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James Renwick Willson (1780-1853)


James Renwick Willson (1780-1853)

James Dodson

Biographical Sketch

Born at near Elizabeth, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, April 9, 1780. In 1795, he joined the Associate Reformed Church, but transferred his membership to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1798. Graduated with first honours from Jefferson College in 1805. His theological studies included two years under the care of the Dr. Alexander McLeod, of New York, and he was licensed by the Reformed Presbytery, June 9, 1807. He was ordained and installed pastor of the united congregations of Coldenham and Newburgh, Orange County, New York, August 10, 1817. In 1823, the Newburgh branch was dropped, and he remained at Coldenham until his resignation in 1830. He was installed pastor of the Albany congregation, September 17, 1830, but returned to Coldenham, where he was re-installed, November 21, 1833. He was chosen Professor of Theology in 1836. At the creation of the Allegheny Seminary, in 1840, he resigned his charge in Coldenham to accept a professorate in the institution. From 1845 until 1851, he was the sole Professor in the Seminary, which removed from Allegheny to Cincinnati, Ohio and then to Northwood, Ohio. His most famous sermon, “Prince Messiah,” brought forth much controversy. The Legislature in Albany, New York, discussed it for a whole sitting and denounced Willson in the most violent terms. His prayers, which they feared, were banished from the Legislature by unanimous vote. The sermon was burned in a public bonfire and Willson was burnt in effigy before the State House door. He died September 29, 1853.