Following the Easter worship service, Rev. William Gamage greeted people at the front door beneath the bell tower that stood in the southwest corner of the white frame building. He thanked people for inviting him to come from Barry to lead their service in the absence of a regular minister, and he said repeatedly that, “Yes,” he agreed that it was a terrible thing that President Lincoln was assassinated on Friday, and “We must pray for our nation in this time of testing.” The news of the assassination had spread everywhere on Saturday, and the church was full of mourners, in addition to the regular Easter crowd.
Thomas Gray held the arm of his wife Catherine, to help her walk, since she was finding that arthritis affected her more every day. Their newest grandchild, Bennett Foster Bell, a month old, had been baptized that morning, and then his father, John Bell, had to carry the colicky baby in and out of the service, when he cried out of his discomfort. Willie Ann corralled the other children—Tommy, Irene, Art, and Jimmy—while they sat quietly. The Bells were among the last to leave the church building, following Willie Ann’s parents.
“Thank you for your comforting words,” Thomas said to Rev. Gamage. “We would be happy if you saw fit to come here regularly to lead us, Brother Gamage.”
“I appreciate your saying that,” Rev. Gamage replied. “The congregation does need someone, especially in times like these.”
“Yes, we do. We were just beginning to breathe freely again, with the war finally coming to an end. Now the future is cloudy again, with more storms ahead, without our dear President to lead us. I wasn’t for him at first, when he ran for the office, but he won my heart with his wisdom.”
Rev. Gamage turned to John Bell, and asked, “Are those your feelings also, Brother Bell? You come from a different part of our country.”
“Much the same, yes, sir. In my experience the wisest and bravest of my people are among the first to be killed, when their enemies finally have the chance to do it. We have lost many of our best leaders, in the same cowardly way that President Lincoln was taken. Somehow the God of All helps us through the troubles anyway. It takes a lot of trust to keep going, and keep believing, but God provides a way.”
“Well said, Brother Bell. You could have given the message for us all today, in just those words,” Rev. Gamage replied.
In that month John transferred the last of his land holdings south of New Salem to his father-in-law, and concentrated his attention on the land he held north and northwest of New Salem.[i] He owned more than enough land to support his family, and the prospect of having men home from the war and eager for work gave him and Willie hope. Maybe they could expand some of the fields and pastures, reduce the wooded areas, and hire workers to help with the farming. John might not have so much work to do on his own, and keep sickness at bay.
[i] The Pike County Clerk land records show several parcels changing hands among neighbors with John Bell releasing southern township ownership from 1857 to 1865.