Religion and Politics in a Memoir About Life in Antebellum Georgia (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 22)

[NOTE:  Among the delights of historical research are the obscure sources unearthed that prove interesting to the historian, if not immediately useful to the topic being investigated.  I’d like to offer an example:  George Washington Paschal’s memoir of his parents, Agnes and George, and their lives together in Lexington, Georgia, Oglethorpe County, in the east central part of the state, early in the nineteenth century.  The book, Ninety-Four Years Agnes Paschal, was originally published in Washington, D.C., in 1871 and is still available as an on-demand publication from the Reprint Company Publishers, Spartanburg, S.C.

Paschal book

G.W. Paschal (1812-1878) seems to have led a rich, full life, much of it in Texas.  However, what I hoped to learn from his family memoir was about life in a small town in antebellum Georgia, and, while I was able to do that, I did not, in the end, use this information in my recently-published book on antebellum Georgia political history.  Yet, while looking into a different project the other day, I came across my notes on Paschal’s book and decided they might be of interest to readers of “Retired But Not Shy.”]

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George W. Paschal

George W. Paschal

G.W. Paschal’s father George was 41 years old in 1802, when he married the 26 year-old Agnes.  In discussing his father’s lack of religion at the time of their marriage, G.W. Paschal writes that

. . . From the pulpit of middle Georgia at that day little could be learned.  The prevalent churches were the primitive Baptists and the itinerant Methodists.  The former were of the “hard-shell, iron-jacket order,” who literally swallowed the whole Calvinistic creed, and so strongly believed in the total depravity of man that they would have denied all religion but for this comforting faith. . . . One side preached election, special calls, miraculous gifts, the final perseverance of the saints, and the certain condemnation of the non-elected reprobates.  The other side frightened with a terrific devil, a lake of fire and brimstone, and the individual responsibility of those who did not flee from the wrath to come and escape the great gulf of perdition by immediate conversion. . . . (37-38)

George Paschal established a combination store and tavern on the square in Lexington, Georgia, became postmaster and jailer, and entered local politics–talk about your varied career:  storekeeper, bartender, postmaster, jailer, politician, all apparently at the same time!  During the heady days of the never-ending feud between supporters of William Harris Crawford (and his successor, George M. Troup) and John Clark, most men in Lexington supported Crawford and Troup, but the elder Paschal was a staunch supporter of John Clark and, later, of Andrew Jackson and the national Democratic Party. (G.W. Paschal mentions, for instance, that, while on his way to his celebrated duel with Crawford in 1806, John Clark stayed the night in the Paschal tavern.)

According to his son, George Paschal’s career as a merchant did not survive the economic vicissitudes of the years around the War of 1812; he sold out and moved to Greene Country, where he opened a paper mill that soon failed.  So, it was back to Oglethorpe County for the Paschal family, where George initially returned to a former profession, schoolteacher, before buying a small farm near Lexington.

Oglethorpe County , Ga.

Oglethorpe County , Ga.

Describing the middle Georgia society in which he and his parents lived, G.W. Paschal notes that

. . . The Baptist and Methodist Churches were its chief features.  Theological disputations and acrimonious quarrels, between the Clark and Troup parties, were its polemics. . . . Our political literature was chiefly the Richmond [Virginia]Enquirer; the [Milledgeville] Georgia Journal, Georgia Patriot, and Southern Recorder; with occasional papers, speeches, and franked documents from [Georgia congressmen in] Washington. 

. . . There were few causes for dissension in the community.  No disputes which did not grow out of the too free use of the home-manufactured peach and apple-brandy or party politics, and these were generally soon settled, either by a knock-down [fight] on [militia] muster day, or [by] the interposition of friends. . . . (138-139) 

G.W. Paschal also dates to 1828 “a great awakening in Lexington–a revival during which more than half the young men were gathered into the Church.” (164)  By about 1829, Paschal notes, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian congregations had built chapels in Lexington, and, sure enough, the more firmly established the churches’ presence became, the more local controversies sparked theological disputes.  The younger Paschal also remarks that, when his own Baptist congregation split, he “sometimes suspect[ed] that [the controversy] was a little political.  For I remember that our side was chiefly of the Clark party, while the leaders on the other side were of the Troup party.” (184)

I was also pleased to learn from Paschal a few things about one of William Harris Crawford’s most energetic, excitable political acolytes, Thomas W. Cobb, who does show up in my new volume.  According to family lore, Thomas Cobb “had been rather a wild youth and the student of Crawford [who had begun his career as a schoolteacher].” One local cynic remarked about Cobb that “It takes a heap of ignorance and a deal of impudence to make a lawyer.  Cobb has both.”  Paschal’s father George attributed Cobb’s eventual legal success to his rivalry with New England expatriate Stephen Upson, who opened a law office in Lexington and, through dint of constant effort, won himself numerous clients.   Consequently, Thomas Cobb “found it necessary to read [law more widely] in order to be prepared to oppose [Upson].” (174-175)

G.W. Paschal also regales the reader with anecdotes about the heated rivalry between George Troup and John Clark.  For example, in 1825 Governor Troup used his cousin, Creek chief William McIntosh, to arrange a corrupt treaty at Indian Springs by which the Creeks surrendered their remaining lands in Georgia and agreed to move west of the Mississippi.  When the nation’s newly-elected President, John Quincy Adams, learned of the corruption that had accompanied the removal treaty, he disavowed it.  His administration negotiated a “New Treaty” in Washington, D.C., wherein the Creeks ceded most of the lands Georgia desired, without the fetid odor of greased palms and the clink of money changing hands.  Georgia Governor George Troup was not happy; indeed, he threatened to enforce the Indian Springs agreement (magically transformed by the passage of a few months into the “Old Treaty”), using the militia if necessary.

It was against this stormy background that Troup and Clark faced off for the governorship for the third time (Clark had been elected over Troup twice, in 1819 and 1821; in 1823, Troup had narrowly defeated one of Clark’s lieutenants, Mathew Talbot.  All of these contests occurred when the chief magistrate was chosen by the legislature.)  In 1825, however, the election would be decided for the first time by popular vote.  Clark reportedly was a  past master at electioneering, while Troup supposedly had disdained the practice during his previous gubernatorial runs.  Here, G.W. Paschal picks up the story:

[T]he issue was, “Troup and the old treaty,” and “Clark and the new treaty.”  And although the latter [treaty supposedly] gave the most land [though it didn’t], the former [treaty] had promised it earlier . . . and, as both parties expressed the determination, afterwards fully redeemed, to support General [Andrew] Jackson for the presidency [in 1828], Troup succeeded in carrying the popular vote.  (218-219)

When both Troup and Clark had passed from the political scene, the Paschal family continued to support the Clark party, now led by Wilson Lumpkin, over Troup’s successor, George R. Gilmer, who had grown up in their hometown of Lexington.  According to the younger Paschal, his mother Agnes had been raised in the same part of Georgia as Lumpkin; they had been baptized in the same Baptist church; and Lumpkin was a friend of the Paschal family.  So, the Paschals continued to support Lumpkin, despite the closer local ties of George Gilmer.

For both Gilmer and Lumpkin, the major issue during their governorships was the long-running question of Cherokee removal.  G.W. Paschal states that his family opposed  cruelty to Native Americans, but they also supported the distribution of Cherokee lands to white Georgians.  Gilmer’s and Lumpkin’s approaches to Indian removal were almost indistinguishable, but George and Agnes Paschal still managed to convince themselves that Lumpkin was sounder on the “Cherokee question.”

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So, what can the reader learn from G.W. Paschal’s memoir about life in the antebellum Georgia upcountry?

  1.  An obvious lesson is the importance of religion.  The denominations prevalent in antebellum Georgia might look strange to some twenty-first century readers, but they obviously answered the needs of early nineteenth-century farmers, planters, and professional men.
  2. Related to the importance of religion (in Georgia in general and Lexington in particular) was the impact of the bitter political division between followers of William Crawford and George Troup, on one side, and John Clark on the other.  If Paschal’s picture is anywhere near accurate, political infighting became so divisive within some church congregations that they split over the question of which candidate to support. Again, none of this is news to Georgia historians of the period, but to see it in the small compass of Lexington and environs is arresting.
  3. I wish G.W. Paschal had said more about the Cherokees, because he was an aide to General John Wool, who supervised the removal of the tribe from Georgia along the Trail of Tears.  Moreover, Paschal married Sarah, the daughter of John Ridge, one of the minority of Cherokee leaders who signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, yet all we learn from the memoir is that Paschal’s parents sympathized with removal, while opposing “cruelty” to the Cherokees.
  4. Harder to see, but still important, is the  role that memory plays in primary sources like this one. For instance, G.W. Paschal spoke confidently about some episodes in his family’s history that occurred either before he was born or before he was old enough to be fully aware of the social, religious, or political world around him.  Obviously, then, to some extent he relied on family lore, filtered through his memory sixty years later, rather than readily verifiable facts in telling his tale.
  5. Moreover, the Paschals’ political loyalties to John Clark and Wilson Lumpkin in Georgia, and to the Jacksonian Democrats in the nation at large, also colored Paschal’s recollections.  I found it especially interesting how effortlessly Paschal’s parents shifted their loyalty to Wilson Lumpkin, because of Agnes Paschal’s long acquaintance with him, rather than move into the camp of Lexington’s favorite son, George Gilmer, the head of the other party.

* * * * *

In describing life in antebellum Georgia, then, Paschal presents a vivid picture of the religious and political divisions in his hometown, and how they affected the lives of local residents.  He makes fascinating use of family stories, but employs them in an uncritical way.  94 Years Agnes Paschal, while usually interesting–and sometimes fascinating– must be used with care.  While  this is hardly news to people who spend much of their time doing historical research, neophytes to the pursuit of dead Georgians need to be wary.


For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

About georgelamplugh

I retired in 2010 after nearly four decades of teaching History at the "prep school" level with a PhD. My new "job" was to finish the book manuscript I'd been working on, in summers only, since 1996. As things turned out, not only did I complete that book, but I also put together a collection of my essays--published and unpublished--on Georgia history. Both volumes were published in the summer of 2015. I continue to work on other writing projects, including a collection of essays on the Blues and, of course, my blog.
This entry was posted in "Cherokee Phoenix" (newspaper), American History, Books, Cherokee Indians, Chief John Ross (Cherokees), Elias Boudinot, George M. Troup, George R. Gilmer, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, John Clark, Research, Retirement, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Uncategorized, Wilson Lumpkin and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Religion and Politics in a Memoir About Life in Antebellum Georgia (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 22)

  1. Glen Browder says:

    Enjoyed reading!

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