he had served faithfully and well for seventeen years before coming to California. He was a man of marked ability, a very good preacher, and in many ways well adapted to the work in California, according to C. V. Anthony. Yet he never seemed contented in California, and in 1856, he was appointed to Howard Street Church, which was then located on Folsom Street, and he was promised a transfer East as soon as he could pay off the church debt. He did it, and only a few months after was transferred East., never to return. It is obvious that his brief stay with First Church made but little impression.
Rev. George Phillips, 1855-57
Rev. George S. Phillips served this church, 1855-57. He arrived in San Francisco, February 11, 1852. He was successively Pastor, Presiding Elder, Principal of the Female Department of the University of the Pacific, until 1861, when he returned to Ohio. He is described as a man of rather under size, light complexion, pleasant face, free of speech, a good man and a good preacher. He served as Chaplain in the army during the war.
Some Rare Data
An interesting bit of historic data might be added at this point. It is taken from a paper entitled “Illustrated History of Sacramento,” and bears the date of 1855. Though it may reiterate some things already stated, yet as confirming these things, and with added items of interest, we deem it worth while. Preceding the article touching the Methodist Church, is a picture of the old Baltimore-California Chapel and the old parsonage. The following is the article:
“In the month of October, 1849, the Rev. Isaac Owen, of the Indiana Conference, arrived in this city, as a Missionary to California, accompanied by his family. He found previously to his arrival, the place had been visited by the Rev. William Roberts, who was at that time the Methodist Missionary in Oregon, and had been presented by Captain Sutter with a lot of ground on the corner of Seventh and L streets, as a site for the building of a house of worship. There was also on the ground, ready for erection, the frame of a small house, which had been procured by their friends in Baltimore and sent hither by Rev. William Taylor, of San Francisco. This was immediately put up and was the first church built in Sacramento. The dimensions of this small chapel was 24 x 36 feet, it was of the plainest description., had a small bell upon it, and at the opening was well attended by the citizens generally. A suitable and very comfortable parsonage was built at the same time, for the accommodation of the minister and his family.
“The society prospered under the ministrations of Rev. Mr. Owen; a Sabbath School was also established early in Spring of 1850. At this time, the Rev. Mr. Owen was assisted by the Rev. Mr. Deal, of Baltimore, and Rev. James Rogers. (The name of Rogers suggests a point of historic interest. In the records of the California Conference for 1851, two men were received on probation into the Conference one of whom was James Rogers. He was teaching in Sacramento some time before this in a school that was adopted by this Conference as the “Sacramento Seminary.’ His first appointment was as Principal of this school. He was ordained Elder in 1855, and located in 1860.)
“In the month of December of this year, the Rev. M. C. Briggs was sent as pastor, and Mr. Owen was transferred to the San Francisco District. The congregation now increased, and it was soon found necessary to enlarge the building, which was accordingly done, and furnished with suitable furniture and fixtures. When the alterations were made, the building was capable of accommodating about double the number of the former house. The cost of this property at the time was about $14,000.
“The society soon prospered under the preaching of Mr. Briggs, to an extent not before attained. In the fall of this year, 1851, Mr. Briggs was transferred to San Francisco, and the Rev. R. B. Stratton was appointed to take charge of the station, and was well received. In January, 1852, the Sabbath School had considerably increased--the number of scholars being about 70, which was at that time considered a large school. In May of this year, a Mission in Sacramento was also established.
“At this time, it was deemed necessary to make further alterations or additions, and, upon consideration, the Trustees resolved to dispose of the old building with the ground upon which it stood; which they accordingly did, to the Hebrew Society, and commenced the building of a spacious and very neat brick edifice, which was the first brick church in California. The size of this house was 50 feet wide by 80 feet in length, with a ceiling 28 feet high. At this time the Sabbath School Library contained 700 volumes. The cornerstone of the church was laid on the 22d of June, 1852, on which occasion there was a large concourse of citizens in attendance. The services were conducted by the Rev. S. D. Simonds, of San Francisco. The building was nearly completed, being ready for the seats, when the great fire of November 2, 1852, took place, which destroyed the greater part of the city, and with it the beautiful church edifice, prostrating the hopes of the society and leaving them heavily in debt.
“The society was kindly tendered the use of the church under the Pastoral Charge of Rev. Mr. Benton, on Sunday afternoons, which was gladly accepted for a time, after which early the following spring the Sabbath School erected a cloth house on the site of the building destroyed by fire, where the society struggled along through the different phases of adversity, until they built their present house of worship, which is occupying the identical ground on which stood the first little chapel erected by them in 1849.
“The society is now in a prosperous condition and contemplates during the present or coming year to erect in a more central position, a more commodious house of worship.”
No name among all the pastors who served this Church has a more precious memory than that of J. W. Ross. He was born in Brown County, Ohio, June 20, 1823. He was born and reared in a Christian home, his father being a successful class leader most all his life. He was licensed to preach August 7, 1847, and admitted on trial in the Ohio Conference in 1848. In the Conference of 1857 he was transferred by Bishop Simpson from the Kentucky Conference to the California Conference. He was one of the leading pastors and strong man until his health broke. Dr. Anthony relates of Bro. Ross that in 1866, when he was Presiding Elder of the Marysville District, he was at a camp meeting near the Buttes. A lay brother, known for the magniloquence of his speech, said to some preachers: “I tell you, brethren, John W. Ross is an pluribus unum.” Then, for the benefit of those who did not understand Latin, he added: “He is one among a thousand.” Dr. Anthony says: “We all agreed with him in fact, but would have been quite incapable of putting it in such felicitous style.”
Dr. Ross says that his first charge in California was Seventh street, Sacramento. The church building was a small frame on Seventh street, east side, about the middle of the block. He says: “In regard to the church building which I found in September, 1857, when I arrived in Sacramento as pastor of the Seventh Street Church, you can imagine a plain frame house about 60 by 30 feet, with two doors in front. The walls and ceiling were covered with cloth and paper, and no plaster. It stood on Seventh street, east side, about the middle of the block bounded on the north by L and on the south by M streets. Between the two doors a platform elevated a foot or so, facing the pulpit, afforded space for the choir. One room was all the accommodation provided for public service and Sunday School. The crushing debt which the feeble church assumed after the burning of the former church, when I took charge, had been reduced to a few hundred dollars, which they paid during my first year. They, therefore, owned at the close of my first year, a small parsonage beside the church, and a very cheap house for public worship free from debt.” He says about the middle of his second year, the church was sold to the Jews and converted into a synagogue. The present lot was then bought and the first story of the present building was put up. A floor was laid in the basement, and rough boards were placed overhead. This made the chapel for some weeks before his two years expired, which at that time was a pastor’s utmost limit.
“The official members of the Seventh Street Church,” says Dr. Ross, “which I can now remember, were Bros. Barber, A. Henley, G. W. Kneedler, Jacob Welty, Samuel Mervin, George Bell, Charles Waltby, P. J. Tell and Bro. Beckley. Though only a few of my friends in Sacramento are left, they are very precious in my memory, and the church as a whole is dear to me.”
Laying of the Corner Stone
The following valuable data is gleaned from the files of the “Sacramento Daily Union,” Tuesday, April 12, 1859:
“Laying of the cornerstone of the New Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Rev. Dr. Peck, of San Francisco, Dr. Deal, Revs. Messrs. Briggs, Thomas, Bland and others, will officiate today (Tuesday), at 10 o’clock a. m. in laying the cornerstone of the new Methodist Episcopal Church, on Sixth street, between K and L streets. In connection with this society, and as matter of interest at this particular juncture, we have collected the following data:
“Rev. W. Grove Deal, of the City of Baltimore, a Local Preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church, arrived in the City of Sacramento the second week in May of 1849, and in the following Sabbath commenced religious services on a schooner at foot of J street. He preached the third Protestant sermon in the city, and from that time he continued to hold regular services every Sabbath in Sacramento, Sutter’s Fort and Sutterville, together with ministers of other denominations, until the arrival of Rev. Isaac Owen, appointed to this Coast by the Missionary Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church in October, 1849.
“In July of the same year, the city was visited by the Rev. William Roberts, Superintendent of Methodist Missions on this Coast, who preached on Sunday, July 14, 1849, and secured, the following week from Capt. John Sutter, a lot on the corner of Seventh and L streets as a site for the erection of a house of worship. He also, with Dr. Deal, secured a subscription for the purpose of bringing up to the city from San Francisco a church edifice secured and brought to this country, from Baltimore City, by the Rev. William Taylor, long known as the Plaza minister or street preacher of San Francisco, then transferred to this country by the Missionary Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Roberts placed in charge of this work the Rev. W. Grove Deal, and returned to Oregon.
“Immediately after the arrival of the Rev. Isaac Owen with his family, he went earnestly to work, and in a few weeks had the chapel erected and on Sunday, October 24, 1849, announced the dedication service of the new Methodist Episcopal Church for the following Sabbath.
“The parsonage was soon completed, and the pioneer of the church exchanged the tent of the emigrant for the first Methodist parsonage erected in California.
“On the following Sabbath, the day of the dedication of the new church, was held the first Love Feast.
“The church erected was 24 by 36, and although parsonage and church were of the plainest description, it required a large amount of money to complete them, which the citizens cheerfully contributed.
“The Rev. Isaac Owen, assisted by others, held regular services, and attended faithfully to his pastoral duties until the flood of January, 1850, when the church was moved from its foundation to the middle of Seventh street, and remained useless until the flood abated, during which time services were held in Sutter’s Fort.
“On the 29th of January, 1850, the first Sabbath School was organized and a full board of officers appointed, and in April following, E. L. Barber was elected Superintendent. The Rev. Isaac Owen occupied the church on alternate Sabbaths and the remaining portion of the time services were held by the Revs. Deal, Rogers and others.
“Rev. M. C. Briggs arrived in
“In November, 1851, Rev. R. B. Stratton was appointed to the city and he preached his introductory sermon on the 23d, and continued to meet with success until the Trustees felt it needful to again enlarge to make provision for the congregation. The Trustees sold the old church to the Israelites, May 16, 1851, and determined to erect a new one. On the 7th of June the work began on a new brick church, and on the 22d of June the cornerstone was laid. The ceremonies were conducted by the Rev. S. D. Simonds, now Presiding Elder of the Marysville District.
“On the 19th of September, the first regular services were held in the new church, by Rev. R. B. Stratton, it being furnished with temporary seats. While this building was in course of completion, the fire of November 2, 1852, left the city in ashes and the church in ruins, and a debt of thousands of dollars to be paid by the society. By the assistance of a generous public and the Divine blessings, they have been enabled to pay the debt and provide a house of worship, which was occupied up to last June, when it was sold to the Israelites.
“The Rev. R. B. Stratton was succeeded in 1853 by the Rev. B. F. Rawlins, and at the Conference of same year the Rev. W. Oliver and Elijah Merchant were appointed to the charge. In 1855 the Rev. N. P. Heath was appointed to the charge, who subsequently, by consent of the authorities of the Church, exchanged with Rev. G. S. Phillips, who remained in charge until the Conference of 1857, when the Rev. J. W. Ross was appointed to the charge, and during his first year the remaining portion of the debt was removed. Rev. J. W. Ross was reappointed in 1858 and is now engaged in prosecuting the erection of the present edifice on Sixth street, between K and L streets. The members of the church now number 94.
“The edifice now building is of brick, with a basement story 12 feet high, including a lecture room, pastor’s study and two class rooms. The extreme length is 80 feet, including the tower, and the width 53 feet. When complete the spire is to be 156 feet high. It is to be completed by the 1st of September next.”
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Proofread by Betty Vickroy.
Donated by SFgenealogy.com.
© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
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