Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 152 - 157)
With this sketch I present the face of the venerable brother, Elder Richard Evans, "Uncle Dickey," as he is familiarly called by his mountaineer neighbors and friends. He is now in his 73rd year, but well preserved and full of rugged strength. He was born in Sevier County, Tenn., January 4, 1824. He was the only son of Jacob Evans, but had three sisters. His mother, before marriage, was Martha Ogle, Ogle being a historic name among Sevier County Baptists. His grandfather, William Evans, was of Welsh descent. The subject of our sketch is of Welsh-English extraction, inheriting the English sturdiness and the Welsh fire, and looks, both as to physical features and mental characteristics, as though he were a direct descendant of the historic Christmas Evans, a preacher of Baptist fame.
At the age of 16, in a meeting held by Eli Roberts and William Ogle, he was converted, and joined the White Oak Flats Church. In the same year, January 30, 1840, he was married to a Miss Ollief Ownby, to which union there were born twelve children. In his twentieth year he was licensed to preach by the White Oak Flats Church, and in his twenty-second year was ordained by the same church, Elders Eli Roberts and Isaac Kimbrough constituting the ordaining council. Of this, his mother church, Brother Evans has been a member for fifty-six years, and pastor for forty-six years, and bids fair to continue pastor for many years to come.
He has also been pastor of the following churches: Ware's Cove, Red Bank, Bethany, Friendship, Hill's Creek, New Salem, Lebanon, Evans' Chapel No. 1, Evans' Chapel No. 2 (most of these in Sevier County) ; Tuckaleechee, in Blount County, and Lufty, Shoal Creek and Bird Town (an Indian church), in Swain County, North Carolina. Of Bird Town, a church of 100 Indians, he was pastor for two years, receiving a larger salary than from many of his white churches. His salary was always small, never more than $25 from a single church, and more often from ten to fifteen dollars a year.
Brother Evans has been wonderfully successful as a revivalist. In meetings with his preacher brethren, and in those held by himself he has witnessed not less than 10,000 conversions, and has with his own hands baptized 1,805 converts into the fellowship of Baptist churches.
Brother Evans has preached to the Cherokee Indians, through an interpreter, has held protracted meetings among them, in the same way and with the same results as among his own people, and has baptized sixty converts from among them.
He has been a marvel in his day. He has been a mountain preacher, for the most part, and has revolutionized large districts in Sevier County and in Western North Carolina. There are no more moral communities anywhere than the "coves" where "Uncle Dickey" Evans' voice has sounded out the glad tidings and the note of reform of the gospel message. So great was his influence in the community, in politics as welI as religion, that it was commonly said that "a candidate for office did not need to canvass the eleventh district, if Preacher Evans was for him, the voters would be for him; if the preacher was against him, he could save time and trouble - the voters would be against him."
Brother Evans was a soul-winner, and rarely ever preached even at an Association, without calling for penitents. When comparatively a young man he attended the Tuckasege Association (N. C.), where the Baptists had borrowed the Methodist "camp ground" to hold their associational meetings. He was appointed to preach Sunday afternoon at 4 o'clock. At the close of the sermon he called for "mourners." The meeting wouldn't close but continued through the night, resulting in fifty professions of faith. This was the beginning of his missionary and protracted meeting labors in the mountains of North Carolina, which he kept up for several years with marked success.
His prominent associates in the ministry were Eli Roberts, Asa Layman, Robert Atchley, John Russell, and W. M. Burnett. His favorite text was, "By grace are ye saved"; his favorite hymn, "How Firm a Foundation," etc.
In his boyhood days Brother Evans. had few educational advantages and few books. Later in life, however, he read Bunyan, Buck's Theological Dictionary, Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Hedge's Logic, and Smith's Grammar.
Not being a trained polemic, or a skilled debater, Brother Evans thought discretion was the better part of valor, and generally left "controversies" and controverted [sic] subjects to his more "gifted" brethren. He avoided, if possible, a "regular engagement" with anti-mission and Pedo-Baptist opponents. He preferred a sort of "running fire." When forced to fight, however, he would give the enemy the "best fight there was in him." In one little bout with a Methodist preacher he not only won the day but converted his opponent to the Baptist position, as the preacher confessed to him afterwards.
Brother Evans was fond of relating the following rather sensational incident: He was preaching on one occasion in an old and somewhat dilapidated building, from the text, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up," when the sudden scream of a woman interrupted the devotions of the assembly. A black snake had lost its grip on some overhead timber and had fallen into the woman's lap. The congregation adjourned without the benediction, to chase the fleeing reptile, but reassembled, to finish their devotions.
Brother Evans is still pastor of his home church, White Oak Flats, and Evans' Chapel No. 1. He has lived nearly three-quarters of a century, and, so far as we can calculate human "probabilities," barring the accidents to which old age is peculiarly liable, he has a fair prospect of living over into the century ahead of us and making in due time his 100th milestone on the road of life before he goes hence to receive his crown.
(The above was written and published February 28, 1896, twenty years ago.)
The following incident comes to light from an out-of-theway page in a "notebook." The note is anonymous, and I have forgotten my authority, though I think it was not Brother Evans himself. The incident nevertheless is trustworthy and characteristic of the man and, though sensational and rather a risky experiment, some of us may be disposed to think, it will serve as a sidelight on a preacher who believed in being always on his job. When a young preacher Brother Evans happened to stay all night at a house where they had planned to have a dance. The young people gathered in due time and began their operations. Brother Evans was off in a remote room. At a late hour of the night one of the young ladies invited the preacher to join her in the dance. The invitation was accepted, and the fiddlers were ready to proceed with their part of the performance when the preacher interrupted, "Hold on, one minute, if you please. I never go into anything that I can't talk to the Lord about. Let us have a word of prayer." By the time the preacher was through with his prayer the young lady had collapsed, a change having come over the spirit of her dream, embarrassment and confusion were written in the faces of the youngsters, nobody was in the notion of going ahead with the dance. "And this was the beginning of a meeting in which there were 200 converts."
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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