John Beard

1800 - 1866

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


JOHN BEARD was born December 25, 1800, in Sumner county, Tennessee. His parents were David and Jane Wallis Beard. His grandfather, Captain David Beard, emigrated from Bedford county, Virginia, two or three years after the close of the Revolutionary War, and settled first in Kentucky, where he spent one year; he then moved to Tennessee, and, after being unsettled a few years, located in Sumner county, about seven miles from where Gallatin now stands. Captain Beard was a Revolutionary officer, and commanded a company of volunteers in the regiment of the famous Colonel Lynch, from whom Lynchburg received its name, and who is said also to have given name to what we popularly term Lynch-law. This company shared with their regiment in the battle of Guilford Courthouse, and likewise in the siege of Yorktown. At the close of the battle at Guilford Court-house, in the retreat of the Americans, a fellow-officer of Captain Beard was shot down at his elbow, and he very narrowly escaped being taken prisoner. In his old age he frequently referred to the adventure with thrilling interest. In Tennessee his eldest son was killed by the Indians; his other sons he succeeded in settling around him. John Beard was the eldest child of his parents. His boyhood was spent with the younger brothers, on his father's farm. His early educational advantages were limited. Reading, writing, and arithmetic constituted the educational course in the neighborhood, and in the country generally; and the time spent in these was what could be spared from the farm. The girls could go to school in the summer, but the boys were confined to farm-work until after the crops were laid by, and then again there was another season of labor in gathering the crops, and after that, their schooldays extended through the winter. Those were good days for promoting industry, economy, rural simplicity of living; but not favorable to advanced education. Good spelling was a distinguished attainment; the committing of the catechism to memory was a daily, or rather a nightly, exercise; English Grammar was hardly thought of, and the Rule of Three, as it was then called, was the general limit in the study of arithmetic. The people labored all week, and as many of each family as could be provided with conveyances attended church on Sabbath. If a casual sermon was to be heard in the immediate neighborhood, all, except the aged and infirm, generally went on foot--the boys and girls, in the summer, barefooted, or carrying their shoes and stockings in their hands, in order to save them, until they came to some suitable point near the congregation, where they were accustomed to stop and complete their equipage. In a state of society of this kind, as near as a hasty description can reach, John Beard spent his boyhood. His parents were members of the Presbyterian Church, and raised their family with great care. Rev. William Hodge, pastor of Shiloh Congregation, to which the family belonged, customarily preached in the neighborhood once or twice a year, and catechised the children of members of the congregation. On these occasions infant baptism was administered to children that could not be conventiently taken to the church, which was several miles distant. David Beard's house as frequently used for these religious assemblages. Scarcely any thing was wanting to the promotion of morality and good order. John Beard could hardly have grown up otherwise than a well-behaved and good boy. He was such in a very high degree--a model of morality, filial obedience, and industry.

In the meantime, the Cumberland Presbyterians were making progress in the country, and on the 20th of August, 1820, he professed religion at one of their camp-meetings at Stoner's Creek, in Wilson county. He had been serious, and deeply engaged on the subject of religion, for two or three months. A characteristic anecdote is told of him, which grew out of this part of his history. Some years after these occurrences, some ministers were holding a meeting at a church near the neighborhood in which he was raised, and some young men of rather unpromising character were professing religion in what seemed to the old-fashioned observers to be too short a time. A gentleman of the neighborhood, who was not himself a professor religion, and, moreover, not very well versed in those matters, observed the new order of proceeding, and decided earnestly that those young men were not converted at all--that the thing was out of the question. His argument was, that it took little John Beard [The good old people sometimes called our subject Little John Beard, rather than otherwise as a sort of affectionate and parental interest in him. The epithet, too, was descriptive enough of his exterior. In this respect he was a small man.] three months to get religion, and that he never did any thing wrong. The conclusion was, that these bad boys, who had so many misdeeds to account for, must be deceived when they thought of settling up the question in two or three hours.

Of course, the reasoner knew very little about the day of Pentecost, or the case of the jailer. It indicates, however, the estimate in which the subject of this sketch was held in the community in which he was brought up.

After his profession of religion, the question of a choice between Churches, of course, came up. He very properly sought the counsel of his parents, and they as properly submitted the matter to himself, advising him to unite himself with the Church in which he thought he would be most happy and most useful. The result was, he selected the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and connected himself with the Dry Fork Congregation in February, 1821.

On the first day of April in the same year, he was received as a candidate for the ministry by the Nashville Presbytery. The Presbytery held its sessions at that time at Moriah Meeting-house, in Rutherford county. After being received as a candidate, he spent some months at school in Gallatin, under the instruction of the Rev. Mr. Bayne, a pious and well-qualified teacher of the Presbyterian Church. At this school he made his principal preparation for his work, in addition to his early education, which has been described.

He was licensed a a probationer for the ministry by the Nashville Presbytery, on the third day of April, 1823, and ordained on the sixth of April, 1826.

While a candidate for the ministry, he spent one winter with the writer on a circuit in what was then called the Western District of Tennessee. It is now Western Tennessee. The country was new; we were compelled often to make long rides, the houses were sometimes open; and occasionally the fare was hard. Still, I suppose we both felt that we were laboring under a providential and spiritual appointment, as well as the appointment of the Church, and the order of things in those days, on the part of the young men, was to obey; and we did try to obey, although compelled to confront showers of rain, heavy snows, and deep, and often overflowing streams.

After his licensure, he traveled as a circuit-rider, with very slight intermissions, four years and a half. His labors were greatly blessed during that time. Few men were more useful in that department of service, and certainly few were more beloved, in those years, than he.

In the spring, or early summer, of 1827, the last year of his service as an itinerant preacher, he visited, with some one else, the Charity Hall institution, in the Chickasaw Nation of Indians. These visits were made by appointment of the Cumberland Synod. On his return homeward, he called at McLemoresville, in Western Tennessee. I was making my home at McLemoresville at the time, and the chief object of his call was a visit to myself. He reached there sick, and immediately went to bed. It proved to be a protracted and dangerous illness. It was thought for several days that he would die. He rallied, however, and after a few weeks was able to prosecute his journey homeward. The trial from his sickness was greater from the fact that before he left home he had made an engagement to be married, and the day was fixed upon, time being allowed for his return. It turned out that when the appointed day arrived, he was in his sick-bed at McLemoresville. Of course, he seemed to himself to recover very slowly. Through several long and weary weeks I waited at his bedside myself, watching the lazy symptoms of his recovery. He did recover, however, and reached home, and the marriage, although having been delayed, was consummated. He married Miss Margaret S. Cloyd, daughter of the Rev. Ezekiel Cloyd, of Wilson county, Tennessee. The Rev. David Foster performed the marriage-service.

Soon after his marriage, he settled at Suggs's Creek, and took charge of that and Stoner's Creek Congregations. Mr. Foster had been his predecessor in these congregations for twenty years. He was now, however, preparing for a removal to Illinois. The successor labored in Sugg's Creek Congregation nineteen years. My informant says, "During this time many precious camp-meetings were held; a number of revivals occurred; hundreds of souls were converted, a goodly number of whom afterwards became able and useful ministers of the gospel."

In the fall of 1832, he settled in the Stoner's Creek neighborhood, still ministering to the same two congregations, until the spring of 1848, when he moved to Illinois. The want of adequate support, and tahe demands of a growing family, sent him westward.

After one or two unimportant removals in Illinois, he settled at Cherry Grove, where he became a member of the Rushville Presbytery. Here he labored with his accustomed activity and zeal, until the spring of 1859, when he moved to Missouri, where he found a field of usefulness in the bounds of the Lexington Presbytery. Here he remained a year and a half, and in the fall of 1860, when listening to the calls for help from the opening settlements in Kansas, he removed thither, and became a member of Kansas Presbytery. Here he labored, extending the usefulness of himself and family among the enterprising population of this new and opening country as far as he was able. In process of time the Kansas Presbytery was divided, and the Leavenworth Presbytery was constituted. He became a member of the new Presbytery. It held its first meeting according to appointment; but previous to the second appointed meeting, he, with another member, was called to his rest. As a matter of history, it may be mentioned that the death of these two members left the Presbytery without a quorum. Other ministers, however, have come in, and the Presbytery has been reinstated, and is doing a good and vigorous work.

A short time before his death, he had been preaching regularly to four congregations--Round Prairie, in the bounds of which he lived; Wolf River, forty miles distant; Pleasant Grove, eight miles distant; and High Prairie, twelve miles distant--besides doing much outside work at other points. The field was so large, the harvest so white, and the laborers so few, that he felt himself urged to more ministerial labor than one of his age could long endure.

On Saturday, July 28, 1866, in holding a sacramental-meeting, assisted by another minister, he preached his last sermon. The meeting was held at Pleasant Grove, near Atchison City, and the sermon is said to have been one of more interest and power than usual. He went home on Monday, and immediately to his bed, from which he never arose a well man. He became very sick. A physician was called in; then another; and still a third. No permanent relief, however, was afforded. From affliction of the throat he spoke but little, and with difficulty. A few hours before his death he had some select Psalms read, and songs sung, which seemed to give him great spiritual comfort. He then had his family and friends present gathered around him, and gave each one a parting word, asking all to meet him in heaven. In a few hours more he breathed his last, on the 15th of August, 1866, universally lamented by his friends and acquaintances. I would suppose he had no enemies.

My personal knowledge of John Beard was, of course, very intimate. We were near the same age, he being but about a year the younger. Our early boyhood was spent almost together. In those years I lived with my grandfather, and his father's home was but a few hundred yards distant. We went to school together to my father's unpretending school, when we could be spared from the labor of the farm. We went to mill together, and on the Sabbath, when both families were gone to the customary meetings, we sometimes met and talked over our reading. He was always fond of reading hymns, and read the hymn-book a great deal on the Sabbath, whilst I read the "Pilgrim's Progress," and the "Travels of True Godliness." He was three years behind me in his profession of religion, and the same length of time in his entrance upon the ministry. In our ministerial work, with the exception of the six months with me on the circuit which I have mentioned, we were far separated, but I still knew him well, and kept up with the history of his work. With his local ministrations, labor on a farm for the support of his family, I believe, was always connected. It was so, at least, while he lived in Tennessee. He thus labored through the week, and preahced on Sabbath. He was always beloved, and notwithstanding the difficulties he must have encountered in preparing his sermons, he was always heard with interest and pleasure. In fact, as far as his pretensions went, when in the prime of life, he was one of the best preachers of his day. He never aspired to greatness or leadership, yet, whilst most men fall below their pretensions, he was generally above the line which he had fixed for his measure. The wonder always was, that he could preach so well. In all the relations of life he was a model. He respected his parents, and as a brother, husband, and father, he filled up his obligations with a kindness and fidelity which are unusual.

His widow and five of his children still live. A son and daughter preceded him to the grave. Both of these promised usefulness, but were cut down in early life. One of his sons graduated at Cumberland University several years ago, and another is, and has been for several years, the endowing agent of Lincoln University, in Illinois. They are worthy representative of one of the best of fathers.

With interest I add the following to what I have written of this good man. He kept a record of his work. According to this record, he administered two hundred and ninety-four infant baptisms; two hundred and eight adult baptisms; married one hundred and twenty couples; and preached three thousand seven hundred and ninety-two sermons.

John Beard had a younger brother, Adam Meek Beard, who entered the ministry, and promised usefulness, but died in early life. His remains lie in the old family burying-ground in Sumner county. A modest head-stone tells of his birth, something of his life, and of what seemed his premature death. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them."

[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 266-276]

Round Prairie Cemetery
Leavenworth County

Beard Family Information

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Updated April 19, 2010