Samuel Weir Part 1
SAMUEL (Sammy) WEIR. 1812-1884
By Landon West. “Life of Elder Samuel Weir” (Tract) 1897.
By Landon West (father of Dan West). Reproduced in 1909.
Found in: Lehman, James H. THE OLD BRETHREN. Elgin, Illinois: The Brethren Press, 1976. 364 pages.
Chapter Eight: A Virginia Slave, pages 215-236. 21 pages
If Elder George Wolfe was most of his life masterful in the best sense, Elder Samuel Weir began his life as a slave in the worst sense. Both were courageous, but circumstances called for a different kind of courage from Elder Weir. Where Elder Wolfe always had the freedom to move and the respect of men, Elder Weir could never move freely and knew the prejudice of men. George’s methods were imperious;
Sammy’s were meek. Both did good things for the Brethren. This is the story of Sammy Weir, born a slave, the first black man to be elected to the ministry and ordained to the eldership. It was written by Landon West, father of Dan West who created the Heifer Project after World War Two. Elder West published this in tract form in 1897 under the title “Life of Elder Samuel Weir.” I (James H. Lehman) have edited it somewhat to adapt it to this book, but it is reproduced here largely as it originally appeared in print.
Samuel (Sammy) Weir was born a slave, in Bath County, Virginia, April 15, 1812. In his second year his family, with their master, William Byrd, moved to Botetourt County, of that State, where he remained a servant of Mr. Byrd until twelve (12) years of age. At this age and in the year 1824, he was sold at a private sale to a Mr. Andrew McClure for the sum of two hundred and eighty dollars. He then lived with and served Mr. McClure till the winter of 1843. When nearly thirty years of age the following event occurred, which, although a sad one, yet resulted in good – the conversion of a father and mother, the freeing of a slave and then in his conversion also.
A little son of the master, and the favorite of the family, was, about this time, thrown from a horse and killed. The event at once marked a change in the lives of both the father and mother, and soon afterward they made application to the Dunkard Brethren for membership. They were told that the Brethren did not receive anyone who held slaves, and that they could not be received until they would first give freedom to Sammy, their only slave. Such terms of Christianity were at that time and in old Virginia, thought to be severe, for it was then that members of the church thought to justify Slavery by the Gospel, and to oppose Slavery then was thought to be a sin. But the terms named by the Brethren to this penitent father and mother, were accepted by them, and Sammy was set free.
Mr. McClure had been, in the fullest sense, a worldly man, as I learn from Brother B. F. Moomaw, of Virginia, but kind to his family and also to his servant, laboring with him in the field, and as a servant of all. And the fact being known to the Slave Traders and drivers, that he would be required to give up his slave upon coming to the Brethren, these did much to obtain Sammy by purchase, offering for him the sum of fifteen hundred dollars. But it was refused with a declaration that he was now opposed to the sale of humanity, and that the slave should go forth a free man. So, freedom was given him, but he remained with the family, laboring as before, until an opportunity offered to send him safely to a free State.
About this date, brother Peter Nead, of Virginia, began preaching in Botetourt County, and during his ministry there, Brother and Sister McClure were baptized in February, 1843.
Soon after their baptism, in 1843, Sammy met a Methodist minister and his wife, and of this interview, Sammy gives us the following: “Sam, is it true that McClure and his wife have joined the Dunkards?” I told him it was true. He said, “Why Sam, we have been fishing for them, this long time, but we did not get them.” I told him they did not fish in deep enough water. “And that sets you free, does it?” I told him I was free. The wife then spoke up and said: “Well, Sam, I wish to God that all men were Dunkards, for that would do away with this awful curse of Slavery.”
The great and serious changes in the family and that in his own life, had a marked effect upon the mind of Sammy also, and soon after the baptism of the brother and sister, he too made application to the Brethren for membership. He now felt that he owed his love and service to God during his life; for the sudden death of the little son, the conversion of the father and mother to the Gospel of Christ and, above all, the freedom now given to himself, were enough to lead him to the one Savior of all; and Sammy felt that to give himself and his life to the service of God was no more than was due, and he loved the church that had given him his liberty. He applied to the Brethren for membership, and was baptized by Brother Nead on Sunday, May 14, 1843. And, he being the first colored member received by the church in that part of Virginia, it was soon a question as to how he should be received by the Brethren after baptism – whether with the right hand and kiss of charity, or with only the right hand of fellowship. But after some consideration by the church, it was decided to receive him with the right hand of fellowship, but without the salutation; and in this manner, he was received as a member.
We have in this case, both with Sammy and his former master, a spirit of submission worthy of our imitation. Sammy, although a free man, remained with and worked as a servant for his former master -- and that, too, without a murmur – for eight months after being set free, and when baptized and in full relation with a royal priesthood; he was willing to be received on any terms his white brethren were ready to take him.
And his master, but now a brother, although in but moderate circumstances in wealth, refused a large sum of money for the servant, now one of the most valuable; and not only gave him his freedom, but a good suit of clothes, a valuable horse, saddle and bridle, with money and all things necessary for Sammy in his journey to Ohio; and they parted as Brethren, with their best wishes and prayers for each other’s welfare. They met no more in this life.
And Brother B. F. Moomaw, of Virginia, coming to Ohio in October of that year (1843), it was decided by the Brethren in Virginia, that Sammy should come under his guidance and protection to Ohio. It was urgent, too, that he should come that year; for the laws of Virginia at that time held all liberated slaves liable to be sold again into slavery, if found within the State one year after being set free. And it was all important, too, that he should have a guide and protector during his journey; for some who had been set free before, and who had started without protection to the free States, did not reach them, and were never again heard from by their friends, who supposed that the lost ones had been captured and sold again into slavery.
Brother Moomaw and his valuable charge came away from that part of Virginia in the latter part of October, and coming at the rate of thirty-five miles per day, reached the Ohio River, then the Jordan to slaves, and the line of the Slave and Free States. They crossed at the mouth of the Big Sandy on Sunday, October 29, 1843, when Sammy and his faithful guide passed over from slave territory into the land of freedom.
Upon reaching the Ohio shore, Brother Moomaw said to him: “Sam, you are now a free man and on free soil, where you can enjoy your freedom as all other free men.” We can only think that we imagine what the feelings of this humble believer were, but none of us can know them, and much less can we describe them.
Brother Moomaw speaks thus of the event: “He did not, while on the way, seem to be affected in the least, but now, it appeared to me, that his whole being was affected, and that he now felt as he had never felt before.”
It was another era in Sammy’s life. He was now a free man and on free soil, and his heart swelled in gratitude to God for his deliverance. And none but pardoned sinners can ever know or share in the feelings of a liberated slave.
From the place of crossing they came down the Ohio River, reaching the home of Brother Thomas Major, living then in Scioto County, Ohio, on Monday. But Brother Major being away from home, they were received and cared for very kindly by Sister Sarah. This was Sammy’s first meeting with Sister Major.
On Wednesday, November 1st, they reached the home of old Brother John Moomaw, in Twin Valley, a few miles north of Bainbridge, Ross County, Ohio, where they remained until the next Sunday morning, November 5th, when they left that part and came north twelve miles, to the Brethren’s meeting at the Busch (Bush?) Meeting House on Paint Creek, three miles west of Frankfort, in the same county. Upon their arrival at the church, they were met by the Brethren, among whom were Elders Robert Calvert, John Cadwallader, and John Mohler. A statement of the facts connected with Sammy’s coming, was given by Brother Moomaw to these Brethren, and after the regular services, a council with the members was held, to determine what should be done for the brother now offered to their care by the Brethren of Virginia.
It was soon decided to receive Brother Sammy into the Paint Creek Church, and over which body Brother Calvert was at that time the Elder in charge. It was also decided that Brother Calvert should act as a Guardian for Sammy for at least one year, and see that he obtained a home and all his wants be provided for. And Sammy being the first and only colored member of that church, and in that part of the State at that time, the one great question was, “Where can we find a home for him?” When this was offered, an older brother, William Bryant, a minister, and one of the most zealous, came up and said: “I will find a home for him if he will come and live with me.” Upon hearing this offer, the council decided that Sammy should go and make his home at Brother Bryant’s.
Brother Moomaw and Sammy dined that day, November 5th, with an old Brother, John Bush, who lived near the church, and that afternoon this pilot and his charge parted company, to meet again on earth no more.
The attachment formed betwixt Brethren Moomaw and Weir during this their journey to Ohio, was both warm and strong, and must have been, in the fullest sense, such as only Christians feel; for, in speaking of the journey and of the pleasant associations had by them while thus on their way, they both seemed to regard each other with the best of feeling and respect. The lesson shows, too, what the pilgrims’ feelings for each other can be, and also what they should be.
Sammy lodged that night with Brother Jacob Eyeman (Everman?), near the Fairview Church, in Fayette County, Ohio, and on the next day went to his new home at the residence of Brother Bryant, on Paint Creek, some six miles above Frankfort. And here, at this home, he lived and worked as a farm hand for almost two years. Of the home and treatment received at Brother Bryant’s, we feel that it must have been fully satisfactory to Sammy, for in speaking of the family and also of Brother Bryant, he seemed to regard each one as a member of his own household. And of Sammy’s character, some conception may be had from the respect ever shown him by the family of Brother Bryant, and also from a statement made by Brother Bryant, himself, who said, “I regard Sammy as an example to me in many things, but especially so in that of religion.”
It was here that Sammy’s education began, and none but the hand of God could have so well
directed events to the gaining of that end, as is shown in this case. When consulting with him as to his education, we learned that he, with the thousands held in slavery, had by law been denied the benefit of learning to read or to know even a part of the alphabet; and now, upon being set free, and especially after coming into the church and a new State, for a home among strangers, Sammy felt the need of an education more than ever before. It was all-important to him, and to acquire this, was to mark one of the most important changes of his life, and it was to destroy the last effect of slavery with him. But this great change in his life did not begin until after his arrival in Ohio, in the winter of 1843-44, and when he was upwards of thirty-one years of age.
Of the many changes in his life, he spoke with pleasure, but especially so, of that of his education. I give the event in his own words: “We were all sitting around the fire one night, when I said, ‘I wish I had had a chance to go to school when I was young.’ At this, old Mother Bryant spoke up and said, ‘Sammy, you are not too old to learn, and you can learn yet; and if you will say you will try it, I will have Katy to learn you.’ This Katy was their little grandchild, Catherine Long, then ten years of age, who at that time was living with the family. I said I would try it, and Katy went and got the book, and we commenced. We got along very well at times, but not very fast, for she would often get out of heart, and sometimes very angry at me, because I did not learn faster; and then she would tell me that I was nothing but a black Negro, and that she could do nothing more for me. The work would then stop, but on the next night, after she had been to school and I to my work, with the old alphabet leaf in my pocket, and we had all come together again, and supper was over, and Katy was in a good humor again, then I would say, ‘now, Miss Katy, please try me again; I will do better this time.’ So, she would get the book and begin again, but sometimes I did no better than before. But we worked at it that way all winter, and I learned my letters. After this I went to school two winters, and to a colored teacher over in Highland County, where I studied spelling, reading and arithmetic, but I could never make any headway in writing. I stopped going to school too soon, for when I found that I could read the Bible I felt satisfied, and I gave up all other books but that. The Bible has been my delight, and I have read it through several times.”
From Mr. Henry Bryant, of Ross County, a son of old Brother William, I learned the residence and address of Sammy’s first teacher, now Mrs. Catherine Bryant, of Montgomery County, Indiana, and in reply to me, she wrote July 30th,1885: “I learned him his A B C’S when he was at our house, and when I was but ten years of age, and Sammy got for me a red cotton handkerchief.”
From Brother John Mohler, of Clermont County, Ohio we learn that Sammy, while attending school in Highland County about 1843, boarded at the home of Elder John Mohler, the father of our informant, and who, at that time, lived on Clear Creek, some eight miles north of Hillsboro. We learned from Sammy, and also from Brother Mohler, that the teacher was a colored man named Jacob Emmings, and a minister in the Baptist church, and it is to him that Sammy owed the completion of the education obtained by him, and also the beginning of his work as a minister. His life was one of great variety, and thus was another change and a great one, but it was not all.
Of the beginning of his public ministry – a work he seemed slow to engage in at first – he spoke: “My teacher in Highland County was a Baptist preacher, and at their meetings, where I often went, he would urge me to get up and talk. At last I told him I would try; but when the day came I felt so very weak that I thought I could not, and did not get up. But I did not feel well over it, and I then thought I would never do so any more.”
This was 1845 or 1846, and, being the only colored member then in that part of the State, and the sentiment among the whites not favorable for admitting the colored people into the meetings with the whites, Sammy was compelled to meet mostly with his own race, and they always of other denominations. It was under these circumstances – and they were the most discouraging – that his work in the ministry began; but with a firmness and zeal that many of us do not yet possess, he won his way over every obstacle. He was spoken well of by people of other denominations; he had there none of his own to go to hear him. And well should his zeal be commended, for he, with none to stay by to cheer and support him, still labored on for the one Master, whilst scores of white ministers, with friends and help on every side, have given up both faith and work, and have gone down in despair.
Of his election to the ministry, he said: “I had been preaching around at the meetings of the colored people, and of other churches for four or five years; so, when the Brethren heard that I was trying to preach, they told me to come out from town, and preach a sermon for the whites at the Bush Meeting House. And they said if they then thought that I could preach, they would put me at it in earnest. The minister, Joseph Kelso, also asked me to come and I told him I would. So, one day when I was present, he gave it out for me, and some five weeks before-hand. When he gave it out, I thought everybody tried to look me in the face, but I thought it was nothing that I should be ashamed of.
“The meeting was held in August, 1849, and there was a great crowd present, and all of them white but myself. I spoke thirty-nine minutes by Kelso’s watch, and from the words in Hebrew ii, 1-2; and I have never seen prettier behavior in all the preaching I have done than I had that day.”
After the trial sermon was delivered, the members present were asked if they were willing that the colored brother should take part in the ministry, and their voices were unanimous in his favor. He was then given his charge as a minister, and instructed to go to his own race and hold meetings wherever opportunity was offered.
Continued in Part 2 on October 30, 2017