THE eight convicted Adventists have now been in the Rhea County jail at Dayton since the afternoon of the 8th inst. Owing to the kindness of Sheriff Darwin, they are not confined in cells but occupy two rooms in the front of the jail on the second floor. These rooms are not clean, but they are light and are not offensively dirty. Each room contains two fairly comfortable double beds. The Adventists also have the freedom of the building and the jail yard. One of their number is permitted to carry water for drinking from a spring some distance from the jail, so that they are not compelled to use the water from the contaminated well in the jail yard. Their food is not hygienic but might be worse. They are allowed to receive visitors at their pleasure, and so, as jail life goes, they have much for which to be thankful.
But while their imprisonment is not rigorous, it is imprisonment. They are deprived of their liberty. They suffer the indignity of being counted criminals, and enemies of the State. They are taken from their homes and families, and from their business which necessarily suffers during their absence. Three of the families are left almost penniless. One of the prisoners, who has had but little work for months owing to the hard times, was compelled to leave his wife and seven children with good in the house for only a few days. Two other families, while not so large, are scarcely less needy. The husband and father is taken away, and so far as the State is concerned, the wife and children are left to beg or to starve—and for what offense?
The sole offense of the Adventists was exercising their God-given right to labor six days for their daily bread, after having kept the Sabbath according to the divine command. They interfered with no one. They harmed no one. They could in all good conscience say, in the language of the Apostle Paul: “We have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” They are guilty only of practical dissent from the religion of their neighbors; and it is for this that they are imprisoned in the State of Tennessee, in the United States of America in the closing decade of the nineteenth century!
The closing of the Graysville Academy is a peculiarly sad feature of the persecution at this place. A more unselfish work is seldom undertaken than was the founding of this academy. As stated last week, Elder Colcord had put all his means into this school, not for the purpose of making money, but in order that he might do good to his fellow-men, that he might be enabled to fit the children of his brethren and of his neighbors for usefulness here and for happiness hereafter. But because he permitted the inmates of the Students’ Home to work on Sunday, to wash their clothes and to saw wood, and to do such other work as is usually done on Saturday by Sunday-keepers while attending school, he is ruthlessly taken from his family, from his home, from his labor of love for the young and for the cause and the God he loves, and is shut up in prison as an enemy of society and of civil order!
Nor are the imprisoned men the only sufferers; as already related, helpless families are left without means of support, and the students of the academy are deprived of the opportunity to pursue their studies. Many of these students have come here from a considerable distance at great expense, that they might enjoy the benefits to be derived from this excellent school. Whole families have practiced economy and denied themselves, that the young people might come to Graysville; and now in close times and at a season of the year when money is usually hard to get, the students are compelled to send to their parents for money to pay their fare home. Then, if the school reopens, there will be the expense of returning again, amounting in some cases to forty dollars for the round trip. It is thus that the State of Tennessee deals with Seventh-day Adventists boys and girls who are trying to get an education at Graysville Academy.
Public opinion is divided here. The majority and the best people deprecate the persecution. The Dayton Leader, the Dayton Republican, and the Daily Times,—all the papers published in Dayton,—denounce the prosecutions as religious persecution, and demand the repeal of the law. But evil men are plotting further persecution. They are spying upon the Adventists and demanding that additional indictments be found against them, and that they “be compelled either to cease their Saturday-keeping or leave the State.” This is the very language in which some of their enemies put it. It is not the Sunday work that offends, but the Sabbath rest. Others work on Sunday and are not molested. The railroad trains thunder through the county and through the village and disturb no one; the furnaces of the Dayton Coal and Iron Company are operated on Sunday as on other days and nobody is offended.
The temper and tone of the press of the county is shown by the following from the Daily Times of Sunday, March 10:—
The Adventists in Prison
The Times man visited the jail yesterday and found the Adventists quartered in the front portion of the jail upstairs, and not in the disreputable rear. They are allowed perfect liberty to come and go about the building. They all appear cheerful under their misfortune and are bearing up well under their burden.
It seems to us that it is really too bad that these people have to suffer when others actually deserving punishment go untouched by the law.
The Times suggests some one circulate a petition setting forth the facts in the case, and praying their release, and forward the same to Gov. Peter Turney. We are certain that every person in Dayton would sign it.
This is simply a sample of the utterances which have appeared in all of the Dayton papers. But it matters not what the papers say nor even what the people say so long as the present Sunday law is upon the statute books of Tennessee. Any bigot may set the machinery of the law in operation and better men be his victims.