Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 371 - 376)

William Allen Montgomery is an only son of William H. and Sarah Montgomery. He was born in Jefferson County, Tennessee, November 16, 1829. His mother was a daughter of Chesley Jarnagin, of Welsh descent. His grandfather, William Montgomery, was of English extraction but born in South Carolina. The family into which he married, in North Carolina, was partly Irish. Coming to Tennessee at an early day he settled in Jefferson County, a little below Dandridge, where his son, William H., and his grandson, William A., were born. His grandmother, on the maternal side, a daughter of Elder Isaac Barton, was of Dutch and Huguenot descent. His great-grandfather, Isaac Barton, was one of Tennessee's earliest pioneers - a Baptist preacher who had the honor of giving to the United States Senate a gifted son and to the Tennessee bar a great-grandson of ability and distinction.

At the age of 14 young Montgomery professed faith in Christ and was baptized. In 1845, at the age of 16, he entered the University of Tennessee, graduating in his twenty-first year (1850), with the first honors of his class.

He read law with Hon. E. Alexander, judge of the Knoxville Circuit Court, and was admitted to the bar in the fall of 1851.

He was married May 9, 1854, to Miss C. E. Franklin, of Jefferson County, Tennessee, a daughter of Major Lawson D. Franklin, a wealthy planter and slave-holder of .the antebellum days. In 1855 he went to Texas to raise cotton and make money. In 1861 he was a member, from Washington County, of the Texas convention that voted for the "secession" of Texas from the Union; and then entered the Confederate service. In 1862 he was "licensed" to preach to the soldiers by the Independence Church, Texas. In 1867 he returned, with broken fortunes, to his native East Tennessee, and settled down on the old Franklin homestead, near Leadvale. In 1868 the Leadvale Church ordained him, Elders Ephraim Moore, T. J. Lane, S. H. Smith, and J. M. L. Burnett acting as a presbytery.

As pastor he served efficiently the following churches: Leadvale and Dandridge, from 1868 to 1872; First Church, Lynchburg, Va., six years; First Church, Memphis; First Church, Chattanooga; Greensboro, Ga.; Thomaston, Ga.; Leadvale, Rogersville and Hot Springs (N. C.) ; Mossy Creek (now the Jefferson City First). In his Lynchburg pastorate he did monumental work. The church, when he took charge, numbered 400. During his pastorate there were added by experience and baptism 250, and others by letter; 200 were sent out to form the College Hill Church; at the close of his pastorate the church was left 650 strong.

To his exceptional administrative ability as pastor Dr. Montgomery added the rare gifts of an evangelist, as witnessed by his wonderful meetings at Trenton, Milan, Jackson, and other places in Tennessee and elsewhere. In his evangelistic tour of West Tennessee and Mississippi there were 1,000 professed conversions under his ministry in a single year. This was the year of richest harvest in his ministry, perhaps, but his labors on other fields and at other times were signally blessed of the Lord, and hundreds were added to the churches through his instrumentality.

As Secretary of State Missions he did a most valuable work in unifying the Baptists of the State. It was through his efforts and influence, in large measure, that the East Tennessee General Association was brought into organic union and active co-operation with the Baptist State Convention.

As President of Carson College, and later of Carson and Newman (1888-1892) and professor of metaphysics and theology, he showed himself a fine organizer and an able teacher. It was during his administration that the marriage of Carson and Newman took place and co-education became the order of the day for east Tennessee Baptists. It was also during his presidency that the magnificent new Administration Building, recently destroyed by fire, was erected for the larger work of the college. On the occasion of his resignation as President the Board of Trustees by resolution testified to "the greet ability, untiring faithfulness and unswerving integrity with which the President had advanced the important interests which had been committed to his charge," and to the gratify  fact that he had "devoted his fine talents and rare scholarship to the up-building of our beloved institution."

From Carson College he received his D.D. in 1870; from his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, he received the honor of an LL.D. degree in 1876.

As associate editor with Dr. J. R. Graves of the Tennessee Baptist, the same with Drs. Jeter and Dickinson, of the Religious Herald, and as "staff" correspondent of the Baptist and Reflector, by his crisp, pointed and pungent editorials and sundry articles he contributed much to the enrichment of our denominational literature.

It was as a preacher, however, that he excelled. Preaching was his forte. He had preaching gifts in an eminent degree. The marked elements of his strength were originality, a mind trained to think, the power of clear, forceful statement, ability to drive the plowshare of incisive propositions through a subject, laying out all its contents and exposing them to view. He preached on great subjects, handling them masterfully, his full-orbed mind illuminating them on all sides. He could think on his feet, without notes, with a mental intensity that was electrical in its effect. He gripped his subject and his audience alike - was alike master of subjects and "master of assemblies."

While never failing to emphasize the "doctrines of grace," he pressed home on the sinner with powerful argument and appeal his immediate and urgent duty and responsibility of accepting the divine offers of mercy and salvation, at the peril of his soul. He was not characteristically an expository or textual preacher, but uniformly chose subjects - great subjects as already intimated - for pulpit treatment, and discussed them, not homiletically, as a rule, but logically and persuasively, with a view to immediate, practical results. He was not always at his best, but take him in a series of subject-sermons, say for a month or six weeks, every day, or twice a day, and the writer has never heard his equal as a sermonizer.

Perhaps his most intimate associate in the ministry, and one of his most confidential friends, was J. M. L. Burnett. They were like Jonathan and David, wholly unlike, but co-laborers in the Lord's work, and socially and otherwise were a self-constituted "mutual admiration society." They were both fathers in the ministry to the writer, and were greatly helpful to him in his early ministry, both of them serving in the council at his ordination, and Dr. Montgomery performing the ceremony on the occasion of his marriage. So the writer, reverencing Dr. Montgomery as a father and appreciating fully his great worth and eminent abilities, feels free to speak of him as he was and to mention his faults as well as his virtues. He was a noble "man of God" and a truly great preacher, but he was not perfect. He was not a Pharisee and made no claim: to perfection. If he were alive, I doubt not he would have me paint him as he was. So, in candor I would have to say, he was always strong but not always sweet. He was not equally pleasing at all times, was not always gracious. He was sometimes caustic; he sometimes dipped his tongue or pen in the "waters of Marah." He was ambitious and proud and had an infirmity of temper which he, no less than his friends, deplored.

The writer has sometimes thought that the devil had a particular grudge against W. A. Montgomery, for sometime., when he had preached like a seraph - preached as few men ever preached, and there was "glory all around," the hand as of some malignant spirit, appearing out of the darkness, would dash the feast with pitch from the sulphurous regions below. But it is exceedingly gratifying to know that this battle-scarred veteran soldier and distinguished leader, as he faced the setting sun, through trials and through grace abounding, became sweeter, tenderer, more gracious, and more sympathetic --chastened by affliction, sweetened by sorrow, mellowed by the frosts of adversity, ripened for glory. His last pastorate was at Decatur, Ga., during which he was President of the Pastors' Conference of Atlanta, respected and greatly loved by his brethren. The last two years of his life were spent in the home of his daughter, Mrs. A. C. Moore, of near Rankin, Tenn., not far from the old Montgomery home. It was here that he died, Dec. 16, 1905. His funeral sermon was preached by his pastor, Elder W. C. Hale, and his body was interred in the Beth Car cemetery, near Leadvale, Tenn. He was survived by his beloved companion, four sons and three daughters.

Dying Testimony : "Oh, thou God of universal peace, to whom all eyes must turn for everlasting salvation, blessed be thy high and holy Name! Amen!" "It is sweet to die." "What a glorious privilege to hear the music on the way home." "I shall see Jesus face to face, and walk the streets of the New Jerusalem." "Put on the plain marble slab above my grave - `A sinner saved by grace."'

A Tribute:

"Deep teachings from the Word he held so dear,
Things new and old in that great Treasure found;
A valiant cry, a new, strong note and clear,
A trumpet, with no false, uncertain sound
These shall not die, but live, his rich bequest
To that beloved church, whose servant is at rest."


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


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