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Introduction Part 4


It is not surprising that, in the spirit of the pioneer, at the age of twenty-three years,  George Follett decided that he should leave the paternal roof and seek his fortune in another part of the country. With his education completed and his license to practice medicine in hand, he turned his steps toward the South, "not expecting to stop short of South Carolina." Bethania was not a predetermined destination. But Fate stepped in in the form of a feverish illness and a serious depletion of funds, and he decided he would linger in the Moravian village, where he had found the people kind and recuperate. Also he could practice his profession until he had replenished his purse. In a letter dated July 27, 1945, Miss Adelaide L. Fries, who did such valuable work in translating the Moravian Records, sent Miss Sadie Wilson her translation of this entry from the Records: "on last Monday, the 26th of this month (May, 1828), two young men arrived from New York The one, named Wilson, plans to stay here for a while as doctor;..." Little did he realize that his temporary arrangements would stretch into nearly thirty years and that he would become in that time the highly respected physician of Bethania.

All did not go well with the young doctor in the beginning. He was at times overcome by homesickness for the familiar beauties of the country from whence he came and for friends and family he missed. At the very beginning of his Journal he wrote, "I (had) bid a final adieu to my Aged Parents, Brothers, and Sisters. And not with feelings of indifference or disregard, because they were all dearly beloved by me. No man could have more affectionate parents or those who wished better for the respectability of their children..." It took some time to gain the confidence and respect of the community professionally; and since he did not enter into the social life of the young people, which he considered frivolous and a waste of time better spent in studying and writing, he did not make friends easily. Whenever he was near despair he whispered to himself his motto, "Don't give up the ship." And in the end, he prevailed.

In 1916 Miss Emma Lehman, for many years head of the English Department at Salem College and in childhood a neighbor of the Wilson family, wrote a memoir about "Bethania in the Olden Time." She wrote, "Dr. Wilson came to Bethania as a young doctor and was said to have come from Michigan. I well remember his regular horseback and saddlebags practice. My latest recollection of him was as a stout, gray-haired man, who came to our house when my sister Sallie was born and ate supper then on that Easter Sunday evening.... Dr. Wilson had young medical students reading under him and living in his house several times. One of these was Dr. Sam Masten, who later became a dentist and lived here in Salem. ...Dr. Wilson had his office an Drugstore (for in those days, doctors had to furnish all the medicines; drugstores were unknown) in the two small rooms on the northside of his house, to the right of the passage as you entered the front door. To my childish eyes it was almost an enchanted our next door neighbors, that place was always interesting to me."

Dr. Wilson lived in the midst of the Moravian community through most of his life but never became a part of its traditions or church activities. His Congregationalist background separated him from their customs of church attendance and celebrations of religious holidays. His criticism of attendance-by-habit at church services and festival activities at Christmas and Easter, which seemed to him more social than religious, stemmed from his early training. He believed fundamentally that each individual found God as he understood Him and communed with Him in whatever place was most conducive to such worship. It need not be a man-made temple. It need not be a formal service. It need not be in company with other worshipers. No preacher was needed as a guide. He often recorded his feelings of reverence in the presence of the Divine in the beauties of nature.

He showed great compassion for the powerless, the infirm, the poor; but he was intolerant of the shiftless, the ignorant, and the extravagant. Wealth spent for pleasure and show indicated heartlessness and lack of a sense of responsibility, he felt. His standards of personal behavior were inflexibly high. Life, he said, should be governed by will and reason not by desire.