“We wish for eminence rather than for usefulness” – the temptation of Rev. Marble Nash Taylor

Union forces took Hatteras Island, North Carolina, in fall, 1861, in a victory bolstering the North’s spirits after First Bull Run. The event had a political angle as well, involving the island’s Methodist minister, Marble Nash Taylor. Charles Henry Foster, a shifty Northern adventurer of shifting allegiances, recruited the Rev. Taylor into a curious scheme. The pair held a small meeting on Hatteras purporting to represent the loyal people of North Carolina, and this “convention” appointed Taylor as the Unionist governor of the state. Then elections held on the island chose Foster as a Unionist member of Congress from North Carolina, an effort tossed contemptuously aside by the House of Representatives. Taylor went into historical obscurity for the remainder of the war while Foster had a storm-tossed career as a Unionist officer.[1]

The seemingly-farcical selection of Marble Nash Taylor as governor was nevertheless “America’s 1st Attempt at Civil War Reunification,” as a monument in Hatteras Village, sponsored by historical groups and a local bank, proclaims.[2]

I am available to speak on the subject of Marble Nash Taylor, who is a fascinating figure – even with the limited historical trail he left (I can also speak about Edward Stanly, Taylor’s successor as Unionist governor, appointed by Lincoln rather than by a group of Hatteras Island residents). I have been thinking of writing a longer article on Taylor, although I wasn’t sure how much new material I could find. One of several items of new material I was able to locate is a letter Taylor published before the war which I think indicates the attitudes which made him susceptible to Foster’s blandishments. The letter indicates that Taylor had a desire for personal glory in the name of a higher cause, a desire Foster probably exploited.

Before the Methodists assigned him to Hatteras Island, Taylor served in several pulpits in North Carolina’s coastal counties. During this time, in early 1856, Taylor wrote a letter which was published in the newly-established Raleigh [NC] Christian Advocate. Taylor sent “a few extracts from Bridgers’ [sic] Christian ministry.” The reference was to a book by Rev. Charles Bridges, entitled The Christian Ministry; With an Enquiry Into the Causes of Its Inefficiency. Charles Bridges (1794-1869) was a prominent Anglican clergyman and theologian. His Christian ministry had been published in 1829, while Bridges was serving as vicar of Old Newton in England’s Suffolk County. The book went through nine editions in the two decades following its first publication.[3]

Taylor’s excerpt from Bridges was a chapter concerning “the influence of spiritual pride.” That chapter was part a section of The Christian Ministry about the “causes of ministerial inefficiency connected with our personal character.”[4]

The passage quoted by Taylor said that Christian ministers, particularly younger ministers, were particularly susceptible to the Satanic temptation of pride. “We must indeed labour and pray unceasingly for enlarged success. And yet in this prayer we sometimes ‘know not what we ask.’ A season of remarkable prosperity will probably prove an hour of fearful temptation to our souls.”

Bridges cited the famous Massachusetts divine Cotton Mather, who as a proud young minister “endeavored to take a view of my pride – as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the grace and image of Christ.”

To Bridges, young ministers, especially if they found themselves popular, are susceptible to a sense of self-importance. “Vox populi is their secret motto. The breath of the multitude is their life.”

When ministers labor under the sin of pride, “[i]t is…as if we measured our regard to the glory of God by the opportunities afforded for the display of our own glory. We wish for eminence rather than for usefulness. We want to stand alone….Human nature can never be raised to distinction without being tempted to vanity. A subtle pestilential influence breathes around the pulpit steps, and in the purest atmosphere of holy consecration.”

Taylor’s 1856 letter could have discussed temptations Taylor himself felt. In 1861-1862 he grasped at eminence – perhaps not so much usefulness.

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[1] Dwight Hughes, “Ships vs Forts 1861: Off to the Races,” February 22, 2022,  https://emergingcivilwar.com/2022/02/25/ships-vs-forts-1861-off-to-the-races/; Drew Pullen, ”The Chicamacomaco Races,” October 10, 2011, https://emergingcivilwar.com/2011/10/10/the-chicamacomico-races/; Drew Pullen, “Duty on Hatteras Island: No Vacation,” September 15, 2011, https://emergingcivilwar.com/2011/09/15/duty-on-hatteras-island-no-vacation/; Thomas C. Parramore, “Taylor, Marble Nash,” https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/taylor-marble-nash; T. C. Parramore, “Foster, Charles Henry,” https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/foster-charles-henry; Donald E. Collins, “Charles Henry Foster: A Unionist in Confederate North Carolina,” in Steven E. Woodworth (ed.), The Human Tradition in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 2000), pp. 61-77; Tom Parramore, “In the Days of Charles Henry Foster,” in J. Ron  Johnson and Tom Parramore, Roanoke-Chowan Story, Vol. I, 1960-1962, Chapter 13; Norman D. Brown, “A Union Election in Civil War North Carolina,” The North Carolina Historical Review, October, 1966, Vol. 43, No. 4 (October, 1966), pp. 381-400.

[2] Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy, “New Civil War Marker Unveiled,” The Coastland Times, October 5, 1999, p. 1. Some photos of the monument can be found at https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/wmG4T_Americas_First_Attempt_at_Reunification_Hatteras_North_Carolina.

[3] Raleigh Christian Advocate, February 22, 1856, p. 4. This was one of the earliest issues of the paper, see https://www.newspapers.com/paper/raleigh-christian-advocate/2137/. For Bridges’ text, see, e. g., the “Sixth London Edition” of the work (New York: Robert Carter, 1846). For Bridges, see advertisement on the Web site of the magazine The Banner of Truth, https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/church-ministry/the-christian-ministry/; “Charles Bridges,” https://banneroftruth.org/us/about/banner-authors/charles-bridges/.

[4] See pp. iv, 142-45 in the Sixth London Edition, and Taylor’s letter.

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