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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XXIV. - Rev. Daniel Blain


For those fond only of the exciting, and the thrilling, and the imposing, Rev. Daniel Blain presented in his life and character little that is pleasing. To those who can delight in the calm sunshine of heaven, beaming with endless splendor, he has much to offer for meditation and love. Like a spring day, with its clouds and light showers, and much sweet sunshine; beautiful in its rising, enlivening in its noon, and lovely in its early close; one of those days that make spring so dear, and is so necessary a preparation for seed time, and the after harvest; that medium between winter and summer, the want of which makes tropical climes wearisome and enervating; a day in which there is no thunder or lightning, or chilling frost, in which no blood freezing event takes place, no great and notable circumstance, but a succession of events, some pleasing, all necessary to make up the web of human life, he exhibited acts and graces breathing of heaven, and finally perfected in heaven. President Baxter loved him as his amiable professor and co-laborer; his brethren^ called him “the amiable Mr. Blain,” and Mr. Blain, “that amiable man.” He was born in South Carolina, Abbeville District, in 1713, of the Scotch Irish race. His father was among the pioneers upon the head waters of the Savannah, on the South Carolina side, and formed a part of that emigration, whose descendants have made Abbeville District famous in political history.

Of a mild and gentle disposition, equally removed from self-complacency or presumption, and from cowardice or fear, guileless, generous, unpretending and cheerful, young Blain passed his early life on the frontiers in the American Revolution. Like Andrew Jackson, and a multitude of Scotch-Irish boys in North and South Carolina, who in maturer years rose to eminence and worth, he was familiar with the privations and distresses and battles and massacres of the famous campaigns of the southern war. In the plunderings and excesses and wanton cruelties of the marauding parties, the Presbyterian settlements, from their known and stern adherence to the principles of American Independence, had the greatest share. The large Bible, with David’s Psalms in metre, was sure evidence that rebels of the worst sort lived in that house. Singing old Rouse, rebellion and being plundered, were synonymous terms; and hardships and privations were familiar consequences.

What awakened in the heart of the youth desires for a literary and scientific education no one can now tell. It is probable they were in connection with the preaching of the gospel, of which he hoped some day to be a minister. And in the hearts of how many Scotch-Irish boys in Virginia and the Carolinas has that spirit been kindled by maternal love and paternal piety, under the exciting example of some kind and earnest preacher of the gospel! Those still Sabbaths of a frontier Presbyterian settlement; those solemn groves; those log meeting-houses and tents ; those earnest men of God, whose voices echoed in the woods from Sabbath to Sabbath, or month to month, uttering the messages of mercy; the impressive services of the communion seasons ; those days of catechising, that frequent conning over of questions and answers of the Assembly’s Catechism — “What is repentance unto life ? Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect? and what is effectual calling?” — all these, connected with reading the Bible and the expostulations and exhortations to prepare for the eternal world, exerting an influence together, no wonder ingenuous little boys, thinking over the present and pondering the future, should heave the sigh, a would God I were a preacher of the gospel,” connecting in their childish thoughts the sacredness of the preacher’s office with the glories of heaven. Under the instruction of Rev. Francis Cummins, the minister of Rocky River congregation, Abbeville District, young Blain commenced his classical course. As the Presbyterian congregations in the Carolinas had been the strong-holds of American Independence, as will be shown whenever the history of South Carolina is fully written, or the portraiture of the Presbyterianism of the State is presented to the world, so the Presbyterian ministers were the able and successful preservers and cultivators of literature and science. In their log school-houses, the finest specimens of American citizens of the last generation received their early, and many of them their entire education. And these children of the Revolutionary times were taught to fear God more than man, and were accustomed to meditate on the great principles of civil and religious liberty, and to feel that under God, men’s success in their various callings in life, depended on themselves.

When about twenty years of age, Mr. Blain, to complete his education, repaired to Liberty Hall, near Lexington, under the tuition of the Rev. William Graham, in the zenith of his glory. The institution at Charlotte, North Carolina, broken up soon after the massacre on the Waxhaw, had not been re-opened, and the college at Winnsborough, South Carolina, had for various reasons declined in its efficiency, and the college of Hampden Sidney was depressed with some difficulties at this time ; the institution now known as Washington College, had most attractions for Southern youth, especially those seeking the ministry. Here he completed his academic and theological course of study in preparation for the ministry. In the log College of Tennant and its offspring — the New Londonderry of Blair — the Queen’s Museum at Charlotte — Winnsborough, South Carolina—Hampden Sidney College, in Prince Edward—and Liberty Hall, near Lexington, Virginia — students in preparation for the ministry were expected to give particular attention to the college course on mental and moral philosophy, rhetoric and natural law, as part also of the theological training. The Greek Testament was a manual in acquiring the Greek language, and was read in a manner to cultivate the habit of critical investigation. The time not occupied in the usual studies of the regular classes was given to those historical works, and other volumes that could be obtained, illustrating the sacred Scriptures. In fact, the whole training of a student intended for the ministry in these institutions had a theological cast; and frequently in a comparatively short time after receiving their classical and scientific degree they were licensed to preach. Greater effort, and with greater success, had been made at Liberty Hall, under Mr. Graham, to form a regular class of students engaged, systematically, in theological studies after the college course was completed than were attempted in any other of the southern colleges, or under any other president. .

Mr. Blain was licensed by Lexington Presbytery. The second volume of the Presbytery’s records having been lost, the circumstances and place of licensure cannot be told. Private memoranda say it was about the year 1796. He engaged with Mr. Baxter in teaching the New London Academy at Bedford, and, as a co-laborer, saw with delight the growing fame of the institution. He removed to Lexington with Dr. Baxter, being appointed professor in the academy. He taught the languages and some of the mathematics, and in conjunction with the rector, and Mr. Graham, sustained the honor of the academy.

Report says that he was not insensible of the many excellencies of the young lady of Indian captive-memory, Mary Moore, nor altogether unacceptable in her eyes. But there “came a change over the spirit of their dreams,” and she became the wife of another preacher, and he the husband of Miss Mary Hanna, of Lexington. His domestic life was, like his own character, made up of a succession of quiet scenes and cheerful hours, and days in which contentment reigned. He bequeathed to his children a capacity and a love for domestic life and its retired enjoyments. He preached regularly to the congregations of Old Oxford and Timber Ridge, each in the vicinity of Lexington, on opposite sides. His sermons were characterized for plainness in the exhibition of truth, simplicity in style, and kindness in manner, and always pleasing in delivery. In prayer, he seemed to his people to lead them very near to God; and long after his death, they called to mind his “sweet prayers.” He had tenderness of feeling, quickness of susceptibility, and liveliness of sympathy to make him modest, and natural powers of mind and acquired information, and strength of moral principle to make his modesty a crowning virtue.

When the Synod, at its session in 1803, at Hampden Sidney, considered the subject of a religious periodical, it was resolved, “ that Messrs. Samuel Houston, Matthew Lyle, Archibald Alexander, George A. Baxter, Samuel Brown, Daniel Blain and Samuel L. Campbell, be a committee to make all necessary enquiries on the subject, and if they shall think the publication of such a work can be conducted with advantage, they are hereby authorized to take every measure necessary to carry the^ scheme into complete execution ; and, in that event, they may rely upon the full support of Synod.” Under the direction of this committee, the first number of The Virginia Religious Magazine was issued October, 1804. To this magazine, -Mr. Blain contributed a number of articles; March, 1805, Christian Zeal; May, 180-5, Observations on the Sabbath; September, 1805, Necessity of Revelation, and an Account of the illness and death of Mrs. Ann Leech, who died June 13th, 1805; November, 1805, Death of Voltaire and Mrs. Leech contrasted ; also, on Religious Curiosity; January, 1806, The Scriptures Profitable ; September, 1807, Professor and Honestus; November, 1807,

Lines on the dark day in Lexington. Some extracts from the first of these, Christian Zeal, will give a specimen of the style, and exhibit the mental and Christian character of the man, unconsciously drawn by himself.

“It is good to be zealously affected always in a good cause. Every laudable pursuit calls for zeal proportioned to its importance. But, whilst the Apostle approved of a passionate ardor and a warmth of holy affection in the service of God, he lamented that the zeal of some, with whom he was conversant, was not according to knowledge. The great Apostle of the Gentiles had obtained a happy deliverance from the party schemes and contracted selfish designs of zealous bigots. The glory of God, the spread and success of the gospel of Christ, and the consequent happiness of all the nations of the earth, were the grand objects that stimulated him to unexampled zeal in the discharge of his duties as an Apostle and as a Christian. His sufferings and self-denial testified that he had no interest to prosecute, distinct from the Redeemer’s cause; that he only desired to live to bear testimony to the riches of his grace, and that he was willing to die for the name of the Lord Jesus. Though all Christians are not called to manifest their zeal in the same manner, or to move in the same sphere : though all are not apostles or preachers, the great object pursued by all is the same. They are the several members of that body of which Christ is the head; and though all the members have not the same office, yet one spirit pervades and influences all; and thus is every member stimulated to vigorous efforts for the formation of a common cause. The method whereby a sinner is brought to participate of the blessings of the gospel, and the nature, which by the spirit of Christ he is led to contemplate, are such as cannot fail to excite an ardent Christian zeal in the mind, on which they have the full operation. Constrained by the love of Christ, delighted with the excellencies of the gospel, and penetrated by a view of the odious nature of sin, the Christian is led to proclaim, 4 What shall I render to the Lord for all his mercies? How shall I manifest to the world the love and gratitude I owe to a Saviour who died that I might live?

“Instead of those carnal weapons, with which many under the name of zeal for God, have made havoc of his church, he is clothed with humility; he is meek and gentle, and easy to be entreated, disposed to do good to those that hate him, and to pray for those with despitefully use and persecute him. It is probable that a zeal thus tempered with benevolence, forbearance, and other mild Christian dispositions, has had a greater influence on sinners, and has operated more effectually in divesting them of their prejudices against the truth, than any other means which have ever been used. It ought not, however, to be forgotten, that Christian zeal, though always mild, is likewise firm, when the cause of God is assailed. It differs widely from a cool indifference to truth, which, under the specious name of liberality, or extensive charity, rejects no doctrines as heterodox or dangerous, objects against no crimes as inconsistent with the Christian character. There are too many, who, having witnessed perhaps some of the evils attendant on intemperate zeal, and feeling little concern themselves for the prosperity of Zion, are ready to reprobate every appearance of religious zeal; and especially if a Christian is seen contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, he is branded with the opprobious name of partizan, or bigot, or enthusiast; and men who on no other occasions have discovered any symptoms of religious sensibility, clamorously require his excommunication. Such people seldom manifest the same degree of apathy on other subjects. How will men who are blind to the difference between truth and error, justify the anathemas pronounced by the Apostle Paul against perverters of the gospel: 4 If any man preach any other gospel unto you, than that which you have received, let him be accursed V The Christian who would be useful, must be zealous. Brethren, let us consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, and with renewed zeal press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling, until we arrive at that world where we shall no longer need to provoke each other to zeal or love, or good works.”

Mr. Blain was called from earth in the meridian of life, from increasing usefulness and a young family, March 19th 1814. The faith he beautifully describes in the obituary of Mrs. Leech, sustained him in his last moments. He left a blessing for his family with the good hope that in due time all should ascend after him. His wife remembered whose servant she was, and at what price she had been bought; and cherishing the memory of the man, whose name as a widow she bore, she reared her little family in the fear and love of God. His son is a minister of the gospel, and though he may say, “It grieves me to think that I know so little of one in whose heart I had so warm a place — his person is very dimly shadowed on my memory — I doubt not my heart is sadder now at the thought of his early death, than it was when in the thoughtlessness of early childhood I looked on his dying struggles, — my heart goes out in warm affection to one who can only say, knew him ”— he and his sisters may add, “we know that the children of the righteous are not forsaken.” Had the Church no such lovely characters as Daniel Blain, her beauty would be marred, and her bands loosed. He drew with his pen, a contrast between the death of Voltaire and Mrs. Leech, and gave it to the world in the Magazine. A more striking one might be drawn between himself and some of his generation that attracted public attention for a time, and have now passed away.

Should the memory of Mary Hanna, the wife of Daniel Blain, pass like her person from among men, the knowledge of a bright gem, from the valley, in the Saviour’s crown, would be lost to the world. She had for her father, the pious tanner at the foot of the hill, on which the village of Lexington was built. The spirit of God dwelt with him as evidently as with Simon the tanner at Joppa. Fearing and loving God himself, he strove to bring up his children according to the direction of Paul, “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Day by day was the example before their eyes of a man, that loved them more than he could tell, and yet evidently loving God more than all his family; or rather of one in whose heart the love of his family was mingled indissolubly with the constraining love of his Saviour. He labored in his vocation cheerfully, and successfully, for the support of his family; but his children saw, that with all his gettings, he desired their spiritual renovation more than wealth. Mary, the eldest of five daughters, was endowed from her birth with tender feelings; as she grew in years she manifested great simplicity of purpose and sensitive conscience, resolution in what she thought right, sincerity in her disposition and actions and professions, firmness of purpose to pursue her object through difficulties, kindness in her temper, with a pleasing person, and over all an amiability of manner blended with modesty. She was one of the young company that met her pastor, Mr. Graham, in Bedford, on his return from Prince Edward; and was partaker of the blessings showered upon Mr. Mitchel’s congregation, at that blessed meeting of the ministers of the gospel; and sang praises as the company passed the Ridge on their return home. Dr. Alexander says of her, “all believed that if any one had experienced divine renewal, it was Mary Hanna. One afternoon while reading a sermon of Tennant’s, on the need of a legal work preparatory to conversion, she was seized with such apprehension of her danger, that she began to tremble, and in attempting to reach the house which was distant only a few steps, fell prostrate, and was taken up in a terrible convulsion. The news quickly spread, and in a short time most of the serious young people in the town were present.” They were all alarmed — if she had no religion—who had? She manifested through life great tenderness of soul on the subject of salvation, by Christ; and often trembled for herself and wept for others. She became the wife of Mr. Blain. All, that knew them both, believed that they were mutually constituted by nature, and fitted by grace, to make each other happy as earth could permit. And for the few years they lived together they were so. When the mother of .six children she became a widow. As she looked upon her five little daughters and one son, she claimed God as her father in the heavens and as their father; she claimed him as the widow’s and the orphan’s God; and he answered her. She left her own sweet impress on them all. Mother and religion, mother and Christ were, somehow, interwoven in their childish hearts, never to be dissevered in maturer years. And if she did leave them sooner, far sooner, than they wished, what a treasure she left with them, in the love of Christ! An amiable godly mother! — Who knows her value while she lives? and who can tell the blessings that follow the children for their glorified mother’s sake? Extract from a letter from Rev. S. B. Wilson D. D., January 23d 1855. “In this connexion allow me to say, that good man Matthew Hanna deserves to he held in lasting remembrance. His name may never shine on the page of human history. But it will shine bright in the records of heaven. In the erection of the first Presbyterian Church in Lexington, he was the prime mover, and the active and efficient agent. In it, he became an elder. In all his relations in life, as magistrate, sheriff, elder, parent and master, he was an example of rectitude. His five daughters were all pious. Two of them married ministers; two married elders ; and one a pious physician. His grand-children are so far as known all members of the Church. "I will be a God to thee and thy seed,’ was a promise fulfilled to him as well as to Abraham. His life closed as peacefully and joyfully, as the journey of a wanderer in a foreign land, when the time arrives to return to his beloved home. My wife was the fourth daughter, Elizabeth.” And now that she is dead, we may add, she was a faithful wife, and reared her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, according to her father’s example.


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