A Day in the Life of a Young Rural 19th Century Pastor - J.W. Alexander

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In 1827, James Waddel Alexander was a young Presbyterian minister in the midst of his first pastorate at the Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. In a July 3, 1827 letter in which he answered John Hall’s question about how he spent his time, we are given a wonderful snapshot into his life at this time:

He is my plan for days which I spend at home, not always adhered to. Rise at 4; shower-bath; dress; shave; a walk or exercise in the garden; family prayers at 6; breakfast 1/4 before 7; read Scriptures; a lesson in Hebrew; Greek Testament in course with commentaries; cursory reading of Greek Testament; English Bible; preparation for sermons; theology; German; I have luncheon at 11, dinner at 2 1/2; after dinner I expatiate, read every thing,* ride, walk, lie on the grass, &c.; tea at 7; family worship at 8; bed at 9.

* Earlier in the letter he describes reading “the works of Rapin, Pascal, De la Houssaye, in French; Mastricht, Mark, Witsius, in modern Latin; and Calvin, Dwight, and McDowell, in modern English.”

There are so many spiritual and other insights to be gleaned from reading the Forty Years’ Familiar Letters of James Waddel Alexander, D.D., edited by his correspondent, John Hall. We not only learn about the man but we see snapshots of life in his day that reveal glimpses of an America that has changed immensely in two centuries. The time period covered by these letters is 1819 (200 years ago exactly) to 1859. Alexander went on to other pastorates and other more urban settings. But this sample of the time he spent in rural central Virginia is a special window into a time in his life and a time in America’s past that is perhaps not to be repeated, making his letters even more of a treasure.