Thomas Campbell

While Mr. [Alexander] Campbell was thus diligently engaged in his seminary, his father established a flourishing finishing school in Burlington, Kentucky, and had obtained the warm esteem of the entire community, who were never weary in rendering acts of kindness to him and his family. Pupils from some of the best families in the State were sent to Burlington to enjoy the benefit of his instruction.  His daughter Jane, now about eighteen years of age, assisted him in the school, and soon became distinguished for her ability as a teacher, rendering the school quite popular, so that it became highly remunerative.  Such was the friendly and social character of the people, and such their appreciation of Thomas Campbell and his excellent family, that the latter had never before been placed in circumstances so agreeable, and there seemed every probability that this would be a permanent home.

It happened, however, upon a Lord’s day, in the summer of 1819, in the afternoon, that Thomas Campbell noticed a large number of both sexes amusing themselves in a grove nearby, to which they sometimes resorted on Sundays.  After observing for some time their proceedings, his sympathy for this servile part of the population, whose particular condition he had long regretted, became so much enlisted on their behalf, that he walked out to the grove and invited them all to come into his schoolroom, in order that he might read the Scriptures to them.  Obeying the summons with alacrity, they were soon assembled, and, after reading to them various portions of Scripture, he went on to give them such instructions and exhortations as he thought would be useful to them.  Afterward, he occupied some time giving out hymns, and as they sung these with their sweet melodious voices, and seemed greatly to enjoy this exercise and the instructions he had given them, his own heart was filled with inexpressible delight, and his dismissed them with the expectation of repeating the lesson upon the first favorable opportunity.

Next day, however, one of his friends called upon him to say that the course he had adopted the day before was quite contrary to the laws of the State, which forbade and address to negroes except in the presence of one or more white witnesses.  With regard to what had already occurred, he assured him that no notice would be taken of it, as it was presumable that he had not been acquainted with the law; but he advised him, as a friend, not to repeat the act, lest some persons in the community should put him to trouble.  At this announcement, Thomas Campbell was thunderstruck.  He had been totally ignorant of the existence of such a law, for he had never been accustomed to give any attention to political of civil affairs.  “What!” thought he, “Is it possible I live in a land where reading the Scriptures and giving religious instruction to the ignorant is a penal offense? Can the Word of God be thus bound and the proclamation of the Gospel be thus fettered in a Christian land?  Is it possible for me to remain in a place, where, under any circumstances, I am forbidden to peach a crucified Savior to my fellow-beings?”  His resolution was at once taken.  Whatever it might cost, he would leave Kentucky and go where the preaching of the gospel was untrammeled.  In this resolution, this suddenly and decisively taken, he became the more confirmed when he reflected that, by remaining, some of his family would, in all probability, form permanent alliances with the people, and become themselves thus involved in a state of things which was utterly repugnant to his feelings, and for which, as he was quite uninformed in regard to the circumstances which gave origin to that particular law, he could at the time find no justification.

His family were greatly surprised and grieved when he announced his resolution.  They had become so much attached to the place and the people from whom they had received such unwonted kindness, that to abandon their Irish home had not been a greater trial than the one to which they would now be subjected.  Their regrets were fully reciprocated by the entire community, but the most flattering inducements and the most earnest entreaties were employed in vain to induce Thomas Campbell to change his resolution.  When he could not be persuaded to remain himself, he was entreated to at least allow his daughter Jane to stay and conduct the seminary; but he remained inflexible, being determined to extricate his family from a set of circumstances for the existence of which he was not disposed to attach blame to any one, but which he felt quite incompatible with his own sense of Christian duty.


From the Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Embracing A View of the Origin, Progress and Principles of the Religious Reformation Which He Advocated, by Robert Richardson. Campbell senior would move back near his son, Alexander Campbell, in Washington County, Pennsylvania.