Among the many gifted and heroic men who have devoted their lives to
the cause of pioneer mission work in the United Brethren Church, none have
met with more distinguised success than Alexander Biddle. His
paternal grandfather was a native of Hesse-Cassel, Germany, with his three
brothers, Peter, Thomas and Andrew, he emigrated to America about
the year 1760, settling in the colony of Maryland, from which Andrew
served with distinction as an officer in the War of the Revolution.
His mother was of English descent, her people having emigrated from
England with the second Lord Baltimore about the year 1647.
Alexander Biddle was born in Bedford County, Pa., April 24, 1810.
When five years of age, his father cut his way through the dense
forests into Beaver County, where he moved his family.
In that lonely region of pure air and rugged scenery the boy grew to
manhood. Thus, at the very outset, he was inducted into the
experience of pioneer life. To settle in a new county and to go
forward in the face of obstacles came natural to him. From his
parents he inherited a hardy constitution and the highest principles of
independence, industry, and downright honesty. His school advantages
were very limited. The tuition of an Irish schoolmaster for two
winter seasons gave him the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic,
but in after years he applied himself closely as a student and built
up and education of surprising breadth and thoroughness.
Until he was about eighteen years of age, young Biddle gave the matter of
religion but little thought. He occasionally attended the services
of the Episcopal Church with his mother, of which she was a member.
On a summer evening, in the year 1828, while leisurely walking one of the
streets of Pittsburg, he passed a plain chuchbuilding in which services
were then being held by the colored people. He was attracted within
by the loud voice of the minister, who was picturing in livid colors
the sufferings of a lost soul. The sermon made a profound impression
upon the young man. Indeed, it was the turning-point in his life.
While attending a Methodist camp-meeting some time later, a mighty
conviction of sin came upon him, but not until the fourth of October of
the following year did he experience the peace of forgiveness, at which
time he joined the United Brethern Church, and was baptized in the Ohio
River by Rev. Jacob Geisinger. Describing his experience, he says:
"As we came up out of the water, the glory of God seemed to appear.
The sky flamed with supernatural brightness; the hills about
me were transformed into mountains of gold; the river was as
the River of Life, and the trees as the trees of Paradise. Heaven
was opened and in its splendor my soul was bathed." He
believed he had seen the King in his beauty, and in the strength of
that faith he walked all his days.
Mr. Biddle at once began religious work, and at twenty years of age his
ability as a preacher was attracting much attention. He joined
the Muskingum Conference in 1831, and was licensed to preach
by Bishop Henry Kumler Sr. His first circuit to which he
was appointed by that conference covered Harrison, Guernsey, and Monroe
counties. It was two hundred miles around, with twenty-four
appointments. There being but two little church-buildings in the
territory, he held services in private homes, in barns, or in the
woods, as seemed best. His father gave him a horse, saddle, and the
indispensable saddle-bags, while his mother furnished his wardrobe.
His library consisted of a Bible and hymn-book. A little later
he added Walker's Dictionary and Clark's Commentaries. He had a
clear, ringing, majestic voice and was a sweet singer; but, above
all, he had his marvelous personal experience to tell and tell it he did
with boundless enthusiasm. At the end of the year he reported fifty
additions to the Church and a salary of fifty-four dollars.
The following year he was appointed to Lisbon Circuit. It was three
hundred miles in circumference, with twenty-four appointments and no
church houses. Four new societies we formed, out of which grew the
Western Reserve Conference. Seventy-two new members were added to
the church during the year, and for his work he received seventy-two
dollars. Four years later he was appointed to this same
charge, which then included four hundred miles of travel, with forty-nine
appointments. James McGraw was appointed to assist in the work.
It was a year of marvelous success. A meeting was held in Beaver
County, conversions, of who three became preachers. A wonerful
manifestation of power was also witnessed at a camp-meeting in Stark
County, Ohio. A band of wicked men organized to break up the
meeting. McGraw was preaching when the mob appeared. He
hesitated for a moment, when Mr. Biddle arose, and, lifting his
massive form to its great height, he cried with a mighty voice,
"Lord God Almighty, let thy power come." The people
responded, "Amen," and come it did. The leader of the mob
fell upon the ground, crying for mercy, while his followers fled,
and a harvest of souls was gathered.
"In the Western Reserve, distances between settlements were generally
great, and the roads very bad - mere paths, made by cutting out the
underbrush and marking the trees. As the soil is composed of rich
clay and loam, and as much of the country is flat, the roads in all
seasons became very muddy; and half frozen in the spring and fall, our
horses suffered extremely. In passing across a prairie from one
ridge of the timbered land to another, in foggy or snowy weather, one was
often out of sight of timbered land, and the paths were so dim, especially
in snowstorms, that the traveler risked losing his way and perishing of
the frost before he could reach a human habitation. To increase the
danger, these prairies were frequently covered with water, and if frozen,
but not so as to bear man or beast, both were liable to be wounded
by the ice. We had but few bridges and were obliged to ford
streams, or to cross the ice. Somtimes we took saddle and
saddle-bags to a canoe and swam the horse by its side; sometimes when
unable to get our horses across we went to our appointments afoot
rather than disappoint a congregation. Preachers were often lost in
the woods. Lemuel Lane was attacked one night by wolves; sticks,
clubs, shouts proved ineffectual; he bethought him of music charming
the savage beast; he sang, and the retreating wolves left him to sleep in
the snow." These words of a missionary, written in 1832, may
give some idea of the difficulties encountered by Mr. Biddle on his first
This veteran hero of the Cross recognized the period from 1837 to 1847,
when he served as presiding elder, as the golden years of his ministry.
They were fruitful of toils, trials, and conflicts and most marvelous
victories. In the year 1841 he foud a community dominated by a Mr.
Dilk, who professed to be God. He was a large man of most
commanding presence, piercing eye, thrilling voice and overmastering
will. In the face of the greatest opposition and threats of
injury, Mr. Biddle conducted a meeting in that community, which resulted
in completely breaking the power of this false prophet, and adding many of
his delivered followers to the Church. Returning from this
triumph, he found his home in ashes and his family homeless and
brokenhearted. He rode by the ruins, unmoved, to where his family
was stopping, but when his little boy, John, climbed upon his knee and
placed his arms about his neck and with sobs said, "Papa, we have
no home," the mighty spirit of his father gave way, and rising
from his seat, he turned his face to the wall and wept like a child.
But his poverty and privations were soon forgotten in his purpose to
glorify God and save souls - an aim which he constantly pursued like
a giant of destiny, with no regard for losses, defeats, or obstacles.
As a preacher and evangelist, Alexander Biddle stands in the history of
the early missionary work of Eastern Ohio without a peer. A few of
his triumphs are her given:
At the dedication of a church in Richester, Pennsylvania, seventy were at
the altar at one time and over one hundred were added to the church.
One of his greatest triumphs came at a camp-meeting held on his
father-in-laws farm. It was a veritable Pentecost. On Sunday
morning the service began at eight o'clock and continued throughout the
entire day. It seemed that nothing could stop it. Sinners
flocked to the altar, found peace, and went away to bring others.
All day and all night the glorious work went on, and not until the new day
opened could the preacher stop for rest. The spoils of that day and
night were over one hundred souls.
Near Canton, Ohio, he began a mission in a new community and held
sevices in a wagon shop. The first week but little impression seemed
to be made, but on the second Sabbath the congregaation was mightily
moved. The preacher swept everything before the torrent of his
eloquence. Thirty-five persons came to the altar during the sermon.
The whole community was reformed, a class of seventy-five
members were added to the church. He closed his fifteen years of
service in the Muskingum Conference with a wonderful revival in
Stark County, Ohio, where scores of souls were converted and united with
the church. When he joined the conference in 1831, there were three
itinerant members; when he left in 1848, there were twenty-eight ministers
and charges. Most of this increase is due to his powerful influence
There were times when Mr. Biddle and his family were in great want.
In 1850 he endorsed notes for friends and was compelled to pay them.
One of his children thus speaks of that occasion: "I was in my
ninth year when the sheriff came to attach father's property. He
asked how many horses we had, how many sheep, and all about his property.
Father told him the truth to the letter and gave their probable value.
We had some twenty or thirty sheep and mother thought a great deal of
them. After the papers had been made out and a neighbor went on his
bond for the property, mother said to him, with tears in her eyes,
"Why did you not save out a few of the sheep?" He made no
In 1847, Mr. Biddle moved to Crawford County, Ohio, and the
following year joined the Sandusky Conference. His ditinguished
ability and leadership were at once recognized. He
represented the conference in the General Conferences of 1857, 1861,
and 1865. In these gaatherings he always took a prominent part, and
on each of these occasions he was prominently spoken of for bishop.
He identified himself with every progressive movement of the Church and
was a close student of theology and history. He saw his Church
changing, but he kept abreast of his age and was always young and
receptive. His loyalty to his Church was one of his chief
characteristics. He was one of the Lord's prophets, who saw things
that were to be and spoke of them as if already present; hence he was a
leader of God's hosts. In the midst of discouragement he was always
brave; in counsel, always wise; in service, always ready.&n! bsp;
His son, an attorney in Fort Scott, Kansas, says; "I
never saw father
weep but twice. One morning, as he was spreading the clothing of my
mother's death-bed over a pile of stones in the yard and hanging
some on the trees, while her body was in a coffin in the room, I, a boy of
nine yeaars old spoke to him about my mother, and it so affected him
that he wept aloud, and caused me to shudder. I could not
conceive how so strong a man could give way as he did on that occasion,
but it was like tearing an oak-tree out by its roots. On another
occasion, father's district as presiding elder was in western Ohio, quite
a distance from home, and he was away from home on each trip nine weeks.
This was shortly after my mother's death in 1857, and our house was kept
by a housekeeper. When he left us on the first trip, as he bade us
good-bye, great tears coursed over his cheeks."
One of the great occasions of Mr. Biddle's life, showing his power over
men, came to him while residing in Galion, Ohio. One of his
parishioners, a railroad engineer, had been killed in a railway collison.
When the people began to gather for the funeral, it was apparent that the
church would accommodate but a small per cent of the gathering throng, so
he suggested that they adjourn to the public square. Using a
carriage as his pulpit in the center of the square, he addressed the
assembled multitudes. He was in good conition, and his great
thrilling voice rang out over the vast throng. The people hung upon
his eloquent words for one hour, and began to stir only when he sat down.
A prominent attorney who was present gives the following
description: "The square was literally packed with
people. Every office and every building around the square was
filled. Everyone could hear him distinctly, and he seemed to speak!
from inspiration. He held this vast assemblage for one hour.
Not one person left, and he had perfect order from the beginning of his
discourse to the end." Mr. Biddle was a man of large mold in
body and mind, full of vigor and hope. He was fearless, independent
and industrious, positive and progressive. He grew with the people
and was always abreast of the formost ranks of his time.
Mr. Biddle was an optimist of the noblest type. He was wholly given
up to God and absorbed by his prospects, which constantly expanded before
his vision. God and the world passed before him in greatness.
He had the divine ability of heart to separate the grandeur of earth from
its infirmities, to hear strains of beautiful music rising above its
harshest tumult, and thus the road of life was taken up by his great heart
and transfigured until it became like Jacob's ladder - a way to heaven.
The discipline of life served to broaden and deepen his faith, so
that at last he stood as nearly a perfect specimen of fully-rounded
character as could be found. He belonged to a class of men who seem
to be chosen of Heaven to illustrate the sublime possibilities of
Christian attainment - men of seraphic fervor and devotion, and whose one
overmatering passion is to win souls to Christ and to be holy like him
Father Biddle retired from active service in 1876, but did not cease to
preach until he had passed his eightieth year. He was for
sixty-eight years a minister in the United Brethren Church, and at the
time of his death was the oldest living preacher in the denomination.
The burdens of those years were exceedingly heavy, but his physical
endurance kept pace and he had reason to be thankful that he was of the
hardy race of American pioneers.
On the first of February, 1899, having reached the mature age of
eighty-eight years, Nine month, and seven days, he exchanged earth for
heaven and everlasting life. Awhile before his death he wrote:
"I am feeling keenly the burden of almost eighty-seven years, but I
am enjoying fair health. As to the future, I am living by the day,
with a bright prospect of the heirship of eternal life. In the quiet
of my lonely home, my soul feasts on the riches of divine grace.
The time of the sunset has come, and its tints are those of a golden
autumn day. The sun is going down without a cloud, and as the
earthly is fading out of sight, the heavenly breaks upon my vision and I
long to be at home in the bright, eternal day which has no
sunset." His body sleeps beside the Biddle Church, a few miles
from Galion, Crawford Co., OH Ohio.
OUR HEROES OR UNITED BRETHREN HOME
MISSIONARIES by William Marion Weekley D. D, (Bishop of West
District) and Henry H. Fout, D. D. (Editor Sunday - School Literature)
Copyright 1908 by United Brethren Home Missionary Society, Dayton,
OH. , Introduction by J. P. Landis , ph. D. , D. D. , Dean Union
Biblical Seminary; CHAPTER IX,
"A Missionary Hero in the Western Reserve"
Research submitted by Bev Craig,