Robert King, the father of Rev. Samuel King, was an early settler in North Carolina, and served his country for some time as a captain of volunteers in the war of the revolution. In this position he acquitted himself with honor to himself and the country. He and his family were members of the Presbyterian Church, and highly respected in the community in which they lived.
Samuel King was born in Iredell county, North Carolina, on the 19th of April, 1775. About the year 1791 Mr. King moved to what was then called the "Cumberland Country," and settled in what is now Sumner county, Tennessee. The old gentleman became an elder, and his family members of Shiloh congregation. This congregation was successively for a number of years under the pastoral care of Rev. William McGee and Rev. William Hodge. Mr. McGee was the son-in-law of old Mr. King.An Indian war was then raging in Tennessee. It is said that Samuel King took an active part in repelling the murderous invasions of the Indians. In the year 1795 Mr. King was married to Miss Anna Dixon, of Sumner county. Rev. William Hodge performed the marriage ceremony. Miss Dixon's father had been killed by the Indians. The writer has passed the spot where this murder took place a hundred times. Shortly after his marriage, Mr. King moved to Wilson county, and settled near the Big Spring.
At the time of his marriage, he was a regular member of Shiloh congregation; and feeling it his duty, now that he had become the head of a family, to erect the family altar, and hold family prayers, he did so. He had not, however, kept up the practice of family prayer long, before he became convinced that his religious hope was without foundation. Of course from this time forward the wants of his own soul formed a prominent part of his petitions when bowed at the family altar.
On one of these occasions, while engaged in family worship, he obtained such a discovery, and felt so deeply overwhelmed with a sense of his lost condition, that he ceased praying for others, and for all things else than himself, and continued on his knees to pour out his soul to God for mercy and pardon, until God heard his prayer, and sent peace to his mind. His joy, and his views of the atonement of Christ, and of the Divine goodness were such, that his wife, who at that time had not professed religion, said, "she thought he never would get done saying glory to God."
He soon began to feel great anxiety for his unconverted friends and neighbors, and such was his burden of heart on this subject, that at prayer-meetings, and other social meetings, he was strongly urged by his feelings to get up and talk to the people. When he first commenced these exercises, such were the unction and power attending his words, that many were cut to the heart, fell down, and cried for mercy on the spot.
When Rev. David Rice, the oldest Presbyterian minister in Kentucky, seeing the destitute condition of the congregations in Tennessee, recommended that pious and promising young men should be sought out, and encouraged to exercise their gifts publicly, and prepare themselves for the work of the ministry, Mr. King was one of the first selected. It was not contemplated that these men should go through the ordinary process of education required in the Presbyterian Church, preparatory to licensure and ordination, The wants of the Church and the circumstances of the country forbade it. Their cases were to be regarded as exceptions to the general rule. He seems, however, to have turned his attention to the work with great hesitation and reluctance. He was uneducated, in the technical sense of the term, had a family, and was poor. The way before him seemed very dark. He felt like the call was from God, but still did not know how he could fulfill its requisitions. He had a brother, a well-educated and most estimable man. There was an old tradition amongst his friends, that in his struggles and misgivings in those days, he sometimes prayed that God would call his brother to the work of the ministry, and excuse him. Still, the great Head of the Church made his own choice, and the suppliant for indulgence was not excused.
The revival ministers, as they were called, encouraged three young men, Alexander Anderson, Finis Ewing, and Samuel King, to prepare written discourses, and to present themselves before the Transylvania Presbytery, at its sessions, in October, 1801. At this Presbytery Mr. Anderson was received as a candidate by a majority of one vote; the others, by a majority of one vote, were rejected as candidates, but continued as catechists. In the fall of 1802 they were all licensed as probationers for the holy ministry.
At the sessions of the Synod of Kentucky, in 1802, Transylvania Presbytery was divided, and Cumberland Presbytery was formed, including the Green River and Cumberland countries. By this Presbytery Mr. King was set apart to the whole work of the ministry in June, 1804.
He was of course one of the minister who were called before the Commission of the Synod of Kentucky, in December of 1805, and proscribed by that body. It is known that the proscribed ministers formed themselves into a Council, which met from time to time, with a view to adopting measures for the promotion of the interests of religion within the bounds of their operations, and keeping the congregations together. These congregations had grown up out of the great revival which had overspread the country. The Council held their last meeting at Shiloh, on the 4th day of October, 1809. Their last hope of a reconciliation with the Church of their fathers had been extinguished, except upon such conditions as seemed to be out of the question, and the subject of organizing an independent Presbytery was agitated. It had been seriously considered before. Two of the members of the Council, however, withdrew; a third hesitated, and Messrs. Ewing and King only were left. Three ministers were considered necessary to the constitution of a Presbytery. They had not the requisite number, and action was postponed. In February of 1810, Messrs. Ewing and King visited Mr. McAdow. They agreed to organize, or rather to reorganize, the old Cumberland Presbytery, which had been dissolved by the Synod of Kentucky. On the 4th day of February, 1810, this important step was taken. It has made the names of Ewing, King, and McAdow, household words in every Cumberland Presbyterian family.
About the year 1812 Mr. King moved from Wilson county, and settled near the Three Forks of Duck River. He remained here until the fall of 1824 or '25, when he moved to Missouri and settled in Clay county. The whole country was new; it had been but recently purchased from the Indians, and the settlements were sparse. In the fall of 1833 he moved again, and settled on the south side of the Missouri River, in Johnson county. Here he resided till his death. This occurred in the fall of 1842. A few weeks before his death, he was attacked with the common fever of the country, while attending a camp-meeting some distance from home. We have the following account of his last sermon, and the attack of fever which followed it. Says the writer:
"I heard him preach his last sermon, and shall never forget it. I remember how he looked as well as if the things had occurred but a week ago. The sermon was preached at Independence Camp-ground, Jackson county, Missouri, about four miles south of the city of Independence
"The camp-meeting was in progress. Saturday morning, between ten and eleven o'clock, Father King walked from the camp to the stand, ascended the steps, hymn-book and Bible in hand, and after sitting in a thoughtful, and apparently prayerful mood, a few moments, the congregation being collected and seated, the venerable preacher arose slowly, and placing the Bible upon the hand-board, he opened his hymn-book, and read in that solemn and affecting manner, which thousands may remember, but none can imitate, the beautiful hymn beginning:
"After singing came the prayer, and O, how fervent! What earnestness! What awfully solemn pleading with Jehovah for a visitation of his Spirit, a revival of his work! The prayer being ended, the text was announced: 'O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years; in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.' The leading points in the sermon were--
"1. The necessity of a revival.
"2. The means by which a revival could be obtained.
"3. An exhortation to the Church, urging the members to an immediate use of those means, and encouraging them to expect a gracious revival on that occasion.
"The sermon was closed by repeating, most devoutly, the prayer of the text. Such was Father King's last sermon. Its effect upon the congregation was manifested by profound attention on the part of the congregation, and the silent tear, and occasional hearty amen of the more deeply pious members of the Church. I did not know that he was unwell before preaching, but remember that he complained soon after the sermon was closed. He went to the tent, fever arose; the Sabbath came, and many were the inquiries for Father King, but he was unable to leave his bed. The meeting progressed, but the voice of the venerable man of God was heard no more from that sacred stand. At the close of the meeting, he was conveyed to his home in Johnson county, a distance of fifty-five or sixty miles, and in the course of two or three weeks, he laid aside his mantle on earth for a bright robe in heaven." [Ladies' Pearl, May, 1859.]
It seems that his illness at first was not violent or threatening. On the morning of the day on which he died, he arose as usual, and although feeble, was able to walk about the house. Shortly after he arose, however, he was seized with violent pains, and before noon was a corpse. He was perfectly rational to the last, and his dying words were, "Peace, peace, peace."
The fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were all laborers, but Mr. King was one of the most laborious among them. As a specimen of his labors, the following may be mentioned. In May, 1834, the General Assembly appointed him, with Messrs. McAdow and Ewing, to visit the churches throughout all the length and breadth of the West and South. From the age and infirmities of these men, the appointment might have been considered rather nominal than otherwise. With Mr. King, however, it was not so. Mr. McAdow was really to infirm, and Mr. Ewing could not leave home. Consequently the whole labor of the appointment, if fulfilled, fell upon Mr. King. It has been said that as far as he was concerned, the appointment was not nominal. His family were then in Missouri. After making suitable arrangements for leaving them as comfortable as possible in that new country, when the appointed time arrived for his departure, he gathered his family around him and commended them to the care of God in solemn prayer, and then set out on his journey in his sixtieth year, on horseback, accompanied by his eldest son, Rev. Robert D. King.
In this tour he traveled through the States of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and perhaps touched upon some of the more Northern or Eastern States. He was absent from his home and family twenty months. His son, Judge King, says in reference to the occurrence, "God, in his mercy, vouchsafed to keep us all free from harm, and, after the lapse of twenty months, to bring us together again in the flesh." Says my authority: "No accident had befallen his family. No evil had come nigh their dwelling. The guardian angel had spread his broad wings over them, and the everlasting arms were underneath them." In the course of this tour, as I have mentioned, Mr. King met the General Assembly, which held its sessions in 1835, at Princeton, Kentucky. He was elected, I believe, unanimously, the Moderator of the Assembly, after having preached the opening sermon, by the request of Dr. Cossitt, Moderator of the Assembly of 1834.
Mr. King is said to have been the first minister of the gospel who ever preached to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, in their present locality. An incident of great interest is related, which is said to have occurred while he was preaching for the first time to the Choctaws. His son, Judge King, relates it. "While he was addressing a large crowd of the Indians about salvation through Jesus Christ, and communicating to them by means of an interpreter, the interpreter became so convinced of sin, and so overwhelmed by a sense of his guilt in the sight of God, and of his dangerous condition, that he could proceed no farther, but fell upon his knees, and began to cry aloud for mercy. The preacher paused for a moment. He knew not how to proceed, or what to do. Although he could not speak one word to them in their own tongue, yet he saw that many of them were in tears, and from their sobs and cries, he knew they were praying for mercy. At length the thought occurred to his mind, that although hey could not understand him, nor he them, yet God could hear and understand both; and as the most of his congregation seemed engaged in prayer, he would close the sermon, and kneel down and for a few moments join his Red brethren in prayer. After a short season, and before he arose from his knees, God poured light and comfort into the heart of the interpreter, and he and many others were made happy in the love of Christ."
The labors of Mr. King laid the foundation for the missions which were afterward established among the Choctaws. The mother of Rev. Israel Fulsom, a native minister, was one of the first converts. She is said to have been the first female Choctaw converted to Christianity, and the first to adopt the costume and usages of the whites. At the commencement of the late unhappy war, there were nearly a thousand members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church among the Choctaws. As one fruit of all this, we have now eleven young Choctaw students in Cumberland University, and seven or eight Choctaw young ladies in Cumberland Female College.
Mr. King spent most of his ministerial life in traveling, and in general labors among the churches. He considered that he could be more useful in that way than in a settled pastorate. There were many circumstances connected with the condition of the Church to encourage such a mode of life, and make it useful. On his part, it was no doubt a wise selection. He was faithful in his attendance upon the judicatures of the Church. Seldom was he absent from the point to which duty called. He belonged to a generation of earnest and faithful men.
I have some personal recollections of Mr. King, which are very interesting to myself. The first time that I recollect to have heard him preach was at Fall Creek, at a camp-meeting, in May, 1819. Fall Creek is in the lower end of Wilson county, Tennessee. The meeting was, on many accounts which need not be mentioned here, an unusually interesting one. He may have preached on Saturday, but if he did, I have no recollection of the sermon. But he preached on Sunday, from John xvii. 3: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." The sermon was a strong argument, and a powerful appeal for the truth of the Christian revelation. I had just become a candidate for the ministry, and the discussion was new to me. The sermon was well adapted to the great crowd who were in attendance, and the impression made was certainly very deep. I heard him preach the same sermon in September following at the Big Spring. It was still a good and great sermon, but was not delivered with so much unction and power as before.
I heard him again, I think, in the fall of 1821. It was at a meeting held at John McLin's, in Sumner county. He preached there on Sunday morning, on his way to Synod. The test was Romans i. 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel." including the whole verse. A temporary pulpit and seats had been prepared in the yard. The congregation was large. It was the neighborhood in which Mr. King had been chiefly raised. He was surrounded by a few of his old friends and relatives, and many of their children. The appearance and manner of the preacher were the very expression of solemnity. The sermon was powerful. His voice seemed to shake the assembly. When he was about closing, he turned to those who were sitting in the pulpit behind him, and asked if they had any mourners there. There had been no movement of that kind, however, at the meeting, and the call was omitted.
Mr. King was a member of the first Synod that I ever attended. It was held at the Beech Meeting-house, in Sumner county. I think he did not preach on the occasion. He attended the Synod also of 1825, held at Princeton, Kentucky. This meeting of the Synod is memorable on two accounts. The subject of the division of the Synod, and the organization of a General Assembly, was first discussed there; and the resolution was passed establishing Cumberland College. Upon the establishment of the College, although it was an experiment, there was general unanimity. In regard to the establishment of a General Assembly, as it now exists in the Church, there was a decided difference of opinion. Mr. King was in favor of a General Assembly. Mr. Ewing was present, and was very earnest and very able in his opposition. He favored what was then called a "delegated Synod." The discussion was warm and earnest. Rev. William Barnett was Moderator. Somehow in the heat of that or some other discussion, he and Mr. King came into collision. They were both lion-like men. Neither had ever learned to yield with a good grace. Short words ensued. The occurrence threw a temporary cloud over the meeting. John Barnett wept like a child. The cloud passed off, however, and harmony of feeling was restored. The favorers of a General Assembly were more numerous, and continued to be so until the discussion ended in the organization of this judicature of the Church.
I have mentioned that Mr. King was Moderator of the General Assembly of 1835. He governed the Assembly with energy. Some of the members thought he was arbitrary. He governed, however, in his own way. He had a strong will, and was accustomed to prompt and quiet obedience. The old men were generally vigorous governors. It is no disparagement to them to say that they ruled with a rod of iron. Such an administration was necessary to their times, and God in his providence adapted them to their times. At the close of the Assembly, he visited me at my own home. There he showed himself the kind and gentle father.
Mr. King was a religious man at home. He had a time set apart for private devotion. A portion of each day was spent in this exercise. His son says, "From my earliest recollection, it was his constant custom to read a portion of Scripture, without note or comment, sing a hymn, in which his family joined, and then to lead them in family prayer. Morning and evening he did so, omitting no part of the service, and having every member of the family present. No ordinary circumstance was allowed to interfere with this usage."
He was a poor man, raised a large family, and spent the most of his ministerial life in countries which were new. Of course, from the latter circumstance, it would be supposed that he received but little remuneration for his ministerial labor. Still he faltered not, and whilst he believed and taught that it was the duty of the Church to support the gospel, his own motto was, "To preach, pay or no pay." This was the theory and the practice, too, of other fathers as well as him.
He was the father of ten children--five sons and five daughters. His oldest daughter professed religion at seven years of age, and died in her thirteenth year, in the triumphs of faith. According to the account of her brother, who witnessed the scene, "She rejoiced and praised God aloud, until articulation was hushed in death." Two of his other daughters lived to maturity, and one of them became the wife of Rev. Daniel Patten, of Missouri. Of the history of the two others, the writer has no knowledge. Three of the sons entered the ministry, and are now active and laborious in their profession. They are laboring in Texas. One of them, and the one, too, from whom many of the facts contained in this sketch have been derived, fell a victim to the guerrillas of the cruel war through which we have just passed.
In person, Mr. King was tall and strongly built. His aspect was serious, approaching to severity. His voice was strong, and well adapted to preaching in the open air, to which men of his day were much accustomed. Before I knew him, he had lost two of his front teeth. This of course increased the labor of preaching. It did not, however, injure his articulation. This was sufficiently clear and distinct. His person and manner inspired respect; he would have been observed in any crowd as a man who was concerned with serious things. He belonged to a past age. In the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, at least, it was an age of giants, in their way.
A sermon was delivered at the General Assembly succeeding his death, as a memorial of Mr. King, by Rev. Robert Donnell. The Assembly met that year at Owensboro, Kentucky. The sermon was delivered on Sabbath to a crowded audience. Many who still live will recollect the occurrence.
[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 46-61]