William H. Bell

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1808 - 1876




REV. WILLIAM H. BELL was born on the 19th of January, 1808, in Greene county, East Tennessee, and died in Bledsoe county, East Tennessee, on the 19th of February, 1876. At the time of his birth his parents were, and continued for some time after his birth be be, members of the Presbyterian Church, and consequently his youthful training was strictly in accordance with that Church. While in his minority he made a public profession of religion, at a meeting conducted by some of the first ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in East Tennessee, and united with that denomination, to the doctrines of which he was most ardently attached in all his after life.

Bro. Bell was soon followed in his Church relations by his parents, who lived and died in the communion of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Soon after he united with the Church he was impressed that it was his duty to enter upon the work of the ministry. In obedience to his impressions he presented himself to the Knoxville Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in session at Concord, Knox county, Tennessee, October 17, 1828, and was received as a candidate under the care of the Presbytery.

He now set about the work of preparing himself for his new sphere of labor in good earnest; though poor, and his parents unable to give him much assistance, yet he was not in the least to be diverted from his purpose, but with a will equal to the task he had undertaken, aided by Divine grace, he so far succeeded in qualifying himself for the work that after the Presbytery and carefully examined him while in session at Jerusalem Camp Ground, McMinn county, East Tennessee, licensed him August 8, 1829, and sent him out on a mission embracing an extent of country reaching from Monroe to Washington county, a distance of more than one hundred miles, with no other prospect of remuneration for his labors than the voluntary contribution of the people, who, for the most part, were strangers.

The writer of this notice remembers well the youthful appearance of Bro. Bell when he saw him set out on his mission, dressed in his suit of jeans and seated on his pony.

To show the spirit in which our young preacher entered upon his work, an incident may here be presented, which occurred in relation to young Bell. After having filled one of his appointments, and was starting out next morning, he was halted by an elder of what was then called the Hopkinsian Church, and thus addressed by the Elder: "Young man you have not sense enough to preach, you had better go home and stay there."

To this Bell replied in a very modest way: "If I have but little sense I must make the better use of what I have," and with a gentle bow passed on his way.

Bro. Bell was ordained at the residence of Blackmore H. Mayo, Monroe county, Tennessee, March 8, 1832. John Moyers and Samuel Davidson were ordained at the same time. George Russell preached the ordination sermon. Abner W. Lansden presided and gave the charge, John Tate, Moderator of the Presbytery.

He married a lady who was heir to considerable property, but this did not divert his mind from his ministerial work. In the division of the Knoxville Presbytery and formation of the Hiwassee, he fell into the bounds of the latter; subsequently he was attached to the Ocoee Presbytery, in the bounds of which he continued until his death.

Bro Bell was not a great orator, but he was a good thinker, and possessed fine reasoning powers; he had the very peculiar art of making himself easily and clearly understood by his hearers. He was a good theologian, had few superiors in that respect. He well understood the distinguishing features, doctrinally, of his own Church, and was warmly attached to them. Punctuality was one of the peculiar and distinguishing characteristics of his ministerial life. Temporal interest with him must always be subservient to his religious duties. He was proverbial for his punctuality in his attendance upon the meetings of the ecclesiastic courts of the Church. He was a wise and safe counselor; courteous, king, and affable in his manners, and gentle towards all men.

In a word, he was a good man, a good preacher, a wise counselor, a safe guide; did much to build up his Church in East Tennessee, as well as the cause of the Redeemer generally. In this respect he had but few superiors.

He was not a man of robust constitution or of great physical strength, but to the contrary, he was slender in form, and of delicate appearance, yet he was buoyant in spirit and always hopeful, and seemed to have the peculiar art of making all feel cheerful about him.

He was present at the meeting of the East Tennessee Synod, which convened at Cleveland last October. He was accompanied by his daughter, and while there he was taken sick, from which he never recovered.

During his sickness we know nothing of the exercise of his mind, only as they are gathered from a letter which was received from his daughter, from which the following extract is taken:

"Father was taken sick, as you will remember, in Cleveland, on the 22nd of October, and died at his home in Bledsoe county, on the 19th of February, 1876. As to the nature of his disease, I know not what to say. The doctors that attended upon him all agreed in saying that he had no settled disease, but was worn out and broken down constitutionally. You will remember that while at Cleveland he was taken with symptoms of chills, which continued to follow him through a great part of his sickness, but this was thought to be caused by debility. About a month before his death he was taken with something like asthma, and never could lie down after that, but spent the most of his time propt up in a large rocking chair. His sufferings were very great during the last four weeks of his life, but not a murmur was heard to escape his lips. His mind was much deranged at times, and during all these hours of delirium his whole conversation was about the Church. Often he would talk as though he was with his brethren in Synod. He loved the Church and the cause of religion, which was manifested not only by the life of self-sacrifice and devotion he lived, but his mind ran altogether in that direction during all his sickness, no other interest ever seemed to find a place in his thoughts. When in his right mind he would often say, 'I will never be well again--my work on earth is done, my Father will soon take me to his home to rest.' As he neared the dark river he would often clap his hands and shout aloud for joy. I thank God from my heart that I was ever permitted to be an eye witness of so glorious a triumph of grace as was displayed in my father's death.

After spending some time in shouting and talking to each one of the family, and also to every one present, a friend said, 'Give him some wine, he is almost exhausted.' With an earnestness I shall never forget, father raised his eyes and said, 'It did not hurt me.' He passed quietly to his rest."

In the death of Bro. Bell his family has lost a most affectionate and devoted father; the country one of its most valuable citizens; the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in East Tennessee, one of its oldest and most efficient ministers. He was a well-tried and faithful servant of the Church, which his long and useful life has well attested. To the afflicted family we would present our sympathies, as well as promise them our earnest prayers. "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: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 24, 1876, page 2]


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Updated January 28, 2015