--The Rev. A. J. Steele, of Plevna, Ala., died at his
home the 9th inst., in the eighty-eighty year of his age. W.
J. Walker writes that he died in full possession of all
his faculties and without disease or pain.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, November 17, 1887, page 4]
Archibald Jackson Steele was born in York District, South Carolina, May 10, 1800. His father, Robert, was an Englishman, whose mother was Scotch-Irish. His own mother's father was a Frenchman. During the great revival of 1800 in the Cumberland country, which had reached South Carolina, his father professed religion and joined the Old Presbyterian Church, in 1801.
Jackson was trained religiously, and at the age of fifteen was powerfully convicted.
His father settled in "Alabama Territory" in 1817, in what afterward was called Limestone county, and about seven miles north of Athens, its county seat, in what was long know as "Simm's Settlement," where he and his wife in old age died and were buried.
On May 10, 1818, the day Jackson was eighteen years old, he and two of his sisters professed religion at Meridian Church, about two miles west of the village of Hazel Green, and fourteen miles north of Huntsville, Madison county, Ala. This was the result of a sermon preached by the Rev. Robert Donnell, the great pioneer preacher of north Alabama, and was the first Cumberland Presbyterian sermon they ever heard. Soon after this his parents, three sisters, and himself joined that Church, Mr. Donnell officiating.
During the same year a Church was organized near his father's home, then known as "Simm's Settlement Society," soon afterward and until now as "New Garden Church," of which his father was an elder until his death. Jackson had one brother--J. Newton, long an elder at New Garden--and five sisters, all of whom and their families were Cumberland Presbyterians, and six of his nephews were Cumberland Presbyterian preachers, of whom the Revs. Robert and I. D. Steele, John A. Paisley, and N. Brunson are living.
At Meridian church, on October 6, 1819, A. J. Steele, Albert G. Gibson, Carson P. Reed, Wm. S. Burney, and John Molloy were received as candidates for the ministry by the Elk Presbytery. The ministers present were the Revs. R. Donnell, moderator, James B. Porter, clerk, John Carnahan, Robert Bell, Samuel King, and James Stewart, and Elders Robert Reed, George Davis, John Dickey, Robert Patterson, Andrew Nelson, Wesley Smith, William Kincaid, James Orr, Samuel Burney, John Molloy, and Joseph Brown. The last two became distinguished preachers.
The candidates above named having very little education, and there being no schools in all the country for training preachers, the Rev. William Moore, of precious memory, a highly educated member of the presbytery, proposed to spend a few months annually in teaching the young men without charge. Arrangements were made in Cane Creek Church, Lincoln county, Tenn., for free board. An elder, the father of A. G. Gibson, furnished his barn for a school-room, in which was some rye in the sheaf which was removed to one end of the room; here the school was held until it was necessary for their comfort to have fire, when Mr. Crawford, though not a member of the Church, tendered the use of an upper room in his commodious brick residence, in which the venerable elder, P. Halbert, now lives. For several years this school was held mainly during winter and spring, with happiest results. The Rev. R. Donnell, of Alabama, visited it monthly and delivered theological lectures to the class; by whom, also, the school was dubbed "Rye College." The class was composed of Jackson Steele, C. P. Reed, W. S. Burney, and A. G. Gibson, and perhaps some others whose names we have not. During these sessions the young men divided and held meetings in the surrounding neighborhood on Saturdays and Sabbaths, with grand results. Many were converted under their labors. It was thus these men were qualified for ordination and prepared to propagate and defend the doctrines of the Church as taught in the Bible. All honor to their memory!
When not in school these probationers were, by order of presbytery, laboring on their circuits. From the time Jackson Steele joined presbytery until he settled as pastor, he itinerated nine years.
He was licensed by Elk Presbytery October 5, 1821, together with John Bell, Aaron Alexander, John C. Smith, Jas. W. Dickey, and R. D. King, at Mars Hill Church, Giles county, Tenn., at which meeting Isaac Shook joined presbytery as a candidate.
In the fall of 1822 Cumberland Synod, (which was the only synod then in the Church) passed an order for the organization of the Tennessee and the Alabama Presbyteries from portions of Elk Presbytery. In accordance with which Elk Presbytery made the following minutes, viz.: "We the members of Elk Presbytery, do mutually agree to make the following division of young men (licentiates and candidates) to the care of Tennessee Presbytery: A. Alexander, A. G. Gibson, and A. J. Steele, licentiates; Zebulon Parr, Thos. Fulton, Milton Moore, Dan. K. Hunter, David McCord, Minus B. Pheemster, and Andrew O. Horn, candidates; to Alabama Presbytery, Jas. W. Dickey, and Daniel Patton, licentiates; John Williams, and Godfrey Brooks, candidates."
The minutes of Tennessee Presbytery from its organization until the fall of 1848 are lost, but from other sources it appears that it was organized, and ordained Jackson Steele in April, 1823, in Madison county, Alabama, and he and A. G. Gibson were sent by said presbytery to South Alabama, in conjunction with the Revs. Wm. Moore and Benjamin Lockhart, to organize the Alabama Presbytery. They complied with the order, and according to previous appointment the organization was perfected at a ford on some water-course (have no memorandum of the name), in an unbroken forest; and at said meeting the presbytery ordained Jas. W. Dickey and John Williams.
Steele and Gibson spent about two months on this mission, and held a number of camp-meetings, and had glorious revivals wherever they labored. One of these camp-meetings is mentioned in the latter part of this article.
From time to time Brother Steele went into distant regions, extending his tours south to the Mobile bay and north to the Ohio river. At one time he labored three months in the Chickasaw and the Choctaw Nations; also one year in East Tennessee. During these tours he aided circuit riders in their work, organizing Churches, and administering Church ordinances.
In 1823 in the course of two months he got up and held three camp-meetings, at which there were respectively fifty, sixty, and seventy conversions. At this time his circuit embraced the territory now occupied by the Tennessee and the Jackson Presbyteries.
On September 12, 1826, Brother Steele was happily married to Miss Eliza B., daughter of Captain Joseph Acklin, of Franklin county, Tenn., and settled in the bounds of Goshen congregation, and spent one year at home; then, for three years more, labored as an itinerant in the presbytery and synod. He then took pastoral charge of Goshen congregation which he continued about twenty-four years, holding annual camp-meetings which were blessed with glorious revivals. He made regular pastoral visits once or twice every year to every family in the congregation. When he took charge there were thirty members in the Church, when he left it there were two hundred. Brother Steele some years preached two and some years three Sabbaths per month at Goshen, and always had other Churches under his care for the balance of his time--viz., Mt. Carmel, New Market, and others.
I 1853 he settled in Madison county, Ala., about twenty-five miles north-east of Huntsville, where he spent the remainder of his days. Here, in a short time, his health broke down so that he was compelled to give up his regular charges.
After the war his health so improved that, for a while, he resumed active labor. With the assistance of his dearly beloved brother-in-law, the Rev. N. T. Power, he had three fine revivals in neighborhoods not many miles from his home, in which three great-grandmothers were converted. He witnessed the triumphant death, and preached the funeral of one of them in a short time afterward. His last revival was in his immediate vicinity, which was the foundation of Hickory Flat Church. While he was earnestly engaged in prayer at this meeting for a man who was in great agony of soul, a young woman, who had been a great devotee of worldly amusements, but a warm friend of Brother Steele, became deeply interested in the case; and, as she stood looking on the scene, the penitent sprange up, joyfully declaring that he had found peace to his soul; at once she broke forth shouting, "Glory to God that he had saved her soul." She and the man were both present at his funeral service. At the burial of his old neighbor and intimate friend, Dr. J. W. Petty, on September 24th, 1876, he preached a funeral, which was the last sermon of his life. Thus closed the public ministry of this grand old soldier of the cross.
Brother Steele had wonderful vocal power. He stated to me, at different times, and in the presence of a number of other brethren, that he preached on Saturday night at the camp he and Gibson held in 1823, in a cover near where Birmingham now stands. On next morning a woman joined the Church, and, in giving her experience, said she heard his text and sermon under which she was convicted and converted. Her husband stated that when he returned from the meeting, he found her in great distress, which continued until late in the night, when she began to rejoice that she was saved. Brother Steele said it was commonly affirmed that the distance was two miles, but that it would be safe to say it was at least one mile and a half from the church.
It was Brother Steels's request, first made known twelve or fifteen years ago, that I should, with the assistance of the Rev. N. T. Power, hold memorial services for him before burial, if practicable, and write his obituary. Brother Power finished his course in March, 1879. It was not practicable for me to be at his burial, being absent on a long journey. On the third Sabbath, in December, 1887, I preached, at Hickory Flat Church, a memorial sermon, from Revelation xiv. 13: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." And on Saturday at 11 o'clock, on the 21st day of April, 1888, by appointment of Tennessee Presbytery, I delivered a memorial address before that body in session, and the congregation in the town of Athens, Alabama, being assisted in said service by the Revs. J. B. Tigert and Wm. J. Walker.
Brother Steele was licensed sixty-six years before he went up to get his crown. He was a stalwart man, weighing near two hundred, of commanding personal appearance, and, like most of the preachers of his generation, he was by nature adapted to the times and circumstances in the midst of which he labored, traveling on horseback through heat and cold, rain and snow, mud and ice; swimming creeks and rivers, often lodging in rude cabins with open cracks, sleeping on blankets or skins of bears or wolves and puncheon floors, or beneath the branches of trees in the wild forest, serenaded by the hooting owl, the long-winded whip-poor-will, or the less euphonious scream of the catamount and howl of the wolf, and in the haunts of the vicious copperhead and ever-dreaded rattlesnake; preaching in log cabins, barns, taverns, shops, and more frequently in the open air beneath the shad of trees, and preaching from one to three hours at a time. Those who, like myself, personally knew nearly all of that class of preachers would not think it inappropriate to say they were a race of clerical giants, such as R. Donnell, R. Bell, Samuel and (his son) R. D. King, J. B. Porter, Wm. S. Burney, C. P. Reed, A. G. Gibson, Daniel Patton, R. Burrow, D.D., S. M. Cowan, A. Alexander, Isaac Shook, M. B. Pheemster, H. B. Warren, D.D., S. Harris, and others who are also worthy to be mentioned, all of whom rest from their labors, except Brother Patton, who, with R. Burrow, D.D., was ordained by Elk Presbytery, April 24, 1824. So far as I know he is the only survivor of all that generation who entered the ministry in this portion of the Church. Thus one generation passeth, and another cometh.
The items in the next paragraph are taken from his autograph.
He says: "My remuneration from the Churches was very scant, but glory to God, the salvation of my children is more to me than rivers of oil or mountains of gold!" Again: "Though I have lived long, and have tried to promote the declarative glory of God and the salvation of sinners, yet when compared with what God has done for me and my family all that I have done is as filthy rags before God. Not unto me, but unto his name be all the glory." Again: "September 14, 1875.--My wife and I have lived a long life. She is seventy-two and I seventy- five. I feel we are standing on the margin of time; we have had many trials from afflictions, death, and from other causes, but God has sustained us through them all. May he sustain us by his grace, and his rod and staff comfort us through the valley of the shadow of death, is my humble prayer."
Brother Steele was almost entirely confined to his room during his last twelve or eighteen months. His sufferings at times were inexpressible, but in the midst of them all he was calm and resigned, always feeling all was well; that "he was ready to be offered; that the time of his departure was at hand; that he had fought a good fight, had finished his course, had kept the faith, and that henceforth a crown of righteousness was laid up for him."
The day before Brother Steele departed he had his family Bible brought to him. He laid one hand on it and the other on his breast, and offered a fervent prayer for his children; then said: "I have the promise that my children will never be forsaken nor their seed beg bread. I have found the anchor. It has entered into that within the veil. I had always thought I would dread passing through the valley of death, but I will only pass through its shadow."
He was conscious to the last. His last words were, "O
heaven! sweet heaven!" Thus, on November 9, 1887, he doubtless
received of the Lord his "crown of righteousness."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, June 7, 1888, page 2]