NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
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"We Are Becoming Quite A Moral, Respectable Community"
Pages - 74-79
The conditions that existed in "the diggings" at about the time that the first school came into existence are described by the man who was responsible for the construction of the village's first Protestant church. The Reverend John Lewis arrived in New Diggings in 1843, just as the big boom was getting underway. In January 1844, he reported to his superiors in the East that he was preaching "at Fairplay and New Diggings each alternate Sabbath during the day, and every Sabbath evening at Hard Scrabble". 1 He remarked that New Diggings was "7 miles from Hardscrabble, 14 from Fairplay", and that " all these places were within five miles of the boundary line of the Territory". He then proceeded to describe New Diggings.
This is without exception the worst place I have seen or heard of in the mines at present," he wrote. "The stores and groceries are all open on the Sabbath. A nominal Christian gives as a reason for keeping open his store that all the business was done on the Sabbath and he must open or give up. It is now one of the headquarters of gambling, etc." 2
Lewis added that a Mr. Dixon had preceded him in forming a church in the diggings "after his fashion". the church, he said, "consisted of some 8 or 10 members" but there was no record of "how, when, why or by whom or when any business was done, or who did it. " On April 9, 1844, Mr. Lewis wrote:
"At times the prospect has been very dark, but for a time past and in this place especially things have been more encouraging. We have been holding meetings for some days past in the Bowling Alley, and at this moment there is more interest than at any former time. Some are indulging hope and many are under deep conviction. So strong is the current against vital piety that it requires a mighty struggle to come out and take a decided stand on the Lord's side....We have a meeting on Thursday to organize or re-organize a church....
"I am quite unsettled as yet. I am moving around from
place to place among my people. My goods are at Mr. Stillman's near Galena. It is impossible to obtain a house here at present, and could one be had, it must be at a rent equal to one half of its cost. I know of no way to get a home except to build. In this I could be assisted some by the people here, but how much I know not... They are now making a desperate effort to build a church here, and intend to do something for me, but it is quite uncertain what will be done. My postoffice address is New Diggings, Iowa County, Wis.T. I hope you will use all your influence to induce Brother Paul H. Hale and a few others to come immediately into this region. There is not one minister fixed permanently in this mining district of the Territory except myself." 3
As the year 1845 - that peak year of general prosperity and promise - was ushered into the mines, Mr. Lewis took stock of what had been accomplished during his residence in the diggings. He felt that his influence had spread and his labors increased until he "and other ministers in this region" believed his field of labor should be divided into two parts, "Fairplay and Hazel Green (late Hardscrabble) to be one field and New Diggings the other," he wrote. He continued:
"The people of New Diggings have raised a subscription of $200 on condition that I preach here every Sabbath. Of this, Mr. Potwin gives $100 and will insure the remainder. We wish an appropriation of $200 to complete my salary, with the expectation that I will supply this pulpit every sabbath and preach as occasion may offer at White Oak Springs, 3 miles east, and Benton, (late Swindler's Ridge) 3 or 4 miles west. My present arrangement is to preach here Sabbath morning and evening, and at the other places each alternate Sabbath in the afternoon...
"It is now a little more than a year since I came into the "Mining Region". and about ten months since I took up my abode in this place. I commenced preaching at Fairplay, Hazel Green and New Diggings....Early in the spring we removed from our inconvenient log cabin to an unfinished frame house in "the Diggings" and there commenced a protracted meeting. Soon the room was too small for us, and we removed to the "Bowling Alley", which was fitted up for the occasion with rough boards for seats. Here, standing on the spot devoted to the "nine pins" and with a gaming table for a pulpit, we preached the Gospel for
several evenings in succession. The Holy Spirit was evidently present, and good was accomplished. In this same Bowling Alley our church was formed, containing 14 members. Since then 4 more have been united, making in all 18, our present number. A church edifice 26 x 36 has been erected, which is now completed, though not quite paid for. The moral aspect of the community has so much changed as to be a frequent subject of remark among impenitent men. The Sabbath is much more regarded. The stores are nominally closed, though we fear some back doors are still kept open. A temperance society has been organized, which now contains more than one hundred members. This indeed is only a small portion of our population, but it is a good beginning, and the reform is going forward. Fighting is much more rare. A physician told me a few days since taht it was now a rare thing for him to be called to bind up a broken head. In short, we are becoming quite a moral respectable community, and wiping off the stain which has long attached itself to our town....
New Diggings, where I am now preaching, is a new field. When I came here, there was no regular preaching of any denomination in the place. I found a few scattered Presbyterians and Congregationalist, and commenced preaching to about a dozen people, in a small dilapidated log cabin, about half a mile from the village. It was the best, and indeed the only place which could be obtained. The Sabbath was awfully desecrated, hardly being recognized except as the chief day in the week for business and dissipation. The stores, groceries(that is, grog shops) and gambling rooms were all open, and crowded above most days of the week. Intemperance was very general, and gambling almost universal. as a consequence of this state of society, fighting, often very severe, was common. three combats for Sunday and one for the other days of the week would be a small estimate. Licentiousness, unashamed, walked abroad in open day.
But while truth compels me thus to speak of the state of morals among the miners in this region, it allows me to say, at the same time, that they have many redeeming traits. Amore open-hearted, shrewd, intelligent class of men can hardly be found in our land...Here are men of highly cultivated minds, physicians, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, merchants, all delving into the bowels of the earth, with the fond hope of "striking a lead" and making
themselves independent. Some of them are children of pious parents, deacons, elders, ministers of the gospel, who are ignorant of their fate, and not infrequently remain in ignorance until they are successful in mining or die in the fruitless search. I preached during the year a funeral sermon for such a son of an elder in one of our Eastern churches. For this class of men, my own feelings have become most deeply interested." 4
The church Lewis described, situated on the "little Mound," contained 30 "slips" or pews, according to a church history. Here William R. Smith officiated and delivered the address at the consecration and installation services of Olive Branch Lodge No. 6, F. & A. M., in 1845. The Reverend Lewis's ministry continued until September, 1847, when he was trasnferred to Platteville. Rev. S. D. Pitkin replaced Lewis for a few months during that year. He was succeeded by Rev. H. Freeman, who remained until 1849.
But the Irish and English who came into the mines during these years soon far outnumbered the New Englanders and a few Soctch Irish who made up the Presbyterian congregation. While Lewis was holding his meetings in the bowling alley, Father Mazzuchelli was in Italy, where he left for publication his "Memoirs Historical and Edifying of a Missionary Apostolic". 5 before he returned to the mines at the end of the summer. Before his departure he had supervised the building of a church in the village of Shullsburg; upon his return he immediately set out to construct one in New Diggings. As the Presbyterian Church made its appearance on the "Little Mount", St. Augustines' came into existence on the hillside above, at the point where it still stands
In the early 1850's, Mazzuchelli moved from his headquarters at Sinsinawa Mound to Benton where he constructed St. Patrick's, a small frame church located at the site of the present building of the same name. A short time later he had purchased the land across the road on which he established a convent for the Order of The Most Holy Rosary. Here too he built St. Clara's Academy, then known as Benton Female Academy, where the Sisters who had taught in his various missions then congregated. 6
Meanwhile, as St. Augustine's and the Presbyterian Church flourished in 'the diggings", another religious denomination, the Primitive Methodist, arrived from England in sufficient numbers to warrant the building of another church. Their building was of native stone, quarried from a neighboring hillside. This
church was dedicated on August 16, 1846, one of the dedicatory sermons being preached by the Reverend Lewis of the Presbyterian congregation. James Leekley and James Wallis were the local leaders of the congregation of Primitives.
Soon another Methodist Church appeared, when the Jacksons, Metcalfs and Calverts, among others, installed James Jackson as lay preacher in a building on Main Street. Some years later this congregation was dissolved, the building then going to a group of Free Methodists, who occupied it until sometime near the end of the century. During the 1890's, a lawsuit and trial growing out of an incident at a camp meeting in a grove near the Luckey Twelve mine led to the disintegration and dissolution of this denomination in the area.
Although we do not have complete records of membership in the various churches, it is interesting to note that the New Englanders, - the Champions, Derings, Potwins, Dodges - were instrumental in establishing the first church in the village; that the Irish, - as would be expected, - the Comisky, Duffs, Hurleys, Bradys, Corrs, Fitzpatricks, Sullivans, Meloys, O'Connors, O'Neills, Gormans - rallied under the leadership of "Father Matthew Kelly" to build St. Augustine's; the Leekleys, Thompsons, Hodgsons, Craigs, Dobson, Raines, Viponds, Bainbridges, Peacocks, Fowlers, Teasdales, Rawes, Sedgwicks, Aldersons, Allinsons, Fawcells, Turnbulls, Vickers, and Longhorns made up the Primitive congregation of those early days, while the Jacksons, Calverts, Harkers and Metcalfs, among others, were influential in creating and maintaining the Second Methodist Church. This leads us to conclude that the southwesterners, altho the earliest to arrive in the mines, were not instrumental in the religious growth of the community, although we are told that ehey were generous in their contributions to religious causes.
Also of interest is the fact that only the Primitive Methodist congregation has survived. although St. Augustines Church remains, the families of the former congregation are members of St. Matthew's Church in Benton.
By leafing through the pages of an old diary kept by a Shullsburg resident during the years from 1846 to 1853, we are able to glean a few facts concerning another organization that flourished for a time in New Diggings beginning in 1848.
On January 28, 1848, John H. Williams wrote:
"Went to New Diggings to assist in the Institution of a new Lodge to be called 'Gem of the Mines, No. 21,IOOF'.
About a doxen visiting Brothers met at the Hotel and After Supper proceeded to the work. got through about 1/2 past eleven. Took supper at 12 again and then came home at three."
For March 30, 1848, we find the following entry:
"Charles Dodge of New Diggings died. I was one of the committee to procure Regalia for the funeral."
On Sunday, April 1:
"I went with my Brother Oddfellows to New Diggings to attend the funeral of our Dec'd Brother, charles Dodge. We had a pleasant ride. The funeral was well attended and everything passed off smoothly. Our ceremonies had a fine effect in dispelling prejudice against our beloved order. From 500 to 1000 persons were present. After getting tea at the Hotel, we retired to Shullsburg, favorably impressed with the solemnities of the day."
On July 2, 1849, the writer recorded a visit to New Diggings where he "installed the officers of Gem of the Mines Lodge No. 21 and returned home about 12."
On December 8, 1850, Williams recorded in his diary:
"Charles Gear died this morning. Funeral December 9."
Gear had been a moving figure in the organization of Olive Branch Lodge No. 6, F.& A.M. He had arrived in Galena with his sister and brothers when the settlement at "the Point" was still very young. His sister married Amos Farrar, a trader who was established there when the first settlers arrrived. His brother, H.H. Gear, struck a rich lead and soon became one of Galena's leading citizens. Charles moved up the Fever to build one of the first smelters in the new diggings, near the "Buncombe" site. The Gears immediately exerted their efforts to establish the Masonic Order in the territory, assisting not only in organizing locally but throughout the mining country. Gear's death, as well as the exodus to California, brought about the end of Olive branch Lodge No. 6. Soon the Gem of the Mines Lodge disappeared from the New Diggings area, also. Members of both organizations transferred their memberships to Benton and Shullsburg. "Gem of the Mines" retained its name, the brotherhood meeting for a time at Leadmine in North New Diggings and later in Benton , where the lodge continued to exist until after the turn of the century.
"...Order Out of Chaos" - Sale of Reserved Lands Pages 80- 84
"New Diggings on the Fever 1824 - 1864" Lafayette County Homepage
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