Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
THOMAS J. RUSSELL
(pages 449 - 453)
Thomas J., son of William Russell, was born July 27, 1800, in Wilkes County, Georgia. His father was a native of Virginia, and of Irish descent. His mother's maiden name was Sallie Moreland, a native of Maryland. His father left Georgia soon after his son Thomas was born, moving first to South Carolina, then to East Tennessee, settling in Jefferson County. Here young Russell, in his nineteenth year, was married to Miss Jennie Green, of Dandridge, a daughter of John Ossian Green, who was a native of Scotland. The issue of this marriage was nine children-two of whom, J. S. Russell, of Athens, Tennessee, and William T. Russell, of Georgia, were able Baptist ministers.
Soon after his marriage, T. J. Russell, attracted by the outlook of the "Hiwassee purchase," moved to Monroe County, where, in his twenty-third year, he was converted and obtained a hope. His parents were Methodists and his wife was a Presbyterian, but the study of the Bible and the preaching of George Snider made him a Baptist, and he was baptized by Elder Snider into the fellowship of Hopewell Church.
He was ordained to the work of the ministry in 1839, taking charge of "country churches," and beginning his course of needed preparation for an effective ministry by earnest study of the Bible and Bible "helps." In youth and early manhood he had not enjoyed the advantages of an education beyond the limited curriculum of the common schools of his day. But wise reading and the mastery of a few good books gave him a good command of language, and made him a graceful and forcible speaker.
In 1842, in co-operation with the Sweetwater and Tennessee Associations, he was appointed by the State Convention a "general missionary" for the territory between the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers and in Blount and Sevier counties, south of the Holston and French Broad. He continued in this work, under difficult and trying circumstances, for about four years, with marked success - holding many revivals, indoctrinating, stimulating and enlisting the churches, collecting for missions, preaching missions in groves and in front of "closed doors" (in anti-mission communities), and baptizing hundreds of people. A single church, Mount Harmony, in McMinn County, received for baptism at one time, it is said, about ninety of Elder Russell's converts. During this four years' missionary campaign he organized and established many new churches. He organized a Baptist Church in an old Methodist meeting house at Chatata, in Bradley County, another at Shady Grove, and another at Cane Creek, in Monroe County, and still others in different parts of his field of labor, which, for the most part, became strong and efficient churches and still stand as monuments of his energy and zeal for the Baptist cause.
Having organized and set on foot a number of new churches "throughout the Hiwassee and Ocoee Purchases," he devoted himself for the remainder of his life to the pastoral service of some of these and, of others of the older and more established churches. He was pastor of Shady Grove Church for twenty-five years, and of Zion Hill, his home church, he was pastor as long as he lived, or was able to preach. In all his ministry he "held the truth with an uncompromising spirit of loyalty to Christ and with love for the souls of men, and was greatly influential in "moulding Baptist sentiment" and in turning the tide of battle against the anti-mission forces of the '30s and 40s of the last century.
Of the character and quality of his personality and style his biographer says: "His reasoning was always clear, forcible and persuasive; his memory, even in extreme old age, was remarkably retentive; his imagination was fertile and in the beat and passion of delivery was lofty and unfailing. His voice was deep, full and musical. His manners were unassuming, and his character was marked by the utmost simplicity. He was kind as he was honest, provided bountifully for his family, and liberally educated his children."
Near Ten Mile, Meigs County, some years ago the writer visited and staid [sic] all night with a distinguished Primitive (?) Baptist preacher, the influential leader and Moderator of the Hiwassee Association (Primitive Baptist so-called) - a true and good man he was. In commenting on the Russells, T.J.. and J. S., father and son, he bore this testimony: "J. S. Russell was very much like his father, T. J. Russell, in personal appearance, and in other respects. Both were strong and good men. Both of them knew the Scriptures, and were effective as preachers. Both were powerful in exhortation. J. S. was fiery and dashy - greatly in earnest. T. J. was smoother, more argumentative, had a more musical voice." Speaking further of the elder Russell he said, "Father Russell had plenty of warmth and feeling, and was sympathetic, but had great self-control, and never cried." His tears were in his voice, not in his eyes. He also added, that the elder Russell was a most "approachable man, easy to get acquainted with, good-natured and genial, and never had the blues." He also spoke highly of the "missionary spirit and courage" of the two men, and frankly acknowledged that he himself never quite had the courage to preach "money, missions and ministerial support" as he ought to have done, and "would do, if the battle had to be fought over again."
After an "eventful career" in the service of his Master, in which he was greatly blessed and honored of God, Elder Russell, the faithful old soldier of the cross, with his aged and faithful companion, having "settled himself down for life on his beautiful farm in the quiet valley of Middle Creek, near Athens, Tennessee," fell to sleep in Jesus whom he had faithfully served, in the eighty-sixth year of his age. And on a monument which stands on the old home place is an inscription which reads: "Elder T. J. Russell; born July 27, 1800; died November 17, 1885 - fifty years a minister of the gospel."
His praise is in the churches he served and built up.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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