Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gladstones and Biggars Clash with the Bovina A.P. Church

On July 10, 1834, Thomas Gladstone, the son of Robert Gladstone and Ann Ray was married to Margaret Biggar, daughter of Robert Biggar and Margaret Kyle. Part of the wedding celebration included dancing at the home of the groom's father, Robert Gladstone. The people involved with this celebration, including both fathers of the couple, found themselves in hot water with the elders of the Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church Session. This clash led to people choosing dancing over membership in the church.

The Associate Presbyterian Church had held that dancing was "contrary to the principles of our Church and the solemn obligation Christians come under both at Baptism and at the Lord’s Table." It was considered to be a violation of the seventh commandment concerning adultery and was seen as corrupting the morals of youth and exposing them to temptation. In April 1834, it was noted by the Bovina session that several families belonging to the Congregation held dances the previous winter and "enticed young people to join with them in their folly." The Elders made it very clear that anyone found encouraging dancing would be dealt with according to the rules of the church.

So when word reached elders within days of the Gladstone/Biggar wedding that there had been dancing, two elders were appointed to converse with Robert Gladstone about this. Gladstone dutifully came to the September 11 session meeting but instead of professing sin and requesting forgiveness, as was usual in most cases, he clashed with the moderator, Reverend John Graham. He "spoke in a very unbecoming and insulting manner" to the reverend. Graham tried to explain to Gladstone why allowing dancing at his son's wedding was sinful and to show him passages of scripture and the statement in the church's book of discipline concerning dancing. Gladstone became angry and, exclaiming "superstition, superstition,' stormed out of the meeting. The elders decided they better talk to everyone involved with the dancing at the wedding.

Twelve people were summoned to the October 25 session meeting to answer to the charge of dancing. Several members of the Gladstone family came, including Robert and his wife Ann, their son Thomas, and their new daughter-in-law, Margaret. Several of the guests came, including Archibald Elliott and his wife, Walter Oliver, Thomas Scott and Betsy Turnbull. Also attending was the bride's father, Robert Biggar. When each person was asked whether he or she "preferred church privileges to dancing," all answered that they would not give up dancing. Biggar handed in a paper entitled "A Scriptural Warrant for Dancing." The session read it and considered that it contained "perversions of scripture." The elders agreed that these persons and others who felt the same about dancing would be kept back from communion in the church.

Dancing at the Gladstone wedding was again discussed at the session's next meeting on December 2, 1834. The elders interviewed the fathers of the couple, as well as the groom's brother Walter (who had married Isabella Biggar, another of Robert's daughters). Robert Biggar again tried to prove from scripture that "dancing was a duty and promise unto the church." Since the church made avoidance of dancing a term of communion, Biggar and Walter Gladstone, along with John Murray, asked to have their names taken off the church rolls and to have their church certificates returned to them. The request was denied. Without these certificates, the people making the request could not join another church.

Biggar continued to battle the Bovina A.P. Church. He wrote a letter critical of Reverend Graham and the elders, claiming that he was unjustly denied church privileges. He wanted to take communion but would not agree that dancing was wrong. The session said that neither he nor any of the other members under censure for dancing could be admitted to communion.

It is unfortunate at this point that there is over a year long gap in the session minutes - the elders either did not meet or did not keep minutes for any meetings that were held. Future minutes make no further reference to this specific case, though the Bovina AP Church and its successor, the Bovina United Presbyterian Church, continued to rail against 'promiscuous dancing' for pretty much the rest of the 19th century.

It appears that most of the people involved with this wedding who lost their membership in the Bovina Associate Presbyterian Church did not get it back, though whether that was by their choice is not clear. Reverend Graham, in his autobiography, noted that "some ten heads of families along with their children left us, and united with another denomination" over the issue of dancing. He likely was recalling this specific instance, among others.

In an 1866 list of present and past members, Robert Gladstone is listed as a past member, along with his year of death (he died in 1858, age 80). His two sons (Thomas and Walter) and their wives are listed as removed, as is the father of brides, Robert Biggar. Biggar died in 1867, age 84. Walter Gladstone died in Andes when he was only 51 in 1861. His wife was 55 when she died eight years later. The couple whose wedding started all the controversy were married for almost 52 years. Thomas Gladstone was 77 when he died in Andes in 1886. His wife Margaret survived him by 6 years, dying in 1892.

PS - A little side note: Robert Biggar's great granddaughter Jennie lived in my house in the 1930s for a brief spell as a lodger when she lost her own home in a sheriff's sale. She died in the house in my back bedroom in 1938.

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