Robert J. Stewart was born December 18, 1847. His father,
Robert Stewart, was a native of Scotland, and of the pure old Scotch blood. His mother was a native of Amite county, Miss., and
of Dutch-Irish stock. Of twelve children reared by them he is the eleventh. His father died when he was about eight years of age.
This sad event, followed by the unfortunate war, circumscribed his opportunities, and thus deprived him of early educational
advantages. A few months each year for five or six years was the schooling he obtained. At the age of fourteen he found himself
comparatively in charge of a farm endeavoring to manage six negroes, and three white boys, the latter all being younger than
himself, one his brother and two his nephews. In this he was aided with the advice of his neighbors, which he much appreciated.
In addition to these responsibilities he had two widowed sisters
and two others whose husbands were in the army (and both were subsequently killed), together with seven of their children, all
looking to him for a support, and aiding to the extent of their ability. In all this he succeeded. In the meanwhile, these
children that were old enough were kept in school. In October 1864, he enlisted in the Southern army, joining a cavalry
company in the realized hope of getting home occasionally, and so kept affairs in shape, until the surrender, in 1865. Then came
to them ruined fortunes and blighted hopes, the common lot of all. His two elder brothers, who had fought with Beauregard, Johnston
and Hood, suffering as good soldiers for four years, now came home and relieved him of many grave responsibilities. All through the
war he hoped for better days, but, alas, his hopes of an education now took the wings of the morning, for he had not learned that it
was possible for any boy to educate himself. Contented with his lot, and desiring to help his mother rear the several
grandchildren now with her, he began work with his brothers on the farm.
New duties were now upon him. When but twelve years of age he felt the condemning power of sin, realized his lost condition,
sought the Savior in the forgiveness of sin and saving grace, felt God's saving power in his soul, and learned to love and trust Him.
His mother kindly suggested that he delay uniting with a church until he was older. With the same feelings, faith and
satisfaction of his acceptance with God, he delayed until November, 1864,
when he applied to the Mount Vernon church in Amite county, and was received for baptism, which was providentially (by reason of
the presence of the enemy in the neighborhood) delayed until january 8, 1865. Hence the new duties, not as a Christian, but as a
church member. He attended church conference regularly, choosing rather to be absent on Sunday, if at all. He felt he owed this
to himself, his pastor, his church and his Master. In 1868 he left the special care of his mother to his younger brothers and
began working for himself, and on December 8, 1868, he married Miss Sophia L. Davis, a native of Georgia, but reared in
Mississippi. In 1871 he moved to St. Helena parish, La., and on February
14, 1872, he went into the organization of the Rocky Creek church. It being in a destitute country, he was afforded
opportunities to exercise in the Sunday-schools and prayer meetings. In 1874,
after plowing an ox all the week, or other work, he would walk six miles on Sunday and superintend a sunday-school in Rocky Creek
church in the morning, and then walk three miles to a Methodist church and superintend a union Sunday-school there in the
afternoon, and four miles home. James A. Godfrey, a presiding elder in the M.E. church, upon hearing of his energy and consecration,
said in the pulpit, "I want to and must see the man that will thus work for Christ, and take him by the hand and bid him God-speed in
his work," which he subsequently did.
On Sunday, March 1, 1874, he was ordained a deacon of the
Rocky Creek church, Revs. John East, G. Mullins and T.J. Causey, presbytery. In 1871 he received what he has ever believed to be
a diving call to the ministry, but having been deprived of educational advantages, and the ministerial education wave sweeping our
country at that time, with a family to support, he suffered the Evil Spirit to lead him into rebellion. For six years he thus
lived, suffering chastisement both of body and mind, until 1877, when he fully surrendered and said: "Here Lord, take me as I am."
The church granted him license to preach on August 5, 1877. On Saturday night, September 1, 1877, he preached his first sermon.
On March 3, 1878, he was ordained to the full work of the ministry, Revs. G.M. Hayden and Thomas Lansdale being the presbytery.
He was immediately called to the pastorate of this church at a proposed salary of seventy-five dollars. He was at this time
opposed to salaries for preachers, and suggested to the brethern not to make a definite promise but pay what they could, to which they
agreed. Having no horse, he was still plowing his ox. Consequently, when he could not borrow a horse he walked the six miles and
preached one Saturday and Sunday of each month, and received for that year's service at that church ninety cents! He kindly told
them that if this was all they could pay, he was satisfied and they owed him nothing; but that ended his preaching without a
contract for dollars and cents. He relates two incidents which occurred during his early ministry: (1) Occasionally he
mentioned his misfortune in being uneducated. One day an educated brother
advised him to "do so no more, for" said he, "one-half of the people will never find it out unless you tell them; the other half
will find it out soon enough." (2) A member of a church to which he preached did not have the money to pay him and proposed to let
him have syrup. He agreed. When he brought the syrup he was asked the price per gallon, and said, "forty cents cash, or fifty cents
in trade. I will let you have it at fifty cents." Mr. Stewart had to give his preaching as trade. He was undaunted and
could not be discouraged. He determined if energy and perseverance were worth anything he would win. In 1879, at great
sacrifice, he went to school three months to Rev. G.M. Hayden, which was of incalculable benefit to him. In 1878 he was elected clerk
of the Mississippi River Association and served six years. In 1889 he served the Association as moderator. In January, 1888,
he moved from Greensburg, La., to Liberty, Miss., where he now (1894) resides.
In October, 1889, he was elected moderator of the old
Mississippi (mother) Association, and has ever since had the honor of presiding over this body. Since 1879 he has been pastor of the
best churches in this Association, having success second to none. He has held many successful meetings with his fellow pastors and
their churches. He has had seventeen pastorates or churches, serving as many as five at a time every month. His actual and
necessary travel to and from his appointments has averaged one hundred and fifty miles per month. He has never lived over seventeen
miles from the place of his birth, nor served a church over thirty-five miles from the same. He is now living within eleven miles
of the home of his childhood. He has preached to a church eighteen miles from his as long as seven and one-half years, and
disappointed the congregation only twice, once on account of high water and
once was called away to bury a friend. He has served another seven years eleven miles away without a single disappointment. During
his sixteen years' ministry he has never been behind time at his regular appointments more than five or six times, and never more
than ten minutes. He has baptized about eight hundred people. He has never been at variance with his fellow-man but twice. He
keeps all men his friend by showing himself friendly. He has eight living children, having lost two. He had three grown
daughters, one of them married, all graduates of reputable institutions.
He is determined, if possible, to educate his children, even at the greatest sacrifice, this being the greatest legacy he can leave
them. Being a poor man, with a large family, and not getting a full support while preaching, he has been forced every year to
supplement his salary by working on the farm. He has ever considered himself a servant for Christ, and has been willing to endure
hardships as a good soldier, and has never regarded heat or cold, time or distance, and has yet to refuse the first time to heed a
call for services in his ministerial capacity. He has learned to trust. He loves to labor. "For God is not slack concerning his
"Mississippi Baptist Preachers"
Author: L.S. Foster