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THE COMMISSION OF SYNOD.-WITH SKETCHES OF LEGRAND,
MARSHALL, AND LYLE.
THE Synod of Virginia held its first meeting, Wednesday, October 22, 1788, at New Providence, Rockbridge county, Virginia. It consisted of four Presbyteries; Hanover, embracing the Presbyterian population east of the Blue Ridge; Lexington, that on the west side of the Ridge, except the congregations on the Potomac; Redstone, Pennsylvania, west of the Alleghany; and Transylvania, the settlements in Kentucky, then a part of Virginia.
In the month of May, 1789, the General Assembly requested the Synods to recommend to the General Assembly, at their meeting in 1790—“two members, well qualified to be employed in missions on our frontiers, for the purpose of organizing churches, administering ordinances, ordaining elders, &c.-and to meet the expense-"it is strictly enjoined on the several Presbyteries to have collections made during the present year. The Synod of Virginia at its second meeting, in the fall of 1789, taking into consideration the state of the vacant congregations, and the new settlements in their bounds, entered upon a plan of missions according to the following resolutions-viz.
“1st. That we will take all proper care to seek for men of knowledge, integrity and piety, who may travel through our bounds as missionaries, to preach the gospel, to catechise and instruct the youth, and to discharge such other parts of ministerial duty as they may be authorized to perform.
“2d. That there shall be a Committee of Synod appointed, consisting of four ministers and four elders, who shall be called The Commission of Synod, to receive the recommendations of such men from the respective Presbyteries, to examine into their credentials and fitness for the discharge of such an office, and who shall give them such directions and instructions as the exigencies of different places, in their wisdom, may require; that they shall meet annually and oftener if thought necessary; and that any two ministers, and as many elders of the Commission as shall be convened at the place appointed, shall have sufficient power to proceed to business.
63d. That it be recommended to the different Presbyteries to raise such contributions as they may be able, in their respective bounds, which shall be put into a general fund for the support of such missionaries.
664th. That there shall be a treasurer appointed,” &c.—His duties were defined at length.
To carry into effect these resolutions, Rev. Messrs. William Graham and Archibald Scott, with elders John Lyle and John Wilson, of Lexington Presbytery; and Rev. Messrs. John B. Smith and James Mitchell, and elders Benjamin Rice and Charles Allen, of Hanover Presbytery, were appointed—“to constitute the Commission.” The Commission commenced their labours with spirit and success, and sent their missionaries from the Bay Shore to the Mississippi. The vigour of action was unabated for a number of years. As the Presbyteries increased in numbers and in members, the Commission was divided and acted as two bodies, the one east of the Alleghany and the other west, with great efficiency. About the year 1807, the Synod found the work of supplying the extended and extending western frontiers too extensive for her means, and after a few years the Synodical Commission ceased, and the General Assembly conducted the work of missions by a Board appointed for the purpose.
From the records of the Commission, which have been preserved, a few extracts, partly in a condensed form, and partly verbatim, will be given to illustrate the principles of the Virginia Synod, and some of their doings in building up congregations in the new settlements. A spirit inherited from the original Hanover Presbytery, which began the work of domestic missions in her earliest days, is visible in all the proceedings.
The first meeting of the Commission was at Liberty, in Bedford county, April 2d, 1790. All the members present but Mr. Scott. He declined acting, and the next Synod appointed the Rev. William Wilson in his place. At the first meeting it was resolved—“that it is the opinion of this Commission, that the preachers should be unordained preachers whose object should be to preach the truths of the everlasting gospel.
The missionaries were to preach, and catechise, and commence the gathering of congregations; their compensation to be, sixty pounds Virginia currency,—two hundred dollars a-year. Mr. Nash Legrand, a probationer, under the care of Hanover Presbytery, and a convert of the revival of ’87—’88, whose preaching had been so popular and effective in Lexington and the neighbourhood, was chosen the first missionary. He was requested to spend half his time as a missionary in Lexington Presbytery, and half in Hanover, at places the Commission should direct.
There was a peculiarity in the relation of the missionaries to the Commission. It was directed by Synod that those young men who are employed as missionaries, shall be immediately under the power of the Commission, to direct, instruct, and reprove; but in case any of those young men shall be charged with error in doctrine, or immorality in practice, that would expose them to the censure of the church, upon application to the Commission, he or they shall be given up to the Presbytery by which he or they were recommended to the Commission, for trial and censure agreeable to the rules of our Church.” The missionaries were recommended to the Commission either by the Presbytery as a body, or by a number of the members individually: and when chosen by the Commission, they were, by act of Presbytery, put under the care of the Commission. When their term of service expired, or they resigned their commissions, they were recommended to their respective Presbyteries, and their reception was made a matter of record on the books of Presbytery.
Mr. Legrand entered upon his office on the 1st of June, and continued to labour with great success till the 1st of October; though strongly solicited to continue, he resigned his commission with intention of accepting a call from Cedar Creek and Opeckon, in Frederick county.
At the second meeting of the Commission, September 21st, 1790_"upon recommendation of Mr. Smith, a member of Hanover Presbytery, Mr. Hill, a probationer under the care of said Presbytery, was chosen a missionary. Mr. Hill being present accepted the office. Mr. Carey Allen, a probationer under the care of Hanover Presbytery, was also chosen a missionary; and Mr. Smith is directed to give Mr. Allen information, and solicit his acceptance. Mr. Robert Marshall, a probationer under the care of Redstone Presbytery, was chosen a missionary, upon condition said Presbytery recommend him to that office. Ordered, that Mr. Smith and Mr. Graham apply to the members of Redstone Presbytery, for such recommendation; and that Mr. Smith apply to Hanover Presbytery, and request their concurrence with the choice of Messrs. Hill and Allen.” Application was made to the Presbyteries, and full concurrence expressed, and Messrs. Hill, Allen and Marshall entered on their labours with spirit.
In April, 1791, at Briery, the missionarios gave in their reports." Messrs. Hill and Allen had laboured east of the Blue Ridge, and Mr. Marshall on the west of the same, from the waters of Back Creek, in Berkley, to the head of Green Brier, and “to Hugh Allenson's," on James River. The narratives of the missionaries, which were a diary of their travels, preachings, reception, places of preaching, prospects for congregations, and the apparent success attending their efforts were-“very satisfactory.” Ordered that Mr. Hill itinerate the districts of Hanover and Lexington, for six months. That Marshall and Allen itinerate in the districts of Lexington, Redstone, and Transylvania for one year.” Under this order, Messrs. Allen and Marshall went to Kentucky, in the latter part of the summer. They did not return at the expiration of the year.–April 6th, 1792, at the meeting in Liberty, Bedford county—“ a letter was received from the Rev. David Rice, directed to Mr. Graham, informing—that the missionaries, Mr. Allen and Mr. Marshall would not attend the Commission of Synod this spring; that the late period of their arrival in Kentucky, and the severity of the winter, would in a great measure defeat the design of their mission if they returned this spring; that the attention of the people to the word preached, and their desires for the continuance of the missionaries the ensuing summer, had induced this determination. Which determination the Commission unanimously approved.” In September, 1792,—“A letter was received from Mr. Marshall informing that he resigned his office as missionary, and requesting a dismission from their body to the Presbytery of Redstone--accompanied with a request to that body to dismiss him to join the Presbytery of Transylvania ; and also a recommendation from this Commission. Mr. Graham produced a statement of Mr. Marshall's accounts for eighteen months, with a receipt for the whole of his wages for that time.” Mr. Marshall settled in Kentucky. His life and labours will be the subject of a separate sketch. “Mr. Allen gave a very full and satisfying narrative of his itinerations through the districts of Redstone, Kentucky, Lexington and Hanover.” Mr. Allen returned to. Kentucky, and finally settled there.
At the meeting in Winchester, October 6th, 1791–“The committee having received a recommendation, of Mr. John Lyle, from the Presbytery of Lexington, have chosen him to the office of missionary. Mr. Lyle being present, accepted the office. Ordered that Mr. Lyle itinerate in the neighbourhood of Winchester, on the waters of the Potomac, Jackson's River, Green Brier and Roanoke, until our next meeting.” Mr. Lyle finally settled in Hampshire county, and after labouring many years laid his body among the people of his charge in Springfield.
At the meeting in Liberty, 1792, April 9th, Monday morning, 6 o'clock, William Hill, having made report of his mission through the counties of Richmond, Lancaster, Northumberland, Prince William, Fauquier, and Berkley, resigned his commission, and took charge of the congregations of Charlestown and Hopewell, in Jefferson county. He is still living, having passed his ministerial life in that part of the Valley of Virginia belonging to Winchester Presbytery.
At the same meeting-April 9th, 1792—“Upon motion the Commission elected Mr. Archibald Alexander, a probationer under the care of Lexington Presbytery; 'to the office of missionary upon condition that the Presbytery recommend him. Mr. Graham and Mr. John Lyle are directed to apply to the Presbytery for such recommendation.” Mr. Alexander still lives--having filled the offices of President of Hampden Sidney, Pastor in the Church of Christ, and first Professor of Didactic Theology in the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Princeton, New Jersey.
April 28th, 1792_At New Monmouth,_" The Commission proceeded to elect Mr. Matthew Lyle, and Mr. Benjamin Grigsby to the office of missionary; and received a recommendation from the Presbytery of Lexington.” Mr. Grigsby was settled in Norfolk, and after a few years of usefulness in the ministry, was suddenly cut off in the prime of life. Mr. Lyle became pastor of Buffalo and Briery congregations in Prince Edward and Charlotte, and filled up a life of usefulness to the church.
The first tour assigned these missionaries was—“Mr. Alexander and Mr. Grigsby to itinerate in company through Amherst, Prince Edward, Nottaway, and Amelia to Petersburg; then Mr. Grigsby, through Lancaster, Prince William, Fauquier, and Loudon; and Mr. Alexander through Nottaway, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Halifax, Pittsylvania, Franklin, Henry and Patrick. And Mr. Matthew Lyle to itinerate through Franklin, Henry, Patrick, Montgomery, Wythe, and Washington counties.
At a meeting in Harrisonburg, September 22d, 1792, after hearing the reports of Messrs. Allen, Alexander, Grigsby, Matthew Lyle, Mr. John Lyle, and receiving the letter from Mr. Marshall, mentioned above, the Commission proceeded, on the recommendation of the Presbytery of Lexington, to choose William Calhoun and Matthew Houston missionaries. Mr. Calhoun went to Kentucky with Mr. Allen, on his second trip; returned and settled in Virginia. He is still living, having passed his ministerial life in and near Staunton, Virginia.
The records of the Commission for 1793 are lost. But from the records of 1794, it appears Mr. Samuel Brown had been appointed missionary in 1793. He was afterwards settled at New Providence, Rockbridge county, and lies among the people of his charge. He was a father of preachers. Mr. Adam Freeman, of Lexington Presbytery, was also appointed in 1793, and continued to act in 1794. In May, 1794, Mr. Samuel Rannells, from Lexington Presbytery, received an appointment. He settled in Kentucky. At a meeting, Septem