John Barber, Sr.

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1780 - 1855

Rev. W. W. M. Barber, of Windsor, Ill., has furnished this sketch of his father,


"Rev. John Barber, Sen., was born in Lincoln county, N.C., Jan. 15th, 1780. His father was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War. His name was also John, which appeared to be a favorite name, as it has been perpetuated in the family. His mother's name is not now remembered. Mr. Barber's parents were members of the Presbyterian Church, and he was raised up in that faith and became a member in his 16th year. He was the subject of the revival that began in North Carolina in 1796, and culminated so powerfully in 1800, out of which the Cumberland Presbyterian Church emanated.

"In early life he became greatly exercised for the salvation of sinners; was active in religious meetings, and would frequently give public exhortations. He was thus early in life impressed with reference to preaching the gospel. His way seemed hedged up in the Presbyterian Church from two considerations: First, his education was limited, though he possessed some advantages over many others. He had a good common education, and when only sixteen years of age was employed in teaching school. While he made no pretention to much education, yet he had given some attention to Latin, besides the common branches of the day. He also had serious objections to the doctrine of fatality, as taught in the Westminster Confession, and, being poor, he did not feel that he could obtain that amount of education that would commend him to the Presbyterian pulpit. He settled down, and, when quite young, married. But this did not relieve his mind on the subject of preaching the gospel. He tried to stifle his feelings; and in this state of mind in the year 1815 he came to Illinois, and settled in Madison county, near Edwardsville, the county seat. In the neighborhood where he settled there were, including himself, three elders, and about twenty members of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Barber had been ordained an elder before leaving North Carolina. His impressions to preach became more intense, and, finding that the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith only made a good English education indispensable in order to enter the ministry, he, in the forty-fourth year of his age, was sent as a representative from Mt. Gilead society to the second session of Illinois Presbytery, which met at New Salem, Gallatin county, Ill., Oct. 14th, 1823, at which meeting he became a candidate for the ministry. Mr. Barber was licensed to preach the gospel as a probationer for the holy ministry April 9th, 1824, at the house of James Johnson, Mt. Gilead, Bond county, Ill. He was ordained to the whole work of the gospel ministry at the house of Joseph Robison, Madison county, Ill., Thursday after the first Tuesday in April, 1826, having been a licentiate two years. Mr. Barber was respected as a good Christian man and citizen, a man of considerable reading and extensive knowledge. He had been called by his fellow citizens to fill civil offices, and for a number of years filled the office of Justice of the Peace.

"Possessing a strong mind and having some ambition, after joining Presbytery he made rapid progress in scientific pursuits, so that in six months after his reception as a candidate he was licensed to preach, and went heartily into the work. From his journal we learn that he had occasional seasons of gloom and discouragements. The remarks, after telling where and from what text he had preached, were very dissimilar from each other on different occasions. At one time he said, 'I had light, liberty, power; people feeling;' at another time he said, 'I had no light, no liberty, no heart, no power; dull myself; people dull.' At one time large congregations, again few or none, were present. At one time he was much encouraged; at other times discouraged, and tempted to quit preaching.

"What he received for preaching, and from whom and when, were faithfully kept in his journal. His report to the Fall Presbytery of 1830 will show something of the work performed and the amount received. He says, 'I would beg leave to report to Presbytery, that I have preached one hundred and two sermons since last Presbytery; have baptized one adult and twelve infants. I have organized one church with thirteen members, which were received by letter, and have received four or five members by experience in the bounds of my particular labors. I have spent one hundred and eight week days, including the time spent in attending the judicatures of the Church, and have received $4.50, $3 of which were given by the ministers to defray my expenses to the General Assembly. I have attended six camp-meetings and twelve two-days' meetings. At our camp-meetings, and other places where I have labored, I have an account of fifty-three who have professed religion. The calls for ministerial labor are increasing, and many of them come from persons who are members of our Church, but are now living far from where they can hear a Cumberland Presbyterian voice. I cannot see how these calls are to be met, unless we have itinerant preachers. But preachers cannot live on the wind, and there appears to be but little prospect of any measures by which they can be supported. There is a fault among Cumberland Presbyterians on this subject, and if there is not something done soon, if the gospel does not sink, Cumberland Presbyterianism must and will sink. But I desist.'

"In a report prior to this the amount of work was something similar, the amount received was one dollar, and the distance traveled about eighty miles per month. About this time was a gloomy period in the history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and one left it boasted that there would be a general stampede. While there were inducements held out, none but poor Ogden left with him (Smith).

"Mr. Barber was a strong advocate of temperance, and was the first in his neighborhood to dispense with the use of liquor at meetings for work. When he invited his friends to assist him in his work, he informed them that he was not going to furnish ardent spirits on the occasion. Many said they would not help; but they had respect for his conscientious convictions, and he experienced to difficulty. By his boldness he set an example that was followed by his neighbors. He often lectured on temperance, and made overtures in private to such as he considered in danger of being injured by strong drink. Once, three or four young men, that he had admonished to quit drinking, agreed that they would quit if he would quit the use of tobacco. On mature and prayerful reflection he accepted the proposition. In a few months afterwards they inquired how he got along. He confessed that it went hard with him to do without his tobacco. They proposed to mutually withdraw from their pledges. He declined their offer. Those young men lived orderly and sober lives.

"Mr Barber had an ardent love for souls, and up to within a short period before his death he traveled some forty miles or more to visit churches that he had planted. His last visit to Madison county, where he first settled, was attended with difficulty, from an affliction in his limbs affecting him to such an extent that he sometimes sat and preached. He preached six times during this visit, and spoke of it with tears as his last visit. A short time after this, in a letter to his son, Dr. Barber, he says: 'I have kept up my regular appointments, but feel like giving them up. I am always extremely tired on Sabbath evenings.         *      *      *      * I look forward with joy to that sweet rest which is just before me, and will be given me, when the toils of life are over, by my blessed Redeemer. These thoughts cheer my soul often in view of my final end. The thought of that rest makes me feel that no affliction here is worth a thought when compared with the glory that shall be revealed; and the thought of winning souls to Jesus seems more than all my toils. I have frequently thought that, if I had my choice when and where to die, it would be to die in the pulpit entreating sinners to come to Jesus. But I will leave the when, and the where, and the how I shall bid the world adieu, to him who has bought me with his own blood, and who, I hope, will be glorified in me, whether by life or death. As long as I can speak intelligently, and can reach the assembly who meet to worship God, I will endeavor to preach Jesus and him crucified, the way, the truth and the life.'

"In another letter to the same, he alludes to the infirmities of old age in strains of a true Christian philosopher. He says: 'I suppose that you feel by this time somewhat as I did before I received yours of the 19th of December: that I am either dead, sick, careless, lazy, busy, or something else. The first two and the last of the above charges have not befallen me yet, but the other two, I fear, stick as close as the skin. You will doubtless perceive by my awkward letters that the old fingers are beginning to threaten disobedience, and if they refuse partial or total obedience, I have no remedy. All the old joints seem to threaten the same, and if they combine they will certainly conquer, for the last seventy-four years' wear and tear will much facilitate the conquest. But what will be conquered? Blood, bones, sinews, flesh and nerves are not me. Life--what is it? where is it? 'Tis not in the head and heart alone, but it is in the end of every finger and toe, and every other part of my system; and yet I cannot fully describe or understand it. With the Psalmist I must exclaim: I am fearfully and wonderfully made.'--Ps. clix. 14.

"Mr. Barber was married four times--twice before leaving North Carolina and twice in Illinois. He had four children by his first wife and four by the last. Of the first family all are dead. Each, however, lived to have a family of his own.

"The last sermon Mr. Barber preached was at old Mount Pleasant church, about six weeks previous to his death. The text was Romans iii. 20. He died Sept. 19, 1855, in his 76th year. He is buried in Bear Creek graveyard, Montgomery county, Ill."

It was our privilege to see Mr. Barber and hear him preach several times. He was a man of extraordinary strength of mind, and had the happy faculty of stating his views clearly and in few words. We visited him and passed a night with him during his last sickness. He was calm and resigned, and looking out momentarily for the Master to call for him. He was unusually beloved, and his death greatly lamented.

[Source: Logan, J. B. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Illinois, Containing Sketches of the First Ministers, Churches, Presbyteries and Synods; also a History of Missions, Publication and Education. Alton, Ill.: Perrin & Smith, 1878, pages 140-145]

The Rev. John Barber, Sr.

"Father Barber," as he was called, was born in North Carolina. Even when a small child he planned to be a minister, and to tell the story of Jesus and His love. But the requirements of the Presbyterian church were strict, along educational lines, and he saw it would be impossible for him to attend school. So he decided he must choose another line of work.

When John Barber, Sr., was 35, he and his family left North Carolina for Illinois. There was a group of Christian people who had settled near Edwardsville, so the Barber family stopped there.

In 1816, Robert Paisley and his family stopped at this settlement, Mr. Paisley having just come from the "Great Revival" in Kentucky, full of enthusiasm. He called for a prayer meeting. They wanted a preacher, and declared they would be satisfied with any the Lord would send. Robert Paisley could not think of listening to any preacher but a Cumberland Presbyterian,--he wrote for them to send one from Kentucky.

The Rev. William Barnett came, and the Rev. Green P. Rice, who was there also, attended. In a short time all the Christians had been converted into the Cumberland Presbyterian faith.

Father Barber, who was now past 40, still felt that he could be a minister. He was happy, for he had always hoped to be able to serve his God and humanity in that capacity. He preached many sermons, and received little pay. He was chosen by the elders of the Bear Creek church as a regular minister in 1836. He was well-educated for one of that far-off day. He was a strong advocate of temperance and was the first in his neighborhood to dispense with the use of liquor at meetings held for work. His neighbors, who felt as he did, joined the temperance ranks. The Rev. Barber was an ardent lover of souls and a short while before he died, he made a journey around to the various churches he had served, where he preached six sermons, telling the people with tears in his eyes it was his last visit. Six weeks before his death he preached his very last sermon at what is now Sorento. He was unusually beloved, and his death was greatly lamented, not only in this community, where he spent much of his life, but also by the presbytery. He lies buried in the Donnellson cemetery.

[Source: Kaune, Olive F., editor. One Hundred Twenty Years of Donnellson Presbyterian Church History 1819-1939, pages 33-34]

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