This week’s story occurs circa 1881-83. John and Eleanor (Ralston) Wickerham will again see the loss of another child, bringing their total loss to 8 out of their 11 children. John is 73 and Eleanor is 68 as their daughter Victoria heads back to school. You will see prayer answered with a miracle, as God’s Word hidden in Victoria’s heart reminds her not to fear.
In First Corinthians, twelfth chapter, verses five and six we read, “and there are differences of administration, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operation, but it is the same God that worketh all in all.”
In this day we hear quoted a great deal among Evangelistic groups from the Psalms, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
Also from St. John’s gospel, “We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen.” These scriptures are quoted many times as encouragement for the testimony of new converts, or for those who have received outstanding answers to prayer to testify publicly of their experiences. Such testimonies are faith-inspiring agencies no one should belittle.
There are also scriptures that may seem to be contradictory, such as in Romans, “Hast thou faith, have it to thyself before God.” There are others of the “go and tell no man” type.
This is somewhat clarified when we read in Ecclesiastes that there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak.”
With these scriptures in mind, it may be better understood why some who have had miraculous experiences give no public testimony other than shown by a deeper and richer spiritual life.
Foxes Book of Martyrs, Scots’ Worthies and other books record much of the miraculous among the Covenanters of persecution times.
Though these quiet Scots shrank from much public demonstration, true stories of their own experiences were told to the children along with Bible stories and stories of persecution days.
After all, it is the same God that works in the private and living testimony as effectively as in the public testimony, they held.
In the days when the Gaileyite church flourished, there had been miraculous recoveries from illnesses and even when life was not spared, grueling pain had been eased by the prayer of faith. Rev. Gailey had seemed at times to possess a spiritual power glimpsed fleetingly now and then down the ages that kept the church from losing sight of the miraculous in healing.
Less than a year after her enrollment in the Hillsboro Academy, Victoria Wickerham’s education became again something for her to dream about. Sickness at home had interfered with her plans before this at times; now Candace, the mainstay at home, was ill.
Lois Ann, as always, was just a living shadow, and their father, still a semi-invalid. Cargill (their son) had married Elizabeth Sharp so there seemed no other way but for Victoria to come home.
Candace’s illness soon became serious as an abscess had formed on one kidney. To drain the abscess was as far as local physicians’ knowledge had advanced.
The Elders of the church had prayed often for her recovery, if it be the Lord’s will.
“God heals through man so far as he has revealed cures to man. The clay with which Jesus anointed the blind Man’s eyes was well known to have curative elements to the extent of drawing out inflammation, but it could never have opened blind eyes, yet He used the clay.” Rev. Gailey had pointed out.
It was not; however, the Lord’s will that Candace recover. John and Eleanor Ann, through all their trials, had managed to keep the little forty acres farm home mortgage-free, but the land was mined out to the place where raising enough to feed the proverbial “cow, sow, and hen” and a pair of horses was difficult. However, with his work making and repairing shoes and harnesses and occasionally making a piece of furniture for sale, doctor bills, funeral expenses and taxes were met.
Candace had done much of the farm work while Cargill worked on the railroad, at making ties or at splitting rails and shingles, slowly accumulating the $1000 those thrifty Scots figured a young man should have before taking a wife. She had also woven blankets and cloth on a handloom as a little independent business of her own.
Now the family would have to adjust and carry on. Cargill moved nearer and farmed the place on shares while John worked at his trade as much as he was able.
Lois Ann had her own small business at home of blocking over and trimming a hat now and then and making hair switches and wigs from ladies’ combings.
Victoria was free again to make another try for a college education.
She was busily packing her valise and trunk. An uneasy foreboding seemed to envelop her. She tried to ignore the feeling for these trips were anything but pleasant by jostling train, bouncing livery rig and pitching riverboat. Still, the other than natural feeling of dread for an unpleasant journey continued to trouble her.
Dropping to her knees beside her bed she was lost for a moment in seeking divine guidance. All at once, it seemed the old percenter of her childhood was standing before her lining out from the ninety-first Psalm “Thou shall not need to be afraid.”
She arose and began to sing a portion of the Psalm, a version she knew so well:
“Thou shalt not need to be afraid
For terror of the night;
Nor for the arrow that doth fly
By day while it is light.
Nor for the pestilence that walks
In darkness secretly;
Nor for destruction that doth waste
At noonday openly
A thousand at thy side shall fall,
On thy right hand shall lie
Ten thousand dead, yet unto thee
It shall not once come nigh.”
As she sang, her spirits rose and she chided herself for her moment of fearfulness. River fog was dense, almost obscuring the ticket office as Victoria, valise in hand, alighted from the cab she had taken from the train to boat landing. The cab driver was setting down her trunk when a colored porter approached.
“Let me help with your baggage, Ma’am. Which boat, Ma’am?” he asked, shouldering her trunk. “The Phaeton.” It leaves first I believe,” she replied. “Better take the “Handy,” Ma’am, she’s perfectly safe,” he counseled as they approached the ticket office. “She‘s perfectly safe. Thou shalt not need to be afraid,” the two statements seemed to flow together. “Very well,” she replied and bought a ticket for the “Handy” although it did not leave until a little later.
There may yet be living some very old folks who will remember that the boiler of the Phaeton blew up on the trip. There were few if any survivors!
The Phaeton was a small side-wheel steamer on the Ohio River. She exploded her boilers at 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of June 28, 1881, just above Maysville, Ky. Eight people were killed and many injured. The boat was used in local trade between Vanceburg, Ky., and Manchester, Ohio, and was valued at $1500. The engineer, Cash Naylor from Manchester, Ohio, was one of those who was fatally killed.
Since this accident occurred more than 140 some years ago, I am sure that no one living in 2022 remembers this tragedy. Some may say that Victoria sure was lucky, but personally, I don’t think so. I believe like I am sure Victoria did, that the Holy Spirit had warned her and that her prayers had moved the hand of God to perform a miracle on her behalf!
Written circa late 1950s and early 1960s by Lena McCoy Mathews (1893-1988) and transcribed for The Defender by Joyce Wilson. Look for more history in future issues of The People’s Defender.