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My health failing in two years, I became an inmate for a few months in the family of the Rev. Dr. E. S. Ely, pastor of the Pine Street Church, Philadelphia. Dr. Ely was at that time at the height of his fame as a popular preacher, a leader in ecclesiastical courts, a man of wealth, a skillful financier, a patron of all public institutions, and the liberal friend and helper of all young men seeking the ministry of the Gospel. Though a man of eccentricity, “full of fat, fun, and fortune,” yet he exerted for many years a controlling influence in all matters connected with the Presbyterian Church in the Middle States. About the year 1831, he became a prominent leader in an effort to found a great Western city on the Mississippi River. Many persons, by his influence and wealth, were induced to unite with him in this plausible scheme. Many widows, and others having the control of small means throughout the country, cast in their lot with him and invested their all-and Marion City, near Hannibal, for a short time bid fair to rise to some eminence. But the pecuniary revulsion which spread over the whole country in 1837–8, fell upon all such enterprises with a stunning blow. The greater portion of the people assembled at Marion City were dispersed, their means were squandered, their health and spirits broken, their chief leaders abandoned the project, and Dr. Ely, broken in fortune and spirits, returned to Philadelphia. Though Dr. Ely's course in the incidents just narrated, and also in the part he took in the division of the Presbyterian Church into Old and New School, is certainly to be condemned, yet he deserved great honor while he lived, and his memory should be still cherished since his death, for the great good he accomplished in the earlier period of his life. Multitudes of young men were aided by him in their efforts to enter the ministry. His residence in Philadelphia was the abode of elegant hospitality. The Jefferson Medical College was founded mainly by his efforts. Many widows and orphans were clothed and fed by his money; and for many years he expended the whole of his salary from his congregation in acts of benevolence. I must place on record this tribute to the name of Dr. Ezra Stiles Ely.
On the 22d of April, 1829, and when in my twentysecond year, I was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Philadelphia, at Frankfort, a village some miles from the city. Two other young men were licensed at the same time: Rev. Nicholas Murray, now deceased, for many years pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Elizabethtown (New Jersey), a man eminent for his learning, and particularly a popular writer against Catholicism, over the name of “Kirwan.” The other was the Rev. Alexander Aikman, of Bordentown (New Jersey), a young man of varied attainments in learning and theology, who was sent to New Orleans in 1832 to take charge of the First Presbyterian Church in that city, rendered vacant by the deposition from the ministry of Rev. Theodore Clapp by the Presbytery of Mississippi. Mr. Aikman commenced his labors under most encouraging auspices, and did much to divest Presbyterianism of the odium under which it had been suffering for many years from the misrepresentations of Mr. Clapp. But in a short time his health failed, and, leaving New Orleans, he came to Natchez, where, after lingering for some weeks, he died. His sun went down at noon.
My first appearance in the pulpit was at Norristown, in Montgomery County, about twenty miles from Philadelphia. In the month of October, 1829, I started for Mississippi, landed at Rodney, walked out to the residence of Dr. Rush Nutt (two miles from the river); remained in that vicinity, preaching at Rodney and Bethel, until July following, when I removed to Baton Rouge (Louisiana); succeeded Rev. John Dorrance as pastor of the church; married on the 20th of September, 1832; in January, 1834, became connected with the College of Louisiana at Jackson; went as a delegate to the General Assembly at Pittsburg in May, 1836; visited New England during the summer of that year; returned to Louisiana in the fall; accepted a call to the church of Vicksburg, with a salary of $3,000, where I remained pastor for six years; then accepted a professorship in Oakland College, which I held for twelve years; then resigned in 1854, and removed to Covington (Louisiana), where I had charge of a private seminary of learning for three years, preaching also during the same time at Covington and Madisonville; then removed to New Orleans, and purchased the property called the Brick House Station, on the Carrollton Railroad, where I established a male high school, and, at the same time, preaching at Carrollton Church and the Prytania Street Church in the city. In the fall of 1860 I removed to Houston, in Texas, and took charge of the Public Academy; was removed from the institution by the military authorities of the Confederate States, which converted the establishment into a hospital; then opened a private male and female academy at Turner's Hall, where I also preached to the Presbyterian Church until their edifice, which was burned down, was rebuilt. At the close of my superintendence of the Public Academy of Houston I had one hundred and fifty male and female pupils.
At the close of the war, in 1865, I became deeply concerned as to my duty in reference to the spiritual desolations of the villages and churches within the bounds of the Brazos Presbytery, and accessible by railroads from the city of Houston. My convictions of duty in this matter led me to open a correspondence with my ministerial brethren in the region referred to, asking their advice and co-operation, and inquiring whether my entrance into the field would meet their approval, and in no way interfere with their respective fields of labor. From all with whom I corresponded I received cordial encouragement. And then the question presented itself to my mind, “How shall I obtain a pecuniary support ? ” for, up to the close of the war, no reorganization of the Presbyterian Church had been effected within the bounds of the Confederate States. The Corresponding Secretary of the Board of Domestic Missions at Philadelphia, intimated, through a third party, that, on evidence of "loyalty," a sufficient salary would be secured to me, if I would enter upon the same field. Such a proposition I could not entertain. In the fall of 1866, in a conference with some prominent members of the Church, I was urged to carry out my original purpose; and the late Thomas M. Bagby, of Houston, and Mr. James Sorley, of Galveston, placed in my hands $50 each, as a salary for the month of January, in 1867, to justify me to leave my home and commence my work. It was agreed and understood that I should explore the whole field, ascertain the Presbyterian element in each destitute community, preach the Gospel, organize churches, and prepare the way for the settlement of pastors and stated supplies. On the 1st of January, 1867, I commenced my labors, visiting as soon as possible the towns of Hempstead, Chappell Hill, Navesota, Richmond, Harrisburg, Columbus, Alleytown and Beaumont. Within six months from the commencement of the year, I had reorganized the churches of Hempstead and Chappell Hill, and organized new churches at Navesota and Bryan City. During the first year of my mission, I received no formal recognition from the Presbytery, and no pecuniary aid, excepting from the two brethren above named, and from the voluntary contributions of the people to whom I ministered. And during no single month, from the commencement of my services until now (1874), has my entire income ever exceeded one hundred dollars. At all the points where I have labored, I have always been emphatic, both in my private and public announcements, that so soon as any congregation may think itself able to call a pastor or stated supply of its own, I should at once retire from the field. The people of Navesota and Bryan City can testify to the truth of my present assertion.
In recapitulating my ministerial life of forty-five years, I wish here devoutly to record the goodness of a special Providence in prolonging my days to the commencement of my sixty-seventh year, preserving me amid sịckness, amid epidemics, amid war, blessing me with a faithful and loving wife, and ten grown and affectionate children. Though I have had the yellow fever more than once, yet I have never been seriously interrupted in my profession by any dangerous or protracted sickness. I have never lost the confidence and esteem of any community in which I have lived. I served the church of Baton Rouge for three years; the College of Louisiana, three years; the Vicksburg Church, six years; Oakland College, twelve years; Covington, three years; New Orleans, three years; and Houston, fifteen years. I have married three hundred couples, and received in marriage fees four thousand three hundred dollars.