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PART I. Section III.


PART I. Section III.

James Dodson

Having been licensed as probationer on the first Wednesday of April, 1830, I received and fulfilled appointments within the bounds of Pittsburg Presbytery until the following September, when I passed regularly into the Presbytery of Ohio.[see Appendix I.] After assisting Rev. James Blackwood at two communions, Jonathan’s Creek and Walnut Creek, I went on southward and westward till the spring of 1831. During this time, leading men in five congregations within the bounds of those two presbyteries had approached me privately relative to settlement, but without receiving either grant or encouragement. I accepted the unanimous call of the sixth at Brush Creek, Adams Co., Ohio. I married Eliza Johnston, Chillicothe, Ross Co. Ohio, on May 4th, 1831; was ordained and installed on the 6th of June following, by the two Rev. brothers, Gavin and Hugh McMillan. Then began my pastoral labors and attendant responsibilities.

The Session consisted of six members, and at our first communion about fifty partook of the Lord’s Supper. These were scattered to a distance of about 16 miles, and locally intermingled with the members of several congregations of the Associate Reformed Church. These people at the time of my settlement were without pastors, and invited us to occupy one of their houses of worship, central to most of my charge. They came in crowds as hearers.

My settlement was at the rate of four hundred dollars a year, but only such proportion of my time was called for, as would amount to $160.[see Appendix II.] The rest of my time was at the disposal of presbytery. I supplied two stations, each forty-five miles distant, and in opposite directions, one of them in Kentucky. My trials in the ministry very soon began. As a preacher, I was acceptable to our Associate Reformed neighbors, and knowing how meagre a salary was promised me, soon the temptation reached my ears, that if I would only join their church, and be their pastor, my salary would be $800 per annum. One of them said, many years after, “Mr. Steele was not for sale;” (and he is yet living [in 1883; ED.] to vouch for this.) The meagre salary was never fully paid, although much of it came in farm produce—flour, corn, pork, etc. The arrears annually increased, so that I find on my account book at settlement, February 7th, 1834, the balance due was $60.25. I note this merely as a sample. Farther on this may be corroborated.

But pecuniary matters were not my greatest trials. Most of the members of session I believe were honest men, but not intelligent or faithful. Of one I must in duty speak plainly, but briefly. When a candidate for the eldership, an elder of the Associate R[eformed] Church, and brother-in-law to the candidate, kindly cautioned our minister against ordaining him as being unfit for that office; yet he was ordained. A neighbor and this elder quarreled about their accounts. They had a war of words. The neighbor avoiding an action of slander, is reported as having thus replied to his adversary. “Sir, I am no hypocrite. Although I do not pretend to belong to any church; yet I never killed my neighbor’s steer in the woods, hid the skin and sold the meat. I never cut down a bee-tree on Sunday, nor do I always wait to be sued before paying my debts,” etc. I believe these stinging words from a man of the world were not without some grounds.

Our congregation, in five years, had increased to the number of 150. I believe that when outwardly most prosperous, we were spiritually in our worst condition. I began to see that I must put a stop to the loose action of the session in admitting applicants. An opportunity occurred. After repeated solicitation by an elder, who lived some eight miles to one side, to call a meeting of session there, I at length reluctantly complied. All the members were not present, but there was a majority. Session being constituted, a woman, who was a stranger to all but the one elder, appeared before us. She had been raised a Presbyterian in Ireland, been married to a Papist in America, and raised a family. I asked her some of the first questions in the Shorter Catechism. Her answers were all apologetic. “She knew the Catechism in her youth, but had forgotten it,” etc., I then asked some simple questions in other words. Still nothing but apologies. I then said to the session, “I presume it is not necessary to proceed with the examination.” “Oh, I think not, Moderator,” came from one, and all seemed to assent. “Well, what farther order do you take?” Instantly it was moved and seconded, that the woman be received. The motion was put and carried unanimously! What course could now be legally taken? I said, “Brethren, I am sorry that I feel constrained to protest against this action. I must appeal to Presbytery.” They were all silent, not knowing what to do. They dreaded to meet me at Presbytery. I pitied them in a dilemma, from which they knew no way of escape. To open a way for their relief I said, “It is true that a Moderator has no negative over the court, but a majority have a right to move a reconsideration of their own action.” Immediately a motion for reconsideration was carried, and instantly a reversal of their first action passed unanimously! Then the woman opened her mouth in billingsgate [i.e., vulgar abusive language] and profanity till she passed out of the door. “Now, brethren” said I, “you must all be convinced that this woman was not fit to be received.” They all assented.

The anti-slavery agitation had now pervaded all communities, in the Northern States. In 1836, abolition societies were forming in all directions. I attended at the first organizing of one in our vicinity. A salaried agent presided. I offered a series of resolutions as a preliminary test. The chairman stated that the proposed organization “had nothing to do with the Bible or religion.” That was enough for me. I went home; but some of my members joined the society, and voted for its periodical meetings, on the day of our usual fellowship meetings! No one who had a drop of the martyrs’ blood in his veins, could be apathetic at such a time; especially when Congress had passed the “Fugitive Slave Law”; requiring every man to assist the slaveholder, or his pensioned agent, when called upon, to arrest the panting fugitive, under a penalty of one thousand dollars fine and imprisonment. Many yet living will attest that I had always borne public testimony against slavery, even to such extent that some who sympathized with that inhuman system took their hats and left the audience.[1.] Most of our ministers had joined the local abolition societies, and some of them had accepted an appointment from the American Anti-slavery Society at a salary of forty dollars a month! It was soon noised abroad that I refused to join, or to occupy a public platform in common with drunkards, Sabbath-breakers, infidels, etc., to oppose slavery. It also became known that I declined to be identified with similar characters, slaveholders included, to oppose drunkenness: in short, that I utterly refused to co-operate for moral reform with any association, outside of God’s ordinances, in violation of our covenanted unity and uniformity.

One day a “two-faced” member of my charge, to ingratiate himself with me, said, “I will show you a letter in confidence received lately from Pittsburg, if you will not tell.” I replied, “I cannot pledge myself to conceal any matter of public interest to the church.” He seemed chagrined (he is yet alive [in 1883 ED.] and knows whereof I write), and I never saw the letter. On the rapid increase of my charge, as already noticed, my salary was raised from $160 to $300, but was never paid; for I soon heard that by counsel the subscriptions had been erased “to starve me out.” This measure failing, as I was neither “for sale,” nor likely to be “starved out,” resort was had to another expedient. By counsel, as before, a libel of five counts was preferred before a pro re nata Presbytery. Rev. Robert Wallace was Moderator. Only one of the counts was found relevant—“baptizing a child against the will of the session.” This could not be proved, and I was cleared. The Moderator lodging with me, expressed his wonder at my equanimity [2.] during the trial of the libel. We had some conversation in the evening on the engrossing topic of our relation to the existing societies for reform. Mr. Wallace gave a little of his recent experience. A Quaker on his way to an Anti-slavery Convention had lodged with him over night. At evening and morning worship his guest “neither joined in praise nor bowed in prayer, but sat upright, his head covered with his broad-brimmed hat.” “Really,” said Mr. Wallace, “I began to think we were getting into bad company;” yet he continued in that company [i.e., the Anti-slavery societies]!



[1] Some of these afterwards earnestly desired and obtained my counsel and prayers on their death-beds. Ps. 141:6.

[2] Mens conscia recti [a mind conscience of rectitude; i.e, a good conscience] is a good support in times of trial.