On his most recent visit, my dad brought me some documents his grandmother had saved.
One of the documents was a Primitive Baptist publication called The Messenger of Truth, which was edited and published at Laurel Fork in Carroll County, Virginia by F. P. Branscome. This particular issue of The Messenger of Truth is Volume 2, Number 5, and it is dated March 1, 1898.
The little pink publication is gently folded and curled over so that a note written sideways across the back cover is visible. The note is written in pencil, presumably by my great-grandmother, and reads:
Laura D Harrell
Joined the Church at
Bellspur the first saturday in
On the front cover above the title she also wrote:
Laura D Harrell’s
Presumably my great-grandmother saved this particular issue of the publication because it contains a written account of her mother’s experience. That experience is recorded on pages 110-114. I have reproduced it here, keeping variant/mis-spellings, hyphenation where a word dropped down to the next line, and grammar, although I have not perfectly reproduced formatting:
By the request of my grandfather, Anderson Webb, I will try to write and tell what great pleasure the Lord has given me in the pardon of my sins. I am the daughter of Elisha P. Barnard, and was born in Patrick County, Va., June 18th, 1875, and was married to Mr. Chas. W. Harrell, April 16, 1893.
The first of my troubles about a future state or condition began when I was thirteen years of age. I became impressed about dying and what would become of me after death. I knew that I was a sinner and not prepared for death. I thought, what an awful thing it would be to be separated from God’s children and from my folks, never to see their faces any more, and what a blessing if all could go at the same time and not be separated. I thought of Pa and Ma. They had a hope and as I believed were prepared to go; but their children were not prepared. I prayed often that the Lord might give to us faith to see and feel as they did. Often, I heard people talk of the scriptures and on their experiences; and I would think, Oh! If I could ever have such a great change to take place with me, a poor little sinner.
I often heard uncle Mat. Blancett preach and tell the little children to obey their parents. I would say, to myself, “When I get home I’ll do just as they tell me and see if I can’t be a better child;” but would soon find myself out of the way again, and often thought there would never be any relief for poor me. My troubles somewhat wore off till after I was married, when my mind was arrested again, and my troubles returned with greater force than ever. I would think, “Now I am away from my folks never to be back to live and die with them.” No one can imagine how lonely and how serious I felt. I would often, on retiring at night, feel that I was forsaken by God and would not live to see another day, and wished that I had never been born or had died when not accountable unto God. I would often awake, frightened, and thinking the end of time was at hand and I not prepared to go, and would almost cry out aloud, “Lord have mercy on me a poor sinner!” The very depths of my heart could make this expression. My daily cry was, “Lord have mercy on me a poor sinner,” and feeling surely I was the most wretched person on earth. There was but little sleep for me. I feared to go to sleep, fearing I might be snatched away in my sins and be forever lost.
I would often get up softly, so as not to awake my hus-band, and go to the door or window to see if I could see any sign of the end of time or the dissolution of all things, and enquiring, what will become of poor me, my husband and two little children? And feeling like something strange was going to happen, and probably some of us would be instantly snatched away instantly by death.
Ever day there was such a dreadful burden on my mind that there was no pleasure for me. I often strove to wear it off by saying, “This is all imaginary and of myself, and is only the wicked one trying to cheat me out of a few days of pleasure.” But my efforts failed and I was brought to mourning again. I desired to be one of God’s dear children, but felt too small and unworthy to receive God’s blessings.
I would go to my father-in-law’s, or to Pa’s, to see if my troubles would not wear off, and strove to keep my troub-les entirely concealed. As soon as I would leave, my heart seemed to be more heavy than ever. I would say, within my heart, “What an awful sinner am I!” and, “Lord have mercy!”
I often thought I would talk to ma about seeing so much trouble, but my heart would fail. I was taken sick and thought I would die. This one thought entered my mind, I love every body, and with the very same love I was ask-ing the Lord to forgive me and to prepare me for death. So time passed on until ma joined the chnrch and was baptized. That event was a great stroke to me. I thought, if I only was worthy to go with her how happy I would be. On going to Bell Spur and seeing the church seated, I looked upon them as being the most beautiful and pleasant looking people I ever saw. O, how I desired to be one a-mong them! Often on leaving them, I never expected to see them any more, and felt that it was a final separation.
One night I dreamed of seeing a dark streak ocross the firmament from East to West. In this streak were little spots of fire. I was greatly distressed thinking it was the end of time.
I again dreamed of seeing the stars falling, and that it was the darkest time I ever saw. Not one thing except the little bright lights could be seen, which I thought was a true token that I surely was forover lost. This added much to my distress. I again dreamed that I was at my father-in-law’s, Mr. David Harrell’s. I was sitting near the window in the room with the family, and looked out and it was raining fire. I thought the end of time, which I had so often looked for, was at hand, and I was bound to die right then – no chance for my escape. Something almost like thunder, seemed to come against me and crushed me down. I cried aloud for mercy. I looked around and saw that I was the only one suffering from this calamity and the wrath of God. I awoke and looked around in the room. I felt glad the Lord had not let me die.
These dreams were constantly in my mind, and I felt to be a poor lost and ruined sinner, and felt sure the door of mercy had been shut against me forever. This distress continued ’til Nov., 1896. While alone at home with my two little children, feeling awfully distressed, my troubles all gave way and love sprang up in my soul to such an extent I never witnessed before. I felt in my heart that Christ had pardoned my sins and my distress and troubles were all gone, which was so recently crushing me down.
I desired the opportunity of talking with some member of the church; but soon decided I would never tell any one. A short while afterward I went with grandpa Webb over to pa’s, feeling that he would ask me about my hope, and I did not know what to do. It was not long ’till he said to me, “Laura, haven’t you got a hope?”
Hesitating a moment, I burst into tears and ventured to tell him what had taken place with me, and of the great relief I had felt. He remarked, “You will never be satisfied ’till you tell it to the church.” I felt entirely too small to go before all the church with what little I had to tell. But, as time passed on, I felt more constrained to tell it to the church and be baptized, and to proclaim abroad what I hoped the Lord in his tender mercies had done for me. So, at the August meeting, 1897, I ventured to go to the church. I can never express the joy I felt. The brethren and sisters seemed to join in with me in praising the Lord for his tender mercies. I was baptized the next October meeting by Eld. Eligah M. Barnard. No one, only those who have met with similar joy, can know what a blessing this was to me. I felt calm and serene, and willing to trust God for all future blessings. Though, after all this, I have many doubts, and am dependent on the Lord for grace.
Yours in hope,
LAURA D. HARRELL.
MABERRY, VA., FEB. 10, 1898.
In the future, I hope to reproduce more of this booklet and provide theological, historical, and genealogical commentary.