Biographical sketches compiled by William B. Sprague

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The Annals of the American Pulpit, a nine-volume series (an additional volume was planned but not completed) edited by William Buell Sprague, is a treasure that we have written about before. Sprague was a prolific writer and compiler of valuable historical information and mementos. His own original research for the biographical sketches which he produced is very significant and valuable. In addition to his biographical writings, he solicited biographical sketches from living writers who knew the deceased ministers he was writing about and, additionally, borrowed from published biographical literature as well.

As one reads the Presbyterian volumes (3, 4 and 9), one begins to take note of the personal connections between the leading ministers of the early American Presbyterianism. So many of Sprague’s subjects and contributors are to be found here at Log College Press. The following is an attempt to map out these particular LCP connections. As the site continues to grow, more connections are likely to be made, but this may serve as a useful reference to see who on LCP was written about within or contributed to the creation of William Sprague’s Annals.

Volume 3 (Presbyterian)

Volume 4 (Presbyterian)

Volume 9 (Associate, Associate Reformed, Reformed Presbyterian)

A Centenarian Presbyterian: William Rankin

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

Imagine what it would be like to live from the beginning of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. William Rankin, Jr., who served as both a ruling elder and the treasurer of the PCUSA Board of Foreign Missions (for 37 years), did just that.

Born on September 15, 1810, on a farm near Elizabeth, New Jersey, his longevity was such that at the time of his death on October 20, 1912, he was 102 years old, and was then the oldest college graduate in the United States. He took up the study of law, graduating from the Cincinnati Law School, and served as a law partner to Salmon P. Chase, who later became Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He was married to wife Ellen (née Smith) for 62 years. Ecclesiastically, he served as ruling elder for the Third Presbyterian Church of Newark, NJ for 15 years and in the same capacity at the Wicliff Church for 11 years. Sixteen times he attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church as Commissioner from Newark. He was a trustee for the Bloomfield Theological Seminary; President of the Essex County Bible Society; President of the Newark Library Association; President of the Board of Trustees for the High Street Church; and a member of the Presbyterian Church Extension Committee. He was also a member of the New Jersey Historical Society from 1848 until the time of his death.

His 1857 address to the Synod of New Jersey on the subject of the Board of Missions was published by request of the Synod. He also authored Handbook and Incidents of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1893) and Memorials of Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (1895). These latter two works are valuable resources which cover the history of Presbyterian foreign missions in the 19th century, written by a man who devoted much of his life to aiding the cause of missions worldwide. We have previously alluded to his account of American Presbyterian missionary to India Joseph Owen (1814-1870), and this is but one of many fascinating biographical sketches to be found in his books.

If the history of world missions is of interest to you, take time to visit the William Rankin, Jr. page and read his remarkable books on foreign missions, written by a centenarian Presbyterian who spent his life in the service of God and the church.

That a New Generation May Read the Old Stories

Mary A. Tennent (1890-1971) was a descendant of William Tennent, Sr., founder of the original Log College in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania. In the introduction to her valuable work Light in Darkness: The Story of William Tennent, Sr. and the Log College (1971), she speaks of reading Elias Boudinot IV’s biography of William Tennent, Jr., and how his words impacted her.

Boudinot began his memoir with these words: “Among the duties every generation owes to those whose example deserves and may invite imitation…and when such men have been remarkably favored of God with an unusual degree of light and knowledge…it becomes the duty of more than ordinary obligation to hand down to posterity the principal events of their lives which if known might edify and benefit the world.” While his words referred to William Tennent, Jr., they were even more applicable to his father William Tennent, Sr., for he not only possessed an unusual degree of light and knowledge but faithfully handed it on to his sons and students in the small but significant school he founded and presided over for nineteen years.

On re-reading Boudinot’s memoir of William Tennent, Jr., I was struck with these words: “A neglect of this duty (that of handing down to posterity the events of the lives of those deserving commemoration) even by persons who may be conscious of the want of abilities necessary for the complete biographer, is greatly culpable and no excuse for burying in oblivion that conduct which if known might edify and benefit the world.” Thus encouraged, this work was begun not with any idea of edifying the world, but with the small hope that one or more of his descendants may be inspired to emulate him.

The story of America’s first Log College involves remarkable people who did remarkable things. Many writers at our site and elsewhere have undertaken to tell that story. One such writer was Archibald Alexander, who authored Biographical Sketches of the Founder, and Principal Alumni of the Log College (1845), in which he stated:

If I were fond of projects, I would propose that a monument be erected to the founder of the Log College on the very site where the building stood, if the land could be purchased; but at any rate a stone with an inscription might be permanently fixed on or near the ground. The tradition respecting this humble institution of learning exists, not only in the neighbourhood, but has been extended far to the south and west.

A bicentennial stone monument was indeed established at the appropriate site in Warminster, Pennsylvania in 1927, which tells of the legacy of the Log College. The Log College story is not just about the Tennent family, or even the College of New Jersey (Princeton) - the original Log College is the birthplace of something and represents, in the words of Thomas Murphy, “the cradle of the Presbyterian Church in America.” Now here in 2019, by republishing early American Presbyterian literature, and by making known the stories of early America’s Presbyterian leaders in the digital age, Log College Press is working to ensure that a new generation can learn about the hand of God at work in the history of his church. The Log College story has extended far and wide, beyond boundaries imagined by Archibald Alexander, and we are pleased to be a part of those who make it known today.

Read our authors and our biographies and autobigraphies, study church history, and peruse our other topical pages, as well as the new Log College Review. And be sure to explore our bookstore and secondary sources page for many more resources. The story of the cradle of the American Presbyterian Church is a story for the ages, including our own.

God's Providence in the Deaths of Log College Press Saints

Henry A. Boardman once had occasion to preach a funeral sermon for several individuals who perished in a railroad accident. In his 1855 sermon titled "God’s Providence in Accidents,” he said:

That death is among the objects of his providence, is a necessary corollary from his sovereignty. It is one of his inalienable prerogatives to create life, and he alone can destroy it. “I kill; and I make alive." Such is the concatenation of events, that the death of an obscure individual, or of an infant, at a different time or place from that which he had prescribed, might disorganize the entire scheme of terrestrial things, and even spread confusion through the whole boundless domain of his administration. "Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?" "Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee: thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass." "Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest: 'Return, ye children of men.'“

And this implies that the mode, and all the attending circumstances of death, are appointed in every instance. We may no more exempt one class of deaths from God's control, than another. The sword, the poison, the accident, are as much his instruments as the paralysis and the fever — the battle is no less his than the pestilence. The murder of Abel, and the tranquil death of Jacob; Joseph dying in Egypt, and Moses in Mount Nebo; Jonathan slain in battle and David peacefully expiring in the bosom of his family; John the Baptist beheaded, and Stephen stoned to death; all have a common place in the great scheme of Providence.

One of the features that makes Log College Press’ database of American Presbyterian writers so special is that — as often as possible — we have included photographs of these men, along with pictures of where they are laid to rest, as well as biographical information. Reviewing the lives and deaths of our Log College Press men, it is worth taking note of some of the unusual ways that some of them have finished their earthly course.

Maltbie Davenport Babcock — Composer of the famous hymn “This Is My Father’s World,” “Babcock died at age 42 in Naples, Italy, on May 18, 1901, returning from a trip to the Holy Land. According to a New York Times report of May 20, 1901, and widely carried by newspapers coast-to-coast, he committed suicide by slitting his wrist and ingesting ‘corrosive sublimate’ or mercuric chloride. He was being treated in the International Hospital in Naples for what was called ‘Mediterranean fever,’ an archaic term for brucellosis. Several of his travel companions suffered from this bacterial infection which causes fever, pain and depression. Babcock had been hospitalized for ‘nervous prostration’ (depression) in Danville, New York, ten years before his death.” — Wikipedia

Hezekiah James Balch — Presbyterian minister and one of the three primary authors of the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, it is not known precisely how he died, merely that he died in early 1776, around the age of 30.

Elias Boudinot — After signing the Treaty of New Echota (1835), which ceded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi to the U.S. federal government, Boudinot was assassinated at his Oklahoma home on June 22, 1839, by a group of Cherokees who were angry about his role in the removal of the tribe.

Ephraim Brevard - The reputed author of the 1775 Mecklenburg Resolutions and the scribe who penned the 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence spent time in British custody as a prisoner of war at Charleston, South Carolina, where the unwholesome air and diet crushed his health. After his release, he reached the home of his friend John McKnitt Alexander, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, only to breathe his last shortly thereafter in 1781.

William Jennings Bryan, Sr. — This Presbyterian statesman and lawyer is most famous today for his role in the 1925 Scopes Trial in Tennessee regarding the teaching of evolution. He won the case for the prosecution (contra evolution), which was decided on July 21, 1925, though he lost in the court of public opinion. However, he passed away in his sleep just five days later on July 26, 1925.

Aaron Burr, Sr. — Burr was the second president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Like the next two succeeding presidents (Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Davies), Burr preached a New Year’s sermon on Jeremiah 28:16 and died later that same year on September 24, 1757.

James Caldwell — The “Fighting Parson” of the American War of Independence, “Rev. Caldwell was picking up a traveler in his buggy. After carrying the baggage to the horse-drawn buggy, he went back to pick up a package. An American sentry ordered him to stop but distance precluded the command from being heard. With that, the sentry fired and killed Rev. Caldwell on November 24, 1781. At the trial and subsequent hanging of the sentry, there were rumors that he had been bribed by the British to kill the soldier parson. At any rate, he was buried beside his wife in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, New Jersey. A monument was placed up honoring him in 1846. Three towns in New Jersey are named after him, including an educational facility.” — This Day in Presbyterian History

Samuel Davies — Davies was the fourth president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Like each of the prior two presidents (Aaron Burr, Sr. and Jonathan Edwards), Davies preached a New Year’s sermon on Jeremiah 28:16 (“This Very Year Thou Shalt Die!”), and by February 4, 1761, Davies had passed away from pneumonia.

Moses Drury Hoge — “On Friday, November 4, 1898, Moses Drury Hoge was heading home after consoling a bereaved family when he suddenly heard the clanging bell of a trolley as it rammed into his buggy. He was thrown into the air and landed on his right side on the stone pavement and was severely injured. Dr. Hoge suffered with his injuries until he died on January 6, 1899.” — Presbyterians of the Past

George Howe — "In the case of George Howe, his fatal injury occurred after the Lord’s Day service. He was riding home when he was thrown from his carriage resulting in the breaking of one of his legs. He survived through two weeks of suffering before dying on April 15, 1883.” — Presbyterians of the Past

James Latta — An Irish-American Presbyterian who served as the third moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, “The circumstances of his death, as related by one of his daughters, were as follows: — Riding to church one Sabbath with his daughter Mary, he was thrown from the carriage, and falling on his head, he was somewhat stunned. He observed to her, — ‘I am killed; but do not tell your mother.’ He proceeded to church, preached with some difficulty, and returned home. He soon after fell into a sleepy, comatose state, until his daughter, the next day, alarmed, related to her mother what had happened. Help was immediately called in, but in vain. He continued a few days, almost insensible, and then died.” — This Day in Presbyterian History

John Greshem Machen — After traveling to North Dakota in December 1936, Machen developed an inflammation of the lungs, and then was hospitalized for pneumonia. Before he passed away on January 1, 1937, at the age of 55, he dictated a telegram to his friend and colleague John Murray in which he stated: “I'm so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

Nathaniel Smyth McFetridge — In 1881, McFetridge was seriously injured in a railroad accident, and never fully recovered. He passed away on December 3, 1886 at Minneapolis, Minnesota at the age of 44.

Benjamin Morgan Palmer — “Palmer was struck by a streetcar in New Orleans on May 5, 1902, and died twenty days later.” — Wikipedia

Charles Henry Parkhurst — Parkhurst died on September 8, 1933, by sleepwalking and walking off the porch roof of his Ventnor City, New Jersey, home.

David Ramsay — Famed Presbyterian historian David “Ramsay was appointed by a court to examine one William Linnen, a tailor known for serial litigation and nuisance suits, after Linnen had attempted to murder his attorney. Ramsay reported to the court that Linnen was ‘deranged’ and that it would be ‘dangerous to let him go at large.’ After apparently regaining his sanity, Linnen was released; though he threatened Ramsay, the latter did not take the threat seriously.

On May 6, 1815, at 1:00 p.m., Ramsay passed Linnen on Broad Street in Charleston. Linnen took out a ‘horseman's pistol’ that he had concealed in a handkerchief, and shot Ramsay twice, in the back and hip. According to a contemporary source:

Having been carried home, and being surrounded by a crowd of anxious citizens, after first calling their attention to what he was about to utter, he said ‘I know not if these wounds be mortal; I am not afraid to die; but should that be my fate, I call on all here present to bear witness, that I consider the unfortunate perpetrator of this deed a lunatic, and free from guilt.’

Ramsay died at 7 a.m. on May 8, 1815.” — Wikipedia

Robert Lodowick Stanton - “Stanton died en route to Europe and was buried at sea on May 28, 1885, at the age of seventy-six.” — Wikipedia

William Tennent III — “In 1777, upon the death of his minister father, he sought to bring his surviving mother to South Carolina. In that trip, he was seized with fever and died on the way. It was said that his mind was calm at the sudden turn of events and that he was willing to die. Thus, on this Day in August 11, 1777, he went into the presence of his heavenly Father.” — This Day in Presbyterian History

Samuel Hall Young — This pioneer missionary who survived an accident on an Alaskan glacier decades previously was hit and killed by a streetcar in Clarksburg, West Virginia on September 2, 1927.

The Gift of Men

"Among the great gifts that God has given to men is the gift of men; and among all the gifts with which God has enriched His church, one of the greatest has been the gift of consecrated men, for they are the instrumentalities by which the church has been moulded and prospered in all the generations of the world." -- Moses Drury Hoge, Memorial Sermon for John Albert Broadus

With this thought in mind, be sure to check out the Biographies and Autobiographies and Funeral Discourses pages at Log College Press to read the stories of some godly, amazing and inspiring men, women and children. 

A few biographies from which to select for your Lord's Day reading...

We have links to several 19th century biographies of 19th century men on the Log College Press website: among others, The Life and Letters of Moses Drury Hoge (by Peyton Harrison Hoge), The Life of Archibald Alexander (by James Waddell Alexander), The Life of Joseph Addison Alexander (by Henry Carrington Alexander), a biography of John Gloucester (by William Catto), The Memoirs of John Leighton Wilson (by Hampton Coit DuBose), and Southern Presbyterian Leaders (by Henry Alexander White). We'll be posting more in weeks to come, but these should keep you occupied till then!