Benjamin Hogue Pierson

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1803 - 1893

Photograph courtesy of Robert Lawton



BENJAMIN H. PIERSON was born in Person County, North Carolina, May 27, 1803. His parents were John and Elizabeth (Warren) Pierson.

He embraced religion in Union County, Kentucky, in 1822, under the influence of Rev. Dr. James Johnson and Rev. Aaron Shelby, and Elders James Travis, W.S. Pierson and James Bone.

He became a candidate for the ministry in the Anderson presbytery, at Princeton, Ky., October, 1824. Was licensed by the same presbytery, Rev. David Lowry presiding, at Princeton, Ind., October, 1825. Was ordained by Arkansas presbytery, at Cane Hill, Ark., October, 1832. Present at his ordination: Ministers, James H. Black, Andrew Buchanan, Jesse M. Blair, Wm. T. Larrimore and Wm. D. Ward. Elders: Wm. D. Crawford, James Billingsley, James Buchanan and Wm. D. Cunningham.

His field of labor have been: For a short time after licensure, itinerating in Indiana and Illinois; then two and a half years itinerating in Kentucky; next five years itinerating in Southern Arkansas. Since his ordination his time has been spent in South-western Missouri and North-western Arkansas, itinerating, lecturing in Cane Hill College and preaching otherwise. From necessity, for the support of his family, he has also done considerable at surveying and farming.

After these memoranda we will give the sketch as written by the subject himself:

My father, John Pierson, was a native of Virginia, a blacksmith by trade, by means of which he accumulated a handsome little estate in after years. Though on account of his being a mechanic, my mother's parents were so violently opposed to her marriage as to disinherit her. Her mother being a descendant of the Stuarts of Scotland, and owning a respectable estate where they lived in North Carolina, they seemed to think the marriage of their daughter to a plain mechanic, with no property and almost no education, an unpardonable offense. This state of things continued throughout life, notwithstanding my parents raised a family equal, at least in point of respectability and moral worth, to the average of the population where they lived.

My parents had six children, all sons, five of whom lived to a good old age. My only surviving brother is in his 78th year. The writer is the sixth--the Benjamin of the family. All but the oldest have been respectable members of the Church.

Hosea A. Pierson, late of Caseyville, Ky., was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, for at least fifty years, and W. S. Pierson, of Union County, Ky., my only surviving brother, has been for more than fifty years a ruling elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and prominent in advancing the interests of religion, by his counsel, his prayers and his money.

I professed religion in my twentieth year, but remained out of the Church for about eighteen months--a part of my career which I have ever since regretted. I enjoyed myself much better after, than before I joined the Church. But I had conscientious scruples about connecting with the Church without being genuinely converted--which I often doubted, in a great measure, because I was not conscious at the time of my conversion that I was converted. It was very common then for the Barnetts, Lowry, Shelby and others whose ministry I attended, to insist that every person who obtained pardon, was conscious at that moment, that he was converted. Whereas several hours had elapsed between the time I obtained relief, and the time of my receiving the witness of the spirit that I was born of God. It was not until it had occurred to me that almost all Christians in after life, were subjects of doubt, at times, as to the genuineness of their religious profession, and if after conversion, why not at the moment of it, that I ceased to have difficulty on that account. That Christians are not always divinely assured of their being in the faith, is evident from such inspired languages as the following, to-wit: "Examine yourselves whether ye be in the Faith:" "Try yourselves, prove yourselves." Notwithstanding I have no sympathy for the notion that a person can gradually grow into religion, that there may be a time when such a person may be said to be partly regenerated and partly not.

After becoming a member of the Church, I at once adopted the practice of praying publicly, when requested to do so. I found in this practice, one of the richest pastures to promote my spiritual growth. Perhaps the richest of all except secret devotion.

There was a serious obstacle in the way of my religious enjoyment, which is common only to those whom God has called to preach the gospel. From the time of my conversion whenever I enjoyed religious comfort, I also felt impressions on that subject, and unless I would consent to engage in the work of the ministry, I would become the subject of doubts as to my personal piety, and lose my religious comfort. My great enemy was ever ready to take advantage of my natural want of self-confidence, want of mental culture, my poverty, etc., to dissuade me from yielding to my impressions to preach.

In October, 1824, at Princeton, Ky., I placed myself under the care of the Anderson presbytery, as a candidate for the ministry.

On the 6th day of October, 1825, at Princeton, Indiana, I was licensed to preach, at the same time with Joseph A Copp, M. H. Bone, and lamented Hugh B. Hill. Rev. David Lowry was Moderator.

The ministers present at that meeting of the presbytery, so far as I can remember, were David Lowry, Henry F. Delany, Dr. F.R. Cossitt, Dr. James Johnson, John and James T. [sic: Y] Barnett, Aaron Shelby, Hiram McDaniel and Alexander Downy. At that time I was appointed to preach in connection with Bro. Downy, in the Northern portions of Indiana and Illinois, extending my appointments as far north as the settlements would justify, which was a little north of Crawfordsville, then a village which had just commenced being settled.

The next spring, in connection with Rev. Adlai Boyd, I was ordered to labor in the newly settled country then known as the Kentucky portion of "Jackson's Purchase," between the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. We continued there twelve months, and had the unspeakable consolation to see the pleasure of the Lord prosper in our hands. I recollect that at a two days' meeting, held in a private dwelling, there being no such thing as a "meeting-house," there were seventeen conversions.

We travelled during the year with but little, if any, pecuniary remuneration. If I received a dollar in cash, I do not remember it; but I suppose I did. I remember that next half year, receiving money twice. My circuit was arranged so that I had to ferry the Cumberland River four times each round. Once I came to the bank of the Cumberland without a cent. How I would get over the river I knew not. But having to call on a brother who lived close to the ferry, when I started from his house, without knowing the state of my finances, he handed me a "bit"--twelve and a half cents--remarking "this will pay your ferriage." I replied, "It is what I needed," thanked him and went on my way, but not without a thankful heart for the little "God-send."

But the thought came up, I will have need of money to pay another ferriage. But like him who "went out no knowing whither" I continued to meet my appointments till I came to the last one on that side of the river and still no money to pay ferriage. All was dark. I had the altar erected and the wood on the altar, but where was the sacrifice? God provided it. After the benediction was pronounced, as was the custom of the people, male and female, saint and sinner, they came to shake hands with the preacher. Of the number who crowded around me, a young lady, to me a stranger, as she took my hand, turned a whole dollar into it. Thinks I to myself, "I have now enough to pay for crossing the river eight more times." I wanted more money, and to get it faster, but Providence dealt it out as I needed it. I have received liberal contributions occasionally, since, but none have impressed me more sensibly that a special providence was interposed in my behalf.

The third year of my ministry was spent on the Christian circuit, which embraced Christian, Trigg, Todd, and perhaps, one or two other counties in Kentucky. The fourth year, my lot was cast in Southern Arkansas, where I labored during the greater portion of the next four or five years, as an itinerant minister, I thought, with encouraging success.

In the autumn of 1832, to reach my presbytery, at Cane Hill, in North-western Arkansas, I traveled on horseback five hundred miles. A camp-meeting was in progress. Much good was done. I remember an incident which had something to do in the conversion of one, who had opposed conversion-work, but whose pious wife was fervently engaged in prayer for his salvation. intense interest for him was felt by many. After a hard struggle, suddenly he became quiet. Peace flowed into his soul like a river, and his joy became as the waves of the sea. It was Col. Thomas Moore, who with his lovely consort, Mary, after the lapse of forty years, is in the habit of attending our General Assembly frequently. Many remember, that at Springfield, Missouri in 1874, when Dr. Morison and Mr. Ferguson, from Scotland, were with us, and we were all giving them the hand of welcome and words of cheer, a venerable lady approached, and as she gave the old Doctor her hand, gave a sharp, shrill shout of joy, the only one I heard on that occasion, but such as I had heard from the same person, more than forty years before. That sister was the companion of Col. Thomas Moore.

At the close of the camp-meeting, presbytery met in the same vicinity, and, contrary to my expectations, set me apart to the whole work of the ministry. Ordination made me a member of synod, which was to meet three hundred miles north of Cane Hill, and that much further from my field of labor. But I aimed to discharge my whole duty. Instead therefore of returning to my work in Southern Arkansas, I made my way on horseback to the synod, one hundred miles of way being a wilderness. Four others accompanied.

The synod met at Lexington, Mo. I there made the acquaintance of Fathers Ewing and King, two of the founders of our Church. We had, so far as I now recollect, a very harmonious session, with a single exception.

With the view of lessening the labor of attending synod by the Arkansas brethren, I had prepared resolutions, the object of which was to create two other presbyteries--Red River and White River--out of portions of the Arkansas presbytery, and a resolution to petition the General Assembly to constitute the Arkansas synod of the three presbyteries. The first two passed without any difficulty, but when the other was introduced, Father Ewing was roused, and a heated discussion of several hours length ensued.

At this meeting I made the acquaintance of Miss Jack, who a little more than a year after became my wife, and a help-meet indeed in the great work to which I had given my life.

After spending about a month with our friends in the region where her parents lived, we started for the country where I had been laboring for several years. But when we reached Northwestern Arkansas, we were persuaded that my labors were needed there more than in Southern Arkansas, and I purchased a farm and cultivated it for a year and a half, preaching but seldom except on the Sabbaths, or at popular meetings.

At the end of that term I engaged again in the work of an itinerant. In this work, I trust it is not unbecoming in me to claim, that I did some good as well as in other fields.

One of the aims of my life has been to encourage education, particularly the education of those who were entering the ministry. Rev. Messrs. John Miller, John Buchanan, E. C. Trimble, P. A. Walker, Silas N. Davis, Isaac W. Talkington and others, doubtless, were they alive, would bear testimony to the truth of this.

Another purpose with me has been, never to fail to attend a judicatory of the Church of which I was a member, unless it was clearly owing to a Providential hindrance.

On the tenth day of August, 1840, I had the great misfortune to lose my wife, who had become the mother of seven children.

After the lapse, however, of nearly two years I found it to my interest to marry a second time. I selected a lady of some experience, which I thought might be an advantage to my children, which I found to be the case. My second wife was a daughter of Rev Evan Jones, for many years a missionary among the Cherokee Indians, and a sister of Rev. John B. Jones, also a missionary among those Indians.

About the time of my second marriage I consented to deliver lectures to the candidates for the ministry and others at Cane Hill College. During the time I was delivering those lectures, I had collected and arranged some thoughts on the doctrines of Christianity, which, with very few exceptions, seemed to be well appreciated, and which in some instances were mentioned in a way that made me feel much flattered. If I had yielded to the views and wishes of many of my brethren, they would have been before the public many years ago. But during the late war, all my written lectures and the briefs which I used in delivering them, together with thousands of dollars worth of property, were consumed by fire. Only one lecture escaped the flames, by being in my possession, with other valuable documents, at another place.

My acquaintance with the doctrines of the Church, has given me some trouble, by involving me in several controversies, principally with immersionists, who on not being able to sustain their views in debate, resorted to the contemptible practice, too common in such cases, of assailing private character.

On the twenty-fifth day of last September, (1876) I followed my last wife to her final resting-place. The trial was severe. For twenty-five years we had been mutual aids in buffeting the waves of trouble. I found her prompt to sympathize with me in trouble, and invaluable as a counsellor. But while I am left, deeply to mourn her loss, I am more than compensated by the thoughts of her triumphant death, and the glories she is now sharing in the home of the blessed.

One more remark before I close. My life for nearly fifty years, has been spent rather as a pioneer. I have never served a wealthy church as pastor. I have felt very deeply, the privation of being separated from the experienced of our ministry, who in a few minutes, might have furnished me with information, the acquiring of which, in some instances, has required days of reading and research. Yet I have the consolation to believe, that my labor has not been entirely in vain. It is true, as I believe, that my labors would have been more abundantly blessed, had it not been for a fault of my own, which I have often mourned. I allude to a cold heart. If I had invariably entered and occupied the pulpit with a heart warmed by the presence and smiles of a crucified Savior, I am sure that my efforts would have accomplished much more good than they have. However, I hope that the mantle of divine love will cover all my blunders and imperfections, and that at the last, through the merits of the Redeemer, I shall be allowed some humble position near the throne, there to pay my humble tribute of praise to God and the Lamb, forever!

[Source: Crisman, E. B. Biographical Sketches of Living Old Men, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Six Volumes. Vol. I. St. Louis, Mo.: Perrin and Smith, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1877, pages 71-84]


Benjamin H. Pierson, D.D., died at his home in Sebastian county, Ark., on the 22d day of October, A.D. 1893. He had gone on horseback to a neighborhood about twelve miles away to attend to some church work. While absent he was taken sick. His son and son-in-law sent for him, and carried him home, where, in the language of my informant, "he gently and peacefully sank into eternal rest."

Doctor Pierson was born on Hyco river, in Pierson county, N.C., on the 27th day of May, 1803. By nearly five months he had passed fourscore and ten years. When he was about six months old his parents moved to Port Royal, in Robertson county, Tenn. Not long afterward they moved to Kentucky, and settled in what is now Hopkins county. In that and Union county he grew up to manhood. His educational advantages were such as the newly settled country afforded, but they were well improved. He had a fair practical English education, and made good use of it through all his life.

When about nineteen years old he became religious, and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. From what I know of the times and the locality I suspect that Rose Creek camp ground was the center of gospel influence where he received his early religious impressions, and that his ministerial instructors were Matthew H. Bone and Hugh B. Hill.

In October, 1824, he became a candidate for the ministry under care (I presume) of Anderson Presbytery, and on the 6th of October, 1825, he was licensed to preach. I have no certain information of the time and place of his ordination. My impression is that he was ordained by the Arkansas Presbytery. The minutes of Arkansas Presbytery in its early years were sent to Dr. McDonnold to assist him in the preparation of material for his "History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church," and they were not returned to the Stated Clerk. If anyone who sees this article knows the facts in the case let him publish them in the CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN.

For three years after his licensure Mr. Pierson rode and preached almost daily in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee. During a part of this time he and Adlai Boyd, who died a few years ago, were true yoke-fellows in the ministry. In 1828 they parted company. Mr. Boyd remained in Kentucky, Pierson directed his way to the territory of Arkansas. This territory was thinly settled and long and lonesome rides on horseback were necessary for attendance on the meetings of the presbytery. Still longer journeys were necessary in order to be at synod, yet he was regular in attendance. On one of these trips into Missouri he met the lady who afterward became his wife. She was Miss Lavinia Jack, the daughter, I suppose, of the Capt. William Jack mentioned on pages 179 and 180 of McDonnold's History. Rev. Finis Ewing officiated at this marriage.

Soon after this he returned to Arkansas and settled on a farm near the present town of Prairie Grove, in Washington county. Here according to the custom and the necessity of the times he plowed through the week and preached of Sundays. Afterward he bought a farm on Cane Hill, and was living there when the civil war came on.

In 1849 his wife died, and 1851 he married Miss Hannah W. Jones, the daughter of a Baptist minister, then living in the Cherokee Nation.

He brought up twelve children--seven by the first wife, and five by the second, and the most of them were pretty well educated.

When the war struck this part of the country Dr. Pierson floated off with the Southern wave of fleeing non combatants, and at the close found himself in Texas. His family, except the two older boys, remained on Cane Hill. Returning home he had need for all his energy, his brain, and brawn, in order to restore his family to a condition of comfortable living. Having lost his dwelling house, he sold his farm, paid off some debts and settled a new place in Sebastian county, where he was living when his last sickness came on him. From that home is second wife had preceded him to the grave by seventeen years, and two of his children also had gone before. Dr. Pierson was a strong man. Mentally and physically he was qualified by nature to meet opposing forces. He was a student. But few men, who worked as he did for a living, read more, or to better advantage. He was a sound, vigorous, and aggressive preacher. His reputation reached beyond the bounds of the State. In 1860 (I think) he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Bethel College. For one or two years he delivered lectures to the candidates for the ministry in Cane Hill College.

His combativeness was well developed. Often in social conversation, frequently in the judicatories of the church, his fondness for an intellectual contest would show itself. He would contend with those of his own church or with others on matters wherein men might honestly differ. Once he had a public debate with a Baptist minister on the subject of water baptism. On the last day his antagonist did not appear, thus leaving the field in possession of Dr. Pierson. Had he been so educated and so situated that he could have spent his time in connection with some of our schools rather than on a farm, he would have had not many equals in the church. The way of his life was not always smooth. A man of his make-up naturally engenders opposition. Once the opposition was hurtful. But, the latter end of life to him was quiet and full of comfort. Like the rivers as they approach the sea whose currents flow more and more smoothly until the waters mingle with the great deep, so in his latter days life's stream lost the dash and impetuosity of earlier years and flowed calmly, sweetly, into the vast ocean of eternity.
     Boonsboro, Ark.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, January 4, 1894, page 243]

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Updated December 5, 2005