by Edward Spannaus
(The Loudoun Telephone was a Republican Party-oriented newspaper published in Hamilton, Virginia, in the late 19th century. The following are news reports about the establishment of the Mount Sinai Free Will Baptist Church, as published between the initial organization of the congregation in 1883 as a mission of the Free Will Baptists in Harpers Ferry, up through the dedication of the church building in 1887. Because of Covid restrictions at Thomas Balch Library, this is not complete, as we have not been yet able to scan the Telephone for the period from September 1886 to Summer 1887. Nonetheless, it is interesting as a contemporaneous view of the development of this church — about which so little is known.)
1883 Nov. 16 – “The colored people have organized a Baptist congregation at Lovettsville, and have purchased land from J.W. Goodhart, on which to build a church. They seem to have manifested great interest in their church matters. There have been several weddings among the colored people.” [i]
1885 May 22 – “LOVETTSVILLE, May 18.– …The colored people of this locality have begun to erect their church. This is an important enterprise, and as it takes money to build, it is to be hoped that the good people of this community will open their hearts and their purses, and subscribe liberally, that the work of reformation may be promoted. If our people will look back ten years and compare the condition of society then with what it [is] now, they will surely be prompted to cheerfully assist in the great work which God is doing in our midst.”
1885 May 29 — “Corner Stone Laid. Under the supervision and efforts of Rev. F.P. Lewis, the corner stone of Mount Sinai, F.W. Baptist Church was laid on Saturday, the 23rd inst., with the usual appropriate ceremonies. Rev. J.C. Newman[ii] of Baltimore, Md., opened the exercises with prayer, and Rev. J.E. Burrell of Harpers Ferry, W. Va., made the address. Basket collection $15.”
1885 July 17 — “For years, the need of a place for worship has been sorely felt by the colored people of Shinar neighborhood. They have worshiped like those of primeval days, where,
The groves were God’s first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them,–ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; –in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
“By the tireless efforts of Rev. Frank Lewis, whose whole life seems to be consecrated to the work, they have been able to build a commodious little chapel on the sloping side of the mountain. A festival last Saturday night was largely attended; eighteen dollars being cleared and a pleasant time to all. The small congregation with its increasing members, will soon be able to liquidate the little debt yet remaining and by the prayers and efforts of Christ’s people they hope to have God speed.”
1885 Dec. 26 – “A Bolington correspondent announces that a grand oyster supper will be spread at Mt. Sinai F. Baptist Church, on the evenings of the 26th, 28th and 29th, inst.—the proceeds for the benefit of said church. A general attendance is anticipated.”
1886 April 2 – “LOVETTSVILLE, March 23d – A powerful revival has been in progress for several weeks under the earnest labor of Rev. P.F. Lewis, which resulted in the conversion of sixteen souls, and there are more inquiring the way [sic]. Brother Lewis is doing a good work here. He has received sixteen for baptism, which will take place on the first Sabbath in April, at 11 o’clock a.m.”
1886 Aug. 13 – “S. S. Celebration. There will be a union Sabbath School celebration, of Mt. Sinai and Hillsboro Sabbath Schools, at Lewisville, 3 ½ miles S.W. of Lovettsville, Aug. 28th, 1886. The Harpers Ferry Brass Band will be present. Addresses by J.B. Arter of Hillsdale College, Mich., and Hon. C. Montgomery of Washington D.C. There will be refreshments on the ground. We desire the participation of any Sabbath School that wishes to unite with us. Come one come all. J.W. PARKER, Supt., F.P. LEWIS, Pastor.”
1887 July 30 – “LEWISVILLE, VA., July 30. – There will be a Union Sabbath School Celebration, composed of Mt. Sinai, Hillsboro, Waterford, Lovettsville, and Mt. Pleasant Sabbath Schools, on the fourth Saturday in August, commencing at 9 o’clock a.m. in Mr. Philip Sowder’s woods, opposite the Baptist Church, about 3 ½ mile southwest of Lovettsville. There will be orations by J.M. Arber of Hillsdale College, Mich., J.H. Johnson of Kearneysville, W.Va., Rev. J.E. Rusrill [J.E. Burrell] of Storer College, W. Va., and the Rev. Wm. Call of Balt., Md. The Arlington Brass Band will furnish music for the occasion. There will be plenty of refreshments on the ground. Committee of arrangements: J.W. Parker, Chas. Timbers, Thos. Timbers, Jas. Curtis, Austin Paris, and F.P. Lewis.”[iv]
1887 Aug. 2 – “WATERFORD, Va., Aug. 2, ’87. EDITOR TELEPHONE, Dear Sir: I saw in last weeks number of your valuable paper, notice of a Union Sabbath School celebration, to be composed of Waterford, Hillsboro and Lovettsville and some other Baptist Sunday Schools. I write to let the public know that Waterford, Hillsboro and Lovettsville schools will not join in the contemplated union celebration. I am Pastor of the said Waterford, Hillsboro and Lovettsville M.E. Churches, and have never heard anything of this union service until last week, when reading the TELEPHONE. Yours truly, W.H. Gaines, P.C.”[v]
1887 Oct. 28 – “Church Dedication. Mt. Sinai Free Will Baptist Church was dedicated to the Lord, free of debt, on Sunday Oct. 23, 1997. The services of the occasion were as follows: Reading of Scripture, by Prof. N.C. Brackett of Storer College, Harpers Ferry W. Va.; singing by the congregation, led by Rev. B.D. Kirk of Storer College; prayer, by the Rev. J.E. Burrill, of Storer College; dedicatory sermon by Rev. A.W. Adams, of Hagerstown, singing by the audience, after which the deacons lifted a collection of $25, which enabled us to say that our little church, valued at about $700, is without debt; and we do sincerely return thanks to the good people of Shinar[vi] and Lovettsville neighborhoods for their liberality in giving money and materials to erect this house of the Lord, for it looks as though they were taking great interest in this glorious work, which is intended to promote happiness in our community and the advancement of the Redeemer’s Kingdom. As it is our earnest desire that you shall not only be successful in your undertakings while here on earth, but that you may receive as your reward a crown in Glory, that shall not fade away. Yours Fraternally, F.P. LEWIS, Pastor, Mt. Sinai F.W.B. Ch.”
[i] No deed transaction corresponding to this description can be found.
[ii] The Rev. J.C. Newman graduated from Storer College in 1880, and later was a lecturer at Storer.
[iii] The poem is an excerpt from “A Forest Hymn” by William Cullen Bryant.
[iv] Hillsdale College was affiliated with the Free Will Baptists; Kearneysville was a FWB mission.
[v] The cited churches were probably white churches, and may have been unwilling to participate. The white churches had their own Sabbath School association, in which New Jerusalem Lutheran Church in Lovettsville played a prominent role. As late as the 1950s, blacks were not allowed to participate in the white Sunday School association.
[vi] Shinar was the name for the community between Morrisonville and Britain that was centered around the Shinar school and church, later known as Zion Lutheran Church, a preaching point of New Jerusalem. The present Zion building was constructed in 1892, among old-timers it is still sometimes referred to as Shinar church.