Wednesday, February 8, 2012

W. W. Otey and the Showalter Family

            William Wesley Otey’s mother was a first cousin of Josiah Thomas Showalter. Her name was Sarah Ann Showalter (1832-1929). She was the daughter of Isaac Daniel Showalter (28 July 1806-7 January 1837). He was apparently known as Daniel, and probably because of his brief life, he is sometimes omitted from Showalter family trees. He was, however, one of the more than ten children of Henry Garver Showalter (1766-1841) and Magdalena Halderman (c. 1765-c. 1818). Henry Garver Showalter was born in Pennyslvania and moved to southwestern Virginia, settling for a time in the Roanoke Valley before moving a bit farther west. Another of his children was David Halderman Showalter (31 December 1801-12 April 1877), father of Josiah Thomas Showalter.
            Daniel Showalter married in 1826 Sarah Ann Griffith (1810-c. 1866). In the eleven years before his death, they produced five daughters and one son. One of the daughters was Sarah Ann; the only son was Henry B. Showalter, born in 1831, who also plays a significant part in this story. On 7 December 1853 Sarah Ann Showalter married Joshua Otey (1829-1918), who was born close to Snowville, Virginia. Joshua found it difficult to earn a living; he worked for a time as a painter, tried carpentry, ran a sawmill and a grist mill, and fell back on farming, all without much success. He inherited a small parcel of land from his father, but sold it in 1858 and never again owned any land. His son, W. W. Otey, said that he was “the most optimistic, hardest working, poorest manager that I have ever seen” (pp. 18-19).

Henry B. and Elizabeth (Turpin) Showalter

            Sarah Ann’s brother, Henry B. Showalter, came to Joshua Otey’s rescue. In 1884, he arranged for the struggling Otey family to move onto his prosperous farm in Floyd County, Virginia. He needed  some extra hands, and Otey had seven sons, including William Wesley (born 14 March 1867). Soon after his arrival at his new home, on 29 December 1884, W. W. Otey met his cousin Amanda Elizabeth “Minnie” Showalter and it was love at first sight. They were married on Christmas Eve 1885, and made a home for themselves on a tract of uncleared land her father gave them. The following year, Otey declared his wish to be baptized in the Church of Christ, and Henry sent for his cousin, Josiah Thomas Showalter, at that time the best known of the active preachers in the area. Josiah not only baptized Otey, but also instructed him in leading worship and preaching. Soon Otey had revived the congregation of the disused church in the community of Showalter, Virginia, and begun his life’s work.

Josiah Thomas Showalter, c. 1906

            Josiah Thomas Showalter and his cousin Henry had been in close contact long before Otey’s baptism. Josiah, his brother William, and their cousin Henry all enlisted together in the Confederate army. They joined the Floyd County Company, which became Company A of the 54th Virginia Infantry. Their company was in fierce battles at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in September and November 1863; at numerous battles in Georgia trying vainly to stop Sherman’s advance, including at Atlanta in July 1864; and the company remained in service until April 1865, surrendering in North Carolina at the war’s end. Henry and William were front line soldiers; Josiah’s job was to carry ammunition to the front lines. Henry reported that the fighting never became too rough for Josiah to supply adequate ammunition. He also wrote to his wife, on 12 November 1863, between the battles of Chicamauga and Chattanooga:
Josiah Showalter has been here to see me today... He is very religious. He has prayer meetings at his quarters frequently. He told me today he thought he ought to preach and wanted to know what I thought of it. I told him if that was his feelings that I could not see anything against it and that I thought it might do a great deal of good. He appears to be perfectly resigned to his fate. Let him be where he may be, as much so as any man I ever saw reads his Bible and studies it whenever he has a chance. He has written to [Chester] Bullard to see the church asking if they think he ought to preach or not but has received no answer yet. He is the most changed man you almost ever saw for five or six months past and I hope he will hold on to the good way in which he has started. (p.8.)
By 1870, Josiah was an elder of the Cypress Grove Church of Christ, in Snowville, and strongly advocated a pacifist resolution, which the elders passed in 1871, recommending to members of their church “that they declare their determination, that under no circumstance will they bear arms, or engage in these wars” (p. 70).
            As I have said in previous posts, Josiah took a very conservative stand on all the issues facing the church, and W. W. Otey seemed to be in complete accord with him. Both fulminated against the introduction of organs into the churches, and both opposed the creation of missionary societies to do the work of the church. Josiah wrote regular articles under the heading “Jottings from Virginia” for a periodical called American Christian Review (which later merged with the rival Octographic Review and took its name), the leading organ of the “anti” wing of the church. In 1889, Otey also began to write for it, and formed close ties with its editor, Daniel Sommer. Josiah, meanwhile, was campaigning against Bible colleges and the use of the name “Christian Church”.
            When a person is convinced that he is speaking God’s truth, it is probably inevitable that conflicts will arise with others who hold the same conviction. It was not long before Josiah and W. W. Otey clashed. In 1894, Josiah wrote in the Octographic Review that “Prof. C. D. M. Showalter had purchased an interest in Milligan College,” and he urged readers “to send their children there for a classical education, suggesting also that there their morals would be ‘looked after’.” (p. 121.) Otey wrote a scathing reply: “That colleges have been a source from which evil has sprung among the disciples is a statement that cannot be successfully denied. ... I believe Milligan College in Tennessee to be in all probability the most dangerous among the disciples.” (p. 121.) Showalter responded in kind. Cecil Willis, the author of Otey, is naturally partial to his subject, whom he knew as a friend in his old age and who probably related this incident to him from his own perspective. Willis does not quote enough of the debate to enable one to judge it impartially. Apparently Otey disapproved of Milligan’s president, Josephus Hopwood, because he supported the missionary societies. And the polemicist betrayed something Josiah Showalter had told him in confidence, namely, that Hopwood had called Josiah Showalter “an extremist”.

C. D. M. Showalter holding the blogger, 1936

            Willis was misinformed about some of the facts, however. He begins the story saying that “it was incorrectly reported to Josiah that his son had purchased a part of Milligan College” (p. 120). As I have documented in earlier posts, C. D. M. Showalter had in fact bought the college, and was co-owner with his father-in-law, James Lewis English. The purchase was, however, intended to help the college through a financial crisis; President Hopwood retained control of the academic operation of the school, and the deed provided that the trustees could repurchase the college, and they did so a year later. Willis reiterates his error: “Otey’s criticism must have been especially stinging, since Showalter believed his son now owned part of the school. Actually J. T. Showalter had been misinformed. His son did not own part of Milligan College.” (p. 121.) If Josiah was stung, it may have been because he had several children, plus a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law, who were enrolled in, or graduates of, or teaching at, Milligan; but it was more probably because a kinsman he regarded as a friend and disciple had attacked him publicly and revealed a secret in doing so.
            Otey and Josiah Showalter continued to be friends after this quarrel, but the tension continued to simmer. In 1910, a new squabble erupted when G. H. P. Showalter (another of Josiah’s sons and another Milligan graduate) published a defense of schools. Otey responded, and Josiah chimed in with the argument that Otey was inconsistent, because he had sent two of his own daughters to Lynchburg College, where Josephus Hopwood had gone after leaving Milligan. Willis interjects the misleading note that “Showalter’s son, C. D. M., had married the daughter of the owner of Milligan College, James L. English” (p. 220), to explain why Josiah was still bothered by the conflict. He concedes that both Otey and the Showalters (Josiah and G. H. P.) were finding “petty faults” with each other, and acknowledges that Josiah continued to praise and admire Otey. As in the earlier incident, not enough of the evidence is cited to permit a fair evaluation; was it inaccurate to assume that Otey’s epithet “most dangerous” applied to Hopwood as well as to the college? I can’t say, but the debate sounds to me more like political candidates than a trio of churchmen.

From G. H. P. Showalter, Travel Talks (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation, 1938), p. 18

            There is no doubt that Josiah Showalter was a cantankerous man. He was dropped from the contributorial staff of the Octographic Review in 1901, apparently because he disagreed with the editor, Daniel Sommer, over pacifism. Afterwards, Josiah published mainly in the Firm Foundation, a periodical based in Austin, Texas, which his son G. H. P. Showalter bought around 1907 and ran for 47 years. Josiah was an old man by this time, however; he died in 1915. Most of his work and most of his battles were behind him. Two of his sons became preachers, however, and one worked closely with W. W. Otey, as I will explain in the next post.

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