Ask any history buff about Sonoma County during the Civil War and you’ll probably hear two stories. “The Battle of Washoe House” claims a mob of Petaluma men, angered over Santa Rosa’s support for the Confederacy, started marching north but got no further than the famous roadhouse, where they drowned their fury in suds. But there’s no proof that story is even partially true; nothing can be found written about it during that time (MORE) so it gets four pinocchios, at least for now. The other favorite is the stealing of the “vigilante bell,” and that tale’s true – although nearly all versions of that story deserve at least two pinocchios.
The background of the story is consistently told and truthful. Manville Doyle, a prominent Petaluma livery stable operator was tasked to buy a nice, big bell for the town’s Baptist church. In San Francisco he found the one used by the infamous Vigilance Committee of 1856. It was rung to summon members to their warehouse HQ known as “Fort Gunnybags” and sounded the death knell of four men who were lynched by the group.
Once the bell was installed in the Petaluma church belfry, it was agreed that it had an unusually beautiful tone and powerful enough to be heard for miles. Then years later, Doyle made off with the bell. After it was returned to the church it became damaged, losing its lovely voice. Here’s a composite version of the many retellings of those events, with the falsehoods struck out:
In 1864 or in 1865 following Lincoln’s assassination, Matt Doyle, a Confederate sympathizer, was angry because the bell was being rung to celebrate the North’s military victories. One dark night he and others who were pro-South removed the bell and took it to a warehouse where it was hidden under a pile of potatoes. Several of Doyle’s accomplices were brought before Judge Cavanagh, who postponed action indefinitely after their lawyer dragged the hearing out past suppertime. Days, weeks or months later, citizens retrieved the bell and returned it to the church belfry where it was cracked and irreparably damaged either by vigorous pro-Union ringing after the assassination or by pro-Rebel vandalism immediately after its return, probably done by Doyle using a sledgehammer.
Ain’t much meat left on them poor ol’ bones.
Some misinformation crept in over the following few years (mainly the sledgehammer theory and fuzziness over when the bell was damaged), but the bulk of the misinformation traces back to Tom Gregory’s 1911 county history, where he milks the story for a whole chapter – and easily 90 percent of it is hyperbole or bullshit that he probably made up or heard in a saloon. While telling the story he detours to muse about Edgar Allen Poe, mentions someone in Petaluma was supposedly hiding a Mexican cannon on a boat, and notes there weren’t many religious differences between Baptists and Campbellites (don’t ask). Best read when very drunk, very stoned or very both. From his pile of reeking compost has sprung a garden of weeds – a century of misinformation found in magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books on county history.
Overall it’s a textbook example of how easily the historical narrative can become corrupted when writers just repeat twice-told tales. And as it turns out, the actual story was quite different and more interesting – the incident with the bell was just a sideshow to what was really upsetting everyone in Petaluma. Since the relevant newspapers from that time survive along with a later interview Doyle gave about the events (all transcribed below) it serves as a lesson why it’s always critical to use primary sources. End of lecture.
So what actually happened?
In the space of just a few months straddling 1857-1859, Petaluma grew up. The town was incorporated, its first volunteer fire department was organized, and the big “Brick School” was built on Keller street. Self-government, fire protection and public education are all good things – and as a bonus, two of the three also came with bells.
(RIGHT: The First Baptist Church, c. 1890. It was across from Hill Plaza Park on Kentucky street, currently the location of the Park Plaza building. Postcard courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Besides the new downtown fire bell and the one in the school’s belfry, three Petaluma churches added bells to their steeples. The Vigilance Bell that Doyle found was the biggest and loudest of them, and that was the reason he bought it; the Baptist church trustees had instructed him to seek a bell that weighed between 1,000-1,200 pounds. They were that specific because they apparently wanted to poke the Congregationalists, who had purchased a 600 lb. bell just a couple of weeks earlier. Too bad the bible says nothing about pride being sinful.
As another sign of progress Petaluma decided it needed a town bell, and the Baptist Church’s new monster fit the bill. The town hired someone to ring it three times a day, marking morning, noon and night. Take a moment to sensitize yourself to how important that was in the mid-19th century; every mantle clock and watch was set by that bell, along with schedules for the boat and stage – being the town’s bellringer was a position of great responsibility.
But it was still the bell for the church, so it also rang for church services as well as births, deaths, weddings, funerals, plus any other reason the preacher saw fit rejoice or mourn or call parishioners. All of the churches did this, and it was driving some Petalumans nuts. In 1858 “Belle” complained in a letter to the Sonoma County Journal, “To hear them banging (I can not say ringing), whatever may be the occasion, one would imagine himself in an old Spanish town on a gala day, when, as is well known, the only object of the ringers is, to make the most infernal noise possible.”
During the Civil War, the church trustees later stated supporters for both the North and the South were allowed to ring the bell to celebrate military victories, but ringing it for the Union didn’t stir Doyle’s ire. What really pissed off Matt Doyle and his friends was being kicked out of their church.
The 1864 elections were only months away and as explained in the previous article on Sonoma county’s voting history during the Civil War, Lincoln would win 61 percent of the vote in Petaluma, an even stronger show of support than when he was first elected. Much of the background leading to stealing the bell was explained in Santa Rosa’s pro-Confederate paper, the Sonoma Democrat; despite the writer’s strong rebel slant and gossipy tone, the relevant details can be verified elsewhere.
The First Baptist Church’s new preacher was a Rev. A. Gould, who took up that pulpit in the autumn of 1863 (nothing further can be found about him). Over the next few months he lobbied the nine-member business committee to pass a set of resolutions which would fundamentally change the church.
The very first resolution declared only male church members could vote to admit or discipline other members. Men also controlled all financial affairs.
The second resolution stated any member who didn’t attend church for a month without a good excuse could be disciplined or kicked out.
Resolution three excommunicated “those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.”
These new bylaws were published in the Argus, on April 21, 1864, along with a notice that the new pastor of the church was one Rev. James A. Davidson, a 40 year-old travelling “temperance talker” who apparently had no role in any of this.
A week later Matt Doyle stole the bell.
“It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek,” Doyle defended himself in an 1893 interview. “When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government.” So much for the “dead of night” version of the story.
Nor was it hidden under a sack o’ spuds; the next issue of the Argus reported “[Doyle] with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse.”
Doyle was not coy about why he took the bell – the Argus quoted him as saying it should not ring for a “[damned] Abolition congregation.” He was more specific in 1893, explaining he justified it “Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject.”
At the time and again in the interview almost thirty years later, Doyle insisted it was “his” bell because he contributed around $100 of its $550 cost. “After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church.”
His claim of ownership brought out the dry wit of Argus editor Samuel Cassiday:
The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.
That segment also shows there was initial upset in the community when the bell first disappeared, but people adjusted – and presumably the town bellringer moved over to the Congregational Church. “It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there,” Cassiday wrote, “had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they ‘dared not attempt to replace it;’ that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc.”
Then twelve days later, Doyle and his fellow Copperheads escalated their war. Now they claimed to own not just the bell, but the actual church building. “Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building,” the Argus reported.
The Argus: “This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night.”
So in mid-afternoon a group went down to Tom Baylis’s warehouse on B street and placed the bell on a dray. “As it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church,” wrote the Argus.
With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed.
But the trouble would carry over for months. The next Sunday someone tried to throw a large rock through the church window during evening services, hitting the clapboard instead. The next month, Rev. Davidson’s home was the scene of a bedtime attack, with a brick thrown though his bedroom window and two more through the parlor window. And then in August, Rev. Gould – the man who stirred all this up – was stoned in Healdsburg as he and others left a night church service.
And now we come to the crack.
No, Matt Doyle didn’t creep into the belfry and give it a mighty whack! with a sledgehammer – although that’s such a good story our loveable but awful historian Tom Gregory undoubtedly would have claimed it happened, had not Doyle still been alive when his history book was written. When the bell was returned to the church, Doyle sold his “interest” in it to a trustee, who told Doyle a consoling white lie that it was actually being bought on behalf of the town.
Nor did the damage occur during the Civil War. An item in the first 1866 issue of the Argus noted “it has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.” The next issue confirmed the bell was cracked, and in his private journal Cassiday noted the cause was “purely accidental.” So perhaps it split that New Year’s Eve or the following day.
The town’s best blacksmith tried to fix it, but such things can’t be mended. Even though its ding-dong was now more of a clunk-thunk, the bell continued to be used until 1911, when the building was torn down to be replaced by a new church (designed by Brainerd Jones). The bell was stored in the basement of Schluckebier’s Hardware Store and they wrestled it upstairs on Egg Days to show it off in the store window.
|Petaluma July 4 parade, 1976. (Photo: Sonoma county library)|
In 1916 there were feelers out that suggested it should be in a San Francisco museum. The Baptist church trustees published an open letter that was surprisingly emotional, insisting it was theirs alone: “…It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War…we believe it to be our duty to retain possession of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time. ”
The subject came up again in 1925 when San Francisco asked to borrow it, and this time the trustees agreed the historic relic deserved better than Schluckebier’s storeroom. They donated the bell to San Francisco and the following year about a dozen citizens there “gifted” the Baptist church $891 to retire its mortgage for their new building.
During the 1976 Bicentennial, San Francisco returned the favor and loaned it back to Petaluma for a couple of months. During the Fourth of July parade it was driven around in the back of a pickup, oddly shaded as if it might be sunburnt. Today it can be seen at the Society of California Pioneers in the San Francisco Presidio at 101 Montgomery.
Soon after the fight over the bell, Manville Doyle sold his interest in the livery stable and moved to Nicaragua, returning to Petaluma around the time the Civil War ended. In 1890 he and son Frank founded the Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa. Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley recalled he was a “square shooter” who always stood by his friends, but remained a “bitter partisan.” When he died in 1916 he left a big pile of “friendship notes” – bank loans he did not expect to be repaid. One has to wonder how many of them were gifts to his old rebel cronies.
The surprise epilogue belongs to Rev. James A. Davidson, the poor devil who was named the Baptist pastor just the week before Matt Doyle declared war on the church. Davidson wasn’t even a career preacher; he was a leader in the “Independent Order of Good Templars,” a Freemason offshoot focused on temperance. After leaving Sonoma county he was their top speaker in Pennsylvania, then retiring as editor/publisher of the Geauga [County] Leader in Burton, Ohio.
Someone from Petaluma ran into him in the East and wrote to the Argus, “He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed ‘A Year in Petaluma,’ will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars.”
ANOTHER BELL.-A paper is now in circulation among our people for the purpose of raising funds to purchase a bell, to weigh from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds, and to be placed upon the Baptist church in this city. We are told that the principal portion of the required sum has already been subscribed. This will make the third church bell that has been purchased by subscription on this place within the past few months.–Verily, our people are bound to hear their loose change jingle out of pocket, if not in pocket.
– Sonoma County Journal, October 1 1858
First Baptist Church, Petaluma.
The following Resolutions recently adopted by the First Baptist Church in this city, if faithfully carried out, and firmly adhered to, are well calculated to remove the odium that has been attached to this denomination here in consequence of the irregular manner in which its business has in times past been conducted, and the notoriously disloyal tendency and character of some who have arrogated to themselves an important influence in the business matters of the denomination; an influence that has manifested itself to such an extent that many respectable parties in this city and vicinity have kept themselves aloof from the church. Although Baptists in principle, and christians in heart and life, they desired to have no fellowship with rebels or the sympathizers with Rebels. These Resolutions will have the effect of ridding the church of the drones, Copperheads, and rebels, and we heartily wish the Baptists much success in their effort to maintain in their purity messages of the Body and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ:
[Resolved that male church members can vote to admit or dismiss other members, and also control financial affairs; that any member who doesn’t attend church for a month without an excuse can be disciplined or dismissed]
Whereas, We believe that the existing rebellion in the Southern States of our Union was conceived in wickedness and oppression, and that it is the natural result of the system of American slavery, and that both are contrary to every divine and moral law, and to the best interests of our country therefore,
Resolved, That as Christians we cannot have fellowship with those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.
At a regular meeting of the Church, held on Monday evening, Rev. James A. Davidson, of San Francisco, received the unanimous vote of the meeting to act as Pastor for the church here, and has accepted the position. We certainly wish the Baptist Church much success in their efforts to maintain the preaching of the Gospel, and to keep themselves unspotted and unpolluted by the abominable leprosy of disloyalty to God and their country.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus – April 21, 1864
Rev. J. A. Davidson, well known as a temperance lecturer, and lately travelling agent of the Evangel, has accepted a call to a Baptist pastorate at Petaluma.
– Daily Alta California, April 29 1864
An Historic Bell.
On Friday last an incident transpired in our city, which, though trivial in itself, aroused antagonistic passions and prejudices which like a slumbering mine, required but a spark to cause an explosion; but thanks to that genuine courage most praiseworthy when manifest in forbearance, the counsels of cool heads prevailed and we were spared an outburst which might have led to results most disastrous. The circumstances were in brief as follows: Several years since our citizens were afflicted with a bell mania. The inhabitants of the lower portion of the city having, by contribution purchased a bell for the Song Church; the inhabitants of the upper portion of the city at once determined to purchase a bell that would “weigh more” and “sound louder” than the one destined to call the inhabitants of Lower Petaluma to their devotions. The result of this determination was the contributing, by divers and sundry persons, of a sum amounting to six or seven hundred dollars, which was entrusted to Mr. M. Doyle, who with it purchased the old Vigilance Committee Bell, the solemn cadence of which warned Casey and Cora that the time had come for them to shuffle off this mortal coil. By common consent this Bell was hung in the belfry of the First Baptist Church, in this city, with the conditions that it was to be used not only a s a church bell, but by the city, and on all occasions when bells are usually in requisition; and in accordance with this arrangement, the city has kept a man employed to ring the bell at morning, noon and night. In consequence, however, of the revolution which is shaking our country from centre to circumference, a revolution, on a small scale, was inaugurated in the Baptist congregation, and the result was the enacting of a set of loyal Resolutions, very unpalatable to the secession element in our community. “Revenge is sweet,” so sayeth the poet, or some “other man,” and the parties, considering themselves grieved, foremost among which was Mr. M. Doyle, determined that the bell should not give forth its brazen notes over a “d—d Abolition Congregation;” and as he (Doyle) had invested the sum of $105, in lawful U. S. coin in the aforesaid bell, he proceeded with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse, much to the inconvenience and detriment of sleepy citizens who were wont to be released from the embrace of the drowsy god by its familiar peals. The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus, May 5, 1864
The Bell Again.
In our last issue we gave an account of the removal of the Bell from the Belfry of the Baptist Church. It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they “dared not attempt to replace it;” that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc. Aside from those who lacked the discretion to profit by the forbearance shown their premeditated insult to this loyal community, there was yet another class, true to their Copperhead instincts, who hypocritically professed to deprecate the action of those who removed the bell, but who could see in any attempt to restore it to its former place just cause for riot and blood-shed. After the deed had been consummated they were immediately transformed into blatant lambs of peace and were tremulous lest the loyal people of this city should dare to resent insult and injury, and thus “fire” the hearts of those who had thrust a fire brand into this community. But all their tears were of no avail. Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building. This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night. At 3 o’clock P. M. the Bell was taken from Baylis’ Warehouse, where it had been stored, was placed on a dray, and as it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church. With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed. Things now stand just as they were prior to the removal of the bell; and if there are any aggrieved we should say to such, you have thus far been protected in your rights, both of person and property; however odious your sentiments to loyal men, in your capacity as citizens you have received every courtesy and consideration at their hands; and as it has been so it will continue to be, unless you wantonly provoke a collision. If the Bell in question, belongs to joint contributors, let those interested meet and honorably determine what disposition shall be made of the same. This is but just and proper, and could not fail to give satisfaction to all. If the Church Edifice is the private property of a few individuals, by a proper showing of the facts in any court of justice they will be protected in their rights. Let this course be pursued and there will be no need of any apprehensions of further trouble; pursue a different course and time will determine whether or no you have acted wisely in your choice.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus, May 12, 1864
A COPPERHEAD ARGUMENT.—During Divine service in the Baptist Church on Sabbath evening, quite a number of noted Copperheads were observed prowling around the building, taking care, as is their style, to keep under cover of darkness. While the Pastor was in the midst of his sermon, a large stone was hurled against the house, evidently intended for the church window, but which fortunately struck a few inches lower on the clapboard. There was a large congregation present, larger than usual in the evening, and some excitement. Such barbarous conduct deserves the most condign punishment. We are informed the authorities have a clue to the perpetrator of the outrage, and we can only hope he may be arrested and meet his deserts. The rowdies of Petaluma must be taught respect for law and order, and they certainly will be taught, if an indignant public is much further provoked by them.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus, May 12, 1864
LETTER FROM PETALUMA.
(From an Occasional Correspondent)
Petaluma, May 10, 1864. Editors Alta: On the 29th of April last the bell, for several years used in the First Baptist Church, was taken down by a party of citizens of very questionable loyalty, and placed in a storehouse. The Church being about to try some of its members for disloyalty, it is generally surmised the parties who took away the bell were actuated by motives anything but lovely and loyal, and wished to intimidate the Church, and prevent action in reference to the parties on trial.
The Church, in due time, excluded the disorderly ones, to the number of a dozen or so, and the public generally considered that the action of the Church was just and proper. Every effort failed to reclaim them.
One of the excluded members, having more zeal than knowledge, attempted to trespass on the Church property yesterday morning, rendering himself liable to a heavy penalty, and this circumstance awakened a very indignant feeling in the minds of the better class of our citizens, and they, yesterday afternoon, went in a large body, and took the abstracted bell out of the hands of the Copperheads, and replaced it on the church belfry, with cheers and loyal songs, and finished their work by ringing out a loyal peal, and hoisting a large Flag of our Union on the church steeple.
By this vigorous movement Petaluma has wiped out a stain on its fair fame, and lawless men have been taught a salutary lesson. The Baptists of Petaluma are a peaceable, loyal, mind-their-own-business set of people, and they have a splendid church edifice erected by friends of that denomination, and recently called a loyal Pastor, and are endeavoring to live peaceably with all. But a gang of graceless young and old rowdies have for some time been very impudent to this church. Stones have been thrown and mischief attempted, but our citizens are determined to make a marked example of the first one of these rowdies caught transgressing. Because a church sees fit to adopt loyal resolutions, and has the honesty and courage to enforce them, the candidates for San Quentin here seem to think they have full privilege to annoy. But woful will be the doom of the first one caught attempting violence after this time.
– Daily Alta California, May 13 1864
Spiritual Communication with a Bell. —Some fellow at San Francisco has been holding spiritual communication with that historic church bell of Petaluma. The bell is intensely loyal and accuses its owner of establishing the reign of Dixiedom in Petaluma, because he saw fit to remove it from its elevated position. An appeal to the Spirit of Revolutionary Fathers is made, and just at that juncture a severe shock of an earthquake arrived and brought him to his senses. See Argus.
– Sonoma Democrat, May 14 1864
Baptist Church Difficulty at Petaluma.
Editor of Sonoma County Democrat : The undersigned an humble and quiet spectator in Israel, familiar with and cognizant of all the facts and circumstances out of which the difficulties of the First Baptist Church, of this place, arose, and about which so much has been said and published, has witnessed with deep regret, not to say mortification, the actions and conduct of many of the principal movers in the affair, and which in the judgment of the writer, savors much of injustice, oppression and persecution towards a portion of the members of that Church.
For the sake of the truth and the cause of Christianity, the writer, with your kind permission, will candidly state all the facts to the public through the columns of the Democrat, and ask all charitable and liberal members of the community to withhold a judgment of condemnation against those members of the First Baptist Church of this place, against whom so much has been said, until they know the sequel.
Should you conceive it consonant to your duty as a public journalist to give publicity to the facts, they must run thus:
In September or October, 1863, Rev. Mr. Gould, professing to be a minister of the Baptist persuasion, arrived in Petaluma, and took shelter, meat and drink, at sister F—‘s, (now expelled from the Church), where he and his wife remained for several weeks gratis, preached several sermons, was received by the society and regularly paid and supported tor several months, and until many of the members became satisfied, not only that he was a bad man, but that he was a hypocrite; many things contributed to produce this conclusion, and finally induced several of the members to withhold their support; chief and foremost among which, was his marked discourtesy toward other ministers of the Gospel present in the Church, during divine service, observed not only by the ministers, but by the audience; suffering himself to become angry at trifling and frivolous things, and leaving the Church abruptly, declaring that he never would either preach or pray in it again; refusing to pray for his wife in her last illness, when requested by her, in the presence of members of his Church, his wife being a devout Christian and most estimable lady; gross neglect, and unchristian-like conduct towards his wife during her last illness; peremtory refusal to allow the sisters of the Church to dress the body of his deceased wife in a dress which she had prepared with her own hands, in view of her approaching and anticipated dissolution, and expressly directed and requested that she might be buried in, (true it was more valuable than the one she was buried in); but these are only some of the facts and circumstances that induced the belief that he was unworthy of the support of the members subsequently expelled.
The Rev. Gould being fully aware of all these objections and the consequences, too ignorant to please and too lazy to work, with the duplicity and cunning of a fifth-rate politician, devised a plan by which he fancied he could be continued in the service of the society, and compel it to support him. The scheme opened by calling a business meeting and receiving by previous arrangement, into the Church, nine recusant members, upon their professions, promises, etc.
Rev. Gould and one or two of his devoted friends, being the principal movers in this plan, knowing the objection of a majority of the society to political sermons, made free use of political arguments to carry out the scheme.
The next step was the passage of the following resolution, also by prearrangement among the friends of loyalty and the Rev. Pastor, to wit:
“Resolved, That all the business of the Church, pertaining to financial affairs and discipline, be transacted by the male members of the Church, the female members having the right to vote upon the admission and dismissal, of members.”
This resolution was earnestly protested against by the female members, as well as one or two of the male members, as a gross violation of Baptist usage and Church government.
The adoption of the resolution having given rise to considerable dissatisfaction, as it deprived the female members of a voice in the selection of a pastor, a right which they had always enjoyed as Baptists, was further considered at a business meeting of nine male members, held at the house of the newly admitted members. At this second meeting it was thought, notwithstanding but two male members voted against the resolution, that it was the secesh element in the Church that objected to the Pastorage of the Rev. Mr. Gould, and the adoption of the resolution, although Mr. Gould had, at least generally, very properly abstained from preaching politics.
But, sir, this was the pretext and furnished the means by which seven out of the nine male members at this second meeting, subsequently carried out a portion of the scheme proposed by the Rev. Gould; these seven Christian brethren proposed and adopted the scries of resolutions to which exceptions were subsequently taken.
The very liberal and charitable seven (or a Committee appointed by them, with the aid of Rev. Gould,) first procured the publication of the series in the Evangel of the 17th of March, 1864, and afterwards reported the same to the Church for adoption and approval. The Church refused to adopt them by a decided majority; the moderator failing to declare the vote or result, one of the members requested an announcement, whereupon one of the loyal righteous seven arose in his pew, and with much gravity and in great humility, stated that the vote was only an informal one, and the result of course immaterial.
It will be observed that the first resolution of the series, as subsequently framed by the loyal seven, and published by their direction in the Journal and Argus, deprives the female members of any voice whatever in matters of finance and discipline.
As many of the female members, yea, all of them were bound by their covenant to support their pastor, some of them felt that it was unjust to deny them a voice in the selection of the one they were called upon to support; especially as the whole scheme was gotten up by and intended for the benefit of the devout Rev. Gould, and to continue him as pastor, but the disaffection toward the Rev. Gould was too general, and a committee was appointed to engage another. The committee first obtained the services of the Rev. Mr. Medbury with whom the society were generally pleased, but the very loyal seven and the disappointed Gould, thought they would serve the Lord a little further, and employ one who, in their own language, “would drive the secesh element out of the Church,” they succeeded in obtaining the services of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, who seems to know none greater than himself, and therefore swears by himself and the series of resolutions, prays day and night for the slaughter of all Rebeldom, the punishment and expatration of all Copperheads and sympathizers with slavery or the rebellion, and denounces all objectors to the resolutions as traitors, rebels and heretics.
Under the teaching and advice of this abolition Nomad, all those who refuse to indorse and approve the series ot resolutions, were excommunicated, except four or five who were necessarily absent, nine females and one male member of the society for refusing to approve the resolutions, were expelled, and now, out of these facts has been manufactured all the loyal editorials of the newspapers on the subject, and singular as it may seem, the only voter expelled was at the time and for years had been a Republican voter.
But for fear of writing too much in a single letter, let me add in conclusion that the members expelled, and the remaining few who objected to the resolutions and wore not expelled because of their absence at the meeting, were the founders and builders of the edifice from which they have been or are to be forced by the radical proscriptive spirit of these two Ministerial Nomads and their loyal followers; their labor, money and means, bought the land, built the house, even the American Flag that floats in the breeze, from the belfry, is the handi-work of, and was contributed by those who protest against the resolutions.
The few who built this church house did it when their members were so limited that it cost some of them almost all of their earthly valuables, yet, generously gave it, and like Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist Church in the United States, sought it as a place at which they conid worship unmolested, unawed and untrammelled by political schismatics or intolerance; but they are now turned out of it for refusal to declare by resolution that the Sisters of the society are unworthy or incompetent to declare who would be a suitable minister for this Church, and for refusing to declare further by resolution that the Government of the United States, the Government of their Fathers is contrary to every divine and moral law.
To the hasty brethren who first gave publicity to those resolutions, we must say, you would have done better to have remembered the 9th and 10th verses of 25th Proverbs.
“Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret “to another; lest he that heareth it, put “thee to shame and thine infamy turn “not away.”
Much has been said about the bell on this Church, which is an entirely separate matter, about which, with your approbation, I will write another epistle, until then believe me a prisoner, yet in the bands of peace.
SCOTUS. Petaluma, May 25th, 1864.
– Sonoma Democrat, June 4 1864
Letter from Scotus.
Editor of Sonoma County Democrat: In my last I promised to write you again, since which time I have visited the western part of the county, was much surprised on my return to this place to-day, to find that the few facts given in my letter about the Baptist Church troubles had been made the subject of three lengthy articles in the Journal and Argus. Have you read those articles? if not read them, the facts seem to trouble the loyal, the “late Pastor of the first Baptist Church,” A. Gould favors us with one of those articles; docs he take issue with “Scotus” on any of the statements of facts? does he deny that his wife was buried in an old alpacca, or that it was only fourteen years old? instead of a decent gown prepared by her own hands, and requested she might be buried in; does he directly deny a single statement made by “Scotus?” Not he, sir; when he does the “Scotus tribe” stands pledged to produce the proof; this, however, we venture to predict the Reverend and devoted gentleman will never call for.
Let the worthy gentleman understand and know that the “unknown assassin” may be found with but little effort. There is a single additional statement in the worthy Pastors letter deserving notice; he says, “the parties who have cooked up the slanderous letter,” etc., never come near my house either to enquire as to our wants (during his wife’s illness) or to proffer the sympathy and assistance so much needed. Now to this charge, “Scotus” pleads guilty, as he had no acquaintance with the lady or her husband, and was wholly ignorant of her illness; but if the pastor means to say that the sisters, then in this Church and since expelled, did not frequently call, sit up with, and as good neighbors and Christians, minister to his lamented wife, then, indeed, has he stated a falsehood, and hero is a tangible issue, on which if he desires, he can find “Scotus.”
Another article in the Journal and Argus, fathered by “Argus” says “it is true that Rev. Gould made the pews with his own hands and gave the thankless beggars then in the Church, $200 in cash and work.” Here is another falsehood the first we shall notice by “Argus,” and this makes up an issue with him on which he can find “Scotus” if he desires. The truth is that Rev. Gould agreed and undertook to put in the pews for a stipulated amount, worked a few days, and then sold his contract to Jas. Hosmer, and received his pay, and Mr. Hosmer performed the labor and received of the Trustees every dollar of the contract price; nor did Rev. Gould ever give two hundred cents to the Church.
Now, sir, these matters were first referred to, and here noticed simply in reference to Rev. Gould to justify the belief which the expelled members of this Church had, that he was not the right man in the right place.
But says “Argus,” “the present loyal members have paid off all the old debts of the Church,” etc. How much did they pay, “Argus?” We know that the Church did not owe to exceed $30. How did they pay it, by appealing in this trying time to those outside loyalists, who, like yourself have studied niggerology until they have strained the mind? We think yes.
As wo owe no potatoe, meat, bread, or clothes bills or grocery bills and pay our pew rent, and see no application of the other portion of “Argus’s” squib to the “Scotus tribe” we dismiss him with the suggestion that we think from his apt use of, and familiarity with small he would make a better “beach comer” than clerk of a church; he would make a full hand in gathering deselect waifs and treasure store.
There was also * * [sic] appeared in the Journal and Argus of the same date, but the “wise men of the cast” will never in all probability see the sign.
The author is evidently a loyal man, he mentions it in his prayers, all of his dreams are exceedingly loyal, he is too loyal to respect a Copperhead or the vile conductor of the Democrat, but stoops from his high loyal degree to notice “Scotus.” But we are writing too much in our letter, will notice them again with your permission. Truth is mighty and will prevail. June 16th, ’64.
– Sonoma Democrat, June 25 1864
Guerillas at Work.– The residence of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, Pastor of First Baptist Church, of, this city, was stoned last Sunday night, at half past 11 o’clock. One half of a brick was thrown through his bedroom window, striking the wall just above the head of his bed, and making a hole through the plastering. Two large stones were hurled through his parlor window one with such force as to go through the curtain, leaving a hole that looked as though it had been cut with a knife. Tho upper sash in the bedroom window was almost entirely destroyed. Mrs. Davidson, who is in delicate health, was frightened terribly. There were three of these murderous assassins, engaged in this outrage, who threw their rocks and then fled like cowardly hounds. We can imagine no reason for this, unless it is of a political nature. Mr, Davidson preaches loyalty and prays for the success of the Union Army! He is an active worker in the cause of temperance and for all worthy objects of charity. He attends strictlv to bis own business, is in offensive and quiet, and is much admired and respected by the loyal portion of this community for his many christian virtues. It is useless to add that this outrage has produced great indignation among our law abiding citizens. We earnestly hope, for the credit of our city, that the officers of the law will at least make an effort to ferret out the guilty ones. –Petaluma Journal.
Mr. Davidson is well known in Santa Cruz as a firm advocate of the cause of temperance, and a loyal man. We hope that all diligence will be taken to arrest and punish these offenders.
– Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, July 30 1864
FURTHER OUTRAGES. — The Petaluma Journal of August 11th gives another instance of Copperhead outrages in Sonoma county: The day appointed by the President for prayer was observed at Healdsburg, and religious services were held, in the Baptist Church in the morning, and Methodist Church in the evening. Rev. A. Gould preached a loyal sermon in the forenoon, arousing the Coyote and Hit-ite party. After service, in the evening, as Gould, in company with the pastor of the Methodist Church and several ladies, were on their way from church, they were assailed with stones, by concealed scoundrels. On the following evening, while Gould was alone in his study, the house was assailed with great violence, and a shower of blessings in the form of bricks and bowlders came against the house, smashing things considerably. Gould went to the door and heard the rowdies running as for dear life. We truly live in delightful times, when loyal Christian people are endangered in life and properly because they are true to God and the nation. Our Baptist friends seem special favorites of the rebels and their rowdy allies. We heartily sympathize with them in their persecutions, and only hope the Union people may be able, ere long, to “tie to” some of their assailants. Rev. A. Gould is as good and loyal a man as we have in California.
– Sacramento Daily Union, August 15 1864
We have noticed recently, and have heard others remark it, that the bell in the Baptist Church, wich is rung morning, noon and night, has lost much of its clear sweet tone. It has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 4 1866
Cracked-The bell on the Baptist Church has received a crack which renders it useless for the present. This is unfortunate, as it was not only remarkable for the clearness and compass of its tone, but had an historic association – being the Vigilance Committee bell, during troublesome times in San Francisco, and sounded the death knell of Casey, Corey, Hethrington, and Brace, and struck terror to the hearts of other desperadoes of that city.
If the facture cannot be healed by brazing, the bell will have to be recast. For the present the bell on the Congregational Church will be rung morning, noon and night.
– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 11 1866
Scranton, Penn.–…Your old friend Davidson is here. When I was in Petaluma you remember he was Pastor to the Baptists. Everytime we meet he has something to say of Petaluma, and always gives your town a fair name. He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed “A Year in Petaluma,” will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars…
– Petaluma Argus, April 16 1868
THE OLD BELL
An Interesting Talk With M. Doyle About Its History.
Knowing that M. Doyle wan directly interested in the famous old bell of the Baptist Church in Petaluma, about which so much has been written, a Democrat reporter called on him Monday afternoon for a short talk on the subject.
“Yes,” said Mr. Doyle, “I know all about the old bell, and I want to say right here that it was never stolen, as the Imprint has it. I was the man who bought the old bell from Conroy & O’Connor for $550, and of that sum I had subscribed $110. It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek.”
“Why was it taken down?”
“Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject. When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government. After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church. Instead of being put back in the steeple on the next morning, it stayed in the Baylis warehouse for three months [ED: It was twelve days – je, July, 2018]. It is an historic old relic anyway, and when in its prime was one of the finest bells I ever heard. On a clear day it could be heard in Bloomfield and Sonoma. In fact, when it was rung in San Francisco at the time Casey and Corey were hung, it has been said, the wind being favorable, that it was heard in San Jose. But what I have said about the removal of the bell in the daytime many of the older citizens of Petaluma will bear me out. In order to keep my word about not letting the bell hang over the church I agreed, after it was put back, to sell my interest to the city, and John Shrofe, the chairman of the trustees, bought it on behalf of the city.”
– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893
A Famous Bell.
A proposition has been made to exhibit the bell in the Baptist Church in Petaluma with the Sonoma County display at the Midwinter Fair. The bell has a remarkable history; a history which will within a century make it almost as famous in California as the old Liberty bell of Philadelphia. It is a pure metal bell manufactured by Ho er & Co., of Boston, and weighs about 1,150 pounds [ED: It was cast by Henry N. Hooper & Co. in Boston, 1855 – je/July, 2018]. It is the identical bell owned and used by the famous Vigilance Committee in the historic days of 1860. It was then rang by the committee when William T. Coleman was its president. Those were days that tried the souls of San Francisco’s worst men. During the war it was stolen from the church steeple, and on being replaced was cracked one dark midnight, by a sledge-hammer.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893
OLD BELL TO STAY IN PETALUMA
Relic of Vigilantes’ Day Wanted for San Francisco Museum, Will Remain in Sonoma County Town
There has been a little agitation in Petaluma for a few days since the city of San Francisco sent a request that the old bell that hung so long in the belfry of the Petaluma Baptist church, be sent there for installation in a museum, or something of the kind. It is not likely, however, that the bell will be shipped away from Petaluma, for on Monday night the trustees of the Baptist church voted to keep the bell in the following resolution;
Whereas, It has come to our attention through a communication published in a local paper that certain parties desire that our old bell be presented to a San Francisco museum, we deem it wise at this time to state our position in the matter.
The bell was purchased with funds raised by subscription among the members and friends among the and became the sole property of the Petaluma Baptist church. [sic]
It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War.
During the early stages of the war it announced the receipt of news of victories of the contending armies. Friends of the Northern forces rang it to proclaim the news of Union victories and adherents of the South rang it on receipt of news of victories of the Confederate armies. It was on account, of such announcements that the bell was finally broken by a zealous adherent of one of the contending forces.
The bell was for a time used by the Vigilante Committee of San Francisco, but it has been the property of this church for more than half a century and has become more closely connected with the history of Petaluma than it was with that of San Francisco: therefore, be it
Resolved, That we announce through the press of Petaluma that we believe it to be our duty to retain possession Of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time.
Trustees of Petaluma Baptist Church.
– Press Democrat, April 5 1916