William S. (William Spottswood) White.

Rev. William S. White, D.D., and his times (1800-1873) : an autobiography online

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Online LibraryWilliam S. (William Spottswood) WhiteRev. William S. White, D.D., and his times (1800-1873) : an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 22)
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s^ -



And His Times.


^n ^utoblograpfig.


Eev. h. m. white, d. d.,



Pkesbyteeian Co^nnxTEE of Publication.
■18 9 1.


JAMES K. HAZEN, Secretary of Publication.

Fbtsted by
Whtttet & Sheppeesok.


Electrotypee by
L. Lewis,



OUR father wrote a memoir of liis son Hugli, who
fell in battle, Angust 30, 1862 ; and we undertake
to prepare one of him. These are two proverbially
difficult tasks. The one is liable to error through ex-
cessive complacency, and the other through excessive

His was the more difficult task, because of the time
and circumstances. His eyes were yet wet with tears ;
the gi-ass had not grown on his son's grave ; the war,
in which his young life had been quenched, was still
raging. Yet he succeeded. The love of the father
does not color the thoughts of the biographer. There-
fore we are encouraged to undertake our task, yet not
without misgiving.

We do it from a sense of duty. During his last
days, after he had been laid aside from regular work,
he ^\Tote out some "Notes" on his life. His reason
for so doing is thus given by his own hands : " It oc-
curs to me that a portion of the leisure I now enjoy
may be wisely spent in recording, for the good of my
children, and especially for my sons who are ministers
of the gospel, a few of the incidents of my earlier min-
isterial life. It may throw some httle light upon their
paths, and, if not their's, upon those of my grand-


4 Preface.

sons, many of whom, I trust, are to be heralds of the

The fniii; of such a labor of love cannot be allowed
to moulder in the grave. Our hearts would never
bear it.

Moreover, we believe our father did a great work for
God ; that he was a man for his time, and therefore a
man for all times ; and that the study of the life of such
a man ^dll do good, not only to his children, but to all

His personal acquaintance with many of the most
distinguished men of his time, both in church and state ;
his active participation in some of the most stirring
events of the church; and his peculiarly close rela-
tions to the most prominent institutions of learning,
secular and religious, in our commonwealth, give to
his memoir a historical significance of singular interest
and importance.

He was partly induced to write by the urgent en-
treaty of one of his sons, whose cliief object was to get
his mind employed upon daily work, and thus retard
that decay of mental faculties which comes on so rap-
idly when an energetic life is suddenly exchanged for
one of inactivity. The work grew on his hands until it
became a book, which filial honesty must put in print.

These "Notes," together with other papers, were
j^laced in the hands of a friend and ministerial brother,
who had known him long and intimately, and who ex-
pressed a warm desire to write his memoir; but this
friend was prevented by insuperable difficulties from
executing his cherished purpose. After twelve years
the papers have been returned to our hands, and at

Preface. 5

this late day we undertake tlie work, under many dis-

In a little volume, entitled The Old Bachelor, by Mr.
William Wirt, a picture is strikingly described. Writ-
ing of tlie influence mothers may exert over their chil-
dren he says : " I cannot better explain myself than by
describing a picture which I saw some years ago, in the
parlor of a gentleman with whom I was invited to dine.
It was a plate — a colored engraving, executed in the
highest style of that art — which represents a mother as
reciting to her son the martial exploits of his ancestors.
The mother herself had not lost the beauty of youth,
and was an elegant and noble figure. She was sitting
in a large arm-chair, her face and her arm extended
aloft, and her countenance exalted and impassioned
with her subject. Her little boy, a fine-looking fellow,
apparently about fourteen years of age, was kneeling
before her, his hands clasped in her lap, and stooping
towards her. His bright eyes were fixed upon her,
and swimming with tears of admiration and rapture.
Such, said I to myself, is the impulse which a mother
can give to the opening character of her child; and
such is the way in which a hero may be formed."^

If we can set before the descendants of our honored
father a delineation of his character and life true to
nature, though without any of "the finish" of this
prize picture of Alfred the Great, it will be such as we
desire and all that we can attain unto.

Believing as we do, that when the materials at hand
are sufficient, every biography should be an autobio-

' This picture now hangs in the parlor of a Virginia gentleman —
Frederick Johnston, Esq. , of lioanoke County.

6 Peeface.

graplij, onr i^art iu tliis work lias been mainly to re-
produce liis own work in sncli an order as will give to
it xmitj. A man's writings delineate himself more ac-
curately than he can be delineated by another. This
self -revelation, unconsciously made in correspondence,
diaries, anecdotes and narrations, is the true, the ex-
press and only reliable portrayal of personal mind and
soul that can be made. Through it we can see the
heart beating, the blood flowing, and the wonder-
working mind performing its subtlest and most vital

No likeness was ever taken of our father that caught
the true expression of his countenance, "\\nien at restj
a look of sternness always settled upon it, that melted
away as soon as he began to speak in public or con-
verse in private, or even Avhen reading. Then his
large browTi eyes would glow with a strong light, and
his warm feehngs spread themselves in a smile of ani-
mated joy over his large and strongly marked face.
This drew to him strangers wherever he went, and
made him friends as long as he lived. The Hkeness
prefixed to this Memoir, with this exception, is very



Place or Bikth axd Ancestkt.
Hanover Cotinty, Famous in tlie Annals of Ctuircli and State. —
Patrick Henr3^^ — Henry Clay. — Samuel Davies. — First Formal
Movement for Keligious Liberty. — Drs. B. M. Smith, Theo-
dorick Pryor, and W. S. Plnmer, on Dr. White's Life and
Work. — The Residence of the White Family. — His Ancestry, 13


Paternal Grandmother. — Learning the Alphabet. — Washington-
Henry Academy. — "Parson Hughs." — A Leader among Boys.
— His Father. — His Mother. — Various Schoolmasters. — First
Attempt at Teaching. — Enters Hampden-Sidney College. —
Room-mates. — How Awakened.— Wrestling in Prayer in the
Woods. — (Eev.) Daniel A. Penick. — Students' Prayer Meet-
ing. — Received into the College Church 22


Teaching in his Father's Family. — A Profitable Prayer Meeting. —
Gilljert Tennent Snowden. — Death of his Father. — Seeing his
Way into the Ministry^ — Dr. John H. Rice. — Mrs. John H.
Rice. — Their Home. — Anecdotes about Dr. Rice. — Dr. Rice's
Death. —Re-enters College. — How he Gets through College . _ 32


Graduates. — Teaches School in Farm ville.— Taken imder Care of
Presbytery. — Opening of Union Theological Seminary. — Stud-

8 Contents.

ies there while Teaching in Farmville. — Anecdote of Dr. B. H.
Kice. — Licensed, April 30, 1827. — Anecdote of Dr. Eice; or,
How to Treat Other Denominations. — Goes as Home Mission-
ary to Nottoway. — Letter of Encouragement from Dr. B. H.
Eice. — Sketches and Anecdotes of the Two Kices, and of Dr.
William S. Keid .._ _ 43


SMoh ^Church Built. — Fruits of Five Years' Work in Nottoway,
Lunenburg, Amelia and Dinwiddle. — Jeter's Bace-track. — Dr.
Eice's Wise Counsel to him in Despondency. — Baptists and
Methodists, — Marriage. — Generosity of Dr. James Jones. —
Uncle Jack, "The African Preacher." — Anecdotes of him. —
The Dying Lifidel. — Encomium by Dr. Pry or 54


Pastoeal Sketches.
Infidelity in Prospect of Death. — ' * Caught with Guile. " — Interested
Hearers. — Anti-Presbyterianism Cured. — "The Devil Threw
him Down and Tore him. "—Early Conversion : E. F. P. ;
E. W. W.; A. E. ; A. H. ; E. S. ; A.\\. B. 69


Leaves Nottoway for Scottsville, Va. — Mr. (afterwards Eev. Dr. )
Peyton Harrison Builds a Parsonage for him at his own
Charges. — Eevival. — Eev. Daniel Baker. — Accepts Agency for
American Tract Society. — Observations on his Agency and
Similar Enterprises Auxiliary to the Church 90


His Field in and about Charlottesville. — Abandons South Plains
and Bethel.— Eev. Joseph F. Baxter Called to them. — Con-
fines his Work to Charlottesville. — Opens a School for Young
Ladies.— The School a Nursery to the Church. — Declines En-
tertaining a Call to a Valley Church 97

Contents. 9


Universitj' of Virginia. — Mr. Jefferson Sees his Mistake. — Popular
Demand for Religious lustructiou. — Denominational llotation
in the Chaplaincy. — Himself Chaplain in 1840. — Health Breaks
down. — Professor Davis Shot by a Student. — His Death. —
Funeral. — Note on the Sermon, by Rev. Dr. Dabney.— New
Era in the Religious History of the University. — Anecdote
about Dr. Speece. — Chaplain a Second Time (1844). — Rev.
D. B. Ewing Secured as Assistant. — Health Fails again. — The
" Aliquis Controversy. " — List of his Publications. — Gov. T. W.
Gilmer. — His Tragical Death. — Funeral. — Illustrative Inci-
dent. — A Cause of the Prevailing Deism in Virginia. — Prof.
W. H. McGiiffey. — Opposition to him because a Minister of
the Gospel. — Anecdote. — Review of Dr. Cooper's "Life of
Priestley," by Dr. John H. Rice. — Dr. White's Impress on
Charlottesville and Albemarle County, by a Member of the
Methodist Church 105


Accepts a Call to Lexington, Va. — "The Skinner War. " — Dr. Skin-
ner Suspended from the Ministry by the Presbytery. — Restored
by the General Assembly. — The Pastoral Relation: his State
of Mind in Dissolving and in Forming it. — The Lexington Con-
gregation — Major (afterwards the renowned General) T. J.
Jackson. — John B. Lyle. — Anecdote about him, — Method of
Collections for the Church. — Anecdote about General T. J.
Jackson. — AModel Deacon... 128


Pentecostal Seasons. —Special Prayer for the Approaching Meet-
ing of Synod. — Its Fervor an Indication of Approaching Re-
vival, which Occurred ii>his Absence, — Effects of the Revival
on the Church. — Another Revival, extending from November,
1853, to February, 1854.— Full Account of another in 1856,—
Proposition in 1857 to Colonize.— The Church Building En-
larged,— Efforts for the Colored People,— Sabbath -school
Founded by Gen. T. J. Jackson for their Benefit. —Work in

10 Contents.

behalf of Temperauce. — Anecdote about his Preaching against
a Military Ball. — Home Missionary Work. — Stems a Torrent
of Indignant Opposition to a Public Lecturer. — Rev. W. J.
Baird, D. D. —His Pulpit Power 144


A ' ' Union Man" at the Secession of South Carolina. — What Changed
his Mind and that of his State. — Abolitionism and Secession-
ism. — List of those in his Church and Congregation who Per-
ished or were Disabled for Life in the War. — Depreciated Cur-
rency.— Peace in the Midst of War. — Extract from a Letter
of his Son who Fell in Battle. —False Philanthropy of Aboli-
tionists. — Their Agency in bringing on the War. — The Nat.
Turner Insurrection. —John Brown's Diabolical Scheme, —
The Southern People on the Defensive for Thirty Years prior
to the War. — Gen. Hunter's Euffiauism in Lexington. —Shells,
Burns and Sacks the Town.— Gen. Averill's Eaid : a Thorough
Gentleman.— Chaj)lains in the Northern Army. — The Gaiety
among the People. — Sir Walter Scott's Eeview of the French
Revolution. — "The Lost Cause." — Grace Triumphs 167



The Strife before the War 20a


Health Fails. — Offers his Resignation to the Session; Declined,
and an Offer of Support for an Assistant Made, provided his
Health not Restored by Rest. — Corresponds for Assistant. —
Health not being Restored, Insists on Resigning. — Action of
the Congregation. — Becomes Principal of the Ann Smith Acad-
em3\ — Letter to Rev. John S. Watt. — A Touching Sight. — The
School Succeeds. — Resigns. — Letter of the Trustees Accepting, 208


Retreats to the Home of his Daughter, Mrs. Harriet McCrum. —
Serene and Cheerful Old Age. — How he Appeared to his Breth-

Contents. 11

ren; e. g., Ivcv, G. W. Leybnrn find Rev. Dr. "Wm. S. Plumer.
His Chief Desire in Prosi)e^^t of Death. — Leads his Physician
to Christ. — Impressive Interview with Judge J. W. Brocken-
rough. — Anecdote of his Patriotism 220


MemokiaIj Notices of Dr. and Mrs. "White.
By the Session of the Church. — Lines by Mrs. M. J. Preston. — By
the S}Tiod of Virginia. — The Faculty of Washington and Lee
University. — The Central Presbyterian. — Rev. John S. Grasty,
D. D.— Rev. Dr. Balch.— Lines by Rev. Dr. J. A. Waddell.—
Memorials of Mrs. White. — By the Session of the Church and
Mrs. Preston _ 235


Letters of Condolence.
From Rev. Dr. Wm. Brown ; Rev. Dr. Wm. S. Plumer ; Rev. Dr.
B. M. Smith; Rev. Dr. R. L. Dabney; Mrs. Margaret J.
Preston 268


Estimates of his Character by Life-long Friends : Dr. R. L. Dabney ;

Dr. T. W. Sydnor; Dr. Theodorick Pryor 275

Rev. William S. White, d. d.,



Place op Birth and Ancestry.


Hanoa-er County, Famous in the Annaxs of Chuech and State. —
Patrick Henry. — Henry Clay. — Samuel Davies. — First For-mal
Movement for Keligious Liberty. — Des. B. M. Smith, Theo-
DORicK Pryor, and W. S. Plumer on Dr. White's Life and
Work. — The Residence of the White Family. — His Ancestry.
" I am a part of all that I have met."

HANOVER COUNTY is famous in the annals of Virginia
for her contribution both to the State and the Church.
Patrick Heniy, whose eloquence helped to inflame the popu-
lar heart with patriotic indignation against the tyranny of
Great Britain and bring on the Revolution of 1776, was bom
and brought up on her soil. The old brick court-house,
built A. D. 1735, in which his voice thundered in peals that
reverberated through the land, is still used for the adminis-
tration of justice.

In " the slashes of Hanover " Hemy Clay was born, a fact
which (he was wont to say humorously) all but himself were
ashamed to confess. In the country home of Mr. J. G. Tins-
ley the jDarlor-corner is still pointed out in which the great
statesman made his first appearance, when a blusliing youth,
shrinking out of sight, at a social party. He was then em-
ployed in the clerk's office in Richmond, and the i)arty was
in the home of the clerk. From this county he emigrated


14 Early Presbytekianism.

to Kentucky early in life, accompanied by an uncle of the
subject of this memoir.

Among the distinguished and useful men in the Presby-
terian Church of Virginia, and indeed of the United States,
perhaps none will be remembered longer than the eloquent,
laborious and devoted Samuel Davies. Patrick Henry said
of him that " he was the greatest orator he had ever heard."*
His influence in procuring religious toleration in Virginia
was unsm-passed. He met and nearly overthrew Attorney-
General Randolph in a great discussion of the construction
of the Act of Toleration,^ and " succeeded in procm'ing from
the attorney-general in England a decision that the Act of
Toleration was the law of Vu'ginia, and the consequent Ucens-
ing of the dissenting churches."'^ '"If Francis Makemie
was the first licensed minister of the Presbyterian faith
(1699), Samuel Davies was the founder of the church in Vir-
ginia." * For when Mr. Davies arrived in Virginia (1748)
there was not a single organized Presbyterian church any-
where to be found in the old, settled parts of the State."*
There had been " a small Presbyterian congregation on the
Ehzabeth river, near where Norfolk now stands, over which
the Eev. Mr. Mackey, from Ireland, presided as their minis-
ter. But soon after Makemie's death he was forced to fly
from intolerant persecution, and we hear no more of him or
his congregation afterwards." ^

It was some years after the death of Makemie before a
Presbyterian church was organized in the Old Dominion.''
The two congregations in Accomack count}^, gathered by
Makemie, were extinguished after his death by persecution
at the hands of the establishment. He had been called the
" Father of Hanover Presbytery," and Hanover Presb}i:ery
is the mother of Presbyteries in the South and West of the

1 Cooke's Virginia, 1883, p. 338. 2 ^j^v/. ^ /j/^^, 4 7^/^.

^Davies' Sermons, Vol. I., Robert Carter & Bros., 1857, p. xviii.
*lbid., p. xviii. ^ Foote's Sketches of Virginia, Vol. I., 13. 98.

Hanover Presbytery. 15

United States. Samuel Davies Avas the head and front of dis-
sent in Vii-ginia, for, as he declared, there Avere not, -^hen he
first came, " ten avoAved dissenters within one hundred miles
of him. " ' The combination of Quakers, Baptists and Presby-
terians to i^rocure religious toleration in Virginia was initiated
in Hanover county by the Presbyterians.^ The first protest
of evangelical Christianity against formaHsm, in the shape
of a public document, was made by the Presbyterians of
Hanover. "The noble memorial from the Presbj'tery of
Hanover, which may j^et be seen on the j^ellow old sheet in
the Virginia arcliives, sums up the whole case vnth. admir-
able eloquence and force. It is trenchant and severe, but
that was natural. It is the great protest of dissent in all
the years." '

This venerable document, although written November 11,
1774, and forwarded at that time b}" the Presbytery of
Hanover to the Virginia House of Burgesses, lay concealed
in the archives of the State until May 7, 1888, when, for the
first time it seems, it was put into print by Mr. Wm. "NVirt
Henry, in the columns of the Central Presbyterian, in Rich-
mond, Va.

From this document it appears that the first formal move-
ment for religious liberty in these United States, which is
now the glory of our land, was made by the members of the
Presbytery of Hanover. It is also evident that Mr. Jeffer-
son derived his ideas on this subject, as Mr. Henr}^ remarks,
from this and similar documents from the same body, writ-
ten in 1776 and 1777, which he incorporated in the Bill of
Bights of Virginia, by which, in 1799, the separation between
church and state for the first time was effected. And so it
is proved that from the bosom of old Hanover Presb^-tery
flashed the vis vivida by which the established church was
overthrown and a way opened for religious liberty.

J Cooke's Virginia, 1883, p. 338. « Ihid. , p. 339. » IMd. , p. 392

16 Estimate of Dr. White's Life.

Two large Presbyteries in the S;sTiod of Virginia now bear
the name of Hanover. The first Presbyterian church in
Tidewater was organized in a private house in this county —
that of John Morris. ' The historical significance of the es-
tablishment of reHgious liberty in Virginia, as estimated by
Mr. Jefferson, may be inferred from the fact that he had his
authorship of the bill, by which it was granted, inscribed
upon his tombstone, along with his authorship of the Decla-
ration of Indej)endence and his foimding the University of
Virginia. ' These he evidently considered the broad and
lasting foundations of his fame. While his credit for this
immortal document is not to be abated in the least, yet it is
not extravagant to say that Mr. Davies exerted a more pow-
erful influence than Mr. Jefferson in preparing the popular
mind for its enactment as law.

These facts render old Hanover county the classic ground
of Virginia Presbyterianism, and, may we not add, of Ameri-
can Presbyterianism ?

We propose to write of another, who was born and reared
to manhood on the soil of Hanover, one for whom we claim
no such distinction for oratory or statesmanship as that of
those just mentioned, yet one whose life, as a minister of the
gospel, was fruitful of noble results, and who, by the con-
centration of all his powers upon a full and determined jdiu'-
pose to do what he could for his race, achieved great success,
and made his life instructive to all who would do likewise.
It is the opinion of some who knew his life thoroughly that,
in his loay, he did a work not unworthy of comparison with
that of any of them.

The Rev. Dr. B. M. Smith, in a letter giving his estimate
of the life-work of Dr. White, written for pubHcation, says :
"Your father certainly did Ttiost wonderfully 2^op>ularize
Presbyterianism. Dr. John H. Rice did more, in a different

> Cooke's Virginia, 1883, p. 336.

The Yirginl^ns. 17

manner, to build up our church, but your father's personal
ministry exceeded in success, of the kind indicated, that of
any man I knew."

The Rev. Dr. Theodorick Pryor, whose acquaintance Avith
him began in 1823, when they were both students at Hamp-
den-Sidney College, who succeeded him in the Nottoway
Church, and who knew him intimatety from that time until
Ids death, writes: "I cannot conceive of a man better quaU-
tied to do good. "Wherever he lived and labored, his work
testified to his worth. ... I heartily wash the church were
now blessed with a thousand "William S. "Whites."

The Eev. Dr. "\\ m. S. Plumer, who, as he says, "was
much with him for forty-five years, and saw him variously
and sorely tried," writes for publication, viz. : " Such a man
was of course useful. He was useful in the joulpit, in the
church courts, in the parlor, in the sick chamber, at the mar-
riage, in the house of mourning, by example, by precept, by
doctrine, by his pen, especially in his excellent letters, and
almost in every way."

Hanover county, and those adjacent to it, were settled by
an intelligent poi^ulation of Enghsh descent, who maintained
the manners and customs of the old country. High li^ino-
and hospitality were universal. Well-bred gentlemen set
the ke^'-note of good manners ; horse-racing, fox-hunting,
fish-fries, bird-suppers, and whist-parties brought the peo-
ple together and promoted good fellowship. The old "\^ir-
ginia gentleman was the beau ideal in the mind of every
aspiring youth of that day.

Not to be able to make one's self agreeable in company w^as
an unpardonable defect in education. The young j)eople
were not set to work or drilled in business, but were taught
to be agreeable at home and in com2:)any. The manual labor
was joerformed by slaves, whose management was entrusted
to an overseer. This led to much wasteful dissipation.
Mr. "\^liite's ancestry were English, and Avent to the extreme

18 His Anc estry.

iu pleasure seeking. His father, who owned Ellyson's IMill,
about six miles east of Richmond, which gave the name to
one of the great hattles of "the war between the States,"
and who occuj^ied the dwelling house that still stands on tho
hill above the mill, was devoted to company. AVe have
heard him say that, when the family were assembling for
dinner, his father often sent him to the mill to bring up to
dine with them any neighbor who might be there. In this
way he was accustomed to company from childhood, and
this, together with an inherited fondness for it, made him a
welcome guest through life in houses where ministers of the
gospel w^ere looked upon with aversion.

The life of every man, no less than that of every plant
and animal, is the product of the combined influence of
heredity and circumstances. Inherited tendencies, uncon-
scious impressions from men and things, are so many
taitional influences, or "schools and schoolmasters," that
determine infallibly and within the scope of divine sover-
eignty the character and life of us all. The plastic mind of
childhood, inconceivably more plastic than the body, can
never throw off impressions then received. We may all say :

"I am a part of all that I have met, "

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Online LibraryWilliam S. (William Spottswood) WhiteRev. William S. White, D.D., and his times (1800-1873) : an autobiography → online text (page 1 of 22)