Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
In the old family Bible, which has come down through four generations and is now in the possession of a great-grandson, Elder W. A. Catlett, I find the following record of a remarkable preacher, the record made by the preachers' own good hand: William Billue was born August 25, 1793, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; emigrated to Tennessee in 1812 and located in Blount County; joined the Baptist Church in Miller's Cove in 1822; was licensed to preach the gospel March, first Saturday, 1823,and was ordained by the Rev. James Taylor and William Holloway, November 31, 1823." In the cemetery of Mount Lebanon Church is a tombstone inscribed, "Rev. William Billue (born, as above); died April 4, 1874," with this tribute to his memory: "By the grace of God he fought a good fight and kept the faith which was once delivered to the saints."
When William Billue began his ministry (1823), there were in Blount county only two churches, Miller's Cove and Sixmile; now (1896) there are twenty-six.
Among the churches served by Brother Billue as pastor, long and well, are Nail's Creek, Crooked Creek, Stock Creek, Piney Level, New Hopewell, Ellijoy, Mt. Olive, and Mount Lebanon. The lumber which went into the first meeting house of the Mt. Lebanon Church was his contribution.
More than any other man he gave impulse and impetus to the Baptist cause in all this section of country, and was instrumental in laying the foundation of many of our now prosperous churches. Spiritually and baptistically, to use the language of many of the older brethren, "Old Uncle Billy Billue was the father of his country," that is, of Blount County.
When corn was ten cents a bushel he rode as "missionary" for a shilling a day. He and Richard Taliaferro traveled throughout the bounds of what is now the Clinton Association, and in the surrounding counties, stirring up the churches on the subject of missions. They were the first missionaries, I am told, in this part of the country. Brother Billue was furnished a "missionary horse" by Eleven Hitch, "free of charge," like the gospel he preached.
Of his early history and conversion old "Uncle Jimmy Hitch," who knew William Billue longer and more intimately than anyone else, says: "William Billue, as a young man, was wild and wicked, dissipated and reckless, lived among the Indians, apparently a moral as well as a financial wreck, but when the grace of God took hold of him it transformed him. At the age of 30, or thereabout, he became a new man, and soon began to preach. He taught school, farmed and made money; was sober, industrious and prosperous, being worth, at this death, from $15,000 to $20,000.
He was a man of affairs, rather than of books. What he knew of the Bible and other books he "dug out" for himself. Though not scholarly, yet with good natural ability, a determined will and a voice incisive and effective, he was a commanding speaker. He was not prepossessing in personal appearance, being spare-made, rather ill-shaped, and club-footed, but his eyes were dark and "keen as a hawk's," and eye and voice and will made him "master of assemblies" in his day. Peter Brakebill, a venerable brother, says of him: "I used to think Uncle Billy could say more in a few words than anybody. When he set up his target and took aim, he didn't shoot all over the board and waste ammunition - he generally knocked the center out."
Brother Billue had no penchant for public debate, but when necessary he knew how and where to find a man to do his debating for him. He was instrumental in bringing about the Pope-Hillsman debate at Eusebia, a Presbyterian church. The Presbyterians in those days, when confronted by an ordinary Baptist opponent, felt pretty safe in intrenching themselves in the "dead languages," especially Greek, when worsted in discussion and dislodged and routed from their English strong-holds, so to speak. But Matt Hillsman happened to know Greek, as well as his opponent, and so carried the Baptist flag in triumph to the top of the citadel, unfurled, and easily defended it - with its threefold ancient inscription of "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism."
The subject of our sketch was twice married: first, to the widow Jane James, June 15, 1813; the second time to a Miss Susannah Hitch, August 20, 1846, William Rogers performing the ceremony.
His first wife was a Presbyterian, but became dissatisfied with her so-called "infant baptism." The husband, to satisfy his wife, and make her dissatisfied with her so-called baptism, went to a Presbyterian Doctor of Divinity, President of a college, and laid the case before him. With a twinkle in his eye he said he wanted something to "satisfy" his wife, but was told by the doctor, in whom scholarship and candor united, "I guess, Brother Billue, I can't satisfy your wife with her baptism; I suppose she will have to go to the Baptists."
William Billue was six years moderator of the Tennessee Association. His labors were abundant in the Master's cause. His influence for good was felt far and wide. I have met many who were baptized by him, and some who by his influence had been led into the ministry. His praise is in the churches. And many, in the last day, will rise up and call him "blessed."
Among his more prominent associates in the ministry we might mention Elijah Rogers, Eli Roberts, Samuel Love, James Lankford, and other dear familiar names that "cannot die," because enshrined in many hearts and destined to find a sure place in the history of Baptists.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
[ Return to Index ]
HTML presentation of this material is
Copyright © 2002 by Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray.
All rights reserved.