Civil War and Reconstruction

Through the middle of the 19th century, Hanover’s congregation continued to grow, and on Sept. 8, 1855, the congregation organized Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. Hanover members formally divided by an unanimous resolution of Session. Some members stayed with Hanover and others moved to the newly organized church. Hanover fully supported the new venture and formally assisted in building the new church, which was dedicated on Nov. 10, 1857. (In 1920, Central joined with First Presbyterian Church and formed First and Central.)

The Rev. William Aikman was chosen as pastor on June 2, 1857. Looking back in his 1872 history, Rev. Marks stated, “It is but just to say, however, that the period during which he filled the pulpit of this Church was the most stormy and trying ever known in the history of the Church. During five years of his ministry, the country was involved in a terrible civil war, when there was much excitement and much diversity of interest and opinion, making it exceedingly difficult for a minister to discharge his duty to the satisfaction of all parties.”

On the Sunday following the draft riots in New York City in July 1863, Rev Aikman preached a sermon in response to the rioters, who were protesting that they were being sent to fight to keep the Union intact. Seven men who heard his sermon wrote to request a copy for publication. “Having heard with great interest, your Sermon on Sunday morning last, and believing that the views set forth will materially aid in the establishment of a correct public opinion upon a point so vitally important in the present position of our national affairs as that treated of, we respectfully request a copy for publication.”

Rev. Aikman states in his sermon that the teachings of the Gospel are to touch man at every point. “They instruct men in regard not only to personal duty to God, but, as part of that, their duty to the family, the neighborhood, the nation and the world. Nothing lies beyond their sphere. The Gospel is intended to go with a man not simply into his place of prayer, but into his counting room and his workshop.”

In his sermon, he takes the position that the Gospel defines duties of citizenship and a man’s relations to the government. “God has given us too good a government to be lightly trampled down. I pray you think of all that might have been, of the nameless horrors of a mob, and henceforth have a deep reverence and love for law; see in a new light your duty to give a loyal support to those who administer it. Would that this American people might understand what God has given them to do. We are working out something for all ages to come — The Supremacy of Law in the hands of a free people.”

On March 31, 1864, the Session met in the lecture hall of Hanover. Present were Rev. Aikman and Elders Hall, Alrich, Jones and Porter, and the meeting was opened with prayer. On the agenda was the case of “Moses Morrison and Mary Morrison, his wife, refugees driven, on account of their fidelity to their government, from their home in Virginia, requested admission to the membership of the Church. They represented themselves as unable to procure certificates of membership from the church to which they belonged in Fredericksburg, Va., now within the rebel lines, but furnished the Session a printed manual of the said church containing their names among the list of members. On this evidence, they are received as members of this Church from the Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg, Va.”

On July 14, 1864, there was a Stated Meeting of the Board of Trustees. The Board met at “8 o’clock.” Absent from the meeting were James Aikin, Thomas M’Clary, and John Patterson. “The last named gentlemen having volunteered in defense of his Country against the rebel invasion. Now it is hoped happily terminated by the defeat of the invaders.” During the 11 years of Dr. Aikman’s ministry, despite the turmoil caused by the Civil War, great things had been accomplished by Hanover. It was instrumental in founding two additional Presbyterian churches in Wilmington and during the period had received 263 members. One of the churches to grow from Hanover was Olivet Chapel. A Sabbath School had been established by members of the congregation, in 1849, in the western part of the city. Then on Feb. 7, 1864, Olivet Chapel was erected at the corner of Chestnut and Adams Streets. West Presbyterian Church was also formed about this time, with some members from Hanover joining with members of Central Church and some from First Presbyterian Church. The church building was dedicated December 1871. In 1886, Westminster Church was formed; it had long been one of Hanover’s and Central’s Sunday school missions.

Another church formed from one of Hanover’s Sabbath schools is Elsmere Presbyterian Church. In January 1889, Miss Ada Warren and Miss Sara Snodgrass, members of Hanover, formed the Elsmere Presbyterian Sabbath School. Hanover supplied Elsmere with songbooks and supplies for about four years, until they were able to pay for their own. After holding services in the School House for four years, they built a church. Henry P. Rumford, then cashier of the National Bank of Wilmington and leader of the Hanover Church Choir, was largely instrumental in raising funds to build the church. In 1869, Dr. Lafayette Marks (whose 100th anniversary remarks have been quoted liberally here) was called as the pastor to Hanover. He was described as a “forceful speaker with well prepared sermons and was highly respected in the community at large.” He was pastor during the Reconstruction after the Civil War and Hanover was active in raising funds for the repair of churches destroyed in the South. Hanover also joined with other churches to hire a missionary to work within the city of Wilmington.

In Dr. Marks’ address, during the 100th anniversary of Hanover, he states, “The God of our creation has endowed us with memory, but not with foreknowledge; we can recollect the past, we cannot disclose the future. When we plant a seed in the earth, we know nothing of its future developments. We can only hope for the best. . . . Others will fill these pews, and others will come forward to receive baptism at this altar. Where will be the congregation of today a hundred years from now?”

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