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)

William Graham and the Lost State of Franklin

Following the American War of Independence, the US Congress (operating under the Articles of Confederation) was in great financial debt. As a result, the State of North Carolina, in 1784, voted to offer a grant of land on its western frontier to Congress as a way of paying off some of its debt. Congress would be obligated to assert its control of the area within two years, which it was reluctant to do. Peace had not yet been made with the Cherokee Indians, and the settlers there were in need of a solid government. North Carolina rescinded its offer later that year, and a movement bearing the name of Benjamin Franklin, under the leadership of John Sevier, aimed to fill the power vacuum by proclaiming independence for the territory to which they originally gave the name of the State of Frankland (they later changed it to the State of Franklin).

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

There were many famous men associated with the Frankland / Franklin movement for an independent free state in what is now Tennessee. At least three Presbyterian ministers were actively involved in the movement, including the Rev. Samuel Houston (1758-1839) [uncle of the famous Virginian-Texan general and governor Sam Houston]; the Rev. Samuel Doak (1749-1830); and the Rev. William Graham (1745-1799), founder of Liberty Hall, near Lexington, Virginia, where he tutored Archibald Alexander.

It was William Graham, according to Kent Wilcox, author of The Lost History of Washington and Lee: New Discoveries: A Historical Performance Audit (2018), who authored a remarkable document titled A Declaration of Rights, along with a proposed constitution for the State of Frankland (this proposed constitution differs from that which was actually adopted later). This document, promoted by Rev. Houston, was published in Philadelphia, and demonstrates the principles of civil government to which the patriotic Presbyterian pastor adhered. Consistent with the address to Virginia’s General Assembly, also authored by Graham in 1785, neither the Declaration of Rights nor the proposed Constitution affirm or seek an established church for the “Commonwealth of Frankland,” but the proposed Constitution does assert that

…no person shall be eligible or capable to serve in this or any other office in the civil department of this State, who is of an immoral character, or guilty of such flagrant enormities as drunkenness, gaming, profane swearing, lewdness, Sabbath breaking, and such like; or who will, either in word or writing, deny any of the following propositions, viz:

1st. That there is one living and true God, the Creator and Govern or of the universe.
2nd. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
3rd. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are given by divine inspiration.
4th. That there are three divine persons in the Godhead, co-equal and co-essential.

A petition was made to Congress for statehood in 1785, but although seven states voted in favor, the required two-thirds threshold for passage was not met. The Congressional delegation went so far as to changed the name from Frankland to Franklin with the aim of soliciting more active support for the project from Benjamin Franklin himself (it is thought that Graham was not particularly favorable to the man, likely because of Franklin’s religious views, and that he originally chose the term “Frankland” to reflect this), but to no avail. In 1786, Graham, as a “citizen of Frankland,” authored an Essay on Government (not yet available at Log College Press). Although not accepted as a state, the government of Franklin attempted to operate as an independent republic until conflicts with the Cherokees and the State of North Carolina over taxes and other issues resulted in the 1788 “Battle of Franklin,” soon after which the State of Franklin collapsed, except for one county (“Lesser Franklin”) which continued its claims of independence until 1791. The territory in dispute eventually became part of a new State of Tennessee, and Sevier himself would serve as Governor of Tennessee.

For more on the life of William Graham, consult Archibald Alexander’s biographical notice which appears in Vol. 3 of William B. Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit. He was a fascinating and influential man in American civil and ecclesiastical history. Although the State of Franklin was short-lived, Graham’s spiritual legacy lives on through the spiritual and political lessons he taught others, including Archibald Alexander.

The Monitory Letters

Although published anonymously, the author of Monitory Letters to Church Members (1855) was William Buell Sprague. These are the letters of a watchman for the souls of his flock, and they address challenging issues that were prevalent in the 19th century, and no less so today. 

Contained in this volume are a series of 22 letters written to address subjects that reflect a declination in serious religion. Among those persons and topics addressed are:

  • Those who undervalue divine truth;
  • Those who willfully skip the second worship service on the Lord's Day;
  • Those who would send their children to dancing school (Sprague does not argue that dancing is sinful);
  • Those who neglect family worship;
  • Those who travel excessively on the Lord's Day;
  • Those who neglect mid-week services;
  • Those who are stingy and censorious (overly-critical); 
  • Those who are impatient, complaining, fickle, bigoted, neglectful, and irreverent;
  • Those who lack parental involvement and oversight; and 
  • Those who would send their children to a Roman Catholic school. 

Sprague means here to uphold the sanctity of the Lord's Day, the virtue and importance of family worship, the graces of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, the appreciation of true religion, and the wholesomeness of the home. Not all in our day will agree with his position on all issues. But these letters remind us of the seriousness of the issues which are pastorally addressed. They are not to be lightly dismissed. 

Three of the letters speak to the subject of family worship. The second letter, in particular, addresses the Scriptural warrant for its duty and practice. All of them are valuable incentives to experimental piety, which Sprague aimed at in all of his writings. 

Take time to read over these monitory letters. You may not be the addressee, but they may still convict the 21st century reader and stir him or her unto a serious apprehension of our duties before God and man.