Table of Contents
Moses D. Hoge
The first minister in a town
often sets the tone. The first Presbyterian minister in Richmond was a
cheerful one. He is remembered as "Parson Blair," and he was a source of
some discomfort to the righteous. They self-righteously accused him, "of
the pleasures of the table, "and, what is more they said, he "winked at
the innocent amusements of ... gay and fashionable circles.
Parson Blair faded into the background as Richmond grew, and the Reverend John Rice had some troubles with the Episcopalians. He found, to his despair, "...families of Presbyterian origin and habits, discouraged by obstacles united with the Episcopal Church." This, according to a history, "saddened ...Mr. Rice without breaking his spirits or embittering his soul."
Under Mr. Rice in 1817, the First Presbyterian of Richmond became the inhabitant of a pleasant new building that had a pineapple, the symbol of welcome, on the steeple and was called the Pineapple Church. It was apparent by 1842 a Second Church was needed. First Church employed an assistant minister who was to form and found a Second Church. A young man of distinguished lineage, both grandfathers served as Presidents of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia was, they felt, the choice graduate of Union Theological Seminary of Virginia. His father, both grandfathers, and four uncles were ministers.
Moses Hoge, a young minister fresh from seminary, went to form a Second Church in 1843, and he held worship in a lecture hall for a motley group finally forged into a congregation two years later.
Hoge visualized an impressive church, and going on faith persuaded his congregation of 122 members to buy a $10,000 lot. A tremendous sum in those days was used to erect a $30,000 sanctuary patterned upon London's National Scotch Church.
Young Hoge had definite ideas about the building he wanted, He had taste. "I do not mean the finest or the most costly, but ...the most symmetrical and pleasing to an educated eye."
It was a simplified fit-for-Americans Gothic. It was not a great cathedral for a medieval lord. It was Gothic with a transforming plainness and a subtle uplift for the eye in a tall tower.
The Richmond Enquirer stated of the dedication in 1848, "The Church was occupied by ladies whose gay dresses and waving fans (the weather was oppressive!) reminded us of a splendid collection of bright winged butterflies."
Ivy still grows on the walls. Later, when Hoge was to preach before Queen Victoria, she commemorated the occasion with a Bible. He declined the Bible, asking for a cutting of ivy from Westminister Abbey. The Queen may have wondered why he did not go cut some quietly as many tourists do, but she was gracious, granting it of course. Hoge knew what he was doing. He was creating a tradition for a new church. All new things must have associations of sacred history. These unique experiences forge a common memory that enfolds and sustains identity. The ivy given by Queen Victoria is pointed out today.
The time he would be asked to preach before the Queen was far away when Hoge was minister to a small Second congregation financially over their heads. Things seemed to have reached a crisis during a recession in the 1840's, and there was a meeting of the congregation over the financial situation.
It appeared they would have to give up their proud new edifice, and the groups that had worked so hard were sadly dejected, when Dr. Hoge rose to say, "Never." he said he would give up his salary to stop them from losing the Church. This was news to Susan, his wife, but she sat there as the congregation gasped, "How will you live, Dr. Hoge?"
"I will open a school," he said. And he did not feel it unusual because the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker. The morale of the congregation had risen immeasurably by this time, and they would supplement the salary he made teaching. And as soon as they could they wanted him full time, whereupon would resolved, each with another, to find members. Since they now regarded Dr. Hoge as something in the light of Apostle Paul, a selfless man, they scampered out to spread the news of their Damascus.
Dr. Hoge had never planned to teach, but he had experience teaching. He had taught to help put himself through seminary. He also had definite ideas on private schools. He was for them. He felt the Episcopal Church was ahead of the Presbyterian Church in private schools, that the gifted young needed a religious education, and it was time to do something. Having these views, a school was a challenge made for him.
It was, however, another thing to set up a school. Schools took time, energy, business acumen, and a back stage worker. In this Dr. Hoge was blessed in having that singular creature, a good preacher's wife, Susan Wood Hoge. It was she who was at the death bed scene of Stonewall Jackson, accompanying her friend, Mary Anna.
Susan was a business person, a thing Moses was not. She could also weather just about everything. (Her first child was born in the Exchange Hotel.) It was the fact he had Susan at his side that could enable Hoge to have the nerve to open a school. Hoge was quick to appreciate talent when he saw it.
"Susan has a fine turn for business," her husband wrote, "an excellent accountant ...I now see the use ... of qualities ... given her no opportunity to use before ...I shall entrust all such matters to her."
Susan was fortunate in having in her husband one who saw her as a person with a talent. He let her use it, and praised her for having it. They worked as a team, and she knew she was absolutely indispensable. The school was a success.
Others may have been Victorian violets, and Susan may have envied them momentarily, as they may have pitied her, but she had not time for emotional self indulgence. She was too needed. She kept the books, ran the business end, overseered a school complete with boarding students, entertained (sometimes as many as eighteen relatives in the house, since this was the South), had eight children, worked in the community, visited appropriately, and got everyone to church on time.
She died after twenty-four years of marriage. It was cancer and she lingered three months. She died repeating the 23rd Psalm. Dr. Hoge was inconsolable. He wrote, "Once time seemed to fly, now it creeps and drags heavily along ...I feel as solitary as ... the only person on earth...I have not really lived since Susan died."
"Presbytr" means elder. Presbyterian means ruled by elders elected from the congregation on the local level. It is to Presbyterians an admirable form of representative democracy. However, in every church there is usually an elder, perhaps only a prominent member, who just seems unreal. They are thorns in the flesh that members and especially the minister must suffer.
When Dr. Hoge was trying to build Second Church, he was struggling along with an elder, Michael J. Gretter. Mr. Gretter embodied all that is comic, made more funny by being passionately holier than thou, in religion. But Dr. Hoge, building a church, had to take whatever help the Lord sent.
Mr. Gretter had a talent for drama. He comes down to us gaunt, eyes staring, lips compressed, hair slicked. He showed up on every occasion that the doors of the church opened, and he announced himself as, "the most astonishing Monument of God's mercy and Miracle of His Grace in the Universe." That was just for starters, because the sins came next, one by one, and often in detail. The old sinner used to brag, to show how advanced his claim to salvation was, that he had broken every one of the Ten Commandments.
He was the man on the street that everyone ran from. He was known to induce "Pleasant" conversations (pleasant to him) on the "all important subject of Eternity," when you ran into him. He denounced everybody. His friends were "former companions in sin." He dragged religion, kicking and screaming, into everything. "Religious subjects were introduced, and my tongue unloosed," he said. For he kept a diary. If he came on like a figure from Restoration comedy, his diary showed him sacramentally sound. He counted his age, not in years, but in the times, he shared the Lord's Table.
He denounced another elder of Second Church for building a too expensive house. "Unbecoming a Christian," he said. Then to show what was becoming to a Christian, he tried to sell his big house and live miserably. He felt the neighbors would then see who was the better elder. If they did not, he was happy to point it out. Fortunately, Dr. Hoge had many more stable elders, such as John Martin, the portrait painter whose portrait of Justice Marshall hangs in the Robing Room of the Supreme Court in Washington.
Mrs. Gretter refused to part with her house, so he could push the contrast between himself and Elder Gray. Gretter said sadly, "I cannot raise a missionary spirit in my wife." Eating dinner one night, he thought of selling the silver candlesticks on the table for a church fund. Mrs. Gretter hid them. Rebuffed again, he found it was hard to be the "most astonishing miracle of grace in the universe."
As the years passed Second Church grew. The budget became sufficient, if its capital. Attracted by the Confederate cause, many notable Presbyterians came. There was Alexander Stephens of Georgia, Vice-President of the Confederacy, and General "Stonewall" Jackson, and Jackson's equally pious brother-in-law, General D. H. Hill of North Carolina.
A Confederate Secretary of War was John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, of a well-known Presbyterian family. His grandfather, a U. S. Senator, was Thomas Jefferson's attorney general, and his great-grandfather was The Rev, John Witherspoon, the "signer". The Confederate Secretary of Wars was also a former candidate against Lincoln and Vice-President of the United States, while ironically Rev. John Breckenridge, his uncle, was a leading emancipationist and Unionist in Kentucky.
From Georgia came General Thomas R. R. Cobb, an elder in the Athens church, whose death was intertwined with that of General Maxcy Gregg, whose father, James Gregg, was an elder in First Church, Columbia, South Carolina. The Generals Cobb and Gregg were to die within two days of each other from wounds sustained in the battle of Fredricksburg in December 1862. Their deaths cast the South into mourning. Founded in 1858 and named for General Cobb's daughter, Lucy Cobb Institute, Athens, Georgia, was, according to White Columns in Georgia , the "most fashionable school" in the state for girls.
For Dr. Hoge the reason for the Confederacy was never slavery. The Hoge family had deplored slavery for years. His grandfather, President of Hampden-Sydney College, disapproved of slavery. His father had disliked it enough to take the path of separatism. He moved to Ohio to avoid it. When Susan Hoge inherited slaves, because she was a planter's daughter, the couple freed them. Only hired servants were used at the manse.
Later the Hoges bought five slaves who were relatives of their hired servants, then freed them. This was at much cost and some sacrifice to themselves in that as a minister, Dr. Hoge did not make much money, and it was at a bad time for them.
Dr. Hoge had a vision of another nature. " The idolized expectation of ... (Southern) nationality, of a social life...literature...civilization of our own..." was his dream. He was not the victim of slavery, but of Southern nationalism. Therefore, it was with a pure heart that Dr. Hoge, who had bought slaves to free them, sympathized with the Confederacy. It was an involuntary surge of emotional nationalism that broke on him, welcoming the establishment of a new country.
He was called the Patrick Henry of the Confederacy because of his impassioned rhetoric on its behalf. William Henry, Patrick's grandson and biographer, was an approving elder of Second Church. Dr. Hoge was made Honorary Chaplain of the Confederate Congress opening its meetings with prayers. Most of the Confederate leaders knew and visited in the Second Church manse. When Susan Hoge died, R. E. Lee naturally sent a sympathy note.
As the war progressed, the Confederacy proved successful enough, only it was sealed off from the world by a Yankee sea blockade. The South produced very little in the way of manufacturing, leaning on the outside world for that. The only way many things could be brought in, including Bibles and Testaments, was by "smuggling" ships that left ports secretly, moved unexpectedly, raced pursuing Yankee ships if necessary, and "ran the blockade."
In 1863, it became evident to the Confederate government that among other things, the Confederate soldiers needed Bibles. A clergyman was needed to go on this sacred mission. Dr. Hoge was asked to "run the blockade" to England for Bibles. All, Dr. Hoge felt, black or white, gray or blue, deserved a Bible. He took on the mission.
So saying farewell to his congregation, leaving Susan in charge of everything, he left Richmond to go to Charleston, South Carolina, to be smuggled through the line of enemy ships. It was a dangerous occupation, and he could have been blown out of the water, but he said there was a story one of his forefathers was a pirate. Besides God would take care.
He left and on Christmas Day, 1863, made it to Charleston harbor, where two days later on a "good but dirty little craft," he watched the Yankee fleet go by, smuggled out on a Confederate schooner.
Dr. Hoge described the experience to his sister in a letter: "Goodness and mercy have followed me all the way. Our run through blockading squadron was glorious. I was in one of the severest and bloodiest battles fought near Richmond; but it was not more exciting than that midnight adventure, when, amid lowering clouds and dashes of rain, and just wind enough to get up sufficient commotion in the sea to drown the noise of our paddle wheels, we darted along, with lights all extinguished, and not even a cigar burning on the deck, until we were safely out and free from the Federal fleet."
The schooner arrived at Havana in a few days where he transferred to a steamer making for England. The next Sunday he held morning worship in the saloon. He found Mr. Wylie, the First Engineer, was "a real Presbyterian" who showed him the "fascinating apparatus for converting salt water into fresh." Dr. Hoge wanted to make the hours of the trip "light and joyful by communion with God," but there was too heavy a burden on his shoulders, remembering Susan, his congregation and the War.
Dr. Hoge had been to Europe previously, but he found the society he was subjected to in London fascinating. "A man must conform here to ...absurdity, or attract an unpleasant notoriety wherever he goes ..." Also they had grace at the same time as dessert at dinner. Why he was not sure, but he speculated. "The reason is it must be done before the ladies leave and it is more convenient then, than to give thanks just as they are going out of the room (ladies retired for coffee after dinner then)."
He attended a rich man's club where gentlemen comfortably conversed on the "dwelling of the poor." Hoge wrote in his diary, "I was reminded of ...New York, and of what I said to (Mr. Darrach) when he asked me how I thought their subterranean population could be civilized and Christianized. I told him, never, until they were brought up into the light of day ...lived in families apart, until they had water and gas and air, and the decencies of life ..."
The mission for Bibles was successful. Dr. Hoge secured a free grant from the British and Foreign Bible Society of 250,000 portions of scripture, including 50,000 Testaments and 10,000 complete Bibles, Many of these reached the Confederate soldiers in the field. It was also to the credit of the Bible Society of New York, transcending the passions of war that it sent $100,000 worth of Bibles to be distributed to the Confederate army.
Dr. Hoge returned home by way of Bermuda, preached there, and his returning ship was shot at by Yankee cannon, but the ship safely dashed through the fire, and made it into the harbor under heavy bombardment.
Dr. Hoge found the Confederacy was collapsing. He visited the battlefields as the army of Virginia retreated closer and closer towards Richmond. On one battlefield, a bullet whizzed by. Dr. Hoge dashed behind a tree. Someone said running for cover was not in keeping with a belief in predestination.
You misunderstand predestination," Dr. Hoge answered, "the tree was predestined to be where I needed it to jump behind."
Nor was it easy for Susan in Richmond. She described in a letter a fire by the manse caused by the bombardmant. "It raged with great fury all day ... every arrangement to leave the house, each member of the household put on two sets of underclothes and two dresses and made up a bundle ... and took a snack and a bottle of bottle of milk and carried everything in the parlor." The house caught fire three times, and was put out. Finally, a powder magazine blew up and every window in their house fell out.
Dr. Hoge returned home in utter desolation. His hope of a brave new country gone, and his health was in bad shape. Once before he was sick, and the physician brought him around with a tonic of beefsteak, mustard, red pepper, quinine, brandy and water, enough to make a corpse walk.
This time it was Bell's palsey. His face was disfigured. The physicians could do very little. The money he and Susan had worked for was gone in Confederate bonds. The South was in the terrible period following the War. Susan came down with what proved to be incurable cancer. He was like Job in his sorrows.
"To me, it seems that our overthrow is the worst thing that could have happened for the South...," he wrote. And to add to this in the years following was the lack of money, the Bell's palsey, and the death of Susan/ He was never to remarry. He answered his sorrow with, "But the Lord hath prepared his throne in heavens and His kingdom ruleth over all ..."
Dr. Hoge learned in the War years not to put his faith in material things. He saw his country, his money, his health, and Susan leave him. It was in these years the power of his religious tradition was tested, and Dr. Hoge emerged a deeper Christian more rooted in the Presbyterian Church, yet aware of the spark of divinity in every church. He wrote, "In my early ministry I preached Moses Hoge, but from this moment on with God's grace I am resolved to preach Jesus Christ."
The South was wiser in having had a spiritual lesson vouchsafed only to those who have tasted defeat. It learned from the depths what the rest of the country only tasted in Viet Nam. Some, like Lee and Hoge, and countless unknown saints, emerged spiritual fathers, transformed and purifying socially. Others lapsed into bitterness and bickering over what might have been.
Dr. Hoge kept abreast of the times. He started taking his congregation ahead. "Old fogies," he once remarked, "are bad enough in the State-worse in the Church." Greater and greater crowds came to his services. He widened his ministry and broadened his awareness. He arranged to have a hall in the slums where he could preach. Many of the poor heard the great man, for he was so recognized in the South, preach on the "love which seeks the burdened, ...rebellious...degraded."
At home, Second Church was becoming one of the most prosperous in the city and very prominent in the South. The preaching of Dr. Hoge made it famous. It was poetic and many people said they never heard preaching as moving. Today it seems rather baroque and lachrymose, but it is as a personality, not as a writer, that Dr. Hoge is remembered. He was also a Voice in an age of no amplifiers. In Palestine, he stood on Mt. Gerazin and was heard reciting a Psalm on Mt. Ebal.
When Dr. Hoge preached, he began with a period of silence in which he looked at the audience. He never reached that happy state where people did not punctuate his sentences with coughs, sneezes, and other banes of speakers. One, Mr. John Branch, regularly attended in a black coat and with a red handkerchief that he flourished to blow his nose at regular intervals. There was also among the faithful, old Captain Benjamin Sheppard, the last man in Richmond to wear an 18th Century wig and curled tail. When he died in 1855 Dr. Hoge used the text, "The hoary head is a crown of glory-" Proverbs 16:31, seemingly oblivious to the fact he wore a wig.
Ever an outstanding preacher Dr. Hoge was wise enough not to rely on sermons alone. A music professor was at the organ, along with an excellent choir. Later, Second Church was to be one of the first to have a violin, as well as an organ on Sunday morning.
The Church was well organized. There was a boys' group, the Covenanters, a men's group, the Huguenots, and an active women's group. The Sunday School had enough programs to keep anybody busy.
When Dr. Hoge preached, crowds came. They were always met by the sexton and doorkeeper, Joshua, a black man who opened the doors for fifty years. He knew all the members and was a familiar feature almost as much as Dr, Hoge. He wrote a book, My Years of Service , published in 1931, possibly the only book ever written by a church janitor. Affected by Dr. Hoge's preaching and the preparation of the Lord's Table, he desired to become a Christian. He told this to Dr. Hoge, then added he wanted to become a Baptist. Dr. Hoge told him denomination was secondary to whether "the heart was right."
Members also became accustomed through habit to certain smells, which played a part in the fabric of their church lives. A Miss Gibson who cut the Communion bread had a doctor in front of her pew who always smelled of idoform, and the young lady who sat behind her smelled of lemon essence.
Dr. Hoge did the usual round of visiting. One story is told that he was depressed over the frivolity of an attractive woman. And took the lady to a cemetery as a scene to talk of her soul, whereupon when he began, the lady said one of her fondest hopes had always been to be asked in marriage by a widower, such as he, in a cemetery. Dr. Hoge departed hastily, leaving her soul unsaved.
When the tourists came to Richmond to see the Confederate shrines, they were told they had to hear Dr. Hoge. He became a walking monument. His most famous speech was one delivered at a monument to Stonewall Jackson who had attended Second Church while in Richmond.
Dr. Hoge traveled widely, preached before Queen Victoria, ate with the royal family, returned to Richmond and found even larger crowds waiting for him. It did not affect him. Dr. Hoge they said was Dr. Hoge. You took him as he was and no one could remember a time he wasn't that way.
In 1888, he attended the World Presbyterian Alliance in London, the fourth such council. The Alliance held its first meeting in Scotland in 1877 where they met in St. Giles for a sermon on July 3. It was a bringing together of Presbyterians from twenty-five nations to demonstrate the Catholicity or ecumenicity of the church. For a period Dr. W. G. Blaikie, one of the clerks of the council, edited a journal called the "Catholic Presbyterian." Its idea was to give an international and wider horizon to Presbyterian churches.
Back in Virginia Hoge was named "Richmond's first citizen" and a large gathering was held for him on the forty-fifth anniversary of his pastorate of Second Church. Another reception was held in 1895 on his fiftieth year at Second Church. The second reception was even more grand and remarkable.
For the fiftieth anniversary, celebration Tiffany's was commissioned to make silver spoons with his likeness on them. The likeness was a replica of a bronze relief of Dr. Hoge placed over the south door of the sanctuary. These Tiffany spoons were given out as souvenirs of the fiftieth anniversary of his pastorate.
In evaluating Dr. Hoge it is necessary to note that his sermons and manuscripts have not proved themselves enduring. But he was amusing and spirited, as well as religious, no small accomplishment in a pious man. He was never tamed into dullness or unoriginality by religious piety.
His moral judgment was his best feature. He freed his own slaves. After the "War", he directed his church and community towards the future rather than back to the past. He realized that denomination was secondary "if the heart was right." He had an awareness of the poor. He had an international view of faith in a time when internationalism was suspect. There can be little doubt his judgment was superior to much of that around him.
In 1898 as the failing "Doctor" crossed a street, he was hit by a streetcar. The funeral was considered very moving. Six ministers officiated. Fourteen Presbyterian ministers preceded the coffin. Behind the coffin came the senior elder of Second Church, William W. Henry, grandson of Patrick Henry, leading the mourners.
The streets to the cemetery were lined by thousands. Many wept as the horses bearing the coffin went by, and hundreds fell in the line and followed to the cemetery where five thousand were waiting at the graveside. He was buried next to Susan.
In Richmond for many years after by order of the streetcar, company, the cars came to a full stop where Dr. Hoge was hit. They paused in silent respect. Then proceeded on their way.
Dr. Hoge left in December 1862, and returned in October 1863, after he sent back thousands of scriptures. His work was instrumental. In 1863 a Presbyterian evangelist. The Rev. S. S. Gaillard, "who was a faithful laborer among the soldiers, reported he was distributing among them Bibles, tracts, Gospels, and religious papers, For a while he was laboring in the camps along the South Carolina coast and in Charleston. He later went to Richmond and reported six thousand sick and wounded soldiers there. In May he visited Kershaw's Brigade at Fredericksburg where he found soldiers and officers enjoying a precious season for grace." (Howe: History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, 1890.)
The Rev. Smith Gaillard was later minister of First Church, Greenville, South Carolina.
The outstanding social history of Second Church is The Making of A Downtown Church by Wyndham B. Blanton, John Knox Press, 1945.
Table of Contents