Among those who might be considered the pioneer band of Baptist ministers in Kentucky, Dr. Peter Bainbridge was distinguished for grace, pathos, and solemnity. A biographical outline of a man so gifted, may be interesting to the age succeeding that in which he lived, and useful to the Church which he so long served and adorned. And, therefore, the author of this imperfect sketch, whilst regretting the want of material for drawing a full portrait, feels that a few traits and memorials will be an acceptable contribution to the reading, and especially the Christian public.
Our subject was born in June, 1761, near the Cotockton, Frederick, Maryland, on the road from Fredericktown to Hagerstown, and nearly equal distance from each place. He and Commodore William Bainbridge were of the same stock of Scotch descent, their fathers being brothers, born in New Jersey, and their grandfather an emigrant from Scotland. Without the advantage of a collegiate course, Dr. B. was well trained in the rudiments of a good scholastic education in his native State, and completed his preparation for the ministry, and also for the occasional practice of medicine, in Charleston, South Carolina, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, and was there baptized December 11th, 1784, by the Rev. Joseph Reese. In April, 1785, he married Eleanor James McIntosh, (the only daughter of Gen. Alexander McIntosh, of Pedee), and who was born December 3d, 1769, and was, at the time of her marriage, a school girl, boarding with the mother of David B. Williams, afterwards Governor of South Carolina. She was beautiful and rich, her father, an exceedingly wealthy planter born in Scotland, and commissioned a General in the American revolution, being then dead. Dr. Bainbridge, about a month after his marriage, was called to preach in Charleston, and was then ordained April 4th , 1790, by the Rev. Edmond Botsford, Joshua Palmer, Charles Cook, Joshua Lewis, and Henry Easterling -- Palmer examining, Easterling delivering the charge, and Botsford preaching the sermon from John, 21:17.
Shortly after his ordination, he removed to the place of his wife's birth on Big Pedee, where he unfortunately lost a large portion of her patrimonial estate. Anxious to retrieve and restore, he removed to Petersburg, Virginia, to practice medicine, leaving behind about one hundred slaves, secured in trust for his wife by an anti-nupital contract, and not one of whom was ever reclaimed or sought after since by him, or her, or any of their descendants. Not liking the prospects at Petersburg, he soon returned to his native home in Maryland, whence, in 1793, he removed to the wilds of Western New York, and settled on Lake Seneca, about five miles from Appleton and thirty miles from Geneva. Here he preached and practiced; and without any other resource in the wilderness, he and his family suffered much privation of social and domestic comforts. But, possessing ample means of happiness without external aids, his wife and himself, though poor and isolated, were contended and cheerful. She, a young heiress, reared in polished society on the lap of care and affluence, now so soon, in the bloom of young womanhood, doomed to destitution and exile, cheerfully adapted herself to the gloomy transition, performed all the household drudgery of the gloomy transition of the frontier, and by her rare graces of fortitude, benevolence, and piety, shed a cheering light around her, and seemed happy herself and a ministering angel of happiness to others; and he, so blessed with genius, so hopeful of usefulness, so favored by marriage, and so tantalized with gilded prospects, and crushed fortune, preached and prayed, and ministered to the souls and bodies of the new settlement "without money and without price," until the year 1797, when, concluding to try his destiny in the "dark and bloody land" of the West, he came to Kentucky and settled at Standford, whence, a year afterwards, he removed to Lancaster, in Garrard county, and built one of the first houses in that village, a log building, afterwards weather boarded, and in which he resided until 1813. About the same time, Gen. Benj. Letcher, Clerk of Garrard, built a frame house, and John Boyle, afterwards Chief Justice of Kentucky, a log cabin in Lancaster; these three contemporary houses were on the same street near each other, and constituted, when first erected, the chief improvements of the hamlet; and their first occupants, who were the principle inhabitants, became kind neighbors and devoted friends, themselves and their families constituting a most cordial and happy society of primeval simplicity and hospitality. The house of Dr. Bainbridge soon became, and, as long as his family occupied it, continued to be the center of social concourse for town and country; and the unaffected kindness and simple, but classic, grace which distinguished his wife as well as himself, made it exceedingly accessible and attractive. He resumed the practice of his profession, and continued also to preach whenever and wherever he could. But his practice in Garrard and several other counties soon became so constant and extensive as to leave him no time for pastoral service; and his unbounded hospitality, as well as philanthropy, devoted him to extraordinary labor in the practice of medicine. Still his occasional preaching did much good and obtained for him eminent celebrity for pulpit eloquence. He thus lived and toiled, making much and spending all he made, until the year 1807, when, for the purpose of providing additional means for a growing family, he bought and exported for New Orleans a large quantity of produce, for which he never received adequate returns, his agent having made improvident sales of it, chiefly at Natchez, on credit. The next year he was compelled to go to Natchez himself, to try the experiment of collection. Detained there, by delays and failures of debtors, he engaged, for some months, in a profitable practice of his profession, and occasionally preached and made other public addresses, whereby he soon obtained a local name above all competition. Duty to his family and conditions requiring his return, he did return to Lancaster in 1809. But, unable to collect his Southern debts, he had to apply all his property to the payment of his own domestic debts incurred in the purchase of produce; and, determining to remove to some better place, he never engaged again in general practice until he settled in Glasgow, Barren county, Ky., in the year 1813, where he preached and practiced with distinguished success for about twelve years. At Glasgow, as at Lancaster, as the cotemporary inhabitants would all testify, the sunlike hospitality and winning grace of his wife and himself, secured for them the confidence and love of all their neighbors, and crowded their humble dwelling with sympathizing and grateful friends. He preached and practiced with unremitting constancy, and she, skilled in medicine and disease, and unrivaled as a nurse, was seen watching, and cheering, and ministering comfort in every household invaded by want, disease, or bereavement. No hour was too late, no night too dark, no weather too wet or too cold, for the exercise of her active benevolence. Self-sacrificing and devoted to the happiness of others, she never failed to obey the summons of distress within her reach; and her beneficence was blessed by the gratitude and love of all who knew her. He, too, was a kind and tender nurse, and excelled in all the dexterity and grace of the best clynical [clinical] practice. But, after residing in Glasgow about twelve years, he found that he had accumulated nothing for declining life; and, therefore, hoping, from the experiments he had made some years before at Natchez, that he could, in a short time, make a comfortable competence in that quarter, he and his family left Glasgow in the autumn of the year 1825; and, after a toilsome voyage of nearly two months in a flatboat, they reached Natchez in the succeeding winter. Their exodus from Glasgow was hallowed by the tears and regrets of a large portion of the people of the town, of all ages and sizes, who followed them in solemn procession for some distance on their way. Finding, on their arrival at Natchez, that the country would suit them better than the town, they settled in cabins in Franklin county, about twenty-five miles East of the Mississippi river, where he preached with universal fervor and practiced laboriously until a few days before his death. On the last Sabbath preceding his death, he preached his last sermon with great power from a portion of the 6th verse of Jude -- "Unto the judgment of the great day" -- a most fitting subject for such a man, who was, ere the dawn of another Sabbath, to leave the earth for the trial of that momentous day. Two days after that sermon, in visiting a patient he was overtaken by a heavy rain. On his return home, pale, wet, and chilled, he said to his wife -- "I have caught my death." He exchanged his clothes, went to bed, and on Saturday evening, September 1st, 1826, was a corpse. On the 8th of December following, his forlorn and disconsolate wife, though until then in apparent health, died suddenly, and without a pang or a groan. By accident, they were interred in different counties, and no memorial marks the spots where, in a foreign land, their ashes rest. But, whatever may betide their mortal bodies, there is much reason to hope that their immortal spirits are now enjoying together the bliss of that heaven for which they toiled, and prayed, and suffered so long on earth.
Of their nine children, six only survived them; and, of these, three alone are now living -- Ruth W. Kean, of Midway, Ky.; Eleanor J. Robertson, of Lexington, Ky.; and Angelina Herd, of Texas, all members of the Christian Church, the first and last of the Baptist, and the second of the Presbyterian denomination.
In person, Dr. Bainbridge was almost faultless -- his height five feet nine inches, his weight about one hundred and fifty pounds, his form symmetrical, his face handsome, complexion fair, eyes grey, forehead Shakespearean, nose Ciceronian, mouth of model mould, and countenance beaming with benignity and mind, strongly resembling that of Patrick Henry. His manners were mild, affable, and gracious; his voice articulate, sonorous, and sweet; his port easy and graceful. The following letter and poetic fragment, procured from the daughter to whom they were addressed, are herein published as samples of his impromptu, epistolary, and poetic style. They were directed to Mrs. Kean, then residing in Georgia:"Glasgow, Ky., April 16th, 1819.
"My Dear Ruthy -- Your letter by Mr. Twigg last fall, to your mother, she has delayed to answer, and when she will answer it is quite uncertain. With the advance of age, she seems to lose the disposition to letter-writing, although she can write a much better letter now than she could twenty years ago. I don't know any better plan you can fall upon than to multiply your letters to her, which may provoke retaliation. I would have written to you oftener, but for the duties of my profession, connected with much indisposition. I am, at this time, forced into seclusion and retirement from the world, by a severe attack of the same kind which had nearly swept me off about twelve months ago. About two weeks past I was taken ill, have been confined to my bed six or sever days, but I am up and about the house, and with the blessing of heaven, shall, in a few days, be able to attend moderately to business again. My constitution has become very much impaired, and my health extremely precarious; everything about my tabernacle announces my departure from this world near at hand; and I do assure you, my dear child, I sometimes contemplate the end of my earthly existence with the most pleasing emotions and joyful anticipations of getting to a better world. Your mother enjoys much of the exercise and sweets of religion at this time, and lives in the comfortable hope of arriving at the upper Bethel and seeing her dear Redeemer without a glass between. My dear Ruthy, I want you to get religion -- an interest in the blessed Jesus. Lord! how can I bear the thought of your being left behind? O, that God would enlighten your mind, and pour his pardoning love into your soul, that we may all be, at last, so happy as to meet in a better world, never to part again!
"There is a considerable stir of religion in Glasgow at this time. Congregations are very crowded, and a great many mourning sinners, at every meeting, come up to be prayed for, God has done great things for many already, and I hope he has blessings in store for many more. I wish you were among us to enjoy the pleasing seasons of gospel grace.
"I received your verses on "Absent Friends." I am much pleased with them, and return you my thanks for the agreeable present.
"I have just composed some verse which are enclosed. They have flowed from the affectionate feelings of a father's heart. I wish you to read them with attention, and consider them as a tribute of my warmest regard for your happiness and immortal glory. I hope this best and most important subject may be impressed on the mind of Mr. Kean. Give my love to your dear children, and very particularly to my dear little Mary. Your mother and the children join in the most cordial affection to you all.
"I am, with much love, your affectionate father,
"PETER BAINBRIDGE.""My daughter dear, though far away, Receive a father's tender lay, And while you tread this earthly sod, Seek Christ, the Lord, and peace with God. "This portion fair, my daughter dear, Will do you good when death is near; 'Twill make you happy when you die, To god and Christ 'twill bring you nigh. "Though now you roam in distant clime, Mark well the gospel's holy line, 'Twill guide you to your journey's end, And Christ, the Lord, will be your friend. "Oh! do make Heaven your only care, And seek the Lord by humble prayer, Sit down, my dear, and count the cost, Lest your immortal soul be lost. "Oh! Fly to Christ -- to Jesus fly, And on his dying rely. Oh! venture now your soul to God; Oh! Venture on redeeming blood. "This blood can cleanse from foulest stain, Revive the dead and raise the slain; Can joy, and love, and peace impart, And fill with hope the mourner's heart. "Now let a parent's feeling love Invite your mind to look above, Above the fading joys of time, For joys sublimed in glory's clime. "When nature fails, and life doth end, The Lord himself will be your friend. Then, done with sorrow, sin and pain, With Christ, the Lord, you'll ever reign."
These unstudied effusions from a sick bed reflect the heart and soul of a good and great man.
But his tongue was better than his pen; he spoke much more impressively than he wrote. He was charmingly colloquial, and in the pulpit he was peculiarly grave, smooth, and attractive; his action dignified and impressive; his voice full and sweet, but never vehement; his attitude graceful and modest; and his diction admirably condensed and expressive. But his speaking face uttered more than his mellifluous voice. He was a natural orator, of rare mould, and, had fortune allowed him to dedicate his life to preaching, his eloquence would have been scarcely ever equaled in power and fame. His sermons, well prepared by analysis, and by notes of the anatomy of his subject, were generally pregnant with practical truths, and always comprehensive and concise. He had wonderful power in prayer; his manner was awfully solemn, and he rarely occupied more than two minutes in presenting a full staple of massive gold, which many of the modern and more artistic school of divines, but too often consume thirty minutes in spinning out and weaving into airy tissues of cobweb.
As might be expected, he also solemnized the matrimonial rite with a brevity and grace peculiarly befitting and acceptable. And, consequently, no preacher of his day was called oftener or farther to perform that service. And this suggests an amusing and rather interesting anecdote: Jeremiah Vardeman, when he married, was poor, illiterate, and profligate. Dr. Bainbridge rode twelve miles to the Crab Orchard, and tied the Gordian knot, without receiving or expecting to receive any fee. Some time afterwards, the young bride, feeling that something ought to be paid for a service so eventful, went to Lancaster and proposed to Mrs. Bainbridge to let her make compensation in spinning. This magnanimous offer was, of course, delicately declined, and, consequently, nothing was ever paid to the minister for Vardeman's nuptials. There is a moral in this tale. This tradition illustrates the encouraging truth that, under American institutions, patent talents, however obscured by poverty, or cloven down by sensual passions, may still be hopeful of soaring above the clouds and blessing mankind with their renovating radiance. Under the preaching and tutelage of Dr. Bainbridge, this same Jeremiah Vardeman became, not only a Christian, but a powerful and successful field preacher and celebrated evangelist. And the ludicrous incident past mentioned, is placed here because it is creditable to him, and may be useful to others.
Full of labor and vicissitude, the life of Dr. Bainbridge, though not illustrious, is, in many respects, instructive. Although an immersionist, he neither practiced nor believed that immersion is essential to the Christian character, nor that the typical and initiative rite is, in every form, regeneration. And while he preferred his own denomination and was essentially a Baptist, he was neither bigoted, dogmatic, nor intolerant. He was remarkable for Christian charity and love, and, consequently, tolerance. There was nothing exclusive or dictatorial in his faith, or his practice. Nor did he suffer form to affect substance, ceremony to control the heart, nor usage to change principle. What religion he had was vital and vitalizing, cheerful and gentle, rational, personal, and benevolent. Hence, believing that music and dancing, under prudent restraints, are not inconsistent with purity of heart and elevation of mind, but promotive of them as useful exercises for improving a virtuous taste, promoting health and cheerfulness, and imparting facility and grace off manner. He allowed his daughters, sometimes, to go to dancing parties, and to dance! And but few fathers and mothers ever raised a more prudent, beautiful, and admirable family of daughters than those who graced the household of Doctor and Mrs. Bainbridge.
The influence of such a man's example, must ever, and did in his day, tend to promote Christian love, harmonize sectarian discords, and thus advance the cause of regenerating religion. And, looking at him, all in all, as physician, preacher, husband, father, and citizen, his memory should be cherished as that of a public benefactor, and his name should be inscribed on the altars of the Church which he so long and so usefully served and illustrated.
[From The Christian Repository, August 1856, pp. 92-100. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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