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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XV. - Bethel and her Ministers


Of the four congregations formed by John Blair on his visit to Virginia in 1746, with their appropriate elders, embracing the whole width of the Valley from a little above Staunton to some distance beyond Lexington, south-westwardly, Forks of James, Timber Ridge, New Providence, and North Mountain; the first of the last have disappeared from the records of the church. In the place of the first name, Hall’s meeting-house, New Monmouth, New Monmouth and Lexington were in common use. In place of the fourth, Brown’s meeting-house embracing one end of the congregation became the leading name on the records — then Brown’s meetinghouse and North Mountain; and now Hebron and Bethel. The old North Mountain meeting-house stood near the grave-yard eight or nine miles from Staunton, on the Middlebrook road. Brown’s meeting-house accommodated one part of the extended congregation, better than the North Mountain did the other. After much consultation a new church called Bethel was reared, principally by the agency of Col. Doak, a few steps from the site of the present brick church, in a retired but pleasant and central spot, about ten miles south of Staunton, and about midway between the Greenville and Middlebrook roads, from Staunton to Lexington. To this place a greater part of those families in the neighborhood of the North Mountain meeting-house have come, and with them were united some from New Providence, and some from Tinkling Spring, and formed the large and flourishing congregation of Bethel.

The name North Mountain, as applying to the whole region now covered by Hebron and Bethel, was never entered upon the records of Hanover Presbytery. “Brown’s meeting-house” — “the meeting-house near Major Brown’s” — “the inhabitants assembling at the meeting-house,” &c., were, the names recorded in petitions for supplies. For a number of years after New Providence, and Timber Ridge, and Tinkling Spring had pastors, this region could get no settled minister, and depended on supplies, and the labors of tiie neighboring ministers. In October of the year 1766, Mr. Charles Cummings received a call from—“the congregation belonging to Major Brown's meeting-house in Augusta this he accepted, and served the congregation till April, 1772. In what manner he disposed of his labors we have no memoranda, and can only conjecture that the Bethel part of the congregation was not neglected. The two parts of the congregation remained vacant till 1778, when a call was put in for the services of Archibald Scott from Brown’s meeting-house and North Mountain, which he accepted. They were an associated charge during his pastorate of more than twenty years. After his death the congregation made separate provisions for their spiritual wants.

Mr. Archibald Scott, a lonely emigrant from Scotland to Pennsylvania, in early life, followed the plough for a livelihood, in the employ of wealthy farmers. His correct religious deportment, and studious employment of all his leisure hours in the acquisition of useful knowledge, attracted the attention of Dr. Cooper, a member of Donegal Presbytery. On further acquaintance the doctor encouraged him to commence a course of study for the sacred ministry. Having been educated in the peculiarities of the Seceders in Scotland, he retained through life a strong attachment to the Church of his fathers, and carried out in his ministry, in after life, some of the characteristic traits of that division of the Scotch Presbyterian Church. The kindness shown him in Pennsylvania, and the encouragement to prepare for the ministry, drew him to a closer acquaintance with the Presbyterian Church, from which he differed in some matters, of importance in the estimation of his own denomination; and after a time he became a member of that Church and a candidate for the ministry. He pursued his classical studies under the direction of a Mr. Finley, whose course of instruction was extensive and his teaching thorough, though principally confined to the classics. Here he became acquainted with a Mr. Ramsey, whose parents had emigrated to the Virginia frontiers, and by him he was persuaded to seek employment in that new and fertile region.

Supporting himself by teaching school, he pursued a course of theological reading, under the direction of Mr. William Graham, of Liberty Hall. The first notice of Mr. Scott, on the minutes of Presbytery, bears date June 19th, 1777, Concord, Bedford County. “Mr. Scott delivered the lecture, and the Presbyterial exercise assigned him at our last Presbytery, which were considered and sustained as parts of trial.” This refers to the meeting at Concord, Oct. 1776; the records of the meeting are lost. Oct. 30th, 1777, at Buffalo, Mr. Scott delivered a popular sermon on Rev. 22d. 17th, “And the Spirit and Bride say come.” On the next day, he and Samuel Doak and Edward Crawford, after a protracted examination were licensed to preach the gospel. The Presbytery, upon deliberating upon their several trial sermons, resolved, “ that they be sustained as parts of trial, and that the moderator administer to them such cautions as the Presbytery thought necessary, upon the consideration of their performances.” For about a year, Mr. Scott preached as a supply to the vacancies in the, Valley; and in October 1778, at Mountain Plains a call from the North Mountain and Brown’s meeting-house was put in his hands by Presbytery and accepted ; preparations were made for his ordination at Brown’s meeting house on the first Tuesday of the succeeding December; Mr. Graham to preach the ordination sermon, and Mr. Waddell to preside and give the charge. Mr. Scott was appointed to preach prior to his ordination from the words, “ God is love.” Mr. Samuel Doak having accepted a call from the congregations of Hopewell and Concord on Holston, in Tennessee, his ordination was appointed to take place with that of Mr. Scott. The records of the meeting for the ordination are lost; but Mr. Scott appears as a member at the next meeting.

The year succeeding his settlement, as he was riding through the neighborhood, he came unexpectedly upon a company of men putting up a large log building. Upon inquiry, he found it was designed as a meeting-house. The people worshipping at the old North Mountain meeting-house, had been talking about a new church building, and a new position, but nothing had been decided upon by the congregation. Fearing lest evil might spring from this sudden movement of one part of the congregation, the young pastor says— “Are you not too fast, my boys?” “No,” said Col. Doak, “we will end the dispute by putting up the Church.” The church building was completed and called Bethel, and the dispute was heard of no more. This church building became notorious for two politico-religious meetings during the Revolution.

In the year 1T84, the Presbytery of Hanover presented a memorial to the General Assembly of the State, on the Bill for a general assessment for the support of religious teachers, brought forward and advocated by Patrick Henry, who thought that support should be given^ to the public instructors in religion, of whatever denomination, under the sanction and provisions of law. That memorial was presented by Messrs. Smith and Todd. A few days after, these gentlemen handed in one in their own name.

To the Honorable the Speaker and the House of Delegates— The petition and memorial of John Todd and John B. Smith respectfully shows—that your memorialists as members of the Presbytery of Hanover, entrusted by them to wait upon the Assembly with their late memorial, (see 1st Vol. of Sketches, pp. 337 and 8), beg leave to explain that particular which refers to the incorporation of clergymen, as we are afraid that some gentlemen in the house may entertain a misapprehension of it. The Presbytery suppose that the only incorporation, which government is adequate to, is of a civil nature, by which societies in a collective capacity may hold property for any lawful purpose. And in their view, to incorporate clergymen exclusively of the religious community which they serve, would be an unequal, impolitic and dangerous measure. As to the incorporation of any order of men, or any religious society by the State, under the express idea of conveying to them any powers of Church government, the Presbytery absolutely protests against it, as inconsistent with the proper objects of legislation and an unnecessary and dangerous measure; unnecessary, because it would be to acknowledge the state as the indulgent parent of any class of citizens, whose consciences would permit them to become obedient children in spirituals, whilst those who should refuse submission in this respect, though equally good citizens, might be treated with a partial coldness, which would be undeserved. Wo therefore pray in the name of the Presbytery, that this distinction of the two kinds of incorporation may be preserved as their true meaning. We are gentlemen your humble servants,

John Todd,
John B. Smith.
Richmond, Nov. 18th 1784.

At the next Spring meeting, held in Bethel meeting-house, May 19th, 1T85, a petition came up from the session of Augusta church, requesting an explanation of the word liberal in the late memorial. This led to consultation by Committee, and in Presbytery at large, which ended in the Presbytery declaring, unanimously, against any assessment whatever. The Presbytery were unanimously of the opinion, that a Convention of the Presbyterian body was expedient. In concurrence with several members of different congregations, the 10th of the succeeding August, was fixed upon. This Convention met and adopted an able memorial, (see 1st vol. of Sketches, pp. 342, 43, 44), in which the memorialists say — “We oppose the bill, because it is a departure from the line of legislation; because it is unnecessary and inadequate to its professed end, impolitic in many respects, and a direct violation of the declaration of rights.” On this memorial, J. B. Smith was heard on the floor of Assembly, in Committee of the Whole. In the event, Mr. Jefferson’s bill on the freedom of conscience was adopted.

The members of this congregation took some share in the struggles of the Revolution. Captain Tate was in the battle of the Cowpens, and shared in Morgan’s retreat to<^ Virginia with the prisoners. He returned to Carolina with the militia that were sent from Bethel and Tinkling Spring, to join General Greene, and assist in turning Lord Cornwallis back from his approach to Virginia. When his company of militia assembled at Midway, or Steele’s tavern, Dr. Waddell addressed them on the eve of their departure, and exhorted them to patriotism and courage, and prompt obedience to the military rules, under which they now came. They joined Greene, and were with him in the battle of Guilford, March 15th, 1781. Captain Tate was in the second, or Virginia line of militia. The first line of militia had orders to fire once and retreat; the second to act as circumstances required, and when necessary, to fall back on the regulars. Tate bravely maintained his post; being a little deaf, it is supposed he did not hear the signal call tor the militia to retire, and was surrounded and slain with a number that stood courageously with him. The majority of his company returned, and were assembled with their neighbors to worship God, from Sabbath to Sabbath, at Tinkling Spring and Bethel. Many of these militia carried scars from Guilford to their graves. Some of these militia soldiers were for a time hearers of the present minister, Dr. McFarland, the last of whom, Mr. Wilson, he attended to an honorable grave.

In the June succeeding the battle of Guilford, an alarm was given on a Saturday, that Tarlton having surprised Charlottesville, was on his way to Staunton. Mr. Scott was then hearing a class in the Catechism, at Bethel meeting-house. This he hastily dismissed to go home, and spread the alarm. The succeeding Sabbath was a day of military gathering from Lexington to the Peeked Mountain, to pre-occupy all the gaps of the Blue Ridge with expert riflemen. Scott had no preaching that day at Bethel; Brown had no worship at Providence; Wilson, of Augusta, sent his people to watch the enemy; Waddell went to Tinkling Spring, but his people were lining the mountains on the look-out for the approach of Tarlton; and Graham in Lexington was parading his people, and marching with them for Rockfish Gap. But the Valley was spared the shedding of blood on that occasion. No hostile force trod upon her soil. Her sons spilt their own blood elsewhere in the defence of their country, at Point Pleasant, the Cowpens, Guilford, and Yorktown. There was lately living one, William McCutchan, who served three tours in the army. The first and longest was in the Jerseys, and at White Plains; to this he was with difficulty admitted by the commander on account of his youth. The second was to meet Cornwallis in his approach to central Virginia; and the last at Yorktown. His simple narrative gives a deeper impression of the wrongs of the soldiers in the American army, in losing their wages by the paper currency, or continental money, than any page of history has ever done.

Dismissed to return home from the Jerseys, after his time of service was expired, he received his wages in this money. Soon after leaving camp, a landlord, supposed not to be favorable to the cause, refused him and his companion a meal of victuals for less than five dollars a-piece in paper currency. The next landlord demanded two and a half dollars. They determined to travel as far as possible in a day; and to eat but one meal. In all the places along the road where they called for refreshment, they were asked, “can you pay for it?” and “in what can you pay for it?” In Winchester where they purchased their last meal, the landlord took but half price of them, as they were soldiers — the first time any allowance was made in their favor — and charged only a dollar and a half. A week’s wages would not pay their expenses, travelling on foot, a single day.

As pastor of Bethel, Mr. Scott had in his charge some of the connections of his early teacher, Mr. Finley; particularly the family of Mrs. Margaret Humphreys, who lived to an advanced age near Greenville, and for a long time the only female representative of Bethel during the Revolution. Her graphic descriptions were full of interest, and conveyed the liveliest impression'of the times, wrhen the valley was a frontier settlement. Where now may be seen the beautiful farms and substantial houses in Bethel, her active memory recalled the log cabins, the linsey woolsey, the short gowns, the hunting shirts, the moccasins, the pack horses, the simple living, the shoes and stockings for winter and uncommon occasions, the deer and the rifle, the fields of flax and the spinning wheel, and the wool and looms; and with them, the strict attention to religious concerns, the catechising of children, the regular going to church, the reading of the Bible, and keeping Sabbath from the beginning to the end, the singing of hymns and sacred songs, all blended, presenting a beautiful picture of enterprise, economy and religion in laying the foundation of society.

A sacred lyric that was said to have been composed by Samuel Davies, and in great repute in her young days, she repeated with animation in her declining years:

Active spark of heavenly fire,
In a clod of earth confined,
Ever fluttering to aspire,
To the great paternal mind;
Death has broke thy prison of clay,
And given thee leave to soar away.
Now to thy native regions go,
There with etherial flames to glow.
Hark ! th’ angelic envoys say,
Sister spirit, come away!
Drop the cumber of thy clay!
And with thy kindred join!
Angels, I come! conduct me on,
Instruct me in a world unknown ;
Teach me, inexperienced stranger,
How to act as the immortals do;
To think and speak and move like you.
Teach me the senses to supply,
To see without the organ of an eye;
The music of your song to hear,
Without the organ of an ear.
Yes! now blessed angels now I find
The powers of an immortal mind,
How active and how strange!
And is this then Eternity!
And am I safely landed here!
No more to sin, no more to die,
No more to sigh, or shed a tear!
My soul, can this be I?
I who just now in prison dark,
In yonder world of woe and guilt,
Just now shuddering, trembling, sighing,
Startled at the thought of dying,
Am I the same?
Or is it all a pleasing dream?
0 yes the very same!
Ye heavenly choirs! cherubic, seraphic choirs!
Help a stranger to express
His thanks to rich unbounded grace.
Jesus ! the unbounded grace was thine,
Who bled and groaned upon the tree,
And bore infinite pangs for me;
And do I see thy lovely face at last,
0 my dear incarnate God!
And has thy love thy servant placed
In thy shining blest abode?
Enough! enough! thy bounty gives me more
Than I could ask, or wish before.

Toil and simplicity of living, with industry, were commingled with devotion. Hearts that could relish Davies’ Sentiments, could not be rude or vulgar or coarse. Minds of the finest mould, and hearts of the purest sympathies, were found clad in homespun, and often at labor not so well fitted to the strength and condition of women. But in a frontier life what hardships will not women bear! Said a man in Bethel, somewhat advanced in years — “The hardest day’s work I ever did, when a young man, in the harvest field, was in keeping up with a stout Dutch girl, that came to help us fur a day or two; on she went, singing and laughing, till night; and I was glad to see sundown come.” The lighter frames and fairer forms would spin and weave, and clothe their fathers and their brothers, and make becoming fabrics for themselves.

For above twenty years Mr. Scott fulfilled the duties of pastor to these churches. His residence was on the east side of the Middlebrook road, near the sixth mile post from Staunton, a log house, still standing, in the hollow, a short distance from the more sightly habitation of its present owner. Here he was often seen sweating at the plough, gaining for his children a livelihood, as he had gained his own, in his youth; for during the war, and for a time afterwards, the salaries of the clergy were small and indifferently paid. He was tall, of a large frame, but not fleshy; his features prominent and pitted with the small-pox, by which one eye had been affected, requiring frequent wiping to prevent a tear-drop. In his preaching he was doctrinal, always instructive, and often deeply impressive and powerful. His modesty sometimes became diffidence, and his self-respect was often overshadowed by his shrinking from notoriety. He took no prominent part in Presbytery or Synod, but waited for those whose opinion he valued to take the lead. He held his own abilities and acquirements in low estimation, and was seldom satisfied with his pulpit performances.

The people of his charge, capable, many of them at least, of judging with great accuracy, held him in high estimation. He was sound in' doctrine, and if blessed with less powers of mind than Graham, he exhibited a greater fund of tenderness; with less of eloquence that takes every soul by storm, he could mingle more with the mass of people, and make them feel he was bone of their bone. His usefulness was increasing, and his hold on his people growing stronger and stronger till the day of his death. He did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God. Having preached from a text, from which while a student with Mr. Finley he had heard a warmhearted minister discourse affectingly — “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people he expressed himself as having preached badly, and bemeaned the text; while his hearers thought he had preached exceedingly well. Mr. Graham heard the same man in Pennsylvania— and when he afterwards poured out his excited heart in a discourse on the same words, with an impression never forgotten, he calmly replied to an impertinent inquiry—“Mr. Graham, how long were you getting that sermon ready you preached the other day?” “How long was I in getting it ready? — why, about twenty years,” and probably thought as little of that sermon as Scott did of his.

Greatly devoted to catechising the children of the congregation, he devoted some time in the week to meeting different neighborhoods for that purpose. Besides the shorter catechism, he used another called The Mother s Catechism, of which he procured a reprint in Staunton, in thirty-two full octavo pages ; the last two and a half pages formed an appendix on election, drawn up by himself. Judging from that, almost the only remaining specimen of the productions of his pen, his mind was discriminating, his views of theological subjects sound and in accordance with the principles of the Reformation ; and if he preached as he wrote, his people were well instructed in divine things. If the present generation know little of him, it is because no written memorial was made of his labors and his worth. He still lives, however, in the Lord’s vineyard, if a man may live in his descendants; and the covenant of mercy has been a rich inheritance to his children and grand-children ; many of whom are in the church, and a number in the ministry, whose labors God has condescended to bless.

On the 4th of March, 1799, after a short illness, he closed his useful life, leaving a widow and six children, two sons and four daughters, all young, and one an infant. His body lies in the burying-ground near Hebron Church; and though the subject was frequently spoken of, and some steps once taken by his people, no tomb-stone has yet been erected over his ashes; and soon the inquirer will search for his grave in vain. His wife, a sister of the young Mr. Ramsey, that induced him to seek a home in Virginia, survived him but a few years. The care of the family then devolved upon his eldest child, a daughter. She opposed the scattering of the children among the friends, as was proposed by some well-wishers of the family.; and taking the direction of affairs and the management of the children, the sister became mother to the bereaved flock. With the advice and counsel of the ministerial brethren of her father, and the judicious relations that w^ere near, and those gentlemen of the congregation who loved the children for the father’s sake, she contrived to secure a classical education for the boys, and a sufficient course of instruction, in English, for the girls, refusing all offers of marriage till the education of the children was secured. One of the sons, long a successful and laborious minister of the gospel, attributes much of his usefulness to the kindness and energy with which that sister trained his early years, with exemplary devotion and care. During his life he reverenced her as a mother. ‘ As I passed the place of our residence a short time since,” said the son, who was too young at his father’s death to know his loss, “I paused a while to ponder over the scenes of the young days of my orphanage, while my sister, M’Pheeters, now no more, was my sister and my mother. I loved and reverenced her then; I thanked God for her again, with a heart full of unutterable emotion.” Some pious females will be found at the last day, who in their silent and unobtrusive self-denial have won a crown that shall never fade away. Christ has said of Mary — “She has done what she could.” How much that sentence means when applied to a sister that reared one brother for a useful and successful teacher, and three sisters, who were all comfortably situated as heads of families, and another brother to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church, who in his declining years looks upon three of his sons devoted to the work of the ministry, eternity alone can determine.

Bethel has shared in various precious revivals, and has sent forth some faithful ministers of the gospel, as Doak, the pioneer of the gospel and literature in Tennessee, the two Logans, M’Pheeters, and Mines. In the early revivals there was nothing peculiar. In that great revival, which prevailed in Virginia in the years 1802 and 1806, the bodily exercises were matters of great discussion. Baxter was in the midst, and was slow in saying they were from evil; Erwin, of Mossy Creek, set himself strongly against them, and his congregation was never visited by them; Brown, of New Providence, was clear and decided against them, and his people were not troubled; Wilson, of Augusta, was much inclined to believe that they were accompaniments of good, and might be themselves good, and his congregation was largely visited. Bethel was a vacancy for a time after Mr. Scott’s death, and the people were somewhat divided in opinion about the nature of these exercises. At a meeting held there by Baxter of Lexington, Brown, of New Providence, and Mr. Boggs, a licentiate of Winchester Presbytery, under a sermon from Baxter, the whole congregation appeared deeply affected. During the sermon, delivered by Mr. Boggs, after a short interval, the bodily agitations began ; one of the elders rose and began to sing, and immediately the whole congregation was convulsed with various emotions and exercises; groans and sighs and cries were heard in every part, and for awhile the worship was suspended. The congregation were greatly divided in their opinion about the proper course of procedure; some withdrew, and joined the Seceders at Old Providence, where there were no symptoms of the approach, or of a welcome of the exercises, should they make their appearance. In a few years all thought alike of them, as mere bodily affections, in some way connected with the mind, but not at all religious in their nature or bearing.

The Rev. William M’Pheeters, D. D., was born in Bethel, near the North Mountain, on the waters of Middle River, September 28th, 1788. He inherited the surname of his father and grandfather and great-grandfather, who emigrated from Scotland to Ireland, in the time of Oliver Cromwell. His grandfather married young in Ireland, and emigrated to Pennsylvania, and finally settled in Augusta County, Virginia, bringing his family, a wife and eight children; some of the children unmarried, and some heads of families. His father was born in Pennsylvania in 1729, and was married to Rachel Moore, with whom he lived to rear a large family; served as magistrate, and was a ruling elder in the congregation of whicli Archibald Scott was pastor. Dr. M’Pheeters was reared in the faith of his mother and grandmother. Rachel Moore was born in the year 1736 : her mother was a Walker, from Wigton, Scotland. Through the Walker family there is a connexion traced back to the illustrious Rutherford, of Scotland. The Doctor was more careful to preserve some written memorial of his mother’s experience than of his own. She was of a lively disposition, cheerful, but never fond of trifling conversation, and much given to secret prayer, in which she had great enjoyment, before she was fifteen years of age.

“When my mother was about thirty years of age, on a certain communion Sabbath, her exercises during the day were unusually comfortable. Some pious friends from Walker’s Creek accompanied her home; that night, their conversation till bed-time, was on the subject of religion. After retiring to her bed, my mother was favored with such overwhelming views of the beauty and glory of the heavenly inheritance, as to deprive her of nearly all her bodily strength. These rapturous views continued to recur, at short intervals, during the whole night, and sleep was entirely taken away from her. About daybreak her views were more rapturous and overwhelming than before. During the next day she experienced great composure of mind, and felt no inconvenience from the want of sleep. After this her exercises were various; sometimes she was happy in the enjoyment of religion, sometimes destitute of feeling, and sometimes backward in receiving, as coming from God, the comforts bestowed upon' her. .

Her son David diefl from home, in his twenty-fourth year. Some short time after his death, on a certain Sabbath, while reclining on her bed, it pleased God to give her clear and satisfactory evidence of her acceptance in the Beloved. Being thus near to God, and enjoying in so great a degree the gracious smiles of his reconciled countenance, the thought occurred to her that she might now inquire respecting her son, and ask of God some evidence of his happiness in the world of spirits. But soon did she check her presumptuous inquiry, and felt reproved for attempting to pry into the unrevealed secrets of God’s righteous government. ‘With this great truth,’ said she, ‘I must be satisfied; the Judge of all the earth will do right.’

Then let my Sovereign if he please
Lock up his marvellous decrees,
Why should I wish him to reveal
What he thinks proper to conceal?

His mother died January 30th 1826, aged about 90 years, without a groan or struggle, as in a sweet sleep; literally falling asleep in Jesus. Her end was a fitting conclusion of her life, as some extracts from a letter from her pastor to her son, some years after her death, will show. “She took great delight, as you know, in attending at the house of God, especially on communion ‘ Sabbaths. But as she advanced in years she was not always able to be present on these occasions. On the Sabbath before alluded to, when we were celebrating the Lord’s Supper, she being too infirm to be present, about the time, as I suppose, when we were at the table, she told me, that in% musing she thought herself at the Lord’s table, and seated at the end of it next to me; that she plainly saw the bread and the wine; that as I handed the bread to her, and pronounced the words, ‘Broken for you,’ that those words came with such power to her mind as almost to overwhelm her; and that the delightful state of mind that followed continued the whole day. I remarked to her that I supposed she enjoyed the occasion as much as she sometimes did when she was actually at the table. 0 yes ! said she, I have been twenty times at the table when my enjoyment has not been so great. I then said, Now when you are deprived of the opportunity of attending on the ordinance, the Lord you see is giving you the enjoyment without it. At this her heart was filled and her utterance checked. On another occasion, July 1825, she told me, that recently, just before a severe turn of illness, she had such a sense of nearness to God as she had scarcely ever experienced before, or as she supposed was possible in the flesh. Indeed she thought her frail body could not have borne much more. At another time she told me — that as to the matter of dying, she had no fear about it; and that if she should be called off suddenly, she wished me to preach her funeral sermon from Amos 4th, 12th. Prepare to meet thy God, 0 Israel. And from that text I did preach her funeral. Her piety w^as Of the very highest order.

Your Brother, Francis M’Farland.

March 12th, 1842.

Dr. M’Pheeters commenced his classical studies in Staunton, and completed his education at Liberty Hall under Mr. Graham. Oct. 1797, he commenced the study of medicine with his brother James in Kentucky. In the course of the two years he pursued that study, he became deeply exercised on the subject of his salvation. Having professed his faith and united with the Church under the care of Wm. Robertson, his heart was drawn to the ministry of the gospel. Returning to Virginia he put himself under the care of Lexington Presbytery, and pursued his Theological reading with that logical man Samuel Brown of New Providence. His first piece of trial, on the words “Here am I, send me,” was exhibited at Hebron, Oct. 12th 1801. He was licensed at New Providence, April 19th 1802, the Rev. Benjamin Erwin officiating. In June 1803, he took charge of the Church in Danville,^ Kentucky; and to aid in his support taught school. In 1804 he visited Chilicothe. In September he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of John M’Dowell, near Lexington Kentucky, and returned to Virginia. After visiting the counties of Greenbrier and Monroe, and preaching for some time in Windy Cove and New Lebanon, he took charge in December 1805, of Bethel, his native congregation; and on Monday the 22d of April, was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry, Dr. Baxter preaching the sermon, -which was printed in the Magazine, and his theological teacher, Mr. Brown, delivering the charge. In the December following he laid the remains of his wife and child side by side, the first occupants of the grave-yard by Bethel Church now so full of mounds. In 1810, his second wife was taken from him leaving a young daughter.

“About this time,” as he writes, “I received, by the hands of a special messenger, an invitation from the Trustees of the Academy, Raleigh, North Carolina, to preside over the institution as principal teacher; and to preach to the town congregation, then vacant in consequence of the removal of Rev. Wm. L. Turner to the town of Fayetteville. Having visited the place and being pleased with the prospect, I accepted the invitation, and in the month of June 1810, took charge of the congregation and academy.”

Dr. M’Pheeters resided in Raleigh from this time with one short interval till his death in 1842. In March 1812, he was united in marriage with Miss Margaret A. C. M’Daniel of Washington, North Carolina. She survives him, the mother of twelve children, seven of whom survived their father.

In June 1816, a Presbyterian Church was organized in Raleigh, consisting of four elders and eighteen members. In about two years from that time their spacious and neat house for worship was ready for occupation. The congregation continuing to increase, Dr. M’Pheeters, thinking that the duties required of the principal of the Academy and the pastor of the Church, were sufficient for two men, and believing that his proper sphere was in the Academy, on the 18th of March 1824, resigned the pastoral office. While he continued to supply the pulpit there appeared to him a slackness in efforts to procure a pastor, he therefore declined preaching to the congregation. The Rev. Thomas P. Hunt was induced to remove to Raleigh, Nov. 1828. He remained about two years. Rev. Michael Osborne ministered to the congregation for a few years. In 1836, Dr. M’Pheeters still refusing to become pastor, the congregation called the Rev. Drury Lacy D. D., who remained with them till invited to the Presidency of Davidson College, in 1853.

In 1836, Dr. M’Pheeters opened a female school in Fayetteville, and received extensive patronage. His health failing, he was succeeded by Rev. Rufus W. Bailey. Returning to Raleigh, he became agent for the Board of Missions of the General Assembly, and served about two years, with great bodily suffering. In 1840 he was elected President of Davidson College, successor of Dr. Morrison. Though fond of giving instruction to youth, and desiring earnestly the prosperity of the College, he, on account of his health, declined the offered honor. His habits of correctness, his amiable disposition, and deep sense of responsibility, qualified him in a peculiar manner for the office of teacher, which he occupied for so many years in Raleigh. As a member of Church judicatories he was invaluable. Cool, deliberate, cautious, kind, in the exercise of sound sense and cheerful piety, as an adviser he was not surpassed. To a casual observer he would sometimes appear to be moving sluggishly, while he was pondering the subject in hand, weighing causes and effects, and probable consequences, and moving on to a conclusion, which, once expressed, was not speedily changed. Few men, called to do so much, have had as little to undo. He was not a splendid man; but for the Church he was something better. He loved her interests, and labored for her through life, with a reputation above reproach, too modest to perceive that his influence was increasing with his years, and that in his last days no man’s opinion weighed against his in that Synod of which he had been a member for more than thirty years.

After resigning the pastoral office, knowing as he must, the kind feeling of the whole community to him, he was particular never to propose anything to the attention of the congregation, or advocate anything proposed until he was satisfied that the approbation of the pastor had been fully expressed. Honor to whom honor is due, was the maxim of his heart and life. Of course he lived on the most friendly and intimate terms with his successor. He took a lively interest in the erection of a parsonage for the minister of the church, and encouraged the lady, by whose means it was accomplished, with more earnestness than if it had been erected for himself.

In his domestic relations he was pre-eminently happy and lovely. Could an open, or secret enemy have passed a few days under his roof, witnessing the untiring efforts of the father to lead-his family to the love and service of the Lord Christ, he must have felt it impossible longer to contend with such a man; that even in the mistakes- into which, as a man, he might fall, the mercy of a covenant-keeping God was a shield and defence. His daughter that passed away before him, in her mature years, gave evidence of conversion to God in early life. In her fourteenth year she wrote to a young friend.

April 19th, 1831.

My Dear Mary Ann : — I do hope your prayers and the prayers of my other dear friends have been answered in my behalf. Yet my dear Mary Ann continue to pray for me that I may not be deceived; for you know that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. On Sunday last I heard Mr. Beard, of Philadelphia, preach twice. In the morning he preached to Christians ; and in the afternoon he addressed sinners from the text — “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled and answered, go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee.” Oh ! he preached an awful sermon about grieving the spirit. I was afraid I had grieved him' and that he would take his final flight. My dear friend, you cannot tell what feelings I had. Oh! I felt if I did grieve him he. would leave me forever, for I know that God hath said in his holy word — “ My spirit shall not always strive with man:” and when I considered how often I had been warned of my danger, I thought, if I did grieve the Holy Spirit, that he would never return any more. So I determined through God’s strength, that I would never rest till I should give myself away to the Saviour.

That evening after sermon a young female acquaintance came home with me, and Satan told me I had better let it alone until the next day, that it would not do for me to leave my company. But I thought with myself — is not the soul of more value than anything else? Yes. I knew it was. So I determined that nothing should hinder me. I went to my room up stairs, and did not come down till the family were ready to go to night-meeting. In my retirement I felt I could give up all to the Saviour. But I did not feel so happy as I wished to feel. So I determined I would give myself away again. The next morning I went alone, and tried to give my whole heart to the Saviour. I hope I did so. I felt that he was able and willing to save me. But I was so afraid lest I might be deceived, that I said nothing about it to any body. I did wish, however, that you were here that I might talk with you. After breakfast, I visited two of my pious female friends, and staid with them till nearly-dinner time. Then I came home, and after dinner retired again, and gave myself away, and all that I had unto the Lord, for time and eternity. Oh, then I was happy, happier than I had ever felt in my life before. But still I had not yet courage to tell any body. The change in my feelings, however, was noticed by the family; and my mother the next day called me into the room and asked me what made me so happy. I then told her all about it. She prayed with me, and you may be sure we were both happy. But my dear friend I can’t tell you all. I must save the rest till I see you. Mrs. M-, I hear has obtained a hope, and several others are very serious.

O, that all might believe,
And salvation receive,
And their hope, and their joy be the same.

My dear Mary Ann pray for me that I may grow in grace, and love the Saviour more and more, who has done so much for me. Farewell dearest friend, and pray for me.

Margaret Ann M’Pheeters.

The hope of this young girl strengthened with her years and cheered her in death. In about a year after her marriage with Mr. John Wilson of Milton, she was called into the presence of her Lord, and went cheerfully.

In October, 1836, Dr. M’Pheeters lost by death a son, David Brainerd, in his seventh year. From very early in his life this little boy manifested deep religious feeling. As he drew near his end, his exercises became more interesting. His parents were more than usually exercised at the time of his baptism; and the attention of the little child had from the first been turned to the work, in which, that good man. whose name he bore, had been engaged. His infant feelings were all enlisted in the cause. He knew himself to be a sinner. After worship he was often found in tears. To his mother, who one day inquired of him what was the matter, he replied, “I am afraid God will not love me, I am too sinful.” Being directed to the Saviour, and urged to pray for a new heart, he replied — “I do love him, and have prayed to him for a new heart.” He felt the duty of prayer to a great degree of tenderness. One night observing that his little brother, in bad humor, was retiring without prayer — he refused to sleep with him, and sat up in bed till the offender arose and attended to his neglected duty. A short time before his death he called for his purse, having about fifty cents in it. “If you die,” said his mother, “what shall be done with your money?” Looking at her for a moment— “Mother, if I die, give all my money to send the gospel to the heathen;” and then he earnestly repeated — “Mother, if I die, give all my money to send the gospel to the heathen.”

The death of Dr. M’Pheeters was preceded by the distressing pains that accompany the successive stages of calculus. He was under the scientific operations of distinguished physicians. He had a distinct view of his approaching dissolution, and through the power of unbroken faith contemplated it with entire resignation. On Wednesday, 9th of November, 1842, an immense congregation was assembled in the Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, to attend his funeral. The stores of the city were closed: the church was in mourning attire. Rev. Drury Lacy pronounced a sermon, and delineated the character of his predecessor and friend. That stern integrity, that uncompromising adherence to truth and right, that modesty that kept him from pride and vanity, and that piety which clung to Christ as his Lord, that amiable deportment in his intercourse with man, which had been the crown of his life, seemed brighter when contemplated from the grave.

The University of North Carolina, some time before his death, conferred upon him the title, D. D., one richly deserved, if successful training of youth has any merit, and a life of piety any charm, and success in building up the church of Jesus Christ any admiration. Dr. M.’Pheeters did not seek wealth for his children ; and he left his family the inheritance of a good name, and the blessing of a covenant-keeping God.

In the agitations of the Presbyterian Church, which for some ten or twelve years before his death absorbed the attention of the Judicatories, Dr. M’Pheeters always was decidedly in favor of that system of doctrine and practice commonly called “Old School,” and was in advance of his Virginia brethren.


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