Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tidbits About Rev. J. L. Pritchard: One Of FBC-Wilmington's First Pastors

These snippets are from a student's term paper:

...The only newspaper in Wilmington at the time of the epidemic was the Wilmington Journal, founded in 1844 and the first accredited daily newspaper in North Carolina. In 1862 Alfred L. Price and James Fulton were managing editors. James Fulton was remembered as a "wary politician and a cautious editor". He worked diligently to keep the worst from the world, as he believed the enemy would try to use it to a disadvantage for the city. This sentiment paralleled the concerns of the Confederate administration that if the true degree of weakness of the port were disclosed, the Federals sitting on the blockade off the coast would launch an attack and cause the fall of this most important supply point. Fulton "ruthlessly suppressed from his limited space such matters as in these days of historical research might be of the greatest service." There were two topics that were blatantly omitted from news sources in Wilmington and Fulton went so far as to state those things which would be intentionally absent. First, any activity in the course of foreign intervention, for the purpose of bringing about a peace to the war and any warnings to the State and Confederate governments about the vulnerability of the defenses at Wilmington Harbor. The Journal did continue to report the information it was given about the course of the war and finally on 15 September 1862 the first public reference to the epidemic occurred.

Persons employed in gas houses are exempt from yellow fever. This has been attributed to the inhalation of the gas tar. To enjoy the same exemption ... use a mixture of 1/2 tar and other half oil (sweet or peanut preferred) let a cloth be moistened with it and reapply it frequently throughout the day.

The news was often described in vivid detail and developed an epic quality in the course of relaying the devastating news of the battles throughout the country as well as the death and devastation occurring within the boundaries of the city limits. Denial of the seriousness of the situation lasted in the printed word as long as the editors could rationally justify it. A commentary in the Wilmington Journal from the editor of the paper on 16 September said, "we do not think that there is any likelihood of it becoming epidemic. It is not to be denied, however, that this is emphatically the sickly season here... every form of fever is immediately supposed to be Yellow Fever, and every death is referred to that disease." Again on 17 September the editor wrote "All the excitement will pass away in a few days." It was not until 25 September that the word epidemic appears attached to the increasing numbers of yellow fever cases. It is interesting to notice that there were so many more cases earlier reported as other things, and that there may have been fewer fatalities had the city not waited so long to advise evacuation. As the epidemic wore into October, exhaustion, exasperation and hopelessness crept into the reports to replace the cautiousness of editorial judgement that had been present in early September. James Fulton sat alone in his office, publishing only a one-page bulletin to be posted around by the Post Masters because of a lack of any staff to publish a regular edition. He wrote,

But for a sense of duty we confess we would have little heart or inclination to worry with the publication of a paper. The streets are entirely deserted, save now and then a hearse, or a physician's buggy is seen, making its weary rounds. May we be able to stand guard against northern invasion and keep from our town a touch more polluting than that of yellow fever.

The epidemic reduced the paper’s labor force until only the editors remained on the watch, and then Price was called away on unknown business, leaving only Fulton. J.L. Pritchard expressed his exasperation eloquently, "I have tried to commit all to God and to feel our times are in His hands." By this time it was the singular hope of the remaining residents of the city that the sickness would simply end.

Many of the prominent citizens who succumbed to the fever were chronicled in the newspaper as each took his turn in the funeral procession. On 7 October the death of Colonel James T. Miller, a Chief Magistrate who presided over the county court was reported. He was the first president of the Thalian Association, mayor of the town for some time, on the Board of Directors for the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad Company and Chairman of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. From 1854 to 1862 he was customs collector for the Port of Wilmington. The man, as active a part of the community as he was, was sorely missed after his death of the fever. The Reverend Doctor R.B. Drane, Rector of St. James Episcopal Church died on 15 October after extensive service to his parishioners and other members of the community. Mr. Quigley, the Superintendent of Oakdale Cemetery died on 20 October. This occurrence broke down the system of recording interments at Oakdale and created a problem in tracing burials after the epidemic was over. The Reverend J.L. Pritchard, the pastor at First Baptist Church on the corner of Fifth and Market Streets wrote a detailed account of the epidemic and visited many of the citizens of the city to give counsel and comfort. Captain C.P. Ellis reported his death as the evening of Thursday, 13 November, having suffered from the fever for some three weeks. Captain Ellis remarked on the character of this selfless man that, "May we not comfort ourselves with the thought that he is now a ministering spirit watching over us?"

Here are 2 books mentioning Rev. Pritchard and his service to our church during a time of a great yellow fever outbreak: The Baptist Encyclopedia - Vol. 2 and Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, 1660-1916 By James Sprunt.

From--- The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1862:

Reverend J.L. Pritchard, pastor at First Baptist Church - took ill around October 22 and suffered with the fever for three weeks. He died on November 13, 1862 tended by his sister Eliza and his son Robert. Captain C.P. Ellis, who reported his death remarked on the character of this selfless man, "May we not comfort ourselves with the thought that he is now a ministering spirit watching over us?"

Here is a link to Rev. Pritchard's memoir, which I found off of this site. It can be accessed from here too.

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