Farewell to a notable Presbyterian historian - James H. Smylie

It is with sadness that we note the recent passing of the great 20th century Presbyterian historian James Hutchinson Smylie (October 25, 1925 - January 5, 2019).

Executive Director Emeritus of the Presbyterian Historical Society Frederick Heuser writes:

Jim Smylie was the dean of American Presbyterian history for a very long time. And he will remain as such, joining others whose scholarly contributions helped us understand  why these ‘few of the folks of faith’ had such an impact on the global community.

Jim believed strongly that our history had to be usable. He consistently displayed a deep concern for making the lessons of history available to grassroots congregations.This vision was the driving force behind his long tenure as the Editor of The Journal of Presbyterian History. While highly regarded and respected by the academic community, he never lost sight of the fact that Presbyterian history had to be understood by the church at large.

We refer you to the memorial written by the Presbyterian Historical Society for more information about the man, as well as this obituary. He served as “[t]he editor of the Journal of Presbyterian History and the secretary of the American Society of Church History for nearly three decades.” Perhaps most well-known for this 1996 A Brief History of the Presbyterians, he has authored quite a few works on Presbyterian church history. Several of his books are available for purchase at our Secondary Sources page. For this writer, two works by Smylie stand out:

  • A Cloud of Witnesses: A History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1965) - Among the “witnesses” highlighted are: Francis Makemie, Samuel Davies,John Witherspoon, James H. Thornwell, Daniel Baker, Woodrow Wilson, “Stonewall” Jackson, Moses D. Hoge, George Washington Cable, James A. Bryan, William H. Sheppard, William M. Morrison, and John J. Eagan.

  • American Presbyterians: A Pictorial History (1985) - This volume provides a visual and textual record of the notables and highlights of American Presbyterian history, including a chart of the denominational divisions. This tour through our national church history is, in this writer’s opinion, not equaled elsewhere, and is an excellent starting point for further research.

As one who loved and taught the history of the Presbyterian Church to many, we remember Jim Smylie and continue to cherish his historical scholarship here at Log College Press.