Alexander Downey

1794 - 1836

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


[*Manuscript letter of Rev. Hiram A. Hunter.]

ALEXANDER DOWNEY was born in the upper part of Kentucky, it is believed, in 1798. He was a cabinet-maker by trade. He professed religion in vicinity of Russellville, Kentucky, in the winter of 1817.

The next year he was received as a candidate for the ministry, under the care of the Logan Presbytery. He was licensed to preach in the fall of 1820, at the same time with Revs. Hiram McDaniel and James Y. Barnett, who have passed away, and Hiram A. Hunter, who still survives. The Presbytery held its sessions at the time at Old Red River Meeting-house. Rev. William Harris propounded the constitutional questions, and offered the prayer. He was ordained in Russellville, in 1822 or 1823. Rev. William Barnett performed the ordination services.

Mr. Downey was married to Ann P. Taylor, in Ohio county, Kentucky. The time of his marriage, however, is not known to the writer. The marriage service was performed by his friend and fellow-laborer, Rev. Hiram A. Hunter.

He spent his early ministerial life in Kentucky, but died in Belleville, Indiana, in 1837 or 1838. His death is represented as a most triumphant one.

Says the contributor to whom I am indebted for most of these facts:

"When I visited him two weeks before his death, he recounted some of the fruits of his ministerial labor. About one hundred persons had professed religion at his own meetings. He had a presentiment that he would die in two weeks from the night which I spent with him, requested me to preach his funeral-sermon, and appointed the time and place for the service. At his request, the citizens of the village were invited in that night, and I preached to them. When the sermon was closed, he asked to be propped up in his bed, and in that position exhorted the congregation to prepare to meet him in heaven. The whole assembly were bathed in tears. He told them that he would die in two weeks from that time, that death to him was no terror, that he was rather pleased with the prospect, since it would introduce him into heaven."

Whatever we may think of presentiments, Mr. Downey died two weeks from the interesting night here described. He died, as we would suppose, in the full hope of a glorious immortality. Says the respected authority already quoted:

"He was a good man, much devoted to his work, and few men have done more for the Church and the world than he did."

Mr. Downey entered the ministry about the same time with the writer, but in a different part of the Church. My acquaintance with him was of a public kind altogether. I met him several times at the meetings of the Old Cumberland Synod--but I believe nowhere else. He had the reputation of being an earnest, warm-hearted, and efficient man. His countenance was pale, and not very expressive. He had the appearance of a man of feeble health. I imagine his health was feeble. This, in connection with his earnest and devoted labors, will probably account for his death when he should have been in the prime of life. Indeed, in his day men were not taught to take care of themselves. They hardly thought it a duty.

Mr. Downey was a revivalist in his time--not, however, in the sense in which that term is now used. It has become at present rather technical. But he had revivals on his circuits, and wherever he labored. He expected them as common results. Doubtless his record is on high. It is good to go back and make an estimate, if we can, of the labors of such a man.

With but a limited education, with but few personal advantages, in his sphere he made his impression upon society. May not that impression have been far deeper and more permanent than the impression of many who have occupied higher places? A man who in heaven wears a crown of rejoicing containing so many stars, deserves to be remembered on earth.

Mr. Downey, at his death, left a widow, but no children.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, Published for the author, 1867, pages 215-218]

ALEXANDER DOWNEY was a native of Mercer county, Kentucky; is said to have been born in 1798, but I think earlier in the last century. I was born in 1800, and I am persuaded there were more than two years between us. Bro. Downey was a man of some natural ability but limited attainments, yet he enjoyed a large measure of grace, like Stephen and Barnabas. He was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and surpassed by few in point of usefulness. We both rode the circuit in Kentucky and also in Indiana, and attended camp-meetings in both States. Bro. Lowry preceded us in this State, but we followed close after him. I was ordained at Pilot Knob in 1823, Bro. Downey in Russellville in 1824. We were associated as members of Indiana Presbytery in 1826, and our association was continued at the camp-meetings throughout the State even during the period of his labor as circuit-rider, after the organization of Indiana Presbytery. In the summer and fall we held camp-meetings, assisted by the young men under the care of Presbytery, and in the winter and spring protracted meetings, which were often as successful as our camp-meetings.

In all these meetings, when we were together, we were true yoke-fellows, always ready to pull together. There was no ambition between us; each seemed to know the place for each to work, and I have never seen the man with whom I could work more efficiently. I could relate many incidents of interest--will one suffice? The meeting was at Sharp's camp-ground, near Elletsville, Monroe county. We had a heavy drag from Friday till Monday. A young man was to preach and I to follow him; Downey to preach at night. The young man preached, sadly bewildered. Downey became restless; he pulled the man's coat, saying, "Quit, and let Hunter at it." He sat down. I rose and prayed. When I took my text, Downey stood on my right. As I preached, striking the breast-board he would cry out, "Sinners, listen!" and then, "Hear that," and then, "Lord help Bro. H. to preach and sinners to hear." Under these circumstances I preached my sermon, and invited the mourners forward for prayer. The altar was filled with anxious penitents, and before the work ceased many professed religion. Downey preached at night, and in the morning the meeting closed with more than fifty professions, all during Monday and Monday night.

Let me now close by noticing some of the circumstances connected with his death and what followed. Attending a meeting somewhere up the Wabash I heard of his illness and went to see him. He had not been out of his bed for some weeks. As I rode up to his gate he saw me through a window. I heard him call to his wife to come; she came in haste and alarmed; he wanted to get up and dress; she brought him his clothes and he was up and dressed when I entered. He sat up and conversed with me freely and asked me to preach to him that night. The appointment was sent through the town of Bellville. He sat at the table with me at supper, but ate nothing, talking all the time of events familiar to us both, and then told me he had a premonition that he would die two weeks from that night, and he wanted me to preach his funeral at the camp-ground, a mile from town. I promised to do it. That night I preached to a crowded house. When I closed my sermon he asked to be propped up in his bed, and in a brief talk to the congregation he said that two weeks from that night he would die, that I had promised to preach his funeral sermon, and he wanted them all to hear it. The whole assembly were bathed in tears. He told them that death, to him, was no terror; that he was rather pleased with the prospect since it would introduce him into heaven. He died the night he said he would. His widow informed me of the fact, and I complied with his request. He died in great peace, in the triumphs of faith.

It may be safely said he traveled and preached more extensively than any of the first members of this Presbytery, and that to his labors was mainly due the organization of Wabash Presbytery. He was unquestionably one of the most efficient and successful in winning souls to Christ. His remains were deposited in a private burying-ground near his old residence, but by direction of Wabash Presbytery Rev. Elam McCord and Elder W. A. Ragan, about ten years ago, removed them to the cemetery near the Cumberland Presbyterian church, one mile from the village of Clayton.

During the late war I was a chaplain in the 28th Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers, and being in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, I had to pass through the lines to the residence of my daughter-in-law, who was with me. The captain of the guard approached to examine my pass. Having read my name, repeated it, saying, "I once heard a man of that name preach, but you can not be that man; he has certainly been dead a long time ago." I asked, "Where did you hear him?" "At a camp-ground near Bellville in Indiana." I asked, "Was the man you heard a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher?" He answered, "Yes, sir." "Did he preach the funeral of another Cumberland Presbyterian preacher?" "Yes, sir." I asked, "Was the man whose funeral was preached named Downey?" He answered, "Yes, sir." Then I said to him, "Sir, let me introduce to you the man that preached that funeral sermon." And as I gave him my hand he took it and said, "Let me introduce to you a man that was converted to God through the instrumentality of that sermon. At the date of my interview with him he told me he was an elder in that congregation, and in all probability was the man who, with Bro. McCord, was appointed by Wabash Presbytery to remove the remains of my brother Downey.

Sleep? sleep, my brother, till the trump of God shall wake us both in that morning.

[Source: Darby, Rev. W. J. and Rev. 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, Indiana, 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 77-79]

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