The Alabama Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in session at Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 29, 1903, by resolution named the undersigned who had for some time acted as the chairman of the Synodical Committee, on Historical Society, as Synodical Historian. This formal appointment was made in recognition of the obligation due by the great body of Cumberland Presbyterians to their history, and in order that in future effort directed to meeting this obligation might have official sanction. It is believed that no step taken by our highest Church body in Alabama in recent years, not considering of course the inherent principles of Church tenets and administration, is of more importance than the inauguration of the work of preserving our historical annals. Although desultory efforts have been put forth in the past, nothing of consequence has been accomplished.
In planning for the development of this work, it has been decided to issue a series of "Historical Contributions." Through the courtesy of Dr. Thomas M. Owen, Secretary of the Alabama Historical Society, No. 1 of this series consists of the within paper, prepared for the Transactions of the Society long prior to my appointment named above. It is hoped that other numbers will follow from time to time as they can be prepared, and means provided for their publication.
The reports which appear below are important to a correct appreciation of the movement.
The committee on Historical Society made report,* [*Minutes, Oct. 27-28, 2903, pp. 18-19.] through R. R. Morris, who was appointed to act at this session by the Moderator, which was adopted, and is as follows:
Your Historical Committee bets leave to submit the following for your consideration: Our history is irreparably deficient. This is indeed to be regretted. Several causes have contributed to this sad end.
In the first place, we have acted as if we either thought nobody would succeed us or as if we did not care how we might appear in their eyes. The church session has kept almost nothing beyond the merest records. There is nothing of history on its pages. The minutes of the Presbyteries have been published in the most uncertain way, interrupted by many and long intervals. The records of the Jackson Presbytery have gone into ashes in the burning of the house of the stated clerk some years ago. It has not been our privilege to look upon a minute of that body. Her history perished in that one fire. The same fate has befallen the minutes of the McGready records and the Tennessee Presbyteries. Prior to 1863 the McGready records are gone. We have never seen a copy of the McGready Presbytery minutes, nor of the early Tennessee Presbytery. Even the records of the Birmingham Presbytery (old) perished in the flames that consumed the Montezuma University at Bessemer, Ala. These losses are irreparable. They made our history as ragged as it well can be. To add to all this, the older brethren kept no records to amount to anything.
The minutes now in existence are in an uncertain state. They are in such condition that a single fire might ruin us. The Birmingham (new) minutes have not been published for one or more sessions. The Talladega minutes dating back to 1836 are found in two or three manuscript volumes. A fire here would rob us beyond repair. The extant records of the McGready and the Tennessee Presbyteries are exposed to a like peril. The records of the Springville Presbytery were printed for the first eighteen consecutive meetings, then there occurs a break until the thirtyeighth sitting. Since which time it has been regularly printed. The gap makes one of the dangers to that Presbytery.
The question arises, what shall we propose; and we suggest:
1. That you urge your Presbyteries to publish their minutes.
2. That you urge brethren to write more. We want a sketch of every brother and his field.
3. That you devise some plan to publish the old records of the Synod.
4. We recommend that this Synod appoint Rev. J. H. B. Hall Synodical Historian of this Synod. R. R. MORRIS.
The historical committee reported the following,* [*Minutes, Dec. 15-16, 1903, pp. 5-7.] which was adopted:
To the Birmingham Presbytery:
Dear Brothers--As chairman of your historical committee and synodical historian, I submit the following:
I have been actively engaged in an earnest effort to collect, classify and put into tangible form the history and biography of our Presbytery and that of the Synod. It has taken an immense amount of effort to arouse an interest on the subject. I am glad to say that, after many personal appeals and almost countless letters and cards have gone forth, there is now an enlarged measure of concern on the question. Very many important facts and much valuable matter are being rescued from threatened oblivion. I am due thanks in your name to many brethren and friends for their interest and assistance in this endeavor to place our historical treasures and doings beyond the reach of destruction.
1. That you emphasize this matter in your respective fields and solicit and encourage co-operation from all our people.
2. That you once more call upon brethren to write out incidents and reminiscences and deposit the same in the hands of your committee at Birmingham, R. F. D. No. 3, at as early a day as possible.
3. That you tender your thanks to Thomas M. Owen, Director of the Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, for his varied and valuable assistance in this historical work.
J. H. B. HALL,
In conclusion I appeal to all students of history and particularly to all loyal members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Alabama, to lend me the assistance I so much need in prosecuting this work.
JAMES H. B.
(R. F. D., No. 3.)
[The Rev. James Hugh Blair Hall was born Sept. 22, 1855, at Hall's ferry, on the Tennessee river, seven miles east of Madisonville, Monroe county, in East Tennessee, and is the son of Sylvestor Young and Alazannah (Blair) Hall, the grandson of James Wiley and Ruth Margaret (Parks) Hall, and of Rev. James and Jane Gamble (Blair) Blair, and great-grandson of James and Margaret (Wiley) Hall, and of William and Sallie (Simmons) Blair, and great-great-grandson of John Blair and Thomas Rogers, the two last named fighting side by side at King's Mountain. The Halls came from Ireland, and the Blairs were of Scotch origin. His boyhood was spent on a farm. In the fall of 1869 he entered Hiwassee College, of the M. E. church, South, two and one-half miles east of Madisonville, the Rev. J. B. Greiner, of Virginia, being the president and Prof. Benj. C. Graham, of Alabama, his first assistant. Here Mr. Hall remained until the spring of 1872, doing all his preparatory work, the Rev. Frank M. Grace, now of the North Alabama Conference College, Birmingham, having succeeded Prof. Greiner. While here, he made a profession of religion and joined the church. In the fall of 1872, he entered the Loudon high school, of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, located at Loudon, Loudon county, East Tennessee. Here he studied until the spring of 1876, doing his collegiate work. During this period he joined the Hiwassee--now the Knoxville Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a candidate for the ministry. In Sept., 1876, he entered Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tenn., from which he received the A. B. degree, June, 1878. Coming to Alabama, Aug. 28, 1878, he began teaching in the Helena Collegiate Institute, Helena, Ala. With the exception of some five years, he has spent all the intervening time in the school room, having had in his care about two thousand pupils and students. Helena and Highland high school, Highland, Shelby county; Springville, St. Clair county; Pleasant Hill academy, Dallas county; and the Zelosophian academy, Jefferson county, Ala., are the points at which most of this work has been done. He spent one year as the president of Loudon high school, already named. Two of the out of the school room years were spent as pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, Winchester, Tenn., one as such at Gadsden, Ala., and the other two as Synodical evangelist of the Alabama Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. On July 23, 1882, he married Miss Emma C. Gardner, daughter of the Rev. W. C. Gardner and wife Cora Carleton, of the Cumberland Presbyterian church, at Montevallo, the Rev. W. H. Meredith, D.D., officiating. Mr. Hall is an earnest student and has written much. He is the recognized historian of his church in Alabama.--EDITOR.]
In this undertaking I find myself almost entirely destitute of materials the most vital. The records of the various organic bodies have, during those bygone days, been most uncertainly made and preserved. The history of many local churches, if ever made, has been entirely lost. As a rule this has occurred to the first churches planted on Alabama soil, and hence the severity of the loss. Presbyterial records have been given a better chance at life; yet, in at least three instances, the early records have been destroyed by accidental fires. The history of the Alabama Synod so far as that history is found in its minutes, has been preserved with a greater degree of security.
Some eighteen years ago I was elected the stated clerk and treasurer of the synod. This brought into my hands all the existing records for a period of fifty years--from its creation, in 1836 to 1884. I soon discovered that the minutes were in a perilous condition, as the proceedings of several sessions were on detached sheets and others in partial transcription. At the sittings of the Synod in 1883 I brought the matter to the attention of the body. The result was that I was authorized to purchase suitable books and transcribe the records ab initio. In prosecution of this order, I secured two handsome volumes, and, with painstaking, did the work. I soon found omissions, and the loss of the entire records of several sittings. It came to me then as a pleasant duty to supply as far as possible all these deficiencies. It required time, patience and much work to complete this self-imposed task. The results of this extra labor I put into various "historical notes" throughout the volumes. Since 1884, the clerical work has been nicely done and the records carefully preserved. Many of the early ministers kept only imperfect data of their lives and labors, while most of them left no records or notes whatever. Again: if these things were not true, I am a pioneer in this work, inasmuch as it has not hitherto found any historian. In the midst of such surroundings it can be seen how difficult the task set myself. And yet if I do not speak, who will and when?
In crossing the Alleghany Mountains into the great Mississippi Valley immigration formed for itself two center, one in Kentucky, the other in Tennessee--both at that day open territory. These centers came later to be known as the Cumberland and the Green river settlements. Speaking in more modern terms the former was South Kentucky and north Middle Tennessee; the latter is now North Kentucky. The people who settled in this new country were typical Americans, moving down from Virginia and North Carolina. They were largely Presbyterian in faith. Consequently we find the Presbyterian Church one of the first, if not the first, operating in that field. Local churches, presbyteries and finally the Kentucky Synod were organized. Much of the Cumberland country after a while became the home geographically of the Transylvania Presbytery of this great church. "At the sessions of the Kentucky Synod, October, 1802, the Transylvania Presbytery was divided, and the Cumberland Presbytery formed, including the Green River and Cumberland countries."
A most gracious revival of religion swept the American continent, as far as settlement had gone, beginning in 1797 and finding its flood tide in 1800. It is generally referred to in American ecclesiastical history as "the revival of 1800." This movement, like all others, social, political and religious, had both its friends and its enemies--its helpers and its hinderers. In this new country many demands, new and pressing, were made for church existence and polity. A new order of things was growing out of the pioneer progress. The old order was inadequate and not adapted to the modern needs. The Rev. David Rice, the first Presbyterian minister who settled in Kentucky, in his sixty-eighth year advised that his church, owing to the great demand for public expounding of the gospel, select laymen of intelligence and piety and encourage them to apply for admission into the presbytery. This seemed to him the only practical solution of the problem of giving these thousands the gospel. In the new presbytery created by the division of the Transylvania--the Cumberland--there were ten ministers, five of whom were in favor of the revival, while the remaining five were its opposers. Soon these became known respectively as the Revivalists and the Anti-Revivalists. Here is the entering wedge. It is not my purpose, however, to discuss the causes leading to the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Suffice it to say, they were both doctrinal and economic. I am but giving a few facts with their dates--a bit of history. The tension grew so strong that finally, Dec. 5, 1805, the Cumberland Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church was dissolved. Those who opposed the revival were transferred to the old Transylvania Presbytery. The Revivalists were left out wholly and summarily. Prior to the dissolution several other men favorable to this party had been regularly inducted by it into the sacred office.
These men, having now no ecclesiastical relation, faced this question: "What shall we do?" They did not delay in getting and giving their answer. Practically the next day, Dec. 6, 1805, they formed themselves into "a council." They agreed to go not then into any organic body; but that they would continue to preach the gospel to their fellows, and administer the ordinances, and do all the work of "the man of God" in those new, hard, destitute districts. In a word, they would do nothing of a presbyterial nature. They hoped for a friendly adjustment of all differences. For this they labored earnestly and patiently. More than four years elapsed in this fruitless hope and vain endeavor. "The council"--born practically December the sixth, 1805--was the first step--though not so intended--toward the organization of the present Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Finally, February 4, 1810, the Cumberland Presbytery was organized. It will be noted that this body had an absolutely independent existence. It had no relation to, connection with, or dependence upon any body of Christians in the world ecclesiastically. This date marks the birthday of the church of whose doings in Alabama I am writing. Its birthplace was the home of the Rev. Samuel McAdoo, in Dixon county, Tennessee. The founders were the Rev. Messrs. Finis Ewing, Samuel King, and Samuel McAdoo. These men had all been regularly inducted into the ministry by the old Cumberland Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church. They were all three men of fine native ability, good education, deep piety, and indomitable energy. The name was a mere accident of the locality in which the organization occurred. The people who had received "the tidings of great joy" at the mouth of these devout men before the formation of the new church now heard them all the more joyfully. In their log cabins, in their rude school houses, in the groves these evangels of peace and life were welcomed and heard by the vanguards of Western expansion and culture. "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" greeted them constantly.
From its Dixon county home, the new church began its radiation. Literally, it had the world for its field. The growth was immediate, rapid, and abiding. The preachers one and all were men of the people, for the people. This the time and place demanded. Before all things, the heralds of the cross in this new land must be orthodox and practical. The preachers did not, as a rule, allow any day to pass without their preaching somewhere to the thickly multiplying new settlements. Wherever they could call the people together they told "the old, old story." Truly, "they went everywhere preaching the word." Underneath all this effort, the organization of local churches went surely on.
So rapidly and so steadily did the young denomination enlarge that in 1813 the one and sole presbytery divided itself into three, preparatory to the formation of a synod, viz: The Cumberland, the Elk, and the Logan. These three presbyteries were the constituent members of the synod, which became at once the highest organic body in the church. Naturally it was named the Cumberland Synod, and throughout our history is known as the old or General Synod. The Logan Presbytery, comprised the Kentucky district and the regions beyond; the Cumberland, the Nashville and indefinite eastern and western fields; and the Elk, southern Middle Tennessee and the unlimited territories south, embracing, of course, the present fair and fertile Alabama. It will be borne in mind, however, that at this date there was no Alabama. This history has been given because it will help us in knowing by what authority the work of the Cumberlands was inaugurated and performed in the future State of Alabama.
Perhaps a little Alabama history here will the better enable the reader to understand the introduction and growth of the church in the State. I find this so well done by the Rev. B. W. McDonnold, D.D., that I quote him here:
"The country was all claimed by Georgia under its original charter from England. Several efforts were made by Georgia to place colonies on this soil, but as the whole land was in the hands of Indians and Spaniards, who claimed the country, it generally cost the Georgians their lives to settle there. * * * *
"Then the United States bought Georgia's claim to this country, but Spaniards and Indians still had not only their claims, but also what is called 'nine points in law'--possession. A territorial government was, however, established, and all the country was called 'Mississippi,' and continued to be so designated till 1817.
"In 1805, the Indian claim to a small portion of what is now Madison county, Alabama, was purchased, and settlements were established and the Indians withdrawn in less than two years afterward. In 1813, the long-promised, long-delayed evacuation of South Alabama by the Spaniards was accomplished. In 1814 the Creek claim to that portion of Alabama was extinguished, but hostile Creeks still roamed over it and made it unsafe for Americans.
"In 1816 the country east of Cotton Gin Port, on the Tombigbee river, was brought from the Chickasaw Indians. In 1818, the first Territorial legislature assembled, Alabama being then severed from Mississippi. In that legislature there was but one senator. Some of the counties represented had in their elections cast but ten votes. There were just three settlements of Americans in the Territory--one centering at Mobile, one at Huntsville, and one on the Tombigbee river. There were hostile Creek Indians, and a Creek war on Alabama soil as late as 1836. The way to the American settlements in South Alabama was open and free from danger only by the sea, though Georgians and Carolinians sometimes took their chances and traveled along the land route from the east. Travel from Tennessee and Kentucky was sometimes accomplished on rafts down the Tombigbee, but there was very little emigration by that dangerous route." [Rev. B. W. McDonnold's History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (1888), pp. 155-6.]
As the tide of immigration flowed from Kentucky and Tennessee west and south, it brought with it may who had found Jesus precious under Cumberland Presbyterian influence, and many of whom had cast their lot with the young church; while the influx from Georgia and the Carolinas knew nothing of these people. As a result, a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher was not long in finding a cordial welcome on his arrival in any neighborhood, particularly in North and Middle Alabama. Places were found ready for preaching, and gladly accepted. These led to monthly appointments and also to camp-meetings. The former were seed sowing and pastoral; the latter, seasons of harvesting. Closely on the heels of these followed the organization of societies or individual churches. This was the order of development in the work everywhere. Indeed, it was, in large measure, the course pursued by all the churches laboring in this newly opened country.
It may very readily be seen how difficult it is to give, at this late day,--and owing to a carelessness for dates amounting almost to contempt,--definite localities, precise dates, and exact numbers. One can give only such facts as he, after long and diligent search, may have unearthed. The work of a pioneer historian is easy only to him who has never been called to wander through a wilderness of tradition.
I have not been fortunate enough to ascertain the name of the first preacher of our faith in the State. The date and the place are likewise unknown. They all belong back in the unrecorded period. Most likely he was "a visiting brother." The place was most probably some "new comer's" log cabin, and the hour an evening one lighted by the "pine torch" or "the tallow candle." The auditors were "the settlers from the States," then called "squatters."
In the formation of "the council" it will be remembered the ministers, as well as the probationers--licentiates and candidates, were subject to its direction and control. These orders were many times very inclusive as related both to fields and duties; embracing many counties and often large tracts of different States and territories, requiring many months of time to complete the hundreds of miles made almost without exception on horseback; and every form of ministerial service. Usually they traveled in pairs--an older and a younger man, an ordained preacher and a probationer. This was not always possible as the number of the former was too limited. The orders given generally looked, in their incipiency, to the formation of "a circuit," or "a mission." In later days all such work took the name of "home mission fields."
Of such efforts, as it relates to Alabama, we have not records prior to 1807. At its meeting this year the council ordered the Rev. Robert Bell, then a licentiate, to the new settlements about Hunt's Spring--afterwards Huntsville--the first town in North Alabama. "Within a year or two [of 1805] the settlement had begun to rival St. Stephens in importance." [Brown's History of Alabama, p. 98.] Nothing is known of Mr. Bell's operations under this direction. His home, at the time, was Bean's creek near Salem, Tenn. His work at most was to spy out the land--a sort of a tour of inspection. The next year, 1808--the same year in which Madison, the second county in the present State lines, was formed,--the council directed the Rev. Thomas Calhoun, at the time only a candidate, to the Huntsville field. He was a Tennessean, and a young man. His father lived near Big Spring, Wilson county, not far from the present historic Lebanon. It is said that he preached in Mr. John Hunt's house before it was finished. He, no doubt, followed in the steps of Mr. Bell, holding and enlarging the work. It must not be forgotten that their work was largely but introductory and preparatory. In the year 1809, the council placed the Rev. Robert Donnell, then a candidate, in this locality. He was at work here when the Cumberland Presbytery--the Cumberland Presbyterian Church--was organized, Feb. 4, 1810. He was formally received from the council into the presbytery March 22, 1810, and orders given him "to ride once around the lower circuit." This became the chosen scene of his life work. He was ordained by the Cumberland Presbytery Feb. 19, 1813. He was emphatically the pioneer preacher of his church in North Alabama. From being a candidate at his coming he remained until the day of his death, being one of the foremost ministers in his church and one of the ablest divines of his day. His ashes quietly sleep in the cemetery at beautiful Athens, which was his home for many years. He held the first camp-meeting ever held in Alabama. It was held near where Huntsville now stands so queenly, before any town was there. "Timber grew thick around the big spring," says Dr. McDonnold, "though the camp-meeting was not at that, but an another spring a mile below." [McDonnold, p. 89.] He preached the first sermon ever heard in Huntsville. Out of his camp-meeting the old Canaan congregation grew. He held, at a very early day, a camp-meeting where Mooresville is located. The people were then called "squatters," for as yet there had been no land sales. Meridian, afterwards Meridianville, was one of his early churches. He was one of the first preachers who labored at Hazle [sic: Hazel] Green. In 1809, in company with the Rev. Robert Bell, he preached occasionally at Athens. Many who professed faith in these and other of Mr. Donnell's meetings afterwards removed to Arkansas and elsewhere and became the nuclei of Cumberland Presbyterianism in those regions. Mr. Donnell is the man to whom, more than to any other, the church owes her success in North Alabama. His labors appear to have been almost unlimited. Dr. McDonnold says: "Our old churches all over that country were planted by him." [McDonnold, p. 156]. At the initial meeting of the General Synod, 1813, he was made one of the committee of three whose duty it was to formulate a Confession of Faith for the church, and report at the meeting of the Synod the following year. This duty he discharged with fidelity and credit.
In the minutes of the Cumberland Presbytery in session at Sugg's Creek, Wilson county, Tenn., April 7, 1812, I find that Alexander Wilson, a ruling elder, was present as the representative from Huntsville, Hermon and Kelly's Creek churches. As I have no knowledge whatever of any other Huntsville at this primitive day, it must have been our little city. If I am correct, Mr. Wilson has the distinction of being the first elder from Alabama whose name comes through the records who ever occupied a seat in presbytery.
Mr. Donnell was very much aided in his early labors by the Rev. James Brown Porter, whose efforts were mainly evangelistic, and expended chiefly in Middle Tennessee and North Alabama. He was, in many respects, an admirable yoke-fellow for the mighty Donnell. Such men could not labor in vain. At all their meetings glorious successes were achieved.
It will be held in mind that I am speaking of event prior to and including the year 1813, when the first synod was erected. The Elk Presbytery, formed that year, was the first presbyterial organization any part of whose bounds embraced Alabama soil. I transcribe here in extenso the order providing for said body:
"Resolved, That a part of the present Cumberland Presbytery shall be and is hereby directed to constitute a presbytery known by the name of the Elk Presbytery. The boundaries are as follows, to wit: Beginning at the mouth of Duck river, thence a due north course to the top of the Tennessee ridge, thence eastwardly along the top of said ridge to Cumberland mountain, thence south to the Tennessee river, thence easterly, southwardly and westwardly to undefined boundaries, to be composed of the following members, to-wit: The Rev. Messrs. William McGee, Samuel King, James Brown Porter, Robert Bell, and Robert Donnell, to meet at Mt. Carmel meeting house [near the present town of Winchester, Tenn.] on the first Tuesday in August next [Aug. 3]. Mr. McGee, or, in case of his absence, Mr. Bell, is hereby directed to open the Presbytery by a sermon. The following persons shall be considered under the direction of said Presbytery, to-wit: John Carnahan, James Stewart, and Elisah Price." [Minutes of Cumberland Presbytery.].
Of these men only one--Mr. Donnell--is positively known to have had his home permanently, at the time, inside Alabama lines; Mr. Carnahan's home was in Arkansas, yet he was a member of this far off body. It seems fitting here to speak of one who, most likely, was the first to enter the ministry from the Alabama field. I quote Dr. McDonnold:
"In 1817, a family that had just arrived from South Carolina, visited Donnell's camp-meeting at the Meridian church [Meridianville], and several of its members were converted. One of these was a boy seventeen years old, who from that day helped to preach Jesus to the people of North Alabama. His name was A. J. Steele." [McDonnold, p. 156.].
Mr. Steele, if not the first, is among the first, Alabama ministerial fruits. He lived a long and useful and honored life, dying Nov. 9, 1887, in his eighty-eighty year. He was an uncle of the Rev. Isaac Donnell Steele, present pastor (1903) of the First Cumberland Presbyterian church, Birmingham.
Dr. McDonnold says: "John Carnahan and Steele rode the circuit together, in 1819, through North Alabama, attending all of Donnell's camp-meetings. A little later John Morgan and Albert Gibson joined the band of Alabama preachers. There cam other noble laborers, and North Alabama bloomed like the garden of the Lord." [McDonnold, p. 156.]. It is said the distance round Mr. Morgan's circuit was four hundred miles. Mr. Steele states that he established the first year three new camp grounds. By the way, these camp grounds with their camp-meetings were in those days what in modern times we call chautauquas and summer assemblies. They were centers and occasions of assembling for social, religious and spiritual quickening. In view of what has been said it is not strange that many strong churches were energetically laboring in the State prior to 1820; and the same was equally true of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.
Southward the tide of settlers rolled, bearing with it additional Cumberlands. About this time Pleasant Valley, Roupe's Valley, Jones' Valley, and Cahaba Valley, down to old Cahaba, near the present Selma,--all Middle Alabama--began receiving thousands of citizens. The country east of Cotton Gin Port--the Alabama side of the Tombigbee--near the present town of Aberdeen, Mississippi, was, likewise, filling with pioneers. As early as 1817, but one year after the purchase of the port from the Indians, pioneer Cumberlands from that place asked the Elk Presbytery to send them a minister. It is said that five hundred names were attached to one petition. Mr. Donnell was requested by the Presbytery to go to their assistance. For satisfactory reasons he did not comply. The following year, 1818, the Ladies' Missionary Board of the Elk Presbytery sent to that field and a part of the adjacent Indian territory west of the Tombigbee the Revs. Samuel King and William Moor. These good men toiled for both the whites and the Indians, and so faithfully that they reported at the ensuing meeting of their presbytery compliance with the instructions given them by the Missionary Board. Men in those years usually did what they were directed by their church councils.
The three presbyteries, Nashville, Elk and Logan, composed the synod until its meeting, Oct. 19, 1819, when the McGee Presbytery was formed. This body, therefore, enjoys the distinction of being the first daughter of the old synod.
Dr. McDonnold, whom I must measurably follow in all these matters, since he is our only historian to date, says:
"The Elk Presbytery, in 1820, ordered two of its members to establish a circuit in South Alabama, but, for satisfactory reasons they both failed to comply." [McDonnold, p. 157.]. Dr. McDonnold had access, doubtless, to the minutes of the Elk Presbytery, a help I have not had at command; and this, it will be noted, was a presbyterial act. The names of these brethren are not known. Distance, lack of roads, no bridges or boats, dangers from various quarters, as well as excess of work at home, might one, or more, or all have been assigned as the grounds of their non-compliance. Those were days of daring and hardship.
"The four presbyteries already named composed the synod until its session in the year 1821. At this meeting four new additions were made, viz: Alabama, Anderson, Lebanon and Tennessee. The minutes of this sitting, unfortunately, have been lost. The meeting, however, was held in the town of Russellville, Logan county, Kentucky, Oct. 16, et seq., 1821. This was certainly one of the most eventful sittings of the old synod, and it is consequently all the more to be regretted that the records have perished. The next source of information would be the minutes of the presbytery itself; but these, if ever in existence, have been lost also. These losses, it will be seen, create an impassable barrier in the way of acquiring some facts which would be highly valuable as they are necessary in giving the story of the Church in her first operations in the State. The old people have all gone and consequently the facts cannot be supplied form memory. In fact, there are few, if any, now living who have any knowledge whatever of this early organization, which herein, and in my history of the Church, I shall call "The Alabama Presbytery, original." The writer, who has spent the last twenty-five years in Middle and South Alabama, does not recollect ever to have heard any one mention or refer to its existence as a matter of either personal or traditional knowledge. But a few years remove these human landmarks, and hence the necessity for written forms.
It will be seen, from this history, that the Alabama Presbytery, original, could not be younger then the fifth nor older than the eighth presbyterial child in the Cumberland family. It was, beyond question, the second whose bounds embraced Alabama soil.
The precise date of the formation of this presbytery I have ascertained from the Rev. Robert Donnell. It was October 18, 1821. [Donnell's Thoughts, p. 255.]. How valuable the habit of making historic notes! Our thanks are due to all those who, in the times gone, have in any department of human activity, kept fresh the foot-prints of man's progress.
Under the circumstances, it is impossible to give with certainty the number and the names of the ministers comprising its charter members. They were, most likely, only the Rev. Messrs. Robert Bell, Benjamin Lockhart, and William Moor. There may have been others, but it is doubtful. If others united with them after the organization it is unknown. Whether or not there were any probationers is also not known. All the first men, of course, were from beyond the State confines.
The reader will at once see that it is equally impossible to define "the metes and bounds" of the presbytery. It, most probably, included the territory south of the mountains south of the Tennessee river, and west, embracing much of eastern Mississippi. This last section was occupied largely by the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes of Indians. This is in harmony with the policy of those days, which was to form a new presbytery just as soon as a sufficient number of ministers could be found in any given field. This was, for various reasons, the wisest course to be pursued. It manned the territory, it brought the gospel to the people, it saved time and labor expended in long journeyings to ecclesiastical courts. I find myself confirmed in these opinions by the following history.
The old Cumberland Synod, in session at Suggs Creek meeting-house, Wilson county, Tenn., Oct. 19, 1819, adopted the following:
"Whereas, Several letters have been directed to the Moderator informing the synod that a number of societies have been formed, the object of which is to raise funds for the purpose of establishing schools for the literary and religious instruction of the Chickasaw and the Choctaw tribes of Indians, and appointing the ordained ministers of this synod their board of trustees. Therefore,
"Resolved, That this appointment be accepted." [Records of the Synod.]
This is the first budding of the systematic conduct of missions in the church. It is pleasant to reflect that it had its inception in that presbytery whose arms first enclosed any portion of the State. It is also gratifying to know that Mr. Bell, one of her members, was a prime, if not the prime, mover in this glorious work. He prepared the constitution of the church's first missionary society. As we shall see just a little later, he holds the first place on her long roll of regularly accredited missionaries. Moreover, it is due to our women that this work received its earliest and most earnest support. All honor to them!
We are now prepared for the reception of the following extract taken from the report of the committee on the state of religion at the same meeting of the synod, Oct. 19, 1819:
"By the heaven-born charity and zeal of some female members of the church, funds have been raised, which have enabled the Missionary Board to employ several missionaries a considerable part of their time, by which your bounds have been much enlarged in the south and west. This has multiplied calls and cries to our Presbyterial and Missionary Boards for help. The people desire the word and ordinances. Among the most impressive calls we hear is one from the tawny sons of the woods of the south."
Dr. Beard, in speaking of this period, says: [Beard's Biographical Sketches, vol. ii, pp. 99-101.]
"It seems that in consequence of the opening condition of things, and the state of feeling developed in the Church, the plan was conceived of a school in the Chickasaw Nation, which should combine at once instruction in letters and religion, together with domestic, agricultural, and mechanical pursuits.
"Accordingly, on the 11th day of September, 1820, the following articles of agreement were entered into by the Revs. Samuel King, Robert Bell [grandfather of the venerable Rev. C. H. Bell, D.D., Lebanon, Tenn.], and James Stewart as the representatives of the Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Missions, which consisted pas seen above] of the ordained ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, on the one part, and the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation on the other part:
"'Articles of Agreement between Samuel King, James Stewart, and Robert Bell, missionaries, and the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation, viz:
"'Article 1. We, the said Samuel King, James Stewart, and Robert Bell, on the part of the Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary Society, do promise to teach the people of the said Nation reading, writing, and arithmetic, and a knowledge of agriculture and the mechanical arts. Also those who resort to them for instruction shall be boarded and clothed gratuitously, provided they are not able to clothe themselves.
"'Article 2. We promise that we will not take more land than will be necessary for the support of the institution. And should we leave the institution, the houses and land which we have occupied shall revert to the Indians.
"'Article 3. We, the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation, on the part of said nation, do permit said society and missionaries to come into our nation to teach our young people.
"'Article 4. We do hereby bind ourselves to allow said society as much land as may be necessary for the support of their missionaries, which land they shall hold as long as they continue to teach our children.'
"These articles were signed by Messrs, King, Stewart and Bell, on the part of the Missionary Board, and, on the part of the Chickasaw, by Stako Tookey, King of the Nation; and Tisho Mingo, Appa Suntubba, Samuel Sealy, William McGelbra, James Colbert and Levi Colbert, chiefs.
"In the month of November (1820) as school was opened under the name of Charity Hall, within the limits of what is now the State of Mississippi, about seven miles from the present city of Aberdeen, and three miles from Cotton Gin Port. Mr. Bell was appointed superintendent. He taught a few weeks in a private room furnished by one of the chiefs (Levi Colbert) until suitable buildings were prepared for the use of the school. The buildings erected were plain and cheap, costing in all about $1,500. Thirty acres of land were cleared and put under cultivation. The Indians learned with some facility, and labored with as much readiness as would have been expected. The government of the United States contributed liberally toward paying for the buildings, and also made an annual contribution of $300 or $400 toward keeping up the school."
I have made this somewhat lengthy quotation for a double purpose:
First, as showing the extent of the Alabama Presbytery, original. From this history Mr. Bell began his school November, 1820, before the presbytery was formed, Oct., 1821. He taught at Charity Hall until sometime between 1830 and 1832. If he resided in the bounds of the presbytery, of which he was then a member, and which is most highly probable, he was near the western boundary line. Consequently, as heretofore said, much of the State of Mississippi was included in the Alabama Presbytery, original. The Rev. Benjamin Lockhart, another member of the presbytery, lived in what is now Clayton's Cove, in the northern part of Jefferson county. He was likely near the eastern line. The Rev. William Moor, who settled and lived and died at Pleasant Hill, twenty miles south of Selma, Dallas county, was another member. The line between Dallas and Lowndes counties divides the town of Pleasant Hill. Mr. Moor lived on the Lowndes side. He was doubtless near the southern limit. This is, perhaps, as definitely as the field can be described. Speaking freely: It was bounded on the north by the mountains south of the Tennessee Valley and east, south and west by undefined limits. If it did not extend beyond Alabama lines, it was the first presbytery ever formed wholly within the State. It was a large field, and, in many respects, a dark, difficult and dangerous work. These things, however, had very little influence on men in those days. Heroic times sought and found heroic men.
Second, as showing how the men were employed. Mr. Bell's work is worthy of especial remark. He was, I repeat, the first man who, properly speaking, ever accepted missionary work in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. His work was a most valuable one--one whose golden harvests are still ripening. It is truly sweet to know that his name heads the list of those good and great men who have lived and labored in our own "dear Alabama."
Inasmuch as the records of the presbytery are gone, nothing can be learned of the development of the church during this time. It is safe to say that the workers were busy sowing the seed and fostering the buds of congregations. There were, also, transient toilers--advance heralds--here doing good and gracious service--gracious, indeed, in the sense that it was "without money and without price." Regular meetings were held at various points as often as surroundings would permit.
As giving a glimpse of the field in 1821, I allow Messrs. King and Patton, the field officers, to speak in the following quotations:
Says Mr. King:
"In April, 1821, I was ordered by the presbytery to form a circuit on the south side of the Tennessee river, in the counties of Morgan, Lawrence and Franklin, in Alabama. I had to hunt my own preaching places, and make my own appointments. The country was all newly settled, having been lately purchased from the Indians. Here I found many good Cumberland Presbyterians. I formed a circuit of our weeks' extent, with regular daily appointments. I succeeded in getting up three camp-meetings, one in Morgan county [then Cataco county]. Here I was assisted by the Rev. James Stewart, the Rev. James Moore, and my father [the Rev. Samuel King.] * * * The results of those three camp-meetings were one hundred and fifty professions. Besides these, there were a good many professions at my circuit appointments. I never failed to reach my appointments. I received in compensation from the people sixty dollars. During all this time I was only a candidate."
Mr. King, continuing, says:
"South Alabama was newly settled, mainly with people from the Carolinas and Georgia. They had never seen a Cumberland Presbyterian before our visit. What they had heard of us was from our enemies; so we had to fight our way against prejudice and opposition. We traveled separately, and never failed, either of us, to reach our appointments. We often had to swim the rivers. We preached every day. God blessed our labors. We gathered societies under a written compact to organize regular congregations as soon as an ordained minister could be had for the purpose. This was the beginning of the Church in South Alabama. On our way to the meeting of presbytery in the spring we swam five streams in one day. Hundreds of persons petitioned for us to be sent back. For this winter tour I received nothing." [King's MS., quoted by McDonnold, p. 158.]
Mr. Patton furnished me the following items:
"In the fall of 1821, R. D. King, son of the Rev. Samuel King, was licensed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Daniel Patton was ordered to accompany him to South Alabama. We entered the field at the head of Jones' Valley. [At that time there were only two Cumberland Presbyterian preachers in South Alabama.] Our first business was to form a circuit--seek out a people to preach to. The country was being rapidly settled up. In crossing from valley to valley, our travel was on the Indian trails. The circuit was formed--no time was lost. It required six weeks to go round; finding very little encouragement. Making the Rev. Benjamin Lockhart's, at the head of the Jones' Valley, the starting point, thence down Jones' Valley and Roup's Valley on to the falls of the Warrior river, where was a town of pine boards called Tuscaloosa; thence south and southeast to Cahaba; thence across the Alabama to the most easterly settlement, where brother William Moor and a few others were forming a settlement [now Pleasant Hill]; thence north by east to Selma on the Alabama river; thence up Pleasant Valley to the head; thence over the ridge to Canoe Creek, where was being builded St. Clair, the county seat of the same name. Here my first preach was made, in a little grocery. I stood by a whiskey barrel, upon the head of which I laid my books. I was treated gentlemanly; no whiskey was drank. From the last named point--St. Clair--we would our way through the Shades of Death [Shades Creek] to Elyton. Now, remember, we traveled three weeks apart after we had completed the circuit." [Manuscript letter.]
This, it will be seen, falls within the period and compass already given, and shows us graphically two other workers and their action. They are, above question, the first organizers of systematic work in this beautiful field.
The only recorded--the only official--information that can be gained is secured from the records of the session of the synod meeting, October 15, 1822. The Rev. Robert Bell was present in that gathering and enrolled as a member of the Alabama Presbytery, original; the Revs. B. Lockhart and W. Moor were noted as the absentees of the same body. From the same source we read: "The Revs. Richard Beard, Alexander Chapman and John L. Dillard were appointed a committee to examine the minutes of the Alabama Presbytery, with their respective elders." The report of this committee does not appear on the record of the old synod. It is presumed the minutes of the presbytery were present in the synod, and that they were duly reviewed. The committee on the state of religion, in its report to the synod the same year, says: "The number of conversions in the Alabama Presbytery, fifty." A very good harvest, it may be said, for five men in those days, three of whom were a large part of their time unavoidably secularized; when the material was of a difficult kind; when the state of society was primitive; and, when we were a small people, and in some instances and quarters, little respected even by good people in the older and more influential denominations.
"An incident taken from the manuscript autobiography of the Rev. R. D. King will suffice to illustrate the state of things in South Alabama when Cumberland Presbyterians began their work in that field. The State legislature then met at Cahaba, and it was in session while King was there. Several of its members knew King, and invited him to preach for them, which he did. As there was no house of worship in the place, the three denominations of the town each had procured the use of the State-house for one Sabbath per month. This left one Sabbath unoccupied. By a formal and official resolution the legislature invited King to take possession of the house for that vacant Sabbath. He accepted their invitation, and left an appointment. When the time for his appointment arrived, and he was on his way to the place of preaching, the resident minister of the Presbyterian Church came driving rapidly past him in his buggy. When King, who was walking, entered the hall, which was then thronged with people, this Presbyterian preacher, whose name was Sloss, was up lining out a hymn. After song and prayer, Mr. Sloss announced a text and proceeded to preach. The sergeant-at-arms of the legislature came to King and said: "Sir, with your permission, I will put him out.' King, however, begged him not to interfere. Mr. Sloss gave a horrid caricature of the doctrines, the practices, and the ignorance of the Cumberland Presbyterians, and warned everybody against having anything to do with them. After the benediction, King announced preaching for the afternoon. When the hour arrived, he had a crowded hall, and there was a solemn and precious meeting without the least allusion to Mr. Sloss or his caricature of our people. When Mr. Sloss came to his own appointment the next Sabbath, his wife was his only auditor. He tried one more time to fill his regular day, and again his wife was his only hearer, the members of his own church reprobating his conduct as much as others. Then he closed out his work in Cahaba." [McDonnold, pp. 159-160.]
The next authentic information is obtained from the minutes of the old synod, virtually the General Assembly, in 1823. These records, by the way, were lost from our history until recently when they were discovered by the Rev. John V. Stephens, D.D., professor ecclesiastical history, Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tennessee. The synod held its session at Russellville, Kentucky, Oct. 21, et seq. From this source it is learned that the Rev. R. Bell was present as a member from the Alabama Presbytery, while the Rev. Messrs. John Forbes, William Moor, and Benjamin Lockhart were the absentees. Here we have the name of another of the members of the Alabama Presbytery, viz: John Forbes. Dr. Stephens, in a letter to me, says:
"Committees were appointed to examine the minutes of the various presbyteries, but none was appointed to examine the minutes of the Alabama Presbytery, perhaps for the reason that no minutes were there from this presbytery."
The Rev. R. Donnell was chairman of the committee on the state of religion. This committee gives, in its report, statistics of the various presbyteries except the Alabama.
On Friday, Oct. 24, 1823, the synod adopted the following:
"Whereas, The members of the Alabama Presbytery live remote from each other and are separated by water courses difficult to pass in time of high water.
"Resolved, That said presbytery be dissolved, and that Rev. Messrs. Robert Bell and John Forbes of the Alabama Presbytery and John Malloy and J. C. Smith of the Tennessee Presbytery constitute a presbytery to be known by the name of Bigby [Tombigbee] Presbytery at Abner Boan's in Monroe county, State of Mississippi, on the 24th of January next, including the following boundaries, viz: Beginning at the mouth of the Mobile river, thence up said river to the mouth of the Black Warrior to the road leading from Florence to Tuscaloosa, thence with said road to Tennessee Presbytery line, thence with said line to the Tennessee State line, thence with said line to the Mississippi river, thence south to the undefined boundaries; that Robert Bell be the first moderator, and, in case of his absence, John Forbes. The Rev Messrs. William Moor and Benjamin Lockhart, with the remaining bounds of the Alabama Presbytery, be attached to the Tennessee Presbytery, and that the minutes of said presbytery, with the licentiates and candidates belong to the Tennessee Presbytery, except Daniel Patton who shall be attached to the Elk Presbytery."--Minutes of the Cumberland Synod, 1823.
"On the 24th of October, 1823, by the authority of synod, the Alabama Presbytery, owing to the remote situation of its members from each other, the difficulty of meeting in time of high water, etc., was dissolved, and a part of its members, with two from the Tennessee Presbytery, were appointed to constitute the Bigby [Tombigbee] Presbytery. The balance of the members of the Alabama were attached to the Tennessee Presbytery." [Donnell's Thoughts, p. 256]
On these paragraphs the following remarks may be made:
1. It gives the date of the extinction of the Alabama Presbytery, original.
2. There were four members of the Alabama Presbytery, original, at the time of its dissolution, viz: The Revs. R. Bell, J. Forbes, Wm. Moor, and B. Lockhart.
3. Mr. Forbes appears as an addition to the charter members, whether by synodic or presbyterial act is not known.
4. Messrs. B. Lockhart and W. Moor became members of the Tennessee Presbytery.
5. The Revs. R. Bell and J. Forbes became factors in the Bigby Presbytery--two of its charter members. Mr. Bell was appointed by the synod first moderator of the new presbytery, Mr. Forbes being named as his alternate.
6. There must have been at least one meeting since the minutes are to be given into custody of the Tennessee Presbytery. The writer, however, knows nothing of said meeting or meetings. The records are doubtless destroyed with the early minutes of the Tennessee Presbytery when the latter were burned.
7. The same remark is rendered necessary since reference is made to licentiates and candidates. These could come in only by presbyterial act, unless given in the act creating the presbytery, or by subsequent change of presbyterial lines.
8. All this comports with what has been said regarding the bounds and the work, and the difficulties of the Alabama Presbytery, original.
In keeping with these facts the records of the synod, meeting at Cane Creek, near Fayetteville, Lincoln county, Tennessee, October 19, 1824, register Mr. Bell as a member of the Bigby and Messrs. Lockhart and Moor as members of the Tennessee Presbytery.
Messrs. Lockhart and Moor remained in the then new State and pressed their work. Others, mostly workers of a somewhat transient kind, were doubtless in the field aiding. These two men, be it remembered, were our fixities--our denominational dependence. They held the field until the reorganization of the presbytery. Thanks be to these good, self-denying, self-sacrificing men! Blessings on their names! They cannot--cannot--die! "The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance!" Let their church never forget her debt of gratitude to the men who have so heroically planted her banner in the fields at home and in the lands afar off.
Dr. McDonnold, p. 157, disposes of the Alabama Presbytery, original, in the following manner:
"In 1821 the General Synod appointed certain preachers to go to South Alabama and organize a presbytery. There were candidates for the ministry who wanted to settle in that field, and it was believed that a presbytery might soon secure a local supply of ministers; but this attempt to form a presbytery composed entirely of non-resident ministers was a failure. A quorum never met."
I have submitted the records. These, I suppose, will be regarded official. The doctor is certainly in error in reference to the residence of at least two of these ministers.
The session of the General Synod, 1823, held at Russellville, Ky., Oct. 21, et seq., made provision for the Bigbee [Tombigbee] Presbytery. This was in harmony with the reigning policy--a presbytery as early as there appears reasonable prospect of its success. This new presbytery would occupy mainly Mississippi soil. Its eastern limits would lie within Alabama, embracing the northwest corner of the State. For some cause, doubtless satisfactory, the presbytery failed to formally organize upon the day and at the place appointed. This is the third presbyterial body whose limits should hold any part of Alabama. As it was never organically in existence, it might be called "The Tombigbee Presbytery, provisional." Nothing at all is known of its character.
The dissolution of the Alabama Presbytery, original, left the Revs. B. Lockhart and W. Moor laboring within the bounds of the Columbia--later the Mississippi--later still the Union--now the Alabama--Synod.
Sometime during the spring of 1822, Messrs. J. W. Dickey and John Williams, both licensed preachers in the Elk Presbytery, entered Middle Alabama.
These all made Elyton--then the metropolis of Jones' Valley, near the present city of Birmingham--their center of operations--their radial point. They spent, in circuit riding, some two years in this field and in South Alabama. Messrs. Lockhart and Moor were, of course, busy in their respective circles.
In conversation with the Rev. Peter Harden, at the semi-centennial meeting of the Alabama Synod, held at Cross Plains--now Piedmont--October, 1886, he said:
"Shiloh [Leeds] was the first congregation ever organized in Middle Alabama. The date of its birth is 1820 or 1821. Enon was formed at about the same time; I think, October, 1821. These were both organized by brother Lockhart."
From its records, I find that Hopewell, three miles south of Bessemer, was organized by Mr. Lockhart and others October 21, 1823, three days before the Alabama Presbytery, original, was dissolved. In like manner I find that Revs. Lockhart and Williams organized Mt. Calvary, in Clayton's Cove, April, 1824. There were other churches, but I have been unable, after diligent search, to ascertain their names, their location, the date of their organization or by whom.
The Elk Presbytery, at her spring session, 1824, appointed a commission whose duty it was to proceed to Marion, South Alabama, and ordain the young men Dickey and Williams. This commission was composed of the Revs. Albert G. Gibson, Benjamin Lockhart, William Moor, and A. J. Steele. These all, at the time appointed, proceeded to Marion and formed a presbytery for the discharge of the duty assigned them by electing Mr. Moor moderator, and Mr. Gibson clerk. Here, June 1, 1824, J. W. Dickey and J. Williams were solemnly ordained and set apart to the work of the ministry. The ordination sermon was delivered by the Rev. A. G. Gibson, the Moderator presiding and giving the charge. The prayer of consecration was offered by Mr. Steele. This ordination was the first that ever occurred at the hands of the Cumberlands in Middle or South Alabama. It took place in the home of old brother Alexander George, a pioneer and veteran Cumberland, who resided on Bogue Chitto creek, Perry county, distant only a little way from Marion, then known as Muckle's Ridge. In those days such meetings as this were called "intermediate meetings" of the presbytery. The two terms "intermediate session" and "commission" were used interchangeably.
There was no organized church at Mr. George's, for Mr. Steele, writing to me under date of Feb. 8, 1886, said of the further work of the commission: "We organized a church there of twenty members. Old father George was made an elder. Others were elected, but I cannot recollect their names." From records I have learned that this local church was called Elim, afterward Jericho.
Talking with Elder P. A. Hickman, of Green Pond, Ala., in 1885, he said:
"Brothers Gibson, Steele and Hubbard, with other brethren, held the first camp-meeting in Middle Alabama, in a little dirt-floor school house with one door and one window, at Elyton, as they returned from South Alabama, June, 1824. The people occupied the school-house, and sheet tents, and wagons. A large bush arbor served for a chapel. On a Sunday during this meeting I saw two or three persons have 'jerks.' There were many conversions. The meeting was one of great power and deep work. Out of its converts grew the Elyton congregation. It was organized in the fall of 1824, or the spring of 1825. I do not know who organized it, but am inclined to say brother Lockhart."
These years mark a period of very rapid growth in our church throughout Middle Alabama. In the midst of such active progress and so favorable circumstances, the synod, in session at Cane Creek, Tennessee, Oct. 22, 1824, adopted the following resolution:
"Resolved, That the Rev. Messrs. Benjamin Lockhart, William Moor, James W. Dickey and John Williams, compose a presbytery to be known by the name of the Alabama Presbytery: Bounded on the west by the Mobile river, from the mouth of said river to the mouth of the Bigby [Tombigbee] river; thence by Boliver's road to the top of the mountain south of the Tennessee river; thence with the top of the mountain east to the Indian [Creek] boundary line; thence south with said line to the ocean; to be constituted at Alexander George's, Perry county, State of Alabama, on the first Friday in April [April 1], 1825, Benjamin Lockhart, Moderator, and in case of his failure, William Moor."
Here in we have given the creation of the first presbytery whose territory lay wholly within the State. It is referred to in our history as "The Old Alabama Presbytery." I shall in my history refer to it as "The Alabama Presbytery, old." I shall revert to it presently.
For the sake of chronology I return to the Bigby [Tombigee] Presbytery. On October 22, 1824, the same date as the preceding, the General Synod renewed its action, giving to the presbytery the following bounds, which may or may not have been those designated a year previously:
"Beginning where the dividing ridge between the Tennessee and the Bigby waters strike the Tennessee State line, thence with said line to the Tennessee river, thence up the river to the east boundary of Morgan county, thence south with said line to Boliver's road leading from Florence to Tuscaloosa; and that the following members, viz: The Rev. Messrs. James Stewart, Green P. Rice, James Moore, and Carson P. Reed, be also attached to said presbytery; and that, in consequence of said presbytery's having failed to constitute agreeably to a former resolution of the synod, it is hereby appointed to constitute at Carmel meeting-house, in Lawrence county, Alabama, on the second Tuesday in March [March 8], 1825, Robert Bell being Moderator, or, in case of his failure, James Stewart." [Minutes of Synod, 1824.]
Since the ministers herein named are "attached" to the presbytery, it would seem that the rolls of the two authorizing acts differed. This was doubtless done so as to make the presbytery a possibility. The northwestern portion of the State was held within the borders of this new presbytery.
The presbytery, so far as I am informed, met and was duly organized at the time and place mentioned. The records of its life and work are not accessible to me. Besides, it is not expected that I shall further pursue it, as I am at the goal of my task.
In pursuance of the synodic action, the Alabama Presbytery, old, was, April 1, 1825, organized. It would scarcely be correct to say that it was reorganized, unless the term be used with much latitude.
The reader will bear in mind that the Cumberland Synod embraced the entire Cumberland Presbyterian church at this period. The Alabama Presbytery, old, was, of course, subject to her oversight.
I here quote in full the minutes of the initial meeting:
"The Alabama Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church met, agreeably order of [Cumberland] Synod, at Alexander George's, Perry county, State of Alabama, on the first Friday in April [April 1], 1825.
"The opening sermon was delivered by the Rev. William Moor, on ii. Cor. v : 20: 'Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.'
"MEMBERS PRESENT: The Rev. Messrs. William Moor, John Williams and James W. Dickey.
ABSENT: The Rev. Benjamin Lockhart.
ELDER: Alexander George, from the Elim Society.
REPRESENTATIVE: Hugh Morrow, from Hopewell and Elyton Societies.
"The Rev. William Moor presided as Moderator, agreeably to the order of Synod.
"The Rev. James W. Dickey was chosen clerk.
"The Rev. Vincent Hubbard, of the Tennessee Presbytery, was invited to a seat as a corresponding member.
"Presbytery adjourned to meet at Elim meeting-house of this society and neighborhood to-morrow morning at 9 o'clock.
"Concluded with prayer.
"Presbytery met agreeably to adjournment, constituted with prayer. Members present as on yesterday.
"ORDERED, That the Revs. Benjamin Lockhart, John Williams, and James W. Dickey administer the sacrament of the supper in Bethany society on the fifth Sabbath in July; in Shiloh, on the third; and in Mt. Moriah, on the fourth Sabbath in September.
"ORDERED, That the Revs. William Moor, John Williams, and James W. Dickey administer the sacrament of the supper in Elim congregation on the second Sabbath in September.
"ORDERED, That the Revs. Benjamin Lockhart, William Moor, John Williams, and James W. Dickey administer the sacrament of the supper in Elyton society on the first Sabbath in October next.
"Bryson T. Dobbins came forward and related his experimental knowledge of religion and call to the holy ministry, and, presbytery having received testimonials of his good moral character and of his being in the communion of the Church, received him as a candidate for the holy minister. Ordered, That he prepare a written discourse on Amos iv: 12: 'Prepare to meet thy God,' to be read at next presbytery.
"The presbytery adjourned to meet at Elyton, Jefferson county, Ala., on the 30th of September next.
"Concluded with prayer.
"WILLIAM MOOR, Moderator.
"JAMES W. DICKEY, Clerk."
[MS. records, vol. i, pp. 1-2.]
Notice the following facts:
The first meeting of the presbytery was held in Perry county, April 1-3, 1825.
The first Moderator was the Rev. William Moor.
The first clerk was the Rev. James W. Dickey.
The first visitor was the Rev. Vincent Hubbard of the Tennessee Presbytery.
The first probationer was Mr. Bryson T. Dobbins.
The first representatives were Messrs. George and Morrow.
The congregations represented in this initial meeting were six, viz: Elim, Elyton, Hopewell, Bethany, Shiloh, and Mt. Moriah. To this list, as may be seen from the transactions of the subsequent session--September, 1825--Mt. Calvary, Lebanon, Turkey Creek, and Salem may at least be added. I have already spoken of Elim, Elyton, Hopewell, Mt. Calvary, and Shiloh. Regarding the others I have learned that Lebanon was in Dallas county, Mt. Moriah, in Bibb, while Bethany was in Pickens. It was a Presbyterian church which came in a body into the Cumberland--a thing that occurred often in our early history. Turkey Creek was perhaps in Jefferson or St. Clair county. Salem was probably in Perry or Pickens. On October 6, 1851, its name was changed to Coffee Springs. It is believed that this list names and locates all the churches in middle Alabama prior to January 1, 1826.
I am wholly unable to list with certainty the congregations of North Alabama. There were churches, of course, in that part of the State, but I have not been able to ascertain their birthday and location. I name four, to-wit: Canaan, Madison county, Huntsville, Hermom, and Kelly's Creek. Those were organized prior to 1813, and all likely by the Rev. R. Donnell.
The presbytery, according to its adjournment, met at Elyton, Sept. 30, 1825. All the ministers were present. The elders present were: Charles C. Clayton, Josiah Reed, Weyman Adair, Hugh Morrow, William Hall, James Hall, and William Cameron, representing respectively the following congregations: Mt. Calvary and Turkey Creek, Lebanon, Elim and Salem, Hopewell and Bethany, Mt. Moriah, Elyton, and Shiloh. During this sitting, the following candidates were received, viz: Messrs. Bartholomew Clark and Peter W. Littlepage; the former on Sept. 30, the latter, Oct. 3.
The following orders were issued:
"The the Rev. James W. Dickey ride once round the Jones' Valley circuit, and the balance of his time on the Alabama circuit between now and next [meeting of] presbytery.
"The the Rev. Benjamin Lockhart ride once round the Jones' Valley circuit between now and next presbytery."
The Rev. James W. Dickey was appointed stated clerk of the presbytery. The body adjourned to meet with the Lebanon church, Dallas county, March, 1826.
From the minutes of Cumberland Synod, in session at Princeton, Caldwell county, Ky., Oct. 18, 1825, I find that the Revs. James W. Dickey and John Williams were present, while the Revs. B. Lockhart and W. Moor were absent. The last two were the old men, so to speak, of the presbytery, and could not take so long a horse-back ride. The records of the presbytery were present and were reviewed by the following synodic committee, viz: The Revs. James Y. Barnet, Frank M. Brawley, and Robert Baker.
Messrs. Dickey and Williams were, during this meeting of the synod, appointed agents for their presbytery in the interest of "Cumberland College," our school located in Princeton. The duty incident to this appointment was "to receive cash or property, and convert the latter into money upon such credits and terms as they may deem advisable."
Here my pen must rest. I have come to the limit set myself. It has cost me hours and days of hard work to gain the materials for this article. How far it falls short of its ideal no one knows better than the writer. Knowing that what I shall say may be used by those who may succeed me has made me duly careful and conscientious in every statement. If there is one error or inaccuracy in it, I am ignorant of it after exhausting the means at my command for informing myself.
As stated above, the advent of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Alabama dates from 1808. The first presbyterial organization in the State dates from an order of the General Synod, of Oct. 18, 1821, constituting the Alabama Presbytery. It was organized, but soon became defunct. In 1824 it was reconstituted, and on April 1, 1825, its first session was held at the house of Alexander George in Perry county. This remained the only Presbytery in the State until the formation of Elyton in 1832, and Talladega in 1836, as it was also the chief local presbyterial organization of the State until the Union Synod was constituted in 1836.
The 8th General Assembly on the 3rd Tuesday in May, 1836, constituted the Union Synod, with the Alabama, Elyton and Talladega Presbyteries. It held its first session at Elyton, Nov. 17, 1836. Prior to this the records of the Church of a synodical nature are found with the Columbia Synod. It remained the Union Synod until 1867, when the name was changed to Alabama Synod.
There are three classes of records required to be kept in this Church:
(1) Minutes of the Synod, covering the State;
(2) Minutes of each Presbytery; and,
(3) Records or minutes of the church session, which is the record of all business of the individual churches.
The two former have been irregularly printed.
No attempt has been made to ascertain the condition of the third class.
Minutes, Nov. 17, 1836-Nov. 2, 1854. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1855-1887. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1888-1897. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1898-1900. 1 vol.
The originals of the two first named are in the hands of Rev. J. H. B. Hall, Birmingham. Copies of these, with the originals of the two last are in the custody of Rev. W. B. Witherspoon, stated clerk, Huntsville, Ala.
(original) Presbytery, constituted Oct. 18, 1821.
Minutes presumably lost.
(old) Presbytery, reconstituted on October 22, 1824, and
first meeting held April 1, 1825.
Minutes, April 1, 1825-Oct. 3, 1867. 1 vol.
Presbytery, constituted in 1831, and first meeting held
April 12, 1832.
Minutes, April 12, 1832-Feb. 12, 1866, also a part of 1869. 1 vol.
(new) Presbytery, reorganized in 1883, by consolidation
Minutes, April 2, 1868-Sept. 20, 1890. 1 vol.
Minutes, April 23, 1891-1898. Same vol. also contains Minutes of Birmingham Presbytery, Oct. 10, 1898-Feb. 9, 1900. 1 vol.
(old) Presbytery, organized, October, 1896.
Minutes, Nov. 5, 1896-June 1, 1897. 1 vol.
These were destroyed in the burning of the Montezuma University, Bessemer, Ala. A small volume of MS. notes kept by Rev. M. W. Robison was preserved and is in the hands of the Rev. L. B. Cross, Gastonburg, Ala.
(new) Presbytery, reorganized in 1898, by consolidation
Minutes, Oct. 10, 1898-Feb. 9, 1900. Included in second vol. of Minutes Alabama Presbytery, supra.
All of the foregoing are in the custody of Rev. Luther B. Cross, stated clerk, Gastonburg, Ala., except the first above noted, which is in the possession of Rev. J. H. B. Hall, Birmingham.
The churches of the Alabama Synod located in the western portion of the State are under the control of the Mississippi Synod.
Presbytery, organized 1836.
Minutes, 1836-1867. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1867 to 1882. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1882 to 1897. 1 vol.
Minutes, 1897 to 1900. 1 vol.
These are in the custody of Rev. J. R. McMullen, stated clerk, Fort Payne, Ala.
Presbytery, organized 1880.
Minutes, March 5, 1880-July 15, 1886. pp. 253.
Minutes, Dec. 9, 1886-March 6, 1896. pp. 252.
Minutes, Sept. 18, 1896-1900. (Current.)
These are in the custody of Rev. R. P. Taylor, Stated Clerk, Leeds, Ala.
Donnell Presbytery, organized 1890.
Until the above date the churches composing this body were parts of the Jackson Presbytery and the Tennessee Presbytery. The location of the early manuscript minutes is unknown. Pamphlet minutes for all meetings have been published.
Minutes, March 31, 1892 to Aug. 4, 1897. 1 vol.
Minutes, Sept. 1897 to 1900 (current). 1 vol.
These are in the custody of Rev. H. N. Barbee, stated clerk and treasurer, Athens, Ala.
V. The New Hope Presbytery, organized by act of the
Synod, Nov. 18, 1838, and held its first meeting at Louisville,
Miss., Dec. 21, 1838.
The records of both the New Hope Presbytery and the Mississippi Synod are in the keeping of the Rev. J. H. Zwingle, stated clerk, Starkville, Miss. Their condition is not known.
VI. The McGready Presbytery, organized 1840 or 1841.
The records prior to April, 1863, were destroyed by the accidental burning of the home of the Rev. W. H. Baldridge, stated clerk. The subsequent minutes are in the custody of the Rev. B. F. Finch, stated clerk, Pleasant Site, Ala. Their condition is good.
II. The Tennessee
Presbytery, organized Oct. 18, 1821, by the Cumberland
The records prior to the Fall Session of 1848, are in ashes. Those since that date are in two substantial volumes which are in the hand of the S.C. of the Elk Presbytery.
III. The Jackson
Presbytery, organized 1833-34.
The records in toto were destroyed by the burning of the house of the S.C.