William Bell Gillham

1822 - 1879

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister



For more than thirty years, he stood upon the walls of Zion under full authority as a commissioned ambassador for Christ. During the year 1839, when about seventeen years of age, he received the ratification of the covenant in Christ, through faith, being converted from the error of his ways. He entered the communion of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, in Tennessee his native State, and remained in that Church five or six years. In the month of February 1845, he withdrew therefrom, and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The following March he placed himself under the care of Tennessee Presbytery, as a candidate for the holy ministry, was licensed to preach in Winchester, Tennessee, March, 1846, Rev. Robert Donnell officiating; and was set apart to the whole work of the ministry, in the Autumn of 1848, in Athens, Alabama, by the Tennessee Presbytery.

Brother Gillham was not a graduate of any college, but had received thorough and extended instructions in the Viney Grove Academy, presided over by Rev. Dr. Bryson, and assisted by Prof. R. A. Irwin, who fell a victim to yellow fever last year, at Grenada, Mississippi. Other men were educated at that school, who are now useful ministers and successful educators in our Church.

Brother Gillham spent the earlier years of his ministry in Tennessee, sometimes a pastor, and at other times traveling through parts of Tennessee, Alabama, etc., portions of the time employed giving instruction in music. And verily brother Gillham was one of the sweet singers in Israel. Being a polished gentleman, a splendid preacher, and a charming singer, no wonder he was quite a popular Cumberland Presbyterian preacher. For a while he was pastor of the church in Columbia, Tennessee, at the time Columbia was noted for its literature.

During the year 1862, brother Gillham removed from Tennessee to Mississippi, whither a few years before the writer had come from Illinois. Some time before moving to Mississippi, Brother Gillham had lost his wife, the daughter of Mr. William Simontown, then of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. After the cloud and smoke of battle cleared away, brother Gillham joined the Union (now Bell) Presbytery, of which the writer was stated clerk, and then a friendship began that become like that of David and Jonathan. While yet a young man Mr. Gillham compiled and published a work on music in which were many original pieces of his own composing. The book is still in use, in some communities in the South.

Mr. Gillham's acquaintance were varied and extensive. But whatever qualifications or adornments he possessed, his great strength and excellency were in the gospel preacher; here he brought together great thoughtfulness, deep research, with careful arrangement, all imbrued in earnest prayer. He was a model Presbyter, quiet, cool and genial, well informed on all the rules and usages of such bodies. To the young man, preparing for the ministry, he was a kind friend and faithful adviser. In social life he wielded a good influence, especially among the young people here he exercised an influence for good that will live on while he sleeps in death. In all the work and enterprises of the Presbytery and Church at large, he was ever awake, earnestly and actively engaged in whatever he believed would promote the Redeemer's kingdom amongst men. After he had been in Mississippi some time, he was married to the widow Metcalf, of Alabama, and having three children of the former wife, and the widow having one when they married, this was at once a family of six members. The Church offering but little remuneration for preaching, brother Gillham was seemingly forced to the school room. He was a thorough instructor, and combining his efforts in the schoolroom with the absorbing work of his life, preaching Christ to dying sinners, he did great service and left an abiding impression upon the minds and hearts of young and old that will bring forth fruit, no doubt, in the great day of eternity.

Brother Gillham was really a fine revivalist, at one time he spent part of a year as Presbyterial missionary, and noble work he did; he was a fine organizer, a good trainer, and in the pulpit full of pathos. But strange, he often began his protracted meetings with reading from the Confession of Faith, and often portion of the Form of Government. Revivals often, often attended and followed brother Gillham's ministrations.

Brother Gillham was principal of Rienzi Academy for over four years, all that time he did pastoral service for our little church there, and it grew and prospered. But alas! in March, 1875, the fearful tornado or cyclone, visited the beautiful town, and left it mainly in ruins, utterly destroyed the large commodious academic buildings, wrecked the Cumberland Presbyterian church house, and annihilated the Baptist building. Brother Gillham never resumed his school. A few months after, he moved with his family to Alabama, and finally opened a school in Vernon, the county site of Lamar County, Alabama. And then on the 18th of March, 1879, his immortal spirit quit the frail and weary body, and passed to realms of light and glory.

Brother Gillham was sick but a few days and was conscious but very little, if any, of the time after the attack.

For about fifty-seven years brother Gillham mingled with the things of earth, battling with the storms and trials of life; and for the sake of his Master, he suffered privations and endured poverty, and finally went out leaving a helpless family. Only a short time before his death his oldest daughter was married to Rev. A. J. French, of Rienzi, Miss., a promising young minister in Bell Presbytery. The other two children of his first wife are grown, but there are four small children and the widowed mother destitute. How are they to live? O, will the Church ever reach the point to provide for the widows and orphans of dead ministers, to say nothing of the aged, disabled, living ones?

Surely a great man has fallen in Israel. On whom shall his mantle fall?

W.B. Gillham, my true yoke-fellow, farewell; I loved you in life--still love you in heaven; and praise the grace that saves us.

[Source: Cumberland Presbyterian, May 22, 1879, page 2]



W. Bell Gillham
Presbytery of Bell

[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1879, page 82]

The Aeolian Lyrist

In 1854 William B. Gillham, Columbia, Tennessee, published the Aeolian Lyrist (printed by Applegate & Co., Cincinnati, and by the Cumberland Presbyterian Board in Louisville) in shapes the three novel ones of which are described as follows: 'Do' represents an arrow head, 're' representes 'la' with the stem running through the center, and 'si' represents 'mi' with the stem running through the center."
[Source: White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands: The Story of the Fasola Folk, Their Songs, Singings, and "Buckwheat Notes." by George Pullen Jackson, page 331


William Bell Gillham
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
died: 18 March 1879 - Alabama
1st marriage:
1st wife: Miss Simontown
[daughter of: William Simontown]

Children of William Bell Gillham and ? Simontown

1. daughter
husband: Rev. A. J. French

2nd marriage of Rev. William Bell Gillham:
2nd wife: ?
[widow of Mr. Metcalf]

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Updated February 22, 2015