Chapter Four - Persevering Presbyterians of Union City
Reverend Thomas Spencer
Reverend Thomas Anderson
Reverend George W. Cleveland
Summer blazed into autumn of 1841, and on October 13, 1841, Reverend Thomas Spencer administered the Lord’s Supper and preached during the Friday, Saturday, and Monday services. The congregation met on Monday and called Reverend Anderson to labor in Union and Beaver Dam.
The session met on October 16 1841, to consider a case. Charles Colten presented the session with a paper containing two charges against Richard Shrieves for using profane language and for being intoxicated. The paper mentioned Alexander Shepard and Palmer Shepard as witnesses to the charges. The members of the session united and conversed with Richard Shrieves about the charges. The session decided to continue the case until the November 18, 1841 session meeting.
When the session met on November 18, 1841, at 2:00 p.m., Reverend Chamberlain was invited to serve as moderator and all of the concerned parties were present. Alexander Shepard was called and swore as a witness that at Charles Crosby’s rising which he thought was September last, he had heard Mr. Shrieves call Mr. Watters a profane name. At this time he supposed him to be intoxicated because he saw him drink spirits and heard him use such foolish and profane language.
Palmer Shepard being present, testified substantiating the same things as stated by Alexander Shepard. The parties had substantial opportunity to question witnesses until they were satisfied. The session deliberated and decided that the first charge was established for the use of profane language, but the second, for intoxication, was not so fully proved.
F.B. Lowery was appointed to confer with Mr. Shrieves. He reported that Mr. Shrieves was willing to make a confession as he conscientiously could and to pledge his word that he would abstain from the use of ardent spirits as a beverage.
The session record also contains Mr. Shrieve’s confession. He admitted that he realized that being a Christian and using profane language and ardent spirits were not consistent, and he could not deny using the profanity, although he didn’t specifically remember using it. He concluded by saying that “in this I have erred and I propose by the grace of God to abstain from such use of ardent spirits.”
Reverend Thomas Anderson began his ministerial work in Union for one half of his time and half of the time in Beaver Dam in January 1842. The times were extremely hard because the country was still recovering from the Panic of 1837 and the state of Pennsylvania was recovering from the crash of the state banks. Reverend Anderson had a large family which he found difficult to support on his meager minister’s salary.
During his ministry he received eleven people into the church by letter, including Philander Sanderson, Betsey Brooks and Jacob Woodard and his wife. He baptized Charles Spencer, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Plottin. In June 1843, he baptized James, the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Lavay.
In July 1842, Ann Gray, the wife of William Gray, one of the elders of the church, died. In March of 1843, William Gray died and in June, Mrs. Andrew Thompson, one of the first members of the church followed William in death. That same June, Reverend Anderson applied to the Presbytery for dismissal as pastor over the church of Union and Beaver Dam and his request was granted. In the autumn of 1843, he left for Huntington County, Indiana.
January 1845 brought Reverend Pierce Chamberlain back to the Union church to substitute until the session could name a permanent minister. Reverend Chamberlain baptized a child for Mr. and Mrs. James Wilson, a daughter named Elizabeth. He also baptized two children for Mr. and Mrs. John Wilson, named Julia and Henry.
The congregation transacted other important business in 1845. The session records say that the congregation took out a subscription for the last of September requesting the Presbytery to furnish them with a gospel minister. The Presbytery sent Reverend George Cleaveland to being his ministerial labors at Union one-third of his time.
Reverend Cleaveland probably thought that he sailed the stormy Sea of Galilee with his Master after spending four years at the Presbyterian Church at Union. He was a faithful and devoted minister and did all he could reasonably be expected to do to build up the church. The meeting house was full every Sabbath that he preached and the loving spirit of the congregation warmly supported him.
But circumstances conspired against him. William Gray, the elder, was dead and the other two elders Francis and John Gray, began to be jealous of each other. Their rivalry grew so strong and heated that John Gray accused Francis of wrong doing. John wanted Francis to be tried for the supposed wrong doing, but he would not conduct the hearing himself. Instead, he wanted Reverend Cleaveland to hold a hearing.
Reverend Cleaveland declined, and John turned against him as well. The session records don’t specify how and where the proceedings between John and Francis were tried, but a trial did take place. There is a note in the record that says the Presbytery at Millcreek met on June 27, 1849. It examined and approved the session records, with the exception of the proceedings in the case of John Wilson, which the Presbytery retained for further examination. The note was signed by J. Vance, Moderator.
Another prominent member in the church, Nathanael Wilson, prided himself on his extreme abolitionism. He accused Reverend Cleaveland of doing nothing because he didn’t preach about the sin of slavery every Sabbath. Nathanael felt free to criticize Reverend Cleaveland loudly and throughout the congregation.
During Reverend Cleaveland’s ministry, seven people were added to the church by letter and six children were baptized. In April 1846, Hugh, the son of Mr. and Mrs. David Wilson, was baptized and Mr. and Mrs. James Wilson presented their daughter Nance for baptism.
Reverend Cleaveland had to endure another trial. In July 1846, David Wilson presented charges against his brother, John Wilson. Both were members of the Presbyterian congregation and the controversy created division in the church. David Wilson in a written statement said that John charged that he had found the bones and other remains of a sheep around David’s field and that he had sent a very indecent and vulgar expression to David through one of his sons. David listed his witnesses as Nathanael and Catherine Wilson and Sarah Woodard.
He made a second charge that said his brother John claimed that a certain fence of David’s which divided their pasture fields was in some places not more than a foot high. David said the fence went four feet high in many places as John well knew. David’s witnesses to this charge were Hugh Wilson, Andrew Thompson, Mr. Avery and F.B. Gray. David’s third charge said that John used abusive language to him and about him when he took Mr. Gray and Mr. Woodard along to talk to him. Witnesses to this charge were Jacob Woodard and Francis B. Gray.
The session continued the case until August 1846, when it agreed to issue citations and conduct a trial. After a long and tedious trial, John Wilson was suspended.
The congregation also lost other members. In February 1849, Elder Francis B. Gray, his wife, Jane, and their daughter Sarah were dismissed by letter because they moved to Painesville, Ohio. Nathanael Wilson and his wife moved to Erie. Many people thought that with the loss of some congregation members, and the arguing between others, the church wouldn’t survive, but it did.
June 1841 – The session having previously on demand to William Foster in a Christian manner for undertaking to sell ardent spirits and persisting in this action. The session suspended him for using and selling ardent spirits and for having balls in his house.
October 16, 1841 – The following confession:
If I did use profane language as charged and testified against me of which I am not conscious though I cannot deny it, I confess it. Was very wicked and provoking to God and deserving the severest session from the church I am sensible have even that I did use language wrong, improper. I am truly sorry because I have offended god, broken my covenant vow and brought disgrace on the cause of Christ. I believe now that it is inconsistent for a professing Christian to make use of ardent spirits as a beverage. In this I have erred and I propose by the grace of God to abstain from such use of ardent spirits.
Richard Shrieves (Signed)
June 1843- Reverend Thomas Anderson made appeal to the Presbytery for a dismissal as pastor over the church of Union and Beaver Dam which request was granted, it being the wish of the congregation. In the mean time, Reverend Anderson preached one third of the time until the autumn following, then left for Huntington County Indiana.
January 1845- William Bracken and his wife left the church at Union and finally settled in the Waterford Church.
July 1847 – Received from the congregation at Union for foreign missions: $5.87.
October 1847 – Received from home missions from the congregation at Union: $10.75.
June 1848 – David Wilson had a child baptized named Sarah.
February 1849-Dismissed by letter F.B. Gray, his wife, Jane Gray and daughter, Sarah Gray.
Robert Gray was born December 2, 1798, and was over eighty years old when he died in April 1879. He was next to the youngest of a family of eight children and in 1806 came with his father’s family to Northwestern Pennsylvania, where they settled at Beaver Dam. In 1820, the family moved to Waterford. Robert lived with his family until the winter of 1823, when he married Miss Jane Smith, a daughter of another of the early pioneers of Erie County.
After they were married, the newly-weds moved to a farm two miles south of Union, which came to be known as “The Gray Farm.” Robert had built the house himself and it wasn’t yet completed. The area itself was nothing more than a wilderness, but soon Robert had cleared and planted the land and he and his family lived there for nearly 50 years. Then in 1870, he moved to the corner of Third Avenue and South Street in Union City.
Early in life Robert joined the Presbyterian Church and remained devotedly attached to it all of his life. Everyone who knew him remarked on his sincere, earnest and devoted Christian testimony. He and his wife, Jane, were the only members from the first Presbyterian Church on Market Street in 1831 who also witnessed the dedication of the new church on West High Street in 1874. He also contributed liberally to the building of the new church.
Robert was the last surviving member of his family. He and Jane never had any children of their own, but they opened their hearts and their home toward several children and acted as their foster parents. Among their foster children were J.S. Thompson and his sister Sarah Jane Thompson, Miss Hannah Jane Gray and others who grew up to occupy useful and respectable positions in the community.
Through industry prudence and good management, Robert earned a comfortable living and accumulated a handsome nest egg. He was a man of sterling integrity and strictest honor. He always enjoyed in a high degree the confidence and esteem of his fellow citizens being frequently elected to various township offices. He was also elected county commissioner one term and county auditor for one term.
Most fittingly, his funeral services were held in the Presbyterian Church where he had so long and prominently served. A large congregation came to pay their last respects to this aged and revered citizen. His pastor, Reverend R.B.. Dilworth, preached an appropriate sermon from Acts 10:22, and truthfully called Robert Gray one of the “Fathers of the Church.” (Note: The obituary of Robert Gray in the Union City Times dated April 10, 1879, lists Robert Gray’s birth date as December 21, 1798. The dedication on the Gray Chapel written by his wife, Jane, lists it as December 2, 1798.)