History of the Restoration Movement

William Lucius Butler


Ligon Portraiture Photo

W.L. Butler - Life And Labors

The passing of W.L. Butler marks the close of an eventful and useful life. I have known him intimately for nearly thirty-eight years, and as I pen these lines my mind reverts to many proofs of his candid, noble, and ingenuous nature. If, as Emerson says, “the laws of friendship are great, austere and eternal, of one web with the laws of nature and of morals,” then it is no wonder that our departed friends retain their hold upon our affection and continue to live in the realm of memory. It is in the light of these tender relationships that I write of our beloved brother who has gone to his reward.

William Lucius Butler was born in Davie County, N.C., on September 11, 1848, and died in Morganfield, Ky., on April 30, 1910, in the sixty-second year of his age. He was the oldest son of L.Q.C. Butler, who, about the middle of the nineteenth century and later, was a prominent school-teacher in Davie County, having been a student under the distinguished teacher, Peter S. Ney. The latter has been supposed by some historians in recent years to have been the famous Marshal Ney, of France, who, though reported to have been executed under the military laws of that country, nevertheless escaped to the United States. Intimations of the alleged secret leaked out during the lifetime of the cultured Frenchman, and many person believe that he was the famous Marshal. Be the facts of his identity as they may, Peter S. Ney was a fine scholar and a distinguished and successful teacher in North Carolina about the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century. L.Q.C. Butler imbibed much of the ambition of his master, was a diligent student, attaining to a good degree of scholarship, and subsequently became a teacher of considerable ability and influence. While on a visit to his son William in 1886, who was then living near Louisville, Ky., he died at an advanced age, and his body was taken back to North Carolina for burial in the family burying ground near Harmony, that State. He was a lover of books and a great reader, including, in his lines of research, religious literature to a limited extent, and was an admirer of the periodical writings of Alexander Campbell, though he never became a member of the church.

Before the subject of our sketch was old enough to go to school, his father quit regular teaching and went to farming, mining, and milling, which he continued to follow till after the Civil War. In 1867 he resumed teaching, and his son William, in addition to what had been gained under the private tutorage of his father, enjoyed the rare privilege of systematic study under him for a time.

Thus it will be seen that our brother was blessed in early life with superior advantages so far as literary training was concerned; and, on his mother’s side, who early in life was a pious Baptist, he was not without religious influence as well. Before leaving him, he became quite proficient in some of the preparatory branches necessary to an education; but, amid the devastation and ruin wrought by the Civil War, like many other boys in the South at that time, he could see but little in his native community to encouraged ambition fro extended improvement in any direction. He was possess, however, with strong will power and an indomitable ambition to attain to some position of usefulness in life. For a time he aspired to a legal profession, but the providence of God, as we shall see, led him in a different direction. He imbibed from his father a love for the Latin language, but saw no respect in his immediate surroundings for the improvement which he desired. Consequently, on June 14, 1868, in company with an uncle who had resolved, after the war, to locate in Western Kentucky, he set out for the same destination; and the two made the long journey together on foot. He attended school in Murray, Ky., and for a number of years he studied and taught in that country. Though he never led a wicked life, yet up to this time he was worldly and evinced no special inclination to a religious life. In his boyhood days in North Carolina he was an expert violinist, and was a great favorite in furnishing music for the neighborhood entertainments of the times.

At this juncture, however, we reach the turning point in his life. At Murray, Ky., and in the surrounding country, he was led, under the providence of God, to hear the uncorrupted word of God preached; and during a meeting conducted by the Elders R.B. Trimble and John McCoy, he obeyed the gospel. Being already possessed of a fair education and good natural ability, he was called on to fill an appointment and to conduct the services as might seem to him proper. He reluctantly consented to do so, telling the brethren, with a humor always characteristic of him, that if he could not “fill the appointment,” he could go and “wiggle about in it!” He had not thought yet of becoming a preacher, but did so well on the occasion referred to that he was soon called on to fill other appointments. Giving such marked evidence of ability for the work, he was soon called on to hold a protracted meeting, the success of which led him to a final decision to give his life to the preaching of the gospel. He proceeded at once to set about further preparation for the work, and in the fall of 1871 entered Kentucky University (now Transylvania University) at Lexington, Ky. he was attracted thither by the wide reputation of Robert Milligan, then president of the College of the Bible, and J.W. McGarvey, then a professor in the same institution, and now its president. For three consecutive years Brother Butler successfully prosecuted his studies in this institution, making a fine record in all of them, and becoming proficient in the languages and other branches of learning. When trouble arose over the regency of the University in 1874 in connection with Regent John B. Bowman, our brother, impelled by a sense of duty, but regretting the necessity for it, left the University and went to Bethany College in West Virginia. He remained the greater part of the college year, but before the commencement of 1875 he seized with a spell of sickness and was compelled to leave before the close of the session. He never returned to college. Although he did not graduate at either Lexington or Bethany, he completed nearly all of the course at each of these institutions.

While preaching for the church in Metropolis, Ill., he was married on February 3, 1876, to Miss Alice Beatrice Stone, of Nicholas County, Ky. In 1879, while located with the church at Mayfield, Ky., he began the publication of the Apostolic Church, a monthly periodical, of which he was editor and proprietor; and in 1883 he moved the magazine to Louisville, Ky., where J.W. Lowber became associated with him in the conduct of the paper. This arrangement continued until the journal was consolidated in 1885 with the Apostolic Guide. He preached for the church then worshiping at Fifteenth and Jefferson Streets, and subsequently for the churches in Worthington, Ky., St. Matthews, Ky., and other points around Louisville.

In the meantime his wife became an invalid, and in 1893 he moved his family to North Carolina, where he continued to do the work of an evangelist as far as he could consistently with the demands upon him at home. His wife died on July 3, 1894, and was buried in the Butler family burying ground. Seven children were born to them. the two oldest, William Errett and Mary Edith, having preceded their mother to the heavenly home.

In 1896 Brother Butler was married again, this time to Miss Lizzie May Talbott, of Winchester, Ky. Two children were born to them, Stanly Talbott and John Boyd, the former dying in infancy. She has proved to be a faithful helpmeet. Trained in her father’s home to be a consecrated Christian woman, she has been a godly mother to our brother’s children. There is mutual devotion between her and them.

Brother Butler is the last member of his immediate family, his parents, brothers and sisters all having preceded him to the world beyond; and he is survived by his wife and her son, John Boyd, and five children of the first wife—namely, Maggie Lowber, now Mrs. Claud R. Pollock, of Phoenix, Ariz.; Lucius Quintas Cincinnatus; Amelia Inis, now Mrs. James Cochran; and Misses Julia Quntilla and Anna Beatrice, all of Morganfield, Ky.

After his second marriage he moved to Shelbyville, Tenn., and was located there from 1896 to 1909, preaching a part of his time for the church at that place. About a year ago he moved to Morganfield, Ky.

An analysis of our brother’s character reveals a variety of interesting traits:

1. He was endowed with a strong mind. Throughout his school career he gave marked evidence of fine intellectual powers. In the department of Greek in Kentucky University he was a favorite with Prof. John H. Neville; and to those who knew the late and lamented professor, this is saying a great deal. He stood high in this department, and attained to a creditable standing in all his studies both at Lexington and at Bethany.

2. As an editor and writer, though he never won special distinction in their field, devoting to it only a short period of his life, yet he was always strong and vigorous in the use of his pen, and it was not always an easy task to met and refute his positions when one might differ from him. About the time he began publishing the Apostolic Church, his clear, vigorous, and thoughtful productions attracted the attention and kindly consideration of Isaac Errett and other strong and influential men. He was always fresh, strong, vigorous, and lucid in his utterances contributing, at different times, to the Gospel Advocate, the Apostolic Guide, and other journals, and he wrote a number of tracts and periodical articles which evinced keen logical acumen and strong argumentative powers. Some of these productions attracted widespread attention at the time.

3. As a debater he achieved good success. He was not particularly pugnacious, and hence never held many debates, but he engaged in several, and, in a majority of them, won a signal victory for the truth in the judgment of those who heard them. He was unusually strong in defending the simple doctrine of the New Testament against the encroachments of human wisdom. It was characteristic of him to treat his opponent not only with fairness and respect, but with marked kindness as well, seeming anxious at all times to lead his antagonist and all others out of error, and to get them, if possible, to see the truth.

4. He possessed a deeply sympathetic nature which manifested itself particularly toward the poor, the afflicted, and the unfortunate of every class. Here, as in all things else, he made no effort at mere display, but his sympathies were strong and tender, and his deeds of charity were many. The poor always felt easy in his presence, and realized that in him they found a friend. He made orphans glad, and with Job he “caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.” (Job 29:13).

5. It was in his capacity as a preacher and teacher of the word of God that he achieved his greatest success. He was not an orator in the popular sense of the term, but a pleasing and impressive speaker. His sermons were usually delivered in conversational style, though sometimes rising to a high pitch of enthusiasm and eloquence as he told the simple stormy of the cross. He scholarship and ability were far beyond his pretensions. He had no worldly ambition, caring but little for either the praise or the blame of men. His ambition was exhausted in an earnest endeavor to do and to be what he believed was right. His brethren did not always agree with him in his conclusion and theories, some of which they regarded as chimerical and fanciful, but they never had occasion to question his sincerity or honesty. Integrity was a conspicuous trait in his character, and he had no sympathy with mere pretensions and shams. But while his life and preaching were pervaded by deep earnestness and seriousness, he, nevertheless, possessed a vein of humor which sometimes showed itself to good advantage even in the pulpit, and which lent a halo of pleasantness to the social circle, where he was a great favorite. He took delight in meeting and mingling with his brethren, and was always interesting and entertaining in conversation. His labors extended to different States, but were chiefly confined to Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee. He preached in the city and in the country, in schoolhouses, private residences, barns, under the shade of the trees, and wherever there was an open door for the word. He held many successful meetings and baptized many people among them quite a number who became preachers of the gospel. In July, 1872, while spending the college vacation at the old home in North Carolina—his first visit there after his departure in 1868—he held a meeting at Jericho Schoolhouse, near Mockville, and baptized the writer and several others who became the nucleus of what afterwards grew into a successful church. Under the inspiration of his preaching and kindly attention, together with timely encouragement from my blessed mother, I resolved on the day of my baptism that I, too, the Lord willing, would preach the word. Two years later, after he had spent another vacation in our native State, I returned with him to the College of the Bible in Lexington. Railroads being scarcer then than now, and money scarcer with us than rail fords, we made the journey by private conveyance and on foot, making only a few miles of it by rail. We always referred to it as our foot journey to college. Starting from him on August 20, 1874, we arrived at Lexington in due time, intending both of us to enter school there; but the regency trouble in the University resulted in his going to Bethany, while I remained at Lexington.

6. His last days and funeral. The last week of April, 1910, the Butler residence in Morganfield was watched with sleepless interest as the paralysis with which he was stricken in August, 1909, was rapidly completing its work on his wasting frame. More than twenty-four house before the end, he became speechless; and on Saturday evening at six o’clock, April 30, 1910, surrounded by members of his devoted family and a host of friends, he was permitted “to depart and be with Christ.” (Phil. 1:23.) On Sunday afternoon, May 1, the funeral services were conducted by Brother J.T. McDonald, attended by a great concourse of people from far and near, and the body was buried in the cemetery at Morganfield.

Good-by, dear brother, till “some sweet day” when I hope to see you again.

-M.C. Kurfees, Gospel Advocate, June 2, 1910, pages 666,667. Special thanks to Terry J. Gardner for sending this article in for publishing here on 11.28.2013.

Gospel Advocate Report

Gospel Advocate, January 22, 1890, p.54

Gospel Advocate Obituary for Lizzie May Butler

Lizzie May Butler, widow of W. L. Butler, passed away Friday, December 10, 1965. She was nearly 98 years old. Funeral services were conducted at the Fairfax church, Winchester, Ky., December 12, at 2:30 P.M. by James W. Garner. Congregational singing, which was requested by Mrs. Butler before her death, was conducted by Branch W. Carty. She was buried in Morganfield, Kentucky, Tuesday, December 14. During the earlier years of her life, "Aunt May," as Mrs. Butler preferred to be known by her friends, along with her parents attended church services at the Bethlehem church in Clark County, Ky., where James W. McGarvey preached regularly. In 1866 J. W. Harding, father of the well-known James A. Harding, conducted a meeting at the Bethlehem church. During this meeting "Aunt May" obeyed the gospel and was baptized by Brother McGarvey. On October 1, 1896 "Aunt May" was married to the distinguished pioneer preacher, William Lucius Butler, with J. W. Harding officiating. To this union one son, John Boyd Butler, was born June 3, 1899. He passed away June 2, 1932. Before coming to Kentucky, W. L. Butler preached in Harmony, North Carolina. During a gospel meeting at Mocksville, North Carolina, which was about ten miles from Harmony, M. C. Kurfrees made the confession and was baptized by Brother Butler. At the insistence of Brother Butler, Brother Kurfrees came to Lexington, Ky., to attend Transylvania College instead of going to Bethany College. Brother Butler passed away in 1910 and was buried in Morganfield, Kentucky, where he was preaching at the time of his death. Mrs. Butler returned to her native county and placed her membership with the Fairfax church of Christ where she remained a faithful member until her death. She was active in church work all her life until the infirmities of old age made it impossible for her to get about.

-Harding Lowry. Gospel Advocate, January 27, 1966, page 63.

Directions To The Grave of W.L. Butler

William L. Butler is buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery in Morganfield, Union County, Kentucky.

From Evansville, Indiana - Take Hwy. 41 south. Cross into Kentucky. Coming into Henderson you will need to turn right on Hwy. 41a/60. Continue on Hwy. 60 to Morganfield. In Morganfield, turn right on Hwy. 130, and as you travel out of town the Oddfellows Cemetery will be on your right. Enter the main entrance of the cemetery and proceed to the flagpole. Bear to the right and as you turn right, look to your left, where the Butler plot is facing the drive. The actual GPS location of the grave is: 37°41'38.2"N 87°54'43.2"W / or D.d. 37.693941,-87.911997

Oddfellows Cemetery

W.L. Butler Plot

William L. Butler
September 11, 1846
April 30, 1910

Photos Taken 10.08.2013
Page Published - 11.28.2013
Courtesy of Scott Harp

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