Baptist History Homepage

Autobiography of Elder T. P. Dudley
Fayette County, Kentucky

     We appreciate your kindness to us in this matter, Brother Thompson, and hope many Baptists will enjoy this article as from one, who being dead, yet speaketh. Whilst this, our dear old great-uncle and my own dear father were divided on some points, yet we had the highest regard for him as one of the world's noble men. Dear Uncle Tom was entirely blind for six or eight years, but bore this terrible affliction with the most cheerful and beautiful Christian resignation, always having a bright smile for his numerous friends. During the last years, he and our father ignored the old differences and enjoyed many happy visits together.
      H. Rebecca Dudley.

      Lexington, Ky., February 17, 1851.
      Dear Brother Bebee: - Some months past, a brother in an adjoining State, whom I had then never seen, requested of me a short biography of myself; a relation of the ground of my hope of salvation. I complied with his request, but do not know whether he entertains fellowship for me as a member of the redeemed family, nor, indeed, can I blame him if I have failed to secure his Christian fellowship. I hold that it is involuntary; hence when sufficient evidence is afforded, fellowship for the experience is irresistible. In its absence it is impossible. I have had many doubts within the last thirty years, whether indeed I was in possession of that religion which is pure and undefiled before God and the Father, or whether it embraces one as unworthy as I. Be that as it may, I have felt no unwillingness that the brethren should have the evidences on which I base my hope that when done with this vain world I shall "enter into that rest which remaineth for the people of God."

     My father became a member of the Regular Baptist church during the war of the Revolution; and pretty soon embarked in the gospel ministry. In the spring of 1786 he removed with his family (having then seven children) to Kentucky, where he continued his ministerial labors until the 27th of January, 1825, when he was removed from the church militant, to join, as we humbly trust, the "general assembly of the church of the first born in heaven." He left a family of fourteen children, eleven sons and three daughters, all of whom are married. My mother, who had also been an Old School Baptist for many years, bade adieu to earth on the 6th day of November, 1824, being 71 years old. My father followed her in his 73rd year, just two months and twenty days afterwards. They lived to see eight of their children members of the Particular Baptist church at Bryans, two miles north of where I now reside. Three more of their children and a number of their grandchildren have become members of the Particular Baptist church since their death.

      According to my father's register, I was born on the 31st day of May, 1792, a little over one mile from where I now reside. I was reared and schooled in this neighborhood, up till I was sixteen years of age, shortly after which I removed to Frankfort (the seat of government of this State) and engaged in the mercantile business. I was occasionally rendered very unhappy when reflecting upon death, judgment, and eternity. On one occasion particularly, when I was from ten to twelve years old, listening to preaching, my mind became very much exercised; I thought I beheld a beauty in religion and desired to possess it. I engaged in attempts at prayer, that I might be made the subject of it; but in a short time those impressions wore off, and I became as careless as formerly.

      Soon after my removal to Frankfort, I found myself surrounded by young men, almost all of whom were addicted to dissipation, several of them to gambling. I was, however, gratified to become acquainted with two or three, who, like myself, could not embark in such a course. Often I have been urged to go with others into those vices which were so common there, and as often subjected myself to their jeers: "You are afraid to trust yourself!" "You are afraid to go!" etc. I bore it all rather than embark with them; and I do not recollect, or believe, that I was ever induced to go on one occasion to any of those gambling houses. I think I have since seen the kind providence of God which was over me and prevented my participating with them. I sought genteel female society, because I felt myself safer with them than with young men who were urging me to dissipation.

      I embarked in what was termed the more innocent amusement of fiddling and dancing, but had to confess that I did not feel quite as easy in indulging in this as I could desire. I had never indulged therein while I was with my father, and was satisfied that he would not approbate it, still I wanted society, and concluded there was less danger in this than the society of intemperate young men.

      When war was declared in 1812, I felt a great desire to participate in it, and went to my father to obtain his permission to go. He and my mother both objected on account of my health being delicate. My mother remarked," It is said that W_____, a friend of the family, intends raising a company to go on horseback; if he should do so, you may go with him, as I feel confident that he will take care of you." A short time subsequently a regiment of cavalry rendezvoused in Frankfort; upon the promotion of the captain of a troop to a majority, the friend to whom my mother referred was elected captain of the troop; he urged me to go with him. Fearing a denial if I again applied to my father or mother for leave to go, I determined to equip myself and join the company. I set out the second morning after the troops left Frankfort, overtook and joined the company on the Ohio River, opposite to Cincinnati.

      I frequently felt that the only embarrassment I had was, I had not obtained my father's permission to go, and I had been accustomed to obtain his permission before I ever embarked in any important matter.

      I had many reflections on the subject of religion, and frequently asked direction of the Lord (as I thought) in my feeble way. When the detachment was sent to French Town, on the river Raisin, I determined to go, and asked leave (through a friend) of the commanding general. He refused me leave; notwithstanding, I went with the detachment, was in the battle on the 18th of January, 1813, and made my escape unhurt.

      The goodness of God in taking care of me during the battle subsequently made considerable impression on my mind, and, as I thought, called forth emotions of gratitude. The battle on the 22nd of January, 1813, came on, during which I was severely wounded. I had many serious reflections during that day, and also during the following night; being in too much pain to sleep much, I thought it not improbable that I might die from the wound, or be massacred by the Indians. On the twenty-third, early in the morning, the Indians returned and began to massacre the prisoners left on the battle ground at the surrender on the previous day. Whilst looking on at the work of death which was in progress, the thought occurred: Well, I am as well prepared to go now as I shall be: the Lord will not punish me for the few little sins which I have committed. I have little prospect of getting home, and if the Indians would only shoot me down, and put me out of my misery, they would do me a great favor. When many of the wounded had been tomahawked and scalped, an Indian came to me (being, I think, the fifth, four others having approached me, and discovering the severity of my wound declined taking me prisoner) and made signs that the ball had struck me and passed on, to which I nodded assent, which was true in regard to a slight wound which I had received, the other ball being buried deep in my shoulder; he immediately took me, threw a blanket coat around me, and gave me an apple, which I received as a token of friendship. From thence we set out for Detroit, and after traveling about five miles through snow eighteen inches deep we arrived at the ground where the combined forces of the British and Indians had encamped the night before the battle of the 23rd. Here they massacred several of their prisoners. That night we arrived at Brown's Town, a small village some eighteen miles from Detroit, where we had more thunder and lightning than I ever recollect to have witnessed at that time of the year. I could but remark the awe the Indians seemed to feel, when in the height of their rejoicings at their success, we had a clap of thunder or a flash of lightning; they were silent in an instant. The next morning they held a council to determine (as I was informed) whom of the prisoners they should kill. I discovered considerable anxiety in the countenance of the young warrior who had taken me prisoner, as well as in that of his father, who was an old chief. They set out with me about daylight, and after traveling several miles over the snow and ice, they stopped and painted me again; (as soon as we came up with the old chief the preceding day they had painted me) and we immediately set out and arrived at Detroit in the evening. I remained with the Indians that night, and on the following evening I was released from Indian captivity, a British officer paying a ransom for me. Suffering as I was with my wound, yet my marvelous escape filled me with wonder, and I was constrained to acknowledge the hand of God in my deliverance. It seemed that I met friends, not only among the white inhabitants at Detroit, but also among the savages. The question would frequently arise in my mind: Why have you been spared, and so many slaughtered who were not half so severely wounded as you? I could only answer: The Lord has done it.

      After being in Detroit a few days, I was conducted across the Detroit River to Sandwich, where I met several of our officers, to their astonishment, they having supposed I was massacred. On the following morning, when the prisoners were about to leave for Fort George, there was a proposition made that I should remain under medical treatment, as I could not travel on foot, and there was no conveyance for me. My spirits seemed to sink at the thought of being left. A few minutes after my friends left the room, a British or Canadian lieutenant came to me and remarked, "I have a good carry-all sleigh and a pair of good horses, and you are welcome to a seat with me to Fort George." This, as you may suppose, raised my spirits considerably, although I thought it improbable that I should ever reach home. I found the most astonishing kindness, both from the lieutenant and from the people, as I passed through Upper Canada to Newark, at the mouth of the Niagara River. Reaching the heights above Newark, my eye caught sight of the American flag floating over Fort Niagara; my feelings were totally indescribable. I had now traveled about three hundred miles, badly wounded, through ice, snow, and intense cold; met with much kindness from strangers, and arrived in sight of American soil; saw the much-loved flag of our Union floating on the breeze. Really it seemed to me like a dream; the hand of the Lord seemed visible. Here I was paroled, and put across the Niagara River, where I met a warm-hearted American officer, who proposed to take care of me, and accompany me to Pittsburg, some three hundred miles. He proved a friend indeed, and did not leave me until we arrived there. After remaining in Pittsburg about a week, a gentleman from an adjoining State approached me and observed, "I have a good boat, and should be gratified to have you accompany me to Maysville, Kentucky." I arrived home in the month of March, and could but look back with amazement on what had befallen me; and above all, the reflection that I had been taken care of through all of those trying scenes, made the deepest impression on my mind. Numberless times I had serious impressions about my future state, but they would soon wear off. In the month of June, 1814, I think, I was exchanged; and the war continuing, I determined to carry into execution a threat I had made in Canada, before I was paroled, viz; I would have revenge. In the fall of that year, I joined a detachment sent from this State to New Orleans; was in the battle of the 8th of January, 1815, and escaped unhurt; came home at the close of the war, and again engaged in my former business. I recollect writing to my father after the battle of the 8th and making this remark: "The Lord has blessed us with one among the most signal victories ever achieved." I felt constrained to say the Lord has done it.

      My mind became more exercised on the subject of my future state. In the early part of the year 1818 I frequently retired to ask the Lord to have mercy upon me. This state of things continued until the fall of that year, when I met with a domestic affliction which seemed like overwhelming me. All my prospects for earthly happiness seemed gone; indeed I felt little desire to live, and I was very sure that I was not prepared to die.

      Sitting in my room alone one night, and reflecting upon the heavy bereavement I had met, I found myself complaining that the Lord had delt hardly with me, and that I did not deserve the severe affliction I was then experiencing. In a moment the thought occurred to me, What am I at? Who has preserved me from my youth up? Who has protected me from the danger through which I have passed? I was astonished and alarmed at my presumption; and the scenes which I have heretofore recorded rushed into my mind; the goodness and sparing mercies of the Lord overpowered me, and I felt constrained to fall on my knees, to ask forgiveness for my many sins; all I could say was, Lord be merciful to me a sinner. Immediately after rising from my knees, the thought occurred to me, this is not prayer; it is only repeating what you have learned.

      I confess, brother Beebe, the same thought frequently occurs to me now. It did appear to me that I had the most cause to be thankful to God of all creatures, that I was out of hell, and yet I believed there was none less thankful. I felt as though my ingratitude was such that the Lord would not much longer bear with me. My leisure moments I spent in reading the Scriptures, and when any opportunity occurred, in attending preaching. It seemed that my situation was peculiar; that I deserved the lowest, hottest hell. I think I loathed sin, although I was continually sinning, yet most ardently desired holiness of heart and life. I now embraced almost every opportunity of hearing preaching, and as long as the preacher was engaged in portraying the awful condition in which sin has involved its subjects, and the awful doom to which it had exposed them, I thought I understood him, and felt that I was the man and that an awful destiny awaited me. I could not feel my convictions as deep and pungent as I desired, nor could I feel that my exercises were such as those who are under the teachings of the Holy Spirit. When the ministers would describe the exercises of my mind, and then say, "Such are the effects of the new birth, and those who are thus exercised, may be assured that the Lord is at work with them," I have been many times led to say in my heart, that the preacher was deceived, for such are my feelings, and I know that I am no Christian.

     I knew, nor thought of no other way to escape the judgment of God, but by getting better; this alas I found I could not realize. The poet's language suited me then, and I think it suits me yet:

"Worse and worse, myself I see,
Yet the Lord remembers me.''

      I recollect a certain night about eleven o'clock, on my bed, the thought occurred to me, "Hell." I was pleased, not because there was such a place as hell, but I thought that I had now got hold of something that would make me live more uprightly. I immediately began to draw in my mind a picture of hell and the torments of the damned; and if I should make you sensible of that picture, you would think it an awful one indeed. I had not progressed far with my picture, until I began to find as I progressed it lost its terrors; hence I was constrained to conclude there is no mercy for me; the Lord has given me over to hardness of heart, and reprobation of mind. Hell with all its terrors seemed to have no impression on me. Had I been asked, what do you want? I think I should have replied instantly, Holiness of heart and of life; and yet I seemed farther from obtaining my desire, than any other living being.

      The thought not unfrequently occurred, if you really desire to be holy in heart and life would you not be more so than you are? I answered, Yes. Insincerity then, as now, or want of devotion to God, greatly distressed me. I felt that my prayers were too weak, too much mixed with sin to reach the ear of him to whom the Christian makes supplication. I labored on in this way for about nine months, when on a certain night, whilst lamenting my awful condition, concluding there is no mercy for me; I justly deserve the wrath of God; if he saves all the rest of Adam's family and consigns me to endless woe, it is just; the awful thought intruded itself into my heart, that I should have to preach the gospel. This seemingly presumptious thought alarmed me greatly, and I endeavored to cast it from me as quickly as possible, but in vain. It occasionally intruded itself, until it was painfully realized. Shortly after this occurrence, I went to hear a Methodist preacher, who I learned preached a great deal about hell and damnation, fire and brimstone. I concluded he was the sort of preacher that I ought to hear. I went. He talked much about the terrors of hell, and the torments of the damned, but my heart was unmoved. I left the house at the conclusion of his discourse, and I well recollect that on my way home the thought occurred, well you have proof now that the Lord has given you over; you must be hardened indeed, when hell, with all its horrors cannot move you; you may now surrender all hope that the Lord will extend mercy to you. A few days after this an old fashioned Baptist preacher visited the town where I resided. I concluded to see him. He dwelt much on the goodness, mercy and love of God to poor sinners, notwithstanding all their ingratitude. I found the tears stealing down my cheeks; my heart seemed to be softened. I felt to confess my ingratitude. In this situation I left the meeting. I reflected much on the preaching; one thing I could not then explain, which I trust I now understand something of. When the Methodist preacher had a few days previously described what I felt I was destined to experience it made no impression; but when the old Baptist preacher tells of blessings of which you can never participate, your heart is softened and the tears run freely; often did I conclude with the poet: -

"Surely the mercy I have sought,
Is not for such as I."

      And that it was worse than useless for me to hope the Lord ever would extend his mercy to me, still I could not help begging for mercy, if it could be extended to the worst of sinners. It would occasionally occur: You have not been engaged in cursing and swearing, lying and gambling, and other sins, why then conclude there is no mercy for you? Immediately the response would be: "My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked;" others show what they are. I have concealed from man what sort of a heart I have; and I felt that if my friends could look into my breast, how they would gaze with strange surprise. My distress resulted mainly from what I felt within. I felt that I would willingly exchange situations with the dumb brutes that had no soul, for when they died there was no more of them; but I had a soul, susceptible of everlasting punishment. I felt I deserved it, and could see no way of escape. If sentenced to destruction, I had one request to make, viz; "That I might not sin against God, or hear his name blasphemed." About this time, while meditating on my wretched situation and trying to conceal from others what I felt, the thought occurred: Suppose you could change the word of God so as to admit you into heaven, would you do it? I immediately replied aloud, No. A second question occurred: Why would you not change the word of God so as to admit you into heaven? The answer to this question was immediately at hand: Heaven is a place of holiness; the inhabitants of heaven are holy; the employment of heaven is holy; and could I go there as I am, it could be no heaven to me. And I yet believe, brother Beebe, if we are not prepared for that blessed abode it can be no heaven to us. My prospects of escape seemed to be becoming more gloomy, until I felt I dare not bow on my knees to ask for mercy of the Lord. I was too polluted, too unworthy. God was too holy to listen to the cries of one so unworthy. Still I found my cry internally was, Lord, save! Lord, deliver!

      On the third Saturday evening in February, 1820, I went to my father's where there was preaching in the evening. I concealed myself, feeling as though despair was about to seize hold upon me. Thepreacher described my situation infinitely better than I could have done it, and then said, These are the exercises of such as the Lord is at work with. I could not believe him. I felt it was impossible for God to save me, without his changing, and this I was assured he could not do. I spent a most restless, awful night, and the following morning when I awoke it seemed surprising that the Lord had spared me. I suppose that more than one hundred times during the morning, before going to preaching, on my way, and after reaching the meeting house, the following petition in substance was raised: O Lord, as I am to be lost at last, let me hear something today that may afford me comfort whilst I live. The minister proceeded, and after singing and prayer, read for his text Isaiah xxviii, 16; "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth on him shall not make haste." On hearing the text read I was led, as I trust, to a view of the Lord Jesus Christ, as that tried and precious corner stone, and that it was alone through his merits that God could be just and save poor sinners. My heart seemed softened indeed, and tears of joy flowed copiously for a time. I raised my head, when the congregation seemed to be changed; they seemed the most lovely assemblage I ever witnessed. My feelings were again overpowered. When I was enabled again to raise my head, the language of Doctor Watts occurred, when with difficulty I refrained from crying aloud: -

"All over glorious is my Lord,
Must be beloved, and yet adored;
His worth, if all the nations knew,
Sure the whole world would love him too."

      I thought, indeed, if all could see themselves as I saw myself, and then view the Savior as I viewed him, they would be constrained to love him. Nor am I yet convinced that I was wrong in that conclusion. I retained no special recollection of the sermon; the text, with its import, as it opened up to my mind, was enough for me. I think I then felt what the poet expressed: -

"Here, Lord, I give myself away,
"Tis all that I can do."

      At the conclusion of the discourse, (delivered by brother Trott) my father arose and made a few remarks, when he said, "Sinner, suppose you were called to the judgment bar of God to-morrow, how would you feel?" I found myself just about to speak out and say, I am perfectly willing, if he sinks me to hell; I feel that I deserve it; and if he saves me, free and sovereign grace alone shall have the praise. To this day, although it has been well nigh thirty-one years, I have never found another resting place. I say with the poet: -

"None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good."

      On the third Saturday in March, 1820, I related to the Particular Baptist church at Bryans the reason of my hope, was received for baptism, and on the following day was baptized by my father, Elder Ambrose Dudley, and up to this day, unworthy as I am of a name and place among God's children, I retain my membership with that church.

      Brother Beebe, there may possibly be some difference between other brethren and myself, with regard to my exercise of mind, after becoming a member of society. I saw so much of my imperfections, that if a brother asked me aside, my heart began to palpitate, for I concluded he saw these imperfections, and was about to deal with me. The intruder (I mean the thought which had occurred some six months previous to my entertaining a hope, that I should at some day have to try to preach) made his visits more frequently, to my great distress; but I determined to conceal my exercises on that subject from mortal ears.

      In the course of a few months I learned that some of the brethren had expressed the opinion that I ought to preach. At this I was greatly distressed. Although I could not avoid the painful thought, I had hoped it had not entered the mind of any of the brethren; and thus I could, without risking the displeasure of the Lord, and bringing his chastening rod upon me, refrain. (If the impressions I had were from that source, which I often doubted. Believing that if the Lord had called me to the work, he would prepare me for it; my youth, as a professor of religion, want of experience, and with all, very limited knowledge of the Scriptures, led me many times to exclaim within myself, I had rather die than attempt it, as it seemed to me the attempt would but bring reproach on the cause of Christ.) The subject was very soon brought before the church, and resulted in a unanimous request that I should exercise my gift, as they called it. In vain did I remonstrate. In vain did I tell them I had all the liberty I wanted. In a short time it was proposed to give me a written license to preach whereever the Lord might cast my lot. I opposed this move, but in vain. Not many months elapsed until I had to undergo another and severer trial; my ordination was called for, when all my pleas against it were unavailing.

      It is now nearly thirty years that I have been trying to preach "the unsearchable riches of Christ;" about twenty-six of which I have attended four churches statedly. I have many times concluded the churches must have had great forbearance, or they would not have continued my labors for them so long. I have utterly failed, and have found an utter failure in my ministering brethren, to describe the sinner, as poor and helpless, or the Savior, as rich and all powerful in the salvation of his chosen people, as I believe him to be.

      Rather an extraordinary providence was witnessed on the occasion of my ordination. The presbytery who ordained my father some fifty years before, in Virginia, were present, and assisted at my ordination.

      In my earlier ministry I had hoped as I grew older I should find fewer difficulties in the way of trying to preach "Christ crucified," as the only refuge for the weary and distressed penitent; but I have to acknowledge that thirty years experience has not relieved my difficulties, or satisfied my mind that the Lord requires of me to "preach good tidings to the meek, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." I have despaired of becoming entirely satisfied whilst in this vale of tears. I have waded through deep water, passed through many fiery trials, and many times felt that my way was hedged up; but hitherto I have found a sustaining hand, though unseen by outward sense, and hope I feel to say, Hitherto the Lord has sustained me.
      Most truly and affectionately your brother in tribulation.
Thomas P. Dudley.


[Originally published in the "Signs of the Times," Middletown, N. Y., October 20, 1872; later in the Primitive Monitor, February, 1907. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

The Dudley Index
Baptist History Homepage