8. William Hamilton Dowling

Rev. William Hamilton Dowling

He was an official participant and an unofficial friend in the affairs of nearly everyone - from birth to death - at baptism, marriage, funeral, family council in illness and sorrow, in affairs of education and training and many other matters. Above all, he gave moral and spiritual leadership to the community as a whole.

"Brother Ham" lived through the period of the Mexican War, the war between the States, the Spanish-American War and World War I. In his childhood he talked with those who had fought with Generals Washington and Jackson in the wars of 1776 and 1812; he lived in the atmosphere of alternate crises of war and peace. He saw a nation built, torn apart and rebuilt. His eighty-three years of life was the time-link between America as a gangling youth and America as a mature man. The following incidents will convey some idea of the conditions under which my father, the late Rev. William Hamilton Dowling, lived and served his fellowman. - M.D.T. [Maude Dowling Turner])

One hundred and four years ago when William Hamilton Dowling was born, on the fourth day of August, 1842, near the present town of Brunson, then in Prince William Parish of the old Beaufort District and now in Hampton County, South Carolina, conditions were tranquil. Colonial strife with the Spaniards, pirates and Indians, warfare against British regulars and local Tories, the second war with the mother country in 1812, were followed at last by three peaceful decades in which the agricultural life of the "low country" and "uplands" of South Carolina developed and matured. This period of tranquility was ended by the Mexican War in 1848 and the increasing tension in the 1850's regarding States' rights and slavery.

My father's plantation, like those of many of his neighbors, was worked by slave labor. Yet in his own household, as well as in those of many other planters of the time, there was frank recognition that, morally and economically, slavery was no longer to be desired. At all times a very large part of the white population was entirely divorced from the slave question and thousands of "free negroes" lived in the state. It is to be remembered also that the local Carolina view of the war between States was not that of rebellion against Federal Government as much as it was a fight to protect and preserve the right of state and local government, each to be supreme in its sphere, even to the point of secession from the central body - one originally conceded under the constitution to have very limited powers. Had such an issue not transcended the slavery question in importance the general harmony and solidarity of the region which existed before and during the so-called civil war would not have prevailed. I have lived long enough to see this same question of central and local-state government again loom up as the issue of the hour, an issue in which the liberty of all the people is this time involved.

Because of the part played by my father and the Dowling family in connection with this issue and other issues from Colonial times to the present, the following incidents may be interesting to the Dowling Family Reunion. The more formal history, his life and times, I leave to abler hands than mine.

Descended from a line of soldiers and scholars, my father's immediate branch of the family stemmed. as noted, from Robert Dowling of Virginia, a soldier of the American Revolution. Other ancestors, as shown on the memorial plaque, fought in that and other wars. A relative is believed to have died with Travis and Crockett at the Alamo. But it should not be thought that my father and his people devoted their lives to military engagements; many of his family, in fact, were equally busy (as he was) in fighting for mankind's advancement in religion, education, law and politics.

It seems natural, therefore, that when my father prepared for his life's work, he early expressed a wish to teach. He was proficient and soon passed from the hands of private tutors to the Pineville Academy, then the leading local institution. His further formal training was delayed by the outbreak of the war in 1861. The oldest child in his immediate household, he assumed responsibilities not typically acquired in early life.

His vitality, energy and quick wit endeared him to his associates. His stamina was unusual; he outraced and outfought all of his friends, yet he was equally noted for his intense powers of concentration during many hours of daily instruction in the old-fashioned academy schoolroom with its long, unrelieved and unbelievably hard benches. He learned to ride in childhood and was famed as a horseman, which prepared him for his later distinguished career as cavalry officer and scout. His splendid physique, coupled with an erect, soldierly bearing, was retained by him throughout life. He was never ill until immediately prior to his death in his eighty-third year.

Father, from his early youth, was noted for his friendliness and sympathy for the poor and lowly of both races. Long before any sort of education was available to the negroes, he taught many of them the elements of the three "R's"; some of them he instructed at their work in the fields, others in small groups. In this work he often began by teaching them to count to one hundred, using cattle, flintstones and passing birds to convey the basic principles of mathematics to his wholly untutored friends. At later stages, he would present the negroes with slates for writing letters. (He freed his own slaves before the war began.)

The negroes were especially interested in the white man's "Bible" and "Church" and much of father's early life was spent in reading and interpreting the Holy Word. He counseled them to forsake their African notions of witchcraft or evil spirits and to think of the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and the love of Jesus for all mankind.

My father, not only by inheritance but by environment as well, came naturally to an emphasis upon spiritual values and community service. Brought up in an atmosphere of comfort but without luxury, in a happy Christian home, he perceived his own father's satisfaction in the simple verities of a good life. His parents both were devoted Baptists. His father was a deacon for many years in a local Baptist Church. His mother, energetic and ambitious, was single-minded in her attention to the needs of her family in both physical and spiritual matters. No sacrifice was too great. Once, an itinerant book-salesman visited a school my father was attending at some distance from his home. The school master decided that all students ought to buy the new books offered as it might be some considerable time before any other books good or bad - would be available. But, unlike the viewpoint held by some of our modern book-salesmen, full payment instantly was paramount. My father had no money with him and his father was away in Charleston. That evening he tried to salve his disappointment by vigorous absorption in home duties, but his mother understood his thirst for knowledge.

Soon after "supper" (as dinner is called in the South) his mother placed all the children in bed. When they were asleep she saddled her mare, "Ladybug," and through the dark night on the rough bridle paths (then called highways) rode fifteen miles to a country store where the book-salesman had been known to stop. The storekeeper was asleep at his residence but she made him open his shop and sell her the desired books. Often I asked Grandmother if she was frightened on the long, dark ride which ended only just before dawn. "Oh, no," she told me, "I trusted in God to guide me safely and I wouldn't have slept anyway worrying over Hamilton's disappointment. Hamilton was so happy over the new books and I was so happy for him, we both cried."

As the eldest child, and in view of the limited school facilities, father had a large share in the education of his brothers and sisters. Thus early training in teaching perhaps predisposed him further for his subsequent career. Father even was permitted to name several of his ten brothers and sisters.

The homecoming scene of this devoted family, upon Hamilton's return after four wearying years of victoryless war, has been described touchingly. The smaller children, nourished only by skimpy war rations and stories of the heroism of their older "bubber," lined up at the driveway to the home military fashion to receive him with accolades of praise and warm rejoicing. And, of course, Grandmother and Grandfather felt a profound thankfulness.

My father's grandfather, John (Jabez) Dowling, lived nearby. I understand that my father, as a boy, used to visit his grandfather daily. According to my father, his grandfather John (Jabez) Dowling, was noted for his minor oddities. He would have a servant pick up leaves immediately that they fell from the trees so that the grounds were meticulously groomed at all times, and he would refuse to go to any religious service without high top-hat and silk broadcloth suit. My father's great-grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) withdrew from the Church when a neighbor caused it to be turned into a primitive (hard-shell) denomination. This neighbor had been a Tory and this fact was another cause of dissension between the men. Otherwise, there was little community dissension.

I was not quite in my "teens" when my paternal grandfather died, but my father's mother lived to be present at my wedding. As my maternal grandparents both died before I was born. I was especially impressed by the personalities of my father's parents and was devoted to them. I made many trips about the countryside with them. I recall those occasions when Grandfather would lift me up on his saddle and drive off with me to one of his mills on "grinding days." There were set dates each month when cornmeal or "grits" were milled by grandfather's mills for all the surrounding planters. At various seasons, sugar-cane grinding and cotton ginning also occupied his attention, the latter enterprise being a joint venture with Joseph Rosier, a neighboring planter and lifelong friend (an ancestor of the Kelehears and Terrys shown on the plaque). It was the practice of the hired hands or employees of the mills to receive part of their compensation in goods; that is, to receive, for example, a part of the cornmeal ground. Grandfather always saw to it that for poor people and widows "no charge" was made.

To my mind, at the time, these mills seemed the most picturesque spots in the world and the perch fishing I learned to do in the mill ponds added to the glamour. Grandfather also made me a little trap in which I caught redbirds and sparrows, hoping to tame them (but they always defied me and escaped).

An outstanding expedition I shall always remember is important only because it shows how little suffices to provide the material for childish ecstasy. One day he carried me to a country store nearby. It was only a typical shop, of course, but to me it was like a later-day trip to New York.

At the store he purchased for me a pair of red shoes. That was an event! And then he handed me a large bag of fancy candy. It was the first time I had ever "held the bag" containing real "store candy." I was almost delirious with joy. I was admonished to share it with my brothers and sisters but, of course, I now suspect grandfather knew I would sample every type in the bag first. This simple incident loses its meaning today when nearly all American children have as much candy as they want whenever they want it, but perhaps the joy I had might be likened today to a war-refugee hungry child unexpectedly receiving, instead of a crust of bread, a whole banquet.

On the last day of grandfather's life, when returning from my school, I went by to see him. I did not know he was ill but I missed him outside the house and searched for him inside. As I stood at his bedside he said, "Daughter, go and help grandmother. I'm mighty bad off. Take a basket of figs home with you." I did as I was told and then at home talked with Mother about grandfather. Mother and father quickly left for grandfather's home. He had gone into his final sleep just after I left his bedside and never awakened in this world. I think I was about ten years old at the time of this occurrence; it was my first real experience with grief. His death was a terrible shock and it nearly broke my heart. I remembered many of the things he had taught me about the Holy Sacrament - the Lord's Supper - and about life after death, and this comforted me. Then too, my father's ardent religious beliefs also eased the shock.

My father, at the age of sixteen, in the year 1858, was converted to Christianity under the preaching of the Reverend J. M. Hoover. Father was baptized by him in August of the same year. In 1859, 1860 and part of 1861, father taught school in the Bethel Church Community, continuing his studies and preparing for his entrance into the Seminary. He was fully prepared and licensed to preach in 1861 when the war broke out. Thus, at the age of nineteen, he interrupted his academic work to volunteer for the Army.

He served under General Butler and General Wade Hampton (afterwards U. S. Senator, for whom Hampton County is named), until after the surrender of General Lee. He fought in twenty-five major engagements in Virginia and Carolina and acted as both fighting officer and spiritual leader. For a time he was aide and adjutant to General Hampton.

General V. R. Brooks in "Butler and His Cavalry" places father in the center of a group termed "bravest of the brave." Colonel Zimmerman Davis, of the 5th S. C. Cavalry Regiment, and the Charleston Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy sent him the "Cross of Honor" with the inscription "none deserve it more than you; you were loyal to the banners of the Confederacy and loyal to the Cross of Christ." His formal record is a part of the State Historical Archives of Georgia and South Carolina and his official service to Hampton, S. C., is memorialized in a marker on the walls of the court house in that place.

Incidentally, when the new court house is erected at Hampton, there will be found within the old cornerstone a sealed document, prepared by my father and placed therein, possibly describing the circumstances leading to the creation of the county. I am sure the family would be grateful, and the public at large interested, if the contents of this document are made known when the sealed stone is opened.

At the battle of Lee's Mill he commanded and held the right wing of the Confederate forces until surrounded by General Sheridan's overwhelming numbers. He once captured eleven prisoners single-handed while on picket duty. Bullets and shells cut down horses under him and tore his clothing but he was never injured. In one engagement he fought from Thursday evening to Monday morning without basic rest, pausing only to eat meals of cold parched corn and water.

My father's piety and character were such that this company and regiment never had any other chaplain. Under his influence many were converted, especially during that period when his part of the Army was in North Carolina. He was a leader in organized religion in the army throughout the war. He was especially useful to General Hampton in maintaining troop morale and the General esteemed him highly.

During reconstruction days, father often rode day and night among the notorious negroes, admonishing them and generally curbing the savage instincts of the very worst element. Once on the River Plantation near Saint John's Church in the Barnwell Community, father went boldly into a camp of more than one hundred of them who had just convened upon return from a murderous tour of the region. He talked with them and although they pulled him off his horse and threatened to kill him as they had done the others (the bodies of other white men were lying in his clear view), he at last convinced them he came as their friend to help them. He preached to them for hours, explained their political and economic position, and thereafter these particular negroes gave little trouble.

Some scoundrel leaders came to the broken South in the wake of war and told the younger negroes they should kill off all the white men, take all of their property and all of their white women. I recall going to a certain home where all the women and children for fifteen miles around had gathered for mutual safety to sleep. Meanwhile, the few able-bodied men who survived the war patrolled the community. This was continued until the roving negro gangs were dispersed. (A system of communication from house to house and section to section was used to spread alarms, causing people to gather.) I remember sleeping on a long "pallet" with many children I had never before seen. We weren't even permitted to whisper for fear of attracting attention. Every grown woman had a gun and kept it constantly with her, even when feeding her children. Even as late as 1888 - ten years after Federal Troopers were withdrawn - this lawlessness made life dangerous indeed.

When the war was over, father felt that he had been spared for a Holy Warfare in which he would not lose the victory. The "low country" had been laid waste by General Sherman and, of course, the whole life of the region was disrupted. Someone had to assume the task of preaching even though no one could pay a clergyman a living wage.

With burning zeal he consecrated himself to the work. The ordaining Presbytery included J. M. Hoover, H. S. Boynton and W. H. Shuman. He was married to my mother Clara Louisa Ruth, daughter of Hon. A. M. Ruth, of old Beaufort District, on May 19, 1867. Immediately after the ceremony he preached his first sermon in Hopewell Church.

With father, a soul was a soul. Wealthy planter, plain farmer, and negro - all were one spiritual class to him. In the first year after his ordination, he baptized one hundred and thirteen converts. The first pastorates were at Mount Pleasant, Steep Bottom, Saint John's, Allen's Chapel, Cannan, Seven Pines and Bethesda. He visited many destitute places and aided the unfortunate everywhere in the region. He later accepted calls to preach at Peniel, Doctor's Creek, Smoke, Antioch and Edisto Churches. In 1878 he moved back to his old Hampton County home and thereafter served thirty-three churches in the Savannah River Association. In his later years he was pastor of Sandy Run, Dry Swamp, Mill Grove and Black Swamp. He organized the Barnwell County Sunday School Convention and was clerk of the Savannah River Sunday School Association for thirty years.

To maintain his own growing family, he taught school. In all his schools he maintained or developed a Bible and catechismal department. Many of those taught were later brought into the Church where, in turn, he married them, baptized and trained their children, preached their funeral services and buried them. Many South Carolinians, who later became distinguished in public affairs, passed through his guiding hands as pastor, teacher or as counselor - among them Governors, Senators and the present Secretary of State. He was acquainted with four generations of South Carolinians by virtue of his long life and professional duties.

I once accompanied father when he went to see some extremely poor people. All were ill with measles and there was no food, no money and no medicine. Father had been paid that day for a full year's salary by the Church - a total of $5.00 - but, despite the needs of his own family, he immediately gave the $5.00 to the poor people. Happily they recovered, possibly largely due to the food and medicine the $5.00 bought.

Returning home that day, he met an eloping couple on their way to his home seeking him for a marriage ceremony. With a neighboring farmer's family for witnesses (no licenses being required in those days) he married the couple right there in the middle of the road. The bridegroom paid father $10.00 - twice as much money as he had received before his kind act.

When the wonderful story was told to the family circle all father said was, "I had faith that God would provide in some way. Sometimes it is no duty to give all I have to those poor people."

Father bought his own first land in 1870, before I was born. The circumstances are interesting. Grandmother Ruth rode all the way (about thirty miles) on horseback from the Ruth homestead to Allen's Chapel in the Barnwell region, near Saint John's, to tell her son-in-law that if he would pay taxes (which the carpet-baggers had inequitably levied) on the large tract of land, known as Jordan's Bay, she would give it to mother. Few people had any cash so soon after the war as all economic life was disrupted and almost everyone was fully involved in the now valueless Confederate currency. This, of course, was the new situation which the carpet-baggers had counted upon to give them a chance to grab all good lands. Fifty United States dollars then would buy what $30,000 wouldn't buy today (1946) in real estate. Since father was receiving some pay in "cash" as a schoolteacher, he was a little better off than most people. The land on the bay had been kept as a hunting preserve and had never been cultivated or even timbered. This same land today is included in one of the estates of a great mid-western industrialist. It was the timber on the land, sold at $1.00 an acre to Northern mills, which later supported all of us through the awful reconstruction period which continued year after year for nearly fifteen years.

Well, father succeeded, of course, in getting this land but he was forced to let it go later. Land then sold for twenty-five cents an acre later brought $590 an acre. It was about the time of the Grandmother Ruth Jandon Bay situation when Grandfather Dowling moved down-state, near Nixville. Anxious to have their oldest child back near them and in view of the perilous times, another move was planned. Later, in response to an opportunity offered, when a man named Jonas Trawell decided to sell out, father bought 500 acres at fifty cents an acre. Later he built a house on this land, moving in when my brother Buist was six weeks old. This was what we called the "old Beldon place." All the brothers and sisters, from Louise down to Harry, were born there.

My sister, little Mary Sue, had died in September, before Buist was born in the winter months. At this time we had some of the coldest weather on record for the region. It was too dangerous for the health of young children so many families lived together to combine fuel, feeding, shelter and for common protection.

We were all bundled up in quilts and covers and trekked off together to Grandfather's section in the only buggy available - the smaller children going with mother. My oldest brother, the late Hon. W. H. Dowling, Jr., and I went in a wagon. We crossed the river in a flat ferry - there were no bridges then - at Nyles Ford.

At the Beldon place father continued to buy land adjoining his home. At one time he owned a mile square in a single tract.

Father cut off from the main tract and gave to Peter Speaks' (colored) wife, Libbie, a faithful old negro woman who had washed for us over twelve years (charging, incidentally, forty cents per day for her services), ten acres and the little house in which she lived free all those years. I know the names of many of the old slaves who belonged to the family. I have gone with my father many times to see them. He often went to them when they needed help.

Later in life, accepting posts such as Commissioner of Education and as Probate Judge, father felt that he would not injure but would help his ministry. In these lay tasks he kept in touch with the education of youth and, in a sense, acted as guardian of the widows and orphans. Father served as the first School Commissioner of Hampton County until 1880, at which time he was elected, by popular vote, Judge of the Probate Court, which office he held until 1892. Until his death, in 1924, father was a member of the Board of Education of Hampton County.

Few have married as many couples, written as many obituaries, organized and built as many churches, baptized and educated as many persons, as did my father.

I think he viewed life this way - there is no happiness on earth worth having outside that of knowing you've been useful and have performed your duty. He was happy while he lived in trying to do good work. He was happy when he preached his first sermon at old Hopewell Church and he was happy when he preached his last sermon there a few days before he died. I last saw him at his life's work here in this very spot where today we dedicate this memorial plaque to him and to other "heroes" of America's wars.

Maud Dowling Turner
San Antonio, Texas
July 4, 1946

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