SCENES TO BE REMEMBERED

The following account appeared on page 2 of the News and Courier on September 4, 1886.

Certain scenes that were observed on the streets immediately after the first shock deserved to be related-especially one that indicated the general feeling throughout the city. . . North on King Street there was a tremendous throng of citizens assembled.  Nothing can account for the fact of the great crowd but the supposition that for some reason the people left the side streets and were poured like a stream into the principle thoroughfare. The remarkable instance referred to was the exhibition of joy and the voices of congregations that were heard on every side, and all mingled with words of thanksgiving to the Divine Providence. People clung to each other like brothers and sisters. There were no strangers there.  They all knew each other as part and parcel of a community that had escaped a terrible fate. Some with tears of repentance and joy in their eyes embraced each other. Women fell on each othersí necks and with hearts too full to speak rocked to and fro in the happy embrace, devoutly thanking God in silence for His blessing in the dreadful hour. And the childrení in arms and at their mothers' knees, lisped out they knew not what, but it was plain that they all realized that somebody had been kind and that immediate danger was over.
After the hand of Providence had been apparently removed the black people began to prophesy and to recall all they knew in their descriptions of Bible scenes and Bible history. 
"It's the night of Sodom and Gomorrah," shouted one in a frenzy of apparent delight.
"The city of St. Michael is down to the ground," yelled another.
" I told you so, " cried a third.
"Aha! How about my wife's dream now?" said a fourth.
"Look for the rock of Horeb to split," said another.
"Pray, my white people! Why don't you pray?" said another. In the dismal gloom somebody cried out, "Get to the green! get to the green!" and almost in a twinkling they notably made a rush for that haven of safety. The crowd disappeared rapidly. Some fled in dismay down King Street. Others, with a view of making good time unimpeded, left King Street and flying through the side streets, got into Meeting and thence down to Marion Square. They were not alone.
It seemed as if all Charleston was already there, and people were still arriving. Women hastened along, dragging their little charges by their hands, in all kinds of night apparel. It was only, however, when the older class of blacks arrived that a characteristic scene took place. They ran about in the crowd, with cries of "Down on your face!" 
"Down on your knees, miserable sinners!" 
"Pray to God, my sister, my brother. Pray, pray, pray-I tell you the night is come!" 
Old women began crooning over snatches of Negro religious melodies and frantically seizing each passerby and invoking them to join in the "song of praise to the Redeemer." After an hour or so, prayer meetings were organized and the singing and screaming were kept up until daylight. At that time the watchword was passed around: "The battle is over, but the soldiers mustn't rest." And this order was carried out on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
On Washington Square, on the College campus, on the Battery and on Wentworth Street Square, the blacks understood on Thursday night that the boisterous action of many of their crowd had brought their meetings into disrepute, and their prayers after the noisy fashion of the preceding nights were abandoned.
All during Thursday the work of building additional tents progressed rapidly, and by nightfall the square, with the exception of the parade ground, was literally covered with tents of every conceivable style and shape. Parti-colored materials were used in many instances, and the scene was by far the most picturesque ever witnessed in this city. They were occupied by all sexes, all ages and all classes, and as the people moved to and fro in the narrow space between the tents, the surroundings had the appearance of the encampment of a grand army of refugees.
It was not, however, until after dark that the place took on a characteristic coloring from the black race. While the moon shone all was quiet with the exception of here and there some feeble prayer, uttered in the recesses of a tent. When the light of the moon had disappeared there was a decided popular commotion on the grounds. There was a slight mist rising from the grounds and through which the gas lamps only faintly illuminated the interior of the square.  The poor lamps inside the tents glimmered with a sickly light through the coarse material of which the tents were made and only intensified the strange and weird appearance of the scene.  It was impossible to recognize the faces of those on the ground, and it was only by peering intently through the gloom that the traveller could avoid stumbling over the innumerable prostrate bodies which were to be encountered everywhere.
Preparations were made by the black people about half past eight o'clock to inaugurate a series of meetings on the principle of the camp-meeting devotions. Of these meetings, there were about a dozen organized, and the work of the revival began. The first object, and one that arrested everybody's attention, was an assemblage of black boys, about a half dozen in number, who had fallen to the ground and were singing a hymn in a loud voice: "The angels arappin' at the door," and the refrain, sung rapidly, was "Oh tell ole Noe to bill on de ark, to bill on de ark, to bill on de ark." This song they repeated over and over again, until they were quite tired stopping from utter exhaustion. In a few minutes they were fast asleep.
Near the boys was a large tent which had been gaily decorated as for some festive occasion. In the door stood a very old woman swaying backwards and forwards, her lips only moving but uttering no sound. The crowd in front of her watched her with intense anxiety. Suddenly she burst out with the hymn "Oh Haslin Jacob, let me go," and the crowd joined in the mighty refrain. The women swayed their bodies forward, to the right and to the left alternately, just like a sacred dance, clapping their hands in an ecstacy of emotion. Finally one man dropped to the ground "converted." The lamp was hastily brought from the tent and he was surrounded by a crowd of women who held his hands. He cried aloud for mercy, and eventually swooned away and was almost as rigid as a corpse. The work of conversion then went on, and in less than a half hour about ten men and women succumbed to the emotional sensations of the occasion. Similar scenes were being enacted all over the square.  The people appeared to have selected their hymns with a view of their appropriateness to the occasion. One crowd would sing at the top of their voices such a hymn as this:
"Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down.
No man like Jesus.
Sometimes I'm almost on the ground.
No man like Jesus."
Again such hymns as these were chanted in refrain:
"I once was lost but now Iím found," and "The son of man is bound to die," "I heard the angel moan a little while ago," "I done hear Mary weep," "I want to go down right under the grouní," and "Oh! could we touch the hem of His garment."
The prayers which were offered up were simple in every sense of the word, but they evidently came from the bottom of hearts that were related with fear. One of these prayers was as follows: "Oh, my brothers and sisters, what is the matter now? Oh, Lord, look on last Tuesday night. Some is alive and some is dead and gone. Oh, my handsome God, dear sir, look down on us. We know what the little finger of the Lord can do. Sometimes the world can kick up in thunder, but do take care of our brothers. Ain't the black Lamb and the white lion done lie down together in peace? Move along, my brothers, move along. God gimme grace to move along! Ainít I dun promise to be baptize?" (Just here the crowd took up the words:  "Promise to be baptize," and sang it to the end with peculiar force and pathos.) Then the exhorter proceeded: "Fight the battle, fight the battle. Fight it out, girl, fight it out, boy.  Oh, yes, ma'm, the time is come. Wake up! Wake up! The last chance is come to save old Charleston. Oh, my Lord, don't touch my city any more! I pray God to hold the world up! Ah! ah! I thank God! Talk for this country, people, fight for it people. Walk on brothers! Hip! Hip! Hip! Oh, Lord, take me in your charge to-night. Night before lass I didn't expect to see Jesus. Oh, God, look at these dry bones in the valley.  Didn't you hear Gabriel's horn blow? Oh, Gabriel turn that horn to the land of Egypt on the miserable sinners and not on we. Oh, Lord, we are here to-night. The birds have nests, but we are here to-night for mercy. Oh. Lord, have mercy."
After this hymn about a dozen people were converted, and the work was kept up in a similar strain until broad daylight. To the white people who were there the scenes on Thursday night can never be forgotten.

 
Source: Low Country Quake Tales by Joyce B. Bagwell

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