Jeremiah Bell Jeter was born in Bedford County, Virginia, July 18, 1802. He first saw the light in the home of his maternal grandfather. The house was"a frame building, one story and a half in height, with shingle roof and stone chimneys. It had four main rooms, with small windows, and doors high from the ground and approached by block steps. It never knew the refining touch of paint, and as a consequence presented to the eye of the stranger a weather-beaten and neglected appearance. But it was not without its attractive features. It was delightfully situated on an elevated plain, and, with its blue-grass turf, its rows of locusts, its mammoth old acorn tree, its adjacent garden of roses and lilacs, and its great orchard, it made an enchanting picture as it nestled near the base of the Piney Mountain." His father was Pleasant Jeter, one of ten children, an uncultivated, vacillating, improvident man, or, as his distinguished son described him, "remarkable for nothing except bad management in his secular affairs and air-castle building." His mother's maiden name was Jane Eke Hatcher. She never united with the church, although she exerted a potent religious influence over her children. Before she passed the meridian of life her spirit took its flight from a body that had always been frail. Her oldest son, Jeremiah, made it a rule to come home at least once a year to see his mother. Her father, after whom this son was named, was Jeremiah Hatcher, a Baptist preacher, whose ministry was spent in eastern Virginia, Tomahawk Church, in Chesterfield County, having been one of his churches. The maiden name of his paternal grandmother furnished Mr. Jeter with his middle name. This grandmother was ninety-six years old at the time of her death. She kept for a long time a register of her descendants, who, at the time of her death, she judged numbered 300. Shortly after this event young Jeter had 125 living first cousins, eighty of whom were her descendants. The Jeters were probably of Huguenot extraction. In his later years, Mr. Jeter used to say half jocularly that the French word "jeter" meant to throw, and that he doubted not but what his ancestors were a race of slingers.
From his own pen we have charming pictures of the scenes and customs in Mr. Jeters early days. His life covered the eventful period of over three-quarters of the nineteenth century. Dr. J. L. M. Curry writes:"When Dr. Jeter was born there were no railways, no steam-boats, no phonographs, no magnificent system of telegraphy and telephony, no McCormick reapers, no lucifier matches, no breech-loading guns, no dynamite."
Nor were there any Sunday schools. The day schools were crude. Dram drinking was most common. There was little variety in preaching and every preacher was a polemic. It was the day of "musters," "corn-shuckings," and "log-rollings." When he went to school Webster's spelling-book was just coming into use, Walker's Dictionary was in service, and the scholars were required to commit to memory large parts of Murray's Grammar. One of his teachers, whom he always gratefully remembered, was one Lewis Parker, "who thirsted for knowledge" and "paid attention to accent, emphasis, and punctuation in his instruction." To turn the teacher out seems to have been a common event in those days, and the origin of the strange term of contempt, "school butter," was even in that day unknown. Young Jeter decided to disregard the fashion of his day and give up the use of strong drink. This resolve, made when he was a mere lad, was kept until after his conversion in his twentieth year, when, judging that the gospel made him free, he took some drinks. In a short time, however, and with his friend Daniel Witt, he took the pledge "to abstain, during the remainder of our lives from the use of intoxicating liquor as a beverage, and to use it only as a medicine if at all." That pledge was sacredly kept. When he was a young man, hunting was a favorite occupation, and in Bedford squirrels, hares, partridges, ducks, wild turkeys, opossums, raccoons, deer, and bears were common. But, as the following story shows, he was undistinguished in hunting and shooting:"The first time I was trusted with a gun I came upon a squirrel standing in a path a few steps from me, nibbling an ear of corn which he had feloniously taken from a contiguous field. I was seized with an instant tremor. After hasty consideration my plan of assault was laid. I ran at the thief to drive him up a tree and succeeded admirably. He climbed a tall oak, thickly covered with boughs, and I saw him no more. It was fully six months before it occurred to me that I might have shot him on the ground." Mr. Jeter's own pen has told in full the story of his conversion. Greatly abridged here it is in his own words:"'Experience,' as it was generally called, occupied a much more prominent place in sermons and in religious conversation fifty years ago than it does now. I had an experience. I was brought up without special religious instruction. In my boyhood I cherished the hope that in due time I would be converted. I remember distinctly the first prayer that I ever uttered. It was in the summer of 1819. As I was plowing alone my thoughts were suddenly arrested by the presence and majesty of God. I was overwhelmed with awe, and falling on my knees pleaded with God for mercy. For days I went with a downcast countenance. For several weeks I carefully concealed my emotions, but continued to pray for Divine aid. In this time I became quite self-righteous. In a few weeks my impressions were effaced and my fair resolutions were abandoned. I have referred to the revival
[p. 215]which commenced in my neighborhood in the year 1821. In the early summer I attended a Sabbath service at Suck Spring Baptist Meeting House. It was communion season. At first I amused myself with a young lady of my acquaintance, who was looking gravely on the scene. Soon my own attention was arrested by it and I burst into an irrepressible flood of tears. This was the commencement of my second effort to become a Christian. I betook myself to reading the Scriptures, meditation, and prayer. In a few days I attended the burial of a young man I had known. The eyes and mouth of the corpse were stretched wide open, and neither force nor skill could close them. The unfortunate death of the young man, and the horrid appearance of his ghastly face made a deep impression on my nervous system that had been weakened by anxiety and sleeplessness. I deliberately came to the conclusion that, to get rid of my nervous trouble, I must suppress my religious convictions, and, for the present, at any rate, abandon all hope of salvation. Here ends the second chapter in my religious experience. I have given a pretty full account of the commencement of the great revival at Hatcher's Meeting House, in August, 1821. Sunday morning we [Daniel Witt and Mr. Jeter] rode together to church. The services continued till late in the afternoon. When I raised my head and opened my eyes I was astonished to find that all the congregation excepting a few of my friends were gone. Even Witt had left an hour or two before. My purpose to become a Christian was now fixed. It was not merely my purpose to enter the kingdom of heaven, but to out-strip all my associates in the celestial race. My aim was to become good enough for Christ to receive me. A short time after the memorable meeting at Hatcher's Meeting House there was an appointment for a night service in the neighborhood of my abode. There was a crowded house. Of the sermon I recollect nothing. At the close of it the minister said: If any person desires prayer, let him manifest it and I will pray for him.' The struggle was short. In a few moments I said distinctly: 'Pray for me.' I have said many things since which I have had cause to regret, but I have never been sorry that I made that request. I left the house with far less hope of salvation than I had when I entered it. A few weeks later another night meeting was appointed at the same place. The meeting was crowded and the religious excitement was intense. Among the inquirers was a rough, uncouth, and ignorant lad named Bill Carter. Occupying a prominent position he opened wide his mouth and roared like a lion. The scene was indescribably ludicrous, and, in spite of the solemnity of the occasion and my deep concern for my salvation, I burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. After weeks of anxiety, watchfulness, prayer, and mourning I seemed to be much further from salvation than I was at the first. About this time, hearing of the conversion of a young female friend, who was awakened some weeks after I was, it seemed a reasonable conclusion that I had missed the road to heaven. About two months after the memorable meeting at Hatchers Meeting House, I attended a night meeting in a private house near the same place. A song was sung it made an indelible impression on my mind. Is it possible, I inquired, that the Son of God suffered and died for such a corrupt
[p. 216]and guilty creature as I am? One point was settled I would sin no more if watchfulness, prayer, and an earnest purpose could preserve me from sinning. As instructed by one of my religious guides, the Rev. William Leftwich, I had often attempted to adopt the words of the father of the demoniac child: 'Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.' The sentence invariably changed in my lips to: 'Lord, I would believe; help thou my unbelief.' I feared that I did not believe, and my words were deceitful. After all my doubts and reasoning, the impression came over me that I did believe, and I repeated the words with emphasis: 'Lord, I do believe; help thou my unbelief.' The burden of guilt and anxiety, which I had borne so long, instantly departed. My mind was in a calm, pleasing frame, which to me was inexplicable, and which I was not careful to analyze. No wave of trouble rolled across my peaceful breast. I strolled to a retired spot, at the head of a ravine, where I might engage in secret prayer. Till then I had never offered a petition for any being but myself. This morning I prayed for my parents, my brothers and sisters, my remoter kindred, my friends, and I continued to extend the circle of my intercession until it comprehended the whole world. As I returned to the house I met Elder Harris. I told him as well as I could the exercises of my mind as stated above. You are converted, said he. This was a revelation to me. I had not even suspected that I was converted. I had heard no voice, seen no light, felt no shock, and had no strange manifestation. I was willing, aye, and resolved, to forsake my sins and serve Christ; but conversion must be something more wonderful than this. Elder Harris commenced and related to me his experience. It bore a striking resemblance to my own. Of the genuineness of his conversion I had no doubt. The gratitude, hope, and joy of my heart broke out in smiles and tears, as I met the pious friends who had so long sympathized with me and prayed for me. More than half a century has passed since I had the experience that I have imperfectly related. Much of my experience was circumstantial and non-essential but in its chief elements I deem it to be sound and evangelical. Conviction for sin, godly sorrow, reformation, despair of salavation by works, trust in Christ, love to Him, joy in the Holy Ghost in short an experience which comprehends the struggles of a soul in passing from death unto life are indispensable to the existence of genuine piety, and a reasonable hope of eternal life."
Mr. Jeter "glided into the ministry." As a youth, it had been his custom, as he plowed on Monday, to preach over, intonations and all, the sermon he had heard the day before. After his conversion he had no hesitation about the church to join. When a boy, having heard much discussion about baptism, he was reading one day, the story in Acts, of Philip and the eunuch. With great delight he ran to his mother, exclaiming: "The Baptists are right," thinking that the chapter he was reading was a new discovery of his. As he came out of the river after his baptism, the first Lord's Day, December, 1821, he made an exhortation. So his ministry began. The following month his "bishop" called on him to preach, and he did so at short notice. The next day he preached
again, and so well as to lead to over confidence, which made his third effort a humiliating failure. Thus from time to time he preached, having, as an evidence of his call to the ministry, his great desire for this work. For some time after thus commencing his ministry he was without any regular charge or field. He and Daniel Witt, who had come to be a perfect David and Jonathan, began to preach from place to place in their native county. They were young, and a deep religious movement had recently taken place, nor were they lacking in ability, and they did not lack for hearers. Soon their labors extended to Franklin, Pittsylvania, Botetourt, Campbell, and Amherst. They preached at each place, two sermons in the day and one at night, and then moved on. At first, the one who preached first had the advantage, as he had the whole extent of their theological knowledge to range over. Jeter described Witt as pulling off his coat and rolling up his sleeves by way of preparation for the sermon. After the first meeting of the General Association, in Richmond, June, 1823, these two young men, having had an interview, at Bruington, King and Queen County, with Dr. R. B. Semple, were appointed as the Association's first missionaries. Their instructions were written out in the beautiful chirography of Rev. A. Broaddus. From Bedford they went first to the meeting of the New River Association, in Grayson County, and then on through Wythe, Giles, Monroe, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Bath, Alleghany, Botetourt, preaching in court-houses, school houses, and private residences. After some months of this work they returned to King and Queen County, and rendered an account of their labors.
About this time there came to these young men, through the distinguished Luther Rice, the offer of college privileges, but, upon advice of their older brethren in the ministry, it was declined. Upon the invitation of Elder Nathaniel Chambliss, Mr. Jeter made Sussex County his headquarters, and Greenesville, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Dinwiddie, Prince George, Surry, Southampton, Isle of Wight, and yet other counties his field of labor. He worked now for the General Association, and now as an independent evangelist. At the home of Elder Chambliss, where he was treated as a son, he made good use of a small, but well-selected, library, reading Dwight's Theology, Mosheim's Church History, and many other volumes of real value. On May 4, 1824, he was ordained to the gospel ministry, at the High Hills Meeting House, Elders Nathaniel Chambliss and John D. Williams forming the Presbytery.
From Sussex he went to Campbell County to preach at Hill's Creek and Union Hill, and also at the Grove and Red House. During the winter of 1826-27, he boarded in the family of Mr. Thomas Hamlet, in the western end of the county. It was an extremely cold winter, ice being more than a foot thick on the ponds. One day he set out for his appointment, but it was so cold he turned back. Then
he started again. Five times he turned back, but finally persevered, and as a result of the sermon a young lady from a remote part of the county, where Baptists were little known, was converted, and subsequently baptized. During his sojourn in Campbell he was married to Miss Margaret P. Waddy, of Northumberland County, on October 5, 1826, his bosom friend, Daniel Witt, performing the ceremony. His bride was "of slender frame and frail constitution, and in a few months she fell suddenly sick, and soon after sank to her grave. Her death overwhelmed him with sorrow, and he lamented her loss with great bitterness of soul." His sojourn in Campbell was "the most unproductive and discouraging part of his entire ministerial life. He left the field with a poignant sense of failure. It is certain that he exaggerated his failure. It was not so complete as in his mortification he imagined."
The next nine years of his life were spent in the Northern Neck of Virginia, as pastor of Morattico Baptist Church, Lancaster County. Before going to Campbell this field had called him. As early as 1825, he had visited this section of the State, having ridden hither from Richmond on horseback, with Addison Hall, then a member of the Legislature, setting out on Christmas morning. The Wicomico Church soon became a part of his field. He ever regarded this as the most important period of his life, and as really his first pastorate. In later years he wrote of no other portion of his career with such peculiar unction. Let his own pen tell of this stage in his life:"I commenced my labors in the Neck under great disadvantages. Not only were the Methodists exerting a preponderating influence, but, preach when or where I might, my appointment was almost sure to be in conflict with some Methodist meeting. They, too, had almost invariably something to attract a congregation beyond the simple merits of their preachers. Sometimes circuit riders would be preaching their introductory and sometimes their valedictory sermons. Quarterly meetings, camp-meetings, and other extraordinary services filled up almost every Sunday, and constantly attracted the crowd. A great and striking change took place in the field of my labor during this period. I baptized about 1,000 persons, nearly an equal number of whites and of negroes. My congregations became larger, and were intelligent. Long before I left that region it was a matter of indifference to me what new or old circuit rider, or popular presiding elder was to preach in the vicinity of my meetings. My congregations could not be materially diminished. The period of my residence in the Northern Neck was probably the time most potential in the formation of my character, and the development of my gifts. A singular event occurred in my ministry while I lived in the Neck. I had an appointment to preach at White Chapel in the upper end of Lancaster County. It was an old colonial edifice, large, much out of repair, and little used. I had proceeded some distance in my discourse with usual freedom, when a large mass of plaster, more than two feet square and several inches thick, fell from the lofty ceiling, just grazing me in its descent. Had it fallen
[p. 219]on my head, it would probably have killed me or would certainly have stunned and seriously wounded me. I was alarmed; but finding the danger over I quickly proceeded to make extempore remarks, suggested by the event, on the perils to which we are constantly exposed, the uncertainty of life, and the importance of being always prepared for the end. When I had finished my unpremeditated re-marks, I essayed to recommence my sermon; but all recollection of the text and subject was entirely effaced from my mind. I stood and endeavored to recall the theme of my discourse. My efforts were vain. I turned to the left, where sat my friend Deacon Duna-way, and asked him if he could tell me what I was preaching about. He seemed to be paralyzed or rather petrified by the question. He sat with his eyes and mouth stretched wide open, without moving a muscle. I gradually turned to the right. Deacon Norris, a careful hearer, and noted for remembering the texts of sermons, seeing that I was directing my eyes towards him, cast his head down on the back of the pew before him, as much as to say, 'Don't ask me for your text .' Just as I was about to take my seat, the text and my discourse flashed on my mind, and I commenced my remarks precisely at the point at which they had been interrupted, and finished my sermon with freedom, and a solemnity, perhaps intensified by the danger which I had escaped."
While living in the Northern Neck, on December 29, 1828, Mr. Jeter was married to Miss Sarah Ann Gaskins. She was of "medium size and attractive person. She was thoroughly amiable in her temper and had enjoyed unusual educational advantages." Yet she was shy, sensitive, and shrinking, having little confidence in herself, and trembled at the coming of company. She was remarkable for her taciturnity. Once husband and wife made a long journey in a two-wheeled gig. Mr. Jeter sought to engage her in conversation, but getting nothing but monosyllables decided he would not speak again until she did. For twenty miles the silence was unbroken. This good woman had no doubt inherited some of her father's characteristics, for he was of such a melancholy temperament, and so distressingly dismal, that he was nicknamed "Brother Hyppo." Of this union, which lasted twenty years, the one child that was born lived only a short while. That he was not blessed with children was a great distress to Mr. Jeter, for he was fond of children. He once said to a lady, when congratulating her upon the birth of a daughter, that he wished he had a hundred girls.
Mr. Jeter seems to have been very fond of travel. During his years in the Northern Neck he visited Baltimore, and later New York. Some details of these trips from his own pen follow. He spoke of the first of these journeys as "A Voyage to Baltimore":"I arranged to make the voyage in a small schooner engaged in the Baltimore trade. In two or three days' run we reached the city of Baltimore. To me it seemed a great city, containing about 90,000 inhabitants. The few days I spent there were employed in traversing its streets, surveying its fine
buildings, and examining its curiosities. I had often expressed the wish that I could meet myself without knowing who I was, that I might form an impartial opinion of my appearance. Strangely enough on this visit my desire was gratified. I went to Peale's museum. While I was employed in examining the curiosities in a large room, I observed a tall, gawky-looking man, who was engaged with equal interest in inspecting objects in an adjoining room. I eyed him occasionally, but not very minutely. Having finished my examination in the room where I was, I concluded that I would pass into the apartment where the stranger seemed to be intensely occupied. He had closed the inspection of the curiosities in his room and appeared to be making his way into mine. We met face to face, and it was some time before I could perceive that the stranger was my very self, reflected from a mirror that had been fitted in the wall and surrounded by a frame appearing like a door. I may mention a matter out of its chronological order. The Baptists in Baltimore, being few, and their cause feebly sustained, Deacon William Crane, the founder and architect of the Second Baptist Church (of Richmond), a few years from this time, resolved to remove to Baltimore for the purpose of establishing a new church there. I was invited to unite with him in the enterprise. It was for some time undecided whether I should remove to Baltimore or remain in Virginia. Finally it was agreed to leave the question to the decision of a committee of ministers of the Dover Association, at its session with the Upper King and Queen Church, in the year 1834. The committee decided adversely to my removal. I returned to my plain country home quite impressed with the greatness and grandeur of the Monumental City."
Concerning his attendance at the Baptist Triennial Convention, in 1832, he says:" Here I first saw a railroad, on which passengers were drawn by horses at the rate of six or eight miles an hour. New York impressed me as a great city. It then contained 200,000, and was rapidly growing. The representation from the South was small The routine of the body was dispatched without special interest. Sunday morning I preached to a small Welsh congregation, in Brooklyn. I was assured by a Welsh brother that my manner of preaching was very much like that of the Welsh ministers. I received the remark as a great compliment, as about that time the celebrated extract from a sermon of Christmas Evans was widely circulated, and greatly admired. Howbeit, the good brother did not intimate that my sermon bore any resemblance to the eloquent and seraphic specimen of Evans' preaching, but only to the ordinary style of the Welsh sermons This was the last harmonious meeting of the Triennial Convention. The subsequent meetings of the body were increasingly disturbed by discussions on the subject of slavery. " Large success came to the Baptist cause in the Northern Neck through camp-meetings, held during Mr. Jeter's pastorate there. The Baptists were much prejudiced against camp-meetings, and the proposition of the Morattico-
Wicomico pastor that one be held awakened much opposition. Finally the matter was decided by lot, and more than one such meeting was held. Among the many blessed results that followed was the conversion of Miss Henrietta Hall, who after-wards, as the wife of Rev. J. L. Shuck, was the first American woman missionary to China.
On the first Lord's Day of 1836, Mr. Jeter began his work as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Richmond, Va. This was an epoch in his history. He was passing from a country field to the heavier obligations of a city church. Richmond at this time had a population of about 30,000, and the First Church a membership of 1,717, of whom 1,384 were colored people, and 333 white. In the fifty-six years of her history the church had had as its pastors Joshua Morris, John Courtney, John Bryce, Andrew Broaddus, John Kerr, and Isaac Taylor Hinton. The meeting-house stood on the corner of Broad and College streets. During his pastorate of thirteen and a half years Mr. Jeter baptized some thousand persons, among whom were many who became able ministers. Among this number were J. R. Garlick and P. S. Henson. At the close of his pastorate the church had some 600 white members. In 1841, a new meetinghouse, large and commodious, that cost $40,000, was dedicated. Upon the site of the former house a very large edifice was erected for the colored portion of the church, and Rev. Dr. Robert Ryland, the president of Richmond College, became their pastor. This important move was not made without serious opposition. It was against the law at that time for a negro to be the pastor of a church, and many looked upon the new and separate meetinghouse as liable to foster the spirit of rebellion among the slaves. Yet it was impossible in one church house to provide adequate place for both races, and preaching suitable at once for those so ignorant and those of intelligence and culture. In the midst of the discussion of the proposition for a separate church for the negroes, Dr. Jeter thought of calling on the clergy of the city to endorse it. His friend, Dr. W. S. Plumer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, said: "Don't do it. The clergy might decide against your plan: but it is right the law is in your favor go forward in the work, and if you have trouble I will stand by you." And right nobly did Dr. Plumer keep this promise. When he heard that an effort was being made to get an indictment from the grand jury against the persons in charge of the meetings he came to Dr. Jeter and said: "I wish you to understand that in any difficulties you may have concerning the African Church I am to go halves with you." During Dr. Jeter's pastorate at the First Church the various ministers united in an attack on the theater, each one preaching a special sermon against this evil. Not many years before, when the Richmond theater was destroyed by fire, the dead and dying were laid on the floor of the edifice in which Dr. Jeter delivered his message. This fact doubtless added to the impressiveness of the occasion, furnishing him with a most solemn climax for his discourse. His sermon was requested for publication and had a wide
circulation. In 1842, Richmond was blessed by a great revival of religion. It commenced in the First Presbyterian Church, under the ministry of Dr. Plumer. Dr. Jeter called to his help Rev. Israel Robords, an evangelist, whom Dr. Jeter describes as"in some respects among the most remarkable preachers I have heard. He was probably forty-five years old, tall, lean, of an unhealthy complexion, and rather ill-favored. He had the most extraordinary power in dealing with the consciences of men. He was terrible in his denunciations of all kinds of vice."
During this work of grace probably some 1,500 persons were added to the churches of the various denominations, 400 of them joining the Baptist churches, and 170 the First Church. Several years after this, Dr. Jeter had to help him in evangelistic services another famous evangelist, Elder Jacob Knapp. His usefulness, how-ever, was largely destroyed by his unfortunate allusions to slavery, and finally he was asked to leave. Dr. Jeter had an eye for the beautiful; one day he saw a young lady in his congregation wearing a Leghorn hat with a handsome ostrich feather; he at once asked his wife to get a hat like that; a bonnet of the same character without the feather did not suffice, he was not satisfied until the plume was added.
In the movement which resulted in the withdrawal of Southern Baptists from the Triennial Convention, and the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Jeter was prominent, and thus his leadership among Southern Baptists began. At a meeting of the American Baptist Home Mission Society a humorous incident occurred. Deacon Heman Lincoln was in the chair. Slavery was under discussion. Dr. Jeter arose and was recognized. At once there was a vociferous demand that another be accorded the floor. It was insisted that his repeated attempts to gain the floor entitled him to it. To all the demands and arguments the inflexible deacon cried: "Brother Jeter has the floor." After standing perhaps half an hour Dr. Jeter was allowed to make his speech. Upon the action of the Boston Board, adverse to slaveholders, a convention was called by Southern brethren looking towards a separate organization. Prior to this meeting, J. B. Jeter and J. B. Taylor, at the request of their brethren, went to Providence to attend a called meeting of the General Board of the Triennial Convention, to confer as to what ought to be done. They were the guests of Dr. Francis Wayland. The conference revealed the fact that separation was unavoidable. A meeting was called for May 8, 1845, in Augusta, Ga. At this time and place the Southern Baptist Convention was organized. On the way to Augusta, a large party of Virginia and Maryland delegates journeyed together, going from Wilmington to Charleston by steamer. Dr. Jeter was one of the number. A violent storm was encountered. Upon the organization of the convention the Foreign Mission Board was located at Richmond, and Dr. Jeter named
as its president. On February 8, 1846, Dr. Adoniram Judson, the famous Baptist missionary to India, visited Richmond, and was given a reception at the First Baptist Church. Dr. Jeter made the address. This address, which was most beautiful and eloquent, is given in full in Wayland's "Life of Judson." In it Dr. Jeter called Judson "the father of American missions." This speech closed with these words:"One thought pains us. To-morrow morning you leave us. We shall see your face no more. You will return to Burmah, the land of your adoption. There you will continue your toils and there probably be buried. But this separation is not without its solace. Thank God! it is as near from Burmah to heaven as from Richmond, or any other point on the globe. Angels, oft commissioned to convey to heaven the departing spirits of pious Burmans and Karens, have learned the way to that dark land. When dismissed from your toils and sufferings they will be in readiness to perform the same service for you. God grant that we may all meet in that bright world. There sin shall no more annoy us, separations no more pain us, and every power find full and sweet employ in the service of Christ. And, now, my brother, I give my hand in token of affection to you, and of your cordial reception among us."
During Dr. Jeter's pastorate at the First Church he was "called to taste the bitter cup of affliction." His mother "passed to her long home," and he followed to her grave his second wife. No recollection of having disobeyed his mother or tittered a disrespectful word to her gave him pleasure even to his old age, and in a ministry of over fifty years he never witnessed a more triumphant death than that of his wife. In 1849, he was married to his third wife, whose maiden name was Charlotte E. Wharton.
In 1849, Dr. Jeter became pastor of the Second Baptist Church, of St. Louis, Mo. Here was a great change in his life, from quiet Richmond to St. Louis, which promised then to be the great city it has since become. After offering his resignation in Richmond, when he realized how strong he was in the affection and esteem of the First Church, he regretted the step he had taken, but matters had gone too far then to be reversed. The Second Church was at that time the only white Baptist Church in St. Louis, the First Church having been shortly before united with it. The membership was heterogeneous in character, being made up of people from England, Wales, and almost every state in the Union. No wonder that in such a body there was great divergency of views. And in the city itself many great fundamental doctrines, which in Virginia were universally accepted, had here to be established by argument and proof. At Dr. Jeter's suggestion colonies soon went forth from his church to organize two other Baptist churches in the city. While this was highly advantageous to the Baptist cause in St. Louis it weakened the pastor's hold upon his flock. Many who went out had been his staunchest supporters, many who remained were not satisfied with his preaching. Finally it was proposed that still another
division should take place, the pastor and his admirers being one band, and others another. Just at this juncture Dr. Jeter was called to the pastorate of the Grace Street Baptist Church, Richmond, Va., to succeed Rev. Dr. Kingsford, who had recently resigned. Mrs. Jeter was convinced that a return to Virginia was important for her health. While Dr. Jeter did not concur in this opinion, yet her desire in the matter was one factor which led him to accept the call back to his native state. It was with no small degree of reluctance that he left St. Louis. He saw great possibilities there, and the very difficulties of the situation were an inspiration. In taking his departure, however, he believed that his sojourn in Missouri had brought a blessing to his denomination there, and to his own life. And since he was to return to Virginia it was fortunate that he should do so before his absence had been long enough to throw him out of sympathy with his brethren and the work being done. Towards the end of 1852 he began his work at Grace Street.
While sorry to leave St. Louis, Dr. Jeter was glad to return to Virginia. Not that he did not love St. Louis, but that he loved Virginia more. In the Grace Street pastorate his predecessors had been Henry Keeling, Lewis A. Alderson, James B. Taylor, David Shaver, and Edward Kingsford. The meeting-house stood on the corner of Foushee and Grace streets, and his salary was $1,000 a year. Many believe that Dr. Jeter's pastorate at Grace Street, which lasted seventeen years, was in many respects the most useful period of his life. If his career here was not brilliant it was eminently prosperous. He was an instructive and eminently evangelical preacher, but not popular in his style, and, as one has said, to dull people he was a dull preacher. He was an earnest student of the Bible, wonderfully familiar with it. He used the best helps in his study of "the Book," not even neglecting the original languages, although he had had no college or theological training. His sermons were always faithfully prepared. His out-line was carefully constructed, sometimes perhaps with too many divisions and subdivisions. Doubtless his voice had much to do with his falling short of the highest oratory. Dr. Hatcher holds to the opinion that his peculiar voice was not a natural infirmity, but a habit of long standing. Another peculiarity that often hindered his work in the pulpit, and likewise in pastoral and social relationship, was his treacherous memory. He rarely remembered persons' names, and often failed to speak to people on the street. He was known to forget in a sermon a pivotal word, for which he would sometimes struggle in vain. He did not attract great congregations; indeed, at night, he often preached to empty benches. Yet this condition did not tempt him to resort to spurious methods, nor did it unduly discourage him. He pursued his work conscientiously, always in the fear of God, with a holy ambition to do good. His noble presence could but give dignity to his message, and his arms, which were long and seemingly in his way when he was young, became, as he grew older, his servants for power; his gestures were most impressive. Many stories
as to his voice and his absent-mindedness are doubtless as apocryphal as they were cruel, but some are well authenticated. At the University of Virginia at the close of a sermon he was called on to pray."He began his petition by saying, 'O Lord,' in a tone so sharp, queer, and undevout, that the whole audience was amused. One of the professors, an humble and devout Christian, said afterwards that when he heard that singular ejaculation, his first thought was that some one had pierced Dr. Jeter with a needle and that it was an outcry of pain."
In those days people in Richmond went to the post-office for their mail; one day when Dr. Jeter went he could not get his letters because he had forgotten his name. Once in the Grace Street prayer-meeting Dr. Jeter said that if he had offended any brother in any way he would be glad to know it that he might make amends. A brother rose at once and said that it hurt him that his pastor never knew him and never spoke to him on the street. The next day Dr. Jeter went to the high building where this man was at work, called him down, and shook hands with him cordially, calling him by name. While as a pastor he was not a great visitor his visits to the sick and afflicted were like a benediction. Once when a certain sick man was allowed to see no one, Dr. Jeter called and was not permitted to go in. When the physician was informed of this he expressed regret, saying that Dr. Jeters visit would have clone his patient more good than his. Of his work as a city pastor Dr. Curry says:"For years he was a bishop of large city churches, and exerted extraordinary influence in molding the opinions, forming the character, and shaping the conduct of his flocks." Dr. Jeter's pastorate at Grace Street covered the period of the Civil War. He stood faithfully at his post. His church was sadly crippled, his income was inadequate, but he bore his troubles with cheerfulness. Many letters came to him asking him to look after soldiers who were sick and in prison. Once he went to Libby Prison to visit a Federal soldier, the son of Dr. B. Sears. At one time during the war he wrote to a friend and told of the scarcity of all provisions, butter being at that time $1.25 a pound, and eggs $1.00 a dozen. A certain Sunday afternoon a rumor spread through Richmond that the United States vessel Pawnee was coming up James River to bombard the city. The news caused consternation. Military companies hastened down the river with their artillery. Some fled, others armed for the fray. Dr. Jeter belonged to this latter class."He secured an old shotgun, which some said was without lock or load, and set forth for the scene of war. It must have been a curious sight, indeed, to behold him on Sunday afternoon double-quicking down Broad Street with an empty shotgun, going alone to engage a United States man-of-war."
On August 19, 1861, Dr. Jeter's third wife died. They had been married twelve years."She was a charming woman, not highly cultivated, but gently reared, lovely in person, full of quiet self-respect, ardent in her attachments, almost unduly candid in her manner, devoted to her home, not given to extravagance, modestly proud of her husband, and ever ambitious of his success."
In the summer of 1862, at a supper table in Powhatan, some of the company ventured to banter Dr. Jeter on the subject of matrimony. It was an untimely jest. Dropping his knife and fork, he said, as if in reverie:"Ah, my noble and faithful wife! how gladly would I walk around this world barefoot and alone to see her again!" As the War wore on Dr. Jeter found in the Archibald Thomas home a most congenial circle of warm friends. It was here that he met and became attached to Mrs. Mary C. Dabbs, whom, upon May 5, 1863, he married. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Dr. J. L. Burrows. There was to have been a bridal trip, but railroad schedules were uncertain in those days, and the train that day refused to go. As to this union Dr. Hatcher says:"It was universally conceded that his contact with this brilliant and inspiring woman quickened him into new activity and stimulated him to the most noble achievements of his life." On March 25, 1870, Dr. Jeter resigned as pastor of the Grace Street Baptist Church. For some time he had undertaken the double load of editorial and pastoral labors. This was too great a burden. Dr. M. L. James, a medical professor and practitioner, was for a time an inmate of Dr. Jeter's home, and he warned his host and friend that there was danger of a serious breakdown. Finally Dr. Jeter, realizing that his friend was right, decided to turn over the church to some younger man, and to give himself wholly to the editor's chair. Thus closed a blessed pastorate of seventeen years.
As factors in his success in the various periods of his life must be set down Dr. Jeter's vigorous constitution and his almost uniform good health. To the end of his life he was fond of walking and of horseback exercise. Dr. Jeter, walking along the street or riding, as erect as a soldier, his hoary head a crown of honor, was a sight of which Richmond might well be proud. He had a good digestion and enjoyed his food. He slept well and was quite regular as to his hour for retiring, and, when he went to bed, he went to sleep. He would commit the cares of the day to God in prayer, and then go to sleep. He used to say that prayer and sleep would solve any problem. Once he came home under the pressure of a serious and sudden financial calamity. It was a difficult situation. Finally, having cast all his care upon Him, he went to bed and to
sleep, though his wife, burdened with the trouble, could not sleep half the night. The next morning he exclaimed upon awaking: "It is all right; I see how the matter can be arranged." Sir Walter Scott was an early riser, and awoke even earlier. In this interim he "simmered" as he called it; his own term is explained when he tells us that the plots of his novels were worked out during this morning season. Not unlike this was Dr. Jeter's method. What he wanted to write and sometimes even the exact form of his sentences took shape at this time.
In November, 1865, Dr. Jeter and Dr. A. E. Dickinson became the owners and editors of the Religious Herald, the organ of Virginia Baptists. This paper had been established in 1828, by Wm. Crane and Wm. Sands, and was up to the War a successful and useful paper. The flames that destroyed one-third of Richmond swept away the Herald, leaving little for the new firm to purchase save the subscription list and the good will. Yet the paper now entered upon a new era of prosperity. The two editors formed a strong combination, supplementing and complementing each other. Dr. Jeter had no skill in securing long lists of subscribers, nor was he able to report in racy style a great convention, or set forth passing events in brief paragraphs. In these things Dr. Dickinson soon came to be past master. Dr. Jeter wrote, week after week, editorials on a wide range of subjects that attracted attention. They were readable; they were remarkable for their vigorous English style; they were clear, sane, and strong. At a transition period in our national history, the Religious Herald did much to bring about good feeling between the North and South, and Dr. Jeter deserves to share with Dr. Dickinson the honor of this praiseworthy work. The Herald came to be highly regarded not only throughout the South, but also in the North. After his resignation of the Grace Street pastorate, Dr. Jeter gave his whole time to the paper. Among his writings for the Herald a series of articles, entitled "Recollections of a Long Life," which were afterwards published in book form, took high rank for their charm of style and valuable light on other days.
The work of Dr. Jeter's pen was not limited to the columns of the newspaper. He was an author and the writer of books. Besides numerous tracts and a number of printed sermons, the following books bear his name: "Memoir of Rev. A. W. Clopton," "Life of Mrs. Henrietta Shuck," "Life of Rev. A. Broaddus," "Campbellism Examined," "Campbellism Reexamined." "The Christian Mirror," "The Seal of Heaven."
Dr. Jeter occupied a large place not only in the work of Virginia Baptists, but also in that of the Baptists of the South. He was known and esteemed by his brethren in the North. Rev. Dr. J. C. Long declared that Dr. Wayland and Dr. Jeter were the two Baptists who have exerted the widest and most wholesome influence on the religious history of our country." In his early ministry he took
a bold, brave stand in the temperance movement, and, in 1830, he was one of those who helped to bring into being the Education Society from which Richmond College came. He was for the rest of his life the friend of Richmond College, for many years president of its Board of Trustees, and, after his death, his name was given to a hall in one of the college buildings. Dr. Jeter was one of the leaders in the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the first president of the Foreign Mission Board. In the various meetings, which resulted in the establishment of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Jeter bore an important part, and, at the time of his death, was president of its Trustees. In 1872, when troubles of a most serious nature menaced the Italian Mission, recently established by Southern Baptists, Dr. Jeter was appointed a special commissioner to go to Rome. Dr. Jeter was esteemed not only in the Baptist ranks. He was invited to become chaplain at the University of Virginia. As an index of the spirit and service Dr. Jeter rendered to his fellow-men, take the words of Virginia's Governor, F. W. M. Holliday, as he stood beside the coffin: "Here lies the man, by whose counsel and sympathy I have been more strongly sustained, in my official duties, than by any other man in Virginia." Governor Holliday was not a Baptist. Dr. Jeter was certainly, at the time of his death and for years previous to that event, one of the leading citizens of Richmond and Virginia.
Dr. Jeter died on Wednesday, February 18, 1880, at 4 o'clock in the morning. His death brought distress to all classes of people in Richmond, and to the Baptist brotherhood throughout the State and the South. For some hours before the funeral his body rested in the church where he had last been pastor, and many looked for the last time at his face. The speakers at the funeral were: Rev. Dr. J. R. Garlick, Rev. Dr. T. S. Dunaway, Rev. Dr. D. S. Doggett, Rev. Dr. J. L. M. Curry. The burial took place in beautiful Hollywood.
Many pages more could be written setting forth the story of Dr. Jeter's life, and giving incidents and anecdotes illustrating his character and work. So deep an impression did he make upon the memory of Virginia Baptists that to-day, when he has been dead almost a third of a century, his name is still a household word among us. Perhaps certain striking peculiarities, with scores of anecdotes, some true and some not, which still pass current among us, have played their part in perpetuating his name and fame among us. Who that ever saw him in his old age could ever forget him? How tall and commanding was his figure! How imposing his intellectual face, his noble head with its crown of white hair! When Dr. Jeter's own pen set down in so interesting a way many scenes from his life, and when such a facile writer as Dr. W. E. Hatcher, who was so well qualified to do so, has written a life of Dr. Jeter, little save selection and arrangement of material was left for this sketch. For the fuller story the reader is referred to two books: Hatcher's "Life of Jeter," and Jeter's
"Recollections of a Long Life," to which volumes this sketch owes almost everything.
===========[From George Braxton Taylor,Virginia Baptist Ministers, Third Series, 1912. jrd]
Baptist History Homepage