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1770 - 1853
Cumberland Presbyterian Minister
REV. ROBERT BELL.
[Rev. C.H. Bell, D.D.; Smith's "History of the Cumberland Presbyterians," Banner of Peace.]
ROBERT BELL was born in Guilford county, North Carolina, December 16, 1770. His father's name was Robert; his mother's family-name was Walker. He had but one full brother. This brother was the father of the Hon. John Bell, of Tennessee. There were several full sisters, besides a number of half brothers and sisters.
When he was twelve years old his father moved to the Cumberland country. The first settlement of the family was north of Cumberland River, in what is now Sumner county. In a year or two they moved to the neighborhood of what is now Nashville, and settled there.
At some time early in the revival of 1800 he made profession of religion. The exact time, however, is not known. At the sessions of the Transylvania Presbytery, in October of 1802, Mr. Bell was licensed as an exhorter and catechist. At the same Presbytery Hugh Kirkpatrick and Ephraim McLean were received as candidates for the ministry. At some time between the fall of 1802 and December of 1805 he was received as a candidate for the ministry, and licensed as a probationer. This is inferred from the fact that, in the proceedings of the Commission of the Synod of Kentucky, which met early in December, 1805, he is recognized as a licensed probationer, and was one of those who were forbidden to exercise any ministerial functions derived from the authority of the Cumberland Presbytery. The licentiates and exhorters were included in the prohibition.
It is supposed that his education was perhaps better than that of most of the young men of his time who came into the ministry, but its extent cannot be distinctly stated. The probability is, that it was irregularly acquired, as the circumstances of the country would allow, and as his own disposition would prompt. A man of his habits of mind would be apt to make the most of his circumstances in the way of improving himself. It is certain that, by his own application, after he entered the ministry he became a good English and Latin scholar.
It is said, upon his own authority, that when the Commission of Synod was in session, considering the cases of the young men, he was privately approached, and assured that if he would adopt the Confession of Faith without reservation, his license as a probationer for the ministry would be continued. He, however, declined the proposition.
It appears from the history of the proceedings of the Commission that when the question of submission to a reexamination was put to the young men individually, he and Samuel K. Blythe, a candidate for the ministry, "requested a short time to consider the subject." No one who knew the character of Mr. Bell would be surprised at the request on his part. He was an unusually thoughtful and conscientious man. The result of the consideration was that both the men refused to submit, as did all the others. The ground of the refusal was a constitutional one. It was, "That they believed the Cumberland Presbytery was a regular judicature of the Church, and competent to judge of the faith and ability of its candidates; that they themselves had not been charged with heresy or immorality--and if they had been, the Presbytery would have been the proper judicature to call them to account." The question was, as I have said, a constitutional one, and the young men were clearly justifiable in their refusal. The proceedings of the Commission were obviously unconstitutional and anti-Presbyterian. The New Brunswick Presbytery had taken the same view of the subject more then half a century before.
The same difficulties were in the way of Mr. Bell's advancement in the ministry, which were in the way of others. The action of the Commission left the Presbytery in a state of confusion. Nothing was done presbyterially until after the organization in 1810. We have nothing official on the subject, but Mr. Donnell says that he was licensed in 1804, and ordained in 1810. His ordination appears, therefore, to have been one among the first Presbyterial acts of the new Presbytery.
From his licensure in 1804 to 1807 he lived in Logan county, Kentucky, and his labors were partially, at least, confined to that section of country. In 1807 he moved to Bean's Creek, near Salem, Tennessee, and settled there.
In the Minutes of the old Cumberland Synod, which met on the 19th of October, 1819, at Suggs's Creek Meeting-house, in Wilson county, Tennessee, we have the following record:
"Whereas several letters have been directed to the Moderator informing the Synod that a number of societies have been formed, the object of which is to raise funds for the purpose of establishing schools for the literary and religious instruction of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes of Indians, and appointing the ordained ministers of this Synod their Board of Trustees; therefore,
"Resolved, That this appointment be accepted."
This preamble and resolution is the first public indication of a measure which, in its time, attracted a great deal of attention in the Church. Mr. Bell, too, spent some of the best years of his life in efforts for its promotion. A sort of spontaneous feeling began to develop itself in different parts of the Church in favor of endeavoring to civilize and Christianize the Southern Indians. The Creek war had passed over, and the Chickasaws and Choctaws had maintained such relations to the whites during that struggle that a favorable public attention was naturally directed to them.
From the report on the state of religion to the Synod at its sessions in the same year I make the following extract relating to this subject:
"By the heaven-born charity and zeal of some female members of the Church, funds have been raised, which have enabled the Missionary Board to employ several missionaries a considerable part of their time, by which your bounds have been much enlarged in the South and West. This has multiplied the calls and cries to our Presbyteries and Missionary Boards for help. The people desire the word and ordinances. Among the most impressive calls we hear is one from the tawny sons of the woods in the South. One of them has recently given satisfactory evidence that he has obtained the 'one thing needful,' and he has been admitted to the sealing ordinances of the Church.
"This Indian man was brought from the Chickasaw Nation of Indians last winter by Revs. Samuel King and William Moore, two of our missionaries. He has been boarding with Brother King, and going to school from his house, and has made almost unparalleled progress in his education. Your committee anticipate great good to his nation from his education and conversion, especially if it should please the great Head of the Church to call him to the work of the ministry."
It seems that, in consequence of the opening condition of things, and the state of feeling developed in the Church, the plan was conceived of a school in the Chickasaw Nation which should combine at once instruction in letters and religion, together with domestic, agricultural, and mechanical pursuits.
Accordingly, on the 11th of September, 1820, the following articles of an agreement were entered into by Revs. Samuel King, Robert Bell, and James Stewart, as the representatives of the Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Missions, which consisted of the ordained ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church on the one part, and the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation on the other part:
"Articles of Agreement between Samuel King, James Stewart, and Robert Bell, missionaries, and the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation, viz.:
"Article 1. We, the said Samuel King, James Stewart, and Robert Bell, on the part of the Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary Society, do promise to teach the people of the said nation reading, writing, and arithmetic, and a knowledge of agriculture and the mechanical arts. Also those who resort to them for instruction shall be boarded and clothed gratuitously, provided they are not able to clothe themselves.
"Article 2. We promise that we will not take more land than will be necessary for the support of the institution. And should we leave the institution, the houses and land which we have occupied shall revert to the Indians.
"Article 3. We, the chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation, on the part of said nation, do permit said society and missionaries to come into our nation to teach our young people.
"Article 4. We do hereby bind ourselves to allow said society as much land as may be necessary for the support of their missionaries, which land they shall hold as long as they continue to teach our children. "Sept. 11, 1820."
These articles were signed by Messrs. King, Stewart, and Bell, on the part of the Missionary Board; and on the part of the Chickasaws, by Stako Tookey, King of the Nation; and Tisho Mingo, Appa Suntubba, Samuel Sealy, William McGelbra, James Colbert, and Levi Colbert, chiefs.
In the month of November a school was opened, under the name of Charity Hall, within the limits of what is now the State of Mississippi, about seven miles from the present city of Aberdeen, and three miles from Cotton Gin Port. Mr. Bell was appointed superintendent. He taught a few weeks in a private room furnished by one of the chiefs until suitable buildings were prepared for the use of the school. The buildings erected were plain and cheap, costing in all about $1,500. Thirty acres of land were cleared, and put under cultivation. The Indians learned with some facility, and labored with as much readiness as would have been expected. The Government of the United States contributed liberally toward paying for the buildings, and also made an annual contribution of $300 or $400 toward keeping up the school. But great difficulties were experienced in carrying forward the work. Mr. Bell, in his communications, complains especially of the depreciation of the currency in those parts of the Church from which he received his principal supplies. Of course a great many members of the Church were indifferent toward the enterprise. Some were even opposed to it. There were lingering prejudices against the Indians. Still great efforts were made. Many of the preachers and people cooperated earnestly with the good man in the work upon which his heart was deeply set. I have before me files of subscriptions of money from men and women scattered all over the Church--subscriptions ranging from ten dollars to twenty-five cents--also of clothing, from a jeans coat to a pair of socks.
I transcribe a copy of one of the appeals to the Church. It is from William Harris, who never spoke otherwise than earnestly on such a subject:
"Friends, who have felt the sweets of learning and religion, suffer a call to be made on the benevolence of your hearts in behalf of the poor heathen children of the Chickasaw Nation now under the care of the Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary Board at Charity Hall School. Will you aid in bringing them from under the gloom of heathen darkness by giving some of the abundance with which you have been blessed, in money, school-books, or country-cloth suitable to clothe the naked children of the woods? Any thing of the kind will be thankfully received by
"WILLIAM HARRIS, "Agent for Logan Presbytery.
"May 17, 1825." Notwithstanding these efforts the enterprise dragged heavily. Some of my first recollections of the old Cumberland Synod, which commenced in 1822, are recollections of troubles and discouragements connected with Charity Hall. My feelings at those times were, and they still are, that Mr. Bell's patience, and perseverance,and Christian forbearance, under all the trials arising out of his situation, were almost superhuman. The trials were very great. One thing has affected me much in examining the old papers relating to Charity Hall. I allude to the respectful consideration in all transactions with the Federal Government with which he was treated by its officers. There are repeated communications from Hon. John C. Calhoun, a portion of the time Secretary of War; from Hon. John B. McKinney; and again from Hon. William B. Lewis, as well as others. Every intimation in every communication indicates that they consider themselves communicating with a high-minded, honorable, Christian man. Whilst his brethren were sometimes impatient and fretful, not always fully respectful, and sometimes fault-finding, there is no intimation of the kind from these high government officials. Mr. Bell's descendants and the Church which he so nobly represented through all these years of trial ought to regard such testimony from such a quarter, although indirect, as an imperishable treasure.
The Synod were in the habit, from year to year, of appointing a commission of their own body to visit Charity Hall, and make report of its condition, system of operations, and general prospects. I transcribe here one of those reports as an illustration of the general operations and prospects of the school. The Commission on this occasion consisted of Revs. James S. Guthrie, David Foster, and James Stewart. Mr. Stewart did not attend. Messrs. Foster and Guthrie report the following:
"According to the appointment of the Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary Board, David Foster and James S. Guthrie met at Charity Hall Missionary Establishment, Chickasaw Nation, on Friday, the 20th of May, 1825. James Stewart was absent.
"THE STATE OF RELIGION AT THE ESTABLISHMENT. "On Friday evening after the arrival of your committee we had preaching. On Saturday two discourses were delivered, and, toward the close, the little congregation manifested great solemnity and deep concern--tears were flowing, and six or eight came forward for prayer, one or two being Indians. About as many were whites, and the remainder were blacks.
"On Sabbath, after preaching, the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was administered, at which your committee were rejoiced to see some of the first-fruits of missionary labor in the Chickasaw Nation seated at the Lord's table. At the evening preaching a considerable company collected. They received the word of life with more than ordinary interest; many wept; some came to join in public prayer, and it is hoped that one black woman raised in the nation found peace with God. About four connected themselves with the Mission Church as seekers of religion. Your committee are sorry to say that some of the Chickasaws, both male and female, who, as they are informed, had appeared to be deeply concerned, were during the occasion but little affected, though others appeared anxious to know and understand what was done on the occasion. Upon the whole, your committee think the prospect of religion to be flattering about the establishment, and particularly so among the black people, who are much concerned about the state of their souls, through the nation, as far as they had information. The black people generally can speak and understand English, and this your committee think to be the reason why they feel more interest about religion than the Indians. It is but just to observe that the black people in this nation have less extravagance connected with their religious feelings than the committee have witnessed in other places. During preaching, many of the Indians seemed inattentive and restless, though not as much so as we frequently find among the white people. The Indians view the white people as their superiors, and it is probable that their example has its influence with the Indians."
After describing the locality and appurtenances of the farm, the report proceeds to the
"STATE OF THE SCHOOL. "The school consists of thirty scholars, who attend, in general, regularly. A few, however, are not perfectly regular in their attendance. We heard a small class of beginners spell in two syllables, and a larger class spell in different places in the book. when the words were given out, the little fellows seemed ready to catch the sound, and apply suitable letters, though they sometimes missed the spelling of the word. Others, however, who were farther advanced, never missed the spelling of a single word, though the words were selected from different tables in the book. The small class in the New Testament read imperfectly, though we think, for the time they have spent, they are in a good way of improvement. The next Testament class read well, yet all read too low.
"The class in the English Reader read very correctly. They all appeared to understand the Key to Webster's Spelling-book.
"Two are studying English Grammar who have begun to parse. It does not appear that they will improve in grammar as rapidly as in spelling, reading, and writing. We observed no symptoms of quarreling among the scholars, nor of doing mischief to one another, as we frequently find in schools among the whites. They appeared, however, full of mirth and play, and this we were informed was generally the case.
"GENERAL RULES. "About day-light the trumpet is blown--the signal for all to rise. In half an hour it is blown again, that all may attend family-worship in the dining-room. Within five minutes from the close of the worship, Mr. Bell, with the boys, repairs to the field until eight or nine o'clock, and Mrs. Bell, with the girls, to sewing or other employments. They are then called to breakfast, where Mr. Bell is seated at the head of the table, with the boys on one side and the girls on the other. When breakfast is over, they repair to school until twelve o'clock. After an interval of an hour, they are called by the trumpet to dinner. After dinner, until four o'clock, they are at school. They then go to the field until night, when all are called to supper and family-worship. Throughout the whole, the scholars appear to be under strict discipline, which they observe with promptness and cheerfulness, except that they seem a little slow to start to work in the morning, but when at work they seem brisk and cheerful.
"REMARKS. "Mr. and Mrs. Bell have more labor to perform, and more business of different kinds upon their hands by far than they should have. They have more to do than they can do in justice either to themselves or to the interest of the establishment, and unless they have some assistance in future, their days must certainly be shortened. We hope and believe, however, from various indications, that the needed assistance will be supplied, and that measure will be vigorously prosecuted to make the school a blessing to the nation, and a means of salvation to hundreds of poor Indians."
I omit a part of this report because of its length, but have embodied what I present here for three reasons.
First. The source from which it comes makes it reliable. I knew the men most intimately, and have no doubt that in every statement they were faithful. There is no varnishing in the document.
Secondly. It sets forth something of the labors and self-denial of Mr. Bell. In 1825 he was fifty-five years old, and yet we find him in the field at work with the Indian boys, and in the school-room teaching dull children the spelling-book and the English Reader, whilst his wife, of corresponding age, is endeavoring to indoctrinate the Indian girls into the mysteries of spinning, and sewing, and weaving, and cooking. And the committee say, they are wearing themselves out at this work.
Thirdly. It will be useful to the present and succeeding generations of members of this Church to know something of what their fathers and mothers have done and suffered. Fifty years ago the Cumberland Presbyterian Church had a Foreign Mission, and although they perhaps did not discharge their whole duty toward it, still they were sustaining it. How far have we advanced in that direction in these fifty years? The committee mention in this report a fact which I have omitted--the loss of a beloved son on the part of these old people at the Mission. This son most likely fell a victim to a sickly climate and locality. Yet the parents labored on. There are a few men in the Church, and but a few, who, with myself, will recollect the intense and undying interest which Mr. Bell manifested on all suitable occasions in the prosperity of the Mission. He evidently felt his work there to be the great work of his life. Nor was all this labor lost. Without doubt there was seed sown at Charity Hall which will bring forth fruit forever.
The last report on file from Mr. Bell, as superintendent of the Mission, was made in 1830. This report was made to the Cumberland Board of Missions, or rather at that time to the General Assembly. There is a copy of a document transmitted to the General Government in 1832. This is the latest document which I find on file. About this time the removal of the Indians to their present locality became a subject of agitation. This, of course, would unsettle every thing connected with the Mission. The actual removal of the Indians at last is a subject for the national historian. In some of its aspects it will be a dark chapter in our record.
After the close of the Mission-school, Mr. Bell settled in the interior of Mississippi, in what is now Pontotoc county. The last twenty years of his life were devoted earnestly and laboriously to preaching the gospel. His labors ended only with his life. On the 9th of November, 1853, this life came to an end. He died in his eighty-third year. He had an appointment for preaching the Sabbath previous to his death. Being upon his death-bed, he was, of course, unable to fill it, and it was filled by his grandson, Rev. C. H. Bell, now of Oxford, Mississippi. After the return of young Mr. Bell, the old man inquired particularly about the meeting, indicating still an unflagging interest in the welfare of the Church and the salvation of his fellow-men.
Mr. Bell married, some time in the earlier part of his life, a Miss Grizzell McCutcheon, of Logan county, Kentucky. They had four children--two sons and two daughters. The younger son died at Charity Hall, or while his parents were connected with the Mission-school. The event has been already mentioned. The other son was the late General John Bell, of Mississippi. The daughters still live--one in Mississippi, the other in Texas. The latter is the wife of Rev. John Haynes, of Pilot Point, Texas.
Says a correspondent:
"Mr. Bell was a great man; great because he was faithful and good--good so far as it may be said that a mere man is good. He loved the gospel, loved the Church, loved the souls of men, and was himself universally beloved. 'An excellent spirit was in him.' He was characteristically modest and retiring in his habits. It is perhaps not proper to say that a man can be too modest, otherwise I should say he was too much so. He was remarkably conscientious, even scrupulous, in the observance of the Sabbath. He prepared for the day of rest, and required others of his household to do the same. He was not rich, but God in his providence had favored him, and he was in what would be called independent circumstances.
"At a meeting of the Presbytery to which he belonged, two or three weeks before his death, he seemed to be under the impression that it would be his last Presbyterial meeting on earth. An order was passed for the ordination of his grandson. The young man hesitated, but his reluctance was overcome by the obvious anxiety of the grandfather that the ordination should be consummated, and his own apprehension that it would be the old man's last meeting with the Presbytery. The ordination proceeded, and the aged patriarch participated. Never shall I forget his noble, venerable, and benevolent countenance: how it beamed with joy while he participated in the solemnities of the occasion. It seemed as though one of the fathers of apostolic times had come down among us. O that the grandson may be as good, as holy, and as devoted as his predecessor?"
His domestic relations were of the happiest kind. Not long before his death he remarked to a circle of friends, in the presence of his wife, that "they had lived together fifty-four years, and no unkind word had ever passed between them." She was a few years his junior, and survived him about six months.
Mention has been made of the extent of Mr. Bell's early education. Of course, but little is known on this subject. But Rev. Dr. C. H. Bell, of Mississippi, says: "He was a close student through life, and a careful reader even in his old age. On his death-bed he gave me his copy of Scott's Commentary, in five volumes, with Cruden's Concordance, to correspond with it. The Commentary is marked throughout with his pencil." The pencil marks are the indications of close reading.
I copy the following letter from the Banner of Peace, of December 15, 1853. It is from Rev. Robert Donnell:
"ANOTHER OF THE FATHERS OF THE CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH GONE TO HIS REWARD. "ATHENS, ALA., November 23, 1853.
"MESSRS. EDITORS:--The Rev. Robert Bell, near Pontotoc, Mississippi, departed this life on the 9th of October, in the eighty-third year of his age. He was a subject of the revival of 1800. He was received as a candidate for the ministry soon after Anderson, Ewing, and King. He was licensed about 1804, and ordained in 1810. The delay of his ordination was produced by the protracted difficulties with the Mother Church. Through that whole struggle he was firm and prayerful. No one labored harder to promote religion, and no one was more rejoiced to hear of the organization of the Cumberland Presbytery by McAdow, Ewing, and King, than Brother Bell.
"He was a man of retiring modesty, sound sense, and humble deportment, and was untiring in his efforts to do good. His fidelity would not suffer him to impose on others, and his prudence prevented others from imposing on him. He was firm, but not obstinate; he was humble, but not mean; he thought for himself, but was cheerful in allowing others to think for themselves. He was contemporary with the great and good men, McGready, Hodge, McGee, McAdow, Ewing, and King, as well as younger brethren in the ministry. He planted many churches, and fed the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made him overseer. He was an indulgent master, a kind father, an affectionate husband, a consistent Christian, and a devoted minister of Jesus Christ. He lived long; he labored hard to the last, a when on his bed of death, had an appointment out which a grandson, at his request, filled. May the mantle of the grandfather remain on that son, who, by the trembling hand of a grandfather, with others, had just been set apart to the whole work of the ministry of the gospel! Were I able to write, I would move, if I could, the whole Cumberland Presbyterian Church, especially its ministry, by his example, to redoubled diligence in the cause of God. The Church, of which he was a member, was raised up to aid other Christian Churches in hastening on the latter-day glory. We have no time to idle away, no Sabbaths to spend without preaching. A minister's call is for life. Old ministers, like old David, want to show to the present generation, and to every one that is to come, the power and glory of God.
"I would say to his congregations, He has left you a minister of his own family. To his family I would say, Trust in the lord, and he will be to you a father that will never die. To his aged and Christian companion, I would say, Your husband, in all your removals, has been the pioneer, and he has gone before you now, to prepare, or see first, the place prepared for you, and until you are called home--to your happy home--your strength shall be equal to your day. With your departed husband, you have borne the burden and heat of the day. Your reward shall be as his; he had gone first, but you will not be long behind him. It must have been consoling to him, and to you both, to see the Church, for which you have labored so long, in a prosperous state.
"Brother Bell was emphatically one of the fathers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. I have been indisposed for some time, and am not now able to write. Those capable, and who have promised a history of the fathers of the Church, will give a full history.
"Brothers Kirkpatrick,* Porter, Calhoon, and McSpadden are on the list before me--on the list of the ministry-but I may be first on the list of mortality. May we all depart out of this world as tranquilly as Brother Bell, and all the fathers of the Church who have gone! R. DONNELL."
- Rev. Hugh Kirkpatrick was born in Orleans county, North Carolina, May 8, 1774, and was brought up in the Presbyterian Church. He married Isabella Stewart, of the same county and State, July 2, 1795. Both professed religion in 1797, and soon emigrated to the South-west, spent one year in Kentucky, but finally settled in Sumner county, Tennessee. They were two of the first four that joined the Beech Congregation. He was licensed to preach by the Transylvania Presbytery at its sessions in October, 1803. His education was better than that of the ordinary young men, as they were called. After 1805, he followed the fortunes of the Council, and was one of the first who was ordained after the organization of Cumberland Presbytery in 1810. He was a good man, and spent the most of his life and ministry in Sumner county. His wife died in 1859, and in his old age he married Nancy Grizzard. He died in 1863, leaving an only son, who still survives him.
The following is a copy of a letter addressed to Rev. Robert Donnell, by the surviving son of Mr. Bell, in relation to his father's death. It was published in the Banner of Peace, of January 12, 1854. Every thing on the subject is interesting:
"REV. AND DEAR FRIEND:--In father's death, all his children, and relations, and friends that were around him feel a great bereavement. They are consoled alone from the fact of his great resignation, his patient endurance of his affliction and suffering, and the undisturbed sereneness of his mind in his dying hour; and from the reflection that he has made, we doubt not, a happy exchange of bodily suffering for that unalloyed happiness which we most confidently believe is to be the reward of a long life devoted diligently, faithfully, and continually, down to his last moments, to the service of Him who promises to reward the good and faithful servant. Few die as he did. He had prayed for dying grace, and it was given him. He breathed out his life without a struggle, or a groan, or the distortion of a muscle of his face, perfectly in his senses, closing his own eyes and his own mouth, leaving a serene and smiling expression upon his face which he took with him to the grave. Better evidence of a full preparation for death could not have been afforded, and it is sinful in us, perhaps, to lament our bereavement.
"Father, for a good many years, was afflicted with rheumatic pains in both his hip-joints, also with asthma, and considerable nervousness, especially in his right arm and hand. Of this you are, perhaps, aware; otherwise his health was generally good. For a long time he was unable to ride on horseback, but with the aid of a staff he could walk about. In riding he used his buggy; and, for several months before his death, to enable himself to walk, he had frequently to use two staves.
"Although his voice had become very weak, he continued to preach nearly every Sabbath up to the time he was taken down; but, standing in the pulpit, to preach even a short sermon, fatigued him very much, and often after preaching, on account of his asthmatic affection, he would have great difficulty in breathing. For many years, on account of the nervousness in his right arm and hand, he was compelled to write with his left hand.
"The attack of sickness of which he died arose evidently from exposure and cold, which brought on what is called here typhoid pneumonia. The Presbytery to which he belonged sat at the church, where he preached to the congregation under his care, near his home. The Presbytery met on the third Friday in September, and, contrary to advice, he would attend the meetings day and night until it closed. In the meantime a change of weather took place, and the nights became cool. He was up several nights until after midnight. The cold he contracted at this meeting was no doubt the occasion of his death. He was taken sick on Friday, after the adjournment of the Presbytery, and lived seventeen days after he was taken down. Having had frequent attacks of a similar kind, and from the same cause, and attended with more pain--for he did not complain of much suffering, his cough being the worst--he indulged the belief that he would recover until the evening before his death. For more than a week, however, he was well aware that his case was a critical one, and always expressed himself with perfect resignation to the will of Providence in regard to him. He died on Sunday, and on that day he was to have preached the funeral-sermon of an old revolutionary soldier, who had died a few weeks previously, and who had requested that father should perform that service. Although unable to fulfill the engagement, he kept it in mind to the last. Also the morning before he died he urged my son, who did not wish to leave him, to fill his place at one of his stated appointments for preaching about three miles off, and when my son returned and reported to him that he had done so, it seemed to relieve and satisfy him. His whole mind appeared to be absorbed in the interests of religion, giving himself little concern about the things of this world.
"Before leaving this branch of the subject I cannot refrain from relating an incident or two which took place during the sessions of the Presbytery. On account of his infirmity, father petitioned the Presbytery to release him from the pastoral charge of the Church which had been under his care ever since he had been living here, which, I believe, was not granted. At the same Presbytery the ordination of my son, Claibourne, took place. I was not present, but it was said that the scene was an unusually interesting one, and that the whole congregation was bathed in tears. When it came to the laying on of hands, and when my old father came tottering forward, supported by his staff, to lay his weak and trembling hand upon the head of his grandson, a deep and solemn sensation was produced. All felt that his work was about done, and that this would be perhaps the last ministerial act of his life. It seemed a transfer of his mantle to a younger branch of the family for continuing and carrying on the good work in which he had been so long engaged. "Of father's early history, and particularly from the time he engaged in the ministry, I suppose you are rather well acquainted. He was born, I think, in North Carolina, and I have often heard him say that he was nine years old when the battle of Guilford was fought in that State, and that his father lived nine miles from that place at the time. About the year 1784 or 1785, when he was fourteen or fifteen years old, his father moved to the Cumberland country, and settled near Nashville. This was in the midst of the troublesome times with the Indians, against whom my father, with others, made several excursions. In 1795 he married, and moved to the State of Kentucky, and settled in Logan county. About the year 1804 or 1805 he commenced the ministry as a circuit-rider. In the fall of 1806 he moved back to Tennessee and settled in Franklin county; and in 1820 he moved to the Chickasaw Nation, and engaged in the missionary work among the Chickasaw Indians under the patronage of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He continued in that business until about the year 1830 or 1831. In 1836 he settled a few miles from Pontotoc, Mississippi, where he spent the remainder of his days. It appears from the record of his age that he was born on the 16th of December, 1770. Consequently, had he lived to the 16th of December next, he would have completed eighty-three years. Your sincere friend and relative,
My personal knowledge of Mr. Bell was very limited. I never heard him preach but once. In 1817, in the month of October, I attended a camp-meeting at the Beech Meeting-house, a place frequently mentioned in these "Brief Sketches." I had professed religion but a few weeks before. Mr. Bell was at that meeting, and preached on Sabbath. He was then, of course, in the prime of life. I recollect his appearance very distinctly. He was well dressed, and had altogether a gentlemanly aspect. His text was: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." It may seem strange, but I have recollected ever since, and still recollect the train of thought presented. He first made a statement of the estimated population of the earth. He then took out the pagans, and then the Mohammedans, and then the Jews. This left him Christendom. Christendom was small in comparison with the whole. He then cut off a great many from Christendom, and came down to the visible Church. Of course a great many members of the Church were unsound, whilst the sound membership was small. The flock was a little flock. I suppose my mind was in a situation to receive vivid impressions then. I thought of nothing but preaching, and preachers, and connected subjects. Robert Donnell followed Mr. Bell with a sermon, having reference to the death of Rev. William McGee, one of the fathers who had recently been called away. It was a very solemn and interesting day.
I have no recollection of seeing Mr. Bell after that meeting, until the fall of 1822, at the first meeting of the Cumberland Synod which I ever attended. This meeting was also held at the Beech. Mr. Bell was there as the Superintendent of Charity Hall. On that occasion, I began to see a little of what I have seen my full share since. Charity Hall was an institution of the Church, and it was already in need of money. This was its condition during the eight or ten years of its existence which followed. The labors, and discouragements, and varied toils of the superintendent and missionary were very great. Yet he bore all heroically. He left a record behind which the Church ought to read. Year after year he urged the claims of Charity Hall and the benighted condition of the Indians before the Synod and the Church. A few of the old ministers and of the old men and women stood by him to the last. No man could have commanded more of their confidence, and the record shows that their confidence was never betrayed. It was a good work, and, as far as the limited means would allow, it was well done; and when history does full justice to the characters and labors of those who have devoted themselves to the elevation and evangelization of the savage tribes of this country, the name of Robert Bell will be found worthy of a place with those of John Eliot, and David Brainerd, and others who have made themselves benefactors of their race. [Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 95-120] See Fide
|Father:||Robert Bell (1736-1816)|
|Mother:||Hetty Walker (?-c1772)|