Barton Warren Stone
Pathfinder of Christian Union
A Story of His Life And Times
by Charles Crossfield Ware
A short distance from Barton Stone's home, in an adjoining county, had lived Patrick Henry, whose eloquence had inspired the Revolution. The roll of stellar leaders in Virginia, called "The Mother of Presidents," had become impressive. In the sixteen year old boy arose impulses initial to a statesman's career. They were innate. His sires had been leaders of men. Ambitious youth dreamed of eminence at the bar. Barton wanted to be a lawyer.
On his sixteenth birthday his father had been dead for over thirteen years. The estate had not been finally divided. There were yet minor heirs. The executors were the widow and the two oldest brothers of Barton, Thomas and Josias. There was reason for concluding the execution of the will, since the children needed some cash for a start in life. This was done satisfactorily. Barton decided he would invest his funds in the best education attainable. He was over seventeen when, in 1790, he received his money.
Somewhat over thirty miles to the southwest of Barton's home was a famous school. It had been going for twenty-three years. It was David Caldwell's school, since this one teacher was the entire faculty for a student group which sometimes numbered fifty. It was a university, if Garfield's definition be allowed, since almost literally it was David Caldwell on one end of a log and Barton Stone on the other. The teacher lived in a two-story log cabin, built in the manner of the day, and with the usual primitive furnishings. Similar cabins, open to boarding students, were near by. The whole made the school community. To this place came Barton Stone on February 1, 1790.
The site of this school is on a gentle slope which is today a sedge field, with a small southward flowing stream on the east. To the south is a wooded hill cutting off the view of the paved Friendly Road, a quarter of a mile away, leading from Greensboro to Guilford College. Across that paved road, farther south is the Starmount Golf Links. Two springs remain to mark the site of the school. One issues from beside the charred stump of a large white oak, and the other to the east of the little stream, from the roots of a living beech. The site is three miles northwest of the present courthouse in Greensboro, and is a part of the recent Hamilton Lakes development. Before the white man came this was a hunting ground of the Catawba Indians.
Some three miles to the west was New Garden Meeting House, now Guilford College. Here the Quakers had freed their slaves in 1774, and had become anti-slavery agitators. Here also Dolly Payne Madison was born - she who is reckoned in social history as the most popular of all White House dames. For our generation, perhaps New Garden is more widely known as the birthplace of Joseph G. Cannon, recent Congressional czar. Greensboro was unknown to Barton's school days since it was not plotted until 1808. This city was first sub-named "The City of Flowers," since all around it, in its infancy, were “soft Japanese Clover, buffalo grass, and abundant wild flowers."1 [1 Footnote: Stockard, Sallie Walker, History of Guilford County, p. 132.] This name is too feminine for the rapidly growing industrial city of today. Therefore it is “The Gate City,” and “The Pivot of the Piedmont.” From the school it was but a short hike to the Guilford Battleground, where a monument to David Caldwell stands today misplaced, I think, because it is as an educator that Caldwell made his most significant contribution. His monument should be in the sedge field at the old Seminary site. Rolling hills of a vast wilderness of great forests; unbridged streams; farms cleared here and there; cabins of a free, hospitable people, this was the schoolboy's vision of the Carolina of 1790.
Who was this teacher to whom Barton had come?
In 1790 David Caldwell was in his sixty-fifth year. A native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, he had graduated at Princeton in 1761. He was ordained at Trenton, New Jersey, in 1765, and in 1767 he had come to minister to the Presbyterian churches at Buffalo and Alamance in North Carolina. From Greensboro, Buffalo is two miles north, and Alamance is seven miles southeast. He had opened a school at his coming. These Princeton men were inveterate teachers. Since both teachers and preachers were much underpaid, he added farming because of economic necessity. Further, since there were no doctors around, he also gave medical attention to the sick, having studied under Dr. Benjamin Rush at Philadelphia. His versatility was a community asset. One of his students called the school "an Academy, a College, and a Theological Seminary.” It was certainly "The Seminary" for the state in that day since the majority Presbyterian ministers trained in the classics, North Carolina soil, had been students there. James Hall, another Presbyterian, had taught a few at Iredell County cabin. There were a few other schools scattered through the state taught by Presbyterian ministers. Other communions had no such school in the state. Caldwell sent out fifty preachers. Of his students, five became governors of states. When Barton came, it was five years before the opening at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, of the oldest state university in America.
The privilege of general reading at this school severely limited. Judge A. D. Murphy, speaking about this from observation, said: "There was no library attached to it; his students were supplied with a few of the Greek and Latin Classics, Euclid's elements of mathematics, and Martin's Natural Philosophy. Moral Philosophy was taught from a syllabus of lectures delivered by Dr. Witherspoon in Princeton College. The students had no books on history or miscellaneous literature. There were indeed very few in the state except in the libraries of lawyers who lived in the commercial towns."2 [2 Footnote: Smith, Charles Lee, History of Education in North Carolina, p.30]
Governor John Motley Morehead was a student under Caldwell. Morehead has been called " Father of Modern North Carolina.3. [3. Footnote: Konkle, Burnton Alva, John Motley Morehead, p. 399He gives us a student's view of Caldwell as follows: "He must have measured about five feet eight or ten inches . . . enveloped in a large cape made of bear skin with a net worsted cap on his head . . . supporting himself with a cane not much shorter than his own body . . . had a well formed head and strong features . . . broad Scotch accent which he often assumed, when he desired to be humorous) or to worry a laggard pupil with a bad lesson . . . an exceedingly studious man . . . a man of admirable temper, fond of indulging in playful remarks, which he often pointed with a moral; kind to a fault to every human being, and I might say to every living creature. . . . He seemed to live to do good. " Morehead confessed: "I was not long in Dr. Caldwell's hands, before I became satisfied of his remarkable excellence as a teacher.... I applied myself to my studies with great zeal, with which he was much pleased; and often has he made me recite, from four to six hours a day, parsing every difficult word, and scanning nearly every line, when the recitation happened to be in any of the Latin poets. Indeed you could not get along with him with any comfort, without knowing accurately and thoroughly everything you passed over."4 [4. Footnote: Sprague, W.B., Annuals of the American Pulpit, Vol. 3, pp. 266, 267]
Another student under Caldwell, who lived in the teacher's home when Barton was there, said the school "had a goat that possessed a strong taste for books, and if ever a student, from thoughtlessness, left a book exposed, this goat was certain, if he came on it, to appropriate the whole, or part, to his own use." He cited an instance of a dictionary thus left to the goat, and about to disappear before the unfortunate student, when he rushed at the goat with a vocal imprecation. The monitor of the week charged the offending student, "verbatim." On Friday afternoon, as usual, the monitor's notes came before "Prexy" for his judicious administration. The offender remembered the goats in Matthew 25:31-46. He was ready. Said he: "They are a dammed creature; and I can prove it from Scripture." This "stumped" the teacher, who nevertheless kept profanity to a low minimum.
Konkle, the recent biographer of Morehead, said that Caldwell "was one of the greatest natural teachers that America has ever produced, " and that his school was "a veritable 'seminary' to the whole South." Further: "An adequate formal life of this great man is needed, and at some point in the state, since there seems to be no portrait of him, a monument equal to that of any man in the state ought to be erected.”5 [5. Footnote: Konkle, op. cit. pp.12-14.]
Barton said that he "commenced" in Caldwell's school with "the Latin Grammar." This grammar may have been a copy of that which is said to have been published by James Davis in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1778, no copy of which is known to be extant. It could have been a copy of Thomas Ruddiman's The Rudiments of the Latin TongueI: A Plain and Easy Introduction to Latin Grammar, a twenty-fifth edition of which was published in Raleigh in 1809. It is more probable that it was The American Latin Grammar: or a complete Introduction to the Latin Tongue, which was "originally compiled," October, 1780, "by the late Presidents Burr, Finley, and others, with further improvements and Illustrations," and was thereby "recommended as excellently calculated for the general Use of the Schools." This in its treatment was divided into orthography, etymology, syntax, prosody, and "The Appendix" giving among other things, "Necessary Cautions in making Latin."
It appears that Barton had to make up for time lost at the beginning of his course. This he did by concentrated application, aided by the adoption of a diet suitable for long study and short sleep. This was a practical, program for a natural student, motivated by overmastering desire for an education. He completed the classical course in 1793.
A dominant factor of life in this school was religion. At the outset it worried Barton. It was for the bar and not for the pulpit he had come. But this was a Presbyterian institution, and the preceptor and his wife were outstanding church leaders. James McGready, the revivalist, had been welcomed. He had "turned the world" of this primitive school "upside down." Thirty of the boys, almost the whole student body, had professed Presbyterian religion. Barton sensed an undermining of his life's purpose. He wanted to get away. There was Hampden-Sidney over in Prince Edward County, Virginia. It was not so far. He would go there. But, if Barton had only known it, the religious upheaval had come there also, even before that in Guilford. It too was Presbyterian. He set a day for getting off. It stormed. After that he could not go. Providence was always somehow shaping his life.
Ben McReynolds of Virginia was his roommate. Ben asked him suavely to go with him out into the community and hear James McGready. Barton went and sat in the revival crowd. The preacher Is delivery was unpleasant, but his message was passionately evangelistic. It had power. It impressed Stone as no preaching before had done. It was a direct appeal to the sinner to act. It took hold of him, almost overwhelmed him. It was not in Stone to resist this thrust of the Spirit. He must consider must try to understand better must reason about this and that but eventually he would pay the price.
Salvation was hedged about for the lost soul in the church of that day. Often it took the sinner a long time to "get through." Barton knew no better. For one year he struggled. Then he heard McGready again - this time at Sandy River, as he "thundered divine anathemas" at the unregenerate. This put Barton into an "apathy." While McGready had radically advanced from Calvinism in some evangelical aspects of his message, still, in personal conference with the terrified Barton, he reiterated the impending horrors of the Calvinist's Hell. And Barton testified: "He left me without one encouraging word."
Barton underwent intensified agony about his soul’s salvation for several weeks. His mother sent for him. He went to her. "She wept much" at his confession. It moved her to join the Methodists, and the son said she "lived and died a Christian." He returned to the school. It was the spring of 1791. He attended meeting at Alamance Church and heard the appeal of the loving God. Alamance was a "New Light" Presbyterian Church. Some of the revival spirit of George Whitefield had descended to this church in the woods. It stood there modestly, on the platform: "God is Love." This was the evangelist which won Barton. The preacher was William Hodge of Hawfields, North Carolina. He was young, having been trained by David Caldwell. He had been preaching but a year. James Smith, a Cumberland Presbyterian historian, said that Hodge "was the reverse of Mr. McGready . . . . His (Hodge's) great excellency appears to have been in his skill, under God, to heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds."6. [6. Footnote: Smith, James, History of the Christian Church, 1835, p. 668.]
Hodge and McGready we shall consider again. They were the leaders in Tennessee and Kentucky of "The Great Revival" of 1800. Hodge in 1800 was at Shiloh Church, Sumner County, Tennessee, and McGready at Gaspar River, in Logan County, Kentucky. This evangelism centering at Caldwell's school, was of far-reaching importance in view of its development of leaders for America's "Second Awakening" which came beyond the Alleghenies.
Barton Stone decided to preach after the climax of his long-drawn-out conversion. The decision was favored by the atmosphere. His associates were young preachers. The teacher's wife, Mrs. Rachel Craighead Caldwell, was a preacher's daughter as well as a preacher's wife. She came honestly by a genius for subtly turning young men of promise to the ministry. She had a whole-souled reverence for the calling. Barton was susceptible to her influence as he continued his academic work. He was not sure he was called. He had seen no miracle to convince him of the fact. The teacher (Caldwell) brought him to a sensible view said that if his ideals were pure, and if he really desired to preach, and if his "fathers in the ministry 'I desired him to preach, that was sufficient-he should go ahead.
The teacher gave him a text for a sermon which he was to preach at the next meeting of Orange Presbytery. This would be heard as part of his examination for license to preach. Subjects were assigned upon which he and his fellow candidates were to write theses. William Hodge was coaching them. Barton was given "The Trinity," which was certainly to him an abstruse subject. He had never heard a sermon upon it. He had read no book about it. It is very probable that he had never reasoned or talked concerning it. He had read the Bible religiously but his mind had been "undisturbed by polemic and obscure divinity. "
For a textbook in his study of "The Trinity," he was given Divine Economy, by Herman Witsius. This had been written a hundred and thirty-three years before. It was mustv theology. It was good for its day ostensibly, but the world had moved. Witsius lived from 1636 to 1708. He was Regent of the Divinity College of the States of Holland and West Friesland, and Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franequer, Utrecht, and Leyden. This theologian seems not to have been without his press agent. The writer of the sketch accompanying the book called him "The Great Doctor Witsius, conspicuous for elegance of style, purity of doctrine, solidity of judgment, strength of reasoning, candor of sentiment, wisdom of address, and fervor of piety," and said his works were "calculated to promote genuine Christianity, instruct the ignorant, reclaim the erroneous, establish the orthodox, and vindicate gospel truth against all adversaries whatever." Barton was perturbed that the “three Gods” of Witsius were too complicated for his understanding. He was sorry that he could get nowhere with him.
Leading Presbyterian preachers in North Carolina accepted the views of Isaac Watts on the Trinity. So Barton turned to Watts' Glories of Christ, a book first published in 1747, and which was sold at its first edition for four shillings per copy. Watts lived from 1674 to 1748. The gist of his teachings on the Trinity is indicated by the cumbrous title of the book, as follows: The Glory of Christ as God-man, displayed in three discourses; viz.: Discourse 1. A Survey of the visible appearance of Christ as God, before his incarnation, with some observations on the texts of the Old Testament applied to Christ. Discourse 2. An Enquiry into the executive powers of the human nature of Christ, in its present glorified state; with several testimonies annexed. Discourse. 3. An Argument tracing out the early existence of the human soul of Christ, even before the creation of the world, with an appendix, etc." This book was read and much discussed by theological students generally in Stone's day. Readers of today, theologically minded, may be interested in the following representative definition by Watts of an oft-quoted term used much in his book: "The Human Soul of Christ is the brightest Image or Copy of the Divine Nature that is found among mere creatures and tho' it may not receive all the infinite variety of particular ideas of human affairs, which are Divine Mind, yet it may receive as a transcript the Divine Mind, so many of the largest and st of those ideas which relate to human affairs, as may be sufficient to qualify Him for the Judge of all, under the immediate influence of the Indwelling Deity."
Watts gave two thoughtful sentences in the closing of his book: "We must wait till Providence and Grace shall join to furnish us with a better clue than this to lead us into the mysterious glories of the Person of our Blessed Redeemer, the more complete knowledge whereof is reserved to entertain saints and angels in the future ages of blessedness. There 'tis certain if we shall be so happy to accept of his Gospel, we shall see Him as He is and behold him, face to face, then shadows shall fiee away and darkness vanish forever, for in His light, we shall see light. Amen."
Stone studiously accepted the views of Watts. Examined on it in Presbytery he made the grade, under Henry Pattillo, for his license. Father Pattillo also accepted Watts. He kept peace in his Presbytery, which held divers beliefs on the Trinity, by a tactful conduct of this examination.