(The following memoirs are of my great uncle, Rev. Frank Sweeney (1859-1936), who was a Methodist preacher of the Louisiana Methodist Conference until he was superannuated. Ile apparently had just arrived in Franklinton, LA. about 1915 and was staying in the Burs Hotel when he obtained some hotel pages and wrote what he intended to he a small autobiography, which was never completed. Each page is headed "Burris Hotel American Plan Rate $2 per day”.)
I was born on Grand Chenier Island on May 5, 1859. My father (John W., Sr.) was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland and was one of the first settlers of the island. He met my mother in Virginia; she was Sarah Jane Hickok. They were married June 14, 1833. Soon after their marriage, they moved to the State of (Hinds Co.) Mississippi (Ca. 1835-1840), where they remained until a man named John Armstrong met him and told him of the discovery of this Grand Chenier Island, which as of then was a perfect forest, as I used to hear my father say the trees were of wild beech, hackberries, oaks, mustang (muscadine?) grapes, and so thick a bird could not fly through it. Mr. Armstrong insisted on my father moving there (about 1840).
There were only two settlers there then, he (John Armstrong) and Squire (Dr. Milledge) McCall. So he agreed to go, and he, his wife and two children down by the Mermentau River, which flowed along the north side of the island, and emptied into the Gulf of Mexico 9 miles west of the island. The island was 16 miles long, running parallel to the Gulf of Mexico, a sea cane marsh extending from the island to the gulf, a distance of 5 miles.
My father settled about half way into the island. He cleared a plot, drifted cypress logs from up the river, and split hews and boards, which he used for building a house and fencing. The ground was very rich and produced most anything that they planted in it. There were wild cattle1 and deer, and when they wanted meat, all he had to do was go out with his flint(lock) gun, take a stand, and he soon had venison. On one occasion, he was in a stand when he thought he espied a deer, and cut it down. He went to the place expecting to find his deer, but blood in the bushes was all he could find. He tracked it some distance until he decided he had better return home as it was growing late. A few days afterward, Mr. (Dr. Milledge) McCall was on a hunt and saw some buzzards fly up. He went there and found a large panther dead. They arranged to pull the panther out to where their families could see him.2
My mother was anxious for some bacon, so she purchased a pair of pigs; and in a short time, she had 7 large hogs to kill, and from then on, for years they had all the hogs that they needed, (while) others roamed on the range.3
My father, as soon as he could, patented 160 acres of this land, clearing a little at a time until he had about 60 acres under cultivation. There were 9 more children born in this home, including one little girl who died at 2 years of age. I was the youngest of ten; and 9 of us grew to be grown, namely, Henry Sidney, Mary Elizabeth (Bonsall, Vaughan), Harriet Jane (McCall), Sarah Ellen (Bouquet); John W. Jr.; James Hill, (Dr.) George Carter, Virginia (Logan), Andrew Jackson, and Frank Newton Sweeney.4
My first recollection of my mother was her hand on my head, teaching me her prayers. She brought me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. At the age of 13, I attended a quarterly conference held by Rev. B. F. White, P. E. (presiding elder) of the Opelousas District. The night before I joined, I went to the mourner's bench, where I was deeply convicted of my sins. I had gone to church riding behind my father, and on our way to church, I could not help crying. My father hearing me, knew what was the matter and encouraged me in the start I had made, although he was not a Christian himself.
The next night I joined the church and when the preacher asked me my name when he baptized me, I told him Frank Newton. "Why," he said, "that's part of my name, which is Franklin," and he evoked a blessing on me that I will never forget. And I want to say right here that the prayer he prayed, that he uttered with his hand on my head, has been answered. The next day I took my little Bible that my mother had given me and went all alone to the east end of our field, where I selected a place under an orange tree, where the weeds were so high I could not be seen by anyone, but God. There I prayed and read as well as I could passages from the Holy Bible, cried and wrestled with God till a precious peace came into my heart I cannot express. I felt as light as a feather, and running to my mother, I told her what had happened. She embraced me and said, "Frank, you are converted," and I have never doubted it from that day till this.
I began at the age of 7 at a public school, the building of which was made of hews (hewed timbers), rived (split) out of cypress logs, and as a matter of course, was full of splinters; and the floor was Mother Earth, and for three succeeding years, I attended during 3 months terms.5 And being 9 months out of school, I forgot nearly all I had learned in the previous 3 months.5 I had a vacation of 6 or 7 years when at the age of 18, I attended a 6-months term taught by Mrs. Jane A. Levy, a sister of the B. F. H. O. (?) and T. B. White of the Louisiana Conference. This ended my schooling. But I became interested in reading good books, religious papers, one of which was the New Orleans Christian Advocate, which I always found in my house.
At the age of 20, I married Miss Polly Stine. She was 15 years old, and that was the greatest mistake of my life. I was too young, and my advice to any young man who may read this - don't ever marry so young. To us were born 4 children, namely, Algernan, Margaret Estella, Ivy Andew, and Harriet Jane, all of whom are married. In 1891 I was left a widower with those 4 children. I had a little farm on which I was doing my best to make a living.
Going back to my Christian experience, my friend that was with me in my early life always encouraged me in all I did to build up God's Kingdom. I shall never forget the first time I was called on to pray in public. A Presbyterian preacher by the name of Burgess, who was a carpenter was in our neighborhood selling Bibles, and we invited him to preach. And just before they commenced singing the song before he was to begin his sermon, he whispered to me if I would make the concluding prayer. Being a stammerer, I could hardly talk at all; I hesitated for fear I would stammer and make a complete failure, but I braced up and said, "I will do the best I can."
He said that's all the Lord requires of you. So when he finished his sermon, he called on me to pray, and to the astonishment of all, I did not stutter. This went out over the neighborhood, and when Brother J. O. Hoffpaur, who was our pastor, preached at his next appointment, he called on me also. So from that time on, they piled the work on me.
I was soon made Sunday School superintendent, a position I filled for 5 years. This was a great help to me. It got me over the embarrassment to some extent. I very sensibly felt my inefficiency for any kind of public work, my not having any education scarcely at all, and afflicted with an impediment of speech; but notwithstanding I was willing to try .
After serving my home church as Sunday School superintendent, steward, and recording steward for several years, I felt a call to preach and was assisted as to where to get a license to preach. And in Sept., 1887 at the quarterly conference, Rev. John Miller was presiding elder and I received my license to preach. I shall never forget my first sermon. It was announced that I would preach on Sunday night. A large congregation gathered; my father was there, my mother, and many that were not accustomed to going to church, but God was with me. My text was, "Let your light shine that others may see your good works," etc.
The home folks asked me preach once a month, which I did, and on one occasion, I met John McCall, who had moved to Leesburg (Cameron), the parish seat of Cameron Parish; and one of my school mates, Joseph Suttles, who had taken up the practice of law and had also moved there, invited me to preach for them. They had no church, but held services in the court house. My first effort that I made there was quite a trial for me, but the Lord was with me, and seemingly I made a good impression, From that time on for four years, I had a regular appointment there. I was put in charge of the Grand Chenier circuit as a supply pastor several times, finishing out the year for some of the preachers whose health would fail them.
In 1889 I finished out Rev. S. H. Cooper's term, who only served 3 months. In 1890 for Wilson Moore, who only served 2 months. In 1892 I served Sulphur Mine circuit.6 That year while holding a meeting with Rev. R. M. Blocker helping me, I was converted (?convicted) about the use of tobacco. A little boy, the son of Clyde Perkins who was keeping a store, saw me buy a piece of tobacco, take a chew in his presence, and he ran to his house and told his mother that it was no sin to chew tobacco for he had just seen the preacher chew it. The first time I called on Sister Perkins after that, she told me about it. She had been trying to get him to quit using it, and had told him it was a sin to steal tobacco and chew it.
I resolved right then that I would quit. So about a week after I returned home, I met Bro. C. T. Stables, who was then on the Grand Chenier circuit. He was boarding near where I lived, and as we were riding along one afternoon, going to Leesburg to get our mail, I took a chew and offered him one. And he said to me, "Brother Sweeney, suppose we quit!" I threw the tobacco over the fence, and that was my last tobacco.
In 1893 I supplied the Grand Chenier circuit. I visited my brother Henry (Henry Sidney Sweeney) at Calcasieu, and preached for the people there at Calcasieu, where I built my first church, In 1894 I kept up my regular (duties) on the Grand Chenier circuit, the same as the preachers in charge. The people gave me every encouragement, which I shall always appreciate.
I had sold out at Leesburg and bought the Charlie Suttle place, paying $1,000 cash and borrowing $500, giving a mortgage on the place. I made a very poor crop that year, and my heart's desire was to join the conference. While all my children were picking cotton one afternoon, I said to them, "How would you all like for me to join the conference and give my entire time to the itinerancy?" "Oh," they exclaimed. "Do, Papa, we will be so glad." I prayed over the matter and wrote to Dr. J. M. Beard, who was then presiding elder of the Opelousas District, how I felt about the matter, and to learn if he could give me work if I would sell out and join the conference. He wrote me a very encouraging letter and told me to come to conference in December and he would insure me a circuit.
So I sold out everything, put my children in school in Lake Charles, and I went to the conference in New Orleans. This was the first conference I had ever attended, and my first visit to New Orleans. Dr. B. Carodine entertained the conference that year. In 1895 I was sent to the Dry Creek circuit, where Rev. S. J. Davis was presiding elder. At the conference of 1895, I was admitted on trial and was returned to the Dry Creek circuit for the year 1896. In August of that year I married Miss Nannie Kent. Rev. Jackson, a superannuated preacher, performed the ceremony. In 1897 I was sent out to the Pine Grove circuit, Baton Rouge District.
I moved by way of Baton Rouge, when I landed there with my wife and four children (by my first wife) and I only had $10.00. We went to a hotel and got dinner, which cost me $4.50. I saw if I did not get a cheaper place, I would not have money enough to get away from there and to my work, which was 30 miles away in Pine Grove. So I went seeking to find a place to spend the night after having gone to 3 private boarding houses and was refused on account of their being full. At the fourth place, the lady, after saying no, asked who I was. I told her I was a Methodist preacher on my way to Pine Grove. "Well," she said, "that alters cases. Come in with your family and I will make room." Just as I left there, Bro. W. H. Holmes had heard of me being there, and he met me and said, "Brother Sweeney, the parsonage (unfinished)."
(It is indeed sad that Rev. Frank Sweeney never returned to complete his autobiography, which might have contained more early Cameron Parish and Methodist history. Nevertheless his story reveals much about the age in which he wrote. —W. T. Block)