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Sketch of the Late Hon. and Rev. Jesse L. Holman
of Dearborn County, Indiana

By J. M. Peck,* 1842

     The subject of this memoir was born in Mercer County, Kentucky, near the present site of Danville, October 22nd, 1783. His father, a native of old Virginia, subsequently settled in Maryland, and was found amongst the pioneers in the settlement of Beargrass Creek, now Louisville, in 1779. From thence, soon after the birth of Jesse, the family removed to Woodford County. Here, amongst the romantic cliffs of the Kentucky river, the early impressions of the subject of this sketch were received. In those days, the settlers of Kentucky were harassed by Indians, who came in maurauding [sic] parties from the wilderness on the opposite side of the Ohio river. In one of these skirmishes his father was killed, in the fourth years of his age, and his mother lift the six young children, of which he was the fourth, and with very little property for their maintenance.

     The following extract from his own pen, written many years since, and which we copy from an obituary in the Banner and Pioneer, written by the Rev. S. D. Owen, will give the reader correct impressions of his early character.

     "I have but an indistinct recollection of my father. Two or three trifling incidents, in which I can remember he took a part, are all that remains of him, either in my memory or imagination. A thousand times has my fancy labored to catch the expression of his countenance, or the tone of his voice, but it has always been in vain. The image imprinted on my memory is too shadowy and evanescent to be embodied. My first distinct recollection respecting him is the feelings with which I heard the account of his death. I saw the family in tears - and the scene is as lively as if it was now before me - but I do not believe my father was dead. I do not know that I pretended to mourn on the subject; but I did not believe the report. I expected my father would soon be at home again; and I do not know at what time, nor with what feelings, I became convinced that I was an orphan."

     Brother Holman manifested an early attachment to books, but at that period good schools were scarcely known in Kentucky. In the fifth year of his age, he entered one at the distance of two miles from his mother's house. Himself and an elder brother could attend only in the winter, and then at such intervals of time as was not indispensable to provide for the wants of the family. The wood must be cut and hauled, the stock fed, milling attended to at the an inconvenient distance, and many other cares; yet, with all these disadvantages, he outstripped all the boys of his age in learning. Both summer and winter, his spare time was employed in reading, and he evinced a singular thirst for knowledge. It is interesting, indeed, to look back at these juvenile years, and ardent strugglings of our friend. His temperament was ardent, his feelings quick, and with little control from others, he was moved by impulses. Yet he was not turbulent or refractory.

     In very early life, he was the subject of religious impressions, and he retained a distinct recollection of the feelings produced by a sermon when not four years of age. He learned to read very early, before he ever entered a school. Very likely, as has been the case in numerous instances in the log cabins of the western settlers, his mother taught him from some old, mutilated spelling book. At a very early age he was in the habit, daily, of reading the Bible; yet he had not the least recollection when, and under what circumstances, he first learned to read. His mother, though, an amiable and moral woman, at this time made no profession of religion, and it was not till nearly ten years of age that he ever heard a sermon or a prayer offered. From that period, preaching occasionally was held in the settlement, on which he attended, and listened with attention and interest. Evidently he was a child of providence, and early marked out for usefulness. At the age of sixteen years, thee was a revival in the neighborhood, during which he was deeply impressed. We here adopt the language of the memoir of brother Owen, heretofore alluded to, as published in the Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer.

     "When the revival began, he resolved to attend the meeting regularly, and felt very anxious to experience the joys of religion. Being taught by what he heard and saw, that a certain train of convictions for sin, an agonizing sense of guilt, and a sudden and joyful deliverance, were indispensably necessary to being a Christian, he labored continually to be exercised as others, who, in great distress and with many tears, were praying for the pardon of their sins. But his labor was unavailing. Often when striving to weep, he was filled with joy; and when trying to produce in his mind convictions and sorrows for sin, he was foiled in the attempt by an unwelcome but delightful view of the Savior's loveliness. Thus, checking every pleasurable emotion, and mourning only because he could not mourn, he passed many months, refusing to be comforted. Apprehending his case to be hopeless, he then began to settle down in despair. A long, dark and gloomy night followed. But, notwithstanding all his precaution, flashes of joy would suddenly break in upon his mind, and surprise him with bright and pleasing sensations. Regarding these as proof that he was a stranger to genuine conviction for sin, unbelief would take advantage of them to sink him deeper in despondency. Now and then a passage of scripture would be applied with renewing power to his soul, but its proffered joys were soon rejected, and served only to make the darkness more visible. The gleams of light, gradually, however, became more frequent and of longer continuance, until they triumphed over darkness and fully possessed his soul."

     Much of the preaching in Kentucky, in those days, consisted of impressive details of the preacher's own exercises, spiritual conflicts, and alternations of hope and despair, for months continuance. This was called "preaching experience." Hence it was natural and common for the hearers to measure themselves by the experience of the preacher; and if after a long night of darkness and storm, they did not experience a sudden, surprising and joyful deliverance, with great revulsion of feeling, exactly as the speaker described, the result was doubt and despondency. Similar cases to that of our friend, as detailed above, have we repeatedly found, and the antidote has been to portray before the mind the doctrine of Jesus Christ crucified, in his mediatorial relationship, with explanatory remarks on the great diversity of what is called religious experience.

     Our friend Holman was baptized in the seventeenth year of his age, and united with the Clear Creek Baptist church, in Woodford County.

     "For two or three years after this, he was much exercised about preaching the gospel, but in view of his youth, want of talent, and other circumstances, he shrunk from the responsibilities of the work, and smothered his feelings in his own heart. This course, aided by the unfavorable influence of his young associates in the church, and that of his guardian, who was avowed infidel, led him away from the path of spiritual prosperity, and he was soon induced to commence the study of law. Not until he had pursued this course, and his anxiety about the ministry had departed, did any of his brethren name the subject of preaching to him. But then it was too late. He was in debt, and knew that if he became a minister, he could never pay his creditors. This fact suggested to his mind the then unpopular doctrine, that ministers ought to be supported. This duty, from that time to his death, he faithfully performed, and often enjoined it on others."

     After completing his studies and receiving license for the bar, he settled first in New Castle, and subsequently in Frankfort, where he was successful in business, and sustained an honorable and moral character, but declined in spirituality. He was deeply in debt, with no means to discharge his obligations but his profession.

     "Impelled by necessity and the desire of distinction, he devoted his whole energies to business. His associates were men of the world, and law and politics, the atmosphere he breathed; yet he was not happy, and had he not been involved in debt, would have his profession for that of the ministry, which was far more congenial to his feelings and his conscience.

     "His father was a practical emancipator, having owned and liberated some slaves in Maryland. The same aversion to the state of things around him led the son, even in his childhood, to form a settled resolution never to settle permanently south of the Ohio rive." Hence, in 1811, he removed to Dearborn County, Indiana, and settled on a romantic bluff that overhangs the beautiful Ohio, which he named Verdestau, and where he resided until his decease. The preceding year he married Miss Elizabeth Masterson, a union which he never had cause to regret.

     The following sketch from his pen, though written some years after, describes his arrival and settlement at his new abode, and portrays in a graphical manner the difficulties of many a pioneer in the western forests:

     "I sent my household furniture, a very small stock, by water, in time for it to reach Verdestau before my arrival. The weather had been remarkably fine for several days, and on Monday evening, when we crossed the river in Indiana, there seemed to be a fair prospect of its continuance, but about the time we started on Tuesday morning it commenced snowing, and the snow continued to fall all day. My wife's health was still delicate, and her babe but two months old, yet we persevered in our journey. In fact, there was little prospect of our doing better, as there were very few families living on the road, and not much promise of accommodation in any of them. When we reached our cabin, we were cold, hungry, and fatigued; and what a prospect was presented! The eye of civilized woman scarcely ever looked upon a more lonely, dreary, desolate habitation. The man who had charge of my furniture had not arrived; no mark of human feet - no, nor of the feet of any animal, had disturbed the smooth surface of the snow. All was as still - as uniform - as unbroken, as if no living thing had ever been there, or had long since departed. The inside of the hut was as chilling and as cheerless as the prospect without. The snow had drifted through the crevices in the roof, and down the open chimney, and covered the floor, and in some places was as deep as it was without. There was no fire, and it was more than a mile, and down the long river hill, to the nearest dwelling, and night was setting in. And there we were - myself weary - my wife sinking with exhaustion, chilled, and shivering with cold - our sweet, tender infant - it was no time for thought, but for action. Nor that we don't think in such emergencies; but thoughts rush in such rapid succession that scarcely a moment is employed in thinking. I had a small feather bed and some blankets which I had used while preparing my habitation. I scraped the snow from a part of the floor, and there laid the bed, and folded my wife and her babe in the blankets, then laid them on the bed, and wrapped it over them - cheered and encouraged the dear woman with the assurance that she should have all the comforts it was in my power to give - gave her lips and her heart all the warmth my kisses could impart - then secured my horses and sought the nearest habitation. There are very few can outrun me when I put forth my utmost speed, and never had I such a motive for speed before. I had ran [sic] when I thought the Indian's tomahawk just behind me - I had ran [sic] from the fangs of the surly bear and the ferocious wolf - but I never before ran to prevent my wife and my child from perishing with cold. Seldom, if ever, was such a distance traversed by man in so short a time. The strides I made in descending the hill could afterwards be seen in the snow, and they were prodigious; but I could have ran [sic] no further. I instantly dispatched two men, inspired with something of the energy with which I was nerved. I had to pause and breathe a few minutes myself, but my wife and child were too dear to let me linger while I was able to move. I returned, however, much slower than I came. My two neighbors, with a zeal and diligence for which I shall always feel grateful, had built up a large blazing fire, and swept the snow from the floor, and m wife with a bright countenance was soon seated before the fire, on one of the few stools which were my only seats. Our neighbors having rendered us all the assistance we needed, returned home. I had a coffee-pot and some tin cups, in which we made and drank our tea, not the most palatable to refined tea-drinkers; but we were thankful for it - after which I read a chapter in the Bible, and we for the first time in our lives, as a worshiping family, knelt down together and gave thanks to God for the mercies we had enjoyed, and committed ourselves to his paternal care. There is not much of this world's goods that are absolutely necessary to happiness, and we laid down that night on our very humble couch with feelings as cheerful as we had ever enjoyed when surrounded with all the comforts, the luxuries, and the splendors of life. So it was with me, and so I believe it was with my wife. She was far less accustomed to privations than I was; but she always said, and I believe she said truly, that she could be happy with me in any situation. But she was now and for a long time put, severely to the test.

     "Our furniture did not arrive: we looked for it day after day, but it came not: we were suffering for the want of it; and our neighbors were too few, too far distant, and too destitute themselves to lend us any, and there was none to be purchased. I borrowed a single chair, and one or two trifling articles, and with these we lived for about a week. I was compelled to go out several times among the neighbors, in order to procure the means of subsistence, and we had few nearer than three or four miles. On these occasions Betsey was left alone with her infant in a solitary wild, where no other human beings were to be seen, and she knew not where any were to be found in case she needed assistance or protection. Transported thus at once from a populous region, swarming with inhabitants; from the border of a highway, along which a stream of passengers was incessantly flowing, to an unpeopled wilderness, which the retiring savages had recently given up to the wild beasts and a few backwoods Americans, her imagination had full room for dreary pictures and dark apprehensions. Every thing tended to invite gloom and foreboding. My presence insured protection; my smile lightened the solitary scenery; but in my absence, all was startling loneliness."

     At the time of his removal to Indiana, he received from Governor Harrison two commissions for District Attorney of the State for the Counties of Dearborn and Jefferson, which were subsequently renewed by the courts of those counties. In 1814, he was elected a member of the House of Representatives of the Territory Legislature, and the next session to that of the Council, by which he was chosen President by a unanimous vote. Near the close of he same year, he was appointed the presiding Judge of the District in which he resided. In 1816, under the state government, he was appointed the presiding judge of both the second and third Districts, and the same year was unanimously elected by the Legislature of Indiana one of the electors of President and Vice President of the United States. In December, he was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of the State, which office he filled with ability, dignity and impartiality for fourteen successive years, when for a short time he resumed the practice of law. In 1831, he was a candidate for the Senate of the United States, but lost the place by a single vote. This was the only political defeat he ever sustained, and this only by a strongly contested party vote.

     In 1835, he received the appointment of Judge of the United States' District Court, for Indiana, which office he filled with distinguished ability and popular satisfaction till his decease.

     During the period he presided as Judge of both the State and United States' Courts, he maintained an elevated, dignified, and consistent Christian character. At what period he commenced public ministrations in the gospel, we are unable to say.

     Soon after his removal to Indiana, in 1811, he became one of the constituents in the formation of the Laughery [Baptist] church and was one of its most efficient members. Subsequently he aided in gathering the church in Aurora, a village near his residence, and made liberal contributions for its house of worship, and the support of its ministry. In 1834, at the urgent solicitation of his brethren, and as the result of long cherished and deep convictions of duty, he received ordination as a minister of the gospel. His whole soul entered into this work, and his public course evinced that while he was not slothful in the business his profession and the public required of him; he was fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. In all the public offices he filled, Judge Holman gained and preserved the respect of his fellow citizens. Few men in public life have preserved so unsullied a reputation, commanded so much general respect, and given such universal satisfaction in responsible stations.

     Maintaining a deportment peculiarly amiable, kind, affectionate, and strictly honorable, he was beloved and respected by all who knew him. His nature flowed with the milk of human kindness. Though he never completed a full course of classical and mathematical studies, yet he possessed a fine mind, chaste in his conceptions, and was regarded as a good writer.

     "But the crowning and ennobling principle of his character, and that which shone brilliant and steady in all circles, on the bench of justice, the political forum, and the walks of private life, was the influence of Christianity. Its truth, spirit, devotion, and practice, were prominent in his whole character. He loved the Savior, and with great humility and meekness he depended alone on His blood and righteousness for acceptance and salvation. He loved the saints of God, as bearing the image of the Savior, and possessed in a large measure the spirit of active benevolence to his fellow man of every class. This was manifested in his more public efforts. It was his delight to imitate his Great Master, who went about doing good. While traversing the Judicial Circuit, he was accustomed to address the people on the benevolent objects of the Bible operations, Missions, Sabbath Schools, General Education, and Temperance. He was a pioneer in the State of his adoption in all these works of faith and labors of love. Through his untiring efforts, a Sabbath school organization was gotten up in Dearborn county, where he resided, and a Sabbath School planted in nearly every settlement. By the circulation of religious books and tracts amongst the people, he diffused much information, produced a taste for reading, and was the instrument of great good to many. In Bible distribution and supplying destitute families with the word of God, he was active and laborious.

     "The temperance cause, from its earliest movements, found in Judge Holman a warm and most successful advocate. If any branch of our benevolent operations, took the strongest hold on his heart, it was the education of the ministry. No matter how illiterate, or obscure, or indigent a man might be, provided he loved the Savior, and desired to glory Him in the gospel ministry, our deceased friend would take him by the hand, and to the extent of his ability, raise him from obscurity to usefulness.

     "For many years, and while on the judicial bench, Judge Holman was accustomed to address his fellow men on the great salvation, until the church of Aurora, of which he was a member, called him publicly to the work of the ministry, and set him apart by solemn ordination. As a preacher, he was plain, practical, evangelical, and eminently useful. Few men were more acceptable in the pulpit, whether in the city or country."

     Few men were qualified to preside in deliberative assemblies. To an accurate knowledge of parliamentary rules, he added peculiar blandness of manner. He was for many years a Vice President of the American Sunday School Union, and was chosen to the same official stations in our denominational Missionary and Bible organizations. Whenever present, he was chosen to preside in the General Convention of Western Baptists, and was President of the Western Baptist Publication and Sunday School Society at his decease.

     His constitution was naturally feeble, and an attack of pleurisy caused his death on the 28th of March, 1842. Conscious of its approach, he was composed and happy. To his disconsolate companion, he said, "Do not weep. I am going to be with Christ. We have lived together a long time, and have been greatly blessed. You must not weep. With such sentiments on his lips, he feel [fell] asleep in Jesus.

J. M. P.

[* John M. Peck probably wrote this essay as he uses these initials and titles many of his articles as "Sketches." - Jim Duvall]


[From the Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, NY, Vol. 1, No. 8, August, 15, 1842, pages 233-238. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]

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