Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
In the latter part of the year 1836 I was called to the pastorate of the church in Bowling Green, Ky. This call was made in consequence of the lamented death of the former pastor, Rev. William Warder, who died in August, at the age of fifty years. He was an able preacher, happily combining logical strength and hortatory power. He had been pastor of the church from its organization in 1818. He was often the companion of Jeremiah Vardeman and Isaac Hodgen in their tours of preaching; nor has Kentucky ever sent forth an abler triumvirate. Vardeman was eloquent, Hodgen was effective, but in argumentative ability Warder was superior to either of them. It is a pleasure to me to say that Joseph W. Warder, D. D., of Louisville, Ky., and William H. Warder, M. D., of Philadelphia, worthily represent the name of their honored father. They may well feel satisfaction in the reflection that they are the sons of a father whose character was unblemished, and the sun of whose life set in a cloudless sky. May blessings ever rest on his memory! In September, 1836, sermons occasioned by his death were preached, at Russellville, by Rev. Robert T. Anderson and myself. Mine was the first sermon I ever published, and the text was I Thessalonians iv:13, 14: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” I greatly desired to alleviate the sorrows of the bereaved widow by saying something consolatory concerning the pious dead.
I began my ministerial labors in Bowling Green the first day of the year, 1837, and continued them for twenty years, with the exception of a few months. It was considered by many as a phenomenon that the church offered me a salary of four hundred dollars a year. No Baptist minister in that part of Kentucky had ever received so large a compensation. It was John Burnam, Esq., who proposed that I should be paid this amount, and all the church thought it impossible to raise it; but when Brother Burnam subscribed one tenth of the sum it was then believed that the thing could be done. “Honor to whom honor is due;” and I record the fact that to John Burnam is due the credit of introducing this new order of things in the compensation of ministers in the Green River portion of Kentucky. He took large views for that day and advocated them with great earnestness. It is to be remembered, however, that I was the first man in Southern Kentucky who abjured all secular avocations, giving myself wholly to the ministry of the word. It was customary for the churches, almost all of them, to have preaching but one Sunday in the month. With this arrangement, a preacher could serve four churches; and he was called, not ironically, but really the pastor of them all. My predecessor had supplied the Bowling Green church with monthly preaching, and his compensation was a hundred dollars a year. If any one should be curious to know how ministers lived in those times, the answer is, that some of them taught school, while the larg- majority of them were farmers. Thus five days of the week were devoted to secular affairs, Saturday and Sunday being set apart for preaching. There could of course be no such thing as regular, systematic study; and ministers labored under many disadvantages. Some of them had a great thirst for knowledge, but their books were few. Their reading was confined chiefly to the Bible, and they studied it during the intervals of manual labor. It would fill our eyes with tears if we could go back to those days, and see what was sometimes seen – a man of God, in Winter, having cut down a tree, sitting on its stump to rest, and while resting reading the word of truth with a view to the next Suday’s sermon; and, in Summer, after following the plow until his horse needed rest, stopping to open the blessed book of the Lord. We shall never know how much we are indebted to men of this class for our denominational prominence and prosperity. Their sermons did not illustrate the rules of Homiletics, for the word was not known. They never thought of beauty and elegance of style, but they said wondrous things. They often, without knowing it, broke the rules of grammar, and at the same time they broke the hearts of their hearers. They were sometimes thrillingly eloquent, but their eloquence was not that of the schools. It was born of the inspiration of the Savior’s love and melted the hardest hearts. I call to mind one who, attempting to show sinners that they need not perish in their sins, assigned several reasons why they need not, and then with a heavenly countenance and streaming eyes, exclaimed, “CALVARY SAYS NO!” I do not expect to hear anything in the language of mortals more eloquent than that. When I think of the disadvantages under which those good men labored, and that their noble spirits, by an irrepressible elasticity, rose above surrounding circumstances, I feel for them the profoundest veneration. Through my long life I have remembered them, shall remember them till I die, and hope to be with them after I die.
It was not long after I removed to Bowling Green, that is, in the Spring of 1837, that there was pecuniary trouble. There were no telegraphs then, and I remember that a post-boy came with all possible haste from Louisville, bringing an order for the suspension of “specie payments” in bank. This was looked on as a calamity of no little magnitude, for it disparaged the paper money in circulation and created a feeling of disquiet everywhere.
It was the first year of Mr. Van Buren’s Presidency and he was thought responsible for the unsatisfactory state of things. This, however, was not the case. General Jackson had in the preceding year issued what was called the “Specie Circular,” requiring the public lands, then selling rapidly, to be paid for in gold and silver. Paper money had been chiefly used in the purchase of these lands and the “Specie Circular ” was unexpected and revolutionary. It was seen in a very short time that the demands made on the banks for gold and silver would be so great as to make it necessary to suspend “specie payments.” Whether the policy of President Jackson was wise or just it is not for me to say; but it is certain that Mr. Van Buren inherited the unpopularity of the measure, so that in 1840 William Henry Harrison was elected over him by an over-whelming majority. Thus it was that General Jackson, to whom Mr. Van Buren was indebted for his election in 1836, virtually defeated him in his candidacy in 1840. So strange are human affairs.
In August, 1837, my friend, John L. Waller, who was on a visit to Bowling Green, proposed that I should go with him to Russell Creek Association, which was to meet at Columbia, in Adair County. We went and took Glasgow in our way. We spent a night in the family of Richard Garnett, Esq., and here I was introduced to his daughter Catherine S. of whom I shall have much to say in my Reminiscences. I was not very favorably impressed by her at first, but she and her brother Joseph, and another gentleman went with us to the Association. We thought there was no risk in presuming on Kentucky hospitality and unannounced we, five of us on horseback, stopped with a friend to spend a night. It made no difference and everything in the family circle went on without a ripple. At Columbia my home was with William Caldwell, Esq., with whose family from then till now I have had a pleasant acquamtance. When the Association was over I parted with my friend Waller and returned with Miss Garnett and her brother to Glasgow. The ride of more than thirty miles gave me a fine opportunity of conversation with her and I was impressed with the excellences of her character and her general intelligence. When I left Glasgow I thought it probable that my admiration for her would result in feelings of a different kind; but more of this hereafter.
In October, 1837, I went to Louisville, where the General Association of Kentucky Baptists was formed. The Baptist State Convention had not been a success, and it was thought better to have a new organization. As introductory to the business of the meeting, a sermon was preached by that prince of preachers, Rev. William Vaughan, from Acts xx:24: “To testify the gospel of the grace of God.” It was the first time I saw and heard Mr. Vaughan, and my many years of acquaintance with him greatly endeared him to me and convinced me that there was no minister in Kentucky superior to him. Spencer, in his History of Kentucky Baptists, says, “The meeting was called to order by Elder W. C. Buck, when, on motion, Elder George Waller was appointed Chairman, and brethren John L. Waller and J. M. Pendleton, Secretaries, pro-tempore.” It was a day of small things, for only fifty-seven messengers were present. A Constitution was adopted which has remained substantially the same for more than fifty years.
Having performed my little part in forming the General Association. I returned home by way of Glasgow, where I was specially interested in forming a particular association. My feelings of admiration for Miss Garnett had ripened into feelings of love, and I so informed her. I rather think my proposal of marriage took her by surprise, for she said nothing. I tried of course to construe her silence into a favorable omen, and insisted that she should not give an immediate answer, but take ample time for consideration. A suitor generally gains an important point when he can so present his case as to induce consideration. It was so with me as will be seen in the next chapter.