Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 106-109)

Noah Cate was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee, May 17, 1805. He was one of eleven children, eight sons and three daughters. His father, John Cate, was a native of North Carolina but settled in East Tennessee at an early day.

The Cates in this country, according to family tradition, are descendants of two brothers who came from England in early colonial times, one settling in New England, the other in Virginia. It is a numerous and noted family -  a family of preachers.

In his twentieth year (December 4, 1824) he was received "by experience" and approved for baptism by the Dumplin Church, and baptized by Elder Duke Kimbrough, the pastor. June 2, 1827, his church "liberated him to exercise his gift in public"; October 2 of the following year his "ordination" was called for; ,And on the "fifth Saturday of November, 1828, he was ordained" by the Dumplin Church -  Elders Duke Kimbrough, Richard Wood, Thomas Hill, Henry Randolph, Samuel Love, and Elijah Rogers constituting the presbytery.

To equip himself more completely for his ministerial calling he entered the Madisonville High School, where he acquired a fair English education.

August 15, 1833, he was married by Elder James Kennon to Mrs. Margaret M. Lee, widow of Samuel J. Lee, of Hawkins County, Tennessee.

His earliest ministerial labors were in East Tennessee, but about the year 1837 he received a call to the McMinnville Church in Middle Tennessee. Here he organized the feeble Baptist forces , built for them a neat brick house to worship in, and left the church with a considerable working membership. Here and elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, under the patronage of the State Convention, he did successful missionary work until 1842,  when he returned to East Tennessee and began work at Blountville, Sullivan County. Here he found a weak church without a house of worship. Through his instrumentality a meeting-house was built for the Blountville saints, and working from this point as a center he was enabled by the blessing of God and the co-operation of his brethren to organize and build up a number of strong, efficient churches.

In 1849 he went to Abingdon, Virginia, as a missionary of the Goshen Association. Here, also, he found a handful of Baptists and no house of worship. Ministering here some three or four years, "strengthening the weak hands and feeble knees" of the brethren, helping them to build a house of worship, and adding to their numbers, he returned to his native East Tennessee, locating in Rogersville. The Baptist cause here was weak, overshadowed somewhat by a strong Presbyterian influence. Brother Cate "'strengthened the things that remained" while here, and built a house of worship at Kingsport.

In 1858, he began a tour of the South and West, preaching in West Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Missouri. In the last-mentioned State he spent several years, preaching to a number of churches, and enjoying the confidence and esteem of his brethren.

In 1866, lie settled in Arkansas, first in Greene County, afterwards at Jonesboro,  where he spent the remainder of his life, through the "dark reconstruction days," in efforts to re-build disorganized society and restore the spirit of education and civilization (banished by the war) by preaching the love and goodwill of the gospel. He had begun the erection of a house of worship in Jonesboro, but was not permitted to witness its completion - death overtaking him October 23, 1871. His widow and two children survived him, one (Wm. H. Cate) a lawyer in Arkansas; the other, a daughter, the wife of a merchant in Texas.

Noah Cate was "six feet two inches tall, of a powerful frame, corpulent in middle life, plain in his dress and manners, kind and conciliatory in his conduct; his eyes were a dark hazel, set deep in his head, his hair was black, his complexion dark, his head somewhat bald." He loved his denomination and the principles for which it stands, and battled fearlessly for what he considered the "faith delivered once for all to the saints."

A contributor to Borum's "Sketches," drawing a characteristic contrast between Noah Cate and his preacher-brother William, says: "William, the younger, was tall and slender, but a man of fine appearance and an intellectual face. He was always entertaining, and would preach as good a sermon on one occasion as on another. On the contrary, Noah would sometimes be almost dull, while at other times he would preach with wonderful power and pathos and eloquence. William was a man of more cultivation; "Noah had greater strength of intellect." They were alike faithful, earnest, and persistent; they were equally consecrated to their Master's cause; neither .knew what it was to be discouraged, or to acknowledge defeat.

Noah Cate's first sermon was from I Samuel 17:29: "Is there not, a cause?" His last sermon, nearly fifty years later (June 5, 1871), was from Rom. 6:22: "Being made free from sin, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." A fitter text with which to close his ministry could hardly have been chosen, if the preacher had positively known that that was to be his "last sermon."


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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