My Search For Acres Of Diamonds
By Dr. Stratton C. Murrell
I grew up with the Civil War story of how Captain Russell Conwell discovered Acres Of Diamonds. I first heard the basic story when I was a Boy Scout (in Jacksonville, N.C. which is close to a U.S. Marine Base by the name of Camp Lejeune) and I told it many times around a camp fire. As time went by I learned more about historical research when I was a student at Wake Forest College and I was able to find more details about the story.
Capt. Conwell was in command of the 46th Mass. Volunteers. According to tradition at that time his men proclaimed him as Captain because he was the most popular and the most competent man in the company. They also gave him a fancy sword as a symbol of his authority. In addition to this, Conwell agreed to have little Johnny Ring as his servant.
There was a problem with this agreement in that Conwell was an atheist and John Ring was a Christian. John insisted on reading his bible every night and Captain Conwell insisted that this should not be done in his presence. Although these two men had a personal problem, John continued to read his bible and in spite of being abused he remained loyal to Captain Conwell. Part of his duty as an orderly was to keep Conwell’s sword clean.
Capt. Conwell went away to a nearby town for a short time on business and when he returned he found that the Confederates had raided the barracks and set the buildings on fire. The Federal troops had escaped across the river. But in the excitement of retreat John had forgotten the sword. He was loyal to Conwell and he felt that it was his duty to take care of the sword. The burning bridge collapsed as he vainly tried to cross it to safety. He risked his life and lost it as he tried to retrieve that sword. John Ring’s body was later found in the river and in his hands was clutched the beloved sword. This made an impression on Russell Conwell and he became a Christian.
After the war (Civil War) was over he became an attorney, but God had other plans for Russell Conwell’s life. A deacon from a Baptist Church in Philadelphia came to his office and asked for help. The church was in serious trouble because there were debts which could not be paid. Conwell helped to save the church from economic disaster and then, for
some strange reason, offered to become its pastor. He found that many members of the congregation could not read or write. Rev. Conwell then suggested that adult education was necessary and proposed that an educational building should be constructed. The congregation was perplexed in that the church had recently gotten out of debt, and now the very man that had helped them out of economic problems was proposing that they should go into debt again.
Where was the money to come from? Rev. Conwell had a unique plan. He would go on a tour and lecture on his experiences concerning ACRES OF DIAMONDS. God indeed had a plan. Several years before the Civil War Russell Conwell was a news correspondent. He was sent to Baghdad (the present capital of Iraq) to cover a story. While he was there he was talking to an old camel driver who told him the ancient Persian story concerning ACRES OF DIAMONDS. It was one of the many versions of the prodigal son. (Later research by Dr. Murrell indicated that the story as he told it was slightly different from the story as it was told by Russell Conwell in the book, "Acres of Diamonds", as edited by William R. Webb. However, the moral of the story was the same and the historical facts about Russell Conwell are correct. In order to keep this particular narration authentic the story about Acres of Diamonds is as Stratton Murrell heard the story and how he told it for many years.)
This particular son asked for his inheritance and his father gave it to him so that the son could search the world for his fame and fortune. After years of excessive living the son ended up in a strange and foreign country with the clothes on his back as his only possessions. He finally obtained a most menial job with a caravan as a keeper of the garbage. While performing his duties he met a man from his home town. This man related a most exciting story. The prodigal son’s father had sold the farm just before his death. The new owner was watering his camels one day and saw an unusual stone which turned out to be a diamond. In fact the entire farm was covered with ACRES OF DIAMONDS. The camel driver ended the story by saying that usually the best opportunities are in your own back yard (Note: There are many versions of the Persian story Acres of Diamonds as told by Paul Harvey on his Rest Of The Story series
When I graduated from PSCO in 1954 I went back home ---to Jacksonville, N.C. and set up practice there and remained there and then things developed into another amazing story).That was it. Acres of diamonds are in your own back yard if you are smart enough to find them.. Russell was smart enough to find his opportunity to be a unique witness for Jesus Christ by helping others and helping his church at the same time. He traveled all over the country on a lecture tour. He inserted the name of the place where he spoke as the location of ACRES OF DIAMONDS. If he was speaking to a group here he would say that your ACRES OF DIAMONDS are right here in Onslow County in your own back yard. He must have been a very persuasive speaker because it is said that he earned over seven million dollars for his church. What did he do with this money?
Russell Conwell used his earnings in a very special way. He expanded the educational building beyond the dreams of the congregation of this small Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In fact, the educational building became a college and the college became a university---Temple University.
That would seem to be the end, but as Paul Harvey (He started his Rest Of The Story series during World War II in the 1940s would say, "There’s the rest of the story". Captain Russell Conwell and his men were stationed at the federal barracks near Newport, N.C. which is in the area of what is now the U,S. Marine Corps Air Facility at Cherry Point. His adventure was in the silver lining of the black cloud of the Civil War. Without the traumatic experiences of the War there would have been no hero by the name of John Ring and his Christian dedication which inspired Russell Conwell to make a sizable contribution to his fellow man. GOD HAS A PLAN FOR EVERYONE. Those that follow the Plan can accomplish great and wonderful things.
There is more to this most amazing story. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Philadelphia to take my professional training(at the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry----now Pennsylvania College of Optometry) as an optometrist was to go to the Temple Baptist Church on North Broad St. It looked like a medieval castle with massive red doors with shiny brass fittings. I climbed up the steps and opened those doors. There it was---an awesome sight. It was Russell Conwell's sword on a plaque attached to the wall in the foyer of the church.
Years later when I opened my office in Jacksonville, something urged me to call the pastor at the Temple Baptist Church. He was not there so I talked to the church secretary. I told her of my involvement with the Acres Of Diamonds story. Much to my surprise she said that they were making plans to tear the old church down. She said that there were some original copies of the book, Acres Of Diamonds, collecting dust in the basement of the church. She said that the books were in terrible shape, but she would send me the best copy of the lot if I wanted it. I told her that I wanted the book and thanked her profusely for offering this gift (one person's trash is another's treasure). When I received this wonderful book I repaired it and it is now in a special section of our book case. Today I was visiting one of my fellow historians in Morehead City. He gave me some information which I needed in preparing another one of my stories. I was rushing on my way back to the office in New Bern to take care of some patients and I passed by the historical marker about the federal barracks near Newport (close to Cherry Point). It's too bad that there are few people who know the rest of the story.
The story of Acres of Diamonds has been a part of my life.
Authors note: Acres of Diamonds is a very old story and has probably been told in many different ways. My relationship with the story changed as time went by and I discovered that my version of the story was different from that which was published by Russell Conwell. Both versions have the same message in that your treasures and opportunities are in your own back yard. Additional research showed that Russell Conwell testified that he went to New Bern on business at the time the Confederates attacked and burned the Federal Barracks at Newport. Captain Conwell said that he had gone to New Bern at this time to collect the payroll for his troops. Actually, Captain Russell Conwell was Court-Martialed on charges of desertion. On May 20, 1864 he was pardoned of this charge. AND THE SEARCH GOES ON.
And the search goes on in my adventures to discover and live a better life which is like finding a new treasure every day. A significant part of my adventures concerned the Boy Scouts. I was born at Montford Point, on the banks of the New River, near Jacksonville, N.C., in 1928. My father and my mother owned a recreational area there. Part of our house was built out over the water. My brother and I could swim at about the same time we learned to walk. A Boy Scout troop from Kenansville used our facilities as a Boy Scout Camp, during the summer, for many years. Although my brother (Vann) and I were not old enough to be Boy Scouts at the time, we enjoyed participating in scouting activities.
I was twelve years old in 1940, but there were not enough boys in our area to form a troop. Mr. Goodson (the scoutmaster from Kenansville) suggested that my brother and I should become Lone Scouts in the Tuscarora Council. And then there was the horrible episode when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and war was declared. Our country could possibly be invaded. At that time , my father was a member of the American Legion. He was very interested in Scouting and had been busy making plans. On December 8 a charter was granted to Troop 20 of Jacksonville as sponsored by the American Legion.
I became a Boy Scout and a Displaced Person almost at the same time. The Government confiscated a large amount of the property (including our beloved Montford Point) in Onslow County in 1940 and Jacksonville became a Boom Town. The Marines helped develop the Boy Scout program in this area and it helped to tie the civilian and the military together as a friendly community (Years later, my wife—Billie Jean-- and I wrote a book about the history of how Jacksonville finally annexed Camp Lejeune in 1990 and became a rural metropolis in that some of our people were called to go around the world and back as part of their job in protecting our country).
After our troop was organized I went to Camp Tuscarora and was “tapped” in as the last of the Kuneighs(?). This group became charter members of the Order Of The Arrow Lodge. In 1945 we found that we were actually in the East Carolina Council and my brother and I were invited to be the Waterfront Directors at Camp Charles. In preparation for this position we went to the Boy Scout Aquatic School in Columbia, S.C. Eugene Davis (from the Tuscarora Council) went with us and we had a great time. Vann and I became charter members of the Croatan Lodge of the Order of the Arrow of the East Carolina Council. At one time I was Lodge Chief with the Vigil Honor and during my time at Camp Charles I went to the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge. I was the first recipient of the Eagle Scout Award in Onslow County. As an adult, I became the first Lodge Advisor. Later on I became a scoutmaster and was president of our District Boy Scout Committee. I was the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award in 1960. My father, Z.E. Murrell, Jr. was the recipient of the Silver Beaver Award at an earlier date. In 1963 I was the recipient of the United States Jr. Chamber of Commerce (Jay Cees) Distinguished SERVICE Award.
At this point I shifted my endeavors to Historical investigation. Arcadia Publications asked me to write a history book concerning Jacksonville and Camp Lejeune (A U,S. Marine Base in the year 2000 A.D. For further details see the story about Acres Of Diamonds). I chose my wife, Billie Jean, to be my co-author and we started the new millennium off with a bang (as we were autographing the first copy of our book Billie Jean's sister called on 9-11-2001 and said that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers in New York City. Writing this book led to our interest in the conservation of the Lighthouses on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We discovered a rare prism which was a part of the illumination system (the Fresnel Lens) of the Cape Fear Lighthouse which was a steel skelton tower with an automated light. After talking to Bruce Roberts and his wife, Cheryl, I engaged the services of a specialist from Massachusetts who appraised the prism for authenticity and value (which was determined later as priceless). We then gave this prism to the Foundation on Bald Head Island so that everyone could enjoy the prism and the story. Boy Scouts learn to do good things for their fellow man. AND THE SEARCH GOES ON------ more stories later.
The picture below is of Dr. Murrell as he examines a diamond shaped crystal to be used as he tells the story of Acres Of Diamonds. 11-29-2013: There is more to the story.
11-29-2013: My son came home to help take care of his mother(Billie Jean)who is in the Onslow Memorial Hospital and is being treated for the Bronchitis portion of COPD. We were discussing All of the confusion of the holiday season with the shoppers and the traffic, and then Mark told me he had already done his Christmas shopping and he had given everyone on his list the same thing that was different
As time went by I continued to make notes on Acres Of Diamonds and especially focused my attention on Russell H. Conwell and I told the story to many people. And then I submitted my Acres Of Diamonds story to THE OLD MEMORIES PUBLISHERS of Hickory, N.C. The story was published in 2003 I continued to tell the story, but ceased doing any research because of the time spent in my optometric office and going to various book signings concerning our book(Images Of America: Jacksonville And Camp Lejeune). After 2003 the remained in the book,