Rev David Caldwell

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The following information about the Scots-Irish Presbyterian settlers in Guilford County, North Carolina was extracted from “North Carolina, Historical and Biographical, Illustrative of the Principles of a Portion of Her Early Settlers, by Rev. William Henry Foote; New York: Robert Carter, 58 Canal Street; 1846.”

The congregations of Buffalo and Alamance, the two eldest and largest of the Presbyterian denomination, and probably of any other, in the county of Guilford, have had the singular privilege of enjoying the regular ministrations of the gospel, with little intermission, for more than eighty years in conjunction with each other, dividing the Sabbaths–and from two men. The time of the ministerial relation of the Rev. Messrs. David CALDWELL and Eli W. CARUTHERS with these congregations, extends from about the time of the organization of Alamance, in the year 1764, to the present day; an incontestible evidence of their stability, and the irreproachable lives of their pastors.

“A Sketch of the Life and Character of the Rev. David CALDWELL, D.D.,” by Mr. CARUTHERS, his successor in the ministry, replete with various information, gives all of importance that can be collected, concerning the early life of that venerable man, who finished his course in the one hundredth year of his age, and the sixty-first of his ministry.

David CALDWELL, born March 22d, 1725, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was the son of a respectable farmer, in good worldly circumstances, and of unblemished Christian character. After receiving the rudiments of an English education, he was bound apprentice to a house carpenter, and served till the legal period, the age of twenty-one. After working at his trade, as a journeyman, for about four years, at the age of twenty-five he was admitted to the communion of the church, on a profession of his faith. As soon as the hope in Christ was formed in his heart, he began most earnestly to desire an education for the purpose of becoming a minister of the gospel. His thirst for information became a passion, and his desire to be useful in the ministry increased to intense earnestness, and he resolved to sacrifice time, and labor, and his portion that might fall to him from his father’s estate, to satisfy these strong desires of his heart. With unwearied perseverance, he pursued the object of his desire, and received his degree of Bachelor of Arts, from Princeton College, in the year 1761, the year that President Davies died. He was then thirty-six years of age.

Some part of his preparatory course was under the tuition of Rev. Robert SMITH, of Pequa, the father of John B. SMITH, so favorably known in Virginia as President of Hampden Sydney College, and of Samuel Stanhope SMITH, known both at Hampden Sydney and Princeton. After receiving his degree he resorted to school-teaching, as he had often done before, and passed a year in that employ at Cape May. Returning to Princeton, he was engaged in the duties of a tutor in College, and in the study of theology in preparation for licensure. He was taken under the care of New Brunswick Presbytery at its meeting in Princeton, Sept. 28th, 1762, having given the brethren “good satisfaction as to his motives in wishing to enter the ministry.” After repeated trial of his proficiency and aptness to teach, he was licensed by that Presbytery on the 8th of June, 1763.

He left no account of his Christian experience, or of the trials and labors undergone in the course of study, preparatory to his entrance upon the work of the ministry. Some anecdotes which have been treasured up as having fallen from his lips, illustrate his spirit. In order to obtain some necessary funds, he sold his undivided patrimony to his brothers; and in order to encourage them to make greater efforts to raise the money, and prevent all objection, he rated his share much below its real value. The agreement was verbal, but at the settlement of the estate he confirmed it in writing, making a journey from Carolina expressly for that purpose. While in college he pursued his studies in a manner that must have been ruinous to most men, often passing the night in the summer season, without either undressing or lying down, sleeping with his head upon his crossed arms, under the open window; an evidence of a strong constitution and untiring perseverance, rather than of genius or prudence.

After supplying various vacancies in the bounds of the Presbytery, from the time of his licensure till the following summer, Mr. CALDWELL visited North Carolina. The records of the Synod of New York and New Jersey have the following minute at their meeting in Elizabethtown, May 23d, 1764: “Several supplications from North Carolina were presented, earnestly praying for supplies, which were read and urged with several verbal relations representing the state of the country.” After speaking of the appointment of Mr. Charles Jef. SMITH and Mr. Amos THOMPSON as missionaries, the minute proceeds–“Mr. David Caldwell, a candidate, of New Brunswick, is appointed to go as soon as possible, but not to defer it longer than next fall, and supply under the direction of the Hanover Presbytery.” This Presbytery at that time was the only one south of the Potomac in connection with the Synod, and its boundaries on the south were indefinite. There was an independent Presbytery in South Carolina.

While Mr. CALDWELL was in the course of his preparatory studies for college, a company of his friends emigrated to North Carolina, and took their residence on Buffalo Creek and Reedy Fork; and before their departure from Pennsylvania, made overtures to him, that, upon his being licensed, he should visit them in their new abode for the purpose of becoming their preacher. In about a year after he commenced preaching, he was sent as a missionary by the Synod to the south, and passed through the congregations and settlements in the upper part of Carolina, and, among others, the settlements of his old friends. The emigration had been continued, and many pious people having come to the wilderness, the congregation of Buffalo, whose place of worship is about three miles from Greensborough, had been organized according to the rules of the Church. Settlements had been formed on the Alamance, and in 1764, the year of his visit, the Rev. Henry PATTILLO, who was afterwards the minister of Hawfields and Little River, organized a church called Alamance, whose preaching-place is about seven miles from Greensborough, and about the same distance from Buffalo.

These two congregations united in desiring Mr. CALDWELL for their minister; though of different sentiments about the late divisions in the Presbyterian church, both were orthodox in their creed, and firmly attached to the Presbyterian forms; but the Buffalo church was composed of members that were of the Old Side, as they were termed, and the Alamance of those who sided with New Light or New Side, or as they sometimes distinguished themselves, followed Whitefield. This division into Old Side and New Side is by no means to be considered as similar to the divisions made some years since in the Presbyterian church under the names of Old and New School. The latter division was, in a great measure, brought about by different sentiments on important theological subjects; the former principally by a difference about the nature of revivals and proper measures to be used, and also the proper qualifications for the ministerial office. The full and satisfactory history may be found in Hodge’s Constitutional History of the Presbyterian church.

Mr. Caldwell’s appointment as a missionary was renewed next year by the Synod. Philadelphia, May 20th, 1765. “In consequence of sundry applications from North Carolina for supplies, the Synod appoint Messrs. Nathan KERR, George DUFFIELD, William RAMSAY, David CALDWELL, James LATTA, and Robert McMORDIE, to go there as soon as they can conveniently, and each of them to tarry half a year in those vacant congregations, as prudence may direct.” The Presbytery of New Brunswick held a meeting in Philadelphia, and took the necessary steps preparatory to the ordination of Mr. CALDWELL; and received a call from the churches of Buffalo and Alamance for his ministerial labors. July 5th, 1765, at Trenton, New Jersey, he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry, and dismissed to join the Presbytery of Hanover; and as the congregations making the call were under the care of that Presbytery, he was directed to make known to it his determination respecting the acceptance. He proceeded forthwith to Carolina, and entered upon his labors as minister of the two congregations; was a corresponding member of Hanover Presbytery at its meeting at the Red House, Caswell county, June 4th, 1766. He neither joined the Presbytery at that time, nor accepted the call of the two churches; and it was not till the 11th of October, 1767, he was received as a member, and not till the 3d of March, 1768, that the installation services were performed, in compliance with a request made the preceding fall. The Rev. Hugh McADEN of the Red House, preached the installation service, and performed the services prescribed by the form of government. In the latter part of the year 1766 he was married to Rachel, the third daughter of Rev. Alexander CRAIGHEAD, the minister at Sugar Creek, and became a housekeeper in that part of his congregation then within the bounds of Rowan county, previous to the formation of Guilford from Rowan and Orange, the place of his residence till his death, in 1824. Dr. Caldwell continued his pastoral services till about the year 1820; often, from weariness, on his return home, requiring assistance to dismount, and being carried into his house. On the 25th of August, 1824, he literally fell asleep, to wake no more till the Resurrection, his earthly pilgrimage having continued a period lacking only about seven months of a hundred years. He went to his grave like a shock of corn fully ripe. One of his sons was for many years pastor of Sugar Creek, the congregation of his grandfather Craighead; and one of his grandsons for a term of years ministered to the same congregation. “The seed of the righteous is blessed.” Mrs. Caldwell survived her husband less than a year; and departed in the exercise of a good hope, through grace, of everlasting life. Her remains were laid beside those of Dr. Caldwell. A marble slab marks the place of sepulture of this venerable pair, near Buffalo church, the place in which they had so often worshipped God.


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