Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Thursday, July 15, 2010

William Sullivan Family, Camp Meetings near Confidence Church

To get crops "laid by" (that is, finish cultivation—plowing and hoeing) and attend the grand old "Camp Meetings" were highlights of summer days in the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries in north Georgia.

Good old William Sullivan, who was a citizen of Union County as early as the 1840 census, was a staid and true Methodist and participant in the early camp meetings in the vicinity of Confidence Methodist Church in Young Cane District.

An account of one such Camp Meeting in August of 1885 has been preserved in an article written by George A. Smith in 1901. In the paper Smith tells about the William Sullivan family and how a family reunion was incorporated into proceedings of the Camp Meeting in the summer of 1885.

Rebecca Mashburn Sullivan (1811-1895) was present at the Camp Meeting. Her beloved husband, William Sullivan (1805-1881), had died four years previously. No doubt, she remembered many times they had attended camp meeting together. Elisha Sullivan, a son of the late William and Rebecca Mashburn Sullivan, had a large tent set up at the meeting grounds. It was Elisha's desire to honor his dear mother and to incorporate the family reunion into that Sunday of the grand camp meeting. After morning services, a solemn and meaningful gathering took place in Elisha's tent.

Mr. George Smith described the occasion thus in his article published in The Wesleyan Advocate:

"Elisha who tented gave a special dinner for his mother and the children present—a sort of family reunion. The surrounding circumstances and the occasion itself were calculated to solemnize the scene, and this solemnity was deepened as they were being seated at the table. The 'Old Mother of Israel' (Rebecca Mashburn Sullivan) was seated first.
And then next to her the oldest child, and then the next oldest and so on until all seven of the nine present were seated."
All of her children but two daughters were present at the meeting, and many of her host of grandchildren. Nine of the Sullivan-Mashburn descendants had tents set up.

Four of Mrs. Sulllivan's sons were preachers, Elisha, in whose tent the reunion occurred, was a prominent minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Three other sons, William, Asbury and James, were ordained practicing ministers in the Methodist Episcopal Church (North). All were participating in the camp meeting, and the presiding elder, the Rev. A. C. Thomas, "showed equal respect to those who belonged to the M. E. Church and those who belonged to the M. E. Church South. They all preached, prayed and exhorted in that commendable spirit which…characterizes all true and earnest worshipers."

The gathered Sullivan family then turned their thoughts to their father, William Sullivan, and honored his memory by quoting the comforting scripture, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25). They anticipated the time in the future when all believers will be reunited on high "around the table of the Lord." And, they were assured, "unlike at this camp meeting, in glory there will be no vacant seats."

The eldest son of William and Rebecca Mashburn Sullivan was James Sullivan, licensed to preach in the year 1856. He was ordained by the beloved Rev. D. D. Cox. It took Rev. Sullivan four weeks on horseback to get around to his small churches in his charge before the Civil War curtailed much of his travel. After the war, his assignment was in the Ellijay Circuit which extended as far as Jasper, Waleska and Spring Place. He also had pastored churches in Fannin County, Polk County Tennessee, Clay County, North Carolina, and Towns and Lumpkin Counties in Georgia. It is on record that he attended the Fightingtown Camp Meetings at Epworth, Georgia in Fannin County and preached there.

The paper by Adam Smith did not give details on the other ministers of beloved Mrs. Rebecca Mashburn, but present and celebrating with her on that August Sunday in 1885 were Rev. Elisha Leander Sullivan (1830-1897), who was hosting the dinner in his tent, Rev. James Sullivan, the eldest of the boys mentioned in the above paragraph, Rev. Asbury Sullivan (what a strong Methodist name he had been given by his parents) and Rev. William (named for his father).

Confidence Methodist Church was significant in the life of this family. William and Rebecca Mashburn had held the organizational meeting in their home "between 1835 and 1845" as the history of the church states. How long the congregants met in homes is not known, but the first church building was erected in 1845. The church grew rapidly and at one time had the largest Methodist congregation in Union County.

Accounts of reunions such as that of the Sullivan family held in 1885 give insight into the contributions of hardworking, salt-of-the earth people such as William and Rebecca Mashburn Sullivan.

The 1850 Union census, the first to list names of those in the family, records William and his wife Rebecca and children as follows: James, 21; Mary, 17; William, 15; Sarah 13; Daniel (Asbury), 11; Elizabeth, 8; Miriam, 6: Sofrona, 4; and John 11 months. Elisha Sullivan (age 19) and his wife Mary (age 18) were already set up in their own household at the time of the 1850 Union census. About 1888, the Rev. William Harvey Sullivan (1835-1902) and his wife, Mary Angeline Early Sullivan went as appointed missionaries to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. They were instrumental in founding the Talequah Methodist Church there.

[Reference: Sketches of Union County History, Volume 2 (1978), pages 72-77.]

c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 14, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Would you mind if I linked to your story?