Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
A. C. DAYTON
(pages 136 - 138)
Dr. A. C. Dayton (not a D.D. but an M.D.) was born at Plainfield, New Jersey, September 4, 1813. He was a son of Jonathan and Phoebe Dayton, and a "descendant of the Dayton who was the first speaker of the national House of Representatives." At the age of twelve he became a recognized member of a Presbyterian church. From his boyhood he had a taste for books and a thirst for knowledge. He worked on the farm and attended the village school till he was sixteen years old, when, on account of serious trouble with his eyes, he was compelled to quit school and give up his studies for a time. A little later he taught school and increased his stock of knowledge by further study. Choosing the profession of medicine he bent his efforts in that direction, his eyes still giving him trouble. Employing a boy to do most of his reading for him he pursued his professional studies with energy and success. This method of study made it necessary for him to cultivate the habit of giving attention and relying on his memory, instead of his eyes, a habit which resulted naturally in giving him a remarkable memory, which served him in good stead throughout his life. In 1834, in the twenty-second year of his age, he graduated in medicine, receiving his diploma, from the medical college of New York City. With enfeebled health and finding the duties of his profession too great a tax on his strength, he relinquished the practice of medicine and, turning his face southward, started out on a lecture four, lecturing on phrenology and temperance. At Shelbyville, Tenn., he became acquainted with Miss Lucie Harrison, third daughter of Capt. Robert P. Harrison, a woman after his own heart, whom he, courted and married. Seeking health and healing from the balmy air of a more southern climate he took his bride and, going to Florida, sojourned in the land of flowers for two or three years, then going to Columbus and then to Vicksburg, Miss. It was about this time he became dissatisfied with his church relations. After a careful study of the Scriptures and prayerful self-examination, with a thorough investigation of the whole subject of denominational differences, in the year 1852 he became a Baptist. In a serious illness, when near death's door, he bad promised the Lord if he would raise him up he would renounce every worldly ambition and preach the gospel. This promise he kept, and on the next Sabbath after his baptism he preached his first sermon, on the "love of God" (John 3:16), the theme of his first and last sermon and the keynote of his ministry.
Accepting the agency of the Bible Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, then located at Nashville, he moved to Nashville, in July, 1855, where, in connection with his duties as secretary of the Bible Board, he became associate editor of the Tennessee Baptist and the author of several books. His first book, "Theodosia," was a phenomenal success, running through several editions and being sought for eagerly on both sides of the Atlantic. This was followed by the "Infidel's Daughter," a work of ability and merit, and very popular. These two works established the author's reputation as a writer of religious fiction and signaled him as a pioneer in this sort of Baptist propaganda in the South, particularly in Tennessee. Other publications, especially in connection with our Sunday school literature, met with a like favorable reception everywhere. "The war coming on, Dr. Dayton removed with his family to Perry, Ga., where he temporarily assumed the presidency of Houston Female College, and employed his pen as an editorial contributor to the Baptist Banner, then published at Atlanta, and in preparing a religious encyclopedia, which he designed to be the crowning work of his life. But he was disappointed, for he fell a victim of tuberculosis (an enemy he bad held at bay for twenty years), dying calmly and peacefully at his home in, Perry, Ga., June 11, 1865. In the quiet cemetery of this southern city rests his body, awaiting the summons of the arch-angel's trumpet." (J. M. P.)Dr. Dayton, though dead, still lives and speaks to the world through his writings. His mantle fell upon at least two of his daughters. His oldest daughter, Mrs. Laura Dayton Eakin, of Chattanooga, recently deceased, was the popular editor and beautiful story writer of the "Young South" department of the Baptist and Reflector. His second daughter, Mrs. Lucie Dayton Phillips, wife of Dr. J. M. Phillips, inherited a large portion of her father's genius. She was the popular author of "Thread of Gold," for twenty-five years was a writer of serial stories for the Baptist Sunday School Board, and was also a contributor to the publications of the American Baptist Publication Society. Mrs. Lucile (Phillips) Burnett, wife of Dr. J. M. Burnett, is a granddaughter of Dr. Dayton. Her stories in Kind Words exhibit quite a bit of the ancestral genius, and she hopes to give more time to writing when her large family are older grown and make fewer demands upon her time and attention. Only three members out of Dr. Dayton's large family are now living: Hugh L. Dayton, a lawyer, of Shelbyville; Mrs. W. W. Kannon, of Nashville, and Mrs. Elizabeth W. Stocks, of Chattanooga.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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