In the city we went regularly to meeting, and Dr. Black seemed always to talk to me, and I had no more difficulty in understanding his sermons, than in mastering the details of the most simple duty. The first of which I preserve the memory was about Peter, who was made to illustrate the growth of crime. He began with boasting; then came its natural fruit, cowardice, in following his master afar off; next falsehood, and from this he proceeded to perjury. It did seem that a disciple of Christ could go no further; but for falsehood and perjury there might be excuse in the hope of reward, and Peter found a lower deep, for “he began to curse and to swear.” A profane swearer is without temptation, and serves the devil for the pure love of the service. What more could Peter do to prove that he knew not Jesus?
In the communion service is a ceremony called “fencing the tables,” which consists of an appeal to the consciences of intended communicants. Dr. Black began with the first commandment and forbade those living in its violation to come to the table, and so proceeded through the decalogue. When he came to the eighth, he straightened himself, placed his hands behind him, and with thrilling emphasis said, “I debar from this holy table of the Lord, all slave-holders and horse-thieves, and other dishonest persons,” and without another word passed to the ninth commandment.
Soon after we returned to the city, sister Mary died of consumption, and father’s health began to fail. I have preserved the spinning wheel on which mother converted flax yarn into thread, which she sold to aid in the support of the family, but soon the entire burden fell on her, for father’s illness developed into consumption, from which he died in March, 1823.
In spite of all the testamentary precautions he could take, whatever of his estate might have been available for present support, was in the hands of lawyers, and mother was left with her children and the debts. There were the contents of his shop and warehouse, some valuable real estate in Pittsburg, which had passed out of his possession on a claim of ground-rent, and a village home minus a title.
William was a mechanical genius, so mother set him to making little chairs, which he readily sold, but he liked better to construct fire engines, which were quite wonderful but brought no money. He had a splendid physique, was honorable and faithful, and if mother had been guided by natural instinct in governing him, all would have been well; but he never met the requirements of the elders of the church, who felt it their duty to manage our family affairs. So he was often in trouble, and I, who gloried in him, contrived to shield him from many a storm.