Select Writings of Sylvester Hassell (389 pages)
BIOGRAPHY of Sylvester Hassell
FROM "ADVOCATE AND MESSENGER," SEPTEMBER 1928, BY ELDER R. H. PITTMAN: "BROTHER HASSELL IS DEAD!" These sad words were first heard by me as they were whispered in my ear during the morning service at the Ketocton Association Sunday, August 19, 1928, and as the news spread many hearts were saddened and tears of sorrow shed. And upon reaching home Sunday night I found a telegram from Charles Hassell awaiting me, and regret very much that I could not attend the funeral services of this dear man of God. He was very near and dear to me. For thirty-five years, we have been very close friends, and during the last years of his life, we were closely and intimately connected. His editorial service on the staff of the Advocate and Messenger was a blessing to thousands and an inspiration to his co- workers with whom he was in perfect harmony. The writer was last with him in January in a meeting in which he labored for reconciliation of estranged brethren; and on July 16th-his last letter to me-he said "I would be glad to see you again." But no more shall we meet in this life. He has been called up higher; and heaven to me is a little dearer, because of his going. Elder Sylvester Hassell, of Williamston, N. C.; minister, historian, teacher, was doubtless the best authority on church history in North Carolina, and possibly in this age. He stood among the foremost thinkers and writers of the United States. His ancestors came from England to North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century. His parents were Elder C. B. Hassell and his first wife, Mary Davis. He was born in Williamston, N. C., July 28, 1842, and died there August 18, 1928, having reached the ripe age of 86 years and 21 days. He was educated at the Williamston Academy and the University of North Carolina, taking a high stand at both, and graduating with honors. He was proficient in several languages, was principal of a school for young men in Wilson, N. C., and professor of languages in a northern college for some years. He published, in 1886, the Church History, the most complete work of its kind ever published by our people, and a monument more lasting than granite, to him and to his father, who began the work. In 1892 he became associate editor of the Gospel Messenger, and in 1896, its proprietor and managing editor, which position he retained nearly twenty years when the paper was sold to Elder Z. C. Hull, of Atlanta, Ga., from whom it was purchased by the writer in 1923, and all this time Elder Hassell has been on the editorial staff. He was twice married; first to Mary Isabella Yarrell, in 1869; and second to Francis Louisa Woodward, in 1876. Of his religious experience he recently wrote: "At the early age of ten years I knew and felt that I was a sinner. When about twenty years of age, I thought, I had consumption; and I fled to the law for justification, but found only condemnation. I was then led to feel, while alone in my bedroom at my father's house, that Jesus bore my sins in His holy death on the cross. I wept bitterly over this impression, but I waited five months to be assured of the reality of a blessed change in my soul. I then went to Skewarkey Church near Williamston, related my experience, and was received into membership. I was baptized the next day, January 11, 1864, by my father, Elder C. B. Hassell, in Roanoke River, when the ground was covered with frozen snow, and the ice in the river was more than an inch thick. It was the happiest day of my life. I began speaking in public in December 1871, and was ordained in August 1874. *****I have served Shewarky, Jamesville, Hamilton, Great Swamp, and Coneto Churches, but now serve only Skewarkey Church. I feel myself to have been only a poor sinner, an unprofitable servant, saved only by Sovereign, free, electing grace, if saved at all." Thus wrote this great man in the last editorial from his gifted pen. Truly, he was a Prince in Israel. As I am able to judge, it has not been my privilege to know one who bore more marks of real greatness. In manners, humble and retiring as a little child; in general information, he has been called "a walking encyclopedia;" in service, untiring and unselfish; in character, irreproachable and unstained; in deportment, gentle, kind and tender.
Obituary of Sylvester Hassell
Written by Theo Hassell During the time that I was residing in Reidsville, N.C., as I recall the year 1928, June 10th, I received a wire from my brother, John L. Hassell, announcing the death of his dear wife, Mary (who was Sylvester Hassell’s daughter.
She had married John Hassell- her first cousin.) I immediately caught the first train homeward bound, missed connection at Greensboro, was detained there all of same night, again was detained at Selma on account of train running late, a little later reached Rocky Mount, missed connection and detained until Tuesday at 4 a.m. Then discovered I was too late for funeral, as she was put away the previous afternoon. So again, while stationed at Waycross, Ga., at 4:30, while the lengthening shadows of the evening were stretching over the rolling hills, I received another message announcing the demise of his late wife's father, and our beloved uncle.
Unfortunately, I am located so far away, together with having only a few remaining days, it is impossible for me to attend his funeral. In the event that I would be so unfortunate as to be located so far away, I have long since promised the Lord and myself that I would publicly pay my last tribute of respect to his precious name and memory, in other words, if I were the longest liver.
He was born on the 28th day of July 1842, having passed his eighty-sixth mile post, and answered the last summons on the 18th day of August, 1928. He lived to the ripe old age of four score and six years.
Mary, his daughter's death, was such a severe shock that he never did recover, so he continued to grow weaker and weaker until the end. Just before leaving home for Waycross, I observed that he was so weak that his (illegible)...had to assist him in every way, in fact, he could scarcely get up out of a chair without her assistance. He appreciated Annie's assistance, and told me about it, saying that she was a lovely woman.
On leaving him, I caressed him upon one of his cheeks and bade good-by, as it turned out to be, for the last time; and his last words to me were, "May God bless you". During his latter days, I visited him quite frequently, and on the forenoons I would find him with his shawl and Bible upon his lap, nursing it like a mother fondling her sweet babe. Doubtless he knew the Bible practically by heart, as he had read it over and over again. He loved the good Old Book, and believed it all. He preached it, he taught it, and he lived by it. He was never more happy than to be gathered at the fireside of some of his brethren, for he was welcomed; he loved them, and they loved him. He will be sadly missed by them, but he will live in their hears for years to come. Many times in the good old days that are gone, it was my custom to carry him, by horse and buggy, to the various old Baptist churches of his county. At times we would spend the night at some hospitable Baptist home near the church; at other times I would carry him to church and return for him on the following day. I shall ever remain proud of both such privilege and pleasure, and those good old days will linger with me as long as I live.
After reaching Waycross, I wrote him a letter, but received no reply, something that never had occurred before. I then realized that the end was (illegible)...prompt with a reply. In fact, it was the case with all. He was a man who minded his own business and never meddled in the affairs of any one. I doubt very much if there ever lived a more loyal Christian since the birth of the Child of Bethlehem. He was gentle, kind, lovable, peaceful and modest as a woman. If he has left behind an enemy, it is unknown to me, and in the event there should be, it can not be charged against him, as he never offended any one knowingly. Approximately 40 years ago while teaching school in Williamston, it was feared that Bright’s Disease had besieged him, and he was compelled to discontinue teaching; but by dieting himself and by inaugurating a system of habits, the blessed Lord spared him many more years. He was the most systematic human being that I have ever known. He had a certain time for visiting, a certain time for reading, a certain time for going for his mail, a certain time for retiring, and a certain time for rising. He did not vary but very little--he made it a rule.
After giving up his teaching, he published the "Gospel Messenger", and was forced to discontinue that on account of his age. He was a great writer and great reader, and, indeed, a well-informed man. He was very active, always at work, and his life was worthwhile.
It was his custom for many years to donate, and have others to donate, Christmas gifts for the inmates at the county home of every Christmas. It was his custom to have them delivered at the store of the late Mr. William Slade. Then it was continued at the store known as J. L. Hassell & Co.
It was his custom to visit Baptist churches and homes in other states almost every year, until he became so weak and feeble. It was his custom to visit the seashore at Nags Head every summer, but failed this summer on account of his feebleness. He was an exceptionally unselfish man, big-hearted--a heart sufficient almost to engulf the sky. His record as a man, a citizen, a gentleman and a Christian remains devoid of blemish.
His requiem will be read by man, and it will be soft with the sigh of a haunting regret, but thrilled with a pride and tenderness born of precious memories more enduring than are chaplets woven for the brow of living achievement. He has carried the burden, and he leaves a song. A life filled with good deeds, and lived and died a true Christian. Doubtless he has gone where there is needed no light, where there is needed no candle; neither light of the sun, for God giveth light and he shall remain forever among the redeemed of the Lord.
He realized for some time that the time was near at hand, and he put his house in order and reverently and hopefully waited until the great All-Father announced his departure from all earthly trials and tribulations. What a beautiful, noble, useful Christian life. He possessed that wealth which is the immemorial heritage of those who have realized that God is good, and the world is worth while. Some writer has described life as a little loving, and a great deal of sorrowing, some bright hopes, and many grievous disappointments, some gorgeous Thursdays when the skies are bright and the heavens blue, when Providence bending over us in blessings gladdens the heart almost to madness, many dismal Fridays when the smoke of torment beclouds the mind and darkens the soul. The gorgeous Thursdays and the dismal Fridays are all the same to our beloved. Our hearts are beating a little faster, because they are aching with sorrow for the relatives and friends of the departed who has been summoned unto that boundless sea on whose bosom all sails are outward bound, and trust, pray and hope that the barque that bears the soul of our friend and loved one may be wafted by soft perfumed breezes over calm seas into a safe haven. It has ever been the ruling passion in the breast of mortal man to be remembered. The future is God’s--today is ours, and we are once more reminded that only in the archives of memory can we find the picture and the records of the good deeds done by the departed, and so we take them down from memory’s wall, and hold them up as beacons of light to those who are journeying on to the end that we, too, may be remembered, knowing that the impression made on the human heart and mind outlive and outlast any that could be engraved on marble or stone. Love of wealth, power, position, all have back of them the hope that when life s journey is over and history is written our name and deeds will never be forgotten. The Child of Bethlehem furnishes testimony of this strong desire of the human heart, when on that last memorable night, He called His disciples together and broke bread with them, saying, "Do this in remembrance of me."
While we now live and understand, what we have done, and as we now examine our lives, I think we could live a little better, be a little more pleasant, practice a little more charity, be a little broader, speak a few more kind words, as we journey down toward the setting sun, smile as we go through life, and all our troubles will vanish like the mists before God's beautiful sunlight, and all we meet will be happier because we passed this way.
Death but marks the terminal of earth’s journey and it is the transition state to prepare the beginner for initiation into the celestial splendor of the never-ending day. The finite mind cannot understand its metaphysical sphere. Earth’s milestones are but weak and linkless chains with which the mortal mind is impotent to reach through the cavern of eternity’s fugitive goal. Our day’s fleeting sunshine and night’s dazzling incandescence are but the glow and flickerings of uncertain beacons on the way to the perpetual radiance of the palace in the skies.
Earth's broken reeds and shrill flagots can only form the listening ear to drink the perfect harmony of the celestial choir. Men whose dominant being, says as he co-mingles his impulses and apparatus with the universal scheme must become an indispensable part of the general plan.
In conclusion, I wish to extend my heart-felt sympathy to all of his sons and near relatives, and say to them that amidst all of their heavy burden of sorrow, they must recognize the right to feel a just pride in all the years to come, that no man or woman in the Old North State's history will occupy a higher place of honor, character and virtue. Great nature, the common mother, now holds him tenderly in her bosom, and at the great awakening, may he greet the morning in a land where there is no night, where the skies are undimmed by a cloud, and where the feet blend upon the pathway of (illegible),and where the head wears no crown of thorns. Let us resume our everyday task, glad in the promise of the never-ending springtime when the Lord shall wipe away all tears from our eyes and death shall be no more.
His devoted nephew,
Theo Hassell, Waycross, Ga.
Aug. 19, 1928