JOHN GANO was born at Hopewell, N. J., on the 22d of July, 1727. He was of Huguenot extraction. His great grandfather, Francis Gerneaux, escaped from the Island of Guernsey, during the bloody persecution that arose in consequence of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantz. One of his neighbours having been martyred, a faithful servant of his deceased friend informed him that he himself had been doomed to the same fate, and that he was to suffer that very night, at twelve o'clock. Being a gentleman of wealth, and having trustworthy and influential friends around him, he at once secured a vessel, and, having caused his family to be placed on board, he was himself conveyed in a hogshead, to the same retreat, and, before morning, the vessel was not to be seen from the harbour. Mindful of the condition of other persons, at other Protestant settlements, he so managed as to send his boat ashore at several of those places, and by this means his company of emigrants was much enlarged. They sailed for America, and arrived safely at New York; and, after obtaining lands at New Rochelle, they settled there, making that place their adopted home. Mr. Gerneaux died at the extraordinary age of one hundred and three years. Immediately after his abandonment of Guernsey, his property was confiscated; and, when the fact was communicated to him. his reply was, - "I have been expelled from my birth place, and my property has been taken from my family for only one aggression, - a love for the Bible and its teachings. Let my name change with changing circumstances:" - and it has ever since been known, as pronounced by the English, GANO.
One of the sons of this religious refugee, named Stephen, was married to Ann Walton, by whom he had a large family of children. His son, Daniel, was married to Sarah Britton, of Staten Island; and these were the parents of the subject of this sketch. They were both eminently pious, and, from his earliest years, he was faithfully instructed in the great principles of religion. His maternal grandmother, who lived to the age of ninety-six, was, during almost her whole life, a devout member of a Baptist church. His mother also was of the same communion; but his father was a Presbyterian. His own predilections were originally for joining a Presbyterian Church; but, not being fully satisfied on the subject of Infant Baptism, he determined to give it a thorough examination, and it turned out that the farther his inquiries extended, the more his doubts increased. There is a tradition that he held a long conversation with one of the Tennents on the subject, at the close of which the venerable Presbyterian minister said to him, - "Dear young man, if the devil cannot destroy your soul, he will endeavour to destroy your comfort and usefulness; and, therefore, do not be always doubting in this matter. If you cannot think as I do, think for yourself." Having become ultimately satisfied
* Benedict's History of the Baptists I, II. - Collins' History of Kentucky. - MS. from Henry Jackson, D. D.
that the peculiar views of the Baptists are fully sustained by Scripture, and having obtained his father's cordial consent to his joining that denomination, he was, in due time, baptized by immersion, and admitted to the Church in Hopewell, his native place.
Up to this time, he seems to have been occupied upon a farm; but he now began to entertain the idea of becoming a minister of the Gospel. It was not long before his purpose to do so was fixed; and he had begun a course of study preparatory to it. With occasional interruptions, he continued thus engaged for two or three years. Before he was licensed to preach, he took a journey into Virginia, in company with two prominent Baptist clergymen, who went thither, by request, to settle some difficulties which had arisen, in two infant churches. Previous to his return home, a report reached Hopewell that he had, prematurely, and without the usual formality of being approved by the church, commenced preaching in Virginia. He was, accordingly, called to an account for what was deemed a disorderly procedure. He acknowledged that he had "sounded the Gospel to perishing souls in Virginia, whose importunities to hear it he could not resist," but he justified the seeming irregularity, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, which he did not think were likely to occur again. The church, after hearing his explanation, appointed a time for him to preach, and to be examined in respect to his qualifications; and, the result having been entirely satisfactory to them, he was regularly set apart to the ministry. Soon after this, he became connected with the church at Morristown, and so numerous were the demands made upon him for public labour, that his studies were not only greatly interrupted, but, for the time, in a great measure, relinquished.
At the next meeting of the Philadelphia Association, there were present messengers from the South, who had come to procure, if possible, a minister of the Gospel to labour among them. As there was no ordained minister, who could conveniently undertake the mission, Mr. Gano was urged to engage in it. He pleaded his youth and inexperience; but the importunity of the messengers, joined to that of his own brethren, finally prevailed over his scruples; and, having been ordained in May, 1754, he set out, shortly after, on his journey Southward. He travelled and preached extensively in the Southern Colonies, and went as far as Charleston, S. C. His account of the first sermon he preached in the pulpit of the Rev. Mr. Hart, of Charleston, is as follows: -
"When I arose to speak, the sight of so brilliant an audience, among whom were twelve ministers, and one; of whom was Mr. Whitefield, for a moment brought the fear of man upon me; but, blessed be the Lord, I was soon relieved from this embarrassment; the thought passed my mind, I had none to fear and obey but the Lord."On his return to the North, he visited an island, where he was informed there had never been but two sermons preached. The people soon assembled, and he preached to them from these words - "Behold the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be burdensome to you." Various incidents occurred, on this missionary tour, illustrative of Mr. Gano's shrewdness, firmness, and devotion to the honour of his Master.
In 1756, Mr. Gano was induced, by repeated solicitations, to make another missionary tour to the South, which occupied him about eight months. In many places, he had the pleasure to find the fruits of his
labours during his former visits. Shortly after his return from this tour, he was invited, by an infant church, which he had been instrumental of planting, in a place called the Jersey Settlement, in North Carolina, to remove thither, and become its Pastor. Messengers came to Morristown, a distance of several hundred miles, to induce that church, if possible, to give him up. They, at first, utterly refused, but, subsequently, referred the matter to his own choice; and he, in consideration of the great spiritual destitution that prevailed in the region to which he was called, felt constrained to give an affirmative answer. He, accordingly, removed to North Carolina, and took charge of the church that had called him.
His connection with this church continued about two years; during which time the number of communicants greatly increased, and he laboured extensively and successfully throughout that whole region. But, in consequence of the incursions of the Cherokee Indians, in the year 1760, his labours were interrupted, and he found it necessary to leave the country. He, accordingly, returned witli his family to New Jersey. About this time, the First Baptist Church in the city of New York was organized by the Rev. Benjamin Miller,* of Scotch Plains, and the Church in Philadelphia had also just been rendered vacant by the death of the Rev. Jenkin Jones. Mr. Gano preached, for some time, alternately, at both cities; but when the Church in New York was organized, (June 19, 1762,) he became its Pastor, and continued there nearly twenty-six years, excepting the time he was obliged to be absent on account of the war. During his ministry, the church was eminently prospered, and received, by Baptism, about three hundred members.
Mr. Gano was, for some time, a Chaplain in the War of the Revolution; and, by his earnest prayers and patriotic counsels, did much to encourage his countrymen in their struggle for national freedom. On the return of Peace, he went back to his accustomed field of labour; but, out of upwards of two hundred members, of which his church consisted at the time of its dispersion, he was able to collect at first but thirty-seven: his congregation, however, rapidly increased, and a revival soon followed, in consequence of which, nearly forty young persons were added to the church, at one time. In this state of things, when every thing seemed auspicious of continued and increasing usefulness, Mr. Gano formed the purpose of removing to Kentucky, partly on account of being somewhat embarrassed in his worldly circumstances, and partly from a conviction that his usefulness would thereby be increased. His congregation offered to increase his salary, and presented every inducement they could to detain him; but his purpose had already been formed, and he could not consent to yield it. Accordingly, having disposed of his property, he left New York, and, on the 17th of June, 1787, reached Limestone, Ky., and, shortly after, repaired to Washington, where he remained for some time. In 1788, he
* BENJAMIN MIILER, a native of Scotch Plains, was a wild and reckless youth, but was converted in consequence of a sermon preached by Gilbert Tennent, who encouraged him to enter the ministry. He was ordained in 1748, and continued Pastor of the church in his native place until 1781, when he died in his sixty-sixth year. His Funeral Sermon was preached by his friend, Mr. Gano, who said concerning him, - "Never did I esteem a ministering brother so much as I did Mr. Miller, nor feel so sensibly a like bereavement, as that which I sustained by his death."
became Pastor of the Town Fork Church, in the neighbourhood of Lexington, which was connected with the Elkhorn Association.
Mr. Gano, probably, never found the advantage he anticipated, in respect to either comfort or usefulness, from his removal to Kentucky. Still, however, he laboured there with quite encouraging success. In 1798, while he was still actively engaged in the duties of the ministry, he fell from a horse, and fractured his shoulder-blade, in consequence of which he was, for some time, deprived of the use of one of his arms. Before he had recovered from the effects of this casualty, he was suddenly seized in his bed with a paralytic shock, which rendered him almost speechless for nearly a year. He, however, subsequently recovered his speech, and the use of his limbs, so far as to be able to be carried out to meetings, and he preached frequently, especially during the great revival in the West, with remarkable power. He died in 1804, in the seventy-eighth year of his age.
At the close of 1754, or early in 1755, - shortly after his return from his second visit to the South, Mr. Gano was married to Sarah, daughter of John Stites, a highly respectable citizen of Elizabethtown, N. J. She was the sister of the wife of Dr. Manning, the first President of Rhode Island College. They had a number of children, one of whom, - Stephen, the second son, became Pastor of a Baptist church in Providence. Not long after his removal to Kentucky, his wife was rendered a cripple by a fall from a horse, and, shortly afterwards, was removed by death. In 1793, he made a visit to North Carolina, where he married, for his second wife, the widow of Capt. Thomas Bryant, and daughter of Colonel Jonathan Hunt, formerly of New Jersey, and one of his old neighbours and friends. She had been baptized by his son, Stephen, three years before, when the father and son visited North Carolina together. The second Mrs. Gano survived her husband.
From the Hon. Charles S. Todd
Ambassador from the United States to Russia
Shelbyville, Ky., June 9, 1857
Rev. and dear Sir: In reply to your request for some account of the character of the Rev. John Gano, I am obliged to say that my impressions concerning him are very general, and are derived, not from personal intercourse with him, but from having often seen him in my boyhood, and lived in a community in which, for many years, he exercised his ministry. Well do I remember the venerable and imposing appearance which he used to make, as he walked the streets, and how every body respected him, both as a Christian gentleman, and a Minister of the Gospel. But I feel so inadequate to do any thing like justice to his memory that, instead of attempting to embody any recollections and impressions of my own, I take the liberty to transcribe the following account of him, from the pen of the Rev. Dr. Furman, of Charleston, S. C., who had opportunity of forming a correct judgment of his character and standing: -"He was, in person, below the middle stature, and, when young, of a slender form; but of a firm, vigorous constitution, well fitted for performing active service with ease, and for suffering labours and privations with constancy. In the more advanced stages of life, his body tended to corpulency; but not to such a degree as to burden or render him inactive. His presence was manly,
open and engaging. His voice strong and commanding, yet agreeable and capable of all those inflections which are suited to express either the strong or tender emotions of an intelligent, feeling mind. In mental endowments and acquired abilities he appeared highly respectable; with clear conception and penetrating discernment, he formed, readily, a correct judgment of men and things. His acquaintance with the learned languages and science did not commence till he arrived at manhood, and was obtained chiefly by private instruction; but under the direction of a clerical gentleman, well qualified for the office. To the refinements of learning he did not aspire - his chief object was such a competent acquaintance with its principles as would enable him to apply them with advantage to purposes of general usefulness in religion, and to the most important interests of society; and to this he attained.
"His mind was formed for social intercourse and for friendship. Such was his unaffected humility, candour, and good-will to men, that few, if any, have enjoyed more satisfaction in the company of their friends, or have, in return, afforded them, by their conversation, a higher degree of pleasure and moral improvement.
"His passions were strong, and his sensibility could be easily excited; but so chastened and regulated were they by the meekness of wisdom, that he preserved great composure of spirit, and command of his words and actions, even in times of trial and provocation, when many, who yet might justly rank with the wise and good, would be thrown into a state of perturbation, and hurried into extravagance.
"As a minister of Christ, he shone like a star of the first magnitude in the American Churches, and moved in a widely extended field of action. For this office God had endowed him with a large portion of grace, and with excellent gifts. He believed, and therefore spake. Having discerned the excellence of Gospel truths, and the importance of eternal realities, he felt their power on his own soul, and, accordingly, he inculcated and urged them on the minds of his hearers, with persuasive eloquence and force. He was not deficient in doctrinal discussion, or what rhetoricians style the demonstrative character of a discourse; but he excelled in the pathetic, - in pungent, forcible addresses to the heart and conscience. The careless and irreverent were suddenly arrested, and stood awed before him; and the insensible were made to feel, while he asserted and maintained the honour of his God, explained the meaning of the Divine law, - showing its purity and justice, - exposed the sinner's guilt, - proved him to be miserable, ruined and inexcusable, and called him to unfeigned, immediate repentance. But he was not less a son of consolation to the mourning sinner, who lamented his offences committed against God, - who felt the plague of a corrupt heart, and longed for salvation; nor did he fail to speak a word of direction, support, and comfort, in due season, to the tried, tempted believer. He knew how to publish the glad tidings of salvation in the Redeemer's name, for the consolation of all who believed in Him, or had discovered their need of his mediation and grace; and to him this was a delightful employment. Success attended his ministrations, and many owned him for their father in the Gospel.
"The doctrines he embraced were those which are contained in the Baptist Confession of Faith, and are commonly styled Calvinistic. But he was of a liberal mind, and esteemed pious men of every denomination. While he maintained, with consistent firmness, the doctrines which he believed to be the truths of God, he was modest in the judgment which he formed of his own opinion, and careful to avoid giving offence, or grieving any good man who differed from him in sentiment. Hence he was cordially esteemed and honoured by the wise and good of all denominations.
His attachment to his country, as a citizen, was unshaken, in the times which tried men's souls; and, as a Chaplain in the army for a terra of years, while excluded from his church and home, he rendered it essential service. Preserving his moral dignity with the purity which becomes a Gospel minister, he commanded respect from the officers; and, by his condescension and kindness, won the affections of the soldiers, inspiring them, by his example, with his own courage and firmness, while toiling with them through military scenes of hardship and danger.That the above is a faithful estimate of the character of this venerable man, I cannot doubt. I am glad to have been even indirectly instrumental in assisting to embalm his memory.
"He lived to a good old age; served his generation according to the will of God; saw his posterity multiplying around him; his country independent, free and happy; the Church of Christ, for which he felt and laboured, advancing. And thus he closed his eyes in peace; his heart expanding with the sublime hope of immortality and heavenly bliss."
I am, very truly and devotedly,
C. S. Todd.
[From William B. Sprague, D. D., editor, Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit, Volume VI, 1860, pp. 62-67. Document from Google Books On-line. - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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