John R. Williams
Biographical Sketch On The Life
of John R. Williams, Srygley
John R. Williams, Overton
John R. Williams. . . Missionary In W. Tennessee, Hester
Hornbeak Revisited, Doran
Grave Location And Photos
Biographical Sketch On The Life Of John R.
John R. Williams was born in Marshall County, Tenn.,
December 31, 1851. When he was six years old his father died, leaving him and
two sisters younger than himself to make their way in the world as best they
could, by the help of their widowed mother. He was brought up to hard work on a
farm, and from early boyhood was thoroughly drilled by necessity in the hard but
important lesson of self-reliance. His opportunities in life were such as people
ordinarily consider very poor.
He attended free school before the war three sessions of three months each
session. The war broke up all country schools, disturbed society, interrupted
business and commerce of all kinds, and demoralized hte people in general at a
period in his boyhood when he greatly needed stable influences and environments
in the formation of his character. However, the demand for hard work and
constant employment to provide the necessaries of life saved him from the
dangers peculiar to the evil days in which his boyhood was spent.
When he was seventeen years old, he moved with his uncle to Obion County, West
Tennessee, where he still lives. He was married to Miss Mollie Moultrie,
November 7, 1871, who has been a faithful helpmeet in all his life work since
then to the present. After two of his children were old enough to attend school,
he entered school again himself, and continued five months, which closed his
career in school. However, he was a diligent student, and he made good use of
his time and opportunities by continuing his studies at home under whatever
circumstances he lived.
His first religious experience and practice were in the Methodist Episcopal
Church, South, of which he was a member for four years. In July 1876, he
abandoned the Methodist Church, and, following the way which to him seemed
plainly taught in the New Testament, he was "baptized into Christ" (Rom. 6:3,4;
Gal. 3:27) by J.H. Roulhac, of Union City, Tenn.
With such helps as he could get, he applied himself to the study of law, and
April 3, 1883, he was licensed to practice law before the county and magistrate
courts of Obion County, Tenn. He continued the study of law as he practiced in
the minor courts till November 13, 1885, when he was licensed to practice law in
all the courts of the State of Tennessee: In July, 1886, one year after he was
enrolled as a regular attorney with authority to practice in all the courts of
the State, he was invited to preach at Wilsonville, Tenn. In this way he began
the life and work of a preacher, which he has continued to the present day.
He has labored extensively and successfully as an evangelist in Tennessee,
Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. He has held eight public
discussions--four with Missionary Baptists and two with Second Adventists.
He is an energetic, industrious, and enterprising citizen, as well as a devoted
Christian and a successful evangelist. He takes an active interest in business
and industrial enterprises which promise to develop the recourses of his country
and improve the condition of the people at large, but in all this he never
neglects his Father's business in the matter of preaching the unsearchable
riches of Christ. He has baptized many hundreds of people and has established
many congregations of Christians. He has strong confidence in the power of the
gospel to convert the soul, and he closely adheres to the word of the Lord on
all questions of doctrine as a preacher; he is equally strong in his conviction
that the Holy Scriptures given by inspiration of God are all-sufficient to guide
Christians and churches in all matters of religious work and worship, anf or
that reason he insists upon keeping clearly and safely within the limits of New
Testament teaching and examples in all matters of doctrine and practice for both
saints and sinners. He is an original thinker, a vigorous speaker, and a
kind-hearted and gentle-spirited Christian.
The field of his labors is gradually widening, and as he is as yet in the vigor
of mature manhood, there is promise of many years of effective labor before him
in the service of the Lord.
Srygley, Biographies and Sermons, c.1898. pgs. 114-117
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JOHN R. WILLIAMS
John R. Williams was born in 1851 and he died in 1927. No
doubt he indirectly influenced me because he labored for the Lord Jesus many
years in my native Northwest Tennessee.
Coleman Overby, a distinguished evangelist and Bible scholar
was editor of The Primitive Christian which was published in Union City,
Tennessee. The October 1,1927 issue of that paper was devoted to honoring
brother Williams soon after his death.
A beloved evangelist whom I knew and loved and who greatly
influenced my life was W. S. Long. In The Primitive Christian of October 1,
1927, brother Long wrote the following.
Brother John R. Williams As I Knew Him
"One of the best, bravest and noblest of God's soldiers has
finished his earthly service and gone to receive his crown. Truly may it be said
of him, 'For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' 'Precious in the
sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.'
"It was in the fall of 1896 that Brother Williams came to my
father's home to spend the weekend and preach in that community. I was a timid
boy, but when I entered the room and he reached out his hand of love to me I
felt that I had met a friend. This was true indeed, and through all these years
of struggle I have never had a better friend. A few years later I entered school
at Hornbeak, and while there made my home with brother and sister Williams. They
were all that two Christians could be to a boy away from home for the first time
in life. It was while in this home that I decided to give my life to preaching
the gospel, and Brother Williams gave me more encouragement more than anyone
outside of my own parents. And when I attempted to preach my first discourse he
was there and prayed for my success and spoke words of encouragement. In those
days in my young life he gave me such good advice and guarded my interests as
much so as if I were his own son.
"My pen fails when I attempt to tell how much I have loved
Brother and Sister Williams and their children. The church of Christ has lost
one of its strongest and best gospel preachers, and Obion county one of its most
valuable citizens. Some one has said, that when God made Paul he smashed the
moulds to pieces and there was but one Paul. God has given to the church of
Christ but one brother John R. Williams, and there can never be another to take
"Space will not permit me to dwell on the many
characteristics of his life that have caused me to hold him in so high esteem,
but let me mention a few.
"Sincerity. - He was sincere in all he did. There was no
"put on" about him, he was just what he claimed to be. He had no patience with
hypocrisy and had no part or lot in such sins.
"Earnestness. - This was another outstanding trait found in
him. So earnest was he in his preaching that some thought he was mad, but like
Pad of old, he was speaking forth "the words of truth and soberness." He warned
people day and night with tears.
"Sacrifice. - It mattered not where the call and what the
cost brother Williams would go if he could and preach the unsearchable riches of
Christ regardless of financial support, and I am safe in saying that he made
more sacrifices to preach Christ in mission fields than any preacher of his day
"Sympathy. - This ever abounded in his great life and those
who knew him best can say he had a big heart, and poured out his tears with
those in trouble, and often took the last dime he had to help the needy.
"Courage. - This trait stood fourth on the brow, in the
heart, and the words of this great man of God, and he fearlessly preached the
whole counsel of God regardless of the cost. He would have given up every friend
he had on earth, and then his own life before he would have sacrificed one
principle found in the Word of God.
"Truly can it be said of him, 'Blessed are the dead that die
in the Lord from hence forth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from
their labors; and their works do follow them.'
"And now since he has finished his work, does it not seem
good in the wisdom of God to take him home to rest? He has baptized and taught
many how to retch heaven and many of these, with other noble friends of his,
have gone on before. So, there is being held a great reunion over there that
will never cease. We shall pass over very soon and join them in that land .of
peace where no sorrow shall come and no tears ever fall. Let us praise God for
such a gospel." (End of brother Long's article.)
Another true friend who tremendously influenced my life was
N. B. Hardeman. It was my fortune to sit at his
feet three years. Brother Hardeman wrote the following about John R. Williams in
that same issue of The Primitive Christian.
John R. Williams
"It is with a feeling of tenderness and reverence that I try
to write these words. In the death of brother John R. Williams, the Cause of
Christ has lost a mightly power and a great friend He belonged to a class that
is by far too few. He was akin to our pioneers. He understood and appreciated
full well the Restoration Movement. His life was spent in an ernest effort to
bring about the ancient order of things. Human organizations found no favor in
his sight. His time and his influence were devoted to the building up of the
Church Jesus died to establish.
"Brother Williams was not of the kind that took a text, and
then "went every where preaching the word.' His labors were confined most
largely to the counties of Obion and Lake, and the thirty or more congregations
there are evidences of his fidelity and loyalty to God's word. He was a man of
strong convictions, and was neither afraid nor ashamed to declare them whenever
and wherever he thought good might result.
"In this issue of the Primitive Christian, made sacred to
his memory, we recall his unwavering devotion to duty, his lifelong respect for
manly honor, and his unfeigned faith in the word of God. These were the pillars
upon which his character was built. The achievements of selfish ambitions are
ephemeral. The crowns they bring to weary brows soon crumble into dust. Their
laurels wither in an hour. But the monuments built by a man of God defy the
wrath of storms and master the might and blight of time.
"Self-sacrifice and devotion to duty are the loftiest and
most enduring attributes of the soul. In the life of brother Williams these
qualities were outstanding. By the sternest code of honor, he lived a life of
rectitude. I believe it can be truly said, that neither to the right, nor to the
left, under whatever temptation, throughout a long life full of action, did he
ever swerve by the breadth of a hair from the path of honor or conviction of
what he believed to be right.
"The Christian's faith and hope were surely his. His death
was a fitting close to such a life and a happy realization of the prophet's
prayer: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
his." He died knowing full well that the gates of death were but the portals of
life immortal. He has laid aside his battlescarred armor, and has passed to
realize all of his hallowed hopes and holiest desires.
"It was a genuine pleasure to know brother Williams, to be
in his humble home, and to hear him tell the Story which, to him, never grew
old. All we may say of him will soon be forgotten, but that life of
self-sacrifice, true devotion, and wonderful faith in the "Old Book" will live
on and on.
" 'Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare's past,
The battle's fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.' "
(End of N. B. Hardeman's article.)
It was not my fortune to know John R. Williams, but when
time shall be no more, when the Lord of life shall appear, and his saints shall
be like him, and see him as he his, I expect to meet and greet among the hosts
of heaven, John R. Williams and many whom he influenced with the gospel to be in
If anyone has a collection of copies of The Primitive
Christian he would give to the library at International Bible College, please
let this editor know.
W. R. Hassel, Eph Smith, and Joe Ratcliffe conducted the
funeral service for brother Williams. Ealon V. Wilson conducted the song service
at the funeral. Brother Wilson has published a book entitled: Life and
Ministry of John R. Williams.
-Basil Overton, Editor, World Evangelist,
January, 1977, page 13
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JOHN R. WILLIAMS (1851-1927):
A TRUE MISSIONARY IN WEST
I. BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
Williams was born within two miles of Lewisburg in Marshall County December 30,
1851 of poor and humble parents. Because the Civil War was breaking out when he
was of school age, he did not get to attend school. He only spent about fifteen
months in the classroom as a pupil. At the age of eighteen he moved to Obion
County and two years later married Mollie R. Moultrie. One of his sisters led
the way for the family in her obedience to the gospel and encouraged John to do
the same. He was baptized by J. H. Raul on July 30, 1876, just a few days after
the American centennial.
of 1883 he was licensed to practice law before the county court and in July of
1885 committed himself to preach the gospel. In November of the same year he was
licensed to practice law in all the courts of the state, but made the decision
to give his full energy to preaching. In his seventieth year he wrote, "From
that day to the present I have been a poor man-made no money, therefore have
none now. I managed to feed, and clothe my family, after a manner, and give to
each of my children, now living, a practical education and taught them how to
did most of his preaching in Obion and surrounding counties and for several
years wrote a popular report for the Gospel Advocate entitled "Notes from West
Tennessee." By his seventieth birthday he had baptized about 2500 people,
established 18 congregations, revived 4, and had encouraged the building of
about 13 church buildings. Most of his work was spent in evangelizing new areas.
During the years 1885-1925 no one preached more tent meetings in West Tennessee
than John R. Williams.
work up to 1921 Brother Williams held fourteen public discussions. Seven were
with Missionary Baptists, two with Primitive Baptists, two with Seventh Day
Adventists, and three with Methodists. In 1906 he held a joint gospel meeting
with the famous Baptist preacher, I. N. Penick.
II. AS A
Williams was constantly pressing forward the missionary work in West
Tennessee. During the years when the Christian Church was emphasizing the
society method of evangelizing, Williams was holding many tent meetings.
During a week when the Tennessee Christian Missionary Convention was in
session at Union City, Williams asked:
if it will send some man and a tent to any of the destitute places in West
Tennessee. Would it not rather send a man to some old, established congregation
to divide it over the things condemned by the word of God?'
In 1906 a
sister wrote him from Lynnville: "After all the talk about mission work in West
Tennessee, I see you are the true missionary."
helped churches move forward in their work, but he also helped the churches
through the trying times of the separation from the Christian Church and the
Disciples of Christ. He noted in 1906 that the "clouds of war" were lowering and
that the churches of Christ were "strengthening" their forces. He felt that the
future looked bright for the faithful churches, but he longed for people would
stand only on the Word of God.
kept his sermon outlines in a small leather loose-leaf notebook. When closed the
volume looked like a thin Bible. Scriptures were pasted into the beautifully
handwritten outlines. Some of the sermon titles were: "What Should the Love of
Christ Do For US?" "The Holy Spirit-Present in All Beginnings," "Is There a
Third Party in Salvation?" "Worldly Fashions," "Opinion, Faith, Knowledge," "Is
Heaven Gained Without Effort?" "What God Says Do, He Says Do It Now."
III. AS A
interesting to note the spiritual progress of one of the nine children of John
R. Williams during the year 1903. Len D. Williams had entered Georgia Robertson
Christian College at Henderson, a school whose literary work Brother Williams
considered "second to none."
had been at the school a short while he wrote home and expressed his intention
to preach the gospel. Brother A. G. Freed also wrote Brother Williams and
reported that Len was "succeeding well in all his studies." During semester
break Len preached once or twice for his home congregation at Hornbeak.
Thereafter, the church gave him an appointment to preach on every second Sunday.
of that year Len preached his first two gospel meetings. In the second meeting
eighteen responded and fourteen were baptized. His first convert was a
seventy-nine year old lady who had been a Baptist for fifty years. In October
Len became involved in an unusual meeting. His dad tells he story:
congregation at Hornbeak had decided to have another meeting some time this
fall and had written to one or more preachers of renoun (sic); but all were
busy, could not come. Last Sunday (September 13) was the day for my son to
fill his regular appointment at Hornbeak. He did so, expecting to leave for
Henderson on Monday morning for another year in school, when, to the
astonishment of the congregation, the meeting started itself. Up to this
(Thursday morning eight persons have been baptized and two have been
reclaimed. I suppose that the brethren will not send for the big preacher
now, but will let the meeting held by the little preacher suffice for the
present in the way of accession.
Williams felt that no greater duty or obligation rested upon parents than that
of bringing up their children in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." As he
put it: "proper instruction, influence, and safeguards given to children around
the home fireside will result in good."
Williams made a good impact for the gospel in his day and even after his death.
Several living today look back to him with appreciation and admiration. He was
an important man of the church in an important time for the church.
John R. Williams, "Notes from West
Tennessee," Gospel Advocate 45 (October 15, 1903). 669.
John R. Williams, "Notes from West
Tennessee," Gospel Advocate 48 (March 15, 1906). 170.
John R. Williams, "Notes from West
Tennessee," Gospel Advocate 45 (October 1, 1903). 635.
E. Hester, Freed-Hardeman Lectures, 1979, pages 115-117
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Perspectives And Profiles Of The Past
The church of Christ in Hornbeak, Obion County, Tennessee,
recently conducted a gospel meeting in which I did the preaching and Randy
Williams led the singing. We had excellent attendance and three people were
baptized -- a young man, his wife, and his sister. Richard Jones, a well known
and highly respected native, is the local preacher. A large number of ministers
and elders from other congregations visited the meeting.
I had held a meeting in Hornbeak fifty years ago. In fact
Mignon and I were here for revivals in 1939 and 1940. During the two meetings, I
baptized 20 people in the waters of Reelfoot Lake which was formed by an
earthquake in the New Madrid Fault in 1811. Two of the individuals who were
baptized then, James Darnall and Irene Baker, attended the recent series of
The church in Hornbeak was established sometime prior to 1876
and John R. Williams went there to live and preach in 1885. When we went to
Hornbeak in 1940, Mrs. Williams was still living there as was her youngest son,
Scott. She gave me some of brother Williams' old books. I bought my first
Tennessee Walking Horse from Scott in 1940. I learned to ride the beautiful and
fascinating breed, and in 1975 I rode Hawk's Mystery to the Amateur World
Championship at the National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville,
The story of the life and preaching of John R. Williams is
the story of the Restoration Movement in Hornbeak and Obion County. Williams was
born in Marshall County, Tennessee, on December 30, 1851. His father was a
Methodist preacher and he was reared in the doctrine of Methodism. However, he
was converted and baptized b J. H. Roulhac on July 30,1876. Roulhac was listed
as preacher for the Union City Christian Church as early as 1874. Williams
married Mary Moultrie on November 17, 1871. To this union were born nine
children. His first and last meetings were conducted at Mennick, Tennessee.
Williams was responsible for establishing most of the
congregations of the church in Obion and Lake counties. He, with a singer, would
go to a community, pitch his tent and preach as many weeks as it took to
establish and organize a congregation. He incurred the strong opposition of the
sects who called him a "mule skinner," because of his straight forward preaching
of the gospel. Williams considered himself a little preacher fitted to preach
for small rural congregations. He remarked that the large churches would not
permit him to preach for them and the big preachers did not want to preach in
the mission fields where he did.
The Restoration Movement was late in coming to Obion County.
Barton Warren Stone lived and preached for a while in Middle Tennessee and
Campbell traveled up and down
the Mississippi River in. the early
1800's but neither was inclined to
stop and preach in far west Tennessee.
The first congregation of
Christians only to be established
in Obion County was organized
at the Old Republican Meetinghouse four miles west of what is
now Union City, the County Seat.
On October 29, 1848, thirteen
persons "agreed to live together
as Christians at the Republican
Meetinghouse and gave themselves
to one another and to the
Lord." After the group had
moved to a new location in Union
City, Jacob Creath, Jr. reported
that he went there in early 1868
and after one sermon he baptized
The American Christian Missionary
Society was organized in
Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849 and the melodeon was introduced into the
worship at Midway, Kentucky, by
L. L. Pinkerton in 1859. The Tennessee Missionary Society was
organized in Nashville in 1890
and the organ was introduced into
worship by the Union City Christian
Church in 1891. Many of the
members withdrew from the
Christian Church when the organ
went in and led by P. Y. White
they formed what is now the Exchange
Street Church of Christ.
Williams, David Lipscomb and F.
W. Smith were among the first to
preach for the "non-organ"
church. Williams also participated
in a public debate with a
Methodist preacher in Union City
which caused quite a stir.
John R. Williams found himself
vehemently opposed to the
Society and the organ. He was
very effective in holding the line
against both in the West Tennessee
churches. Ye wrote a regular
column for The Gospel Advocate
which he titled "Notes from West
Tennessee" and served as an associate
editor of the Primitive
Christian which was edited and
published by Coleman Overby.
Because of his writings the Baptists called Williams the "Campbellite
Watchdog of West Tennessee."
In 1897, the Georgia Robertson
College was organized in
Henderson as the successor of the
West Tennessee Christian College. A. G. Freed and E. C.
McDougle served as co-presidents
and N. B. Hardeman
and L. L. Brigance were members
of the faculty. The organ had
been introduced into the Henderson
Christian Church by Knowles
Shaw, the singing evangelist, in
1877. McDougle stood firm for
instrumental music and the Missionary
Society. The college was
under the strong influence of
Williams was one of the first
to raise his voice against the
situation in both the college and
the church. His oldest son, Len
Day, was a student in the college
and Williams threatened to withdraw
him and send him to the
Nashville Bible School unless
some changes were made. However,
Freed assured Williams and
others that he had tentative plans
to change the situation or leave
the college. Williams wrote in The Gospel Advocate that
"Brother Freed has laid his plans
and convinced me of the course
he would follow."
In January 1903, E. A. Elam
went to Henderson and preached
in a gospel meeting. He was
strongly opposed by the elders of
the Christian Church [see R.P. Meeks additional info
from webmaster] but he was
able to convince Freed, Hardeman,
Brigance and a large
number of the college students to
leave the Christian Church and
organize the Henderson Church
of Christ. The Elam meeting was
followed by the Joe Warlick-J. C.
Stark debate on mechanical instruments
of music in worship.
This debate strengthened the
position of John R. Williams and
most of the congregations in
West Tennessee. Foy E. Wallace,
Jr. wrote: "(The) debate that
stopped the music movement, and
had it not been held then (1903)
not later, the Chronicles would
not be the same as now (1980) for
the churches of West Tennessee."
The Georgia Robertson College
closed and President E. C.
McDougle, a strong advocate of
instrumental music and the Missionary
Society, left Henderson
and identified with the Eastern
Kentucky Normal School in
J. R. Williams devoted much
of his time as an agent of The
Gospel Advocate and went
throughout the region visiting
homes and congregations soliciting
subscriptions. In 1887 he
visited the Conyersville Church
of Christ in Henry County and
was a guest in the home of John
Shelton Calhoun. Williams wrote
that "From Paris I came to Conyersville
. . . where we have a
good little congregation established
mainly by Bro. J. A. Harding.
My home is with Bro. J. S.
Calhoun. . . His son, Hall, is a
live enthusiastic student of the
Bible." This report was written a
year before Hall Laurie Calhoun
enrolled in Kentucky University
and the College of the Bible to
study under John William
During the month of June
1911, Williams and Elon Wilson
went to Cardwell, Missouri, to
conduct a gospel meeting. A
young Methodist public school
teacher, M. S. Mason, attended
the meeting and heard Williams
preach a sermon on "The Great
Commission." Mason was baptized into Christ, and became one of my Bible teachers at Freed-Hardeman College (University)
and coached me to deliver an oration
on Philippians 4:8, in intercollegiate
competition. He was assassinated by an insane religious
fanatic during a meeting in Judsonia, Arkansas on October 3,
John R. Williams died at four o'clock on Monday morning,
September 5,1927, at his home in Hornbeak. His funeral was conducted
by three of his beloved peers -- W. R. Hassell, Eph Smith and Joe Ratcliff. He was buried in
the local cemetery. His wife died on February 13, 1945 at the age of 90 years. All of the Williams
children are dead but there are seven grandchildren still living. The youngest son, Elihu Scott,
who served as an elder of the Kenton Church of Christ for
many years, died on January 26,
1989, at the age of 94 years.
The names of the Hornbeak
Church of Christ and John R.
Williams are closely connected
with the Restoration in Obion
County. The church remains
faithful to the New Testament
principles and Williams though
dead, "yet speaks." Brother N. B.
Hardeman who preached often in
Hornbeak during the forty-two
years that Williams lived there,
wrote in his memory:
"The monuments built by a
man of God defy the wrath of
storms and master the might and
blight of time."
-Adron Doran, World Evangelist, January,
1991, page 3.
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Of The Grave of John R. Williams
R. Williams is buried in the Hornbeak Cemetery, in Hornbeak Community, Obion
County, Tennessee. Obion County is the most Northwest county in the state,
bordering on Kentucky in the north and Missouri in the west. From Memphis,
Tennessee travel north on Hwy. 51. Go through Dyersburg and head into Obion
County. Go west (left) on Hwy. 21. When coming into town, you will come in
from the north. Turn left on Cemetery Street (next to the Chevrolet
Dealership). and go to dead end. Road continues to the left. Head to the
very end of the road to the back of the cemetery. Do not go into the front
entrance. At the rear of the cemetery go into the rear north corner and look
under a cluster of Cedar trees. The Williams plot is in this thicket of
trees. See photos below.
N36º 19.933' x W89º 17.376'
or D.d. 36.332141,-89.289553
Accuracy To Within 24'
View Larger Map
Hornbeak Lays Claim To The Oldest Chevrolet
Dealership In The State Of Tennessee
Blackley Chevrolet - Note Road Sign To Get To Cemetery
Recent news is that this dealership is now closed - 2012
From Rear Of Cemetery
Looking Toward Rear Of Cemetery -
Williams Monument Outlined
John R. Williams
Mollie R. Williams His Wife
Special Thanks to Tom L. Childers for providing the photo above of J.R. & Mollie Williams. He said he found it on Ancestry.com, where it was posted by a grandson, John Foster - August, 2012
I visited the grave of John R. Williams and took the other photos you see here in 2007