Patricia J. Thompson, Conference Historian
and Chairperson, NECCAH
Two New England Conference Historic Sites With Liberia Connections Install Historic Roadside Markers
In 2010 when the United Methodist Churches in Vermont joined the New England Annual Conference, the Conference inherited three United Methodist Historic Sites, including the Wolcott United Methodist Church in Wolcott, Vermont. The New England Conference Commission on Archives and History and the New England United Methodist Historical Society held their 2010 Fall meeting at the Wolcott UMC – the first time the Conference CAH and Historical Society had met in Vermont. As a part of the meeting, a State of Vermont historic roadside marker honoring the Rev. George S. Brown, the founding pastor of the church, was dedicated.
This church was designated as an historic site in 2008 by the former Troy Annual Conference because the church was gathered in 1855 by the Rev. Brown, the first African American pastor in the Troy Conference and the first Methodist African American pastor in Vermont. The current church building was constructed the following year, in 1856, under the guidance of Brown.
Prior to coming to Vermont and founding the church Brown had served for six years – from 1837 to 1843 – as a missionary to the newly founded colony in Liberia, sailing to Africa in October 1836 but three years following the death in Liberia in 1833 of the Rev. Melville B. Cox, first missionary sent out to a foreign country by the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Board (see below). Although Liberia was primarily established as a colony for the relocation of slaves from the United States as a part of the Colonization Movement, some of the missionaries sent out by the MEC also ministered to the native Africans. Brown was reportedly one of the most successful of the missionaries who worked with the natives, initially establishing a station at Heddington, named for Bishop Elijah Hedding, who grew up in Vermont. Brown’s work in Africa was cut short, however, when he refused to become involved in a political battle between his white Superintendent, John Seys, and the Liberian government.
After returning to America Brown spent the next ten years struggling with the MEC Missionary Board and the Troy Annual Conference to have his preaching credentials restored. It was not until he moved to Vermont that the St. Albans Presiding Elder made the recommendation to have his elder’s orders restored, which was then approved by the Conference. It was following that action that Brown came to Wolcott and organized the church there. This is probably one of the few white Methodist churches in the United States that was actually organized by an African American.
At this meeting Melicent and Harvey Versteeg, representatives from the Cox Memorial UMC in Hallowell, ME, invited the Commission to hold our Spring meeting at their church on June 2, 2012, as a part of the 250th anniversary celebration for the City of Hallowell. Cox Memorial is another one of our Historic Sites as well as a Heritage Landmark (recognized by the General Conference of the UMC as having historic significance for the entire UMC) recognized because it was the home church of the Rev. Melville B. Cox.
Inspired by the installation of the George S. Brown marker in Wolcott and his connection to Liberia, Melicent and the Cox Memorial UMC decided to apply for a State of Maine Historic Roadside Marker honoring Cox and his ministry in both Maine and Liberia. The marker was approved and was installed on June 1, 2012, just in time for the meeting, beside Route 201 at the south end of Hallowell. The marker was dedicated on the afternoon of June 2, followed by the meeting of the NECCAH and the New England United Methodist Historical Society. In the evening a drama entitled, “Let a Thousand Fall before Africa Be Given Up,” was presented by members of the Commission and the Hallowell UMC and open to the public. Both Bishop John Innis current Bishop of Liberia and retired Bishop S. Clifton Ives were with us for the meeting and the evening program.
Melville B. Cox and his twin brother, Gershom, were born in Hallowell, ME, on November 9, 1799, sons of Charles and Martha Cox. They were the first two Methodists to be baptized in Hallowell during a revival led by the Rev. Epaphras Kibby. Both of the boys grew up to be ministers in the Maine Annual Conference. Melville, however, was struck at an early age with tuberculosis and was unable to tolerate the cold Maine winters and keep preaching.
In 1826 after serving as the secretary for a group of men who were given the responsibility of finding a piece of property for a new Methodist Episcopal Church in Hallowell (the current Cox Memorial UMC), Melville moved south to Baltimore, MD, and eventually joined the Virginia Annual Conference. He was appointed to the Edenton Street MEC in Raleigh, NC, but was only able to preach for three months due to his declining health. Nevertheless, Cox began to became interested in the mission field and was eventually appointed by the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Board to go to Liberia as the first missionary sent to a foreign country – despite his poor health.
Prior to sailing Cox made a visit to Wesleyan University where he told a friend that if he should die while in Africa, the friend should come and write his epitaph. Agreeing to do so, he asked Cox what he should write. Cox answered, “Let a thousand fall before Africa be given up,” words that have be immortalized in Methodist history.
Cox sailed in November, 1832, and arrived in March, 1833. Four short months later Cox died from African Fever. During those four months, however, he managed to establish the Methodist Episcopal Church of Liberia and laid the ground work for a Methodist school modeled on the Maine Wesleyan Seminary (today Kent’s Hill School in Readfield, ME).
The school was formally opened in 1839 as the Liberia Conference Seminary and continues today as the College of West Africa (CWA) in Monrovia, Liberia, a well-known college preparatory high school.
In 2010 the Liberia Annual Conference designated the College as a Historic Site (one of only six officially recognized Historic Sites outside of the United States) and the 2012 General Conference designated the College as a Heritage Landmark (a sister Landmark to Cox Memorial UMC here in the US) – one of only three Heritage Landmarks outside the bounds of the United States. Cox Memorial UMC has established a scholarship fund for CWA and a free-will offering for the fund was taken as part of the evening service. In addition, the New England United Methodist Historical Society donated $1,000 toward the fund.
The fall meeting of the NECCAH and the NEUMHS will be held at First UMC, Portsmouth, NH, on Friday, September 21, at 1:00pm in preparation for hosting the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Commission on Archives and History May 14-16, 2013.
Pictures taken by Patricia J. Thompson
|Wolcott United Methodist Church