Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 180-183)

(The substance of the following sketch was published in the Baptist and Reflector, July 28, 1898.)

With this sketch appears the striking and familiar face of one of East Tennessee's pioneer preacher-educators, Dr. N. B. Goforth, erstwhile president of what was to be Carson and Newman College. The subject of our sketch is the son of Hugh and Mary Goforth, and was born in Sevier County, Tennessee,
May 20, 1828. On the paternal side he is of English descent, his grandfather, William Goforth, having descended from one of three brothers, who (according to a family coat-of-arms) came from England early in the seventeenth century, one settling in Pennsylvania, one in North Carolina, and one inVirginia. Dr. Goforth belongs to the Virginia branch of the family, and was named for the famous French emperor and noted man of destiny, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Young Goforth spent his boyhood days on the farm, in his native county, with few advantages of an education. In his nineteenth year, at Central Campground, under the soulstirring preaching of William Billue and Joseph Manning, he was converted, and, uniting with Boyd's Creek Church, was baptized by Elder Manning in Pigeon River. In his twenty second year he attended school at Sevierville. At the age of 23 he entered Maryville College, where he took a four years' course, graduating in 1854. His "A.M." degree he received later, from the Mossy Creek Baptist College, as also the. honorary title, Doctor of Divinity. In college he was a hard student, having a special fondness for the classics and being most proficient in Latin. In May, 1855, he was called to the chair of languages in Mossy Creek College. In 1859 he became president of the college and continued as such till the school was broken up by the ruthless hand of war in 1862.

December 24, 1856, he was married to Miss R. A. Pattison, daughter of Nathan and Rebecca Pattison, of Jefferson County. This union was blessed with a large family of children.

In 1859 he was ordained by Boyd's Creek Church, Elders William Billue, W. M. Burnett, William Ellis, and C. C. Tipton constituting the presbytery. His first pastorate was that of the Mossy Creek Church, and his first official work was the baptism of nineteen college students. . He has since been pastor of the Riceville, Mouse Creek, Eastanallee, Hiwassee, Mount Harmony, Double Springs, New Hopewell, and other churches in East Tennessee, and of three churches in Texas, during his short sojourn in that State.

But his greatest work has been that of teacher, rather than pastor. At the close of the war, in connection with Prof. W. A. G. Brown, a true yoke-fellow, he established the Riceville Literary and Classical Institute, and taught in the same till December of 1870, when he was re-called to the presidency of Mossy Creek College, which position he held for twelve more years, resigning in 1882. He then returned to Riceville, where he has been teaching and preaching, with a short vacation or two, for the last sixteen years. Eighteen years of successful teaching at Mossy Creek and twenty at Riceville, working ten hours a day and preaching on Saturdays and Sundays, is an enviable record.

Hundreds of young men, from all parts of East Tennessee and elsewhere, received mental and moral quickening from Dr. Goforth at Mossy Creek, and had their lives shaped by his molding touch. Under his influence the mind of many a dull boy waked up and felt the thrill of a. new life. He was not only a successful teacher but a great moral force in the school. As a disciplinarian he had few equals. The observance of a few reasonable rules and a moral purpose to study and to get an education was emphasized as the law of the school and the "whole duty" of the student. If the moral purpose was found wanting, the student was not wanted in the school, and was sent home, or elsewhere, till he came to a better mind.

Dr. Goforth was characterized by mental energy and rugged strength rather than polish; he was a diamond in the rough. He believed in education, in the truest sense of the word - training, discipline-rather than polish or cramming; and, teaching by example, his life bore fruit in that direction. He was naturally a good metaphysician and logician, and taught metaphysics and logic, as well as theology, but he was most at home in the dead languages.

His work at Mossy Creek was measurably pioneer work in the educational line, paving the way for those that were .to come after him. With rude implements, so to speak, that is, with meager equipment in the way of buildings, apparatus and endowment, and with a maximum salary, perhaps, of $500, he and his colleagues did a work for the Baptists of East Tennessee that deserves their most cordial recognition and sincerest thanks. In that group of familiar names - Prof. R. R. Bryan, William Rogers, Dr. M. Hillsman, Dr. Jesse Baker, and the Russells (W. T. and T. R.)- let us give Dr. N. B. Goforth an honored place as a worthy pioneer of higher Christian education for our East Tennessee Baptist Zion and the youth who look to us for light and guidance.

Dr. Goforth believes in the religious training of the young people as well as their intellectual development, and is therefore a great advocate of Sunday schools, or Bible schools, as he prefers to call them-believing that the churches of the future will assuredly be just what we make out of the boys and girls in our homes and Bible study schools today.

Since writing the above we had an occasion to visit Dr. Goforth in his Riceville home. He had had the misfortune to fall and seriously injure one of his hips. He is perhaps permanently injured. Without suffering much pain, he sits in his easy chair and cheerfully talks about "the first rest" he has ever had, and letting others "do the work." He has a "supply" preacher for his church (Riceville), and his daughter and another young lady have charge of his school. The doctor hopes sometime to get out and "talk Sunday Schools and Missions."

NOTE: He has entered the "city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

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


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