Friday, November 19, 2010

He weren't no saint...

When Jasia announced the 100th Carnival of Genealogy I immediately knew my subject. My ancestor Philip Mulkey (b. 1732) was a powerfully charismatic backwoods Separate Baptist preacher in South Carolina when he ran afoul of his neighbors and church for reasons only recently made clear.

I was raised on stories (note the word) of Philip's religious fervor, patriotism and virtue. His church at Fairforest (founded in 1760) grew rapidly and fueled the Baptists' rapid expansion in South Carolina's backwoods to the frustration of the Anglican authorities. Charles Woodmason wrote of Mulkey after he toured the area in the 1760's attempting to win back the Baptist converts.
Would any Mortal three Years past have dreamd or imagin’d that such a Person as the infamous Mulchey [sic], who came here lately in Rags, hungry, and bare foot, can now, at his beck, or Nod, or Motion of his finger lead out four hundred Men into the Wilderness in a Moment   At his speaking the Word---Without asking any questions or making the least Enquiry for what or for why….[i]
Later the Welsh Baptist minister Morgan Edwards wrote
… neither is there anything extraordinary in his [Mulkey’s] natural endowments, except a very sweet voice, and a smiling aspect; that voice he manages in such a manner as to make soft impressions on the heart and fetch down tears from the eyes in a mechanical way… [Others] might learn from Mulkey to spin that sound and mix it with awe, distress, solicitude, or any other affection.[ii]
But there were also references to gross misconduct during his lifetime, excommunication in 1790 and evidence of Loyalist sympathies uncovered by 20th century Mulkey researchers.

My grandmother and her Mulkey cousins set great store by their descent from Philip. They included him in their D.A.R. applications, referring to his participation in Col. William Christian's Cherokee Expedition in 1776 (citing Summer's Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800). They defended him against the calumnies of what they perceived as jealous minds and bigots.[iii] Wonderful family historians and histories were damned should they even suggest Philip might have strayed from the paths of virtue and revolutionary fervor. I admit to some trepidation writing this even now, almost two decades after my grandmother's death. For she and her cousins were wrong.

Mulkey's political loyalties leading up to the Revolution were divided. He publicly avowed his loyalty to the Crown several times in 1775 as tensions rose. He was present in September when the backcountry loyalists signed the Treaty of Ninety-Six, agreeing not to actively support the British against South Carolina. He apparently left for Tennessee (where his son Jonathan had settled) soon after. He was not arrested in South Carolina, nor is there evidence that his lands were confiscated. Indeed, he returned there following the war and spent many more years preaching. His motives for supporting the Crown and then joining the Cherokee Expedition the next year are unknown, but Philip Mulkey Hunt suggests he may have been less interested in politics and more concerned about the results of the political confrontations on his church members. Thus he might side with the loyalists in South Carolina where many felt the colonial government had been more abusive than the King and fight with the Col. Christian the next year to protect his family and neighbors from the Cherokee raids.[iv]

Mulkey’s reputation suffered far more from the rumors of improper behavior than his political leanings. As early as 1772 Morgan Edwards suggested as much when he wrote “a thorn was put into his flesh about 4 years ago which will … teach his votaries that he is but a man.”[v] By 1790, Mulkey had been excommunicated by the Charleston (SC) Baptist Association and its members warned of his
enormous crimes; such as adultery, perfidy and falsehood, which have been attended with very aggravating circumstances, often repeated and continued in for years; and part of the time, united with his highest pretensions of zeal and piety.[vi]
These were no light charges and historians writing about Mulkey agree that he ended his days an outcast and wanderer. His apologists (sorry Grandmother) have suggested the charges were rooted in his political disputes in South Carolina and maintain no evidence existed to support these charges. Not so.

In June, 2009 Chris DeMarco posted a link to a 1767 letter in the Brown University archives on the Mulkey Family Genealogy Forum.  The letter, written by Oliver Hart, a Baptist minister, to James Manning, president of the newly founded Brown University makes it clear that Philip Mulkey (married since 1750) had recently had an illegitimate child.
The greatest appearance we have had, for some years pass, has been among the Separatists: and especially under one Mr. Philip Mulkey. But He, poor Man, has sadly fallen, having become the Father of a spurious Child by a widow woman, a member of his own church. On account of which religion has suffered much, especially in those parts; and among that People.[vii]
That’s as clear a piece of evidence as we are ever likely to find supporting Edward’s 1772 “thorn” reference and leads me to believe there were other transgressions over the years that had nothing to do with the American Revolution or politics. It seems the Charleston Baptists were simply stating the facts when they warned their members.

Philip Mulkey, though an extraordinarily gifted preacher, had far more in common with today’s fallen televangelists than any reputable minister. He’s the most colorful and interesting ancestor I’ve come across, and though proof of his perfidy may set Grandmother spinning, I suspect a few other members of my family are grinning. We needed a scoundrel to offset all those generations of virtue and propriety. 

[i]The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, Richard J. Hooker, ed., ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953), p. 112.
[ii] John Sparks, The Roots of Appalachian Christianity: The Life and Legacy of Elder Shubal Stearns (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001), p. 83.
[iii] See Ella Mulkey Range’s pamphlet The Life of Reverend Philip Mulkey, His Ancestors and Descendants, 1650-1950 (n.p.).
[iv] Philip Mulkey Hunt, The Mulkeys of America (Portland, OR: n.p., 1983) pp. 56-60.
[v] Sparks, p. 83.
[vi] “1790 Minutes of the Charleston Baptist Association”, cited by Floyd Mulkey in The Strange Career of the Rev. Phlip Mulkey (Chicago: n.p., 1976).
[vii] “James Manning papers, 1761-1827,” Brown University, Brown Archival & Manuscript Collections Online ( : accessed 17 Nov 2010), letter, “Oliver Hart to James Manning, 23 Dec 1767,” p. 2.