Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 285 -292)
(For fifty years pastor of the Dandridge Baptist Church, Jefferson County, Tennessee).
On a tombstone in the old family graveyard, near Jefferson City, Tennessee, is this inscription: "Sacred to the memory of Rev. Duke Kimbrough: Born November 19, 1762; died September 21, 1849; aged 86 years, 10 months, 2 days."
The Kimbroughs are a numerous and noted family. According to history, believed to be authentic and reliable, the first Kimbrough to come to this country was John, who came over from England in early colonial times. The original stock is said to be Irish, as the name Kimbrough would seem to indicate. The patriarch of the family in this country, the distinguished head of a noted line of preachers and a man of marked ability, was Elder Duke Kimbrough, the subject of this sketch. He was the third son of Bradley Kimbrough, Sr., and was, born in Rowan County, North Carolina, date of birth as above given. His mother. before marriage. was Miss Sarah Thompson, a daughter of a wealthy planter in South Carolina. At the age of 21 young Kimbrough left his native state and came to what is now Jefferson County, Tennessee. Here he met a Miss Mary Gentry, daughter of Robert Gentry, who lived near Dandridge, and owned a flue farm on the French Broad River.
Falling in love with Miss Gentry he sought and obtained her hand in marriage. His father-in-law not only gave him his daughter but also a handsome farm near Dandridge, where he lived for some years, and then bought a farm near Mossy Creek (now Jefferson City), where he lived the rest of his life. To this union was born one only child, a daughter, Mary. who married William Chilton. His second wife was Susan Hunter, daughter of Isaac Hunter of Washington County, Tennessee, who became the mother of four sons, William, Isaac, John and Elisha. William became the father of the widely known Dr. I. B. Kimbrough, formerly of Tennessee, later of Texas. His third wife was Eunice Carlock, daughter of Christopher Carlock, of near Dandridge. To this union were born nine children, six sons and three daughters. Of the issue of this marriage two of the sons, Bradley and Robert G., became distinguished Baptist preachers. Isaac Kimbrough, a son of the second marriage, also became a useful preacher. I also note, in passing, that Rev. I. N. Kimbrough, of Indiana, a great-grandnephew of Duke Kimbrough, is one of the strong men East Tennessee and Carson and Newman College have given to the world.
Of Elder Kimbrough's conversion we have no particular account, except that when the Lord made him a Christian the New Testament made him a Baptist, in spite of his inherited prejudices, which were strongly Episcopalian. Also the record of his baptism has perished. It is reasonably certain, however, that he joined what is now the Dandridge Baptist Church, by experience and baptism, soon after the organization of that church, the record of which is as follows: "The Church of Christ on French Broad River, constituted March 23, 1786, by Jonathan Mulkey and Isaac Barton, being twelve in number, with their names," etc. The church was constituted and for several years held its meetings at what was known as "Koonts' Meeting House," three miles northeast of Dandridge. Duke Kimbrough's name does not appear among the names of the constituent members; it is the twenty-fifth name on the membership roll; and, in July, 1793 , he figures as a. leading member of the church.
As soon as converted, like Saul of Tarsus, he began "straightway to preach Christ." He was called to ordination by the above church, "August, fourth Saturday, 1797," and Elders Richard Wood and Jesse Fears were requested by the church to act as a presbytery at the "following October meeting," the minute of which has perished. Elder Kimbrough became pastor of this old historic church in July of 1799, and continued pastor until his death, in September, 1849, a period of more than fifty years. As long as the old shepherd lived the church would have no other pastor, but when, by reason of the infirmities of age, Father Kimbrough was no longer able to attend his appointments regularly the church called first Elder James Kennon and afterwards Rev. William Rogers as "assistant pastor."
From 1803 to 1839 Elder Kimbrough was pastor of the Dumplin Church, Jefferson County. In the last year of this pastorate the church divided on the question of missions, conventions, and so forth, with protest and counter-protest. The pastor tried hard to hold the church together, and by his influence succeeded in postponing the split, but division was inevitable. The "antis" were in the majority. The missionary minority declared themselves "on constitutional principles to be the church," and as such resolved to hold their meetings on a different day. They also said, in their minute of May, fourth Saturday, 1839: "Father Kimbrough has declined being pastor for either party, but believing him to be in principle with us we invite him still to be our pastor." The invitation to remain pastor was declined, we cannot certainly say why, but most likely on account of existing complications, prejudices and "bad blood" incident to a church split, and with the hope, perhaps, that by a conservative and independent bearing he might be able to heal the breach in this particular church, and help to keep back other churches from a general denominational split. It is just to say, however, that, notwithstanding his conservative position, Elder Kimbrough was a missionary in sentiment, and affiliated with his missionary brethren.
Like most of the preachers of his day, Elder Kimbrough received little from the churches in the way of temporal support. One of his favorite sayings was that the "Missionary Society," from which he received his principal support, was his wife and children, a number of them stalwart and faithful sons.
Not only was he active and in demand as pastor; his labors in revival meetings were abundant and successful.
With great regularity, also, he attended the associational gatherings of the churches, and was often otherwise in the councils of his brethren. He seems to have been a popular preacher on such occasions, often preaching the introductory or other sermons.
"In the pulpit he was remarkable for earnestness, gravity, and unpretending dignity of manner." He had a deep, full voice, and was a natural orator. Years ago I visited the home of old Uncle Peter Bryan, then an octogenarian, and sat spellbound for hours. listening to his reminiscent descriptions and his boyhood recollections of Elder Duke Kimbrough. He described him as having a "remarkable voice" and great "natural ability" as a speaker, expressing it as his "opinion" that if "Duke Kimbrough had, been educated he would have been one of the greatest pulpit orators in the State of Tennessee." He told me also about his singing; how he loved to sing the songs of Zion, in family devotions as well as in the church; how happy he would sometimes get when singing; and how his voice, when singing, was as "clear as a girl's," even when it had become tremulous with age..
Practically, Elder Kimbrough was a man of only two books -Bible and hymn-book. These he kept with him and constantly used. To young ministers, especially, he was a "living concordance to the Scriptures."
In his old age the spirit of prophecy seems to have come upon Elder Kimbrough, and at times he seems to have had the vision of a seer. A notable instance is related by one of his sons and published in Borum's "Sketches." The father, when about 70 years of age, had a serious spell of sickness, and was given up to die. During this sickness he had uncommon travail of soul, and predicted a glorious and widespread revival of religion, through which he would be permitted to live and preach, and in which his children would .be converted. In confident anticipation of this event he would get happy and say: "The Lord has cut me down with one hand and raised me up with the other." Beginning to recover from his sickness he said to his wife, "Bring me my staff." She told him he could not walk; but he was sure "the Lord had sent his angel to bid him get up and walk, and he would obey the Master." He arose, therefore, and walked across the room, leaning upon his staff. He regained his strength and lived to see the "glorious revival" and preach through it, witnessing the conversion and baptism of a number of his children.
Following is the tribute of the Dandridge Church to the man who had been their shepherd for fifty years: "The piety and Christian character of Father Kimbrough were unsurpassed. He retained his mind to the last, and manifested firm and unshaken faith in the Son of God. He felt that all was right. He had no doubts. His dying testimony was, "Grace! grace! It's all of grace!" And with those triumphant words upon his lips and a farewell tear in his eye, he passed without a groan beyond the veil, where, face to face, he could behold Him whom he had loved and preached for more than fifty years." (From the Tennessee Baptist.)
ANECDOTES OF DUKE KIMBROUGH.
1. In his old age Elder Kimbrough was quite bald, and was accustomed, when sitting in the meeting-house, to wear a cap or handkerchief on his head, for comfort. This he sometimes kept on even in the pulpit, till ready to begin the service. There happened, occasionally, to be in the congregation a certain brother who had a particular weakness in wanting to be recognized as a full-fledged preacher. He was a great admirer of Elder Kimbrough and would have given his head, almost, for the honor of sitting with the old Elder in the pulpit. At length the coveted invitation was given and accepted. The unsophisticated brother had observed the peculiar headgear of the distinguished pastor, and supposing it to be the proper style for the pulpit, pulled out his pocket handkerchief, bandaged his head, and took his seat in the pulpit, to the great amusement of the congregation. My authority for this incident is the lamented Robert Reedy Bryan, erstwhile professor in Mossy Creek College, and principal founder of the same - a truthful man. He used frequently to relate the circumstance, affirming that he actually witnessed the occurrence.
2. As illustrating the confidence which worldlings and outsiders generally had in Elder Kimbrough's religion, take the following: At a certain place a Presbyterian meeting was in progress. A proposition was made to a worldling, who was a Methodist by prejudice, to go to the meeting, and "get .religion." "No," said the worldling, "that is no place for me. Those fellows won't do. But if they will let Preacher Kimbrough examine them and he says they have got religion, I will take stock in the meeting."
3. A peculiarity of Elder Kimbrough's preaching was a sudden and unexpected pause in his discourse. The use of this surprise power, like the sudden stopping of a train of cars, was sometimes very effective. On one occasion, however, the surprise came the other way. The preacher was urging upon his members the importance of looking after their religion, "fencing it up" - and with the exclamatory statement that "circumstances alter cases," came to a sudden pause. "Yes," broke in one of the sisters, "that's what I told John! I told him if he planted the corn before he built the fence the hogs would root it up - and they did."
4. In one of Elder Kimbrough's churches was a crooked preacher who had been excluded from the church a number of times, but, on making his confession, had been restored. Finally the church refused to restore him. What could he do? Changing his tactics, he came before the church with a "new" experience, asking that he be received for baptism. He was deceived before; now he is all right. A motion was made to receive him and seconded. Elder Kimbrough, whose head had been hanging pretty low, straightened himself up in the moderator's chair, and said: "Brethren, it is my duty as your moderator to put the question to a vote. But I have no confidence in him. All who are in favor of receiving him say, `I.' Nobody responded. The meeting closed and the congregation dismissed, the tricky preacher came out to where the old pastor was ready to mount his horse, and asked to be prayed for. "All right," said the Elder, "let us pray." The pastor knelt on one side of the stump and the hypocrite on the other, and the petition was, "Lord, if this man has religion, give me faith to believe it. If he has none, give it to him. Amen." (R. Newman, in Borum's Sketches.)
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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