THE subject of this sketch has held a prominent place in the South West, as a successful minister of Christ, and an originator of benevolent efforts, designed for the spread of the Gospel in this and other lands. Robert Boyle C. Howell, was born March 10th. 1801, on the Neuse, in North Carolina, where his father owned three plantations. His ancestors, both on the side of his father and mother, were among that distinguished and self-denying band, who first emigrated to Jamestown, Va., more than two hundred years ago. Robert enjoyed the advantages of the best schools in that part of the country where his father resided. He finally entered Columbian College, and completed his education at that noble institution, in a manner both honorable to himself and to the College. His parents were Episcopalians, and instilled into the mind of their son, principles of strict morality and religion. His mother in particular, who was a lady of superior learning and piety, instructed him with great care, in the duties and responsibilities of the christian faith. He was fond of gay company and innocent amusements, though he always had much veneration for religion and religious people.
Many obstacles were thrown in his way, by his ungodly associates, and by the pride of his own heart, yet he often studied his Bible with intense interest, and reflected much upon the sublime truths of christianity, and the dangerous state in which he was living, without hope and without God in the world. While thus perusing the Sacred Scriptures, he became a Baptist in principle, several years before he publicly professed religion. In August. 1820, in the twentieth year of his age, after having experienced pungent convictions for sin, and after much prayer and reflection, while reading the sacred volume, he became satisfied that he had experienced that internal renovation. without which, no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven.
On the 6th of February, 1821, he felt it to be his duty to follow his Lord and Master into a watery grave, and was baptized by Rev. R. T. Daniel, pastor of the Baptist church in Raleigh. He united with the Baptist church at Naughuntae, Wayne co., N. C., and went on his way rejoicing, in hope of a glorious immortality beyond the grave. Afterwards, Mr. Howell pursued the study of medicine for scientific
purposes; but designed to practise law. At the same time, he felt a deep interest in the spiritual condition of his friends, and an ardent desire to be instrumental in the salvation of souls, though he did not intend to preach the Gospel. During the very week in which he was baptized, he commenced holding meetings for prayer and exhortation, at various destitute places in the neighborhood.where the people were very irreligious. An interesting revival soon commenced, and Dr. Mason of Wake Co., N. C., was invited to come to Bro. Howell's assistance, and especially to baptize the willing converts. During the year some two hundred were buried by baptism, a commodious meeting-house was erected, and a large church organized.
About three weeks after Bro. Howell's baptism, he was licensed by the church with which he was connected, to preach the Gospel, though contrary to his own expectations or desire, as he did not wish to change his plans in respect to the future. As, however, the Lord had so remarkably blessed his labors, and as the meetings must be given up unless he should continue oit with them, he reluctantly yielded to the clear indications of Providence, and rejoiced in the work of pointing sinners to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. He was requested to receive ordination, but refused.
In Autumn of 1826, Mr. Howell was providentially in Norfolk,Va., at several different times, and was invited to preach for the Cumberland street Baptist church, which was then destitute of a pastor. He held several meetings, and a glorious revival commenced. He was called to settle as their pastor; but declined. Still he could not leave them, as sinners were flocking to Christ by scores. Mr. Howell was ordained January 27th, 1827, by Rev. Dr. Staughton and Professor S. Wait. He continued to preach the word there, and during the year, baptized one hundred and eighty hopeful converts. After much persuasion, in Jan. 1828, he concluded to settle as pastor of the church, and was soon after married to Miss Margaret Ann Troy, a worthy young lady of Norfolk. He continued to labor with that church until July, 1834, during which time he baptized six hundred persons, and left the church large and in a flourishing condition.
At that time, much was said about the wants of the West and South. Mr. Howell was attracted by the Macedonian cry, and determined to go either to New Orleans or St. Louis. After reaching Nashville, Tenn., he was so earnestly desired to stop and labor in that flourishing place, that he concluded to do so, though he had pressing invitations from several other important places. There were only twelve efficient Baptists in the place, who had no house of worship, were dispirited and almost
ready to give up in despair. In January 1835, Dr. Howell moved his family there, and in earnest commenced to blow the Gospel trumpet. His remarkable success in that field is well known. He drew large congregations who were attracted by the eloquence and piety of the speaker, and was instrumental in the conversion of many precious souls. He labored there about sixteen years, and during that time, about nine hundred members were received into the church, three other churches were organized from that body, and a meeting house was erected superior to any in the South West, of any denomination. Soon after Dr. Howell removed to Nashville, he was instrumental in commencing a newspaper called "The Baptist." (now the "Tennessee Baptist.") He edited it some two years without compensation. This was the only Baptist paper existing between the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico. It exerted, and is still exerting a salutary and powerful influence in those once destitute regions. Dr. Howell was instrumental in originating the Education Society, and through that, "Union University" atMurfreesborough. and three Baptist Female Academies. The University at present has an endowment of sixty thousand dollars, a large and able faculty, a fine edifice, one hundred and fifty pupils, and is destined, we believe, to accomplish an immense amount of good. Dr. Howell was also instrumental in commencing the Southern Publication Society, which is scattering excellent books throughout the Southern and South-Western States. He was also largely instrumental in reviving the Southern Foreign Mission Society, which is now an efficient organization, sending its heralds of salvation to the benighted regions of the earth. To show that Dr. Howell had the universal confidence of his brethren in Tennessee, it is enough to say that for fifteen years he was President of the General Association of the State.
Last April, Dr. Howell, in accordance with a determination to accept of the unanimous call extended to him, entered upon his labors as pastor of the Second Baptist church in Richmond, Va., leaving a wealthy, highly intellectual, and probably the most efficient church in the South West. The call at Richmond was pressing, and it seemed that a wider field was opened for usefulness in that city. These considerations induced Dr. Howell to accept, though he had some misgivings when he found what distress his removal caused among the dear people of his former charge. He is very succesful in his present position, and will doubtless be instrumental in accomplishing much good. The church, since his arrival, have entirely freed themselves from debt, having paid liabilities to the amount of eight or nine thousand dollars. Their number is large, and they are vigorous, united and happy. Large congregations, we understand, attend
upon Dr. Howell'a ministry, and are delighted with his talents. oratorical power and piety.
Dr. Howell is an author. He has written a work on communion, which has not only had a wide circulation in this country, but has been republished in England. He has also prepared a work on the deaconship, and one on the way of salvation, all of which have been highly spoken of by the press.
In closing this brief sketch, we may say with safety, that one prominent trait in Dr. Howell's character, is a determination to endeavor to do good, even to the injury, sometimes, of his literary character. He has always been ready to throw himself into the breach, and perform what seemed to be duty, sometimes without due preparation. If a sermon must be preached on any particular and important occasion, or an article must be written for a periodical, and the duty falls upon him, he is ready to do it, though he may have little time in which to prepare. But he always prefers to have time for close and protracted study. His books show that he has strong reasoning powers, as well as a vivid imagination. We may say also, that he is a man of energy and perseverance, as well as of piety. His energy of thought, is apparent in his writings and sermons. His energy of character and perseverance, are evinced in overcoming the most formidable obstacles, in order to raise the standard of the cross amid determined and malicious opposition. The work before him must be done, whatever may be the consequences. We trust that he will accomplish yet. much more good in Zion, and that ardent piety will ever make his spiritual armor bright.
[From Rev. Enoch Hutchinson, editor, The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, Volume X, 1851, pp. 145-148. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on R. B. C. Howell Index
More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage