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Early History of the Disciple Church in Mentor

This is Chapter 8 of Early History of The Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio, by A.S. Hayden, Cincinnati, Chase & Hall, Publishers, 1875. The text of this entire work is online at the Memorial Univeristy of Newfoundland's site at

Transcribed and submitted by Becky Falin, 1996.

For several years previous to the establishment of the reformatory doctrines in Mentor, there had been a Baptist church in town, considerable both for numbers and influence. It had Elders Woodworth, West, Abbott and Freeman as its ministers. Near the time of the appeal for the union of Bible men on Bible ground, it was served by the good Warner Goodall. His death, in June, 1826, was the occassion of calling Sidney Rigdon, then residing in Bainbridge, to preach his funeral sermon. The church called Rigdon as its pastor in the fall of that year.

During the winter of 1825-6, Corbly Martin, who became extensively useful in the reformation in Ohio and Indiana, resided in the hospitable family of Judge Clapp, a prominent member of the church. Brother Martin preached there during that season. A conversation between him and Mrs. Rexford is reported, in which she urged the practice of "close communion" in the church as an objection to her becoming a member. He failed to remove her objection, and she remained to be a first convert when the gospel offering a free salvation to all who would receive it was first proclaimed in Mentor.

Sidney Rigdon was an orator of no inconsiderable abilities. In person, he was full medium height, rotund in form; of countenance, while speaking, open and winning, with a cast of melancholy. His action was graceful, his language copious, fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical. Yet he was an enthusiast, and unstable. His personal influence with an audience was very great, but many, with talents far inferior, surpassed him in judgment and permanent power with the people. He was just the man for an awakening. He was an early reader of the "Christian Baptist," and admiring its strong and progressive teaching, he circulated the paper, and brought out its views in his sermons. Whatever may be justly said of him after he had surrendered himself a victim and a leader of the Mormon delusion, it would scarcely be just to deny sincerity and candor to him, previous to that time when his bright star became permanently eclipsed under that dark cloud.

In March, 1828, he visited Scott in Warren. He had been with him on former occasions, and had adopted fully his method of preaching Christ, and of calling the awakened and penitent believer to an immediate obedience of his faith for the remission of sins. The missing link between Christ and convicted sinners seemed now happily supplied by the restoration of the way of bringing converts into the knowledge of pardon, which was established by Christ himself in the commission.

Rigdon was transported with this discovery. On leaving Warren to return to Mentor, he persuaded his brother-in-law, Adamson Bentley, to accompany him. This was a visit to that town of no ordinary importance. Bentley was a gentleman of cultivated manners, tall of benign aspect, and of commanding presence; and, as a preacher, dignified, solemn, and often very impressive. But more, they were both ablaze with the new developments of gospel light, which was shedding its effulgence rapidly over the country.

The trumpet which they blew gave no uncertain sound. It was the old jubilee trumpet, first sounded by the fisherman of Galilee on the day of Pentecost, announcing glad tidings to the nations that the year of release from bondage in sin had now come, and calling ransomed sinners to return, freely pardoned, to their homes. They spoke with authority, for the word which they delivered was not theirs, but that of Jesus Christ. The whole community was quickly and thoroughy aroused. Many turned to the Lord. The first person to accept the offered boon and lead the people to Christ, was an intelligent young man, M.S. Clapp, then in his twenty-first year, son of Judge Clapp. His older brother, Thomas J. Clapp, had been baptized in June previous. Twenty persons were baptized the first time they repaired to the Jordan. The immediate result of the meeting was the conversion of over fifty souls to the Lord Jesus.

It is impossible to describe the agitation of the public mind. The things which they heard were so new, yet so clearly scriptural, that, while some hesitated and many wondered, they could not gainsay it; and nearly the whole church accepted cordially the doctrine of the Lord, exchanged their "articles" for the new covenant as the only divine basis for Christ's church, and abandoned unscriptural titles and church names, choosing to be known simply as the disciples of Christ.

From Mentor they went to Kirtland, where almost an equal ingathering awaited them. The fields were white for the harvest. At the first baptizing here, twenty souls were lifted into the kingdown. Others followed, and soon the numbers so increased that a separate organization became a necessity - so mightily prevailed the word of the Lord.

The news of this great overturn spready quickly through the country, up and down the lake shore. Bentley went to Painesville. The rumor of the revival in Mentor preceded him, with some exaggerated and perverted accounts of the preaching. He delivered a few discourses on the first principles of the gospel, and left them to leaven the minds of his hearers.

The church now contained over a hundred members. The following were prominent; many of whom became leaders of the host, and pillars in churches. The head of the family is named. Their wives, and generally their families, were also in the church: Deacon Benjamin Blish, Deacon Ebenezer Nye, Orris Clapp, Jonathan Root, Joel Rexford, Thomas Carroll, Asa Webster, Sidney Rigdon, Deacon Champney, Amos Wilmost, Osee Matthews, Eggleston Matthews, Joseph Curtis, Anson Matthews, Sylvester Durand, ___ Tuttle, Warren Corning, Amos Daniels, Samuel Miller, Ezra B. Violl, Noah Wirt, David Wilson, Daniel Wilson, Alexander P Jones. To these are to be added, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Randall, Mrs. Waterman, Mrs. Rexford, Calista M. Lewis, Morgan Lewis.

Few communities have been so stable; the families here named have composed the staple of the membership, and the support of the church from that time to the present. This congregation has long stood as a light-house. It was shaken as by a tempest under the outbreak of Mormonism; but it is to be noted that few of its members were led astray. While the church in Kirtland, with less experience, and more immediately in Rigdon's power, became engulphed, and has never since been recovered, the church in Mentor, with stronger material, withstood the shock. They were much aided in their resistance by the presence of Elder Thomas Campbell, who spent several months there and in the vicinity during the agitation which it produced.

Brother M.S. Clapp came rapidly before the public, and soon attained prominence by his zeal and ability. In the year 1834, Brother E. Williams was settled as pastor and elder, with Benjamin Blish. He served the congregation, yet preaching much abroad, till his removal to Chardon, in 1856. Brother Blish not only won, but retained the fullest confidence, not of the church only, but of the whole community, for his prudence in management, his judicious counsels, and godly life. After having won the crown, he died universally beloved, February, 1864.

Her long-time laborers were brethren Clapp and Williams. But a page would scarcely hold the names of all who have gleaned in this harvest-field. Few churches have possessed a membership of more ability. In a community noted for its social culture, it has maintained its position with credit. For integrity, benevolence, and as a leader in the cause of temperance, anti-slavery, and measures that look to the lifting up of the world from wrong and oppression, no brotherhood has a brighter record.

Three preachers arose in Mentor, whose names are known afar - M.S. Clapp, A.P. Jones and J.J. Moss. Brother Moss was in the employ of Brother Bejmamin Blish, in the summer of 1829. Raised in the Presbyterianism, he had a spasm of horror when he learned that he had engaged himself to work for a very leader of the new and hated heresy of "Campbellism." The first evening, greatly to his surprise, as he had been told "Cambpellites" never prayed, Brother Blish gathered his household, with the word of God in every hand. But Moss, still doubting, stood bolt upright, while all around him knelt. The service, so simple, sincere and earnest, melted his heart. Ashamed of his prejudice, the next time he joined, and knelt, and prayed. His Bible was now read while others loitered. He soon heard Brother Collins. His acute, quick mind saw, understood and grasped the immense difference between all forms of sect- organization, and the simple, entire system of Christianity as a whole. The sun was now risen upon his understanding, and the twinkling lights of Babel-sectarianism faded. September, 1829, he came to Christ, and was baptized into his name, which, with him, meant the entire consecration of all his powers to his honor. The thousands by him turned to God in Ohio, New York, Canada, Kentucky, and other States, attest the fidelity of his heart to that plighted vow. A history of his life would fill a volume. He was the first man to raise a testimony against Mormonism. With the elements of character for pioneer work, he has, to an extent which can be affirmed of few men, extended the limits of the kingdom into new regions, and defended it in the arena of controversy against every form of assault, with a mastery and success above the reach of most men. He has not always had the gratitude of those whom he has served, nor the support of the churches he has planted. He was born July 13, 1806, in Onondaga, N.Y., and after forty-five years of toil and privations, he is still in the field.

Brother A.P. Jones, equally bold and with more leaning, was his true yoke-fellow. They were both teaching in the vicinity of Kirtland, when Mormonism invaded the place, and hand in hand, though young, they often put its champions to flight. Brother Jones married Miss Irene Gilbert, of Newburg, and soon afterwards he gave himself to the service of the new churches in western New York, where his name is still cherished with great respect. He finally settled in Platteville, Grant county, Wisconsin, where he preached for several years. He has recently fallen asleep in the Lord.

If "a good man's steps are ordered of the Lord," as says the prophet," his death also is precious in His sight."

Brother Clapp was born in Mentor, February 1, 1808. His father, the late Honorable Orris Clapp, was called by his fellow citizens to serve as Judge of the Court; which trust he discharged with honor. Matthew's early life was passed amidst the scenes and privations of that early day. His boyhood passed during the wat of 1812-14 and the years subsequent, when the chivalrous anecdotes and the military deeds of that stirring history formed the staple of conversation of the times. With eager ear and acute mind, he caught up the recitals of those exploits and deeds of valor - a discipline for achievements on a far different field.

In March, 1828, in the great religious awakening in Mentor, under Bentley and Rigdon, the amiable M.S. Clapp was the first to yield. He was baptized by Brother Bentley. Many predicted for him a bright course as a herald of the gospel. The late venerable Thomas Campbell fully confirmed his purpose to devote his talents to the ministry of the Word. Under this devout and superior man, Clapp began his study of the classics. He availed himself of whatever aids were within his reach, yet in this instance the student was himself the chief teacher. Hs application was so complete, that he became not only a respectable Greek scholar, but also a good Latinist. During all these studies he was preaching, visiting the newly-founded churches, and increasing the number of the converts.

In the fall of 1830, he married Miss Alicia Campbell, sister of Alexander Campbell. This proved a happy union. He spent some time in Bethany, West Virginia, where he diligently improved the favorable opportunities which he found in Mr. Campbell's family, for enriching his stores of knowledge, and for forming acquaintance with gentlemen of education, who were almost constantly guests in Brother Campbell's family. He also resided a year or more in West Middletown, Pennsylvania, with Matthew McKeever, Esq., another brother-in-law, while "Father and Mother Campbell," models of gentleness, dignity and Christian excellence, were in their full ripeness and strength, sitting as king and queen amidst the family.

After this short episode, he returned to Mentor, which became his permanent abode. He continued his public labors, visiting weak communities of brethren, receiving little compensation, often none, for his labors. From necessity, quite as much as from choice, he resorted at times to farming, interlacing its labors with his public duties. Experience proved to him as it has to thousands, that the world will not pay for its own reformation; that the pioneer advocate of new and revolutionary principles must go forth, like the martyr-apostles, suffering and to suffer.

Brother Clapp saw - rightly saw - in the Christian religion the germs of all good to man in this world, as well as the sure and only basis for hope hereafter. Every attack upon its claims he was consequently prompt to repel. Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of Man, as well as the Son of God, and he lived for the good of the world in every possible condition. As a friend to his race he must defend the Lord Jesus, the helper of the poor, the Savior of the world. So when a shrewd, young, accomplished, eloquent, lawyer in Elyria, Joel Tiffany, Esq., walked into the arena, and threw down the glove, M.S. Clapp took his "sling and five smooth stones gathered from the brook," and stood before the boaster. He so fully exposed the dark counsels of atheistic sophistry, that Mr. Tiffany declared at the close of the discussion, "It is the last time I will ever stand in opposition to the Christian religion," And it was. Soon after he was baptized in Elyria, and became a quasi member of the Episcopal church.

His happiness in his family was not suffered to continue without interruption. A sad day came. He looked for the last time on the living form of his excellent companion. One by one all of his children of his first marriage went before him down to rest. The last of them, Campbell Clapp, was killed in the State of New York, by falling off a cattle train through a defective bridge. He was a young man of much promise. A large concourse attended his funeral in Mentor.

April 26, 1840, he married Miss Lucy A Randall, of Mentor, a union whose felicity was not marred or broken till the last sad stroke which left her a widow, and her four living children without a paternal head. The winter after their marriage they spent in Pompey, Onandaga County, New York, laboring in the gospel. The friendship they established there with many of the citizens continued through life. The next season he spent, by invitation, preaching for the church in the city of New York. Here his skill as a peacemaker found scope for useful exercise. His ministrations for good were signally blessed, less in gatherine many into the fold than in purifying and regulating the fold itself. His friends, Drs. Eleazer and Sanuel Parmly, received him with marked and merited hospitality. His residence in the great metropolis was a bright and useful epoch in his history. While in the city, he received instruction in Hebrew under Sexias, a Hebraist of note, the very same son of Abraham who came to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1830, and instructed the Mormons in the "unknown tongues," the boasted proof of inspiration of the disciples of Smith, and the marvel of many well-duped outsiders.

It should be noted that Brother Clapp was not a clergyman in any restricted or exclusive sense. His eye was open to the widest views. He was ready to second all legitimate measures for the elevation and ameliorationof men in all departments of society. With him the pulpit was not a theological chest, or vox, containing a few well assorted and labeled wares to be cried on sale. It was rather a veritable throne of power, and the incumbent was bound to deal with all the active, moral questions that affect society. Hence, his early, and open, and unconquerable opposition to intemperance. Hence, also, he stood out, when he had to stand quite alone, on the antislavery question. Of these and kindred subjects he took the broadest views. The poorly-paid laborer, the unpaid seamstress, were objects of lively and sympathizing interest to him. He had faith in appeals to heaven for their redress; but with equal faith, he appealed to the benevolence and conscientiousness of men for their relief. So ardent were his feelings, so fixed were his principles, that he took radical ground, and plead so uncompromisingly that at time he provoked the charge of ultruism. Yet no such charge moved him. His principles in regard to war were equally radical and decided. He opposed all war, at all times for any purpose. It is due him to say that all these great moral subjects he viewed from the Bible ground, and not as a partisan, or in a coalition with any special organization, social or civil. Yet his known opposition to war, slavery and intemperance, brought him at times alongside persons whose advocacy of these reforms was prompted by no higher than merely temperal, and sometimes selfish, considerations.

It was his conviction that he could serve these great ends in a wider and different field, which gained him consent to a nomination as candidate to the Legislature. The polls confirmed the nomination. His acceptance was upon a platform which, in his judgment, invited the play of his principles on a grander stage. He returned from Columbus conscious of having performed his duties faithfully, and satisfied with the general approval of his constituency.

The last few years of his life he spent in Detroit, preaching, and in various ways shedding the light and warmth of his genial and religious nature on society around him. During the last year before his death, it became apparent that his "natural force was abated." As the progress of his family rendered his departure an event more and more certainly near, the anchor of his hope maintained the steadiest hold on its deep fastenings in the Rock. The calmness of his mind was wonderful. "I do not ask you to pray for my recovery," he said to his brethren, "but that with unfaltering trust and bright hope I may pass into the world of light."

He had often expressed a feeling of the happiness it would afford him to be summoned away to the Lord just in the midst of the memorial scenes of the Lord's Supper. His thought was an accepted prayer. His departure to Jesus was on the Lord's day. One week before he died the brethren assembled in his room and partook with him the loaf of blessing. The next week, December 17th, at his request, they came again, and again the blessed Supper was administered. All bore witness of the deep earnestness of his devotions. His voice was almost too feeble to utterance. He spoke but little. All seemed aware that the messenger was at the door. The service ended; scarcely had the communicant members reached their homes when the word came that he was at peace in Abraham's bosom.

His remains, accompanied by his family and his friend, Colin Campbell, of Detroit, were brought to Mentor, the home of his childhood. Many of his early friends came and stood silently and sadly around him. Six preachers participated in the funeral service, when we consigned to the dust the remains of this patriotic citizen, this generous friend and devoted preacher.

He had nearly completed his sixty-fourth year. His memory was capacious, retentive and peculiar. It was remarkable for its verbal power. It was richly stored with the exact language of the Holy Scriptures. From his copious stores he could draw with great readiness and correctness. His scholarship in general history, and especially in English literature, was very complete. He had read with care the standard poets, and was familiar with the opinions of the leading critics on most subjects of interest. His own taste, critical and chaste, furnished him a style of writing and public address, correct, pure, and expressive. He was often ornate, sometimes eloquent, but never pompous nor declamatory.

His manners were simple, dignified, urbane, courteous to inferiors, respectful to all. His conversation and his speeches were marked by delicacy, flavored with wit and anecdote, always pure, and manifested great liberality of views. His piety and honesty held sway supreme among his qualities of character. Sometimes his ardor led him to undue bounds - but none could feel more keenly the excess, or make amends more heartily when convinced of overstepping the limits of prudence.

Few men among us were more widely known or more sincerely respected. For him no monument is needed, especially in his own dear family, where he is embalmed in the tenderest and most durable affection.

When the call was sounded for a return to Jerusalem and Pentecost, it called out many noble advocates. Some of them had "professed religion," as the phrase ran, but they lay in spiritual torpor under the confused and bewildering exhibitions of Christianity which they were accustomed to hear. When they saw the gospel scheme, the Bible became intelligible, and under the impulse of their joy at the discovery, they "did run to bring the disciples word" of the clearer views of the gospel which gave them such joy. These men are worthy of a good record.

In the fall of 1821, William Waite, emigrated from Saratoga County, New York, on the head waters of the Susquehanna, and settled on the plateau since known as Waite Hill, in Willoughby. He and hs wife were Baptists. His sons, Erastus and Alvan - the latter in his eighteenth year - had come in advance, in February before. The next autumn, his son-in-law, Dexter Otis, in his twenty-eighth year, arrived and settled in Kirtland. Otis united with the Baptists under the preaching of Elder Stevenson, better satisfied with the scriptural mode of baptism, than with the creed and close communion, matters on which his mind was never at rest. Elder Goodall came to Waite Hill, baptized Erastus Waite and others, and so arose a church in the Baptist order. When Elder T. Campbell came to Mentor, soon after, these brethren, E. Waite and D. Otis, were so delighted with the new light which beamed on the gospel from his preaching, that they pressed him to come to Waite Hill. His sermonds made a marked impression, powerfully advancing the more liberal and correct views of the New Testament order of things. Rigdon coming in about that time, and following up the well begun work by his earnest and animating appeals, several were baptized, among whom was Alvan Waite, then in his twenty-sixth year. This was in 1829. In the same movement, and by the same hands, E.B. Violl, Samuel Miller and Noah Wirt were brought into the kingdom. This was the beginning of the Church of Christ on Waite Hill.

These men all made their mark. Dexter Otis was appointed overseer, and he soon began to preach. In 1835 he moved to the township of Chardon, and there gathered a church. It flourished while he lived - it declied at his death. He worked hard with his own hands, yet he was so diligent in study that he became a good Bible scholar, and was well informed in history as it relates to prophetic subjects. His candor was proverbial. He was conscientiously opposed to display in dress, and to all forms of pride, and was himself in these respects a consistent example. He was so humble, zealous, earnest, and instructive in his lectures on Bible themes, that all heard him with delight. His speech, like his garb, was plain, but it went to the hearts of the people. He turned many from infidelity to the faith, and from sin to righteousness. His very useful life terminated March 15, 1845. His works follow him, and the memory of him is a fragrant odor in all that region.

Equally useful, but a different type of manhood was Alvan Waite. He was a man of full size and manly form, a man of superior judgment and great weight of character. His timidity kept him in the shade, till strongly urged, especially by Brother Otis, he took a bolder and more public stand in the gospel. All the rising churches around him felt the weight of his presence and edifying sermons. Candor, kindness, sincerity, and good sense prevailed in his instructive discourses. He was cheerful, hopeful and confiding. In 1844 he went with William Hayden, in a tour through western New York, in which he gained much respect for his affectionate manner, and his clear exhibitions of truth. Soon after, consumption began to appear. In the summer of 1846, he journeyed to the new West in hope of recuperation, visiting churches in northern Indiana and Lake County, Illinois, and helping them by his wise counsels. He steadily declined till May 20, 1847, when he passed in among the shining ones. He died at his home on Waite Hill, with his affectionate family, surrounded by many friends who mourned the loss of so useful a man.

Ezra B. Violl who came to Christ with these noble men, and who was their close companion all the way, was still left in the field. He had consecrated the powers of intelligible speech and sound reasoning, which God gave him, to the proclamation of his truth. He traveled into other counties, and was abundant in labors in his own regions. He was born in the year 1806. He turned to God in 1829, and began almost immediately to hold forth the word of life. He preached with great fervor, not only in Willoughby and Mentor - in Perry, also, and Euclid, and is gratefully remembered in Camden and other towns in Lorain county. He served in the campaigns for about twenty years. He fell a victim to the fatal malady consumption, which terminated his days on the 9th of April, 1851. He was visited near the time of his departure by Brother M.S. Clapp, whose conversation cheered the feeble saint. Brother Clapp said to him: "Brother Violl, it must seem hard to you to leave the world in the midst of your life and usefulness, and to part with your kind and affectionate companion!" "Yes, Brother Clapp, it is hard in that view, but not so hard as you think. I used to think so when I was out there where you are, but when you come in here where I am, you will not find it so hard!" Strikingly coincident were the closing scenes of these dear friends. In about twenty years, Brother Clapp came by the same path in slow approaches to the dark stream. Perhaps he then throught of his friend Violl's words, and had an experience of their truth!

Samuel Miller, of the same church, was the peer of these noble men, in all that constitutes broad and generous manhood. His parents - John and Catharine Miller, came into Ohio when it was yet a territory, from Gettysburg, Pa., a place now memorable in American history. They settled in Willoughby, where Samuel was born, August 30, 1802; the first white male child born in that town. The country was a wilderness, and the red men, with his game he chased, ranged the interminable forests. February 26, 1828, he was married to Miss Maria Storm. He had been trained in the Lutheran church. When in 1829, the great wave of religious reformation broke along the shore of the lake, he heard, examined, and with his usual independence, candor, and decision, he confessed the Lord; his wife joining him in this consecration to Jesus Christ; also Brother Violl, Wirt, and others, who were his companions in the support of the gospel. When the overflowing scourge of Mormonism burst forth, these three men, with Otis and Waite, withstood the shock, though Rigdon himself, their leader to Christ, had reeled and fallen under its blow.

Brother Miller was distinguished for superiod business capacity, great probity, and for his consistent and liberal benefactions. Hiram College and the Ohio Christian Missionary Society received liberal donations from his hand.

He lived to bow at the grave of nearly all who started with him in the gospel. As he saw the painful disease leading him slowly and certainly to death, with wise forecast he made ample provision for the comfort of his faithful wife, and left the balance of his property in the hands of a faithful and competent Christian friend, A. Teachout, to be used for the gospel. Business done, his attentions were devoted to his friends as they came about him, and to contemplations on the things that are eternal, in the heavens. In the calmness of an unfaltering trust he fell asleep, September 6, 1867, aged sixty-five years.

The church on Waite Hill was organized in 1830. Dexter Otis and Steven Tinkham were the overseers, and John Violl and Noah Wirt, deacons. Brother Wirt was afterwards called to the eldership. His active life in the ministry was a great support to the church till his removal to Wisconsin.

With these, Brother Ransom R. Storm was long associated. He was a man of superior gifts, an easy speaker and a pointed reasoner. He was born in 1818, in Chenango County, New York, but was brought up in Ohio. He confessed his faith in Christ in Mentor, under the preaching of Brother Williams, and soon began to proclaim the gospel. He became much devoted to his work. At the call of some churches in Lake County, Illinois, he settled among them, where he spent the last years of his ministry. Disease seized him, and as he became weaker, he was brought by his desire, to pass the last of his days among his numerous friends in Willoughby, where he died June 1, 1871, in the full hope of immortality in Christ.

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