ONE of the most brilliant and promising of that score of young men who were brought into the ministry by McGee Presbytery between the years 1820 and 1825, was David Morrow Kirkpatrick.
He was the son of Elder Robert Kirkpatrick, who resided near to New Lebanon Church, in Cooper county. This excellent old elder had come upon the tide of emigration that set in from Southern Kentucky to Missouri about the time the latter was organized into a State government. My impression is that he had been a member of the Lebanon Congregation in Kentucky, of which Mr. Ewing was pastor for many years. Old Uncle Robert was a model man of his king--plain, humble, devout, and always ready and willing for the work that lay before him. I suppose he was the first elder appointed in the New Lebanon Congregation. My first recollections of him are, that he was a hale, vigorous, stout old man; that he was a famous singer in the church and at the camp-meeting; that everybody revered and loved him; that he always sat in front of the pulpit, and always "lined the hymn" and led the music for the pastor and congregation. I was a boy then, but all my reminiscences of him are clear and distinct, and very agreeable.
I have no material whatever from which to construct even a meager sketch of the life of his son David. I learn from the Minutes of the McGee Presbytery that he was received as a candidate about the year 1821. His licensure and ordination followed in due course. His labors in the ministry were commenced after brief preparation from the instructions of R. D. Morrow and Finis Ewing--being one of that class of young men taught by these two old fathers in the early days at Lebanon.
I do not know how Mr. K. was regarded by the old preachers when he first entered the ministry, but I do know that, after he attained some maturity in years and in the practice of his calling, he was regarded by every one as both brilliant and able.
For the first twelve or fifteen years after Missouri was organized, there was in the central portions of the State quite a body of persons holding to the faith as it was promulgated by the great Arian leader, Joel H. Hayden. This man was far above the average of the preachers of his day in learning and in power as an orator. He was very belligerent, striking right and left, and challenging all comers to combat. The young David did not escape the insolent defiance of this modern Goliath. They met in fierce encounter in the forum of a free pulpit, and before the great masses of the people. The history is that the young champion made valiant battle for his Divine Master.
In a few years Arianism in Missouri survived only in history. Its dogmas were repudiated everywhere, and a few of its most pertinacious followers drifted into the wake of Alexander Campbell.
But it is an an eloquent and powerful preacher that I remember David Kirkpatrick. His person was remarkably fine. He had a massive head, and a jaw and mouth that indicated great force of character. His voice was strong, sonorous, and melodious. He had been trained to preach at camp-meetings, in the open air, under the leafy arches of the great forest--in God's own temple--in the presence, and under the inspiration, of Nature's own great works and greater mysteries. He had learned to preach before great congregations of people--the multitudes, who came from far and near, and filled up all the spaces about the campground. He had trained that marvelous voice to reach the remotest hiding-places in the temporary abodes of the campers. He had become a master in the elocutionary art. Sometimes the listener would hear the soft cadence of the flute; then it would sound as the tone of a silver trumpet, and anon the blast of the bugle would wake the slumbering echoes that lurked in the leafy bowers of the grand old monarchs of the forest. O it was a day to be remembered when David Kirkpatrick was heard to preach at the great camp-meeting!
For several years before his death, he was in the service of the American Tract Society. He traveled very extensively in the pursuit of his business; and it was while he was thus employed that he met the accident which resulted in his death. He was traveling in his carriage, with his books and papers, and by some misstep, not now distinctly recollected, he broke on of his legs, and, from want to skillful treatment, he died. He was still a young man, with a young and interesting family dependent upon him, and with a young and loving Church looking to him for spiritual food and training. It was a most mysterious dispensation of Providence.
I remember to have seen a letter from a Presbyterian minister in Washington county to my father, suggesting that the life of Mr. K. should be carefully written and published; that the fact of his splendid abilities, and an account of the great good he had accomplished, should be perpetuated in history for all time. For some reason not known to the writer, no steps were taken to carry out the suggestion.
I sincerely regret that I cannot say more of this very interesting character.
[Source: Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. By Judge R.C. Ewing. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 109-112]