JOHN MORGAN was born May 4, 1806, in Virginia, near Richmond. His parents were John and Sarah Niblet Morgan. He was of Welsh extraction. His mother and the mother of the late President Harrison were cousins, and Mr. Morgan's name was really John Harrison Morgan, but from some cause unknown to the writer, his middle name was dropped in early life, and he was distinguished by his first name only. His educational advantages were very limited, but though seldom attending school, he was a diligent student, studied alone, sometimes taught, and by these means became a respectable scholar. He was, in the most practical sense of the expression, "a self-made man."
Some time in his early life his parents moved to Alabama, and settled in Madison county. But little is known of his boyhood. On the fourth Sabbath in September, 1823, he professed religion, being then in his eighteenth year. This is supposed to have occurred in Alabama. He was licensed to preach on the first of October, 1827, and set apart to the whole work of the ministry first of April, 1828. He was introduced into the ministry by the Tennessee Presbytery.
The first year of Mr. Morgan's ministerial life he spent as an itinerant preacher. His circuit extended through the counties of Limestone and Madison, Alabama, and Franklin and Lincoln counties, Tennessee. According to his own account, it was more than four hundred miles long, and his custom was to preach every day, and sometimes twice, and even thrice a day. Under such exhausting labors, as it would be supposed, his health soon began to fail, and it was found necessary for him to contract his labors. He was therefore directed to divide his time between Athens and Mooresville, Alabama. Here he labored for three years. "During this time," says he, "we experienced many gracious and powerful seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and witnessed the happy conversion of many precious souls to God." In the course of the first year after his ordination he administered the ordinance of baptism to two hundred and fifty adult persons. This is an indication of the extraordinary success of his early labors.
When he commenced preaching in Athens, there were but three members of the Church in town. At the expiration of his three years the membership numbered near two hundred, and a good house of worship, a brick building, had been erected. His health was still poor, and as he felt that he could be at least temporarily spared from Alabama, he determined to travel to some extent, through the more northern and eastern States, for the twofold purpose of improving his health, and adding to his stock of knowledge.
In the spring of 1831 the call came from Pennsylvania for a visit from some Cumberland Presbyterian preachers to that country. Messrs. Donnell, Chapman, Burrow, Bryan, and Morgan were appointed by the General Assembly of that year to visit Pennsylvania, in conformity with the call. In the latter part of May, Messrs. Morgan and Bryan started for Western Pennsylvania. After attending a meeting in Nashville, of ten days' continuance, which was held in the Market-house, they went to Gallatin, where they remained and preached several days, including the Sabbath. Mr. Morgan's remark is, that there was "some seriousness." From Gallatin they went to Scottsville, Kentucky, and on through the towns which lay in their way, preaching at night and on the Sabbath, as opportunity presented itself. At Bardstown, Kentucky, they held a four-days' meeting, where "much seriousness was manifested." There they visited the Catholic College, Cathedral, and Nunnery--"finely constructed establishments indeed," says Mr. Morgan in his diary, "and well calculated to deceive and ruin souls." From Bardstown they passed through Lexington, Paris, and on the Washington, where they spent the night and preached. From Washington they went to Maysville, where they preached and spent the night. From Maysville they crossed the river, and for the first time in their lives stood upon "free soil." They shaped their course to Wheeling, preaching in the towns on the road. On the 15th day of July they reached Washington, Pennsylvania. Much curiosity existed to hear a Cumberland Presbyterian preach. Mr. Bryan was sick, and Mr. Morgan preached several times in the Methodist Church to large and attentive congregations.
Mr. Morgan, in connection with the other missionaries, who had all met according to appointment in Western Pennsylvania, attended a number of meetings in the course of the summer and fall, all of which were greatly blessed. Hundreds of persons professed religion, and a number of congregations were organized. The first congregation was organized on the 18th of August. In a few weeks a camp-meeting was held within its bounds, which appears to have been remarkably successful.
In the winter of 1831 and 1832 Mr. Morgan returned to Alabama. He visited Princeton, Kentucky, on his way southward, where he left Mr. John G. Biddle, one of the recent Pennsylvania converts. Mr. Biddle's attention had been turned to the ministry, and he came to Kentucky and entered Cumberland College, with a view to a preparation for that work. Mr. Morgan remained in the South until the spring, and then returned to Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 1832 he took charge of Washington and Bethel congregations. He continued here to the spring of 1834, when he settled in Uniontown, and took charge of the congregation in that place. Here he continued till his death. A considerable portion of the time of his connection with the Uniontown congregation, he was also connected with Madison College, as Professor of Moral and Intellectual Science. Madison College was at that time under the control of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In the course of his connection with the Institution he instructed eighteen or twenty young men in theology. He was a member of the General Assembly of 1840, which held its sessions in Elkton, Kentucky, and contributed very greatly by his influence toward the formation of a gigantic scheme for the resuscitation of Cumberland College, the prospects of which had become clouded. The plan, if carried out, would have revived the Institution and placed it on a permanent basis. It was, however, never carried out. He was also a member of the Assembly of 1841, which met at Owensboro, Kentucky. He is said to have delivered his last sermon in March, several months preceding his death, from the text, "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain." He was fully sensible of his decline, and said through the spring and summer that he would "go with the falling of the leaves." After a tedious illness, he closed his earthly career on Sabbath night, October 17, 1841, in the thirty-sixth year of his age, and the fourteenth of his ministry. From a respected correspondent I have the following in relation to his death:
"I was present with him when he died. He was perfectly calm, and seemed entirely conscious and resigned. I recollect that he took leave of Mrs. Morgan with every mark of affection, but his voice was gone. I could hear nothing but 'Margaret' and 'farewell.' The effort exhausted him, and he soon breathed his last."
From another correspondent I have an account of an interview, which preceded his death a few days. Says the writer:
"Several of us were on the eve of starting to Synod, which was appointed to meet in Greenfield, Washington county. We called to see our esteemed counselor and friend, now rapidly declining. We supposed it might be our last opportunity of seeing him and hearing words from his lips in this life. He now could no more go with us, and lead us to Presbyteries and Synods, and sit as chief among counselors. Some standing at the head of his bed, some at the side, and some leaning on the foot-railing, he said, 'Dear brethren, I can go with you no more to Synod. I should like to go. You have been very kind to me, but we have met, I expect, for the last time. Go, and the Lord be with you! Do the best you can till we meet in the General Assembly and Church of the first-born.' One after another passed out of the room, but still one remained seated near him, held by a ligament which I could not describe. My feelings were tender, and the inquiry of my heart was, 'How can I leave my spiritual guide, father, brother, friend?' While I was thus seated, he fixed his eyes on me and said, 'For some days past the Lord has given me such views of eternity that my mind has been carried away. So delighted and charmed, and even overwhelmed, have I been with these bright visions, that I have felt my strength failing under them, and have been compelled to withdraw my mind from them. O the charming scenes which the Lord has set before me!' These were his last words to me. I arose; we took each other by the hand. It was the last farewell."
I make the following extract from the Union Evangelist of November 3, 1841:
"That faithful man of God, Rev. John Morgan, the respected and beloved pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in Uniontown, since the spring of 1834, was called from the field of his earthly labors on Sabbath night, October 17, 1841, in the thirty-sixth year of his age, and in the fourteenth of his ministry. * * * In connection with others, he received an appointment from the General Assembly of our Church, convened in Princeton, Kentucky, in May, 1831, to visit some parts of Pennsylvania and New York, and on the 15th of July following he arrived in Washington, Pennsylvania. He was incessant in labors here, and in a section of country south of this; also at other points, as Pittsburg, Waynesburg, Jefferson, and Wheeling, up to the early part of December, when he returned South, and passing through Marietta and Athens, Ohio, labored successfully at these and other places, which he again visited on his return from Alabama. He reentered the field of labor in Pennsylvania in June, 1832. The ensuing fall he took charge of Washington and Bethel congregations. In the spring of 1834 he resigned his charge here, and settled in Uniontown congregation, where he continued to labor as long as he had strength to preach. He had popular and useful talents, and was a man well suited to the condition and wants of the Church. Wherever he passed he left in his track impressions not soon to be obliterated. With a lucid mind, an unquenchable zeal, a warm heart, and a burning eloquence, he passed through the land like a flame of fire. We may say in truth that he lived fast. His labors soon wore out the frail tabernacle of the mind. All who knew him will bear witness to his urbanity and cheerfulness in the social circle. In the pulpit he was plain in his manner, forcible in his illustrations, and powerful in his appeals; bold, energetic, and faithful; a workman who had not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. He loved revivals of religion, and under God was a happy instrument in promoting them, and leading many to turn from their evil ways. Because of this, he suffered much calumny from the wicked.
"The intelligence that such a servant of God, such a soldier of the cross has died on the battle-field, will make the hearts of thousands sad, but we must send forth the unwelcome tidings that Brother Morgan is no more. His congregation has experienced an inexpressible bereavement, our community has lost a valuable citizen, the Church a useful minister, and the cause of education an able advocate. The loss to his family, it were a mockery to attempt to describe. Their grief and mourning, the lamentations of relatives and friends, may be more fitly conceived than expressed. But they sorrow not as those who have no hope. The bereaved family have a better inheritance than silver and gold--the counsels, the example, the prayers of such a husband and father. The widow and her four fatherless children claim, and will doubtless receive, the sympathies and prayers of those who loved the husband and father.
"Though his health and been declining for years, Brother Morgan still continued to labor, even beyond his strength. He had, however, seldom attempted to preach for eighteen or twenty months past. His protracted affliction he bore with patience and resignation. He had his right mind--was collected and calm to the last moment. The writer often heard him say that 'Christ had been precious to him, and altogether lovely, when preaching salvation through his name. Now he is precious in my affliction; he is my comfort and my consolation. O there is nothing like communion with God! I know in whom I have believed. My trust is firm. I view the approach of death without fear. I feel myself a poor unworthy creature; Christ is my only dependence. The plan of salvation is just such as man needs. O how well adapted is the Christian's hope to his condition! Nothing else can afford support in affliction, and in the prospect of death.' He sometimes said, when he thought of the Church and of his rising family, he felt a desire to have health again, if it were the Lord's will. The third evening before his death we called to see him, and an aged minister sitting by his side said to him, 'I suppose you remember that our Synod is to meet to-morrow?' 'Yes,' said he, 'I remember it well, but I suppose I shall never meet you again till we meet in the General Assembly and Church of the first-born.' The apostle's language was then quoted, 'For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.' 'Aye,' said he, 'that is the last text from which I ever preached. Death is a very trying event. It is more than human nature, unsupported, can bear; but human nature, sanctified by Christianity, can bear it. Leaving a rising family is my greatest trial; but the Lord gave them, and if he see fit to call me away, he will take care of them.'"
The remains of Mr. Morgan were committed to the tomb on Tuesday, 19th of October. A large crowd assembled at his residence at ten o'clock. The procession from thence to the church was led by sixteen ministers, and embraced the family and relatives of the deceased, his church and congregation, physicians, lawyers, and citizens generally of the town and vicinity. The church was set off with the habiliments of mourning. The crowd being seated, Rev. J. P. Wethee commenced the service by reading the ninetieth Psalm; Rev. David Barclay gave out the hymn,
and led in prayer. Rev. Milton Bird then delivered the funeral-sermon from Phil. i. 21-24.
One authority says, in relation to the funeral-service: "The audience was the largest I ever saw on such an occasion. The people came from far and near, and all seemed to feel that a great and good man had fallen from the walls of Zion."
I quote again, from the Union Evangelist:
"Since the existence of our Church, it has never been more sorely bereaved than within the present year. Ewing has fallen in Missouri, Cauby in Illinois, and Morgan in Pennsylvania. This last bereavement falls on a part of the Church which seems least able to bear it. Let us lay these dispensations to heart. Has God a controversy with us? If such afflictions produce no deep impression and salutary reformation, we may expect to be visited still more sorely. Let us take words and return to the Lord with supplication and weeping. In our respective places let us devote ourselves to our duties. Though he feed his people with the bread of affliction, and given them tears to drink in large measure, yet God will not give his heritage to reproach."
Mr. Morgan was on many accounts one of the most interesting young men ever connected with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Says a correspondent: "The personal appearance of John Morgan was extremely prepossessing and imposing. He was six feet three inches in height, had black hair, large and brilliant black eyes, and a pale or rather sallow complexion. He was born to command, and without assuming any authority, he was facile princips in Presbytery, Synod, or in any assembly into which he might be thrown."
Although raised, I suppose, in common life, his manners were very fine, rather courtly than otherwise. He was a gentleman evidently without any effort. Such a man could not have been an unkind husband or father. He was just the reverse--loving and loved.
He was for some time connected with the Union Evangelist as editor. Some of his editorial productions were worthy of an editor of more experience and higher pretensions as a writer.
It has been already mentioned that he officiated several years as a Professor in Madison College. He possessed great tact in the management of young men. Indeed, he excelled in the management of men generally. I recollect to have heard a prominent lawyer and politician of Kentucky remark, that at the General Assembly of 1840, Mr. Morgan took him into his own garden, and by his controlling influence brought him over to a measure of Church policy in opposition to long-cherished convictions and prejudices--convictions and prejudices which he had considered immovable. Such a man would exert great influence upon the young men of a college.
But the pulpit was Mr. Morgan's forte. There he appeared to greatest advantage. On this subject I quote from a correspondent who was intimate with him, and was capable of forming a correct judgment:
"He was a great preacher--a great pulpit orator. The church in Uniontown was often crowded on ordinary occasions to hear him. He always took an interest in his subject. He felt the force of what he preached. The interest which he felt often kindled up his whole countenance into a flame, and his emotions were communicated to every hearer. At such times the pulpit could hardly contain him, and the whole audience were irresistibly borne along on the tide of thought and feeling. Expressions of deep emotion could be heard on every hand.
"My own impression has been that his nervous system was too delicate for his work, and that these overmastering efforts literally wore him out. I have known him to show signs of great prostration after preaching; and when he had delivered some of his best sermons in the morning, he was often unable to get to the church at night. I should have stated that when his emotions were most overpowering, all his action was perfectly natural, and seemed to coincide with his subject and the state of his feelings."
I recollect the first time I ever saw Mr. Morgan. It was at the General Assembly of 1831. I believe he was not a member, but only a visitor. He reached Princeton the evening before the Assembly met, and was appointed to preach that night. We had all heard of him as a young man of fine promise, and of course were anxious to hear him preach. He commenced his sermon with some very felicitous remarks on the subject of being in the neighborhood of a college, and the possibility of his not being able to satisfy so fastidious a taste as might perhaps prevail there. The sermon, however, was good; no one was disappointed. I saw him again at Princeton the following winter, on his way to Alabama. He again attended the Assembly of 1837, at Princeton, as I have already mentioned, and preached an excellent sermon, on Sabbath afternoon, from a passage in the latter part of Revelation. I never met with him after that meeting. At that Assembly he took an active part in the formation of what was for a long time known as "Cumberland College Association." This was an effort made to save the oldest literary institution in the Church.
I give some recollections of Mr. Morgan from another correspondent. The scenes which he described occurred in Pennsylvania:
"I went," says he, "to a camp-meeting on Father N.'s land. There, for the first time, I saw Mr. Morgan. A tall man, of dark complexion, walked into the preacher's stand. Sitting erect, I carefully surveyed the stranger. His hair was jet-black, his face rather long, his forehead lofty, his shoulders were broad; there was an awe-inspiring power in his countenance--I could not steadily look upon it. I soon learned from the whispers around me that his name was Morgan. He soon arose, and commenced the service of the hour. His manner riveted the attention of all. His text was God's expostulation with his people: 'Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.' In the course of the sermon I observed a man who was somewhat noted for skeptical, or rather speculative, principles on the subject of religion. He sometimes rose and stood, then sat down; thus frequently changing his position. All the while, however, his attention was fixed upon the preacher. He seemed to hear every word, and his countenance indicated an intense spiritual struggle. The speaker reasoned, and described the work of God in restoring to the soul its lost purity. His face shone like the face of Moses when he came down from the mount. At last, with his fist clenched and trembling, he darted his long arm toward the stranger. The latter dropped to his seat as though powerless. He yielded to the overwhelming appeal, and wept like a child. The preacher continued. He dwelt upon the character of the soul made white as snow or wool; its exercises here, and its employments in the coming world. Such a description, such words of holy rapture, such bright visions presented of the great white throne and those standing before it, of redeemed and glorified spirits flying in delightful obedience to the great Creator's will throughout his vast dominions, were quite overpowering. 'O, who would not be a Christian!' was the preacher's concluding interrogatory; and then, with a 'God save you, my dear people!' he left the stand."
We have an account of another camp-meeting, held on Upper Ten-Mile. Mr. Morgan preached on an afternoon of one day of the meeting. He seems to have been dissatisfied with his effort, but was appointed to preach again at night. In the sermon of the afternoon, in describing the vices and follies of the times, he found himself carried off into something of a light manner. He closed abruptly, and left the stand in great affliction. At night his text was, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" The introductory hymn was suited to the text. Says our informant, "He discoursed with such clearness and force upon his momentous theme--the place of the damned, the nature and reality of damnation--that he soon found his way to our feelings. The bottomless pit, the ascending columns of smoke and flame, the groans and cries, and unmitigated agonies of doomed spirits, seemed not only a fearful, but a present reality. He closed his sermon, and in the conclusion, raising his eyes to heaven, he cried out, 'O God! who is exposed to this damnation? Sinner, can you escape? Can you resist? God will overtake you--he will hurry you to your doom! You cannot escape! O, God save you from the damnation of hell!' It was the most heart-felt and terrific appeal that I ever heard from the mouth of man. And with this he sank down into his seat, crying, 'O God, O Lord Jesus, save this dear people from the damnation of hell!' Nothing, for some minutes, disturbed the awful stillness but sighs, and sobs, and groans."
We have an account of still another camp-meeting, held in Greene county. The concourse of people was very great, especially on the Sabbath. There seemed to be an organized opposition to the meeting, and great efforts were made to break it up. It seems strange that such should have been the case in the quiet land of Pennsylvania, but we suppose the account faithful. Mr. Morgan was appointed to preach on Sabbath night. Great apprehensions were entertained of the rabble. Every thing indicated a gathering storm. Civil officers were rather with the rowdies than against them. Night came on, however, and the sermon was preached. The text was Moses's invitation to his father-in-law to journey with Israel to the land of promise. It was a memorable night. "More than a hundred persons signified a wish to seek the goodly land." Quiet and order reigned. Victory on the Lord's side seemed complete. The opposition temporarily quailed. But after the service closed at the stand, the rowdies rallied again. At the head of the troop was a large, black negro, called Bob. It was flattering to his vanity to be made a captain, even of such a crowd. They marched around the camp-ground, whooping and yelling, throwing stones at the camps, and in various ways expressing their fiendish spirit. Mr. Morgan passed out and around, so as to meet them, as they moved with their whisky and bludgeons. Coming near, he walked rapidly forward, and meeting the head of their miserable column, he took hold of Bob, and placing a hand on each shoulder, shook him severely, and said, "Bob, you scoundrel, will you persist in this disturbance?" Bob trembled from head to foot, and begging, said, "Mr. Morgan, forgive me, and I will do so no more." Bob kept his word, and his followers quietly slipped off. The troubles of the meeting came to an end.
When Mr. Morgan professed religion, he was an immersionist in sentiment, and had his baptism deferred for some time because there was no stream in the neighborhood suitable for immersion. He chose also to be baptized by a minister who had himself been immersed, and for this purpose went a considerable distance from home for baptism. He seems to have retained his prejudices on this subject until after he entered the ministry. A ludicrous incident in his own ministerial experience directed his attention to a new aspect of the subject. He was called upon to baptize a large negro man in Alabama. The negro, like himself, was an immersionist, and must needs go under the water. The bottom of the creek selected for the administration of the ordinance was very slippery. At the moment of attempting to put the negro under the water, the administrator lost his foothold upon the bottom, and the negro escaped from his hand, and swam out, half drowned, to the opposite side of the stream. Of course the crowd collected to witness the service made themselves merry at the occurrence. A thoughtful man would have considered the inconvenience and incongruity of a rite which rendered him liable to so much embarrassment. Mr. Morgan reviewed his opinions. The result was a total change, and for some years before his death he refused to baptize by immersion under any circumstances.
Mr. Morgan left a wife and four children. The respected widow still lives. The children are all members of the Church except the youngest. His oldest son married the daughter of his old friend and fellow-laborer, Rev. Dr. A. M. Bryan; his second daughter is the wife of Rev. J. R. Brown, of Cherry Grove, Illinois.
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1867, pages 273-291]