David Ewing Burns
David Ewing Burns, one of the most distinguished pulpit orators of the Mississippi Valley, succeeded Alfred Taylor in the pastoral care of Beaver Dam church, in 1845. He was a native of Indiana, and was born of poor, illiterate parents, a few miles up the Ohio river from Evansville. He was raised up to hard, rough labor and the rude sports and frolics of an essentially backwoods life. At the age of manhood, he could read with some fluency and write a little, very crudely. At this period he crossed over the Ohio river, with the hope of getting employment as a stage driver. Falling in at a meeting, conducted by Alfred Taylor, in the region of Owensboro’, he remained some days, professed conversion, and was baptized by Mr. Taylor. Returning to his mother’s, he engaged in prayer and exhortation, and there was soon a considerable revival in the little church near his home. A few months after this, he went to Hardinsburg, Kentucky, to attend a meeting, conducted by Thomas J. Fisher. During this meeting, he preached his first sermon. The people were astonished at his wonderful oratory. He was induced to go to Georgetown College. But remained there less than a month. He returned to the Green River country, and was ordained to the ministry, about 1845, by T.J. Fisher and Thomas L. Garrott. He was called to the care of Beaver Dam, and perhaps some other country churches, to which he preached but a few months, when he accepted a call to the church in the town of Henderson. The charms of his oratory drew admiring crowds wherever he preached. He read poetry and light literature, but had no taste, and perhaps very little capacity for study. After remaining a year at Henderson, he became pastor of the church in Russellville. He was wonderfully popular with the young, but he did not please the older members of the church. He remained there but six months, when he accepted a call to Paducah. Here he remained
three years, preaching to large and admiring crowds to the last.
In 1850, Mr. Burns was called to the Beal Street church, in Memphis, Tennessee. He remained here a year, preaching to the largest congregation in the city. From Memphis he was called to Jackson, Mississippi. Here, at the age of thirty, he was married to Tallula Slaughter, an orphan, who possessed considerable property. By this means, he became proprietor of a valuable plantation near Canton, Mississippi. To this plantation he moved, and became pastor of the church at Canton. He succeeded well in business, and was popular as a preacher. But the calamities of the war fell heavily upon him, as upon thousands of others, and left him penniless. In 1866, he took charge of the Coliseum Place church in New Orleans. But the society did not suit him, and he was uncomfortable. After a short and unsuccessful pastorate, he accepted a call to the First Church in Memphis. Here he enjoyed great popularity, the brief remainder of his days on earth. After a short illness, he died at his home in Memphis, in November, 1870. His last audible words were: "I have trusted in Jesus for thirty years. I can trust him still."
Mr. Burns was an orator by nature, and, with proper training, might have exercised an immense pulpit power. But destitute of this, he fascinated the multitudes, as few men could, without either instructing them, or reaching their heart;. He had very meager fruits of his ministry, notwithstanding the great crowds that attended his preaching, from first to last. As a Christian man, his character, as far as known, was spotless. He was a man of public spirit, and gave valuable aid to the Denominational enterprises of his time. He possessed a generous spirit, and a cheerful temper, and was much loved by those with whom he associated.
[From John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; reprint, CHR&A, 1984. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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