John Barnett

? - 1853

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

PRO. LOGAN: The intelligence has reached us by letter, to Mr. E. M. Davidson, that our beloved Father in the Ministry, Rev. JOHN BARNETT, is no more; he is gone from his labors on earth, no doubt, to his rest above. He died at the residence of his son-in-law and daughter, in the State of Mississippi, in the early part of last February.
H. R. Smith

With painful feelings we receive the intelligence above. We have been, in common with the whole Church, familiar with the history of this good man, ever since the earliest days of our branch of Christ's Church. To record his history, would be to write that of the Church itself. He was brought into the Ministry in the State of Kentucky, together with two other brothers, WILLIAM and JAMES BARNETT, at a period, and under circumstances which tried men's souls. From that, to the hour of his departure from earth, he ever adorned the Gospel Ministry and the Christian profession. He was at one time intimately connected with Cumberland College for several years. He has acted a long and conspicuous part in the affairs of the Church; and while he has fallen depressed with age and infirmity of body, he has gone, we doubt not, to reap a rich reward at God's right hand. May all our young brethren imitate his virtues.--ED.

[Source: The Banner of Peace, and Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate, April 29, 1853, page 4]


OF the early life of John Barnett, as in the case of his brother, nothing is known to the writer. Even the time and place of his birth are unknown. It was always understood the John Barnett was the older of the two brothers, whilst William was first in the ministry, and, of course, the older preacher. I have therefore placed him first in the order of my arrangement. It has always been understood, too, that John, as well as William, entered the ministry some time after he became the head of a family. His wife's name was Polly McAdow. She was at least a remote relation of Rev. Samuel McAdow. The McAdows were of North Carolina origin, but lived chiefly in Tennessee.

John Barnett was received as a candidate for the ministry by the Cumberland Presbytery at the Beech Meeting-house, in Sumner county, Tennessee, April 9, 1813. At this meeting the Presbytery was divided, and he was placed under the care of the Logan Presbytery. By that Presbytery he was licensed August 31, 1813, and ordained August 11, 1815. He is first mentioned as a member of the Cumberland Synod in the records of its sessions in October, 1816.

At some time in the early part of his ministry he settled in lower Kentucky, which was considered at that time a frontier of the Church in that direction. His settlement was made in the neighborhood of what is now the Bethlehem Congregation. He originated that congregation, and in early time they built a log meeting-house of very moderate dimensions, in which, as pastor of the congregation, he ministered for near thirty years. Camp-meetings were introduced very early, and kept up forty years. Great numbers have been converted at these meetings. Bethlehem in now a flourishing congregation. They have been worshiping for twenty years in a capacious brick church. A neat brick academy stands hard by the church--a realization of the proper theory of Presbyterianism, the theory of a church and school combined.

During all the years of his connection with Bethlehem Mr. Barnett was also the pastor of Piney Fork Congregation. A modest house of worship was built at Piney, and camp-meetings were held annually, and mostly with great success. At Piney these meetings are still continued.

Whilst Mr. Barnett was pastor of these congregations, he was at the same time one of the best farmers in his neighborhood. He was a strong man, had fine health, and labored daily with his own hands. He also kept every one around him busy. It is a matter of tradition that he frequently labored on his farm all day, and in the evening rode four or five miles, and preached in some private house in his congregation, continued his meetings till eleven or twelve o'clock at night, returned home, and was ready for another day's work in the morning. By labors of this kind Bethlehem and Piney Fork Congregations were gathered and strengthened from year to year.

In 1826 Cumberland College commenced its operations. Mr. Barnett had an active agency in its location, and in the organization and direction of its exterior system. I allude to the management of the farm and boarding-house. He moved tot he College, and for some two or three years had charge of these. After his connection with them ceased, he moved to Christian county, and lived a few years, near Salubria Spring, in the neighborhood in which his brother William had once lived, and perhaps upon the same farm. After a few years he returned to the neighborhood of his former home near Bethlehem. In 1831 the Trustees of Cumberland College, by the advice of the General Assembly, leased the institution to him and Rev. Aaron Shelby for a term of years. This was an extraordinary measure, but the exigences of the College were considered to require something extraordinary. It was deeply involved in debt, and still was not self-sustaining irrespective of its debts. Of course it was becoming more deeply involved every year. The lessees of the institution were to keep up the farm and boarding-house, manage its general finances, keep up its Faculty, and pay its debts. To enable them to do all these things, they were to have the proceeds of the farm and boarding-house, and the customary labor of each student two hours per day. The proceeds of the tuition department were to be set apart of the payment of the instructors. Mr. Shelby continued his connection with the institution two or three years, and sold his interest to Mr. Harvey Young. A new brick building had been put up, a very coarse and inferior one, it is true, but still an improvement upon the previous condition of things. Every thing seemed to go forward rather prosperously till the summer of 1834, when the cholera visited the town. It did not reach the College, but it was followed by a most malignant fever, which spread all over the country, including the College community. Mr. Young died; three-fourths of the students were sick. Recitations were discontinued for some time. Myself and wife were both prostated for several weeks. I was myself evidently near the door of death. It was a terrible infliction upon the College. Mr. Barnett considered it the turning-point in his administration of the financial affairs of the institution. It was a prostration from which he never recovered.

After the death of Mr. Young, his interest reverted, of course, to the Trustees, and the partnership henceforward was a partnership of the Trustees and Mr. Barnett. He, however, became practically the administrator of the business. Things worked badly; a great deal of dissatisfaction grew up all over the Church; he was sometimes unhappy in the temper in which he conducted his business; the wisdom of his measures was thought in some cases to be very defective, and a few began to call in question his personal integrity. He and Dr. Cossitt, the President of the College, differed in their views of measures, and, unfortunately, became estranged from each other. I have told this unhappy story elsewhere. They were both good men, earnest in their opinions, and unwavering in their fidelity to the Church; but they did not harmonize; it was a misfortune. With regard to Dr. Cossitt, my esteemed instructor and friend, my testimony is before the world. With regard to Mr. Barnett, and his connection with the College, I have a few things to say, but for the present hold them in reserve.

It will be readily perceived that these difficulties must have had a disastrous influence upon the College.

At the General Assembly of 1837, a new plan was adopted, with a view to the relief of the institution from its difficulties, which were rather increasing than diminishing. An association was formed under the style and title of The Cumberland College Association, after the manner of a joint-stock company. Mr. Barnett and the Trustees surrendered their interest in the College to the Association. It was to do the same things which Barnett and Shelby were to have done, and after accomplishing them, to have pro rata dividends of the proceeds, should it ever turn out that there were such proceeds to divide. This plan was expected to be a success, whilst the preceding one had proved a disastrous failure. The history is known, and needs not be repeated here. To say every thing in the fewest possible words, an experiment of three years proved its utter insufficiency. It, too, was a failure. In 1834, in the midst of the prevailing sickness, Mr. Barnett lost his eldest son, a young man of rather unusual promise. He was one of the early graduates of Cumberland College. Some time between 1838 and 1843, he lost his wife, and third and fourth sons. From this time he became unsettled for several years. After the lapse of a few years, however, he was married a second time, to an estimable widow lady, of Henderson county, Kentucky. His constitution was very much shattered, and his health soon failed, and in a few years his life of unusual trial came to an end. Of the circumstances of death nothing is known to the writer. The most of his latter years had been passed under a cloud. A great many of his expectations had been thwarted. His providential discipline had been severe. When death came, it was doubtless a release. A life very much made up of clouds and storms was, we must confidently believe, exchanged for a companionship of the four and twenty elders, the hundred and forty and four thousand, and the great multitude that no man can number.

My first recollection of Mr. Barnett goes back to the fall of 1819. He was attending a camp-meeting at the Big Spring, in Wilson county, Tennessee. His first sermon there was delivered on Saturday evening. It had rained in the forenoon, and meeting was held in the house, and William Bumpass preached. The rain had ceased, however, and we removed to the stand, as it was called; there was no shelter. Mr. Barnett was the preacher. I had never heard or seen him before. His text was the prophet's personation of the Saviour as a preacher: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God." The preacher and the text were both new to me. The preacher was certainly in a good spirit. It seemed to me that the fitness between him and the text was perfect. The solemnity, and tenderness, and earnestness of his manner, and the unction which seemed to rest upon him, were altogether unusual. I have seldom, in a long life, been more deeply interested, or more favorably impressed; and I have often called to mind the apparent tenderness and gentleness of that occasion when, in subsequent years, I have witnessed his struggles with the difficulties of the College, and his excusable impatience with the impertinence and impracticability of men with whom he was thrown into contact in his business transactions. The descent appeared to be very great. He felt it to be so himself; yet Providence seemed to him to lead him into that line of duty. On Monday of the same camp-meeting he preached again, from the text in First Corinthians: "And ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." The text was familiar, and the sermon was good, but not equal to that of Saturday.

In 1824, or 1825, Mr. Barnett and Rev. David Lowry made a visit to Western Tennessee, to assist William Barnett in two or three camp-meetings. They preached with great interest and power, and left a deep impression behind them. In that visit Mr. Barnett was condescending enough to make me a sort of companion in one or two of his excursions outside of his regular movements, in visiting some of his old acquaintances and friends. I say, "condescending enough;" I really thought it a privilege and an honor to be permitted to attend him. He seemed to me tender, and kind, and even paternal in his manners.

I had but little connection with him after these occurrences, until I went to Cumberland College, in 1830. At that time he was living in Christian county. In the spring of the following year, as it has been said, he became connected with the College as one of the lessees. My own connection with the College continued to 1838. From 1831 to 1837, his connection, as general administrator of its business affairs, continued. We were frequently thrown together under circumstances of great trial. A large part of the period was passed under discouragement, darkness, and distress. In these he, of course, shared very largely. He had embarked every thing in the experiment of trying to improve the financial condition of the College. If he failed, poverty was staring him in the face, whilst yet he had a heavy family on his hands. As it has been mentioned, he lost his eldest and most promising son in the midst of those years. He had fondly expected help from that son, and the loss on that account seemed the more severe. The Church complained of his general administration; the students complained of his stringency in providing for the boarding-house; the teachers complained that they did not receive much more than half pay. He was made answerable for a great many evils. The year 1837 came around, and public sentiment seemed to require a change of the outward administration of the affairs of the College.

It is fitting that I should say here, in my place, that no man could have labored more earnestly for the accomplishment of the great objects of a mission than Mr. Barnett did, in those years, for the fulfillment of his engagements with the General Assembly. He did not succeed. No man could have succeeded in his circumstances. He had entered upon a Herculean task; he was a strong man, but still only a man. He was no Hercules. He committed errors, without doubt; but they were the errors of a man governed, upon the whole, by good intentions. He meant well. Of this I have no doubt. His personal integrity was sometimes impeached; but the best possible vindication that could have been offered was the fact at last disclosed, that whilst he entered into his connection with the College a prosperous man, and bringing into it a respectable property, he left it with his temporalities in ruins, and from these ruins he never recovered. After the lapse of thirty-six years, I have no patience with charges which affect his personal integrity. I am ashamed of him who reiterates them.

He though the Church owed him something in consideration of his losses. He pursued that thought for years, but without success. I do not pretend to decide upon the justice of his claims from this source, but there are a few living who can recollect the persistence of his efforts in prosecuting those claims, which we all thought, whether just or unjust, to be hopeless.

No man in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was ever so generally misunderstood. It rarely happens to a man, in any of the relations of life, to be so generally misunderstood by those who ought to understand him. Public sentiment took a wrong direction. There were, of course, reasons for it, but still the direction was wrong. The Church, instead of quarreling with a man who had taken one of its heaviest burdens upon his shoulders, should have reached out a helping hand, and, if possible, lightened that burden. Such a course, however, was not pursued. He was in the ditch, and was left very much to take care of himself.

I make one farther remark in this connection. Other men have quarreled with the Church, and have left it. In one or two cases the quarrel has been very bitter. Mr. Barnett, however, in the midst of all the vituperation and reproach, and, as he thought, ingratitude and unkindness which he endured, never faltered in his fidelity and devotion to the Church of his early choice to his dying day. In illustration of this a fact may be stated, which, of course, is not known generally, but which, for the sake of his memory, should be known. In making a final settlement of his shattered affairs, he set apart a thousand dollars for the use and benefit of Cumberland College, in the service of which he had suffered so much, and of which he had at that time high hopes. This is an argument which any man can appreciate.

After Mr. Barnett's second marriage I seldom saw him. His home was remote from mine, and he did not travel much. The infirmities of age were closing in upon him. In a few years he ended his stirring and stormy life. He had left home with the view of traveling some time, in hope of an improvement of his health. In a few days he reached the residence of his son-in-law in Western Tennessee, and stopped to rest. It proved to be his last resting-place. He died there.

The case of Mr. Barnett brings up to our minds the darkest chapter in our history as a Church. The history of Cumberland College has never been written. Most likely it will never be written. In twenty years from this time it cannot be truthfully done. The actors in the transactions will all have passed away, and no man can write it who has not, to some extent, been one of those actors. Dr. Cossitt, Mr. Barnett, Judge Morrison, Aaron Shelby, and Harvey Young, have all been removed from among us. A few still remain, but will not remain long. The College has ceased to exist. Many will say that a great deal of labor has been lost, and a great deal of money has been expended in vain. So thought Judas and the other disciples which the anointing oil was poured upon the Master's feet. He gave them to understand, however, that they were mistaken. It was not a waste. Nor has the labor and money expended upon Cumberland College been a waste. It has fulfilled its mission. In many respects it was a noble mission. Some of those connected with it were never appreciated. Even time itself may not fully vindicate them; still, their works follow them. The seed sown there is producing a harvest all over the West. Our pioneers in the work of education have been amongst our benefactors. Their work has been silent, but it has been none the less effective and vital in its influence on that account. It will live forever in its results.

William and John Barnett had a younger brother, or, rather, half-brother, Rev. James Young Barnett, who entered the ministry in early life. He was a man of fine ability, and was thought in his early life to be the equal of his older brothers. He never filled so wide a space, however, in public estimation. He married the daughter of Mr. David Usher, of Christian county, Kentucky, and settled in the neighborhood of his father-in-law, where he lived till his death, which occurred some years ago. he was an estimable and useful man. His widow still lives.

There was a fourth brother, Robert Barnett, who also entered the ministry, in Western Tennessee, in his early life. He married the daughter of Hon. Adam R. Alexander, but of his subsequent history I have no knowledge.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 186-197]

The BARNETTS were an extraordinary family in their time. John, William, and James Y. Barnett were brothers, and all ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. John Barnett lived and labored in Caldwell county. He had a long, and at one time troublesome connection with the financial department of Cumberland college. William Barnett was one of the most powerful and popular preachers of his time. He lived a number of years in Christian county, then removed to Henderson, and finally to western Tennessee, where he died in 1827. James Y. Barnett lived and labored in Christian county..

[Source: Collins' History of Kentucky, vol. 1, 1976 reprint, pages 435-436]

The Fathers JOHN and WM. BARNETT, were both stout, able-bodied men, and men of good minds, improved about as the others whose opportunities then were not such as are now enjoyed. They were also natives of Tennessee, and of the mountains at that. They were rough-looking men, of florid complexion, and dauntless, yet they were men of clear heads and warm hearts, full of energy that knew no flagging. They were both a few times at the other camp-meetings in this State, but their labors were limited to Mt. Zion, McAlister's and Milbourn's. They were usually considered "sons of thunder." There was less of thunder in John. He was often more deliberate, but impressive, and they were both more or less eloquent at times. Wm. was regarded as the more successful in the pulpit, yet both were active, energetic and very useful men. My acquaintance was less familiar with John than William.

[Source: Darby, W. J. and J. E. Jenkins. Cumberland Presbyterianism in Southern Indiana: Being a History of Indiana Presbytery and an Account of the Proceedings of its Fiftieth Anniversary Held at Princeton, Ind., April 13-18, 1876, Together with Various Addresses and Communications, and a Sermon on the Doctrines of the Church. Published by the Presbytery, 1876, pages 72-73]

1813 April 8 - Cumberland Presbytery - Candidate

1813 August 31 - Logan Presbytery - Licensed
Logan Presbytery - Stated Supply, Westward District

1814 October 4 - Logan Presbytery - Stated Supply, Western District

1815 April 6 - Logan Presbytery - Stated Supply, Sandy Creek; Piney Fork; Hopewell

1815 August 11 - Logan Presbytery - Ordained
Logan Presbytery - Stated Supply, Western District; Eastern District

1815 November 7 - Logan Presbytery - absent

1816 April 2 - Logan Presbytery - present

1816 October 5 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Logan Presbytery]

1816 November 19 - Logan Presbytery - absent

1817 April 1 - Logan Presbytery - present

1817 October 21 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Logan Presbytery]

1817 November 19 - Logan Presbytery - present

1818 April 7 - Logan Presbytery - Moderator

1818 October 20 - Cumberland Synod - absent [member of Logan Presbytery]

1818 November 17 - Logan Presbytery - present

1819 April 6 - Logan Presbytery - present

1819 October 19 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Logan Presbytery]

1819 November 16 - Logan Presbytery - Moderator

1820 April 4 - Logan Presbytery - Clerk

1820 April 5 - Logan Presbytery - Stated Clerk

1820 October 10 - Logan Presbytery - present

1820 October 17 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Logan Presbytery]

1821 April 3 - Logan Presbytery - Moderator

1821 October 1 - Anderson Presbytery - founding member

1821 October 9 - Logan Presbytery - present

1822 October 15 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery]

1823 October 21 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery] - Moderator

1824 October - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery]

1825 October - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery] - lived in Caldwell Co., KY

1827 November 20 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery]

1828 October 21 - Cumberland Synod - present [member of Anderson Presbytery]

1830 May 16 - General Assembly - present [member of Anderson Presbytery]

1837 May 3 - General Assembly - present [member of Princeton Presbytery]

1837 May 16 - Princeton Presbytery - present

1853 May 23 - General Assembly minutes:

The following was, on motion of Rev. M. Bird, unanimously adopted: Whereas, The General Assembly have received melancholy intelligence of the death of Rev. John Barnett, one of the aged, faithful, eloquent and useful ministers of our Church, since the last meeting of the General Assembly; Therefore, Resolved, That the Assembly acknowledge and bow with reverence to the dispensation of Divine Providence which has removed our venerable Father in the ministry from the labors and tribulations of earth to the great rewards of Eternity. Resolved, That we sympathize with the family and relatives of the deceased.

Barnett Family Information

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Updated February 7, 2012