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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XXV - Rev. Lewis Feuilleteau Wilson


THE Rev. Mr. James Hall, upon giving up his pastoral charge of Concord and Fourth Creek in Iredell county, in the year 1790, was, in the course of two or three years, succeeded by the man whom on account of his private friendship, and his estimation of his talents for usefulness, he would have chosen of all others, recently entered upon the office of the ministry of the gospel, Lewis Feuilleteau Wilson. A foreigner by birth, Mr. Wilson both loved and served the country of his adoption; and was beloved and honored by all that were favored by his acquaintance, in his office as a physician, in which capacity he served in the Revolutionary war, and the more serious one of a minister of the gospel, in which he closed his clays.

On his mother's side of French extract, on his father's of English, he was born on St. Christopher's, one of the West India Islands, June, 1753. his father, a wealthy planter, preferring an education in England for his son, to the indulgence and desultory life of planters' children in the islands, embarked his two sons, Lewis, then about four years of age, and a brother two years older, for London, to be put to school under the care of his connexions. The brother died on the voyage; and Lewis, an entire stranger, commenced his education in his tender years. Some time after his father removed to London; and the son was continued at the grammar school until he completed his seventeenth year. At that time an uncle of his emigrated to America and settled in New Jersey; young Wilson accompanied him, and soon after his arrival entered upon the course of studies at Nassau Hall, in Princeton.

In his literary course Mr. Wilson was successful, and received the Bachelor's degree with honor. In his religious course he was kindly crossed by the Providence and Spirit of God, and from being an opposer was changed to an humble, yet firm believer in Jesus. In the year 1772 a very general revival of religion took place in the college; and so great was its influence, that he and thirteen of his class, after they had completed their college course, turned their attention to the study of theology in preparation for the gospel ministry, professing that their first impressions of grace were during that refreshing with which the institution was favored.

At the commencement of the revival and for a time during its progress, young Wilson was violently opposed to all religious things. So embittered were his feelings that he would not permit any one to converse with him on the subject of religion at all, either as a general subject or matter of personal experience. He had been educated in the Episcopal forms of worship; was a regular attendant on divine service, and correct in his external conduct; and slid not wish to be troubled about his experience by Presbyterian ministers and teachers. Probably at that time he would not have listened to any person. One of the tutors made an effort to call his attention to the concerns of his soul; entering his room, he began to converse on the subject of religion. Cllr. Wilson interrupted him, "Mr. I am engaged in my studies,----this is my room,--there is the door."

Buoyed up by a spirit of pharisaic righteousness he went on, for a time, pouring contempt on the work of God, till that same spirit, that arrested a persecuting Saul, arrested him. One evening while Dr. Spencer was preaching in the College Hall he was seized with deep convictions, and felt that these things which he had hitherto received as enthusiasm, and little better than madness, were realities of amazing importance. His distress of mind continued for some time before he could see his way of being saved through the Lord Christ. When Jesus was manifested as "the way, and the truth, and the life," he embraced him with full purpose of heart; and from having been an opposer, like Saul, he became a full and hearty friend that said, Lord, what will thou have me to do; and when he found his Lord's will he went and did it. The memory of his decided opposition to the gospel and a revival of religion led him often to confession and deep humiliation, throughout his whole ministerial life.

The Rev. John Makemie Wilson, of Rocky River, tells us in the sermon he preached on occasion of the death of Rev. L. F. Wilson, that during the revival of religion that spread over Carolina, in the south and west, in the year 1802 and the following years, the subject of this short sketch was often heard to address opposers to that work in the following words:—"My dear friends, I pity you, because I once stood on the ground on which you now stand, and know something of your disposition towards the present work. I have felt the disposition of a very devil towards a work similar to the present. Therefore I feel for you, and pity you with all my heart."

During the remainder of his college life, his zeal to promote the cause he once opposed, was tempered with great humility, that essential grace of a Christian. Having been brought up in high life, and with the expectations of a son of a wealthy citizen of London, he bowed to the deserving, however lowly in their sphere. his companions and friends were chosen without respect to wealth or poverty, but according to his estimation of their moral and spiritual excellence. His desire for excellence was totally dissevered from that thirst for applause, which so often stimulates to great efforts. He was content with having merited approbation. This trait in his character was manifested in the course he pursued respecting a college honor, so coveted by students, particularly when about to be graduated. At the last examination of his class, when the members stood for their diplomas, five honorary orations were voted by the trustees, to be delivered from the public stage on the day of commencement, by that number of the best scholars, as orators. Mr. Wilson obtained the second honor by vote of the trustees. Whether he knew of some one of his class who would be mortified in being left out of the list of honors, or whether he acted solely from the humility and modesty in his own breast, we cannot now say; but when information was given him by the president, in the presence of the board and of the class, he arose and said: "Sir, I feel myself under obligation to the trustees for their compliment to me, it is well enough to deserve such an oration, but I do not choose to accept it, and desire that it may be given to another." He did not appear on the stage at commencement, according to his request the honor had been conferred upon another, more desirous of the eminence. This trait of character was manifested by him through life; always deserving a high rank ins the estimation of his brethren, he never thrust himself forward to public notice. His bravery was equal to his modesty; and his worth was compounded of both. he sought no honors; he shunned no dangers in the path of duty.

After receiving his Bachelor's degree, in September, 17173, he visited London, designing to take orders in the Episcopal church, if, upon examination and inquiry, he could see a reasonable prospect of usefulness and satisfaction. "is father was a roan of sufficient wealth and influence to obtain for him what is called "a good living" in the city, or some pleasant place in the country, and finding that his soil wished to engage in the ministry of the gospel, pressed hint earnestly to take orders in the national church. The son, upon consideration and observation, became convinced that he could not be satisfied in such a connection as his father wished, and he himself had at first designed; and frankly communicated the result of his deliberations. The father upbraided him with becoming a Presbyterian in America, and threatened to disinherit him unless he complied with his expressed wishes. The son continued firm in his determination not to enter the national church. The father was resolute in withholding from him all assistance in making preparations to enter the ministry in any other church. The son was resolved to enter another church, and was left by his father penniless. Having obtained possession of a bequest of 300 guineas, made to him by an aunt, whose death occurred a little before this event, and furnishing himself with a wardrobe and a small library, he set sail for America, after a residence in England of about five months.

Landing at Philadelphia, he returned to Princeton, and commenced the study of Divinity under the care of Dr. Witherspoon, in the spring of 1774. Soon after this he was chosen tutor in the college, and performed the duties of that station about a year. New Jersey being overrun by the British army, the college was broken up. A class-mate of Mr. Wilson, who had been a fellow-tutor, having determined to enter upon the study of medicine with an uncle in Philadelphia, prevailed upon him to commence the study in his company. It is said that the principal reason for this change of professional studies was the perplexity of mind that came upon him in consequence of a careful perusal of church history. What this perplexity was, or whether it was anything more than discouragement in view of his own native sinfulness, and the errors into which frail men had precipitated themselves, is not now known.

After pursuing his medical studies about two years he embarked in the cause of American Independence, and entered the continental service as surgeon. In this capacity he continued a number of years; part of the time in the land service and part of the time on board of vessels of war. In the year 1781 he was informed by letter of the death of his father, and of a legacy in his will of £500 sterling. This communication caused him another voyage to England. Having obtained his legacy, he returned to America and settled in Princeton in his profession, as practising physician the superior religious advantages of the place in connection with its seclusion, presenting powerful inducements to him to make it his permanent residence.

As soon as he became permanently located, he secluded himself very much from intercourse with the world till he had carefully perused the whole both of the Old and New Testaments. He was heard to say that when he looked through the last six or seven years of his life, he seemed to himself like one who had been in a dream. During the whole of his connexion with the army, and indeed throughout the whole course of his trials and changes from the time of his first landing in America to his settlement as a physician in Princeton, it was observed by the pious and discerning, who had been acquainted with him in all his tossings and trials, that his deportment as a Christian was more than blameless,—it was exemplary. His attachment to the pious was seen in his undisguised selection of his companions,—treating all with the respect becoming their station in life, he accounted the righteous the excellent of the earth, and was peculiarly attached to those who exhibited a pious temper and a consistent Christian life. He might have said to such people as Ruth did to Naomi, "Intreat me not to leave thee, for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people; and thy God my God."

The Rev. James Hall, who had contracted a strong friendship for llr. Wilson while a member of college, being well acquainted with his acquirements and the estimation in which he was held by the students and faculty of college, visited Princeton in the year 17S6, and succeeded in persuading his friend to remove to Iredell county, North Carolina. Both had been diligent students at Nassau Hall; both professing Christians; both had served in the armies of the Revolution and come out honorably; both held to their faith in Christ through all the besetments of the camp and the temptations incident to war, and each exercised an influence over the other, particularly in time latter years of Mr. Wilson's life.

After the revival in Mr. I fall's congregation, and the consequent feeble health of that laborious and self-denied man, he made a sea voyage, and attended the meeting of the Synod of New York and Philadelphin in the spring of 17th. In the August following, his friend Dr. Wilson made a journey to Iredell, North Carolina, and finally made his residence in the sphere of that good man's labors, and there continued until his death, a period of some eighteen years.

Soon after his settlement in Iredell, Mr. Wilson became connected in marriage with Miss Margaret Hall, the daughter of Mr. Hugh Hall, and a near connexion of the friend by whose persuasion he had emigrated to North Carolina. This marriage was a happy one to both parties, till death made the separation; and in the desolation of widowhood was reflected upon by the bereaved wife as matter of thanksgiving and consolation. As a physician and as a preacher, he was the food husband, and kind father, and faithful friend.

Although his practice of medicine was very acceptable to the people, evincing great ability and skill, he continued in that profession but about four years after his removal to North Carolina. he had never been fully satisfied with himself from the time he had laid aside the study of theology; a secret uneasiness preyed upon his mind, lest he should be found to have run from his duty, and he often wished himself in another sphere of life,—that to which he had once devoted himself, but which afterwards he had declined. But every year seemed to remove him farther and farther from the object of his convictions; and the cares of a family and the calls of his profession were Heaping up difficulties and impediments, and rendering an entrance on the ministry a difficult, if not an impossible thing.

In this state of his mind, some of the pious people began to express a desire that so well qualified a person as Dr. Wilson should be taken from the practice of medicine and put into the pulpit; and from healing the maladies of the people and curing their bodily infirmities, should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ for the salvation of their souls.

Some of the leading ministers in Orange Presbytery also added their voice, amongst which the most feeble was not that of Mr. Hall, that he should come and take part of the ministry with them. Induced by this external call and his internal convictions, he offered himself to the Orange Presbytery a candidate for the gospel ministry; and having passed his various trials with much approbation, he was licensed to preach in the year 1791.

It soon appeared that his friends had not been mistaken in their anticipations of his usefulness as a minister. His preaching was so acceptable, that various respectable vacancies made exertions to obtain his services as their pastor. His inclinations were in favor of Fourth Creek and Concord, which were united in a call presented to Presbytery, and in June, 1793, he was ordained and installed their pastor, and became the successor and near neighbor of his friend Mr. Hall, whose desires were accomplished in seeing Mr. Wilson in the ministry, and the churches of his former charge supplied with an able and devoted preacher.

His connexion with these two churches continued about ten years with uninterrupted harmony.

The revival which began, in the year 1802, to be felt in Iredell county, was hailed with joy by Air. Wilson. He, with some of his flock, had been engaged in social prayer to God for an outpouring of his spirit, for some time before the meeting in Randolph, on which the ministers of Concord Presbytery attended with so much interest. Mr. Wilson believed that a work of;race was going on by the agency of the Holy Spirit using weak means, and he rejoiced in it, notwithstanding those bodily exercises which then accompanied it, and afterwards became so obnoxious to all the judicious. He encouraged the protracted meetings that followed in such quick succession in the upper country of Carolina, in which the people encamped upon the ground near the place of preaching; and remained for some (lays altogether absorbed in the subject of religion. There is no evidence that he encouraged any disorder, or pursued any improper course, or used any hurtful measures, he desired the salvation of his people, and preferred the excitement, with all the objectionable exercises, to that sleep of death which brooded over the multitude.

The exercises were so objectionable to many of the people of Fourth Creek, that they became opposed to the camp meetings, and doubted the genuineness of the whole work. With this was connected a discussion on the qualifications for admission to the sealing ordinances. Mr. Wilson, of Rocky River, says, "it was not unlike that which took place between President Edwards and the people of Northampton." 'That, it is well known, was on the following grounds: On the side of Mr. Edwards it was contended that a credible profession of experimental religion was the only proper qualification for admission to Baptism and the Lord's Supper. On the other side, that baptism in infancy and a blameless life were all that could be required by the church or its officers. In the case of Mr. Wilson and Fourth Creek congregation, the discussion probably was, for we have no detailed account, whether that kind of experience given by the converts at these protracted meetings, was the proper experience for admission to the privileges of time church; and if the proper, was it time only proper experience, in kind for such admission? The termination of the discussion in Fourth Creek, like that in Northampton, was the dissolution of the pastoral connection. There is no evidence, however, of the existence of any bitterness of feeling towards Ir. Wilson, by the party in Fourth Creek that was opposed to his views, while it is known that many of the church agreed with him in opinion, and were his firm friends till death. It is more than probable that 11Ir. Wilson might have retained the charge of the congregation, notwithstanding the disagreement, if his own feelings would have permitted him to preside over a divided session. He chose to withdraw from Fourth Creek, and confine his labors for the remainder of his life to time church of Concord.

This disagreement and consequent dissolution of the pastoral connection, had an unhappy influence upon the church and congregation of Fourth Creek. For many years they were without a regular pastor. Neither of the two parties was able to prevail in the congregation, and neither was willing to make a decisive movement; consequently no call was made out for a pastor for twenty years. Mr. William Stevenson, a warm-hearted, pious man, led one party, and maintained the opinions of Mr. Wilson, preferring the revival with all the objectionable exercises; and John McLelland, cool and determined in his course, would rather give up the excitement on religion than countenance in any way the attending objectionable circumstances, and led the other party. The tradition in the congregation has been, that the great body of the people would have been easily satisfied could these elders have agreed to drop the discussion. After having had temporary supplies for nearly twenty years, the Rev. Daniel Gould, from Nottingham, New Hampshire, visited them, and in 1823 was installed pastor. An active man, he was of great advantage to the congregation; was one of the first movers of the general supply of the Bible throughout. the United States, and did much for time dissemination of religious knowledge in Iredell county. His useful life was ended in 1834, April 29th, in his forty-fifth year; and his body interred in the Fourth Creek burying-ground. After some years of temporary supply, the Rev. E. F. Rockwell was installed in 1844. During the vacancy that occurred from the time Mr. Gould ceased to preach in Fourth Creek in 1828, six years before his death, the Rev. Robert Caldwell, a grandson of Dr. Caldwell, of Guilford, after preaching as a licentiate, was ordained and installed in 1831; and dying in 1832, was buried in the same yard with Mr. Gould.

The separation of Mr. Wilson from Fourth Creek took place in 1803, and in 1804 he was removed from all earthly scenes and labors to the spiritual Mount Zion. The Rev. John M. Wilson, of Rocky River, preached his funeral sermon from Revelations xiv., 13: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, write, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them." In the appendix to the printed sermon, which is the authority for much that has been already stated, he says: "Mr. Wilson was a most extraordinary and useful companion. His natural temper lively and cheerful, his education finished, his judgment penetrating, his acquaintance with the world large, qualified him at once to entertain and edify those that were conversant with him."

"Freed from a useless round of ceremony and unshackled by modes and forms, it was impossible not to be easy in his company. Our deceased friend, as a divine, certainly stood in a point of view highly respectable. He was not a wandering star, running off into eternal eccentricities. With respect to his system of faith, it was that which you might have expected from his profession. It was not like Nebuchadnezzar's image, composed of heterogeneous materials which cannot coalesce. He was firmly Calvinistic. In this respect he believed, and many will believe with him, `that he went his way by the footsteps of the flock, and fed his kids beside the shepherd's tent.'

"In the arrangement of his public discourses he was clear and judicious; his gesture natural, indicating deep engagement of heart; his style elevated and nervous; his eloquence flowing and persuasive. The language of Mr. Wilson's precepts and practice was one. By a life and conversation conformed to the gospel, he silently exhorted those to whom he ministered, as the great Apostle of the (gentiles did the churches—'My little children, be ye followers of me, even as I am a follower of Christ."'

"From a life and conversation thus upright, holy writ advises us to expect a peaceful latter end. This expectation, in the present case, was not di appointed. He had been under declining circumstances of health for several mouths before he took his last illness, but had recovered considerably, which gave hopes that he was about to be restored to his usefulness in the church. But the will of heaven was to remove hide. His last illness, if the writer mistakes not, was a fever of the inflammatory kind. Shortly after he was taken ill, he mentioned to a friend who called to see him, that he knew he never would survive it, and added that he had two reasons for saying so: '1st. Because I have felt myself more dead to the world for about two months past, than I ever did before. 2d. I feel symptoms now that I never felt before in any sickness.'

"On the Friday and Saturday week before he died, he frequently spoke of that uninterrupted peace and joy that he found in believing. About this time the hiccough became so violent that he could scarcely utter a single sentence. On Sabbath morning he called his little sons to him, and said: 'Retire into the other room and read your books, and may the Lord God of your father bless you.' On Monday morning, being asked whether he enjoyed the comforts of religion, he answered, yes. Being told that it was probable he would never rise from that bed, he replied, 'I am willing to die, if God is willing. Death has been no terror to me for five years past.'

"On Sabbath morning, December 9th, immediately preceding his death, the hiccough materially subsided, so that he was able to connect sentences, and give regular addresses. Early in the morning he called to his bedside a number of his friends, who were waiting with him, and gave an address to every one, according to the opinion he had formed of their religious standing. To a young man who asked him how he did, he replied, `I am almost in heaven.' To a young woman, 'Beware of this world, or it will ruin you; it has ruined thousands.' After this, sitting up in bed, supported with one behind him, he called for a drink, after which he collected into his countenance a cheerful air, and proceeded as follows: `My friends, thirty years have elapsed since I first discovered the vanity of this world, and ever since it has been growing less and less in my esteem; and now every worldly attachment is broken up, and I am ready to take my flight at a moment's warning. The reason why I left the country where I then resided was, Iest I should be carried away with the worldly spirit so prevalent in that part (London), and you, my friends, are my witnesses, that since I came among you, I have uniformly acted on the same principles, and been influenced by the same views.'

"Early on this day the Rev. Dr. Hall made him a visit, and upon asking him how he was, he replied,—'I am going to heaven.' About 11 o'clock a member of the session came to him and said, `Farewell, I am going to the session-house.' To whom he replied, 'Carry this my last message to the people of Concord,—tell them that I am on the borders of the eternal world, and my wish is that God may enable them to improve every dispensation of his providence that has any tendency to promote their eternal salvation.'

"About 12 o'clock he requested those who were present to join in singing, himself naming the hymn that he wished to sing. At an interval of this exercise he broke out into thanksgiving and praise as follows: `OIGod, I thank thee for the supports thou hast granted me under my present affliction, and through all the stages of my past life. I praise thee for another Sabbath; and for the present communication of thy spirit and grace which thou least granted me this day above all the Sabbaths I have ever enjoyed. O Lord, thou hast supported me; and thou promised to support me; and thou wilt support me; and poor as I am, and sinful as I am, and worthless as I am, I shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of my heavenly Father.'

He was much engaged in exhortation through the whole of this day. In the evening he desired all to leave the room except his wife and children. This being done, he gave to each of them his dying charge. The same evening he said to the physician who attended him, `Doctor, you can do me no good; I am just going into the eternal world; and were it not for the comforts of religion, I believe I should be completely on the rack. The most painful hours are the most happy hours; I never read or heard of anything that will support a man in a dying hour but the gospel of Christ.'

"On Monday, the 10th, he was very weak, not able to utter more than two or three words at a time; but still manifested his good will to every person who came in, by reaching out his hand. A very aged man coming to the bedside, he took him by the hand and said, `You are come to see a dying man.'

"Tuesday, 11th. This day ended the Life of Mr. Wilson. Through the former part of it he was very uneasy. About 3 o'clock in the evening he appeared to be dying; but recovering a little, he cast an affectionate look at his two little sons, who stood by the bedside, and reached out his hand, and took each of them by their hands, but said nothing. Shortly after, Mrs. Wilson sitting by the bedside, he took her by the hand, and with a pleasant countenance said, 'You and I will yet rejoice together in this great salvation.' A few minutes after he whispered to her to turn him; which being done, he lay easy a little while. As he lay, his lips were observed to be constantly moving. Some who stood near him say that he whispered, Holy, holy. He then appeared to compose himself for his last sleep by laying, his left hand under his cheek, and bringing his right hand down by his side. This being done, he breathed out his last, December 11th, 1804, in the 52d year of his age, without a struggle or a groan."

He was buried near Bethany Church, a few paces from the date of the grave-yard, in a place chosen by his wife's relations. His friend Hall was, many years after, buried a few paces from his side. On a white marble head-stone is the following inscription

SACRED
To the memory of the late
Rev. LEWIS F. WILSON, who
departed this life Dec'r 11th, 1804,
in the 52d year of his age.
Through almost the whole
of his ministerial course with
ability and faithfulness, he sus-
tained the pastoral relation
over the united congregations
of Fourth Creek and Concord.

Preserve, O venerable pile,
Inviolate thy precious trust;
To thy cold arms the Christian Church,
Weeping, commits her precious dust.

He left a widow and seven children, three sons, and four daughters. All his children grew up to mature years, and all, by the time they reached their twenty-first year, were united to the church on a credible profession of religion. Two of the sons became ministers of the gospel, one of whom was the pioneer of settled ministers in Texas, and is now laboring there (1845), and the other resides in Virginia. "I doubt not," says one of the children, "that. the instruction which we received on Sabbath after returning from church, was the means of bringing us thus early to devote our lives to the service of God."

Hall had the longest race, and produced the greatest immediate effect on his fellow-men; Wilson had the most triumphant end, and being dead, yet speaks in his descendants. Both undoubtedly fought the good fight, and won the prize, and in the last great day will wear the conqueror's crown.


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