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Fire And Brimstone
The great awakening of John Thomson

By:  Nick Howard  |  Date: Oct 2020  |  Contact the Author

As a kid, I found attending church dull, other than one particular Thanksgiving Sunday service observing a mouse ravaging a display of gourds, corn and pumpkins while our Pastor bellowed away. Besides sheer boredom, I often recall a great deal of clergy finger-pointing with dire warnings of eternal damnation. Hey! I was just a kid, innocent to the world’s darker side; let me grow up first. I never grasped why preachers often showed antipathy towards the congregation. Still, there were two principles I credit to church-going: don’t lie and don’t steal. Perhaps I was not alone, as decades later, I learned of another kid with a similar experience over a century earlier.

Fresh off the boat, a young Scottish lad named John Thomson soon found himself nailed to a pew at the Marion Presbyterian Church just east of Rochester, New York. The Thomson family, newly emigrated from Foonabers, Scotland, sought a new life and more significant opportunities. From 1866 to 1869, the teenaged Thomson, eyes glazed over, developed two vexations. First, the pastor harangued loudly. Second, he spoke with a strange (Yankee) accent. The Scotchman’s burr clashed with a Western New York twang. The Reverend was a fiery western New Yorker by the name of Merritt Gally. Young Thomson immediately disliked Gally, and this hatred would survive both men for the rest of their days.

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