Semple History of Virginia Baptists, Bios

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[The 19 short bios in this essay are not in alphabetical order. They are listed alphabetically here to make it easier to locate the ones you may be looking for:
Baker, Elijah -- Chadoin, Elder Lewis -- Chastain, Elder Rane -- Chiles, James -- Courtney, Elder John -- Craig, Lewis -- Dudley, Ambrose -- Ford, Rueben -- Lunsford, Lewis -- McGlamre, John -- Murphey, William -- Pickett, Elder John -- Smith, Elder George -- Smith, Elder George Stokes -- Tinsley, David -- Toler, Elder Henry -- Webber, Elder William -- Williams, Elder John -- Woods, William. -- Jim Duvall]

Early Baptist Preachers in Virginia
History of the Baptists in Virginia
By Robert B. Semple

ELDER WILLIAM WEBBER is mentioned in numerous instances in this history. He was born August 15, 1747, and was baptized June, 1770, as one of the first fruits of Elder John Waller's ministry. He was early chosen as pastor of Dover church, and served them long and faithfully. On various occasions he was called to suffer imprisonment for preaching the Gospel without license, and many it is believed, were savingly reached through the Word preached by him through the grated windows of jails. His talents as a preacher were not of a high order, but his manners were dignified and manly, gentle, affectionate and engaging; he was the soul of simplicity and frank sincerity, and greatly beloved by his members, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. For a number of years he acted as moderator of the General Association, as also of the General Committee. He died in great peace and triumph February 29, 1808.

ELDER JOHN PICKET was born in King George county, Va., January 14, 1744. He was in early manhood a lover of pleasure and a dancing master. He was converted to Christ under Joseph Murphy's preaching in North Carolina in 1765. Returning to Fauquier county, at that time the home of his parents, in 1767, he began to exhort. Carter's Run church was originated in a large measure from his labors. He became pastor here May 12, 1772, the date of his ordination. He suffered imprisonment in the Fauquier jail, and preached to the crowds that gathered at the windows. He traveled extensively on tours of preaching, in which he was greatly blessed. Fifty were baptized at one time in the Shenandoah river as the fruits of his preaching. His zeal increased with his age, and in June, 1803, God called him to his reward.

ELDER JOHN COURTNEY was a native of King and Queen county, where his parents and eldest brother were prominent members of the Episcopal Church. He is said to have rendered repeated religious service in the camp and the field during the Revolutionary war. At the close of the war he removed to Richmond entered upon the pastoral care of the Baptist (the old First) church, and in this position he rendered valuable service for forty years. In the feebleness of his later years he was assisted by Elders John Brice, Andrew Broaddus and Henry Keeling. He died December 18, 1824, and an appreciative sketch of his life, prepared by Henry Keeling and published in the Evangelical Inquirer, has been preserved in Taylor's Virginia Baptist Ministers.

LEWIS CRAIG was an elder brother of Elijah and Joseph Craig, all of whom were prominent in the early struggles of the Baptists in Virginia and Kentucky. He was largely instrumental in the formation of Upper King and Queen and Upper Essex churches in the former State, and of the first Gilbert's Creek and South Elkhorn churches in the latter. About 1792 he removed to what is now Bracken county, and has been termed the father of the Association of the same name. His noble endurance of persecutions in several places in Virginia, and his leadership of Craig's church from Spotsylvania, Va., to Gilbert's Creek, Ky., through the vast forests of 1781, invest his sturdy character with a picturesque and stirring interest. He died about A. D. 1824, in the eighty-seventh year of his age, leaving an honored memory as an earnest and powerful exhorter, a sweet-spirited companion, a heavenly minded Christian, and a minister of the Cross who had endured "hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."

LEWIS LUNSFORD, who was in an important sense the founder of the Baptist denomination in the Northern Neck of Virginia, was born in Stafford county about the year 1753; and there he was baptized while yet a youth by Elder William Fristoe. When not yet eighteen years of age he began to exhort, and large crowds flocked to hear "the Wonderful Boy," so remarkable were his talents and eloquence. About 1774 he made his appearance in Westmoreland, Richmond, Lancaster and Northumberland counties, where for a time his preaching was interrupted by mob violence and legal proscriptions. These persecutions served, however, to increase his popularity, and in 1778 Morattico church was formed and he chosen as their pastor. His zeal and activity were unabated, and the success of his ministry truly remarkable. No other preacher in Virginia has probably received more conclusive testimonials to the eloquence and power of his sermons than Lunsford. Semple said of him: "In his best strains he was more like an angel than a man. His countenance, lighted up by an inward flame, seemed to shed beams of light wherever he turned. His voice, always harmonious, often seemed tuned by descending seraphs. His style and his manner were so sublime and so energetic that he was indeed an embassador [sic] of the skies, sent down to command all men everywhere to repent."

He continued in the pastorate of Morattico church until his death, which occurred on October 26, 1793, in the prime of his manhood. From the meeting of the Dover Association at Glebe Landing church, in Middlesex, he went to preach at Bruington, where, having taken cold, he became rapidly ill, and died in the vicinity of Miller's, in Essex county, where also his remains were interred. Two funeral sermons by Elder Henry Toler were published and extensively circulated, and he was further commemorated with a marble monument placed by his churches over his grave.

ELDER GEORGE SMITH was born in Buckingham county, Va., March 15, 1747; married Judith Guerrant October 20, 1765; died on his farm on Elkhorn Creek, Franklin county, Ky., August 9, 1820. His strong anti-slave principles made him generally unpopular among the Kentucky churches. He lived in Kentucky upon terms of the most endearing intimacy with his old Virginia yoke-fellow, William Hickman.

ELDER GEORGE STOKES SMITH was a younger half-brother to the above, and probably accompanied Lewis Craig and party to Kentucky in 1781. He was a constituent member of Gilbert's Creek church, and a messenger from that body to the Convention at South Elkhorn in 1785; aided in constituting Marble Creek church 1787, and was a member of the political convention at Danville in 1792 which framed the constitution of Kentucky. He died in 1809 while pastor of Mt. Pleasant church, in Jessamine county.

ELDER LEWIS CHADOIN was a native of Chesterfield county, and served as a soldier in the Revolution. He afterwards resided in Goochland county. He was for nearly or quite sixty years an active preacher of the Gospe1. He died January 4,1845, aged ninety years and some months. His funeral sermon was preached by Elder Andrew Broaddus, and was in its eloquence and power a fitting tribute to a worthy and eminently useful life.

ELDER RANE CHASTAIN was born in Powhatan county June 28, 1741. Most of his life was spent in Buckingham, where he served the church of that name for more than half a century. Cumberland, Providence, and Mulberry Grove churches also enjoyed at times his ministerial supervision. Like many other early preachers he was in straitened financial circumstances, and much of his life spent between the plow handles. Still, when dying in old age, he could say as his last utterance, "I have made full proof of my ministry."

ELDER HENRY TOLER was a native of King and Queen county, where he grew to manhood. His conversion occurred under the preaching of Elder John Courtney. Becoming a member of Upper College church he was soon licensed to exhort, and, being led to the Northern Neck, he attracted the attention of Counsellor Robert Carter, of Westmoreland, who had himself recently become a Baptist. By Mr. Carter's friendly assistance he was enabled to pursue a course of study with Dr. Samuel Jones, of Lower Dublin, Penn. His permanent ministry in the Northern Neck began in 1782 or 1783. In April, 1786, Nomini church was organized and he was chosen pastor. In this relation his labors were greatly blessed for more than twenty years. About the year 1810 he removed with his family to Fairfax county, whence after a brief residence he went to Kentucky and located at Versailles. He became pastor here, where he spent the remainder of his life, and died March, 1824. Few, if any, of the early Baptist pastors of Virginia were permitted to rejoice in more seals to their ministry than Henry Toler.

DAVID TINSLEY was born in Culpeper county in 1749, and soon afterwards was brought by his parents to Amelia. He became a preacher in early manhood, and William Hickman (afterwards" Father Hickman," of Kentucky) was one of the first trophies of his ministry. Besides Totier in Albemarle, of which he was the first pastor, he served Powhatan church for five or six years. The hand of persecution immured him for four months and sixteen days in Chesterfield jail. Through the grated window of this prison he with others of his fellow-prisoners preached to the crowd without. One who led to Christ by this preaching has testified: "All around the jail the crowded assembly would stand, some weeping and others rejoicing, as they received the of truth." In 1782 Elder Tinsley entered upon a brief pastorate with Mathew's church, in the Dover Association. In 1785 he removed to Georgia, having sailed Yorktown to Savannah. He settled with Abilene (then called Red Creek) church, in the vicinity of Augusta. He died at the age of fifty-two years, in October, 1801.

WILLIAM WOODS was one of the constituent members of Albemarle church in 1773, and was ordained at the call of that body July 1,1780. There is a record that at the solicitation of Thomas Jefferson he surrendered credentials as a minister in order to run for the Legislature, to which he was chosen. His relations with church do not appear to have ever continued long of a peaceful or orderly character. He was dismissed by letter, with his wife, in September, 1810, and remove Kentucky, where he finished his course in 1819. The place of his ordination and scene of his principal labors in the ministry was about three-quarters of a mile from where the University of Virginia now stands.

AMBROSE DUDLEY was born in Spotsylvania County in 1750; served as a captain in the army of the Revolution; preached a few years in Virginia, and in May, 1786, settled in the vicinity of Lexington, Ky. Here he became pastor of Bryant's and David's Fork churches. He was highly respected and honored, and became a leader in Elkhorn, and subsequently in Licking Association. For nearly forty years he pursued, in his adopted State, a popular and useful ministry, unspotted with worldly entanglements, and remarkable for fidelity to truth and duty as well as punctuality in meeting appointments. He died January 27, 1825, having passed his three-score years and ten. Among the numerous children left by Elder Dudley were Dr. Benjamin W. Dudley, an eminent surgeon, and Rev. Thomas P. Dudley, who succeeded to the pastorate of Bryant's church in 1825, and maintained it for nearly sixty years. Dr. Richard M. Dudley, the late president of Georgetown College, was a great-grandson of the subject of this sketch.

JAMES CHILES is said to have possessed "a sturdy set of limbs" and "a resolute spirit," which, prior to his conversion, he sometimes employed "in bruising his countrymen's faces." He was an early instrument in planting the Gospel in the region of Blue Run church, in Orange, and he was a pioneer laborer also in Albemarle. He removed to South Carolina at an early day, where he organized a large church. He is said to have had implicit faith in signs and visions -- a weakness which was more than counterbalanced by his ardent zeal and large success. Going to the house of a woman upon a certain occasion, he informed her that God had said he must die there that day. Despite her remonstrance, he reaffirmed the certainty of the decree, and having so said, "he stretched himself upon the bed and yielded up the ghost."

ELIJAH BAKER was born in Lunenburg county in 1742. He was converted to Christ under the preaching of Jeremiah Walker, or rather received from him his first serious religious impressions. In 1769 he was baptized by Elder Samuel Harriss, and at once began to exhort. His preaching in his native county was instrumental in gathering several churches. About 1773, his itinerant labors were extended to Henrico county, and thence down the peninsula between the James and York rivers. In this region he was abundantly blessed in the establishment of churches. Having crossed thence into Gloucester, where he labored a short time, he next set sail, in the spring of 1776, for the Eastern Shore. In this new field, amidst much opposition and severe persecution, he founded no less than ten churches. He was brother to Leo Baker, the pastor of Musterfield church, in Halifax county, to whom in his last sickness he addressed an affectionate letter, and who reached his bedside only in time to see him die. His death occurred November 6, 1798, at the residence of Dr. Lemon, where another pioneer Baptist preacher -- Philip Hughes -- also breathed his last.

WILLIAM MURPHY belonged by birth to the southern part of Virginia, and his earliest ministerial labors appear to have been in the region of Halifax and Pittsylvania. With his brother Joseph he traveled extensively, and though neither of them possessed educational advantages their ministry was popular and effective. Samuel Harriss was won to Christ through the ministry of William Murphy. The two brothers -- William and Joseph -- after an honorable career in Virginia, where they were widely known as "the Murphy boys," removed, the former to the West, and the latter to North Carolina, where he became a leading figure in the Yadkin Association. The home of the latter was Surry county, where he lived, highly respected and esteemed, to a very old age.

ELDER JOHN WILLIAMS was born in Hanover county in 1747, and probably soon afterwards was taken with his parents to Lunenburg county, which became his subsequent home. Here, about 1769, he served as sheriff. The year following he was baptized. In 1771 he accompanied Jeremiah Walker to the first meeting of the General Association at Blue Run meeting-house. In November following he became pastor of Meherrin church. In 1785 he united with Sandy Creek church, in Charlotte, becoming also their pastor, and the next year he began to serve Blue Stone church, in Mecklenburg. Meanwhile he was instrumental in organizing Allen's Creek church.

Elder Williams was marked for intellectual force, a broadly catholic spirit, methodical habits, laborious diligence in the ministry, and an ardent love for souls. He was a prompt and regular attendant upon the meetings of the General Association and the General Committee, and in the labors and plans of the denomination in behalf of religious liberty, education and the preservation of their history he was a most prominent and efficient actor. Not a few of the memorials and petitions in behalf of religious rights sent to the Assembly by the early Baptists were committed to his hand, if they were not also the products of his pen.

An accidental fall from a step in 1793 made him somewhat of a cripple for the remainder of his life. He would yet hobble on crutches into the pulpit, and there, seated in a chair, proclaim the Gospel that was so dear to his heart. He died from an attack of pleurisy April 30, 1795.

JOHN McGLAMRE removed to Halifax county, N. C., from one of the Northern States, where he was born June 7, 1730. In the thirty-fourth year of his age he became a subject of redeeming grace, and united with the Kehukee church, of which he was soon called to be the pastor. He served here until 1772, making meanwhile numerous preaching tours into Virginia with encouraging success. He at length removed to Sussex county, where Raccoon Swamp church was formed through his instrumentality. Various other churches -- Mill Swamp, Black Creek, Seacock and High Hills -- were brought into being largely through his labors. For twenty year or more he presided over the Kehukee Association a moderator, and a similar respect was shown him when the division occurred and he became a member of the Portsmouth Association. His death occurred December 13, 1799, within a few hours of that of "the Father of his Country."

REUBEN FORD was probably a native of Goochland county, where his long and laborious ministry was chiefly spent. He was the principal agent in organizing Goochland church in 1771, from which Dover church sprang two years later. For more than thirty years he served Dover Association as clerk. To him, mo than to any other of the early preachers in the days that "tried men's souls," was the duty committed of waiting on the General Assembly with petitions and memorials respecting religious rights. He lived to an advanced age, and towards the end of his life labored under great bodily infirmity. He manifestly was one whom the inspired testimony applies: "The memory of the just is blessed."

Bio of Robert B. Semple


[From Robert B. Semple, History of the Baptists in Virginia, 1810, revised 1894; rpt. 1972, pp. 471-480. The title has been supplied for this essay. -- jrd]

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