Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two Important Southern Hymn Books: Mercer’s and Lloyd’s

The Cluster and Primitive Hymns are important and enduring Southern words-only hymn books. The Cluster remained in print over 30 years after the death of its compiler, and continues to hold the imagination of historians and hymnologists. Two editions of Primitive Hymns remain in use in churches 175 years after it was first published.

The Cluster of Spiritual Songs, Divine Hymns, and Sacred Poems was first published by Jesse Mercer (1769-1841) around 1800 – though the oldest existing copy was published in 1810.[1] The compiler, was the son of noted Separate Baptist minister Silas Mercer and Dorcas Green.[2] Jesse Mercer was born December 16, 1769 in Halifax County, North Carolina. The Mercer family moved to Georgia in 1774, where Silas would later found several pioneer churches after his conversion to Baptist principles. In 1786 Jesse married Sabrina Chivers. He was converted and baptized in 1787, was ordained to the ministry in 1789 – all at the Phillips Mill Church organized by his father. After Sabrina’s death in 1826, he married the widow Nancy Mills Simmons in 1827. Mercer died September 06, 1841 and is buried at the Penfield Cemetery in Greene County, Georgia.

Jesse Mercer made his mark in the Baptist ministry, but also made enduring contributions to the welfare of his state as a delegate to the 1798 Georgia state constitutional convention. He became a leader in the Georgia Baptist Association, the state’s first Baptist association. He helped organize the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1822 and served as its president from that time until his death in 1841. Mercer purchased The Christian Index, a Washington, D.C.-based newspaper, in 1833 – which survives today as “the nation’s oldest continuously published religious newspaper.” He made gifts to the first two missionaries sent by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society to Texas – James Huckins and William M. Tryon. Mercer may be best remembered as the namesake of the Georgia Baptist Mercer University.

The Cluster probably is the earliest Georgia Baptist hymn book. Stephen A. Marini called it “the most important hymn collection in the lower South from 1800 to 1835. Through its longevity—it passed through eleven editions—and its combination of classic English Evangelical hymns with rough-hewn American spiritual ballads and revival songs, Mercer’s Cluster became a classic of southern hymnody…”[3] The 1835 edition of Mercer’s Cluster was reprinted at late as 1875 in Philadelphia by Charles Desilver, suggesting there was at least a small demand for the hymn book over 30 years after Mercer’s death.[4] This classic of Southern hymnody may have served as the prototype for the hymn book compiled by Benjamin Lloyd.

The Primitive Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Sacred Poems was first published by Benjamin Lloyd in 1841, the year Jesse Mercer died.[5] Primitive Baptist hymnologist R. Paul Drummond calls Lloyd’s hymn book “ of the most enduring hymnbooks ever used by the Old Baptists”[6] and John Crowley writes, “It remains the most widely used hymnal among Primitive Baptists of South Georgia and Florida, and the esteem in which it is held is difficult to exaggerate.”[7] At least one reason for Lloyd compiling a hymn book was the division of Baptists over the question of missionary societies and such like. Since Jesse Mercer took the “missionary” of the question, it would be inevitable for those on the “anti-missionary” side to distance themselves from Mercer’s hymn book.  Crowley asserted that “Jesse Mercer’s hymnbook, the Cluster, became unacceptable to the Primitives as later editions added more and more hymns of a Missionary complexion.”[8] It must be recognized, though, that the “Primitives” did use Mercer’s book,[9] and that all of the “missionary” terminology was not immediately or necessarily unacceptable to all Primitive Baptists. For example, Primitive Baptist elder Edmund Dumas wrote a tune called Ceylon’s Isle, in which he used stanzas from two missionary hymns – “What though the spicy breezes, Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s Isle” by Reginald Heber and “The morning light is breaking” by Samuel F. Smith.[10]

John Lloyd, Benjamin’s grandfather, settled in Hancock County, Georgia in 1784, about 3 miles west of Powelton, where Silas Mercer pastored from 1786 to 1796. Lloyd’s father-in-law-to-be Cary Cox “and his wife were received into Powell’s Creek Baptist Church in Warren Co., on 2-7-1795.”[11] Benjamin Lloyd was born October 6, 1804 in Hancock County, Georgia to John Emery Lloyd and Elizabeth Ann Gilbert. The family moved to Jones County when he was small and later to Bibb County.[12] He was converted and baptized into the membership of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church of Bibb County, Georgia. In 1832 he married Naomi Ann Cox, and was also ordained to the ministry in that same year. Lloyd died January 11, 1860 and is buried at the Lloyd Cemetery in Greenville, Butler County, Alabama.

Benjamin Lloyd began his ministry in 1832 in the Columbus Baptist Association in Georgia, while living in Talbot County. At the time Lloyd was ordained the Columbus Association had recently repudiated the missionary enterprises of the day. Though they would later reverse course and join the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1838, Lloyd had already left for Alabama. In 1834-35 he moved to Chambers County, Alabama. He helped organize the County Line Baptist Church there in 1835 and the Liberty Association in 1836. Liberty was organized on a compromise plan of the association not endorsing “missionary institutions” while leaving the churches to exercise their own discretion. When the association repealed this compromise plan and endorsed missionary institutions, Lloyd and others withdrew and formed the Beulah Baptist Association in 1838.[13]

Benjamin Lloyd moved to Coosa County and then Butler County, but it was while Chambers County that he produced his most lasting contribution to posterity – The Primitive Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Sacred Poems: Regularly Selected, Classified and Set in Order, and Adapted to Social Singing and All Occasions of Divine Worship.[14] Lloyd’s hymn book would go through eleven editions in his lifetime and survive among churches into the twenty-first century.

Like Jesse Mercer, Benjamin Lloyd began his life in a different state than he ended it. They both grew up among Georgia Baptists with a stout Separate Baptist heritage, founded on “the sublime doctrines [of] the fall of Adam and the imputation of his sins to his posterity, the everlasting love of God in Christ to his people before the world began, particular redemption, affectual [sic] calling, Justification by the righteousness of Christ imputed, Sanctification by the holy Spirit, and the final perseverance of the Saints in grace, as preparatory to eternal glory.”[15] Like Mercer he was a man of standing in both the church and community. They both amassed a considerable amount of property and served in the governmental realm.[16] Unlike Mercer, Lloyd chose the “church side” of the missionary controversy rather than the “board side” – thereby finding a conservative base which preferred to continue in the old-time way of singing supported by both Mercer’s and Lloyd’s hymn books.[17] And, unlike Jesse Mercer – Benjamin Lloyd made preparations in his will for the perpetuation of his hymn book, writing, “It is my will and desire that my executors shall continue to publish my collection of Hymns…” Lloyd’s family faithfully fulfilled the will of their progenitor until the Primitive Hymns Corporation was formed and incorporated in 1971.

(To be continued)


[1] “Mercer…published the first edition of The Cluster around 1800 as a collection of roughly 150 hymns and added a small supplement to the 1804 edition. No copies of these first two editions have survived.” (Marini, Notes, 884) The third edition was printed and sold by Hobby & Bunce of Augusta Georgia. It grew from 183 hymns in 1810 to 677 in 1823 to around 700 in 1835. “Mercer eventually published seven editions of this hymnal, and 33,000 copies were distributed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, alone by 1829.” (New Georgia Online Encyclopedia)
[2] Silas Mercer (1745-1796) joined Kiokee, Georgia’s oldest continuing Baptist church, by baptism in 1775. It was founded in 1772 by Daniel Marshall (1706-1784).
[3] Baptist Offspring, Southern Midwife--: Jesse Mercer's Cluster of Spiritual Songs (1810): A Study in American Hymnody, a book review by Stephen A. Marini in Notes 59(4):884-886, January 2003
[5] In 1841 the book contained 535 hymns and was published in 1600 copies. There are no extent copies of the 1841 edition. This information comes from a letter to The Primitive Baptist periodical, April 23, 1842.
[6] A Portion for the Singers, Drummond, p. 73
[7] Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South: 1815 to the Present John G. Crowley, 1998, p. 85; this would be true in other places as well.
[8] Primitive Baptists of the Wiregrass South, Crowley, p. 84
[9] Beard’s Creek Church “bought a single copy...from which to ‘line out’ hymns.” “At Upper Black Creek Church, a ‘singing clerk’ had custody of the book and lined out the hymns.” Crowley, p. 44; See also , Benjamin Lloyd’s Hymn Book: a Primitive Baptist Tradition, Joyce Cauthen, 1999, p. 61
[10] These texts are not found in either Mercer or Lloyd’s hymn books. The chorus – “Go ministers of Jesus, O go to Ceylon's Isle, Go preach a loving Saviour, O tell them Jesus died, That sinners might be saved” – appears to be an addition by Dumas. Tune can be found in The Sacred Harp, Fifth Edition, J. L. White, Atlanta, GA: 1909, Number 169, second section. Elder Edmund Dumas (1810-1882), of Forsyth, Monroe County, Georgia was a Primitive Baptist preacher for over 40 years. The tune was probably written between 1870 and 1882.
[11] To my parents Jesse Berryman Robinson II and Helen Evelyn Cox, Helen R. Graves, [S.l. : s.n.], 1900, p. 150
[12] Elder Benjamin Lloyd: a Pioneer Baptist in Alabama, Zion’s Landmark, Weaver, p. 135
[13] Zion’s Landmark, Weaver, pp. 135-137
[14] And here is found the only hymn author named in Lloyd’s book, “Rev. F. Swint.”
[15] Covenant of the White Plains Baptist Church, Greene County, Georgia, September 13, 1806
[16] For example, “...he was appointed by President James Buchanan as Receiver of Public Monies for the Land Office located at Greenville, Alabama.” Zion’s Landmark, Weaver, p. 138
[17] Mercer wrote in answer to a friend, “I know of no instrumental worship approved in the New Testament in the church of Christ, and am of opinion it is too doubtful to be patronized.” – Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer, Mallary, p. 451

Two Important Southern Hymn Books; Comparing Mercer and Lloyd

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