This Article is provided by Jeff Bishop President Of GATOTA
Three old table-top graves sit on a hill on the west side of Posey Road near Newnan, Georgia, about a half-mile north of the Hwy. 34 intersection. What was once a lonely hilltop in the middle of the woods is now surrounded on all sides by subdivision developments. One of the headstones at the tiny family cemetery honors the memory of the Rev. Humphrey Posey, “missionary to the Cherokee Indians in 1817, from the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, (who) through life evinced a warm, religious friendship for the red man.”
Posey was born Jan. 12, 1780, in Henry County, Virginia. He was remembered fondly by Newnan resident Robert Fleming when he wrote of Posey in 1852, in his Sketch of the Life of Humphrey Posey, First Baptist Missionary to the Cherokee Indians, and Founder of Valley Town School, North Carolina.
“In his person, Elder Posey was over the ordinary size of men,” said Fleming, “with fair complexion, and clear blue eyes, he might be considered handsome. But he was more than this; he was dignified and commanding in his personal appearance, — always easy and affable in his intercourse with others, — never phlegmatic nor morose.”
Fleming said that Posey “was not what is usually called an educated man, having never attended school more than to enable him to read, write, and perform the simple rules of arithmetic.” Posey “never, at school, studied English grammar,” said Fleming, although he always showed a love of music.
When Posey was about five years old, Fleming said, “his father removed to Burke County, North Carolina, where young Posey spent his childhood and youth. He was blessed with parents who felt it to be their duty to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
“His mother taught him, when but a child, having no spelling book, to spell and read in the Psalter,” said Fleming, “and by the time he was seven years old, he had read through the New Testament several times, without the opportunity of going to school more than twenty days.”
Fleming presents Posey’s own personal account, found among his papers, of his youth and his religious conversion:
My parents taught me very early the danger of sin, and I had serious thoughts about a future state when very young. Sometimes I was afraid to go to sleep, on account of the dread I had of the judgment's coming and finding me unprepared; and I was often terrified with dreams, so that I never could be said to enjoy fully 'the pleasures of sin.' Still, I put off seeking the salvation of my soul until I was about eighteen years old. I often promised to reform, but I as often broke my vows. Now the subject was brought home to my conscience with so much power, that I began to retire into secret places to pray — became very much dejected, but in a short time my distress left me, and I became quite calm. This continued several years, during which time I never could allow myself to go into open sin, (and I will here state that I was preserved, somehow, so that I never swore a profane oath in my life, to my knowledge,) but still my mind was carnal. At about seventeen years of age, I began teaching 'little old-field schools,' and also vocal music, in Greenville District, South Carolina. In the Spring of 1799, I went into Union District to follow the same occupation. On the 28th day of January, 1800, I was united in marriage with Lettice Jolly, then a pious member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. I taught school, that year, in the same community, and in 1801 removed into Greenville District. All this while my mind was occasionally deeply affected. Some time about the end of this year, after I had gone to bed, I fell into a doze, and I was addressed so plainly, that I rose hastily up in my bed, believing some human being had spoken to me in these words: 'Without you repent carefully you shall die, but if you repent there is yet mercy for you.' I studied the expression, and believed it was from the Lord, and that it was the last call I should be favored with, and I determined immediately to set about the work. I commenced trying to pray, but could not regulate my mind, nor feel any tenderness — not a tear could I shed. I began now to feel the corruption of my nature, and the deceitfulness of my heart. I feared greatly that I had sinned away my day of grace, and that now there was no mercy for me. I could see how Christ could save others, but mine was a peculiar case, I could not do any thing at all in the right way. I could not mourn for sin right, nor pray right; and every effort I made seemed to plunge me deeper into the mire. This state of feeling continued nearly a month, and I went to a Baptist meeting, on the Lord's-day, when, to my surprise, a large congregation was in attendance, and singing; which had not been the case there for a long time previous. It struck me there would be a revival, and I went in under very solemn impressions. There were two sermons preached, with no apparent effect; but when the preaching was closed, a Presbyterian gentleman, by request, got up and described a camp-meeting which he had attended just previous to this, and which was, probably, the first in the State. The description was given in such a manner that it affected the whole congregation, and my hard heart was softened, so that I shed tears freely. A lively exhortation ensued, and an invitation to seekers being given, I was probably the first to go forward to give the preacher my hand to be prayed for. I was glad that I could weep, and I felt that I would rather stay right there than to go home; but still I could not think that my sins were forgiven. But I could now pray with some fervor, and therefore hoped there was yet mercy for me. I went home, and my sadness increased. In the morning I took up the hymn-book, and commenced singing the hymn beginning —
How happy are they
Who their Saviour obey,' &c.
I thought they were the happiest people in the world; but here was I, a sinner, who had no part in it. I laid down the book and retired for secret prayer, which, I think, I engaged in about four times that night; but found no relief. This struggle continued about four days and nights, during which time sins that had been long committed came fresh to my recollection. I felt that I was in the worst condition of any sinner, mainly on account of the badness of my heart. I thought I was not fit to be on this earth, and acknowledged from my heart that if God should send me to hell it would be just, and I could not see how he could be just and save me. My anguish was past expression. About the fourth night, I went almost in despair, and kneeled down by a pile of rocks in my field, and having found so many evils in my heart, and not willing to remain in ignorance of my real character, I begged the Lord to show me the worst of my case, and if there was mercy in store for such a hell-deserving wretch, for the dear Redeemer's sake, to let it be bestowed. In this agony, light broke into my soul, with an impression like this, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.' My soul was filled with joy, and it appeared to me astonishing that I had not sooner discovered the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. My mind was now drawn out for the salvation of sinners.
I thought I could tell them so plainly the way, that they would certainly believe and be saved. But notwithstanding I could see the way so plainly for others, I thought I was not a Christian, because I had not been sufficiently convicted. I would retire into the woods, and beg the Lord not to let me be deceived. I wished my burden back again, that I might watch more closely, and if the Lord would remove it, I would know more about it. I also thought if I was truly converted, there would be more of a revolution in my whole man. And while I would be thus engaged, my mind would become sensibly attracted with the beauties and excellencies of the Saviour, and I could experience a joy unspeakable; but presently I would get into the same old distress, and conclude that I could not be a Christian. This lasted about four days before I could fully claim the promise. And even then I continued to doubt, frequently, my acceptance with God, seeing so much imperfection in every thing I did. But on the 10th day of June, 1802, 1 ventured to tell to the church what the Lord had done, as I hoped, for my soul, and I was received. On the next day I was baptized; and coming up out of the water, I had a strong desire to exhort the people, but the enemy of my soul suggested, 'You have gone too far already; for in a short time you will turn out as bad as ever' — and I yielded, and said nothing. But it was to me one of the most happy days of my life. I felt that I was honored inexpressibly to be permitted to follow my Saviour. A sense of my own unworthiness was my only grief.
I now had a severe struggle, for I found myself troubled with vain thoughts, and concluded, that if I was a Christian I certainly could get clear of them. I prayed and strove for some time against them, and still found these enemies haunting me, until it was impressed as strongly upon my mind as if it had been a human voice: “In yourself you are a poor helpless creature, and all your strength and sufficiency are in Christ." This gave me considerable relief. My mind was deeply impressed with the lost state of sinners, which impression extended to heathen nations, with such vehemence, that I frequently shed tears on the subject. A sense of my unworthiness kept me back until my mind became so earnestly drawn out, that one Lord's-day night at a camp-meeting at the church where my membership was, I exhorted and prayed for the first time publicly. From this period I went on, occasionally exhorting, and sometimes saying a few things on some passage of Scripture. But I labored almost constantly under awful doubts, as to my gracious state.
When I had appointments to preach, I would frequently wish they had not been made, such was my sense of my unworthiness. I would then think of exhorting sinners, as I felt unfit to address Christians; but as I would proceed in my exhortations, I would become so filled with the love of the Saviour, that I would get all on fire, as it were, and would be telling the Christians how happy they would be in heaven. One day I was deeply distressed with the state of my heart, and was reading a book in which the author was treating on experimental religion. He said, 'None but a true believer mourns over a hard heart.' I knew I was mourning over my hard heart. Tears flowed freely, and my doubts were gone for a time; but they returned. I was strongly tempted to disbelieve the reality of religion, and even the existence of God; and this temptation was so strong, that I was afraid to breathe without prayer. My constant prayer was, 'Lord have mercy on me, and deliver me from this temptation.'
This continued some time. I was teaching a school, and one afternoon an awful thunder-storm arose, which frightened the children very greatly during its continuance. These words of the poet occurred to my mind —
'The God that rules on high,
And thunders when he please;
That rides upon the stormy sky
And manages the seas; —
This awful God is mine,
My father and my love,
He will send down his heavenly powers,
To carry me above.'
Here my doubts were removed, and an impression was left on my mind which has been beneficial ever since; and those awful temptations have never been permitted to return. Here, too, I may adopt the language of the hymn— 'Blessed be the name of the Lord,' —
‘Many days have passed since then,
Many changes I have seen;
Yet have been upheld till now —
Who could hold me up but thou ?'
I obtained license to preach in Union District, South Carolina, in 1803, and in 1804 removed to Buncombe county, North Carolina, on account of bad health. On the third day of August, I preached my first sermon there. I then went preaching about
through 'the hill country,' inviting sinners to come to the Saviour; — telling them the way of salvation through the Redeemer.
In 1805, I commenced preaching, in evenings, in a destitute settlement, near where I was teaching a school on Cane Creek. Brother James Whitaker and myself drew up Articles of Faith, as we could not find any in the country; and we collected all the members intending to be in the constitution, and examined them on the Articles. All being agreed, a presbytery was invited to attend. The presbytery was pleased with our Articles of Faith, and so the church was organized. Two of the members were, at the same time, ordained to the deacon's office, and I was ordained to the work of the ministry. At the next meeting, I baptized four professed believers, and the work of the Lord continued for a length of time. Some were received for baptism at almost every meeting.
When it came to mission work, Baptists were late to the field, “slow to launch a missionary effort among the Indians,” said William G. McLoughlin in his book, Cherokees and Missionaries.
“In part the delay was due to strong antimission sentiment among rigid predestinarians, (who) believed that God would save the Indians in his own good time and that money for missions was wasted,” McLaughlin said.
But the tide of opinion soon changed, and Dr. William Staughton, corresponding secretary for the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, wrote to Posey from Philadelphia on Oct. 16, 1817, “At a meeting of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions, on Monday last, your favor of August the 26th was submitted and considered. The Board, anxious to see ‘the light of life’ spreading among the Cherokees, and on the western frontiers generally, and pleased to find your heart set upon the good work, enter with pleasure into your feelings and views. They wish you to accept immediately an appointment, as their missionary for twelve months.”
Posey accepted the appointment, requesting in a Nov. 24 letter that “that the Board will bear me up in their prayers, and beseech the blessed Jesus to ask for the poor benighted Cherokees, as a part of his immediate inheritance.”
After receiving this appointment, Posey “commenced, on the 1st of December, 1817, a tour of preaching among the Indians, and the white people on the frontier,” said Fleming. “In 1818 and 1819, he formed a very extensive acquaintance with the tribe.”
Posey soon established day schools at the Cherokee towns of Cowee, Tillanoocy, and Eastatory. but “the confusion in the nation over the effort to force a removal to Arkansas soon forced Posey to suspend operations,” said McLaughlin.
After a trip to Arkansas to scout a place for his mission, it became apparent that most of the Cherokees would not be removing there, after all. This is when Posey managed to negotiate with the Cherokees to establish a mission at the Valley Towns in North Carolina .
Baptist Elder Alfred Webb reported that Posey left Haywood, NC “to take charge of a mission in the Cherokee nation, where he originated and attended the management of a very nourishing school, and preached over the nation by means of an interpreter (Edward Tucker), for the space of about five years. Eternity will unfold the good which this faithful servant of the Most High God effected in the moral condition of these rude people.”
Moravian missionaries, who had been in the Cherokee Nation since 1801, reported that Posey visited them on June 25, 1818.
“Mr. Humphrey Posey, a Baptist preacher, a very dear man who seems to mean very well, visited us with one of his relatives. He said that since his conversion the salvation of the Cherokees, in whose neighborhood his home is, has been very close to his heart and that he is in charge of a school for young Cherokees on the border, where he also preaches from time to time. He was on the way to Oostanaula to the Council to talk about his plan with the chiefs gathered there.”
“At a grand council of the chiefs,” Fleming said, “Posey obtained their hearty consent, and promise of cooperation to establish a school amongst them at Valley Town.”
Missionaries at the Brainerd Mission near modern-day Chattanooga , Tennessee recorded in their journal on April 27, 1820 that by that time Posey and his family had “commenced their operations on the bank of the Highwassee creek ... the valley called Peach Tree.”
Fleming reported that the following year, in 1821, Posey “visited Philadelphia, to consult with the Board, and to procure supplies for the Valley Town school."
He goes on:
He preached in nearly all the churches in the city, and obtained the promise of the Board to furnish a mission family to unite with him in the labors of the school. ... The promised assistance arrived in 1821, consisting of Rev. Thomas Roberts and his wife, Rev. Evan Jones and his wife, Isaac Cleaver, a blacksmith, and John Farrier, a farmer. These, with their families, together with Miss Jones, Miss Cleaver, and Miss Lewis, sailed from Philadelphia, in 1821, laden with clothing for their schools, and other things necessary for a large missionary establishment. Elder Roberts and Mr. Farrier discontinued their labors in 1824, and Mr. Cleaver continued until the close of the next year. Elder Evan Jones continued until the Indians removed to the Territory, assigned to them by the government, beyond the Mississippi.
The mission consisted of 80 acres, three houses, a farm, and a school. Rev. Jeremiah Evarts, also a missionary to the Cherokees, reported on the Valley Towns mission in 1822:
In going & returning I conversed with Mr. Posey, in reference to the Baptist Mission, in the Valley Towns, of which he is the Superintendent ... The school now consists of 60 children ... The establishment consists of a preacher, schoolmaster, blacksmith, two farmers & a hired man. This spring 80 acres of corn have been planted; last year 800 bushels were raised.
“The plan of the station is this: The pupils eat & lodge by themselves, forming own family & eating at own table; the family being under the care of the teacher, with the aid of two or three young women ... Mr. Posey’s family consisted of himself, his wife & six children: of course his allowance was $240, annually. Each family had cows from the common stock; and when the pork was killed, it was divided among the different families.
Posey had to deal with the lingering resentment and even hatred from the white people, who were advancing aggressively westward at the time.
“The White people are constantly opposing every effort to instruct the poor, benighted Indians,” reported one missionary at the Valley Towns mission. “The great objection urged by most people in these parts is the enmity of the old wars in which some of their friends have been killed by them.”
But Posey didn’t let such things detract from the work of the mission.
Deacon James Whitaker wrote in a letter, "I was at Valley Town in 1821, six or eight weeks, and during that time, I had full opportunity to know every thing in and about the establishment; and, I can say, a more attentive and faithful man could not be found, and the Cherokees universally esteem (Rev. Posey) as a good man. At the mention of his name, those who still remain in the country, will brighten up with a smile on their countenance."
The Valley Town school was reported in I. M. Allen's Register as being in good condition, "And to this day the Cherokees have more confidence in Humphrey Posey than they have in any other man living." Belle Abbott wrote that, "at the name of Humphrey Posey it is said a Cherokee would weep for the love of him long after they had gone away."
Religious conversions had always posed a problem for the missionaries, since the Cherokee parents who placed their children in the mission schools were much more interested in their children receiving an education and learning to read and write the English language than they were in Christianity. Nevertheless, the missionaries continued to press, and some were converted. The History of the American Missions to the Heathen reported that, in 1823, “two or three of the Indians gave evidence of piety. John (Timson) was the first Indian who was converted. He acted as interpreter, and he and his wife, who also became pious, proved valuable helpers.”
Other Cherokees who became actively involved both in this mission and at a second Baptist mission established at Tinsawattee, Georgia included Jesse Bushyhead, Kaneeka (John Wickliffe), Oganaya, and James Wafford.
Thomas Roberts, superintendent of the mission, vividly describes a baptism ceremony at the Valley Towns Mission:
On a pleasant Sabbath morning hundreds of the Indians were wending their way in the beautiful Hiawassa river to see the first fruits of the nation baptized in the likeness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We saw no visible dove descending as when Christ arose from the baptismal stream, but we saw and heard and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. We saw the big tears chasing one another down the furrowed cheeks of old Indian warriors who never, since their manhood wept before. We heard the prayers of young converts, who, emboldened by the Spirit of God, cried alound for a blessing to descend upon their benighted nation.
Roberts also describes the daily schedule of the Valley Towns mission school in 1823:
In the morning, at sunrise, the horn is blown for worship, when all the children, with as many of the mission family as can conveniently assemble at the school house. A portion of the word of God is read, and a hymn is sung, in which the Greatest part of the Indian children join. One of the brethren addresses the thron(g), and the meeting is dismissed.
Every child that can read commits to memory 6 verses every morning, which are recited at the opening of the school; and all that is thus committed through the week, is said over again at Sunday school, and various questions asked from the chapter...
The conduct of the scholars is mild and respectful ... Many of them write well, and have made considerable advance in figures.
The evening worship is conducted in the following manner. A chapter is read from the Old Testament, and explained to the understanding of the children...
The following list of rules was approved by the mission in 1824:
1. The school shall consist of not more than fifty boarding scholars, for the present.
2. No pupil, having parents or guardians, shall be admitted, without an engagement on the part of such parents or guardians to comply with these rules.
3. These rules shall be read and explained to every parent or guardian, applying for the admission of a pupil, and also to every orphan or adult who shall apply on his own behalf.
4. All parents and guardians shall furnish their children with shoes, and one blanket, at least; and those who are able, shall furnish their children with clothes during their continuance at school. Inquiry to be made of the party, and the result to be noted down in the school register.
5. After this time, no child who speaks English shall be admitted, under ten years of age; nor any one who cannot speak English, under six.
6. Every pupil shall continue at school till he has attained, at least, a plain English education, according to the laws of the Cherokee nation : provided, however, that no pupil, admitted at ten years of age, and speaking the English language, be continued at school more than four years.
7. Should any child, after one quarter's continuance at school, manifest an incapacity to learn, the parents shall keep such a child at home one year, at least, when he may again be admitted on trial for one month.
8. Any pupil who shall attend any ball, play, or dance, or be guilty of getting drunk, shall be expelled from the school; and shall forfeit all clothes received from the mission, except a mere covering. And in case any one, being guilty of a breach of this rule, shall conceal or take away any clothes or other property, belonging to the mission, the proper officers of the nation shall be directed to pursue him, or them, for the recovery of the same.
9. Any pupil convicted of stealing, shall be excluded from the school, and forfeit his clothes.
10. There shall be two weeks vacation in every quarter, for the children to visit their parents; and no scholars shall be allowed to be absent at any other time. And in case any pupil shall continue from school two weeks after the expiration of the vacation, without sufficient cause, of which timely notice shall be given, his place shall be filled up by the next applicant ; and the pupil so offending shall return the clothes received from the mission.
11. No scholar shall be allowed to keep a horse, dog, gun, or dirk, at the establishment.
12. All clothing shall be given for tickets.
13. Every person, belonging to the mission family, shall use their utmost endeavors to enforce the observance and execution of these laws, in all cases, without partiality or respect of persons.
“The effect of these rules was soon visible,” Joseph Tracy and his co-authors stated in The History of the American Missions to the Heathen. “Parents no longer imagined that they were conferring a favor in allowing their children to be taught, and a new impulse was given to the minds of the children. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Farrier withdrew, toward the close of this year. Mr. Roberts, by his own desire, was for some time employed to raise funds for the support of the mission.”
In 1825, Jones was ordained pastor at the mission, and the church at the station was received into the Hiwassee Association in Tennessee. But by this time, with all the departures, he had very little assistance.
In fact, even Posey’s stint as a missionary in North Carolina had come to an abrupt end, in 1824 – McLaughlin and others note that Posey’s attention to financial details of the mission left much to be desired, and he was accused of “waste of money and means.” Posey continued to preach, however, moving to Northwest Georgia and establishing several churches there, including some which flourish to this day.
“In the providence of God, he was permitted to enjoy the society of the wife of his youth forty-two years,” said Fleming. Lettice Jolly Posey “died at their residence in Walker County, June 22d, 1842. By her he had ten children; eight daughters and two sons, all of whom have given evidence of conversion to God. He was often heard to speak of this as a matter of consolation to him in his declining years.”
Lettice Jolly is buried in what is now Catoosa County, Georgia. Her grave is beside the road on West Nickajack Road, enclosed by a chain link fence. According to a poster on Genealogy.com, the closest street address to the gravesite is 133 W. Nickajack Rd, Ringgold, GA 30736.
“I have learned that this grave is part of a small graveyard near the original site of the Woods Station Baptist Church,” said the poster, Bill Mitchell. “The Woods Station Baptist Church (now Woodstation Baptist Church) was founded by Reverend Posey around the time of the Cherokee Removal, near the crossroads of the Nickajack Trail ... and the Alabama Road ... It is believed to have been the first Baptist church established in old Walker County. The congregation has long since moved away from Woodstation, to the Catlett community in Walker County, leaving its old cemetery unmarked and unattended.”
On the July 28, 1844, Posey married the wealthy Mrs. Jane Stokes, widow of Deacon William M. Stokes, of Newnan, Georgia. Posey may have met the Stokes family through his mission work in North Carolina, since one Indian girl took on the name “Anna Stokes” – the same name as Jane Stokes Posey’s stepdaughter.
Posey “disposed of nearly all his property in Walker county, among his children, and came to Newnan to reside permanently,” said Fleming. “Several churches in the vicinity called him to preach to them as a pastoral supply, and he devoted his time to their service faithfully, and with much success, up to the close of his life.”
The last sermon he ever delivered was on the second Lord's day in December, at Ebenezer Church, seven miles east of Newnan. Rev. Humphrey Posey died in Newnan on the 28th day of December, 1846.
This Article is provided by Jeff Bishop President Of GATOTA