Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 54 - 58)
John Blanchard, minister and physician, was a native of Cocke County, Tennessee. He was the oldest son of John and Sarah Blanchard, of South Carolina, and was born March 30, 1821. He was of Welsh extraction. His father was a hardy pioneer, with a physical frame built for endurance and a spirit for bold and daring adventure. His ancestors, leaving the old country in an early day and coming by way of South Carolina to what was then the "west" of the new world, were guided by the migratory instinct to seek a home in the mountains of East Tennessee -- a genial climate and soils and a place for exploits and adventure. The birthplace of young Blanchard on the French Broad River, in Cocke County, ten miles from Paint Rock, which marks the boundary line between Tennessee and North Carolina, is on of the most picturesque and rugged spots in the "Switzerland of America." A young lawyer and writer of descriptive powers, himself a native of the mountains, and a neighbor and admirer of young Blanchard, gives the following pen picture of the place and the scene where the subject of our sketch first saw the light:: "To the west is Stone Mountain and to the east its twin brother, rugged old Neddy. Between them, carrying its everlasting toll of grit and sand and gravel, the French Broad roars and frets and grinds, cutting deeper and broader its tortuous passage through the last range of the Alleghenies. The Buncombe Branch of the Southern Railway winds along its western bank, and from the car window you may see a wagon trail on the opposite bank, crowded down to the water's edge by the feel of old Neddy. Just at the foot of this historic mountain to the west, where there begins a narrow fringe of poor sandy bottom land, John Blanchard was born. Here his father, in an early day, too poor to do better, settled down and built his rude log house." Here in the school of poverty and hard work young Blanchard learned the lesson of industry, self-denial, and self-reliance, as well as virtue and honesty. To help support the family he was compelled to "hire out"; and as a young man his highest ambition was to be the best good-chopper, rail-splitter, and general, all-purpose harm-hand in the county. His ambition to "stand at the head" was gratified - for he was tall and straight as a mountain pine, and sturdy as the oak that wrestles with the tempest, with a frame of bronze and muscles of steel.
His manly virtues of truthfulness, honestly, and sobriety, especially his reputation for doing good, honest work, for large pay or small pay, made him the trusted hired hand and "friend" of the Stokleys and Huffs, and other men who knew his genuine worth.
Living in the home of Alfred Lea, justice of the peace, owner of a mill and a man of letters, young Blanchard learned his letters, while working for him as a hired hand. Later he acquired some knowledge of arithmetic and bookkeeping, while running a grist mill on French Broad River, making mental calculations and "keeping the books in his head."
March 24, 1842, he was married by Joseph Manning to Miss Charlotte Justus, Elder Manning performing the ceremony in his own house. Alfred Lea, his former employer and tutor gave him a royal, old-time "wedding dinner."
In 1842 he was converted in a Methodist camp meeting at Parrottsville, in his native county. A little later he attended a Baptist meeting, being held by Joseph Manning in the old French Broad meeting-house. "Jack" Blanchard was profoundly stirred by the preaching, joined the church, and was baptized by Elder Manning.
With his conversion came a new inspiration and an ambition to make the most of himself that is was possible to make, wit his limited opportunities. Laboriously, by the light of "blazing pine knots," he learned to read the Bible, and particularly the New Testament Scriptures. His days were given to hard work, his nights largely to study.
In 1843, in the old brick meeting-house at the mouth of Big Creek (now Del Rio) on the French Broad River, Elder Blanchard preached his first sermon. From this time on his constant desire - his prayer and effort by day and his dream by night - was that he might help to improve the temporal and spiritual condition of his neighbors, and to serve the Lord how had saved him and called him to preach the gospel of his grace.
April 18, 1844, he left his native mountains to seek a home in the West. His mode of travel was by wagons. His route lay through Knoxville, where he spent one night, camping at the spring, "out of which the Knoxville Ice Company now gets water to make ice." Leaving Knoxville, he made his way across the Cumberland Mountains, by way of Crab Orchard, Kentucky, to the Ohio river; thence to the Mississippi. Prospecting in Arkansas awhile, he finally located in Illinois.. Here he worked hard and saved his earnings; bought and improved lands, built a home for himself and family, educated his six children and set them up in business. Two of his sons became ministers. At 43 he himself took up the study of medicine, and four years later was a practitioner in the art of healing - graduating from the Eclectic College of Medicine, Cincinnati, in 1869. Two of his sons and one of his grandsons are graduates from the same medical school. Not only in his native East Tennessee but also in his adopted State of Illinois he has been a noted pioneer of education, temperance reform, religion, and good citizenship. He is an illustrious example of what industry, economy, perseverance, and heroic endurance, sustained by moral purpose and a determined, unconquerable will, can do, in raising a man from lowly birth to position and influence in the world.
"Honor and fame from no condition rise;
Act well your part - there all the honor lies."
Though an "M.D.," and an active physician, he has been active also in the ministry, rarely being without a pastorate. "He still preaches at his home church," though old and nearly blind. His recollection of passages of Scripture, and their location, is remarkable, it is said, although his is now scarcely able to read a word.
As a preacher, his style is quaint and effective. He has no honeyed words, and to over-refined tastes and "ears polite" he is not a model of grace - but the common people hear him gladly. A man of giant frame, of titanic strength and stentorian voice, he could scarcely appear before an audience to speak and not make an impression. The writer has never heard a preacher with a voice so like the roll and roar and crash of God's thunder. But, surpassing his equipment of physical strength and effectiveness, were those qualities of mind and heart that make the true man and real preacher.
After an absence of many years, Brother Blanchard, full of years and honors and in good health, has been permitted to visit the "old home place" and the friends of his young, under the shadow of "grand old Neddy" in his native East Tennessee.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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