Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages  411 - 413)

In the cemetery of the old Friendship Church, Jefferson County, Tennessee, is a tombstone bearing this inscription "Sacred to the memory of the Reverend Henry Randolph, pastor of the Primitive Baptist Church at Friendship; born July 4, 1778; died February 15, 1849. This tribute of affection (the monument) was erected to his memory by his friends." He was born in what is now Jefferson County, Tennessee-what was then Washington County, North Carolina. He was a son of James Randolph, whose name occupies the second place in a list of the "twelve constituent members" (1786) of the French Broad, or Dandridge, church. The same year also this same James Randolph was a representative of his church (Lower French Broad) in the organization of the Holston Association. The writer has made diligent but unsuccessful search for the old "family Bible," which, if it could be found, would doubtless give something of the genealogy of the Randolphs we should like to know. In the absence of family records I give this statement of Brother Wilson C. Witt, now more than 100 years old, who knew Elder Randolph well and whose information and recollection are remarkable "Henry Randolph was a son of James Randolph, and had a son James, who was the father of Judge James H. Randolph, late of Newport, Cocke County." According to this bit of genealogy, which is entirely trustworthy, the subject of our, sketch was the grandfather of Judge Randolph, the great-grandfather of Mrs. Ben D. Jones, of Newport, and the great-great-grandfather of the wives of ex-Governor B. W. Hooper and James R. Stokely, of Newport, all of them Baptists.

The fourth Saturday in April, 1814, Henry Randolph was received by "experience" for baptism and membership in the French Broad (now the Dandridge) Church. The fourth Saturday in August, 1817, he was "liberated" by the church and encouraged to exercise his ministerial gifts. In 1818 he was a messenger of his church to the Tennessee Association. The fourth Saturday in December of the same year the church granted him a "letter of dismission," and the following year we find him in attendance upon the Association as a "messenger of Friendship Church." The second Saturday in October, 1819, Friendship Church called him to the "improvement of his gift," and the first Saturday in March, 1823, he was "ordained" to the full work of the ministry, Elders Caleb Witt, Isaac Barton and William Wood acting as the ordaining council. He was a messenger of Friendship Church to the Tennessee Association some twelve to fifteen years, rarely missing a meeting. He represented Friendship Church in the Nolachucky Association from 1834 to 1839, when the Association (meeting with Concord Church, Greene County) divided. In the division Elders Henry Randolph and Pleasant A. Witt, with about one-third of the constituency of the Association, withdrew from the body, left the house where the body was in session, and went to the grove, where they organized. "on the fourth Friday in September, 1839," what they called "the Old School Nolachucky Baptist Association," with Henry Randolph, Moderator, and Pleasant A. Witt, Clerk. In separating from their missionary brethren they declared in strong terms "non-fellowship for the societies and institutions of the day." It is said that Elder Randolph, as he went out of the house, with his company of adherents, stopped at the door, turned around, and, putting his hand upon the door-facing, said in the hearing of all in the house: "Whichever side is right will live and prosper; the side that is wrong will go down."

Glancing over the minutes of the Nolachucky for 1836 I see that the introductory sermon was preached by Elder Henry Randolph, from the Book of Revelation, 22:9, last clause, "Worship God." It was doubtless a characteristic sermon, emphasizing the divine prerogative to bestow mercy, receive worship, and be Sovereign of the Universe.

Elder Randolph held the extreme Calvinistic views of most preachers of his day. He was a thorough believer in the doctrines of grace. "Salvation is of the Lord," was a favorite theme with these old preachers, and anything that smacked of Arminianism was to them an "abomination." Being a strong predestinarian in his doctrinal belief, he did not subscribe, of course, to a gospel of "free salvation to all who will believe "the doctrine preached by his missionary brethren. The popular charge brought against him and his associates of the old school persuasion, that "they preached infants to hell," he stoutly denied. The "charge" was the result of a natural and easy inference on the part of his opponents, but was not, he contended, a justifiable or necessary conclusion from his premises.

`Uncle" Wilson Witt, who is a thoroughly competent judge, pays this fine tribute to Elder Randolph as a man and a preacher: "Brother Randolph was a strong denominational man and had a wide influence. He was able in the pulpit and wonderfully gifted in prayer. His voice and manner were unusually impressive. He was as firm in principle as lie was hard in doctrine. He had a reputation for firmness, honesty and integrity of character. Everybody had confidence in him as a. man and a minister, and that gave him great influence with the people."'


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


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