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James Dodson

From 1830 to 1859, I journeyed mostly on horseback, and was nearly half the time absent from home. The nearest minister of our fellowship was sixty miles distant, at Xenia, and the next, one hundred miles, at Beech Woods. When the Ohio Presbytery met at the latter place, I attended on Wednesday and Thursday, returning home on Friday and Saturday, journeying fifty miles each day, and preached on the following Sabbath. I was never absent from any church court of which I was a member but once, being prevented by swollen streams. Bridges and ferry-boats were scarce in those times in the West. I often crossed streams in a canoe—a section of a tree rudely excavated by cutting or burning. Stripping my horse of saddle and saddle-bags, depositing these in the canoe, I led the horse by the side of the rude craft, while a man paddled us over with one oar. This was commonly made with his ax, out of a clapboard. When no bridge, boat or canoe was available, I have sometimes forded a stream, to fulfil an appointment, when obliged to get on my knees on the saddle, neither dwelling nor human being in sight. This risk, and fifty miles a day, I now consider to have been imprudent.

At different times during the period of my residence in Adams Co., Ohio, I supplied at Paint Creek 45 miles distant; at Mill Creek, Kentucky, 45; Kingston, about 60; Walnut Creek, 90; Xenia, 60: and in Logan Co., 120—mostly on horseback. Where the distance was 60 miles or more, I usually spend two consecutive Sabbaths. Wherever I supplied for some length of time I kept up the same order in the public worship which was observed at home. A psalm, or part of one, was explained on the Sabbath morning, taking that book in order: then followed a lecture on some book of the Old or New Testament consecutively; and generally a text for the sermon in the afternoon was selected from the passage expounded. The usual intermission was, in summer, 30 minutes, and, in winter, 15. I never wrote but one sermon in extenso, the one preached after licensure.

My journeyings and labors in all seasons of the year brought upon me most of the diseases incident to the climate, different kinds of fever, dysentery and jaundice. While I speak of diseases as being incident to the climate, and while I believe in the influence of climate, and also of sun and moon on the system, (Ps. cxxi. 6); in perfect consistency with this, I also believe that “fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities are afflicted” (Ps. cvii. 17), and that I am one of that class by nature. More than once have I been brought down to the gates of death, and mercifully raised up again. To the children of God, afflictions are not penal, but disciplinary.

I have said that, after the disruption of 1833, we were “not at all clean,” and some evidence of this has been already adduced. Next year (1834), a commissioner had come on horseback all the way from southern Illinois, to Logan Co., Ohio, to obtain help from our Presbytery. My co-Presbyters, Messrs. Wallace, father and son, utterly refused to undertake that journey. I volunteered, never suspecting the motives of my brethren for declining that laborious service and perilous to health. I had been stated supply in Walnut Creek congregation. Taking advantage of my absence, as I learned on my return, the father had electioneered through the congregation for the settlement of his son. This he did without either petition from the people or appointment by Presbytery; assuring them that “Mr. Steele could not supply them anymore, as he had gone to Illinois and was likely to settle there,” etc. At that time I would have been pleased with the settlement of any faithful pastor at Walnut Creek; but the truth was, the people did not want Mr. Wallace.

On my return home I was astonished by the news of my brethren’s treachery. At the next meeting of Presbytery, these disorders were rectified. Mr. Hugh Patterson appeared as commissioner from Walnut Creek, and certified to the court the particular steps of disorder by Rev. Robert Wallace; yet the Ohio Presbytery was not in a condition to apply merited discipline, and this known fact emboldened father and son to violate order continually afterward.

I spent six weeks in Illinois in 1834, organizing scattered fragments of Old Lights in what were then known by the names of contiguous prairies—Flat, Grandcote, Elkhorn, and Hill prairies. John Donelly and his father-in-law, John McClurkin, were at that time ordained to rule as elders. Mr. McClurkin’s parents were then both living in Elkhorn prairie, from whom I learned the fact of fines exacted from Covenanters for refusing to act as jurors. “Yes,” said old Mr. McClurkin,[1.] “thousands of dollars were collected from poor people by the slaveholders of South Carolina.” Was Dr. Alexander McLeod correct in boasting that America had never persecuted? Heb. x. 34. That was a specimen of political history.

Although I have often had occasion for the prophet’s complaint, “Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” I have not ceased to “preach the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ.” This has been my principal vocation, and sometimes “with much contention,” in pulpits, private houses, farmers’ barns, schoolhouses, in tents, and under the friendly shade of a tree: and now, in view of these extracts, the reader may judge of the charge among many others, of “hiding my talent in a napkin.”



[1] Besides the McClurkins, two brothers, Archey and John Hood, then resided in Elkhorn prairie; James Coulter in Grandcote, Archibald McMillan, (the commissioner to Presbytery), and Andrew Miller, in Flat, and Samuel Little, in Hill prairie. All these were intelligent and active members in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1834. I think they have all preceded me to “the land of deep forgetfulness.”