Digging For The Roots Beneath An Heirloom Cabinet Card

Charles W. Tilton, minister, Goshen Baptist Church, 1864-1882, Greene County, Pennsylvania

Mary Jane Minor left no diary, no ledger, no written clues about her daily life, but she did include a photograph of her preacher, Charles W. Tilton, in the Minor Family Album.  If this cabinet card, this tangible thing, is an entry point into my great-great-grandmother’s life, where can I go?  What intersections existed between the lives of a Baptist minister and a mother of four?  What values shaped their lives and structured their days? I wonder…

“Mama, Pastor Tilton is calling us in!”

A table top–thirty feet long–was  covered entirely with cakes, flower bouquets, and fall fruits. Twelve year old Sarah jiggled Bobby on her left hip as she snuck a grape from this Sabbath School Festival picnic. Mary Jane tucked one more stem of goldenrod between fern fronds before reaching out to her baby’s pudgy embrace. A final glance at her arrangement left the mother satisfied, and the slim figure joined the lines of children, teens, parents, and elders now flowing into the red brick sanctuary of Goshen Baptist Church.

Reverend Charles Tilton began, “From the book of Proverbs, chapter one.”

“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity…A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels…”

Wiggling free of his mother’s arms, the one year old slid to the floor where he sat and wailed, strands of hair stuck to his red face. With a sigh the forty year old scooped baby Robert up and quietly snuck out to a quiet spot within earshot of the preacher’s voice.  

“…Know the value of this Sabbath School, assembled here today, which inculcates in our young people morality and uprightness…”

At the sermon’s close, the Baptist minister invited each child to come forward to receive their prize for completed work. Murmurs of approval followed the footsteps to the pulpit.  At last Pastor Tilton recognized the student who had memorized the most Bible verses.  Mary Jane allowed a small smile of pride at her Sarah’s name. A pocket-sized Bible would be a treasured addition to the girl’s night table. 

Gradually Bobby’s nursing slowed, and his arms splayed softly open to embrace his dreams.  Mary Jane rocked back and forth, a metronome to the hymn now drifting out the open windows.  

“Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky, sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly. Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee. Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”

Goshen Baptist Church

Goshen Baptist Church, Greene County, Pennsylvania, now known as John Corbley Baptist Church

William Hanna, The History of Greene County, Pennsylvania: Containing an Outline of the State from 1682 until the Formation of Washington County in 1781 (1882; image reprint, Internet Archives: https://archive.org/details/historyofgreenec00hann), 213.

Samuel Bates, The History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1888; image reprint, Internet Archives: https://archive.org/details/historyofgreenec00bate), 95, 749.

“Religious Revivals,” The Washington (Pennsylvania) Review and Examiner, 2 February 1866, p.3; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 29 July 2014), Newspaper Archives.

“Sabbath School Festival,” The Washington (Pennsylvania) Reporter, 13 October 1869, p.1; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 29 July 2014), Newspaper Archives.

“Tenmile, (Pa.,) Baptist Association,” The Wheeling (West Virginia) Daily Intelligencer, 26 September 1873, p.3, col. 1; digital images, ChoniclingAmerica.loc.gov (http://www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov: accessed 6 August 2014), Historic American Newspapers.

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