"Her Walls Before Thee Stand"

History of Second Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, 1818-1968

Transcribed by _________.
Part I - 1818-1876 - Written by W. Russell Briscoe Part II - 1877-1968 - Written by Katherine Boies Buehler


One delves into the past mainly because of its bearing on the present, its promise for the future, and the lessons we learn or should learn, for history has an uncanny way of repeating itself, mainly because people faced with similar problems fail to note the past and make the same mistakes over again. The study of it stirs one within as he reads of the struggles to overcome the strife and adversity of his forefathers. It fills one with the ambition to overcome his ever present troubles, solve them and continue to march forward.

So, in putting down on paper the true history of the subject to be dealt with, one cannot distort the facts and, so to speak, paint a pretty picture. For one cannot gloss over with pretty pictures the facts which reveal the innermost thoughts and actions of people which make them as they are.
In writing this particular history, the history of the Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, we need to go back to the beginning of the early settlement of this area, take a look at these early people, delve into their background, the life and times in which they lived, so that we will know what manner of man founded and made up the early congregations of this Church.

In writing this brief history of Second Presbyterian Church we have shared a common objective-to try to write an account which is based as much as possible upon original sources, with an attempt to show the Church in all of her dimensions during the past hundred and fifty years. We regret, of course, the impossibility of mentioning by name all of the men and women who have served her so nobly and without whose help she could never have gone forward as she has.

The Authors

Part I

In the late 1700s, the first settlers were beginning their trek down the valley from Virginia, over the mountains from North Carolina into what is now Tennessee-settling in spots that suited them or pushing on down the valley-and we are concerned in this history of those and their descendants, and those who came later, who settled in this area, and particularly those of the Presbyterian faith who founded the Second Presbyterian Church.

The early settlers in this area, despite the flowery thoughts of their later-day descendants that they were aristocrats, wealthy, first families, and highly polished cavaliers, they were nothing of the sort. Instead, they were rugged, self-willed, a brave and courageous people, and somewhat obstinate in their views. But, best of all, they were individualists.

Life for them was a struggle, full of dangers and troubles, as it always has been and always will be for a free people. These people were rough in appearance, wore rugged clothing and were more the color of the earth on which they trod than the pink cheeked, powdered wigged individuals that we so often picture. This was due to their constant contact with sun, rain, wind, cold and living close to the soil and their livestock.
However, do not let me give you the impression that they were an unkempt lot, for nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, they were intelligent, enterprising, hardy adventurers, who feared nothing but God, and in Him they had a deep and abiding faith. No community in this Union was ever to be settled by a people superior to them. These people were not hunters, as we think of the early explorers (here today, gone tomorrow), instead, they were artisans, preachers, farmers, teachers; earnest, serious, brave people for whom life had a stern meaning. They were to fell the forest, till the soil, build the schools and plant the churches.

Practically all of them were of pure Irish or Scottish descent, many of whom were related to the "Covenanters." These people all considered themselves equal and interpreted the Bible to suit themselves, with a perfect freedom of conscience. They did not intend to have their freedom tampered with, through either Church or State. As a result, these God-fearing men, Presbyterians for the most part, met in convention at Knoxville in 1796 to frame the Constitution of the State of Tennessee. And there they revealed their innermost thoughts on freedom, and their work is a monument to their foresight and intelligence. Though our State Constitution has been altered somewhat since that time, the first two Sections of Article 1 dealing with freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and freedom against arbitrary power and oppression, still stand as originally written.

Perhaps there was nowhere a greater necessity for those rugged old Presbyterians to exercise their influence than here in Knoxville and the area surrounding it, for in those backwoods there were many lawless people who hated that which was good because it was approved by others. They lived lives of abandonment, tried to drive out both magistrates and preachers, and killed without scruple. In such cases, had the peaceful principles of the Quakers been allowed to have full scope, the good people of this area would have been exterminated.

The early Presbyterian preachers in this area, in common with their flock, tilled their fields with rifles only a jump away; and on Sundays delivered their sermons with as much earnestness and eloquence, if not with as much scholarship as those of the present day, and the axiom in common with their neighbors was "to keep their powder dry." They firmly believed in putting first things first and stood for no foolishness.

So much for those early Presbyterians who settled this area and founded Knoxville. They were rugged individualists who led their lives as their own consciences dictated. They were as sturdy, upright, God-fearing men, and as intelligent a race of men as history has ever known.

These early Knoxville Presbyterians had been worshipping in one place or another, often out of doors in good weather; until in 1816 they built a church building on the north-east corner of State and Church Streets. Officially, it became the First Presbyterian Church; however, its members referred to it as the "Meeting House."

All was not peace and harmony and almost as soon as the house of worship was completed, trouble began. A disaffection arose among the members and those who were dissatisfied sent up a petition to Union Presbytery for permission to organize a new congregation. One of the several points of disagreement was the matter of renting the pews. Another was in matters of doctrine. Hopkinsianism was the controversial field of those days. "Old Calvinists" and "Hopkinsians"; "Old School" and "New School"; "Original Sin" and "Imputation"-those were the battle cries among theologians. They seem like dying embers now, but they were burning issues in 1818.

The petition for a separate church organization was refused by the Presbytery and it went up to the Synod of Tennessee on appeal. A remonstrance was also sent up, which the Synod disregarded. They overruled the decision of the Presbytery and ordered the petitioners to organize the Second Presbyterian Church. An appeal was taken by the First Presbyterian Church to the General Assembly, but the decision and orders of the Synod were allowed to stand.

And, so came into being the Second Presbyterian Church in the manner set out above; but in this place, it is proper to present more of the details.

Near the close of the 18th century, the Reverend Isaac Anderson, one of the ablest men that ever preached the gospel in Tennessee, organized Washington Presbyterian Church in Knox County and also established a school known as Union Academy. It was the custom then of the Presbyterian ministers to teach as well as preach. Reverend Anderson was also the principal agent in establishing the Southern and Western Theological Seminary, which later was incorporated as Maryville College. Dr. Anderson was one of those in East Tennessee who had adopted Hopkinsianism and under his preaching, many of his hearers, not only of his own congregation, but also members of neighboring churches, were converted to his beliefs.

By some of the members of the First Presbyterian Church, he was invited to preach to them in 1818, accepted the invitation, and thus initiated the movement which resulted in the organization of the Second Presbyterian Church which was effected October 24, 1818.

The five elders chosen to the first Board were: Archibald Rhea, John McCampbell, Thomas Craighead, Joseph Brown and John Taylor.
A piece of ground containing one acre was purchased from Gideon Morgan on the west side of Prince Street (now Market) extending from Clinch to Union Avenue.

Construction of a house of worship was immediately begun. The work was so far completed that the building was dedicated by Dr. Anderson in April of 1820.

The building was built of brick, and as was the custom then in this red clay country, the brick was burned either on the site or a short distance away. It was a very unpretentious structure about 40 feet wide and 75 feet long. It stood on the south side of the lot very close to Clinch Avenue, which it faced.

It was several years before the inside was finished, but it served its purpose well, and in a very few years its ceiling was installed, pews replaced wooden benches, the walls were plastered over and it took on a finished look. Outside it was surrounded by a wooden fence made of slabs laid horizontally and fastened to the upright posts by wood pegs, then whitewashed.

The front of the Church was also whitewashed, however, the sides and back were left their natural brick finish. This method of treatment to brick structures was quite common in the early 1800s. The hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson near Nashville, is an example.

Adorning the roof at the front center was an octagonal belfry. The bell was not installed until several years after the completion of the Church. It was most likely cast in either Philadelphia or Baltimore and brought to Knoxville by wagon-train. This is only an assumption, since no known record exists of the exactness of the bell; only that one existed and since other bells were brought into Knoxville in the manner set out, it is safe to assume the first bell of the Second Presbyterian Church came here in like manner.

Shortly after the Church was constructed, a grave yard was opened to the rear along what is now Union Avenue on the north end of the lot and extended down the west side of the present Market Street. Many a pine box was lowered into the ground in this early grave yard, for the mortality rate was extremely high in those early days, especially among young children, for little was known how to combat the contagious diseases of childhood and many a sad procession passed through the picket gate in the whitewashed fence.

The aforementioned Dr. Anderson was the first pastor of the church and served for ten years, 1819-1829, and here it is proper to give a biography of Dr. Isaac Anderson, for it was he who was responsible for the founding of the Second Presbyterian Church.

He was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, 10 miles from Lexington, on March 26, 1780. Preacher, theologian and educator, he was the eldest child of William Anderson, who was a farmer, and Nancy McCampbell Anderson. His Scotch-Irish grandparents, both paternal and maternal, emigrated from Ireland in the early part of the 1700s. His early education was obtained in a private school and he was also a student at Liberty Hall near Lexington, Virginia. He early decided to enter the ministry and received instruction in theology from Reverend Samuel Brown, pastor of the New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge County and after his family moved to Knox County, Tennessee, he continued his instruction from Dr. Samuel Carrick.

He was ordained to the ministry by the Union Presbytery in 1802 and soon had two pastorates, that of Lebanon-in-the-Forks and of Washington Church, both in Knox County. He also preached throughout East Tennessee describing a circuit of about 150 miles around which he traveled, preaching every day. On his farm, he opened a school which he named Union Academy, which existed for 10 years and gave some educational opportunities to young men who wished to be trained for the ministry. This Academy was the predecessor of Maryville College. In 1942, the College placed a monument to mark the site of Union Academy and the unveiling and dedication was sponsored by the Simon Harris Chapter, Daughters of American Revolution. In 1812, the Reverend Anderson went to Maryville as pastor of New Providence Church, which had become one of the most important churches in East Tennessee. He continued as pastor of this church for 45 years. During 10 years of that period, 1819-1829, he gave half his time to the Second Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, which he organized near the end of 1818. During the war of 1812, he served as Chaplain of a brigade of Tennessee soldiers commanded by General James White. In 1819, largely through Dr. Anderson's efforts, the Synod of Tennessee adopted plans for a Southern and Western Seminary. Until 1840, the chief work of the Synodical Institution was theological, in which for years Dr. Anderson was the only teacher in its Theological Department. But the College Department gradually increased in importance and by 1850 the Seminary had about ceased to exist. A Charter with the name Maryville College had been granted by the State in 1842. Dr. Anderson, in addition to his work as pastor of New Providence Church, continued as President of Maryville College until 1854 when his health gave way to such an extent that it became necessary for him to give up most of his work.

In 1802, Dr. Anderson married Flora McCampbell, daughter of Andrew McCampbell. Of their six children, only one, Samuel, lived to maturity. He died in 1841. The death of his son, followed by that of his wife in 1852, and four years later the loss by fire of his home and all of its contents, including his library, were crushing blows from which Dr. Anderson never recovered. His last years were spent at Rockford in Blount County with his daughter-in-law and her second husband, Rev. John Caldwell. He died January 28, 1857 in his 77th year, a remarkable age for the times, and was buried in the cemetery of New Providence Church. His body was later moved to the campus of Maryville College. Rev. Isaac Anderson was a man of strong belief, great courage, and untiring energy, and no history of Second Presbyterian Church would be complete without this short biography of its founder.

Between the years 1829 to 1831, the pulpit of Second Presbyterian Church was seemingly occupied by supply preachers. A gap of approximately two years existed after Dr. Anderson relinquished his post before Rev. Jefferson E. Montgomery appears on the scene. He filled the pulpit from 1831 until 1838 and no record of his background or age exists. In 1840, after another gap of approximately two years, Rev. William Mack, age 33, was engaged as pastor. He served for three years until 1844.

Reverend Mack was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and evidently a well-educated man, whose preaching ran along evangelistic lines. After leaving his next ministry at the First Church of Columbia, Tennessee, he devoted the rest of his life to evangelism. He died at Columbia, South Carolina, January 10, 1879.

Following Dr. Mack, the Reverend John W. Cunningham preached from 1845 to 1846. He was born in Washington County, Tennessee, in 1803, took a literary course at Washington College, Tennessee, and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, in 1829. For a time, he was Professor of Biblical Literature at Theological Seminary, Hanover, Indina (sic) He held pastorates at Jonesboro and Knoxville, Tennessee; LaPorte, Indiana; Nova, Lena and Naperville, Illinois. He died at Naperville, February 8, 1874.

Next to be called was the Reverend Joseph H. Myers, who was born at Waterford, New York, October 29, 1817. He graduated from the University of Vermont and Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was ordained to the ministry in 1843, preached at East Poultney, VT., St. Augustine, Florida, Plainfield, New Jersey, Milton, New York, and Fernandina, Florida, in addition to his ministry at Second Presbyterian Church, where he was called in 1847 at the age of 30 and served until 1851. He died in Washington D. C., November 10, 1890.

Reverend Joseph H. Martin, born near Dandridge, Tennessee, August 11, 1825, a graduate of East Tennessee University (now the University of Tennessee) in 1843 and from Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1846, served as pastor of Second Presbyterian Church from 1851 until 1863, when the church was closed during the Civil War.

East Tennesseans, by their very nature and background, have ever been a people to assert themselves. Taking the side in a controversy they feel is right and standing their ground, and during the years from its founding and leading up to the Civil War, Second Presbyterian Church played an important part in the shaping of Knoxville and the surrounding territory, and its influence many times spread far beyond these boundaries.

Not many years after its founding, the ugly issue of slavery poked its head over the horizon and it was to end in a blood bath.
There were few slave holders in this area, but enough, coupled with those who believed it was a man's right to own slaves if he so desired, to split the issue right down the middle. And with such a division, not one-sided, as it was in most of the South, nothing but serious trouble could ensue. When it invaded the church, it caused bitter enmities, dissensions and division among the members.

In the new school General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1857, a movement was made to discredit slave holding members of the church, and to bring charges directly and indirectly against their Christian character. With this action the roof fell in, causing intense feeling throughout the South and resulting in a Convention being called in Richmond, Virginia, August 27, 1857. Horace Maynard, an elder in Second Presbyterian Church and one of Knoxville's most prominent citizens, was unanimously elected President of the Convention.

A report was presented and adopted, a portion of it being, "Whereas, in the Judgement of the Convention there is no prospect of the cessation of this agitation of slavery in the General Assembly so long as there are slaveholders in connection with the Church, therefore Resolved:
"That the Convention recommend to all the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church which are opposed to the agitation of slavery in the highest judictory of the Church to appoint delegates to meet at Knoxville, Tennessee, on the first Thursday in April, 1858, for the purpose of organizing a general Synod under the name of the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America."

Representatives from 12 Presbyteries coming from Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi assembled in the Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville and organized the Synod. The Rev. Joseph H. Martin, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, was elected permanent clerk of the Synod; thus we see the important part being played by Second Presbyterian Church in those perilous times preceding the Civil War. In 1864, the United Synod through its Presbyteries, went into the old school church, south. For some time, this church remained independent and then went back into the new school General Assembly. The old and new school Assemblies united in 1870.

Even though times were hectic and tempers flaring, the Second Presbyterian Church was undaunted and proceeded to more forward. The old church building had rendered service to a growing congregation for nearly forty years and during its life witnessed many gracious revivals and large gatherings.

The Rev. Joseph Martin, a native born East Tennessean, with all the forthrightness and courage of a man of his stature, tackled the job of building a new church in the midst of the hatreds being flamed into Civil War.

In the fall of 1858, a building committee was appointed consisting of J. J. Craig, T. C. Lyons, Perez Dickinson, James H. Cowan, J. Fouche, T. J. Powell and A. A. Barnes. Perez Dickinson declined to serve and R. J. McKinney was elected in his stead. The committee raised the necessary funds which amounted to $14,236.

In 1859, the contract was let for building the new church. Mr. S. T. Atkin was awarded the contract for the brick work and Mr. Benjamin Fahenstock was awarded the contract for the woodwork. Ground was broken in September of 1859. James H. Cowan, Chairman of the Building Committee, removed the first spade of earth.

The new building was a much larger and more pretentious structure than the old and was adorned with a high steeple, which was prominent in Knoxville's skyline for many years. The building was constructed immediately behind the original church building so that it sat a considerable distance back from Clinch Street. The new church was dedicated to the worship of God on November 11, 1860. The Rev. Frederick A. Ross of Kingsport, Tennessee, one of East Tennessee's most outstanding ministers, preached the sermon.

Soon after the new church was completed, the old church was torn down and from its brick and timbers was constructed a chapel to the west and south of the new church. This chapel faced Market Street.

Then came the Civil War. In no other place south of the Potomac was it to be any more terrible than in Knoxville. It was brother against brother, father against son, for East Tennessee was to cling to the Union as best it could, even though the State of Tennessee had seceded. It was about split evenly down the middle here in Knoxville between those who stood for the Union and those who favored the Confederacy.

During these terrible times, distraction and distress came to Second Presbyterian Church. Many long-time friendships among members of the Church were disrupted.

Until the fall of 1863, the Confederate forces held Knoxville and many members of Second Presbyterian Church who favored the Union had to flee north to save their lives. Some died due to the hardships of the journey.

In the fall of 1863, General Ambrose E. Burnside, United States Army, marched in with the army of the Ohio and took over the city. With the Union forces in command, the situation in Knoxville was reversed. Those who were true to the Southern cause fled to the South.
All out war is no respector of persons or property. Burnside needed the Second Presbyterian Church building to quarter troops and to use as a hospital. His forces took over and the church as a church was closed.

By strange coincidence, General William P. Sanders of Burnsides' command was mortally wounded on the top of the hill where the present Second Presbyterian Church stands on Kingston Pike. On November 18, 1863 he and his command were valiantly fighting to hold back the Confederate forces under Longstreet, who were trying to retake the city. He died next day. That night he was buried in the cemetery of the old Second Presbyterian Church on Clinch and Market. He was buried at night by lamplight, for Longstreet had now begun the siege of Knoxville in earnest and the sound and flash of his booming cannon from their emplacements above Knoxville College split the night air as the gallant Sanders was lowered to his grave.

On July 20, 1864, the Session requested the military authorities to give them back their church. But, as such things go in time of war, the building was not fully restored to the congregation for more than another year, though the records show that a service was held in the building in August of 1864. There is no further record of any services until May of 1865.

The war had been over so far as Knoxville was involved for some time and since no fighting had taken place in this area for over a year, the Union Forces simply marched off and left the church. Indeed, it was in sorry condition, but the little band who had held the congregation so gallantly together, went back to their house of worship, did the necessary repairs, called the Rev. Rufus P. Wells and began to function once more.

The Rev. Wells was born in Whaley, Massachusetts, February 4, 1818. He was educated at Amherst College and Union Theological Seminary. He had held pastorates in various sections of the country before coming to Knoxville. He stayed for only a short time, 1865-1866, and returned to his native New England where he held three pastorates before he died in 1877.

In 1866, the Rev. Nathan Bachman was called and served for 10 years. Rev. Bachman was a native born East Tennessean and understood the people of this section of the State. He was a well-educated and lovable man and preached the gospel well. He came of a family of strong and dedicated men of God. He and his three brothers, Robert L., John Lynn, and J. W. Bachman, were all outstanding ministers.
Nathan Bachman was born near Kingsport, Tennessee, December 13, 1832. He was educated at Emory and Henry College, Virginia, a seminary course at Princeton University, New Jersey; Union Theological Seminary in New York and Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. He was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Holston in 1862. He preached first to the Presbyterian Church at Kingsport, then to the Second Presbyterian Church of Knoxville. He resigned this pastorate in 1876 and became engaged in evangelistic work for the rest of his life.
Under Nathan Bachman, the church grew and prospered. He guided it through 10 harsh years of Reconstruction. During this period, if a man spoke out of turn, he was apt to be taken out and either shot or hanged.

Even though the first fifty-eight years of Second Presbyterian Church had seen perilous times, great work and great good had been accomplished. Since the day of its founding, Second Presbyterian Church had played an important part in the shaping of Knoxville and its influence had spread far beyond on many occasions.

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