Memorial to
Francis Alexander Ramsey

by Rev. Robert Henderson

From: A Series of Sermons on Practical and Familiar Subjects. 2 Volumes. Knoxville: Heiskell and Brown, 1823.

     A few observations respecting that very valuable man whose death has given occasion to this discourse, will close our design.  Here permit one to observe that I am a little afraid I may be subjected to a suspicion of adulation; than which nothing in the world is farther from my design.  But my good opinion of the deceased, from upward of a thirty year's acquaintance seems so high, that when I have stated my opinion of this individual's virtues and good qualities in simplicity and in sincerity, I fear suspicion; however, no fear of this kind will prevent me from stating my opinion just as it is, without disguise.

     Col. Ramsey, whose death gave rise to the present discourse, was born of respectable parents in the state of Pennsylvania, May 31, A. D. 1764.  He early received an accurate English education, and such and one as fitted him very well for any kind of ordinary business, which in the course of divine providence might afterward be thrown in his way; such as surveying, clerk's office, or the like; being a young man of a very enterprising disposition, he came to the western country with the consent of his parents, while his years were yet very tender, in order to do as well as he could for himself; this must have been whilst he was yet in his teens; for when my acquaintance commenced with him in Washington county, which is now in this state, and then belonged to North Carolina, I think he was under twenty one.

     Being a youth of remarkably soft, polished and easy manners, he soon stood remarkably high with the first families in that section of country, and received their patronage greatly to his advantage.  The first business in which he engaged for a support in this section of country, I believe was the art of surveying.  But shortly after this, he received the clerkship of the superior court of Washington district from the Hon. Judge Campbell, which ever after afforded him a genteel support as long as he remained in the district.  He stood at that time very high with the circle of his acquaintance generally; and though he was a young man of great gaiety and vivacity, and indulged moderately in some of what were viewed at that time the more fashionable amusements of the day, yet I never knew him, even then, amongst all the heat and ardour [sic] of youthful blood, charged with one single immoral action; nor do I believe it ever was in the power of either malice or envy to charge him with any thing of the kind.

     I do not believe that Col. Ramsey at this, or any other period of his single life, made any public profession of the Christian religion, or at all events if he did, this circumstance was not known to me.

     About the end of his 24th or sometime in his 25th year, he made a public profession of religion, and became a member of the Presbyterian congregation in Washington County, at that time under the pastoral charge of the venerable, the devoutly pious and Reverend Samuel Doak; a society which you may rest assured were not lax in their terms of admission; but entirely the reverse; and one of the most respectable societies in point of intelligence, pure morals, and fervent piety, within the circle of my acquaintance.  From this time to the hour of his death, he maintained his Christian profession with the highest credit and manifest correctness.

     Permit me to drop a remark on his marriage and its happy influence on his best interests.  He made his addresses to a young lady of celebrated beauty, enlightened mind and polished manners, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, the daughter of M. Alexander Esq. and succeeded in obtaining her hand and her heart.  This lady was a professor of religion before Col. Ramsey married her, and as he himself has informed me, very profitable afterward to his spiritual interests, by her prudent and judicious counsel and advices.  She became the mother of five sons and a daughter, or peradventure, six sons and a daughter; if six were the number of sons, four of them died young, only two having arrived at maturity.

     This amiable woman lived with Col. Ramsey about sixteen or seventeen years, and died about the 37th or 38th year of her age; after which he married a Mrs. Fleming, a very amiable and reputable widow lady of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, with whom he lived several years, perhaps ten or twelve, and who also died before him, leaving him one son.  With this lady he also lived in bonds of strictest harmony and conjugal affection, as he had done with the other.  Sometime after the death of this second wife he intermarried again with a very worthy, and highly respectable lady of Knoxville, Mrs. Hume, with whom he lived but a few months till divine providence saw proper in the depth of his inscrutable counsels, to call him to another world, and as we confidently believe, to a crown of immortal glory in the heavens.  Mrs. Ramsey still survives.

     As a good husband, I will not say that Col. Ramsey cannot be equalled; but it is utterly impossible that he should be exceeded; in conjugal affection, tenderness, fidelity and indulgence, his conduct exhibited lucidly all that was noble and praiseworthy.   Every thing that denotes the generous and manly mind and the feeling sympathetic husband.  Yea, I have thought he went even to excess in some instances.  During the last illness of his first wife, who according to the best of my recollection, was confined about eighteen months to her chamber, he was very seldom off his own plantation, and not much out of her room, though a man of considerable business, which was very near impairing his health materially, and I think it not unlikely that this extreme confinement did affect his constitution to some disadvantage.   This I thought might be going a little too far; but if it was, let our good nature easily excuse it, as it is by no means the general sin of the present age.  Overdone attention to a weakly suffering wife is not the sin that stains most the character of my acquaintance.

     As a father, Col. Ramsey was affectionate, tender and indulgent; but at the same time duly awake and eagle-eyed to the faults of his children, and would not pass them without suitable and merited animadversion.  He was strictly careful of his children's morals, and governed them as every discreet and intelligent parent ought, mostly by reason, admonition and advice; but when his duty imperiously made the demand, he would proceed to a prudent and discreet use of coersion [sic].  This was always resorted to with tenderness and reluctance, and never with a surly and angry temper.  Ah, happy spirit, now in the realms of glory, thy example in family government was one of the most complete and finished thy ardent and surviving friend has ever seen.

     As a master, Col. Ramsey was tender and indulgent.  When his duty as a family governor compelled him to administer stripes to that unfortunate and degraded class of human beings called slaves, I believe he administered them with much reluctance and feelings highly painful.

     As a neighbor, this valuable man was amongst the kindest and the best.  Humanity, sympathy and compassion abounded in his benevolent and feeling heart.

     As a friend, he was amongst the most ardent and sincere.  In choosing, he chose, and then confided till death.   On this subject I have a right to know something with much certainty.  With the ardor of his friendship I was honored for the thirty last years of his life, and something upward.  This friendship commenced when I was nothing but an obscure, unnoticed school-boy.  And from that time until the time he surrendered his willing spirit up into the hand of him who gave it, this ardent, this reciprocal friendship never suffered a particle of diminution to my knowledge, nor one single moments interruption.  The polish and suavity of Col. Ramsey's manners were certainly equal to those of any gentleman I have ever seen in any country.   Plainness, simplicity and sincerity, marked them in every stage; they were the very language of nature, and at the greatest possible remove from every tincture of show, ostentation or vanity.  To all which things he appeared the most entire stranger.

     In the strictest hospitality this good man abounded.  His house was the stranger's home, and the sick stranger's asylum.  Within my certain and personal knowledge, two sick men, both from as foreign a country as New England, were taken by this feeling gentleman, this sympathetic christian to his house, the mansion of the distressed, and there comforted and cheered as much as dying men could be by this hospitable and charming family.  This was done by this valuable man when he knew they must die.  In short, those dying men were taken to this welcome retreat, lest they could not receive that strict attention to which dying men are entitled in the noise and bustle of a public house.  Here those strangers terminated their earthly career, waited on with all that tenderness and attention which they could possibly have received in the houses of their fathers and mothers.  I make these statements not merely on the flattering report of some third person.  I conversed with these dying men, and speak partly from the things I saw, and the balance from what those men themselves told me. The name of one of those suffering and obliged strangers, was Lawrence and the other Lang.

     O my benevolent Lord God! father of divine mercies, this is the religion for me; a religion which does not evaporate in noise and sound, but consists essentially in blessing the needy, and doing good to the helpless.  Brethren let us compare it a little with that which is represented by Jesus Christ himself as standing well the scrutiny of the great burning day; "Then shall the king say to them on the right hand, come ye blessed of my father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was an hungered and ye gave me meat, I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, I was a stranger and ye took me in, naked and ye clothed me, I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison and ye came unto me."  Men of reflection, women of sober reason, turn your attention here and see what good men are.  The crowning trait of this good man's character was his devout, his fervent and evangelical religion; "For he was a good man and full of the holy ghost, and of faith;" This is a remark of a sacred writer respecting Barnabas, an evangelist of the apostlic [sic] age, who was sent to Antioch by the church in Jerusalem to promote the gospel.

     And these words, "That he was a good man and full of the holy ghost," will certainly apply as well to Col. Ramsey as to any of the human family I have seen.  His religion so far as I could judge, was fervent, rational and spiritual.  He was a strict and regular attender at his church.  I liked then, and do now, his views of attending divine worship much better than I do those of your run about people, who will leave their own worship any time to wait on the preaching of any stranger who may come the way.  I recollect to have heard him once make some strictures on this subject many years ago, when the Rev. and worthy Mr. Anderson, now of Maryville, preached a part of his time at Lebanon in the fork; I think one of his observations was as follows; "If a strange minister of fair character should preach in Knoxville when we have no preaching in the fork, I should be glad to attend and hear him; but if Mr. Anderson was preaching in the fork, and Doctor Rodgers from New York was to preach on the same day in Knoxville, I would not go to hear him.  This sentiment met the approbation of my mind as strictly correct and proper then, and it does so yet.

     Col. Ramsey was a strict performer of family prayer, which duty he discharged with great fervour, and manifest devotion of spirit, and required the strict attention of all his family, white and black.

     In retired devotion he was strictly punctual, and for many years appeared to me to spend more time in it, than any other of my acquaintances.

     He was a strict reprover of vice wherever he thought it necessary and prudent, and more especially, in the latter part of his life, when increased years and an established reputation for piety and correctness, rendered it the more proper for him to take these liberties, and added weight and dignity to his reproofs.  And his reproofs were always administered with so much of the meek and gentle spirit of the gospel, that they scarcely ever gave the least umbrage or offence; and I have not the least doubt, were productive of no small sum of spiritual good.

     When Col. Ramsey's last end approached, though I did not witness this closing scene, yet I have satisfactory reason, and that from various sources to believe, he met it with that entire resignation and dignified composure which might reasonably be expected to terminate such a life as he had lived.  I have had letters from some of those who were present and witnessed his last end, which were entirely satisfactory on this subject, though they have got so misplaced amongst my papers, that I cannot now lay my hand on them to make any particular quotations.  Suffice it to say, he died as he had lived, a humble, fervent, pious christian; "Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, the end of that man is peace;" Psalm xxxvii, 37.

     This, sirs, is a plain, simple, unvarnished narrative of this very valuable man, formed entirely on my own knowledge and observation, and known to be true; it is not borrowed from others.  I have known, and therefore have I spoken.  Col. Ramsey may have had his spots, and so has the sun; yet it illuminates all the solar system.  He was but a man, and no doubt had his imperfections.  The speaker, however, knows too little about these to be justifiable in making any observations on them, and entertains no doubt, but that weighed in the balance with his thousand virtues, they would be found lighter than the chaff of the summer thrashing floors.

     Permit me now, my friends, without feeling yourselves in the smallest degree neglected, to close this discourse with a few words addressed particularly to the surviving members of this good man's family.  And first, my dear madam, would I address a few things to you, his surviving widow.  Though you have passed through life thus far, with a high degree of reputation, credit and dignity, for which you ought, and for which I hope you do feel thankful to the supreme disposer of all events; yet, you too, have had your trials; trials, bitter and poignant.  You have deposited in the silent house appointed for all living, three husbands, each a respectable and worthy character.  This I am warranted to say from my own personal knowledge of those gentlemen, and also from well known public opinion, respecting them.   Each of those worthy men, we hope, reaps the fruits of his doings now in the happy mansions of everlasting rest.

     I hope, madam, it will be the great and assiduous care of your future life, so to order your conversation, and so to approve yourself to God, that you may at last be accounted worthy to be received through the grace of God to the same habitations of eternal rest, where you may be forever with the Lord.  And permit me, my dear madam, to indulge the pleasing hope, that should I be accounted worthy through grace to enter the kingdom of glory at last, I shall there see that dear friend whom I have now the pleasure to address, as safely seated in glory as any husband she has ever buried.

     May the God of blessing bless you; may he crown the evening of your life with his richest mercies; may he conduct you gently down its steeps, and when your sun is called to set, may he decline in smiles; and when he sinks beneath the horizon, may your favoured spirit, now no longer a fit inhabitant for the lifeless clay tenement, be received to the habitations of eternal glory, there with the blood bought millions of the lamb to enjoy the God of love and mercy with Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and all the splendid retinue of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect through an eternal day.  These, madam, be assured are the unfeigned breathings of a heart that has loved you and wished your best happiness for forty years.

     My dear young friends, the three sons, and the only daughter of that respected friend whose character I have this day pourtrayed [sic], and who, through life, was dear to my heart as a brother, will you receive from me a word of advice administered in the simplicity and unaffected sincerity of my heart?  Will you strictly endeavor to approve yourselves to God, children worthy of such parents as you have lost?   Will you copy their bright and worthy example?  Will you fear God as they feared him?  Will you tenderly, dutifully and affectionately recollect and strictly act up to the pious counsels and admonitions of your father?  You know they were most salutary, pious and tender.  You know how replete they were with all the yearnings of an affectionate father's heart.  These tender counsels and admonitions even to this hour reverberate in your ears, and permit me to hope, are not without their salutary influence on your hearts.  Shall their pious accents ever be forgotten by you?  I trust never, never, never.

     About your valuable and amiable mother, I should reasonably suppose you recollect but very little; you were advanced too short a distance beyond the threshhold of life to have any thing like a perfect impression even of her personal appearance.  Her good sense would well have enabled her to have given you the most correct and salutary advices, whilst the goodness of her heart and the fervor of her piety would not have suffered her to neglect so important a duty to her beloved offspring.  But at a very early period of your lives you were deprived of this tender, this enlightened and faithful guide of your youth.  But whenever you realize the best advices of your father, which you well recollect, associate with them those of your mother, and rest assured that had she lived, she would have been with him in the best advices of which he was capable.

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