The following is excerpted from “The History of Sullivan County” by James Eldridge Quinlan, 1873. Rev. Thomas Grier (or Greer) was the founding pastor of each the Westtown and Unionville Presbyterian Churches. Here we find him laboring in a neighboring county.
There is ground for belief that Rev. Thomas Greer, a Presbyterian clergyman of Minisink, Orange county, was the first minister of the gospel who visited the town of Bethel, where he preached as early as 1808, in the tavern kept by Jesse Crocker, which was nearly opposite the ground on which now stands the parsonage of the Covenanter or Reformed Presbyterian Church of White Lake.
Mr. Greer was a plain, earnest man, and did not highly value an elegant exterior, or seek respect and admiration by those polite artifices which mark the conduct of less worthy men. His deportment was quiet and unobtrusive. While pastor of the Westtown congregation, he loved to seek “jewels for his Master” in the by-ways of the wilderness country, and while thus engaged, bore the ills and discomforts of a frontier-life without complaint. Cheerfully he forded our rivers, and hopefully he threaded our forest-paths, while seeking some settlement in the wilds; for in the future he saw that the scene of his toil would be occupied by a numerous population, and that his labors would inure to their benefit, as well as promote the highest interests of those who had “wandered into a far country.”
Previous to Mr. Greer’s first visit to White Lake, some of the settlers had heard of him; but none of them had ever seen him.
He sent word to them that on a certain Sabbath he would”preach for them at Crocker’s house,” and the news was joyfully communicated from the dwellers in one log-house to those of another, until every one far and near knew that he was coming. They were to have preaching again-a privilege which they had enjoyed in the older settlements, but which they had not anticipated for many years after their removal to White Lake.
Mr. Greer reached Crocker’s on Saturday; and was surprised at finding quite a number of people collected there, who were evidently laboring under excitement, a. circumstance which was owing to a trial before a Justice of the Peace, the litigants being a couple of backwoodsmen who had a dispute about some trivial matter. Finding that no one recognized him, he concluded that he would not make himself known, until it was necessary to do so, and that he. would quietly study the character of the people when they were unrestrained by the consciousness that the eyes of a clergyman were upon them. He soon found that the sins which predominate among men removed from the restraints of older and larger communities, prevailed among the settlers of Bethel. Too many of those present were addicted to rum-drinking, profanity and kindred vices, the trial having brought together all the tiplers and tavern-loungers of that section of country. His pious soul was shocked at seeing God’s image distorted and marred by inebriation; at hearing rude jests and blasphemous revilings come from mouths which should have uttered words of purity and praise; at the violent buffetings administered by hands which should have been employed in useful industry, or used in works of mercy and love; and at other conduct which showed that this people needed admonition of “the ‘wrath to come.”
While he was gazing at the doings of the crowd, he attracted the attention of a man who was just drunk enough to discover that there was antagonism of some kind between the parson and himself. This man came up to Mr. G. and proposed to fight him; but the latter mildly declined, when the other, somewhat astonished, demanded to know whether he could fight-fighting probably being one of the accomplishments of that day. Mr. Greer replied that he did not know; that when he was young he had done something at it; but that he feared he was then out of practice. The bellicose individual then knocked off Mr. Greer’s hat, in order to aggravate him; but he quietly picked it up and got away, much to the disgust of the other, who considered, as did many others, that he had done all that could be expected to arouse the wrath of the stranger.
At night the drinking and :profanity continued to a late hour. Mr. Greer, fatigued with his Journey, and saddened by what he had witnessed, retired early, but not to rest. His bed was directly over the bar-room, and with his whispered evening-prayer were mingled the fumes of whisky and Jamaica rom, and the uproar of the revelers. To sleep was impossible 88 long as the carousing was kept up; and the only recourse of the good man was to watch the stars through the roof, and to endeavor to possess his soul in patience.
About midnight, a tipsy individual came to the room where Mr. Greer was, and after undressing, reprimanded him for occupying more than half the bed. Without a murmur, he moved as far to one side as possible, when his unexpected bed-fellow laid down beside him, remarking that “it was a devil of a pretty place to put a gentleman (meaning himself) where the Lord could look right down upon him through the roof!” The “gentleman,” however, did not seem to suffer much by any such intrusion upon his privacy; for he was soon fast asleep, and snoring loudly, much to the annoyance of the poor missionary,
The whole night was a very unpleasant one to Mr. Greer. He did not get asleep until near morning, and ‘was soon after aroused by his fellow-lodger, who complained that he was dry, and invited him to go down and take a drink. Mr. Greer begged to be excused, and said he would try to sleep a little more. The “gentleman” then dressed, and went in pursuit of something to moisten his tongue and throat.
Mr. Greer slept again; but his slumber was brief. Soon after daylight, the landlady began to bustle about the house. She had breakfast to prepare, and her household goods to put in order. It was necessary that every thing should appear decent when the minister came. Finding that Mr. Greer was still in bed, and not inclined to get up, she was considerably vexed, and cried out to him, “Old man, you had better get out of that! We are going to have preaching here to-day by Mr. Greer, and must clean up the house!” Of course, the” old man” abandoned his couch without further warning. Alter washing his face and hands, and combing his disordered locks in the open air, he took a short walk, and then had breakfast, when he felt much refreshed. While loitering around the premises, in reply to some inquiry, he said that, “if they were to have preaching, he would stay, especially as he did not like to travel on the Sabbath.”
The necessary preparations were made for the meeting. Benches were extemporized—a table for the minister placed in the right position-the table covered with a clean linen cloth, upon which were laid a Bible and a volume of Hymns and Psalms, and the conduct of all approached nearer and nearer to what was fit and proper for the day and the occasion. By-and-by, the people began to assemble by ones, and twos and families. All inquired If Mr. Greer had come, and were somewhat disappointed when they learned that he had not.
Many anxious glances were cast in the direction from which he was expected. The time for the opening exercises was near; some who had come for worthy purposes, looked serious and downcast, thinking, perhaps, that their time on earth was rapidly slipping away, while they remained among those who were not with God’s elect, and seriously asking themselves whether God would ever move them to forsake their sins, and live according to His laws. Others, who were more volatile, amused themselves in various ways. Among other things, it was proposed that one of the company should personate Mr. Greer, and he was accordingly installed as the preacher for the day, and proceeded to read a chapter from the Bible.
The “old men,” as they called Mr. Greer, during these performances, was a quiet spectator; but when the appointed time came, he arose and said, “H you have no objection, I will be Mr. Greer.” As no one objected, he proceeded with the service, took a text, and preached an excellent sermon, in which he told some very pertinent truths and gave them much wholesome advice, which we may believe was suited to the capacity and habits of those who listened.
His hearers were greatly mortified at having treated “the old man” rudely, and they made many apologies, all which he accepted with his usual kindness and good nature.
The good people of Bethel never treated him with neglect afterwards; but we are sorry to say that he became unpopular at a subsequent period with the rigid professors of Presbyterianism.
In the early settlement of our county, the Presbyterians and Baptists struggled, each for their own communion, to obtain the vantage ground. Fierce and unyielding was the controversy concerning the lawfulness of “sprinkling.” In the bar-room and in the pulpit, at the logging-frolic and at the prayer-meeting-anywhere and everywhere, when a few of the profane or the pious came together, the controversy was carried on-sometimes with good nature-sometimes angrily-always earnestly. It was not surprising, therefore, that, while some saw their way clear so far as the subject in dispute was concerned, others became confused and bewildered. Of the latter class were two Forestburgh converts. ‘I’hey were Presbyterians; but they would not enter the Church as members, except in the manner prescribed by the Baptists. And so Mr. Greer immersed them, like a good liberal soul, as he was. Both sprinkling and immersion were lawful in his eves.
Many Presbyterians thought he yielded too much to the Baptists, and some imagined, probably, that he would desert the Church of Calvin; but he remained faithful to the Presbyterians as long as he lived.