At the suggestion of Dr. D.M. Harris, the Board of Publication of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church contracted with the writer for the preparation of this history. The size of the book was limited by the board before a line of it was written. It was also understood between us that only the minimum of time consistent with thoroughness was to be allowed. Casting the horoscope of the book under these limitations, there were found just three things to choose between. The first was to end the volume where my own life became a humble factor in our history, and where interested feelings might prevent clear-sightedness. The second was to condense our whole history, giving each event and actor a place. The third was to make such selections from the whole field as would furnish a volume of good reading for our people, and illustrate our life and progress. The first method was not acceptable to my counselors, either in the board or out of it. The second method would have produced a book which nobody would read. The third method involved the inevitable complaints of all those who might be omitted, besides opening other doors of complaints not found in the first method.
After many consultations the third method, with all its inevitable complaints and inevitable omissions of good men who deserve mention, was deliberately adopted, and the work of gathering material from the whole field, and studying every particle of this material so as to be able to make the best [iv] selections, was undertaken. I had gone but a little way in this work before I discovered the utter impossibility of accomplishing it without more time than was at first proposed. More was granted, but with the pressing demand that it be made as brief as thoroughness permitted. My only fears on that point are that it will be found by experts that I made that time far too brief.
Under the same limitations the plan was formed about the different States. It was to give the origin of the church in each State, with as much fullness of detail as could well be secured, extending the record only to the organization of the first presbytery, closing that chapter with a rapid summary view of the present condition of our church in that part of the field. There were certain subjects belonging to all periods to which special chapters were reserved, to be placed at the last of the book; and if they brought out anything further from the work of our people in any particular State, at any later period, all well; and if not, there would be no further notice taken of that portion of the church.
The question of brief biographical sketches was also carefully weighed, and finally decided in the negative. To this decision an exception was made in the case of those generally called the fathers of the church. If a biography formed part of the very thread of the history which I was writing, just so far was it also made a part of this volume. There were placed in my hands some very interesting biographies which contained no single item that could be used according to my established programme of operations.
It was not so much to show how our church originated as to show what it has done since it originated that this [v] book was undertaken. In showing this, my best strength has been put forth to the utmost. In that part of the work I was fortunate in gathering materials. I reaped, also, the fruit of past labors. The materials mostly relied on for this part of the history were manuscripts. Of these my collection was extensive. Among them were manuscripts from James McGready, Finis Ewing, Samuel McAdow, Robert Bell, Robert Donnell, and Thomas Calhoun.
In 1845, while boarding at Calhoun's house, and often meeting there various actors in the events out of which our church originated, I commenced taking down from the lips of these old men a full history of the origin and work of our church. The statements from Calhoun, McSpeddin, Lowry, and Aston covered all the main points of our history up to 1845. In spite of war and fire these memoranda have been preserved, and were used in the preparation of this book. The habit of collecting such memoranda, begun in my boyhood, has been kept up ever since, and the accumulation of reliable materials in that way is now considerable.
At two different periods in my life I have been called upon to travel over the church. In the last period of travels I spent twelve years, visiting more than four fifths of the entire denomination; and though neither of these extensive tours had any reference to collecting materials for a history, yet that old habit of keeping memoranda was all the time unintentionally furnishing matter for such a work. So, too, did that old habit furnish me the only existing records which I can now find of the proceedings of the conventions held by our people in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1863, and in Selma, Alabama, in 1864.
[vi] There were placed in my hands for use in the preparation of this little volume sixty manuscript autobiographies, some brief, and some extending to five hundred pages of foolscap. Two of these were the lives of men who were arraigned before the commission of Kentucky Synod. The original record books of all our first judicatures have also been examined, and the archives of old Cumberland College and of Cumberland University were consulted, as well as many other official records.
The literary remains in full of Richard Beard, Milton Bird, David Lowry, and President Anderson, all very extensive, were all explored. Parts of the literary remains of various others were placed in my hands. Of this latter class I mention James Smith, W.A. Scott, John W. Ogden, Finis Ewing, F.R. Cossitt, Robert Donnell, H.A. Hunter, Isaac Shook, and Herschel S. Porter. Dr. Beard's old letters date back to 1830, and are from all the chief actors in our church from the beginning. There are perhaps eight thousand of these letters, and they discuss every important subject that has ever been before our denomination. They will all be filed in the library of Cumberland University.
The private diary of Dr. Beard has been of great service to me. Indeed, diaries are the most trustworthy of all manuscript authorities. There was a considerable number of these placed in my hands. Most of them are to be returned to their authors' families. Others, together with many manuscripts, are to be filed in the library of Cumberland University.
It required more than fifteen months' constant labor to explore all these authorities. Files of from one to five weekly papers (and various monthlies) for a period of fifty-seven years had to be examined. "The ninth ripening year" was not [vii] allowed me for all this work, but past studies rendered some little compensation for this lack of time. Dr. Lindsley's labors in collecting material also saved me much delay. The fruit of his noble toil has been freely used in preparing this volume.
The generous assistance of many brethren was extended to me in collecting material. The list of the names of those brethren would be too long to give here, but God keeps all the roll. He knows how generously some of them struggled to help me; and he will not forget their labor of love.
The board secured the services of a very learned committee to revise the manuscript before it went to press, and they had unlimited power not only to correct errors, but also to strike out from the manuscript whatever they saw fit. They corrected several minor errors, and there may be others which neither I nor the committee detected. Those who have read "The Biography of a Lie" know how even an accumulation of authorities may sometimes mislead a writer. I have detected mistakes in authorities where mistakes seemed to be impossible. It is by no means likely that I have detected all in the authorities relied on for this volume.
It is proper here to state that, with my full consent, the book editor made great changes, especially in certain parts of the last two periods of the history. In this he had the assistance of the able committee already mentioned. My history of the sixth period was prepared in such haste that great changes were no doubt needed.
And now to Him for whom every line of this book was written, and to whom all its future destiny is committed, I leave this volume to be used as His infinite wisdom may determine. [viii]
Before the work of editing this volume was begun, the Board of Publication appointed a committee consisting of the Rev. J.C. Provine, D.D., the Rev. M.B. DeWitt, D.D., the Rev. W.E. Ward, D.D., and the Rev. D.M. Harris, D.D., to assist the book editor in this task. Several meetings were held, and some of the chapters were read and discussed by the whole committee. But this method required so much time, and such difficulty was experienced in securing a fiat and regular attendance at the meetings, that it was arranged for the members of the committee separately to read the manuscript, indicating their suggestions, and leaving the work of making changes to the book editor.
As the work progressed, and especially when the record of the closing period of the history was reached, it seemed to the committee and to the editor necessary to give a somewhat fuller account of certain events and certain departments of the church's work than that found in the manuscript. Accordingly the editor greatly extended the history of the relation of Cumberland Presbyterians to the Presbyterian Alliance, the history of city and home missions since the war, and of the Trinidad, the Japan, and the Mexican missions; of Waynesburg College, of the first efforts of the church to establish schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio and in the West, of the revision of the Confession of Faith, and of several minor matters. As stated in the body of the work, Dr. Harris made large additions to the sketch of Lincoln University, [x] and John M. Gaut, Esq., prepared the history of the Board of Publication found in the forty-seventh chapter. The sketch of Cane Hill College in the forty-sixth chapter was furnished by the Rev. F.R. Earle, D.D., president of that institution. The index at the close of the volume was prepared by the Rev. J.P. Sprowls, D.D. All these changes and additions were made with the cordial consent and approval of Dr. McDonnold.
The editor desires to acknowledge the valuable assistance he has received from his colleague and co-laborer, Dr. Harris, and the no less helpful suggestions of Dr. Provine and Dr. DeWitt. By reason of the illness and death of Dr. Ward, the committee was, except in the earlier stages of the work, deprived of the counsel and suggestions which his literary attainments and wide knowledge of our denominational history so well fitted him to give.
In reading and re-reading this volume, first in manuscript and afterward in the proof sheets, the editor has been more and more impressed with its value as a most important contribution to our denominational literature. By the simple naturalness and beauty of his style, by apt illustrations and well-selected incidents, Dr. McDonnold has imparted to these pages a living interest and a charm which it is believed will make their perusal a delight. This book is sent forth to the church and to the world with the confident hope that it will awaken, not only among our own people but wherever it shall be read, new interest in the history and doctrines and future work of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
J.M. HOWARD, Book Editor.
Nashville, January, 1888.