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PART I. Section I.

Database

PART I. Section I.

James Dodson

I was born on the 2d of November, 1803. The place of my nativity was a village called Upper Creevaugh,[1.] about two miles from the city of Londonderry in county Donegal, Ireland. The river Foyle is the natural boundary between the counties Donegal and Derry, yet the city. is on the Donegal side of the river; and three miles on that side of said river are called the "Liberties of Derry." I can, therefore, in a similar sense, say with Paul, "I was free born." And here I may remark, that I know not any people who understand liberty better, or are more law-abiding than the Protestant, and especially the Presbyterian population of the Ulster province of Ireland—a love of liberty and law inherited from their Scottish ancestry.

I was the first subject of baptism by Rev. John Alexander after his ordination, and under his ministry were spent the first twenty years of my life. We naturally form a high estimate of the pastor’s abilities whose ministrations have been engaging: and instructive to us in youth. Mr. Alexander, in my apprehension, was born an orator; his sublime conception voiced in flowing eloquence often thrilled my youthful frame with such delightful emotion as no other speaker has since effected. He subsequently removed to Belfast, where he died.

My grandparents, on both sides of the house, were Covenanters. My paternal grandfather resided in Fauet, and the other in Killilastian, where Messrs. William Gamble and William Gibson were competing candidates for the congregation in that vicinity. Mr. Gamble, I have often heard, was chosen "by a small majority." My grandfather, John Steel, had removed from Fauet before my time, to the place of my birth. My father, David, removed about a mile from Creevaugh to Altaughaderry, where he died in February, 1804. My only recollection of him is as he sat at the table with the family Bible, conducting the worship of God. I need hardly say, he also was a Covenanter; and although I had not the benefit of his instruction, being the youngest of six sons, it was pleasing, and I trust profitable to me, to know that his memory was fragrant among surviving friends. Frequently, when our widowed mother, in answer to the kindly inquiry of friends after the names of her boys, would come to me as the last, and say, "He was named for his father," O how pleasant, and I hope stimulating, was the remark, "I wish he may be such a man as his father." Our leasehold "for thirty years, or three lives," as such documents ran, contained about 140 acres, running up a hill, where abundant turf for fuel was found. The farm afforded sufficient work for us all, with two hired men, one girl, and a herd-boy six months in the year. I took my place on the farm and at school like the rest till my sixteenth year. Our mother was in the best sense, and in the judgment of many, a "strong-minded woman": strong in her convictions of divine truth, the truth sealed by the blood of our martyred progenitors. Family worship and catechizing on the Sabbath evenings were the order of the household. Common school education, if not so expanded as now, was generally more thorough. The civil powers had not then assumed the control of this part of the church’s work. In my boyhood, it was customary for a number of contiguous farmers to employ a teacher, most commonly for a term of three months, and in any season of the year. In addition we often had a night-school in Winter. Reading, writing and arithmetic were the most important parts of our education; and I believe as thoroughly taught as they are now in the common public schools. The Bible and the Shorter Catechism were among our text-books; and whether our teacher was Papist or Protestant he "gave out the questions" of the whole Catechism on each Saturday, and the labors of the week were ended at noon. I have a vivid recollection of a pompous pedagogue, who always dismissed us on Friday evening with the solemn charge—"Tomorrow is Satchursday; bring your catechizes with you." About this time some farmers began to suggest the propriety and urge the necessity of adding Grammar to our course of study, and a few wished their sons taught Bookkeeping. Geography was not yet introduced. In connection with Catechism, I committed to memory "Murray’s Abridgment;" and under a succession of incompetent teachers. I underwent the drudgery of repeating both for years, when teacher and pupil were about equally skilled in grammar and theology! Another task of similar intellectual discipline was the daily memorizing of a column of Entick’s Dictionary; every word to be spelled, the definition given; and especially the parts of speech at some peril, while neither teacher nor scholar could discriminate between a noun and a verb! I was, moreover twice conducted through "Jackson’s System of Book-keeping by Double Entry." Such, in brief, is a synopsis of my common school education.

In my seventeenth year, I entered an Academy in Derry, efficiently conducted by a principal and two ushers; and within the first term of three months, besides other studies, I penetrated the mysteries of English Grammar nearly as far as I have been able to do in some sixty years since—thanks to competent instructors. How great the value of such to society at large! For a period of three years, short annual vacations excepted, I prosecuted the study of languages and cognate branches in the aforesaid academy. During this period I walked every morning about four English miles to the city and returned home in the evening.[2.] Most of my committing to memory was done on the road; and to those years, I look back as among the most happy and healthful of my life.

By this time our large family had been diminished. My eldest brother had married and left us. The third had died years ago. The second and fifth had emigrated to America. These two, after the eldest had separated from us, conducted our domestic worship alternately. The fourth, who was more than five years my senior, was now dealt with by our mother to lead in family worship. The urgency of our godly mother was unavailing. He was no infidel. He attended the public ordinances as regularly as the rest, and indeed excelled us all in memorizing the Larger Catechism. He was singularly taciturn and a habitual reader of solid literature, especially civil history. But the reader may have noticed that this fourth brother had already allowed the fifth, his junior, to alternate with the second in the worship of the family.

Among the religious books of the household, those which made the deepest impression on my mind and heart in the days of my youth, next to the Holy Scriptures, were Boston’s "Four-fold State of Man" and The "Cloud of Witnesses." In the former is clearly and forcibly demonstrated the awful truth, that "childhood and youth are vanity:" in the latter, the principles which make martyrs, sustain and comfort them, are practically exemplified. Pike and Hayward’s "Cases of Conscience" were also useful.

A crisis had now occurred in our family, and I was providentially called to bear the cross. The fire must not go out on the domestic altar. Failing to prevail with my much older brother to "take the book," my precious mother turned to me; but oh! how can I describe her tender solicitude and my consequent emotions? As yet only "in my teens," to assume Christ’s yoke in this form, my senior brother sitting by, I felt to be overwhelming; yet maternal authority, sympathy and loving encouragement prevailed. And now, when nearing the end of my earthly pilgrimage, I owe it to our Lord as part of a personal testimony, that "his yoke is easy and his burden is light." Those who have made the experiment will endorse the testimony of Jeremiah—"It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." During the few following years of my residence in our family, I officiated as I had tremblingly begun. My brother never could be induced to "take the book."[3.] On the 19th of April, 1824, I left Moville on the river Foyle in the brig Ceres of Kirkaldy, Scotland, and on the 7th of June following, arrived safely in Philadelphia.

[PART I. SECTION II.]


Footnotes:

[1] In 1864, I saw that both these villages, and others adjacent, had been obliterated "by the march of improvement."

[2] I say, "every morning," for our public worship was in Derry and Faughan alternately.

[3] After an absence of nearly thirty years, I visited my early home and found that brother an old man.  He had been many years a ruling elder in the Derry congregation.  Finding him regular in family worship I congratulated him on the change.  He replied, "Yes, David, you shamed me out of that."