Life Of Theophilus B. Larimore
T. B. Larimore was born in East Tennessee, July 10, 1843. His early advantages were such as the gloomiest and most discouraging poverty affords. When he was little more than a child in age and size, he hired himself to a farmer for four dollars a month, or fifteen and one-half cents a day, and did the work of a man as a plow hand. He was the main dependence of his mother and sisters for a living, and the cares and responsibilities of the home and family were added to the burdens of his hard work and rough life as a hireling. Every cent of his hard-earned wages had to go for home expenses, and not a copper of the pittance he worked so hard and endured so much to earn could he ever have to spend for such toys and pleasures as all children enjoy and crave. There was sweeter pleasure for him, however, in the consciousness that his labor and hardships helped to support his mother and sisters than he could have found in the selfish gratification of childish whims. The handles of his plow were often marked by blood from his lacerated little bands, and many times he limped as he walked from the wounds of rocks and snags in his little bare feet, while his eyes were occasionally dimmed almost to blindness with tears from the overburdened heart of suffering childhood; but be never dodged a duty or shirked in his work. He strengthened his spirit and lightened his own burdens by heroic efforts to help others carry their loads, and never murmured or complained. The house in which the farmer lived who hired him to plow for four dollars a month is still standing. It was photographed a few years ago, and the picture of it appears in this book, though it has been greatly improved by the addition of porch, kitchen, and dining room since he lived in it as a hireling. When he lived there, one room answered all the purposes of the family. Four of the six persons who comprised the family when he worked there are now in the grave. Some of them died of consumption, and the fourth was wounded, captured, and killed at Shiloh, Sunday, April 6, 1862. One of the sons of the family still owns the little farm and lives in the old home. In those days nearly all the people in that country belonged to some church.
The spirit of religious revivals swept over the whole country every summer in protracted meetings, and the few people who belonged to no church were mainly those who could not find the Lord under the religious teaching and practices of the times, though they sought him often and earnestly with tears. The first meetinghouse he remembers to have seen is still standing. The picture of it which appears in this book was made from a photograph taken a few years ago. In such houses as this people assembled in large congregations in rural regions to worship God and hear the gospel preached. Professional songsters taught singing schools in every community after crops were laid by, and the congregational singing of young people in strained classes during protracted meetings and revivals was uplifting and enlivening. Preachers who went into such places with open Bibles and preached the gospel as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures were a great power among those God-fearing, truth-loving, and Bible-believing people. They turned sinners in great numbers from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, and established congregations of devout, scriptural worshipers wherever they went. The baptizing places in the labors of such preachers were usually picturesque spots on creeks or rivers, often between towering mountains crowned with stately forest trees which cast restful shadows over the religiously solemn congregations. The clear water rippled over pebbly bottoms between flower-decked and fern-covered banks, birds of song made cheerful music in the swinging boughs over, head, little fish played hide and seek in the limpid stream, here and there flecks of sunshine came laughing down through open spaces between the leaves on the trees, and balmy breezes sighed a funeral dirge while the people in solemn silence listened to the tremulous voice of the earnest preacher as be "lined the hymn" and "led in prayer." Tears flowed freely from many eyes, and devout hearts throbbed with a spirit of prayer. All this was an epoch in the lives of those who were to be baptized. It was vastly more to them than a mere form of godliness. It was a death to sin and a burial out of self into Christ, that they might arise to "walk in newness of life." There was a good-by feeling in their hearts to their old-time associates who were unconverted, and a feeling of farewell echo from the hearts of unconverted friends who stood in loneliness at the parting of the ways and cast wishful eyes after the happy pilgrims on the way to heaven and immortal glory. Such scenes were often occasions of a fresh outbreak of the revivalistic spirit, and many sinners turned to the Lord from impressions made by the services at the water. The picture of the place where he witnessed the first baptizing was made from a photograph taken on the spot. It is a well-known baptizing place on the Sequatchie River, just below the bridge. He was a small boy, but he says: "I remember well that scene, even down to the minutest detail how they tied red bandannas on their heads and around their waists, and how the preacher waded around in the water and wet the bald place on the top of his head." Who does not remember similar scenes in the sweet long ago of observant and impressible childhood?
From early childhood he was a great lover of books, and he made good use of every opportunity he had to increase his stock of information.
He was always remarkably exemplary in conduct and religious in disposition. Naturally endowed with a brilliant intellect, vivid imagination, lofty aspirations, and indomitable energy and perseverance, no obstacles could keep him down. By hard work and close attention to business, he made his way against formidable discouragements till an opportunity opened to him, while yet in his teens, to enter Mossy Creek College.
He promptly took the chance as a gracious dispensation of providence for which he had long waited and prayed, and entered college with all the enthusiasm and energy of a young and naturally buoyant heart, though embarrassed by pinching poverty which made stringent economy and close attention to business a necessity. He walked from home a long distance over rough roads and rugged mountains, and carried provisions to eat along the way, to save traveling expenses to the college. The prospect of an education sustained his spirit as he walked by the way; but there was gloom in his soul and a pain at his heart from the solicitude he felt for his mother and sisters left in loneliness behind him in the little log cabin in the mountains. When the parting time came, his courage for a moment failed, and he decided to stay with them; but they urged him to go, because he could do more for them, as well as for himself, by going than be could do by staying. When he left home, such delicacies as they could afford, neatly packed in a little bundle for his lunch by the way, were handed to him, with the blessings and prayers of mother and sisters, to whom he had always been a dutiful son and a loving brother. When he stopped at noon under a tree by a spring to eat his dinner, he was hungry, homesick, and foot weary; but the moment be opened his lunch, his appetite entirely disappeared, and he broke down and wept like a lost child in the woods. The lunch was so much better than what he knew the loved ones at home had kept for themselves he was overwhelmed with emotion by this token of their love, and not a mouthful of it could he eat.
Soon after leaving Mossy Creek College, he enlisted as a volunteer in the Confederate army, and served "the lost cause" in some of the moat important engagements in the late war. He was at Fishing Creek, Ky., when Zollicoffer was killed, and went with the special detail under flag of truce to bring away the body of the distinguished Confederate commander from the field where he fell. He was in the battle at Shiloh, and, as the leader of a squad of special scouts, wrote the dispatch which gave notice to Albert Sidney Johnston of the passage of the first Federal gunboat above Pittsburg landing on a flank movement which the Confederate commander anticipated and forestalled.
Near the close of the war, he moved his mother and sisters in a wagon from East Tennessee to avoid molestations and dangers from robbers that infested the country. The picture of the last house they lived in before they moved from East Tennessee was made from a photograph taken on the ground. As they went on their way they camped in a country schoolhouse near Hopkinsville, Ky. They were moneyless pilgrims in a strange land, with no means of support but his own labor and the wagon and team which they owned.
His mother was a Christian, and she made herself known to the congregation at Hopkinsville. He earned a living cutting and hauling wood to Hopkinsville at a dollar and a quarter a load till an opportunity opened in a country school, which he taught with credit to himself and satisfaction to the patrons and pupils. He attended the meetings of the church with his mother, and decided to become a Christian and spend the remnant of his life in the service of the Lord.
On his twenty-first birthday, July 10, 1864, at a meeting of the church, when no regular preacher was present, B. S. Campbell, one of the elders of the church, took his confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God, and E. H. Hopper, another one of the elders of the church, baptized him.
He began to preach almost immediately after he was baptized, and attracted attention at once as a persuasive speaker and consecrated Christian. After the war he entered Franklin College, near Nashville, Tenn., under the presidency of Tolbert Fanning.
When he left that college, he went into the mountains of North Alabama, far back from railroads and towns, to preach the gospel. He had none of the airs of a college-bred preacher, and his humble manners and pious behavior gave him ready and easy access to the hearts of the people. He came into the country where he held his first meeting on foot, and on his face there was a settled expression of goodness and melancholy which touched the hearts of the people with a feeling of sympathy and love. There was an indescribable and irresistible pathos in his voice, manner, and general appearance which melted audiences to tears and moved hearts long hardened by sin to repentance at the appeals of the gospel wherever he went. He preached in schoolhouses, under bush arbors, and in the log cabin homes of the people. His preaching attracted much attention and drew large audiences wherever he went, and in a few months he baptized hundreds of people and established many congregations of worshipers in the hill country of North Alabama. The lessons of self-sacrifice and self-denial for the good of others which he learned by experience from early childhood were the foundation principles of Christianity to which his whole life has been consecrated. The hardships of his childhood and early manhood were the best education he could have received for the work in which he has spent his life and has been so abundantly successful. His early toils and trials impressed him with feelings of keen sympathy for suffering and sorrowing humanity, and prepared him to go into the homes of the poor with ready tact, hearing messages of cheer and hope in the great and precious promises of the gospel.
is an accomplished scholar and a popular orator before critical city audiences,
but his greatness as a preacher, in my judgment, rests mainly upon the hope
and joy he has carried into the homes and hearts of the poor and unfortunate
people who live in neglected and out-of-the-way places. In 1868 he was married
to Miss Esther Gresham of Florence, Ala., who has been a true helpmeet in all
his labors and trials.
1, 1870, he established a boarding school at Mars' Hill,
near Florence, Ala., which was continued seventeen years, and
patronized by many of the best families in nearly all the Southern States. Many
boys who went to school at Mars' Hill are now chief
men in the affairs of life in almost every State in the South. The
school term at Mars' Hill began January 1, and lasted twenty-four weeks, closing
early in June. During the session he preached every Sunday, often three times in
one day, and during vacation be devoted his time wholly to evangelistic work,
widening the field of his labors each year, till he went into nearly every State
in the South. The school was abandoned in 1887, and since then he has devoted
all of his time to the work of an evangelist. He has traveled and labored in
about twenty States and Territories, and conducted successful protracted
meetings in many of the important cities in the South.
He has also labored extensively in rural regions, and his work has been greatly blessed in the conversion of sinners and edification of saints wherever he has gone. He has probably preached more sermons to more hearers and baptized more people than any other man now living. He has traveled and preached in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Indian Territory, Oklahoma, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Arkansas.
He has conducted protracted meetings in
Chattanooga, and Jackson, Tenn.; Louisville and Lexington, Ky.; Florence,
Montgomery, and Birmingham, Ala.; Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, Paris, Bonham,
and Sherman, Texas; St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.; Fort Smith, Ark.; Evansville
and Mount Vernon, Ind.; and Los Angeles, Cal. He has baptized more than ten
people with his own hands, and has established many congregations of worshipers
in all parts of the country where be has labored. From the time he left college,
in 1867, till February, 1897, there were very few days, except when he was
teaching, that he was not engaged in a protracted meeting. He probably never
lost as much as three days from work in succession on account of sickness from
1867 to 1897. His favorite program for preaching is twice every day and three
times every Sunday when days are short, and three times every day when days are
long. The longest meeting he ever conducted was at Sherman, Texas. It began
January 3, and closed June 7, 1894. During that meeting he preached three
hundred and thirty-three sermons, preaching twice every day and three times
every Sunday. There were over two hundred additions to the church in that
meeting. At Los Angeles, Cal., he began a meeting January 3, and closed April
17, 1895, preaching twice every day and three times every Sunday. There were one
hundred and twenty persons baptized during that meeting.
Always a poor man, he
has been supported entirely by the voluntary contributions of people who
appreciate his labors. Ever since he became a Christian he has been opposed to
war, and is a strict noncombatant in faith and practice. The twelfth chapter of
Romans is the first chapter he ever tried to read in public, and he has always
tried to fill those under his influence with the spirit of that chapter from
that day to this. This may account for some things that some men cannot readily
understand. A deliberate attempt was once made by an assassin, heavily armed, to
assassinate a stalwart young man who was no coward, but whom be had tried to
teach from early childhood the sentiment of peace on earth and good will among
men. The young man coolly caught the assassin, threw him to the ground,
deliberately disarmed him, and then released him, receiving a slight wound
himself, but making no attempt to inflict one. Moreover, he has never prosecuted
the man who, without cause or provocation, tried to assassinate him, and has
never even spoken unkindly of him. "What manner of spirit" is this?
"Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of
all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all
men. Dearly beloved, avenge not your selves, but rather give place unto wrath:
for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore
if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing
thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome
evil with good." (Rom. 12: 17-21.)
– F. D. SRYGLEY. – Biographies And Sermons, F.D. Srygley, Nashville, Tennessee, c. 1898, pages 19-34
Note: F.D. Srygley wrote this piece on Larimore in the last decade of the 19th century. He, along with his brother, and many others was one of Larimore's Preacher boys at Mars Hill. Srygley died in 1900, twenty-nine years before T.B.'s death. Larimore preached his funeral.
Esther Gresham Larimore
The first Mrs. T.B. Larimore was Esther Gresham Larimore. She and T.B. were married 38 years. She is buried in Florence, Alabama in the old Gresham Cemetery across from the Larimore Mansion. It is located in the western part of Florence off Cox Blvd. On Cox Blvd. turn right at Mars Hill Bookstore (at the edge of the Mars Hill High School Campus) and proceed past the old mansion on the right. Turn left on the next concert drive and go between a five-car garage and a two story brick house owned by Don Lewis. The cemetery is behind the driveway.