Shang's Own Story

Shang's Own Story

Changed from Sin to Righteousness by God's Grace and Power

FREDERICK A. BAILY. (Shang's Own Story, circa 1909. From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).


About ten miles from Providence, Rhode Island, on the trolley line to Danielsonville, there was some years ago a notorious "Road House," as those drinking dens with brothel attachments are called, whose sign printed in staring letters ran as follows:

"This is Big Shang Baily's Hotel."

This house, and the purpose for which it stood, was well known all over the state and probably far beyond. It was apparently no different from others of its kind, but was essentially so when taken together with its proprietor whose strong personality, free-hearted sociability and distinct and striking individuality stamped the place with its particular character.

The career of this man is singularly varied and extraordinary; and whether he was engaged in the ways of sin or of serving the Lord there appears to have been a broadness and fearlessness which is a strong part of his nature.

The mystery of the Spirit working through a man's heart was manifested in every step of his transformation from the moment that he received the first suggestion of the "still small voice" to the time when he surrendered himself wholly to God and passed through the great experience of entire sanctification.

The miracle of grace whereby the colossal sinner, "Shang" Baily, was transformed into a humble, penitent Christian believer, was regarded by those who knew him either personally or by reputation, as a nine-day wonder. The secular press of Providence, the daily papers of Boston, and some of the illustrated magazines reported the case in all its details and in a more or less sensational manner. The religious journals were more cautious, yet some of them gave brief notices of the fact. But the men of the world, who had been acquainted with the man, sneered at the story; and to the few active Christians in that community, such a transformation from nature to grace was an event calculated to widen their faith in the infinite possibilities of the gospel.

Many accounts of this extraordinary experience have been given by the press and by word of mouth which have been more or less accurate, but all have failed to represent fully the exact facts. Surely there can be no higher authority than Shang Baily himself, who will tell his own story in his own words and in his own inimitable style, full of sincerity and truth, of simplicity and directness and with a quiet appreciation of the humorous side of certain situations which otherwise would be decidedly serious.

Shang's Own Story cover.
(Shang's Own Story, circa 1909. From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).


My name is Frederick A. Baily. I was born in June, 1842, in the town of Burrillville, Rhode Island, in a factory village called Gazzaville, of American parents who were not at that time Christians; although I have every reason to believe that they became so in later life. My mother was an A. No. 1, moral woman; I never knew her to say a wicked word, and I remember saying to her at one time,—"Mother do you ever pray?" and she answered, "It has been a good many years that I have prayed for you, that God would bless you."

Early Influence
But it was a fact that I was a bad boy. I was the ring-leader among the other boys of the village and led them on into all kinds of wickedness and what I didn't think of the others did. To be sure I was guilty of a good deal, but I got the blame of a good deal more. Many are the times that I got a good drubbing from my father for things that I didn't do; but I also did a great many things which deserved a punishment that I never got. I was, as I have said, the leader of the bad boys; and another bad boy named Charlie Callihan, of Callihansville, was the leader of his gang. He and his crowd and I and my crowd used to go every Saturday and Sunday to an old wood-chopper's cabin to play cards. Through the week the boys visited the different farmers in the vicinity to steal eggs, and when Saturday came would have a large number on hand. I remember one experience which I had while out gathering eggs for our weekly feast. I was about ten or twelve years old at the time and in those days my summer pants were very thin. I had visited one farmer's hen-coop and had confiscated quite a number of eggs, so in getting away I had to walk very carefully. But in getting into the coop I had disturbed the hens so that they made a great noise cackling. The man of the house heard the racket and came out to see what the trouble was. He saw me trying to get away and called out, "Here, you come back here!" but I started to run, forgetting that my pockets were full of eggs. I ran on thinking of nothing but to escape the farmer and broke every egg, which ran down my legs and I had to go to the river and wash my pants before I dared to go home.

Log Cabin Episode
One Saturday I remember particularly, when the two gangs of boys were to go to the log cabin to have the usual game of cards and the feast of eggs that we had "borrowed" through the week.

It seems that the farmers had found out how their eggs had disappeared and the place where we had our picnics. This day we were having a grand time in the log cabin, when suddenly the door opened and a man's head appeared; and we knew that we were caught. But I thought I would play smart and get away without getting much punishment, so I said to the boys.

"We've got to break and run and we'll all scatter: and when I give the word we'll all go."

I thought I would play a little cunning so when I gave the word they all ran but me. Of course each boy got a little taste of the whip and when I thought the coast was clear I made a run, but found that all the farmers were lined up outside the door. Each one had a whip in his hand and I got lashed at every step. I don't know how far I ran before they got tired but I know that I got tired long before they did. This experience broke up the visits to the shanty, and stealing eggs from the farmers suddenly lost its attractions. But although our meetings in the cabin were broken up there were plenty of other adventures.

Melon Patch
I remember that about that time there was in our place a country physician. He was both doctor and dentist and farmer as well. I was going through his corn field one day and came upon a patch of water melons. It was long before they were ripe but I made up my mind that would watch that melon patch till they got ripe, as there would be no pleasure in stealing green melons. After some time, but as I remember it, before the melons were quite ripe, we boys visited the doctor's patch one Sunday afternoon and took all or nearly all of the melons. Near by was a river and we carried them down to the bank and started to eat them. They were not very ripe, but of course a boy dosen't [sic] mind anything like that. In the midst of our feast who should break in upon us but the doctor himself, with a whip in his hand, and he said,

"Now I've got you!"—but he hadn't. We all had on our go-to-meeting clothes but in spite of that we all jumped into the river and swam to the other side; and the doctor never reported us to any of our parents. I suppose he thought he would get even with us when we got sick.

But there comes a time in a boy's life when he must think of something besides his boyish pranks. When I was about sixteen years old my father died and I went to sea. I was in the West Indies when the news arrived of the firing upon Fort Sumpter. I came back to the United States and enlisted in the Second Rhode Island, Company I, for three years. I was taken prisoner at the first battle of Bull Run and was sent to Richmond where we were kept imprisoned for several months.



The rebels had previously fitted out a privateer to be used against our commerce and our government captured it, tried the offenders by court-martial, sentenced them to be shot and consigned them to Governor's Island to await execution. From the prisoners, captured by the rebels at Bull Run, were picked out three hundred and fifty to be held as hostages for the privateer crew, and the rebels were to do to us as our government were to do to them. I was one of the three hundred and fifty prisoners who were held as hostages. Among our number were two officers who were held with the others; Col. Corcoran of the 69th. New York, afterwards general of the Irish brigade, and Lieut. Church of Rhode Island. Of course our government did not carry out the sentence pronounced upon the privateer crew after this move of retaliation on the part the South.

Tobacco and Rum
While we were Prisoners in Richmond we were confined in a tobacco warehouse. On the first floor were the tobacco presses for making tobacco into plugs; the second and third floors were occupied by the prisoners—several hundred on each floor—and in the room above at the top of the building were stored many hundred pounds of tobacco in the leaf, manufactured tobaccco and New England rum. In one part of the room was a great hogshead containing all kinds of spices over which rum was poured, and after leaching through the spices and becoming saturated with them it was then drawn off and used for flavoring the tobacco. For a long time I and a man by the name of Rogers were the only ones who knew about the tobacco and rum being there. One day I had an idea that I would like to know what was in the room above. The space between the stairs and the window which lighted the stairway being large enough, I squeezed myself onto the next floor and discovered the great quantity of rum and tobacco. I knew that if the prisoners found out that was there it would not be long before they would get after it and dispose of it; so I buried under the tobacco leaves several boxes of tobacco and at night would get out what I wanted, hand it down to Rogers and the next day sell it to the prisoners: but I pretended that I had run the guard and had got it outside. After I had been selling this tobacco for some time, my friend Rogers thought he would like to go up, and by a hard squeeze—he was a stouter man than I—he jammed himself up through this window-space and the first thing he did was to sample the rum and get beastly drunk. The great noise that he made with yelling and dancing aroused some of the prisoners below who burst open the door leading up-stairs, and when they saw what was stored there they brought down the rum in bucketsful, gave it out to the other men as freely as water, and that night a large majority of the men were drunk. The rebel guards fired volley after volley into the prison, the sergeant came up and put a great number in irons, and orders were given to destroy or dispose of the rum up-stairs. The hogshead of spiced rum was knocked to pieces; but for some time after that the men would set up the staves, fill them with the rum-soaked spices, pour water over them and catch the drippings to drink. This didn't last long for the boss found it out and scattered the spices about so that we couldn't gather them up again; but the tobacco they never took away and let us do as we pleased with it.

We had in prison a great many cigar makers who made cigars to sell to the rebels and as there was no revenue to pay and the tobacco could be had for nothing, the cigars were sold very cheap. The tobacco I had hidden away came in very handy at this time. Soon after we came to Richmond we were given bed-ticks and when we left for Tuscaloosa the men all filled their ticks with tobacco which lasted until we were released from prison.

We were taken to Tuscaloosa, Ala., by Capt. Wirtz who was at that time called in Richmond, the "Dutch Sergeant." He afterwards had charge of Andersonville prison and at the close of the war was hung by our government for his brutality and cruelty to the prisoners.

At Tuscaloosa
The first part of our stay in Tuscaloosa was spent in dungeons, so-called; but as there was no dungeon proper, a substitute was provided by using an old hotel and boarding up the windows. During the first few weeks after we were imprisoned in this place, about one hundred and fifty out of the three hundred and fifty men died of diarrhoea.



After living at Tuscaloosa under terrible conditions for nearly four months we were sent to Salisbury, N. C.

Short Rations
Our rations here were very insufficient. They consisted of about seven ounces of bread, one ounce of fresh pork and a small cupful of very weak soup, which were served out once a day at four o'clock. One incident will show how hungry the men would get and to what extremities it would lead them. I took care of a man who was sick and of course drew his rations. He afterward died and I kept him a day or two for the sake of getting his portion of food. I could have eaten the rations of six men, and then should have been hungry.

No matter what the conditions are, the nature of men will assert itself; and so although these prisoners were continually hungry and in miserable surroundings they found for themselves diverting employment and amusements.

While I was in Salisbury a great many states sent clothing to the prisoners which the rebel guards were very anxious to buy. But there were only three men out of several hundred who dared to sell these clothes. Some of the prisoners claimed that we were aiding and abetting the South when we sold our clothing, but I, with two others, took chances that our government would forgive us. So when a man had a suit of clothes, a coat or a pair of pants to dispose of, he would bring it to us to sell for him. When anything was brought to me I would say, "Wait a minute until I see what I can get from the Johnnies'." The prison windows had iron bars about eight or ten inches apart and I would wave the clothing out of the window as a signal to the "Johnnies" that there was something for sale. Of course we always took care to draw the article back before a Reb could run up and snatch it from us. When he came up I would ask him if he wanted to buy such and such, and after I had made the best bargain that I could I would divide the money with the man who had brought the article to me to be sold. So in this way the three men who undertook to dispose of clothing to the "Johnnies" got the name of "Merchants." Each time we made a sale, however, the men who were so strict about not violating our oath to the government, would put our names down, and later when we got to Newberne, N.C., on our way home, and General Burnside came aboard the transport we were on, they said to him:

"We are very sorry, General, but we have a very painful duty to perform." When the General asked what it was, they said, "We wish to report some men who have violated their oath to our government by selling their clothing to the rebels."

"What did these men do with the money?" asked General Burnside.

And the men replied, "They bought grub."

"What!" said the General with mock severity, "can it be possible that men would sell their clothing before they would starve?"

You see that when we were in Salisbury we could buy dried peach pies for a dollar apiece, so we sold the clothes for pies; and we knew no sale meant no pies!

Vermin Pest
Most of the men in Salisbury prison were taken at the first Bull Run, and when we started from Washington to go to Bull Run we changed our underclothes and these we wore without change for several months. The only time we took off our underwear was when we took it off to kill the vermin which we did two or three times a day. There were several prisons in Salisbury and some with several divisions, and each division had one man, appointed by the prisoners, who was supposed to be boss. One of his duties was to see that each man got his right proportion of rations and another duty was to see that the vermin which infested the prison and inhabited the prisoners was killed two or three times a day.

At the beginning of this operation he would say, "Prepare to skirmish!" when we would commence to pull off our shirts; and at the command, "Skirmish!" we would fall upon the creepers and kill as many as we could. It was no hard matter to find a hundred at one "skirmish."

Johnnie Grab All
I was known among the prisoners as "Johnnie Grab All" and the name was applied with particular reason.

At certain times during the twenty-four hours we were let out in the prison yard. The only way of lighting the yard was by candles set in old-fashioned lamps which were up on the top of high posts. My height was over six feet and seven inches and I was the only man in Salisbury prison—there were several thousand of them—who could reach up and take these candles out of the lamps. This I did a good many times; and when the "Johnnies" missed the candles they would ask of other prisoners if they knew who had taken the candles, and they would say:

"Yes, a man by the name of "Johnnie Grab All." The Rebs would then go through the different prisons looking for "Johnnie Grab All," but they never found him. These candles we thought were worth taking some risk to get for they were very valuable to us in lighting our corner where we collected at night to play poker. When we had no candles we used as a light a rag which had been saturated with grease by pulling it through a piece of salt pork, the rag serving as a wick.

Perhaps you wonder how we got money to play cards with; but there was a good deal of it and it was manufactured right in the prison. During the war small bills and change became very scarce in the South as well as in the North. The government of the North issued script, but in the South the merchants issued personal orders in the place of small bills and script which read something after this manner:

"I, Tom Jones, (or whatever his name might be) promise to pay the bearer One Dollar, if presented to me in sums of Ten Dollars," Signed, Tom Jones.

Sham Money
When any man in prison could get a note issued by Tom Jones and a piece of blank paper he would make an order as near like the one Tom Jones had as could be, rub a little pork fat over it to give it an aged appearance and then would pass it as well as the genuine. I had a friend who was in my regiment and who was a very fine penman. He used to do the making and I used to do the passing.

Pie Vender
One day an old colored woman came to the window to sell pies. She was a slave and her master was one of the officers of the prison; but she sold all her pies and I believe every dollar she got for them was made in prison. When she went to the officers' quarters to report, they discovered that all the money was bad—some of it was executed very poorly and led to a careful examination of the rest.

The next day when the old lady came over to the prison to sell her pies the lieutenant came too and said, thinking to shame us, "You can impose on a poor old colored woman but you wouldn't dare to try it on an intelligent person.

I had some money that had just been made that morning in the prison and I said to the officer that we, when we bought anything got change and we didn't know whether it was good or bad, and I handed him a piece of paper that had just been made with a pencil into a sham bill a short time before, and asked him if that was good. He said "Yes." So I invested the money in pies and the old aunty sold out all her pies again; but I don't think she got one penny in good money. I don't remember of seeing her come back after that—nor the officer, either.

Gen. Winder Incident
In Salisbury the rebels who guarded us were made up of old men, cripples and boys, who were not able to do duty at the front. When we were coming in from the yard they were always in a hurry. One day a boy who was on guard at the door, to hurry me up, pricked me with his bayonet. Just inside the door there was a box stove which burned long wood and when I got inside I grabbed a large stick with which to defend myself. He reported me and I was taken to headquarters and shut up in a dungeon for several days. General Winder had charge of Salisbury prison at this time, but he was away and I had to remain in the dungeon until he returned. There were several in the dungeon besides myself and we were a very sorry sight. The dungeon was a dark hole with no flooring and no light. When I came out of the dungeon Gen. Winder said to me, "If I had been here when you raised the club to strike the guard I would have hung you on one of these trees." And the chances were he would have done so.

After being in Salisbury prison for some months we were paroled and sent home via Tarbury and Newberne, N.C. When we reached Newberne we were anchored out in the bay about a mile from shore. I asked a boatman who was in a small boat along-side the vessel, if the Second Rhode Island was there and he said that he thought it was. So I waited until it was dark, went into the wheel-room (the vessel being a side-wheeler) and swam out to one of these boats which was to take me ashore.

Experience in Newberne
When I got to the city I found that the Second Rhode Island was not there, but a Rhode Island Battery. But the transport I had come on from Tarbury, N.C., had already sailed for New York and had left me in Newberne. It would be ten days before another transport came along and I would need a pass to allow me to go around the city. At that time General Burnside had his headquarters in the United States Hotel and I went to him and asked him for a pass which he gave to me personally. It read thus: "Guards and patrols will pass the bearer until further orders. (Signed) General Burnside."

The pass should have read:

Guards and patrols will pass the bearer in Newberne until further orders.

I didn't know it at the time but by the omission of these two words I was not confined to Newberne but could go at will anywhere in the United States.

At the end of ten days a transport arrived and I came on it to New York. This was before they had started the parole camp in Annapolis, Md. At that time all men who had been released from rebel prisons were sent home to the different states from which they had come.

Baily at the close of his army service.
Mr. Baily as he Appeared at the Close of his Army Service. (Shang's Own Story, circa 1909. From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).

Parole Camp
I had been in Rhode Island about ten days when the government issued an order for all prisoners to report, and I, with others was given transportation to Annapolis, Md. But instead of going to Annapolis I went on to Washington and drew my pay. While I was in Newberne a man there, who was looking after the interests of Rhode Island soldiers, gave me a descriptive list that would allow me to draw my pay before any United States pay-master. I presented this descriptive list to the pay-master in Washington and he gave me a hundred and ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, which included a year's pay and the amount allowed for one year's rations and a year's clothing.

Then I went to Annapolis and reported.

Some days afterward I was showing the pass which I had received from Gen. Burnside, and a soldier by the name of Rogers, who had been taken prisoner and belonged to the Second Rhode Island Volunteers, Co. F, saw by reading it that the word Newberne had been left out and that it would pass me anywhere in the United States. I made up my mind that I would use it to go back to Rhode Island and home. When I started from Annapolis I had no more than got seated in the car when an officer came to me and wanted to see my furlough or discharge; and I showed him the pass that Gen. Burnside had given me. Then he said,

"I don't understand this." And I answered,

"You don't have to."

I had the same difficulty in Annapolis Junction and also in Baltimore and when I reached Harve de Grace and the provost martials couldn't understand this pass, they sent a detective to sit in the seat with me. This detective saw by my uniform that I was a United States soldier and he confessed that he was a deserter but added that if he could only get across the river he would be all right. But I said that I would see that he was arrested as a deserter, and I made a bluff as though I was going to report him; but when I came back to the seat he was gone and I had no more trouble until I got to Providence.

Back to Rhode Island
I came to Rhode Island, went to New Hampshire and was away from Annapolis about five or six weeks. My finances being low I resolved to go back to Annapolis.

So I went to the provost guard in Providence—his office at that time was on Market Square—and told him that I wanted transportation to Annapolis. He asked if he had not given me transportation some five or six weeks previous to this and I replied that he had. He then said that if I didn't get out of Providence within twenty-four hours he would have me arrested as a deserter.

I was now in real difficulty; but after telling a friend who then kept a clothing store on Washington Row he suggested that I tell my story to the governor. I took his advice and called upon the governor, William Sprague, who had his office on Exchange Place. I told him that I was a released prisoner, who had left Annapolis on a French furlough—you know a French furlough is coming home without leave,—and had come to Rhode Island to see my people. He gave me a letter which read:

"Give this man transportation to Annapolis.
(Signed) W. Sprague, Gov."

When I again came into the provost martial's office he called out,

"What! you here again ? Swan, take that man and lock him up!"

I answered, "Wait a minute, I've got a letter here to show you," and as he read the letter I heard him say, "Why does the governor interfere with our business?" or something of that kind. Then he turned to me and said, "You be here to-night at seven o'clock and I'll give you transportation to New York. We reached New York in the morning when I reported and the following night I was given with others transportation to Annapolis.

Arrest as a Deserter
When I arrived there I was arrested for a deserter and taken to the headquarters of the provost marshal who said to me, "You left Annapolis some weeks ago as a deserter," and I told him "No, I had a pass."

He exclaimed, "A pass! Who gave you a pass?"

I said, "General Burnside."

He looked at me in great astonishment and said, "Burnside!—Have you still got the pass?"

I told him that I had and I took it from my pocket and handed it to him. After reading it he said, "You don't want this any longer."

"No," I admitted, "provided I am not to be arrested as a deserter."

"Well," he said, "you won't be," and he sent me back to my company.

Back Cove Melons
While there we camped on what was in those days called the Back Cove. On the other side there was a watermelon field, which we visited. To go across the cove we undressed, put our clothes on a raft and pushed the raft in front of us; and we brought back the melons and our clothes in the same manner as when we went over. One day we all managed to get a melon apiece, but we were spied and chased and finally caught by the guards. To get to Annapolis from this place we had to go up and around the cove which was two or three miles, and the provost guards made us carry the melons all the way to the guard-house in Annapolis. I knew that we would be punished but I had made up my mind that the officers were not going to eat any of the watermelon I had carried two or three miles, so when we reached the steps leading to the provost martial's office, I flung my melon down on the step and broke it all to pieces and I believe the other boys did the same.

Escape from Guard-house
Now the guard-house was next to the office on the opposite side of the entry in the basement. There was only one window in it and that was about ten feet from the floor.

A rope reached from one end of the room to the other, fastened to rings. We were put into this room with our hands tied behind us and hitched to the rope. We could walk easily to one end of the room but to come back we were obliged to walk backwards; so we tried to see if we couldn't break the rope or pull out the staples and at last the rope on the back side of the house near the window gave way. We soon got our hands untied and then planned to escape. The guard-house was situated on a hill and the back part of it was several feet lower than the front so that it was some distance from the window to the ground. We were excited and wanted to get away and thought of nothing else. We let the rope down on the outside of the window while I held it on the inside and as it was ten feet from the floor to the window, the others got on my back, and would shin up the rope to the window, then down the rope on the outside to the ground. This worked very well as long as there was some one to hold the rope on the inside, but when they had all got out, it came to my turn to shin the rope. My having been a sailor in my young days made it easy for me to climb up the rope but I forgot when I came to go down on the other side that there was nobody holding it and I fell eight or ten feet and landed in a bunch of dahlia bushes. I scrambled out and with the others went into camp and that was the last we ever heard of that.



Some weeks after this I left Annapolis and joined my regiment at Downsville. At this time McClellan had charge of the Army of the Potomac but at Baltimore Heights he gave his sword over to Burnside who then took charge of the army.

A Narrow Escape
Soon after this the battle of Fredericksburg was fought and my regiment was the first to cross the Rappahanock on the ponton, at the center. Near the bank of the river was a house surrounded by a picket fence and when we skirmishers came to it we kicked off the pickets to go through. My file-leader kicked them off on the left and I on my right leaving one picket be-tween us. As we stooped to go through under the fence-rail a sharpshooter fired a ball on a line with our heads which went through this picket, only a few inches from us. I said to my companion, "I guess he was firing at you," but he answered, "No you long-legged -------! he was firing at you!"

That night we were on skirmish-line picket, but soon after daylight we were released. Somehow it leaked out that the 9th corps was going to charge the Heights of Fredericksburg. Near where my company was, there grew a very tall white pine tree whose limbs came very near the ground; so I, with many others climbed up this tree to see the 9th corps make the charge. They got about half way to the fortification when the Rebs made it so hot for them that they broke and retreated to the river. We fellows in the pine tree had been watching the charge (I was pretty near the top,) when the Rebs spied us and fired a shot at us which went over our heads. I never knew how we got down out of that tree but we were so excited (or scared—I know I was scared,) that we just dropped off, falling from one limb to another until we reached the ground, but were not hurt. That night we retreated across the river and went into camp.

In cold or wet weather, after a battle or long march, the soldiers were given a good drink of whisky. The morning of our retreat it rained hard and an order was issued to draw whisky from the brigade commissary. Barney McGan and I were detailed to go after it, taking with us two army mess-kettles to bring it in, as there were several gallons. On our way back, although we had filled our canteens and hung them over our shoulders, we would sample the whisky in the kettles every little while. But we must have drank once too often, for we got drunk and went to sleep and while we were asleep somebody came and stole all the whisky. Of course we had to go to camp and report and were put under arrest. Soon after that we started back to our old camp and were sent to our regiment so that was the last we heard of our fault as there were more important things to do than to court-martial us.

After the first Fredericksburg fight, Gen. Burnside being in command, made a march, hoping to surprise the "Johnnies" in the rear; but there came on such a heavy rain storm that his plan was a failure and when he came to where he was to cross the river the Rebs had put up a great sign which read:

"Burnside stuck in the mud!"

At the time of this discouraging march several thousand deserted the army but before they got across the Potomac at a place called Accokeek they were captured and brought back to Gen. Newton's and other headquarters and afterwards court-martialled. Some were sentenced to Dry Torturgas for a number of years or for life, and some to be shot; but on reaching his headquarters they were all pardoned by Gen. Hooker who succeeded Burnside as commander-in-chief of the army.

The Serenade
During the winter of 1862 while these deserters were detained as prisoners, I was sent to Gen. Newton's headquarters and detailed to do special duty as guard. Gen. Newton was an Irish-man who liked entertainment and every little while a band was sent over to serenade him. The soldiers acting as provost guards were sent to the general's headquarters to hold the lights for the musicians to see the notes. The general was very free-hearted and after each tune he would treat the band to a drink of whisky. I wanted a drink too, so when the musician, whose light I was holding came back from his drink, I asked him to lend me his cap and his horn. I put the cap on my head and walked up to the tent with the horn under my arm, reached for the bottle and helped myself to a good generous drink. Nobody stopped me but Newton asked me what instrument I played and I told him it was a B flat! Another soldier who was holding a candle, borrowed a cap and horn and tried the same game but it didn't work.

That same winter a friend of mine came from a Massachusetts battery to see me. He had money and I knew where I could buy whisky; so I went out to the settlers and bought a bottle which we drank, and I got full. My duty that day was to be on guard at Newton's headquarters, and being full of whisky I was not a very worthy soldier. There were three or four inches of snow on the ground and I remember of staggering up and down and writing my name in the snow with my bayonet. All this time the general and others were watching me. As I was reeling along a chicken came in my way and I flung my gun, with the bayonet at it. It didn't hit the chicken but stuck in the ground. Then I heard the general call:

"Provost Martial, take this man to his tent and let him sleep that jag off and afterwards send him to me."

You can imagine how I felt when I came to myself and thought what my punishment might be; but I knew that I must go to headquarters whatever the result. After I got sober the provost sergeant took me to the general who said to me:

"Do you know that I could have you shot for being drunk on duty?" and he asked me where I got my whisky. I told him that an old friend of mine whom I hadn't seen since the war began, came to visit me and had brought the whisky, and he had said to me, "You're feeling pretty badly ain't you?" and I had said "Yes, sir, I am," and he poured out a tumbler of whisky and told me to drink it. This explanation seemed to satisfy the general but he told me never to get into that condition again.

The men slept in tents inside a large stockade made of trees cut and laid down in the form of a square which served as a wind break to shelter the tents. We guards were on duty four hours out of the twenty-four and when our time came we had to be at our post to relieve the guard who preceded us. I remember that once my post was at the rear of the stockade and as it was very seldom that anyone passed this part of the camp. I felt myself safe, and sat down to smoke with my gun leaning against the stockade. Now a soldier while on duty is not allowed to either sit down or to smoke, but I took the risk. It happened that Gen. Newton was taking a short cut to Wheaton's headquarters and I didn't see him until he was almost upon me. I jumped up and presented arms and he asked me if that was the way I had been taught to salute an officer. I looked down to see if I was making any mistake and saw that my gun was in the correct position, the cock three inches from my body. He then asked me how long I had been in service and I told him "about eighteen months. He said, "And you salute an officer with a cigar in your mouth!" In my confusion I had forgotten all about the cigar and I spit it out in pretty quick time. He let me off by warning me never to let it happen again.

March to Gettysburg
After the Chancellorsville fight in which my regiment fought at Salem Heights, we went back into our old camp and stayed there until the call to Gettysburg. The march from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg is one of the most remarkable forced marches ever made in war, for testing the courage and endurance of an army. We arrived in Gettysburg in the afternoon of July second and went on picket, staying all night. Next day the 3rd of July was the third day of the battle and my corps was under fire all day. After the battle of Gettysburg I was in a small fight at a place called Funkstown in Maryland.

After this I was taken sick, sent to Fredericksburg, and from there to Portsmouth Grove hospital and was discharged from Portsmouth Grove on the fifth day of June, 1864, after serving three years in the army.

On the fifth day of July, 1864, I re-enlisted and joined the navy for three years and served till three months after the war was over. I have dwelt upon these personal experiences while in the war not because of their great interest or importance, but to give clearer idea of my life and character at that time. Many of these incidents show my utter lack of good principle and character, and also show what a man will do who has not the Spirit of God in his heart. This account will bring out the contrast of my life before and after my conversion, and will show to others, as it did to me what the power of God is able to do for a man.

I again came back to Rhode Island, followed the sea some of the time and worked ashore some of the time and in 1870 I went into the circus business. My particular work was that of assistant and boss canvasman. While in the show business I had many experiences of different kinds.

When I was assistant boss canvasman in Forepaugh's circus I had the experience of sleeping one afternoon in a wagon with a live rattlesnake. This was in the summer of 1872 while we were exhibiting through Wisconsin. This circus in those days was a wagon show. That morning they had sent one of the wagons into the field to get some hay that had been newly cut. I suppose the rattlesnake was on the first cock and was taken up and flung into the wagon and the rest of the hay being piled on top of him made him dormant. After they had unloaded, they left the wagon under a large oak tree. I made it a rule to take a nap in the afternoon when it was convenient, so I told one of the men where I should be and asked him to call me at a certain time. I spread a coat in the wagon and laid down with my head toward the back end. When it was time he came and shook me and called me by name. I raised up and as I did so it disturbed the snake which began to rattle. He was in the front part of the wagon and I never knew from that day to this, only what I have heard others say, how I got out. The tail-board was down and I just tipped back and rolled head over heels onto the ground. The snake was very much alive but one of the men went into the stable, got a pitch-fork and killed him. He was a big one and had several rattles.

"Red Light"
In the summer of 1875 I was with Barnum's World Fair on Wheels as boss canvasman but during that winter I opened a dance-hall in Philadelphia which was called the Red Light and this I ran for five or six weeks but had to close it by order of the authorities. After that I hired out as special officer in the Seventh Street opera house, run by Harry Enoch.

"Big Shang"
One morning I saw in the paper: "Wanted, 1000 men, six feet or over in height, to act as sentinal [sic] guard." I got recommendations and applied for the situation and was appointed as guard. I was the tallest man on the force. I stayed there until the 9th of May, 1876, then resigned and hired out as a giant—being then over six feet and six inches tall in the side show of Barnum's World's Fair.

It was while I was in the circus that the name "Shang" became attached to me. At that time the Shanghi fowls were introduced into this country and attracted much attention by their great size and awkwardness; and so everything that was large or overgrown was called a Shanghi. Considering my extreme height the name easily applied to me and was quickly abbreviated to "Shang," a name which has clung to me ever since.

We traveled with the circus that summer through the West but in October when we came East for the winter I left the show business and went again to Philadelphia. I arrived there at four o'clock in the morning with my mind made up to buy out some place and go into business.

Baily as Big Shang.
Mr. Baily as "Big Shang" in Giant Costume. (Shang's Own Story, circa 1909. From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).

Saloon Business
I went into Kenniston Ave., and asked the proprietor of a hotel if he knew of any place that I could buy out. The man said that he thought that the woman who had a candy store not far away would be willing to dispose of her place. I went to see her about buying her out and she was willing to sell. I told her that I would be willing to take it provided the landlord would accept me as a tenant. I went to see the landlord or rather the agent who had charge of the property and asked him to rent me the place. He asked me what I wanted it for and I told him that I wanted it for a liquor saloon, and he said that he didn't think that the landlord would want it run as a saloon. It had been renting for fifteen dollars a month, but I told him that if he would rent it to me, I would pay three months in advance at twenty-five dollars a month and the lease could stand as it was. This bribe, amounting to thirty dollars, he accepted without question and rented me the place.

I came back to the house and told the woman that I had rented the property and then I took a carriage, went down town and bought what furniture that was necessary and got a sign painter to put a sign on my window which read:

"Drop in and see Big Shang."

That night I was doing business, with three months rent paid in advance.

I stayed there a few months and then moved across the street into a larger place. Here I stayed nearly three years, then moved down town and started a pool room on Race street. After three years in the pool room I again moved across the street and went into another kind of business where I received in the six years I was there about $35,000. Of course such a place as this with its three-fold iniquity of liquor, gambling and lust, was contrary to the law of the Quaker City, but I felt myself particularly fitted for keeping a house of this kind and as the profits were large, I was able to bribe the police not to meddle with me, which expense amounted to a large sum a week.

Financial Success
At the height of my career I was what might be termed a lion among the smaller men of my class, for my mighty physique was a power in itself and my masterful spirit would not submit to contradiction in anything. Yet I had a free and generous heart towards my friends and understood the three fundamental rules of the outlaw's arithmetic, viz : "Addition, Division and Silence." I was also well up in the mysteries of corrupt city governments and knew how to "keep in" with the police. So with plenty of money at my command, I could not fail to be a prince among the sons of Belial.

Overpowered by Drink
But King Alcohol, I found, was a greater giant than "Big Shang" and I, who had helped to ruin so many men with strong drink, at length became an awful drunkard myself and used to drink two quarts of liquor a day. This accounts for the disappearance of a large share of my ill-gotten gains, for my brain grew unsteady and my powerful frame began to bend; I lost caste as well as money and soon became merely an old lion among the hungry cubs who greedly [sic] watched for my fall.

Round Top
After being in Philadelphia for nearly twelve years, the Law and Order people got into power and I could get no license; so I abandoned the City of Brotherly Love and returned to my native state in which there was no prohibitory law, and which was therefore an inviting field for my operations. Some years before coming to Rhode Island I had bought a hotel property in the town of Burrillville at a place called Round Top. Here I sold liquor for about twelve years without a license; yet this could not go on always, and after I had been unmolested for twelve years, the town authorities notified us that we must get out of business. I had for some time expected this change and had bought, two or three years previous to this, the property in the town of Johnston, known as the Cornell estate, eight miles from Providence. I moved to Johnson where I did business for five or six years.

Last Day
It was at Johnston that the spirit of the Lord came to me. My life had been full of excitement and wickedness; I had never been where the word of God was taught; my associations had been among the sinful and vile and my thoughts, all my life, had been turned away from God. Sometime before my awakening, a company of Christians from the Pentecostal School called and asked the privilege of praying in my bar-room. I allowed them to do so, but this incident made no impression upon me, nor did the letter which I received from a Christian relative some time afterwards begging me to repent of my sins and turn to God. I put the letter in the stove and thought no more about it.

On the 27th day of February, 1905, after I had closed my house at night, I went behind my bar to count the receipts of the day. I had for over twenty years kept an account of all the money that I had taken, and could have told the amounts received each day for all that time; but of the receipts of this last day's business I have no record. After counting the money which had been taken in that day, I put it in my pocket and started to put out the lights. My wife said to me,

"Are you not going to set down what you have taken to-day ?"

I answered "No." And it came to me all at once that I should never do any more business,—and I never have.

The next day a party of four people,—strangers to me,—came from near Boston with plenty of money and they were anxious to spend it. I told them that they could buy nothing but I would give them all they wanted to drink. The next day I sent my hostler to Providence to put this notice in one of the Providence newspapers:

Bar Closed
"Shang Baily's Place of Business is Closed." There was no man nor his place better known in Rhode Island than Shang Baily and his hotel and of course this notice made a great hub-bub, but it did its work and stopped people coming. The report went out that "Old Shang" had gone crazy, as his changed actions had led people to think so.

A few days after closing my house a man came and offered me $600.00 a year for the rent of my place, providing his wife was satisfied. I saw no objection to the plan while he was talking, but he had no more than got away from the house before it came into my mind that it would be just as wicked to rent him the place to do business as it would be to carry on the business myself; so I told him, when he came the next morning, that I wouldn't rent but would sell it to him; and he went away to see if he could raise the money. In the meantime I had received more light and I reasoned that if I could not conscientiously rent the place for liquor purposes I certainly could not sell it for the same purpose, and I decided not to sell to this man under any consideration.

A short time after this I started to pour all my liquor into the street, and the slot machine that I had paid seventy-five dollars for a short time before, I ordered to be broken up. Up to this time, although I had been impressed to act, I didn't realize that God had anything to do with these changes.

I had some very choice liquors that the man of whom I bought my liquors had given me for a Christmas present. When I was emptying my bottles and barrels into the street, the devil said to me, "Destroy all your poor liquors but keep the good to give to your friends in case of sickness." At that time I had an old uncle who had heart trouble, and his doctor had told him to take something stimulating morning and night. The second Sunday after I closed my bar he came out to see me having heard of the great change. I tried to talk salvation to him,—but I gave him one of these bottles of whisky.

Postcard view of Shang Bailey's Hotel, circa 1907.
Circa 1907 postcard view of Shang Bailey's Hotel, 2737 Hartford Avenue, Johnston. Notice the whitewashed sign on the building at right, evidence of Bailey's renunciation of vice. (From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).

Up to this time, as far as I am conscious of, I had not been under condemnation; but within two or three weeks after my first resolve, the people of God heard of the way that I had been led, and commenced to drop into the house. At that time there was a party of brothers and sisters in Providence who called themselves the East Side Praying Band. They belonged to no particular church but held meetings wherever they had an opportunity and they asked me if they could hold a prayer-meeting in my house. Of course I gave my consent and they came. Afterwards I received a letter from E.A. Corbett, who also wanted to hold meetings and he with his wife and son, with Mrs. Barney of the W.C.T.U. came out several times. People in the neighborhood and surrounding towns attended these meetings which were held in my house every Friday night for seventeen months.

In the early part of my conversion there had been a heavy load on my conscience. There was a certain wicked transaction with the government from which account I honestly owed a debt of over nineteen hundred dollars.

I had for over forty years drawn a pension for a gunshot wound which I never received; and had taken from the government $1924 which God impressed upon my conscience to pay back. I suffered so I could not sleep; but it is through our consciences that God talks to us. This sum was not all that I owed but it was the largest sum. I never was so anxious in my life to make money as I was to pay this money that I owed the government. This would not have seemed a large sum at the height of my career, but now, together with the smaller equities which I had to adjust, it was a large amount; and besides I was, at this time, in very feeble health, and the doctor had told me that I had consumption. But my resolve to pay the government was unshaken. I was willing and anxious to pay my debt but I didn't want to go to prison. During the war A.B. Capron was in my company and he had been a friend of mine for many years, and at this time was our representative at Washington. I wrote to him that I had wronged the government out of a certain amount of money and I wanted him to find out how I could get the money back. After corresponding with the pension agent in Washington, Mr. V. Warner, he sent a letter of information from the pension agent, to me. This explained that there were two ways of restoring the money to the government. One was to send to him my pension papers and voucher, with the amount of money that I wanted to restore and he would put the money into the pension fund. The papers would then be put on file and they would probably never be heard of again. The other method was to send the money to the Conscience Fund, which is a fund that had been accumulating for a great many years from men who had wronged the government out of money and who wished to right the wrong by restoring what they had taken.

I bad at that time about $3000 divided between the Union Trust Co. and the Industrial Trust Co., but not enough in either to make the full $1924 which I owed. The next fair day when the weather would permit me in my feeble health, to go to Providence, I went to the branch office of the Union Trust and asked the cashier to make out a draft to V. Warner on some New York bank. I then drew from the Industrial Trust the balance to make the full amount.—$1924. That morning when I left my home I think I was the most miserable man on earth, but as soon as I had put the money in the letter box, my conscience was stilled and I was the most happy man that lived,—and oh! what a blessing I received!

But the debt to the government was not all that I owed. To some I owed $100, some $75, some $40 and smaller amounts to others. One debt of $7 was a gambling debt and altogether I paid out about $2400. And this price of restitution I had to pay in order to obtain salvation; but I would rather have salvation than the money.

But there came a time when I didn't want to let any more money go. The devil had made me believe that when my money was gone there was nothing ahead but the poorhouse. I had paid every dollar that God showed me I owed, but there were things that happened in my life that I didn't dare let my mind dwell on. The first few months after I closed my place of business I had a reasonable amount of happiness but when I got to where I didn't want to pay out any more money I suffered as it seemed no mortal man ever did before with condemnation. I thought of the people who had been wronged partly through me, wrongs that it was not possible for me to right, and for months it seemed as though I should go out of my mind I was so troubled. People who came to me would say, how happy they were in serving the Lord, but I was a most unhappy man. Ministers and others who had attended the prayer-meetings and had heard my testimony, attributed my unhappy feelings to lack of faith or to my feeble condition, but it was neither.

Peace and Joy
God wanted me to surrender all and when at last I went on my knees and told the Father that I was willing to surrender all, He forgave all my sins and by the help of the Word and the Spirit and the teachings of Christian friends I came at last to enjoy a good degree of the assurance of faith; and since my full surrender, have been happy in serving the Lord.

These weekly prayer-meetings held in the old bar-room were led by different ministers and Christian workers and were attended by people from the surrounding towns and from miles away. Perhaps many came from curiosity. It was not surprising that I was considered a spiritual wonder in all the region round about. Men of the world who know my former life came to see me to find out if there was really anything in Old Shang Baily's "religion," while advanced believers rejoiced with trembling and came from all quarters to attend the prayer-meetings in the old bar-room and dance-hall.

Tent Meetings
In July of the year of my conversion the people from the Pentecostal church in Providence wanted to come out to my place to hold a tent meeting. I gladly consented to their coming and in place of the former staring sign, the passengers on the trolly cars began to notice an announcement of a meeting under the auspices of the Baily Camp-meeting Association.

Rev. D Rand Pierce led these tent meeting during the ten days, and his wife and Miss Lura Horton were some of the workers. I have every reason to believe that during these meetings souls were born into the kingdom. The next year another ten days' meeting was held under the direction of Rev. F. W. Cox and Rey. John Norberry.

One night Rev. Mr. Williams of the Advent church in North Scituate, who believed that immersion was the right form of baptism, said to me, "Brother Baily I want you to be baptized." Although it had been fifteen months since I had closed my bar-room, the idea of baptism had never before entered my mind, and I said so. But Sister Williams who was converted when she was a little girl, said, "Take it to God in prayer," and during the next few months when I was alone with God I used to pray, "If it be thy will 0 Lord that I should be baptized, make it manifest to me in some way.

At this time I had not been away from home much to tell the story of my conversion, but in August, 1905, seventeen months after closing my bar, Rev. Mr. Hewett of the Advent Church in Providence asked me to come to Camp Green to tell my experience to the people. I had just come from Douglas camp-meeting but I resolved to go to Green at Brother Hewett's request. I had no sooner got into the car than it came over me that I must be baptized and I said to a friend who was in the car with me "Jim, I think I'll be baptized", and he said, "I would if I were you, and felt like it." As soon as I arrived at Green camp meeting I hunted up Brother Hewett and asked him if he would baptize me and he said he would and we made arrangements for a week from the coming Sunday, when I was to be baptized in the lake in North Scituate called Moswansicut. I told every one I met that I was to be baptized and all were surprised. When I got home Monday morning I said to my wife, "I am to be baptized next Sunday," and she wanted to know what got that into my head. I told her that if she would tell me what caused my conversion I would tell her how I came to desire baptism.

The Sunday came and it was a beautiful day. People came by hundreds from all points of the compass. Everybody from far and near wanted to see "Shang," the converted rumseller, baptized.

On Easter Sunday in 1909, I went to Emmanuel church in Providence. The pastor of the church, Rev. Mr. Keith, was away, but one of the deacons, Brother Slocum, led the services. You know that the holiness people believe in sanctification and I did too, and I never let an opportunity go by when the call was given to go to the altar to receive a blessing. When Brother Slocum wanted to know if there wasn't someone who wanted to be saved or sanctified, I went to the altar. At the time I thought I was the only one there but when I heard Brother Slocum pray to God to forgive the one who was seeking salvation, I opened my eyes to see who was there and found that it was my wife.

I was so rejoiced that I shouted out, "0 God, save my wife and sanctify me!" Immediately the fire fell and I received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. So you see that the Lord is good and that he does answer prayer.

Sale of Property
I had made up my mind that I should never sell my property no matter how much was offered without the purchaser signing papers that it should never be used as a place for selling rum. I had paid $4000 in cash for the place when it was in very bad condition and had put out about $1500 for repairs. At first there was no way of getting to the place except by team, but later a trolly line ran on one side of the house and a macadamized road on the other. The place was worth as a hotel for liquor purposes at least $7000 but I finally sold it at a great sacrifice. The broker who had charge of the sale said that he had an offer of $3800 from a man who would sign a paper guaranteeing that the place should never be used for liquor or immoral purposes.

After my conversion things looked very blue. I had paid out over $2400.00 to those that I had wronged, sold my property for $3000.00 less than it would have brought if sold as a hotel and rum shop, I was too old and feeble to labor; but the Lord has wonderfully provided for me. The man who bought my place wanted me to stay there and take care of the property, rent free, which I did for nearly three years on that arrangement. After that I moved to Providence and with what I receive from telling my experience in different churches and am able to earn in other ways, together with my pension which was given me, (as it is to every soldier at the age of sixty-two) I have been able to live very comfortably. So you see that the Lord does provide for those who trust in Him.

I have been asked frequently by ministers and others to tell the story of my conversion, and in response to these requests which I believe came in answer to my prayers, I have told the story of God's wonderful saving grace and power as manifested in my heart and life about 150 times. I have spoken in churches of nearly all denominations, seeking only to honor my Saviour. I am still telling the story abroad, speaking in churches and missions as I have opportunity and as my health will permit; and I expect to tell of Jesus and His love as long as the Lord spares my life, and then,

"When all of life is over,
And my work on earth is done,"

I expect throughout eternity to praise and adore Him who loved me and washed me from my sins in His own precious blood (Rev. 1:5.) and made me fit to dwell forever with the saints in light. (Col. 1:12,-14.)


In this brief life-story, as told by Shang Baily, the qualities of the man being strong and distinct, have not failed to infuse his words with interest. His diction is simple and direct, his statements are unembellished and are unquestionably spoken in simplicity and truth.

His masterful spirit is still felt, his presence retains much that is powerful and impressive as in years gone by, but the influence is of a different quality. He now appears as a humble, trusting Christian, who walks with his God and whose sole purpose is to live a pure and blameless life and to serve the Lord acceptably. Those who have seen the man and who have come under the influence of his sincere, Christlike spirit, cannot fail to feel deeply that surely the Lord can, and does, reign in the human heart.

When Mr. Baily looks back upon the misspent year of his life, he feels that every moment, every effort is precious and that the few years that remain to him should be spent in doing all that he can to help his fellow men. It is with this purpose only, that he has given this account of his life and, as it were, bared his heart to the world.

If you who have read this life-story have been helped, encouraged or interested, will you not express it by writing your appreciation to Shang, and thus encourage him in his efforts for God and the world. Address your communications to

212 Oxford Street, Providence, R.I.


Copies of this Booklet may be obtained from the Pent Print CO., 212 Oxford St., Providence, R.I. Price, 10 cents each: ten copies to one address, 50 cents.

Pentecostal Collegiate Institute ad.
Ad from the back of the booklet. (Shang's Own Story, circa 1909. From the collection of the Johnston Historical Society).

Editor's Notes

Bailey grave marker, Grace Church Cemetery, Providence.
Bailey is buried in Grace Church Cemetery in Providence, along with his wife Isabelle. (Timothy Kee, undated).

Last Edited