Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
WILSON CARROLL WITT
(Baptized July 29, 1917, aged 100 years, one month, one day.)
( pages 541 - 544)
The following sketch was prepared by the author and published by request in the Baptist and Reflector of August 16, 1917. It is reproduced here, partly on account of the novelty of the situation, partly as a supplement to the sketches of Elder Caleb and Pleasant A. Witt, but most especially because of the fact that "Uncle Wilson" Witt is a concrete expression of conditions and influences that obtained widely and had to be reckoned with in many places, eighty and a hundred years ago. I reproduce verbatim: Friends and Brethren of the Baptist and Reflector Family: I am pleased to introduce to you and let you look on the kindly face of my friend and brother, Uncle Wilson Witt, son of Daniel Witt, who was a son of Elijah Witt, who was a son of Charles and a brother of Caleb Witt, one of Tennessee's earliest pioneer Baptist preachers, born in Halifax County, Virginia, September 2, 1762, was a soldier in the War of the Revolution, took part in the Yorktown campaign, and saw Cornwallis surrender his sword in 1781. Wilson C. Witt was born June 28, 1817, five miles south of Morristown, Tennessee, in what is now Hamblen County. The picture which graces this sketch was promised me more than a year ago, to go in my book of "sketches" and to represent the "Witt family," who were never fortunate enough to have a good picture made. The condition of the promise was, "provided we both should live" to see Brother Witt reach the one hundredth milestone on his journey of life and he should be strong enough to go to the photographer's gallery on the one hundredth anniversary of his birth. The picture herewith presented was made June 28, 1917, according to promise, and the mercy of God. Brother Witt is hale and hearty as he "turns a new leaf," take up his long-neglected duty, and enters the threshold of a second century of natural life, walking in the Lord's appointed way. He has been "sick in bed," he says, only "once in life;" that was in his eighty-first year. He eats two meals a day, does not shun work, sleeps well, keeps on good terms with his conscience; and is well preserved in body and mind. He has been a great help to the writer in sketching the old-time preachers, with many of whom he was well acquainted.
Last Sunday afternoon (July 29), in the presence of a thousand or two thousand people, with two hundred automobiles and other vehicles innumerable, standing around. Brother Witt. along with his oldest daughter, a Mrs. Smith, seventy-six years old, and two other ladies, was baptized into the fellowship of the Witts' Foundry Church by the pastor, Dr. J. M. Anderson, of Morristown. Standing in the water beside Brother Witt, Dr. Anderson made, in substance, the following address: "Friends, I think you will agree with me that this is a most extraordinary occasion. Uncle Wilson Carroll Witt, today one hundred years, one month and one day old, has come to be baptized. Brother Witt has had a sense of sins forgiven and has entertained a hope in Christ since he was a young man. He tells me that my grandfather, Rev. William Anderson, seventy-five years ago, urged upon him the importance of being baptized. He now regrets exceedingly that he did not submit to this holy ordinance in early life, and here in the presence of the people makes confession of his dereliction of duty in this regard, and sues for pardon at a throne of God's abounding mercy and grace. But may I state in his behalf, that there are mitigating circumstances; and however far he may have gone afield and however many may have been his delinquencies, he comes today, strong in faith and brave of heart, ready and willing to obey his Lord's command. And may this, the crowning act of a long and eventful life, a life abounding in good cheer and kindly deeds, be well pleasing in the sight of God and a lasting benediction to us all!"
In regard to the "mitigating circumstances," above mentioned, it will not be amiss, I think, to offer a word in explanation. Brother Witt grew up under the strongest Calvinistic influences, in an atmosphere created by the teachings of Elders William Anderson, Henry Randolph, both of the elder Witts, Caleb and Pleasant A., father and son, and Dr. Thomas Hill, all strong men and nearly or quite fatalistic in their religious beliefs. They often visited Brother Witt's home and labored with him as a young man quite a good deal to "show him the right way." But with all the light they could give him he still had a vague notion that there was "something more" in the divine plan for man to do than the preachers of the "old school" persuasion were accustomed to "give to the people." This explains his delinquency in the matter of being baptized and taking upon himself the obligations of a church member. Growing up as he did in an atmosphere of controversy and sometimes of bitterness, his non-committal attitude, under the circumstances, was not unnatural - he grew up between the two "schools" of Baptists. Though entering the vineyard, in a sense, at the "eleventh hour," Brother Witt, through the years, has been moral and upright, a splendid citizen, public spirited and intelligent - is indeed a very admirable and lovable man, now a "brother."
Brother Witt had nine children, and has lived to see all of them married and living within a radius of six miles of Morristown. He has seven living children, one hundred grand and great-grandchildren, and eight great-great-grandchildren.
It is interesting to note that in 1783, while Tennessee was still the "State of Franklin," the Witts settled near Witts' Foundry, in what is now Hamblen County, Tennessee. Some of the farms in this neighborhood have been in the continuous possession of the Witt family for 132 years. The lot on which stands the meeting house of the Witts' Foundry Baptist Church is a gift to the church of Wilson C. Witt.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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