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Rev Hiram Douglas










Rev Hiram DouglasThe Rev. Hiram Douglass (10 May 1813 - 24 June 1865) was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina on May 10, 1813, the son of Jesse(1) and Sarah Ann Douglass. His family later moved to McMinn County, Tennessee.

The Rev. Hiram Douglass did more than any other Cumberland Presbyterian preacher in the early and mid nineteenth century to develop and expand the Who-So-Ever-Will doctrine of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee. Almost every early congregation organized along the Tennessee-Georgia state line owes its inception either directly or indirectly to the Rev. Hiram Douglass. He was the man who braved the elements, and sacrificed his own family's well being and security for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. Hiram Douglass embodied all the virtues outlined in the poem "Circuit Ridin' Preacher." Douglass rode across the mountains of northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee with a rifle on his saddle and a Bible in his hand. "He told the people all about the promised land. . . (He) traveled through the mire and mud, told about the fiery furnace, and of Noah and the flood. He preached the way to heaven was by water and the blood, as he went riding. . . down the trail."

From the early 1830s until his death in 1865, The Reverend Hiram Douglass rode a circuit from Greeneville, Tennessee to Cassville, Georgia. According to the late Reverend Z. M. McGhee, Douglass "rode this circuit for years. Glorious revivals were the result, and thousands of the unconverted were brought into the fold," because of his efforts.

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina on May 10, 1813, Hiram Douglass was the son of Jesse and Sarah Ann Douglass. His family later moved to McMinn County, Tennessee. Here his father purchased a small farm, and Hiram spent his childhood helping clear the land and cultivate the soil. Since his parents were pioneer settlers struggling to make a meager living on the frontier, they were unable to send their children back east to be educated. The limited educational training Hiram received was in the field schools of McMinn County. But while Hiram's educational background was very inadequate, his parents were able to instill within him a religious awareness and a gift for singing. Both of these attributes later aided him significantly in his ministry. After Hiram became a missionary, his parents later moved to Gilmer County, Georgia, where they lived the remainder of their lives.

At the age of 18, Hiram Douglass attended the bedside of one of his terminally ill friends, and witnessed his death. The experience so impressed him that he decided to devote his life and energies to the ministry. In 1831, he attended the annual camp meeting held at Corn Tassell in Monroe County, Tennessee. At this camp meeting, Hiram listened to the Rev. John Tate, the Rev. Joseph Peeler, and a Rev. Small, Cumberland Presbyterian missionaries, speak. During this camp meeting, he professed religion and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

During the year 1831, he married Miss Mary Catherine (Caroline) Warnock of McMinn County. During their 34 year marriage, they had nine children.

On October 9, 1832, Hiram Douglass presented himself before Knoxville Presbytery as a candidate for the ministry. This meeting of Knoxville Presbytery was held at Jerusalem Campground in Washington County, Tennessee. The Rev. Dr. J. B. Logan was in attendance for this meeting, and witnessed the candidacy of Douglass. He commented that Douglass, ". . . had just been received as a candidate for the ministry . . . As I now remember, he had a wife and one child. He was very poor. (During this time period) to be poor meant something. He (was dressed) in a short roundabout gingham coat, which scarcely came to his waist. He could scarcely read his hymns intelligibly enough to be understood. It was his first attempt to speak in public in that neighborhood. He 'lined' his hymns as was the universal custom in those days, sang and then bowed down to pray. Before he was done praying, everybody in the house became interested in the new preacher. He prayed with such humility, such fervor, and seemingly such eloquence and power that every person present was deeply impressed with his spirit. He then read his text and went on to speak. There was some inexplicable influence about his tone and manner which riveted all to their seats."

Three and one-half years later, on April 10, 1836, Douglass as licensed to preach the gospel at Cumberland Campground in Washington County, Tennessee. From 1836 to 1838, he was commissioned to preach within the bounds of the Cherokee Indian American Nation. For two years, he preached primarily to the Cherokees and the few white settlers who had migrated into the Cherokee held lands.

Since the early records of Hiwassee Presbytery were destroyed by fire, the exact date of the Rev. Hiram Douglass' ordination is unknown. The Ocoee Presbytery Minutes of 1842, however, list him as an ordained minister. It is believed that he was ordained sometime between 1839 and 1841.

In 1838, following the removal of the Cherokee Indian Americans from Georgia, Douglass was sent on his first circuit through territory which later became all of Georgia Presbytery, and a large portion of Ocoee Presbytery. His first circuit included at least six counties in Georgia and as many in Tennessee. According to the Rev. Z. M. McGhee, "In all this boundary, there was not then a single Cumberland Presbyterian congregation organized, nor did we have 50 members all told." This condition represented a challenge to the Rev. Douglass. He had never ridden such a circuit before, and saw an opportunity to spread the Cumberland Presbyterian doctrine into a new frontier region.

On his first circuit and the many other circuit rides that followed, Douglass exhibited an eloquent ability to speak and to move people toward accepting Jesus Christ. His prayers and sermons were full of inspiration and he became recognized by the time of his death as a great orator. He also enjoyed singing, and his voice was filled with joy and delightfulness. But even with this success, Douglass always believed his literary style and prose could be improved. He was also aware of the need for frontier ministers, like himself, to obtain a formal education. With these thoughts in mind, the Rev. Douglass enrolled, in 1838, in a literary school at Cleveland, Tennessee. For several months, he worked at improving his reading and writing skills. When the school term ended, the Rev. Douglass embarked on his circuit again.

During the nineteenth century, Cumberland Presbyterian preachers were often criticized by the Northern Presbyterians for lacking the necessary minimum educational qualifications for preaching the gospel. While Douglass recognized the need to improve his educational skills, he sometimes became quite irritated with better educated ministers who questioned his educational qualifications to be an ordained minister. Once when preaching a series of sermons in Georgia, Douglass was approached by a minister of another denomination, who inquired about where he had received his religious education. Douglass looked at his colleague and replied, "I studied theology while on horseback riding over the hills of east Tennessee and Georgia."

On his first circuit ride, Douglass organized the first Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in the Ocoee Purchase at Cleveland, Tennessee. According to the Rev. Z. M. McGhee, ". . . there was nothing like a town there then (referring to Cleveland). The thicket of saplings had been cut down for a public square. A large courthouse had been raised on the ground. The house had no shutters to the doors or to the windows. In this building was organized the first Cumberland Presbyterian congregation in that entire country. The members were gathered from Spring Place, Georgia to Charleston, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Rev. Christopher C. Porter attended that meeting and officiated in the organization, Brother Douglass not being an ordained minister."

The Rev. John Morgan Wooten's History of Bradley County, Tennessee records that the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Cleveland was organized on July 16, 1837 by the Rev. John Tate and the Rev. Christopher C. Porter with 104 members. Mr.Douglass is mentioned as a licentiate of the Hiwassee Presbytery who had been laboring as an evangelist in the Cherokee country for some time and that many people had been converted under his ministry. The History of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, published in 1989, records that Douglass served as pastor of the Cleveland congregation in 1844 and again from April 1855 to August 1855. Wooten's History of Bradley County, Tennessee indicated that Douglass was also pastor of the Cleveland Church in 1856.

On April 7, 1838, the Rev. Douglass organized the Chickamauga (today Silverdale) Cumberland Presbyterian Church at the home of John Low. Douglass was assisted by the Rev. John Tate, and the church had a charter membership of 13. Douglass served as pastor of the Silverdale Church until February 11, 1850. At the time of his resignation, the Silverdale Church membership had grown to 109.

Hiwassee Presbytery was so impressed with Douglass' report from his first circuit ride that they requested he ride the same circuit again. This was a hard decision for Douglass to make. His salary was only $5.00 a month, and he had already exceeded that sum in expenses on his horse. His wife and child were living off the kindness of friends and relatives. After much thought, and with the consent and support of his wife, Douglass consented to ride the same circuit a second time. According to the Rev. Dr. J. B. Logan, "Glorious revivals were the result. Thousands of the unconverted were brought into the fold. Church after church was organized and started on its career of prosperity. I think I do not exaggerate when I say that the churches in Georgia and the Ocoee (later Chattanooga) Presbyteries owe their present growth and prosperity under God more to this beloved devoted man than to any other."

While riding this circuit, the Rev. Douglass organized several congregations. Among these congregations was the Ooltewah Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Organized on September 25, 1840, near the Union Campground near Ooltewah, this church became the home church of the Douglass family.

In 1842, Ocoee Presbytery was organized out of part of Hiwassee Presbytery. The Rev. Douglass was a charter minister in Ocoee Presbytery. The following year, he was appointed by Ocoee Presbytery to ride a circuit from "Greeneville, Tennessee to Cassville, Georgia, and in all that section of country east of the Cumberland Mountains parallel with the above named points, and embracing a section of country far out into northeast Georgia."

While riding on this circuit, the Rev. Douglass served, in 1842, as pastor of the Sale Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and organized the first Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Georgia. The Georgia congregation was organized near Cohutta, Georgia in 1842 at the home of the Rev. James Johnson. Originally known as the Union Grove Church, the membership was composed of settlers living on both sides of the Georgia-Tennessee state line. In 1844, the congregation began holding religious services at Flint Springs in a brush arbor on the farm of Benjamin Hambright. Two years later, the Flint Springs Church was organized and this led to the disorganization of the Union Grove Church. In 1848, the remnants of this congregation were reorganized as the Pleasant Grove Cumberland Presbyterian Church near Cohutta.

In 1846, the Rev. Douglass began preaching to a group of Cumberland Presbyterians in Murray County, Georgia at the Hall's Chapel School House. This group of Cumberland Presbyterians represented the forerunner to the Sumach Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which was organized by the Rev. S. H. Henry in October 1851.

In 1847, the Rev. Douglass was one of the leaders in the organization of the Georgetown Academy of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Georgetown, Tennessee. This educational institution was sponsored by Ocoee Presbytery, and existed until 1870 as one of the most outstanding secondary schools of the region.

On October 10, 1855, the Rev. Douglass, and the Rev. Allison Templeton, reorganized the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Originally organized on May 2, 1841 by the Rev. William B. Dawson, and the Rev. Aaron Grigsby, the organization was not permanent lasting for only two or three years.

In 1856, the Rev. Douglass succeeded the Rev. Young L. McLemore as pastor of the Ewing Grove Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Before the War for Southern Independence, this church organization was one of the most popular Cumberland Presbyterian Churches in Hamilton County, Tennessee, for conducting camp meetings. Many Cumberland Presbyterian ministers visited this church site and officiated at revivals being held there. Mr. Douglass had charge of most of the camp meetings at Ewing Grove. Of all the churches Douglass served, Ewing Grove was the one he supplied the most during his ministerial career.

In 1857, with Ocoee Presbytery in session at the Sumach Church, Georgia Presbytery was organized out of Ocoee Presbytery. The Rev. Douglass was one of the charter members of Georgia Presbytery, and was elected as the first moderator of the new presbytery. This was quite an honor for the Rev. Douglass since he had been a prime mover in the establishment of a specific presbyterial organization for the state of Georgia.

In 1850, Mr. Douglass served as the first pastor of the newly created New Hope Cumberland Presbyterian Church near Charleston, Tennessee. This congregation had been in existence for a number of years prior to 1850, but had not been officially received under the care of Ocoee Presbytery. During the War for Southern Independence, the church house of the New Hope congregation was destroyed by fire, and the congregation became disorganized. In 1866, the congregation was disbanded.

At about the same time the War for Southern Independence began in 1861, it is believed the Rev. Douglass organized the Charleston (Tennessee) Cumberland Presbyterian Church. From 1861 until his death in 1865, the Rev. Douglass devoted much of his time to helping this congregation develop. In addition to organizing Cumberland Presbyterian churches, Douglass also assisted The Rev. Henry Gotcher organize the Flint Hill Baptist Church. This congregation was organized in 1840 in the home of Absalom Sivley, at Sivley Springs, east of Missionary Ridge in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

Throughout his ministerial career, the Rev. Douglass always supplied several churches at one time in Georgia and in Tennessee. He was able to do this because of his excellent physical condition and an understanding and devoted wife and family. The Rev. Z. M. McGhee described the Rev. Douglass as a portly man with a commanding figure. Although a huge man, Douglass, according to McGhee, was "well tempered with that gentleness and sweetness of spirit which greatly drew the masses of people to him." According to Eugene Lewis, "The Rev. Hiram Douglass was a capable organizer . . . a fine orator . . . (and) a man of wide influence . . ."

Douglass kept a record of the professions made at his home church in Ooltewah. This record was later lost, but according to the Rev. Z. M. McGhee there were "up to that time more than 1100 professions made at that church." There is no record of how many professions Douglass received during his ministry. Zella Armstrong noted, in her research about Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tennessee, that during the 1840s, scores of couples were married by the Rev. Douglass.

Hiram Douglass was a great orator. People from all over the region would ride for miles to hear him speak. His revivals and camp meetings were always well attended and sometimes lasted sever weeks. Since he was a robust man with a strong constitution, these religious services did not pose any serious threat to his health or work. Wherever he spoke, people were captivated by his sermons. Andrew Johnson, an east Tennessean who later became President of the United States, commented after hearing Douglass deliver a sermon that the Cumberland Presbyterian minister "was nearer his idea of a preacher than any man he had every heard preach."

Hiram Douglass House
Hiram Douglass House, Ooltewah, Tennessee, USA. The home is brick with white trim and a green door. It has a metal roof and an outhouse. The house is located at 7414 Snow Hill Road. This home was built in 1852 by Hiram Douglass, a well-known minister in the Tennessee and Georgia area. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
During the 1840s, the Rev. Douglass was able to purchase a small farm near Ooltewah in the beautiful Savannah Valley. Here he raised his family and steadily accumulated more property. By 1865, Douglass owned a 200 acre farm. As he acquired more and more property, he was forced to purchase slaves to work the land, while he traveled a preaching circuit. In 1852, he built a brick home near Ooltewah. The bricks used in constructing the home were handmade by African-American slaves owned by Douglass.

When the War for Southern Independence began in 1861, Douglass came out in support of the Confederacy. On January 20, 1861, Douglass preached his first political sermon in Cleveland, Tennessee. As one observer recorded, he "bemeaned the northern preacher and politicians generally." From 1861 to late 1863, Douglass was a firm champion of the Southern cause. All of Douglass' sons enlisted in the Confederate Army.

Following the Battle of Chickamauga, Mr. Douglass learned that all of his sons had been captured by federal forces. He made his way through the union lines to Chattanooga. Here he made arrangements to see General George H. (Rock of Chickamauga) Thomas. After a lengthy discussion with Douglass, General Thomas agreed to pardon Douglass' sons provided they never again engage in hostile activity against the United States. Douglass gave his word, his sons were freed, and they went home with their father. After his audience with General Thomas, Douglass, although a slave owner with a large farm, and knowing that support for the union might cost him everything he had, denounced slavery as wrong, and the Southern cause for States' Rights untenable. This position placed him in direct opposition with the views of his sons and his closest friend, George W. Arnett. Arnett was a slave owner who supported the Confederacy. Many times from late 1863 until the end of the war in 1865, Douglass' life was threatened by Southern sympathizers.

Douglass, however, continued to support the cause of the union, and favored the emancipation of the slaves. There is little doubt that had the war not ended slavery, Douglass would have eventually freed his slaves. Many of the African-Americans living in and around Ooltewah, in 1994, bear the last name of Douglass.

The Rev. Douglass' support for the federal government, after the Battle of Chickamauga, led to his appointment as an agent for the Hamilton County Court with complete power to receive and dispense supplies and money received from "the good people of the northern states to meet the demands of the people suffering in east Tennessee" from former Confederate military occupation. Douglass, appointed to this position on April 5, 1864, was charged by the Hamilton County Court, under the supervision of the federal army, to provide financial aid to anyone in Hamilton County thought to be deserving of assistance.

In 1864, the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on the Rev. Douglass. The name of the college which awarded the degree is unknown. However it is known that the degree was awarded to Douglass because he represented the typical Cumberland Presbyterian minister laboring in the mountains of east Tennessee and northwest Georgia. Douglass, like so many of his ministerial contemporaries, was ". . . self-educated . . . Their preaching was original, with much feeling and great earnestness. They were men of great natural ability who understood human nature. They were in close touch with and understood the pioneer's feelings and nature, and they seldom failed to reach (the pioneer's) heart and move him to action. They believed in the Divine call to preach, and believed with all their hearts the message they delivered."

On May 18, 1865, the Rev. Douglass was honored by his colleagues when he was elected by a large majority as moderator of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. According to the Rev. Z. M. McGhee, Douglass "presided with great dignity and honor." During the war, a great deal of dissension almost permanently divided the Cumberland Presbyterian Church into a Northern and Southern faction. At this General Assembly meeting, however, the Cumberland Presbyterians resolved their differences, and became committed to reconciliation and progress.

The War for Southern Independence, however, had taken its physical roll on Douglass. His health had been weakened by the trauma of war. Upon his return from the General Assembly meeting in Evansville, Indiana, he began his usual circuit ride. His first stop was in Charleston, Tennessee. He preached there on Sunday June 11, 1865. The following day he suddenly became ill. His illness continued to worsen until June 24 when he died. It was later determined that Douglass died of typhoid fever. According to the Rev. John Morgan Wooten, Douglass had a premonition he was about to die. He made arrangements for his funeral and requested that he be buried in Charleston "in that beautiful valley close by the rushing mountain river, in sight of where he preached his first sermon, sang his last song and prayed his last prayer . . ." He also wrote his last will and testament in the presence of George W. Arnett. He left his entire estate to his wife and minor aged children. They later moved to the mid-west, settling in Minnesota and Michigan.

According to the Rev. Z. M. McGhee, Douglass "seemed to suffer but little during his sickness. When he was first taken sick, he told his brethren that he was going to die; he was anxious to live to see the churches here united, and peace and brotherly love once again restored; he regretted to leave his family in their helpless condition, further he had no anxiety, was resigned, willing yea, would rather depart and be with Christ--where he said, he would engage in a nobler work. His wife and two sons were there."

A monument was later erected at his grave commemorating the many accomplishments and successful work Douglass provided the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. One line on the tombstone best described the work of Hiram Douglass: "From obscurity to honor and great usefulness."

The late Rev. J. B. Logan best summarized the life of the Rev. Douglass. He stated that, "We consider Brother Douglass' life as as a standing monument to the truth that if God calls a man to preach he will sustain him in some bearable way, if that man will take God at His word and trust His promise."

1. This line of Douglass was apparently in South Carolina before 1764 since Jesse says his parents were born there in the 1850 Census. We have not been able to prove who his parents were, nor what county he they may have been from in South Carolina. However, we record him as being the son of Col Edward Douglass in the genealogy database.  They are said to be 'formerly of Spartanburg Co, SC to McMinn Co, TN, Murray Co, GA in 1838, d. 1850-60 Gilmer Co, GA'.

2.  His grandson was Hiram Arnett Douglas, president of the Northern Sugar Corporation of Minnesota.



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