Notes From My Knapsack 6-11-09 -- Granville Sentinel
A Swashbuckling Granville Privateer, a Roughhewn Preacher, and…
Laura Evans ably holds down the historical side of things here in the Sentinel pages, and always adds a narrative dose of personality to the oft' distant figures she describes.
I hope she doesn't mind my poaching on her terrain a bit, as I carry on a little further about one William Gavit, converted at a Methodist revival in Muskingum County in the summer of 1809, and the first "class leader" of what became Centenary United Methodist Church in 1810.
There's a number of versions of the story that led the "freethinker" Gavit to attend a camp meeting, but they all agree that he rode some distance east and spent time at a preaching revival. As it happens, Rev. James B. Finley was appointed to that area in the spring of 1809, and on pg. 202 of his "Autobiography" he describes his unassuming arrival in Zanesville:
"Several days travel brought me to Zanesville, the principal appointment on my circuit. When I arrived in town it was raining hard. In lieu of an overcoat, to protect me from the storm, I had procured a blanket, and cutting a hole in the middle of it, I thrust my head through it and found it a good protection. Riding up to the door of one of the principal Methodists of the place, I asked for lodgings, informing the brother that the conference had sent me there as the preacher. Eyeing me closely from head to foot, he replied, "You look like any thing else than a preacher." I told him he should not judge too rashly, as he might, perhaps, think better of me on a closer examination, and I suggested the propriety, at least, of his giving me a fair trial."
Almost sounds like Clint Eastwood coming to the door in the rain, doesn't it?
His preaching the next day was, in fact, well received, and he continued from there to Barnesville and Leatherwood Creek (ah, now there's a story for later), and up around to the Tuscarawas River. It was in that valley that the first camp meeting east central Ohio was held, somewhere near Dresden, and it was almost certainly that revival where Gavit and his traveling companion heard and responded.
Of Gavit it must be said, in the words of an early Revolutionary War historian, "His application for pension reads like a romance of the sea." Born in Westerly, Rhode Island, he joined the small privateer navy that the Continental Congress tried to throw together on the cheap, enlisting in New London, Connecticut at the age of 15. He was a sailor on the privateer "Favorite," the sloop "Randolph," the schooner "De Crops," and the brig "Martin." But his most dramatic post was as a prisoner of the British on the grounded prison hulk "Jersey," an infamous deathtrap for literally thousands of American prisoners. He was captured by the Royal Navy not once but twice, escaping from the "Jersey," and returning near the war's end. 8,000 and more died there, but Gavit escaped, married his boyhood sweetheart, and headed in country away from the sea to Granville, Massachusetts, where he joined the famous 1805 settlement party.
What I find most interesting, but so far unprovable – his second son had the middle name "Denison," the one-n type. And Westerly is just a few miles from the Denison Homestead near Mystic, Connecticut, where William S. Denison was born and from which his family set out for the valleys near the junction of the Tuscarawas and Muskingum.
Was William Gavit related to the Denisons by blood, or by marriage to his wife Sarah? And could the elderly old pillar of his Granville community, still alive in 1854, have helped pass the word to a wealthy relation over Muskingum way, who made a gift that placed his name upon the college on the hill?
Ah, that's more a storyteller weaving a tale than history, but that's why it's so much fun to be a storyteller.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; spin a tale for him at email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @ Twitter.