The Gordon Family
Photographed by W. H. WEEDON, about two weeks before the death of Father Gordon in front of his dwelling in Percy, Illinois. In the front is the father and mother, at his right G. A. Gordon and wife, at his left W. S. Hill and wife, next Ed B. Gordon, behind him is Ora C. Gordon and wife, at his right Parker I. Gordon and wife, next Chas. S. Gordon and wife, next Abram G. Gordon and wife, and next Dr. Noel R. Gordon and wife. Members of this family absent, Henry E. Gordon and wife, Ed. B. Gordon's wife, and Mary S. Mace and husband.
The Rev. Henry S. Gordon Memorial Book
Rev. Henry Smith Gordon was born in Franklin Co., Pa., June 19th, 1816 and was the oldest child of Geo. and Nancy Gordon, who were both descendants of the old Scotch stock or family of Gordons, many of whom figured conspicuously among the Highlanders of Scotland, and were one of the leading clans, some of whom were quite warlike and held enviable positions of rank for many centuries back in the history of the Scotch people. The family from which the subject of this sketch immediately descended emigrated to this country from Scotland in 1697, and his great grandfather was born upon the Atlantic Ocean during the voyage to this country. this particular branch of the Gordon family is known on this side of the Atlantic as the Cumberland Valley Gordons, being very numerous in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
When but a child he came west with his parents, crossing the Mississippi river at St. Louis before they had any ferry boats, but took the wheels off their wagon and took the horses and wagon across separately in a flat boat, making a dozen trips perhaps with a skiff and flat boat to get the outfit across. His grandfather's name was also George, and he had gone to Missouri about 1800, long before it was admitted as a state, and because of some complicity in the rightful ownership of a number of Negroes in which his wife held first claim, he was foully murdered one morning on his own door steps by someone in ambush across the road from the house. The accused was the first person ever hanged in Missouri, and in St. Louis, under law, and that was territorial law, in which the oldest son had the reprieving power, but his son, George, then a lad 14 years old, refused to commute the sentence, and the village of St. Louis witnessed the first legal hanging. George then went back to Pennsylvania, grew to manhood, married and had three children, the oldest of whom was Henry, the subject of this sketch, and with his little family was wending his way back to his early home in Missouri.
When St. Louis was yet but a little French village with not a hundred tiny dwellings. I have heard his wife tell how she felt when she with the three little children were set across the river and the skiff had gone back for another load, how the Indians came to the bank and looked down upon her and the children with their blankets wrapped about them, and paint on their faces; before the perpendicular bluffs had been cut away, and only one narrow cut in the bank to provide a means of exit. The family located back of St. Louis about 16 miles on the Meramec river, where his father built and operated for many years a grist mill and carding factory. Here he grew to manhood, learning habits of industry and frugality. He became in time a practical miller, an engineer, and acquired some education.
At the age of 19 he was united in marriage to Miss Rebecca Young in 1835, at which time his father gave him 100 acres of land and he began to improve it, but finding this a very slow and uphill business he sold his land for $1,200 and removed to Southern Illinois in the year 1837, locating on wild prairie land in Short's Prairie, one and a half miles east of Georgetown (now Steelesville) in Randolph county. At this early day there were a great many difficulties to encounter and discouragements to face, and among other things he lost his first born, a little two year old girl, another soon took her place, however, and following this, three boys gladdened the home, the oldest of whom was in 1842, while he was attending Shurtleff Theological College at Alton, Ill. the daughter's name was Mary and the boys' George, Henry and Parker. And in_______1848, death came and took his wife away, which was a sore affliction, and brought an increase of cares and responsibilities, so he managed to get along for a time, caring for a part of his little family at home while some went to live with their grand parents. The youngest was taken by a brother-in-law, Capt. Senica Parker and wife, who became so attached to the child that they kept and raised him. And on November 6th, 1849 he was again married, this time to a Mrs. Nancy Hill, of Centerville, Ill., who had one son; and to this marriage was born five sons, Abram G., Noel R., Charles S., Edward B., and Ora C.; these with the step-son, Wm. S. Hill made a family of ten children, all of who, they raised to man and womanhood, and all were married and had homes, and for fifty years there was not a death in the family (except the second son, Henry, who died in 1893),from the death of his wife in 1848 to his own death in 1898. He continued to live on and improve his farm, but failing health compelled him in 1852 to make the long and tedious trip across the plains to California. That year was one of the years when so many people were afflicted with gold fever, and crossed the plains in all kinds of trains in search of wealth. Some with horses, some with oxen, but he selected the unique and unusual, a team of milk cows, thus providing themselves with means of subsistence as well as transportation. I can remember well when they yoked the cows together and began to break them in to work. Thus equipped he took with him two neighbors, Westly Higgerson and Noah Guymon, and for over six months they trudged along over that long and tiresome journey. Higgerson was a partner, but Guymon worked his passage by driving, grazing and watching the team of nights. Six months later found them all in California, and with health much improved. After spending a few months he returned by vessel by way of Panama route, only to be taken at New Orleans with a fever, which resulted in bringing on dyspepsia again, and thus returned to his family after a year's absence almost as sorely afflicted as when he went away. He renewed his efforts and labors on the farm, but in 1855 was compelled again to give it up, and removed this time to O'Fallon in St. Clair Co., Ill. and embarked in the mercantile business in a small way, being the first person to start any kind of business in the place,now grown to be quite a city. The B & O Southwestern then called the "Ohio & Mississppi R.R." had just been built, and we were there when the third rail was laid changing it from a broad gauge to a compromise gauge.
This business he continued for about one year. Health growing better he again returned to the farm, and it being rented for a longer period the man would not give it up, so he built another house on another part of land and enlarged his farm until it was now about 400 acres. Here he continued to live and raised his large family, giving them all a fair education, sending three of them off to college, making of them a preacher, a lawyer and a doctor, and in 1885, being advanced in years, he left the old farm and moved to Campbell Hill, Ill., his family having all married and he and his wife lived alone there for about seven years. Selling this property they went to Percy, Ill., near the old homestead, and built them a house where they lived comfortably to the date of his death, at the advanced age of almost 82 years.
I have no exact data to guide me, as to the time of his conversion and entering the ministry, as he kept no diary or memorandum of his work; always had the strongest aversion to anything like egotism or self-praise, or of what he had done, and thus no record is left as to dates and work accomplished.
But about the year 1837 he united with the Baptist church in Georgetown, Ill., sometimes called Steele's Mills, and Steelesville, in honor of old Uncle Geo. Steele, who was the founder of the town and owned and operated a large grist mill driven by wild cattle or horses on an old-fashioned incline wheel. And shortly after, the church passed a resolution asking Bro. Gordon to exercise his gift in the way of public speaking. this he did, and shortly thereafter he was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the usual forms of the Missionary Baptist Church.
He soon realized, however, that his education was not adequate to this very important undertaking, and there being no facilities or advantages convenient at hand, he arranged to take his family, being a wife and one child, at that time with him to Alton, Ill., and in 1841 he entered the theological department of Shurtleff College. Here he remained for about two years, working nights and mornings and Saturdays for his board and his wife's at the very desirable occupation of chopping cord wood and splitting rails, and as troubles never come singly, it was at this time that the first boy came to their home. When he had finished school he moved back again and took up his work already begun, and for the first eight years he preached all over Southern Illinois, became quite popular, as he was a very able preacher; organized churches and made himself generally useful. In fact he was the only college man in the Association, and was employed by the Association in the capacity of a missionary to preach throughout the bounds of the Association and organize churches, the parent society at New York to pay one-half of his salary, which was to be $400 per year. He had entered upon this work, meeting with fair success. The reader will bear in mind that the first ten or twelve years of his ministry was given to the Missionary Baptist Church, and the church to which he belonged was a member of the Nine Mile Association.
On April 28th, 1850, in the prosecution of his work as missionary he organized a church at Looney Springs (now Campbell Hill) in Jackson County, Ill., with nine members as follows; John McLaughlin, John Burlison (still living), Mary Henry, Sarah White, Serena Bradley, Mary White, Nancy Petty, Jane Burlison and Susan Harrison, all of whom so far as they understood endorsed the doctrines of the Missionary Baptist church. It was announced that at the next meeting ,the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper would be administered ,which in the meantime was discussed in the neighborhood by the members of the new church as well as others, and there was quite a general feeling among the members (for churches were very scattering in Illinois at this time) that their Methodist and Presbyterian neighbors, of which there was two or three in the vicinity, might commune with them. This was said by some to be contrary to the usages of the Baptist Church, and it was agreed among themselves to leave the whole matter to their new pastor, Bro. Gordon, when he came, for their meetings were held monthly. However, the agitation was continued with much earnestness until the time came and he arrived, and they presented the matter to him privately, one by one. And now the great and important question must be met somehow. these people are right and my Church is wrong on this vital question, and in his own words; "I yielded to their entreaties and gave my consent, although I had never publicly advocated fee communion in my life," but their claim was just and their cause scriptural, "so I yielded my acquired denominational prejudices." And after preaching, I invited the members forward to the front seats, "Also if there are any persons of our 'faith and order'' you will come forward and be seated with us." A few came who were members of the Georgetown church. Now said he, "I have extended the invitation as far a my denomination allows me; does this church wish it extended farther? All who do please stand to your feet." and the church all stood. Now said he, "I invite all believers present to a seat with us at the Lord's table," which offence in the eyes of Close Communion Baptist was so heretical that he had hardly got back home from his appointment until charges were preferred against him and he was called to appear before his church and give an account for this departure from Baptist usages, for which offence he was excluded from his church for---in the language of the moderator---"damnable heresey."
THAT THIS HISTORY MAY BE COMPLETE, AND SET FORTH ALL THE FACTS CONNECTED WITH THE TRIAL AND EXCLUSION OF REV. HENRY S. GORDON FROM THE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH AT GEORGETOWN (NOW STEELESVILLE) I WILL GIVE THE REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE IN FULL, AS FOLLOWS:
TRIAL AND EXCLUSION OF REV. H. S. GORDON from the BAPTIST CHURCH at GEORGETOWN, RANDOLPH CO., ILL.~
We whose names are hereunto assigned, being a committee appointed by the newly organized Baptist Church at Georgetown, Randolph county, Illinois, to prepare and publish an account of the trial and exclusion of Rev. H. S. Gordon from the old Baptist Church of that place, make the following as our report in compliance of their request.
At a meeting of the Baptist church December 17th, 1850, Rev. T. Rawson enquired of the Church to know whether the conduct of some of the members of this church in communing with the Looney Springs church was a public offence or not. In order that Church might fully understand the motion Bro. Gordon made the following explanation:
The Looney Springs church, said he, which I assisted in constituting in April last with 9 members, and selected me as pastor is in a prosperous condition and numbers now between 50 and 60 members. the last meeting was a sacramental occasion. The brethren and sisters were requested to come and take their seats, the invitation was then given to visiting members of the Baptist denomination: among others that accepted this invitation were several members of the Georgetown church. Now, said he, I have extended the invitation as far as our denomination is in the habit of extending, but do you wish to extend it any further? I submit the matter with you. All who wish to extend it to all Christians please rise up. The church unanimously rose; all Christians were then invited to come and partake with them. Several came.
After this explanation of the matter they resolved to investigate the subject at its next meeting, and that a council of ministers of the denomination be invited to attend, whereupon Elders Peck, Boykin, Peters, Lemon, Arnett, Phillips and Hale were invited.
January 19, 1851, Church met agreeable to appointment, P. Heglar, Moderator. On motion the subject was taken up for investigation, but instead of investigating it the church was formed into a regular court to try the said Gordon and others for being "public offenders." Mr. Rawson then proceeded to read several letters, one from D. L. Phillips, also some articles from the Western Watchman, one written by Peck and another by Boykin, in answer to the invitation sent them by the Church.
The defendants then enquired to know whether these letters were to be taken as evidence in this case, and were answered in the affirmative. These letters set forth Baptist principles and Baptist usages, says the Church, therefore they are to be taken as evidence. The defendants then urged that they should be tried by the Bible and not by usages; if our conduct has been contrary to the Bible, we will acknowledge and forsake it, but try us by the Bible; the Bible--the Bible alone, and not by usages. But they urged in vain. The Bible was not to be the rule in this case. Every church has a right to make its own laws, said Arnett.
Gordon then urged the impropriety of making usages the rule of our conduct, and mentioned several historical facts as illustrations of what usages had been, and that there had been usages, and many of them had been wrong. He had not proceeded far before some of the brethren became exceeding restless, and began to mutter and talk. At length their indignation rose so high that they could not restrain their feelings any longer, and springing from their seats, brethren****in a tone of perfect rage, cried out: Put him out! Turn him out! He is not of us! Turn him out! We are not going to be abused in our own house in this way. Put him out! And the defendant was not allowed to proceed any further. Bro. Arnett was then called on to give his opinion in this matter. He arose and gave a very sympathetic exhortation to those who had violated Baptist usages, but charged all the sin on Bro. Gordon. He had no doubt if it was to do over again, these members would not do so any more; exhorted Bro. Gordon to be an example to the flock and adhere to those customs of the Church which had been long in use, telling him that Methodists and Presbyterians, & c., would not come if he did invite them; that they were all close communionists, and that he would lose his reputation if he would have such notions; that the ministers of the South District Association always thought a great deal of him, but now abandon him, and that his course would hurt his brothers' feelings; that he himself had always been a great friend of his and had taken him in one cold night, and treated him kindly, and concluded by urging him to acknowledge his fault, to all of which Gordon made a short reply. Elder Hale then rose to speak in behalf of those who were charges, but was refused to be heard in their favor, but they urged that he had a right to speak, for the Church had invited him there. The Moderator then decided that he should only give his opinions on the subject and the defendants were not allowed to have any council whatever. After a great many questions by various brethren by way of cross-examination, a motion was made to adjourn, but the defendants objected, unless the Church would agree to meet again. We don't want the matter to stop in this manner, said they.
The defendants are charged with making this difficulty; if they will just let us alone, said the Moderator. Bro. Gordon then arose and asked the congregation who made this difficulty? and if there was a single person in the house who had ever heard him preach or teach the doctrine of free communion. No one said they had. Well, if we have never preached nor talked about it, why does the Moderator ask us to "let them alone?"
Now, said he, I do for the first time publicly avow it, I do believe all Christians should commune together. then asked time to give some reasons why he believed so. Ten minutes were then allowed him, when he state some eight or ten objections to restricted communion. On motion the question was then put to the Church to say whether these persons had violated Baptist usages, and it was decided they had. After this decision was made it was unanimously agreed that those sisters should be excused on the score of ignorance! but Bro. Gordon knew better; therefore he should make his acknowledgements. He replied that he was not convinced that he had done wrong, therefore he could not make any acknowledgment until he was convinced of his error from the Bible. More than that, no acknowledgment could be satisfactory to the Church, because a very respectable part of it thought he had done right. After much confusion and evidently angry feelings among the accusers themselves, they finally succeeded in forming the following resolution:
RESOLVED, that H. S. Gordon be excluded from the fellowship of this Church.
It being suggested by some one that if these other parties were excused they would now be allowed to vote in this case; but that privilege was refused them, and they were not allowed their vote, although they were exonerated from all charge. The question was then put and carried by a small majority, and the said Gordon was excluded from the Church. The Moderator then remarked by way of sympathy that he had no doubt but those persons were good Christians, but they were not good Baptists, and the meeting adjourned.
Committee: R A Bradley, J A Bradley, E T Reese, Thomas Martin, Dr. Job Lawrence
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