Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (1825-1883)
The Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (1825-1883) is the son of Philip Lightfoot Grasty and Jane White Clark Grasty of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He attended the University of North Carolina, 1842-1843, obtained a license to practice law in 1844, and settled at Henry Court House, Virginia.
After a single entry of February 28, 1843, the diaries begin with irregular entries from January through December, 1844, when Grasty was nineteen years old. Daily entries begin in January, 1845, and continue through 1850. During this period he practiced law in Henry County, Virginia, attended Union Seminary in Farmville, Virginia, and early in 1849 was called to the Presbyterian Church in Yanceyville, Caswell County, North Carolina.
The entries record his interest in law, religion, reading, conversation, phrenology, the temperance movement, courtship and marriage, visiting and "taking tea," backgammon, etc. Between the entries for September 27 and June 10, 1847, are a number of outlines for sermons. Generally there is little elaboration in the journal comments, although occasionally a remark on religion or courtship will be extended.
A typical entry is that of April 7, 1849:
"Walked up to Dr. Roane's--he and myself came down street--spoke of Miss Galloway, etc. I read Autobiography of Goethe--after dinner went down to Mr. Johnson's store--got Rice on Phrenology--went up to Dr. Roane's. Dr. Jones, Mr. Henderson and myself conversed--I then attended prayer meeting. I then went to McAlpin's store-then took a walk--after tea read Scottish tales."
There are passing references to many persons from prominent families in Caswell County, North Carolina, and in Danville, Virginia, where he frequently journeyed. An especially interesting account is given of a month's tour to Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New York City; Niagara Falls; Lowell, Mass.; etc. in May-June, 1850.
Miscellaneous items include two letters of 1834 and 1852; a poem, 1871; and a brief history of the Grastys in Virginia, 1967.
As a result of efforts by Millard Q. Plumblee of the Caswell County Historical Association, a transcript of the diaries is preserved on microfilm at the State Archives of North Carolina (Raleigh, North Carolina). The Call Number is Mfp.124 (MARS ID 2634).
Set forth below is the newspaper article that launched Millard Q. Plumblee's quest to find the diary and have the transcript microfilmed and housed in the State Archives of North Carolina:
Rare Chronicle of Early Days
Photo by Hitchcock: The Opened diary of the Rev. John Sharshall Grasty who made observations for many years on his daily labors in Caswell county. Note the fine even handwriting in a day when penmanship meant more than it does today. The other view of one of three volumes beside a foot ruler shows its miniature size.
Diaries Of Presbyterian Circuit Rider In 1845 Give Clear Picture Of Caswell County Ante-Bellum Days
Among the many memories evoked by the passing of the old Grasty home on Wilson Street which has recently been demolished are those embracing the members of that old established family which settled here in the early part of the eighteenth century.
Of particular interest are the three volumes of a hand-written diary kept by the Reverend John Sharshall Grasty, a brother of Col. William Grasty, a one-time owner of the old demesne, a Presbyterian church minister and the grandfather of Grasty Crews, who lived part of his life in Caswell county but who was a frequent visitor to his brother's home here, and for whom it may be pertinent to record, "Sart" Grasty, long a negro character in Danville, was named.
Among the treasured family relics belonging now to Mr. and Mrs. Grasty Crews are the three small cardboard-bound diaries written 1846 to 1849 which present an almost daily record of life in those times, certainly the life of an active minister in which he set down not only thoughts of romance but the sermons he preached every Sunday, the people he met, the incidents which came into his life. The diaries have never been published but as they pass down the corridor of time they remain to give a verbal comprehensive picture of what occupied the thoughts of people in these days, what people talked about and the character of the literature they read.
The Presbyterian circuit rider had no light duty to perform in covering a large area on horseback or in a buggy shriving the dying and often the condemned, marrying couples, preaching funerals and often entering the secular world by being asked as a friend of the family to give guidance on a wide variety of matters.
The week of the minister was defined with a fair sense of regularity and one finds that after preaching, for instance, a doctrinal sermon on "God IS A Sun and A Shield," that the Rev. Mr. Grasty on Monday was already busy "preparing the skeleton of my sermon next Sunday." Part of the three volumes go so far as to amplify the text and one wonders whether or not up and down the reaches of Country Line Creek the minister did not stand in the pulpit in exhortation with the same little books on the desk to refresh his memory.
Nearly every day the minister took a walk and dropped in among the parishioners for tea or to "converse on matters of religion." Bad weather was no ban to the young minister who records at intervals that his buggy turned over in a mudhole "but no harm done," or that "my girth broke and I was thrown at the gate."
Even in that early day the question of dancing was uppermost in the clerical mind and entries in the diurnal record show that the minister talked earnestly with leading people. That, however, was in a day of merry-making in the country home with the dancing of the Schottische or the Lancers or the even older square dances.
Grim duties were also required, hence one follows with almost baited breath the entries made in May, 1849, of court being in session in Yanceyville and how the minister mingled with the people of the green. Then comes a rather cryptic reference to "Margarette," a slave woman, who is found to have murdered her two children and whose trial is in progress. "Went to the C. H. and heard the lawyers speak for Margarette." Two days later one reads of the minister going to the "gaol" to give spiritual service to the condemned woman. Then comes the following entry:
"May 25, 1849. Went to gaol, Margarette said she hoped God had forgiven her sins, that she was very happy and willing to die, that she loved the Savior and all mankind. At 12 I stood in the carry-all under the gallows and preached the funeral of Margarette from Jeremiah 17:9, "the heart is deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked. Bro. Wilson then followed in a few remarks. We prayed and then shook hands with Margarette commending her soul to God. We then left the ground before the execution. Oh it is a solemn thing to attend the last hours of the condemned."
The rural minister found a wide interest in a variety of subjects. During feeclad weather he sat in his room and read Liebig's Chemistry, Lynch's Arguments on the Apocrypha, Hetherington's Church History. An omnivorous reader, he also absorbed Macauly, the life of Goethe, Wordsworth, the Review of Phrenology and Carlyle. Occasionally when the stage came in he got a brief glimpse at an old New York paper.
On one occasion he remonstrated with a parishioner who was about to "chastise a slave." When Brother Hill's "hogs got out," the minister seems to have been appealed to and there were Sunday evenings when "I preached to the servants." That, too was quite an event for the dominie can be pictured preaching an extended morning sermon in a rural church and then repairing on invitation to the home of some landowners for an extended Sunday dinner after which he would preach to the assembled slaves and servants under the trees.
Life was placid in those days, with the minister duly recording his after dinner nap or when he came to Danville to "leave his measurement for a suit."
Henry Clay, the great orator once engrossed him for the minister had gone to Washington for a few days and managed to get into the Senate gallery to hear Senator Clay "in a three hour speech on the California question."
Family conversation naturally gravitated to religion when the pastor paid his call but he mentions discussions on things as the abolition of slavery and other secular matters.
Vagrant thoughts that the minister was young and not immune to romance are suggested in several places in some frank disclosures. He visited one plantation with growing and more frequent regularity and finally a wedding date was set. Turning the leaves to another month and to the date set is to read the somewhat gloomy entry that "this was the day I was to have married," but within a year there were passages showing that he was striving to "reach an understanding" in another quarter.
Whether Mr. Crews will some day authorize publication of the diary is not known but the book is filled with names which are household words in this section particularly in Caswell and one gets the picture that aside from the rank and file of hard-working farmers there was a sectional aristocracy which enjoyed a distinct and interesting culture.
Certainly the penned picture of three years out of the life of a Presbyterian minister in the mid-eighteenth century permits the visualization of a robust life when human sorrows and human happiness were little different to those of today.
Source: The Bee (Danville, Virginia), Tuesday, 24 January 1939, Page 7.
Editor's Note: The above article was transcribed exactly as printed. Some words are misspelled, and others are not recognized. Also, five volumes of the diary eventually were located. The article fails to mention that the Reverend John Sharshall Grasty also was a lawyer and that he eventually married and had a family. The photos included in the article were not legible. Included herein is a 1972 photograph of the diary taken by Millard Q. Plumblee in 1972.
May 7, 1849: ". . . I went to courthouse. Court in session. Judge Dickson on bench. . . ."
May 8, 1849: ". . . This morning went out on court green -- the superior court in session -- the trial of a negro woman for murder of two children. . . ."
May 9, 1849: ". . . Came in to consult about the pregnancy of the condemned woman. . . ."
May 11, 1849: ". . . I walked down to the gaol and conversed with Margarette, the condemned slave on the subject of religion. . . ."
May 12, 1849: ". . . Went to the gaol to see Margarette, the condemned slave. . . ."
May 13, 1849: ". . . This morning went to the prison to see Margarette, and conversed on religion. . . ."
May 14, 1849: ". . . Went with Mr. Lindsey to see Margarette. . . ."
May 16, 1849: ". . .I went round to the gaol to see Margarette. . . ."
May 23, 1849: ". . . Went to the gaol and conversed with Margarette. . . ."
May 24, 1849: ". . . I went to the gaol today as usual. . . ."
May 25, 1849: ". . . This morning Wilson and myself walked to the gaol. Margarette said that she hoped that God had forgiven her sins, that she was very happy and very willing to die; that she loved the savior and all mankind. At twelve I stood in the carryall under the gallows and preached the funeral of Margarette from Jeremiah 17:9 -- 'The heart is deceiptful above all things and desperately wicked,' etc. Bro. Wilson then followed with a few remarks. We prayed and then shook hands with Margarette commending her soul to God. We then left the grounds before the execution took place. Oh, it is a solumn thing thus to attend the last hours of the condemned. May God have mercy on her soul. . . ."
Source: Newsletter of the Caswell County Historical Association (Yanceyville, North Carolina), Volume II, Number 3, July 1979.
April 7, 1849: "Walked up to Dr. Roane's--he and myself came down street--spoke of Miss Galloway, etc. I read Autobiography of Goethe--after dinner went down to Mr. Johnson's store--got Rice on Phrenology--went up to Dr. Roane's. Dr. Jones, Mr. Henderson and myself conversed--I then attended prayer meeting. I then went to McAlpin's store-then took a walk--after tea read Scottish tales, etc."
Source: Reverend John Sharshall Grasty Diary
March 27th [1850 Yanceyville] - This morning is cloudy and disagreeable; began a letter to Letty Claiborne - Mr. Brown, the portrait painter came up [Ruck's boarding house]; we looked out together to get him a suitable room, etc. I then took a cold bath, finished my letter, etc. After dinner I went in and looked on while Mr. Williamson took his first sitting for a portrait - before this I called to see Mrs. Holt, Margarette Graves there. Spoke to her about religion, etc. After tea wrote on the text "The Fool Hath Said in Heart There is No God."
March 28th [1850 Yanceyville] - This morning there is the deepest snow on the ground that has fallen this year - after breakfast, I read, com. writing; Cap. Williamson and Sam Hill came in and sat sometime - after dinner Mr. Brown came in and conversed; then Dr. Roane and myself had con[versation] on subject of religion, etc. - after tea I wrote something more on the text "The fool hath said in his heart" etc.
March 29th [1850 Yanceyville] - This morning I went in and saw Mr. Brown as he was painting Mr. Williamson's portrait. Mr. Cather and myself spoke of the advantages of education, etc. - after dinner Brown and myself spoke of mezzotints, engravings, etc. - took a nap - I then read McCauley's History of England - took a walk - finished first vol. of McCauley - after tea read Revelation, etc.
March 30th  - This morning I took a walk and Mr. Gould and myself spoke of the prospects of a female school, etc. I then saw Dr. Roane take the first sitting for his portrait, etc. - took a cold bath - after dinner I set out and rode down to Wm. Curry's - we spoke of the church - I spent the night at his house.
Source: Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (December 1848 - March 31, 1850).
April 2rd [1850 Yanceyville] - This morning I saw Mrs. Yancey taking a sitting for her portrait. I conversed with her and Martha Miles - I then read James' Earnest Ministry - after dinner read the same. Dr. Allen of Danville came up - I afterwards went and conversed with Mrs. Roane while she was sitting for her portrait - after tea I went up to the Academy to Mrs. Gould's concert - after this Mr. Lindsay came to my room and we spoke of the action of Grier's Church.
Source: Diary of Reverend John Sharshall Grasty (April-December 1850).
1. Mrs. Yancey probably is the wife of Bartlett Yancey, Jr. (1785-1828), Ann (Nancy) Graves Yancey (1786-1855).
2. Martha Miles probably is Martha Rice Miles (c.1815-1873), daughter of Abner Miles (1792-1856). On July 20, 1850, she married Yancey Jones.
3. James, John Angell. "An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times" (1847). He argues that the effect of preaching is directly related to the heart-condition of the preacher: "[I]t is feeling which gives power to words and thoughts." To command attention for the truth, its spokesmen must first be earnest, that is to say, be possessed by one single aim and by a devotion which leads them to surrender all that would hinder its attainment.
4. Mrs. Roane [Roan] is the wife of Dr. Nathaniel Moore Roan, M.D. (1803-1879), Mary B. Henderson Roan (1817-1896).
5. The Academy is the Yanceyville Male Academy.
6. Mrs. Gould probably is the wife of Benjamin Gould (teacher), Eliza B. Gould. Benjamin Gould may have taught at the Yanceyville Male Academy.
7. Mr. Lindsay [Lindsey] is Archibald Clark Lindsey (1814-1862) schoolmaster at the Yanceyville Male Academy.
8. Grier's Church is Grier's Presbyterian Church, organized 1753 in Caswell County, North Carolina. It is on the National Register of Historic Places (1985).