FRANCEWAY RANNA COSSITT was born at Claremont, New Hampshire, April 24, 1790. His family were Episcopalians. His maternal grandfather and an uncle were in succession pastors of the Episcopalian congregation at Claremont. I have received the impression from himself, that whilst his family were perhaps not bigoted, they were decided in their ecclesiastical preferences. They were of those who had sympathized with the king in his conflicts with the parliament--a series of conflicts which resulted in the overthrow and death of the king, and the establishment of Cromwell in the Protectorate. Of course his ancestors could hardly have been genuine Puritans.
At the age of fourteen Mr. Cossitt commenced his preparation for college, and after the usual embarrassments and delays in such cases, entered Middlebury College, in Vermont. In 1813 he graduated. His standing was high in a large class. After leaving college he spent two years in teaching, at Morristown, in New Jersey. It was customary, in those days, for men, after having completed their collegiate studies, to spend some time in teaching before entering upon the study of those things relating more immediately to their chosen profession. From Morristown he went to North Carolina, and took charge of Vine Hill Academy, on Roanoke River.
From North Carolina he returned to New England deeply impressed with the necessity of personal religion. What particular circumstance awakened his attention to that subject is not now known to his friends. After using the ordinary means, and passing through many discouragements, his mind at length found relief. In his own self-distrusting account of this occurrence, he says: "If I ever embraced Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel, it was near the bank of the Connecticut River. I had tied my horse to a sappling in a thicket, whither I had retired to pray for mercy." In such a manner a man of his temperament was more likely to settle the great question to his satisfaction. The pressure of a crowd who are encouraging and exhorting may be the best for some, but it is not the best for all.
Mr. Cossitt's original purpose was to engage in the legal profession, but with his spiritual change came a change of purpose. He resolved to devote himself to the Christian ministry. He studied theology at New Haven, in what has since become the General Episcopal Seminary of New York--the institution having been removed. Bishop Brownell, of Connecticut, gave him license as a "lay reader" in the Episcopal Church.
He then directed his course to Tennessee, and established a school at a little place on Cumberland River, called in its day New York, a few miles below Clarksville. A number of his Carolina friends had moved and settled there. They were wealthy, and desired to educate their children. With a view to this object, they urged his settlement among them. In addition, the opening and improving condition of the country presented a fine prospect to men engaged in the work of education. His school became in process of time, amongst other things, a sort of theological seminary. A number of young men preparing for the ministry resorted thither for the purpose of receiving instruction.
While he was engaged at New York I first became acquainted with Mr. Cossitt. In the fall of 1821 he came to a camp-meeting held on Wells's Creek, in Stewart county. He was accompanied to the meeting by William Clements, an educated gentleman and an elder in the Church, who had previously become acquainted with him. An introduction by such a man as Mr. Clements was a recommendation. They arrived at the meeting on Saturday. The ministers in attendance, besides myself, were Thomas Calhoon, Robert Baker, and Robert S. Donnell. Mr. Cossitt preached on Saturday evening, although still an Episcopalian. His text was, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." The sermon was a respectable argument in support of the truth of the Christian Scriptures. This was his introduction to Cumberland Presbyterians. Mr. Calhoon was the manager of the meeting, and treated him with great attention and respect.
In 1822 he was set apart to the whole work of the ministry in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and became a member of the Anderson Presbytery. On the 19th of February, of the same year, he was married to Miss Lucinda Blair, of Montgomery county, a lady of unusual personal attractions. Her father was a prominent member of the Church. Of course Mr. Cossitt was now fairly identified with the Cumberland Presbyterians.
Shortly after his marriage he issued a prospectus with a view to the publication of a paper, which he proposed to call the Western Star. For some reason the publication was never commenced. I suppose the reason to have been an insufficiency of encouragement on the score of patronage. The movement was in advance of the times. After spending two or three years at New York, he moved to Elkton, Kentucky, and established a school there. His associations at Elkton were unusually pleasant. He always spoke of them with interest.
At the sessions of the Cumberland Synod at Princeton, in 1825, the plan of Cumberland College was projected, and commissioners were appointed to examine particular points, and make the location. Another set of commissioners was appointed to procure a charter for the proposed Institution from the Legislature of Kentucky. It was to have been called the Cumberland Presbyterian College. The gentlemen who visited the Legislature for the purpose of procuring a charter, were advised to drop the "Presbyterian" from the proposed name, as it might arouse sectarian opposition among the members and their friends, and thus cause the application to be rejected. Accordingly the application was made for a charter of Cumberland College. The change was displeasing to some leading members of the Church, and was perhaps the first step in producing a series of embarrassments which in process of time became very numerous and great--so much that in a few years the existence of the Institution was placed in jeopardy.
Princeton and Elkton were rivals in their efforts for the location. The Institution was located in the vicinity of Princeton; a farm was bought about a mile from the town. It was to be a manual labor school, and arrangements were made accordingly. Mt. Cossitt was chosen President, and opened the College for the reception of students in March, 1826.
Cumberland College was an experiment. The country was comparatively new. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had been chiefly devoted to the more immediate work of saving sinners, and collecting congregations. The itinerant plan of preaching, and yearly camp-meetings, constituted a large part of their machinery. The establishment of denominational schools and of colleges had been overlooked. The lessons necessary to conducting such enterprises with success had to be learned from experience. A practical man would have expected blunders and a probable failure. Again, the plan of the Institution was a novelty. It was a generous conception. Almost any reasoner would have decided that it was suitable to the wants and genius of a plain, practical people. It looked to the education of young men, and especially of young men preparing for the ministry, who had not the means of supporting themselves at more expensive institutions of learning. Rugged young men, who had been first trained at the plow, and who had vigor of body, were to be converted into scholars, and statesmen, and pulpit orators. This was the theory, and it was a theory worthy of a trial. The students were to occupy dormitories provided for them, to use straw-beds, and furniture of the plainest and cheapest king, and to board at a common boarding-house. The fare was to be healthful, but plain and cheap. All luxuries were proscribed. The students were to work two hours each day except the Sabbath, and to pay sixty dollars a year into the College treasury.
Upon the opening of the College, Mr. Cossitt collected around him some of the best young men in the land. A large log-building was constructed for College purposes, and the students who were educated there during ten of the first years of the Institution "rubbed their backs against wooden walls." Notwithstanding what would now be considered the grimness and severity of the system, the number of the students was large. In the spring and summer of 1830 it reached one hundred and twenty-five.
At the meeting of the General Assembly in 1830 it was thought necessary to raise the charges in money from sixty to eighty dollars. Experience had shown that the expenditures of the establishment were greater than its friends had anticipated. The circumstance operated unfavorably, of course, upon the patronage of the Institution; still its patronage was respectable. Pecuniary difficulties, however, rather increased than diminished. Money had been borrowed to pay for the farm, and other debts had been contracted, and the interest was an eating cancer.
In 1831 the General Assembly leased the College to Rev. John Barnett and Rev. Aaron Shelby for a term of years. The pecuniary difficulties of the Institution had become very great. The Church had become in some degree alienated; confidence in the final success of the enterprise was failing. Messrs. Barnett and Shelby were to have all the proceeds of the College after paying the necessary expenditures--to support a sufficient number of instructors, to keep up the boarding-house, and pay the debts of the College. They were considered men of great energy and perseverance, of respectable financial ability, and devoted friends of the Church. Mr. Shelby continued his connection with the Institution till the summer or fall of 1833, when he sold his interest to Mr. Harvey Young. In the summer of 1834 Mr. Young died, and the entire management of the financial affairs of the College fell into the hands of Mr. Barnett. In the summer of 1834 the cholera visited the town. A number of persons fell victims to the terrible disease. The College, however, did not disband. But the cholera was followed by a malignant fever, which extended to the College community, and spread over the country. The condition of things became so bad at the College, that a temporary suspension of operations was found absolutely necessary. The manager of the farm and boarding-house died; one of the professors was finally prostrated, one of the students died, and a number in addition were sick. It was a terrible blow upon the Institution. It rallied, however, and the fall session commenced with favorable prospects. Still there were financial troubles. The Church, too, began to complain of Mr. Barnett. Some thought he managed badly; others thought he managed wholly with a view to his own selfish ends; others went so far as to impeach his integrity as a man of business and a Christian. A change became necessary.
Accordingly, at the General Assembly in 1837, which met at Princeton, Cumberland College Association was formed. Mr. Barnett's interest was transferred to the Association. It was a joint-stock company. It was pledged to carry on the operations of the Institution under the direction and control of the General Assembly. A number of the most respectable and wealthy citizens of Princeton and the neighborhood entered into the Association. Prospects seemed to brighten, and hope was restored once more. The Association entered upon their with vigor and energy. Still, after a temporary revival of interest and confidence, another cloud arose. An impression was made upon the minds of those in the neighborhood of the College that the Church had deserted it, and that neither contributions nor patronage were to be expected from that quarter. It was believed that busy persons, with selfish designs, contributed to that impression. The subject of transferring the Institution to the control of the Episcopalians of Kentucky was seriously considered. How far Episcopalians of Kentucky may have been answerable themselves for the state of feeling which existed, the writer has no means of knowing, but some of Dr. Cossitt's friends thought that they were not inactive. It was natural enough that they should have felt an interest in a measure which would have contributed greatly to their success and establishment in Lower Kentucky.
The result of this condition of things was a great effort on the part of Dr. Cossitt to arouse the Church once more to an interest in behalf of the College. He and Rev. F. C. Usher, who was connected with him in the department of instruction, published a circular letter, in which earnest appeals were made to the ministers and members of the Church. I append also a private letter, written about the same time, and on the same subject, to one of the fathers of the Church. I suppose he may have written twenty or thirty such letters.
"CUMBERLAND COLLEGE, Feb. 3, 1840.
"DEAR BROTHER IN CHRIST:--By this time probably you have received a printed circular signed by myself and Brother Usher. By that you will see that we are in trouble--I have not dared to show how much. To tell you that mine are days of sadness, and nights of waking--to say that my eyes stream with tears, and my heart bleeds with agony, would be to tell you of what your knowledge of me, and your perusal of the circular, must already have informed you. I will not attempt to describe the shame, mortification, and anguish of spirit which I feel; but will devote this sheet to the reasons why I thus feel at present. Surely I may be permitted to show the wounds of my spirit to sympathizing brethren.
"I have devoted the best years of my life to the College. I have done it for the Church. The Church must and will sustain it, in justice to herself, if not to me. For all that I have done, sacrificed, and suffered, I ask nothing for myself--not even thanks; but I ask that she may not suffer the fruits of her own labors, as well as mine, to go to swell the triumphs of another denomination, and to fix the indelible stain of ignorance, supineness, and covetousness upon our names and memories.
"When I compare what other denominations are doing in behalf of ministerial education with what we are doing, I must confess I am alarmed, not that I envy or wish to impede their success, but because I tremble for our own. I have at great pains obtained the following statistics, which may be relied on as correct: The Episcopalians have seven colleges and four theological seminaries in the United States. The Presbyterians have fifty colleges and nine theological seminaries. The Congregationalists, nine colleges and five theological seminaries. The Methodists, eight colleges. The Baptists, seven colleges and five theological seminaries. The Catholics, six colleges and five theological seminaries. There are forty-nine colleges and twelve theological seminaries West of the Alleghany Mountains, and I believe every one of them much better endowed than our own; yet but very few of them hold an equal standing. Thirty-seven colleges and ten theological seminaries have been established since ours, and nearly all the colleges and twelve theological seminaries, on the West of the Alleghanies. And now, my brother, shall the only Cumberland Presbyterian College pass to another denomination? The whole world would cry out, 'Shame! Shame!' Our very name would become a by-word and a reproach for ages to come. I am not a prophet, but, my dear brother, permit me to make a prediction. This College may die, or go into other hands, but its epitaph will be written in the everlasting disgrace of that body which founded, but did not appreciate and sustain it. It is better for us to hear this plain, but unpleasant truth, now while the remedy is in our power, than for posterity to hear it when the time has passed for effacing the stain from the escutcheon of the Church of their ancestors. Should the Church in future ages mourn over the supineness and negligence of the present generation of ministers and members of our branch? Should future generations of men regard us as too weak to appreciate the blessings and manifold mercies wherewith an indulgent Heaven has favored us, or too covetous to extend and perpetuate them as a rich legacy to our spiritual descendants, whose reputation would be most likely to suffer? The name and memory of him whose afflicted heart now communes with you in these lines, will probably be overlooked in the crowd of those more conspicuous; or if remembered at all, will at least be known as an advocate for education. Should posterity fix the broad seal of condemnation on our Church for suffering our College to pass into other hands for the want of aid, who, I ask, will bear this load of censure? Rely upon this fact: the more conspicuous any one may have been in founding and building up the Church, the more conspicuous must he be in the history of the loss of the College to that Church of which he was a minister. Do you think I fear for my own reputation, in such an event? How is it possible to entertain such a fear? I can fear nothing, while faithful records are preserved. The body proposing to take the College would, I doubt not, render it a splendid Institution in a very few years. They say so, and it is known that they are fully able. Their colleges are all splendid--some of them the most so in the world. Did I wish to get myself a great name as the founder of a splendid College, at the expense of duty, conscience, and the interests of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, together with the reputation of its ministers and members, the readiest way to accomplish this end would be to let the Episcopalians have it. But Providence has cast my lot with you; my sympathies are with you, and I wish to live and die a member of your Church, which has adopted me as a son, and honored me as a minister. I trust I feel for the honor of the Church. And while my heart is torn with agony under existing prospects, permit me, with humble deference, to say my heart assures me we all ought to raise our voices and wield our pens; we ought to sound the tocsin of alarm; stir up every minister and member; traverse the whole length and breadth of our bounds; visit every Church and every family from the palace to the cot, and invite and urge all to contribute to a fund for the education of a future ministry. I verily believe our doctrines are the truth as taught in the word of God. I also believe they are taught in the writings of the fathers of the Christian Church, up to the time of Augustine, who was the first teacher of the system now called Calvinism. The doctrines of our Church are much older than the Westminster Confession, and just as old as the Bible. This I have intended to show at some time in a little book on the subject. Now if our doctrines are the truth, ought we not to give the world the benefit of them? And how can we do this without some men at least of extensive learning? Believe me, if any Church under heaven needs an educated ministry, that Church is our own. If so many colleges and theological seminaries are employed in educating men to disseminate error, ought we not to have one employed in the cause of God's own truth? Resolve upon it, and it shall be so. I, for one, have embarked in the cause of education, as auxiliary to the diffusion of the gospel. I have had many discouragements, and have often been censured and condemned. I may be again, but hope is still my anchor. I have put my hand to the plow--I cannot turn back. It is true, at the beginning I did not count the cost in regard to my sufferings in feeling, but be them what they may, I am now prepared to endure them until every prospect has vanished, and hope's last lingering ray has given place to the gloom of utter despair.
"You are at liberty to show this to as many brethren as you judge to be faithful and true. Let me hear from you, if you please, as soon as possible. Could you not write something, and publish it in the paper, in favor of sustaining the College? And I hope you will come up to the next Assembly determined to sustain it, and prepared for prompt and efficient measures.
"In great affliction, but with hope for my consolation, I remain your in Christ,
"F. R. Cossitt."
These efforts were continued to the meeting of the General Assembly, which occurred in May following, Its sessions were held at Elkton, Kentucky. When the Assembly met, it appeared that the Church had been fully awakened to the importance and danger of the crisis. A magnificent scheme was formed. If it had been carried into effective operation, it would have relieved the College from debt, and rendered it permanent, if not prosperous. It was proposed to raise one hundred thousand dollars for educational purposes. Fifty-five thousand dollars of that sum was to serve as a perpetual endowment of Cumberland College; thirty thousand was to be used in Pennsylvania, in the endowment of a college there; and the remaining fifteen thousand dollars was to constitute a sort of floating capital, to be used as circumstances might suggest. Several of the most popular young men in the Church were engaged as agents; the people were not illiberal in their subscriptions, and every thing seemed to promise well. Dr. Cossitt confidently believed that the College would be endowed, and that the most liberal provision would be made for the education of candidates for the ministry. This last was always a controlling thought with him, as it has been with all the earnest educators in our Church. This thought originated the impulse which led to the establishment of Cumberland College at first, and afterward to the establishment of Cumberland University. As an evidence that he was sanguine in his hopes, I offer the following extract from a letter written to myself a few weeks before the meeting of the Assembly in 1840. He had received the impressions from his correspondence which developed themselves at the Assembly. The letter indicates great hopefulness:
"PRINCETON, April 8, 1840.
"DEAR BROTHER BEARD:--It is now near midnight, I suppose. I have been in bed, but cannot sleep, and have arisen to write a few lines to you. I suppose you have received my printed circular, also the first number of the Banner of Peace. You will see our prospects, in part only, of the endowment of the College, I tell you it will be endowed. If for years 'we have sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept when we remembered Zion,' the redeeming spirit which is abroad leads us to say, now 'is our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with singing.' Even I, who have been so long brooding over my hard fortune, like one shorn of his strength and bereft of his energies, feel my native energies rising within me, and the promptings to action, which I could scarcely suppress, if I would. Our Church is to awake from her apathy, depend upon it. 'The Lord hath not forgotten to be gracious--he will not always chide.' An impetus is to be given to ministerial education. Were you here, you could judge of the signs of the times as well as I--especially after reading the many letters which I have received. I and my family have written during the winter about fifty letters, in some respects like the one I sent you some short time since, notwithstanding my labors are much more arduous in College than when you were here. You would be astonished at the amount of labor of all kinds I now perform. I am astonished at it myself. I am complaining of a cold, but Mrs. Cossitt says mental efforts agree with my health.
"I am writing, and expect to write, much on the subject of ministerial education. I hope to give the subject some of my best strokes before I have done with it. Brother Usher is doing well. Mr. P. is too fractious; but we have harmony in the Faculty. I have given him some plain and faithful talks, by which Brother Usher thinks he has profited. * * * Good-night.
"F. R. Cossitt."
I present an extract from another letter, received ten months after the action of the Assembly in 1840:
"PRINCETON, March 27, 1841.
"BELOVED BROTHER:--* * * Your letter convinces me that you are somewhat behind the times with respect to the present feelings and sentiments of the Church. Perhaps you are yet incredulous. I do not know that I ought to wonder at it, considering the past. I for years was just where you are. But I tell you, the Church is getting awake on two important subjects--The means of education for candidates for the ministry; and, The means of support for laborious ministers, together with a general plan of operations. I am sure I could convince you of this in a short conversation. Do not smile, and say, 'Brother Cossitt is sanguine.' Let me smile, rather, and say, 'Brother Beard is skeptical." Trust me, for once: I cannot be mistaken. * * * With some, learning is useful, NECESSARY, for INDISPENSABLE; with other, it is popular and praiseworthy. The people are almost universally in favor of it, as you know. Who shall dare to oppose it? I tell you, the day for open opposition has passed. * * * The spirit of the age is onward; and this spirit has at last entered our Church. I could, if time and paper would allow, give you many evidences. * * * The College will be endowed. We cannot doubt it. You must give up your incredulity--you will be compelled to yield it. * * * I am overwhelmed with cares and business. My labors in the College are not at all lessened. * * * Sometimes I think I have business enough for two or three men. I have to write much, while others sleep. But they say I fatten on it. I feel that I can do much with a prospect of success, but very little without it. I do hope and pray that I may never again sink into that state of listlessness and despondency in which I was for some years of our acquaintance. Yours in the gospel,
"F. R. COSSITT."
It will be perceived that this letter was written but a few weeks before the meeting of the General Assembly of 1841. At that Assembly things seemed to be going forward smoothly. The friends of the College were still hopeful, and even buoyant. I have letters in my possession, written by Dr. Cossitt several months after the Assembly of 1841, in which the same hopeful and confident spirit is expressed. My persistent incredulity had been almost overcome. The reader will then judge of the revulsion which the public mind must have experienced when it was announced at the General Assembly of 1842, that Cumberland College was still hopelessly in debt, that its property was under execution, and liable to be placed under the sheriff's hammer any day. None but those, however, who knew Dr. Cossitt intimately can appreciate the shock which his feelings must have suffered as the true condition of things became known, and its inevitable results were developed.. The writer makes this statement with a full knowledge of many, if not of most, of the circumstances connected with the dark cloud which spread itself over the prospects of the College. And however Dr. Cossitt may have felt compelled to follow the lead of a train of circumstances which he could not control, the troubles of Cumberland College, of which we now speak, threw a shadow over his path which continued to his dying day. The happiest hours of his life were those in which he was struggling--often against fearful odds--for the prosperity, or to maintain the existence, of the Institution. It was, from its inception, a darling enterprise-it was that through which he became known to the world. It was the enterprise through which he expected his name to be handed down to posterity, if it should reach posterity at all. It was an enterprise of his own selection. His Banner of Peace was pressed upon him by the force of circumstances. He felt that his work in the College was the great work of his life. This is evident from his private and most earnest letters.
As we would have expected, when the condition of the College became known to the Assembly, the revulsion of feeling and the disappointment were so great that steps were immediately taken toward the removal of the Institution. A commission of gentlemen, all prominent members of the Church, was appointed to consider the matter, and take some action upon it. The commission met in Nashville, on the first day of the following July, 1842, and determined to establish Cumberland College at Lebanon, Tennessee. Dr. Cossitt was elected to the presidency of the new College, and accepted the appointment, and of course the Commencement of the College at Princeton, in 1842, terminated his connection with that Institution. The friends of the old Institution, however, rallied, sold its useless property, paid its debts, and continued its operations with respectable success, and, I trust I may be allowed to say, with usefulness, for a number of years.
But the question will naturally present itself to my reader, What was the cause of all the troubles in Cumberland College, and especially of those which developed themselves so disastrously in 1842? It is not my purpose to enter into an investigation of this subject. I have often thought and said, that if the history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church should ever be written, the history of the old College would constitute its darkest chapter. I have no disposition to extend this chapter farther than I have already done. But a few words may, and perhaps should, be added in justice to the living, and to the memory of the dead. And first, Mr. Barnett was not the cause of the trouble. It was once fashionable to ascribe at least a great deal of it to him. But there were troubles and discouragements before he and Shelby became connected with it. There were troubles after it fell into the hands of the Association. These troubles culminated in 1842, five years after Mr. Barnett's connection with the Institution had ceased. Furthermore, before his connection with the College, he was a successful farmer in the country, was understood to be very practical and skillful in the management of his business, and had acquired a respectable property. When he left the Institution, he was an insolvent debtor. He was never able to extricate himself from his financial difficulties, and died under the cloud which those difficulties brought over him. He spent his last years under a deep impression that he had been injured and cruelly mistreated by the Church. Under that impression his spirits were at length broken, and he sunk in sorrow to the grave. Mr. Young, who was connected with him for some time, had prospered in his quiet home, and was making a good living for his family. After an experiment of a year at the College, he left them in a great measure penniless. Mr. Barnett and Dr. Cossitt did not always agree in judgment; they became at length estranged in feeling, but they were both honest; they meant well, and were both unyielding in their devotion to the Church. I knew those good men well; they served their generation, and their estrangements have been forgotten in the quietude of the grave.
Secondly. The people of Princeton were not the cause. The Church sometimes complained that they did not feel as much interest in the College as they ought to feel. This may have been true to some extent. There are men in every community who would sell any public enterprise for a mess of pottage, if they could appropriate the price to the satisfying of their own hunger. Still the people of Princeton would have kept up the College, if they could have done it. They have given the best possible evidence of this for twenty-five years past. They are not more selfish or sectarian than other people.
Thirdly. Dr. Cossitt was not the cause. He never controlled the financial affairs of the College. Furthermore, the number of young men of very high order that he kept around him in the College, and their high regard for him as a man and as an instructor, furnish sufficient evidence of the influence which he was capable of exerting upon the youthful and aspiring mind. He labored with great earnestness, and a portion of the time, at least, with great self-denial, in trying to support the Institution. It was opened in 1826, and it was understood at the General Assembly in 1829, three years afterward, that the financial difficulties had commenced, and that the existence of the College was already in peril. From that time to 1842 the struggle was continued and unremitting between hope and despair, and the wonder is, that a man with feeble health and sensitive feelings should have lived and labored so long under such circumstances.
Beyond these negatives I shall not go, farther than to say that there was unquestionably a combination of causes which operated in producing the results that we have been considering. The enterprise was new. As it has been already said, it was an experiment. Its partial failure can be accounted for without bringing reproach upon the Church or any of its individual members. Still Cumberland College, although it has now ceased to exist, fulfilled a useful and an honored mission. It has a noble record. Its alumni are known, and their power is felt in high places. Notwithstanding its financial troubles, and its partial failure in 1842, and its entire failure since, no member of the Church needs be ashamed of its contributions to the educational interests of the country. I must be allowed to include in these statements its whole history, from 1826 to its final failure. Trace the footsteps of its sons, and you will find the most of those who survive where men are wont to be.
In 1829 Mr. Cossitt made an excursion through some of the Middle and Southern States. He spent some time in Washington City, and while there published and circulated a pamphlet, setting forth the character and claims of the College. He preached in several of the churches of the city, and received some donations. He preached also in Baltimore and Philadelphia, receiving very respectful attention in both cities. In Baltimore especially, his preaching seems to have made considerable impression. He brought one young man from Baltimore, and two or three from Eastern Virginia, to the Institution. Two of these young men remained until they graduated. They became useful and honored men.
Early in 1830 the leading men connected with the College commenced the publication of the Religious and Literary Intelligencer, at Princeton. It was the first periodical of the Church. Mr. Cossitt was identified with it for a few months, and a principal contributor to its columns. The Assembly of 1830, however, transferred the editorial control of the paper to Rev. David Lowry. It afterward became the Revivalist, and finally the Cumberland Presbyterian, in Nashville.
In 1833 Mr. Cossitt lost his wife and the mother of his children. She endured a long illness, and died in the triumphs of faith. On the 19th of January, 1834, he was married a second time, to Miss Matilda Edwards, of Elkton, Kentucky. The respected widow still lives. In 1839 he received the Doctorate of Divinity from Middlebury College, and also from the Trustees of Cumberland College, with which he was then connected.
In March, 1840, he commenced the publication of the Banner of Peace. It was at first a monthly periodical. He continued it a year under this form. In December of 1841 the publication was renewed. It was changed, however, from a monthly to a small weekly. The following letter will serve as an illustration of the feelings with which he undertook the publication of a weekly paper. It brings us back once more into the region of trouble:
"PRINCETON, June 5, 1841.
"DEAR BROTHER:--I received your letter, but could not find time to answer it before the General Assembly. I now write in haste, on another subject.
"You have probably heard of the proceedings of the late Assembly. While I rejoice at what that body did for the College, I mourn over the loss of a weekly paper. I was strongly solicited to undertake a weekly on a plan similar to the one I am about to propose; but not knowing what arrangements I could make at home, I declined, and concluded to continue my little monthly. I could doubtless obtain a large list of subscribers.
"But, Brother Beard, shall it be said that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church has not supported, and cannot support, one weekly paper? Shall truth and falsehood be so blended together and presented to the public, as to make the following impression: that a patriotic individual, at great personal sacrifices, sustained a respectable weekly at Nashville, for the benefit of a Church which had not the gratitude, nor the liberality, nor the justice to sustain his laudable efforts, until he finally became the victim of his own zeal for the cause of the Church, and of the indifference of the Church to her own welfare; and that now three little pitiful monthlies have sprung up, each struggling for a bare existence, and contending for a moiety of that poor patronage which was so grudgingly bestowed upon, or rather withheld from, the late Cumberland Presbyterian?
"I have no desire to be an editor. It is not consonant with my interest or inclination. But I cannot, I CANNOT, I CANNOT let things continue in their present situation, without an honest effort, at least, to better them. When I left the Assembly, I thought I could bear the reproach and live; but when questioned on my way, and after my return home, by our own members, those of other churches, and people of the world, and after hearing their remarks, etc., etc., I do feel myself destitute of that moral courage, or rather indifference to the respectability of the Church, which will enable me to bear the cross, despising the shame of a policy which must and will be regarded by very many as groveling, niggardly, and ridiculous, and which is calculated to discourage our friends and rejoice our enemies.
"What must be done? Who will make the sacrifice, and get up a weekly paper for the edification and comfort of the whole Church, and the propagation of our excellent doctrines abroad? Any one who will do it shall have all the assistance I can afford. I feel much like shrinking from the task, and would rather bid God speed to another than undertake it myself.
"But I do feel I shall have to try it, because no other will. I give you my plan. Brother McPherson, you know, writes well, and has had some experience as an editor. I shall associate him with me, and commence a weekly paper as soon as we can get one thousand advance-paying subscribers, which will about cover expenses, we working for nothing and finding ourselves. We will associate with us as editors (they consenting,) Brothers Ewing, Donnell, Beard, Burrow, Reed, and Anderson, who will incur no pecuniary liabilities, and have not profits, (there cannot be much, if any,) give us the influence of their names, the benefit of their counsel, the assistance of their patronage, and write for the paper as much as time and other circumstances will permit. It is important that the Church should be united. By having these prominent men associated, even though some of them do not write much, they will be more free to make suggestions, give counsel, and guard us against faults and errors. Most men feel to shrink from reproving a brother. Associate editors will feel it a duty, if we err; and we will feel bound to receive admonitions with docility and thankfulness. The contributions of each for the paper will be signed by his initials, unless he direct otherwise. Their names will give us influence--they and their friends will afford to us patronage.
"We will be able to publish Brother Donnell's new lectures entire, (which he is now preparing, and which would twice fill a monthly,) Ewing's revised and much enlarged lectures, and, I hope many things worthy of perusal and preservation, from the pens of other editors. We will issue our prospectus as soon as we obtain the consent of the above-named to become associate editors. There is now in the Church manuscript enough to fill all the three proposed, monthlies, for the present year--verily, much more. Your humble servant wishes to say a few things on some theological subjects-if for nothing else, just to let folks know that his head contains something more than the adventures of 'INEBRIATES,' and 'DANCING MANIACS.' Please to consent to my proposition, and return me a speedy answer, that I may issue our prospectus before I go to the East to lay in a stock of books. Excuse all mistakes. Love to Sister Beard and children. Wife and daughter join me.
"Yours, in the best bonds,
"F. R. COSSITT."
Early in the year 1843 Dr. Cossitt moved to Lebanon, and took charge of Cumberland College at that place. In a short time the Institution became what is now Cumberland University. He continued in the presidency of the College till the fall of 1844, when he resigned, and was succeeded by Rev. T. C. Anderson. He now gave himself up to the management of his paper, enlarging, and otherwise improving it, as he was able. He continued the publication of the Banner of Peace to the close of 1849. His editorial valedictory is contained in the number of the 24th December, 1849. The paper was transferred to Rev. W. D. Chadick and Mr. W. L. Berry. Mr. Chadick assumed control of the editorial department. After the expiration of eighteen years, it will doubtless be a matter of interest to many of the old readers of the Banner to read again the valedictory of its first editor. I therefore embody it in this sketch:
"Our labors as editor of the Banner of Peace are now concluded. This is the last number which will be issued under our supervision. The paper has been transferred to others, who have assumed the labors and responsibilities of conducting if according to our contract with its patrons. The 27th number will be issued in a few weeks, perhaps during the first week in January. This short delay is occasioned by the intervening holidays and late changes. The proprietor of the Religious Ark is about to remove to Lebanon; and the list of that paper will be added to the list of the Banner. The skill, industry, and experience of Mr. Berry, as a printer, are well known and appreciated.
"It is expected that Rev. David Lowry will remove to Lebanon, and become associated with Rev. Wm. D. Chadick, as pastor of the Church in this place, and that these two brethren will henceforth conduct the Banner of Peace. With this expectation, we have transferred to Brother Chadick the editorial honors and pecuniary responsibilities of the paper, with full confidence that he and his associate will be able to conduct it with an ability which will do credit to themselves, and confer lasting benefits on the Church. We commend the Banner of Peace and its editors to all our friends, and hope they will lend their influence and aid in extending its circulation throughout the length and breadth of our beloved Zion. We believe it is destined for good. God has blessed it, and will yet bless it. Let it go forth, preaching peace on earth and good-will toward men.
"In bidding our readers farewell, we have many favors to acknowledge--many blessed memories to treasure up, as a fund for future consolation to a heart that can never cease to be grateful. And to correspondents we would say, if we no more exchange thoughts and tokens of affection on earth, we may address the same Divine throne in each other's behalf, and when life's labors are over, greet each other in a purer, holier clime. We think we have honestly labored for the welfare of our patrons, the Church, and the community. So far as we may have succeeded, we would take no glory to ourselves; so far as we may have failed, we crave charity and forgiveness. Peaceful be our parting. Could the richest heavenly blessings accompany the word, we would feel less regret than we now do in saying farewell.
"F. R. COSSITT."
In 1853 Dr. Cossitt published his Life and Times of Finis Ewing. The literary execution of this work would be creditable to any denomination of Christians.
In the same year he was elected by the Trustees Professor Systematic Theology in Cumberland University. This appointment he declined, on account of his age and increasing infirmities.
The last decade of his life he devoted to the management of his own domestic concerns, and no doubt to a more earnest and prayerful preparation for that great change which for years had seemed to be at the door. He had seen his family melt away around him. In addition to the wife of his youth, he had buried a daughter at Princeton. Two others, both young wives, and one of them a young mother, had been taken from him after he came to Lebanon. He had committed to the grave also in Lebanon, an only son and a son-in-law. He had drunk deeply of the cup of sorrow. He had lived an active and laborious life; he had served his generation. The evening of his life was what we would desire after the day which had preceded. It had been in many respects a cloudy day, but its close was calm. In the quietude of his own pleasant home he found time and opportunity for rest, for intellectual refreshment, for meditation and prayer. His sun went gently down.
A few weeks before his death he became unusually ill. For more than two weeks he was closely confined. He endured his affliction as we would have expected, like a Christian; and on the morning of the third of February, 1863, between four and five o'clock, without a struggle, and without a groan, he sunk into the arms of death. Not a muscle of the face was changed in the conflict with the last enemy.
At the spring meeting of the Lebanon Presbytery, in 1863, the following minute was adopted, expressive of the feelings of the Presbytery in relation to the death of Dr. Cossitt:
"The Committee appointed to draft a minute in relation to the death of Dr. Cossitt, beg leave to make the following report:
"Dr. Cossitt had been for more than forty years a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. A large portion of that time he had occupied conspicuous positions in the Church. He was especially a pioneer in the work of liberal education among us. The Church always regarded him as one of her ablest and most useful ministers. His pious and consecrated life as a Christian and Christian minister was an illustration of the purity and power of our holy religion, to which we expect always to look back with pleasure, and we hope with profit. He has finished his work. On the 3d day of February, 1863, after an illness of about twenty days, he died quietly and peacefully, and in full hope of the resurrection of the just. His health had been feeble for many years--so much so that for years past he had seldom met with us in the judicatories of the Church. He bore his last, as all his previous afflictions, with the patience and gentleness of a Christian. In view of so solemn and impressive a dispensation, the following resolutions are presented to the Presbytery for adoption:
"Resolved, That we hereby express our deep sense of the great worth of Dr. Cossitt, and of the bereavement of the Church in his death.
"Resolved, That whilst we feel an unfeigned sympathy with his surviving family and friends, and the Church at large, we will still submit with quietude and humility to the will of Him who orders all such dispensations aright.
"Resolved, That we feel ourselves called upon, and that we will endeavor to obey the call, to consecrate ourselves as presbyters, and as Christian ministers, more fully to the great work which God in his providence has committed to us, seeing that we too may soon be called hence, as our fathers and brethren have been before us."
The Middle Tennessee Synod bore a similar testimony to the worth of Dr. Cossitt, which we find in the following extract from their Minutes:
"Rev. Franceway R. Cossitt, D.D., was raised and entered the ministry in another Church. Near forty years ago he attached himself to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He often remarked that he was led to this step by a full conviction of the truth of its doctrines, and especially by his sympathy with the earnest and devout spirit manifested by its ministry and membership, in promoting the great object of the organization of a Church in this world--the glory of God and the salvation of men. He was a pioneer in the work of education among us. His connection with Cumberland College, Cumberland University, and the Banner of Peace, gave him the means of great influence and usefulness in the Church. The committee take great pleasure in bearing their testimony to the fidelity with which he used these means. For some years before his death he had been unable for active service. He bore repeated attacks of sickness, and the gradual decline of life, with great patience, and died full of hope and faith. May his mantle fall upon many of those who are following in his footsteps!"
My acquaintance with Dr. Cossitt was very intimate during thirty-three years. I knew him better than most men in the Church knew him. Two years and a half he was my instructor. Six years we were colleagues in the department of instruction in Cumberland College. I was his confidant when he was laboring under the sickening and blighting influence of disappointed hope. In the early operations of Cumberland College he had great difficulty in governing the students. Vicious young men had to be dismissed, and sometimes expelled. He showed me a letter once, while I was a student, in which his life was threatened. I learned from him that such letters were not uncommon. Whilst these troubles existed within, there were dark clouds over the prospects of the Institution. He felt that the Church was tired of it, and sometimes was almost ready to feel that they were tired of him. It was a pioneer work.
After our separation at Cumberland College we were constant correspondents, until I became his neighbor a second time, in 1854. We did not always agree in matters of Church policy, and once or twice in the course of his life an estrangement seemed to be threatened. It is a reflection, however, in which I certainly take great interest now, that what might have been almost expected from the frailty of human nature, and the stormy scenes of more than thirty years, never occurred. I have letters in my possession, containing expressions to myself, and in relation to myself, which delicacy would forbid my making public. He was a great and good man, and has gone to his rest. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church owes his memory a debt of gratitude, especially as an educator, which it will never be able to pay.
In concluding this sketch, I cannot express myself more appropriately than in an outline of the character of Dr. Cossitt which has already been given to the public. I present its substance here:
"In contemplating the prominent characteristics of Dr. Cossitt, we consider him--
"1. As an educator. Although a minister of religion, he was chiefly known as an instructor. The providence of God threw him amongst us for the fulfillment of a great mission in this respect. The character of his pupils is the best illustration of the character of the teacher. His principal work as an instructor was performed at Cumberland College. During seventeen years he labored in that Institution under disadvantages which could hardly be appreciated now. It was literally for several years a 'log college'--as rough in its exterior as an ordinary barn. Its interior fitness was by no means superior to its outward appearance. The dormitories of the students were coarse cabins, furnished with straw-beds. Other means of comfort were of a similar kind. There was an indifferent library. No apparatus was used for some years. Still, under all these disadvantages, and scores of others which might be mentioned, he collected around him, for year to year, some of the best young men in the land. I take it upon myself, too, to say that a collection of nobler men, or more generous scholars, have left no institution of learning in the South-west, than Cumberland College sent forth in those days. Many of them have passed away, but they have left their mark upon the age in which they lived. Others still survive, stirring actors in the conflict of life. In the pulpit and at the bar their voice is heard; at the bedside of the sick and dying their kind ministrations are imparted; and--it is a tender thought--on the field of battle their blood has been shed.
"2. As a Christian minister. Although disease had enfeebled him many years before his death, and old age came upon him prematurely, in which he was able to render but little active service, his early ministrations were effective and popular. They were attended with frequent revivals of religion, and many of the old people of Kentucky still speak of his labors forty years ago with interest and delight. He was not eloquent, in the popular sense of the term. His manner was calm and quiet; but when he was aroused, it was earnest and impressive. His preaching in Baltimore and Philadelphia, in his visit to these cities in 1829, was spoken of in very high terms. He would have been a more popular preacher farther North than in this country.
"3. As a public journalist, he was kind, respectful, and dignified. He engaged in no petty strifes--he indulged in no personal abuse. He was no mere sectarian tool. His paper was the Banner of Peace, as well as the Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate. Whilst he was not backward in defending the doctrines and order of his own Church, he provoked no quarrels. He sought to promote peace; he endeavored to allay strife, both in his own Communion and between his own Communion and others. He maintained his opinions with no intolerant or arrogant spirit.
"4. Dr. Cossitt was a catholic Christian. Whilst his fidelity and earnest devotion to the Church of his adoption were unquestionable, he was not a narrow-minded bigot. His incessant labors, his editorials in the Banner of Peace, and especially his 'Life and Times of Finis Ewing,' are monuments of his fidelity to Cumberland Presbyterians. His whole life was an illustration of his catholic spirit.
"5. In his intercourse with society he was, in a very high sense of the expression, a Christian gentleman. No man ever witnessed in him a rude act, or heard a rude or uncivil expression from his lips. He respected the feelings of others, and labored to promote the happiness of all around him. There might be differences of opinion between him and his brethren, or his neighbors; but on his part, at least, they were attended by no unkind feelings or harsh words. There was charity enough to cover a multitude of sins, if there were sins to be covered. He was a chastened, thoughtful, and courteous Christian minister."
Dr. Cossitt's youngest daughter survives him. At his death, she and a granddaughter were his only living descendants.
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1867., pages 154-191]
The Rev. President Cossitt, a Clergyman belonging to this body of Christians and Principal of the Literary institution at Princeton, Ky. says the Columbian Register of Washington City, left this city on Wednesday last, on his return to the West, having visited other places, north of the Metropolis, to forward the interests of the institution over which he presides, soliciting donations of books, money, &c. This institution numbers at the present time about ninety young men, although it has been in operation only about four years. Manual labour as a source of health both to mind and body, forms a part of its system. The influences of the blessed Spirit have been enjoyed, and revivals of religion have taken place in the college. We have always understood that the Cumberland Presbyterians were a warm-hearted and devoted people, and hence the preaching of their ministers, though received with more excitement and accompanied with rather more shouting than Presbyterians in this part of the country would approve, has been signally blessed of God as the instrument of saving souls. Thousands, if not thoroughly instructed in the truth, have been hopefully and joyfully converted through the truth. It is moreover pleasant to learn that so far from denouncing, as many pretenders have done, the acqusition [sic] of knowledge and the pursuits of literature, the preachers of this denomination, sensible of the value of a learned ministry, are eager in the pursuit of knowledge. There is an increasing desire felt among the people for knowledge. No better evidence of this need be asked than the existence of so flourishing an institution as the Cumberland College.
The last sermon of the Rev. Mr. Cossitt, who has preached many
times in the District, was delivered in the Ninth-street Church,
in this city, on Sabbath night to a crowded audience. It was an
impressive and powerful discourse, and will doubtless be long
remembered by those who heard it, especially the youth to whom
it was particularly addressed.
[Source: The Philadelphian. Vol. V. No. 45, November 6, 1829, page 1]
Cossitt, F. R. The Formation of Character. The Substance of an Address, Delivered Before the Philomathian Society of Cumberland University, at the Celebration of its First Anniversary. Lebanon, Tenn.: J. T. Figures, Banner of Peace Office, 1847. [ photocopy in archives, original needed]
Cossitt, F. R. The Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing. One of the Fathers and Founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. To Which are Added Remarks on Davidson's History, or, a Review of his Chapters on the Revival of 1800, and His History of the Cumberland Presbyterians. Louisville, Kentucky: Rev. Lee Roy Woods, Agent for the Board of Publication of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1853. [2 copies in archives]
Cossitt, F. R. The Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing. One of the Fathers and Founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. To Which are Added Remarks on Davidson's History, or, a Review of his Chapters on the Revival of 1800, and His History of the Cumberland Presbyterians. 3rd ed. Louisville, Kentucky: Rev. Lee Roy Woods, Agent for the Board of Publication of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1853. [2 copies in archives]