The Monument of Francis Makemie

A poetic tribute from Henry Van Dyke, Jr. to the man who has been described as the "Father of American Presbyterianism," Francis Makemie, on the bicentennial anniversary of Makemie's death (The Poems of Henry Van Dyke, p. 165): 



To thee, plain hero of a rugged race,
We bring the meed of praise too long delayed!
Thy fearless word and faithful work have made
For God's Republic firmer resting-place
In this New World: for thou hast preached the grace
And power of Christ in many a forest glade,
Teaching the truth that leaves men unafraid
Of frowning tyranny or death s dark face.

Oh, who can tell how much we owe to thee,
Makemie, and to labour such as thine,
For all that makes America the shrine
Of faith untrammelled and of conscience free?
Stand here, grey stone, and consecrate the sod
Where rests this brave Scotch-Irish man of God!

April, 1908

Apostle of the Chesapeake

Littleton Purnell Bowen (1833-1933), the great biographer of Francis Makemie, often considered the founder of Presbyterianism in America, also wrote of him in verse. 

In his volume of prose and poetry titled Makemieland Memorials; With Eastern Shore Wild Flowers and Other Wild Things (1910), there is a 4-page poetic tribute to Francis Makemie, "the Paul of Accomack, the Knox of Pocomoke...the Apostle of the Chesapeake...this Calvin of the Eastern Shore." 

As Paul on every shore sought God's elect
And faced unmoved the Mediterranean gales,
So went Makemie forth to all the winds;
His sloop Tabitha to a hundred streams,
His faithful Button trudging pathless swamps.
He planted Churches as he planted corn —
Rehoboth, Wicomico and Snow Hill,
Monokin, Rockawalkin and Pitts Creek —
From fair Onancock up to Buckingham,
The lilies and the seabirds tracked his course.

Having explored the barrier islands and farm fields of the Delmarva Peninsula, visited the churches planted by Makemie which are still standing, and stood myself on the banks of Holden's Creek in Temperanceville, Accomack County, Virginia, the spot where Makemie is buried and his statue stands today - his burial place was discovered by Bowen himself through tireless research - in reading Bowen's tribute this writer is whisked away to a time when a pioneer Presbyterian from Ulster brought the gospel to a colonial frontier. 

Upon the banks of Holden's Creek he sleeps.
The sparkle of the wavelets tell the tale
Of crystal River and the Great White Throne.
Since then what multitudes of graves on all
These landscapes rest, tombs of the fathers,
Blood of Covenanter, blood of Huguenot.
Where ever soared a sounder Creed to Heaven!
Take off thy shoes; we stand on holy ground,
The burning bush burns on and unconsumed.

This poem tells the story in brief of a man who is a true American hero of the faith. It begins on p. 75 of Makemieland Memorials. If you enjoy church history and poetry together, take a moment to read Bowen's tribute to Francis Makemie, the Apostle of the Chesapeake. 

The Story of the Old Makemie Desk

For so long, besides the churches planted by him on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, and the writings left by him, there was little to show for the life and death of "the Father of American Presbyerianism," Francis Makemie (1658-1708). We don't even know precisely what he looked like - only one contemporaneous portrait was ever painted of Makemie (and his wife), but it was destroyed in a fire in 1831. Even his burial site was unknown until it was discovered by Littleton Purnell Bowen (1833-1933), whose tireless research led him to the banks of Holden's Creek in Temperanceville, Accomack County, Virginia, where the Makemie Monument was finally erected in 1908 to mark the spot (this writer had occasion to visit the spot once again last year, which is a wonderful place for contemplation). 

Bowen - the preacher, poet, historian and biographer of Makemie - also made another remarkable discovery, one which is preserved to this day at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He found the very desk employed by Francis Makemie in his ministerial and household labors. 

The story of this discovery is told in John Stevenson McMaster (1859-1924), A Sketch of the Rev. Samuel McMaster: 1744-1811 (1900), by both McMaster and Bowen himself (see especially pp. 20ff). John McMaster was a Presbyterian ruling elder and descendant of his grandfather, Rev. Samuel McMaster, who was the pastor of Anne Makemie Blair King Holden (1702-1788), daughter of Francis Makemie, who took possession of the desk at her father's passing. Upon her death, this solid mahogany desk was willed to Rev. Samuel McMaster, who later bequeathed it to his son Samuel, after whose death it was purchased by a John B. White, who later revealed its existence to Bowen, showing him all the "concealed springs and drawers...[where] the old Presbyterians of the past had hidden their gold and treasures," and after much persuasion (White's wife said: "By all means let Mr. Bowen have it. We are Baptists, and cannot appreciate it as the Presbyterians would. Mr. Bowen's heart is in the history, and he ought to own the desk"), sold it to him, after which, in 1900, Bowen donated it to the Union Theological Seminary of Richmond. 

This is where it resides today, and it may be seen only by appointment. As McMaster notes, "This desk is the only known relic of the Makemie family in existence." 

Read the original source documents of Francis Makemie's stand for religious liberty here

310 years ago, in 1707, Francis Makemie was arrested for preaching in New York without a license from the government. He fought those charges on several grounds, and won. This trial was a foundation of religious liberty in America. You can read the original source documents here - they include transcripts of the trial and letters written by Makemie and John Hampton, his co-prisoner in the Lord.