Biographies Written as Memorials in the Tennessee Synod
The text below is transcribed from the book entitled A Brief History of the Synod of Tennessee, from 1817-1887 (published 1890). The transcriber’s name was not indicated.
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Robert Hardin, DD
Was educated both in classics and theology at Greeneville College, Tennessee; was licensed by Union Presbytery, October 12, 1814; ordained and installed pastor of St. Paul’s Church, October 2, 1816, and elected Professor of church History and Government in the Southern and Western Theological Seminary in 1831. Mr. Hardin married a sister of the Rev. Robert McAlpin, who had bee a captain in the war of 1812. The writer has been unable to obtain further information.
Robert Henderson, DD
This eccentric and powerful preacher received his literary and theological learning under Dr. Samuel Doak, in Martin Academy. Abingdon Presbytery licensed him in 1788. He then settled on the north side of the French Broad River, above Dandridge, in Jefferson County, and took charge of the churches of Westminster and Hopewell. “To these he ministered about twenty-three years: and few of his associates exerted a more extensive and powerful influence.” With him Gideon Blackburn completed his theological studies in 1792. Having married the eldest daughter of the Rev. Hezekiah Balch, he preached a sermon at the funeral of Dr. Balch, at Greeneville, in 1810, from the text, Isaiah 1vii, I, to a large, solemnly impressed, and “tearful assembly.”
After resigning his pastorate at Westminster and Hopewell “one of uninterrupted union and love” he preached extensively in Middle and West Tennessee, at Murfree’s Spring and Pisgah, at Franklin and Nashville. In reproving transgressors he had the fearlessness of John Knox. On such occasions his motto was: “Robert Henderson, do you duty.” Preaching on one occasion, in Nashville, on the subject of profanity, and knowing that many members of the legislature and some of the greatest swearers of the country were before him, “his delineations, lashings and denunciations were terrific.”
“Yet his moods were various, now overwhelmingly solemn, now witty and humorous, and again most severe and scathing. With a matchless power of mimicry and a perfect command of voice, countenance, attitude and gesture, his flashes of wit, or grotesquely humorous illustrations, would break forth from him in spite of himself, convulsing with laughter an audience just trembling under his bold, passionate, and sometimes grandly solemn appeals. He was aware of his infirmity and strove against it, but it gave him popularity and influence with the masses such as few others possessed. Thousands of hearers would be subdues on one occasion by his melting pathos. A crowd was sure to gather where it was known that he was to preach; and his indescribable earnestness, emphatic tones and bold and striking gestures were perfectly irresistible. His longest sermons and they were sometimes very long were heard without weariness to their close” (Gillett).
Ebenezer Sloan Heron
The son of James Heron was born at Dalbeatie, Scotland, May 21, 1814. His father, an elder in the Presbyterian Church for more than fifty years, was one of those staunch spirits who went out at the disruption and founded the Free Church. ‘The son inherited the firm purpose and the strong moral conviction of his father and the warm and loving nature of his mother.
With the academic education common to farmer’s sons, he became, when eighteen years of age, a clerk in a dry-goods store, in Leeds, England, and there was converted under the ministry of the celebrated Dr. R. W. Hamilton. From Leeds he removed to Bradford in Yorkshire, and there became popular as a salesman. As he became greatly interested in Christian work, the deacons of the Bradford Congregational Church urged him to devote himself wholly to that work. Accordingly, in 1840, he gave up his position, contrary to the wishes of his employer, who told him that a man with such splendid talents for business was a great fool to throw them away for the ministry. As a lay-preacher he labored first among the neglected classes of Bradford on a salary of $200.00 a year.
As he could not afford a fire in his room, he was accustomed to study in bed until late at night. He was unwearied in ministering to the spiritual and temporal wants of the poor, often relieving them from his own slender means and often from the ampler resources of the rich. On one occasion, with empty purse and aching heart, he was going from a home where there was sickness and poverty but neither medicine nor food, when he saw the glimmer of a coin almost buried in the snow. With this godsend he quickly relieved and fed the starving family. At Bradford he preached thrice a week, conducted Bible classes and prayer meetings, and was instrumental in building up three prosperous churches. In 1843, he was called to the Martin Top Congregational Church, and to the pastoral office, May 19, 1846.
Mr. Heron’s next field of labor was Denholme, where he married Miss Elizabeth Ayrton, of Thornton, Yorkshire. There he relieved the church of the encumbrance of heavy debt.
From Denholme he removed to Ilkeston in Derbyshire, where he did his best work. He had four or five Bible classes every week, wrote and delivered lectures on mental and moral subjects, and pushed forward institutions for the benefit of the laboring classes.
Afterwards he became minister to the Bingsley Congregational Church for eight years. Desiring a change in climate, on account of bronchial trouble, and hoping to benefit his family of three daughters and two sons, he sailed for the United States, and arrived at Knoxville, Tennessee, May 18, 1870.
Friends in England testified their love to him by a gift of nearly $1500.00, and ministers of various denominations gave him letters of warm and hearty recommendation, both personal and official, speaking of him in the most affectionate manner, as a man and a minister, of his zeal and soundness, and success.
These letters secured his cordial reception as a member of Union Presbytery, in 1871, where he labored in charge of Spring Place Church for eighteen years, and at various times in the same connection to Washington, Caledonia and New Prospect churches.
At length, becoming infirm, his daughters being married, his elder son having become a medical missionary, under the Presbyterian Board, in Seoul Korea, and his younger son following in his own footsteps, Mr. Heron removed to the vicinity of Knoxville. There in connection with the then newly organized Fourth Church of Knoxville, he labored in visiting the sick, caring for the neglected, in prayer meetings, and especially in Bible classes, his life-long and much-loved work, preaching also as opportunity afforded him.
After suffering long and with wonderful patience from a malignant cancer, and having been more than forty-seven years in the Ministry, he fell asleep, December 10, 1887, aged seventy-three years. Such was his delight in the ministry that he could say, “Had I a thousand lives, I would spend them all in the ministry.” He was a sound exponent of the Word of God, a faithful and successful pastor, and eminently a man of prayer.
Richard Hall King
A native of North Carolina had come into the Presbyterian Church from the ministry of the Methodist Church. In 1816, he had visited Middle Tennessee, and had decided to settle there, after a visit back to North Carolina. On his way to Maury County, he came, in April 1817 to Ebeneezer, where he found Mr. Ramsey near his end, and, being entreated, he remained and became the successor of Mr. Ramsey at Ebenezer and Grassy Valley.
Thomas Jefferson Lamar
A native of Jefferson County, Tenn., was born November 21, 1826. He enjoyed the confidence of the people among whom he grew to manhood. He became a member of the Church when sixteen years of age, and graduated at Maryville College when twenty-two (1848). After studying theology nearly two years with Dr. Anderson, he entered Union Theological Seminary, in 1850, and graduated in 1852. In May, of the same year, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Brooklyn, and went as a home missionary to the State of Missouri, where he spent five years in preaching and teaching in Platte and Andrews counties, having been ordained by the Presbytery of Lexington in May, 1854.
In 1856, the Synod of Tennessee elected him Professor of Sacred Literature in the theological department of Maryville College, and he entered on the duties of that position in 1857 which duties he performed faithfully and acceptably until 1861, when the institution was suspended and both professors and students were dispersed by the civil war. During that interruption he preached constantly at Clover Hill, Forrest Hill and other vacant churches in Blount County. As soon as peace was restored, the Synod directed Mr. Lamar, who was the only professor remaining in the region, to reopen the college. This he did, in 1866, with an attendance of only thirteen students. From that time, with great zeal, and with encouraging and increasing success, he gave his labor and life to the interests of that institution.
His crowning achievement was the work of raising $100,000 of endowment, which was completed in 1883. For many years (1865-87) he faithfully performed the duties of the Stated clerk of the Synod of Tennessee. He died, much lamented, at Maryville, March 20, 1887, aged sixty years.
In the very able memorial address that Rev. T. T. Alexander, of Japan, delivered at the inauguration of the Lamar Memorial Library Building of Maryville College, Mr. Alexander drew attention to such facts concerning Professor Lamar as the following: He was the “most faithful friend” of Maryville College, its savior; unswerving in his loyalty to its pledges; a father to all the students, and especially, the counselor and helper of all the poorer ones among them. His ministry of the Word was an active one and an able one, for he was a zealous minister and a superior sermonizer.
But even greater than his ministry was his service as an organizer and adviser in church work. Little was done in his section of the Synod without his assistance in counsel and otherwise, and his influence extended over the entire Synod. Great as an organizer, of firm convictions and decided opinions, persevering, quiet and unassuming, able and sound, yet shunning, preferment, he lived and toiled for his Lord in the service of the Presbyterian Church in East Tennessee.
Professor Lamar’s former students and brethren in the ministry would all unite in the high praise that Mr. Alexander accords his former instructor.
Milton Anderson Mathes
The son of John P. Mathes, M.D., was born at New Market, Tenn., March 24, 1846. Religiously instructed by pious parents, and hopefully converted in boyhood, he consecrated himself to the gospel ministry in the dew of his youth. After preparatory study, at Mt. Horeb, under the Rev. W. H. Lyle, he graduated at Maryville College in 1873 and at Lane Theological Seminary in 1876. At these institutions he was distinguished for devoted piety and great diligence in study. His first pastorate was New Providence Church at Maryville, which he served but a few months on account of ill health.
Having labored one year in Grainger county as a colporteur for the American Bible Society, he preached one year at Clover Hill, in Blount County, and then six years, with acceptance and success, to the churches of Baker’s Creek, Cloyd’s Creek and Unitia, in the counties of Blount and Loudon.
In 1885, he accepted the Professorship of Mathematics in Washington College, Tenn., and moved his family to that field of labor. In 1887, he was transferred to the Chair of Ancient Languages, which he held until his death. Here he was abundant and faithful in labors, both as an instructor of youth in the college and in ministering to the neighboring churches of Mt. Lebanon, Chucky Vale, and Lamar.
The last days of his ministry were spent in revival work in Salem Church and Washington College. He preached at Chucky Vale, on Sabbath, March 4, 1888, and was seized on the evening of that day with pneumonia fever, and on the 12th of the same month he passed from the scene of earthly labor to a heavenly reward. To human view, his death so sudden, in his forty-second year, in the prime of manhood and in the midst of his usefulness, seemed untimely; but it seemed otherwise to God, and, no doubt, it now seems otherwise to him in heaven.
Near to Washington College, in the cemetery of Old Salem Church, and near the remains of the first Dr. Samuel Doak, the body of our beloved brother, the Rev. Milton Anderson Mathes, now sleeps waiting the resurrection of the just. As a man he was gentle and transparently honest, so modest and retiring that only an intimate acquaintance knew his worth; the better he was known the more he was admired and loved. Scholarly, thorough, and popular, as an instructor of youth; cheerful, benevolent, and exemplary, as a Christian; as a minister, he was in manner, natural, earnest, and forcible; in his matter, Scriptural and practical.
On the occasion of his death, the Sessions of Baker’s Creek and Cloyd’s Creek adopted resolutions expressing the highest appreciation of his character as a man, and of his faithful and acceptable ministerial labors among them for six years. Holston Presbytery orally and in recorded resolution, expressed, cordially, their respect and affection for their beloved brother and sympathy with his bereaved wife and children.
On January 1, 1878, Mr. Mathes married Miss Nanny J. Tedford of Maryville, Tenn., who, with three children, remains to mourn her loss.
John M’Campbell, D. D.
Familiarly styled “Father McCampbell” was born in Rockbridge County, VA, April 18, 1781. He was educated at Washington College, VA; removed to Tennessee in 1802; licensed by Union Presbytery in April 1805; ordained February 13, 1807 and preached at Shunem and The Fork. In 1811, he took charge of Hopewell, at Dandridge where he continued to preach forty-eight years, or until his death.
In 1819, he commenced preaching at New Market, formerly called “Quaker Valley” in some public house, or in a grove. There he held come of “those old-time sacramental seasons of very large attendance, which were glorious religious festivals, anticipated with joy and remembered with thanksgiving.” In 1826, while a member of the French Broad Presbytery, he organized New Market Church with a membership of fifty, drawn chiefly from Hopewell Church. “In connection with father McCampbell, the Rev. William Harrison, James H. Gass, G. S. White and Dr. William Minnis labored in New Market and elsewhere a portion of their time, in a kind of circuit. Under their ministry, that church enjoyed yearly revivals, from its organization until the civil war, with goodly ingatherings of from ten to fifty converts.
At the close of Dr. McCampbell’s labors, 1859, the membership was 259. He was a man of thinking originality; his means and methods were admirably fitted to reach men. He knew when to relate a story, when to persuade, and when to apply the lash of censure. His very peculiarities, or idiosyncrasies, were wonderfully calculated to produce lasting impressions, which were always for good. The served fifty-four years in the ministry and grew stronger, so that his last sermons were his best. When he died his eye was not dimmed, nor his bodily strength abated” (Rev. L. R. Janes).
Dr. McCampbell died, at his residence in Jefferson County, September 28, 1859, aged seventy-eight years, of which fifty-four years had been spent in unremitted and devoted labor in the ministry. He was buried in Dandridge by a great and mourning assembly of loving and bereaved people. His widow, seven sons and two daughters survived him.
Francis Allison M’Corkle, M. D.
He was born in Sullivan County, TN, September 1, 1795, to which place his parents, Samuel and Mary McCorkle had come from Maryland about 1790. His mother was a niece of the Rev. Francis Allison, D. D. a Presbyterian minister and educator of repute in Philadelphia; hence the name Francis Allison. Being educated at Washington College, Tennessee, he studied and practiced medicine for ten years in Greeneville. During these years he entertained the infidel opinions then so widely prevalent. Becoming hopefully pious, he studied theology, with his old preceptor, Dr. Doak, at Washington College, and was licensed by Abingdon Presbytery October 3, 1825. On the same day were also licensed Drs. Nelson and Ross.
The coincidences between Drs. Nelson and McCorkle were remarkable, both educated at the same college, both licensed at the same time, became eminent as ministers of the gospel. The M. D. and not the D. D. constituted the doctorate of both. In 1825, Dr. McCorkle married Miss Isabella Sevier, the daughter of Mr. Valentine Sevier, nephew of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee.
He was ordained and installed at Mt. Zion Church by the Presbytery of French Broad, July 4, 1826, and began preaching there and at Timberridge. In 1829, he was released from the charge of Mt. Zion and became stated supply of Harmony and Timberridge churches, giving one-half of his time to each. His ministry in Harmony (Greeneville) Church continued with little interruption for twenty-five years and for twenty-nine at Timberridge.
In 1858, a majority of the congregation at the latter place voted in favor of separating from the New School General Assembly and of joining the United Synod of Knoxville. Dr. McCorkle judged that action ill advised, and withdrew from the service of that church in December of that year. During his faithful ministry there the church membership had increased to 175, and all had been peaceful and prosperous, but destined to be followed by a sad reverse.
During his labors in Harmony Church, several precious revivals greatly promoted its prosperity. In 1830-33 there were 116 additions; in 1842-45, 95 additions; in 1852-55, 52 more additions were made to the membership, when the total was reported to be 224. During this period, large protracted meetings were sometime held at the “Camp grounds” one-mile west of Greeneville, in a grove near a large spring, and the ministers and members united in conducting them. The Presbytery of Holston once came to Greeneville to hold its stated fall meeting and found that the congregation had gone into “tent life” on the Camp Ground. They then accepted an invitation to do the same, and attended to their business in the “public Tent” in connection with aiding the services of the protracted meeting.
After ceasing from regular service in Greeneville in 1855, Dr. McCorkle preached occasionally both there and at Mt. Bethel, and when no longer able to preach, he liberally aided in supporting the gospel at home and made a bequest of $500.00 each to the American Bible and Tract Societies. Exhausted by age and infirmity, in a peaceful and happy death, he ceased from his labors on the 17th of March 1869, having lived seventy-four years.
Rarely has a man, for so long a time, so fully enjoyed the confidence of two churches and a large community both as a faithful minister and as a safe and valued physician, for he continued to practice the healing art in connection with his ministerial labors. In preaching he was simple, plain, direct and earnest and God was pleased to give him many converts as seals of his ministry.
William Minnis, D. D.
His parents from counties Tyrone and Down in Ireland were of Scotch-Irish descent, and members of the Seceder or Covenanter Church. Their son, William, was born in Blount County, TN, December 28, 1799. His talents, energy of character, and ardent thirst for knowledge enable him to conquer the greatest difficulties, and become a scholar and distinguished minister of Jesus Christ. Parson Brownlow says: “He was a self-made man, a tailor by trade, and plied the needle while he studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. By industry, energy and perseverance he paid his expenses at college, and graduated with first honors.”
Having graduated at Maryville College, he studied theology under Dr. Anderson at Maryville, under whose preaching he had been converted to God and was graduated in the same class with W. A. McCampbell, E. N. Sawtell, E. M. Eagleton and others, who were the first fruits to God from the Southern and Western Theological Seminary.
He was licensed by Union Presbytery, April 19, 1825, and ordained by the same April 8, 1826 at St. Paul’s Church in Jefferson County. In the same year he married Miss Catherine Koonts a native of Virginia, pious and a helpmeet for him. Thus equipped, he immediately took charge as pastor of Westminster Church, ten miles from Dandridge, which relation he sustained until his death, for the remarkable period of thirty-seven years, 1826-1863. He preached at Westminster one-half of his time, and this enabled him to bestow many of the blessings of his devoted ministry on several other churches and places, at Barton’s Academy, near Russelville; at New Salem, six miles further east, and at Bethesda, from 1835-44. This last named was a thriving and flourishing church.
He also preached a part of his time at St. Paul’s and at Newport, in Cocke County. About 1848, he commenced preaching regularly one-half of his time at New Market in connection with his charge of Westminster, and continued to labor in this arrangement until his death. When near the end of life, he remarked that he had asked the Lord for the privilege of preaching fifteen years, but now it had been extended to thirty-eight years and his work was done. “He gave himself wholly to his Master’s work, holding that a minister could not engage in other and secular occupations without great detriment to his success in his holy calling.
He was a man of strong convictions and indomitable resolution; living in immediate communion with God, his words and actions bore the manifest seal of divine authority. Few men have exerted a greater influence for good on the minds of men in this section.” (Rev. W. H. Lyle).
He adopted Hopkinsian views on theology, and, in 1846, advocated them strongly in a lengthy article in the Calvinistic Magazine, in reply to an article in the same periodical on “The Atonement”, by Dr. Charles Hodge.
He was a bold and fearless preacher, faithfully presenting the truths and doctrines of the Bible, whether pleasing or otherwise to his congregation, yet he was held in loving veneration by his people. He was a faithful and sympathetic pastor, sharing the joys and sorrows of his parishioners, and especially looking after the children of the Church.
Several sermons of his have been published, notably two on Baptism and the Resurrection.
The following anecdote is current: Colonel Netherland, an attorney, and General Kyle, men of considerable reputation, were compelled to take refuge from a rainstorm in Dr. Minnis’ house. They found him rather roughly dressed, sitting on a bench doing his own cobbling. The Colonel, not knowing who he was, was surprised at seeing a Greek Testament and a Hebrew grammar lying on his bench. Taking them up, he asked his host if he understood those languages. “Well,” said he, ” I have a smattering of them.” The Colonel then undertook to test the knowledge of his new acquaintance by drawing him into a learned discussion on the subject of baptism, but soon found himself out at sea and beyond his depth. At this juncture, General Kyle whispered to him, aside, “You have waked up the wrong passenger.” The Colonel then, embarrassed, asked, “Who, then, are you?” “My name is Minnis,” was the modest reply. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of you, and my friend has just told me truly that I’ve waked up the wrong traveler.”
After the death of his first wife in 1855, Dr. Minnis married the widow of the Rev. Elijah Eagleton, an estimable lady, who survived him till April 1888. His children were four daughters and three sons all by his first wife. All became pious at an early age, and the two surviving sons are elders in Presbyterian churches.
Dr. Minnis died at new Market, May 5, 1863, aged sixty-four years.
Andrew S. Morrison
Mr. Morrison was received by Abingdon Presbytery from Union, October 7, 1822, and was transferred to Holston Presbytery, as a constituting member, January 1, 1827. He was dismissed, in 1830, to the Presbytery of Cincinnati. He was a punctual and leading member of Presbytery, and an able and successful minister.
David Nelson, M.D.
Rarely has one neighborhood of a newly-settled country sent into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church five men so remarkable as were Gideon Blackburn, James Gallaher, F.A. Ross and the two Nelsons. Four of them belonged, in early life, to the vicinity of Washington College and Jonesboro, Tenn., and Dr. Ross to Kingsport, only twenty-five miles from the latter place. Blackburn entered the ministry much earlier than the rest, who differed but little in age, and were intimately and affectionately united in friendship and in their earlier ministerial labors. Gallaher, Ross and David Nelson were the triumvirate of The Calvinistic Magazine, the ablest religious periodical of its class that has been published within the bounds of our Synod.
David, the son of Henry and Anna (Kelsey) Nelson, was born in Washington County, Tenn., September 24, 1793. His father was of English and his mother of Scotch descent, and both of them natives of Rockbridge County, VA. His father was a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church, and his mother a woman of vigorous intellect and ardent piety; their home was a Christian home, in which the Catechism was taught and the bible regularly read through and through by the family.
The Nelson residence was where Isaac Broyles now lives, two miles from the Nollichucky River, and about one mile from Washington College. There both he and his elder brother Samuel, completed their literary course at the early age of sixteen, the latter only having graduated. On leaving the College he went to Danville, KY, to study medicine with Dr. Ephraim McDowell, son-in-law of Governor Isaac Shelby. His brother Samuel had then just taken pastoral charge of Danville Church. He afterwards enjoyed the advantages of the Medical College in Philadelphia, and returned to Kentucky when nineteen years of age.
With his friend and relative, Colonel Allen, a prominent lawyer of Danville, he went on a military expedition to Canada, as a surgeon, in 1812, and afterwards, in the same capacity, with General Jackson, in his campaign to Southern Alabama and Florida. Infidel sentiments were rife in Danville, and there it was that, while resident as a student of medicine, he imbibed those sentiments, which grew and prevailed with him in the army until, on his return to Jonesboro, he openly professed infidelity, in connection with gambling and other army habits. But being talented, genial, and social, he was popular as a dashing young man and successful as a physician, and soon gained a practice worth $3000 a year.
About this time, being twenty-two years of age, he married a daughter of Mr. David Deaderick, a highly respectable merchant of Jonesboro, but not at her father’s house, the prudent parents not being able to consent that their daughter should be united with a young man of such dissolute habits. The issue of this marriage was six sons and six daughters, eleven of whom, with their mother, survived him.
But in all his scenes of dissipation he could never quite banish from his mind and conscience the influence of his religious education, or forget that, at the age of fifteen years, he had united, by profession of faith, with the Church of his fathers. The limit of this sketch will not allow a detail of the means, under the providence and grace of God, by which he was convinced of the falsehood and danger of infidelity, and brought, by repentance to newness of life. These interesting parts of his spiritual history are described in the “Cause and Cure of Infidelity.”
The moral and spiritual revolution, which he experienced, and which was wonderfully evinced and illustrated in all his after-life, brings to mind the transformation of Saul of Tarsus and John Bunyan. After his conversion, he continued, for a short time, in the medical profession, and officiated as a ruling elder in the Jonesboro Presbyterian Church. Soon, however, the conviction that he should spend the remainder of his life in publishing the gospel for the glory of Christ and the salvation of perishing men prevailed with him. He and F. A. Ross, who also had now been converted to Christ, studied theology privately under the instruction of the Rev. Robert Glenn, and both were licensed to preach the gospel, by the Abingdon Presbytery, at Glade Spring Church, in Virginia, and ordained six months later, the 3rd of October, 1825 at Rogersville, Tenn.
After preaching about two years in East Tennessee, he visited Danville, KY, and accepted a call to succeed his brother in the pastorate of the church in that city, in 1828. But he could not be confined to a pastorate, and traveled much in Kentucky in behalf of the American Education Society. In 1830, he removed to Marion County, MO, to engage in educational work; purchased a farm, and having first gathered a school, which he taught for a time, he succeeded in awakening an interest in education in the community, which resulted in the erection of buildings and the chartering of Marion College (1832), over which he presided as its first President. His aim was the education of ministers and Missionaries.
To aid in their own support, the students were required to engage a portion of their time in manual labor. The attendance became large, but the system did not work satisfactorily, and the institution became swamped in debt by an extravagant outlay on buildings, for which the President was not responsible. In these years, he made tours to the eastern cities to secure adequate means for his educational enterprise, leaving everywhere the “impression that he was a man of extraordinary faith and power.” He also made tours and preached with great power and success while the educational enterprise was going on.
In 1830, he fled from mob violence, which threatened his life, in Missouri on account of the free expression of his anti-slavery sentiments. He now removed to Illinois, and, in the neighborhood of Quincy, established a seminary for the education of young men designed for missionaries. Here, having exhausted his means, and being worn out with labors, and especially being prostrated by epilepsy, he died, saying, “All is well,” on the 17th of October, 1844, aged fifty-one years.
Sketches of his life and character, as a man, a Christian, and a preacher, by Drs. Ross of Tennessee, Robert J. Breckenridge, of Kentucky, and Potts of Missouri, also by J. A. Jacobs, Esq., of Danville, men who knew him well, have been collected and published by Dr. Sprague in his “Annals of the American Pulpit.” But the most enduring monument to his memory is his remarkable book on “Infidelity,” which he wrote in a few weeks, in the summer of 1836, sitting under a clump of trees at Oakland, near Quincy, IL. Dr. Nelson also wrote a number of hymns, which are found in collections for public worship, among which is that commencing with – “My days are gliding swiftly by”
Once devoted in heart and life to the pleasures of the world, once a sensualist and an enemy to the religion of Christ, he was converted to such an entire renunciation of the world and to such love and devotion to his Redeemer, and the salvation of his fellowmen by the gospel, as to exemplify, in a most remarkable manner, the noble resolution of the apostle, “to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified;” and this not only in his preaching, but in his common conversation and daily intercourse with men. No conversation, pursuits, or pleasures seemed to interest him, which were not closely connected with Christ and the progress of his religion. “There was nothing more remarkable about him,” says Dr. Breckenridge, “than his fervent and overpowering love for Christ. He seemed to be consumed with a tender ardent and unquenchable love for the Redeemer Himself. Nothing was hard for him by which he could please and honor the Savior.”
His time, attention, thoughts, and soul seemed engrossed and absorbed with the interest, which he felt in spiritual and eternal things. Dr. Breckenridge tells how, in riding from an Eastern city to Pittsburgh in a stage full of people, Dr. Nelson was silent for two days and nights until near their destination, when he abruptly said: “I have listened to you all patiently two days and nights; now, may I speak to you for half an hour?” “This wholly unexpected remark, with his singular and striking appearance, secured the attention of the passengers, and he proceeded with the utmost pathos and tenderness to plead with them about their souls. All were deeply moved, and one, at least, dated his conversion from that conversation.”
His renunciation of the world was, in come things, carried to a hurtful extent. He paid almost no attention, either to get, or to keep anything, for his own support or that of his family. Many anecdotes are told to show how remarkably their wants were providentially supplied. One day, the barrel of meal and his own purse being empty, he went out, doubting whether the miller would trust him, when a little girl handed him a note folding a piece of gold. Though he might have enriched himself and had received a portion of a considerable estate, left him by his brother’s son, in Danville, yet he lived and died poor, because he would withhold nothing from objects of charity, or from enterprises for the advancement of the Church.
This same characteristic was the cause of his eccentric and remarkable neglect of his dress and personal appearance. Though his raiment was not of camel’s hair, and though he did not have a leather girdle about his loins, yet he would wear a seedy, brown coat, linsey pantaloons, old hat and shoes to suit, and fitting was of no account. In such a dress, and with a red bandana handkerchief instead of a cravat around his neck, he would enter the pulpit and preach to the most fashionable churches in the cities East or West. But beneath this rough exterior existed one of the most refined and gentle spirits, and one of the noblest and most powerful intellects ever belonging to man.
“Nelson,” says Dr. Ross, “was the most fascinating preacher I ever heard.” His train of argument, so simple; his combination of thought so original; his exquisite illustrations, so inexhaustible; his strange unearthly voice, his noble face, his sweet smile, which made you feel the light and love of heaven, made him the object of undying affection in every heart that knew him.
Mr. Jacobs says: “He was a man not only of eminent piety, but of remarkable genius, distinguished by peculiarities and eccentricities of thought, manner, conduct, which would have made him the observed of all observers in any profession or walk of life. There was something strangely – almost preternaturally – unique in his manner. You listened as if to a being who lived in a world of thought and feeling entirely different from the ordinary children of men; with a genius bold and perfectly original, ranging with burning zest through every field of imagination, and pouring forth thoughts that breathe and words that burn with the power of the true orator and inspired bard. His eloquence was not the cold argumentation of logic, but a succession of fervid, powerful, and picturesque appeals, equally concise and vigorous in expression, and bold and original in sentiment.”
“As a preacher,” says Dr. Breckenridge, “I, who have heard the great preachers of America, Britain, and France, of this age, can truly say that his power in the pulpit exceeded all I ever witnessed. His manner was child-like in its perfect simplicity and naturalness. He spoke extempore, but the pathos, the unction, the impression of his preaching were amazing. His matter was compact, his words were few as would express what he meant, his tones low rather than high, and he had hardly any action. But such word pictures were hardly ever surpassed by man; such in sight into man and divine things; such love and pity for lost men; such conviction of eternal realities; such sublime exhibitions of a gospel able to save sinners, and of a Saviour who had given Himself for them.”
When he offered himself for licensure, Nelson thought that the Presbytery hesitated, thinking that he would continue the practice of medicine and preach only once in a while. “Yet, he became one of the greatest preachers in the world.” Like Whitefield, he loved “to range.” His labors abounded in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, also in the eastern cities and Baltimore, attended by the mighty power of God. In the great revival meetings he was in his element. In Missouri, where at that day churches were rare, he would engage to hold a protracted meeting wherever the people would erect upon wooden pillars a tabernacle covered with rough clap-boards, around which the people would pitch their booths and abide for several days in large assemblies, and enjoy the glorious revivals which attended his labors.
Samuel Kelsey Nelson
Was the oldest child of a family, which produced two remarkable men. He was born in Washington County, Tenn., and was six years older than his brother, Dr. David Nelson. His parents were Henry and Anna Kelsey Nelson. He graduated at Washington College, Tenn., in 1803, at the early age of sixteen. He commenced reading law, in Kentucky, with bright prospects in the legal profession, but soon renounced these under a conviction that he was called to preach the gospel. Having returned to Tennessee, and having studied theology under Dr. Doak, he was licensed by Abingdon Presbytery, in 1807. After preaching some time in South Carolina and Tennessee, he resolved to use his energies in conflict with the infidelity and irreligion than prevalent in the larger towns, and among the higher classes of Kentucky. Soon after, the Presbyterian Church of Danville gave him a unanimous call, and he was installed pastor in 1809. In this relation he remained till death, a period of twenty years, highly respected and honored as an able minister and an active and public-spirited citizen.
The earlier part of his ministry at Danville was during a period of great spiritual dearth generally prevalent; but, in 1826, a precious revival greatly encouraged him with fifty members added to his church. He is honored as the principal founder of the Danville College. “For it he labored with consummate skill and untiring assiduity.”
To him also is ascribed the chief agency in obtaining an act of the legislature of Kentucky which placed the college under the control of a Board of Trustees, appointed by the Synod if Kentucky. The concession was granted on condition that the Synod should pay $20,000 into the treasury. The ministers raised it by giving their individual bonds for the amount. Mr. Nelson headed the subscription with $800. Another enterprise in which he evinced both public spirit and a deep interest in relieving the sufferings and misfortunes of his fellow-men was the founding and cherishing of the Kentucky asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, which was established within the bounds of his congregation. In its behalf his labors were self-sacrificing. When very much worn down, he went, by appointment of the Trustees, to negotiate some business in Tallahassee, Fla., in which the Asylum was deeply interested.
While there he was one day in the act of pouring out a tumbler of water when he was suddenly seized with sickness, probably hear disease, and was dead in twenty minutes. He spent his last minutes in affectionately exhorting those around him to prepare for death, adding his hope that they would find as little to disturb or terrify them in the last hour as he did. “The news of his death overwhelmed his congregation with surprise and distress, and the impression throughout the state was that a public benefactor had fallen. He died May 7, 1827. He was succeeded in the pastorate at Danville by his brother, David, the author of “The Cause and Cure of Infidelity.”
Soon after going to Kentucky Samuel K. Nelson married a daughter of the Honorable Isaac Shelby, early an actor in the stirring movements in East Tennessee, one of the heroes of Kings Mountain, and afterwards Governor of Kentucky. After her death, he married Maria, daughter of John Reid of Springfield, Clerk of Washington County, Ky. He had two children by each wife, but his family has become extinct.
The Hon. C. S. Todd, who married another daughter of Governor Shelby, describes Mr. Nelson as a man of stout-built frame, admirably proportioned, a fine large head, and a countenance expressive of benignity and decision; his hair sandy, and his eyes intensely blue. His discernment of human character and of men’s motives was remarkable and seemed to be intuitive. It was rarely, if ever, at fault. He was so easy and graceful in his manners that he would pass in any society as a well-bred and accomplished gentleman. Social, genial, and able to adapt himself to all classes in society, he could not be otherwise than popular. Though neither learned nor very eloquent, he was an edifying and impressive preacher. He abounded in apt illustrations, drawn from the familiar walks of life, and uttered no sentence which was not easily understood by people of the humblest capacity.
Abel Pearson, D. D.
Was born in Knox County, TN, in the year 1787. His parents had come from North Carolina in early times. In his youth, he was said to be wild and wicked; but having entered an academy, taught by Dr. Isaac Anderson, in the bounds of his charge of Washington Church, young Pearson, before he came to mature years, experienced the greatest of all changes, a change of heart. While young he displayed a wonderful aptitude for original investigation, especially in relation to the doctrines of Christianity. He was licensed, by Union Presbytery, October 9, 1810, and ordained, by the same, November 12, 1820.
At various times he ministered to the churches of Kingston, Philadelphia, Washington and Madison, serving them for almost nothing in the way of compensation. He had means of his own, and was engaged at one time in merchandising and at other times in indulging his mechanical genius in building mills, etc. In the years 1828-30, he spent much of his time in preparing for the press a book entitled “An Analysis of the principles of the Divine Government.” This work shows that he was a thinker of no ordinary clearness and power.
When foiling an opponent, which he was well-nigh certain to do, such was his good humor that he also won his good will and respect. In theology he was a strong Calvinist. In his studies he paid much attention to the prophecies of the Scriptures. So vividly did he depict the convulsions which attended the downfall of slavery, that one of his co-presbyters left the state several years before the storm burst upon the land.
He died, November 16, 1856, in the sixty-eighth year of his age, lamented by his brethren, as a workman in the vineyard of the Lord, distinguished alike for the clearness and strength of his intellect, the depth and fervency of his piety, and the devotion and humility of his Christian life.
Rev. D. M. Wilson
Samuel Graham Ramsey
One of the four constituting members of Union Presbytery, was the son of Reynolds and Naomi (Alexander) Ramsey, of Scotch-Irish descent. He was born, October 20, 1771, at Mash Creek, York (now Adams) County, PA, where he studied under the Rev. Alexander Dobin, but afterwards at Liberty Hall, now Washington College, VA, under Rev. William Graham, whom he esteemed so highly that he adopted his name, “Graham” as a part of his own. There he completed both his classical and theological courses, and was licensed by Lexington Presbytery April 20, 1795.
Soon after this he made a missionary tour into the south-western territory and met with his elder brother, Francis Alexander Ramsey, who had preceded him to the West and was settled at Swan Pond, Knox County, TN. Going still further to the frontier settlements, he began to preach with apostolic zeal, traveling from fort to fort, through dangers and hardships, and attracting thousands of people, who hung with rapt attention on his lips. Many of them had not heard a sermon for many years.
Won by his gentle and conciliatory manners, and good preaching, they became strongly attached to him, and entreated that he would settle with them as their minister. He consented and returned to Virginia to make arrangements. There, on the 24th of February 1797, he married Mrs. Eliza Allen, daughter of Col. William Fleming, and widow of Rev. Carey Allen, who had died in Kentucky in 1795. She was a beautiful, talented, well-educated, and pious lady, and had been accustomed to the best society. With this companion, he returned to Tennessee, in December, of the same year, and settled at Mount Ebenezer, as they called their new home, eleven miles west of Knoxville.
In 1798, he was ordained and installed over Grassy Valley and Pleasant Valley churches, preaching also at Ebenezer and other places. In three years of incessant labor his delicate health was so seriously impaired that his brethren in Union presbytery admonished him to relax his labors, at the same time promising to fill his pulpits as often as other duties would permit. This occurred in 1800, but his constitution was so far impaired that it was not until 1807 that he could fully resume pastoral duties.
In the meantime, he engaged in educational work. In 1801, he opened Ebenezer Academy at his residence. Being a fine classical scholar, and a faithful and indefatigable teacher, he was a great favorite with his pupils. The school became popular, and young men flocked to it from distant parts. He required his students to spend a term of five months in the mastery of Latin Grammar, as a preparation for rapid progress and accurate scholarship. Among them were always some poor and pious young men aiming to enter the ministry. These he both taught and boarded gratuitously.
In 1807, when Moderator, he informed his Presbytery that, “through the goodness of divine Providence, he had been able to preach to his congregation since last October, and that they had taken a subscription for his support.” With this partial restoration, he continued his labors, doing faithful service to a people ever growing in numbers and spirituality, for about ten years, till 1817, when, in final prostration, he wrote to Presbytery resigning his charge of Grassy Valley; and being worn out with labor, and exhausted with hemorrhage from his lungs, he died a peaceful and happy death, on the 5th of July 1817.
An immense concourse of people attended his interment, at Ebenezer, with uncommon interest and solemnity, to whom an appropriate and impressive sermon was delivered by the Rev. Richard Hall King. His widow survived him about twenty years, and so faithfully and religiously instructed and trained their three sons and three daughters that, by divine grace, they all became useful members of society, and ornaments to the Church.
Frederick Augustus Ross, D. D.
Was born at Cobham, Cumberland County, MD, December 25, 1796. He was the son of a wealthy land-owner, and on the death of his father came to Tennessee to look after property belonging to the estate. He was then “a gay young Virginian of twenty-two years of age,” and made his “young bachelor home,” for some five years, at Rotherwood, near Kingsport and the junction of the North and East Branches of the Holston, a situation remarkable for its combination of grand and beautiful scenery. Here he erected a large mansion, and surrounded it with lawn, shrubs, and flowers. This home became celebrated, even beyond the bounds of Tennessee, for its profuse and generous hospitality.
Being somewhat dissipated in his youth, and caring little for religion, he went occasionally to religious meetings, through curiosity, or to meet with company. Having some Virginian friends on a visit, he went with them to the organization services of the Boatyard (Kingsport) Church in 1820, when he was somewhat impressed by a sermon of Dr. Charles Coffin on The Whole of the Ten Commandments, and was greatly pleased with the acquaintance which he then made with the Doctor.
But he dated his conversion three years later (1823) on hearing a sermon, by the Rev. James Gallaher, on the Monday after a communion service at New Providence. This was followed, in September, of the same year, by a communion season at Jonesboro, conducted by the Revs. Gallaher and Glenn, at which time and place he was received to membership on profession of his faith in Christ. Here also he met Dr. Nelson, who, being converted from his infidelity, had recently renewed his connection with the Jonesboro Church, and was earnestly intent on doing good. Taking a deep interest in Mr. Ross, and gaining a great influence over him, he had him to lead for the first time in public prayer. Mr. Nelson took note of that prayer, and, both in private and by writing to him afterwards, urged the claims of the ministry upon his attention. Thus, Dr. Ross could say “Gallaher was my spiritual father, and nelson led me to the ministry.
In April 1824, he was received under care of Abingdon Presbytery, and both he and Dr. Nelson, having studied theology privately, under the Rev. Robert Glenn, were licensed together at Glade Spring, in Washington County, VA and ordained as evangelists six months later, October 5, 1825, at Rogersville, Tennessee.
At Kingsport, near his home at Rotherwood, he preached for twenty-six years, 1826-52, assisted by the Rev. Daniel Rogan, 1842 to 1846. On the third Sabbath of June 1846, he was installed pastor of that church, Dr. Coffin presiding, the Rev. Daniel Rogan preaching the sermon, and the Rev. Phillips Wood delivering the charge.
Soon after his union with the church, in 1823, Mr. Ross married Miss Theodosia, daughter of David G. Vance, ruling elder of the Jonesboro Church. During his ministry at Kingsport he contributed, very largely, as one of the editors, to the controversial and other departments of the Calvinistic Magazine and other periodicals. He published a book on “The Witness of the Spirit,” as held by the Rev. Charles Wesley, showing the doctrine to be “false, unscriptural, fanatical, and of mischievous tendency.” This was connected with a warm and protracted controversy with some leading ministers of the Methodist denomination. In the high excitement of 1857 in the churches on the slavery question, he published a book in defense of that “institution”.
His writings are characterized by pith and point, clearness and force of reasoning, and they abound in flashes of wit and humor. He was able in debate and in every way qualified to be a leader, and was therefore prominent both in the discussions in the Church courts on those subjects which led to the division of 1838, and in those which led to the secession of the Southern Presbyteries from the General Assembly in 1857. Dr. Samuel Wilson, of Cincinnati, having charged him with heresy on the subject of faith, in 1836, Dr. Ross repelled the charge with great spirit in the Calvinistic Magazine.
By profuse hospitality, liberal beneficence, and some unfortunate investments he expended a large fortune. But when it was all gone, he testified to a ministerial friend that he was happier in his Master’s service while in reduced circumstances than when he abounded in wealth.
Besides ministering to his charge at Kingsport, he did much successful service as an evangelist, especially in Kentucky and Ohio, in company with James Gallaher, in 1827, when over 1000 members were added to the churches where they held protracted meetings. The last years of his ministry were employed in the pastorate of the Church of Huntsville, Ala., where he died, April 13, 1882, aged eighty-two years.
“He was endowed by Providence with a profusion of gifts – extraordinary keenness of intellect, great originality, a large, warm, and glowing heart, a large fortune, and a profound spirit of consecration to the service of the Master. As a preacher and debater, he was original, forcible, and often startling; sustaining and enforcing his positions with a vigor of logical argument, and such wealth of embellishment, as made an ineffaceable impression on the mind of the hearer” (J. H. Bryson, D. D.).
“His preaching was powerful, pungent and pathetic, readily adapting itself to the character and condition of his audience. Not infrequently smiles and tears in the pulpit and pew succeeded each other as sunshine and showers on an April day” (Rev. E. H. Crumpson).
E. N. Sawtell, Sr.
The following notice we have condensed from a brief autobiography left in manuscript by Mr. Sawtell: In the year 1817, the Rev. Eli Smith was about to visit his father, who was pastor of the church in Hollis, NH, of which church young Sawtell’s parents were members. Before he started from Tennessee, Drs. Anderson, Coffin and Hardin engaged Mr. Smith to make an effort to bring a least one-half dozen New England boys to study and become ministers in Tennessee, in view of the great need of ministers then so sorely felt at the Southwest.
Each of the three above named promised to take charge of two of the lads. Mr. Smith, having arrived at Hollis, “set the town ablaze with his appeals.” Eli Sawtell responded “Amen, I will be one of them.” Several others gave their names. They were to set out the following May, but Sawtell had bound himself for three years to a shoemaker. His employer let him go, but took his note for $90, payable, without interest, when he should return from Tennessee a minister of the gospel. When the parents had considered the dangers — the wild beasts, savages, mountains, forests, rivers and distance of 1100 miles — then the tears of the mothers detained them all but one, and his mother did not wish to detain him.
“When I got my library, ” says he, “my Bible, hymn book and Baxter’s ‘Saint’s Rest,’ and all my earthly goods packed in a cotton handkerchief, a hickory cane whittled out in my hand, and $14 in my pocket, I started, May 9, 1818, on foot and alone for Tennessee. I reached Maryville in the last week in June — nearly two months on the road. I did not work or beg, neither did I steal, yet, strange to say, I had ten times as much money when I left Hollis.” He does not relate how this gain occurred. No doubt it was the interest excited along the way by the heroism and romance of the boy’s undertaking that helped his pocket.
Dr. Anderson first received and treated him as a son in his own home. Afterwards he spent two years at Greeneville College, under Dr. Charles Coffin and returned ready to join Dr. Anderson’s first class in theology at Maryville in 1822. He was licensed by Union Presbytery April 19, 1825; ordained November 12, 1825, and almost immediately sent on horseback through West Tennessee and Alabama to collect money for Dr. Anderson’s infant and struggling seminary.
In this tour he lost his horse and was prostrated with fever for three weeks and yet returned with money enough to excite Brother Eagleton to exclaim: “We must appoint Brother Sawtell Generalissimo of collecting forces for our seminary!” But a farm must be bought that students by manual labor might help to meet their expenses; a new building was needed, and therefore, more money must be had. Mr. Sawtell was again mounted and sent preaching and collecting through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to New Orleans.
Seventy miles of his route in Mississippi lay through a forest with no habitation but an Indian wigwam. After encountering many dangers and enduring many hardships he returned to Maryville. When the money was counted out — about $2000 — one of the trustees threw up his hands, declaring that “he had never seen such a pile of money in all his life. Thus did this alumnus soon and well repay his Alma Mater.
Being appointed a commissioner from Union Presbytery in 1826, he rode on horseback to Philadelphia and from there to new England, preaching in many towns and cities till he reached Hollis in New Hampshire, just eight years from the time he left it. There he found his old employer, now aged, infirm and in very reduced circumstances, who was agreeably surprised and greatly relieved by the receipt of his $90.
Dr. Sawtell, as an evangelist, made extensive tours through New England, Western New York and Ohio. He was appointed by the Government of the United States and served some years as chaplain to the seamen at Havre, in France. The writer has not been able to trace his history fully. His residence and labors at Havre extend from about 1858 to 1868. At the latter date he returned to his country and resided at Saratoga Springs, NY, until about 1883 or 1884. Some time in the fifties he published a small volume entitled “Treasured Moments.”
Since penning the notice of the Rev. D. M. Wilson, the writer has received the following account of the life and death of his friend and fellow-laborer, the Rev. John Silsby, by the pen of the Rev. R. A. Bartlett:
“He died at Grassy Cove, Tenn., October 20, 1888. His life was long and useful; seventy years were given him ‘by reason of strength.’ He was born near Lewisburg, Pa., November 12, 1817. He graduated at Farmer’s College, Cincinnati, and then for nine years was Professor of Mathematics in the same institution. From 1849-1854 he was a missionary of the A.B.C.F.M. in Siam. He then was principal of an Academy in Wisconsin until the war, when he served his country as a Lieutenant of Battery C, First Wisconsin Heavy Artillery. After the war he labored as a missionary among the colored people in Alabama. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in that State, and editor of the Nationalist.
“For a few years he taught Mathematics in Maryville College. The last seven years he spent in teaching and preaching at Grassy Cove. Brother Silsby was a godly man beyond all question, and the impression of his life will be seen for years to come upon the people among whom he labored so faithfully. He was buried at the Grandview Cemetery by the grave of his beloved co-worker, the Rev. D. M. Wilson.”
The coincidences of the lives and labors of Brother Wilson and Silsby are remarkable. While students together, Mr. Wilson was instrumental in the conversion of Mr. Silsby. Both labored as missionaries in both the foreign and home fields. They were intimately associated during their last years of service in self-denying efforts for the intellectual and spiritual elevation and salvation of the population of the Cumberland Mountains. Their ancestors, too, were closely associated as first settlers of the town of Acworth, NH, more than a century ago; and they themselves lived to see their families united in Tennessee by the marriage of their children. Separated in death by the brief interval of one year, their remains found a resting-place side by side in the same cemetery.
Prof. Silsby left four children, two of whom — Mrs. L. B. Tedford and Rev. John A. Silsby — are missionaries of our Board, in Asia.
James White Stephenson, D.D.
At the organization of our Synod in 1817, Mr. Stephenson was enrolled as a member from the Presbytery of West Tennessee, which was then within our bounds. He was of Scotch-Irish descent, and a native of Virginia, but passed his early youth near Waxhaw Church in South Carolina. He was probably educated under Dr. McCule at Mt. Zion College in the same State, in which vicinity he taught for a few years, and had Andrew Jackson for a pupil.
He was licensed in 1789 by the Presbytery of South Carolina, and spent some years (1790-1808) of diligent and successful labor in the pastorate of Bethlehem and Indiantown, in the Williamsburg district, SC. In 1808, he and about twenty families of his charge emigrated in a body to the wilderness of Maury County, Tennessee. Here they jointly bought a large tract of land from the heirs of General Greene, of Revolutionary fame, and laid the foundation of “Fierson Settlement.”
Here, by solid and impressive preaching, by remarkable diligence in every department of ministerial duty, and by a live of devoted and consistent piety, he so moulded the character and directed the conduct of his colony that few churches could equal Zion Church, which he there planted and trained in the faithful performance of Christian duty both public and private. In that same church he continued his labors until the age of seventy-two years, when in 1832, he died in Christian triumph in the midst of his people, to some of whom he had sustained the relation of pastor for forty-two years.
Dr. Gillett’s “History” enrolls our James White Stephenson among the patriotic Presbyterian ministers who fought for their country in the Revolutionary War. The record is, “that he served throughout the war, and on one occasion had his gun shivered by a shot from the enemy, which glanced and killed the man who stood by his side.”
Ralph E. Tedford
Was born in Blount county, February2, 1808, and died August 23, 1878 at his home in Maryville. He was licensed October 3, 1834. He preached for the congregations of Calhoun, Tenn, Cassville, GA and Cleveland, Tenn. The organization at Cleveland owes its existence to his labors. He ministered to it for many years. In 1860, ill health terminated his active ministry, though he often helped his brethren in Blount and Jefferson counties during subsequent years. He was a particularly lovable man, clear and decided in his views on theology, yet charitable to all men. His last years were years of comparative feebleness. He was tenderly cared for by his daughter, Mrs. Prof. Lamar, who now alone occupies the house built by her father. Mr. Tedford, beyond most men, enjoyed the confidence of all who knew him. Rev. D. M. Wilson
Was born in Blount County, TN, in the year 1807 and died September 6, 1856, and his remains were interred near Mt. Bethel Church (Soddy) in the vicinity of Rathburn Station, on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. Here, also, two months later, Dr. Abel Pearson, his life-long friend, was laid by his side. Mr. Wallace was licensed by Union Presbytery, May 20, 1831, and ordained April 5, 1832.
His ministry of twenty-five years was given to the churches of Bethel (later called Soddy), Harrison, Richland and Washington. Kingston Presbytery, in noticing his death, described him thus: “As an humble, self-denying, laborious man, and as one devoted to his Master, he has, perhaps, left with us no superior. As a theologian he was thorough, sound and consistent; in his presentation of truth he was clear, forcible and convincing.” His opportunity of practicing self-denial may be judged from the following specimen from the records of presbytery, April 1845:
“The elders of Harrison Church reported that they had enjoyed the labors of the Rev. Benjamin Wallace for one-fourth of the time during the last two years; that he had discharged his duties to general satisfaction; that they had no special contract with him in regard to salary, but had endeavored to give him a small compensation, viz. $2.60 in money, $14 in clothing and $43 in work — in conclusion, they were sorry they had done so little, and promised to do better in time to come.” (Note– this Church became extinct).
Several of his sons are honored laborers in the ministry. Rev. D. M. Wilson
Gideon Stebbins White
Was a lineal descendant of Elder John White, who emigrated from England and settled at Newton, now Cambridge, Mass., 1632. Gore Hall, the beautiful library building of Harvard, stands upon the ancient cow yard of Elder John White. Gideon, whose father was Wilson White was born in Granville, NY, April 12, 1803.
He removed to Tennessee in early life for the benefit of a milder climate; completed his literary and theological studies at Maryville College in 1829, and was licensed by Union Presbytery, October 6, 1829; ordained an evangelist, April 8, 1830; received the degree of A. M. from Maryville College in 1846. For some years he acted as an agent for the American Sunday school Union in Tennessee and as far south as Florida.
In September 1836, he took charge of the church at Strawberry Plains, in Jefferson County, and about the same time the charge of Washington Church in Knox County, where he fixed his residence and established a tannery to supplement his limited salary from the churches.
November 6, 1834, he married Miss Mary Eliza Jarnagin, of Newport, TN. He brought up a family of seven daughters and one son. He continued in charge of the above named churches until his death, July 28, 1863, aged sixty years. Mr. White did not limit his ministerial labors to his particular charges, but extended them in both Knox and Jefferson counties, and organized the Spring Place and Caledonia churches (1842 and 1858).
He was nine times a commissioner to the General Assembly, and the first time, in 1830, he rode all the way to Philadelphia on horseback. For his activity in meetings of presbytery and Synod he was styled “the ecclesiastical lawyer.”
Short and slender in body, and in voice rather sharp and shrill, he was strong in mind and force of character. Presbyterianism in Tennessee is largely indebted to his abundant and useful labors.
The Rev. Josh S. Craig says: “He was bold and fearless in the enunciation and defense of what he considered the truth of God, and few were willing to encounter him in debate. On controverted points of doctrine and polity he was clear and forcible.” “All regarded him as a very active and earnest pastor and preacher. His sermons were characterized by point and pith. His ideas were couched in few and forcible words.” “In his later years, divine grace softened the asperity of youthful days and his soul mellowed for the inheritance of the saints in glory, to whom he was gathered as a shock of corn fully ripe.”
Note — The above sketch is condensed mainly from one by the Rev. W. H. Lyle, who derived the facts from Mrs. White and the Rev. John S. Craig, D. D.
David Morrison Wilson
Was born March 6, 1819, in Charleston, NH; was educated at Pleasant Hill Academy and Woodward College, Cincinnati, and graduated at Lane Theological Seminary, June 9, 1847. On the 16th of October of the same year he was ordained by the Presbytery of Cincinnati at College Hill, and was on the same day married to Miss Emeline B. Tomlinson. On December 29, 1847, he and his wife sailed from Boston as missionaries to Syria by appointment of the A.B.C.F.M., and landed at Beirut in the following March.
At Tripoli and at Homs he labored faithfully for fourteen years, until compelled to return to this country on account of his wife’s failing health in 1861. From 1861 to 1864 he preached and taught at New London, Butler County, Ohio; from 1864 to 1867 he supplied the Presbyterian Church at Radnor, Delaware County, Ohio. In December 1867, he removed to Athens, Tennessee, and took charge of the Mars Hill Church.
Early in 1884, he moved to Spring City, and opened up missionary operations at new points along the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. In September of that year he also took charge of Piney Falls Presbyterian Church at Grandview, TN on the Cumberland Plateau. Through his energetic efforts that church first became possessed of a house of worship, a comfortable sanctuary. He died at his residence at Spring City on the 24th of September 1887, aged sixty-eight years.
Before his departure he requested that his remains might “be laid away in the new Presbyterian Cemetery at Grandview, to sleep there till the morning of the resurrection.” The granite shaft that marks his tomb, together with its simple inscription, “A missionary of the Cross” is appropriately suggestive at once of his firmness and his devotion.
While engaged in academic and collegiate studies, Mr. Wilson manifested the ardor of active piety in laboring for the conversion of his fellow-students and in a diligent attendance at prayer meetings and on other means of grace. “He was a man of extensive reading and varied information, and possessed a ready and retentive memory. No one could listen to his conversation and not be surprised at his wide range of knowledge in history, theology and general literature, and his wise discrimination in the use of the facts at his command.”
As evidence of his deep and undying interest in Foreign Missions, the writer would refer to his able and often eloquent annual reports on that subject, recorded in the minutes of the Synod of Tennessee, breathing a spirit that could come only from a mind and heart aglow with zeal and love for the cause. “Mr. Wilson seemed to be a man absolutely free from selfishness.” As a reformer he never contended for personal interests, but was always ready to sacrifice self for the good of others.
His wife and two children born in Syria, Mrs. W. A. McTeer and the Rev. Prof. S. T. Wilson, of Maryville College, survive him (1888).
The above has been compiled from the Presbyterian Encyclopedia and an obituary notice by the late Rev. John Silsby.