The Hawthornes of New England were rank Puritans. In the conviction of one hundred and fifty witches at Salem, Mass., the judge and the prosecuting attorney were both of this family. People of this name have been found in Vermont, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida, and it is at least possible that all these branches came from the New England stock. From Lunenburg County, Virginia, certain Hawthornes moved to North Carolina. From here one family, at least, emigrated to Alabama. It was an arduous trip, in those days, from North Carolina to Alabama, through virgin forests over an unbroken track. On this journey Kedar Hawthorne was a youth. When at last their destination was reached he enlisted for the Seminole War, which was then being waged in Florida. His courage and vigor were great. Once he was sent on foot with a sack of corn to the nearest mill, twenty miles away. Before his return Murder Creek was swollen to dangerous proportions by a sudden rain. Heavy logs ever and anon floated by, and night was closing in. To stay on the bank all night meant exposure to wild beasts or the Indians. To swim the stream with the meal was no easy work. The latter alternative, however, was successfully accomplished.
In 1825 Kedar Hawthorne was married to Miss Martha Baggett, and later husband and wife were converted under the preaching of Rev. Alexander Trevis, a pioneer Baptist preacher. On May 16, 1837, at Mt. Moriah, Wilcox County, Alabama, where his father had organized, and was pastor of, the Baptist Church, James Boardman Hawthorne was born. His birthplace was a log hut, and his middle name was for George Boardman, the missionary to the Karens, whose life Kedar Hawthorne had just read with burning enthusiasm. Young Hawthorne’s first school was near Camden, his teacher being named Love. Here the boy enjoyed keenly both the coon hunts by night and the all-day singing classes common at that time, when the oblong Carmina Sacra was used.
At twelve years of age he went to an academy at Oak Hill. Wilcox County, the teacher being one Samuel Jones. Here, in a declamation contest, the timid boy, a contestant against his choice, won the prize, a copy of Cowper’s poems. No wonder that in that day. when books were few, he should have poured over the new volume and learned by heart “John Gilpin,” which charmed him greatly. The next year, at the Camden Institute, whose principal was Lucius Brutus Johnson, a second victory in the art of public speaking brought young Hawthorne a gold medal, and gave clearer evidence of the future man. This time his rivals were able. On the way to the contest he heard some one declare, in a discussion as to the chances of the several candidates, that he was sure to win if he only managed his long legs
1 This sketch, in the main, is based on an unpublished biography of Dr. Hawthorne by Rev. B. F. Riley, D. D., LL. D. Dr. Riley kindly permits this use of his biography.
right. He was wise enough to make good use of this advice so unconsciously given. Since in those days the law was in very high repute, no wonder that the young man decided to give his life to this profession. In 1851, at his father’s church, under the preaching of Rev. C. F. Sturgis, he was converted and became a member of the church. Finally he entered Howard College. Here he gloried in the library, and soon became the orator of the school. At this time Noah K. Davis had charge of the English Department of Howard. His standard was so high, being nothing short of Addison, that his students worked in vain to win his praise. At last, in desperation, a passage was copied from "The Spectator" and handed in as an original composition. The paper came back severely criticized with such comments as "pompous," "turgid," "ridiculous." Years afterwards Dr. Davis, being Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Virginia, upon hearing this incident for the first time, exclaimed:"Well, I always had a lingering suspicion that I was a fool, and this confirms it."
During Mr. Hawthorne's career at Howard the college was destroyed by fire, the colored janitor, Harry, dying the death of a hero, having rushed through the flames to give the alarm. After three years at Howard, Mr. Hawthorne decided to give up his fourth year and his degree and go out at once into active life. He commenced reading law with the firm of Chandler, Smith & Herndon, in Mobile. Along with his law studies went much public speaking. Before long he was the pet of the people, being regarded as a boy orator.
In the campaign of 1856 he supported Buchanan against Fillmore. On one occasion his mimicry of his opponent, who had but one eye, caught the crowd. When he realized that he had been guilty of discourtesy and bad taste in taking advantage of the physical infirmity of his adversary, his prompt and frank apology made him yet more popular. During his career as a young political speaker several events occurred which combined to change the current of his life. On one occasion, out in the rural districts, after he had spoken, the other side called loudly for "Billie Jones." Mr. Jones, who was a preacher and a speaker of unusual ability, responded to the call and gave his youthful rival such an unmerciful "drubbing" that reply was impossible. At another time and place the young lawyer had an old man in his crowd who greatly helped him by his rapt attention. After his speech was over he sought out the venerable citizen, but upon thanking him for his helpful attention, he received this reply:"Oh, 'twarn't that — 'twarn't that I waz jest a-thinkin' that er young feller like you might do somethin' fer hisself in this world if he'd jest quit that tarnal foolishness uv a-goin' over the country a-makin' uv speeches. What in the name of common sense is yer a-throwin' away yer time fer when ye can be a-doin' of somethin' shore 'nuff?" About the same time Mr. David Cook, a wealthy planter and a friend of Mr. Hawthorne's father, along with Col. Richard Hawthorne, his cousin, urged the young man to become a minister of the gospel. Col. Hawthorne did more than
argue the matter. He made an appointment for the young lawyer to preach, and, without waiting for the young man's consent, put out messengers whose announcement collected a large crowd. Eventually, as a result, surely in a measure, of these various experiences. Mr. Hawthorne decided to give up the law and become a preacher. His decision to preach and his marriage came near the same time. On August 27, 1857. he and Miss Emma Hutchinson, who was only sixteen years old, were united in marriage, and the next month he began his theological studies at Howard College, Marion, Ala.
During this course at Howard the President. Dr. Henry Talbird, often took young Hawthorne out into the country and put him up to preach, believing that the only way to learn how to preach is to preach. While at Howard the young couple had their first great sorrow in the death of their firstborn, Yancey Boardman. During his first vacation, being in Mobile, Mr. Hawthorne was called on to preach. His text was: "Prisoners of hope." It is known that two persons were converted under this sermon. One was Mrs. Hawthorne. Some months afterwards a sea captain, who was baptized by Rev. Dr. Powhatan E. Collins, one of the Mobile pastors, testified that seemingly by accident he had heard the sermon about the "prisoners of hope" and had been converted. With another early sermon of Mr. Hawthorne an amusing incident is connected. Since it was his habit to write very carefully what he expected to say, and then commit to memory. his stock of sermons was marked by quality rather than by quantity. At the end of the session he arranged for a series of preaching appointments, hoping thus both to do good and to replete his pocketbook. At the first appointment his sermon on "Rejoice evermore" so charmed a Mrs. C ___ that she decided to hear him at Fatama, and again she heard the sermon on the words: "Rejoice evermore." At Concord, for the third time, and at Pineville, for the fourth, she heard the same sermon. During his last session at Howard he and his fellow-student, J. Alexander Chambliss, planned a preaching tour through southern Alabama. Between them they had fifteen sermons, Hawthorne eight and Chambliss seven. When these fifteen sermons had been preached at one point the young preachers moved on to the next place. No amount of persuasion, no high degree of interest could induce the young theologians to continue their meeting when once the fifteen sermons had been preached. Doubtless the people at each place wondered and never knew why the services could not possibly be continued.
Not long after this, in a meeting, Mr. Hawthorne was forced to go on beyond the eight sermons by reason of the sudden illness of the pastor he was helping, and the impossibility of getting any other preacher. Against his serious protest the meeting was thrust upon him. He threw himself on God, the meeting went on, and before its close some eighty persons had made profession of their faith in Christ. He was ordained to the ministry at Friendship Church, Pine Apple, Wilcox County, Alabama, September 22, 1859.
During the first year of his ministry, while living at Pine Apple and preaching to Fellowship, Friendship, and Snow Hill Churches, he had much time for study and reading. And in his leisure moments he undertook to learn to play on the violin, but his wife’s verdict that he had no gift for music led him to give up this pursuit. After one year he became pastor of the Broad Street Church of Mobile. Here, besides being most popular as a preacher, he carried on, in the columns of the Southwestern Baptist, of which paper Dr. Samuel Henderson was editor, a discussion with Rev. J. J. D. Renfroe on the principles of Landmarkism, Mr. Hawthorne opposing these views.
When the Civil War came on he became the chaplain of the 21st Alabama Regiment of Volunteers, his church continuing to pay his salary. About this time a book appeared entitled "Armageddon." It declared that the world would be destroyed about 1863. Mr. Hawthorne adopted the author's view and preached more than once a sermon setting forth this startling announcement. An old carpenter by the name of Hutto, hearing that the sermon was to be preached at Rock West, got on his horse and rode twenty-five miles across the country to that point. Upon his arrival he announced that he wanted to see Board Hawthorne. He was informed that the preacher had already gone into the pulpit, and that he could see him after the service. That would not do. He must see him at once. But why such urgency? He wanted to get the preacher to put off the end of the world for a while until the South could whip the terrible Yankees.
The years of the Civil War sorely tried the Southern people, and the Reconstruction Period was worse. In the fall of 1865 Mr. Hawthorne became pastor at Greenville, Ala. After a year here, during which time great crowds attended his ministry and the church house was renovated, he accepted a call to Selma, one of the best pastorates in the State. The problem presented by the awful coalition of the negroes and their unscrupulous white leaders was one that no loyal citizen could disregard. One day Mr. Hawthorne heard that a certain Dr. Henry, a "scalawag," was leading a throng of negroes, proposing to occupy and use the First Baptist Church. Mr. Hawthorne informed them that they could not carry out their plan. The town was threatened with a mob. Inflammatory speeches were made. Various citizens spoke, but Mr. Hawthorne's words did more than all else to save the day. The troubled state of affairs led Mr. Hawthorne, Rev. W. Joseph Lowry, the Presbyterian pastor, and Rev. C.N. Campbell, the Methodist pastor, to begin a series of union services.
A daily prayer-meeting was held at eleven o'clock in the Methodist Church, its location being the most central. The meeting grew so in power that instead of one service each day three were held, at the hours of nine, eleven, and five. Throngs attended. For five weeks the special services continued. So far as the Baptist Church was concerned, the revival spirit prevailed for two years. Quietly, in "an atmosphere vibrant with prayer and praise," the good work went on, each Sunday witnessing an ingathering of souls.
Mr. Hawthorne's first appearance before the Southern Baptist Convention resulted in his being called to the Franklin Square Baptist Church of Baltimore. In 1867 the Convention met in that city. Upon the advice of his friend, J. L. M. Curry, Mr. Hawthorne decided to attend the meeting. The weather turned suddenly quite cool, and Mr. Hawthorne had to purchase heavier clothes. He was so tall that he was not able to obtain a ready-made suit that really fit him. Through the influence of J. L. M. Curry, Mr. Hawthorne was put up Sunday afternoon at a great mass-meeting to speak on what was then designated Domestic Missions. His appearance, in his short trousers and his ill-fitting coat, was not pre-possessing. During the War he had pressed the claims of this Board most successfully, and this, doubtless, was an element in the success of his address in Baltimore. His appeal was a masterly oratorical effort, and gave him high rank as a speaker among Southern Baptists.
The following fall he began his Baltimore pastorate. The condition of the church was not the best, but with holy boldness the new pastor began a meeting with a sun-rise prayer meeting every morning and a service each night. The work went on for six weeks, the pastor doing all the preaching. The church was refreshed and its membership greatly increased. At the last service. during the singing of the last hymn, a wealthy wholesale merchant, who afterwards became a tower of strength and influence for God, made public profession of his faith in Christ. From Baltimore Mr. Hawthorne went to Albany. N.Y. He remained here less than a year. Some trouble with his throat led him to go to Albany, but its too severe winter climate made it necessary for him to leave.
His next pastorate was in Louisville. Here he led the colony of ninety-six members who went out from the Walnut Street Church to organize the Broadway Church. During his four years here the membership grew to over four hundred, and at a cost of $108,000 a beautiful meeting-house was built.
The Tabernacle Church, New York City, was his next charge. His preaching here was marked in an unusual degree by his direct appeals to the heart rather than the head, and great crowds attended upon his ministry. As pastor, no less than in the pulpit, he gave himself to unremitting labors. His incessant labors brought upon him a serious illness. For six months he was in a most critical condition. His life was despaired of. His brother pastor, Dr. R. S. MacArthur, who visited him often, one day bade him farewell, never expecting to greet him again in the flesh. The night that the crisis was successfully passed five hundred people were praying together for his recovery.
His people ordered him away for a six months' rest, putting into his hands a purse of $1,400. Afton, Va., that beautiful spot on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge overlooking the fair fields of Nelson, whither Mr. Hawthorne now turned, came to be the place to which he went again and again in after years for seasons of rest and vacation. The Goodloes were famous hosts, and the chance for deer along the mountain side afforded a sport in which he gloried.
His experiences in Albany and New York convinced Mr. Hawthorne that a northern climate did not suit him, and he decided never to accept another charge in the North. Simultaneously calls came to him from the Second Baptist Church, Richmond, and the First Baptist Church, Montgomery. He accepted the call to Montgomery. For years the galleries in the meeting-house had been of no use. This was the case no longer. Crowds attended. A great meeting was held, some two hundred and fifty being added to the church. The pulpit of the First Baptist Church became a mighty power in the city against evil. Mr. Hawthorne was fearless in his attacks on the saloon, gambling, and other forms of sin. He was now in the very zenith of his power. People came from distant parts of the State to hear him. His broadsides against sin were tremendous. He was subjected to adverse criticism, but this did not make him change his methods. The reach of his power was great; he was easily the first citizen of the State.
In 1879, after four years in Montgomery, he accepted a call to the First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. Dr. J. L. M. Curry, a member of the church in Richmond, had no small influence in having his church call Mr. Hawthorne. From the very first the great auditorium of the First Church was scarcely equal to the crowds that gathered to hear him. Chairs had to be used. He gathered around him here a body of young men who proved one of the church's best assets. He was always a lover and admirer of young men. He was almost a hero-worshiper of young men of promise in the ministry. During his Richmond pastorate he had to help him in a meeting Rev. A. C. Dixon, a young man just coming into notice. Some doubted the wisdom of having this unknown young man for so important a work. Mr. Hawthorne carried his point, and the result proved that he was right; the meeting was a great and blessed one. One of the converts was a Dutchman, who was so big in body that his baptism was, to say the least, not a success, although Mr. Hawthorne was famous for his grace and dexterity on such occasions.
While in Richmond he was most active in promoting the interests of Richmond College and the Woman's College. So great was his influence for good in Richmond that when he received, in 1884, a call to the First Church in Atlanta, Dr. Curry said if he accepted he would feel inclined to call him an insane man. But the call to Atlanta was accepted. Dr. Hawthorne was pastor in Atlanta thirteen years. Memorable in this pastorate was the temperance agitation, in which Dr. Hawthorne bore a most conspicuous part. First the State was carried for temperance, and then came the campaign for Atlanta and its county, Fulton. Sam Jones, Henry Grady, and J. B. Hawthorne were the three great figures on the side of temperance in this contest. The struggle was fearful. The liquor interests brought into battle their greatest power. At last the day of election came. After hours at the polls Dr. Hawthorne went to his home worn out. Some hours later the family heard the approach of the crowd. The result was unknown, and Mrs. Hawthorne feared
that the whiskey people, victorious, were coming to do violence to their archenemy. Not so. The crowd surged into the yard, shouting to their leader: "It is all right, Doctor, we've got ‘em." During the campaign Judge Lockrane was so convinced of the sin of using ardent spirits as a beverage that he decided to empty all the choice wines and liquors of his cellar into the gutter. He called on Dr. Hawthorne to be present at this function; nor would he allow an old colored mammy to catch a little of the old liquor to keep for cases of sickness. While in Atlanta, Dr. Hawthorne would have led his people in the erection of a larger and more commodious house of worship, but what seems, to a looker-on, to be the merely sentimental associations of an old member, stood in the way of this forward movement. While in Atlanta, Dr. Hawthorne had been the orator at the semi-centennial of Howard College. Upon this occasion there was conferred upon him the degree of M.A. (It will be remembered that in his student days he had left college before receiving his degree.) Always a friend of education, while in Atlanta Dr. Hawthorne led in the movement that resulted in the establishment, in the suburbs of the city, of a great school for women.
When the Southern Baptist Convention met in Birmingham, Ala., in 1891, an invitation for the next year came from Baltimore. The Baltimore brethren, believing that the time had arrived to do away with the "free-entertainment" plan, had the courage to recommend what promised to be an unpopular plan, though wise. The committee to which the matter was referred having no option in the matter, since there was no other invitation, reported in favor of going to Baltimore. At once Dr. Hawthorne was on his feet asking the Convention to come to Atlanta, "And," said he, "we do not ask you to bring your grub with you." The Convention went to Atlanta.
A call to the First Church, Nashville, came, and he accepted it. His departure from Atlanta was an ovation. Crowds of his friends thronged to the station to say fare-well, many bearing tokens of their admiration and love. His journey to Nashville was made in the private car of Maj. John W. Thomas, of Nashville. As had been the case elsewhere, so it was in Nashville — his pulpit was his throne. From it went forth powerful denunciation of sin. Here he took up arms against the American Protective Association, which he thought threatened to violate the great doctrine of religious liberty. It need not be said that temperance still found in him a mighty friend.
While in Nashville he began to be a great sufferer from sciatica. This affliction, while it interrupted his ministry, may have made his preaching gain in tenderness. In April, 1906, he resigned to accept a less strenuous work as pastor of the Grove Avenue Church, Richmond, Va. Grove Avenue was Dr. Hawthorne's last charge. Conditions at this church were not ideal. The congregation was not large, and other difficulties presented themselves. Yet Dr. Hawthorne met the situation with the courage of a young
man. Suddenly an unexpected emergency arose. The meeting-house was destroyed by fire. The people, led by their dauntless pastor, soon erected a structure more beautiful and capacious than the first house had been. Increasing ill health induced Dr. Hawthorne to offer his resignation.
The Southern Baptist Convention, at its meeting in Chattanooga, upon motion of Rev. Dr. G. W. Truett, passed a resolution requesting Dr. Hawthorne to deliver, the next year, an address "upon such subject as he may deem best." The following year, at the meeting of the Convention in Richmond, Dr. Hawthorne delivered the address that had been asked of him, his subject being: "Some things on which it behooves Baptists of this generation to put supreme emphasis." By order of the Convention it was printed in tract form. It so happened that during this session of the Convention Dr. Hawthorne's seventieth birthday came around. On this day a pleasant surprise was sprung upon him at the breakfast table at Ford's Hotel, which was at the time his home. Friends who were staying at this hotel gave him a gold-headed cane properly inscribed, the presentation speech by Dr. H. W. Battle being followed by a poem composed and read by Dr. D. W. Gwin.
After closing his work as a pastor Dr. Hawthorne made several lecture tours through the South, receiving at place after place what might be called ovations at the hands of his friends and admirers. Finally, however, after a sermon at Charlotte, N. C., on October 17, 1909, when, in a high degree, his "pristine power seemed to return," his strength failed so rapidly that, after one or two appointments, other engagements had to be cancelled. The winter of 1909-10 was severe, and for several months he scarcely left the house. In the early days of February, with milder weather, he was again seen on the street. On the 14th, however, he suffered a slight stroke of paralysis, and on February 24th the end came. In Richmond, where he had been twice pastor, he fell on sleep.
After appropriate services, very simple, according to his request, he was laid to rest in beautiful Hollywood near the graves of his friend, J. L. M. Curry, and Jefferson Davis. Dr. Hawthorne will be remembered as one of the most distinguished orators and preachers Southern Baptists have ever had. His unusually noble presence was no unimportant factor in his power before an audience. As straight as an Indian, and considerably over six feet tall, he attracted attention in any crowd. His face was placid yet strong, and his head, covered with long, abundant hair, had the pose of a king. Dr. Hawthorne, from the very beginning of his career as a public speaker, always carefully prepared his speeches and sermons, which were committed to memory word for word. Then he adopted the plan of reading his sermons. This he did with such consummate skill that many who heard him did not know that he had his manuscript before him. He was so familiar with his discourse that his eye was not bound to the manuscript, but was free to direct itself to the hearers. When he turned over a page he looked away from the sermon, and so many never saw the leaves as they were turned.
Dr. Hawthorne seemed to honor and magnify every word he spoke, giving full time for its enunciation and, as it were, for its reception. Such deliberation in some men would have been wearisome. Not so with him. His enunciation and articulation were so perfect that, apart from the meaning of the words, it was pleasant to hear them as they followed each other. Phillips Brooks was famous for the rapidity with which he spoke. Dr. Hawthorne was at the other extreme. Upon being asked once if he did not find the work of writing out his sermons very heavy, he answered that his sermons, when written out, were not as long as one would suppose, for his deliberation in delivery made each word go, as it were, a long way. Dr. Hawthorne's delivery dignified his message. While his sermons were not lacking in thought, had they been delivered by one less gifted in elocution they would certainly have lost much of their power. All his life he was a student of words, and was scrupulous in the use of words and in the construction of his periods.
In the pulpit Dr. Hawthorne was so the impersonation of dignity, so kingly in his bearing, that to many, who did not know him at nearer range, he seemed haughty, austere, even unduly proud. But this was not the case. Just the reverse of this was true. He was as approachable, as guileless as a child. He was companionable and genial in the social circle, and was especially cordial to his younger brethren in the ministry. Dr. Hawthorne was most careful in his preparation for the pulpit and other public addresses, and his attention to his dress added no little to his power. Much more might be said about one who was an orator of high order and a noble herald of the glad tidings of salvation. ==============
[From George B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, Fifth Series, 1915. - jrd]
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