STRUGGLES AND TRIALS OF EARLY LIFE.
PATRICK HUES MELL was born July 19th, 1814, in Walthourville, Liberty county, Georgia. His father, Major Benjamin Mell, was raised at Laurel Hill, one mile from Midway Church; and his mother, Cynthia Sumner Mell, was the granddaughter of Edward Sumner, who moved from South Carolina to Liberty county with the early settlers of that portion of Georgia. Cynthia Sumner was married to Major Benjamin Mell on the 19th of February, 1807, and by this union were born four sons and four daughters. P. H. Mell was the second in age, and the oldest son.
Major Mell, upon the death of his father, succeeded to a large and valuable property that enabled him to supply his family with many of the comforts of life. He was a very liberal man, sympathetic by nature, and generous to a fault. This disposition induced him to stand security in an evil hour for one who commanded his sympathy. The sum involved was a large one, and the party failing to meet the obligations when the note fell due. Major Moll was compelled to pay the security, and his property was so much involved that he was unable to extricate himself. The greater part of his estate was swept away and his family was placed in straitened circumstances. This financial reversal produced such an effect upon his mind that his health gave way and within two years he died. His wife followed him two or three years later. P. H. Mell, being the eldest son, the support and care of the family fell upon his shoulders. When his father died he was only fourteen years of age, and but sixteen or seventeen at the time of his mother’s death. He was thus deprived of his greatest source of comfort and strength. A mere youth without experience, he was forced to rely solely upon his native genius to provide a means of support for himself and dependent brothers and sisters. He gave up the small remnant of his share of the property, saved by his father from the wreck, to the support of his brothers and sisters, and started out with the determination to obtain an education, and as far as possible recover. the social position and property that had been lost by his father’s misfortune. During the life of his parents he was given the advantages of good schooling and a thorough foundation was laid upon which to build the excellent education that in after years he successfully acquired. With this preparatory training to start with, at seventeen years of age he taught, for a time, a primary school in a log hut with a dirt floor and thus secured the funds required to supply the absolute necessities of life, and was enabled also to add a small sum to the income for the benefit of his brothers and sisters. In Walthourville, his native place, there was an excellent English and Classical Academy in which he soon obtained entrance as a scholar where he paid for his instruction by teaching some of the primary classes. Among his schoolmates in boyhood was Dr. John Jones, the ,eminent Presbyterian minister. Dr. Jones, in writing to a friend since Dr. Mell’s death, and speaking of this early time, says:
“His becoming a Baptist minister may be attributed to the fact that a few members of old Midway church, (the Sumners among them,) joined a Baptist church which was organized at Sunbury, Liberty county, Georgia, in the early part of this century. My impression is that Dr. Mell’s father was not a church member.* His mother was a woman of marked individuality of character, intellectual and a truly Godly woman, brought up in the strictest mode of old Congregationalism, and, no doubt, perfectly familiar with the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which was thoroughly taught in old Midway church in ancient and in modern times. Dr. Mell was all Sumner, a perfect reproduction of his mother, in form, in features, in character and in mind, proving the old saying: ‘that men of mark are chiefly indebted to their mothers for their superiority.’ . Dr. Mell manifested in early life an’ unusual love for knowledge, with great ability in acquiring all the branches of learning. But the distinguishing characteristic of the man was self reliance, autonomy; he was ever brave and hopeful, I never saw him depressed, although surrounded in early life by great domestic pressure caused by financial losses and changed circumstances. Dr. Mell was indeed a remarkable man.”
In conversation with Dr. Jones he said that Mell was a leader among the school boys; and although of slender frame he was vigorous, active and high spirited, and ever ready and prompt not only to resent an insult to himself but also to defend his friends, especially those who were weaker than the oppressor. He had a strong sense of justice and was frequently the referee for school boy differences. Besides this his intelligence, vivacity and ready wit made him a most agreeable companion. When he made a promise he fulfilled it; he was true to his friends, and his integrity won the love and confidence of his schoolmates.
After remaining at the Walthourville school for a short time, P. H. Mell was offered a good position in the Academy at the Ridge near Darien. This Academy was under the direction of Col. Bradwell, and Mr. Mell continued his studies under him and paid for the tuition by acting as Assistant in the school.
Before his mother’s death, and while attending school at the “Sand Hills,” he received the following letter from her which shows so clearly how anxious she was that her son should grow up in the fear of the Lord and give his entire life to the Master’s service.
October 13th. 1829.
My Dear Boy:
It is high time that you and I should communicate frequently and intimately and confidentially. If this is not to be expected by the time you have arrived at fifteen when is it to be looked for? On one account I have more anxiety, and even dread on your behalf than for any of my children. Earnestly as I wish a son of mine to be a minister yet I. tremble at the idea of educating and devoting a son to the sacred profession without previously satisfactory evidence that his own soul was right with God …… My heart burns to see you in every sense of the word a true Christian. You cannot oblige me more than by giving me the history of your heart at different times. I have known too little of you, my child. lot that ignorance on my part cease. I have loved you from your birth, and have watched over you until now with the tenderest affection, but feel my own deficiency in not communing more with you on the state of your mind. You should exercise a jealousy over yourself lest the trifles of this world should deaden your feelings about the grand question: what are the chances of my salvation-what have I done-what must I do to be saved? Important questions. Other studies are very commendable and right, but let those which tend directly to religious subjects have the first place in your thoughts and affections …… Lot these pages, my dear boy, be a testimony before God, and keep them as a sign between you and me, that I am in earnest as to a subject where indifference would be sin. I have long been studying your character in respect to your common life and particularly in reference to this point: remember they that are Christs have crucified their affections and lusts-crucify your’s. Pursue your studies with diligence. You may do great things for yourself, even without help-although I grant much better with it …… Believe me to be ever your affectionate
Mother Cynthia Mell.”
Mrs. Mell’s mind seemed to be so full of the desire that her son should not only give himself to God but also become a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, that she wrote him again on the following day to the one on which the above letter was written and presented the question him in this manner:
“You have arrived at an age when I wish you to become my bosom friend and companion in all things, but above all, in those things which belong to your everlasting peace. I have sometimes feared that other subjects have occupied your thoughts, and yet I have the firmest hope that your mind is truly sensible of the value and importance of divine things. I cannot but hope that you sometimes lift up your heart in prayer, and that your affections are somewhat directed towards divine truth. I cannot express to you how much the belief comforts and strengthens my mind. None but God knows what my feeling has been on that point. It must ever be kept in mind that the mere study of the ministry, however valuable in the individual, will not suffice, but consecration to God must be had before he or another for him fixes on the ministry for his profession. And I shall not hesitate to say to you that honored and happy as I should feel in being permitted to see you a faithful preacher of righteousness, adorning the gospel which you would proclaim to others, yet without this I would rather a thousand times see you in the humblest station in life. I will not conceal from you any longer my anxiety for you to become a minister, yet I dare not decide on such a plan without much more clear evidence than I have yet seen, that your actual state, feeling and conduct, temper and conversation, habitual and fixed thoughts, are such as will justify me in doing so. I say this with anxiety, and write with fear, but I say it with earnest prayers for the real conversion of your soul to God, and with some hope that he will hear the petition that I have endeavored to offer up for you for many years back. I will repeat: I can never consent for you to study for the ministry until I have some satisfactory proof of your heart being turned to God in holy consistency and permanency of character.”
The anxiety and love so strongly shown in these letters go to prove how potent are the prayers, the earnest solicitations and Christian influence of a mother’s life over the future wellbeing and good fortunes of a loved son. The mother did not live to see the fruits of her work on the young life, but the long years of usefulness vouchsafed Dr. Mell and these years too so closely crowded with interesting incidents, show how great was the harvest that came from the seed his mother so carefully planted in the rich soil. God answered her prayers by giving to the country a noble life, the influence of which was felt for more than fifty years through the length and breadth of this Southern land.
In 1832, three years after the dates of the above letters, Mr. Mell was baptized at North New Port Baptist Church, in Liberty County, by the pastor, Rev. Josiah Samuel Law.
* It is true, as Dr. Jones states, that Major Mell was not a member of the church, but he professed conversion and was a regular attendant on divine services of the Baptist church at Sunbury. I suppose his ancestors were members of the Episcopal Denomination because his father descended from the English Cavalier stock.