The Free Baptist church has gained some of its most distinguished
clergymen and most earnest workers from the Gordon family of Jackson county,
members of which have won country-wide reputations in their chosen vocation,
and prominent among these may be mentioned the late Rev. Henry Smith Gordon
and his son, Rev. George Alexander Gordon, the latter of whom has also won
recognition as a business man, agriculturist and journalist. Probably there
is no better known family in Jackson county than that of Gordon, and it is
but fitting in respect for those who have passed away and in appreciation of
those who are still carrying on their labors that a history of its members
be presented in biographical form.
In looking for the founder of this branch of the family the first of whom there is distinct trace is Richard of Gordon, who was Lord of the Barony of Gordon in the Merse between 1150 and 1160. Alicia IV of the Gordon family married her cousin, Adam Gordon. Their grandson. Sir Adam, was the ancestor of all the Gordons of Scotland, according to Douglas. Robert 1st gave to him a charter to the lands of Strathbogie (or Huntley). Sir Adam Gordon, in descent tenth of Gordon and Huntley, was killed at the battle of Homildon in 1402, leaving only a daughter, who married a Seton. Their eldest son, Alexander, assumed the name of Gordon, and in 1449 was created Earl of Huntley. The line of Huntleys and Gordon was noted for its warlike spirit. The fighting force of the clan was estimated at one thousand claymores in 1715. The Earls of Aberdeen, so created in 1682, are descended from Patrick Gordon of Methlic, cousin of the Earl of Huntley. Prom Scotland the first Gordon, the great-great-grandfather of Rev. George Alexander Gordon, came to American in 1697, he being connected with what is known as the Cumberland Valley Gordons, very numerous and exceedingly well known in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Rev. Henry Smith Gordon was born in Franklin county, Pennsylvania, June 19, 1816, the oldest child of George and Nancy Gordon, who brought him west when he was but a child. The family crossed the Mississippi river at St. Louis before the advent of ferry boats, but took the wheels off their wagon, and thus safely carried their horses and wagon across the river in a flat-boat, it taking a number of trips to get the whole outfit across with a skiff and the flat-boat. The grandfather of Rev. Henry Smith Gordon, also named George, had gone to Missouri about 1800, long before it was admitted to the Union as a state, and because of some complicity in the rightful ownership of a number of negroes in which his wife held first claim he was foully murdered one morning on his own door-steps by someone in ambush across the road from the house. The accused was the first person ever hanged in Missouri and in St. Louis, under law, and that was territorial law, in which the oldest son had the reprieving power. His son, however, George, a lad of fourteen years of age, refused to commute the sentence, and the village of St. Louis witnessed the first legal hanging. George then went back to Pennsylvania, grew to manhood, married and had three children, the oldest of whom was Henry Smith, and with his family wended his way back to his early home in Missouri.
Locating back of St. Louis about sixteen miles, on the Meramec river, the little family started its life in the new territory, and there the father built and operated for many years a grist mill and carding factory, the son growing to manhood and having instilled in him lessons of integrity, industry and frugality which proved of inestimable value to him in the years that followed. He became in time a practical miller and engineer, and acquired some educational training. At the age of nineteen years he was married to Miss Rebecca Young, and at that time, in 1835, his father gave him one hundred acres of land. He began to improve his property, but finding this a slow and uphill business, he sold it for twelve hundred dollars, and removed to Southern Illinois, locating on wild prairie land in Short's Prairie, one and one-half miles east of Georgetown (now Steeleville), Randolph county. At this early day there were a great many difficulties to encounter and discouragements to face, and among other things he lost his first born, a little two-year-old girl. A son, however, took her place, and following this three boys gladdened the home, the oldest of whom, George Alexander, was born while the father was attending Shurtleff Theological College, at Upper Alton, Illinois. In 1848 Mr. Gordon's home was visited by the Death Angel, the faithful wife passing into the Beyond, and for a time it was necessary that his little ones be cared for by others. The youngest was taken by a brother-in-law, Captain Senica Parker, and the latter and his wife became so attached to him that they kept and reared him. On November 6, 1849, Rev. Gordon was again married, this time to Mrs. Nancy Hill, of Centerville, Illinois, who had a son, William S. Hill. Five sons were born to Rev. and Mrs. Gordon: Abram G., Noel R., Charles S., Edward B. and Ora C. The entire family of ten children were raised to man and womanhood, all were married and had homes, and for fifty years there was not a death in the family (except the second son, Henry, who died in 1893), from the death of his wife in 1848 until his own death in 1898. He continued to live on and improve his farm, but failing health compelled him, in 1852, to make the long and tedious trip across the plains to California. That year was one when so many people were afflicted with the gold fever, and crossed the plains in all kinds of trains in search of wealth. Rev. Gordon chose the somewhat unique method of a team of milk cows, which furnished him with both transportation and sustenance, and thus safely made the long trip of six months. After a few months, finding his health restored, Rev. Gordon returned home, but was in almost as bad health as when he had started, having suffered a relapse on reaching New Orleans on the return trip, via the isthmus, and in 1855 gave up farming and moved to O'Fallon, St. Clair county, to establish himself in a mercantile trade, the first business of any kind at that point, now quite a city. After about one year he again returned to the farm, but as he had rented it for a longer period the tenant would not give it up, and he was compelled to build another house on another piece of land, which he increased in the years that followed to almost four hundred acres. There he continued to live, rearing his family, until all had married and left the home fireside, when he and his wife moved to Campbell Hill, and after about seven years to Percy, where the remainder of his life was spent, his death occurring at the advanced age of almost eighty-two years.
A modest and unassuming man, Rev. Gordon never kept a diary and was always averse to self-praise, and in this way it is hard for the biographer to accurately trace his record of work accomplished. It was about the year 1837, however, when he united with the Baptist church at Georgetown, Illinois, sometimes called Steele's Mills, or Steeleville, in honor of old Uncle George Steele, founder of the town. Shortly thereafter Rev. Gordon was asked by resolution to exercise his gift in the way of public speaking, and after he had complied with the request was ordained to the Gospel ministry by the usual forms of the Missionary Baptist church. Soon realizing, however, that his education was not adequate to this very important undertaking, and there being no facilities or advantages convenient at hand, he arranged to take his family, consisting of a wife and one child at that time, with him to Upper Alton, Illinois, and in 1841 he entered the theological department of Shurtleff College, in the meanwhile earning his board and that of his wife in various ways, principally chopping cord wood and splitting rails. When he had finished his schooling he went back to take up his work where he had left off, and during the next eight years preached all over Southern Illinois and became very popular. The only college man in the association, and an able and efficient minister, he made himself generally useful, established numerous churches, and was eventually appointed by the association to preach throughout its limits as a missionary and to organize various churches, the parent body at New York to pay one-half of his salary, which was to be four hundred dollars per year. He had entered upon this work, meeting with fair success, and was one of the best-known members of the Nine Mile Association of the Missionary Baptist church, when an event occurred that changed the whole religious complexion of Southern Illinois.
On April 28, 1850, in the prosecution of his work as missionary, he organized a church at Looney Springs (now Campbell Hill), in Jackson county, with nine members, all of whom so far as they understood endorsed the doctrines of the Missionary Baptist church. It was announced at the next meeting the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper would be administered, which in the meantime was discussed in the neighborhood by the members of the new church as well as others, and there was quite a general feeling among the members that their Methodist and Presbyterian neighbors, of whom there were two or three in the vicinity, might commune with them. This was said by some to be contrary to the usages of the Baptist church, and it was agreed among themselves that they leave the whole matter to their new pastor when he came, for their meetings were held monthly. When the question was asked, Rev. Gordon gave his consent, although he, to use his own words, "had never publicly advocated free communion," but their claim was just and their cause scriptural, "so I yielded my acquired denominational prejudices. ' ' He had hardly got back home from his appointment when charges were preferred against him and he was called upon to appear before his church and give an account for this departure from Baptist usages, for which offense he was excluded from his church. The trial and exclusion of the Rev. H. S. Gordon from the Baptist church at Georgetown, Randolph county, has been set forth in various places, including the report of the committee, which is included in the "Life and Labors of the Rev. Henry S. Gordon," from which book several quotations have been made.
The work of Rev. Gordon after his expulsion from the church in which he had labored so long and faithfully continued as follows: "February 1, 1851, at one o'clock, the congregation assembled at the house of Deacon John T. Short," officers were chosen, prayer said by H. S. Gordon, and, the meeting being properly organized, proceeded to discuss the propriety of a new church organization, the result being the organization of the Baptist Church of Christ, under a firm constitution. Shortly thereafter, Rev. Gordon organized a church at Pipestone, at what is now called Denmark; also another near Rockwood, still called Pleasant Ridge. These four he organized into an association in 1851 and named it the Southern Illinois Association of Free Communion Baptists, and under his ministry they grew very rapidly. To quote again from the work above mentioned: "Brother Gordon's ability as a preacher, his remarkable vocabulary, fine use of language, native oratory, great earnestness and natural adaptability to the work to which he had been so unexpectedly called admirably fitted him to become the leader of a more advanced and liberal view of Christianity" at that time. "But it was not popularity that he was seeking. Although the people came by thousands to hear him preach, and every service witnessed conversions, frequently by the score, and every monthly meeting baptisms," it was but the fulfilling of what he felt his bounden duty, and a labor of love and self-sacrifice. The work broadened and enlarged until it reached over several counties, and eventually, at a meeting in March, 1877, a convention was called to be held at Looney Springs church, where the new church was fused with that of the Free Will Baptists. During all this time Brother Gordon continued to lead and direct the work, and it would be difficult to say how really great his influence was or how far-reaching. Those who had come under his influence here transferred it to other communities, and many branches of the church today can trace their inception to him. He seldom missed a Sabbath, received next to no salary (he was content to receive a pair of woolen mittens or socks, a wagon-load of pumpkins, or, as on one occasion, a bushel of cotton seed for his labors), and "was thoroughly disgusted with a minister who worked so hard that his church would have to give him a vacation every summer. The fact is that he had but little patience with such weaklings," although for sixty years he himself would continue to go constantly, persistently, with no let-up or rest. He was a strict vegetarian. Always accustomed to hard work on his farm, he was often heard to tell of a certain crop which he once raised. It came to one hundred bushels of corn, which was hauled seventeen miles by wagon to sell, and for which he received a ten-dollar bill. The latter proved counterfeit and the donor would not take it back. "It was hard to ever forgive that fellow," was Brother Gordon's invariable remark when finishing this story. In finishing the sketch of the work done by Brother Gordon, it may be well to quote from the writing of one who knew and loved him.
"He was systematic and orderly in his personal habits, was rather averse to fashionable dressing and finery; while very unaffected and unassuming he always graced the pulpit with dignity, and while extremely social with all with whom he came in contact, he was always dignified and genteel. He held moral character in very high esteem; was often heard to say that morality was a large half of Christianity. He especially dislike untruth and deceit. He respected the opinions of those who differed with him socially, politically or religiously, but tied himself down to no man's theories, notions or opinions, carefully investigated for himself all subjects and doctrines that presented themselves or came up for solution or consideration, and in all those sixty years of public life was not sidetracked but kept steadily on, right on. * * * He was quick to discover truth, and equally quick to detect error. In argument he was scholarly and logical, and above all intensely scriptural. He was a master of his text book, the Bible, quoting whole chapters from memory. He moved around among its promises, its parables and its miracles as familiarly as friend with friend. Nor its history, law, poetry or prophecy were perplexing. Truly a man of God, and learned in the deep things of His Word." His death occurred January 10, 1898, and he was laid to rest in the Jones graveyard, one mile west of Percy. His widow survived him four years and passed away at Ava. Originally a Whig, Rev. Gordon became a Republican on the organization of that party, later was a Democrat, and in 1880 began to advocate the principles of the Prohibition party.
The early life of the Rev. George Alexander Gordon was spent amid religious surroundings, and his education was secured in the subscription schools and the public schools of Percy and Georgetown. At the age of eighteen years he began to attend Rev. 0. L. Barlor's Mathematical and Classical Institute, where he completed his education, and after finishing his schooling followed farming until 1872. In that year he embarked in the mercantile business at Percy, and in 1875 came to Campbell Hill, continuing in the same line about eighteen years. For some time he was editor of the Illinois Free Baptist, a religious publication, later, for five years, published the Campbell Hill Eclipse, and is still the owner of a small printing establishment. Various enterprises have attracted his attention, and he is the owner of a large farm, although for some years he has been living in practical retirement. He is a notary, a justice of the peace, and handles real estate and insurance, and is a general advisor to all his fellow townsmen on matters of business. Rev. Gordon made profession of religion in 1860, and in 1868 was ordained by the Free Baptist church. He has preached almost continuously ever since, and for several years was an evangelist and preached every day. He has been state agent for the Free Baptist church for twenty-one years, seventy -five ministers and as many churches being under his care, and is the only member of the general conference board of twenty-one members that has been elected continuously to office since 1890. He was a delegate to the general conference at Wiers, New Hampshire, in 1880; at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in 1889; at Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1892; at Winnebago, Minnesota, in 1895; in 1898 at Ocean Park. Maine; and all others to date. Once a year he has gone East to Maine in the interests of his church. Politically he was formerly a Democrat, but with his father in 1880 transferred his allegiance to the Prohibition party. He has been identified with Free Masonry since 1868.
Rev. Gordon was born at Alton, Illinois, April 14, 1842, and on December 25, 1866, was married to Harriet Glore, who was born January 26, 1846, at Shiloh Hill, Illinois, daughter of Jeptha and Margaret (Crisler) Glore. She was converted and joined the Free Baptist church at Steeleville, Illinois, January 1, 1867. She has been an active worker in the church, Sunday-school and Children's Band ever since, and has rendered her husband invaluable assistance in his ministry. While busied with the cares of a large household, she has always found time to attend to her church work, and has proved herself a faithful and true pastor's wife. Although they have had no children of their own, and have legally adopted none, Rev. and Mrs. Gordon have reared eight children to man and womanhood and given them the true love and affection of parents. Like his reverend father, Rev. Gordon has great organizing ability, and has founded more than thirty churches. During his long and faithful labor here he has baptized more than fifteen hundred persons, and has married more couples than anyone in this part of the state. The mantle of his father's greatness has fallen upon his shoulders, shoulders that are worthy and able to carry their burden.
Extracted 11 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, volume 3, pages 1497-1502.
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