Three Biographical Sketches of Tolbert Fanning
The Life Of Tolbert Fanning
Cannon County, Tennessee, May 10, 1810.
TOLBERT FANNING was born in Cannon County, Tennessee, May 10, 1810. When he was eight years of age, his parents moved to Lauderdale County, Alabama, and he remained in that State until he was nineteen. His father was a planter, on a small scale, and young TOLBERT was brought up mainly in the cotton field. He was allowed to attend school from three to six months in a year, and it was his good fortune to be placed under the care of excellent teachers. He soon became fond of study, and made considerable progress in acquiring the rudiments of an education.
At this time, his father, though highly respected in his county as an honorable gentleman, was not a member of any church, but his mother was an Old Virginia Baptist, and a woman of fine intellect and great purity of life. From her, and from Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian preachers, whom he occasionally heard, he received his early religious instruction. At times his young heart was deeply impressed with the necessity of a religious life; but he was taught that "all men are in a state of total darkness, and must remain so till illuminated by special communications of the Spirit."
From the time he was ten years of age he had read the Bible, but supposed he could not understand a word in it without a special illumination from above. Seven precious years of his life were spent in this gloomy and hopeless condition. When sixteen years of age, he began to pay attention to the preaching of EPHRAIM D. MOORE and JAMES E. MATTHEWS, who called themselves Christian preachers, and were great and good men. From their teaching, he was encouraged to read the New Testament, with the view of really acquiring spiritual light. Soon all was plain, and his gloomy doubts gave place to an intelligent faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
About the first of October, 1827, he attended a meeting on Cypress, seven miles north of Florence, Alabama, and heard JAMES E. MATTHEWS preach a masterly discourse on the Gospel and its Conditions, and, at the conclusion of the discourse, he walked forward, and, with a perfect understanding of the truth, made the confession, and was immediately immersed into Christ.*
The next two years were spent chiefly in studying the Scriptures, attending school, and visiting the brethren in Alabama and Tennessee. On the first day of October, by the advice of the Church at Republican, where he made the confession, he bade adieu to his family, for the purpose of trying to preach the Gospel. Though young and inexperienced, such was his earnestness and zeal, and such the power of the truth which he preached, that every-where thousands attended his meetings, and large numbers were brought into the kingdom.
In November, 1831, he entered the Nashville University, and graduated in 1835. During his college course, he preached considerable at different points in Tennessee, and made a tour with Brother A. CAMPBELL to Ohio and Kentucky. While at Perryville, Kentucky, he held a successful debate with a Methodist preacher by the name of Rice.
In 1836, he spent the spring and summer in a preaching tour, with Brother A. CAMPBELL, through Ohio, New York, Canada, New England, and the Eastern cities. In 1837, he was married to CHARLOTTE FALL, and, the same year, opened a female seminary in Franklin, Tennessee. On the first day of January, 1840, he removed to his present location, five miles from Nashville, and conducted a female school till 1842, when he spent most of the year in a successful preaching tour through Alabama and Mississippi.
In 1843, he began to build Franklin College, and, in October, 1844, the buildings were completed, and TOLBERT FANNING was elected the first President of the college. In 1861, he resigned the Presidency to W. D. CARNES, President of the East Tennessee University, with the view of raising money to greatly enlarge the institution; but the war defeated all his calculations, and, in 1865, the college was destroyed by fire. He is at present conducting "Hope Institute," for the education of young ladies, and is senior editor of the "Gospel Advocate."
Brother FANNING's life has been one of great activity. He has been an editor for twenty years, taught school for nearly the same length of time, and traveled and preached in fifteen States, where he has been instrumental in establishing many churches, and scattering the good seed of the kingdom generally. As a speaker, he is remarkably self-possessed, and presents his points in a logical and forcible manner. His mental and physical characteristics are strongly marked, and his whole organization indicates that he is a man of strong will, great physical endurance, and powerful intellect.
From -- Living Pulpit of the Christian Church. W.T. Moore, ed. Cincinnati: R. W. Carroll & Co., Publishers, 1871. Pages 515-516.
by George Gowen
Tolbert Fanning was born in Cannon county, Tennessee, May 10, 1810. When he was eight years of age, his parents moved to Lauderdale county, Alabama, and he remained in that state until he was nineteen.
His father was a planter on a small scale, and young Tolbert was brought up mainly in the cotton field. He was allowed to attend school from three to six months in the year, and it was his good fortune to be placed under the care of excellent teachers. He soon became fond of study and made considerable progress in acquiring the rudiments of an education. At this time his father, though highly respected in his county as an honorable gentleman, was not a member of any church, but his mother was an old Virginia Baptist, and a woman of fine intellect and great purity of life. From her, and from Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian preachers, whom he occasionally heard, he received his early religious instruction. At times his young heart was deeply impressed with the necessity of a religious life; but he was taught that "all men are in a state of total darkness, and must remain so till illuminated by special communications of the Spirit." From the time he was ten years old he had read the Bible, but supposed he could not understand a word in it without a special illumination from above. Seven years of his life was spent in this gloomy and hopeless condition.
When sixteen years of age, he began to pay attention to the preaching of Ephraim D. Moore and James E. Matthews, who called themselves Christian preachers, and were great and good men. From their teaching he was encouraged to read the New Testament, with the view of really acquiring spiritual light. Soon all was plain, and his gloomy doubts gave place to an intelligent faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. About the first of October, 1827, he attended a meeting on Cypress, seven miles north of Florence, Alabama, and heard James E. Matthews preach a masterly discourse on the gospel and its conditions, and, at the conclusion of the discourse, he walked forward, and with a perfect understanding of the truth, made the confession, and was immediately immersed into Christ.
The next two years were spent chiefly in studying the Scriptures, attending school and visiting the brethren in Alabama and Tennessee. On the first day of October, by the advice of the church at Republican, where he made the confession, he bade adieu to his family, for the purpose of preaching the gospel. Though young and inexperienced, such was his earnestness and zeal, and such the power of the truth which he preached, that everywhere thousands attended his meetings, and large numbers were brought into the kingdom.
In November, 1831, he entered the Nashville University, and graduated in 1835. During his college course, he preached considerable at different points in Tennessee, and made a tour with Brother A. Campbell to Ohio and Kentucky. While at Perryville, Ky., he held a successful debate with a Methodist preacher by the name of Rice.
In 1836 he spent the spring and summer in a preaching tour, with Bro. A. Campbell, through Ohio, New York, Canada, New England and the Eastern cities. In 1837 he was married to Charlotte Fall, and in the same year opened a female seminary in Franklin, Tennessee.
On the first day of January he moved to his place, five miles from Nashville, and conducted a female school till 1842, when he spent most of the year in a successful preaching tour through Alabama and Mississippi. In 1843 he began to build Franklin College, and, in October, 1844, the buildings were completed, and Tolbert Fanning was elected the first president of the college. In 1861 he resigned the presidency to W. D. Carnes, President of the East Tennessee University, with the view of raising money to greatly enlarge the institution, but the war defeated all his calculations, and, in 1865, the college was destroyed by fire. "Hope Institute," for the education of young ladies, was erected on its ruins, and is now known and run as the Fanning Orphan School for Girls.
Bro. Fanning's life was one of great activity. He was an editor for twenty years, taught school for nearly the same length of time, and traveled and preached in fifteen states, where he was instrumental in establishing many churches and scattering the good seed of the kingdom generally. As a speaker he was remarkably self-possessed, and presented points in a logical and forcible manner.
Tolbert Fanning did a great and lasting work in Tennessee and the whole South as educator and preacher. He was a man of massive brain, iron will and granite character. He was by long odds the most towering form in the Restoration Movement in the South, and through his work in Franklin College gave direction to the lives and shaped the destinies of hundreds of young men. The extraordinary vigor of his intellect, the robustness of his faith, the genuineness of his religion, his freedom from cant, sham and hypocrisy, and the dauntless courage with which he maintained his convictions concerning primitive Christianity, made a profound impression upon all who came within the radius of his influence. He died at his old Franklin College home near Nashville, Tenn., May 3, 1874, survived by his life-long helper and co-worker, Charlotte Fall Fanning, sister of the sainted Philip S. Fall.
From Churches Of Christ, by John T. Brown, c.1904, pages. 451,452
Tolbert Fanning And The Restoration Movement In Tennessee
To rightly view the life of any man, you would have to give something of his background, the day in which he lived. And then you will have to tell something of the activities of his life, and movements to which he gave his life. There would be something about his preparation for his work, his methods. You would have to tell something of his contemporaries, and you would have to give an estimate of his contribution to the work of his life. Tolbert Fanning takes his place as the fifth of the great Restoration leaders. He takes his place with Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and Barton W. Stone. We do not have time to go into a full definition of the restoration movement, but suffice it to say that it was a movement begun by Barton W. Stone, Thomas Campbell and others, the purpose of which was to restore the New Testament church in organization, in worship, and in practice. Tolbert Fanning made a distinct contribution to this movement in Tennessee.
Tolbert Fanning was born in 1810, in Cannon County, Tennessee. He died at the age of sixty-four in the year 1874. 1810 to 1874 were tumultuous years in American history. The Fanning home, known as Elm Crag, was five miles from Nashville, on the Murfreesboro road. The Nashville airport, known as Berry Field, is now part of this farm, having been sold to the City of Nashville by the Board of the Fanning Orphans' School. Tolbert Fanning was fifty-five years old when Alexander Campbell died; he was fifty-one years old when Walter Scott died; he was thirty-four when Barton W. Stone died. Therefore, Stone, Scott, Campbell and Fanning were contemporaries in the restoration movement.
He was President of Franklin College from 1846 to 1865. Franklin College was on his own grounds, and the property was largely controlled by money that he himself had contributed. Franklin College rates as one of the great pre-Civil War institutions of the South. Fanning made great use of Franklin College as an instrument in furthering the restoration movement. He was a great teacher in the classroom; he was great in discipline and in the direction of faculty and students. And in the brief years of the life of Franklin College, Tolbert Fanning was considered one of the leading educators of the South, and he was among the first citizens of Tennessee. Some of the graduates of Franklin College will show the caliber of the institution. Among the number of graduates we find the names of David Lipscomb, E. G. Sewell, T. B. Larimore, F. M. Carmack, R. N. Gardner, and others. Tolbert Fanning believed that work was one of the great features of an education. It was his firm conviction that no man could be happy without work to do, and that no nation could be a happy nation that was not engaged in work. Therefore, Franklin College was a school where great attention was given to agriculture, to industry, and to all the professions. Tolbert Fanning led his students by his own example. He labored with his own hands on his farm, met his classes, and carried on his other work with great distinction. It was his belief that idleness was a curse to an individual, to a school or to a nation; and therefore when students came to Franklin College thinking that they had found a kind of elite club, they were soon disillusioned. Franklin College was a place for work.
Another feature of the educational procedure at Franklin College was the long trips made by the faculty and students. These trips were in the interest of scientific knowledge. They made trips to the mountains in eastern Tennessee; they made trips to the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; they made trips into the great agricultural lands of the south, and to the north of Nashville. On these trips wagons would be loaded with provisions and camp outfits. At night the students slept under tents, and their food was prepared on open fires by the side of the road. These trips would consume two or three weeks of time. A teacher always accompanied the group, and they made first-hand study of many scientific problems. He was greatly in advance of his day as an educational leader.
The Bible was taught in Franklin College and had a prominent place in the mind and life of every one, both faculty and students. Not only was the Bible taught and its influence respected, but every class and every laboratory carried a spirit that was thoroughly Christian. Tolbert Fanning believed it was not enough to have some Bible classes in Franklin College. What was needed was that the influence of the Bible would go into every class and into every department of the college life. Therefore, the boys who did the milking and who had chores to do on evenings knew that their work was as much a part of Franklin College as any other department, and that the Christian spirit was to be manifest in their work, just as if it were a Bible class. In a way, this is the key to the tremendous influence of Franklin College. It turned out great leaders in agriculture, in science, in industry. It turned out great ministers, great lawyers, great leaders in all departments of life, and we believe for the reason that Tolbert Fanning saw life as a whole, and sought to develop and improve every phase of human life on this earth.
His next instrument of influence was his work as an editor. He began the Christian Review in 1844. The Christian Review was a magazine whose avowed purpose was to encourage the church to do its whole duty, in organization and in work. The Christian Review was set to defend the church against all human institutions. The churches of Christ were facing great issues at this time. Great numbers of people were coming into the churches; they were growing in numbers faster than the leadership could be produced, with the result that there were great dangers and departures from the simple New Testament plan. Tolbert Fanning and the Christian Review sought to stem the tide and magnify the church and give it its rightful place in the world. In 1855, with William Lipscomb, he began publication of the Gospel Advocate. Now it is interesting to note that his connection with Franklin College is continued down to this day through the Fanning Orphans School, and his editorship is continued down to this day through the Gospel Advocate. There are twenty-five young women in David Lipscomb College receiving the benefits from the Fanning Orphans School fund. This fund is in excess of $200,000. When you come to think of it, no other of the leaders in the Restoration movement has continued his active work and influence as long as has Tolbert Fanning. As an editor, the pages of the Christian Review and the Gospel Advocate were always open to both sides of any controversial subject. Tolbert Fanning's articles were short but to the point. As you glance through the old copies, you can almost tell at a glance an article from Tolbert Fanning. His style is simple, direct and forceful. He had a kind of magic in the use of simple English words. These perhaps did great service to the restoration movement in Tennessee, in that in magnifying the church and its work, they enabled the churches in Tennessee to steer clear of missionary societies and conventions that made havoc with the churches in many parts of the country. The restoration movement went almost into the work of the missionary society in all states except in Tennessee. This can be explained only on one basis, the influence of Tolbert Fanning as president of Franklin College and as editor of the Christian Review and the Gospel Advocate, and his insistence in the school and in the papers, that the church was the Lord's great instrument in furthering his cause upon this earth; that the church was the body of Christ.
In addition to his work as college president and as editor, Tolbert Fanning was a leader in agriculture and stock raising in the state of Tennessee. It never occurred to him that there was anything out of the way and anti-Christian in his enthusiasm for better agriculture and better livestock. If you will think for just a moment, he did his greatest work ten years before the Civil War and five years during the war, and ten years after the war. It doesn't take a long stretch of the imagination to picture the need of the South in these stirring times. The South had to rebuild her economy, and it was to be rebuilt largely on the farms of the Southern people. Therefore, Tolbert Fanning thought it as much his duty to further the agricultural interests of Tennessee as it was to develop the churches of the restoration movement. And therefore we find him publishing and editing agricultural journals; we find him exhibiting his stock at the county and state fairs in Tennessee. He did all of this to encourage his fellow man in better living conditions. It was his belief that a happy and contented people could be developed in Tennessee and in the South, if they understood the simple principles of agriculture and the development of finer livestock.
In addition to all of this, Tolbert Fanning found himself busily engaged from time to time in evangelism. He was a great preacher. His influence throughout the South as a minister was very great.
Now to sum up something of the contribution made by Tolbert Fanning. In the first place, he has never been given his rightful place in this movement, because this history has been written by those under the influence of the Campbells and of Scott and of Stone. Tolbert Fanning made a distinct contribution in Tennessee that was different from any of his contemporaries. His insistence on the church and its work spells the difference between the restoration movement in Tennessee and in other states. There needs to be a re-study of the life of Tolbert Fanning; there needs to be an investigation of his influence and work. Just now the State of Tennessee is beginning to recognize his great contribution in the field of agriculture and in live stock raising. Just now at the State library we have several men working in that field, uncovering the great contribution made by this man in the field of scientific agriculture. It remains for us to give him his rightful place with Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott and Barton W. Stone. The churches of Christ, as over against the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church, owe largely their existence to the work and influence of Tolbert Fanning and his co-workers in Tennessee. The students of Tolbert Fanning were among the leaders in Tennessee who were engaged in the great fight for the churches of Christ and their liberty and their place. This leadership was furnished largely by the influence of Tolbert Fanning and Franklin College. This is a matter of history. I hope that none of us will think of it in any partisan way, but merely from the historical viewpoint. History needs to be written, in order that it may be helpful to every generation. To pass over lightly and without consideration the work of Tolbert Fanning would be a blunder in historical judgment. Last summer we watched a group of young people sail on a great ocean liner out of New York City for Germany. In a little while the great boat was out of sight, and we said, "They are gone." But on second thought, we said, "No, they are not gone. They are coming in." Others across the ocean were to watch the approach of this great liner, bringing these young people to Germany and to France, to work and to live for New Testament Christianity. This is a kind of parable for Tolbert Fanning. We have said that he is gone, but on second thought, "No, he is not gone; he is but coming in." And we need his influence today to. magnify the church and its leadership, to prevent us from being swept into error. Liberalism, modernism, and every other "ism" is striking today at this restoration movement. It can never touch us if the influence of Tolbert Fanning is maintained, and his work and independency of local congregations are magnified. No influence can ever sweep New Testament churches into error.
-A.R. Holton, The Harding College Lectures, 1950, Harding College Press, Searcy, Arkansas, 1951, Chapter 5, pages 76-81
Memories Of *Talbot Fanning
The name of Talbot(sic) Fanning, like that of A. Campbell, J.T. Johnson, B.W. Stone, Walter Scott, etc., needs no prefix or affix. What would he thought of a title preceding or following the name of Martin Luther? Men of mean worth may need names and titles to proclaim their greatness; but those of real value sound better alone.
When I was a mill boy, on Bluff Creek, in Lauderdale county, Ala., I knew Bro. Fanning, his father and mother, brothers and sister well and intimately. Father Fanning used to send to our mill, and I went to school with most of his children. The aged father and mother left us some years since. So did James Madison Fanning, one of our purest preachers. Perhaps sever other members of the old family have gone; and now Bro. Talbot is gone (May 3, 1874, aged nearly 64).
Talbot Fanning was the associate, school-mate and especial friend of my brother, Allen Kendrick, who fought his fight, laid down his armor, strong in the faith, in 1859. Well do I remember the camp meeting on Big Cypress, Lauderdale county, Ala., when they enlisted as soldiers of Christ. The leading preachers were E.P. Moore and J.E. Matthews. Perhaps Thacher V. Griffin, Wm. Whooten, S.B. Giles, and some others were present. James Young lived in the vicinity, and I think I took an active part. All these have passed away, save S.B. Giles, who still lingers on these mortal shores, near Austin, Tex. At this meeting I saw two very prominent men meet before the stand in a way to be remembered. They had been enemies-bitter and long-and neighbors, and, I think, were blood relations. The gospel had reconciled them to God, and of course to one another. That meeting, though I never referred to it before, and would not undertake to describe it, did more for my boy heart than the best sermon I heard. It has mellowed my should for over forty years, and its memory is to-day as the dews of Paradise.
At this meeting—and all over the country then, and for sometime afterwards—they called up mourners after the most approved Methodistic style. But they taught them the gospel, and they obeyed it. I do not remember that I had then ever heard of A. Campbell. It was long after this before I ever hear of a Campbellite. B.W. Stone was the most prominent man then in the ranks, and then, or soon after, I heard something of the Stoneites. But they were more frequently called Schismatics—sometimes New Lights. The people did not understand them by far.
At this meeting I did not go up as a mourner, but I sat close by, and was very much concerned. One night a man was talking to several boys near me, and to me, and another came along, and said, "How are you getting along, brother?" The answer was, "First rate. I have got several of these boys through, and this one (alluding to me) nearly so." I differed with him, however, for I had not made up my mind to be a Christian then. Not long afterwards I did, though, and tried as hard as any one to "get through"—to "get religion"—i.e., to feel like others said they felt. For two long, weary years I keep this up, without success.
But Talbot Fanning, Allen Kendrick, Lynn DeSpain, and some others when to preaching as best they could. And they had some advantages. What they did know was fresh and pure as the booked of God; and they were zealous. They were better in exposing the errors of others than in teaching the truths of God; better in tearing down than building up. Still they built up, and many churches stand to-day as grand results of their labors. I heard of no co-operations, no missionary societies, and no arrangements for paying or supporting the preachers, old and young; but they managed to live, and they did a vast amount of preaching, and I never heard them murmur. No body talked about quitting the field then because the churches did not pay them. No one stipulated for wages. They were glad of an opportunity to preach always, and everywhere. Several of them went hundreds of miles, on horse, to attend camp-meetings. Ah! with all their imperfections, these were glorious days.
But, Bro. Talbot, as he extended his labors, began to feel the necessity of education, and the church at Nashville, Tennessee, encouraged him. I do not know how long he was there, but he graduated in the University there with honors. Not long after this, I think, he visited Kentucky, and at Perryville held a debate with a Presbyterian. It was said the champion was very careful as to the terms till he saw Bro. Talbot, then he was all anxious, under the impression that his victory would be easy if not great. Bro. T. was still quite young, and made an awkward appearance—perhaps designedly. It was reported that he was seen playing marbles with the boys, and could occupy at least three chairs at the same time. But never was mortal man more deceived than was this Presbyterian minister. Some of the old people of Perryville, I doubt not, delight still to talk of that debate.
My impression is that, after this, however useful he was, he did not make as many converts as in his earlier days.
Not long afterwards he married an accomplished Miss Shrive(sic), at Nicholasville, Ky. This beautiful flower faded and died in some two weeks, and he spent his time traveling and preaching. About this period he was with A. Campbell on a tour north, and a discourse of his, entitled "The church of Christ—no sect," was extensively published and highly estimated. He afterwards married Miss C. Frall(sic), sister of the venerated Philip S. Frall(sic), and she still lives to honor the Savior and bless the world. They taught a Female High School for some years in Franklin, Tenn, which he called Elm Crag—where he died. Here he established a school of high order for young ladies, and was very successful. Then he established Franklin College, and served as President for many years.
In 1842 or '3 I visited Franklin College, renewed old friendships, and spent a few days happily and profitably. The sleeping rooms of the young gentlemen were in the upper story, and at the signal for eating they came down with order and care. One young man, forgetting himself on the occasion, was whistling merrily as he came down, and as President caught his eye, I heard the imperative "Go to your room;" witnessed the haste with which it was obeyed, and was impressed with the idea that Talbot Fanning was the best disciplinarian I had ever seen. Then, too, I discover what labor could do for one's voice. Bro. Talbot used to be a notoriously poor singer, and his voice was far from agreeable in speaking. Then he sang admirably, and his voice was really charming both in singing and preaching. To aid in learning music and training his voice, he used the bass viol in his private study and practice. I presume he never once thought of using it in the church; and, in fact, I am under the impression that, at that time, the presence of an organ or bass viol in the church would have broken up any of our congregations.
Bro. Fanning's labors in the Gospel Advocate, &c., are matters of record.
About the close of the war, the main building of Franklin College was burned, and since that time it has been carried on by Bro. Jackson Fanning as a high school. Bro. Talbot established a high school for young ladies which he kept up with fine success till his death.
It is my impression that Bro. Fanning never made one effort to be what is called an orator, yet he was one of our best speakers. Nor did he seem to desire a display of his talents or his learning. Of his labors already well known, I have nothing to say. Nor need I offer my poor sympathies and condolence to Sister Fanning and the other relations. They have something far better. We shall all meet again—"Meet ne'er to sever."
He died on the Lord's day. Happy day! and he urged the disciples to sing as he passed away. "Sing to me of heaven, when I am called to die."
How I am reminded of the venerable Jacob Creath, Sr., in the Kentucky State Meeting for 1850 in Lexington, the last I attended. Having been blind several years, he could see only by faith; but he loved the house of God and his friends. In a melting exhortation, he said he had thought, that if he might ask a special favor of the Savior, it would be that he might die surrounded by his brethren; and that, if he might ask on more favor, it would be that they sing as he passed over the Jordan. Bro. Fanning had both, and he rests form his labors, glorious rest! What a uniting on the other side! How brief the period since I first knew him! How very brief till I shall know him again. He is renewing old friendships now, while we are toiling on in tears—tears soon to be turned into smiles and joys everlasting.
-Carroll Kendrick, Memories of Talbot Fanning by C. Kendrick, Bryan, Tex, as appearing in The Apostolic Times, Thursday, June 11, 1874, Lexington, Kentucky. Note: Special thanks to C. Wayne Kilpatrick for locating this wonderful tribute and making it available to this site.
*Some of the names in the article above appear as they did in the Apostolic Times article verbatim. Hence some of the spellings are as the writer assumed was correct. Names like Talbot, should be Tolbert, Frall, should be Fall, and Shrive should be Shreve.