Reverend James McFerrin, one of nine children, born in Washington County, Virginia on 25 Mar 1784 and passing on 4 Sep 1840 in Tipton County, Tennessee. He grew up on the rural McFerrin family Holston farm. As a result and being in a new country, educational opportunities were limited as families lived far apart and schools were few. The family resided near the famous “Green Spring Meeting House”, erected by the Presbyterians. The Bible was their one book and, certainly, gave tone to their thought and shaped their lives.
On 25 Mar 1804, his birthday, James married Jane Campbell Berry, who was two years younger. Jane was clean-limbed, athletic, about five feet ten inches with a ruddy and clear complexion, blue eyes, and reddish hair.
For this reason, when James McFerrin cast admiring glances upon the gentle and affectionate Jane Berry, he was not repulsed. They were born for each other – the bold and fiery soldier, and the quiet trusting maiden. He wooed her in manly fashion and won her.
Head West Young Man
The enterprising young husband joined in the tide of emigrants moving to the west. He heard Middle Tennessee had rich lands, noble forests full of wild game, and beautiful streams overflowing with fish. He to take his young wife to go and try their fortunes in this new territory. They traveled along the banks of the Tennessee River astounded by the staggering beauty of the Smokey and Cumberland Mountains. Upon descending the Cumberland Mountains, the young couple chose to build their home in the vast wilderness near Stone’s River.
Life in the Military
James was a fairly good farmer but he was an outstanding hunter. He was an expert rifleman therefore long range shooting was effortless for him as a hunter. As a result of his shooting skills, it is no surprise that he volunteered to fight the Indians. He learned learned the real hardships of a soldier during a march to Natchez, Mississippi. Upon returning to his home, trouble broke out with the Creek Indians who were close and dangerous neighbors. He entered the battle field again.
He exhibited notable courage and skill during the battles with the Creek thereby winning the confidence and special commendation of his fiery chieftain, General Andrew Jackson, who afterward became the President of the United States.
After the Creek War ended, Capt. McFerrin returned to a peaceful life of farming; however, the military life had captured his heart. Captain McFerrin rose to be a Major and then Colonel. But military life change his early religious imprint. Profanity was practically a military accomplishment along with other hideous acts so the religious impressions of youth were weakened if not totally extinguished. Along with his religious view waning ebbing so was his monetary security. The cost of war was expensive.
Around the end of 1819, the Methodist found their way to Middle Tennessee and a religious excitement filled the air. Col. McFerrin had strong prejudices against the Methodist people, even though he knew little about them, and he often spewed sarcastic remarks at them. At any rate, and though being far from a Christian, the Colonel retained his early teachings in the Bible and respect for the Presbyterians.
Salem camp-meetings were often held near his home and Col. McFerring began attending meetings. It was preaching like he had never heard, and Thomas L Douglass, the son of thunder, was in his prime. Many stubborn hearts were melted including Col. McFerrin’s. In a fit of agitation, alarm, awakening but still resisting, Col. McFerrin mounted his horse and fled towards his home. However, as his horse galloped down the road, his mind race with thoughts that he was a sinner and he needed banish the anguish he felt. He reined in his horse, paused in the road, and surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. His conversion was sudden and thorough. He turned around and galloped back to the campground a changed man.
Soon after his conversion, Col. McFerrin began preaching in public. He would hold prayer meetings with his neighbors. He was now a soldier of God. About a year after his transformation, he became a local preacher and later joined the Tennessee Conference. He traveled for nearly twenty years, filling various important positions as preacher in charge, presiding elder, delegate to the General Conference, etc. In his diary there is this record: “Up to the 15th of October, 1839, I have preached 2,088 sermons, baptized 573 adult persons and 833 infants, and taken into the Church 3,965 members.”
He died 4 Sep 1840 in Tipton County, Tennessee at the age of 57. He was buried in Old Charleston Cemetery.
A minute that he kept on the last page of his pocket Bible showed that he had read it through 18 times on his knees. The impression was on his mind from the beginning of his sickness that he would not recover.
“Twenty years ago,” he said to one of his sons, “God for Christ’s sake pardoned my sins. I then dedicated myself to him in fervent prayer, and asked that my life might be spared for twenty years, that I might devote that time to his service and promote his cause. That time has just expired, and I think my heavenly Father is going to take me – to himself”.
His last hours were full of joy and triumph.
“When it was evident to all and to himself that the hour of departure was near, he had all his family gathered around him, and addressed them one by one, suiting his exhortations to their various ages and conditions; but when he came to take leave of his wife and pronounce a blessing on her the scene became indescribable. He spoke of the number of years during which they had sustained to each other the relation of husband and wife, and referred to the children God had given them; talked of the sorrows and joys which they had shared together, exhorted her not to grieve, for the Lord would take care of her, and their separation would not be long. He then told her that , with God’s permission, he would be her guardian angel through the valley of death.”
(Memoir by Dr. A. L. P. Green.)
A Life Well Lived
This was a touch of nature, and an example of the ruling passion strong in death – the brave, loving heart going out in tenderness and protection to the woman who had journeyed on by his side from the day that she, a blushing bride, had put her hand in his in pledge of union for life.
Source: John B. McFerrin: A biography; by Oscar Penn Fitzgerald; google books online.