James McGready Halsell

1834 - 1902

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


A telegram from Rev. J. T. Molloy, of Waco, Texas, announces the death of J. M. Halsell, D.D., at 2 p.m., July 9, and that the funeral occurred at Waco on the 11th. We have no other details except that he died away from home and suddenly. His son, Rev. J. P. Halsell, of Fredonia, Ky., was summoned to the funeral. Further information, with an appreciative estimate of this useful and capable minister's life, will be published next week. Dr. Halsell was pastor at Houston, Texas, and was one of the most widely known and universally esteemed of Cumberland Presbyterian preachers. He was moderator of the General Assembly in Denver, 1899. He was the second ex-moderator to die within the last few weeks, Dr. Stainback being the other.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, July 17, 1902, page 76-77]



My intimate acquaintance with the late J. M. Halsell, D.D., dates back about eighteen years, and in all that time our friendship has been of the David and Jonathan kind. On my part I know it was a case of love at first sight. Dr. Halsell's life was an open book, and he wore his heart, not upon his sleeve, but on his honest face at all times. He was, like Nathaniel of old, an Israelite indeed in whom there was no guile.

As I think of Dr. Halsell his life as I knew it naturally falls into the following analysis

He was socially a hale fellow. To see him at his best you had to be with him at some parishioner's home, where he felt free from all restraint. Here would unroll, without effort, that marvelous supply of anecdote, humor and confidential chat that reminded one of Hawthorne's "New England Pedlar," who unrolled his stories with his pack. How delightful to sit through part of a summer afternoon, under a shad tree at some hospitably disposed country home, listening to his words of wisdom and good cheer! As he criticized your latest sermon, or got you good-naturedly into some other predicament that made you feel badly, he would clinch the nail he had driven in a sure place by telling a Lincolnian story that would make you laugh until the words echoed again and again. His criticisms never left a sting, for they always came from a heart bubbling over with the love of Christ, and the best of good nature. To hear him and Dr. Blake in repartee was a treat never to be forgotten. They were both giants in brain power and brimful of the keenest wit and cultivated good nature. No man ever illustrated more perfectly Bunyan's character of Great Heart than did our great and sainted Dr. Halsell.

Dr. Halsell was a man of the broadest culture--in many respects the most cultivated man in our church. His sermons and articles were always characterized by smooth, elegant and yet convincing language. He was a fine scholar and perfectly at home in Hellenistic literature and history. The influence of Homer and Pericles was constantly present in his intellectual life as Christ and Paul dominated his ethical being. He had read widely, and especially in the essayistic school of Jeffries, Macaulay and Carlyle. He was one of the best off-hand historians I have ever known. I have often, in conversation with him, been surprised at the ease with which he could unravel the intricacies of European and especially English history. In the domain of English literature he was perfectly at home. I question if his equal could be found in this respect in any pulpit or professorial chair in our entire denomination. He enjoyed the advantages of European travel and a life environed by polite literature and cultivated tastes. His was a royal, refined nature.

Dr. Halsell dedicated all his gifted mind to the purest and simplest evangelism. His life abundantly proved that scholarship and consecrated enthusiasm for Christ and perishing souls can easily go hand in hand. I have heard him plead with men to be reconciled to God until the honest tears would run down his kindly face. Yes, and I have seen him rejoice with joy unspeakable as hardened sinners have given themselves to Christ, and, like the wise men, poured out their treasures of mind and heart at the feet of the Babe of Bethlehem. The influence of his sweet spirit is all about me as I write, and a heavenly mist seems to gather about my eyes as I pen this faint tribute to my beloved friend.

Dr. Halsell was full of wise proverbs that seemed to fit in on all occasions, and he was never at a loss for a story with which to clinch an argument or bring his adversary good-naturedly to his side of the question under discussion. Who can forget the supply of good things, including water, which he said awaited the Assembly of 1888 if they would only come to his beloved Waco? Others tried to compete, but Waco with such an advocate was bound to win. That Waco speech was delivered at the Assembly here in Covington in 1887, just a few feet from where I am now writing.

Dr. Halsell was a great believer in Providence, as all strong characters are. One of his elders told me of a prediction he made with reference to him that came true to the letter and was the means of his conversion from a life of comparative stinginess to one of liberal giving and happy living. He believed nature's laws were God's laws, and that God still sent abundance or dearth to individuals and churches. He believed, too, that God was a close collector and would always have his due from his servants if he had to take it from the cattle of the stall or the grain of the field. The elder in question became a convert to this doctrine, and is now one of the most liberal, useful and well-to-do men in our denomination. I have heard our friend preach this truth with great power.

Dr. Halsell enjoyed hard work, and there was no college, board or church too weak for him to take hold of, and help to its feet, if his services were requested. His last stand at Houston, like Wellington's squares at Waterloo, was the most heroic and triumphant of all the many victories he had won under the Captain of his salvation. He was the father-in-law of the heroic Dr. Cockrill and the adored father of our good brother, Rev. J. P. Halsell, of Fredonia, Ky.

Rabelais in his "Gargantua and Pantagruel," represents Panurge as addressing Aeditus thus. "Woons, man, what a rare time you have of it in this world." "Oh," said Aeditus, "this is nothing to what we shall have in the other. The elysian fields will be the last that will fall to our lot." Yes, the joys of heaven will not consist of fields, lakes or streets of gold, but the pleasure of meeting again and basking in the sunlight forever of God and the spirits of just men made perfect. True, O Rabelais, This world is nothing to what that happy home will be. We shall meet thee again, dear, brother, when the mists have cleared away.
    Covington, Ohio.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 21, 1902, page 218]

J. M. Halsell, D.D.


"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." When I heard of the sudden death of my long-tried and well-beloved friend, Dr. Halsell, I said, How can we spare him yet?" but "the workmen die and the work goes on." Death came to him at Jewett, Texas, July 9, 1902.

Dr. J. M. Halsell was born in Warren county, Ky., November 30, 1834, and died at the age of nearly sixty-eight years. He was reared on a farm by well-to-do parents who ranked with the very best citizens in the community. His father was a greatly honored ruling elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a man of great moral worth and a peacemaker for the entire community. His sisters and brothers were much respected, and one brother, Hon. J. E. Halsell, was an able lawyer and at one time a member of Congress. The family were well known for their intelligence, their high sense of honor and their piety.

When quite young, J. M. Halsell offered himself to Logan Presbytery, and was accepted, as a candidate for the ministry. At the age of about nineteen years he entered actively on the work of preparation for his high calling. He spent some time in Princeton College, Kentucky, after which he was licensed to preach the gospel, and entered actively on his work. When young he was married to Miss Jennie Murray, of Warren county, Ky., a most lovely woman, by whom God gave him four children--Stella, afterward the wife of the late Rev. Dr. Cockrill, so well known in the church; Nannie G., wife of Mr. W. D. Lacy, of Waco, Texas; Mary, wife of Mr. Reynolds, of Clarksville, Tenn.; and James P., now pastor of Fredonia and Bethlehem churches of Princeton Presbytery. All these survive except Mary, who left three children to be reared by her father.

His lovely wife having died when his children were quite young, the responsibility of rearing and educating them fell wholly on him. Their intelligent, consecrated Christian lives are sufficient testimony to his ability and faithfulness in this regard.

Dr. Halsell's early ministry was in Kentucky. He was at all times energetic and efficient. During the last years of the war between the states he edited a Cumberland Presbyterian paper at Owensboro, Ky., and afterward at Nashville, Tenn. That he might educate his children he organized and for a number of years successfully conducted a female school in Bowling Green, Ky. He then gave several years of successful pastoral work to Fredonia and Bethlehem, in Princeton Presbytery.

Some of his best work for a number of years past was done in the State of Texas. He made a good record as pastor at Waco and Houston. He canvassed most efficiently for several years as endowing agent for Trinity University. If I mistake not it was this university that conferred on him his title of D.D.

Dr. Halsell's life was a success. He was a fairly good scholar, though perhaps not a graduate. He was an excellent preacher and a well-rounded character. In the pulpit and debate he was often very strong. He had one of those minds that never cease to grow. He grew larger and broader every year of his useful life. He honored the Master, and his church in return honored him. He was elected moderator of the General Assembly at Denver three years ago, and served with credit. Personally attractive and by nature social, he made many friends and seldom lost one. His works follow him.

"Servant of God, well done!
Rest from thy blest employ!
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master's joy."

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 28, 1902, page 241]

Ordained Ministers Deceased

Name: J. M. Halsell, D.D.
Occupation: charge
Presbytery: San Jacinto
Place of Residence: Houston, Tex.
Date: July 9, 1902
Age: 68

[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1903, page 183a]

Hallsell Family Information

Updated August 17, 2006

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