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Isaac Totevine
Tennessee Pioneer Minister
The Christian Repository, 1856
      We will suppose ourselves in attendance upon the session of the Mero District Association. Our place is Robertson county, Tennessee, and our date, October, 1797. We take our stand beneath these mighty oaks, whose leaves are faded and falling. The meeting house, a hewn log structure, is near us on our left. The morning is bright and beautiful, and the people are arriving from every direction. We are more especially desirous of seeing the ministers. There is McConnico, (who has been introduced to your readers,) in conversation with several ladies and gentlemen. In that group on the right, I recognise Whitsitt, of Mill Creek, and Stephenson, of Sumner. The two gentlemen approaching them, are Morton, of Williamson, and Dorriss, of Robertson. The man who is now shaking hands with McConnico, and is greeted so cordially by all around him, is Dillahunty, of Richland Creek, Davidson. But here comes a strange looking being. He is exceedingly diminutive, mounted on a magnificent bay, and closely followed by an enormous, and savage looking dog! He dismounts; leaves the reins on the saddle, pats his horse's neck, and talking to him affectionately, tells him to remain there, and behave himself, until his master returns, and strange to say, he obeys him implicitly. That species: Is he man, or monkey? Your eyes involuntarily follow him. You can't withdraw them. His form is most ungraceful, much bent in the shoulders, and quite attenuated. His cheeks are wrinkled, and sallow, without the slightest tinge of blood. The skin of his face is loose, and hangs about his eyes like bladders. His mouth is enormously large, projects surprisingly, and his lips are thick and course. His dress is such, both in material and make, that no other
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human being would, or could wear it. Indeed, he never was known to have a garment that fitted him. He takes off his slouched hat. What a splendid forehead. He looks at you. His dark eye is sparkling, and full of fire! He is certainly an uncommon man; Hyperion and a satyr united. The personage you look upon is Isaac Totevine.

      Does his appearance perplex you? His character corresponds with it exactly. I will enlighten you a little regarding his singularities. In his youth he was married. Eleven years afterwards his wife died, leaving no children. From that time until his death, he was a lonely, solitary being. His dog, and his horse, were his only companions. In their society he appeared to be always pleased. His dog was yellow, and lion-like, and looked as if he could have defended his master against a half a dozen enemies. He was always by his side, whether in the forest, in the pulpit, or in a gentleman's parlor. At table, no matter where, he invariably stood with his head close to his master's plate. One mouthful he carried to his own mouth, and the next to the mouth of his dog, and so on alternately. This offensive practice often disgusted families exceedingly, but it was incurable. He would remain no where an hour longer than his dog was welcome. His horse loved him as much as his dog. He was a splendid animal, and would do any thing he told him, which a horse could do. When he wanted him, he would call him, and the horse would come with the readiness and docility of a servant. To mount to his saddle from the ground, was for him, very difficult. If, therefore, he had no steps, block, or other convenience, he would make him kneel, and sometimes lie down for his accommodation. In manner and language, with all the gravity that became his clerical profession, he was astonishingly ludicrous.

      Mr. Totevine was a native of Virginia, born and reared on the peninsula running down from Maryland, between the Chesapeake Bay and the ocean, to Cape Charles, called “the Eastern Shore.” After his marriage, he resided on the Potomac, where he professed religion under the ministry of the well known Elijah Baker. Of his first essays in the ministry, and of his ordination, I am unadvised. After the death of his wife, he wandered off

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to the lower part of North Carolina, where he preached as an itinerant for many years. His labors were mainly confined to the counties on the Neuse, above Newbern, where he was very useful. Thence, in 1796, he emigrated, with the family of Mr. Taylor, to the Cumberland Valley, where he spent the remainder of his life.

      The preaching of Mr. Totevine was unlike any other preaching ever heard under the sun. He was perfectly self-possessed; ready, and fluent in address; and sometimes manifested great fertility of thought and vigor of intellect. His texts were generally the most odd, imaginable, such as, “Take us the foxes;” “Tekel; ” “A golden bell and a pomegranite,” and others of that class. His doctrine was strictly orthodox and evangelical, and his deep piety and love of souls were unmistakeable. Not unfrequently, in the midst of the most solemn parts of his sermons, himself and his congregation in tears, he would evidently without intention, utter some remark so strangely witty, or give some illustration so exceedingly comical, that the whole congregation would burst into an irresistible paroxysm of laughter. He never accepted the pastorship of any church, but his ministry was thought upon the whole, to have been of good and salutary tendency.

      His death, which occurred in 1821, was such as befitted his character and life. When very old, a kind family in Montgomery county, offered to take him home with them, and provide for all his wants, while he should live. He accepted their proposition, but would not reside in the same house with any other person. They therefore built him, in a beautiful grove on the farm, a neat little cottage, which by daily visits of a servant, they kept in perfect order. They clothed him comfortably, and regularly sent him his meals. There, with his dog and his horse, he lived in apparently the most perfect tranquility. On a beautiful Spring morning his friend and family were surprised by a visit from him, a thing which rarely occurred. He told them that he had come to apprise them that on a certain day, some two months thereafter, and precisely at ten o'clock, he would die. They laughed at his superstition, and tried to rally him out of the notion, but in vain. His only reply was, “It is useless for you to talk thus, I know that I shall die on that day, and at that hour.” IIe came no more until the day fixed. About half an hour previous to

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the time, he made his appearance at the house. They inquired after his health. He answered, “I am perfectly well.” He then told them that he saw they intended to let him die alone; that he desired to have some one present, and that he had come there to die. He thanked them in affecting terms for all their kindness, and desired them, as the only acknowledgment he could make, to accept all that he had. Then he commenced a regular address, in which he explained briefly and clearly the way of salvation, the nature and effects of true religion, and its necessity to happiness in another world. He closed by an appropriate exhortation to each member of the family, by name; kneeling, he now offered a fervent prayer for the people and churches of Christ; for the world of mankind, for that benevolent family, and for his own acceptance with God. He rose from his devotional position, and said, “The time is come, I will lie down. Dear friends, farewell.” They laid him on a bed. He ceased to breathe! He was dead!

      Thus lived, and preached, and died, Isaac Totevine, intellectually, spiritually, and physically, the last of his race.


[Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, 1856, pp. 286-289. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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