Hiram Abiff Hunter

1800 - 1883

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

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The subject of this brief biographical sketch was a son of James and Elizabeth Hunter. He was born on the thirteenth of August, 1800, in Campbell county, Virginia, and was a Scotch-Irish extraction. About the year 1804 his father removed with his family to Kentucky and settled in Russellville, Logan county. Here he was raised and educated. His father was in good circumstances and gave his son as good an education as the facilities of the country at that time would afford.

He studies all the branches of an English education, and as his father intended him for the bar he became a pretty fair Latin scholar. The death of his father occurred in 1814, and having no special preference for his father's choice of a profession for him he asked his mother's permission to learn a trade and chose that of a saddler. At this trade he worked about two years, or till he made profession of religion in September, 1817, at Liberty meeting-house, about three miles from Russellville, at a Cumberland Presbyterian camp-meeting conducted by Rev. Messr. Wm. Harris and Alex. Chapman, assisted by a young licentiate named Buoy.

Mr. Hunter connected himself with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Old Union meeting-house in Warren county, in October following. From the time he professed religion he felt it was his duty to pray in his mother's family. When, however, he proposed it to his mother she expressed her surprise that he had not done so sooner; for she was then an anxious inquirer for the way of salvation. Thus every obstacle was removed, the family altar was erected, and from that time his mother's house was a house of prayer.

Soon a regular prayer-meeting was agreed upon by the only two persons in the place who were willing to lead in public prayer. They were the subject of this sketch and old Father Emmit of the M.E. Church. The meetings were held weekly, and alternately at the house of the young man's mother and that of Father Emmit. These meetings were interesting from the commencement. The persons who conducted them usually prayed twice each, and one or the other would give an exhortation. The result was many embraced religion, and here was formed the nucleus of all the churches in Russellville. In these meetings his impressions as to duty often led him to inquire could it be his duty to preach the Gospel. Yielding to his conviction as to duty in exhortation he felt sensibly that he was not doing all that God would have him do, and in solemnly and prayerfully dedicating himself to God he covenanted with him, "If God would show him his duty he would do it." When he made this covenant God in mercy blessed him richly. In after reflection upon the responsibility of the position and his insufficiency for it he hesitated, yet continued in prayer and exhortation. In the meanwhile, seeking God's guidance in the matter, he finally sought a retired spot among the rocks, on the Knob, east of the town, and there plead that God would show him his duty and convince him of it; and while engaged in prayer with all the fervor of his soul, these words came to his mind with a force which he could not withstand: "I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I can not go back." (Judges xi: 36.) Up to that time he had not known that there were such words, so connected, in the Bible. They settled him in his purpose. That same fall he attended at Pilot Knob church, now in Simpson county, the first Presbyterian meeting he had ever seen. The opening sermon was preached by Rev.William Barnett. It deepened his impressions, and he at once engaged to study theology with Rev. Finis Ewing, preparatory to the work of the ministry. Upon his return home preparation was being made to carry out this engagement; but just as his clothes were ready and well packed, and the day appointed when he should start to Christian county, then the residence of Rev. Finis Ewing, a letter came from General Andrew Jackson, calling for a company of volunteers to go against the Seminole Indians, who had invaded some of the Southern States, and were destroying the lives and property of the citizens. Forthwith he addressed a letter to Rev. Finis Ewing setting forth the facts and asked his advice as to the propriety of his going on that expedition. Mr. Ewing answered at once and advised him to go. A very hasty preparation was now made for the departure of the company. Mr. Hunter joined it, and by the voice of the company served it as orderly sergeant. They left Russellville in January, 1818, reported at Nashville, and rendezvoused at Hartford in Georgia. The company from Kentucky and one from Nashville composed the Lifeguard of General Jackson. Many incidents occurred on this campaign which might interest some readers; but what is of most importance in this connection is that the subject of this notice, despite the trials of a soldier's life, and the usual recklessness which characterizes men in the camp and in the field, maintained his integrity as a professed Christian, and often on the march, both in East and West Florida, had the pleasure of a personal interview with General Jackson, who would at times fall back from his position and ride at his side expressly for such interview on the subject of religion. He says of that distinguished chieftain that "no man had clearer views of himself as a sinner, and none more determined than he to become a Christian, if spared to return home. He came home, became one and died in peace."

The 4th of July, 1818, the company were all at home and shared the festivities of the day.

During several months of that year Mr. H. was actively engaged at camp-meeting in Kentucky, and in the fall of 1818 he was received as a candidate for the ministry and appointed to ride the circuit with Rev. David Lowry in the counties of Warren, Logan, Butler, Ohio and Davies. About the same length of time in the next year he rode the circuit with Dr. James Johnson in the counties of Todd, Christian, Trigg, Caldwell and Livingston. In the summer and fall he was invariably employed in attending camp-meetings in Kentucky and Indiana. The first camp-meeting he ever attended in Indiana was at McAlister's camp-ground, a few miles from Evansville, and this he thinks was in 1819. It was customary for our young men to attend all the camp-meetings within their reach, wherever their work might be. Camp-meetings were then regarded as the most efficient means of saving souls and building up the church. This plan of operation was moreover considered important, as it afforded the older ministers an opportunity to witness the ministrations of the young men, and thus be prepared to form opinions as to their probable usefulness and the propriety of their advancement.

Mr. Hunter was licensed to preach the gospel at Old Red River Church in Logan county, Kentucky, on the 12th of October, 1820, Rev. William Harris officiating as Moderator. Immediately after his licensure he made a trip to Richmond, Virginia, on business for his mother. Returning he rode the first circuit to which he was ever appointed by himself. It embraced the counties of Butler, Ohio, Breckenridge, Hancock and Davies, in Kentucky. At his second appointment to that circuit Rev. J. Franceway accompanied him, and they had some glorious meetings and many were added to the church. He then rode a circuit for six months embracing five counties in Kentucky and eleven counties in Indiana, extending over a territory which now includes one whole Presbytery in Kentucky and a part of three others, and the whole of Indiana Presbytery and a part of Morgan in Indiana. It required eight weeks to make the tour of that circuit, riding and preaching every day, and he never missed an appointment. It was on one of the rounds on that circuit that he preached in Princeton the funeral of old Mr. Jerauld at 9 A.M., then rode twelve miles and preached at Old Shiloh in this county at 12 o'clock, then preached at Bro. Samuel Montgomery's in Posey county at 3 o'clock P.M., before he ate any dinner.

Previous to this Rev. D. Lowry had traveled and labored much in Indiana. At this time Rev. J. Franceway rode that part of the above-named circuit which was in Kentucky, and Messrs. A. Downey, Wm. McCleskey and H. A. Hunter occupied the territory in Indiana until Messr. Lynn and Blackwell came and shared it with them. In the meantime the field was enlarged in Indiana so as to embrace the counties of Perry, Crawford, Harrison, Orange, Martin, Green, Monroe and Owen. Ah, brethren, those were times that tried men's faith and courage and devotion to the church. If young men who start now had to fare as they did who introduced and built up Cumberland Presbyterianism in Indiana, there would be found few to undertake it. The ordained ministers assisted them only during the summer and fall at the camp-meetings; but many of those were most delightful seasons that can never be forgotten. And many protracted meetings held by the young men were productive of fruit that will enhance the joy of their souls when they shall meet them around the Throne of God. Some fathers and mothers in Israel were found in Indiana who gave the young men great encouragement in their trials and toils; for they let not the evening close nor the morning dawn without offering prayer to God to sustain and bless the sons of the church, who through summer's heat and winter's cold were laboring to promote the Kingdom of Christ. They were of the stock who in Kentucky and Tennessee had stood by Ewing, King and their compeers in the struggle for ecclesiastical existence. They were Fathers Rolison, Montgomery and Knowles in Gibson, and old Mother Linzey in Pike county. The last-named was a member of one of the first churches organized after the organization of Cumberland Presbytery in 1810, the first Presbytery of our church. Says Mr. Hunter: "The labors of those times were great and arduous; but oh, how often does the heart say, it is better to suffer hardship, persecution and trial, with a present Christ to strengthen and sustain the sufferer, than to sail on an unruffled sea, with only the hope of future rest to buoy up the spirit." Here, he says, he writes of the days of his early ministerial life, when his hands and head and heart were all full of his work, and every power he possessed was devoted to and employed for God. Then he read, studied, prayed and preached to purpose. Wherever he went he felt that God was with him. He communed with him while he read his Bible on his knees; he led his mind in the selection of a subject, and then aided him in the pulpit, so that there was no room left for a thought, with regard to his performances, save that they were of God. Is the reader at a loss to understand this? A single instance out of many is given: A camp-meeting was at Mt. Moriah, near Russellville, Kentucky. Monday morning before breakfast the bishop of the meeting told him, "You must preach in a few minutes." He begged to be excused, but no, he must. He took his Bible, went to the woods, read and prayed--one passage only attracted his notice; he could think of nothing else, and could find nothing to say about it. He studied and prayed; no light came; the time to be in the stand was at hand; he went into it still in the dark as to what he should say. The service was commenced as usual. He read the text: "Ye have said, It is a vain thing to serve God" (Mal. iii: 14). From that moment he was "as clay in the hands of the potter." He preached, how, how long, or what, he knew not; when he recognized what he was doing, he was going through the congregation, exhorting every individual in it, and returning to the stand invited all who were penitent to come forward for the prayers of the church. Such was the crowd of the anxious around him there was no room to kneel--prayer was offered standing, and during that prayer an old lady, a friend of his mother, arose rejoicing in the pardon of sin, and many others had the same blessing. The exercises of that morning meeting continued the whole day, and there was no more preaching from the stand until night. Here was opened a wide door for temptation, for the devil to take advantage of him in view of that morning's work; but the Lord provided for his escape. The young man attempted to make a sermon on that text, but from that day to this he has never been able to recall a single thought that he employed in that discourse; and hence his conviction, "it was all of God, to whom be all the glory." Mr Hunter further writes: "Will some say this is all enthusiasm or fanaticism? To such I have only to say, 'Who art thou that judgest another? Who may limit God in the means he may employ to save men? If he made a dumb ass reprove the madness of a prophet, is there any reason why he might not make a man that can talk say things he can not recall to memory, and make such exhibition of his truth the means of saving souls? God is in his church, and his enemies shall see it. We may not all live to see it, but some will see greater displays of God's power over men's tongues, hands, heads and hearts than anything here written. If what is here stated is mere enthusiasm or fanaticism, the Lord grant the whole church more of it.

"The state of the church in the days of the years of long ago was in many respects different from what it is now. Then a man's religion could not have too much of God's spirit in it. Now, the influence of that spirit must often succumb to the haughty predilections of human pride, and men must get religion without feeling it, or, feeling it, every emotion must be smothered, and an expressed intention to be a Christian is a safe passport to membership in the church. There is a life, there is a power in religion. God grant that the ministry and membership of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church may never have cause to lament the absence of it."

On the 23d of April, 1823, Mr. Hunter was set apart to the whole work of ministry. His first charge after ordination was in Vincennes. He remained in this place not more than a year or two, organized a small church and had some valuable accessions. From this place he removed to Portersville and took charge of Shiloh congregation in Dubois county. The terms on which he accepted that position were such that he spent much of his time in visiting and preaching to other congregations, and preached more or less in every portion of the Presbytery after its organization. There was not a congregation of Cumberland Presbyterians, during his residence in the State, that he did not visit or to whom he did not preach. At different periods he resided, in addition to the places already mentioned, at Washington, Logansport and Princeton. From this place he removed to Owensboro, where he lived and labored about twelve years, then he accepted a call to Uniontown in Western Pennsylvania, thence he was sent by the Board of Missions to Philadelphia, where he remained some three or four years, when he received a call to the church in Louisville, Kentucky, where he still resides, and in the seventh-sixth year of his age and in the fifty-sixth year of his ministry. He is ready to preach wherever his services may be called for, if the place can be reached by river or rail, and expects to be the servant of God and of the church until God shall say, "It is enough, come up higher."

[Source: Cumberland Presbyterianism in Southern Indiana: Being a History of Indiana Presbytery and an Account of the Proceedings of its Fiftieth Anniversary Held at Princeton, Ind., April 13-18, 1876, Together With Various Addresses and Communications, and a Sermon on the Doctrines of the Church. Compiled and Arranged by Rev. W. J. Darby and Rev. J. E. Jenkins. Published by the Presbytery, 1876, pages 64-69]

Photograph made on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Presbytery at Princeton, Indiana April 13, 1876.
The four men above were early members of Indiana Presbytery.
Left to Right: Rev. James A. Ritchey, Rev. Hiram A. Hunter, Rev. Benjamin Hall, Rev. Ephraim Hall


REV. HIRAM ABIFF HUNTER and his twin brother, Rev. Howlett Hunter, were born August 13, 1800, near Lynchburg, Virginia. They were the children of James Hunter and Elizabeth Howlett Hunter, and with their parents removed to Logan county, Kentucky, in 1804. Work upon a farm and in a saddler's shop occupied the time that was not spent in school, and thus the hands as well as the head were prepared for usefulness in after life. Hiram's first public act was to enlist in the war of 1812, but as his parents did not approve of the act he was permitted to return home. He was designed by his father for the law, and accordingly his education took that direction; but his conversion, at the age of seventeen, at a camp-meeting near Russellville, Ky., turned him at once toward the ministry. His father was dead, and his mother a widow living in Russellville with her children. Occasionally boarders were there attending school; but the young convert braved it all, set up the family altar, and conducted family worship.

In 1818 he joined General Jackson's army and was a member of the General's Lite Guards. He was orderly sergeant, and was often near the General, and found opportunities to talk with him upon the subject of religion, to which he gave profound attention. He took part in the battle of Maccasuka and the capture of Arthbuthnot and Ambrister, and the various remarkable proceedings of his chief that resulted in the acquisition of Florida by the United States. "The ocean boundary was thus made complete," a new Stated added to the realm, and the Southern frontier protected; but while the Government has found money, and time to bestow it liberally upon other, the soldiers of this war have been forgotten.

After the return from the war the young Christian, who had not lost his Christianity in camp-life, resumed the study of theology with Rev. Finis Ewing, one of the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. His progress was quite rapid, for in addition to study he held frequent prayer-meetings and exercised his gifts as an exhorter. In 1820 he was licensed to preach, and at once commenced preaching as an evangelist and by riding a circuit. In 1823 he was ordained, and soon after removed to Indian, locating at Vincennes. From this time till 1839 he was in that State, sometimes riding a circuit and at others locating. He also taught school at Logansport in 1830, Washington in 1831, and Princeton in 1832. At Logansport he taught and preached to both whites and Indians, often having to feed the latter at his house after the Sabbath service. In 1834 he made the trip with his family, in a light wagon, from Princeton, Ind., to LaPorte in the same State, the distance being nearly three hundred miles, part of it through an unsettled region, there being but four counties organized north of the Wabash river. At LaPorte, in September of 1834, he attended the land sales, serving as clerk, his father-in-law, Major David Robb, being receiver in the Land Office.

In Indiana he was a pioneer, and as such often found it necessary to work at various trades and professions. His education had fitted him for both teacher and preacher, and his knowledge of medicine gave him calls to serve as a physician, which he did with a good degree of success. As a carpenter he built several houses for his own residences; as shoemaker he made shoes for his family; as saddler he made his own saddles, saddlebags, and harness, and for three years managed, though he did but little of the work upon a farm. All this was done without seriously interfering with his preaching, which was kept up throughout his life. As a pioneer preacher he was eminently successful in winning souls to Christ, and in organizing and sustaining churches. In those days Cumberland Presbyterian preachers were circuit riders, and he often made a circuit of two hundred to three hundred miles, preaching in school houses, cabins, barns, and in "God's first temples," the groves.

In 1839 he removed to Owensboro, Ky, where he remained as pastor of the church ten years, in 1844 marrying Emma M. Griffith, who is now his widow. In 1849 he removed to Uniontown, Pa. Here he was pastor of the church four years, then four years pastor in Philadelphia. In 1857 he took up his residence in Louisville, Ky., and remained pastor of the church there till 1861, when he became chaplain of the 28th Kentucky Volunteers. After some service in the field he was transferred to the hospitals at Louisville, and remained there till the close of the war. Since that time he has traveled and preached in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky until increasing age and failing health compelled him to give up regular work, but he still continued to preach occasionally until a short time before his death. His last public act was to assist Dr. Detwiler in administering the Lord's Supper in the Lutheran church in Louisville.

For sixty two years he was a Free Mason, and was ardently devoted to the order. From 1827 to 1830 he was an officer and prominent member of the Grand Lodge of Indiana, and afterward held similar positions in the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. Few men, if any, in Indiana and Kentucky, have delivered more Masonic addresses or more effective ones than he. He would sometimes preach a Masonic sermon, and at its close request the Christians present to rise if they believed what he preached was good Christian doctrine; he would then request Masons who were present to rise if they believed what he preached was good Masonic doctrine. Thus he brought Masons to Christ, and disarmed Christians who were prejudiced against the order. He delivered the address at the laying of the corner-stone of the Masonic Hall in Logansport in 1829.

Being a very fluent and eloquent speaker, he seldom wrote his sermons or addresses. They were, however, well planned, thoroughly studies, and delivered in a manner so very earnest that they carried conviction with them.

Among his published writings may be mentioned, "A Narrative of the Captivity and Sufferings of Isaac Knight from Indian Barbarity, etc.," 1839; "Funeral Sermon of Rev. Finis Ewing before the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church," Owensboro, Ky., 1843; "Masonic Address," on St. John's day, at Vincennes, Ind., 1834; "Funeral Sermon of Rev. H. L. Porter, D.D., Philadelphia," Pa., 1855; "Dedication of Cumberland Presbyterian Church," at Louisville, Ky., 1856. Among his unpublished manuscripts are, "Experiences in the First Seminole War," "Reminiscences of a Cumberland Presbyterian Minister," and various sermons and addresses.

He was an Odd Fellow, a Son of Temperance, and an active participant in the temperance and Sunday-school movements of his day. His house was a school of theology. Revs. Jas. Ritchey, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Ebenezer Hall, studied for the ministry with him, while some of the good sisters of that early day contributed candles, clothing, and other articles, the work of their own hands, to assist in preparing these devoted men for the work to which God had called them. Much of the pioneer work was done by two ministers traveling together and holding meetings; sometimes several would join in holding a camp meeting. Alexander Downey and Mr. Hunter were co-laborers in this work. On once occasion a camp-meeting was held near Ellettsville, in Monroe county, Ind. Several days passed without very much interest being manifested. Monday morning a licentiate preached, but seemed to attract but little attention. While he was preaching, Mr. Downey insisted that Mr. Hunter should follow, which he did in his usual earnest manner. While he was preaching, Mr. Downey leaned upon his elbow on the pulpit, which was simply a plank in front of the preacher, and looking intently into the face of the speaker, seemed to be drinking in every word. And, as point after point was made, he would turn to the audience, his face glowing with the thought, and bringing down his hand with force upon the plank, would break forth with such expressions as, "Sinner, do you hear that?' "Listen to it!" "Every word of it truth!" "Sinner, that's for you!" The discourse was not a long one, for the enthusiasm of the two men was caught by the congregation, and "those who came to scoff, remained to pray," and the meeting, which was about to close, continued several days with most gratifying results.

Mr. Hunter was four times married, and was the father of thirteen children. Two died at Logansport, Ind., one at Princeton, two at Owensboro, Ky., and one at Nashville, Tenn. Of the six living children, and their wives and husbands, all but two have been or are teachers. Hiram A. Hunter, Jr., whose mother was Agnes Cowardin, resides in Topeka, Kansas. D. E. Hunter, whose mother was Susannah R. Robb, resides at Bloomington, Indiana, but for seven years past has been Supt. of Public Schools, at Washington, Indiana. Robt. H. Hunter, whose mother was Mary J. McNeely, is a resident of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Mrs. Mary E. Foskett, wife of the Rev. Geo. E. Foskett, of the M.E. Church South, is stationed with her husband at Elizabethtown, Ky. Misses Emma H., and Alice G. Hunter, teachers in the public schools at Louisville, are residing with their mother at 435 East Madison street Louisville, Ky.

His last illness was of two months duration, and during most of the time he was delirious. His death, which was peaceful, took place on Sunday, Nov. 4, 1883, at his residence in Louisville, Ky. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. J. S. Grider, of Bowling Green, Ky., the burial by Excelcion Lodge F. & A.Masons, at that beautiful city of the dead, Cave Hill. After the burial, many beautiful floral tributes were brought by loving friends, and his own children placed them upon his grave.

Such is the record of one who was born with the century and kept pace with its march of improvement. Physically, he was large and strong; mentally, a giant; socially, mild and pleasant. He was kind, loving, energetic, persevering, earnest, and successful. May those he leaves behind imitate his virtues, and leave the world, as he did, "better because they have lived in it."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, November 29, 1883, page 2]


In the death of Rev. Hiram A. Hunter, D.D., the Church and the country have both lost a representative man. He had lived many years beyond the time allotted to mortals. His name is widely known in our Church, and throughout all the Churches in several of the States of the Union. Language cannot express the gratitude this generation owes to such men as Dr. Hunter. He was a pioneer of the noblest and grandest type. His biographer tells us of the heroic and philanthropic labors he endured for the good of his Church and the world. Such courage, zeal, energy, patience, and fidelity demand of use something more than a passing notice. By such struggles, sacrifices, and perils our civil and religious institutions were formed and defended. History furnishes no grander themes than the struggles and triumphs of our fathers. They made possible and actual the most beneficent institutions that bless mankind. They endured privation and hardships and performed countless labors, that we, their sons, might enter into larger possessions, liberties, and pleasures than they enjoyed. The men who did the most for us and our liberties were the pioneer preachers of our Churches. No men ever encounter greater hardships or greater discouragements than they. Without money, without books, without homes, and without the comforts of life, they traveled, and suffered, and preached. With their own hands they built churches and school houses, and in them preached a free gospel and taught a free school. They gave to our nation many of its noblest statesmen and bravest soldiers; they laid the foundations of our colleges, universities, and civil institutions. Think of what this country would be had it not been for their brave deeds and heroic lives. We inherit both their names and their glory. The imagination is powerless to conceive a more splendid scene than history presents us of their toils and triumphs. Contemptible is the man who does not venerate their names and their deeds. Brave, noble, godly men! They shall live in our memories, flourish in our speeches, and be celebrated in our songs. In them we have a rich national heritage.

Our Church is especially fortunate in the number, wisdom, and greatness of its pioneer ministers. We, more than any other American Church, can glory in such an ancestry. On our own soil grew the great men who wrought out our faith, and their names shall never die. But few men in our Church did nobler and better work than Hiram A. Hunter. The grand old hero is gone, but his works and name remain to bless the world. The study of such a life gives us larger conceptions of manhood and true moral greatness. The details of his long and eventful life would make a most thrilling volume of biography. But his history is written on the fleshly tablets of redeemed hearts. Doubtless many hundreds who heard the gospel from his lips greeted him as he entered the shining gates of glory. Farewell, farewell, brave old warrior.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, November 29, 1883, page 4]

Deceased Ministers

H. A. Hunter, D.D.
Kentucky Presbytery
November 6, 1883

[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1884, page 28]

Hunter Family Information

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Updated October 10, 2005