According to Grand Rapids historian Franklin Everett, Fortescue, a Scot, had at one time been a “seafaring man” and an officer in the British army during the American revolutionary war, but became disenchanted with his government’s policy toward the colonies and remained in America. According to Chapman’s History of Kent County, Fortescue became “appalled at the magnitude of the task” of subjugating the colonies and decided instead to settle in America.
By 1800 Francis’ father (“Fortune”) was listed as living in New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut; and by 1820 only Phebe was listed as living in New Haven, New Haven County, Connecticut.
It is unclear what became of Francis’ parents, but, according to Jean Heibel, historian and archivist for St. Mark’s church in Grand Rapids, while still a young boy Francis was sent to the preparatory academy of Professor (Rev.) John C. Rudd at Elizabethtown, New Jersey. “His academy”, Ms. Heibel notes, “would attain a reputation as an outstanding institution for a classical education as well as ‘for the deportment and good manners which would stand young gentlemen in good stead in their adult lives’.”
It was a boarding school with some of the young men sheltered within Dr. Rudd’s home. They were required to bring their own bedding but were provided “good meals and laundry done at nominal cost.” During Cuming’s stay at the academy, he and Dr. Rudd developed a friendship which widened and deepened over the years. . . . When Cuming completed his course of study at the academy, he was licensed as a lay reader and, in 1817, was ordained to the deaconate at St. John’s church in Elizabethtown. In 1818, Dr. Rudd sent him forth with a letter to the bishop recommending him as “a gentleman of talents and respectability.”
Cuming was sent briefly to the west, and when he returned, took up diverse missionary duties within his own diocese, preaching occasionally at Paterson, Spotswood, Freehold and Woodbridge, [New Jersey]. In May,1819, he accepted a position in Morristown where he had 30-40 Episcopalians, “though the number of hearers is much greater”. Here he held services once, and sometimes twice, every Sunday. He said, in a report to his bishop: “there seems to be a prevailing wish that there should be an Episcopal church here.”
On 14 Nov., 1819, he began missionary duties at Christ Church in Binghamton, New York. The Journal of the Convention of the Diocese of New York in 1820 reported “He found the congregation by no means in a flourishing state.” Mr. Cuming retorted: “Your missionary is sorry to report that no inconsiderable effort had been made to prevent the prosperity of the church in this place. Her doctrines and usages had been misrepresented and ridiculed. Strong prejudice existed against her form of worship and her principles. These, in many cases, have been removed and your Missionary has some reason to believe that his labors here have not been altogether in vain. He would establish a Sunday school which would boast 165 scholars and a very good organ was set in the church. He was able to establish a mission church at Union, a very respectable farming town adjoining Binghamton. . . ."
Francis received his priest orders in the Episcopal Church from Bishop Hobart in Rochester, New York. He was also reported to be an ardent and prominent Mason.
By 1820 Rev. Cuming had settled into St. Luke’s church in Rochester, New York, where he superintended both the building of St. Luke’s church and its congregation for some nine years, during which time he traveled frequently to New York City, and reportedly laid the foundation for Calvary Church in that city.
It was while he was living in Rochester that he met and married Caroline Abigail Hulbert or Hurlburt (d. 1827) on January 31, 1822, at Auburn, New York. They had three children, Caroline, Frances L. (wife of Mr. Nourse of Allegan County) and a son Thomas (1827-1858).
Thomas was born on Christmas and the very next day his mother died. “As devastated as the young husband and father was, he stayed at St. Luke’s for two more years. Upon his retirement from this pastorate, the vestry wrote: ‘He had taken a very weak parish worshipping in a small frame building into a handsome stone edifice (already enlarged once) and made its congregation the largest outside of New York City.’”
Four years after Caroline’s death, on April 6, 1831, Francis married his second wife Charlotte Hart (1812-1883), and they had at least seven children: Henry Coleman (b. 1832), Elizabeth Jeanette (b. 1835), Mary E. or Hart (b. 1838), Charlotte Rochester (b. 1841, wife of Dr. Reed of Philadelphia), Frances Sinclair (b. 1845), Emily Jane (b. 1848) Ann Wadsworth (b. 1851).
The same year he remarried Rev. Cuming and his family left Rochester and he accepted the rectorate at St. Mark’s church in Leroy, New York, just south of Rochester. According to one report
“he found the parish in somewhat of a depressed state, in consequence of being, for a long time, destitute of regular ministerial services. The Sunday School had become almost entirely extinct. . . .” His first action was to reorganize the Sunday School. In this he was successful beyond the most sanguine expectations of the church [and by the following year had] 105 scholars and 22 teachers, . . .” He would also set up a Bible class which numbered 55 persons and established a Female Benevolent Society; the members beside paying an annual sum each, assembled once every two weeks for the manufacture of articles for sale. All this and more he accomplished during the first five months!
The family then moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, where Rev. Cuming served as Rector of the church there. Rev. Cuming reportedly spent much of his time traveling throughout the northern states acting as Secretary and General Agent for the school of the Episcopal Church. Eventually he accepted the rectorate of St. Andrew’s in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan. By 1840 Rev. Cuming was living in Washtenaw County.
On May 24, 1843, Francis was called by St. Mark’s Church in Grand Rapids, and, according to city historian Albert Baxter, was promised a salary of $400 “to be paid quarterly in advance, and the expense of transporting his goods from Jackson or Detroit to this place.” He was also informed that a “house had been rented, with five acres of land, for one dollar a week; and the Doctor was advised to bring with him everything he might need.” He began work on October 1, and “within the first year of the new rectorate it became necessary to increase the seating capacity of the church building.” As the congregation continued to grow and prosper, it was ultimately decided that a new church would have to be built. Construction on the new (and present) St. Mark’s was begun in 1846 and completed within two years.
Charlotte Cuming too was busy in helping the growth of Grand Rapids. According to one source,
The settlement of Grand Rapids, on the west side of the state, dates from 1837; the municipal incorporation from 1850. Here it was Protestant philanthropy that developed the earliest hospital foundations. The details are of liveliest interest to lovers of local chronicles, and to those that despise not the day of small things. For the purpose of devising ways to care for the poor and sick independently of the town poor masters, a meeting was held in the fall of 1847, at Prospect Hills schoolhouse, on the site of the Ledyard Block. Thus began a Benevolent Association under the presidency of Mrs. Francis F. Cumming, wife of the rector of St. Mark's Church, which operated a house-to-house relief work through district visitors. On January 16, 1857, a charter was taken out under the name Grand Rapids Orphan Asylum, by a group bearing a close personal identity with the unincorporated workers of the ten years preceding. A double function was herein authorized, namely, to provide for orphans and destitute children, and to extend relief to sick and indigent persons.
Many years later a former student in St. Mark’s Sunday School remember Rev. Cuming well.
No timid little one could peep in at the door of St. Mark’s on a Sunday morning or linger in the vestibule, and escape the watchful eye of the active pastor and superintendent. With an attractive force, he compelled the faint-hearted and the careless to come in; their names were enrolled and they were, at once, made to feel that they were objects of special personal regard. During the teachers’ exercises, Mr. Cuming would pass rapidly through the aisles, giving cheerful words to the children, addressing them by name or as my son or my daughter, in a manner that would cause the childish cheek to glow with pleasure. Thenceforward the young heart was bound to him, and it did not require the promise of new coats or new shoes, to bring to the church on every recurring Sunday morning, that unfortunate class of juveniles who often have catechisms and coats very much mixed up in their minds, setting the coats against the catechism, balancing accounts and quitting when the coat deteriorates in value, but ever ready to negotiate for the rendering of more catechism on the receipt of more coat.
In conducting the general exercises of the school, Mr. Cuming excelled. He was brilliant where many are only endurable. He fixed the attention and sent away crowds of young ones happy in being compelled to carry a new thought. There were no drones in his schoolteachers and pupils were all enthusiastic. Sunday School was watched for and prepared for with a zest which can hardly be realized by those who dread the spiritless wearing away of the dull Sabbath day.
The Bible was made interesting, geographically and historically. Mr. Cuming prepared a little historical geography, running from Genesis to the new dispensation, using in connection, maps which were suspended before the school. Thus the historical bible which had become fossilized in the minds of many by being constantly before them from babyhood, without producing definite impressions, was illuminated by a flame from the altar.
Never did children go through the wonderful tales of the Arabian Nights with greater zest than we did through the Bible histories and biographies when thus abbreviated and linked in a continuous chain, illustrated and explained by maps and biblical dictionaries.
The sermons which were occasionally addressed to the children, holding them in rapt attention, showed that Mr. Cuming possessed the rare gift of applying learning to the presentation of great truths with childish simplicity.
Francis did not confine himself to the spiritual welfare of the congregation, however. Early in 1850 he obtained a charter from the State Legislature that authorized “the establishment of an institution for academic, collegiate, and theological learning, to be located in Grand Rapids, and known as St. Mark's College.”
According to Canton Smith, a leading member of both the church and Grand Rapids business community, “Rev. Cuming’s wide vision conceived the plan of a seminary of learning to embrace at first an academical course of instruction, and as its means were amplified, to expand into a collegiate foundation. The plan envisioned for the institution of learning was of sufficient extent and merit to meet the educational wants of the diocese.” Unfortunately the plan never found enough support among the community -- or within the church -- and the seminary was never built In 1855 he was presented with an honorary D. D. from Columbia college in the east.
Rev. Cuming also devoted himself to the establishment of other churches in the area, and was instrumental in organizing a church in Plainfield. On January 13, 1857, the Eagle wrote that the Christ Church in Plainfield, Kent County, “was organized some seven years ago , under the immediate auspices of Rev. Dr. Cuming, (Who, although a poor judge of music, is a most persevering and energetic clergyman of ‘the church’).” Furthermore, “Dr. Cuming, from the commencement of the enterprise down to the present day, has contributed not a little of his time, means and labors, in order to keep the congregation together.”
He was also instrumental in establishing the “Mercantile Library Association” in Grand Rapids. in early 1858, and in March of that year Cuming published “the fourth edition of a pamphlet entitled, ‘The Spiritual Character of the Liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church. By the Rev. F. H. Cuming, D.D.’ -- We have carefully perused the work and find it to be very fair and candid in its treatment of the subject. Not only Episcopalians, but the members of other denominations, ought to peruse the book.”
However, Rev. Cuming’s drive and willfulness often clashed with other strong men in the congregation.
In 1859 a controversy arose within St. Mark’s ostensibly over salary, and there was some speculation that Cuming would resign. In late March of 1859, the Grand Rapids Enquirer wrote, “We stated in yesterday's issue, in report of the Parish Meeting of St. Mark's Church, that Dr. Cuming had relinquished his salary to the Church. In this, we are informed, we were in error -- the Doctor has only relinquished $500 of old arrearages, and received therefore old outstanding claims of the Church to the amount of $300. It is to be hoped, now that these old claims have been taken from the parish books, so as to leave a clear balance-sheet, that they will not be permitted to lie a dead loss upon the doctor's hands, but will be promptly met by the respective debtors therefor. The donation of the Rector amounts to a clear $200. Even if he lose nothing of these debts, his debtors should see to it that their names contribute nothing to a further drain upon his generosity.”
The Enquirer of July 24, 1859 reported that it was the newspaper’s intention
to say nothing whatever relative to the recent action of the congregation of St. Mark's Church in regard to their Rector. And even now we regret that circumstances should have occurred to change such an intention. But a communication and an editorial allusion in the Grand Rapids Eagle, and the article of Mr. [P. R. L.] Peirce in this paper renders the matter anything else but private. Mr. Henry Martin inserts two letters in today's paper, and we also copy the Grand Rapids correspondent of the Detroit Tribune, which alludes to the subject. Thus, it cannot be considered altogether out of place, if we should say a few words in explanation of the matter, as briefly as possible. Tuesday evening, July 12, a meeting of the pew owners of St. Mark's Church was held at the Lecture Room. It was to decide whether they would or would not consent to remit the 10 per cent to which they were entitled, from rent of their pews. And here we may state, that without further formal action, it has been decided, by general consent, not to remit. At this meeting a few others, besides the pew owners, were present, and other matters, than the one for which the meeting was called, were referred to. An adjournment was carried to Tuesday evening, July 19, at the same place. On this occasion there was the largest meeting ever yet held at a business meeting of the male members of the congregation -- for all had been invited to attend.
After the discussion of certain financial matters, a question was raised relative to Rev. Dr. Cuming resigning. He and his friends were desirous of a vote on the subject, at once. He stated that he would resign without delay if convinced that a majority of his flock desired it. A rising vote was taken, and a decision made in favor of the Doctor remaining, by a very large majority. There were no negative votes -- although some present -- how many we are unable to state -- refused to vote at all.
In fact, however, the issue was only superficially about money. The real question was over who would control the temporal as well as the spiritual affairs of the congregation, and the issue was now fully out in the open.
One of Cuming’s parishioners, Henry Martin, sent two open letters, one to the editor of the Enquirer and the other to Cuming himself. In the latter Martin said frankly that the issue was not opposition to Cuming per se but “Opposition to tyrannical laws, whether they be ecclesiastical or civil.” He further argued for the right of the Vestry to transact business, as it deemed fit and necessary without any outside interference.
Rev. Cuming, however, refused to concede that his authority stopped with the spiritual realm, and the problems between Cuming and certain influential members of his congregation simmered just below the surface. He at last tendered his resignation shortly after the first of the year, and he was asked to withdraw it, pending the search for an Assistant Rector to help in the various administrative tasks involved in the care for such a large congregation. Cuming eventually withdrew his resignation, at least for the moment.
In 1859-60 Francis was residing on the northeast corner of Bronson (now Michigan) and Bostwick. As the Union slowly became unraveled in the winter of 1860-61 Rev. Cuming, like so many of his contemporaries, were sorely perplexed at the state of affairs and struggled with what they should do during this most profound crisis. His sermon for the day of National Fasting and Prayer, delivered on January 4, 1861, at St. Mark’s was published in the local newspapers.
“Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye ever to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.” Joel 2, 12.
Only a few weeks have passed and from almost every State in the Union persons were seen going into “the gates” of the Lord’s house “with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise”. From North and south, and East and West, up rose the jubilant strains. And well they might. For almost everywhere the labors of the husbandmen had been crowned with success equal to if not beyond their largest expectation, and peace and prosperity prevailed throughout our country. But even then though we rejoiced, we rejoiced with trembling. And now, today, the whole nation is summoned to “sanctify a fast, to call solemn assembly”, and in deepest humiliation of soul to send up to God the voice of prayer and supplication.
Why is this? Why, in the midst of the most joyous occasion of the year, and when our temples and houses are hung with festal wreaths and when in accordance with a time honored custom we are exchanging the most delightful greetings, at the commencement of a New Year are we called upon to bend thus in sorrow before God? Alas, beloved, sounds come up from over the land, such as never before, since we became an independent people, were heard in it. The secession of States is spoken of a a measure not only not dreaded but by some desired; disunion is threatened, seemingly without remorse; from the citadel of our much eulogized Republic one of the foundation stones has already been removed, others in it are loosened; and the whole goodly edifice is tottering to it fall.
The possibility of such a calamity is no more, as it once was laughed to scorn, its probability is admitted by those who hitherto were most incredulous of it. The evil stares us fully in the face. The harsh notes of discord, mingled with the glad tidings of our Christmas morn. The song of the angel, peace on earth and good will towards men is all but lost in preparations for war. And instead of the cheerful salutations, which hitherto at this season were heard all over the land, going from mouth to mouth -- friends and relatives, fathers and sons, and sons-in-law, yea brothers who “hanged upon” the same “mothers breasts” are warned that they may be required to be armed against each other in the [coming] war. What then shall be done to avert such a disastrous event? It is not time, it will do no good, to will tend to a more speedy culmination of the evil, to enquire who have been the instigators of it. It is actually upon us, in its incipient, but still in most threatening form -- to be prevented if it be possible -- if not to be met as best we can. What then shall be done? Human wisdom, thus far at least, seems to be incompetent for the emergency; our most profound statesmen are at fault; misunderstanding, prejudices, excitement blind the perception, forestall the judgment, bewilder the minds of men; and a furious and ostracizing fanaticism is all the while fanning the flame of discontent, and seeking to intimidate from any attempt to extinguish it. What then shall be done?
In former times when a people were brought into such an extremity they would humble themselves before God, and turn unto Him “with weeping, with fasting and with mourning”. So God commands, so history shows us even heathen nations have acted. The people of Nineveh fasted, and were saved from destruction to which a prophet announced they were doomed. The children of Israel went up and asked council of God and went and fasted when Benjamin one of the federated tribes rose up in revolt, and had slain thousands. And Benjamin was subdued and received back into the Tribes. Jehosephat proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah and then he prevailed over Moab and Acmon. King Darius passed the night in fasting, because of the consignment of Daniel to the Lion’s den; and Daniel was unhurt. Ahab humbled himself and fasted; and the Kingdom escaped, during his day, the merited evil which the Lord was about to permit to fall upon it. The locusts came up to the land making it “a desolate wilderness”; the people “turned to the Lord with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning and the Lord restored the years which the locusts had eaten.”
These are only a few of the many instances which might be adduced, to show how such public demonstrations of grief for misconduct, have availed to procure favor with God, in behalf of those who have incurred His displeasure. Why it should be so, we stop not to enquire. Let it suffice that so God has been pleased to permit it to be. It is not for us to prescribe to our Almighty Creator and rightful Sovereign, what shall be the means by which when sinned against his anger may be averted. Infinitely wise, and abounding in goodness, we may rest assured all his measures under all circumstances must be the best which ever could be devised.
Let us be instructed then by the success with which the duty of fasting has been, in former times, attended, ourselves now to practice it in this our time of need, in this fearful time of our country’s history. And as the danger is imminent, so let our fat be a real one. Let us turn unto the Lord with all our heart. Let us not come together as a mere matter of form, or simply to hear what we ought to do. Let us give ourselves to the performance of the work as those who believe the requirements of God are not to be trifled with; nor profession to be rested in, to the exclusion of corresponding examples; nor that the honoring of the lips will satisfy God while the heart is far form him. Let our fast be a real fast, one persisted in long enough to make the body sensible of the abstinence to which we are submitting; let our humiliation be so marked that it shall be visible to others it has extended to the very soul; let our prayers be the very pouring out of the heart unto God. And let them be thus poured but especially for the members of Congress, the Executive Cabinet and all in authority that they may have both the wisdom and the firmness necessary to enable them to devise and carry out the requisite measures now demanded in this our country’ most critical emergency. Says St. Paul [in 1st Timothy 2, verses 1, 2]. “I exhort therefore that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks, be made for all me: For Kings and all in authority; that we may led a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”.
O, would all the people of the land, would all our Christian people be seen today thus engaged -- were they all this day to come up to our sanctuaries of religion, with spirits thus affected, and hence would they go to their closets, there thus afflicting themselves, there bowing in contrition before God and penitently confessing their sins, who can tell what would be the result? Or what might not then hope would be the grace given us, to enable us to know how to act in this day when such lowering clouds hang over us, and the safety of the Union and our own personal safety are so greatly imperiled.
There must beloved have been a cause for our present troubles -- outside of all political action. No people will be given up to be ruined by evil counsels, unless there be first a large amount of personal wickedness, unrepented of. Not then in party or personal bickerings are we now to indulge. Crimination will provoke recrimination. The ulcer is formed; irritation will not cure it. “The plague is begun”, how shall it be staid? The fire is spreading; how shall it be checked and put out? Let us beloved “turn to the Lord, the great Arbiter of nations, with fasting; and weeping and mourning”, and thus seek hi interposition in our behalf. Nor think that we shall thus be engaged in any fruitless work: “Thus saith the Lord; at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a Kingdom to pluck up and pull down and destroy it; if that nation against whom I pronounced, turn from their evil ways, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” And may it not be that we as a people have done enough of evil to provoke the Lord thus to visit us with his chastening rod?
We are a people professing belief in the existence of a God and the divine authority of the Christian religion. As a people we have publicly and in a most solemn manner declared we worship the one Jehovah as he is reveled to us in the bible, and consider ourselves bound to be regulated and to abide by the precepts and principles of that Holy book. Inconsistency then as a nation with that divinely appointed standard of duty we ought no more to think will be overlooked by God, than that he will never call individuals to account for their transgressions. By His Providence he is ever at work in every part of creation, often “brining to pass acts, strange acts”, for the very purpose of making both individuals and nations realize that the Lord He is God. And woe to the nation, woe to the individuals that cease to remember their dependence upon the almighty! Not setting the Lord before them, into excesses of wickedness they will eventually plunge which cannot but end in destruction.
God will indeed do all that He ought -- the very benevolence of His nature will incline Him to do all that He can consistently with His other attributes, to prevent the wretchedness they are thus inevitably precipitating upon themselves. And therefore it is that He so often “maketh diviners mad, and turneth their knowledge foolish”. But beloved though we are professedly a Christian people, how inconsistent is the conduct of a vast many all over the land, with Christian citizenship! and how subversive of every Christian institution! One of the peculiar features and brightest glories of the religion of the bible is its day of sacred rest and holy worship. Let this day be robbed of its religious character, and a night of most fearful evil to out country must succeed. Take it away, and with it will go everything that can be called religion -- all morality, all good order, all desirable civil liberty; and licentiousness and misrule and anarchy will pollute and devastate our dearly bought heritage, invade out much beloved homes and bring down upon us the curse of heaven. it is only from the gospel that correct notions of liberty can be imbibed. It is only as we are properly influenced by the Gospel that we can be in the best condition either to govern or to be governed. We may boast of our patriotism, discourse eloquently upon the rights of conscience, inflame assembled crowds with notions of liberty. “He”, however, “is the freeman whom the truth makes free”; and his conscience is not treated aright, he does not duly respect the rights of his own conscience, who seeks not to have it enlightened with revealed truth. He is not the safe patriot who does not what he can to secure the obedience to the divine laws, and thus to cause the blessing of heaven to rest upon the land. it may be well, beloved, for us all in this our day of humiliation, to examine ourselves whether at the doors of some of us there be not sin in this particular; and whether for this we ought not to fast and weep, and pray not to be dealt with according to our iniquities.
Again: God is the “King of all the earth”. And no more can He be expected to resign his rights and prerogatives to another, than he will exert his power in preserving the Kingdom, or in procuring glory for the people who honor him not. This truth, with a practical living up to it, ought to be the basis on which we rest our hopes, both of personal and national security. But is it so? To place implicit reliance for our success in our undertakings, on our own foresight, or prudence, or plans, or strength, or resources, is the common error of mankind. And richly gratifying to our proud spirit it is, to see adopted the measures we may have recommended, and to behold them successful in their application. In the excitement of the moment we take to ourselves all the credit for objects accomplished, which only “the right hand of God” could bring about. We care not to remember that man’s strength is derived, not inherent; his wisdom a gift, not a birth-right; all his ability of every kind, of grace, not of meritorious claim; and that n His sight “who sitteth upon the circle of the heavens, the inhabitants of the earth are but grasshoppers.” Unfortunate indeed is that community where this spirit has usurped dominion.
Stimulating to the most ambitious projects, and yet disdaining competitors or advisors, who can calculate the dissensions it will be continually fomenting? And see we not, beloved, more of such a spirit among ourselves than we ought? See we at not in the freedom of the press that Palladium of our liberty, so often abused to licentions, to the most low, wanton and unjustifiable personal vituperation? See we not in the toleration of religious opinions for which we are so deservedly eulogized, but which is so often taken advantage of for inculcating the most revolting tenets? See we it not in the freedom of speech so wisely guaranteed by the constitution, now used with the most bitter acrimony, and now persons sought to be deterred from it by threats of personal violence? See we it not, in the sacredness of the pulpit profaned by being used to minister to party strife, or morbid sensibilities? See we it not in laws ignored; decisions of courts repudiated; the constitution overridden; . . . the very word of God either prostituted to sanction violence, the self-will of men, or rejected as the standard of duty because it cannot be wrested to support their delusive and revolutionary theories?
Any people who will set up for themselves, virtually disowning God’s authority, may expect to be left to themselves, and made to know “the Lord reigneth”, by the suddenness, the terribleness with which they will sooner or later hurled form their proud elevation. They that “sow the wind”, must expect “to reap the whirlwind”. Is not this then, beloved, a suitable time in which for us to examine ourselves whether this spirit has not gained an ascendancy over us, and whether we ought not to fast and weep, for the fruits we may now be gathering from it? We had (had we not?) thought our “mountain so sure that it could never be moved”. By the blessing of heaven, a goodly heritage had been secured to us. Embracing every variety of soil and climate; with a government esteemed to be the best of any on the face of the earth; having a territory so vast and almost boundless extent; able to dispose of our lands at a price which placed them within the reach of almost anyone; with a population proverbial for endurance, enterprise, intelligence and courage -- it is not surprising that we have become, during the few years of our existence, a mighty people. And then bound together as we hitherto have been, and supposed we should always be, by the constitution as one man, each pledged to stand by the other, our Union to preserve, let it extend as it might, we gloried too much (did we not?) in our position, in our strength, in ourselves, in our “arm of flesh”, and dreamed not but that we should ever go on in increasing greatness, renown and power. And is not God now rebuking us for our pride, our vaunting spirit, our self-laudation?
If with such dependence upon self to the exclusion of a dutiful submission to the authority of God, we can be charged; then we need not wonder that the breath of his displeasure is upon us, and that we are to be punished in finding that what was our trust is to be our confusion; that we have been leaning upon a reed when we imagined ourselves to be on an immovable rock; and that it was but “rope of sand” and not an adamantine chain which was holding together our glorious, but alas for us! our too-much-gloried-in-Union. For we may pronounce, almost with confidence which prophetic vision would inspire that when by such a spirit we are influenced, ambition will take place of love of country; individual exaltation, or aggrandizement will govern us; and the strife of party, with a thirst for the spoils of office, will eat out from among us everything like pure patriotism. for, beloved, when God is no more properly recognized, served and loved by us; when the yoke of the gospel is spurned; when Christ in his character of Savior has no place in our hearts; when the Holy spirit can no more influence us to the heeding of salvation’s work, the saving of the soul for God, then God has done with us for good.
Our country will then have failed in its grandest mission assigned to us; and we must go on, with others before us who have been so infatuated, proud, selfish and defiant of God, into obscurity, or vassalage or extinction. For thus disowned of God, none of the nations hitherto jealous of our renown need be perplexed as to how we are to be crushed. They will see us, as Pompey saw the Jews, when he sat down before their city, and as Titus afterward beheld them perishing by means of civil dissension more speedily and effectually than could be by foreign force -- will see as the result of our own madness, “Ichabod, the glory is departed”, written upon the walls of the proud Capitol over which floated the stars and stripes, that banner, once by every freeman so dearly prized, covering property and person, in every clime, and which while it there waved, was the beacon of hope to the oppressed of every nation, kindred, tongue and people on the face of the whole earth.
That day of gloominess and darkness has not yet fully come. True, its dismaying shadow is on the mountain. The deep muttering of the storm is borne to us on every southern wind. But O, shall that fearful day ever fully come? Shall it ever be, that our folly and irreverence and impiety shall proceed to such a height as to provoke God to make such an example of us? Are plough-shares be beat into swords, are pruning hooks into spears, and are fields no more to smile with cultivation? the products of every clime, no more as now, to find their way to our doors? Our majestic streams and wide-spreading lake no more as now, to be covered with the barks of commerce? Our people after nearly eighty years of successful experience to be found at last incapable of governing, unworthy to be left to govern themselves because of want of due allegiance to God? Our North and our South, twin brothers brought forth in the stormy time and baptized together in the blood of the Revolution, to be arrayed in deadly strife against each other?
“The war-whoop” again to “wake the sleep of the cradle”? Insurrection to riot in rapine, lust and murder? Civil war to see friends, neighbors, relatives thirsting for each other’s blood? Our country no more to be the land of the brave and the home of the free? Our Union, our glorious Union, the world’s marvel and admiration and hope, where it is not envied or feared, broken up, dissolved, gone? That dreadful day has not yet fully come. O shall it ever thus come?
O, if fasting, humiliation and prayer can prevent it, let us fast and humble ourselves and pray as we have never before done. Let us thus act, “let us thus turn unto the Lord with all our hearts; for who knoweth if He will return and repent and leave a blessing behind Him.” And O, if Compromise, if Concession can keep from us that dreadful day, that day of doom to our prosperity, to our republic, let us in compromise and concession go to the extremest point to which honor will allow us to go. Let ‘the North give up, and the South keep not back.” Let “the North” seek better to understand the South, and leaving their institutions to their own management “give up” all it can with due self-respect. Let the “South”, disregarding fanatical misrepresentation and the unauthorized action of misguided zealots, seek better to understand the North, and “keep not back” what it can, with proper dignity accept. But let not an overweening tenaciousness of self-respect or dignity, let not undue pride, let not an obstinate partisanship be allowed to usurp the place of a magnanimous, conservative Christian spirit. Let not the North, let not the South “love” itself less but let each “love” the country, the whole country “more”. Let each “forbearing one another in love”, each “endeavor to keep” the Union “in the bond of peace,” each praying that both may be truly, savingly influenced by the peace-making glorious gospel of the Son of God. So that neither may be guilty of shedding their brother’s blood.
But if finally the appeal must be to arms, which God forbid! then merging all selfish or party considerations in a heart-burning desire for our just rights and the country’s good, let all of every political name stand shoulder to shoulder, and with faces of flint in defence of rational, constitutional, gospel liberty, the liberty which was our father’s legacy, and which the Word of God assures us we may and ought to have. And for the maintenance of this, looking unto God to uphold the right, let us spare neither treasure nor life. The conflict if it comes, O may heaven avert it! will be such as, probably, the would never witnessed; the desolation such as will cause every eye to weep; the result make a chapter in the World’s history which no on will read without shuddering. But the end, the end -- being of God’s ordering, shall serve as an additional evidence that “the Lord reigneth”, and that “blessed” only “are the people who have the Lord for their God.”
Local historian Franklin Everett wrote of Rev. Cuming “What he undertook he laid hold of with energy, be it the business of his profession, or secular affairs. There was in him a buoyant hopefulness, which was not always prudence. As a clergyman or man of the world, he was always esteemed an able counselor. His benevolence was great, and his personal honor was never doubted. Naturally a leader, he sometimes excited opposition by his determined will, and his fixed purpose to carry his point. His motto seemed to be -- ‘Be sure you are right, and then go ahead’.”
“In personal presence,” wrote Everett, “the air of Dr. Cuming was that of an energetic business man. His positive manner at first repelled, while intimacy proved him a man singularly unselfish, and living in his sympathies and loves; that he was warm-hearted, generous and affectionate. As a preacher, he was impressive and earnest; as a friend, true to the death. He knew no masters but his conscience and his God; and it is believed that the one is stainless in the presence of the other.”
In late April and May of 1861, while the Regiment was organizing in Grand Rapids, at the Kent County Agricultural fairgrounds two miles south of the city, at a place which would be called Cantonment Anderson, the men relied heavily upon the services of local ministers for their spiritual needs, and several were coming regularly to the camp. One of these was Rev. Dr. Cuming.
On May 12, 1861, he addressed the Third Regiment at Cantonment Anderson, and, according to Rebecca Richmond, one of Cuming’s faithful, if youthful, parishioners, “A large number of citizens were present, and the services were interesting and impressive. All joined in singing to the tune of ‘Old Hundred’, the 82nd hymn, Dr. Cuming ‘lining’ it for us in the old fashioned way.” Another wrote
On Sunday last [May 12] the first religious service was held at “Cantonment Anderson” in the afternoon. There was, as you may readily suppose, a large turn out of our citizens to witness the exercises. The day was peculiarly warm and genial, and at the appointed hour, the regiment under the command of Col. Daniel McConnell, formed a hollow square, and having been duly put in solemn ranks, the carriage of the beautiful brass field-piece, belonging to the Grand Rapids Artillery, was run into the enclosure, upon which the Rev. Dr. Cuming, of the Episcopal Church was mounted, and the troops, “having “off hats men”, by direction of the Col. the Dr. opened the services by a short but energetic impromptu sermon, of not to exceed fifteen minutes, delivered in his usual tone and nervous manner, and amongst other of its merits, it had that of “brevity”, which, in times of war, may as well be styled the soul of sermons, as it is at all times of wit. Following the sermon was Old Hundred, led by the Episcopal Church Choir, and then a closing prayer read by the Dr. with great unction, and a spirit which seemed to partake largely of the greatness of the occasion. I ought to mention that the Rev. Dr. was particularly happy in his advice to the soldiers to keep their heads cool and eyes clear, by the frequent use of cold water for a beverage, and to avoid entirely ardent spirits of all kinds.
The most “solemn stillness” reigned during the services, and we heard but one impertinent remark as the Dr. closed, and that escaped from a fanatical mad-cap, who was curious enough to say, as the Doctor dismounted from the cannon, “Well, I wonder if that is what would be called one of the cannons of the church? If it is there is some fire in it yet.” It is proper to add that immediate measures will be taken to arrest said profane individual.
Apparently local clergymen were rotating through the camp providing Sunday services for the troops. Joseph Stevens wrote that at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, church services were held on the parade ground, “Rev. Mr. Somerville officiating, who took his stand on the caisson of the cannon, which made a very good pulpit. It was certainly an imposing sight to see a thousand soldiers and about two hundred spectators formed into a hollow square, to listen to the preaching of the gospel.” Although the Rev. Courtney Smith, “estimable pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Fourth Ward,” had been scheduled to officiate at the cantonment on Sunday,
despite the mud, rain . . . for be it known that these things are yet daily visitors -- a goodly number of our citizens, on foot and in carriages, were on the ground at the appointed hour, but in place of the eloquent, and favorite reverend gentleman above named, I found the cannon carriage occupied by a tall and very graceful person, to me a stranger, who, with a full, rich and sonorous voice, was conducting the religious services. It was the Rev. Mr. Somerville, of the Methodist Church, Lansing. . . . Dr. Cuming, who after the straightest sect is a churchman, performed the 'evening service', and preached in the Presbyterian Church last evening. Can it be that the millennium is really dawning? That the time is really near when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together; the high churchman and the Calvinist pray together; the follower after the Saybrook platform, and he who tells his rosary and beads mess together? Verily, we have fallen in strange times. Let us hope that there will yet some good come out of our denominational Nazareth, through even the dire calamity of war.
On May 26, following morning services and seven baptisms in the afternoon, wrote Richmond, Cuming “addressed the Regiment briefly, made a prayer and a hymn was sung. The doctor has been appointed chaplain of the gallant Third of Michigan, and will accompany them whenever called to take up arms in defense of the constitution and laws.”
Indeed, Rev. Cuming was elected the first chaplain of the Third Michigan infantry Regiment, and, at the age of 62 was the oldest member of the Regiment. In the opinion of the editor of the Grand Rapids Eagle, “This is an appointment which could not be bettered. Whether his congregation will permit him to leave them, is a question for St. Mark's Vestry to decide. But doubtless his resignation will be accepted, in view of the peculiar circumstances which have caused it.” And further, that “the vote, by the Staff and Captains of the Third regt., for Chaplain of the regt., was” 12 for Cuming and 3 for Rev. Dr. Somerville.”
“As this subject is now disposed of,” continued the Eagle, “and as we understand, with very general satisfaction, a few additional particulars are here furnished: On the receipt of notice of his election, Dr. C. immediately called a meeting of the Vestry, and in accordance with the canons of his church, made the matter known to them, as without their consent he could not accept of the office. At this meeting he did not resign the Rectorship of the church, but intimated that he would be glad to have leave of absence . . . if the Vestry would consent to his acceptance of the office. But in his communication to them he stated that should they consent to the arrangement, he desired the Vestry to feel themselves at perforce liberty, to call another Rector immediately, should in their judgment such a measure be deemed advisable. The Vestry refused to take any such step,” and resolved to make do of temporary rectorship for some three months.
On June 11, Rebecca wrote that “This evening Dr. Cuming held a parting reception, and between the hours of seven and ten his house was crowded by his friends and parishioners. It was a solemnly affecting occasion.” Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary in early July of 1861 that she could hardly believe “our beloved pastor is so far away from us and in the army too.” Indeed, the Grand Rapids newspapers painted a picture of a minister respected and beloved by all the men in the Old Third.
On July 17 the Enquirer reprinted a letter from an unknown writer in the Third infantry that said, in part not only was Cuming’s recent sermon “excellent” but also that “The doctor seems to know the minds of the men with whom he has to deal, and shapes his sermons accordingly. Always when he is speaking the soldiers give the most profound attention. He is universally liked and respected. The sick in the hospital whom he visits daily, are becoming very much attached to him.”
Some of the men in the Regiment felt differently, however. Shortly after Cuming became chaplain of the Third Michigan, and while the Regiment was still in camp near Grand Rapids, Frank Siverd of Company G hinted that Cuming was not well liked by all the soldiers. “Religious services,” Siverd wrote to the Republican, “were held in the afternoon by the newly appointed chaplain. He will be popular if he always studies the comfort of the soldiers as well as he did this time -- that is by preaching brief sermons. It is not pleasant to stand immovable for an hour.” George Miller of Company A wrote home on August 11, “I suppose we will have to listen to old Commings [sic] this afternoon.”
Nevertheless, some of the men of the Third Michigan commended Cuming for his efforts. On December 18, 1861, Dan Birdsall of Company E wrote to the editor of the Hastings Banner that Cuming had established a regimental library for which he was praised.
The Regiment left Grand Rapids on June 13, 1861, and arrived in Washington, DC, where they went into camp along the Potomac near Chain Bridge (above Georgetown), on Sunday, June 16. However, the rigors of camp life and his age soon began to take its toll on the Reverend, and by mid-September of 1861 Cuming’s health was failing. On September 17 he returned home to Michigan on a 20-day furlough to recover his health.
Rev. Cuming resigned from the Regiment in October of 1861, due to ill health, although he had apparently returned to the Regiment since he was reported by at least two of the men as holding services in October and again in December.
On October 13, Charles Church of Company G referred to him in a letter home, and in December of 1861 Miller wrote that during a recent service held by Cuming, that “Old Doc Cummings disperses the gospel to us on the Sabbath unless it is too cold,” and that his “discourse consists of telling us how awful wicked we soldiers are and agitating on the subject of a big tent for the Sabbath exercises, which he want is the soldiers to buy, take it all around; he is the biggest nuisance of the Regiment. If he was like the chaplains of some of the other Regiments, the boys would take some interest in him, but as it is, its like smoking sawdust to hear him. There was nine out of our company to church last Sabbath and part of them came back before the services were over.”
Eli Hamblin of Company E wrote home in June of 1862.
Today is Sunday. We had had our meeting and have had a good one. It is the first one we had had this spring. Our old chaplain [Francis Cuming] went home when we left Washington and we have a new one now [Joseph Anderson]. It is the first time he has preached to us. We like him first rate. He is a good man. We like him better than we did the other. He is an old man but he is a clever old scotchman. He is around with the men and talking with them and but the other one was not so he talked well to us.
Rev. Cuming’s health remained fragile and he was forced to return to his home in Grand Rapids.
Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary on May 11, 1862, that he was “still very feeble,” and on May 14 when she and her sister called on Cuming he was “reclining on his couch in a very feeble condition, scarcely able to speak. He is much emaciated, and oh! so changed from the strong, erect man who left us last summer! Can he, too, be passing away?”
Her question was soon answered. Rev. Cuming died of consumption (tuberculosis) on August 26, 1862, at his home on Bostwick Street in Grand Rapids, and was buried in Fulton cemetery: block 5 lot 30.
On June 10, 1863, the Eagle noted that
The Episcopal convention held its 27th annual meeting at Ann Arbor on Wednesday and Thursday of last week [June 3-4]. Among its various proceedings, the Bishop of the Diocese was relieved of the charge of his Parish in Detroit, by the Convention assuming the charge of his support as Bishop.
The next annual meeting will be held in this city -- the first time of its presence in this part of the State.
There was an extended review of the life and labors of the Rev. Dr. Cuming, in the Bishop’s report, which will soon be published. The Standing Committee, in its report, has also the following report:
“In memory of the Rev. Francis H. Cuming, D. D.:
“To the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Michigan, the death of Rev. Francis H. Cuming, D. D., has been the occasion of no unusual sorrow. It is to them the loss of an able and indefatigable laborer in the Lord’s Vineyard, whose efficiency, advancing years seemed more to help than to hinder; of an associate with most of them in the cares and joys of the growing Diocese from its infamy; of one identified by his abundant missionary labors, with so many of our parishes, that throughout our borders he cannot soon be forgotten; and of an ardent, zealous, enthusiastic servant of Christ, the influence of whose life and ministry and counsels could only be towards the enlargement and strengthening of our communion. And a loss like this they know is not to be made up. At the same time, as partakers of the Gospel which he preached, not only with his lips, but with his life, they must recognize in his death his own gain no less than their loss. They feel that he could have left among them no prouder remembrance than that he gave his latest strength to his country, to the ministry of Christ among her soldiers. And seeing in that only the last of many proofs of the heartiness of his Christian faith, and love and zeal, they rejoice to believe that he has gone to his reward. Assuring his bereaved family of their sincere sympathy, they pray for them, that they soon be enabled to feel that hi calm and easy removal out of this life was full of mercy, and that for him it could not be too soon to enter into his rest.”
In December of 1869 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 139053). In 1870 Charlotte (worth some $20,000 in real estate and $2000 in personal property) was living in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward with her three daughters.