January 16, 2009
With undying determination, a spirit of adventure, and an unshakeable faith in their Lord, William and Eliza Huntington packed their earthly belongings into a covered wagon and headed west across the Oregon Trail. After what must have been a harrowing journey they settled a few miles up the Cowlitz River from where it flows into the mighty Columbia in what is now Washington State. In the shadow of Mt. St. Helens and next to a large outcropping of rock resembling a castle, they began farming the land, planted an apple orchard, and set about carving a community out of the wilderness. William became the postmaster for the area and named the small community Castle Rock. Later, he became a county commissioner, a territorial representative, a senator, and was eventually appointed to be a U. S. Marshal for the territory by Abraham Lincoln.
Okay, so he was a great man who lived a long time ago. But why am I telling you all of this? William and Eliza just happen to be my great, great grandparents. Who I am today in Christ and whatever God is able to accomplish through me in His ministry is due in part to their legacy of faith.
“Why are we getting off the freeway here?” asked my wife sleepily as she awoke from a nap and raised the back of her car seat up to a more vertical position.
“This is Castle Rock,” I replied as I steered the car onto Huntington Avenue. “Some of my ancestors were Huntingtons. I believe I have some roots here in this town and I’ve always wanted to stop and explore the place. We’ve never had the time to do so before now, but if you don’t mind I’d like to at least drive around the community awhile. I remember coming here as a small boy when we’d visit Uncle Johnny and Aunt Lida. They had a large house near an apple orchard, or at least it seemed large to me at the time. I think I remember my brother saying the house was torn down but I’d like to check it out just the same.”
We were driving from our home in the San Francisco Bay area to visit my siblings and their families in Olympia, Washington for Thanksgiving when a powerful urge compelled me to exit the highway and do a little searching for my roots. Entering the town of Castle Rock is like passing through a time warp and ending up in the 1950’s. Except for a school and a nearby church, it seems as though the entire community took a vote and decided not to advance with the rest of the world. After crisscrossing the quiet streets for a few minutes I couldn’t see any house that looked familiar. It was then that my wife discovered a little museum which doubled as the office for the local chamber of commerce.
“Why don’t we stop and see if they have any information about your heritage,” suggested my wife. “As long as we’re here, let’s do some more exploring.”
After a little coaxing I turned the car around and parked in front of a small storefront labeled “Exhibit Hall.” Inside an elderly woman greeted us and, upon learning I was related to the Huntington family, urged us to look around the museum. There on the wall near the front desk was a picture of William and Eliza Huntington along with a short biography. After reading the small print I exclaimed with a mixture of joy and pride…
“These are my great, great grandparents! These pictures were donated to the museum by my uncle Jesse Moon. He mentions they are his great grandparents so for me we can just add one more “great.”
Immediately, the elderly curator began treating us like royalty insisting we see all the other exhibits in the place. As we looked through the historical artifacts and marveled at the pictures of destruction from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens she told us what she knew about the Huntington family. Not only was William the first postmaster and a successful politician, he was also instrumental in planting the first church in the area and served as its preacher for several years. Suddenly it dawned on me why the Spirit had urged me to take a small detour from our trip. There was something more than just a familial ancestry waiting to be discovered. These intrepid pioneers had also contributed to a legacy of faith which had been passed down through the years as well.
The house I played in as a small boy no longer existed. Apparently the property was sold to the school district and the house was torn down to make room for a new school. However, the curator mentioned that we should stop by and see the Huntington memorial at the south edge of town. Happily we agreed to do so.
Resting next to the rock which gave the town its name a granite memorial stands in tribute to William and Eliza and their family. I carefully brushed the leaves from around its base in order to read the full message carved into its face.
James & Maria Benjamin & Jerusha
Jacob & Susan William & Eliza
These brothers with their families selected the Cowlitz on which to make their abode and convert a wilderness into homes for their loved ones. Loyal and devoted to their Lord and country they left a lasting example of courage and self reliance for which all following generations may well be proud. II Chron. 15:7
The text went on to mention that the memorial stands on the north portion of William’s donation land claim and states that he gave the town its name and served as its first postmaster. The memorial was presented to the city by the Huntington family in 1952 one hundred years after William and Eliza first arrived in the area.
After returning home I have been thinking about this pioneering family and the legacy of faith which they left behind. I know nothing about their immediate children but one of their grandchildren, Bessie Huntington, married a handsome young, circuit riding preacher named Everard Moon who often came by to preach at the Christian Church in Castle Rock. Bessie graduated from Castle Rock High School in 1908 (Her graduation picture is on display at the museum). She got married the same year and spent her honeymoon traveling with her groom to Africa to engage in pioneer mission efforts in the Congo. After serving in Africa for many years they also ministered in Jamaica.
Right where the Congo River crosses the equator, at the Bolenge Mission Station, Bessie gave birth to my mother, Eleanor Moon. A couple of decades later back in this country at a college in Indiana where her father was teaching missions, Eleanor fell in love with and married a young divinity student named Don Hoffman. Together they ministered in churches in Indiana, Ohio, and Idaho where I was born. Later, Don and Eleanor also entered the mission field in England.
I had heard vague stories about Uncle Billy (William Huntington) coming out west in a wagon train but I never remember hearing about his faith. Now that I know more of the history of this great man I am humbled to think that my own faith was handed down to me through at least four generations. Were it not for William and Eliza’s dedication to the Lord my own faith history might be completely different. In fact, the faith of these two has opened the door for hundreds and probably thousands of people from across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and throughout this country to come to Christ. Tragically, they both died without seeing how their faith has continued to spread like a virus through generation after generation. But I have a feeling they might be well aware of their legacy now as they receive the grateful accolades of their beloved Lord in heaven. The Scripture reference on the Huntington memorial seems to be most appropriate. “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” – 2Chronicles 15:7.
Do you find this as encouraging as I do? I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to carve out a living on the American frontier. Yet William and Eliza did so with their faith intact, advancing the kingdom of God and leaving a lasting legacy of faith for future generations. And they did all this without having a clue as to what their legacy would be. It makes my trials seem like child’s play in comparison. My complaints about the difficulties of ministering in the Bay Area don’t seem to carry much weight any more. I am, however, rededicating myself to passing on the legacy of faith handed down to me. Realizing how hard past generations in my family have labored for the Lord makes me want to double my efforts to make certain the legacy doesn’t stop with me. I hope and pray that long after I have left this earth people who have been touched with the message of Jesus Christ through me, both my immediate family and my extended faith family, will be passing along the same legacy of faith to others.
“He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” – Psalm 78:5-6. “One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.” – Psalm 145:4. “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” – Deuteronomy 4:9. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” – 2Timothy 2:2.
By the way, everyone who has read this article has just become a part of a legacy of faith stretching back over a hundred and fifty years, all the way to William and Eliza Huntington. Whether your own faith heritage can be traced back for generations or it has begun with you, hundreds and perhaps even thousands are waiting for the legacy to be passed on to them. As many have often said, the Christian faith is always just one generation away from extinction. However, just as a small object when placed in front of a light source can cast an ever-widening shadow, one individual with undying determination, a spirit of adventure, and an unshakeable faith in the Lord can cast an ever-widening influence of belief across many generations and indeed around the world. The challenge is this: Don’t let the legacy die with you!
Bill, a child of God passing on a legacy of faith