Biographical Sketch On The Life Of Prier Reeves
Prier Reeves is one of the many unsung heroes of the Restoration Movement. With a life that began at the end of the 18th century, and spanned through to the end of the Civil War, undoubtedly he saw many things, and had many experiences that are lost to the ages. Little is known of the day to day aspects of his life, his family and relatives. He is buried in a small cemetery a few miles south of Montgomery, Alabama in the Shady Ridge Community in Lowndes County.
What is known of this preacher of old is that early in the 1840s he was a circuit minister among the Baptists in southeast Alabama. Preaching for the Shady Grove Baptist church around 1845 or 1846 he became aware that a preacher among the "Campbellites," a T.A. Cantrell, was troubling the neighborhoods among the Baptists. Reeves entered a debate with Cantrell at Shady Grove, and from it was converted to New Testament Christianity. He at once began teaching among the Baptists with whom he had influence, and very soon nine of the sixteen churches in the local Baptist Church Association withdrew, becoming churches after the ancient order. Not all at Shady Grove were convinced and a split resulted. For a while both churches met in the same building, but ultimately separated. The church of Christ at Shady Grove is one of the oldest churches in the Restoration Movement in south Alabama, located just four miles east of Opelika in Lee County.
Reporting on Reeves conversion it was said, "Brother Reeves has long been an intelligent and able minister among the Baptists; but a few weeks ago he renounced every thing but the unmixed word of God, and is now proclaiming the gospel in its primitive purity, and is "contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." A majority of all his churches go with him, and the prospect for the future seems to be flattering. Six months ago a teacher of the unmixed word had never been heard in this section of country; now there are two churches. and will be many. We want more light, and more of the teaching and “writings of the Disciples. —THOMAS M. SLAUGHTER. (MH 1845, p.571)
No distance was too far or doctrine too inferior to intimidate this pioneer speaker for God. He once reported traveling over 60 miles each week to help one group of interested believers come out of denomination confusion into the light of the simple gospel of Christ. He regarded the greatest and most formidable foe of the cause of Christ as the "miserable ignorance of the ministry," in that area of the country, (MH, 1860, p.537,538). Reeves continued the rest of his life evangelizing among the people of South Alabama. He sent reports to the Millennial Harbinger and other brotherhood papers.
Very soon after Brother Reeves' death, J.M. Barnes, close friend and fellow minister in Alabama, wrote to Alexander Campbell, not aware that the elder brother was shortly to take to his own deathbed never to rise again, reporting of the sad departure of his friend and co-worker. He said, "We are not without our troubles. The death of the energetic, zealous and indefatigable laborer and defender of the truth, Elder Prior Reeves, I suppose has not reached you. We lost much in his death." (MH, 1866, p.45,46)
—Sources: The Millennial Harbinger, History Of The Christian Churches In The Alabama Area, by George H. & Mildred B. Watson
Prior Reeves - Unsung Hero
Prior (Pryor, Prier) Reeves is one of the unsung heroes among restoration pioneers in southeast Alabama. He was born on 5/22/1799 in Georgia. He was married to Miss Parmelia Graves in Jasper, Georgia on 12/14/1820. They would become the parents of twelve children.
He joined the Baptist church in young adulthood and soon became an ordained minister for them. He was an excellent proclaimer and by the 1830s his popularity had increased until he was riding circuit for a sixteen member group of “free” Baptist churches in southwest Georgia and south east Alabama. The free Baptist were similar in their teaching to the “separatist Baptist in the Tennessee Valley. They seemed to be searching for a way out of the Calvinist restrictions that the regular Baptist practiced.
Several different stories are told of his introduction to the ancient gospel. The most plausible is that he heard T.A. Cantrell give a lesson in Lee County, Alabama and was moved to challenge Cantrell to a debate. Cantrell did not consider himself a gospel preacher but was considered an exhorter. He evidently was well versed in the scriptures and accepted Reeve’s challenge. As the debate progressed, Reeves began to realize that the doctrine he was preaching was not founded in scripture and at some point during, or shortly after the debate, admitted his error and united with the disciples. Reeves and Cantrell became close friends (Reeves named a son for Cantrell) and working together, the two began to teach the churches on Reeve’s preaching circuit and before long had switched nine of the sixteen to the old Jerusalem gospel. This was a monumental happening. Likely because of the high esteem in which his Baptist brethren held Reeves, these changes were accomplished without the rancor and bitterness that was common to such changes. To convert nine Baptist churches to accept the Bible as their only authority, to say the least, created a sir in southeast Alabama and Reeves became a popular and important worker in that area. The Shady Grove Baptist Church, one of the nine which divided ever the matter, voted that both groups should continue to use the same building. There was considerable opposition on the part of the Baptists to this procedure but the difficulties were peaceably settled. The record states:
31st Oct 1845 in conference Brother P. Reeves Modr.
The church agreed to divide on the following terms viz those who wish to retain the United Baptist name and doctrine practice & discipline not sacrificing the fellowship of the church was to do so & their internal wrights with the sovereignty of the denomination was not to be meddled with & that they shall hold possession of the Church records & shall have the first Sabbath and day before in each month in the house as days of worship on the other part those who wish to assume no name but what the new testament give (Christians) fellow out the doctrine faith and practice of the same have equal wrights unmolested to two days in each month in the house to which each member shall have equal wrights to have their names registered in the book of church records according to their choice Hugh Wallace ch clk
Thus, the "Reformers" in this congregation went through the same experience that Stone and Campbell had previously had in separating from their churches. The church formed by the "Christians" was called the Church of Christ at Shady Grove, and dates its history from 1848. In the "Minutes" the following is found:
November 15, 1846...., Bid agree to come together in the worship of God on the following terms: viz. first, giving themselves to the Lord and to each other by the will of God. Second Corinthians, 8th Chapter, fifth verse. Agreeing to believe all that the New Testament teaches and to obey all its injunctions to the best of their capacity and to submit to the laws of Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, in all things.
"Minutes of the Church of Christ at Shady Grove
Prior Reeves served as the minister of the Shady Grove church for several years. In 1848 Thomas M. Slaughter reported in the Harbinger, that Reeves was "contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." He also said that "six months ago a teacher of the unmixed word had never been heard in this section of the country; now there are two churches and will be many." These two churches were, no doubt, the La Fayette church and the Shady Grove church. Brother R.M. McCall reported in the Harbinger- 4/5/1845, that he, brother Richardson and Prior Reeves had baptized sixty persons in the “last eighty days, thus firmly establishing the church in La Fayette, Chambers, County.
From Delta, in Clay. County, June, 1856, Prior Reeves sent Alexander Campbell a copy of a Baptist publication. He did not mention the name of the magazine, but stated that it carried an article attacking Campbell and charging the Disciples with Unitarianism and etc. The leader of this opposition was a "Right Rev. S. Henderson." Reeves wanted Campbell to propose a public discussion on the debated topics. Henderson, in charging Campbell with Unitarianism, was faced with the same problem which has puzzled many others. When the "Campbellites" denied belief in the Trinitarian dogmas, it was assumed that they were Unitarians. It was rather difficult for them to realize that one could be neither of these two extremes and still be within the pale of Christendom. At any rate, Prior Reeves, challenged Henderson to prove that he was a Unitarian, and, according to Reeves' statement, Henderson was unwilling to undertake the task.
Reeves reported from Tallapoosa County in the April, 1860 of the Harbinger, that he had started a congregation in that county. He bemoaned the fact that the Baptist ministers were extremely prejudiced against the gospel, but that the ordinary members were friendly and “ desirous to understand the ways of the truth.” He also stated that “the miserable ignorance of the ministry is the most formidable opposition the cause has here.”
Part of the reason Reeves was no better known in the brotherhood, was due to the fact that he seldom sent reports to the Journals and when he did, they were brief and to the point. He was, as Jno. T. Lewis would say years later, reluctant to “toot his own horn.” Also, he had spent his earlier years in the Baptist church. This, however had its positive aspects as he was well known and highly thought of among the Baptists. He likely had his greatest success among those people.
His preaching covered a large area in east Alabama and included the counties of Cleburne, Randolph, Clay, Chambers, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Lee, establishing churches and building up the cause. There is no way to know how many souls he brought to the truth nor how many churches he established.
Brother Reeves moved to Lowndes County, south of Montgomery, a few years later and settled in the Sandy Ridge community, likely to be near one of his children. There he no doubt, worked with such greats as Dr. David Adams, Pinkney Lawson, W.C. Kirkpatrick and Justus M. Barnes.
The old soldier finished his earthly journey on February 09, 1865. Only in eternity will we know the extent of his labors for his Master. Justus M. Barnes offered the following note in the Millenial Harbinger - 1866: We are not without our troubles. The death of the energetic; zealous and indefatigable laborer and defender of the truth, Elder Prior Reeves, I suppose has not reached you. We lost much in his death. I would say more of his triumphant death but have not space.
Only this short note to memorialize such a wonderful and faithful life. A man who may very well accomplished more for the cause of Christ in southeast Alabama than anyone since his time….Even in death, he was the “unsung hero.”
- Larry Whitehead, The Alabama Restoration Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, July, 2009, pages 20,21
Location Of The Grave Of Prier Reeves
or D.d. 32.021217, -86.451483
(Grave faces W)
Prier Reeves is buried in the little south Alabama community of Sandy Ridge. Take I-65 south of Montgomery. Just north of Fort Deposit, take Exit #151, Hwy. 97, and go east to Hwy. 31. Turn right on Hwy. 31, going south toward Sandy Ridge community. There will be a cemetery on the left hand side about 100 yards off the road called Payne Cemetery. Its got a fence around it. Enter the gate and head toward the rear of the cemetery. If you get to Hwy. 185, you've gone too far. Turn around and come back, and it will then be on your right. While in the cemetery be sure to visit the grave of another restoration preacher, William Payne.
*Sometime written "Prior," instead of "Prier.""Prier" is probably correct, as the times when being referred to by others his name was written, "Prior," but when he wrote to the Millennial Harbinger in 1860, his name was reported as "Prier." This fits with the inscription upon his grave.
Special Thanks: To C. Wayne Kilpatrick for locating the final resting place of Elder Prier Reeves. He took the pictures, and sent them in for this site.