We have found it expedient under this head to group together a list of names of those who, in the earlier half of the century, were the leaders of public opinion in this remote Western country. It only includes a few persons, and others as eminent are to be found outside of this roll. All are now dead. The list begins with the venerable president of Miami University.
In the Spring and Summer of 1801, the Rev. (afterwards Dr.) John M. MASON, of the city of New York, visited the Burgher Synod of Scotland, as the commissioner from the Associate Reformed Synod of North America, partly with a view to obtain a supply of preachers for the American Synod. Mr. BISHOP, being at that time a student under Professor LAWSON, was casually introduced to Dr. MASON, and the brief interview which he had with him led, some two months after, to a partial engagement to accompany Dr. MASON to America, provided the synod, at whose disposal he was, should so direct.
The synod met in April, 1802; and, under their special order, he was licensed to preach, with a view to his engaging in the contemplated mission. In September following, he, with five other ordained ministers, embarked with Dr. MASON at Greenock, and arrived at New York before the close of October. Having attended a meeting of the Associate Reformed Synod, which took place shortly after his arrival, he set out with two other clergymen for Kentucky; but, being left to supply two new congregations in Adams County, Ohio, for two months, he did not arrive there until March, 1803. He had been appointed to labor in Kentucky by the casting vote of the moderator of the synod-what was then called the Second Congregation of New York having made application for his services. Five years afterwards the same congregation sent him a pressing invitation to return to them, which, however, he did not accept.
In the Summer of 1803, he had three calls presented to him in due form; but that which he finally accepted was from Ebenezer, in Jessamine County, which was connected with New Providence, in Mercer County. The two congregations united contained about thirty families spread over a tract of country at least fifteen miles square; and, as the Kentucky River and the Kentucky cliffs intervened between the two places of worship, the two Churches were not expected to worship together much oftener than twice in a year. About the same time a professorship in Transylvania University was offered him, and, accepting it, he combined the duties of that office with those of his charge.
Having accepted the call from the above-mentioned Churches in the Autumn of 1804, subjects were given him for his trial discourses to be delivered in the Spring; but at the Spring meeting he was informed that he could not be admitted to trial for ordination till he should dissolve his connection with the Transylvania University. The reasons assigned for this were that the presbytery had the exclusive disposal of his time, and that his duties in connection with the university were of such a nature as to interfere greatly with his usefulness to the Associate Reformed Church. This brought him into unpleasant relations with the presbytery; and ultimately he was regularly prosecuted upon a charge of disobedience, the result of which was that he received a presbyterial rebuke, by which the matter was considered as judicially settled. The case, however, being subsequently referred to the synod, it was decided that the resignation of his place in the university should not be an indispensable condition of his ordination, and that the Presbytery of Kentucky should proceed to ordain him as soon as circumstances would permit. This decision was given in June, 1807; but, owing to certain circumstances, his ordination did not take place till June, 1808. Thus, for nearly four years he was virtually under ecclesiastical process; and, although only a probationer, had yet the charge of two congregations, to which he preached alternately every Sabbath - the one fifteen miles, the other twenty-seven miles distant from his residence.
For some time after his ordination, Mr. BISHOP seems to have exercised his ministry with a good degree of comfort and success. In the year 1810 the presbytery appointed him, in connection with the Rev. Adam RANKIN, of polemic notoriety, to prepare an address to the Churches, in the form of a pastoral letter, designed to illustrate the obligation of sustaining Christian institutions, and especially the ministry of the Gospel. The document was written by Mr. BISHOP, assented to by Mr. RANKIN, and passed without opposition by the presbytery, though it gave great offense in certain quarters, and especially in Mr. BISHOP's own congregation. The presbytery, with a view to prevent erroneous impressions and to avert threatening evil, directed their clerk to address an official letter to the Ebenezer congregation, distinctly stating that the offensive circular was to be considered the act of the presbytery, and not of an individual. This letter Mr. BISHOP caused to be printed, with some explanatory remarks of his own, in the close of which he made an allusion to the conduct of Mr. RANKIN, which he afterward pronounced "imprudent and unnecessary", and which occasioned him great embarrassment in his ecclesiastical relations. His original connection with the pastoral letter led to the dissolution of his relations to the Ebenezer congregation in October, 1814.
In the Autumn of 1811 Mr. BISHOP entered into an arrangement with two or three other clergymen for conducting a monthly religious publication, to be called the Evangelical Record and Western Review. This was the first thing of the kind ever attempted in Kentucky, and the second west of the mountains. The work, however, owing chiefly to a deficiency in the subscriptions, was discontinued at the close of the second year.
In the second volume of this work Mr. BISHOP published, as part of the history of religion in the State of Kentucky, an article entitled "The Origin of the Rankinites," which gave great offense in various circles, and which he himself subsequently regarded as extremely ill-judged and unfortunate. After considerable private and extra-judicial conference on the subject, a regular judicial inquiry was entered into by his presbytery, and in October, 1815, he was brought to trial on a charge of slander; the result of which was, he was regularly suspended from the ministry. An appeal to the General Synod from the sentence was immediately taken. The synod met in Philadelphia in May, 1816, and, on an examination of the case presented by documents, they decided that Mr. BISHOP should be publicly rebuked by the presbytery for the offensive publications; that the presbytery should use means to bring the parties immediately concerned into harmonious relations with each other; and that, if this could not be effected, there should be a regular trial instituted, and that the presbytery should make one of the parties prosecutor and the other defendant; and that, in the meantime, the sentence of suspension passed by the presbytery should be reversed. Nothing, however, was satisfactorily accomplished under this decision, and the case came again before the synod in 1817. At this meeting a committee was appointed to proceed to Kentucky to take whatever depositions might be considered necessary; but that committee, after some correspondence with the parties and others concerned, concluded not to fulfill their appointment. A synodical commission was, therefore, appointed in 1818, to go to Kentucky and adjudicate the case, subject to the review of the next synod. This commission, consisting of JOHN M. MASON, EBENEZER DICKEY, and JOHN LINN, ministers, and SILAS E. WEIR, an elder from Philadelphia, proceeded to Lexington in September following, and in the execution of their trust made BISHOP the prosecutor and RANKIN the defendant. The latter claimed his legal ten days to prepare for his defense; but when the time had expired, he declined the jurisdiction of the court. The trial, however, went on in his absence, and the decision was, "that the prosecutor should be publicly rebuked for the publications he had issued, and that the defendant, being convicted of lying and slander, be, as he hereby is, suspended from the Gospel ministry." It is honorable to Mr. BISHOP, considering the relations into which he was brought by RANKIN, that he has left the following testimony concerning him: "Mr. RANKIN, with all his bitterness on particular subjects and on particular occasions, was also, in all other matters and on all occasions, a kind-hearted benevolent man."
Mr. BISHOP's twenty-one years' connection with the Transylvania University was marked by no serious difficulties or disagreeable circumstances, so far as he was personally or officially concerned. Upwards of twenty young men, who were more or less under his special care during this period, afterwards entered the ministry, and several of them rose to eminence. During one of the three years in which he considered himself as virtually suspended from the ministry, he devoted nearly all his Sabbaths to the instruction of the negroes, and organized the first Sabbath-schools ever opened in Lexington for their benefit. He has been heard to say that this was one of the most agreeable enterprises in which he ever engaged; and that in no other year other year of his residence in Kentucky had he so much evidence of the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit in connection with his labors.
In October, 1819, Mr. BISHOP, having dissolved his connection with the Associate Reformed Church, joined the West Lexington Presbytery in connection with the General Assembly. From 1820 to 1823 he officiated as stated supply to the Church in Lexington, which had been gathered by the labors of the Rev. James MCCORD; and his connection with this Church he seems to have considered as highly favorable to both his comfort and usefulness.
In the Autumn of 1824, he accepted the presidency of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and was inaugurated on the 30th of March, 1825. Here he found a few Christian people who had been under the care of the Rev. James HUGHES, for some years principal of the grammar school in that place; and the pupils of this he gathered and formed into a Presbyterian Church, and preached to them regularly on the Sabbath in the college chapel, until the year 1831, when, as the result of a revival, in which Dr. BLACKBURN was the principal instrument, the Church gathered so much strength that they undertook to build a place of worship and call a pastor. In 1825 he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the college of New Jersey.
In the great controversy which divided the Presbyterian Church in 1828 Dr. BISHOP's sympathy and action were with the New School. In 1841 he resigned the presidency of Miami university, but held the professorship of History and Political Science until the Autumn of 1844, when his connection with the institution ceased. He then removed to Pleasant Hill, a beautiful spot in the immediate neighborhood of Cincinnati, where there was already any academy which, partly through his agency, was now enlarged into a college, under the name of the "Farmers' College." Here he remained actively and usefully employed to the close of life. Dr. BISHOP preached regularly in the chapel to the students as long as he retained the presidency of the university, but after that had no stated charge. He preached, however, very frequently during his subsequent years, and his last sermon was preached on the 15th of April, 1855, but two weeks before is death. As he left his house to preach this sermon he distinctly told his wife it would be his last. He heard his classes as usual on Thursday, and was just going to the college on Friday morning, when he strength failed, so that he was no longer capable of making an effort. He lingered until five o'clock Sabbath morning (April 29th), his usual hour of rising, and then died, as he had often expressed a wish to die, "in the harness."
On the 25th of August, 1802, just as he was on the eve of embarking for America, he was married to Ann IRELAND, by whom he had eight children, five sons and three daughters. All his sons were graduates of Miami University. Two of them became clergymen, and one of them a professor in the university at which he graduated. Mrs. BISHOP survived her husband but two weeks.
The following is a list of Dr. BISHOP's publications: "Sermons on Various Subjects," 1801. (This was the first volume of sermons printed west of the mountains.) "Memorials of David Rice," with an Appendix, 1824; "Elements of Logic, or a Summary of the General Principles and Different Modes of Reasoning," 1833; "Sketches of the Philosophy of the Bible," 1833; "Elements of the Science of Government," 1839; "The Western Peacemaker," 1839. He published, also, several occasional sermons and addresses, among which was a sermon on the death of the Rev. James MCCORD, 1820, and the address at his inauguration as president of Miami University in 1825. He contributed, also, liberally to several periodicals.
The local papers in speaking of the funeral services of Dr. BISHOP, said: "Yesterday a number of the Alumni of Miami University - if which he was for a long time president - directors of Farmers' College, instructors and pupils, with a numerous concourse of friends, attended his remains to their final resting-place on earth. Members of the Burritt Literary Society, preceded by the directors, bore the body to the college chapel, where religious exercises were commenced by Rev. Professor CARY. Dr. ALLEN, professor of Lane Seminary, delivered an elegant and instructive sermon from the text, Second Timothy, fourth chapter, seventh and eighth verses, 'I have fought a good fight,' "etc. In the course of his remarks he read a portion of his will, to the effect that being then (14th May, 1855) seventy-four years of age and much reduced in strength, though of sound mind, he first gave, as he always had attempted to do, his soul to God, and he expected to be received as was the thief on the cross. Second, his body after death to the directors of Farmers' College, to be placed in a plain coffin, and then inclosed in a strong square box and deposited in an artificial mound in a designated spot in the college-yard, to consist of successive layers of earth and sand, not to be less than eight feet, solid measure. No artificial monument to be erected on it, unless it should be a few evergreens or shrubbery. Another portion of the will spoke of the aged wife he left behind him. He commended her, during the few remaining years of her life, to the friends of Farmer's College. During the fifty years she, with him, had assisted in the education of young men, she had, on principle, never spent any thing for entertainments, but devoted all for the tuition and books of those needing assistance.
Dr. SCOTT, late president of Miami College, and long connected with the deceased in educational efforts, gave personal testimony to the worth and noble efforts of Dr. BISHOP. His personal history he gave with interest, mentioning that, "during the changes and controversies originating in skeptical views among those controlling that (Miami) university, there was always one who nobly stood by the faithful Christian soldier, Dr. BISHOP, and that was the national statesman, Henry CLAY. He continued to implore the directors to retain Dr. BISHOP, for, if they did not have one praying man in the university it surely would go down."
He was a man off sound judgment, and, in common with many of his countrymen, of a joyous and ever hopeful disposition. His wife was a lady of culture and refinement, and her home in the valley of the Miami, with no near neighbors, was a great change from her previous life. There were, of course, no schools near to send her children to, and this was a matter of grave concern to the parents, and the son was, in consequence, taught to read at home. In those years the "Western Spy", then published in Cincinnati, and distributed by a private post-rider, was taken by his father, and William read with avidity the contents of it, especially the achievements of Napoleon Bonaparte. A strong desire to acquire a better education induced him to make extraordinary efforts, and in this matter he was much assisted by Mr. David LLOYD, a graduate of a college in Philadelphia, who resided in the neighborhood. BEBB began teaching school at Oury's school-house, in the village of New Haven, Hamilton County, and afterwards at North Bend, the residence of General Harrison. He remained in this latter place a year, during which time he married Miss Sarah SCHUCK, the daughter of a wealthy German resident of the village.
Proving a success as a teacher of boys, he conceived the idea of extending his usefulness, and resolved to open an extensive boarding-school on part of his father's large place and farm, some two miles north of the Oury's school-house. With the assistance of his father and the encouragement of his neighbors, who had much confidence in him and his learning and ability, and with the goodwill and aid of some Cincinnati friends, he had a large and commodious two-story-and-a-half frame house and additions erected on the banks of the Dry Fork of Whitewater. The large building consisted of a middle two-and-a-half story house, and commodious wings on each side one-and-a-half story high; one of these, the northern wing, being devoted to himself and young family as a dwelling; the other, the southern wing, being the school-house, and dormitory for the boys above. The center building contained a large dining-hall, entered from a beautiful covered portico, reached by a flight of steps extending the whole length of the building, and as a large dormitory for the boys immediately above, and rooms and large kitchen at the rear. The whole house was painted white, adorned with blue. Thus situated, Mr. BEBB began his boarding-school about the year 1827 or 1828, and, being an energetic man, he began to prosper, and his school was soon filled with pupils and boarders from the boys of Cincinnati and elsewhere. This was the first and pioneer boarding-school in the vicinity of Cincinnati. It was distant just twenty-five miles from that city, and it was reached by tolerably good roads for those days, either by way of Millcreek and Colerain townsips, through the town of Venice and Crosby townships, through the villages of Cheviot, Miamitown, and New Haven. In and about the locality, particularly on the Dry Fork Creek, there were a great many large, full-foliaged, and grand sycamore-trees, and Mr. BEBB named the place Sycamore Grove. This name became celebrated in Cincinnati and throughout the country, and BEBB's school and Sycamore Grove became a distinguished place. He carried on his school until the end of the year 1832, when, being filled with ambition to make a still greater mark before the public eye, he gave up his well-established school.
In 1831 he rode to Columbus on horseback, where the supreme court judges examined him and passed him to practice in the State. He then removed to Hamilton, Butler County, and opened a law office, being for a long time in partnership with John M. MILLIKIN, where he continued quietly and in successful practice fourteen years. During this period he took an active interest in political affairs, and advocated during his first, called the hard-cider campaign, the claims of General HARRISON, and no less distinguished himself during that "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too," campaign, in which the persons indicated were successful, and the Whigs,in 1840, for the first time succeeded in electing their candidates. Four years afterward he was elected governor of the State, and the war with Mexico placed him, as the governor of Ohio, in a very trying position. As a Whig he did not personally favor the war, and this feeling was generally entertained by the party who made him their leader in the State; but he felt that the question was not of party but of cordial support of the general government, and his earnest recognition of this fact eventually overcame the danger that had followed President Polk's proclamation of war. His term of office (1846-48) was distinguished by good money, free-schools, great activity in the construction of railroads and turnpikes; the arts and industry generally were well rewarded, and high prosperity characterized the whole State. In 1847 Governor BEBB purchased five thousand acres of land in Rock River County, Illinois, of which the location was delightful and the soil rich. Five hundred acres were wooded, and constituted a natural park, while the remainder was prairie of the best quality, with a stream of water fed by perpetual springs. No man of moderate ambition could desire the possession of a more magnificent portion of the earth's surface. Three years after making his purchase he removed to it, taking with him fine horses and a number of the choicest breeds of cattle, and entered upon the cultivation of this fine property. Five years afterward he visited Great Britain and the continent of Europe. In the birthplace of his father he found many desirous to immigrate to America, and, encouraging the enterprise, a company was formed, and a tract of one hundred thousand acres purchased for them in East Tennessee, where he agreed to preside over their arrangements and the settlement of this land. In 1856 a party of the colonists arrived on the land, and Governor BEBB resided with them until the war of the Rebellion began, when he left the State with his family. The emigrants, discouraged by the strong pro-slavery sentiment, scattered and settled in various parts of the Northern States. On the inauguration of President Lincoln, Governor BEBB was appointed examiner in the Pension Department at Washington, and held this position until 1869, when he returned to his farm in Illinois, and the peaceful pursuit of agriculture. His scale of farming was the cultivation of two thousand acres in a season, while another thousand formed his cattle pasture. While in Washington he received the appointment of consul at Tangiers, Morocco, but declined.
He took an active part in the election of General Grant, and the first sickness of any consequence he ever experienced was an attack of pneumonia following an exposed ride from Pecatonica, where he had addressed the electors, to his home. From this he never recovered, and, although he spent the following Winter in Washington, occupied mainly as a listener to the debates in the Senate, he felt his vital forces gradually declining. Returning home the next Summer, and feeling that he was no longer able to superintend his farm operations, he purchased a residence at Rockford, and there resided until his death, which happened October 23, 1873. His widow still survives him, and has now reached the age of seventy-eight. She lives in Rockford, Illinois.