Autobiography of John L. Dagg
About the year 1700 two brothers were born in England, who were named ROBERT DAGG and JOHN DAGG. I know not the precise time or place of their birth, or anything respecting their parents, or other relations. When grown to manhood John was a ship-carpenter at Bristol and Robert was captain of a trading vessel which sailed from that port. In some of Robert’s voyages he came to Dumfries, then a principal seaport of Virginia. It was situated on the river Potomac, and carried on an extensive trade in tobacco. Time has filled up its harbor, where ships once anchored; removed the river to a distance from it; and reduced it to an inconsiderable village. But when Robert visited it he carried back to the old world so favorable an account of it, that his brother John was induced to try his fortune in this new land. He arrived and settled at Dumfries. The thrifty commerce of the place gave him employment as a ship-carpenter, and his business so prospered that he accumulated considerable property. He married SARAH OVERALL, by whom he had a number of children. The names of these and the legacies which he bequeathed to them appear in his will, which stands on record in the Court of Prince William county.
JOHN DAGG had several daughters that married: but only one of his sons lived to raise a family. He, THOMAS DAGG, followed the trade of his father at Dumfries, and married CLARISSA POWELL, by whom he had four sons, two of whom died at an early age. The other two, John and Robert, were left orphans in their boyhood by the death of both their parents.
THOMAS DAGG held an extensive tract of land near Dumfries, but the validity of his title was disputed at law; and after an unsuccessful contest he was compelled to yield possession to another claimant. His death occured soon after, and his sons were thrown on the world in poverty to make their way through life. Afterwards, when arrived at manhood, they brought suit against the estate of the vendor of the land which their father had lost, and obtained judgment for the amount of the purchase money; but the assets of the estate were placed beyond their reach so that they lost the costs of the suit, and gained nothing. When I visited Dumfries in the year 1819 this tract of land was pointed out to me, and I drank at a fine spring which was even then called Dagg’s spring.
The two boys, John and Robert, were apprenticed to OLIVER PRICE, a saddler, in the town of Alexandria. Robert entered on this apprenticeship at the age of fourteen, and continued till February 17, 1791, when he was just twenty-one years of age. John, the elder brother, settled at Port Tobacco, Md., where he died some years after, leaving no children.
LEVEN POWELL, the brother of CLARISSA, the wife of THOMAS DAGG, had removed to Loudon county, Virginia, and was carrying on a prosperous mercantile business, by which he acquired wealth. He became distinguished in political life, and represented this district in the Congress of the United States. This district included Mount Vernon, and Col. POWELL was honored by receiving the vote of the Father of his country, to become his representative in Congress.
When ROBERT DAGG had completed his apprenticeship, he visited this uncle. The town of Middleburg, forty-five miles west of Alexandria, had grown up around his uncle’s store-house, and as an inducement for him to settle here his uncle offered him a loan of £100, ($333.33 1/3), to set him up in his trade. That offer Robert accepted; and, in a log building, on the other side of the street, opposite to the store, he became the saddler of the village. In this village he continued, and labored at his trade, the rest of his life. The small building in which he commenced he had taken on rent, but his success in business was such that, in a few years, he not only returned his uncle’s loan, but erected a house of his own, in another part of the village, and this he occupied till his death.
SAMUEL DAVIS, a stone-mason, of —— county, Pennsylvania, married SARAH LEADLEY, of New Jersey, and soon after marriage, removed to Loudon county, Virginia, and settled on Goose creek, two miles from Middleburg. He took a small farm of 158 acres on lease, and by cultivating this and laboring at his trade, he, by great industry and economy, raised a large family of children, who were trained in the industrious and steady habits of their parents. The Bible was known and read in the family, and the children were carefully instructed in the Presbyterian catechism; and required to observe the Sabbath. With this family ROBERT DAGG became acquainted; and one of the daughters, Sarah, became his wife, and took up her abode with him, in the small log building in which he had commenced business. In this building on the 13th of February, 1794, their first child was born, who received the family name John, handed down from the first American ancestor. The grandmother, who always claimed the child as a favorite grand-son, added her original name Leadley. Thus commenced that life which it is now my privilege to review, and in which divine mercies have been crowded from the beginning to this day.
When my parents married neither of them professed religion; but they respected its claims, and attended on the ministrations of the word. My mother’s early training fitted her mind to receive religious impressions; and my father, who read more than most mechanics, frequently directed his inquiries to religious subjects. He was the postmaster of the village; and was, in consequence, occasionally solicited by distant publishers to become their agent for the circulation of their publications. In this way he became agent for MATTHEW CARERY, the enterprising bookseller of Philadelphia, by whom many editions of the Bible were published. He engaged in this agency zealously and many family Bibles were distributed by sale in the village and surrounding country. When I was about eight years old, WILLIAM PARKINSON, afterwards pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York, made several tours of preaching through this part of Virginia, and produced much religious excitement. My parents became interested in his preaching; and, on one occasion, I remember that he became their guest and preached at night in their house. About the same time a Presbyterian minister settled in the village, under whose ministry they sat, and by whose visits and conversation they were benefitted. At length, after careful inquiry, they felt it to be their duty to come out from the world, and to put on Christ in the way which he has appointed. They accordingly offered themselves for membership to the Baptist Church at Long Branch, four miles from Middleburg, and were baptized together by WILLIAM GRINSTEAD, the pastor. They took me with them to witness this solemn ceremony, which I distinctly remember.
The church at Long Branch received many additions about this time. Among those who were admitted to its fellowship, was a young man who had recently married into a family residing one mile from Middleburg. His name was GEORGE LOVE. He became a frequent visitor at our house, and held with my parents many a conversation on religion, interesting even to me at that early age. GEORGE LOVE became one of the chief pillars of the Saviour’s cause in that region; and first as a deacon of the church, and afterwards as a minister of the gospel, accomplished much good. The last time I ever saw him he spoke of his long and intimate acquaintance with my parents; and, among other commendations of my other, said: “she was the brightest christian I ever knew.”
Being blessed with such parents my early training was not neglected. They encouraged in me a love of learning, and became themselves my teachers. The neighborhood schools were, at that time, poor; and were taught, for the most part, in rough log cabins with dirt floors and without windows or chimney. In addition to the instruction received at home, I enjoyed the benefit of such a school, taught a mile from the village. But when I was nine years old an academy was opened in the town, offering advantages far superior to any which had been known in this neighborhood. This was to me an important event. The Presbyterian clergyman before mentioned, Rev. Wm. WILLIAMSON, was the principal of the academy. I was placed under his valuable instruction, and became a favorite pupil. While in the academy, I had a special fondness for mathematical studies. This my teacher gratified, by adapting his course of instruction to it. After obtaining a pretty thorough knowledge of arithmetic, I studied algebra, geometry, [Stone's euclid], surveying, and navigation, and made considerable progress in natural philosophy. My teacher had a copy of Martin’s Philosopher Britannica, and of Newton’s Principia translated. These works he put into my hands; and was assisting me to overcome their difficulties, when the death of my mother occurred, on December 4th, 18O5. This event produced a sad change in our family. She had given birth to eight children; and five of these survived her, to be provided for by our afflicted father. In view of his responsibilities, and of the smallness of his means to provide for the education of all the children, he decided that he had expended as much on me, the eldest, as was consistent with justice to the rest. I was accordingly taken from school, and put to work in the saddler’s shop. My kind teacher, having taken a lively interest in me, regretted the change in my prospects, and conferred on the subject with Major BURR POWELL, a cousin of my father’s, and a man of wealth and benevolence. As the result of their consultation, a proposal was made to my father that I should be sent back to the academy, and put at the study of latin, without expense for tuition. It was intimated to be their design to give me the best advantages which the country afforded for a thorough education, if my progress should be satisfactory. In a few days I was again in the academy with Ruddeman’s Rudiments on my hands. I remember that my benefactor, Major POWELL, came once to hear me recite, when I dragged through the rules for the declension of nouns, in a manner that gave no encouragement. After many wearisome days I had so far gone over the book of Rudiments, that the Colloquies of Corderius were substituted. My heart went out after the scientific studies in which I had been engaged; and I could find no pleasure in this ding dong of words, and terminations of words. My progress was very slow, and my teacher and benefactor, becoming discouraged, abandoned their plan for my education, and permitted me to return to the saddler’s shop.
The making of whip lashes, girts, and bridles, had as few attractions for me, as hic hac hoc. My mind was bent on mathematics. I procured a book from my late teacher, for the study of spherical trigonometry and the stereographic projection of the sphere, but the chief delight which I experienced was derived from the study of astronomy. In one of the papers which came to my father’s office, I had seen announced a new edition of Ferguson’s astronomy. This book I had longed to possess, and Providence placed the acquisition within my reach. A few years before my grandmother had made me a present of a ewe lamb, which my grandfather permitted to remain in his flock, until she became the mother of a small family. All these my grandmother sold to him for my benefit and put the price which she received into my hands. Thus enriched, I appropriated $3.50, which was the larger part of my wealth, to the purchase of the book. The money was put into the hands of a neighbor, who was driving his wagon, loaded with flour, to Alexandria. On the day when his return was expected, I watched anxiously for his arrival. The scene, when the wagon stopped before the door, and when the book was produced, is now vividly depicted in my memory. I received it, the first book I ever owned; and after admiring its exterior and its numorous and beautiful plates, engaged diligently in the study of it, without a teacher. The simple and perspicuous method in which the author presents the science, rendered the study easy; and I was able, in a short time, to calculate the changes of the moon and project eclipses.
My father did not censure my love of study, but he became convinced that it would be difficult to make a good saddler of me; and the question, what he should do with me, gave him much perplexity. He thought, at one time, that the printer’s business might be better adapted to my inclination, and entered into correspondence with a printer in Alexandria, making inquiry with reference to obtaining a place for me, but he abandoned the project, from an unwillingness to expose me to temptation, at a distance from parental advice and care.
While at work in my father’s shop, an incident occurred, which had much effect in shaping my future course. A neighbor, whose sons had long studied latin, without his suspecting the truth, that they were unable to learn it, stopped at the door, and conversed for a time with my father. From some cause, the conversation turned on the peculiarity of genius often found in individuals. Our neighbor, to illustrate what he had said on the subject, pointed to me, remarking, “here is John, he can learn to cipher, but he can’t learn latin.” This remark made an indelible impression. I revolved it again and again; “John can’t learn latin.” I looked back on the opportunity of learning latin, now gone forever, and longed for another opportunity to try whether John could learn latin; but no such opportunity, at that time, seemed likely to present itself.
The log house in which my first days were passed, had now been removed, and a brick store house stood on the site. In it, a man by the name of Johnson was selling dry goods and groceries in the year 1807. He offered me a situation in his store, with a salary sufficient to defray my expenses; and my father thought it advisable to accept the offer. On the 1st of December, when not yet fourteen years old, I left my father’s house, to make my way in the world and entered on this new employment. At parting, my father gave me parental advice; and particularly urged on me to be guarded against the temptation to which I would be exposed from the presence and selling of ardent spirits. This warning had its effect; for, from that time to the present, I have scarcely ever tasted any intoxicating liquor.
My duties in the new situation were, to assist in the sale of goods, and to keep the accounts of the establishment. These did not so occupy my time, as to exclude all attention to my favorite study. I purchased MacLauren’s algebra, and made myself more thoroughly acquainted with the science; and also found some time to devote to conic sections and fluxions. But a subject of far higher importance began now to engage my thoughts. Before this, and especially about the time that my parents were baptized, serious thoughts of religion entered my mind, and dreams of the day of judgment, disturbed my slumbers; but now, a deeper sense of sin affected me, than I had ever previously experienced. I saw clearly its tendency, to dethrone God, and felt that by this tendency its guilt was to be estimated. Without explaining my feelings to my father, I obtained from him Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, and Bunyan’s Heavenly Footman, supposing that I might find in them some instruction adapted to my case. I do not remember any particular effect produced by the reading of these books; but I was restless and unhappy.
Towards the close of the year 1808, I was invited to take charge of a school at Landmark Hill, four miles from Middleburg, for the ensuing year. In my restlessness, believing that the retirement of the country would be more favorable to my spiritual interests, than a public situation in a store, I decided, with my father’s approbation, to make the change. Accordingly, on the first of January, 1809, before I was fifteen years old, I became the master of a neighborhood school. In the house of H. S. Hathaway, with whom I boarded, were Slackhouse’s History of the Bible, and Boston’s Fourfold State. These books I read with diligence, and prayed earnestly for renewing grace. On the night of February 12th, after I had gone to bed, I thought much on the words of Christ, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” A glimmer of hope, feeble and transient, now first entered my mind. The next day was my birth day; and on my way to school, I prayed that as I had been born on this day into the natural world, so the Lord might bring me this day into the spiritual world. In the evening after returning from school, I took up Boston’s Fourfold State, and read until I came to a passage, “Think not of want of time, while the night follows the busy day; nor of want of place, while fields and out houses may be got.” I rose, and retired behind the corn-house. Here, while in prayer to God, my soul was relieved by a joyful sense of divine acceptance. The prayer of the morning seemed to be answered; and the following words, though originally spoken in a far higher sense, appeared applicable to my case: “Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” I returned to the dwelling house, and to intercourse with the family, concealing with some effort the happy change that I had experienced. For, many days, the wonder was, that I did not love more; and this wonder has not yet ceased. The hymn, “Come let me love,” etc., I often repeated throughout; and felt the force of every line.
Sometime afterwards I was present at a meeting of the Long Branch church when invitation was given, to those who had hope in Christ, to come forward, and relate their experience. I felt strongly moved to accept the invitation, with others who presented themselves; but considerations, with the sufficiency of which I was not wholly satisfied, held me back. At length I adopted an unauthorized method of determining my case. Among the persons who had been expected to offer themselves to the church that day, was an individual who had been my school-mate. I decided, if he went forward, to accompany him. Several related their experiences and were received by the church; but as my school-mate was not of the number, I felt, perhaps with some joy, released from taking up the cross. But when the pastor rose to dismiss the meeting, the young man started from his seat, and asked permission to tell what the Lord had done for him. This was now unexpected to me and I was now unable to rally, for the performance of duty. I left the meeting unhappy; and many an unhappy day of spiritual darkness and conflict followed, before I publicly professed Christ.
To say that all my subsequent spiritual difficulties, arose from my failure to make profession of religion, would be to affirm far too much; but the same depravity that had rendered the cross of public profession unwelcome, operated in various other ways. I did not go back wholly to the world; and give myself up to commit sin greedily, and without remorse; but I did not live near the Lord, and order my steps before him with zealous circumspection. I did not deny Christ and renounce all dependence on him; but the sense of his dying love, with which my heart had once been filled, failed to exert on me a constraining power. Still the persuasion that I had experienced a change of heart did not leave me; but my prospects for the future were sometimes very dark. For a long time these words haunted me with torturing effect. “If we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin: but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversary.” I was conscious of having committed sin, to which my will consented, and this text seemed to pronounce its fearful sentence against me. How many and how terrible were its buffetings, I cannot now describe, but I well remember the time and manner in which I obtained relief. On a Sabbath day, as I was returning from public worship, which I had attended with out sensible benefit, these awful words continued to roll through my mind:–”No more sacrifice for sin.” I could see no way of escape. Nothing appeared before me, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment. As I was yielding to despair, my heart resolved, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” The resolution was formed, to press through the thunders and lightenings of his justice, and fix my hope on his mercy. Soon after I had laid hold on this apparently forlorn hope, the inquiry arose in my mind, whence comes it that I am inclined to trust in God after all. The only answer I could give, was, that he himself had so inclined me; and then I asked, would he do this, to disappoint me at last? This train of thought brought me through most joyfully. I was enabled to look up do God, as a reconciled father; and to heaven, as my final and eternal home. The fearful text was still there, unexplained, and, in itself, as dark as ever; but I had been lead around it, to a place of sun-shine, where I enjoyed the light of the Lord’s countenance, and a sweet foretaste of heaven.
The year 1809 passed, and my success, as a schoolmaster, was not such as to yield much gratification to my pride. I had taught twenty-seven pupils, several of whom were older than myself. Two men of full age, who were teachers, placed themselves under my instruction to become more fully qualified for their business. I doubt not that I gave good instruction; but my discipline was directed by an immature judgment, and was not wise. Had I been disposed to teach at the same place the next year my school would have been much reduced. But I was otherwise inclined. Mr. Hathaway, with whom I had boarded, and who had been an attached friend, knowing my desire of further education, kindly offered to give me board, if I would go to school. Having laid by enough from the income for teaching to meet all other expenses, I gladly accepted his offer. Mr. Williamson, my former teacher, had relinquished the academy, and was now teaching a private school one mile from Middleburg. Under his instruction I placed myself once more, for the study of Latin, although my place of board was three miles from his school house.
In January, 1810, I made the second trial of Ruddeman and Corderius; and found them more intelligible than before. Afterwards I read Cornelius Nepos, six books of Caesar’s commentaries, the Bucolics of Virgil, six books of the Aeneid, Sallust and nearly the whole of Horace; was thoroughly drilled in Mair’s introduction, and made some progress in Greek. I remained in the school until the last of January, 1811, the usual vacations excepted; and was made proud by the commendation of my teacher, who was always disposed to speak favorably of me, and who was pleased to say that, though he had taught some that had read more in the same time, he had never taught one who understood it so well. All this success, and the qualification resulting for the performance of important duties to which I was afterwards called, I owe, under God, to the incidental remark of a thoughtless neighbor, “John can’t learn Latin.”
My friend Mr. Hathaway continued to board me cheerfully, and afterwards, when it was in my power to offer him payment, he firmly rejected it. But my means for defraying other expenses were exhausted, and it became necessary to look out for employment that would supply the empty purse. In July, 1810, my father married his second wife. Her brother, Dr. E. B. Grady, opened a store for the neighborhood in which he practiced medicine, and I became the salesman and accountant. My new situation was very pleasant. When in like business before, I was in the employment of a man who had no regard for religion; but Dr. G. and his lady were christians. A sister of Mrs. G. with her husband, Mr. Peter C. Rust, often visited us; and, being warmhearted disciples of Christ, their conversation was greatly useful to me. My spiritual state became much improved and my Bible yielded me instruction and delight.
In this state of mind, the obligation of professing Christ presented itself. That I might do this intelligently, it seemed necessary to examine the baptismal controversy. My father had taken the Virginia Religious Magazine, a Presbyterian work, in which were some ably written articles in defence of infant baptism. These I obtained, and studied carefully. The arguments appeared to me defective and fallacious, and I wrote out at length what seemed to me to be a conclusive reply. Fully convinced of my duty, I offered myself, in the spring of 1812, to the Baptist church at Ebenezer, eight miles from Middleburg, and was baptised by Elder Wm. Fristoe, the pastor.
My acquaintance with Dr. Grady led me think of adopting the medical profession, for the business of my life. At the close of the year 1811, Dr. G. made a generous offer, to receive me as a medical student under his instruction, and defray all my necessary expenses for the next three years, provided I would, for the first year, continue to serve him in the store as before. This proposal, which offered me what time I could redeem from the demands of the store for the first year, and afterwards two years of uninterrupted study, I thought my duty to accept.
In August, 1812, I attended the meeting of the Ketocton Association, to which our church belonged; and was distressed to see the free use made of ardent spirits, by the ministers and members. There was also distressing evidence, that the principal deacon of our church indulged freely in the use of the pernicious liquor; though we had no proof that he was guilty of gross drunkenness. These facts induced me to prepare a query, which the church, at my request, sent up to the Association, at its next meeting. “At what point between total abstinence from ardent spirits, and intoxication by them, does the use of them become sinful?” The temperance reform was then unknown, and the notion of total abstinence was so little understood, that the bearing of my query was not apprehended. In replying to it, the Association replied, that moderation was necessary in the use of ardent spirits. This was the doctrine of the times, in which multitudes of Christian professors, including ministers of the gospel, were victims of intemperance. The deacon just referred to, I assisted afterwards, to exclude from the church; and, some time after, while lying on his hearth, in a state of intoxication, he was roasted to death by the fire.
The war of 1812 rendered calls on the militia necessary; and, in the spring of 1814, it was my lot to be drafted for six months’ service, to be performed in the vicinity of Norfolk. To one who had never endured hardship, the prospect of long marches under a hot sun, and of continued exposure in an unhealthy climate, was truly appalling. But I saw no alternative; and with an humble trust in Providence, and a cheering hope beyond the grave, I prepared to obey the call of my country. A knapsack was obtained, and my clothes were put in readiness for departure; and the morning arrived, when I was to leave home for the muster-ground, from which the line of march was to commence. On this morning I received a visit from Mr. Rust, who inquired how I felt in the prospect of what was before me. I answered, expressing a cheerful acquiesence in the appointment of Providence. He asked whether I would not prefer to obtain a substitute. I replied, stating that I had no means to hire one. He then informed me that he had money in his pocket, expressly obtained for this purpose. He was himself a poor man; but he had made application to a few wealthy friends, and obtained from them the amount necessary. He had formed the opinion, that God had designed me to be useful in the gospel ministry, and he felt it to be his duty, to preserve my life for this service. The information which he communicated, was as welcome, as it was unexpected. We readily obtained a substitute, who performed the service in my stead; and he, and two others, were the only men in the company, who went through the campaign without sickness. It has always appeared to me, that Providence, on this occasion, preserved my life, through the christian kindness of Mr. Rust.
In August, 1814, I attended the meeting of our Association at Broadrun, Fauquier county. While here, the news reached us, that British vessels were ascending the Potomac. When we returned home, we found that a call had been made on the militia of our county en masse. I had a substitute then in service; but it became my duty to stand in his place; and as all were now called on, to procure another substitute was impracticable. I was therefore compelled after all, to become a soldier. With hasty preparation I joined the march; and, the first night, lodged in a hay loft near Leesburg. From this point we saw the light of the burning capitol, which the British had fired the day before. The day following we crossed the Potomac, and descended, on the Maryland side, to Seneca Mills. On the way, we met some fugitives from the battle of Bladensburg, who seemed to believe that the enemy were close behind them. In a day or two, we received orders to proceed to Baltimore, against which place the British were making their next preparation. On arriving, we were posted in the rear of Fort McHenry. From this position, we had a clear view of the British ships, when they landed their forces at North Point, and soon after, we saw distinctly, across the water, the smoke of the battle in which the British commander, General Ross, was killed. Orders were now received that we should march to meet the enemy. On our way, we met the wounded returning from the battle; and, passing the entrenchments, we halted for the night, between the city and the enemy. Early next morning the bombardment of the Fort commenced. The next day our position was several times changed; and we were several times in expectation of an immediate approach and attack of the enemy; but, as if by mutual consent, the two armies never met. The following night, however, we lay so near them, that their encampment which was visible from the top of the hill, appeared only a half mile distant. That was a fearful night.
The roar of cannon and bombs, which had continued through the day, became fiercer and more tremendous. We lay on our arms; and three times we were alarmed by the signal of our sentinels, and put in order for battle. Just before day the firing ceased. All was still: and now the very silence rendered us uneasy. A question arose, in which our personal safety was deeply involved, whether the Fort had surrendered. If it had, we might expect a sanguinary conflict with the land forces, next morning; if it had not, they would perhaps retire without giving us battle. At the first dawn, every eye was directed towards the Fort, to see whether the American banner still waved there; and when the morning mists had sufficiently dispersed, we were filled with exultation at beholding the stars and stripes still floating in the breeze. The enemy retired to their ships, and we returned to the rope-walks, assigned for our shelter. During the last few days, every one had spoken softly and seriously, and no oaths had been heard, but this night our barracks were in uproar with noise and profanity, giving painful proof of human depravity.
In a few days our company was dismissed from service. Until this time my health had continued good; but now it began to fail. I was eighty miles from home and able to walk but little. Here another kind interposition of Divine Providence appeared, furnishing the means of my return. A father who was a member of the church to which I belonged, and himself exempt from military service, had come on horseback to see his son, who was not yet permitted to leave the army. A similar reason had brought another neighbor and these two men, now ready to return, offered to share their horses with me. We were to walk by turns; and, when fatigued, to be relieved, by an exchange with one of those who rode. On the second day of the journey, I became so weak, that one horse was given up exclusively to my use. At a late hour in the night we reached our neighborhood, and as it was out of the way for either of my companions to pass directly by my home, I was unwilling to tax their kindness unnecessarily; and, when we arrived at the proper place of parting, I insisted on being permitted to walk the remainder of my way, which was only about a mile. We parted, and I proceeded, borne up with the hope of soon reaching home; but in a little time I became faint; and prostrate on the ground, at midnight, and at a distance from human habitation, I felt helpless and forlorn; but God was my trust. After some time I so far revived, that, by the help of a fence which was near, I succeeded in reaching the nearest dwelling, where I awoke the inhabitants and obtained shelter for the rest of the night. The next morning I reached home, and an illness of some weeks’ continuance followed, during which though others apprehended a fatal issue, a strong impression continued fixed in my mind, that the Lord had work for me to do, and that I should live to accomplish it. The consideration that one month of military service, in a comparatively healthy region, brought me so near to the gate of death, has often served to heighten my appreciation of the mercy, that delivered me from a campaign of six months in the vicinity of Norfolk.
The close of the year 1814 terminated my engagement with Dr. Grady. Had my life been directed by human wisdom, the time was now arrived, to make some decisive step towards an enterance into the practice of medicine. Thoughts of the Christian ministry had often arisen in my mind, but they had been as often repressed, by the apprehension that I could never succeed in public speaking. Being bashful, and easily embarrassed, it was often painfully difficult to find words for common conversation, especially with intelligent strangers; and to expect success in addressing a public congregation, appeared to me irrational. Yet the thoughts of the ministry, tended to render me irresolute in determining my course of life. I judged it needful, previous to the practice of medicine, to attend the lectures of some medical school; and at present I was unable to meet the expense. In these circumstances I decided to teach school for a time, and two situations presented themselves. My teacher, Mr. Williamson, desired me to assist him in his school; and Mr. Cuthbert Powell wished me to become teacher in his family; a temporary arrangement was made with Mr. Williamson which brought me near to my father, for a season of distress that ensued.
In the early part of the year 1815, a fatal epidemic prevailed. My step-mother died on the 11th of February. My father was greatly depressed; and, after expressing to me his persuasion that he would not long survive, committed the charge of his family to me, as the eldest son. I attributed this to the depression of mind which he was suffering; but on the 17th, while I was in school, my brother James rode out to inform me, that my father was sick. Hastening in, I found him speechless. That night he breathed his last, and left me at the head of a sorrowful family, needing guidance and protection, and a supply of necessary wants. I gathered the children together, uniting with them in prayer, implored the blessing of heaven in our time of need.
My step-mother left two daughters, who were provided for by an unmarried aunt. Two older daughters, and James, fell under my special care. His age allowed him soon to be put apprentice to a trade; and, as the best provision for my sisters I accepted the offer of Mr. Powell, and became teacher in his family, with the privilege of receiving some other pupils. Two generous widows in the neighborhood, who were in easy circumstances, offered board to my sisters, that they might attend the school. Thus Providence raised us up friends.
My situation in the family of Mr. Powell, was very pleasant. He was a man of intelligence and refinement; and association with his family, and the company that visited him, tended to cure my awkward bashfulness. I had much time for study; and, as my duty in teaching required, improved myself much in the knowledge of Latin and Greek.
Being the only Baptist in the family, or among their connections, my religious opinions were often brought under discussion. On one occasion, when on a visit to Major Burr Powell, he put Mason’s Essay on the Church into my hand, pleasantly remarking that he wished to convert me to the Pedobaptist faith. I received the book thankfully; and, after reading it with care, wrote a review, in which I controverted his positions, and maintained Baptist principles. This he read; and, at least, became satisfied that there was very little encouragement to labor for my conversion. Mr. Cuthbert Powell asked permission to read this manuscript; and, after perusing it, favored me with some criticisms on it; and took occasion to advise, that I should turn my attention to the legal profession. Suspecting that I was inclined to the Christian ministry, he remarked, that it was not every man’s duty to minister at the altar, and that he thought my talents were specially adapted to the bar. I replied, that though I could not decide to give myself to the gospel ministry, I was unable to go in a contrary direction.
The question respecting the ministry, was at length pressed closely on my conscience. In the spring of 1816, the Ebenezer church passed a resolution, requesting me to exercise my gifts in their meetings. With this request I cheerfully and unhesitatingly complied, so far as I could, in common with other members of the church, but I could go no further. The question whether I was called of God to the gospel ministry, was one between God and my own conscience, and I could not permit the church to decide it for me. Months of agonizing prayer, and prayful heart searching, followed. Was my heart right in the matter? Had I qualifications for public preaching? The latter question I at length became willing to leave to the church; and if, from too favorable a judgment of my qualifications, they should put me forward in a position from which I should be compelled to retire with disgrace, I was willing to submit to the disgrace. But whether my heart was right, the church could not, and must not judge. I feared that I had not the right motives for entering the ministry. At length the advice of Mr. Powell rose before me, with success at the bar, and honor, and affluence. Over against those I contemplated the reproach of being a Baptist minister, and the poverty to be expected. In full view of the contrast, my heart said, give me reproach and poverty, if I may serve Christ, and save souls. From that hour, I never doubted my call to the ministry. My first sermon was preached in December of this year.
From the days in which I read Baxter’s Call, Bunyan’s Footman, Slackhouse’s History of the Bible, and Boston’s Fourfold State, I continued to read the religious books which came or fell in my way. This course, though not adopted with any view to the ministry, I found of great use to me. It supplied me with matter for preaching; and, in public speaking, I suffered less embarrassment, and want of words, than I had anticipated. My attempts in the pulpit were well received; and, in November, 1817, I was called to ordination.
An important question now presented itself for practical solution. Having been solemnly set apart for the ministry, was it my duty to devote myself exclusively to the work, and relinquish all secular employment? On the afternoon of my ordination, in a conversation with Elder Fristoe, pastor of the church, I sought his advice on this subject. When I quoted the words of Paul, “The Lord hath ordained that they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel,” he remarked, ” The Lord’s ordinances are often broken, and they who preach the gospel often find it impossible to live on the provision made for them.” He set before me the risk of relying on such support; but added, “If you are willing to try the experiment, it will have my approbation.” To try the experiment, was, after prayerful deliberation, the course which I decided to adopt. If it should fail, after a fair trial, I could then return to secular employment for support, with a clear conscience. But the experiment must be a fair one; and, to render it so, it must be made on some plan which gave a reasonable prospect of success. My expenses must be brought so low, as to give hope of providing for them; and my services must not be engaged, where there was not hope of remuneration. It was the custom of the country, to give one Sabbath in the month to each place of preaching; and, having fixed on $400.00 as the least possible amount for the expenses of a year, I determined not to engage a Sabbath to any place, without the promise of $100.00. This determination I made known to some of my brethren, who entered into the plan, and obtained subscriptions to the amount required. With this prospect, I decided to relinquish my school; and, during the years 1818 and 1819, devoted myself wholly to the ministry.
On the 18th of December, 1817, I was married to FANNY H. THORNTON. Her uncle, Wm. Hunton, a benevolent member of the Broadrun church, to which she belonged, offered us, rent free, the use of a house and lot near the village of New Baltimore, Fauquir county. Desirous to make our expenses as little as possible, we gladly accepted the offer. Here we lived two years, in much poverty, on cheap food, with cheap clothing, and almost without furniture; but I was happy, being engaged in the Lord’s work, and with a quiet conscience. When at home, I employed myself in the preparation of sermons, and other studies. My books, which were set out on a rude shelf, were few in number; but among them were Scott’s Commentaries, Robertson’s Hebrew Grammar, Buxtorf’s Hebrew Lexicon, and Lumsden’s Compendium of the Hebrew Bible, which I used profitably.
During the year 1818, I preached on Sabbath days at Ebeneezer and Middleburg, in Loudon county; at Frying pan in Fairfax county; and at Broadrun in Fauquir county. The next year, instead of the last named place, I preached at Chappawamsee, Stafford county. It was my custom to preach on week days whenever I found a favorable opening. Some citizens of Dumfries occasionally attended my ministry at Chappawamsee, the distance being only seven or eight miles; and by them I was invited to preach in their town. My first appointment at this place, was on the evening of —-, 1819, in a house where an academy was taught. At candle light, I entered the room, and preached to a crowded congregation; but, before the discourse was completed, the people sank at my feet, with tumult and female shrieks. While endeavoring to calm a woman who was near me, I discovered, by the little light that remained unextinguished, that we were standing at the head of an inclined plane, formed by the fallen floor. The joists on which it was laid, rested on the side walls, and on a large beam running through the middle of the house length-wise. This beam had given away at the far end, and the congregation were pressed together towards that point. In a moment, a man, whom I supposed to be a citizen of the place, opened a window which was just behind me, and said to me “get out.” It seemed to me the obvious duty of those who were at the head of’ the inclined plane, to get out of the way, that others might be able to ascend, and make their escape. Accordingly, in obedience to the direction given, having taken my hat, I sprung from the window, in the dark, supposing that the ground was near. I had entered the room on the upper side of a steep hill; and, being a stranger to the locality, did not suspect that the window was ten or twelve feet from the ground and therefore followed, without fear, the direction of one whom I supposed to be at home. On looking up to the window from the ground, I saw a female preparing to follow me in the leap, and called aloud to her to desist; but she was deaf to my cry. Another approached the window, to leap after her, but either my cries, or their own thoughtfulness, brought two men, (one of whom was probably the same man that opened the window), to lay hold on her, and prevent her fall. In this leap, my right ankle was severely sprained, and several weeks passed before I could walk on it. Thus my first visit to the town of my forefathers, gave origin to the lameness with which I am now afflicted, and with which I shall go halting to the end of my pilgrimage.
In the beginning of the year 1819, my friend Mr. Rust, who had been a chief agent in procuring subscriptions for my benefit, gave me information of the views expressed by contributors to my support. They thought “he must do something for himself;” but they did not wish to stop my supplies suddenly and without warning, and, therefore, continued their subscriptions for another year. My experiment proved, in less than two years, that my services were not considered worth $400.00; or that those, to whom they were rendered, were either unable, or unwilling to pay for them.
It became needful for me to do something for myself; and what that something should be, was the next inquiry. Believing that teaching would interfere with the ministry less than any thing else that I could do, I concluded to teach; and in January, 1820, opened a female school in Middleburg, continuing my Sabbath day preaching as before, and receiving for it whatever the people chose to give me.
In October, 1821, my brother Samuel, next to me in age, came to my house, wild with delerium tremens. I got him to bed, and procured medical aid; but in a few days, he expired, a victim to the vice of the age, before he had completed his twenty-sixth year. I wept at his grave without hope. When will the terrific reign of Alcohol cease!
Having been invited to become the principal of the Upperville Academy, I removed, and took charge of it in January, 1822. The church at Chappawamsee was so distant, that, after preaching there on Sunday, it was necessary to ride a great part of the night, in order to be at home for my school duties next morning. I therefore gave up that charge, and preached one Sabbath in the month at Upperville. My separation from the good people at Chappawamsee was painful. At no place in Virginia were my labors apparently so much blessed. We had passed through a precious revival, which continued for several months. At one meeting, we had twenty candidates for baptism.
In the spring of 1823, the hurt which my ankle had received, was slightly renewed, in stepping from a carriage. A few days after I rode to Washington City, to attend a meeting of the Baptist Triennial Convention. The journey, and the walking done at the Convention, had such effect, that, on returning, it was necessary to use a crutch, and this help in walking has been necessary ever since, because of permanent weakness in the joint. But greater afflictions were near at hand.
On the 5th of August, my wife gave birth to a son. During the first part of her confinement, she was unusually well; but, in the third week, she was attacked with headache, which terminated in convulsions, apoplectic stupor, and death. This was the severest blow that I had ever received; but the gracious Being who saw it needful to inflict it, sustained me under it. The first emotions which it produced, were not grief. The earth had now lost all attraction; and my mind followed the departed one to her glorious home, into which I was as confident that she had entered, as that I existed. Only a thin veil seemed to separate me from the happy assembly, and I could almost hear their triumphant songs. After the body was interred, some friends approached me, and affectionately expressed their condolence. I received their well meant kindness thankfully; but though, while I took them by the hand, tears flowed abundantly from my eyes, my heart was without grief; and I assured them, that I did not need consolation, so rich a tide of it was poured into my soul, from the source that God had opened on high. How long this state of mind continued, I cannot now say, but I well remember that thoughts of the little ones left behind, first brought me back to earth. I contemplated our four helpless babes committed to my care, and dependent on me, for every thing; and now I keenly felt the loss which we had sustained, and genuine grief began to flow. After a few days the mother of the departed one took the charge of the children, and I sadly assumed the duties of my school.
The wife of my youth, though removed from me so soon, was, while she remained, a rich gift of heaven. The union had been so clearly pointed out by the finger of Providence, that I ever regarded her as given to me from above, and her qualifications were such as to render me happy. Her heart was full of affection; and when she referred to the possibility that I might be left in the sole charge of our little ones, she enjoined that I should teach them to be affectionate. She delighted to confer benefits on others, and gladly did what she could, to help me forward in my ministerial work. She cheerfully united in the experiment to sustain our family, which included my two sisters, on the small sum of $400.00; and her industry and economy rendered this part of the experiment successful. But her crowning virtue was her ardent piety. She walked with God; and her path grew brighter, as her end approached. She seemed to have a presentiment of the change that was before her; and, previous to her confinement, expressed, as she had never done before, the apprehension that she would not survive it. She added that she was willing to go; and, at this time, gave me the charge before mentioned respecting the children. She often expressed her feelings, when alone, by singing sweetly and cheerfully, “While my Redeemer’s near,” etc., which was with her a favorite hymn, such was the joy with which her last days were blessed. She so finished her short and beautiful course, as to render the way to heaven more attractive; and the holy place has possessed another attraction, since her entrance into it. I rejoice in the hope, that all the children which she left, will meet her there.
Necessity had driven me, in teaching, to study diligently the lessons on which I was about to give instruction. In this way, much of my progress in learning had been made. My chief remaining difficulty at that time was in Greek; and, to overcome this, I employed what time I could find for this purpose, in reading Greek authors. During the winter that followed, feeling my loneliness, I was accustomed to rise before day, kindle the fire, light the candle, and read Homer’s Iliad until daylight. The type which I read was small, but I never thought of any evil consequences. Had I known, what I have since learned, that the reading of the same work, at the same hour, affected the eyes of Dr. Dwight with permanent disease, I might have escaped. But, persevering in this course, I found my eyes failing as summer drew on. My medical adviser did not apprehend the danger that was before me, until I had become unable to bear the light of day. Some weeks, I was obliged to keep within doors, and, during part of the time, with a bandage over the eyes. Now my faith was severely tried. Lame and blind, how could I be useful, and how provide for the wants of my children? These questions, which I knew not how to answer, God answered in due time.
In the fall, my eyes were so far improved, that, in company with a brother preacher, Joseph Baker, I left home on a preaching tour. We passed through several of the lower counties of Virginia, and attended the meeting of the Dover Association where we met with brethren from Richmond. The acquaintance here formed led to an invitation, subsequently received, to visit the First church in Richmond which was in search of a pastor.
Thus, the state of my eyes which had seemed to darken all my prospects, and which had rendered the journey desirable, was by means of it, operating to open a way for me to higher usefulness.
When I returned to school-keeping in 1820, it was from necessity. Though the service was cheerfully performed, and was acceptable to the public; yet I always felt, to adopt the language of Paul in another case, if I might be free to use it rather. It was my fixed purpose, to devote myself exclusively to the ministry, whenever it should be in my power.
About December 1st, the letter before mentioned was received from Richmond; and the same mail brought another from the Fifth Baptist church at Philadelphia, then without a pastor, requesting me to visit them, and supply their pulpit for a month. I decided to visit both churches, in compliance with their invitation, and replied accordingly. I spent the latter part of December in Richmond; and going thence to Philadelphia, arrived on the —- day of January, 1825. Before the month had passed, I received a letter from the church in Richmond inviting me to become their pastor; and, at the expiration of the month, a call was given by the church in Philadelphia. The latter call, I accepted; and allowing time to return to Virginia and bring on my family, I engaged to enter on pastoral duties the 1st of May following.
On my arrival at home, I found that my brother James, then a member of my family, was recovering from a fever, with which he had been attacked during my absence. In this sickness he had obtained a hope in Christ, and I had the pleasure of hearing him, in an interesting conversation, give the reason of his hope. In compliance with medical advice, received in Philadelphia, I confined myself to a dark room, for six weeks, with a hope of benefitting my eyes. While I was thus shut up, James relapsed, and died. He had always been an amiable youth, and of correct morals, and the religious change which he had recently undergone, authorized us to mourn for him, not as those who have no hope.
In April I took leave of the congregations to whom I had ministered. The last Sabbath was left for Ebeneezer, where I had been baptized, and ordained, and had preached regularly from the time of my ordination. It was an affecting time. I preached, ready to depart on the morrow; and, after sermon, we gathered around the Lord’s table, where I administered to them the communion for the last time. This service being over, we all sat and wept for some time; and then, having commended each other to god, we parted.
My eldest sister remained in Upperville, having been married on December 7th, preceding. My sister Sarah went with me to Philadelphia, and assisted me in the charge of the children. We arrived at the time appointed; and, in this city of strangers, God raised us up friends, from whom we received much kindness. My work was that which I preferred above all other; and my connection with the church, was, on the whole, exceedingly pleasant. Souls were given me in reward for my labor, not in large crowds, but in sufficient number to keep me encouraged and thankful. A heavy debt with which the church was encumbered, was, by long continued effort, so far reduced, that it ceased to give uneasiness. The contributions for missions, and other benevolent purposes, became greatly increased, and our congregation, though not abounding in wealth, set a good example to others. After providing for their pastor a sufficient support, they raised annually, for other purposes, a much larger amount, so that his salary was the least part of their contribution.
The regular course of pastoral duty is so uniform, that few events occur which call for special notice in a brief review. No difficulty ever gave serious alarm for the peace of the church, except from one cause. A schism occurred in the First Baptist church, about the time of my removal to Philadelphia, which spread an unhappy influence among the churches. Ours was the newest church, and felt the effect more than any other. The members were divided into two nearly equal parties, with so much of partisan feeling, that a division of the church seemed almost inevitable. I labored to prevent this evil; and God graciously gave success.
Soon after my settlement in Philadelphia, it became necessary to give a practical proof of my opposition to the use of ardent spirits. The ministers of the Association were accustomed to meet every three months at some one of the churches. A sermon was delivered by a brother appointed at the previous meeting. After the sermon, the ministers dined with the pastor; and, in the afternoon, in a ministerial conference, criticised the sermon for the common benefit. In the first meeting of this sort that I attended, my heart was pained to see ardent spirits set out on the pastor’s side-board, and the guests partaking freely. At subsequent meetings the same custom was observed. At length it became my turn to entertain the ministers meeting. The best food that the market afforded, I gladly provided for the table; but my conscience would not permit me, to offer the pernicious beverage. The effect, I think, was good. So far as I know, the decanter was never seen afterwards at a minister’s meeting.
Of the ministers in the Philadelphia Association, brethren David Jones and Joseph H. Kennard became my most intimate associates. I loved them much, for their love to Christ and his cause. Their counsels were always directed to the good of Zion. At a time when the Philadelphia Association was holding its annual meeting in Southwark, these two brethren lodged at my house. During the day, we witnessed the painful discussions which grew out of the schism in the First church; and, at night, mourned over the state of religion. “Can nothing be done,” asked brother Jones, “to build the walls of Jerusalem in these troublous times?” The thought was a happy one; and we immediately set about to plan for the spread of the gospel in Pennsylvania. We drew up a constitution for what was at first called the Pennsylvania Missionary Association, but afterwards the Pennsylvania Convention. This body God has greatly blessed, in spreading the gospel, and multiplying churches, through the State.
When our Missionary Association had made some progress in collecting funds, we prayed to the Lord to send us a suitable missionary on whom to expend them. While we were so engaged, a stranger came to my house, and informed me that he had made, this his first visit to Philadelphia, to see if there were any persons in the city who cared for the souls that were perishing in the interior, where he had for some time been laboring as a missionary, self-sustained. This man was Eugene Kincaid, afterwards so distinguished in the Burman mission. God had sent him to us in answer to our prayers. He became the chief Agent of our Missionary Association; and to him, under God, the Baptist cause in Pennsylvania owes much of its present enlargement.
Early in the spring of 1830, I was so ill, that, for some time, my friends despaired of my life. To my own view, death was near; but my mind was calmly resigned to the will of God. Solicitude for my helpless family inclined me to life; and it was the will of God to restore me to health.
The chief agency in restoring my health, was performed by Elder Noah Davis, father of the American Baptist Tract Society, now called the American Baptist Publication Society. Bro. Davis removed to Philadelphia in 1826, bringing the infant society with him, for the advancement of which I labored with him. He connected himself with the church that I served; and our association with each other became very intimate. He visited me in my sickness, and, forming the opinion that the illness had arisen from too much study, with too little exercise, he judged that relaxation and out-door exercise were necessary to effect a cure. With him, thought was followed by action. He at once went around among the members; and represented that they were permitting their pastor to die by neglect. He insisted that I ought to be furnished with a horse and vehicle, in which I might take exercise, as my lameness prevented sufficient exercise by walking. His appeals had the effect which he desired. Provision was made for the purchase of a horse and vehicle, which were presented me. But before these could be procured, he obtained the temporary use of a vehicle, which he brought to my house, as soon as I was able to leave the bed, and rode out with me. The invigorating effect of the first short ride, encouraged us to lengthen the second; and, in process of time, I became able to ride out to Bastleton, where my friend David Jones resided, eight miles from the city. My brain continued so much affected, that I was unable to bear mental excitement, or mental labor, and was therefore unfit for any pastoral duty. By the kind invitation of Bro. Jones, I spent a large part of the summer in his family, enjoying the advantage of daily exercise and country air, and the agreeable society of himself, and his excellent wife.
From Bastleton brother Jones frequently rode with me into the city, where we spent the night with my family. On one of these visits, in the month of July, it was announced to us on our arrival, that brother Davis was lying a lifeless corpse having died suddenly, almost without sickness. The unexpected announcement shocked us both; but the effect on me, in my feeble state, was such, that brother Jones decided on immediate return to Bastleton, where we should not be so painfully excited by continual allusion to the afflictive event, in the conversation of every one.
Brother Davis, though possessing extraordinary talents for secular business, had chosen to devote himself to the service of Christ. His labors had received but little pecuniary reward; and, in consequence, he left his family, consisting of a wife and two small children, without provision for their support.
In the autumn following, my health had so far improved, that I was able to resume pastoral labors; and it continued to improve, by the constant use of the vehicle, which Bro. Davis had been the chief agent in providing. Among the members of my flock, Mrs. Davis had a special claim on my regard, not only because of her recent affliction, but also because she was the widow of a friend and benefactor, to whose considerate kindness I was perhaps indebted for even life itself. Another fact, to her wholly unknown, had much effect on my mind. My acquaintance with her had commenced previous to her marriage, when she was Mary Young, a teacher in the school of her aunt, Mrs. Edmonds, in the town of Alexandria. As my field of labor in Virginia was near, I occasionally visited Alexandria, and preached for Elder S. H. Cone, pastor of the Baptist church. In these visits, my wife sometimes accompanied me. She became acquainted with Miss Young, and entertained so high esteem for her, that, when she spoke to me of the probability of her being taken from me, she expressed a decided wish, that I should seek to obtain Miss Young to become the mother of our children. But Miss Young married a month before my sad bereavement occurred; and the wish expressed by my deceased wife was scarcely remembered, until it was brought to mind by the peculiar circumstances in which I found myself. After the marriage of Miss Young her path of life had diverged wildly from mine; but Providence had now brought us near to each other, and in relations which of themselves elicited peculiar regard. Moreover, she possessed personal qualifications which rendered her, above all the women that I knew, a desirable companion in the most intimate relation of life. On reviewing the eight years of my loneliness, it seemed to me, that an overruling Providence had kept me from matrimonial alliance till the person designed for me, was presented before me. Obeying the indications of the divine will, I sought, and ultimately obtained her consent to become my fellow pilgrim for the remainder of life’s journey. We formed our union, with no romantic expectations of happiness on earth. Affliction had saddened our spirits, and taught us to look beyond the present life, for perfect and enduring bliss. We felt the uncertainty of our continuance here, and our highest expectation was, to assist each other, for a few years, in serving God, and preparing for heaven; and in training our children, during their most helpless years, for the duties of life and the retributions of eternity. But lo! we have been preserved to each other, until we are now tottering down the hill of life together. All our children have reached mature age; and, by the grace of God, all of them, with a single exception, have been brought into the fold of Christ. One son yet remaining, for whose conversion we still live to pray; in hope that he too will be gathered, and, that we shall be at last an unbroken family in heaven.
This faithful companion of my pilgrimage, has repeatedly requested that I would write out a brief sketch of my life. She has pleaded that my children know but little of my early history; and that it would be a great gratification to them, to have a record of it which they could read after I had been removed by death. Her request I could not find it in my heart to deny. I have continued the sketch, down to that period, from which the chief events of my life are well known to the family; and here I close the narrative. The egotism which abounds in it, the children will excuse; since I knew not how to avoid it, without refusing to write on the subject.
At the request of my grandson Junius F. Hillyer, received January 9th, 1878, I continue my narrative.
The preceding sketch brings down the history of my life to the time of my second marriage. At that time I was able to preach. From the time that the Holy Spirit brought me to give myself up to serve God in the ministry of his word, I felt myself devoted to this service. The thought of abandoning it never entered my mind; and, so far as I remember, the fact that I might at some time be driven from it by disease, never troubled me. But a sad trial now awaited me. In the year 1832 my throat was often sore on Monday morning, from the use of the voice on the preceding day. In 1833 this soreness became more frequent and more lasting, and as the year advanced I became satisfied that my voice was failing. I consulted a skillful physician, who prescribed an astringent wash, to be applied internally to the throat with a mop. The remedy may have accomplished some good, but it did not effect a cure. The physician did not advise any cessation of my pulpit labors; and I continued to preach until my voice so failed in the pulpit while I was preaching one cold Sabbath morning, I think in April, 1834, that I was scarcely able to speak loud enough to be heard for many weeks afterwards. I was compelled to carry on all ordinary, conversation in whisper. My kind church indulged the hope that I would soon be able to return to the labor of the pulpit, declined to receive my resignation; but, after a time, they, as well as I, became convinced that it was expedient to dissolve our connection. We parted in sorrow.
When I became pastor of the church, I found among its members, a preacher named Wm. Strowbridge, a native of England, a man of property and age, who had never married. Brother Strowbridge soon died and left his property, by will, to the Philadelphia Baptist Association. At this time the spirit of public benevolence had a strong tendency toward the establishment of schools, in which boys would be required to perform manual labor as well as to study. It was believed that the plan would yield some advantage in lessening the expense of education and for greater advantage in giving the boys vigorous health, and habits of industry. The Association caught the spirit of the times, and resolved to invest this bequest of Bro. Strowbridge in a manual labor school. A tract of land, near the village of Hadington, four miles west of the city, was purchased, and a school was established in which the pupils were required to labor in the cultivation of the ground as well as in the cultivation of their minds.
This school was under the management of Trustees appointed by the Association, and was conducted with some measure of success, but with many discouraging difficulties. There was a vacancy in the presidency at the time my voice failed, and the place was offered to me with the hope, as some of my brethren were pleased to say, that I would be able to remedy the difficulties. I accepted the offer and entered on the duties of the office in the autumn of 1834. We had a good school, and it was to me especially gratifying that we had among our pupils, a number of young brethren who were preparing for usefullness in the ministry. Being now unable to preach the gospel myself, it gave me joy to have an opportunity to assist others in performing the holy service. All the studies which had a direct reference to the sacred office, came under my immediate charge; and I had here my first experience as a professor of theology. The only difficulty which I found in giving the instruction needed, arose from a desire of some of the young brethren to study Hebrew. In the years 1818 and 1819 I had made sufficient progress in the study of Hebrew, to give the instruction desired, but in the years following, I was too much engaged in studying and teaching other things to allow me time for the study of Hebrew, and in 1824, I was rendered unable, by the failure of my eyes. After so long neglect I felt that it was indispensably necessary that I should resume the study of Hebrew, if I attempted to teach it. How to do this without the use of eyes, was the present difficulty. To overcome it I induced my eldest daughter to learn the letters and vowel points of the language, and she became able to read Hebrew for me. With her aid I studied carefully the lessons which my class recited, and was able to instruct them to their satisfaction, and also to my own. Our school continued to be good during the year 1835; but, before the close of the year the Trustees, who had the responsibility of managing its finances, became convinced, by their own experience, and the general experience of manual labor schools, that the manual labor appendage was a heavy weight on them and had a downward tendency. So strong was their conviction on this point that they resolved to sell the tract of land which they had purchased for the experiment. In the spring of 1836, it became a subject of anxious inquiry whether I should follow the fortunes of the school to another location, or seek for other employment. My wife, who had been a popular teacher in her aunt’s female school, and who was desirous to assist me in providing for the family, favored the project of establishing a female school, and urged that our three daughters were now of sufficient age to give reliable assistance. An objection to the plan was that we knew no place where we could safely attempt such an enterprise. The city of Philadelphia was well supplied with schools, and the Rev. R. W. Cushman, whom we both highly esteemed, and who had been the teacher of two of our daughters, was still teaching there, and we did not wish to become his rival. One day, when some business called my wife into the city, she chanced to be near the residence of brother Cushman, and decided to call on him, and have some conversation with him, about our affairs. He was at home, received her kindly, and entered with interest into the conversation which she directed. For some time they talked without the prospect of arriving at any useful results; but, at length, a new thought suddenly struck his mind, and he exclaimed, “Sister Dagg, I have a letter!” This exclamation told nothing so much as that it proceeded from a mind full of thought. He continued to think in silence, until she interrupted him with the inquiry, “well, brother Cushman, what of the letter.” He then explained that it was a letter from the Rev. Dr. Woods, president of the University of Alabama; that according to the letter a stock company had been formed for the purpose of establishing, in the city of Tuscaloosa, a Baptist school of high order, to be called the Alabama Female Athenaeum; that an eligible site had been purchased, and arrangements made for opening the school in September following; and that he, Dr. Woods, president of the Board of Trustees, wrote to know whether Mr. Cushman, with whom he was personally acquainted, would accept the presidency of the institution. After hearing this explanation, my wife said: “Well, brother Cushman, will you not accept?” He replied, “no, it will not suit me; my wife is not a teacher; but it will suit you and brother Dagg.” After some further talk it was arranged between them that brother Cushman should write to Dr. Woods and recommend to him the appointment of me to the presidency. In a short time I received a letter informing me that I had received the appointment; and, in the August following, I was on my way, with my wife and our seven children, to the distant abode. Thus the call of my wife on Bro. Cushman, and the thought which suddenly struck his mind, small events in themselves, and apparently produced by mere chance, were, under the ruling of divine Providence, the origin of a chance which gave an entirely new direction to the history of my whole family.
We found Tuscaloosa a pleasant place of abode; our health, during seven and a half years of our stay, was uninterrupted; and though our school had in it a large number of boarders, no death occurred among them, and, so far as I now remember, no case of dangerous illness. The people were refined and afforded society. It was the seat of government; and the governor and officers of State were residents. The University was near enough to be regarded as a part of the city, and its president and faculty to be regarded as belonging to the community. The Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists had their houses of worship and their ministers. The annual sessions of the Legislature brought intelligent visitors from all parts of the State. And the University, the Presbyterian school and the Athenaeum, brought young persons of both sexes to enliven the place.
At the time of our arrival the city was in high prosperity, business was brisk, money was very plentiful, city property brought a high price, and an air of cheerfulness was spread over the community to bid us welcome.
Our journey to Tuscaloosa was tedious. The Creek Indians on the Chattahoochee river were in a state of hostility; making it dangerous to enter Alabama from the east. A letter from Tuscaloosa advised us to enter from the north, by the way of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. In pursuance of this advice we went from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and proceeded thence in boats to Waterloo, which was the highest point on the Tennessee that our boat could reach, because the river was low at this season. We were detained some days at Waterloo, by the impossibility of obtaining conveyances. At Tuscumbia we were again detained; but at length we hired two carriages to take us to Tuscaloosa. We were on the way two or three days, and arrived too late to be present at the opening of the Athenaeum. The Rev. J. C. Kerney, who had been appointed professor of natural sciences, had arrived before us. Mrs. Woods, the excellent wife of president Woods, took so much interest in the success of the school that she had volunteered her services. These two had opened the school and formed and instructed classes. Our work was now ready for us, and we entered on it without delay. The building in which we taught was a neat two story brick edifice, situated on the eastern edge of the city, and on a lot of five or six acres, which extended eastward from the city. A good steward had been appointed who, with his family, occupied the building, and had charge of the boarding department. We took board in a neighboring private family, but did not remain there long. The Trustees judged it important, for the interests of the school, that we should be in closer connection, and more intimate intercourse, with the young boarders; and, in compliance with their wishes, we took board in the family of the steward.
What salary the Trustees gave professor Kerney, I do not distinctly remember, but I think it was $1000.00 or $1200.00. My wife and I, with our three daughters, were the other teachers, and for our services they engaged to pay $2000.00, with the income of the ornamental department. This department, through my wife’s skillful labor and management, become very prosperous. The steward agreed to board our whole family for $1000.00; and our fixed salary, apart from the income of the ornamental department, was sufficient to pay our board and our necessary expenses. If our surplus income had been wisely invested, and permitted to accumulate, it might have made us too rich for our spiritual good; but from this evil the Lord delivered us. Our building was too small. It had been the residence of a single family; but it was now required to furnish accommodation for two families, a number of boarders, and all the various operations of the school. In conducting these operations we felt crowded to oppression. Soon the work of enlarging the building began.
This gave us a hope of better days to come; but it afforded no present relief. On the contrary we were now disturbed by the voices of the workmen, the noise of hammers and saws, and various other annoyances. Our troubles some times almost drove us to despair; but, through all we succeeded in convincing the people that we could teach.
The opening of the fall session in 1837 was a time of release from prison. The workmen had completed their work, and two large additions had been made, one at each end of the original building, and extending much further back. The lower story of one addition gave us a spacious assembly room; of the other, a spacious eating room; and the upper stories were divided into convenient dormitories. Our accommodations were now ample; and from this time the Athenaeum rose in popularity. It received large patronage from the city and vicinity, and drew pupils from various and distant parts of the State.
The prosperity of the Athenaeum continued to increase for two or three years, and then did not suddenly decline; but there was a cause operating which effectually prevented its lasting success. It had not been endowed by some benevolent man of wealth; who, desirous to consecrate his property to the accomplishment of some public good, decided to endow a female school with commodious buildings, valuable apparatus, a large library, and other means of success and usefulness. On the contrary the Athenaeum was from its origin the property of a stock company, which according to its plan, was entitled to receive, if its members were not encouraged to expect, a good dividend as the fruit of the investment. Alabama interest was then, as it is now, eight per cent. per annum; and an investment made in prosperous times with a view to pecuniary profit, could not be accounted well made, unless it yielded at least legal interest. The investment of the company was in a building which was obtained at a high price. The private dwelling first purchased cost $6000.00. This was a high price, though it may have been a fair price according to the estimated value of city property at that time. It is certain that the vendor did not consider the price exorbitant, for some time after the sale, in speaking of the transaction, he remarked that he had sold the property for a song. Now, if the Trustees were charged with the responsibility of appointing and liberally paying an efficient corps of teachers, and of so managing the educational department as to raise it to great eminence and usefulness; and if they were at the same time charged with the further responsibility of so managing the financial department as to pay the stockholders a good dividend on their costly investment; responsibility was too heavy for them to bear, and it is not surprising that they ultimately threw it off. I was not a member of the Board of Trustees, and I cannot give an account of their doings, their difficulties, and their struggles to overcome the difficulties; but I know that the institution became involved in debt; I know that my salary remained unpaid until at a settlement that I distinctly remember, the Trustees gave me their note for $4484.00; I know that there were other creditors, the justice of whose claims the Trustees acknowledged, and that the Trustees, unable to pay these debts, made over the property to the creditors by a deed of trust.
The deed of trust, just mentioned, did not provide for the immediate sale of the property, and while it remained unsold, it remained under the control of the trustees. Having resolved to free themselves from the responsibility of appointing and paying teachers, the Trustees offered me the use of the property for a reasonable rent, on condition that I would take the whole responsibility of managing the school. My interests were so much involved in the success of the school, that I accepted the offer; and, when the time arrived for the sale of the property, under the deed of trust, I was under strong inducement to bid for it. I had now the control of the school; and, to exercise this control successfully, it was important that I should have control of the building also. I became a bidder, and the property was struck off to me at a cost much less than its original cost, but much greater than the price which I afterwards got for it. City property had already declined much, but it afterwards declined more. I continued to be the owner some years after my removal from Tuscaloosa; and my agent let out the property for educational purposes. At length he wrote to me that the University desired to purchase a building for some educational purpose; and I instructed him to offer the Athenaeum property for whatever price, men selected to appraise it, should judge to be its value. The University accepted the offer, and appraisers were daily appointed, who gave their judgment that the property was worth $1500.00. This price the University paid me, a price just one fourth the song which the Trustees of the Athenaeum gave for the small dwelling which became the mere nucleus of the establishment.
When the Athenaeum was in its highest prosperity we received a visit from the Rev. Milo P. Jewett, who had been a professor in a Pedobaptist institution of learning. He had lately become a Baptist, and was desirous to obtain useful employment among Baptists. I knew that the brethren at Marion were designing to establish a Baptist female school, and recommended Mr. Jewett to visit them. He did so, and was in a short time announced as the president of the Judson Institute. My recommendation was very beneficial in its results to the interests of female education, but not to the interests of the Athenaeum. The Judson Institute became a successful rival; and, being better located, better founded, and better managed, it has lived and prospered long years since the Athenaeum become extinct.
While we remained in Tuscaloosa, though I was pleased with the place and people, and with my success in teaching the daughters of the land, there was one point on which I often felt dissatisfaction. My life had been consecrated to the work of the ministry, and I was now accomplishing nothing in that work. At Hadington I had the pleasure of conceiving that I was still serving in the sacred office by assisting others to preach; but that pleasure was now gone, and my heart desired its return. Without any special seeking of mine, the Lord was pleased to grant my desire. There was a vacancy in the presidency of Mercer University, Penfield, Georgia, which the Trustees were desirous to fill; and they were desirous also to add a professor of Theology to their faculty. They solicited Dr. Manly to fill the vacancy, and, in their correspondence with him, I have reason to believe that he recommended me for the other office. Without any correspondence with me, they appointed me to that office, and added a pro tempore appointment to the presidency. This addition, I believe, was made by the Trustees with the hope that Dr. Manly would ultimately consent to become the permanent president. After some deliberation and consultation with my worthy Bro. Manly, I accepted the appointment.
Our tuition year in the Athenaeum was divided into two sessions of five months each. It was in the fall session of 1843 that I received the appointment just mentioned; and, having made engagements for the session, I could not leave before the close of the session, which would occur on the last of June, 1844. I explained this matter to the Trustees and was allowed time to settle up my concerns in Tuscaloosa. The month of January was remarkable for almost incessant rain, and the roads through the country became almost impassable. Tuscaloosa had then no railroad connection with the world, and we decided to make our way to Montgomery by water. As the Ohio and Tennessee rivers assisted us to enter Alabama, so the Black Warrior, the Tombigbee, and the Alabama rivers assisted us to leave it. When we reached Montgomery we had a railroad ride of thirty five miles to Chehaw, which was then the terminus of the road. From this place we were compelled to take passage by stage to Madison, which was then the terminus of the Georgia railroad. The distance was long, the mud was deep, and the stage was full of passengers; but we pressed on day and night, through alarms and perils, and had at last the joy of finding ourselves safely arrived. From Madison we had a pleasant railroad ride of twenty miles to Greensborough, the point on the railroad nearest to Penfield. We reached Greensborough late on Saturday evening, and put up at the hotel until Monday.
On Sunday morning February 12th, 1844, I attended worship at the Baptist meeting. Here I met with Bro. Thomas Stocks, the president of the Board of Trustees of Mercer University. He was, so far as I know, the only man in Georgia whom I had ever seen, and whom I had seen only a few times in the Triennial Convention. With this brother I had afterwards much pleasant intercourse. He continued to be president during my whole connection with the University. He has lately left the world at a very advanced age. The pastor of the Greensborough Baptist church was the Rev. P. H. Mell, a professor in Mercer University. With this brother I formed my first acquaintance, which after long association with him in the service of the University, was ripened into strong friendship. He is now the Vice Chancellor of the University of Georgia. It so happened that professor Mell had brought with him a student of the University to preach for him, brother Sylvanus Landrum, a member of the Sophomore class, the highest class then in the university, a class which in a few days fell under my instruction. This young brother preached the first sermon that I ever heard in Georgia, and gave the first specimen of talents which it was to be my privilege to cultivate. The class to which he belonged was one of more than ordinary ability, and this brother has since occupied very important stations. He has given himself wholly to the ministry of the word, and now is the pastor of the Second Baptist church, Memphis, Tennessee. From Greensborough we proceeded on the following day to Penfield, a distance of seven miles, where I met many Trustees of the University, whom president Stocks had gathered to receive me. With them I had free conversation about the plans and arrangements of the institution, and was gratified to find that they were inclined to give to the Theological department all the prominence and enlargement in their power. At this meeting I became acquainted with the Trustees assembled. Among these was the Rev. B. M. Sanders, who had been the first president of the University, and was a patriarch and leading spirit among the Baptists in Georgia. This man has since gone to his rest.
There were in service at the time two professors whom I had not yet seen, but with whom I soon became acquainted. One of these was professor S. P. Sanford, who remained in the University to the present day. The other was professor B. O. Pierce, who was a Northern man, and after serving about three years, went back to the North. There was also a teacher of the preparatory school, Rev. T. D. Martin, who retained the office till the school was given up. He afterwards removed to the State of New York.
The campus of the University was a large oblong rectangular parallelogram, situated on the side of a gently descending hill. At the top stood the president’s house, midway between the upper corners of the lot; and, on the left, was a long one story brick building, divided into two rooms. One of these became my recitation room; in the other the preparatory school was taught. Lower down there had been on the sides of the parallelogram two large buildings opposite to each other; but one of these had been destroyed by fire a short time before our arrival. The cellar was a two story edifice with a basement. The basement was undivided, and was used as a chapel. The stories above were divided into recitation rooms for the three professors and dormitories for the students. Near the lower corners of the lot were buildings used by the two literary societies into which the students were divided. These also contained dormitories. Three large buildings were afterwards added, one of them a chapel.
The students took their meals at boarding houses in the village; and a large bell on the campus gave signals for the various operations of the day. The first call given soon after day-break commanded the slumbering students to prepare for duty. The second call given at sunrise brought them to the chapel for morning prayer; from which they proceeded to the several recitation rooms for the first lesson of the day. The third call closed the recitations, and gave notice to the boarding houses to have breakfast in readiness. A similar process determined the time for the midday recitation and dinner; and for the evening recitation and evening prayer. Supper was taken throughout the year at sunset; and from supper the pious students proceeded, with as many as they could induce to accompany them, to the preparatory school room for a voluntary prayer meeting. This twilight prayer meeting was kept up during the whole of my connection with the University, and was a source of rich blessing. Several precious revivals commenced in it.
The University had passed through some difficulties; but its prospects now were bright. The faculty were laboring diligently and harmoniously; the students were well behaved and studious, a good religious influence was operating, and there was no burden pressing on the institution to cause fear for its ultimate success. It had previously been burdened with a manual labor appendage, but just at the time of our arrival the Trustees were lopping off this incumbrance. It was well endowed; and the Trustees managed its finances so wisely that it was never in debt.
At the Commencement in the summer of 1846 I had the privilege of giving diplomas to a class of well prepared students. At the Commencement of every year following, students were graduated. The number was not large; but a sufficient number of young men went forth from the institution to be a blessing to the land. Some of them have been highly useful in the Christian ministry.
Some changes occurred in the faculty during my connection with the University. The first of these was the appointment of the Rev. J. L. Reynolds, of South Carolina, to a professorship in the Theological apartment. He was a brother well qualified for the service required, and continued to serve successfully until he was called to a professorship in the University of his native State. He has recently finished his labors on earth. The vacancy left by the resignation of professor Pierce was filled by the appointment of Bro. J. E. Willett, a student who graduated in the class of 1846. Professor Willett still retains his place in the University. The next addition to the Theological department was made by the appointment of Rev. N. M. Crawford, a man of learning, talent and popularity. He held the position until the close of the year 1854, when he became my successor in the presidency. He afterwards removed to Kentucky, and became the president of Georgetown College; but he returned to his native State and died not long ago. The Rev. S. G. Hillyer was added to the faculty; first in the Collegiate, and afterwards in the Theological department. This brother performed his duty well, was highly esteemed, and retained his connection with the University, if I am not mistaken, until about the beginning of the late war. He was afterwards the president of Monroe female college, and is still connected with that institution.
My connection with the University was on the whole exceedingly pleasant; but I cannot say that it was wholly exempt from trials. I had now far more than at Hadington the pleasure of conceiving myself to be still engaged in the work of the ministry, and the consciousness that I was rendering valuable service. My Baptist brethren in Georgia treated me with a degree of respect and confidence that justly claimed and must receive the lasting gratitude of my heart. These considerations were so uplifting that I needed a thorn in the flesh, lest I should be exalted above measure. My heavenly father in his wisdom sent me trials; but he sent them with love inscribed upon them all. My chief trial arose from the infirmities which had troubled me for years in the performance of my duties. The professorship of Theology I had eagerly accepted; but the presidency I had accepted with reluctance. My infirmities caused me to shrink from the prominence which it gave me, as well as from the responsibility which it imposed. When I received the appointment at Tuscaloosa I did not conclude to accept it, until I had conversed with my wise adviser Dr. Manly. He thought that, as I would be the oldest member in the faculty I would have the responsibility of the presidency, and it would therefore be best that I should have the power. It was wisely ordered that the first appointment was made pro tempore. This gave a time of trial, in which my colleagues and the Trustees had an opportunity of knowing to what extent I could perform the duties of the office; and it was after this trial that they made the appointment permanent. I had a consciousness that the duties were as well performed in the subsequent years, as they had been in the first; but I felt them to be burdensome, and in the prospect of advancing age I desired to be released from the burden.
When in February, 1854, I completed my sixtieth year, I thought the time had come to be released from the presidency, and expressed my views to some of my friends, but found among them some opposition to the course. The chief consideration which had any effect on my mind was the apprehension that difficulty might arise in or from the choice of a successor, a difficulty which afterwards did arise. When the Board of Trustees held their next session in the summer of that year, before business commenced, I sought and obtained an interview with the President and Treasurer, two very influential members, and expressed to them my views, and my readiness to turn over the office if the Board would choose a successor. The Treasurer afterwards returned and informed me that they had reported my conversation to the Board, and were authorized by the Board to receive my resignation. It was a rule adopted by the Board that resignations should not take effect until six months after they had been accepted. Hence I continued to be in the presidency until the close of the year.
After being relieved from the presidency, I was in a service which I preferred to any other that it was possible for me to perform; but considerations were afterwards presented, which induced me to give up all public service, and to strive, if possible, to be useful in another way. I accordingly tendered my resignation of the professorship, and in the spring of 1856 was released from its responsibility.
The desire of rendering service in the Christian ministry now led me to attempt the writing of books which would be useful to young ministers. This would be another method of giving theological instruction, a method which might possibly make my instruction longer-lived than myself. I concluded to attempt the writing of a Manual of Theology, and immediately set about the work.
Since my eyes failed in 1824, I had done most of my writing by dictating to an amanuensis. I conceived that it would be much easier for me to write out my thoughts as they arose in my mind, than to hold them in memory until I could have my amanuensis with me to write them for me. To accomplish this there were two difficulties in my way. One was, if I wrote without looking at it, the ink in my pen would fail without my knowing it. This difficulty I found that I could overcome by the use of Prince’s Patent Protean Pen. The other difficulty was, that if I wrote without looking at it, I should fail to give a proper direction to the lines and keep them at a proper distance apart. To obviate this difficulty, I invented a writing board which effectually accomplished the object desired. When I wrote without looking at it, I could not dot the letter i or cross the letter t. To supply this defect, and to make legible any word which might, from any cause, be imperfectly written, it was needful for some one who had the use of eyes to revise my writing. This service, my wife performed.
When I left the presidency of the University it became necessary to leave the president’s house also. Our children had all left us, and my wife and I from that time became boarders. We boarded in Penfield until my connection with the University was entirely dissolved, and then removed to Madison, where we made our home with my brother-in-law P. Loud and my sister his wife. It was at Madison that the writing of the Manual was begun. In the latter part of the year we went to Cuthbert where our son-in-law R. D. Mallory had charge of the Baptist female college. He and his wife were living in the boarding house of the college, with a large number of boarders under their care; and we took board with a widow lady, Mrs. Thornton, who lived on the opposite side of the street. In Cuthbert the Manual of Theology was completed in the spring of 1857. After we had written a letter offering it for publication at the Southern Baptist Publication Society at Charleston, and had wrapped up and directed the manuscript, my wife proposed that we should commit it to the Lord by prayer. We knelt together at our writing desk besought the Lord to accept the work of our hands, and implored him to bless it, and make it useful in his cause. It went to Charleston and was stereotyped before the close of the year.
The Manual needed a second part or supplement, and I proceeded without delay to write the treatise on Church Order. This was completed in the spring of 1858. After some correspondence with the Publication Society, I went to Philadelphia to superintend the stereotyping of this work, and my wife went to see some relations whom she had not seen since 1836. On our return from Philadelphia we stopped at Madison, and again took up our abode with my brother-in-law and sister.
At Madison my work on Moral Science was begun in the summer of 1858, and finished in the summer of 1859. Judging it not a suitable work for our society to publish, I concluded to have it stereotyped at my own expense, and for this purpose sent it to our son O. W. Davis, who lived in Philadelphia. He had it stereotyped, and contracted with Sheldon & Co., of New York for its publication.
The next theological work which I undertook to write was on the Evidences of Christianity. The greater part of this was written in Cuthbert in the house of Mrs. Thornton. My wife’s eyes had failed so much that she could no longer assist me; but I procured the valuable services of Mrs. Thornton’s eldest daughter Miss Rebecca. This work was longer in hand and cost me more labor than all that I had written; and when it was completed, the war was raging and cut off the hope of getting it published.
On November 29th, 1864, my beloved wife was taken from me after a very short illness. She died in the confident hope of reaching the blest abode above. Soon after her death, which occured in the house of Mrs. Thornton, I removed and made my home in the family of my son. I left Mrs. Thornton’s without a settlement of my account with her for our board. As soon as it was convenient for me to make an estimate of what was due her, I concluded that I owed her $300.00, and procured a check for this amount on a bank in New York. This I sent to her; but the good lady returned it, saying that she considered herself already paid. I take pleasure in recording this act of kindness.
About the year 1868 I offered my work on the Evidences of Christianity to the Georgia Baptist Convention, on condition that funds could be raised for stereotyping it. Generous brethren contributed the funds necessary, and it was published by J. W. Burk & Co., of Macon, who now publish my Moral Science also.
In the year 1868 my son removed to Kentucky from Forsyth, Georgia, and left me in the family of my son-in-law S. G. Hillyer, who was the president of the female college in that town. With Bro. Hillyer and his wife, my daughter Elizabeth, I continued to live till the death of my daughter. This occurred very suddenly in January, 1870. When my daughter Mrs. Rugeley in Lowndesboro, Alabama, received news of her death, she wrote to me, inviting me to come and live with them. I replied that I was too infirm to take so long a journey. She visited us in April, and prevailed on me to return with her. We arrived at Lowndesboro on the last day of April, and remained there until the first day of November, when we removed to Hayneville, where we have ever since lived, and where I now write this.
Though I have lived more than seven years in Hayneville, I have never been off the lot on which I was first set down, and have formed very little acquaintance with the inhabitants of the town. My infirmities are greatly increased; and, though I have reason to thank God that my mind has not been taken from me, I have found my head much affected by the labor of preparing this sketch. I look forward to a time not far distant when I shall finish my course on earth in this land of strangers, far away from all the scenes of my active life; and when my body will be interred in this strange land far away from the burial place of many whom I loved. I buried one dear wife at Upperville, Virginia, and another at Cuthbert, Georgia, and I expect my body to be interred in the Hayneville burial ground, a place which I have never seen. I placed no monument on the graves of my departed wives; and I wish none to be placed on mine, not a stone to tell where I lie. We shall sleep in our earthly bed far from one another; but we shall all sleep in Jesus, and we have the promise that “Them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” When He comes we shall be gathered together, and we shall meet to part no more.
These lines are written at the request of my grand son Junius F. Hillyer, for his gratification, and for the gratification of any other of my children who may read them. To excite their gratitude to God, I wish to make mention of the Lord’s kindness to our family. All my five children professed Christ. Two of them are gone to heaven; and the remaining three are on the way. Of my grand children, seventeen have professed Christ, and are, I hope, true disciples. If all of these twenty-two are heirs of the incorruptable inheritance, worth more than all the kingdoms on earth, what a rich family are we! Let us all unite in gratitude to God for his unspeakable blessings. But let us not forget that there are still nine grand children and eight great grand children who need Christ and his great salvation. For them let us pray fervently that they all may be brought into the fold of Christ, and may serve him faithfully on earth, and be united with the rest to make an unbroken family in heaven.
I wrote the first sketch, and began to write this; but my writing was so imperfect, that I desisted, and decided to give up the use of the pen.