Thursday, January 6, 2011

Josiah Thomas Showalter


            Josiah Thomas Showalter, my great-grandfather, was born in Pulaski County, Virginia, on July 24, 1839, as recorded in his family Bible. In 1840, he appeared in the census report for the Newbern district as a checkmark in the column for males under 5 alongside his father’s name, David Showalter. In 1850, he was named, along with five siblings. In 1860, age 20, he had the profession “laborer”.

Transcription of the "Births" page at the right:
J. T. Showalter was born July 24th 1839
S. C. Vaden was born Sept. 23rd 1842
Sarah C. Showalter was born Sept. 3rd 1861
Chester D. M. Showalter was born Feb. 17th 1866
Amanda L. Showalter was born Nov. 16, 1867
Josiah W. Showalter was born May 7th 1869
George H. P. Showalter was born Oct. 15th, 1870
Edward T. Showalter was born Jan 8th 1872
Julia R. Showalter was born Oct  25th 1873
Benjamin Winthrop Showalter born Jun 10th 1875
Milton Vaden Showalter was born Nov. 6th 1876
Jennie Taylor Showalter was born March 23rd 1878
Alexander Merle Showalter born Dec. 8 1879
Annie Beatrice Showalter was born June 21st 1882

Sarah Catherine Vaden c. 1906

According to a sketch based on notes supplied by his eldest son, my grandfather, Chester David Michael Showalter, and published in Sketches of Our Mountain Pioneers by J. W. West in 1939, Josiah attended a private school for five months but studied mainly at home. He joined the Cypress Grove Church in Snowville, Virginia, at the age of eight, and began preparing for the ministry in the Church of Christ. On August 29, 1860, he married Sarah Catherine Vaden of Chesterfield County, Virginia. Her father, Michael Vaden, was both a Methodist minister and a medical practitioner, and he taught his daughter his healing skills, which she continued to use most of her life. But she was converted to the Church of Christ by the first sermon she heard Josiah preach.

From Sketches of Our Mountain Pioneers by J. W. West
Their first child, Sarah Katherine, was born just over a year later, but their marital life was soon interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War. In my grandfather’s words, “with most people in his section of the state, where no slaves were owned, he was conscientiously opposed to war. However, when it became certain that all in his class would be drafted, he volunteered.” He enlisted as a private in company A of the Virginia 54th Infantry on April 15, 1862. Again according to my grandfather, he seldom spoke about his experiences, although apparently he painted a vivid but somewhat inaccurate picture of the carnage at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863. He spent most of the war as an orderly sergeant, in charge of supplies, and was assigned to Breckinridge’s Division of the Army of Tennessee. He was presumably present at the Confederate victory at Chickamauga earlier in 1863, and remained with the Army of Tennessee as it was reduced to a band of stragglers trying to stop Sherman’s advance on Atlanta, and then his march north through the Carolinas. His commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, surrendered to Sherman at Durham Station, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865, whence Josiah returned home. My grandfather was born less than a year later, and ten more children were born in the next sixteen years, the last being Annie Beatrice in 1882.
Josiah Thomas Showalter with his wife and twelve children, circa 1890
Key to the photo: Front Row: Annie Beatrice, Alexander Merle. 2nd row: Jennie Taylor, Chester David Michael, Josiah Thomas (father), Sarah Catherine (mother), Amanda Louise (Minnie). 3rd row: Benjamin Winthrop, Julia Rowlette, Milton Vaden, Sarah Catherine (Kate), Josiah Wesley, Back row: George Henry Pryor, and Edward Thomas.
 
            During his military service, the horrors of the war strengthened his religious fervor. He was horrified not only by the suffering but also by the corrupting effects of the ordeal on the men around him. He devoted his own spare time to memorizing the Bible, and had completed most of the task by the end of the war; and he was made a chaplain in the final months of his service. At home, he divided his time between farming, with his wife’s important assistance, and preaching. He preached at least once every Sunday for fifty years, primarily in rural churches in the area, although sometimes he held meetings as far away as Ohio. He also became a licensed teacher in the public school system of Virginia, and thus engaged in a third profession, maybe of necessity, because his preaching was mostly unpaid work.
Gravestone of J. T. Showalter
            Josiah Thomas Showalter died at his home in Snowville on September 23, 1915, attended by his youngest son, Dr A. M. Showalter. He was remembered, I think, with more respect than affection. My father, who was not quite eighteen years old when Josiah died, recalled him mainly as a strict disciplinarian. He told the story of having been instructed, as a small boy, to patch the potholes in the dirt road leading up to the homestead in Snowville. Not knowing how to go about it, my father gathered up fallen leaves to fill the holes, and covered the leaves with dirt. When Josiah returned home in his wagon, thinking the road repaired, he proceeded at normal speed, and received a nasty jolt. My father was punished with a whipping he never forgot.

former New Salem Church of Christ, 1981
It was said of Josiah that he knew the Bible better than anyone, and that he often rose from the congregation to challenge other preachers on matters of Scripture. And that he never lost a debate on the subject. If that is true, it cannot have made him popular with his colleagues. He was undeniably passionate in his beliefs, and he believed in a strict adherence to the Gospel. The Church of Christ was split in the late nineteenth century over the question of Sunday schools and organ music. Josiah was adamantly opposed to both, on the grounds that they were not mentioned in the Holy Scripture, and disagreement over the questions led to a break in relations with one of his early religious mentors, Chester Bullard, whose name he had given his first son along with the names of the boy’s two grandfathers: Chester David Michael. In November 1895 Josiah was outraged to discover that the church in Snowville, of which he had been an elder for a quarter century and a worshipper for almost twice as long, had installed an organ without his knowledge. He and his family immediately withdrew and thereafter worshipped only at the New Salem Church of Christ.
The Josiah Thomas Showalter homestead at Snowville, Virginia, 1981
            All twelve of his children lived to adulthood, married, and had children of their own, thereby producing 53 of my father’s first cousins, plus my father and his three siblings. Josiah officiated at eight of his children’s weddings. Three sons became ministers in the Church of Christ; the youngest son became a doctor. The daughters taught school, at least for a time, as did many of the sons. According to my father, all twelve received a college education, including the five girls. For the time, that was a spectacular achievement, deserving of his descendants’ admiration and gratitude.

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