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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XXVI. - William Hill in Winchester, 1800-1818.

Winchester, from being a small village for the convenience of the frontier settlements, in the Valley of Virginia, soon arose to be a town of note by its relative position and inherent advantages. The Scotch-Irish and the German emigrants made up the population, and became the mechanics and merchants for a large and beautiful country. For a long time the German population predominated. The Irish Presbyterian families were connected with the Opecquon Church, situated about three miles south from the village. For their special advantage Mr. Legrand, soon after his removal to the valley,' began to hold religious services in the village. As the congregation increased, and the number of families on the north and east of the village wishing to attend church there were multiplied, a stone meeting-house was built in the eastern part of the town, on the ridge, ornamented with two other church buildings, for the use of the German population.

The congregation required more service than could be given by the pastor of Cedar Creek and Opecquon, unless the congregations should be greatly curtailed in their privileges. The supply of Winchester became a fruitful source of difficulty. Should Mr. Legrand appropriate every other Sabbath to the village, or should some other minister be sought for the congregation there in conjunction with some adjoining neighborhood on the north ? The difficulties in the way of a harmonious arrangement seemed to increase by discussion. Differences in religious opinions were developed; some adhered to Mr. Legrand’s sentiments on the subject of revival and experimental religion; and some thought he was approaching enthusiasm, if not actually a devotee. A man by the name of Caldwell visited Winchester. Orthodox in his creed, popular in his pulpit address, gentlemanly in his manners, and pleasant in his intercourse with his fellow-men, he soon had a strong party in his favor. His professed views of experimental religion differed somewhat from the standard raised by Legrand. The adherents of these two men suffered themselves to be hurried to extremes, and to manifest tempers not in accordance with their own professions.

In the midst of the commotions, and after unsuccessful efforts by the Presbytery to quiet the storm, a proposition was made, that both parties should drop their favorites, and all their disputes, and unite in a call to Mr. Hill. To the unexpected request from the congregation to make them a visit, with a view to settlement, Mr. Hill spent a few days in Winchester, and made a decision he supposed final, and against himself, that he would come on one condition, that of entire unanimity in the call. To his surprise, such an invitation was sent after him; and he felt himself under obligations to give a favorable answer. In a short time he removed his family, and in 1800 commenced his residence in Winchester. With some intervals, Winchester was his place of residence for m6re than half a century. In the passage of these years he experienced the full variety of ministerial life, its excitements, its reverses, its successes, its sorrows and its joys. In Winchester was a field, unchosen, selected for him, appropriate for his energy, enterprise and zeal and pulpit powers. He could not have desired a better. Here too was a crucible to refine the imperfections he so bitterly lamented; he must master his fiery spirit or be an unhappy man. He knew that he that ruleth himself is greater than he that taketh a city; and that he, that could govern a city, must first govern himself. There were families in his charge that would love him for his occasional propensity to merriment and social humor; and there were others that would delight in the extreme of his passionate excitements on religion, for they loved to revel on the confines of enthusiasm. There were some that admired his bold spirit, which, like Peter, would meet with the sword him that came with the sword; and others were charmed with the spirit with which he could bow to the humble and lowly, and the outcast in their distress. ''All appreciated his pulpit performances. His sermons came warm from his heart and warmed every one that heard. His congregation were all united in him, some admiring him for his real excellencies^ and some for the very things over which he in private mourned.

This position had advantages and disadvantages. The congregation, finding their principal bond of union in their attachment to their pastor, undesignedly, and yet necessarily, devolved a great amount of labor upon Mr. Hill. No one else might take the lend ; all others were too high, or too low, too hot, or too cold, too certainly wrong in something for the rest to follow. Woe to the unhappy wight that rose in rebellion; he was levelled with a blow, and all rejoiced in his fall. If there be enjoyment in power, in all-prevailing influence, Mr. Hill had it in Winchester, for many years, as he went out and came in before his people. He was the foremost man in religious actions, in the estimation of his charge, and stood second to no one among the other denominations. Like Baxter, he left no memoranda of his labors; and there are no journals, or diaries, or letters, that have come to light, from which might be gathered the delicate shadings of the picture of his public or domestic life for the first fifteen or sixteen years of his residence in Winchester. Till about the close of this period he did not give all his Sabbaths to the village. The increase of the congregation in town, and the settlement of other ministers that occupied his old places of preaching, as Mr. Kennon at Berry ville, and Mr. Matthews m Jefferson County, induced Mr. Hill to listen to the wishes of the people and confine his labors on the Sabbath to Winchester.

He was much employed in classical and female schools. At first he was united with that much loved man, Christian Streit of the Lutheran Church, in a large classical school. Then for a time with Mrs. Nichols in a female school. And finally for a series of years in conducting a large female school on his single responsibility. His success in teaching was great. Incidents illustrating his skill in discipline, and his power to impress great truths upon the hearts and memories of his pupils, might be gathered to fill a volume. The majority of his pupils have passed away from this world of trial, and have met their teacher before the throne of Him, who judges righteously and measures the due reward. There was a time when he would meet a joyous welcome, in hundreds of families, in memory of school days, m which he acted the most conspicuous part, and played it too well ever to be forgotten.

The lovely things in Mr. Hill’s character, his manly generosity, his sociablity, his warmth of friendship, and his admiration of the great and the good, in the past and the present — were fully appreciated in Winchester, accompanied as they were with strict attention to his duties as a minister. He passed through that gloomy period in the history of the country, when infidelity claimed to be the guardian of Liberty. Youth were taught to vindicate their independence by declining the authority of. the Bible, and their manliness by refusing to bow their conscience to the word of God. He saw the time, when he could look over Winchester, and not find one young man known to bow .the. knee in prayer to God. He saw the time, when aiming the professional and educated men, he knew of but one, who held to the faith of his pious ancestry. He saw the time when silence, on the subject of experimental religion according to his own creed, reigned in the polished circles, or Unitarianism struggled for entrance. “Have you seen this,” said a Judge who afterwards died firm in the faith— “have you seen this?” referring to a tract on Unitarianism — “it is very clever — rather hard to beat.” At this time of sadness, his pulpit was entered by some wild and foolish boys, on a wager laid to provoke each other’s bravery, and the Bible sadly mutilated, — and Judge White, in warning his own young son, uttered the memorable words, “Those young men can never prosper — no man that openly insults the Bible in a Christian community will ever prosper;” one of the Judge’s abiding decisions.

In this period, and amid those things, in a dispute on the subject whether the Presbyterian Church did not desire the aid of the law, for her advantage, in obtaining salaries for her ministers, the insinuation of his want of courage was made, in the assertion,—that Mr. Hill’s coat protected him. “Gentlemen need not trouble themselves about my coat,” was his quick reply; and that reply gained him the deference of a large circle in Frederick County. “The parson has pluck, — I wronder if he would fight?” — “If you wish to know what he will do, assault him.” Undoubtedly in some cases he would have fought manfully if attacked ; and in others he would have folded his arms upon his breast. His resistance depended on many circumstances, other than his bravery.

He believed in revivals. He came into the church in the midst of a memorable one. lie desired revivals, as he believed the church would die without them. For a series of years he was not blessed with anything that might be called a revival in Winchester. The Rev. .Daniel Baker, 1). I)., now so universally known in the church, while preparing for the ministry, assisted Mr. Hill in his school. His wonderful talent to interest people on the subject of religion, first showed itself in Winchester, when Mr. Hill was absent transacting some business cast of the Ridge, and left Mr. Baker to conduct religious meetings in the evenings, with those who might choose to attend. On his return, Mr. Hill found a great many young people enquiring what they should do to be saved. And in due time a goodly number w^ere gathered into the church of Christ. From this time onward, revivals of a greater or less extent were enjoyed by his congregation while he continued their pastor. His prudence, discretion, and firmness, were fully exercised in conducting these revivals. The tendency to enthusiasm on the one hand, and formality on the other, hedged him in to a very narrow path. If he should give himself up, as he desired, like Legrand, and as he had. done in his youthful daw\ s, to the full influence of religious excitement, he might carry some too far, and might repel others; should he greatly restrain himself, he might dishearten the godly and quench the smoking flax, and give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme. In all the awakenings or revivals with which his congregation was visited, Mr. Hill, according to the habit of his early life in Cumberland, Prince Edward, and Charlotte, cheerfully united with preachers and people of other denominations in religious exercises, expressing an earnest desire that the blessing might spread.

Mr. Hill’s co-presbyters at the time of his early residence in "Winchester were, Nash Legrand, Moses Hoge, William Williamson, and John Lyle. These were all good men and true to their Lord. Mr. Legrand could not be passed by in the first series of Sketches of Virginia.

William Williamson was a Scotchman, and obtained his literary education in his native land. Upon application of the gentlemen of Dr. Waddell’s congregation, in Lancaster County, for a teacher, he came to America and taught in the families of the Gordons and others for a series of years. Becoming acquainted, on a visit to the Valley, with Mr. Hill and others, he was introduced to Presbytery, and passing his trials with honor, was licensed on the 12th of October, 1792, and to meet the demands of the churches he was ordained in 1793. He for a time resided near Gordonsville, in the neighborhood of Dr. Waddell in his blindness, and preached in the adjoining congregations. Domestic afflictions induced him to remove to the valley of the Shenandoah, that he might be near his child deprived of its young and beautiful mother, and under the care of its grandmother. He took his position in Warren County, near Front Royal, and his charge bordered to the south and west, on the congregations of Legrand. A man of great bodily activity, and greater endurance, of a warm heart and vigorous mind, he preached with fervor and hopeful success. He thought little of the labor “of riding forty miles a day and preaching once or twice.” In a few years he was induced to remove to Loudon County, to set up a classical school near Middleburg, and to preach in the counties of Loudon and Fauquier, whenever he might find opportunity. Sustaining himself with a numerous family by the proceeds of his school, and the contributions of the congregations to which he preached, he gathered churches in those two counties, and continued active and laborious in the cause of the gospel till about his eightieth year. Infirmity compelled him to put off the harness.

With no great thrilling events in his life, beyond ordinary preachers, his course abounded with those interesting events and providences that diversify and cheer the minister’s path, try his heart, and build him up in the faith. In his school he was very successful, training up some eminent men in political, civil, and military life. In his ministry God gave him success in many trying circumstances, and enabled dim to cast the seeds of life widely over a country, where they took root and brought forth fruit to eternal life. From his residence near Middleburg, a radius of some forty miles, having the Blue Ridge for its base, sweeping round, would embrace the general field of his labor; and all around in this region were people to bless God for his ministry, though all that were benefited by his labors did not ultimately belong to his church.

He was always considered a strong man, either in the pulpit or the church judicatories. He understood and believed, and defended the Presbyterian creed. He baptized the little infant of a mother that had died in the faith; and lived to see that baptized child the first to make a profession of faith, in a neighborhood where the means of grace were hardly known. He mingled argument and exhortation in his sermons with peculiar facility. His face naturally stern, became severe in his age, except when the excitement of some great truth, or some benevolent effort, lighted it up with vivacity and kindness. The thoughtless and gay called him — “old Sour;” and yet one of them, probably the very one that gave the name, often said — “I do believe if I could have old Sour to live near me, he would get me into heaven; he sets his face like a flint, and then if he don’t give it to us; if I had him to live near me, I do believe he would get me into heaven.” The ablest men in the community that listened to Mr. Williamson, and most of them did, felt that he, in point of intellect and information, was their peer.

He had not time to write his sermons. He could arrange and remember his arrangement. His mind acted both with readiness and vigor. His voice was strong, his enunciation bold, and under excitement his action was vehement. His sermons were never dull— often overpowering. On the text from Elijah’s address, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve”—from which he often preached— he was overwhelming. A man might well have heard that sermon more than once, and not feel his interest abate. The charge, “Go not from this door till you have made your choice !” would thrill the stoutest heart. In argument, he excelled all men in his Presbytery; in strength of style and expression, he had no superior. After a life of great usefulness, he died calmly in his eighty-fourth year. He never sought prominence, and was peculiarly fond of domestic life. His greatest ambition appears to have been usefulness in the ministry.

Moses Hoge, the nearest neighbor of Mr. Hill, while residing in Charlestown, held his position at the lower end of the valley, till about the year 1807, and has a full record in other pages of these series.  .

John Lyle, that preached in Hampshire County, was born in Rockbridge County. He was a soldier in the expedition to Point Pleasant, and took part in the battle with the Shawanees. He commenced preparation for the ministry late in life, was taken under the care of Presbytery July 30th, 1791, and completed his studies at Liberty Hall, under Mr. Graham. He pursued his theological studies with Archibald Alexander, and for a time was his only companion ; Grigsby and Matthew Lyle, and Poage and Campbell, were afterwards added. His trials were passed, part of them at the same time with Mr. Alexander and his fellow-students. He was licensed at New Monmouth April 29th, 1791. Under the direction of the commission of the Virginia Synod, to whose care he was recommended, by Presbytery, his appointment bearing date October 6th, 1791, at Winchester, he travelled “on the waters of the Potomac, Jackson’s River, Green Brier and Roanoke, until our next meeting.” Being pleased with the prospects in Hampshire County, he listened to the invitation from the residents on Patterson’s Creek and the Potomac, and took his residence among them. On Saturday, the 30th of November, 1793, he was ordained in Springfield, one of his preaching places, and his permanent residence till his death. A Mr. Campbell, from Pennsylvania, preached the ordination sermon. Messrs. Hoge and Legrand were present, and took part in the communion and in the preaching, which was continued for some days with much interest.

Mr. Lyle had a wide range through the mountains of Hampshire, and along the water courses, and had seals of his ministry scattered throughout the county. For some years he taught a school, in Springfield, of great celebrity. He was married to a sister of Rev. Joseph Glass, and grand-daughter of the emigrant from Ireland, Samuel Glass, whose monument stands in Opecquon burying-^round, near Winchester, and whose descendants are numerous in Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. Mr. Lyle was called from his labors in 1807, leaving a widow and a large family of young children, and lies buried in Springfield. The family, in a few years, were removed to Kentucky; and his sons have not been unknown in the church.

For a few years, these laborious men went on, each in his course, assisting each other, spending and being spent. First, the health of Mr. Legrand began to fail; his domestic afflictions, from sickness and death, and his great labors as a minister, were too much for his strength. He sought relief in vain, in various journeyings in Virginia, and in Kentucky, on a visit to that numerous company of emigrants from his charge, that was spreading out in that flourishing State, and finally resigned his charge, and removed to Hanover Presbytery. Moses Hoge listened to the invitation from Hampden Sidney College, and in the year 1807 removed from Shepherds-town. "William Williamson, about this time, removed to Loudon County, but was still a member of Winchester Presbytery. Mr. Hill now stood first in the Presbytery as a popular preacher. Young men came in to occupy the churches. Joseph Glass settled at Gerardstown, Berkeley County; Mr. Samuel B. Wilson commenced his labors in Fredericksburg; Mr. Mines in Leesburg; John Matthews, afterwards Professor of Theology at New Albany, removed from North Carolina to Berkeley County; and Mr. James Black took the places in Hampshire vacated by the death of John Lyle, and John B. Hoge went to Martinsburg. These men worked in harmony for a series of years, and enjoyed a comforting success in their ministry.

In looking over the congregation in Winchester, in the year 1817, the prospects were more pleasing than at any previous period. Old and fierce prejudices had been, in part, buried in the grave, and in part were weakening with age, and in part yielding to the genial influence of gospel benevolence. The late additions to the church were full of promise ; the congregation had appropriated the entire services of their pastor. Winchester was a seat of the Chancery Court; and in and around her were gathered a constellation of legal abilities, not surpassed by the talents and acquirements of the capital of the State. Along the western hills that skirt the town, were seated Judges White, Holmes and Carr; and here were the » two pre-eminent clerks, Lee and Tidball; and the members of the bar, the two brothers Magill, and Tucker and Powell, each eminent in their profession and their social relations; and then the two leading physicians, Baldwin and Conrad. The families of all these were occasional hearers, a part were connected with the congregation, and some of the members adorned the church with which they were connected.

Mr. Hill encouraged his congregation to take part in elevating his Alma Mater, under the auspices of Dr. Hoge, and to assist Dr. Bicc in founding the Union Theological Seminary, whose interests, as director, he carefully watched over for years. In the American Bible Society and its auxiliary, or rather one of its forming bodies, the Frederick County Bible Society, the Colonization Society, the Tract Society, and the Foreign Missionary Society, he took an active part, being familiar with them from the beginning, and aiding in their formation. In the education of young men for the ministry, he was forward of most men of his day. The example of his early patroness, Mrs. Bead, afterwards Legrand, the wife and widow of two of his early friends, was always before him ; and the memory of the benevolent efforts of his beloved instructor, Smith, in leading young men into the ministry, was always exciting him ; and the calls for ministerial services, that came upon him from every side, urged him on, and he sought out proper persons to be educated for the ministry: and if they were poor, he gathered funds for their support. Many are dead, and many are living, whose progress to the ministry was aided by his Counsels and his purse.

Mr. Hill was never fond of close logical discussion of doctrines in the pulpit, unless it were in relation to the Divinity and advocacy of Christ. And, even about these, he thought the plain, full announcement, with illustrations, sufficient. He declined to press very far, or very frequently, the doctrines of election, and the imputation of Adam s sin and of Christ’s righteousness. He thought that the subjects of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and repentance towards God, urged in gospel terms, and with illustrations, together with the promises and warnings to promote holy living, were better calculated to do good than the stronger and more abstruse doctrines of the Bible, lie believed the sinner’s call-is from God' —that God’s spirit gives life to the sinner’s soul in a way not explained in Scripture; but truly the spirit acts:--that God had multitudes of agents to influence men, but the giving spiritual life was his own work. He saw, he felt, he deplored, the deep depravity of the human heart; and had no hope that it could be purified but by the spirit of God and the blood of Christ.

One intimate with his family in the summer of 1818, thus describes him when in the height of his influence and the full tide of domestic enjoyments.  Mr. Hill excited my admiration, and Mrs. Hill my love. He had the most fire and ardor by constitution, she the most perseverance. He possessed the keenest sagacity, she the most common sense; he the most discernment, she the most prudence ; he had the best knowledge of human nature, she made the best use of what she had; his piety was most striking, hers the most constant; his zeal like a flame sometimes raging, sometimes dying away, hers like the steady flame on the altar of the tabernacle. In the family both were in their peculiar way charming; in conversation he was very spirited, often provoking a smile and laughter, quick in repartee and full of anecdote, she gentle, cheerful, sociable, and winning in her manners. It seemed impossible to live with them and not love them.

“Mr. Hill preached without notes. His words might be printed, but his tones could not. However good his sermon in the delivery, it would appear less impressive in print. He stormed the soul through the passions, and overawed the judgment by the force of his appeals. He never excelled in argument made up of a long train of consecutive particulars. His arguments were short and rapid.

His views of things were vivid, though sometimes not distinct; his gush of feeling overwhelming, though not always entirely free from modifying circumstances. When awaked by some important subject, by some powerful impulsive circumstance, he was irresistible in his address; and however divided the audience might be at first, there was likely to-be but one sentiment in the conclusion. In public bodies and in private circles, by his powerful appeals to the strong passions, by his wit and humor, by his confident and sometimes his persuasively yielding manner, Mr. Hill would make his hearers feel that what was uttered by him was the voice of their own heart and judgment, perhaps in sweeter terms than they had ever before heard. Sometimes he would bear down, with that unexpected force of manner, and voice, and sentiment, that would sweep away doubts and arguments; and confound and alarm by his impetuosity, and the vividness of his caricature. The hearer would seem to himself to have got new views of the subject, and be ashamed to express anything to the contrary. ”

“Mr. Hill’s influence this summer was at its height; and its extent can hardly be measured. It reached every congregation in Presbytery, every minister, and multitudes of persons scattered over the State; and in Synod his influence was not small.” At this time Mr. Hill enjoyed as much domestic happiness as falls to the lot of mortals. He had reared two daughters, a son and perhaps a daughter had passed away in infancy. The two daughters were reproductions of their parents, the one with the characteristics of the father, and the other of the mother. One was married and lived in Winchester; the other remained at home. A large circle of acquaintances fully believed that the almost doting fondness of the parents for that daughter was not misplaced. In the bloom and beauty of maidenhood, her cheerful spirit was refined by the deep sense of religion she cherished, from the time of the revival, under the teaching of Mr. Baker. Her winning manners more surely captivating by the perceptible cast of sedateness her religion wrought into her bearing; and her cheerful simplicity found its way to the strong hold of the affections. The parents rejoiced in their child, their earthly treasure, the gift of God, the hopeful child of Christ.”

“They all sang with spirit; Mr. Hill with the silver trumpet’s voice, and Mrs. Hill and Elizabeth with sweetness and tenderness. Newton’s Hymns were sometimes sung, in that domestic circle, in tones and manner to have delighted that old .saint himself. The social worship of morning and evening was one of the exquisite charms of the family. The hymn — “Jesus, let thy pitying eye call back a wandering sheep,” sung by the three, in the twilight of a summer’s evening, opened the fountain of tears in the distressed heart of one that now lives and preaches the gospel of Christ.”

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