Chaplain George F. Adams
J. B. Magruder’s Virginia Division
11th, 17th, & 57th Virginia
By Dr. H. Rondel Rumburg
One political figure of the newly formed Confederacy said that the chaplains should only be paid $300 a year because they only preach one sermon a week. Little known to this wag was the real task of the chaplain, which was virtually endless. Some chaplains left accounts of their labors which were similar to the duty of a pastor except with the complications of war and the threat to life almost daily. Not only did many preach many times on a Lord ’s Day, but also during the week, speaking at graveside services, visiting the dying on battlefield and in hospitals, marching all night or marching sixteen to eighteen miles in all kinds of weather, holding services upon arrival in the form of prayer meetings or preaching, distributing literature, writing condolence letters, making reports, collecting funds to assist in the needs of the wounded, building or assisting in building shelters, fighting personal sickness or carrying the burdens of family needs at home, reading Scripture to those who could not do so, dressing wounds, nursing the sick, hungering for lack of food or because it had been given away to a suffering soldier and on we could go with the tasks.
When the war first began ministers of all ages wanted to be of help and realizing the spiritual need sought to help. Some of them found that the infirmities of age greatly limited them so they eventually had to find other ways of helping. This was evident in the number of chaplains in their 50s and 60s that spent only part of 1861 and 1862 as chaplains. The task of the chaplain was ominous and not one sermon a week as the squirrelly politician supposed. Now we want to look at one of those aged chaplains.
Before the War
George F. Adams was born in Dorchester, Mass. on October 3, 1802 and he died in Baltimore, Maryland on April 16, 1877. His father, Seth Adams, moved to Ohio in 1805, when George was very young, settling first in Marietta and afterwards in Zanesville, Ohio.
It pleased the Lord to bring George to Christ as his Lord and Saviour and to repent of his sins. Rev. George C. Sedgwick led him in believer’s baptism in 1812.
When George was twenty the Lord called him into the ministry and he was licensed to preach in 1822. This young man with the call of God upon his life entered the preparatory school of the Columbian College, Washington DC in 1824. He graduated from the college in 1829. Then he served as principal of the college (1829-1830) and thirty years later Columbian College bestowed the Doctor of Divinity degree on him. He also pastored a group that formed E Street Baptist Church from 1829-1830. Adams was ordained at the Navy Yard Baptist Church in Washington DC on April 22, 1827.
Several of George Adam’s vacations while in college were spent with Rev. Robert Ryland as a missionary in Eastern Virginia. From 1830 to 1835 Rev. George Adams was principal of a female institute in Falmouth, Virginia, and he also assisted, the famous Virginia Baptist historian, Rev. R. B. Semple the pastor of the Baptist church in Fredericksburg; Rev. Adams became the pastor until December 1835 while he was supplying the pulpit in Falmouth.
Rev. Adams came to Baltimore, Maryland in January 1836 because he had been called to Calvert Street Baptist Church (later known as High Street Church). This pastorate continued for seven years and was described as “with great distinction and rich success.” He also served as the Corresponding Secretary of the Maryland Baptist Union Association and was Moderator of that body for thirteen years. He was one of the primary men who helped found the Maryland Baptist Union Association and lived to see it flourish.
In 1842 he was general missionary for the State of Maryland. In this task he was seeking to stimulate the local churches. In 1843 he preached to the Baptist assemblies at Hereford, Gunpowder and Forest. In 1848 he accepted the pastorate of the Second Baptist Church, Baltimore, where, during 13 years, he labored with great success.
In the spring of 1861 Rev. George F. Adams began the first of two pastorates of Hampton Baptist Church. Just one month before the War of Northern Aggression began the church had 187 white members and 949 black members. Just after the outbreak of the war Colonial Hampton, Virginia became the first town to be torched by its own inhabitants to keep it out of enemy hands. Some Confederate soldiers burned their own homes and many others, plus 130 businesses, the courthouse and churches. The meeting house of the Hampton Baptist Church was burned. An observer reported: “The church was burning like a furnace and the flames were belching out of its steeple like an inferno … it seemed as if hell itself had broken lose and all its fiery demons were pouring oil on the flames.”
Pastor George F. Adams at age 59 became the Confederate chaplain of J. B. Magruder’s Virginia Division which was composed of the 11th, 17th, and 57th Virginia. He also continued to pastor the little remnant of the flock of the Hampton Baptist Church until 1862. There was a marked change in the life of Pastor Adams for the Federals arrested him as a spy. Adams was incarcerated on the Rip Raps which had been turned into a Federal prison in Hampton Roads harbor. Chaplain Adams’ age and imprisonment made its mark on the man of God in his early sixties. Lincoln’s conflict and his insurrectionists brought this local church to a new low.
In 1862 Rev. Adams returned to Baltimore where he was appointed State missionary and he served in this position until 1865. Here he served behind enemy lines until war’s end.
After the War
Then Rev. Adams took charge of the Atlantic Female College at Onancock, Virginia. Meanwhile Hampton Baptist Church had begun its long struggle of survival from the ravages of fire and war. In 1866 Elder Daniel Cummings a native of Maryland laid the groundwork for building a meeting hall. At the September 1866 meeting of the Dover Baptist Association the church reported one hundred twenty members. Then in October 1866 Hampton Baptist Church once again extended a call to Rev. George F. Adams to be their pastor.
Adams resumed this pastorate in early 1867. The congregation held their worship services on the Lord’s Day in the Elizabeth City County Courthouse. Reconstruction made it very difficult financially for the church to function. Paying a minister and raising money for a new sanctuary was a difficult task. After three years and many hardships the hard working congregation completed their meeting place which was a frame structure much smaller and less imposing than the one that had burned. The building did have a built-in baptistery and it opened for services on March 4, 1869. This pastorate lasted nine years until his Pastor Adams’ voice began to fail him. The cause of the failure was a cancerous condition in the throat.
He returned to Baltimore in 1876 where, in the providence of God, he entered Immanuel’s Land on April 16, 1877. He was in his 75th year. Brother Adams had been married twice and left a widow and several children. One of his sons was Dr. Charles S. Adams.
The Executive Board of the Maryland Baptist Union Association adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, that in the death of our venerable and beloved brother, the Reverend George F. Adams, D.D., this Board has lost a true friend, a father in Israel, a founder of the Maryland Baptist Union Association, and one who labored longer in its service than any other.
The following summation of his ministry has been given in the Baptist Encyclopedia:
As a preacher Mr. Adams was instructive and stimulating. His style was clear, simple, and forcible, and his sermons were rich in Christian experience. During a ministry of more than fifty years he had labored faithfully for the advancement of every good cause, baptizing hundreds of converts, and giving much of his time to the cause of missions, Sunday-schools, temperance, and the distribution of religious publications…. Mr. Adams also wrote and published numerous articles of interest in our religions periodicals, and was for one year the editor of the True Union, published in Baltimore. He had also in preparation a History of the Maryland Baptist Churches — a work for which he was specially fitted from his intimate acquaintance with the churches, and which he undertook at the request of the M.B.U.A. He left it unfinished at his death, but it will be completed by the Rev. John Pollard, D.D. of Baltimore.
Adams, George F., History of Baptist Churches in Maryland Connected with the Maryland Baptist Union Association, Baltimore: J. F. Weishampel, Jr., 1885.
Cathcart, William, The Baptist Encyclopedia, Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881.
Elliot, Jonathan, Historical Sketches of the Ten Miles Square Forming the District of Columbia, Washington, 1830.
Watts, Joseph T., The Rise and Progress of Maryland Baptists, Issued by the State Mission Board.