The following preamble and resolution was offered by R.C. Ewing, and on his motion unanimously adopted:
Whereas, information of the death of our late, lamented fathers, The Rev. THOMAS CALHOON, and the Rev. JAS. B. PORTER, has recently been communicated to the members of this Assembly, and to the Church generally, and, whereas, we feel it to be our solemn duty to honor the memory of our departed fathers by every proper means within our reach:
Therefore, Resolved, That this Assembly respectfully request the Rev. Dr. Porter to preach a sermon before the Assembly, on some suitable occasion, in honor of the memory of our departed fathers, Calhoon and Porter, and that the committee on public religious exercises confer with Dr. Porter in relation thereto. [page 11]
Upon further motion, it was ordered that the Assembly repair
to the church room, and attend upon the funeral sermon appointed
for that hour. Whereupon, the House immediately re-assembled in
the church room, and was addressed by the Rev.
Dr. Porter, in a touching, eloquent, and instructive discourse,
in honor of the memory of two of the early ministers of this church,
but who have departed this life since the meeting of our last
General Assembly, to-wit: Rev.
Thomas Calhoon, and Rev. James B. Porter.[pages
[Source: General Assembly Minutes of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1855]
JAMES BROWN PORTER was born in Guilford county, North Carolina, February 26, 1779. This was one of the darkest periods in our Revolutionary history. The British were making great efforts to subjugate the Carolinas. In the following spring they took Charleston, and the nominal subjugation of South Carolina soon followed. North Carolina was overrun with parties of the enemy who, together with the tories, kept the country in constant agitation and alarm. The British were cruel, but the tories were more cruel still. It was a time which tried men's souls. Reese Porter, the father of James B. Porter, was a brave and patriotic citizen. He, with others, rushed to the rescue of their almost ruined country. After many skirmishes with the enemy, however, they were overpowered, and compelled to surrender themselves as prisoners of war. Reese Porter was a prisoner at the time of the battle at Guilford Court-house. After the battle, however, an exchange of prisoners was made, and he was restored to freedom. Reese Porter was a North Carolina Presbyterian, and that class of men were in the front rank of the patriots of the country. They or their fathers had renounced their homes in Ireland for a free country, and a free religion, and were not willing to give up these here without a struggle. They went into the civil conflict with great earnestness. The Mecklenburg resolutions are matters of history.
In 1785 Mr. Porter, the father, moved to Tennessee, and settled in the vicinity of Haysboro, about six miles north-east of Nashville. At that time, and for some years afterward, the white settlers suffered a great deal from the depredations of the Indians. In the course of this year several persons were killed in the neighborhood of Nashville. Of course times were very dangerous. There were no schools, nor houses of worship. Notwithstanding these discouragements the country filled up, and in process of time, and earlier than could have been expected, schools were established, and houses of worship were built. Reese Porter connected himself with the Presbyterian congregation at Haysboro, of which Rev. Thomas Craighead was pastor. In a few years, however, the revival began to develop itself. Mr. Craighead took a stand against the revival; Mr. Porter sympathized with the revival party, and of course they separated.
In November of 1801, James B. Porter attended a camp-meeting at Shiloh, in Sumner county. Shiloh was celebrated in those days as one of the prominent points at which the revival developed itself. Rev. William Hodge was pastor of the congregation. "It is not uncommon," says my informant, very truly, "for the great Head of the Church to select apparently weak means for the accomplishment of his work." The means selected on this occasion for the accomplishment of a great end was, at least, uncommon. The writer has heard Mr. Porter speak of the occurrence more than once. A Christian young lady was the commissioned angel of mercy. Mr. Porter was a gay young man; had just finished his education, and was expecting to enter in a few days upon his professional studies. Almost, of course, his pride would prompt him to resist as far as possible all serious impressions, with a purpose, perhaps, of attending to these things in future. In this manner he met the first appeal, but still he felt deeply, and wept. He retired from the congregation and prayed in secret. Returning to the congregation with a show of unconcern, the same angel of peace and mercy made a second appeal to his heart. He was no longer able to conceal his feelings, and fell to the floor, and there continued to wrestle and agonize until day-break, when he found peace in believing. He often mentioned the circumstance as an encouragement to young converts to work for the salvation of their friends. This lady was a young convert, and full of zeal. Says my informant, very appropriately: "This interesting case is an illustration of the exclamation of the apostle, 'Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!'"
Shortly after Mr. Porter's conversion, he accompanied his mother to South Carolina; his soul being filled with the love of God, and feeling great concern for the salvation of his fellow-men, he sought opportunities to exhort, and, no doubt, in this way awakened many to seriousness, and to feeling the necessity of religion.
On his return he fell in with the celebrated Lorenzo Dow. They attended a meeting together, and Dow was much impressed with Porter's zeal and efficiency. His personal appearance even attracted Dow's attention. He saw also that he was a gifted young man, but he though he saw an object that might hinder his usefulness. He approached young Porter, and said, "Young man, God has a work for you to do, and if you take any step which will hinder you in that work, God will curse you." Then addressing himself to the suspected object, he said, "Young woman, if you cause this young man to neglect that work, God will kill you." This was plain talk, but it was in conformity with Dow's manner.
Mr. Porter was received as a candidate for the ministry by the original Cumberland Presbytery, at Salem Meeting-house, in Sumner county, October 4, 1803. This was the second meeting of the Presbytery. At the same meeting Hugh Kirkpatrick and Ephraim McLean were licensed. At the next regular meeting of the Presbytery, April 3, 1804, he was licensed as a probationer for the gospel ministry. This meeting was held at Shiloh. His licensure was preceded by a critical examination upon the Latin and Greek languages. [This statement is not made upon the authority of the records, but from the testimony of tradition, which in this case is considered reliable. Mr. Porter was unquestionably a well educated man for the times, and for the country in which he lived.] His education was at least above that of most of the young men who were introduced into the ministry about that time.
From his licensure to 1810 he spent the most of his time as an evangelist. And although a licentiate only, he showed himself in the pulpit a workman who needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. He was found, too, a safe counselor in those days which intervened between the action of the Commission Kentucky Synod and the constitution of the Presbytery as an independent organization. They were dark days, but the proscribed men labored and waited, and God gave them abundant evidence that their labor was not in vain. His labors were chiefly confined to what is now Middle Tennessee and North Alabama, with an occasional excursion into Kentucky.
Personally, Mr. Porter was a fine specimen of manhood-tall, in his prime, something more than six feet in height; had a fine face and head, a brilliant and an expressive eye, a large mouth, and a ready tongue. His voice was strong, musical, and melodious; few could sleep under his preaching. In prayer he was devout and impressive. A congregation could not feel otherwise than that they were in the presence of God whilst he was endeavoring to lead them to the throne of grace. In his preaching he confined himself chiefly to experimental and practical subjects, and in presenting subjects of this kind he had few equals and no superiors.
As a presbyter he was wise, prudent, and safe. His counsel was always sought in matters of importance. In questions of difficulty his decisions were generally authoritative. He was especially skillful in training young men for the ministry. Sometimes he was thought to be severe, but really he was not severe; he was no despot. He was no bigot, but he loved the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He was identified with her interests from the beginning, and was an earnest believer in her doctrine and order. Whilst this was so, however, he embraced in a liberal charity all who loved and honored the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The foregoing description of Mr. Porter's person and character is substantially from one who knew him well. Thousands were living twenty years ago who, as far as their knowledge extended, would have confirmed every statement. He was a universal favorite in the Church which he had served, and of which he had been an ornament, so long.
The announcement of his death I find in the Banner of Peace, of October 26, 1854. I give it in full:
"Another of the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church has gone to his reward. Rev. James B. Porter fell asleep in Jesus on the 13th instant, at the residence of his son-in-law, Dr. Sharber, in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
"He had been on a decline for some years, and suffered much from loss of memory. He could remember, however, those times of trial through which he had passed in the infancy of our Church as well as if they had transpired but yesterday. He was one of the most eloquent men of his day. When he was in his prime he had probably no superior as a pulpit orator in Tennessee.
"We have no time to dwell upon his history. When written, however, it will be found replete with interest. We only add that he died in great peace. He had scarcely a struggle in his departure.
So fades a summer-cloud away,
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er,
So gently shuts the eye of day,
So dies a wave along the shore.
Life's duty done, as sinks the day,
Light from its load the spirit flies;
While heaven and earth combine to say,
How blest the righteous when he dies!
"We shall expect a biographical sketch from some one conversant with his history soon. What solemn and earnest calls are the young men of the Church constantly receiving to be up and at work!"
In conformity with the preceding request I find the following sketch in the Banner of Peace, of November 16, 1854:
"Rev. James B. Porter died of paralysis at Spring Hill, Maury county, Tennessee, at six o'clock A.M., on Friday, the 13th of October, A.D. 1854, in the seventy-sixth year of his age.
"The history of this great and good man is so intimately interwoven with the history of our branch of the Christian Church as to authorize the conclusion that most, if not all, of your readers are more or less acquainted with him.
"Of his early history the writer has been able to learn but little more than that he received quite a liberal education, with an eye to the medical profession, for which he maintained a decided partiality through life. But while pursuing his studies in certain prospect of a most successful and brilliant career, the revival of 1800 was spreading over the land like a mighty, overwhelming flood, and he became one of its early subjects.
"Late in the autumn of 1801 he attended a camp-meeting at old Shiloh, in Sumner county, Tennessee, and there, under the convicting power of God's Holy Spirit, he was first led to seek the Lord with all his heart. It was on Tuesday morning, November 24, 1801, about day-break, after spending the entire night in wrestling with God in prayer, the bosom of the surrounding country shrouded in a cold mantle of snow, and while a pious female, now in heaven, together with others, prayed for, and wept over, him, that the Lord spoke peace to his soul. About this time the demand for more laborers was urgent in almost every part of the Cumberland country; and the subject of this sketch soon felt that a dispensation of the gospel was committed to him, and, being encouraged by the revival party of the Cumberland Presbytery, he soon commenced exercising his superior gifts in singing, public prayer, and exhortation. In these public exercises his own soul was signally blessed, sinners were convicted, mourners were converted, and the people of God strengthened and encouraged, so that, prompted by a sense of duty, he presented himself to the Presbytery, and was received as a candidate for the ministry at Salem Meeting-house, in October, 1803. His superior literary and theological attainments at that time may be inferred from the fact that he was licensed to preach the gospel in April of next year. [Smith's "History of the Cumberland Presbyterians."] It was in December of the following year, 1805, that the Commission of Kentucky Synod paid their inquisitorial visit to Cumberland Presbytery. Amongst the ecclesiastical heroes who withstood the high-handed, anti-Presbyterian, and unchristian measures of that body, we find the name of James B. Porter. Amongst other things in the unconstitutional farce enacted by that Commission, it will be remembered that the revival party of the Presbytery were deprived, as far as the action of the Commission could deprive them, of the privileges of their office, and were forbidden to exercise its functions. The result was that, in a spirit of Christian moderation, and of that charity which 'endureth all things,' they refrained from all Presbyterial action for the space of more than four years. Consequently the ordination of our departed father was deferred until after the constitution of the independent Cumberland Presbytery, which proved to be the commencement of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In the meantime, however, he filled a sphere of extensive usefulness in the humble character of a circuit-rider; and, as the Commission of Synod had made an unconstitutional effort to silence him, he was furnished by the leading members of the Presbytery with the following, the original of which is now in the hands of the writer:
"'We, the majority of Cumberland Presbytery, do conceive from the book of discipline that the power of licensing and ordaining belongs to Presbyteries, and, as the Presbytery did legally license James B. Porter to preach the gospel, and although the Commission of Synod forbade him, we do believe upon the principles of the book of discipline that they had no power to prohibit him, where no charges of immoral conduct were brought against him. And, as we conceive that it is the right of Presbytery to license or forbid to preach, we believe that the said James B. Porter has a lawful and constitutional right to preach the gospel in the bounds of the Cumberland Presbytery, or wherever else God in his providence may call him. Given under our hands, this 11th day of December, 1805.
"The writer has also in his possession several copies of Father Porter's reports to the Presbytery and Council, as a circuit-rider, and his diary, besides a number of other documents from which interesting extracts might be made, but he fears it would extend this notice beyond prudent limits. In 1813, the Cumberland, afterward called the Nashville, Presbytery was so divided as to form the Logan and Elk Presbyteries. Of the latter Father Porter was a leading member up to the time it was so divided as to form the Richland Presbytery, in 1834, and of this he remained an honored member and ornament until death called him to his reward in heaven. As a Christian and a minister Father Porter filled up the measure of the inspired description of Barnabas. 'He was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.' As a polished and high-toned gentleman he stood unimpeached and unimpeachable through life. As a Presbyter, he was safe in counsel, shrewd in discussion, and without a rival in the art of training young men for the ministry. Was advice called for? he was sure to be selected to give it. Was reproof to be administered? he never failed to do it effectively, and without giving offense. Did a difficulty spring up between brethren? he was emphatically the peacemaker of his Presbytery. In the social circle his easy manner, unfailing good humor, and sparkling, yet sanctified, wit made him unspeakably dear to all his friends. It used to be said, when at camp-meeting, or other religious convocations, any one inquired for a preacher whose whereabouts was not known just then, 'He is with Porter;' and in the main he was found there. But it was as a public speaker, notwithstanding his other excellences, that this man of God was most admired and most useful. His fine, manly form, his calm, pleasant, and expressive countenance, and his smooth and eloquently impressive gesticulation never failed to enchain his audience, whether small or great, while his clarion-like voice, which he kept under the most perfect control, and which never grew hoarse, but was always as smooth as oil, not only fell in music-like tones upon the ear, but entered into, and thrilled, the very soul. He troubled himself and hearers very little with abstruse and difficult theological questions. Religion, experimental and practical, was his theme, and in the exposition of these he had few equals. In his manner of dealing out the terrors of the law he was truly startling; but this was not his forte: he was preeminently 'a son of consolation.' He spent most of his active life as an evangelist, with superior qualifications, however, for the pastoral office.
"His domestic virtues were of the highest order. As a son, brother, husband, father, and master, he was affectionate, constant, kind, and indulgent. Father Porter had an excellent constitution, and enjoyed fine health until a few years ago, when he became subject to vertigo, which proved to be the forerunner of a sort of apoplexy or paralysis. Under this disease he lost the use of his tongue and limbs in a great measure, and his mind was greatly impaired.
"While able to converse at all, however, he loved to talk about religion; and, when seemingly almost unconscious of surrounding circumstances, if the Saviour's name or cause was mentioned in his presence, it would arouse his mind and fix his attention in a moment. Some days before his departure he became totally helpless and speechless, and so continued till death released him from the clay, and he was admitted to a seat among the sanctified.
In the Banner of Peace, of May 26, 1855, I find the following testimonial of Mr. Porter's Presbytery:
"Your committee appointed to draft resolutions in reference to the death of Father James B. Porter respectfully submit the following:
"Whereas, since the last semi-annual meeting of this Presbytery, it has pleased the King and Head of the Church to remove our venerable father, Rev. James B. Porter, from the toils and trials of the vineyard below to his mansion in the house not made with hands; therefore,
"Resolved, That, as one of the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and especially of this Presbytery, we, his sons in the ministry, and his brethren, take occasion hereby to express our admiration of the manner, and would desire to imitate the calm sublimity and conscious rectitude, with which he faced and triumphed over the usurpations and anathemas of ecclesiastical tyranny; the zeal and ability with which he contended for the faith and the interests of the Church of his choice; and especially that sweetness of temper and disposition with which he bore the trials and disappointments incident to ministerial life.
"Resolved, farther, That we hereby bear our testimony that by his death this Presbytery has lost one of its safest counselors and most efficient peacemakers, the sweet tones of whose eloquent voice still dwell upon our ears and linger about our hearts, and whose memory is upon perpetual record there.
"Resolved, farther, That, while we miss this father of the Church in her councils and from the walls of Zion, we cheerfully submit, and rejoice that, as a ripe shock of corn, he has been gathered into the garner of God, taken from the wilderness below to his home in the city of God above.
"Resolved, farther, That, as a token of our respect for the departed, and that the voice with which 'he, being dead, yet speaketh,' may be again heard, some member of the Presbytery be appointed to preach a funeral-sermon to-morrow, at ten o'clock A.M., in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in this place, and a copy of the foregoing preamble and resolutions be furnished for publication in the Banner of Peace. Respectfully submitted,
"N. P. MODRALL, Ch'n,
"C. P. REED,
"S. Y. ANDERSON."
"The foregoing report was adopted at the late meeting of the Richland Presbytery, April 21, 1855. Rev. C.P. Reed, by appointment, preached the sermon on Sabbath to a large and attentive audience.
"J. N. EDMISTON, Stated Clerk."
These testimonials are from men who had been associated with Mr. Porter from their early youth in the ministry, or in the councils of the Church, or in both capacities.
It is evident that Mr. Ewing was disposed, in his trials which preceded the organization in 1810, to lean with more than ordinary confidence upon Mr. Porter, and to look with more than ordinary interest to his cooperation. While he was meditating the important step of reorganizing the Cumberland Presbytery, and McGee and McAdow were both hesitating, and not seeming likely to cooperate with him, thus leaving him incompetent according to Presbyterian usage to constitute a Presbytery, he turned his attention to Porter as a counselor and coadjutor. But Porter was only a licentiate. The bold idea was conceived of an organization by two ordained ministers. This, of course, brought up the question, whether ordination conferred by two Presbyters could be considered valid, a sufficient number being thus supplied to constitute a Presbytery.
Whilst this subject was under consideration, Mr. Ewing addressed him the following letter, in which, after setting forth the necessity of decisive action on the part of the friends of the revival, with a view to preserving and perpetuating its fruits, he brings the matter distinctly before his mind:
"For my own part," says he, "the more I contemplate the thing the more clear I see my way, and the more determined I am 'not to be again entangled with a yoke of bondage.' Therefore I feel determined, for one, to go into a constituted state, if I can get no more than one ordained minister to join me. You may perhaps be startled at this. So was I when I first looked at the subject. But, on a closer and more impartial examination of my aversion to such a measure, I was induced to believe that pride and tradition were the most formidable arguments against it. I therefore was led to giving up the point for the following reasons: First, because the necessities of the Church demand it. Secondly, because there is nothing in God's word forbidding it. Thirdly, because no reformed Church in Christendom except the Presbyterian requires absolutely, and under all circumstances, the number of three ordained preachers to ordain one. Fourthly, because even that Church can depart from their own rule, one of the members of Synod being in that predicament. Therefore, for so doing, we could not feel, nor justly be, reproached from any quarter. I think, notwithstanding, the Presbyterian rule on this subject a good one, and I would not be willing to depart from it under ordinary circumstances. In a case of extreme necessity, however, I would. Whether we will be necessitated to do so I cannot yet tell, for I have not heard from Mr. McGee, nor Mr. McAdow.
"Brother Porter, if you will not think it discourteous I will ask you a question on which I wish you seriously to think, whether it would most wound your pride or your conscience to receive ordination from only two ministers.
"I cannot think in my soul of receding and swallowing what I do not believe, nor preach, nor ever expect to preach. Honesty becomes gospel ministers. Yet when I look forward I see numerous difficulties. But when I look again I see the Lord stronger than man-stronger than them all. 'Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.'"
This letter was dated December 6, 1809. Two months from its date decisive action was taken. This is a matter of history. We know nothing of the response to the letter, but in April following, at the first regular meeting of the Cumberland Presbytery as an independent organization, James B. Porter was present as a licentiate. The exigency did not occur, which was anticipated as a possibility by Mr. Ewing. Mr. McAdow concurred with himself and Mr. King in the reorganization. Mr. Porter's ordination was one of the first which occurred among the young men after the reorganization. It took place either at this meeting at the Ridge, in April, 1810, or at an early subsequent meeting.
Mr. Porter traveled and preached a great deal in the course of his long ministry of fifty years. No man in the Church was more beloved, and certainly very few were more useful. As it has been intimated already, he was a specimen of the very highest style of manhood physically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. He would have made a figure in any profession, but he was peculiarly adapted to the profession to which God in his providence, and surely by his Spirit, called him.
The date and some of the circumstances of his death have already been given. At the meeting of the General Assembly following, held at Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1855, by appointment of that body, a sermon was delivered as a memorial of Rev. James B. Porter and Rev. Thomas Calhoon by Rev. Herschel S. Porter, D.D., from the triumphant language of the apostle in view of his departure. The text is familiar to all readers of the New Testament. Both of these good men had died in the interim of that and the preceding. The delivery of the sermon was a solemn hour, and would have been more so if it could have been anticipated that the beloved young preacher who officiated was himself, in the providence of God, to be called away in a few short months.
Mr. Porter was twice married. His first wife was Miss Polly G. Hudson, daughter of Thomas Hudson, Esq., of Haysboro, Tennessee. From her he had four sons. All of them professed religion in early life. She died June 21, 1818, in the triumphs of faith. Thomas Calhoon seems to have been sent for to preach her funeral-sermon. I recollect, in my early religious life, to have heard him speak of the occurrence in the pulpit, and especially of her repeating on her death-bed the closing stanza of one of Watts's sweet but solemn hymns:
Jesus can make a dying-bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are,
While on his breast I lean my head,
And breathe my life out sweetly there.
Her father was an eminent Christian. She seems to have shared largely in his spirit. They both, as well as Mr. Porter himself, were among the first-fruits of the old revival.
His second wife was Mrs. Frances Bond, of Maury county. She was a lady of eminent domestic and Christian worth. An only daughter was the fruit of this marriage. She became the wife of Dr. J. W. Sharber, and still lives. The second Mrs. Porter also preceded her husband to the grave. One son of the first family also lives.
The following personal sketch of Mr. Porter is furnished by Rev. Carson P. Reed. No one was more intimately acquainted with the subject of the sketch. It was, too, one of the last productions of Mr. Reed's life. Says the contributor:
"Mr. Porter's person was an approach to perfection. He was tall, and unusually handsome. His manners were engaging; his conversation always agreeable and instructive. No one could feel otherwise than interested and delighted in his company. His habits were cheerful and pleasant. He addressed himself on all occasions to the circumstances which surrounded him; was never at a loss or embarrassed. As a Christian gentleman he was fully qualified to enter into any company, and, without seeming to know it, commanded respect wherever he went; and notwithstanding he possessed a great flow of spirits, he never compromitted his Christian or ministerial character.
"His piety was deep and unquestionable, yet unostentatious. He was fervent in devotion, and his regular seasons for such exercises were carefully observed. Neither family nor secret prayer was neglected, unless under the most forbidding circumstances, and his custom was to go from his knees to the pulpit. It was his habit, too, to seek direction from God in the choice of subjects for the pulpit. He thought that there was such a thing as divine direction in all these matters.
"Mr. Porter's appearance in the pulpit was truly commanding and impressive. He carried with him into his public exercises the spirit of a Christian minister. His congregation could hardly refrain from uniting in heart with him in his public prayers. They could hardly feel otherwise than that they were in the presence of God. There were few men who were better adapted to extraordinary occasions. He seemed to be always ready.
"In connection with the subject of prayer, a particular incident in the history of his life is worthy of being mentioned. In the course of a camp-meeting at Mount Moriah, held in 1811, two of Mr. Porter's brothers were lying at the point of death, and did both die while the meeting was in progress. One of them was a Christian, and died in the triumphs of faith. The other was an irreligious man. Mr. Porter seemed to lose sight of every thing but the salvation of his brother. All other cares seemed to be swallowed up in this. His prayers were importunate, and almost incessant for this unconverted dying brother. God evidently heard. The brother obtained a good hope through grace. He died leaving a good testimony behind.
"Mr. Porter's care for the sick and dying was always most earnest, and God blessed his labors in their behalf abundantly. In imitation of his divine Master, he 'went about doing good.' All classes of men shared alike in his missions of love and mercy. He exemplified in his daily life what Paul enjoined: 'Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.' He was emphatically 'a good man, and,' through his agency, the Spirit of God attending, 'much people were added unto the Lord.' He spent ten or twelve of the first years of his ministerial life as a missionary, or, to use the language of the times, as a 'circuit-rider.' He kindled a fire wherever he went. He planted many churches, and of these many still stand as monuments of his zeal and fidelity. He gloried in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, not troubling himself or his hearers much with abstruse speculation, which profit little, but engender a great deal of strife in the Church of God.
"During the last twenty years of his life, Mr. Porter was pastor of Mount Moriah congregation, which he had organized in 1810, while yet a young man. It has built its third house of worship, and is still a flourishing congregation. It may be mentioned as an item of interest that this congregation has sent forth sixteen young ministers into the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Several of these have gone to their reward, and others have grown old in the service. He was similarly connected with Mount Carmel congregation, in Maury county, for a number of years, and also with others for longer or shorter spaces of time. In all these connections he gave eminent satisfaction, proving himself always a workman who needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. He was my father in the ministry, and long my companion in labor, and my heart clings to his memory with a tender tenacity which is rather strengthened than weakened by time. Yours in Christian labor,
My personal acquaintance with Mr. Porter was not very close, but it extended through about thirty years. I met him mostly in the old Cumberland Synod and in the General Assembly, and occasionally in other circumstances. He was the Moderator of the first Synod of which I was a member. This was held at the Beech Meeting-house, in Sumner county, in 1822. But one circumstance occurred there of which I shall make mention. A camp-meeting followed the Synod, as the custom was in those days. There was a large number of young men, new members in the Synod, at that meeting. There were David Lowry, Robert D. Morrow, F. R. Cossitt, Green P. Rice, and Daniel Buie, not as young as others, but all, I think, new members. Then followed the names of the first representatives of the third generation of preachers in the Church: Carson P. Reed, James S. Guthrie, William S. Burney, Vincent Hubbard, Albert G. Gibson, Aaron Alexander, A. J. Steele, Ezekiel Cloyd, not a young man, but a new member, and the writer. James Y. Barnett was there, but not yet a member. It will be seen that there was a large mass of new material; some of it, too, was rather raw. William Barnett was appointed by the Synod to preach a special sermon to the young members. He was a Boanerges of the times. The sermon was delivered on Saturday afternoon of the meeting. Mr. Porter followed by an impressive exhortation. It was an interesting hour. John Barnett, too, entered very deeply into the spirit of the occasion. He was then in the midst of his better days. He took the young men by the hand, one by one, and wept over them as a father would have wept over his sons in consecrating them to some great and difficult enterprise.
The next occasion which my memory calls up was connected with the meeting of the Synod the following year. The meeting for business was held in Russellville, Kentucky. It was followed by a camp-meeting in the neighborhood. On Sabbath of the camp-meeting, Robert Donnell delivered a funeral-sermon as a memorial of one of the Ewings, who had been a prominent man in the congregation, and in the country around him. I have elsewhere spoken of that sermon. It was one of the most massive productions that I ever heard. Mr. Porter followed with a sermon preparatory to the communion. It was a difficult task to preach to a crowd after such a sermon as had preceded. He sustained himself, however, as few men could have done. He was in the prime of life, and carried with him a large measure of the spirit of the olden time. It was a great day in that country congregation.
In 1828 the old Cumberland Synod met for the last time. The meeting was held in Franklin, Tennessee. At its close it dissolved itself, and called a meeting of the first General Assembly. The act of dissolution was, of course, a solemn act. The older men, who had met annually in a Synodical capacity, could hardly expect to meet often, if ever, again. Mr. Porter offered the concluding prayer. There were not many unfeeling hearts or dry eyes when the prayer closed.
In 1830 Mr. Porter was a member, and also the Moderator, of the General Assembly. This was the second meeting of that judicature. It was held at Princeton, Kentucky. On that occasion I was closely associated with the Moderator, being temporary clerk of the body. Some of the sessions of the Assembly were held in one of the rooms of old Cumberland College. It was an interesting Assembly, and rendered more so than it would have otherwise been, from its being held a few weeks only after the commencement of the publication of the first periodical ever attempted by the Church. This periodical, in about two years, was removed to Nashville, Tennessee, and after assuming a third form broke down in 1840.
In 1838 I moved to Mississippi, taking my little family through the country by land. It was an easy day's travel from the early home of my wife to Spring Hill, the home of Mr. Porter. I was never in the habit of making inconvenient demands of brethren in traveling, but this was a sad day to her, and as Mr. Porter had generally called at the old homestead in passing, and had been a great favorite in the family, it was decided to throw ourselves upon his Christian kindness for the night. I shall never forget the open-hearted manner with which he met us, and the generous hospitality dispensed by himself, his good wife, and his daughter, just developing into womanhood. These constituted the family. He had, no doubt, studied the characteristics of a good bishop, as delineated by the apostle. A cheerful evening, at least, closed up what had been a day of sadness to the travelers.
In 1852, at the Assembly in Nashville, I saw him for the last
time. Thirteen years had passed from the time of my seeing him
at his own cheerful home at Spring Hill. These years had made
terrible inroads upon both body and mind. The palace was a ruin.
Still it was a privilege and an unspeakable comfort to know that
what of the good and noble man remained seemed to be wholly given
up to God. When nothing else could arouse him, a mention of God
and his cause always awakened his paralyzed energies to such action
as still remained possible. Two years and a half from that time,
what had been the mellow voice and manly form were silent and
still in death. James B. Porter had become one of the departed
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 70-94]
It is unnecessary to comment on the life and labor of this "departed father;" Dr. Beard's "Biographical Sketches" do that. But one fact does deserve comment, viz.: the remains of this sainted man lie to-day in an unmarked grave; no stone has been raised to tell where the good man sleeps, and only a few friends can point out his lonely grave. Does not his sleeping dust merit some requital of love and gratitude at our hands? He, to mention but one instance of his labors for us, organized the Mt. Moriah congregation, which has given to our Church forty-six preachers.
His grave is at Spring Hill, Maury county, Tenn., and at that place Richland Presbytery meets next April. This Presbytery, at its last meeting, raised seventy-five dollars and appointed a committee to procure with said money a monument with a suitable inscription, and have the arrangements all made so that the Presbytery could erect the monument at its next meeting. But as seventy-five dollars will get a very inferior monument many who remember and love brother Porter are anxious to supplement the original amount, and thus enable the committee to purchase a handsome monument. In view of these things, the committee hereby gives public notice and invitations to all who feel any disposition to help this movement to at once do so by sending a contribution for that purpose to R.G. Pearson, Columbia, Tenn. The committee will wait for these contributions until the 15th of February, and at that time we will purchase a monument according to the amount of money on hand. Brethren and friends, what you do, do quickly.
R.G. PEARSON, Chairman
[Source: Cumberland Presbyterian, January 13, 1881, page 4]
wife: ? ?
Children of Reese Porter and ? ?:
1. James Brown Porter
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
born: 26 February 1779 - Guilford County, North Carolina
died: 13 October 1854 - Spring Hill, Maury County, Tennessee
buried: Spring Hill Cemetery, Spring Hill, Maury County, Tennessee
1st wife: Polly G. Hudson
[daughter of Thomas Hudson and ? ?]
died: 21 June 1818
Children of James Brown Porter and Polly G. Hudson Porter:
married 2nd: 1821
2nd wife of James Brown Porter: Frances Wilson Doherty
[widow of William Bond]
born: Hillsboro, North Carolina
died: 4 February 1850 [obituary]
Child of James Brown Porter and Frances Wilson Doherty Bond Porter:
1.5. Mary Jane Porter
husband: Dr. J. W. Sharber
died: 1811 - Giles County, Tennessee
died: 1811 - Giles County, Tennessee
Obituary of Frances Wilson Doherty Bond Porter
From the Franklin Review.
Departed this life, very suddenly on the 4th instant, MRS. FRANCIS W. PORTER , wife of the Rev. James B. Porter, in the 64th year of her age. She was born in Hilsboro, N.C.--was married October 5th, 184, [sic] to William Bond Esq., with whom she soon after emigrated to Tennessee. She has resided in the neighborhood in which she died about for three years. In 1821, she was married to her venerable relict, Rev. James B. Porter.
In early life she embraced the religion of Christ and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. She was a member of the first Methodist church ever established in this neighborhood, in which she lived until her last marriage--then attached herself to the Cumberland P. Chruch, of which her husband was a worthy Minister.--Her house was ever a welcome home to the "Messenger of Glad Tidings," of every name order, and from her door the poor and needy were never turned empty away. No noisy pomp heralded her piety, but in the seclusion of private life--in the family circle, and in the closet, she enjoyed that communion with God which amid sickness and suffering--in all the varied duties of life, and even in the prospect of death itself, supported her to the last. Her funeral was attended by a large concourse of her old neighbors and friends--an impressive discourse was delivered on the occasion by Rev. Mr. Balbridge after which her remains were deposited in the family burying ground, but from her tomb comes language sweet as Angels use--
"My children! weep not o'er the tomb
Of one whose spirit dwells not there;
Behold above the skies her home,
Beyond the reach of pain or care.
Husband thy grief--thy tears restrain,
Though trials guard thy earthly lot;
Look far from earth--the source of pain--
To heaven where trials are forgot.
Thy duty do with utmost speed,
I wait thy quick arrival home;
For soon the Saviour's voice shall bid
The weary earth-worn wanderer come.
No parting scenes invade that land--
No sorrows clouds that happy land--
For God our Saviour's gentle hand
Shall wipe the tears from every eye.
Spring Hill, February, 1850
[Source: The Banner of Peace, and Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate, February 22, 1850, page 3]