An Autobiography of Rev. J. H. Spencer
He Told Striking Story as Below.
From the Baptist Argus, 1898
Rev. John Henderson Spencer, D.D., is the third of twenty-four children born to William Spencer, and was born in Allen county, Kentucky, September 9, 1826. His father was a descendant of an English emigrant who settled early in the District of Maine, afterwards removed to Virginia, whence he went to South Carolina and settled near Charleston. The aged ancestor emigrated with a large family from South Carolina to Georgia, and thence to Mercer county, Kentucky, and settled on Shawnee Run, not far from 1790. After a few years he moved to "the Illinois country" where he died at the age of about 110 years. Most of his descendants remained in Kentucky. His grandson, John Spencer, married Miss Hill, from Virginia, and made an improvement in what is now Allen county in 1796. There he raised two sons and a daughter. Of the former, Moses died unmarried and William married Sallie Caldwell Richey, a descendant of the Caldwells of South Carolina, and the Tinsleys, who were famous in the early history of the Baptists, both in Virginia and Kentucky, her father, William Richey, being of Dutch and English extraction. This union was blessed with fourteen children, to which ten were added by a second marriage of the father.
The subject of this sketch, being among the oldest of this large family, which was further increased by the addition of three stepchildren of his father, and two orphans, and his parents being in very moderate circumstances, was compelled to labor on a farm during his ministry. At the age of fifteen, he entered one of the "old field" schools that thinly dotted the sparsely populated country around his birth-place. These schools were usually taught by men who obligated themselves "to teach spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic as far as the single Rule of Three to the best of their skill and ability for a term of three months." Young Spencer enjoyed the advantages afforded by these primitive institutions of learning during several brief periods which aggregated about four and a half months. After attaining his majority he spent about six years in teaching and attending school.
Meanwhile, he had, in 1849, united with the Baptist church at Hopewell in his native county. There he was ordained to the ministry in 1854. Feeling the need of a better education he immediately entered Bethel College at Russellvile, Ky. There he remained till November, 1856, when failing health forced him to leave college. He was at once employed as missionary within the bounds of Bay Fork Association, where he labored with fair success till October, 1857, when he was called to the care of the church at Cloverport, Ky., and Gilead, Ia. Not succeeding well in the pastoral office he resigned after a pastorate of two years, after which he accepted the position of missionary within the bounds of Nelson Association. In 1861, he married in Jefferson county, and the following year took pastoral charge of the church at Henderson, Ky. Again failing of a satisfactory degree of success, he resigned in December, 1863, and returned to Jefferson county where he became missionary of Long Run Association. Two years later he was employed as evangelist for the State by the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. In this position he labored about eight years.
From 1873 to 1874 he labored as an independent evangelist. During the latter year he was forced to desist preaching on account of failing health. He now devoted his time to completing "A History of Kentucky Baptists," the material for which he had been collecting during the preceding eighteen years. In 1886 the History issued from the press in two volumes, aggregating 1454 pages. Since that time his health has been too feeble to admit of his doing more than write an occasional article for the periodical press and preach an occasional sermon.
Dr. Spencer was very laborious in the ministry till his health gave way. He preached from 300 to 500 sermons a year and, during his ministry, witnessed about 4,000 accessions to the churches of his denomination. He also wrote many articles for the periodical press, and in 1866 published in a small volume "The Life of Rev. T. J. Fisher." Subsequently he wrote the Kentucky contributions to "Cathcart's Encyclopcedia of the Baptists." In 1885 he moved from Jefferson county to Eminence, Ky., where he now resides.
[From the Baptist Argus, January 20, 1898, p. 3; via SBTS Archives digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
The following article was in The Baptist Argus, February 3, 1898, p. 8. In the Autobiography of Dr. J. H. Spencer published in our columns two weeks ago our printer made the author say that he was an independent evangelist from 1873 to 1874, when it should have been to 1884. "These eleven years were among the most active, laborious and successful years of his life," says one, who knew and loved him well. The great numbers who came into the churches and the new churches organized under Dr. Spencer's labors during these years of arduous work make a part of Kentucky's history. We can never honor too much the men of the passing generation, who have labored and prayed and suffered to lay the foundation of our faith broad and deep.
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