History of the Restoration Movement

James Walter Harding


James W. Harding

Many events cluster around the life of a good man. The longer the span of his life, the greater number of events connected with it. We are now to consider a life which stretched over nearly a century. James W. Harding was born in Winchester, Ky., May 6, 1823, and died on September 16, 1919. Thus he lived nearly ninety-seven years, a long stretch for one life.

Brother Harding began living in the early days of the Restoration Movement. He was seven years old when Alexander Campbell began to publish the Millennial Harbinger and proclaim the glorious truths of man's redemption independent of denominational superstition and bondage. He lived through the early period of the Restoration Movement. He saw an unpopular cause win its way to success and prominence. He saw the beginning of the departures from the New Testament order, and witnessed their consequences. He saw the Restoration Movement break the shackles of religious bondage, and lead a people into the light of New Testament truth, and enjoy for a season the liberty that is in Christ Jesus, and then gradually go back into the bondage of human organizations. Few men have such observations as did Brother Harding. He espoused a despised and unpopular cause in his youth, and lived to see that cause win the hearts of a large and intelligent portion of the world's citizenship. He saw congressmen, judges, senators, and one President of the United States come from among the people who held dear the principle of the Restoration Movement. He saw the congregations multiply from a few scattered groups of religious people into many churches scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and the European countries. He saw these churches continue to multiply and belt the earth until the sun never sets upon congregations of disciples.

Brother Harding was born in Winchester, Ky. He was married in that classic little town and lived there his ninety-six years and more. His father, Amos Harding, was born in Boston, Mass., and came to Clark County, Kentucky, in 1820. James W. Harding was left an orphan at the age of three by the death of his father. His mother married the second time, but James W. began to make his own way when quite young. He learned the tailor's trade and followed that for a number of years. He was married to Mary E. McDonald in 1844. To this union fourteen children were born. The oldest of these children was the justly famous and long-lamented James A. Harding. Only two of his fourteen children are now living.

At the age of sixteen, in the year 1839, Brother Harding obeyed the gospel; so he lived as a citizen of the kingdom of God a little more than eighty years on this earth, and he fought the battles of an earnest, faithful Christian life more than eighty years. He began preaching the gospel soon after he became a Christian and continued to preach until he was ninety-five years of age. Thus, he was a public proclaimer of the gospel nearly sixty years, more than half a century. He followed his craft, a tailor by trade, and preached on Sundays. Often he would leave his work and accept calls to hold meetings. It was his business to live the Christian, and preach the gospel. He made his work as a tailor a secondary matter. He engaged in farming, cattle trading, and the mercantile business. He made a living for his family by working at these trades. He did not claim to be a successful man; however, he was fairly successful in whatever he undertook to do. He cared so much for the preaching of the gospel and living the Christian life that oftentimes he gave small attention to anything else. In addition to his protracted-meeting work, he preached at regular places on Sundays. He preached thirty years at one place and twenty-five years at another place.

Brother Harding did not have the advantage of an education in his youth. He attended school a little less than one year, and had few educational advantages in his early youth. He was endowed with a strong mind and gained a good knowledge of the Bible. He associated with good people, received the refining influence of the principles of Christianity, and carried with grace and ease the polish of a Christian gentleman. He associated in his younger days with Moses E. Lard, John T. Johnston, and Aylette Rains; in the latter part of his career as a preacher he associated with E. G. Sewell, David Lipscomb, T. B. Larimore, and E. A. Elam. These men held meetings for the Fairfax Church in Winchester, where Brother Harding was an elder.

Brother Harding often related the following incident connected with his association with Moses E. Lard. Brother Lard was engaged in a meeting at the Fairfax Church. Brother Harding, as was the custom, sat on the pulpit with the visiting preacher. One evening during the meeting, while the audience was assembled, Brother Lard turned to Brother Harding and said: "You will preach tonight." Brother Harding, confused and astonished, said: "No; the people expect to hear you." Brother Lard said: "If you will not preach, then dismiss the congregation." Brother Harding preached, and at the close of the service five persons made the good confession and demanded baptism. This greatly encouraged Brother Harding.

James W. Harding was a believer in Christian education. He saw the great need of training young people in the service of God. He was an elder in the Fairfax Church for many years. He was an elder in the old Court Street Christian Church until instrumental music was introduced into the worship there. He and about fifteen other faithful members withdrew from the Court Street Church. They worshiped for some time in Brother Harding's house. The little congregation grew until they could not meet in the dwelling house; so, through the influence and guidance of Brother Harding, the Fairfax church house was built. Brother Harding was made an elder of the Fairfax Church, and continued his services as an elder of this church until his death. He was an active elder in the old Court Street Church and the Fairfax Church for more than fifty years. He saw the need of training young people and did what he could as an elder to encourage all young members of the church to become efficient servants of the Lord. He knew that they could become better servants of the Lord if they were educated; hence, he encouraged his son, James A. Harding, in running what was called then "Bible schools." He was a reader of the Gospel Advocate, and after reading an issue he would hand the paper to some one else and request that one to read it and pass it on to others. He could relate many incidents where much good was done by his handing good literature to others and requesting that it be read. Brother Harding baptized many people and preached many funerals. It is said that he preached more funerals and married more people than any other man in Central Kentucky. He was held in high esteem and respected by all who knew him. Even those who did not agree with him respected him for his purity of life, strength of faith, and loyalty to his convictions.

Brother Harding was a man of great faith. He was a praying man for eighty years. At the close of the day and just before retiring he would thank God for the blessings of life and ask him to spare his life "to see the light of another day." The last evening that he prayed, he prayed and said: "Lord, take thy servant home." The Lord heard his prayer, and before the rising of another sun the Lord had taken his spirit and left his body upon earth. He died on September 15, 1919. Services were held at the Fairfax church of Christ by M. C. Kurfees, assisted by M. P. Lowry, one of the elders who had worked with Brother Harding so long.

-Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preacher, H. Leo Boles, c. 1932, Gospel Advocate Company, pages 208-212

Life Ends For Elder Harding Tuesday Night
Winchester’s Oldest And Grandest Old Man Succumbs to Infirmities Monday Night
Was 96 Years Of Age
Had Been Engaged in the Profession of an Evangelist For More Than Eighty Years

Winchester’s older and noblest old man, Elder James Walter Harding, aged 96 years the 6th day of May, died at his home on West Hickman street Monday night about 9:50 o’clock, from a complication of diseases, incident to infirmities of old age.

Elder Harding was up until about a month ago very active in his church work and delivered a sermon about four weeks {ago} at the Fairfax Church of Christ, the last time that he attended service. Elder Harding has been engaged in preaching since he was about 15 years of age, having been in the Evangelist work the entire time, never holding any regular pastorate, but devoted his time to revivals. He probably married more people during the time he was engaged in the ministry than any other preacher. He began keeping a record of the marriages which he performed when he first began preaching, but in the year of 1857 when the block of buildings which is now occupied by the Citizen’s National Bank and other buildings were destroyed by fire, all of his records were burned and he abandoned the idea of keeping them. He preached his first sermon in the old church which was located on the site where Miss Laura Ecton now resides on East Washington street.

The last time he was down the street was on Courtday, the 25th of August, making two trips down the street the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the latter being made alone and unknown to his family.

Elder Harding’s ancestors moved to Clark county, his father and three brothers, from Boston, Mass., and were among the earliest settlers in this county. Shortly after his father located here he was married to Miss Nancye Kerrick, of this county to whom were born two children, Elder Harding and one brother who died in infancy. He also had two half-sisters who were born to his father’s first wife, who was from Massachusetts.

At the time of his birth his parents were living on West Broadway on the lot where Dr. J.H. Holmes, colored, now resided. His father died when Eld. Harding was a child. He was very active all during his life, beside being engaged in the ministry he served as an apprentice in the tailoring business, but later in the mercantile business in the storeroom which was located on the corner where the Citizen’s Bank I snow located and at the same time was a livestock dealer, at which he was very successful. Elder Harding could be termed a self-educated man having had but a few educational opportunities.

Source: This was an article from a newspaper in 1919, we assume at the time of Elder Harding’s death. A copy of the article was located in the library at Winchester, Ky., but was not properly sourced.

Directions To The Grave of J.W. Harding

James W. Harding is buried in Winchester Cemetery in Winchester, Kentucky. Just east of Lexington, travel on I-64 to exit 96a and turn right on Hwy. 627/Paris Road. The road will become Maple Street. At mid-town turn right on W. Lexington/Hwy. 60. You will quickly see the cemetery on the right. Enter the main entrance, and go to the third section on the left. The Harding plot was behind a tree when visiting in May, 2011, but slow driving in the section will cause you to easily see it, as it is on the front row, facing the drive. While in the cemetery, be sure to visit the grave of Charles M. Neal, another preacher buried within a short walking distance from the Hardings.

GPS Location of the Harding Family Plot
37°59'51.6"N 84°11'19.4"W
or D.d. 37.997678, -84.188727

Winchester Cemetery

Hardings in Central E-47 & The Charles M Neals In Central E-313

James W. 1823-1919 - Age 96 Years, Father
Mary E. 1829-1908 - Age 79 years, Mother

Photos Taken May, 2011
Courtesy of Scott Harp

Special Thanks to Tom L. Childers and C. Wayne Kilpatrick for assisting in the locating of the grave of James W. Harding. In May, 2011, these men traveled with your web editor to search for graves in Kentucky.

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