Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 523 - 525)

James Tunnell was born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, hi the year 1777. He was a son of "Rev. Stephen Tunnell, a Methodist minister, who reared a large family, nine sons and one daughter." His grandfather, William Tunnell, was born in France, about the year 1703, being the oldest child of his parents, who were "godly people," the religious faith of the family, it is said, being "pronouncedly, pugnaciously Calvanistic." With William as a "babe in arms," his parents, fleeing from religious persecution, like many another Huguenot family, came to Yorkshire, England, where the infant son grew to manhood, and married Anne Howard - "Lady Anne," she was called, because the daughter of a "gentleman," the title clinging to her as long as she lived. This couple, about the year 1736, emigrated from Yorkshire, England, to Virginia, settling in Spotsylvania County, near Fredericksburg. Stephen Tunnell, father of James, was a soldier in the war of the Revoluton. In 1789 he left his native State of Virginia, and came to Washington County, Tennessee, when James was a lad of twelve years of age, and settled near Jonesboro. At the age of twenty-one James Tunnell married a Miss Jane Ball, and settled on Beech Creek, in Hawkins County, where he lived the greater part of his life. In his old age he was married a second time, becoming stepfather to a second family of children. He owned a farm and considerable property, but "lost most of his estate," it is said, by the Civil War. He was a member of Double Springs Church for half a century, perhaps. I have no account of his ordination, and there is little record or written history of his ministry. As to physique and temperamental make-up he is described as being "above six feet high, slim, active, pugnacious, fearless; before his conversion he would walk six miles., before breakfast, any morning," it is said, "to lick a man who had insulted him." He retained his fiery, vehement disposition to the end of life, but controlled himself better after he became a preacher. I doubt if he was pastor of many churches, but he is said to have been "zealous and earnest and powerful in a revival." He was not a "Primitive" or Old-School" Baptist, but, like some of them, would "sing out" his sermons, I have been told, after the approved fashion and popular and effective style of preaching, in many parts of the country, at that day. Dr. Broadus used to say that the "sing-song" habit of some of the dear old men was a by-product of out-of-door speaking, and being restful to the "overstrained vocal chords," was natural.

The Tunnell family is notably a family of preachers. Stephen Tunnell, father of James, was a Methodist minister, as we have already noted. William Tunnell, an uncle of James, was a Baptist preacher, of Anderson County, Tennessee. John Tunnell another uncle, was a Methodist Elder of the Holston Circuit, and "one of the celebrities of the first Conference west of the Alleghanies," held May 13-15, 1788, in Washington County; Virginia, fifteen miles east of Abingdon. "On Sunday, the 11th,. Mr. Tunnell preached an excellent sermon with great effect. Powerful exhortations followed. Under this sermon and these exhortations Mrs. Elizabeth Russell known in history as Madam Russell, a sister of the illustrious Patrick Henry - was convicted, and her conviction led in a few hours to her conversion" (Dr. Price, Holston Methodism). Robert M. Tunnel, a great nephew of James Tunnell, is a Congregationalist minister in Kansas. Dr. Spencer Tunnell, of Morristown. one of our best preachers and pastors, is a grandson; be has signalized his present pastorate by building and paying for a magnificent house of worship and baptizing in Holston River (May, 1913) 96 newly made converts in fifty-eight minutes in the presence of 5,000 witnesses gathered on the banks of the river. Another grandson, W.M.T., and older brother of Dr. Tunnell, dying at the age of thirty-seven, was a "brilliant and gifted, but timid preacher, pastor of his grandfather's old church - Double Springs.

Elder James Tunnell died near Robertsville, Anderson County, Tennessee, about the year 1865.


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


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