Baptist History Homepage

William F. Broaddus *
By George Braxton Taylor, 1912
      William F. Broaddus was born near the village of Woodville, Culpeper County, Virginia, April 30, 1801, his father being Thomas Broaddus, of Caroline. His mother, whose maiden name was Susannah Ferguson, had first married a Mr. White. After his death she became the wife of Mr. Broaddus, and the mother of his four children. She was reared an Episcopalian, but under the preaching of Rev. John Leland made a profession of religion, and was baptized into the fellowship of the "F. T." Church. When William, the second child, was about ten years old the father died, and he was left to the care of his mother. He went to school first to one and then to another of his half-brothers, then to his own brother Edmund, and, finally, after a session under John P. Walden, in his sixteenth year, he became himself a schoolmaster with about forty scholars. During the years of his boyhood and youth he had received careful religious training from his mother, and with her had read the Bible through several times. This teaching did not at once, at least, lead to the boy's conversion.

     The first school which young Broaddus taught was in session from the first Monday in January until December 20th, with only brief holidays. His second school was at Union Forge, Shenandoah County. While still a schoolmaster, and when he was just turned eighteen, he married Miss Mary Ann Farrar. Such amusements as card-playing and dancing had large place in his heart, and he and his wife often played backgammon. At this period he usually heard preaching every Sunday, there being services held in the neighborhood by the Baptists,
* Abridged from "Life of Wm. F. Broaddus," by Geo. Braxton Taylor.

[p. 238]
Episcopalians, and Lutherans. Under the preaching of Ambrose C. Booton, at Luray, he was converted, and was baptized in the Hawksbill Creek that runs through that town. After he had taken this step he decided, upon the advice of Deacon Daniel Beaver, to give up his worldly amusements, his violin and his backgammon. This decision caused his wife to burst into tears, but three years later she became a Christian. A week after his baptism at Bethel Meeting House, on the New Market road, after the sermon by a Mr. Carter, young Broaddus asked permission to say a few words. With Romans 10:1 as a text he spoke for some fifteen minutes. At the next monthly meeting of the Luray Church, Deacon Beaver gravely stated that he brought against young Brother Broaddus the serious charge of having preached without being licensed, immediately adding that he moved that he be forthwith licensed so that the charge could be withdrawn. From this time forward, almost to the end of his life, Mr. Broaddus preached the glorious gospel.

     He was ordained at "F. T." Church, in 1823, and became its pastor, succeeding Father Lewis Connor in this office. While it seems probable that his only other church at this time was Mount Salem, he preached going to and coming from the Associations wherever a congregation could be gathered, so that he was soon known through all the section of country. This work was a distinct help to his health for, being small, with a tendency to consumption, in a few years he was so strong and vigorous that his former friends scarcely knew him. It was not long before he was teaching once more, as well as preaching. From this school three young men, Silas Bruce, R. V. and Thaddeus Herndon, went forth as Baptist preachers. Before long he had become pastor of Bethel (Frederick County), and somewhat later of Long Branch, in Fauquier, the former of these churches

[p. 239]
involving a ride of thirty-five miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River. Yet he kept up his school and rarely missed his preaching appointments. In 1826, he attended the General Association in Fredericksburg, preached the introductory sermon, and met for the first time many of the Baptist preachers of Tidewater Virginia, among the number J. B. Jeter and J. B. Taylor. The latter, in a letter dated June 14, 1826, said: "There is a young man named Broaddus, who preached this morning, who excels any I ever heard." In a great and precious revival that blessed many of the churches at this time Mr. Broaddus bore an active part. Great crowds attended, many were converted and baptized. Preachers from the city churches came to help in the work. At one of these services Mr. Broaddus felt called upon to caution the people not to give too great rein to their emotions, but when among those asking for prayer, there came his own son, about whom he had been greatly concerned, his own prudent cautions were forgotten, and he broke forth into louder demonstrations than till then had been heard.

     The anti-missionary controversy that raged so fiercely for some years in Northern Virginia had as its chief figure, perhaps, W. F. Broaddus. After the blight of hyper-Calvinism had been broken among Baptists, through the missionary zeal awakened by the appeal from India, of Adoniram Judson, the error had reasserted its power in this section of Virginia. War was made against missionary societies, temperance organizations, Sunday schools, and all efforts to reach with the gospel the unconverted. The Ketocton and Columbia Associations were where these views were most earnestly held and advocated. The activity of Mr. Broaddus in the revival referred to above along with some articles of his in the Christian Index, on ministerial support, as well as his known views on missions, made him especially

[p. 240]
obnoxious to the "Black Rock" section. At a meeting of the Ketocton Association, at Ebenezer Church, in 1832, resolutions were introduced refusing a seat to Mr. Broaddus, who had come as a messenger from the Shiloh Association. After a lengthy discussion the resolutions were defeated. The next year, however, after a discussion lasting two days, the same resolutions were carried, and Mr. Broaddus was refused a seat in the body. The next week at the Columbia Association, at Rock Hill, a neighborhood in which Mr. Broaddus was not well known, he was again refused a seat by formal resolution. At once Mr. Broaddus arose and said he would preach forthwith on the adjoining hill. The crowd followed him, seats were extemporized, and he preached a melting sermon. The refusal of these associations to receive Mr. Broaddus finally resulted in the organization of the Salem Union Association, which new body held its first session at Upperville, November 9, 1833. Perhaps more than any one else, Mr. Broaddus broke the power of the anti-missionary spirit in Northern Virginia among the Baptists.

     Mr. Broaddus was well qualified to be a teacher as well as a preacher, and again and again in his life he gave himself, at least for a part of his time, to this very important work. From 1834 to 1839, he had charge of a boarding-school in Middleburg. While scholars of both sexes were admitted, the school, Rev. W. A. Whitescarver assures us, was not co-educational. Two large rooms, one occupied by the boys, the other by the girls, opened into each other. Mr. Broaddus sat between the two rooms, and heard the classes first from one room and then from the other. This school was well attended, and evidently of high grade; it was in session almost all the year save a brief vacation in the summer. During his life at Middleburg, Mr. Broaddus had a controversy with Rev. Mr. Slicer, presiding elder of the Potomac

[p. 241]
District of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After a sermon or so by these two preachers the discussion was carried on through the newspapers and pamphlets. The debate was not of Mr. Broaddus' choosing, for he was most truly a man of peace; indeed, this was so very true that later in life, Rev. Dr. C. C. Bitting suggested that he be called the "Great Worthy Harmonizer." Doubtless, as is usually the case, both sides claimed the victory. This fact, however, should be set down. At the time of the discussion Upperville, where the sermons were preached, and its surrounding country, were decidedly Methodist territory. To-day in this same section Baptists predominate in numbers and influence. Mr. Whitescarver thinks the change was due to Mr. Broaddus and his sermons and writings at the time of the controversy.

     The decade from 1840 to 1850, Mr. Broaddus spent in Kentucky, living at Lexington, Shelbyville, and Versailles. Here again, besides his work as pastor, he had a school. He was led into the school enterprise at this time partly from financial considerations. It seems that while at Middleburg he had been led into mercantile business as a silent partner. This business had failed and left him responsible for the liabilities of the concern. He went to work to pay the debt, and, with its "Kentucky prices and Southern patronage," his Shelbyville school soon put him square with his creditors. While in Kentucky, the wife of his youth, with whom he had passed some thirty years of blessed married life, and who had borne him six children, died on September 8, 1850. In this connection mention might be made of his second wife, who was Mrs. Susan Burbridge, to whom he was married July 29, 1851, and who died April 21, 1852. It may be timely to mention at this point that his third wife was the widow of Dr. Fleet, her maiden name having been Miss Semple.

[p. 242]
     While in Kentucky, Mr. Broaddus took an active part in the controversy then raging in regard to the views of Alexander Campbell, that were doing much to divide and dismember many Baptist churches. Once at least during this period he revisited the scenes of his earlier days in Virginia. The trip from the "dark and bloody ground" to the Old Dominion was at that day a much more serious undertaking than it is to-day. Concerning this journey, which consumed considerable time, he wrote a series of letters to the Religious Herald. One letter, during this period, to his nephew, John A. Broadus, urges his acceptance of the chair of ancient languages at Georgetown College, to which position he had just been elected, and another laments his declining the place. One church to which he preached in Kentucky declared that they could not promise him any definite amount, but that they would try and do their best for him. Mr. Broaddus accepted this announcement without any comment. After the service, as he was about to leave, some brother said: "We will see you up the third Sunday?" (That was the next appointment.) Mr. Broaddus replied: "I do not know; if I have nothing else to do, and if it suits me, I suppose you may look for me, but I could not promise definitely." The members did not understand what he meant, so he said: "Since you can not promise me any definite salary I thought it was only fair that I should not promise you any definite service." The church saw the point and voted him a regular salary. It is evident that he was not overburdened with salary, as it is known that at this time four churches to which he preached paid him all told $400 a year. The burning of his school in Shelbyville led him to return to Virginia.

     More than once Mr. Broaddus engaged in agency work, for which he had especial gifts. He now advocated the claims of Columbian College and pressed its

[p. 243]
endowment. Dr. Geo. Boardman Taylor described him, as he appeared at this time, as follows: "He was portly in form, but of a corresponding height, with a large but not disproportionate head, altogether a figure noble and imposing. His manner was a rare combination of the cordial and dignified, and while he was most approachable, no one could treat him with undue freedom. . . . He was extremely social, liking specially the company of a few kindred spirits. Himself a capital raconteur, with an inexhaustible store of good things, he was none the less a sympathetic listener. Able to discuss abstract questions, and, with clearly cut opinions on many subjects, he was most in his element when living issues and practical themes of every-day life were considered. Full of innocent peculiarities he was in nothing an extremist. . . . He was a wise counselor, his sentiment being tempered with common sense. On one occasion he was appealed to by a pastor, who was distressed and indignant at the ungenerous conduct of one of his members. You are right, he said; his course is not to be admired, but do not make an issue, for after all that conduct is within the limits of naked justice, and you can not get average men to stand against it. The seeker was disappointed, but afterwards found the advice excellent. . . . Dr. Broaddus was a charming preacher. I use the adjective advisedly, both as to matter and manner. He dwelt chiefly on the brighter side of religion, seldom hurling the thunders of the law, but seeking rather to win men by the attractions of the cross. . . . His manner in the pulpit was deliberate, solemn, persuasive. He never lacked for a word, or for the right one. You felt that he was perfect master of himself and of the situation. Much of his charm as a speaker lay in his voice, which was musical, powerful, of a wide range, and under perfect control. . . . But if persuasion be the aim and end of oratory, then
[p. 244]
he was, at least in his best estate, an orator of good degree, for with his wonderful combination of gifts, and above all with the unction of the Holy Spirit, he was a master of assemblies. . . . While usually content to pursue the beaten track in preaching, he was full of resources for special needs. Having gone to Baltimore, when the cause there was low, to hold a protracted meeting, he preached the first night to a very slim congregation. At the close of the service he said: 'People in the city think they can live as they list and not go to hell, but I will show to-morrow night that city sinners go to hell as well as country folks.' The news of this spread abroad . . . and the next evening the old Round Top Church was filled to the utmost of its large capacity. A gracious revival and ingathering followed, and a great impulse was given to the cause of Christ. Dr. Broaddus' sermons . . . never wearied the people, and were always of moderate length. . . . He closed his discourses promptly, sometimes almost abruptly, even making a point of this. . . . He had two or three physical peculiarities which sometimes occasioned embarrassment to himself and others. . . . To eat a morsel of fowl had the same effect. (Produced nausea.) . . . His well-known antipathy to cats caused him real distress. He was not afraid of them, as some people supposed, but the touch or near presence of a cat produced sickness in the sense which the English give to the word. . . . He not only loved a good joke, but could tell it with the utmost seriousness, and keep back the point so as to produce the greatest impression. . . . One quaint word, which Dr. Broaddus had received from a minister of the former generation, I have ever kept in mind, and now hand it on for the benefit of my younger brethren, viz.: If you leave a church or field be sure to do it in such a way that, in case you ever come back, they will not set the dogs on you. ... He
[p. 245]
had his theories on most subjects. One of them was that bad news should be told abruptly and without preamble. He thought, too, that people should be very careful about attempting to right what seemed to be wrong, unless all the circumstances were known. . . . He once approached a field of growing wheat, the gate to which was wide open, and he did not hesitate to shut it; . . . hardly had he done so when he saw his mistake. Some cattle had entered, which the owner was seeking to drive out, but when they found the door closed they turned wildly and stampeded away in every direction, trampling down the grain in a way to greatly damage it. Then the owner came up, furious and profane, and it was all that Dr. Broaddus could do to appease him. . . . Take him all in all, when shall we see his like again? He ranked with the best of his contemporaries." In the summer of 1853, he became pastor of the Fredericksburg Church. While the church was neither large nor wealthy, it had had able pastors. He saw at once that a new meeting-house was of supreme importance, and the handsome edifice which he erected remains to this day a noble monument to his wisdom and zeal. His predecessor had seen a number of his members withdraw to join the Christian Church. This had so distressed him that his defense of his own views and his attacks upon the rival church were sharp and frequent. On the arrival of the new pastor the people came in crowds to hear what new arguments he would advance against the Christian denomination. They were disappointed. He carefully avoided such discussions. Along with his pastorate he conducted a school for girls. For some years he taught it in the basement of the church. The boarding department was in his own home. Under his administration the church came to have a standing and influence in the community it had never had before. During these Fredericksburg years, Dr.
[p. 246]
Broaddus was a leader in the Goshen and other district associations of Virginia, and in the General Association. Without giving up his pastorate, in 1859, he took an agency for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and continued in it until the fall of 1860.

     On July 29, 1862, Dr. Broaddus and six other citizens of Fredericksburg were arrested by Federal officers, and carried to Washington and held as prisoners in the Old Capitol Prison of that city, as hostages for four Union men confined as traitors by the Confederate authorities. The diary which he kept during this trying time is extant, and is most interesting. His friends in Baltimore sent him food and other things that in no small measure relieved the severity of his disagreeable situation. He saw much that was humorous in his environment, and did much to comfort and cheer his fellow-prisoners. It was not until September 26th that he was once again in Fredericksburg, a free man.

     By the shelling of Fredericksburg,. during the attack of October 11, 1862, the house of Dr. Broaddus was rendered uninhabitable, and in the days that followed much of his furniture was stolen or damaged. At this juncture there came a call from the Charlottesville church. It was accepted, and Dr. Broaddus began his work there, Sunday, January 25, 1863. Besides his preaching and visiting as pastor he was zealous in doing all that he could for the soldiers in the hospitals in the town. Not only on Sunday, but on week days, he preached and visited in the various wards. These were days when rumors of battles were new nearly every day, and when the anxiety of those who stayed with the stuff was almost as terrible as the suffering of the soldiers on the tented field. Dr. Broaddus boarded for a while at the Albemarle Female Institute, then in charge of Prof. John Hart; later he had his own home, and himself had a number of boarders. During the Charlottesville

[p. 247]
pastorate, and just after the War, a conference was held between a number of leading men in the Baptist and Disciple denominations to see if there was any possibility of the two bodies uniting. Dr. Broaddus was one of the moving spirits in this gathering, but unfortunately no practical results were reached.

     The work with which Dr. Broaddus' active service closed was in an agency to raise money for the education of the orphans of Confederate soldiers. His love for children, and his lifelong interest in education, made this work doubly congenial to him, while his tact and skill in raising money peculiarly qualified him for it. No attempt was made to establish schools, but simply to provide tuition, for as many orphans as possible, in schools already in existence. This of course was before the day of public schools. At first Dr. Broaddus carried on this work in connection with his pastorate, but finally he resigned his church, and gave his whole time to the cause of the orphans. He traveled constantly, visiting churches, district associations, and other gatherings, pleading for gifts, also, as he went along, from individuals. He was to a high degree successful in this undertaking. In 1865, he was called to the pastorate of his old charge in Fredericksburg. While he declined this call, a little later he made Fredericksburg once more his home, still carrying on his agency work. His last days were marked by heavy and sad affliction. Blindness came upon him, which even the best medical skill did not relieve, and before the end his mind became unsettled. From these great distresses he was delivered on September 8, 1876, when he passed to his heavenly reward. His ashes rest beneath the sod of the Fredericksburg cemetery. In 1896, the Virginia Baptist Historical Society gave strong evidence of the denomination's high esteem for Dr. Broaddus, by holding a memorial meeting, at which there were papers and addresses setting forth his life and character.


[From George Braxton Taylor, editor, Virginia Baptist ministers: 3d series, 1912, pp. 237-247. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage