Friday, November 6, 2015

"This town is my birthplace, and in a poetic sense is the dearest spot to me on earth."

Rev. John Loughran Scott was born in Bovina on December 21, 1846, the son of Robert Scott and Martha Loughran. He married Elizabeth Laurens in Fishkill in 1882 and had two sons, both named Lauren. The first son died after only about a year. The second son, born in 1887 in Connecticut, survived to adulthood, dying in Philadelphia in 1911 (this second Lauren ended his life in some kind of asylum, being mentally incapacitated). 

In November 1882, Rev. Scott wrote a letter to the Delaware Republican, published in their January 13, 1883 issue, concerning his recollections of his boyhood home.

A Letter From Rev. J.L. Scott

  A great poet once said: “There is not a spot on this wide peopled earth, so dear to our heart as the land of our birth;” but poets have a license to say most anything, without regard to truth. The whole matter depends upon where you were born, and somewhat upon where we have been since. This town is my birthplace, and in a poetic sense is the dearest spot to me on earth; I am always glad to come and equally so to leave, which affords a double pleasure and confirms the poet’s assertion. This little town boasts the pastoral name of Bovina. General Root, a man of great note in his day, suggested it from the natural adaptation to grazing. It is the smallest of all Delaware’s nineteen towns, and has a few characteristics peculiar to itself. The question of temperance found a solution here long, long ago; there has been no license for many years; no place nearer than twelve miles where a free citizens of America can exercise his constitutional right of getting drunk; but there seem to be more devils than one, and cider, that harmless beverage of twenty years ago, has become an evil of no small magnitude; still this is the most temperate, the most churchly town in the county. It has but one inmate in the alms house, and for a long time none whatever – the people here live on their own farms and within a circle of mountains that surrounds them on every side. It is almost impossible to find a voter who would not be responsible for what he contracts; the rich men are worth $20,000, and the poor from $500 to $1000.

Here is a little village of one hundred inhabitants, with its three stores and three churches. If you will pardon me, I will write of the latter; perhaps this is a subject of which I may claim some knowledge. The smallest is the Methodists, a plant which nourishes fairly in this uncongenial Grampian soil. Then follows the United Presbyterian, a vigorous member of the great Presbyterian family, which boasts 80,000 strong in the whole country. They are by far the largest and the oldest; but its religionist has changed from what he was in my boyhood. Then he sang nothing but an old version of the Psalms, composed by one Rouse some two hundred years ago. He was a close communist. Each member received a “token,” a sort of ticket which entitled him to a seat at the Lord’s table. No organs were allowed in the service, nor even a choir. A precentor stood before the pulpit and led a medley which was called singing. I remember the strange way by which they run out the lines ending in “tion” – salvation, for instance, got terribly bent in the process. Then again no secret society members were allowed any fellowship, but this law was useless, as I do not believe a single Mason at that time lived within many miles of the church; aside from all this they accepted the Westminster standards as a whole. The preaching was forever, and twice a day at that. There was an interval of ten minutes, which formed “a narrow neck of land between two boundless seas.” I shall not recall it, my bones ache at the thought. The boys and girls went to church then, and sat crowded in straight back seats, listening to an hour’s discourse on the Mosaic law and its symbolic meanings. I once saw a poor woman stand alone in the congregation and receive a “rebuke.” She had sinned and returned to the church, asking restoration, but first she must arise and endure the darts of five hundred eyes shot deep within her heart, while the silence of death reigned everywhere; then the preacher, in serious tones, reviewed the wrong and hoped for her redemption. It was a custom transported from beyond the water, and should have been cast upon the angriest storm and left to the howlings of the sea. This was done in the name of Him who said, “I do not condemn thee; go and sin no more;” but the United Presbyterian Church has awoke to the fact that King James is dead and the war for the covenant is over. They have choirs, a new version of the Psalms, the old tokens are forgotten, and last of all, organs are now permitted – this is the triumph of the present year. There are congregations and individual members who cling to the shrouds of dead bigotry, but the world keeps turning and our father’s church is following on. I cast no reflections upon the past; but when any people transfer forms that were born out of war and in a country of persecutions, to this nation of religious liberty and universal peace, they mistake death for life.

The third and last denomination is the Reformed Presbyterian, a church which numbers 8,000 perhaps in all America. They are the organic descendants of the Covenanters or Cameronians of Scotland. They sing the old Psalms, have no instruments, are close communion, admit no members of secret societies, do not vote, and therefore not a very popular sect among the politicians. They are the element behind the National Reform Association, that is trying to incorporate the Trinity and the Bible in the constitution of the country; until this is done they will exercise no franchise right as Americans. It is strange how people combine contradictions; the Covenanters were loyal during the war, some fought for a constitution which they would not swear to support. They are good citizens and only talk against the government. It will be a long time before the Covenanters are where the United Presbyterians are now, but the latter are following fast after the great Presbyterian Church. The younger elements are more liberal, more broad in their faith.

There was a political exclusiveness in this town which fortunately is also doomed to die. The entire vote would not exceed 300, out of which 80 perhaps were Democratic. The years made no change; it was the same monotonous majority for every candidate. A Democrat was a sort of Samaritan, a hopeless fellow with distant affiliations. Horace Greeley was the patron Saint of the Bovina farmer; he told him how to make butter and when to sell it. The oracle himself came to Delaware during the Lincoln campaign, and was the first great man I ever saw. A delegation met him at the depot, fifty miles away. The people came in multitudes, arches spanned the streets, and bands played many a welcome; but the philosopher disappointed his friends; his speech was dull, the outburst of oratory of which we had heard much were not there. Still he remained the St. Peter among all the Saints, and when nominated for the Presidency, had a following of honest friends. Since then, election returns are more uncertain, but this fall many broke away entirely, and for the first time voted the Democratic ticket. The law of variation is at work even in conservative Bovina.

We are now on the borders of winter. Last week snow fell some two inches and seems included to remain. Water is very low, and the farmers apprehend much trouble during the season. J.L.S.

Bovina, N.Y., November 22, 1882.

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